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hecause he would not have us deceived, ensnared, destroyed—because he would not have us take up with this world as our portion, but keep our eye upon a better, even a heavenly country, and confess ourselves to be strangers and pilgrims in the earth.
And when the believer comes to himself, md considers these dealings of God with him, he exclaims, "' Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou shouldest visit him!' What am I, to engross the attention of the Almighty! Am I worthy of all these pains? Can lever bring forth fruit to reward this expense of Cultivation!' What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? And that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him; and that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?'"
III. This brings us to remark The Benefit Of Affliction. This benefit might be exemplified several ways.
Afflictions are designed to be trials. They evidence the reality and the degree of our religion both to ourselves and others. When a person is surrounded with worldly possessions and enjoyments it is not easy for him to determine whether he is leaning on these or on God. But let them be removed, and his reliance will quickly appear. If he is placing his dependence on these, he will smk when they are removed. But if while he uses them, and is thankful for them, he still makes God "the strength of his heart, and his portion for ever," he will not faint in the day of adversity; but be able to say with former sufferers " VVe are troubled on every aide, yet not distressed: we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flocks shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation."
Afflictions are excitements. They quicken to the exercise of grace, and to the performance of duty. When Absalom wished to see Joab, he sent him a messenger, but he would not come—he sent a second time, but he still refused. Well, what was he to do nowl—Says Absalom to his servants, "See, Joab's field is near mine, and he hath barley there—go and set it on fire;" and he will soon come to know the reason. And so it fell out: "Then Joab arose and came to Absalom, unto his house, and said unto him, Wherefore have thy servants set my field on fire V Why, says Absalom, Not because I wished to do thee an injury, but wanted an interview, and could obtain it in no other way. Thus, when we become indiflerent to communion with God, and disregard the suc
cessive messages of the word-"'-" Go," says God to some fiery trial, "go and consume such an enjoyment—and he will soon be with me; soon be upon his knees, saying,' Do not condemn me; show me wherefore thou contendest with me. Whj am I thus! Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?'"
But here we particularly see that afflictions are intended to be spiritual preventions—they are " to keep man from his purpose." The people of God are not always aware of this at first and therefore, when they meet with these obstructions, they sometimes fret, and think they do well to be angry even unto death: they think he is their enemy, while he is proving himself to be their friend; and that he is opposing their progress, when he is only hindering their wanderings. Disappointments in favourite wishes are trying, and we are not always wise enough to recollect— that disappointments in time are often the means of preventing disappointments in eternity. Our murmurings and repmmgs arise from our ignorances: we see not the precipice and the pit on the other side of the hedge or of the wall.
I wish you therefore, above all things, to remember, that it is a most singular mercy for God to render the pursuit of sin difficult If we are going astray—is it not better to have the road filled with thorns than strewed with flowers? Is it not better to have it rough and uninviting, than smooth and alluring? If there are certain things in us, the destruction of which is equally necessary and difficult—is it a blessing to have them fed, or to have them starved? There are some who are now rejoicing because their plans succeed, and every thing favours their wishes, who, if they knew all, would see awful reason to weep and mourn—And there are others, who, if they knew all, would no longer be sorrowful because they cannot advance, but are checked in every path they tread. They would see that they are chastened of the Lord, that they may not be condemned with the world. They would see that the loss of creatures is to lead them to ask more earnestly for "God their maker, who giveth songs in the night" They would see that the sickness of the body is designed to be the cure of the sofl. They would see that earth is imbittered, that heaven may be endeared.
Such a disqpvery of the design and consequences of these exercises would change the whole face of the dispensation, and lead them not only to submit but to give thanks.
But how awful is it when afflictions arc useless; and even medicine is administered in vain! And there are those, who, like Ahaz in distress, sin more and more against God. When He arms himself to withstand them in their mad career, they " rush upon the thick bosses of his buckler." If they cannot pierce trie hedge or the wall by which he opposes them, they will lie down in sullen obstmacy and sin "as they can"—to use the words of the prophet, rather than yield. "Thou hast stricken tliem, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction; they have made their faces harder than a rock— they have refused to return."
But this shall not be the case with the people of God. The grace which employs the means will render them effectual. They shall not only feel—but reflect—and resolve. "Then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband, for then was it better with me than now!"
IV. We observe The Difference There
IS BETWEEN OUR ADHERING TO Goii, AND OUR
roRSAKino Him. Behold the declining Christian seduced by the world. When he was beginning to deviate—many a Samuel cried, "Turn ye not aside: for then shall ye go after vam things, which cannot profit or deliver;—for they are vain." But he disregarded the friendly counsel. Others had been drawn into this unhappy course; and they had all told him the confusion and regret with which it had been attended.—But fie would also try for himself—and, says God, Let him try—" that he may know my service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries." By-and-by he heard a voice saying—" O that they had hearkened to my commandments! then had their peace been as a river, and their righteousness as the waves of the sea!—Have 1 been a wilderness unto Israel? A land of darkness? Wherefore say my people, We are lords; we will come no more unto thee?"
And now he bethinks himself, and begins to compare the present with the past "How different the scorching sands, the briers, and serpents of this desert, from the green pastures in which I once fed, and the still waters by which I once refreshed my weary soul! • O that it was with me as in months past' Once I walked with God. I could behold his face with confidence. The glory of the Lord was risen upon me, and I walked all the day long in the light of his countenance— 'Then was it better with me than now!' Once I had free access to the throne of grace. I approached it with humble And holy boldness; and there are many places that can witness to the tears of joy and sorrow with which I poured out my soul before God. But now the recollection fills me with dismay. I have now little heart to pray. Conscience indeed drags me along to the duty, but I enter the presence of my God with a slavish fear or a chilling indifference—sThen was it better with me than now!' Once I had sweet communion with the Saviour of sinners. When oppressed with a sense of guilt I saw the all-sufficiency of his sacrifice, and the perfection of his righteousness, and by be
lieving, I entered into rest Under every accusation, he was near that justified me. In every duty, and in every trial, he encouraged me by saying, My grace is sufficient for thee: 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.' Now I only see my sins and my enemies— but where is the Saviour and the helper!— 'then was it better with me than now!' Once I experienced the gracious influences of his Holy Spirit By these I was enlivened, refreshed, and enlightened. I saw clearly the path of duty. I could harmonize providences and promises. I claimed the privilege of a child and an heir of God. Butnow the Comforter, who should relieve my soul, is far from me. I have grieved the Holy Spirit of God, by which I was sealed unto the day of redemption—' Then was it better with me than now!' O what enlargements of soul had I in his ordinances! How often did I find the sanctuary to be no less than the house of God, and the gate of heaven! How sweet was his word to my taste, yea sweeter than honey to my lips! What a feast did I enjoy at his table! His flesh was meet indeed, and his blood was drink indeed .'— 'Then was it better with me than now!' And oh! with what cheerfulness I carried my cross! I could even glory in tribulation also; for as the sufferings abounded, the consolations did also much more abound. Thcstorm without raged in vain—for all was peace within—but now conscience knaws mc like a worm—and the promises which should be my support, are neither within reach nor within sight—' Then was it better with me than now!' There was a time that I could see him not only in ordinances, but also in providences; not only in his word, but also in his works. I could enjoy him in my creature comforts. I relished his love m my daily food; I saw his goodness in all my connexions: but now I know not whether any thing I possess is sent in wrath or mercy; 1 can find him in nothing: '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!'
"I cannot fully describe my case. All' know is—and this I feel by an experience too bitter to be expressed—that it is not ifiw me as it—once was /"
Some of these feelings, in a lower degree. are common to an apostate professor, wi" has left off to be wise and to do good. But the experience of such a man diners exceedingly from the feelings of a backsliding believer; for the judgment of the believer was never drawn over from the Lord's side, though it was not suffered for a time to K heard; and he has enjoyments to look ba« upon which a stranger never intermedaleu with. He can remember not only the dreadfulness of a state of utter distance from God by nature, but also the blessedness of being brought nigh by the blood of Christ He knows what it is to live under hissmiles and by his influences. And now that the charm which deceived him is dissolved—now that he has leisure for reflection—now that he is separated from his very idols, no wonder he resolves if possible to return to a state in which it was better with him than now.
And let those who have been led astray and have fallen by their iniquity, adopt immediately the same resolution. While you consider the melancholy change that has taken place in your experience—remember two things—
First, that it cannot be better with you than it is till you return to God; since it is by your departure from him that you have sustained all these losses and incurred all this misery. "Set thee up way-marks, make thee high neaps; set thine heart toward the high way, even the way which thou wentest; turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn to these thy cities." •
And, Secondly, while with weeping and supplications you are disposed to seek him agam, guard against that despondency which would tell you that it will be in vain. It is not in vain. There is hope in Israel concerning this thing. He waiteth to be gracious, and is exalted to have mercy upon you. "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God. Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel." Have any of you been restored? Turn not again to folly. Has it not cost you enough already? After all this, will not the very appearance of evil terrify you? Live near to God.—Your welfare depends upon it
And as for those young converts who have just subscribed with their own hand and surnamed themselves by the name of Israel, let these also beware. Now perhaps you think there is very little danger of this caution. Such at present is your attachment to the Saviour and his way, that it seems to be impossible for you ever to forget the one or forwke the other. But how many who once had the same confidence with yourselves, have since denied him or followed him afar off! "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fill. Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
"Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever!—Amen."
THE END OF THE SAVIOUR'S EXALTATION.
Him hath God exalted -with hit right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgivenett of tint. Acts v. 31.
Elevation is neeessary to influence. Of what advantage is "a candle under a bushel?" j —but place it "in a candlestick, and it giveth - light to all that are in the house." While the sun is below our earth, all is dark and cold— but when he arises, there "is healing under his wings;" and from his loftiness in the skies he scatters his enlightening and enlivening beams. - When the shrub rises up out of the ground, it rather requires than affords support and assistance—"but when it is grown, it becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." A man in the obscurity and contractedness of private life may feel dispositions prompting him to do good—but he can only pour forth benevolent wishes and shed ineffectual tears. But give him pre-eminence, place in his hands the reins of empire, and at his disposal the treasures of the state, and lo! thousands are refreshed by his ghadow, protected by his power, and enriched by his bounty; his fame spreads encouragement; prayer also shall be made for him continually, and daily shall he be praised. Thus Jesus "ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things."
Or take another illustration. The life of Joseph is not only aflecting as a history, but also important as a type. Joseph was hated of his brethren; and they sold him as a slave to a company of Ishmnelites in order to prevent the fulfilment of his dreams. But the means used to hinder his advancement terminated in the promotion of it;-and in process of time he was made ruler over all the land of Egypt And it is worthy of our regard, that his elevation was—not only the aggrandizement of himself—but also the preservation of thousands, and in a peculiar manner the salvation of his father's house. He was the only dispenser of supplies to those who were perishing with famine—and "Go unto Joseph"—waa,the order given by Pharaoh to every petitioner.
But a greater than Joseph is here. Thus Jesus suffered from the hands of sinners: and they acted only as enemies—but the curse was turned into a blessing. His sufferings led to his exaltation; and this exaltation was not only a personal reward—but a relative glory. He is made head over all things " unto his body the Church." He has power given him over all flesh, "that he should give eternal life to as many as the Father has given him." And him, says the Apostle, to the Jews, "him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins."
Thus he is advanced as mediator, to the grandeur and resources of his present station, not only to govern, but to save; and to save by governing. Some are exalted as princes who are by no means savioura They do not study to secure the common rights of mankind.—They do not set examples of temperance, humanity, and social affection. They do not cultivate harmony and peace. They seem only raised up to oppress and to destroy. Murder and desolation mark their progress. The ruins of towns and villages, the tears of widows and orphans, are the materials of their' glory. They sacrifice the lives of their subjects to save their own—yea, they frequently sacrifice them to gratify their pride, their vanity, their avarice, their revenge. But he sacrificed himself for the welfare of his subjects —" I give my llesh for the life of the world." They are princes of war—but he is "the Prince of peace." They are princes of death —but he is "the Prince of life." They arc princes and destroyers—but he is " a Prince and a Saviour." He takes us under the wing of his protection; redeems us from the curse of the law; delivers us from the wrath to come; saves us from our sins. He makes his subjects holy and happy—For "he gives repentance unto Israel, and forgiveness of sins."
Let us take three views of these blessings. —Let us consider—Their Meaning—Their Connexion—and Their Source.
I. Let us consider Their Meaning.—What is repentance? Every one will see the propriety of making this inquiry, who only reflects^—that every thing excellent admits of counterfeit—that there are specious resemblances not only of every moral virtue, but of every Christian grace—and that Pharaoh, and Ahab, and Judas, and others, are said to have repented, and after all died in their sins. Perhaps a better definition of repentance was never given than by an old divine, one excellency of which is, that it is easily remembered. He tells us that "Genuine repentance consists in having the heurt broken fur sin, and from it"
Be it then remembered, that the subject of repentance is convinced of sin. He sees that it is the greatest evil in the universe— not only as it is the cause of his sufferings, and has exposed him to the miseries of hell —but because it is th- pollution of his soul, and the degradation nf his nature, and has rendered him vile and abominable in the eyes of God. Hence he feels shame, self-loathing, abhorrence, grief, and contrition—especially when he apprehends the goodness of God, which has spared him under all his offences,
provided for him a ransom, and through a suffering Saviour is willing to receive him graciously. This dissolves the heart and makes him "sorrowful after a godly sort" For the tear of evangelical penitence drops from the eye of faith; and taith while it weeps stands under the cross. "1 will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born."
The pressure of these various feelings constitutes what we mean by having the heart broken for sin. But the man has now new dispositions and resolutions; and hence a new course of life. He is delivered from the love of sin, the love of all sin, however dear before. He is freed from the dominion of sin— so that it no longer "reigns in his mortal body, that he should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yields he his members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin ; but yields himself unto God as those that are alive from the dead, and his members as instruments of righteousness unto God." He avoids also the occasions of sin, and "abstains from all appearance of evil."—And this is what we mean by having the heart broken from sin."
And what is forgiveness? It is simply the removal of all obligation to punishment It does not render a man innocent of the crimes which he has committed; for a man can never appear otherwise to God than he really is; and it will be everlastingly true, that Job cursed the day of his birth, and Peter denied his master. But sin contracts guilt, and guilt binds over to punishment: now, forgiveness cancels this obligation and restores the offender to safety. And frequently, at least among men, forgiveness extends no further. But it does with God. He takes pleasure in those whom he pardons as if they had never sinned, and indulges them with the mast intimate friendship.
When two individuals have been at variance, the hardest to believe in reconciliation is the offender. The blame is his: and judging under a consciousness of his desert, he can hardly be persuaded that the party he has injured does not feel like himself. History informs us that when a man had offended Augustus, the emperor, to show his greatness of mind, declared that he pardoned him. But the poor creature, who expected only destruction, astonished beyond measure, and fearing the declaration was too good to be true, in all the simplicity of nature, instantly desired his majesty to give him some present as a proof that he had really forgiven him. Thus anxious is the awakened mmd. Such a free and full forgiveness after all his heinous provocations seems incredible; he therefore desires a token for good: and many pledges of the most perfect reconciliation the God of all grace affords in his dealings with his people. He hears their prayer; he is with them in every trouble; he delivers them and honours them; he makes all things to work together for their good, and engages to receive them to glory.
II. Let us glance at The Union Of These Blessings. Repentance and forgiveness of sins are mentioned together. Now let it be observed, that this is not a meritorious connexion between repentance and forgiveness— as if the one deserved the other—for they are both given—and how can one gift merit another!
But there is between them, First, a connexion of propriety. It would not accord with the wisdom of God to deliver from hell a man who would be miserable in heaven; to forgive one incapable of enjoying or serving him—yea, one who abhors him. Without repentance we should never value the blessing of forgiveness, and therefore we should neither be happy in nor thankful for the possession of it If a servant or a child were to behave improperly, though goodness may incline you to pardon, you would naturally require a proper state of mind, and signs of sorrow, confession, and reformation; otherwise your forgiveness would look like connivance at the transgression, or indifference to the offence, and encourage a repetition of disobedience.
Hence there is between them also, a connexion of certainty. They are indissolubly united—no one ever really enjoyed forgiveness without repentance; and no one ever truly exercised repentance without forgiveness. And hence it follows that the best way to ascertain our state before God is—not a reference to dreams and visions, sudden impulses, and accidental occurrences of Scripture to the mind—no—but an examination of our character; a comparison of ourselves with the features of pardoned sinners pourtrayed in the Gospel. To know whether we are justified, let us inquire whether we are renewed in the spirit of our minds: and be assured of this, that he is not the partaker of Divine forgiveness who is not the subject of genuine repentance.
On the other hand, as there is an inseparable connexion between these, if you had been humbled for your sins; if your hearts had been broken for them, and from them; you should not despair of acceptance, but view this experience as the authorized evidence of Divine favour. "Believe in God." He cannot deny himself. And he has said, u He that confesseth, and forsaketh his sins, shall have mercy. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will
have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
III. We remark The Source Of These Blessings—" He gives repentance unto Israel and forgiveness of sins."
Some think repentance a very legal subject, and are ready to condemn the man who preaches it, as a stranger to the Gospel. But there never was a greater mistake than this. For not to mention, that our Lord "came to call sinners to repentance," and that the Apostles "went forth preaching everywhere that men should repent"—I would observe, that repentance is a subject peculiarly evangelical. The law has nothing to do with repentance—it does not even command it—all it has to do with the transgressor is to condemn. It allows him neither liberty nor ability to repent— but the Gospel gives him both. And indeed to little purpose would it give us the one without the other. But here is our encouragement—the Gospel not only gives us space, but grace for repentance. What in one view is a duty, in another is a privilege: and what is commanded is also promised. The "broken heart and the contrite spirit" is not only a sacrifice which he will not despise, but it is also a sacrifice which he must provide!
And he does provide it He "gives repentance unto life." For having ascended up on high leading captivity captive, "he received gifts for men, even for the rebellious also, that the I/jrd God might dwell among them." The chief of these was the dispensation of the Holy Ghost By his influence the understanding is enlightened and the conscience awakened; the heart of stone is taken away and a heart of flesh given; and sinners, before weak and averse to holiness, are enabled to "walk in his statutes, and to keep his judgments to do them." Thus the word is rendered eflectual; and the events of Providence are sanctified; afflictions make them "acknowledge their offence; and the goodness of God leadeth them to repentance."
And if repentance be not derived from ourselves—can forgiveness of sins? If the former be a gift—can the latter be a purchase?— "He gives repentance unto Israel, and forgiveness of sins." And hence two things follow.
First, if we possess these blessings—we leam to whom we are to address our praise. "Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength."
Secondly, if we want them—we see to whom we are to address our prayers. Betake yourselves to the Friend of sinners, and say, "' Lord, remember me now thou art come into thy kingdom.' 'Heal me, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.' 'Lord, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean.'—And hast thou not said, 'him that cometh unto me, I