« AnteriorContinuar »
how that, in an age teeming with infidelity like the present, no outward sign has carried with it so melancholy an impression to my mind and heart of the prevailing unbelief, (if the statement in the public journals be true) as that so freshly shown in the Senate House, the professed and presumed Christian Senate House of our land—when, upon the pious suggestion that a day of public fasting and prayer should be kept to Almighty God, the intimation was met with mockery and contempt
when the very providence of God
was covertly made a question of, and the cognizance of the Ruler of the universe held as a derided thing, a thing of nought. Our only strength in these days is the Church of Christ; in her progress alone shall we see the dove with the olive branch in its mouth, to show that the waters are abated; and the prayers of every heart that con pray should mingle with a stronger importunity for her good estate. She presents the five righteous men that shall save the city from the flooding vengeance of heaven.
And now. Christians, as it is upon the evidence of the word of God, that the most powerful instruments to the extension of that church, to the reunion of those dissevered elements of the moral world, which present so many frightful gaps among us, shall be of the ancient stock of Abraham; we are especially called upon to bow our knees, and make solemn prayer with the devout man before us, that the Lord "may return to the many thousands of Israel." "Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel," for the increase and establishment of the pure and spiritual Church of Christ, and for the extension of the glories of thy name among the children of men. Amen.
I would now make the words before me a text for a few simple reflections, under, I pray, the light and influence of the Spirit of God, for Jesus' sake.
In accommodating the prayer for our present use, I would dwell for a few moments, on the Subjects of this prayer—" The many thousands of Israel." And next, on the Nature of the prayer itself—" Return, O Lord." With a brief notice of the Motives to the prayer.
The Subiects Of This Prayer—
Their Name, Israel. This very appellation is a standing record of the triumph of prayer, and should never occur to our minds, but as associated with its certain success. It was, as you are aware, conferred upon Jacob on account of that hard and persevering struggle he had with the angel, when, even to the shrinking of a sinew and to the breaking of the day, he would not let him go. "And the Angel said. Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and w ith men, and hast prevailed. And he blessed him there." And now, what the thousands of Israel are not doing for themselves, let us do for them. Let us make increasing prayers at the throne of Divine grace, that the veil may be taken away from their hearts—that the blindness which has happened to them may be lost in the fulness of Gentile light—and that as these, the fervours of our intercessions of love, excite their enquiries, and at length stir up their prayers, they may obtain more glorious "distinctions and privileges than even belonged to their fathers— namely, that, under the covenant of the blessed Gospel, they may realize the promise of the Spirit unto the Churches—" To him that overcometh I will give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone; and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving him that receiveth it."
The thousands of Israel, tracing back their history, who were they? Looking at their present condition, what are they? And making castings into the future, what shall they be i
Wlio were they? They were the nation chosen from all the families of the earth, set apart (like the one day in seven) for the peculiar manifestation of the divine attributes and glories. They were like a light struck up amidst the general darkness, to reveal the true God as he is, in his judgments and mercies, as the moral Governor of the world. They themselves shone amongst the nations as a guiding cloud whose brightness was from heaven. They were the eminently favoured and blessed. The land of their inheritance was the glory of all lands. The ark that was amongst them was overshadowed with the presence of the living God. Their sanctuary, in which the Lord chose to place his name there, which he bowed down the heavens to inhabit, was the most magnificent of earthly temples. Their civil polity, for its wisdom and excellence, carried with it its own internal evidence that it came from the divine mind. Their law was a voice from the throne of God. The holiest of men were their patriarchs—the greatest of rulers were their kings—their prophets had upon them the fulness of heavenly inspiration, they spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, they were mouthpieces of the ever present Jehovah. Wherever the people went they were conducted by the hand of miracle. To them was entrusted the oracles of God, the written revelation of his will, the tablet of his exceeding great and precious promises, the record of his character in the severities of the judge, in the majesty of the monarch, in the tenderness of the father; in his holiness, truth, power, faithfulness and love. In their line was also to come the Saviour of the world—the mighty Messiah—the Immanuel, God with us. Looking at their present condition, what are they? After struggling through persecutions, the fiercest and most appalling—after enduring the tramplings of an oppression which would have ground any other people into powder—after being the one common curse and hissing of nations, divided amongst themselves by deadly antipathies and unextinguishable hatred—after their long and many trackings of tears and of blood, through all countries and lands, what are they now? Still the shorn of their glories; and God has brought his own words to pass in the veriest letter—" The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim." Still are they a by-word and a mockery. Still are they the dispersed, the wandering, and the outcast. Still are the markings, the brandings of the curse upon their brow. Still are they the sunken and morally debased. Still are they the bowed down to the tyrannies of the earth. Still are they the offscouring of the nations. Still is the visage of God awfully marred as en
stamped upon the noblest of visages, and the beauty and manliness of the loftiest bearing bowed and broken into the croucher for a morsel of bread. Still are they the blinded to the light and glory of God in the flesh. Still are they the ignorant of the true meaning of their own prophecies respecting the Messiah. Still are they the deaf to the demonstration and power of the most convincing of arguments. Still are they the immovable amidst the strengths of miraculous attestations. Still are they the unpierceable by the most tender and true of patient appeals. Still are they the unsubdued and untouched by the most affecting images of the divine love. Still are they the unmoved with the blastings of the divine wrath upon them. Still are they the irreclaimably lost to the soundings of the mighty voice of Jesus, the rich in mercy and the plenteous in redemption. I, of course, speak as of a people; whilst our hearts should glorify the grace of God for the individual exceptions that are made, and whilst our prayers should only be excited to a deeper and more frequent earnestness, that these instances, through the light and power of the Spirit, may increase to the "thousands of Israel."
But in our castings into the future, what shall they be? Now, it is not my intention, amongst the conflicting arguments and decisions of wise and pious men, to fix upon any certain period when God, after his own manner, shall accomplish his own great prophecies; but that these converge in the restoration of Israel under the personal reign of the Lord Jesus, I have not the shadow of doubt; a golden link would be otherwise lost in the circle of Scripture—its chain broken. As a minister of Christ, labouring for the best interests of the souls of the people committed to my charge, I am under the impression, that it ought to be the greaf and prevailing business of my life, to lay before them, in all plainness and faithfulness and affection, the living peculiarities of the Gospel, in doctrine and duty; and I am therefore careful in abstaining from any thing like speculation, as taking the place of that which is matter of pure and broad revelation, of that which is directly influential in the work of the salvation of the soul. I meddle not with higher things, conceiving that my responsibility lies within narrower grounds : and I would thus reverse the old maxim, and say, It is better to aim at a tree than at a star. And, therefore, while, as to the time of the restoration I should be backward in speaking, as to its fact I have full confidence; nor do I hesitate to say, that the state of the world as it now is, amidst its moral convulsions and political changes, the rocking to its foundation of the Papal Church—(and here I beg to state, that I have had put into my hands since I have been inthischurch,oneofthemost interesting of interesting documents to the religious world, which states, as a communication from the English consul at Paris, that, this day, four hundred Roman Catholic priests are to be publicly announced as converts to the Protestant faith; and that a vast number are prepared to follow their example)—I say, amidst these rockings of the Romish Church to its foundation, and the visible stirrings of the ancient people of God through the more distant nations, we do seem to stand, as it were, before the bursting of some extraordinary visitation. It may be the fulfilment of God's prophecies in the restoration of the Jews; but, whether, or not we are to wait and watch for it, as an interposition that shall be characterized by his own infinite wisdom, by his own infinite goodness, by his own infinite love. The restoration of the Jews of which their universal expectation and belief is a powerful argument—their belief resting upon the two-fold foundation of tradition from their fathers, and a more intimate acquaintance with the literal reading of their own Scriptures—of this restoration we may safely say, that it shall be the union and consolidation of their scattered tribes into one nation—that as formerly for excellency and glory they were raised above other kingdoms, so shall they arrive at the same supremacy in the scale of nations; and that, thus standing, they shall prove the most powerful instruments in widening the boundaries of the spiritual dominion and Church of a God in Christ. Of which three things the following texts, seriatim, may be received in testimony.
"They shall all know me, from the least unto the greatest." "I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye were scattered, with a mighty hand. In my holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord God, shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the first fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things." "I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, out of the countries wherein you have been scattered; and I will be exalted before the heathen." "The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as the dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men." "I will settle you after your old estates, and will do better unto you than at the beginnings. I will make you an eternal excellency, the joy of many generations." "Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vine-dressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall rail you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall you boast yourselves." "The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee. Thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles, and that their kings may be brought. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted. The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despise thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee. The city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel." "Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean." "In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you." "Living waters shall go out from Jerusalem." "It shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim."
But not to multiply these passages, I would briefly refer to The Nature
OP THE PRATER ITSELF. "Return,
O Lord, to the thousands of Israel." It should seem that it was uttered at a time of the Lord's desertion, and yet his cloud was with the people: it should rather be said, therefore, of the desertion of the people; for He, like the sun of the natural world, is always stationary, always sending forth the beams of his mercy and love to the children of men : he never withdraws himself from us, but we from him. Holiness brings us nigh him—sin casta us off. Moses beheld the awful state of the people, as described in the first verse of the next chapter; and therefore he prayed to the Lord. And now the cloud of the Lord is before the Israelites; and now in the midst of them is the ark of the new covenant; and yet, as described in that verse, they are filled with sinful complaining, and the fire of the Lord is burning amongst them and consuming them; the just judgments of God are upon their heads because of their unbelief, and pride, and obduracy ; and they are sinking beneath the fierceness of his anger. In this their condition it is the great business of Christ's Church to pray over them, that the Lord "return to the many thousands of Israel" —that by the manifestation of his Holy Spirit he show them the darkness of their natural minds—that by the strength of his Spirit he bring down their arrogancy to the dust— that by the penetrating influence of his Spirit he open a way into their hearts, that they may receive Christ as the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation.
But leaving for a moment the state of the Jews—are there not some here, of the nominal fold of Christ, who are in great need of the breathings of this I
prayer—men who have backslidden, who have apostatized—men who have lost all the freshness of early convictions, the strength and fulness of whose first devotion has waned and waned into nothing—who were decidedly of the Church, but who are now vacilating between Christ and the world— who are in the perplexing servitude of two masters, where neither are, nor can be satisfied. And again looking at the disturbed state of Christendom, of Christendom in its moral and spiritual condition, seeing the awful infidelity that walks the land, its shameless daring in confronting all that is venerable for sanctity, wise in experience, hallowed in affection, and divine in command—confronting the very councillings of God, and slandering the lives of God's saints, and making denials of his Christ, and blasphemers of his holy name—shall not the prayer ascend with a deeper striving, " Return, O Lord, how long?" Should not the Churches of Christ mourn in sackcloth and ashes, in solemn humiliation, and strict fasting?
The Motives To This Prayer. They might have been such as these. Moses was aware of the formidable enemies that were arrayed against Israel, in their progress to and establishment in the land of promise; and all unequal of themselves to encounter those enemies, he prayed for the manifestation of the divine power, that s0, in the scriptural sense, the worm Jacob might thrash the mountains. And now, reflecting upon the manifold prejudices and hostilities that in men areat work againstthe conversion of the thousands of Israel, and of (shall I say ?) the small society that is before us; and considering the strength of the forces which Satan must necessarily be mustering against every attempt of the kind, from the knowledge he has, that one truly converted Jew shall effect more towards his downfall than perhaps ton or one hundred of recovered Gentiles; will not the Church pray for some larger infusion of divine strength into the operations and ministries of this and all societies, which are formed with the same great object in view?
Again, in praying this prayer, Moses was painfully conscious of the fact, that the thoughts of men when left to themselves were utter foolishness, brought nothing but disappointment and misery ; and he therefore besought the Lord, in his wisdom, to guide and to lead them in the way they should go. And now, shall not the Church pray that this little flock, depending no more upon their lawgiver Moses, who as a schoolmaster was to bring them to Christ, but upon Christ himself as the wisdom of God, may be governed in all things by the influence of Christ's Spirit, and by the authority of Christ's law'
Again, when Moses prayed this prayer, the recollection of the divine mercy was fresh in his mind and heart, and he besought its continuance. He knew the tendency of the human soul to sin, to violate the precepts of the divine law, to run into idolatrous practices, to follow many inventions, and to forget the claims of the Lord God. And now, over these young disciples of Christ, whose minds are prone to the same evil things as their fathers were, shall not the Church make intercession for the supporting and restraininghandof the divine mercy, that they may be kept in the way they have chosen ; that their path, like that of the just, may shine brighter and brighter to the perfect day?
I would plead Christians for this institution. I can see in it the hand of God ; I can see in it the mind of Christ; I can see in it the influence of the Holy Spirit. I know there are many prejudices and objections existing against it; and, if it were not so, it would not be of God. Examine into these prejudices and objections, and see if the same would not generally lie against the school of Christ in its first formation. Some amongst Christians have said, that the conversion of Jews is to be the work of some sudden and astonishing miracle. I know of no warrantry from Scripture for this, but I do know of such passages as thes?:—" Go through, go through the gates; prepare the way of the people; cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people. Behold the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold thy salvation cometh." " Blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be
saved: as it is written. There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob."
Others have said, that, by an encouragement of such societies, we are holding out temptations to the idle and insincere. This is met in the present instance by the statement, that no person is admitted without a long previous examination, without the most vigilant scrutiny into the grounds of the apparent conviction. So far from a spirit existing in the institution that would compass sea and land to gain a proselyte, I should say, the first avowal is met with suspicion and distrust; and there is a waiting for acts instead of professions. Indeed I may here mention the circumstance, that five other Jews were anxious to present themselves on this occasion, but that they were repressed by the judicious superintendant of the institution, that he might be the better satisfied of the ground of their conviction. The answer to the other part of the objection is, the fact that the converts are immediately set to the learning of some humble and laborious trade.
There are others who withhold their patronage and support because, say they, it is a fruitless work. Might not the same thing have been urged, think you, against those few Apostles who assembled together planning their mighty mission in the solitary upper room? Or might not you have been depiived of all the blessings and privileges of our glorious Reformation, if the uncompromising Luther, or the inflexible Knox, had listened to such idle suggestions ?" Despise not the day of small things." "Behold we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us: and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth." One fact I am sure will be interesting to you, particularly to the congregation generally assembled here; it is, that these seven young men, together with the twelve who were received into our holy church at the hands of the Bishop of London, have long been fellow-worshippers with you in this Chapel, and in your sympathies with