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Will you turn again to folly? Would you listen to your old seducer, now you know that shame and death always follow his steps? Do you want another taste of this infamy and hell ?" And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor! or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river? Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts."
To conclude—Mark the difference between the service of sin, and the service of God. It holds in all the articles we have reviewed. If sin be unfruitful—godliness is not: "godliness is profitable unto all things." Take a Christian, and ask him—What fruit have you had in all these duties and ordinances; in all this self-denial and separation from the world.' Oh, says the Christian, much every way. "In keeping his commandments there is great reward. I have found " rest unto my soul." His " yoke is easy. His burden is light His ways are ways of pleasantness, and all his paths are peace."
If sin is shameful—holiness is not The work in which it employs us is honourable and glorious. I do, says the Christian, indeed blush—but not in the sense you mean. I am ashamed—but it is at what I have left undone —not at what I have done. I am ashamed, but it is of my progress, not of my course: I am ashamed, but it is of myself—not of my master. No: he has dealt well with me. As far as I have sought him, he has been found of me. As far as I have trusted in him, he has not disappointed me. I follow him from conviction; and I am not ashamed to avow my adherence to him, and my dependence upon him.
If sin ends in death—religion does not While the possessor has his "fruit unto holiness," his "end is everlasting life." And it is the end that crowns all. We have seen that religion has many great advantages at present: but if it had not—if it were all gloom, and bondage, and hardship—it has this incomparable recommendation—it ends well: ends in "glory, honour, immortality, and eternal life." If the way be rough, it leads to heaven. If the gate be strait, it opens into the paradise of God: "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace."
"Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, my servants shall eat but ye shall be hungry: behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty : behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed: beheld, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit"
"Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread ? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David."
ACQUIESCENCE IN THE WILL OF
And the king taid unto Zadok, Carry back
It is very desirable to teach by example. This mode of tuition is the most pleasing, the most intelligible, and the most impressive. How useful to a scholar is a copy! How much does a builder aid our apprehension by giving us a model of the edifice he means to rear! In reading history, how much more are we struck with the representations of a battle, than by any rules of war!
So it is in spiritual things. The various subjects of religion are most advantageously placed before us, not in their abstraction—but embodied, enlivened, exemplified. We want instances—facts. We naturally inquire how did faith operate in Abraham, and meekness in Moses! We are anxious to know how men of acknowledged religion behaved themselves in such a season of prosperity, or in such an hour of distress?
In this, as well as in every thing else essential to the welfare of man, the Scripture comes in to our assistance, and holding up to our view a succession of characters, in diversified situations, furnishes us with warnings, encouragements, motives—as our circumstances may require.
The condition of David, when he spake the words which we have read, was severely trying. His son Absalom had commenced a powerful rebellion; in consequence of which he was compelled, with a few faithful followers, to leave Jerusalem, and pass over the brook Kidron towards the way of the wildernesst "And lo!- Zadok also was there, and all the Levites with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God: and they set down the ark of God; and Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city." Here he paused. And here I call upon you to observe him. In such a distressing and perplexing condition, the mind will be "driven with the wind, and tossed," unless
there be some grand principle to anchor it This Job had. "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 tlie right hand, that I cannot see him: but he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." And this David had. His religion aided him. It shone forth in this darkness: it glorified this trouble; and rendered it the occasion of exercising several pious dispositions, which we are going to remark. "And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God mto the city: if F shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and show me both it, and his habitation: but if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth food unto him." Behold here—his love to evotion—his dependence upon Divine Providence—his submission to the will of God.
I. Observe his Estimation Of Divine Means Ajjd Ordinances. The ark and the tabernacle were much more to him than his throne and his palace. And therefore he only mentions these. "Carry back (says he,) the ark of God—if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again"—to my house and my family ?—No: but " he will bring mo again, and—show me both it, and his habitation"—the ark and the tabernacle. Not that he undervalued the privilege of a 8afe return. Religion is not founded on the destruction of humanity. We are not required to contemn the good things of nature and providence. Indeed, were we to despise them, it would not be possible for us to discover resignation under the loss of them. Then our submission appears, when we know their value, and are capable of relishing them—yet can willingly give them up at the Divine call. Yea, when we are not sutBciently sensible of our obligations to God for temporal blessings, he often teaches us their value by their loss. In sickness the man has prized iiealtli, and has said, How little did I think of the goodness of God, in continuing the blessing so long! If I enjoy it again, "all my bones shall say, who is a God like unto thee!" Were an enemy to invade our shores; were the din of war to drive us from our dwellings, carrying our infants in our arms; were we oppressed by the exactions of tyranny—we should soon feelingly acknowledge the advantages of national safety, of civil liberty, of wise and good laws. Owing to our present connexions and circumstances, a thousand things demand a share of our attention, and ought to excite our gratitude.
But cur attention and our gratitude should be wisely exercised. Weshould be principally affected with "the unsearchable riches of Christ;" we should supremely regard our souls, and those spiritual blessings which belong to
our everlasting welfare. Minds truly gracious estimate their situations and conveniences in this world by the opportunities they give them of service for God, and of communion with him. Hezekiah asks, in distress, " What is the sign that I shall go up into the house of the Lord?" "One thing," says David, "have I desired of the Lord, that will 1 seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple."
Are you like-minded? If you are, you will not sufler a little trouble or a little expense, to keep you from the house of God. When compelled to abstain from his courts, you will feel your exclusion painful. With a mournful pleasure you will think of the seasons when you went " to the house of God with the voice of joy and gladness." With longing desire you will ask, "When shall I come and appear before God?"
This will influence servants in the choice of their stations. They will forego a number of advantages, and put up with a number of difficulties, rather than be deprived of the means of grace.
This will actuate the man of property in fixing the bounds of his habitation. Many persons in leaving off business go down into the country; and looking around them, say —Behold, yonder is a hanging wood—There are beautiful meadows—Here is a fine stream of water. But the Christian would inquire, before he pitched his tent, Is " the tree of life" here? Can I here have access to the "wells of salvation?" Can I "go in and out, and find pasture?"
II. See his Faith In Divine Providenci David views his defeat or his success, his exile or his return, as suspended entirely on the will of God. He does not balance probabilities—" These things are for me, and those are against me. When I think on these circumstances, I feel hope; but when I dwell on those, I tremble. I know the issue turns upon the pleasure of the Almighty. 'He bringeth down, and he lifteth up. When he giveth peace, then who can make trouble? And when he hideth his face, then who can behold him, whether it be done against a nation, or a man only V"
Not that he acted the part of an enthusiast, and despised the use of means. This appears obviously from the measures he devised, especially his employing the counsel of Hushai. But while he used means, he did not trust in them. He knew that duty is ours, and that events are the Lord's. He therefore looks beyond all instruments and second causes, to an Agent, "who workcth nil things after the counsel of his own will."—" If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and show me both it, and his habitation."
David knew it was easy for Him to take
wisdom from the wise, and courage from the brave : and to confound all his devices.
He knew also, that it was equally easy for God to turn again his captivity. He knew that his wisdom is infinite, his power almighty, his resources endless; he knew that "his counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure." It would be well for us to remember this in our difficulties, and to view a change in our distressing circumstances, as turning simply on the will of God. "If he speaks the word, I shall be healed. If he favours my cause, I am released. He ' knows how to deliver.' 'Nothing is too hard for the Lord.' It does not become his people ever to despair. He cannot come too late. Balaam may prepare altars, and offer sacrifices; but how can he 'curse whom God hath not cursed V Nebuchadnezzar may heat the furnace, and the faithful servants of God may be even thrown in; but the God whom they serve is continually able to deliver them. Had he interposed earlier, the salvation would not have appeared so marvellous and divine. He often makes our extremity his opportunity. - For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself of his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left."
III. He professes A Full Acquiescence In
THE DISPOSAL OF THE Almiohty. "But if
he thus say, I have no delight in thee: behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good to him." Here are no imprecations of vengeance against seditious subjects, and a rebellious son; no bitter complaints of instruments; no "charging God foolishly;" no "teaching God knowledge." He falls down at his feet, wishing to be raised up, but willing to remain. He mourns, but he does not murmur.
Thus Eli before him had said, "It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good." And thus his Son and his Lord long after, and almost on the very same spot, exclaimed, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it—thy will be done."
I have been thinking what helped to produce this disposition in David. Now there were two things in himself, and two in God, which promoted this resignation: and I mention them because they ought equally to influence us in our calamities.
There were two things in himself. The one was—a sense of his own Unworthiness. A consciousness of our desert is necessary to our submission under the afflictive dispensations of Providence. When this prevails, instead of wondering at our trials, we only wonder at our exemptions and mitigations; and say, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not" It was thus with David. A recollection of the ungrateful and guilty part which he had acted, stopped his mouth, and
made him silent in the dust "I have behaved more undutifully towards my father and my sovereign, than ever Absalom did towards his. 'I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him. Why should a living man complam, a man for the punishment of his sin i Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more. That which I see not, teach thou me; if I have done iniquity^ I will do so no more.'"
The other was—his Ignorance. For while the former convinced him that he had no right to choose, this persuaded him that he had no ability. He knew that he had often been deceived; deceived both by his hopes and fears; that he had desired things which would have been his ruin, and dreaded things which had proved some of his chief mercies; that "the way of man is not in himself, it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Hence he referred himself to God, as to one who knew what was best for him, saying, "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of his mother, my soul is even as a weaned child."
There were also two things in God which aided this acquiescence. First, his Sovereignty. "Has he not a right to do what he will with his own? Did not he find me a poor shepherd? Did not he raise me to the throne t —And if he requires me to lay down the sceptre, and reduces me back again to humble life—he is righteous: his authority is unquestionable. I have nothing that I can call my own: and he can take nothing that is not his."
Secondly, his Goodness. The authority of God awes us, and we say,
"Peace, all our angry passions then;
Let each rebellious sigh
Be silent at his sovereign mil,
And every murmur die."
But it is something else that produces the cheerfulness of submission. It is the principle which actuates him—which is love; it is the end he has in view—which is our profit: it is a belief that however things may be determined, with regard to our feelmgs—they "shall all work together for our good;" it is a conviction that if we sufler, these sufferings are as necessary as the knife to the vine; as the furnace to the gold; and as medicine to the body. This, and this alone can enable us cordially to say, "Behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him."
Let us be followers of David in this holy resignation of ourselves to the pleasure of God. There are two reasons why you should aspire after this state of mind.
First It will be very advantageous to yourselves. In passing through a vale of tears
you must expect to weep; but as you cannot escape afflictions, surely common prudence will lead you to ask, how you are to bear them? Now this acquiescence in the will of God is the preparation of the Gospel of peace, with which you are to be shod. Thus prepared, you may travel on through the wilderness—but what will you do if barefooted, when you meet with thorns and briers? To vary and enlarge the metaphor—impatience turns the rod into a scorpion. While the yoke presses the neck, patience lines it with down; and enables the man to say, It is good for me to bear it There is nothing so likely to obtain the removal of your afflictions, as this submissive frame of mind. In chastising a child, what would move yon like this yielding; like the ingenuous confession, "My father, I deserve this; and I hope it will be useful to me through life V—I borrow the image—"I have surely heard Ephraim bemoan himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh; 1 was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord."
Secondly. Nothing can be more honourable to religion. To surrender ourselves to the Divine disposal is the purest act of obedience: to subdue our unruly passions, is the greatest instance of heroism. It ennobles the possessor. It renders him a striking character. Nothing is so impressive as the exercise of the passive graces. It carries conviction into the minds of beholders, and forces them to acknowledge that there is a reality, and an excellency— because there is such an efficacy m "the glorious Gospel." "The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price."
But you say—Is all this attainable! It is. We readily confess that it is no easy thing thus to refer ourselves to God; especially in practice. We here see the Christian in his best frame, and in his best moments. But it is practicable—it has been exemplified by thousands of the same nature and infirmities with yourselves. It is practicable—I mean by Divine grace. And this grace is sufficient for you, and is promised to you. "Ask, and it shall be givea you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened onto you. For whoso asketh receiveth; and whoso seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened."
We conclude with the remark of an old Divine. That we may not complain of the
present—let us view God's hand in all events and that we may not be afraid of the future —let us view all events in God's hand. Amen.
THE CHILD JESUS.
(CHRISTMAS.) For unto ut a child it born, unto ut a ton it given: and the government thall be upon hit thoulder: and hit name thall be called linn derful, Countellor, The mighty God, The everlatting Father, The Prince of Peace.— Isaiah ix. 6.
To "him gave all the prophets witness." But what testunony was ever borne him like this!—Here we have a prediction at once the most clear in its application, the most glorious in its contents, the most consolatory in its design. And the return of tins day renders it peculiarly seasonable. Let us therefore indulge ourselves in a few reflections— upon his Incarnation—his Empire—and his Names.
I. We Haye Here His Coming Ik The Flesh. "Unto us a child is born, unto us i son is given."
It is remarkable, that all this should be spoken of as present In the time of Isaiah, the event could only be prophecy—but it is proclaimed as history. The Church of those days could only have expected this blessing; but they mention it as actually enjoyed—t, child is born: a son is given! Purpose and execution, promise and accomplishment, are the same with God. "One day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." The divisions of time which with us mark the past, the present, and the future, are nothing to him, whose being is one continual now, and who says of himself, "I AM is my name, and this is my memorial in all generations." And faith, uniting us to God, elevates us into his views, and makes us partakers of his excellences: "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
But for whom is this blessing designed? Who are authorized to say, unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given? The persons to whom he was immediately sent were "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." "He came first unto his own, and his own received him not" This was not, however, universally the case. There were some "who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem." Simeon, Anna, and others, eagerly embraced him as "the consolation of Israel." Some, affected by his preaching and miracles, also believed in him. All his first followers and his twelve Apostles also were Jews. Since then, an awful blindness has happened to this singular people: and "even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vafl is upon their heart Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob."
But he was to be a more general blessing. "It is a light thing," says God, "that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." Anil hence the angel said to the shepherds, "Behold, I bring you g*«d tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." None therefore are excluded from hope on this blessed occasion. He is come to die for the ungodly, for enemies, for sinners. Surely here is a sufficient warrant for personal and universal application to him. Unto yoa—and you—and you—" is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord!" Some indeed will not eventually derive salvation from him: but he himself has assigned the reason, and beyond this we should not go: "Ye will not come onto me, that ye might have life." If people spurn the remedy, we need not inquire why they are not cured.
But what is the benefit acknowledged! Unto us "a child is born," unto us a "son is given." And is there any thing wonderful m this? Do we not hear of it every day? Is it not the privilege of almost every family i And is there indeed nothing wonderful in the birth of an infant? How marvellous is the union of soul and body! What a mysterious thing is human life! How admirable the provision made to relieve its wants, to support its weakness, and to rear its tender years!
The birth of any infant is a far greater event than the production of the sun. The sun is only a lump of senseless matter: it sees not its own light; it feels not its own heat; and, with all its grandeur, it will cease to be: but that infant beginning only to breathe yesterday, is possessed of reason— claims a principle infinitely superior to all matter—and will live through the ages of eternity!
But this child is all prodigy. He is miraculously conceived; and born of a virgin. His coming "shakes the heaven, and the earth, the sea, and the dry land." For what other child did ever the heavens assume a new star! Wise men come from the east! Angels descend from glory? Ye rulers of the earth, "I said, ye are gods;" but with all your pride and vanity, at the birth of your first-born son—the stars roll on in their courses—angels pursue their work—the festivity is confined to human beings, and to a small circle of them—neighbouring countries scarcely hear of it
What are other children at twelve years of age? The mind is only beginning to open; the ideas are trifling and unarranged; it is the transition from foolish into intelligent Behold this child when twelve years old, doing his heavenly Father's business; sitting in the midst of the doctors both hearing and asking them questions And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. After this he went down to Nazareth, and was subject unto his own parents. And here a large proportion of his life is concealed from our view. We only know that he received no learned education, and have reason to believe that he laboured with his own hands; for in one place he is called "the carpenter." But when he appeared in public, he spake "as never man spake." He healed the sick. He raised the dead. He cast out devils. "He went about doing good." "He died for our sins: he rose for our justification." And he "entered into his glory, far above all principality, and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come." What a gift was here! But this brings us,
II. To Consider ins Empire: "The government shall be upon his shoulder." The utmost that a child ean be bom to is to fill a throne; and we deem this an enviable honour. But if we should be fortunate enough to reach the pre-eminence, what a short time does he hold the sceptre, before it drops from his feeble hand hv the decays of nature; or is forced from his grasp by the effects of violence! But the child Jesus is decreed a permanent unchangeable authority: "His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation. And the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces, and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever."
And over what a molehill does the most extensive worldly monarch reign! The Babe lying in the manger claims unbounded empire. There is not a being m the universe but is either his subject or his slave. He has "the keys of hell and of death." All the affairs of this world are under his management Nothing occurs by chance. "It is he that determines concerning a nation, and concerning a people," to establish, or to destroy; to enlarge, or to diminish. They are all in his hands but "as clay in the hands of the potter." He is " King of kings and Lord of lords." Thpy are amenable to his authority; they rule by his permission; they are controlled by his power. He girds them and guides them, though they know him not As far as they move m the direction of his purpose, they are invincible; when they oppose it, a straw checks and overthrows them. Ha