« AnteriorContinuar »
is of thrt'rom the beginning; his counsel shall sumeA and he will do all his pleasure." But Itit counsel is to him, chance is to us. We wpiow nothing before it arrives. The consequences of things would be known if these , things themselves moved on in one even re
fular course, and always terminated uniirmly in the same manner—but when we see them often turning up contrary to their natural tendency—when we see that "the race is not to the swifts nor the battle to the strong, nor yet bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill"—our anticipations must be always liable to uncertainty. "Time and chance happeneth to them all."
What says your own history? He has led you, but it has been by "a way which you knew not;" and perhaps you hardly know it now. How wonderful have been the removals of your habitation, and the connexions which you have formed! How strange and unlooked-for have been both your friends and your enemies! Some have acquired wealth, and others filled offices towards which they could not have formerly aspired. Had these changes a few years before been foretold, they would have appeared incredible; and the subjects of them would have said, "If the Lord should make windows in heaven, might this thing be!"
So little have we been capable of judging aright, that we have in a thousand instances mistaken our real welfare: we have desired enjoyments which would have been a snare; and have been afraid of trials which have proved to be some of our chief mercies. When he was approaching to "empty us from vessel to vessel"—to keep us from "settling upon our lees;" when he came to prune away our suckers—that we "might bring forth more fruit;" we mistook the friend for an enemy; and said, "All these things are against me," when they were "all working together for our good!"
Nor have you any information that can enable you to see how things will go with you for a single year. You know not how it will go with your health this year—what seeds of disorder may spring up in your frame; what accidents may befall your persons. You know not how it will go with your circumstances this year—what Tosses or successes you may experience; what new scenes of enjoyment may be opened, or what old ones may be dried up. You know not how it will go with your relations this year—whether you will be indulged with their continuance or stripped of their company. Perhaps the eye of Providence now sees the hearse standing before your door; and you trying to go in to take a last view of your happmess, before it be committed to "the bouse appointed for all living." The Lord preserve this family! but in what different circumstances may the members of
it assemble together on the return of this day! The wife may be seen in widowed weeds! The children may appear orphans! The sister may say, "Alas! my brother!"
Let us, II. Show What Use We Shoild
MAKE OF THIS IGNORANCE.
Let us learn from it our littleness; let us confess that we are nothing, and that God is all in all. "Vain man would be wise;" and there is nothing of which he is so proud as his knowledge—but there is nothmg that should make him more humble. For what can we know?" Who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? For who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?" Can he distinguish between appearances and reality? Can he see the combination, the dependences, and the effects of things! Does he "boast himself of tomorrow," when he "knoweth not what a day may bring forth?" "The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Are we then qualified to be our own guides, or to manage our own aflairs! "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. "He shall choose our inheritance for us." "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do ] exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child."
Secondly. Since we cannot sec how things will go with us, we should beware of presumption. "Go to now, ye that say, to-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and' sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow." The Apostle here gives us the scheme of an unsanctified tradesman. He resolves to go without delay to some place where he can carry on business to advantage. His aim is not fraud, but fair gain in the lawful way of buying and selling. And where is the harm of all this? Is not diligence laudable t Are we not commanded to provide for our own house' Wherein then does this man appear blameable? Perhaps he was actuated by avarice; and was seeking not a subsistence, but a splendid independence. Perhaps he was influenced by imprudence, and was not aware of the bad effects of roving abroad, or of changing his scene of action: for "as a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place:" and "a rolling stone gathers no moss." This may be true—but what this man is here condemned for is this—God is not in all his thoughts. These words, "Iwill," are too big tor him. Regardless of God, he engages to live a year, and all the year to be successful. He seems
to exclude the possibility of sickness or accidents; of unfaithful servants or insolvent debtors: of dear purchases and cheap sales: u if he foresaw and secured all the events of the year himself—While he was not sure thit he should be able even to begin his journey, and knew not what should be even on the morrow. Well does the Apostle call this rejoicing "boasting," and say, that "all such rejoicing is evil."
Things may be within the reach of our knowledge and not of our power; but how cm that be within the reach of our power thatdoes not fall under our knowledge? How can we ward off dangers of which we are not apprized? How can we arrange and regulate occurrences of which we can have no foresight? Now this is our case. We know only the present; and what superstructure can we build on such a narrow foundation? How often, even while forming a plan, has the lapse of a few days so varied circumstances, that we have been compelled to new model it, or to abandon it altogether!" Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. He leadeth counsellors away spoiled, and maketh the judges fools."
We dare not infer the future from the present David erred here. After he had been delivered from Saul, and other enemies, he tells us that he had too much confidence. And in "my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong:" but hear what he adds—" Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled." The rich have been often stripped of their wealth; and the caressed of their honour. Many a fair morning has turned out a very stormy day.
Thirdly, the same considerations which should check presumption, should also prevent despair. Seeing we know not how it will go with us, why should we look only for evil? It may be far better than the foreboding of our fears. Our deliverance may be much nearer than we imagine.
"The Lord can clear the darkest skies.
Indeed, our extremity is often his opportunity.
Fourthly. Since we see not how it will go with us, let us draw off our attention from future events to present duties. We are to cast not our work, but our care upon the Lord. Duty and means belong to us, but
events are entirely his. And he says to us, as the king did to his prime minister: "Attend you to my affairs, and I will attend to yours." "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Suflicient unto the day is the evil thereof Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Such is the temper and the business of a Christian. The child at school is not to lean his elbow on the table, and vex himself by thinking how he shall find raiment, how he shall get home, how the expense of his education is to be defrayed. He is a learner; he is to mind his book—the father requires no more of him—he will provide. The farmer is not to muse from day to day about the weather, "perhaps it may not be a fine season —there may be a blight—and all my labour may be lost" No: but he is to act; he goes forth bearing precious seed, commits it to the ground, and then pursues his other business— and what can his anxiety do afterwards! "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep, and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself, first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." The soldier is to learn his exercise, to obey the word of command, to keep his arms bright, to be always at the post assigned him; but he is not to neglect all this, by busying himself in drawing plans of the campaign, and describing the duties of the general.
Finally. Our ignorance of what may befall us should lead ns to seek after a preparation tor all events. Do you ask, where shall we find it? I answer, in the blessed influence of Divine grace. This drew prayer from Jacob when he went forth with a staff; and praise when he returned with a fortune. This preserved Daniel in the court of Darius and in the lion's den. This enabled Paul to say, "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. And seeing we have not the ordering of the weather, nor the choice of our food—happy is the man, whose constitution enables him to bear any weather, and whose appetite enables him to relish any food. This leads us, III. To inquire What There
IS TO ENCOURAGE US UNDER ALL THIS DARKNESS And Uncertainty. You say, I see not how it will go with me. And it is well you do not You know as much as it is good for you. For it is with the mind as it is with the
senses. A greater degree of hearing would incommode us; and a nicer degree of seeing would terrify us. If our eyes could see things microscopically, we should be afraid to move. Thus our knowledge is suited to our situation and circumstances. Were we informed beforehand of the good things prepared for us by Providence, from that moment we should cease to enjoy the blessings we possess, become indifferent to present duties, and be filled with restless impatience. Or suppose the things foreknown were gloomy and adverse, what dismay and despondency would be the consequence of the discovery! and how many times should we suffer in imagination what we now only endure once in reality! Who would wish to draw back a vail that saves them from so many disquietudes! If some of you had formerly known the troubles through which you have since waded, you would have fainted under the prospect
You say, You see not how it will go with you; but God does. And he is your friend, and your father, and loves you better than you love yourselves, and is far more concerned for your happiness than you can be. "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?" Nothing is hid from him. "He knows thy walking through this great wilderness. He knows thy soul in adversity." He sees all thy dangers and all thy wants. Nothing can surprise him whose eyes are in every place. Nothing can elude his notice who numbers the heirs of thy head. When Abraham was called to leave his own country, and his father's house, he obeyed; and "he went out, not knowing whither he went" But though he knew not "whither he went," he knew with whom: he knew that he followed a guide who could not lead him astray. And thus Job relieved his mind under a pressure of perplexity: "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: but he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold."
You say, You see not how it will go with you. But you knew, "that it shall be well with them that *&r God." You know that if you are his, though your way may be thorny, " your shoes shall be iron and brass;" and that as "your day is, so shall your strength be." You know that love is the spring of all your trials, as well as of your comforts. And that though no "chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which are exercised thereby." You know
that " God is faithful, who will not sufler yea to be tempted above that ye are able; but will witli the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear lL" b a word, and is it not enough to know this! —you know that "all things work togt&n for good to them that love God; to them At: are the called according to his purpose."
You say, You see not how it will go with you. But your ignorance only regards time: all in eternity is sure. Beyond this land darkness dwells everlasting light Your uncertainty only regards the roughnea r a smoothness of the way—for you know wait stands at the end of it—It is your Fatter'i house, where are many mansions!
*' See the kind angels at the gates
Yes, you know how it will go with you them. There you will "enter into peacethen "the days of your mourning will be ended:* there you will be "for ever with the l.ore!'
"There—shall we see his face,
Ah! blessed privilege—and happy the; who can enjoy it! They have enough to m. lieve them in every distress. Their affic. tions must be light and momentary inde«i when they are persuaded that they are working out for them a for more exceeding mi eternal weight of glory. But this is not ray case. My perplexity seems to increase in proportion as I advance. To me the other world seems darker than this; and itai gloomy valley that leads te it Oh! ill knew that all would end well!—But this ii that which adds a pressure to every burden, and embitters all my comforts—I see not how it will go with me At Last."
My Christian friend: I designed not by what I have said, to intimate that such a persuasion is essential to your safety, but only that it is a desirable privilege; and in <his we are agreed. But remember it is attais* ble. You may have "a good hope through grace," and "the full assurance of hope. You are commanded to seek it. In the meM time, I would observe, that the solicitude wo feel, is no bad evidence in your favour. 1u proportion as the mind feels the importance of salvation, it longs for certainty, and, feu. ful of deception, is not satisfied with slender evidence. Mav the Lord, you are now following sorrowful and in darkness, shine upon your path, and "fill you with all joy wo peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
But if we cannot begin the new year with confidence and joy, let us do it with seriousness and prayer. Let us resolve to walk before him m newness of life. Let us conm* I ourselves to the care of his Providence, w
the word of his grace, to the agency of his Holy Spirit And let us lift up our hearts with our voices while we sing,
•' And now, my Boui, another year
RELIGION MORE THAN
Saving a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.—2 Tim. iii. 5.
And what is godliness! It is the tendency of the mind towards God: and is exercised in believing in him, loving and fearing him, holding communion with him, resemblmg his perfections, and employing ourselves in his service. It is the introduction of God into all our concerns, our acknowledging him in all our ways, our doing all we do m his name, and with a reverence to his authority and glory, through the mediation of the Saviour, and by the influences of the Holy Spirit
This is godliness; and nothing else deserves the name. This godliness however has its form and its power; and this distinction enables us to arrange four classes of characters.
For, first, there are some who have neither the power nor the form of godliness. They are as destitute of the pretension as they are of the reality; and often glory in this—for we read of some " who glory in their shame."
Secondly, there are some who possess both the power and the form. And these are the most worthy of our esteem and imitation. May their number daily increase!
Thirdly, there are some who have the power of godliness, but not the form. Their religion is a kind of disembodied spirit: and because some have laid too much stress upon outward things, they lay too little. They carry their notions of the spirituality of divine worship so far as to exclude social considerations; the influence of the body over the mind; and the use which the Supreme Being himself makes of our senses, to aid our graces, and which is simply the principle upon which
baptism and the ordinance of the Lord's Supper are founded. They do not remember that though the substance be confessedly the main thing, circumstances are often very beautiful and impressive and beneficial; that we are not only to possess, but to profess religion; that we are not only to serve God individually, but to unite ourselves to a body of Christians, and walk in holy fellowship, "striving together for the faith of the Gospel; and that we are bound not only to "glorify God in our spirits," but " in our bodies also, which are God'a" So that the form when attached to the principle, is so far from being improper, that it is commendable and import. ant
But here we have reached the Fourth class to which we referred, those who have the form, but deny the power. These are awful characters; and therefore, says the apostle, to Timothy, "From such withdraw thyself." We should do this as much as possible with regard to their persons, but above all with regard to their state. In order to this—let us, I . Consider The Power Of Godliness; and, II. Inquire Whence It Is That So Many
WHO DENY IT ARE STILL DISPOSED TO MAINTAIN THE FORM.
I. The "Power" Of Godliness Is Here
DISTINGUISHED FROM THE MERE " FORM :" and
indeed it is easy to show the difference between them. The one is principally external, and deals in words—the other is internal) actuating our feelings, and governing our actions. The one is the name—Jhe other is the thing; the one is the appearance—the other is the reality. The one is the body—the other is the soul, that inspires every member, and penetrates every particle of the frame. The one is the picture—the other is the original: the one shows us the Christian on canvass—the other presents him to us alive and in motion.
Now what I want to convince you of here is this—that real godliness is more than a show, a fancy, a form—it has an efficacy in it—there is a power attending it For consider how it is produced and maintained. It is in its existence, as well as in its revelation, a Divine principle. Hear how the Apostle speaks of it in his epistle to the Ephesians. "God is able," says he, "to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think"— "according to the power that worketh in us." I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—" that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man." And again, he prays for them, that they may know—what is the exceeding, greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand, in the heavenly place*:" where we find—that the same almighty energy which quickened into endless life the entombed body of our Lord, is actually put forth in the renovation of the believer: "that like as Christ was raised up from the dead, by the glory of the Father, even so we also walk in newness of life." Hence it is called "the life of God;" and "the participation of the Divine nature." What is the water that the Saviour promises to give to those that ask him? "Living water." "And," says he, "the water that 1 shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." Here is nothing stagnant and dead; but every thing is expressive of influence and activity. Thus the Apostle tells the Thessalonians that the Gospel came to them—"not in word only, but in power:" and that they received it, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, "which effectually worketh also in you that believe." And thus, to view the subject more separately, and in parts, we read of "the work of faith, the labour of love, and the patience of hope."
Observe the subjects of Divine grace. This principle distinguishes them from others: and is capable of producing a holy singularity. If you have only the form of godliness, there will be no practical difference between you and others; if servants—you will be as idle, as gossipping, as regardless of the property of your employers, as others: if wives—you will be as unsubmissive; if husbands—as tyrannical: if tradesmen—as grasping and overreaching as others. But if you have the power—you will resemble good Nehemiah. "The former governors," says he, "were chargeable to the people—but so did not I, because of the fear of God." Piety would not suffer him to act like them. And if you are under the influence of it, you will not, in your various relations and circumstances, be borne down by the errors and vices around you: but you will be able to act uprightly: you will be kept from consulting custom, and be constrained to listen to conscience: you will not be permitted to sin as do others, or "sleep as do others—you will not be conformed to this world, but be transformed, by the renewing of the mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." A dead fish can swim with the stream, but a live one can swim against it
Yea, this principle distinguishes the man from himself. Thus, under the influence of it, the drunkard becomes sober; the swearer learns to fear an oath, and the liar a lie. He that stole, steals no more, but labours. The churl becomes liberal, and the niggard bountiful; it cannot be otherwise. If the man has been moral before, he continues to avoid the same vices, to perform the same duties, and to attend the same means of grace as before—
but from very different motives, and in a Tot different manner. He has now also much more to engage his attention. His regard is no longer confined to externals only, but he is taken up with "the hidden man of the heart;" and prays with David, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew i right spirit within me." Hence spring exercises to which he was once a stranger; and he feels himself engaged in a warfare which often perplexes him, and leads him to exclaim, "If I am his, why am I thus!"
Behold then the life of the real Christian, and trace the operation of the power of godliness there.
It appears with regard to the ordinances of divine worship. Others who have only the form, come without expectation and prayer, and return without reflection and concern: they are satisfied with their attendance—but he is not He is anxious to derive spiritual advantage from it: he enters the closet before he approaches the temple, and his language is, "Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat?" Oh that I may be of "the circumcision who worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."
It appears with regard to the dissipatious of the world. He voluntarily resigns three amusements in which he once placed so much of his happiness: and he returns no more a them. And why? If he were mindful of the country whence he came, he has opportunity to return: he is surrounded with the same allurements as others—why then does he not engage in these diversions again!— Because he has found something infinite!? more noble and more satisfying. And » greater good has power to abolish the impressions of a less. When the sun arises, the stars disappear. And the grapes of Eshcol cause us to forget the leeks and onions of Egypt
You may see it in the mortification of sm. He denies himself; he crucifies the flesh with the affections and lusts; he plucks out a right eye, and cuts off a right hand, fa may see it in what he is willing to sacrifice and to suffer. Read history: read the book of martyrs; read the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews—and see what the force of this powerful principle can accomplish. There you see an Abraham at the command of God, " leaving his own country, and his father's house, and going out, not knowing whither he went:" and, in obediencelo the same authority, "when tried, offering up Isaac; his son, his only son; of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called. There you see a "Moses, when come to years, refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy