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Thirdly. Prayer always brings the assistance it implores. "Ask," says he, "and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall find." So it has always been: "He never said to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain."
"What a dry, uninterestmg subject!"—It may be so to you! but it was not so to the man after God's own heart He sung, indeed, of the mercy of the Lord for ever; and exclaimed, "Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound." But he never disregarded the practical influence of religious principles. He prayed—"Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth ; keep the door of my lips."
And suppose, my dear hearers, you were now to examine yourselves by this subject? Would you find nothing to induce you to exclaim, "Who can understand his errors V Nothing to humble you in the dust before God ?—Nothing to draw forth your penitential grief?—Nothing to urge you to a Mediator, whose blood cleanses from all sin, and in whom alone our unworthy persons, and our imperfect services, can be accepted!
Let this subject awaken and engage much of your attention in future. Make the resolution of David your own: "I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I oflend not with my tongue." But let it be an enlightened resolution; while it makes you diligent—be humble; while it makes you watchful—be also prayerful. It is the Saviour's own combination; "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."
David not only prayed, "Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips:" but he prayed also, "Open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise." Religion is not made up of negatives. There is not only a time to keep silence, but a time to speak. It is not enough, that we are harmless and blameless in our speech ; we must do good with it Pray therefore, that you may be "strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and be filled with the Spirit" Burnet, in the History of his own Times, speaking of the incomparable Leighton, says, "In a free, and frequent conversation with him, for twenty-two years, I never heard him utter an idle word, or a word that had not a direct tendency to edification." But what does he add besides ?" And I never saw him in any other frame of mind, than that in which I wish to die!'' This justifies the eulogium, and accounts for it For,
As the man is, so is his strength. "A good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit For every tree is known by his own fruit For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for
of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh."
SPrRITUAL SUCCOUR DERIVED
Who, when he wat come, helped them much -which had believed through grace.—Acts xviii. 27.
The God of nature is the God of grace; and his influence in the one strikingly corresponds with his agency in the other. In the world of nature, God not only brings creatures into life, but provides for their support; and, in the regular economy of his Providence, opens his hand, and " satisfieth the desire of every living thing." So it is in the world of grace. Christians are new creatures: but they are not perfect at once; they require attention and supplies. And "He who giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry," will not overlook the wants of his own children. He taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in them that hope in his mercy. Hence they may boldly say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not fear. The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands."
In harmony with this reflection are the words which we have chosen for our^resent improvement They were spoken of "a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria." He was "an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures;" and had come to Ephesus. "This man," it is said, "was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John." Here we remark, that natural talent and actual knowledge, are very distinguishable from each other; and that the heart may be right with God, while the judgment, in divine things, is defective. It is well, however, to see a man using the light he has. It shows that he is sincere and in earnest; and "to him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly." This was the case here. "And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had neard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." . This honours both parties.
It commends Aquila and Priscilla. Though they found Apollos in Christian knowledge, inferior to themselves, yet, as he was truly pious and zealous, and had good and useful endowments, they did not despise or disparage him, saying, "He may do for others; but such a young, raw, inexperienced preacher is not deep enough for us:"—so many a gifted brother, and many a. gifted sister, in our day, would have said—but they encouraged him, by their attendance; and watched and cherished the ripening of the fruit For they also communicated to him of their own experience. But observe—They did it not superciliously, nor in public; but, with a delicate regard to his feelings, alone, in their own house.
And it looks well in Apollos, that he so willingly received their instruction. He was a young man of great parts and learning; a preacher exceedingly cried up and followed —and it was not an apostle that undertook to teach him; nor even a brother minister; but two of his hearers, and mechanies too—but he listens to them with pleasure and gratitude. And thus he shows us his good sense, as well as his humility. For those who are below us in some qualities, may yet be above us in others; and there is no such thing as independence. In the mystical body, as well as m the natural, "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."
Apollos was willing to go where there was least help, and most probability of usefulness. But no preacher ought to be countenanced till he is accredited by some authority better than his own. When, therefore, Apollos was "disposed to pass into Achaia," he traveled with- letters of recommendation: for "the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive htm;" and he fully answered to their contents: "for, when he was come, he helped them much which had believed through grace."
Whence we observe—that Christians Are
BELIEVERS That THEY BELIEVE THROUGH
Grace—That They Need Help; and—That
ASSISTANCE IS AFFORDED BY THE MINISTRY OF THE GOSPEL.
I. Christians Are Believers. To believe is to have a persuasidn of the truth of a thing submitted to our attention.
It is obvious, however, that the credence which characterizes the subjects of divine grace, does not rest in the judgment, without producing a correspondent state of the heart; "for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness. Purifying their hearts by faith. Faith worketh by love. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Such is the influence ascribed to the faith of the primitive Christians. That these are not the invariable effects of believing, it is evident from (act; and the advantage the apostle James took of such a fact, in his days, was to show the inutility of that faith which admits the truth into the understanding, while the possessor is not sanctified by it "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he liath faith, and have not works? Can faith save
him' If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone."
If a man believe any thing with certainty, it is his own mortality; and yet, though he cannot, does not, doubt for a moment, that he is a dying creature, the conviction is completely counteracted by his passions and sins; and he lives as if he were to live here always; and according to the prayer of Moses, God alone can so teach us to number our days, that we shall apply our hearts unto wisdom. Ungodly characters may, therefore, give credit to the Scriptures in general, and to the most interesting doctrines of the Gospel, and yet retain their wickedness—" Holding the truth m unrighteousness."
The hazard of deception, to which we are exposed, arises from the near resemblance there often is between a counterfeit and a genuine faith; and the tendency there is in men to be satisfied with the assent of the mind, which costs nothing, without "obeying from the heart the form of doctrine which is delivered us; and being changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord." But such is the disposition of every one that believes to the saving of the soul. See it in his conviction of the exceeding sinfulness of sin; his abhorrence of himself; and his humiliation before God. See it in his consciousness of the need of a Saviour; his reception of him; and his dependence upon him. See it in his profession of his name; and in his adherence to his ordinances. See it in the love he bears to his people; and the reproach be is willing to submit to for his sake. See it in his readiness to "deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow him." See it in the little account he makes of things seen and temporal, and the strength of his attachment to those things which are unseen and eternal.
A faith operating in such effects as these, proclaims itself to be of the operation of God's Spirit: and prepares us to observe,
II. That they who believe, BelieveThroigh Grace.
Here we may observe, that from this source comes the very object of faith, as a revelation. This principally consists in the "record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and that this life is in his Son." The Gospel assures us that the Lord Jesus is the only foundation of a sinner's hope; that "be was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification ;" that" in him we have righteousness and strength;" that "he is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." These are the things with which faith has to do: and how came we by the knowledge of them? They are the result of a supernatural communication: "As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." And what influenced him to send us such glad tidings of great joy? How often is the Gospel itself called the grace of God !" The grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men.—This is the true grace of God wherein ye stand."
From this source is also derived the existence of faith, as a production. This may be inferred from our moral inability, or that state into which sin has brought us. Of this the Scripture gives us a mortifying, but a faithful account "The heart, says Jeremiah, "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." And " who," says Job, "can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one." "When we were without strength," says the Apostle, "in due time Christ died for the ungodly." "Without me," says the Saviour, "ye can do nothing. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him."
But we are not left to infer the fact: we have, in the word of God, the most express ascriptions of it to a Divine influence. Upon Peter's profession of faith, our Lord said, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." And so far was this from being peculiar to him, that it is said of the Philippians, "To you it is given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake;" and of the Ephesians, "By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." Connecting himself with them, the Apostle speaks of the "exceeding greatness of his power to usward who Believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places." What an accumulation of terms to express the omnipotent exertion of God!—And to what does this exertion refer? Our final resurrection from the dead? So the enemies of the present truth would have it—for what power, say they, is necessary to draw forth our bodies from the tomb, and make them like the Redeemer's own glorious body! This is true—But the Apostle refers to an energy which has already operated in believers, and by which they were made believers; an energy—not which shall draw forth their bodies from the corruption of the grave, but which has delivered their souls from the bondage of corruption, into the
glorious liberty of the sons of God; an energy—which has drawn them from rebellion to obedience; from pride to humbleness of mind • from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son; an energy—which combines the glory of all our Saviour's miracles: at once opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the deaf ears, causing the dumb to sing, the lame to walk, and the dead to live; an energy—that, in some sense, surpasses the creation of the world:—for in producing this, if there was no co-operation, there was no resistance; whereas here, "the carnal mind is enmity with God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be."
Again. From the same source is derived the exercise of faith as a principle. This faith must be exerted in every condition; in prosperity, and in adversity: in sickness, and in health; in solitude, and in society; in devotion, and in trade. We are to walk by faith; and by faith we are to live. But as there is nothing of so much importance as this faith, in the whole of our Christian course, there is nothing so much opposed, by all the hidden evils of the heart, and all the powers of darkness. And how is it to be maintained? "I have prayed for thee," says our Saviour, " that thy faith fail not" "Lord," said the apostles, "increase our faith." Thus the continuance and the progress of the principle depend upon the same grace which produced it; and He who is the author, is acknowledged also the finisher of our faith.
III. They Need Help. This they all feel; and this they always feel. They are not without fears whether the work is begun in them; but though they often question the reality of their religion, they never question the deficiency. This is too obvious to elude the most superficial examination of their hearts and lives. Paul himself, after all the proficiency he had made in his Christian course, wasnot ashamed to say, " Ihavcnotyet attained, neither am I already perfect" The Christian feels a deficiency in his knowledge which requires help. A full and judicious acquaintance with the things of God is a great advantage: but the views of some are very limited; the word of Christ does not dwell in them richly in all wisdom. Some have such obscure and confused notions, that they resemble the man under the process of illumination, who "looked up, and saw men as trees walking." Yet, before this he could see nothing; and another application enabled him to see every thing clearly.
Some ought to be ashamed of the remaining degree of their ignorance, considering the advantages they have enjoyed, and the season they have been under tuition. We may address them as our Saviour did his disciples, "Are ye also yet without understanding?" Or as Paul did the Hebrews, " When for the time ye ought to be teachers, yc have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God."
The Christian feels a deficiency which requires help, in his sanctification. He is renewed in the spirit of his mind, so as to delight in the law of God after the inward man: but "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit; and when he would do good, evil is present with him." His graces are imperfect Something is wanting—and oh ! how much— to his patience, his love, his hope, his faith. He is far from being what he ought to be in his duties. God demands of him a spiritual worship; but how little of this does he render him, when kneeling at his throne, or sitting at his table! He finds too little of the Christian in his temper; too little of the Gospel in his walk. And yet "what manner of persons ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness.'"
A Christian feels a deficiency in his comfort, that requires help. This arises from the former. Injured in his work, and hindered in his advancement, he cannot but grieve. It is inconsistent with his disposition, to see his infirmities, and not sigh, " O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death-?" He is not in the possession of his inheritance; but an heir. And an "heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all." How often is his peace interrupted! How often is he constrained to groan, " The enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead. I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Will the Lord cast off for ever ? and will he be favourable no more i Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies!" Whatever the world may be to others, it is to him a vale of tears. In addition to the common troubles of life, he has trials peculiar to his religion; and from the union of these, "many are the afflictions of the righteous."
IV. Blit ASSISTANCE IS AFFORDED BY THE
Ministry Of The oosPEL. "Who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace." It is necessary, however, to observe, that he did this only through the blessing of God attending his labours. Hear the apostle: "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plantelh any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase." This being premised, we remark that Apollos helped the believers three ways: and the
same will apply to every minister of tie Gospel now.
First By his prayers. This was done by his praying with them. How much instruction and relief did they often derive from his devotional exercises. How encouraging and delightful, to hear their own wants and desires offered up officially, in all the fervour and solemnity of divine worship! But he did not only pray with them, but for them: and he prayed for them, not only in public, but in private. And was this in vain? "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."
Secondly. He helped them much, by preaching. Preaching is an ordinance peculiar to the Gospel; and it is an ordinance. It would be easy to prove that there is a natural suitableness and tendency in preaching to do good: but we are to view it as a divine institution, and to infer the blessing from the appointment When the Saviour ascended up on high he gave gifts unto men; and established the ministry, " for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" Thus the apostle tells the Romans, " For 1 long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established." And to the Thessalonians he says, "Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; and sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow-labourer in the Gospel of Christ to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith." Thus "faith cometh by hearmg, and hearing by the word of God."
Every religion, of old, had its rites; and its votaries were accustomed to assemble together at stated times and on various occasions, in their temples and at their altars; but they never came to receive instruction. What instruction had their leaders to communicate? What could they publish, with the evidence of truth, the force of importance, or the joy of hope? But when your ministers meet you they have every thing that is interesting to announce. They can send you "help from the sanctuary, and strengthen you out of Zion." Their messages are "the savour of life unto life"—you go away new creatures. Which of you has not realized the support—the compensation of the prophet: "Though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers: and thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left."
Thirdly. He instructed them by example. Example illustrates and confirms and enforces doctrine; and is deservedly said to be more influential than precept And though we ought to consider what is said, rather than who says it, yet it is not in the power of human nature to disregard the practice of a moral and religious instructer: and a drunkard is not likely to preach with effect against intemperance ; or one that is greedy of gain, against covetousness. The physician is not likely to gain the confidence and submission ci the patient, when he prescribes for a disease under which he labours himself—but will be reminded of the proverb, "Physician, heal thyself." Therefore says Paul to his son Timothy," Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." And of Levi, says God, "My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity.
To conclude. Suffer me, First, to ask the question which our Lord addressed to the man born blind, "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" Do not put off, or elude this inquiry, which is pressed, purely from a regard to your everlasting welfare. It is of infinite importance to each of you. The salvation or damnation of the soul depends upon it It is useless to attend to other things, while you overlook the state you are in before God. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."
Secondly. If faith comes from the grace of God, they are mistaken who place it in the virtue of man. And such there are: but you have not so learned Christ All men have not faith: you were once destitute; and if now enriched with the benefit, you are not at a loss to determine how you obtained it You disclaim your own goodness and power, and exclaim, "By the grace of God, I am what I am." Let the same truth which excludes boasting prevent despair. Let it encourage the hope of those who fear they are strangers to this precious faith, and let it guide their application. Let it also lead those to the God of all grace who desire an increase —praying like the father of the child, who "cried out with tears, Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief."
Thirdly. Do not despise the day of small things. Despise it not in others. Observe and cherish every serious conviction, every pious sentiment; and resemble Him who does "not break a bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax; but brings forth judgment
unto victory."—Despise it not in yourselves. The life of God is progressive, and the commencement is often no more to the completion than the mustard seed to the mustard tree. That you are not what you ought to be, should humble you; that you are not what you would be, should stimulate you; but that you are not what you once were, should encourage you. The dawn and the blade are too precious to be disregarded: they are not only beginnings, but pledges: that blade shall become the full corn in the ear; and that dawn shall shine more and more unto the perfect day. "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ"
Fourthly. Pity those who are destitute of your religious advantages. Many of your fellow-creatures have not even a Bible. Others are destitute of a gospel ministry. By their condition they cry, " Come and help us." They would be thankful for the crumbs which fall from your spiritual table; and would go any distance, and make any sacrifices, to hear with rapture—what you often attend upon with indifference.
Finally. Be grateful for the privileges you enjoy, and be concerned properly to improve them. Attend regularly and conscientiously the pastor who feeds you with knowledge and understanding. "Laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby; if so ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." Repair tr> the house of God, influenced by the command, "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is." Go with lively expectation, founded on the promises upon which he has caused you to hope. "I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread. I will also clothe her priests with salvation; and her saints shall shout aloud for joy. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint"
THE STAR GUIDING THE WISE MEN TO THE BABE IN BETHLEHEM.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judxa in the days of Herod the king, be~ hold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen hit