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beliere that it is false. For, unless you can demonstrate that it is an imposture, you must arrive at that conclusion by a process of belief. You risk all then upon faith—the faith that believes objections against the truth of the gospel, which have been often refuted. If you will plunge into eternal misery on evidence so slender, so contradictory, and inconclusive, how can you presume to reproach Christians with their credulity? They lose nothing by their faith, and they may gain by it an everlasting crown, a crown of righteousness that fadeth not away. O, then, be rational, and as you must believe, seek heaven on the testimony which fosters hope and banishes despair. To encourage you in this glorious ambition, hear my second, and concluding observation.
That previous ignorance and guilt form no barrier to the enjoyment of the invaluable blessings of Christianity, when conviction of its truth once takes possession of the mind. The woman of Samaria was a sinner, but she obtained mercy. The glorious gospel of the blessed God is a dispensation of grace. Its sanctuary stands open for all. There is no obstacle to the exercise of divine compassion, but that which is raised by our own wilful disbelief of the truth. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." The chief of sinners became an apostle, and the most polluted of the sons and daughters of men have been elevated to the dignity of saints; a dishonoured appellation in the world, but the only one that will survive its proud distinctions, and shed lustre upon the glories of eternity.
DISLIKE TO MINISTERIAL FIDELITY STATED & EXPLAINED.
BY J. A. JAMES.
Isaiah xxx. 9–11.--This is a rebellious people, lying children,
children that will not hear the law of the Lord : which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits : get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.
A wish to be deceived, is a state of mind by no means uncommon. Many have made truth their enemy, and it is not to be wondered at, that they are then in love with falsehood. They who have every thing to fear from the light, will retire from its beams, even in those cases where darkness will only yield them a little present relief, at the dreadful expense of future happiness. The moral courage which can calmly look danger in the face, and patiently listen to the alarming report which is made by some faithful expositor of the whole affair, is what few possess.
Even in reference to their temporal concerns, how prone are men, when they have a lurking suspicion that things are not right, to wish to be deceived; how eagerly do they look to the bright side of their fortunes; how anxiously do they cover or diminish every unfavourable symptom ; and how petulantly do they rebuke or contradict the individual who has sagacity to foresee, and fidelity to predict the gathering storm: had they the fortitude to look steadily at the approaching ruin, had they the hardihood to endure the present distress, which a perfect knowledge of their embarrassed circumstances would bring with it, they might perhaps be extricated from these difficulties. But shrinking, with fatal cowardice, from the painful disclosure, they court deception for the sake of a little present ease.
This was the case with the Jews at the time when this prophecy was delivered. Their national crimes were bringing destruction nearer and nearer. Their political horizon was perpetually becoming darker, and signs of the accumulating vengeance of Heaven were multiplying around them. The prophets, bearing the burden of the Lord, represented him as a holy Being, whom their transgressions insulted, and whose justice must necessarily be roused to avenge the wrong. One denunciation followed another, till the people, alike unwilling to be reformed, and to hear of the punishment which would come upon them for their impenitence, were anxious to change the tone of prophetic ministrations. They could not bear the pungent warnings of these holy men ; they trembled under the awful and impassioned appeals of Isaiah and his fellow-seers, and endeavoured, either by threats to silence, or by bribes to corrupt the oracles of heaven. The holiness of God was a subject peculiarly offensive to them: hence the exclamation, “ Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.” They wanted to hear only of his mercy. They would have disrobed him of his garments of light, and silenced, if they could, the song of the seraphim, uttered in praise of his unsullied purity. The deity they wanted to hear of was an indulgent being, who would connive at sin, and never punish the transgressor. They wished to hear no more of the rigid and harsh requirements of the law, but to listen only to the dulcet sounds of promise; they were anxious that the terrible thunders of justice should die away amidst the soft whispers of mercy. They were determined to go on in sin, and therefore desired, whatever might be “ right things,” to hear only smooth things, and to be left to go on unmolested in their career of iniquity.
Happy would it be for multitudes, if this love of deception had been confined to the Jews; if this demand for “smooth things" had been made only by them. But, alas ! they have many, very many followers under the Christian dispensation. The faithful ministers of Jesus Christ meet with the same reception from many of their hearers, as did the prophets of the older economy. There are not wanting in our age many who are anxious to save their own souls, and them that hear them ; who, in their solicitude to be clear from the blood of all men, shun not to declare “the whole counsel of God.” Their aim is not to please men, but to profit their hearers; not to gratify their taste, or amuse their fancy, or lull them into a false
peace, or wrap them up in unfounded security, but to save them from the wrath to come. Hence, they are anxious to convince them of sin, and by " the terrors of the Lord to persuade" them to urge the allimportant inquiry, "What shall I do to be saved ?” They know that without previous conviction, and alarm, and penitence, there can be no true comfort ; and therefore their aim is, like that of the skilful surgeon, to probe the wound before they attempt to heal it. This, many of their hearers cannot endure; they want smooth things, not right things; they cannot bear to have their consciences roused, their fears alarmed, and their minds rendered uneasy. They wish the preacher to avoid all harsh themes, and confine himself to more agreeable and palatable topics. The persons to whom I here allude, are those persons of our congregation, who, though they attend an evangelical ministry, have never yet been converted by the grace of God, but are still living either in open sin or predominant worldlymindedness; who know that if religion be indeed what they hear it often described, they can make no pretensions to it; who have no intention of altering their course, and who wish, therefore, to be left to pursue it, without being disturbed by the voice of ministerial fidelity.
I shall First state the truths which are usually obnoxious to such persons.
There are many doctrines, to which every faithful preacher of God's word feels bound to give ample room in his stated ministry, that are by no means welcome to many of his hearers; such, for instance, as the spirituality and unbending strictness of the divine law—the deep depravity of human nature—the exceeding sinfulness of man's conduct—the universal necessity of regeneration—the inefficacy of works for justification--and the indispensable obligation to a separation from the world : but as long as these truths are not enforced by the awful denunciations of Divine vengeance, many will tolerate them who still would gladly listen to other topics. But it is especially the holiness of the Divine nature, which, when scripturally explained, breaks in upon the quietude, and disturbs the peace of the unconverted sinner. It is the unsufferable splendour of this glorious attribute of God, which, like the beams of the sun falling upon the diseased and tender eye, offends and irritates. “Remove from our sight the Holy One of Israel,” is the demand of multitudes. Not, however, that the purity of the Divine nature, when abstracted from the Divine government, is so peculiarly offensive to sinners. As long as the Holy One will let them alone, and not cause his purity to bear upon their interests, or interfere with their pursuits, they feel, perhaps, no revulsion to it; as an object of mere intellectual contemplation, or of poetic taste, it is agreeable enough; they can admire the sublimity of the seraphic anthem, and feel no alarm as they sing the celestial chorus, and cry one to another “Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty.” As long as Jehovah will act like the deity of Epicurus, and retire from the affairs of men into the mysterious abyss of his own dwelling-place, they care not how holy he is; nor how much the preacher descants upon so lofty an abstraction as infinite purity. But when holiness is made the very basis of the Divine administration; when it is made to appear in the purity of the law, in the tremendous penalties by which that law is sanctioned, in the irreconcileable hatred of God to all sin, and in his irrevocable purpose to punish it ; when in fact that holiness is set forth in all the terrors of the retributive justice of the Governor and Judge of the universe, then it is that it wounds, and offends, and irritates the minds of many who hear the awful theme. The punitive justice of God, or his determination to visit the sins of transgressors upon themselves, is the holiness of the Divine nature in act. He could not be holy if he did not punish sin, and he could not be God if he were not holy. But oh! with what aversion and disgust; with what indignation and ill-will; with what clamour and opprobium, is many a faithful minister of the word followed through his course, because he asserts the claims, and denounces the threatenings of a holy God.
The Scriptures, not only of the Old Testament, but of the New, abound with the most appalling descriptions of the Divine displeasure against sin. Not only prophets, but apostles, have revealed the wrath of God against all ungodliness of men. Yea, it is a striking fact, that He who was love incarnate; who was mercy's messenger to our lost world; whose name was Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins; who was the manifestation and commendation of God's love to man, delivered, during the course of his personal ministry, more fearful descriptions of Divine justice and the punishment of the wicked, than are to be found in any other part of the word of God. In some of his parables there are instances of the real terrific. What can exceed the awful scenery of the rich man in torments? Hell and destruction are there set open before without a covering. No man can fulfil his ministry, therefore, without frequently alluding to the justice of God in the punishment of sin. No man can preach as Paul did, who made Felix tremble upon the bench, as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come ; and who gave it as a description of his ordinary preaching, that he persuaded men BY THE TERRORS OF THE LORD; who does not seek to alarm the fears of the unconverted by a representation of the consequences that will follow a state of final impenitence: nor without this can any one be an imitator of the preaching of Christ.