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In the Sixth, we place the dispensations of providence. All events have a voice, especially those of an afflictive kind. Hence we are commanded to hear the rod. And who has not been addressed by it? He has chastened you with sickness. You drew nigh unto the grave, and looked over the brink of life into an awful eternity. He has visited you with disappointments in your worldly affairs; and told you not to lay up treasure on earth, where moth and rust do corrupt, and thieves break through and steal. You have seen your neiglitours carried to their long home. You have witnessed dying beds. Your own dwelling has been made the house of mourning—" lover and friend has he put far from you, and your acquaintance into silence." The very day in which you have lived has been full of awful admonitions. When his "judgments are abroad in the earth, the inhabitants of the world should learn righteousness."
Yet now many are there who "regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operations of his hands!" How many are there who disregard all these instructors and reprovers! Let us turn from the subject, to
II. The Period of these regrets. It is a dying hour. It is "at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed."
Such a period is unavoidable. There is no prevention of it, nor escape from it However long life may be, it will have an end: the last breath will expire; the last Sabbath will elapse; the last sermon will be heard. The sparkling eye must be closed in darkness; the busy tongue must be silenced for ever; the hands must forget their enterprizes; and those idolized frames, that exhausted so much time and attention in pampering and adorning them, must be consigned to rottenness and worms.
Such a period cannot be far off. "For what is our life? It is a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." It is a flood. It is a flower. It is a tale that is told. It is a dream.—It is a hand's breadth. It is nothing before God— "surely every man at his best estate is altogether vanity."
Such a period may be very near. The general limitation of human life is threescore years and ten; but few reach it, and come to the grave in full age. Indeed when we consider of what a multiplicity of delicate organs our system is composed, and how liable they are to injury; and add to this the numberless diseases and accidents that lie ambushed in our path; the wonder is, that we live a week, a day, an hour, to an end.
Such a period is sometimes prematurely brought on by sin. Solomon here intimates this; and it is a supposition illustrated and confirmed by facts. How many die by the hand of civil justice; and acknowledge at
the place of execution, the disregard of instruction and reproof, in which the fatal career commenced! How many of those who die what is called a natural death, might have been now living, had not their "bones been filled with the sms of their youth, that lie down with them in the dust!" How many yet living, but diseased, emaciated figures, exhibiting the appearances of decay and age, might have been sound in constitution, and healthy and strong, had they listened to that wisdom which has " length of days in her right hand," as well as in "her^left hand riches and honour!" How many reduced and worn down by hard labour and living, to which they had been unaccustomed, who have pined away in want, or dragged on a miserable being in prison, might have still enjoyed liberty and ease, had they followed that godliness which "has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come!" As to "bloody and deceitful men," they do not often "live out half their days." But such a period as this, if it be not prematurely produced by irreligion, is always imbittered by it "You will moum at the last, when your flesh and your body are consumed, and say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof!" Such self-reflection and condemnation are unavoidable—"unless prevented, first, by your being cut off suddenly, and not having a moment given you for thought Secondly, by your being deprived of reason, and thus rendered incapable of any mental exertion. Or, thirdly, by your having annihilated all moral feeling, and completely subdued the power of conscience—and who can tell how far a man may be hardened " through the deceitfulness of sin," and by trifling with the means of grace, and die in peace, though he is sure to awake in torment! Would you desire such preventions as these? Are they not more dreadful than the effect? Yet you must hope—either for sudden death—or the suspension of reason—or the loss of conscience ; or you must expect a dying hour to be imbitterred with regrets.
III. Let us consider the Nature of these regrets. "And thou mourn at the last when thy flesh and thy body be consumed, and say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof!" In other cases, " Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." But this mourning has two attributes to distinguish it
First It is dreadful. A dying hour has been called an honest hour. The world then recedes from your view, demonstrating its incapacity to succour; and acknowledging that it attracted you only to show its emptiness, and elevated only to depress. The delusions of imagination give way. Criminal excuses vanish. Memory goes back, and recalls the guilt of former life: and conscience
sets your most secret sins in the light of God's countenance. With what ingratitude, folly, madness, will you charge yourselves! What reflections on opportunities lost! on faculties perverted! What fear of mercy abused; and of judgment approaching! What anticipations of hell, where the worm dieth not, and where the fire is not quenched!— Many of the sinner's dying confessions and horrors are never made known. Relations and friends conceal them. They often indeed mistake them, and ascribe these exclamations to the phrensy of the disorder. And, perhaps, were it not for the composing draught it would be impossible, in many cases, to secure the attendance of any in the room. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
Secondly. It is useless, I do not mean as to others—it may serve to convince them what "an evil and bitter thing it is to sin against God," and awaken in them a salutary, because a seasonable, fear. But with regard to the individuals themselves, says God himself: "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and so man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will, mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would , none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof Therefore shall they eat of the frmt of their own way, and be filled with their own devices." What! Is this dying grief, always, and invariably unavailing ?—I answer; we are to describe, things according to their natural and common course, and not according to occasional and very unusual exceptions. And in the case before us—are not exceptions very unusual? Do not men commonly die as they live? And with regard to those dying regrets, to which so many look forward as a final refuge, and from which so many instantaneous samts are furnished for our magazine-calendars—what degree of dependence is to be placed upon them? In reply to this, let the following remarks be examined.
The First regard the Scripture. There we find one, and only one called at this hour. It was the dying thief. He implored and ob- . tained mercy when the heaven was covered with blackness, and the earth trembled, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened, and a suffering Saviour would crown the prodigies of nature with a miracle of grace —a case in all its circumstances so amazingly peculiar, that were not men into
ated by sin, it could never be drawn into a precedent
The Second is derived from observation. We have often attended persons on what was deemed their dying bed; we have heard their prayers and their professions; we have seen their distress and their relief; and had they died, we should have presumed on their salvation. But we have never known one of these, who on recovery lived so as to prove the reality of his conversion i We have often asked mmisters concerning the same case; and they have been compelled to make the same awful declaration.
The Third regards the force of habit "As well may the Ethiopian change his skin, and the leopard his spots, as they learn to do good who have been accustomed to do evil." Diseases which if taken in time are curable, by becoming inveterate are rendered desperate. "But there is no desperate case here," you are ready to say. "With God all things are possible. His grace is almighty." Acknowledged: and you shall have all the encouragement derivable from a miracle of grace. But what probability is there, that an extraordinary dispensation of grace will be adopted, after all the ordinary means of salvation have been despised and neglected! And despised and neglected too in nope of this!
Hence our Fourth remark regards the influence of such examples. If persons who live without God in the world were as frequently called in their last hour as too many seem to admit, would not the frequency of the occurrence influence persons to procrastinate their religious concerns, and to say to every present application, "Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee!" But does God by his conduct contradict his commands? And having said, " To-day if ye will hear his voice harden not your heart;"—"now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation;" —" seek ye the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near;"—would he supersede the necessity or weaken the impression of all this, by his constantly receiving sinners when they can insult him no longer, and showing that forced regret is as acceptable to him as genuine repentance 1
For Finally, observe the uncertainty the individual must feel in determining the reality of his religious feelings. How is he to know whether they are the cries of nature, or the desires of grace? whether they flow from the Spirit of God, or result from his tremendous situation, and his depressed and disordered frame! And has he not enough to bear without this cruel perplexity? Now that be needs the comforts of religion, is he incapable of deciding whether he is entitled to its promises! Now that he needs confidence, must he expire in darkness and in doubt ?—
Yet, by the way, we should have more hope of such a man, if he died uncertain and distressed, than were we to see him dying in "the full assurance of hope." For though God is a sovereign, and we are not to limit the Holy One of Israel, it is not surely reasonable to expect, that a man who has given his whole life to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and is only driven to God by dying regret, should be able to say with a Simeon, who has been waiting for the consolation of Israel; "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation!" Let us conclude by three reflections.
First How good is God! He is much more attentive to our welfare than we lever have been, or ever can be. He originally made man upright; and when by transgression he fell away from him, he did not avail himself of the rights his justice had acquired over him; nor did he even treat him with neglect He remembered us in our low estate, and "so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life." He has sent us the information, with numberless means and motives to awaken our attention to it And these he is continually reaping. So true is it, that he is "longsuffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and live." So justly may he complain, "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" For,
Secondly. How fallen is man! Some deny his depravity, contending that we are naturally virtuous, or at least as much inclined togood as evil. But if this be the fact, why do we need so many hinderances to restrain us from evil, and so many endeavours to excite us to good! And why are they ineffectual too? They ought upon this principle to be successful with the majority, or at least an equal number of mankind. But are they T Do we not see men generally breaking through every restraint, and disregarding every kind of instruction and reproof? And are not they who walk by the rule of God's word, "a peculiar people?"
Thirdly. How important is serious thought' In this religion commences: "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments." Could men go on as they do, if they considered their ways, comparing them with the word of God, and examining their consequences? Impossible. It is thoughtlessness that ruins them. They never faithfully inquire, How will this close? Will it bring me peace at the last? How will it appear when reviewed from the borders of the grave!" A prudent man fore
seeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished." "O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!"
(ON THE LOSS OF A CHRISTIAN FRIEND.) Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: -who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the -working -whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself Phil. iii. 80, 21.'"
The present is not the principal state in Which man is to be found; and it shoud never be viewed separate from another; to which it bears the same relation as infancy to manhood, as spring to autumn, as seedtune to harvest Who, in nature, having scattered one kind of grain in his field, would think of filling his barn with another i And in religious concerns " be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap; for he that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."
This consideration stamps an awfulness on human nature; and teaches us the true importance of the present period. It is comparatively a matter of little concern what is to become of us, and where we shall reside, for a few weeks or years. The grand question is, Where are we to reside for ever? And what is to become of us when the trumpet shall sound, and all the dead, both small and great, shall stand before God, and receive of the thmgs done in the body, whether they be good, or whether they be evil i
Some never afford this subject a moment's thought Others remain in a state of uncertamty. But the primitive Christians gave all diligence to make their calling and their election sure; and conscious of the reality of their religion, and the blessedness of their condition, could say; "Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the kaviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the workmg whereby ho is able even to subdue all thmgs unto himself." Let us consider— I He Christian's State—The Christian's Expectation—The Christian's Destiny.
I. His present State. It is thus expressed: Our conversation is in heaven." The origmal term is used two ways. Sometimes it signifies a certam alliance, and means citizensnip: and sometunes it denotes a peculiar behaviour. Our translators have preferred the
latter; and rendered it conversation. And they have done so, not only in the passage before us, but in several other places, meanmg however by the term, not discourse only, but the whole tenor of our conduct We need not disunite these two senses. The me will infer and explain the other.
Be it remembered therefore, in the Pint place, that the believer stands in connexion with another and a nobler world; he belong, to "a better country, even a heavenly." He is a citizen of no mean city: "a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God," and which abounds with laws, hoooure, riches, pleasures, immunities, and intercourse, the most valuable and glorious. How did t man boast in being a citizen of Rome! When the centurion heard that Paul was a Roman, "he went and told the chief captain, saying Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman. Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I lb freedom. And Paul said, But I was freeborn." Think, then, what a privilege it is to belong to a state concerning which it is aid, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him!"—Hence our Saviour teaches his disciples to prefer their being registered among the living in Jerusalem to the power ana fame of working m iracles:" Notwithstanding, in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven."
Now, Secondly, as the Christian is allied to such a country, a suitable mode of living becomes him. A citizen of Rome could live elsewhere, even in any of the distant provinces. A citizen of heaven resides on earth for a season; but he is a stranger and a foreigner. Though in the world, he is not of it And while certain purposes detain him here, his principles, his habits, and his speech, show that he belongs to "a peculiar people.'' He is a citizen of "lory. He prefers his fellowcitizens. He loves to speak of the glory of his kingdom. He will correspond with it; and as cold water to a thirsty soul, so will good news be from this far country. Hie body is here, and his business is here—but his soul is there—there is his treasure; there his inheritance; there his thoughts fix; there his affections rest;
"There hii beat friends, his kindred dwell;
He acts habitually under an impression of heaven, and with a reference to it Hi» chief care is to gain it He often fears that he shall miss it at last; and the apprehension stimulates his vigilance, self-exammatko,aal diligence. He concurs in the prayer,"Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in bt»ven:" he mourns over his want of conformity to the servants of God above; and is seeking after an increase of those blessed tempers and joys, which are possessed by them in all their perfection. He is not only longing, but preparing for heaven. And he is hastening towards it, not only as a place of release from trouble, but as a state of freedom from sin, and communion with God.
II. His high expectation. "Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ"
This reminds us of the present abode of our Redeemer: he is now in heaven. And hence we need not wonder that Christians should have their conversation in heaven. For he is their treasure; and where "the treasure is, there will the heart be also."— The removal of a very dear friend into another neighbourhood will frequently render a place indifferent to us; and we change our residence to be near him. The death of a delightful relation will turn a paradise into a wilderness. How often do we look up, and follow our departed connexions in our thoughts! But something of them remains. The body we have laid in the grave. We go to the place to weep there. We feel a propriety in the very dust we tread. But nothing of our Saviour remains to attach us to earth: his very body is gone from us. "I am no more," said he, " in the world"—a sentence sufficient to render the world dreary; we feel his attraction as he ascends; and " rising together with Christ, we seek those things that are above, where he sitteth at the right hand of God. We set our affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God. And when he who is our life shall appear, we shall also appear with him in .glory."
Again. Tiiough our Redeemer is now in heaven, he will come thence. The time is indeed a secret: but the thing is sure. He does not forget his friends while he is absent; he communicates with them, and supplies them: and has promised to "come again and receive them to himself, that where be is there they may be also." But how wonderful the difference between his former and his future coming! Then he was seen of few; now "every eye shall see him."— Then his glory was veiled, and " the world knew him not;" now we shall "see him as be is." Then " he was despised and rejected of men;" now he "shall come in the clouds of heaven, with all the holy angels!" Then be was born in a stable, and nailed to a cross; now "he shall sit upon the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all nations." He was - once offered to bear the sins of many; and to them that look for him will he appear the second time without sin 11 nto salvation."
Observe also the state of the Christian's
mind with regard to this appearance. He looks for him.
He believes his coming; and this distinguishes him from infidels. They ask, "Where is the promise of his coming?" and having rendered it their interest that he should not come, persuade themselves that he will not Their unbelief is the oflspring of their vices and their fears. But with the Christian it is not a matter of opinion or conjecture; he does not say, He may come; but He will come: and by means of that " faith which is the evidence of things not seen," he beholds him already marshaling his angels —and traveling down.
But do not all believe this truth! It is an invidious task to call men infidels. But suppose they prove themselves so? Now we know from observation and experience that belief sways the mind, and governs the conduct Even when our persuasion is founded on our own imagination, or the testimony of our fellow-creatures, it produces some effect How much more operative should be our confidence in the testimony of God, who cannot be deceived, and who cannot lie! Now if men live precisely like others; as bold in sin; as remiss in duty; can they really believe? Do not actions speak louder than words?
The true believer therefore pays attention to his coming, and thus he is distinguished from nominal Christians, who, if We must allow that they believe it, are not influenced by it What we look for we prepare for in proportion as we attach importance to it We prepare for the reception of a friend. How much more should we prepare for the reception of a king. But here the personage expected is the King of kings; the Governor of the universe; the Judge of all!—And does the Christian, who is looking for Him, immerse himself in the cares of this life? Does he " sleep, as do others?" Does he play and trifle? Does he smite his fellow-servant, and eat and drink with the drunken? No; but "seeing he looks for such things, he is diligent that he may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless." He waits with his " loins girded, and his lamp burning;"— and "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, he should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world," and is thus looking for that blessed hope, "and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ"
For, Finally, remark the character under which the Christian waits for him: '" from whence we look for the Saviour." This was the name given him at his birth, and for the most important of all reasons, because he should "save his people from their sins." This work he has not only undertaken, but will completely accomplish. He is coming to finish it; and to fulfil all that the name imposes upon him, or implies. He will create