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—is present It was a persuasion of this that led David to pray, "Remember not against me the sins of my youth." For he can easily show us that he remembers them. He can write bitter things against us, and make us possess the iniquities of our youth. He can bring back old sins by afflictions; and he can bring bock old sins by convictions. He can tell us all things that ever we did. Transgressions committed forty years back, he can revive, even in their aggravations and circumstances, with all the freshness of recent guilt And it is well to be convinced of this truth, in a way of mercy, and while we can apply for pardon. For he will certainly convince every impenitent sinner of it hereafter, in a way of justice, when he will publish to the world all the private wickedness of his heart and life, and fill him "with shame and everlasting contempt"
Thirdly. It is well to be informed of what we once were, and to be led back to our former history and experience. It is useful for a preacher sometimes to cry in our ears, and remind us of our natural state; that we may "look to the rock whence we are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence we were digged." It is needful for him to remind us of the dispensations of Providence which have attended us in former years:
"Why .ti inM the wonders He has wrought
It is well for us to raise our Ebenezers, and to inscribe upon them, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped me." Such memorials God himself prescribes. "O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and vlut Balaim the son of Beor answered him from Shittim, unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord. And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no."— It is desirable to bring back to the mind our former frames and feelings in religion. We need every thing th*t is favourable to selfexamination and self-knowledge. We ought to be able to judge of our progress, or of our declensions, in the divine life. The state of our souls in particular circumstances and seasons should be secured, that after the lap?e of years, it may be reviewed. A comparison of our present, with our former experiences, will in some instances encourage; and in more condemn.
But we need reproof. It will be profitable for us to afflict our souls. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
This brings us, II. To consider those words
\S APPLICABLE TO CHARACTERS.
And First They will apply to Christians
under declensions in religion. It is said of Jehoshaphat, that he walked "in the first ways of David his father." This is an intimation that his first ways were his best: that the king never equalled the shepherd. This is awful. But the case is not peculiar to him. Backsliding is no uncommon thing. For it should be remembered that where there are no gross and scandalous deviations from the path of duty, there may be many secret alienations of heart from God; and where iniquity does not abound, the love of many may wax cold. Let us imagine the Supreme Being, by his ministers, addressing such characters as these:—
I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth —I remember thy simplicity. One motive influenced and decided you. If God was pleased and glorified, and you could enjoy his smiles and his presence—it was enough; and the applause or censure of worms was less than nothing and vanity. You rejoiced that you were "counted worthy to suffer shame for his name;" and binding the reproach of the cross as an ornament upon your brow, you said, If this be to be vile, I will yet be more vile. One thing you desired of the Lord, and that you sought after—it was a participation of the portion of his saints. Therefore, regardless of all other things, you prayed, "Remember me, O Lord, with the favour thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with salvation; that I may see the good of thy chosen: that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, and glory with thine inheritance." You did not think of stipulating for any thing else—with this, having only food and raiment, you could learn to be content But, alas! smce this period, how often have you looked aside after the friendship of the world ! how often have you yielded a little of your firmness to avoid the reproach of the cross! It is not sufficient for you now to have " God for your portion"—you are miserable unless you are in a fair way of adding house to house, and joining field to field. A little disappointment in worldly things fills you with fretfulness and despondency—as if all was gone or going—and, like Jonah, you sometimes exclaim, when a gourd withers, •• I do well to be angry even unto death."
—I remember thy attachment to the means of grace. O how you loved his word: it was your meditation all the day!—How welcome was the preaching of the Gospel! Then a trifling indisposition; a little rain or cold; the unseasonable calling of a friend—did not keep you from the courts of the Lord—nor did you hear half asleep. How you prized the Sabbath! How you numbered the intervening hours that should draw it on! How you hailed it when it arrived—"This is the day which the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it!" And O how precious were those seasons in which, around the table of a crucified Saviour, you received the dear memorials of his dying love! In the reception you said—" His flesh is meat indeed ! and his blood is drink indeed!" and in the review—" I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit waa sweet to my taste!" Then Christians appeared like an• gels. How attractive, how edifying, was the communion of saints! If two of you walked towards Emmaus, you took sorrowful and sweet counsel together; the Redeemer was your theme and your companion; and when you came to the village whither you went, you said one to another, "Did not our heart burn within us while he talked to us by the way, and opened to us the Scripture!" And when alone, was not your meditation of him sweet, and therefore frequent? Could you not say, with David, "How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O. Lord; how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I am awake, I am still with thee."
I remember thy holy and active zeal:— how you abounded in the duties of obedience; how you daily asked, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do!" How dissatisfied you were in the service of God, unless you could "draw near even to his seat;" how the bitterness of repentance made you loathe sin; at what an awful distance you kept yourselves from its approach; how you shunned "the very appearance of evil;" how, when the name of God was blasphemed, you could not sit "like a man in whose mouth there are no reproofs," but spoke for God, and defended his cause; how "jealous" you were "for the Lord of hosts;" how your bowels yearned over perishing sinners; how you longed to teach transgressors the way in which you were walkmg; how you seized every opportunity to invite others to taste and see that the Lord is good ; how to relations, friends, neighbours, you said, "Come with us, and we will do you good; for the I/jrd hath spoken good concerning Israel!"—I need not proceed. Such is the change.—
And has God deserved it i Have you gained by these declensions from him? Have you not compelled him to say, "Have I been a wdderness unto Israel—a land of darkness? O that they had hearkened to my commandments! then had their peace been as a river, and their righteousness like the waves of the sea!"
How dreadful is it that, when every thing requires our advancement, we should be stationary! that, when means und ordinances, mercies and trials, unite to urge us forward; that, when our obligations to God are daily increasing, and the day of account every hour approaching—we should not only stand still —but even draw back!
Surely it is high time to awake out of sleep! Declining Christian! attend to the
admonitions given to the declining Churches: "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for f have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent If therefore thou shall not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." lay these things to heart Say, "O that it wu with me as in months past!" Carry thy caie to the Scriptures; to the cross of Christ; to the throne of grace;' and pray—" Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit Open thou my lips, and my mouth shall slum forth thy praise. Wilt thou not revive Ib again, that thy people may rejoice in thee? Snow us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation."
Secondly. The words will apply Ui tin**; who promised fair in their youth, and are now become irreligious. Many a fine morning has been overspread with clouds, and followed by foul weather. Many a tree in spring has been covered with blossoms, which have never settled into fruit And thus it has been with many a youth who has discovered amiable and pious propensities. Thus it was with the young man who came to our Lord as an humble inquirer concerning eternal life: it is said, "When Jesus saw him, he loved him." Thus Joash was remarkable for early goodness; and waa preserved in it during the lifetime of the excellent Jehoiada; but upon the death of his guardian, he was drawn aside by evil company and counsel. And, from this and various other causes, there are many young persons' in the same condition now.
Perhaps you say—" But we are not vicious and profligate." So far it is well. And oh that this was true of all! but alas! we have swearers now, who in their youth feared an oath; we have sabbath-breakers now, who in their youth revered the sacred hours; we have scepties and scoffers now, who from a child knew and admired "the Scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation." You say, "We arc not like them." But they were not thus drawn aside all atonce; they became wicked by dcgrees. This is always the course of sm. They "proceed from evil to evil:" they "wax worse and worse." The way to hell is down hill; once in motion, it is easy to go on, and you know not where you shall stop. You say, "We are not like them." But let me, my deer young friends, ask you—Are you not much less piously inclined than you once were? Have you not exchanged a lovely teachableness of" mind, for conceit and self-sufficiency? a tenderness of conscience, for an insensibility of mind, which the word can seldom move? Have you not given up private prayer i Have you not lost much of your veneration for the pious and the good i Cannot you trifle with what once made you tremble i Are you not 'beginning to " walk in the counsel of the ungodly;" to " stand in the way of sinners;" to "sit in the seat of the scornful V
Ah! had you proceeded in the good course in which you were once engaged, ere now you might have been far advanced and established ; ere now, actions would have produced habits, and habits have yielded pleasure. What can be more distressmg, than your declensions from the good ways of God, to your pious friends; to your godly ministers! O how does it grieve them to see you breaking over the barriers of a good education, and resolving that the prayers, and tears, and vows of your connexions shall be all in vain! Ministers viewing you with hopeful pleasure as they buried the aged and the honourable, were saying—Well, others are coming forward, and will be the pillars of our bereaved churches: "instead of the fathers shall be the children." Your parents were beginning to say to each other—We shall soon be laid low m the dust—but these our loved oflspring shall be a seed to serve him. Now a death has spread over all their hopes!—especially when they reflect, that—you are likely to go greater lengths in error and wickedness than others; and that you will be reclaimed with much more difficulty than those who never did sueh "despite to the Spirit of grace."
Bat Thirdly. There are some who in their early days are truly devoted to the service and glory of God. To you, my dear young friends, the words are applicable—not in a way of reproach, but honour—not in a way of rebuke, but encouragement And what we wish you to observe is this—that early piety is peculiarly acceptable to the God of your lives and mercies. He takes it kind—O wonderful condescension! O touching motive!—he takes it kind: "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown."
You are forsaking the world, and willing to follow him whithersoever he goeth. You are pressing through a thousand allurements and seductions to reach him, and to say, kneeling at his footstool, "Whom have I in heaven hut thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee." You give him the first-born of your days, the first-fruits of your reason and affections—And I say again—he
takes it as kindness—" I love them that love me, and they that seek me early shall find me." He will guide you with his counsel, and afterwards receive you to glory. Should life be spared to a late period, it will only extend your course of usefulness, and with pleasure you will look back upon a life of mercy and grace, of communion with him, and dedication to him. Found in the way of righteousness, he will view your hoary head as "a crown of glory." When the days come in which many will say," We have no pleasure," it shall be -otherwise with you. Under the decays of nature, and the loss of friends of which time has robbed you; when every thing earthly has become distasteful: and you are made to "possess months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed unto you"—with humble boldness you may plead, "Cast me not off in the time of my old age; forsake me not when my strength failed). O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also, when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come." And he will answer you: "Even to your old age I am he; and even to hoary hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you."
THE MISERY OF CONTENDING
Wo unto him that ttriveth -with hit Maker!
The life of man is held forth by various images: and it is worthy of our observation that they will apply equally to the righteous and the wicked. For instance, .
The Christian is a traveller—and so is the sinner; only the one is journeying to heaven, and the other to hell.
The Christian is a husbandman—so is the sinner. Both sow: only the one "sows to the flesh, and shall of the flesh reap corruption; while the other sows to the Spirit, and shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."
The Christian is a soldier—and we read in the Scripture of his commander, his enemies, and his arms? of his " fightings without," and of his "feadl within;" of his toil, and of his triumph.—jflut if the life of the Christian be a warfare, so is the life of the sinner. There is however this diflerence between them. The one wages a good warfare, and is crowned with glory and honour—the other is engaged in a cause the most infamous, and covers hunself with shame and confusion. The one is sure of victory—the other is certain of defeat The one fights for God -but the other against
Tlini—and "Wo unto him that striveth with his Maker!" L Let Us Mention Some Instances In
WHICH THE SINNER STRIVES WITH GOD.
II. Consider The Wo Which His OpposiTion NECESSARILY ENTAILS UPON HIM.
And, O! let me beseech you this evening to hear, not only with seriousness, but with self-application, that while I am endeavouring to lay open this crime, and this curse, you may individually ask yourselves, in the presence of God, whether you are chargeable with the one, in order to determine whether you are exposed to the other.
I. Let me specify some Instances In Which
THE SINNER MAY BE CONSIDERED AS STRIVING
With God. And here 1 hardly think it worth while to mention atheism, which opposes his very being, and tries to banish him from the world which he has made. Some indeed have supposed that a speculative atheist is an impossibility. I have often thought that if such a monster can be found, he is to be found, not in a heathen but in a Christian country. How far God may give up a man " to strong delusion to believe a lie," who has despised and rejected the advantages of revelation, it is not for us to determine—but "if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
It is undeniable however that we have a multitude of practical atheists. That is; we have thousands who live precisely as they would do if they believed there was no God; and are no more influenced by his presence and perfections, than if they were persuaded the Scripture was "a cunningly devised fable." Yea, they not only live " without God in the world," but they live against him! Wherein?
First They strive with him by transgressing his holy and righteous law. And this is done, not only by the commission of those sins which it forbids, but also by the omission of those duties which it enjoms. The man that does not love his neighbour and strive to do him good, is therefore criminal, as well as the man who robs and oppresses him. This law is also broken by the desires of the heart, as well as by the actions of the life. It is so spiritual as to apprehend murder in angry words, and adultery in wanton looks. Now every instance of disobedience is a contention with God; a daring struggle to determine whether we shall hi governed by his will or by our own. Y^
Secondly. The sinner strives Wth God by opposing the Gospel. The Gospel is a scheme of mercy designed to glorify God in the salvation of man, and is made known "for the obedience of faith." It calls us to repentance. It calls us to renounce our own righteousness. It calls us to flee for refuge to the Saviour of sinners. If, therefore, we go on in our impenitency; if we endeavour to establish our
own righteousness, and save ourselves; if we endeavour to rear a shelter, instead of repairing to the only refuge provided—we are striving with God. In the Gospel God says, " Come and let us reason together;" but the sinner says, "Depart from us: we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." The language of the Gospel, as a token of willmg submission, is, " Kiss the Son"—the language of the sinner is, " We will not have this man to reign over us." The language of the Gospel is, "Go and wash in Jordan seven times; and be clean"—the language of the sinner is, "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better tlian all the waters of Israel 1 may I not wash in them and be clean?" No. And the reason is, that your cure can only come from God, and he has determined to save you in his own way: he has revealed only one remedy ; to this the promise is made; to this he requires you to submit; and if you refuse this method, and think of becoming your own physician, you are at variance with God. And even after persons have some serious concern about their souls, they find it no easy thing to yield up themselves unreservedly to this sovereign plan. Such is the pride of reason, and the force of legality; such a difficulty is there in relinquishing all apprehension of some worthiness and strength of their own; and such a disposition have they to make themselves better before they rely on the Saviour, that they are often detained long in opposing this gracious scheme, till increasing conviction compels them to acquiesce. And, though the force of it be subdued, something of the old leaven remains in the people of God all through life.
Thirdly. The sinner strives with God by violating the dictates of conscience. Conscience is the Divinity in man. And how often, and how faithfully, has it addressed you !"' O do not that abominable thing that I hate'"—and yet you did it "Abandon that vicious course: 'its steps take hold on hell' "—and yet you pressed forward. "Beware of that irreligious connexion : ' cvd communications corrupt good manners: t companion of fools shall be destroyed'"—and yet you complied with their enticements. And O! what labour have you had to lull conscience asleep, that you might steal forth and pursue your iniquities undisturbed! How hard have you often found it to subdue the uneasinesses which have sprung from its reproaches and condemnation! And sometimes, m struggling with you alone, has it not been ready to gain the victory, till you went forth and called in to your assistance—your comrades, and your dissipations; and thus rallied and reinforced, you have renewed the contest, and again "done despite unto the Spirit of grace?"
Fourthly. The sinner strives with God by refusing to resign himself to the dispensation.of his providence. By various blessings and indulgences, in his person, in his family, or in his business, God would attach his heart to himself. Hence the Apostle says, that " the goodness of God leadeth to repentance:" it ought to do so: it is the design and the tendency of it—But the sinn3r frustrates this design and tendency—yea, he does more—rhe turns it into an encouragement to sin. He is evil because God is good; and the mercies, which should serve as so many " cords of love" to draw him to God, he employs as so many weapons of rebellion against him !" Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heirtof the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Let favour be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord."
God tries other means. He sends a succession of disappointments and afflictions. These are designed to wean him from the world—but " he holds fast deceit, he refuses to return." They are "to hedge up his way with tfiorns"—but he breaks through them, and wanders on. By these God arms himself to awaken his fears, and drive him back— but " he rushes upon the thick bosses of his buckler." God strikes—and he strikes again! "0 Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock: they have refused to return."
He fixes the bounds of our habitations; arranges all our affairs; leaves nothing to chance. And upon this principle we "should learn, in whatsoever state we are, therewith to be content" For God cannot err. But the sinner murmurs and complains; he quarrels with the allotments of Providence; he wishes to rectify the Divine proceedings— God has not properly disposed of him, or of others—and the common sentiment is, that God has placed him too low, and others too high; indulged him too little, and others too much.
Again. The sinner strives with God by the persecution of his people. For such is the intimate and inseparable union between him and his followers, that in whatever degree you endeavour to injure them, you oppose him: he considers it as done against himself: "for he that toucheth them, touches the apple of his eye." Therefore said our Lord and Saviour, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou mer
Finally. He strives with God by trying to hinder the spread of his cause. He who, by fraud or force, would keep the Gospel from entering a neighbourhood, or, by reproach or threatening, would discourage people from hearing it, is in avowed opposition to the re
vealed will of God, "who will have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth." Persons may endeavour to justify their opposition in some cases, because those who are labouring to do good are not of their community, and " walk not with them"—but, surely, it becomes them to be exceedingly cautious in their conclusion, and to weigh the admonition of Gamaliel: " Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it: lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."
And be it remembered, that men will be judged not according to their success, but according to their intention. God may overrule their rage for good, and make all their efforts to subserve the cause they oppose— but as this was not their design, it will not be their exculpation. It was "in their heart" to prevent the diffusion of truth, and the influence of the Gospel: and God deals with them accordingly. He "looketh to the heart;" and will punish them in proportion to the good they would have hindered, and the evil they would have spared, had they Been successful. For "wo unto him that striveth with his Maker!"
II. No WONDER SUCH A WO IS HERB DENOUNCED—for this striving with God is,
First, A practice the most shameful and ungrateful. What would you think of a child who should strive with his father, reproach his character, counteract all his designs, and endeavour to injure his concerns!—But such is your conduct towards God. "Is not he thy Father, that hath made thee?'' What would you think of a perron who would set himself against a benefactor that had never given him the least ground of provocation, and had always been doing him good? But such is your conduct towards God. "He has preserved your souls in life. His air you have breathed. From his table you have been fed. He has given you all things richly to enjoy.
Has he not therefore reason to be astonished at your baseness and ingratitude? "Hear, O heavens; and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have »ebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider."
Itis, Secondly, a practice the most unreasonable and absurd. For observe—in all the instances in which you oppose him, he is niming to promote your good: his design is to make you wise, to make you holy, to make you happy; and the advantages of compliance will be all your own. Besides—
Can you do without him?—Can you do without him'in life? In death can you ia without him? Who else can pardon ywtl