« AnteriorContinuar »
vocations 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 will in nowise cast out?' Behold a sinner that wishes to have nothing more to do with sin. O save him from the bondage of corruption, as well as from the burden of condemnation. 'Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.'"
Oh! be induced to do this, and to do this immediately. Here is a Saviour exalted to bless you with all spiritual blessings—and especially to bless you, by "turning every one of you away from your iniquities"—and there is no blessing like this. Seek him while he may be found: call upon him while he is near. For there is a time when if you call he will not answer, and if you seek him early you will not find him. The season for obtaining these blessings is short and uncertain. Surely you need not be informed that you are sinners—but " the wages of sin is death." While you are strangers to pardon, you are only "treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath." You are open to all the miseries of life, the sting of death, the torments of hell. Yea, you are exposed to a double condemnation; one from the Law which you have transgressed, and another from the Gospel which you have despised. And how is it that you do not lay these things to heart? How is it you do not fear lest every moment " the earth should open its mouth," and your souls "go down quick into hell!" How will you contrive to sleep to-night—when you know that if you die in your present state, God is under an oath to destroy you!
But "blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." He is blessed in his duties, for he is assured of acceptance and assistance. He is blessed in his enjoyments, for he tastes the lovingkindness of God in them. He is blessed m his trials, for they flow from love and are designed for his profit Now he is delivered from the curse, he can bear the cross. He will not endure his troubles long; and he does not endure them alone.
Here are some whom he has pardoned. He gave them to see and feel and confess their sins. He discovered to them the scheme of salvation revealed in the Gospel. He enabled them to come with all their unworthiness, smiting upon their breasts, and saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner"—and believing, they passed from death unto life. They found rest unto their souls. They are now serving him, and they find his "yoke easy, and his burden light"
"And I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every
one that asketh receiveth: and he that seeketb. findeth: and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." Amen.
RELIGION MAKES US PROFITABLE.
/ beseech thee for my son Onesimus, -whom I have begotten in my bonds: which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profit^ able to theeandto me.—Philemon 10, 11.
The Epistles are of three classes. Some are addressed to Christians at large—some to particular Churches—and some to single individuals.
The Epistle before us is of the third clasi —And as it is inscribed to one person, so it is limited to one subject It furnishes none of those glaring scenes which the pencil of the historian requires: but it is full of importance to a Christian teacher. It says nothing of the intrigues of statesmen, the contentions of senators, the exploits and mischiefs of heroes; but it yields topies of reflection much more interesting and useful to a serkius reader. These are concisely expressed in the words which I have read.
We will therefore State The Circuk
STANCES OF THE CASE TO WHICn THEY REFER: and DEDUCE SOME REMARKS FROM THEM FOB OUR INSTRUCTION AND EDIFICATION.
The Circumstances Of The Case may be
thus briefly stated. At Colosse lived Philemon. He appears to have been a person of some respectability, if not distinction. The Apostle calls him a fellow-labourer. He had a church in his house; and by his liberality often " refreshed the bowels of the saints."
With this Philemon lived a servant whose name was Onesimua Onesimus like too many servants was ungodly, though he lived in a pious family and enjoyed religious means and privileges. He robbed his master, and with the purloined property made his escape. As it is usual for such criminals to go to some large populous place to avoid detection, Onesimus hastened to Rome, the capital of the world.
Thither Paul had arrived a little before in consequence of his appealing unto Caesar; and having hired a house, "preached the kingdom of God, and received all that came in unto him." As he was the subject of conversation in the city, Onesimus is mformed of him; and from curiosity or some other motive—perhaps he had heard his name or seen his person at his master's house, he goes to the Apostle's lodgings and attends his ministry. Probably Paul preached against thievery. However this may be, "the word was quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and was a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" Onesimus is convinced and alarmed. He feels his guilt: and now dreads not only human but divine justice. He cannot get rid of his distress; but walks about the city crying to himself, " What must I do to be saved?"
At length he resolves to go and open his case to Paul—" He may aflord me mstruction and relief." He waits upon him. "Sir, I lately heard you preach, and I am one of the characters you described and condemned." —What is your name? "Onesimus."—What are you ?" I was a slave."—And who was vour master ?" Philemon of Colosse."—Him 1 know. But what, Onesimus, brought you here !—Onesimus weeps—" Oh! I cannot deny it, I cannot conceal it—I robbed my master and fled hither from justice. And ever since I heard that sermon, 1 can find no rest My iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I cannot look up. My sin was the most heinous and aggravated: it was a good master I injured! How often did he admonish me! How earnestly did he pray for me!"
See here what a victory grace obtains over nature! Onesimus goes and confesses himself a thief!—For he was now remote from the scene of action; no person was there to impeach him? and if he had not acknowledged the crime himself, it could never have been known. This was no pleasant task. Nothing could be more irksome to the pride of the human heart It is as common to cover as to commit sin. Men, such is their injustice and self-love, men wish to appear better in the eyes of their fellow-creatures than they really are; even better than they know themselves to be. But when the Holy Ghost lays a burden upon the conscience, no diversion can remove it Divine grace produces self-abasement; and a true penitent will not only confess his sin to God, but when called by cir,cumstances, he will own it also to men, to his fellow Christians, to Ministers. And such a disclosure may sometimes ease the mind of a load of anguish, and teach the person to whom the communication is made how to speak a word in season, and apply the remedy of the Gospel. We are therefore commanded to " confess our faults one to another, and to pray one for another, that we may be healed." Be it remembered however, that when such a penitent thus acknowledges his sins—he will not do it as if he wen' relating heroical deeds or even actions of mdifference—he will not like some speak of his former wickedness with a kind of pleasure, arising from the apprehension that they magnify divine grace, and render his conversion the more marvellous and certain, or at least with a tone and countenance far from expressing deep humiliation and godly sorrow, but he will evidence, by his feelings and his manner, "a broken heart,
and a contrite spirit which God will not despise." To return.
Persuaded of his sincerity, the Apostle would have taken Onesimus into his service, had it not looked like detaining what is deemed another man's property. He therefore conscientiously resolves to send him back to Philemon. And influenced by the same principle, Onesimus wishes to return—but fears the displeasure of his oflended master; and is conscious that if he demanded reparation, it would not be in his power to make it The Apostle therefore undertakes to plead his cause, becomes his surety, and sends along with him a letter of recommendation full of the most persuasive eloquence—and this is the principal subject —"I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds; which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me."
Hence let us derive the following Remarks.
First Observe the humility, the tenderness, the kindness of the Apostle Paul. Great as he was, he exemplifies in his own practice what he recommends in his doctrine to others, "mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate." He does not think it beneath him to attend to the wants and wishes of this poor slave, and to write a whole epistle on his behalf The more the mind is raised by intelligence and religion, the less will it be impressed with those adventitious distinctions which dazzle the multitude. True greatness is always condescending and sympathetic. Are we mistaken? What do we see yonder? Let us draw near. "He riseih from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself: after that he poured water into a basin, and began to wash his disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. So after he had washed their feet, and- had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, know ye what I have done to you? Yei call me Master and Lord; and ye say well: for so I am. If I then, your Lord and master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent, greater than him that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." And who does them? Some imagine themselves humble because their condescension has never been put to the trial. Others have proved how very little they resemble our Lo*d and Saviour by declining those instances in which their condescension ought to have appeared. Alas! how many are there who "hide themselves from their own flesh;" who would think it beneath them to perform personally an office of humanity and charity
for the poor and needy; who would never stoop to write a letter for a menial domestic; who treat their servants no better than brutes —and often not half so well.
But servants should be considered as fellow-creatures and as humble friends. It is a scandal to a Christian, to suffer a servant to leave his house unable to read. Are you not to do good as you have opportunity? Shall we call that contemptible which God deigns to honour? Did not He who mode thee in the womb make them? Has he not endued the low-born child, the beggar, the slave, with a portion of reason and immortality? Are they not the care of his providence? Are they not the purchase of the Saviour's blood 1 And has he not assured us that " it is not the will of our Heavenly Father, that one of these little ones should perish?"
Secondly. Let us learn how impossible it is to hinder the work of God: or frustrate the purposes of his grace.—" Whom I have begotten in my bonds." Nothing comes to pass by chance. What appears to be chance among men is nothing less than the providence of God permitting, appointing, arranging, overruling all events. "He doth according to his own will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, what doest thou 1 His counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure." And what a complication of occurrences and circumstances sometimes enters into the execution of his design: some of them apparently inconsistent with it, others seemingly subversive of it! But he grasps and guides them by an unerring hand: he harmonizes them and gives them a unity of tendency! they reach their end: none of them are superfluous; none of them could be spared.—The very wrath of man praises him, and the remainder of it he restrains.
Can a man stop the rolling tide? Can he retard the progress of the sun 1 The cause of God is in motion and will crush every obstacle. Nor is this all—he makes opposition an advantage: his enemies intend one thing and he another; and they serve an interest they despise and labour to repress: their schemes fulfil his plan; he turns them from their natural currents into secret channels prepared to receive them, and in which they flow along into "the fulness of him that tilleth all in all."
Paul, persecuted in Judea, is driven to Rome. But though he "suffers as an evil doer, even unto bonds, the word of God is not bound." In these bonds he did wonders. His sufferings turned out to the furtherance of the Gospel. There he wrote many of his epistles. There he re-animated the "timid by his example. He filled the capital with the savour of the Redeemer's knowledge. How many were called by his instrumentality we know not; but we find that his name was
known "in the palace," and we rad of
"saints even in Ctesar's household." And, Onesimus? you will haxe reason to bles God for ever for his confinement and inipn. sonment there!
Do we lay too much stress upon this circumstance 1—The salvation of one soul, the soul of a poor slave, is an event of far grater importance than the deliverance of a natia from civil bondage. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one saner that repenteth. Besides, Onesimus became a minister; the Apostle speaks of hon as such in his epistle to the Colossians: Ignatius, in his epistle to the Ephesians, spenki of him as pastor of their church immediately after Timothy: and the Roman martyrolop assures us that he was stoned to death in Rome under the reign of Trajan the emperoc There he entered a state of grace, and there also he entered a state of glory! How wot. derful! At one time this man was thero % wicked fugitive slave—and a few years after a preacher of the Gospel, a martyr for the word of God and the testimony of Jew Christ!
Thirdly. Therefore let us learn to despair of none of our fellow-creatures. Whatever time has elapsed ; whatever means have been useless; whatever lengths a man has run, let us encourage ourselves with this thought, that other seasons may prove mom favourable—that other instruments may prove more successful—that he is not gone beyccd the reach of the divine arm; of the mercy of God to pardon; of the grace of God to change and sanctify.
This observation is for you, 0 parent, whose heart is bleeding over those nndutiful and ungodly offspring, who despise your authority, your prayers, and your tears. "Gou is able, even of these stones, to raise up children unto Abraham."
This observation is for you, O ministejj whose sabbath-day evenings are imbittemd by the exclamation, "Lord, who hath believed our report!"—who are looking raith despondency on that hearer who, after all your faithful warnings, is rejecting the counsel of God against himself. The desire of his eyes may be torn from him. Sickne* may recall him from the wandering* t health. He may go into a new neighbour. hood; he may meet with very different corapanions; he may hear another preacher; and he may so hear as that his soul may live. '3 any thing too hard for the Lord \ He can vary his means. His resources are endK8s. We are prone to give up characters t00 80*; Persons have been considered as abanoonai of God at the very time he was going to display his power and the riches of his grace in their conversion. .
This observation is for vou, 0 sinner, wW have to this hour been unhappy, or rather
criminal enough to live without God in the world, but now that you feel a willingness to return, are concluding that it will be in vain. No. "There is hope in Israel concerning this thing." And " where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound. That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reisrn through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."
Fourthly. Conversion makes a man useful. "Who was in time past unprofitable, but is now profitable." This is the case with every regenerate sinner. To render us profitable is the design of religion, and it is easy to see that it must be the effect of it Religion is social and diffusive. According to our Saviour's language, the possessors of divine grace are the salt of the earth to keep it from corruption. They are the lights of the world to keep it from darkness; and this light is not to be concealed "under a bushel," but to be fixed "on a candlestick, that it may give light to all that are in the house." And their light is "so to shine before men, that they may see their good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven." The talents they receive from God look beyond thenjselves. The blessings they enjoy they are to communicate. They are to "comfort others with the comforts wherewith they themselves are comforted of God." Of their fortune they are only stewards, not owners. —They are commanded to "bear one another's burdens." And even in their prayers they are taught brotherly love—they are to plead for others as well as for themselves; they are to say, " our Father—forgive us our trespasses; and give us this day our daily bread." Divine grace never leaves us as it finds us. It produces a change the most wonderful and glorious and beneficial. "The wolf also dwells with the lamb: and the leopard lies down with the kid: and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child leads them. Instead of the thorn comes up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier the myrtle-tree. The wilderness and solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose."
Divine grace destroys those vices by which we are injurious to others. For the best charity I can exercise towards my fellowcreatures, says a good man, is to leave off sinning myself. It subdues the selfishness which is so common to our depraved nature; it enlivens and expands the affections; it leads us to rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. It teaches and enables us to act with propriety in every capacity and relation in life. Every company and neighbourhood is the better for us: we are as " a dew from the Lord." And thus the promise is fulfilled in every child of R
Abraham by faith; "I will bless thee and thou shalt be a blessing."
Finally. We remark that our being useful does not depend upon our abilities and station. See Onesimus—a slave—profitable —even to such men as Philemon and Paul —profitable to "thee and me." It is with the community as it is with the body. "The body is not one member but many. If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again, the head to the feet, I have no need of you." Thus we behold in the world and in the church, difference of rank, of office, of talents; but there is a connexion between the whole, and a dependence arising from it And from this none are exempted; even "the king is served by the labour of the field."
Every man, whatever be his condition and circumstances, is of some importance in society—and we should labour to impress our minds with this reflection—especially in three cases.
Let us remember it—when we are in danger of pride and disdain with regard to any of our fellow-creatures. The idol you adore is not every thing, and the wretch you despise is something. Perhaps he is more necessary to you than you are to him.
Let us remember it—when discouraged from exertion. Oh! if I had such opportunities and means, I would serve my generation. But if great faculties were necessary, they would be more frequently bestowed. Situations calling for ten talents are rare—those which require five are more common—but those which demand only one are to be found every where and every day. And in nothing are we so likely to be mistaken as in such conclusions, lie that is "not faithful in little," has no reason to believe that he would be " faithful in much."
We should also remember it—when we are tempted to do good in unlawful ways. What I mean is this. Some suppose that they can only be useful in such a particular station or office, and hence they are ready to leave their present condition to rush into it But, says the Apostle, "Let every man abide in the calling in which he is called of God." Things are so constituted, that if any man wishes to do good, he may do it in the circumstances in which he is placed; he has some influence. For instance—and to refer to the case before us—are you a servant? Jacob