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them to plead for their vanities and leads them to indulge in the very same practices, as far as they can safely do it—they will readily allow them their odd way of thinking, or their peculiar observances; yoa, they may even consent to go with them to hear their favourite preacher, if these formalists will go with them in return to see their favourite actor. The real Christian may say to these nominal ones, as his Lord and Saviour did to the Jews; " The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it that the deeds thereof are evil."
Secondly, Persons are sometimes induced to take up the form of godliness through the influence of their connexions. From some of them they feel the influence of authority; from some, the influence of friendship; from some, the influence of business. For with many, "gain is godliness;" and they assume religion because they imagine they can succeed better in the church than in the world. This often decides the place of their hearing. Some of them also pay for seats in several places of worship—it makes them known— and is likely to increase customers.
Though religion particularly and practically considered be obnoxious to mankind, yet viewed superficially and in the gross, it commonly obtains something like applause; and few would choose to have any thing to do with a person who avowed himself to be irreligious in principle and practice. Many therefore nicely determine the boundary of safety; and without going so far as to give offence, they will go far enough to procure respect Hence, says Henry, "they assume a form of godliness to %fce away their reproach, but not the power of it to take away their sin."
Thirdly, They avail themselves of the form of godliness to preserve peace within. For without something of religion, conscience would rage and clamour; but by means of this, it is amused and quieted; and this renders it so extremely dangerous. For, engaged in a number of duties, he presumes on the goodness of his state; and feeling no fear, he makes no inquiry. The man is secure without being safe; and while "poor towards God," supposes himself to be "rich, and increased with goods, and to have need of nothing."
But "what is the hope of the formalist though he has gained!" And what does he gain? He may pass for religious in the opinion of his fellow-creatures, and lull conscience to sleep—But does he obtain the approbation of God > Can he possibly elude his discernment i "His eyes are as a flame of fire," which will pierce through every pretension, and consume every disguise. No. "He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is out
ward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which Is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power."
And to draw towards a close—If such a subject as this was ever necessary, it is peculiarly so in the present day, when hearing the gospel entails so little reproach, and the profession of religion is so cheap, having become so common. Let me therefore beseech you to examine vourselves by this solemn test; and to inquire, whether you have the power, as well as the form of godliness. It is a good evidence in your favour, if you are willing to come to the light; and can even address yourselves to God in the language of David: "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in roe, and lead me in the way everlasting."
And be it remembered, that "in a case of such vast importance, and where the consequences of deception are not to be repaired, we cannot be too anxious to be right It is better to have a timorous conscience, than a presumptuous one: and to be unnecessarily distressed for awhile, and—be safe—than to enjoy a carnal confidence, and—perish for ever!
To induce you to seek after real godliness, you would do well to reflect on " the exceeding great and precious promises," which are attached to it in the Scriptures of truth. If you have the life and power of religion, you will indeed be engaged in exercises and trials which the mere formalist escapes—but then you will have privileges and hopes of which he can never partake. He does not go far enough to relish its enjoyments or amass ite riches. But " for this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee, in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great wnters they shall not come nigh unto him.-' "The Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself." "Bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all thins*, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come." For eternity—here is the assurance of deliverance from every evil, the possession of all good, the vision and the presence of their Lord and Saviour for ever. And for time—here is the certainty— not of health, of property, of ease and friendship—but what is far better—the persmtion, that "all things shall work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose!"
"Look thou upon me, and be mercifolunto me, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name!"
We all do fade at a leaf!—Isaiah lxiv. 6.
The inspired writers often send us to the animal, and even to the vegetable worlds for instruction: and it must be confessed, that they are wonderfully adapted to strike and to admonish us.
The misfortune however is, that " seeing many things, we observe not" The means of instruction are plentifully dispensed, but a mind to use them is rarely found.
Yet such a mmd it behoves us to cultivate. And when the attention is awakened, and we are willing to learn, every thing becomes a teacher or a monitor. "The heavens declare the glory of God. All his works praise him." The ravens encourage us to trust in him for food; and the lilies for clothing. His voice is heard in the thunder: he whispers also in the breeze: and even a falling leaf preaches a lesson to man.
Prom our windows, or in our walks, we may now see the trees, shedding their honours.—Isaiah tells us that this is an emblem of ourselves—" For we all do fade as a leaf." It is observable that he does not compare life to a tree. An oak by slow degrees rises to perfection, and long maintains its glory. For ages it defies the fury of the elements, and at last, after long and repeated assaults, it gradually decays, or sullenly submitting to the axe, sinks slowly and crashing upon the ground. Many trees are much less solid and durable than the oak. But man is compared to none of them—his image is " a leaf."
A leaf while it hangs on, adorns the branches and looks beautiful; it is the shelter of the fruit and the dress of the tree; it waves to the wind and murmurs to the ear. But how weak, how frail is it! By what a slender bond does it retain its situation! How small a force is required to bring it down to the ground! where it soon mixes with the earth, and is no more to be distinguished from it
A leaf does not always endure a whole season. It is exposed to a thousand disasters. It is often crushed in its prime. Insects gnaw it off; the beasts of the field may devour it; winds may scatter it; or it may be shaken down with the fruit And, between the diseases and accidents to which human nature is liable, few of the human race comparatively attain old age. The Jews formerly reckoned up nine hundred and three diseases; but accidents are absolutely innumerable. A vapour may cause death: our houses may bury us in their ruins: our food may poison ns. When we consider the extreme delicacy of the human frame, and the multiplicity of fine and tender parts of which it is composed,
the derangement of one of which brmgs on the dissolution of the whole—the wonder is, that we ever live a single day to an end! Accordingly many are carried to the grave as soon as they are born. They open their eyes on a vale of tears; weep and withdraw. Others grow in stature, become lovely in form, engaging in manners, amiable in temper, and promising as to wisdom and virtue; these live long enough to engage the affections of their relatives, and then leave them mourning and "refusing to be comforted because they are not" Others advance further, form connexions, and enter on their busy schemes—but "in that very day, their thoughts perish." Sometimes wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes, receive a commission to destroy. These may be compared to storms, which desolate a whole forest at once, and cover the ground with foliage.
When a leaf falls it drops irrecoverably. It is otherwise with the tree: "there is hope of a tree if it be cut down that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground, yet, through the scent of water, it will bud and bring forth boughs like a plant" But the leaf has no second spring: it can never be revived. And man is like it "Man dieth and wasteth away, yea, man giveth up the ghost and where is he!—Man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep." Oh! could prayers and tears bring him back, and rejoin him to the living! But all is vain !—And equally vain are all our, wishes and our endeavour? to prevent the doom! "O remember that my life is wind; mine eye shall no more see good. The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more: thine eyes are upon me, and I am not As the cloud is consumed, and vanisheth away; so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more. He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more."
But the main thing intended in the image, is the short continuance of its being, and the still shorter duration of its vigour and verdure. Be favourable, ye winds, and, ye beasts of the field, come not to devour—let the leaf remain and flourish. How contracted the measure of its existence—and of its glory! When Jacob was asked how old he was, he answered, " The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years: few and full of evil have been the days of the years of my pilgrimage: and I have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers, in the days of their pilgrimage. But if he fell short of the age of his ancestors, we come vastly short of his. That man is old. Ask him how many annual periods of time he has passed through? "Three
score years and ten." Ask him how life looks in review?—"As a tale that is told; as a dream when one awaketh." Ask him how it passed away!—" As a flood—swifter than a weaver's shuttle." Ask him where now are the companions of his youth? How many will he reckon up, who have gone down to the grave, and have seen corruption! and how few remain to be the associates of his hoary hairs!" Behold, thou hast made my days as an hand's breadth, and my age is as nothing before thee; verily, every man at his best estate is altogether vanity."
And how often does a leaf fade, sooner than it falls! And is it not so with man! If spared, how soon does he begin to discover infirmities! "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if, by reason of strength, they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow;" labour in the preserving, and sorrow in the possessing. The body decays; the head bows down; the beauty consumes away; the hands cannot perform their enterprise; "the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened."—The powers of the mind partake also of the declension. Sir Isaac Newton, before his death, could not comprehend one of his own axioms! The memory drops its treasures. The vigour of fancy fails. Judgment is dethroned. "Man at his best estate is altogether vanity."
Such is the representation of human nature. For this extends to all; whether old or young, poor or rich, despised or honourable, foolish or wise, yea wicked or righteous— "we All do fade as a leaf." And who is not ready to say with David, "Wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?" But to enable us to judge properly in this case, and to vindicate the Divine perfections and providence—
Let us remember,
First, That this state of frailty and vanity was not the original state of man; but the consequence of transgression. God made man upright and immortal; but " by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death hath passed upon all men, because all have sinned."
And, Secondly, That it is not his only state. There is another life to which the present is introductory, and in connexion with which it should always be considered. The one is the way; the other is the end. The one is the seed time; the other is the harvest The one is a state of probation; the other of retribution.
Thirdly, The vanity and brevity of the present life, if wisely improved, is advantageous with regard to the future.
It furnishes us with no inconsiderable proof of a world to come. Every thing in such a state as this being unanswerable to our faculties, our wants, and our desires; we are constrained to look out for another.
It urges us towards it, and helps to prepare us for it Since it is only a troublesome voyage, who would desire its longer continuance? Since all is vanity and vexation of spirit here, are we not even compelled to seek a better, a heavenly country? Since the world is our grand enemy, is it not well to fmd it rendered so unlovely and unseducing? Now you have only a few days to live; you have no time to trifle, but must attend to the things which belong to your peace, before they are hid from your eyes.
This frail life too, in the Fourth place, is continually guarded by a wise and tender Providence. All our tunes are in his hand He careth for us. "A sparrow falleth not to the ground without our Heavenly Father: and the very hairs of our head are all numbered."
Let us add two additional reflections and conclude. And First, if life be like a fading leaf, let us regard it accordingly—
Let it prevent despair. If life be short, thy troubles cannot, O Christian, be long!
Let us also repress fear. It is little the most powerful can do, and before they strike they may fall. "I, even I am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou sbouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and the son of man that shall be made as grass?"
Let it check envy. "Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased: for when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after Kim. Fret not thyself because of evil doers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity, for they shall soon be cut down as the grass, and wither as the green herb."
Let it moderate your attachments and dependence. Make what use you can of a leaf, but do not lean upon it for support; do not hold your estate by it Regard your present possessions and comforts as vain and vanishmg; and detach your affections from things below. "Wilt thou set thy heart on that which is not?" Parents! view your children as uncertain delights. Husbands! remember how easily the desires of your eyes may be removed from you.—To-day we have friends and relations, to-morrow we are alone like a sparrow upon the house-top.
And oh! bring it home to yourselves—-Wi are going as well as your comforts. Reflect upon your frailty—not only at a funeral, or under sickness, or in old age—but habitually —and immediately. To what purpose is it to put the evil day far off in apprehension, when it is so near in reality ?" Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. 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- For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away."
Let me then ask you, How do matters stand with regard to another world? Are you born again? Have you a title to heaven or a meetness for it? The grand question is —not "what shall I eat, or what shall I drink, or wherewithal shall I be clothed?"— but "what must I tin tn be tmved?" You should be principally concerned—not for tomorrow—but for eternity. To-morrow may never come; eternity will. May the Lord prepare us for it!—" So tench us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."
Let us remember, Secondly, that all is not fading. "All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof fadeth away ; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever: and this is the word which, by the Gospel, is preached unto you."—By means of this everlasting word, you are informed of a Saviock, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever—of durable riches—of bags which wax not old—of a crown of life—of "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that Fadeth Ngt Away."
"Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it"
THE DESIGN OF AFFLICTION.
Therefore, behold, I -will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall nil find her patht. And the shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them i and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now.—Hosea ii. 6, 7.
Ths language of Scripture is very figurative. And herein lies much of its excelletjcy and utility. For since we derive our knowledge through the medium of the senses, in no other way could spiritual truths so easily and forcibly lay hold of the mind.
Nothing is more common in the prophecies than to express the relation between God and the Jews of old by the alliance of marriage. He was considered as their husband. Hence they were laid under peculiar obligations to him; and hence their sins had the character of violating the marriage contract
They were commanded to worship the Lord alone; and Him only were they to serve. But, alas!" they often declined from his ways, and hardened their heart from his fear;" or, to use the language of the metaphor: "They went a whoring after other
gods; and played the harlot with many lovera" Hence the calamities which befell them. But while these calamities were the effects of sin, they were also the means of bringing them to a proper state of mind. They are therefore considered eventually as mercies; and are spoken of not in a way of threatening, but promise: "Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now."
But what is all this to us! Much every way. "Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning; that we, through patience and comfort of the Scripture, might have hope." God has a people for his name in all ages. And Christians stand in the same relation to him now as the Jews did of old. And are we better than they? In no wise. And were not God's dealings with them designed to be typical of his dealings with us? They were: and in reading their history, we may peruse our own.
Let us then endeavour to explain and improve the words as applicable to ourselves.
They do not indeed require much explanation. For when God says—" I will hedgo up thy way with thorns," it is obvious that he means—I will perplex them, embarrass them; pierce them through with many sorrows. There is another hedge which God raises for his people, and of which we read in the Scripture—it is the hedge of Protection. Thus, speaking of Israel as a vineyard, says God, " I will take away the hedge thereof;" thereby laying it open to the intrusion of beasts and travellers. And thus, when Satan surveyed the condition of Job, he saw that he could not touch him without Divine permission—•' Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath, on every side?
But the hedge here spoken of is the hedge of affliction, composed of some of those thorns and briers which sin has so plentifully produced in this wilderness world. And the metaphor is tafcen from a husbandman, who, to keep his cattle in the pasture, and prevent their going astray, fences them in; and the sharper the hedge the better. Thus God resolves to make our rovings diflicult If we vrill go astray, we must smart for it "Now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor ? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river? Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thoe, saith the Lord God of hosts."
But he adds—" I will make a wall, that she shall not find her paths." This is another image to convey the same truth, only with this addition—that if lighter afflictions fail of their end, God will employ heavier. They may be foolhardy enough to break through the thorns, and may go on though wounded and bleeding—but they shall not get over the wall—I have stones as well as brambles—I will present insuperable difficulties. Ves, God can deprive us of liberty; he can reduce our means; he can deprive us of health and property; he can take away the desires of our eyes with a stroke; and easily and. effectually stop us in all the ardour of our schemes and enterprises.
It shows us what a variety of troubles God has to dispose of; afflictions of all kinds and of all degrees; suited to our natural disposition and our moral perverseness. It shows us also our obstinacy; that God is compelled to deal with us as with brutes, who are not to be governed by reason and ingenuous motives, but require blows and restraints. So foolish are we and ignorant, so much are we like a beast before him, that we must be hedged in with thorns, and confined in with a wall.
At length, wearied to find their paths, and unable to overtake their lovers, they are convinced of their folly, take shame to themselves, and resolve to go back. To this they are excited not only by present distress, but by former pleasure. They remember the happiness they once enjoyed in the service of God—and say, " What have I any more to do with idols? I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now."
Thus it was with the prodigal. He had destroyed his reputation, and wasted his substance among harlots and in riotous living; he had reduced himself to the most abject condition, and lived on the husks which the swine did eat, and no man gave unto him. One day—a thought of home struck him—he instantly formed a comparison between his present and his former circumstances—he recollected the honour that attended him before his wanderings; the plenty that crowned his father's board; how rnuwi was always taken away from the table, yea, how much even the servants left;—and sighed—and said—" How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare—and I parish with hunger!—I will arise and go to my father, and will gay unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants"— "Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow at-1
ter her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now."
From the passage thus briefly explained, let us glance at four things. The First reminds us of Our Deprayity. The Second, of The Divine Goodness And Care. The Third, of The Benefit Of Affliction. And the Fourth, Of The Difference There Is Between Our Adhering To God, And Our Departing From Him.
I . We are reminded of Our Deprayity. It appears in our proneness to go astray. There is in us an "evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." We transfer to the creature those regards which are due only to the Creator. We fear other things more than God; we love other things more than God. We make friends, and fame, and fortune, our dependence; and withdraw our hope and confidence from Him who is the only portion of his people. Thus they become our idols.
And these are our lovers, who profess to give us "our bread and our water, our wool and our flax, our oil and our drink." These are the rivals of the Supreme Being; and, alas! they are too often successful, and draw away our hearts from God. Our backslidings are many. For let us not deceive ourselves. Let us not judge of our declensions only by gross acts, but by the state of our minds. It is indeed a mercy if we have been preserved from those scandalous falls which would disgrace our profession. But where none of these vices have appeared in the life, there have been many deviations from Ged in our thoughts, and affections, and pursuits. By this therefore we should try ourselves. For in proportion as we " love the world, the love of the Father is not in us." And in the same degree that we " make flesh our arm, our heart will always depart from the Lord."
n. But our depravity is not more observable than The Divine Goodness And Care. For while we are thus perpetually roving from him—what does he? Does he destroy us! No. Does he abandon us to ourselves, saying, They are joined to idols; let them alone? No—but he employs means, various means to hinder and to reclaim us. "I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths; and she shall follow after her lovers, and shall not overtake them: and she shall seek them, but shall not find them."
And why does he make use of all these various expedients? Is it because he stands in need of us ?—no—but because we stand in need of him, and can do nothing without his counsels and his comforts—because he is very pitiful and of tender mercy—because be is concerned for our everlasting welfare