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Calvinists are mistaken in maintaining either the absolute election of a few, to the passing over or reprobation of the greater number of mankind, or that the saving grace of God, wherever given, is always irresistibly exerted to the conversion and final salvation of those whom it once condescends to visit.
But that the power of repentance and faith thus given to all is altogether unconnected with our own strength and faculties; that it is of God's free-will to give or to withhold; and that when this is withheld, no outward opportunities of knowledge or conviction can profit us any thing, is also certain from the same example of the citizens of Jerusalem, from whose eyes, after they had once enjoyed for a sufficient time the power of " seeing the things which belonged unto their peace,” those things were for ever hidden. It was not that Christ had, at the time when He thus spoke, withdrawn His visible presence from them. His miracles were still wrought in their streets, His preaching was still heard in the courts of their temple, His promises of love and blessedness were still held out to all that should put their trust in Him; the fountain of His atoning blood was shortly after offered, and His body given for the sins of the world.
But from that presence they derived no blessing; those miracles, that preaching, those promises, were for others, not for them; the atonement of His sacrifice was to them a savour of death; their day of grace was gone by, and there remained no more for them than a fearful looking for of judgment to come, and the gleams of that unquenchable fire to which they, every day, were drawing nearer!
My brethren, there are those even now, and God grant that their number may not be greater than many of us imagine; there are those even now whom preaching cannot move, whom friendly counsel cannot amend, whom example and experience have no power to alter, who are beyond the reach of other men's prayers, and whose hearts refuse even, in their hours of greatest terror, to utter a prayer for themselves. Some of these have outlived the pleasures of life, yet perish in its sins simply because they cannot forsake them; they are not altogether insensible to their danger, but they cannot stop, though hell gapes wide before them; like an ox to the slaughter they pass on, or a beast to the snare, the heartless, hopeless, joyless slaves of sin, and the heirs of torment unspeakable! And these men had once, like those Jews, their day of visitation; these men had once the power given them, if they had seized on and improved it to the best advantage, of becoming through Christ the children of God, and with Him the heirs of everlasting glory! What might they then have been ? What are they now? What must they soon become ?
Oh ye who yet feel the comfortable whispers of God's Spirit in your souls, whose consciences yet warn you when you fall into sin, and to whom the power is yet allowed, when you have the inclination. VOL. I.
to apply your souls to prayer and the study of the Scriptures, deal not, I beseech you, with the Holy Ghost as Felix dealt with Paul, saying, “Go thy ways now, when I have a more convenient season I will send for thee.”* The Spirit of God will not always strive with men; He will not come exactly when we call him, when we have often already sent Him away; and if ye neglect the opportunities of effectual salvation which are now presented, the time may soon come in which “ye shall desire to see one of these days of the Son of Man, and shall not see it.”+ Improve, then, to the utmost of your ability, the grace already vouchsafed to you; it is not your own; it may be withdrawn at any time; and it will be taken away from that unprofitable servant who hides in a napkin the bounty of his Heavenly Master.
Nor, if an additional motive could be required to the timely availing ourselves of God's spiritual aid, can a stronger be conceived than that which is the last conclusion which follows from the words of my text, namely, that the deadness and blindness to all spiritual impressions of which I am speaking, is generally the forerunner of some signal vengeance of God, and almost always great in proportion to the degree of spiritual advantages which the sufferer has formerly enjoyed and neglected. The blindness which happened to Israel, the grossness of their hearts, and the dullness of their ears were
* Acts xxiv. 25.
† St. Luke xvii. 22.
such as to us appear almost beyond belief. And were not their spiritual advantages, the works which were done among them, the warnings given them, the revelations communicated to them, at one time altogether as remarkable? And what nation hath the earth ever seen whose destruction was so signal and attended with so much misery as theirs ?
Oh may we so shun their obstinacy as that we may not be given over to their blindness, but that we may know, in this our day, the things which belong unto our peace before they are hid from our eyes, before the evil days come and the years in which we shall say we have no pleasure in them, * and before that dreadful day in which we may cry to the God of mercy in vain 'for pardon and succour, when the sleep of death and the senseless doze of unbelief and licentiousness shall be rent in pieces, once for all, by the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God's judgment !
* Eccles xii. 1.
THE EXTENSION OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM.
(For the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Preached
at Shrewsbury, 1821.]
DANIEL xii. 3. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firma
ment, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. THESE words are found in one of the most striking prophecies on record of the time and manner of the Messiah's coming; and they should seem to point out to us very clearly the two-fold duty which that advent laid on mankind, namely, that of profiting in their own persons by the religious knowledge thus laid within their reach, and that of communicating to others, less favourably circumstanced, the light in which all are equally interested. “They," said the angel to the prophet, " that be wise,” that is, who are in their own persons wise unto salvation, “ shall shine” in the last day “ as the brightness of the firmament,” and they who make others wise in the same manner, who “ turn many to righteousness," and to a saving and purifying knowledge of the Most High, shall shine forth as “the stars for ever and ever."