« AnteriorContinuar »
in the Son of his love, now see themselves, yea, and "the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The eyes of their understanding being now opened, they see all things clearly.-" The deaf hear:” those that were before utterly deaf, to all the outward and inward calls of God, now hear, not only his providential calls, but also the whispers of his grace.—“The lame walk :” those who never before arose from the earth, or moved one step towards heaven, are now walking in all the ways of God; yea,“ running the race that is set before them.”—“The lepers are cleansed :" the deadly leprosy of sin, which they brought with them into the world, and which no art of man could ever cure, is now clean departed from them. And surely never in any age or nation, since the apostles, have those words been so eminently fulfilled, “ The poor have the gospel preached unto them,” as it is at this day. At this day the gospel leaven, faith working by love,-inward and outward holiness, -or, (to use the terms of St. Paul,)“ righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost,”-hath so spread in various parts of Europe, particularly in England, Scotland, Ireland, in the islands, in the north and south, from Georgia to New England, and Newfoundland, that sinners have been truly converted to God, thoroughly changed both in heart and in life; not by tens, or by hundreds only, but by thousands, yea, by myriads! The fact cannot be denied : we can point out the persons, with their names and places of abode. And yet the wise men of the world, the men of eminence, the men of learning and renown, cannot imagine what we mean by talking of any extraordinary work of God!" They cannot discern the signs of these times! They can see no sign at all of God's arising to maintain his own cause, and set up his kingdom over the earth!
5. But how may this be accounted for? How is it, that they cannot discern the signs of these times? We may account for their want of discernment on the same principle we accounted for that of the Pharisees and Sadducees; namely, that they likewise are, what those were, an “adulterous and sinful generation.” If their eye was single, their whole body would be full of light: but suppose their eye be evil
, their whole body must be full of darkness. Every evil temper darkens the soul ; every evil passion clouds the understanding. How then can we expect, that those should be able to discern the signs of the times, who are full of all disorderly passions, and slaves to every evil temper? But this is really the case. They are full of pride : they think of themselves far more highly than they ought to think. They are vain : they“ seek honour one of another, and not the honour that cometh of God only." They cherish hatred and malice in their hearts: they give place to anger, to envy, to revenge: they return evil for evil, and railing for railing. Instead of overcoming evil with good, they make no scruple of demanding an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. They “savour not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men." They set their affections, not on things above, but on the things that are of the earth. They “ love the creature more than the Creator ;" they are “ lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” How then should they discern the signs of the times? The god of this world, whom they serve, has ded their hearts, and covered their minds with a veil of thick darkness. Alas! what have these “ souls of flesh and blood,” (as one speaks) to do with God, or the things of God? 6. St. John assigns this very reason for the Jews not understanding the things of God; namely, that in consequence of their preceding sins, and wilful rejecting the light, God had now delivered them up to Satan, who had blinded them past recovery. Over and over, when they might have seen, they would not; they shut their eyes against the light : and now they cannot see, God having given them up to an undiscerning mind : therefore they do not believe, because that Isaiah said, (that is, because of the reason given in that saying of Isaiah,) “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, and be converted, and I should heal them.” The plain meaning is, not that God did thiş by his own immediate power; it would be flat blasphemy to say, that God, in this sense, hardens any man; but his Spirit strives with them no longer, and then Satan hardens them effectually.
7. And as it was with them in ancient times, so it is with the present generation. Thousands of those who bear the name of Christ are now given up to an undiscerning mind. The god of this world hath so blinded their eyes, that the light cannot shine upon them; so that they can no more discern the signs of the times, than the Pharisees and Sadducees could of old. A wonderful instance of this spiritual blindness, this total inability to discern the signs of the times mentioned in Scripture, is given us in the very celebrated work of a late eminent writer ; who supposes, the New Jerusalem came down from heaven, when Constantine the Great called himself a Christian. I say, called himself a Christian ; for I dare not affirm that he was one, any more ihan Peter the Great. I cannot but believe, he would have come nearer the mark, if he had said, that it was the time when a huge cloud of infernal brimstone and smoke came up from the bottomless pit! For surely there never was a time wherein Satan gained so fatal an advantage over the church of Christ, as when such a flood of riches, and honour, and power, broke in upon it, particularly on the clergy!
8. By the same rule, what signs would this writer have expected of the approaching conversion of the heathens ? He would doubtless, have expected a hero, like Charles of Sweden, or Frederick of Prussia, to carry fire, and sword, and Christianity, through whole nations at once! And it cannot be denied, that since the time of Constantine, many nations have been converted in this way. But could it be said concerning such conversions as these; “The kingdom of heaven cometh not with observation ?" Surely every one must observe a warrior rushing through the land, at the head of fifty or sixty thousand men! But is this the way of spreading Christianity, which the Author of it, the Prince of Peace, has chosen ? Nay, it is not in this manner that a grain of mustard seed grows up into a great tree. It is not thus that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Rather, it spreads by degrees farther and farther, till the whole is leavened. We may form a judgment of what will be hereafter, by what we have seen already. And this is the way wherein true Christian religion, the faith that worketh by love, has been spreading, particularly through Great Britain and its dependencies, for half a century.
9. In the same manner it continues to spread at the present time also, as may easily appear to all those whose eyes are not blinded. All those that experience in their own hearts the power of God unto salvation,
will readily perceive how the same religion which they enjoy, is still spreading from heart to heart. They take knowledge of the same grace of God, strongly and sweetly working on every side; and rejoice to find another and another sinner, first inquiring, “What must I do to be saved ?”—and then testifying, “ My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit doth rejoice in God my Saviour." Upon a fair and candid inquiry, they find more and more, not only of those who had some form of religion, but of those who had no form at all, who were profligate, abandoned sinners, now entirely changed, truly fearing God and work ing righteousness. They observe more and more, even of these poor outcasts of men, who are inwardly and outwardly changed; loving God and their neighbour; living in the uniform practice of justice, mercy, and truth; as they have time, doing good to all men; easy and happy in their lives, and triumphant in their death.
10. What excuse, then, have any that believe the Scriptures to be the word of God, for not discerning the signs of these times, as preparatory to the general call of the heathens ? What could God have done which he hath not done, to convince you that the day is coming, that the time is at hand, when he will fulfil his glorious promises; when he will arise to maintain his own cause, and to set up his kingdom over all the earth? What, indeed, unless he had forced you to believe?. And this he could not do, without destroying the nature which he had given you : for he made you free agents; having an inward power of self determination, which is essential to your nature. And he deals with you as free agents, from first to last. As such, you may shut or open your eyes, as you please. You have sufficient light shining all around you ; yet you need not see it unless you will. But be assured, God is not well pleased with your shutting your eyes, and then saying, “ I cannot see. ." I counsel you to bestow an impartial examination upon the whole affair. After a candid inquiry into matter of fact, consider deeply, “What hath God wrought ?” “Who hath seen such a thing? Who hath heard such a thing ?” Hath not a nation, as it were, been “born in a day?" How swift, as well as how deep, and how extensive a work has been wrought in the present age! And certainly," not by might, neither by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord.” For how utterly inadequate were the means ! How insufficient were the instruments to work any such effect;—at least, those which it has pleased God to make use of in the British dominions and in America! By how unlikely instruments has God been pleased to work from the beginning! " A few young raw heads," said the bishop of London, “what can they pretend to do?" They pretended to be that in the hand of God, that a pen is in the hand of a man. They pretended, (and do so at this day,) to do the work whereunto they are sent; to do just what the Lord pleased. And if it be his pleasure, to throw down the walls of Jericho, the strong holds of Satan, not by the engines of war, but by the blasts of rams' horns, who shall say unto him, “ What doest thou ?"
11. Meantime, “ blessed are your eyes, for they see: many prophets and righteous men have desired to see the things you see, and have not seen them, and to hear the things that you hear, and have not heard them.” You see and acknowledge the day of your visitation ; such a visitation as neither you nor your fathers had known. You may well say, “ This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and
be glad therein.” You see the dawn of that glorious day, whereof all the prophets have spoken. And how shall you most effectually improve this day of your visitation ?
12. The first point is, see that you yourselves receive not the bless ing of God in vain. Begin at the root, if you have not already. Now repent, and believe the gospel! If you have believed, "look to yourselves, that ye lose not what you have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward !" Stir up the gift of God that is within you! Walk in the light as he is in the light! And while you "hold fast that which you have attained, go on unto perfection !”. Yea, and when you are "made perfect in love," still, “ forgetting the things that are behind, press on to the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus!"
13. It behoves you, in the next place, to help your neighbours. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” As you have time, do good unto all men, but especially unto them that are of the household of faith. Proclaim the glad tidings of salvation ready to be revealed, not only to those of your own household, not only to your relations, friends, and acquaintance, but to all whom God providentially delivers into your hands! Ye,” who already know in whom you have believed, " are the salt of the earth.” Labour to season, with the knowledge and love of God, all that you have any intercourse with! “ Ye are as a city set upon a hill;" ye cannot, ye ought not to be hid. “ Ye are the light of the world : men do not light a candle, and put it under a bushel;" how much less the all wise God! No; let it shine to all that are in the house ; all that are witnesses of your life and conversation. Above all, continue instant in prayer, both for yourselves, for all the church of God, and for all the children of men, that they may remember themselves, and be turned unto our God, that they likewise may enjoy the gospel blessing on earth, and the glory of God in heaven!
SERMON LXXII.-- On Divine Providence.
Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered," Luke xii, 7.
1. The doctrine of Divine providence has been received by wise men in all ages. It was believed by many of the eminent heathens, not only philosophers, but orators and poets. Innumerable are the testimonies concerning it, which are scattered up and down in their writings, agreeable to that well-known saying in Cicero, “ Deorum moderamine cuncta geri :” that all things, all events in this world, are under the management of God. We might bring a cloud of witnesses to confirm this, were any so hardy as to deny it..
2. The same truth is acknowledged at this day in most parts of the world : yea, even by those nations which are so barbarous as not to know the use of letters. So when Paustoobee, an Indian chief, of the Chicasaw nation in North America, was asked, “Why do you think the Beloved Ones (so they term God,) take care of you ?” he answered, without any hesitation, “I was in the battle with the French; and the bullet went on this side, and the bullet went on that side ; and this man
died, and that man died; but I am alive still; and by this I know that the Beloved Ones take care of me."
3. But although the ancient as well as modern heathens had some conception of a divine providence, yet the conceptions which most of them entertained concerning it were dark, confused, and imperfect: yea, the accounts which the most enlightened among them gave, were usually contradictory to each other. Add to this, that they were by no means assured of the truth of those very accounts: they hardly dared to affirm any thing ; but spoke with the utmost caution and diffidence: insomuch that what Cicero himself, the author of that noble declaration, ventures to affirm in cool blood, at the end of his long dispute upon the subject, amounts to no more than this lame and impotent conclusion : Mihi verisimilior videbatur Cottæ oratio : “What Cotta said," (the person that argued in the defence of the being and providence of God,) “ seemed to me more probable, than what his opponent had advanced to the contrary.”.
4. And it is no wonder : for only God himself can give a clear, consistent, perfect account, (that is, as perfect as our weak understanding can receive, in this our infant state of existence; or, at least, as is consistent with the designs of his government,) of his manner of governing the world. And this he hath done in his written word: all the oracles of God, all the Scriptures, both of the Old Testament and the New, describe so many scenes of divine providence. It is the beautiful remark of a fine writer, “Those who object to the Old Testament in particular, that it is not a connected history of nations, but only a congeries of broken, unconnected events, do not observe the nature and design of these writings. They do not see, that Scripture is the history of God." Those who bear this upon their minds, will easily perceive,
that the inspired writers never lose sight of it; but preserve one unbroken, connected chain from the beginning to the end. All over that wonderful book, as “ life and immortality” (immortal life) is gradually “ brought to light," so is Immanuel, God with us, and his kingdom ruling over all.
5. In the verses preceding the text, our Lord has been arming his disciples against the fear of man. “ Be' not afraid,” says he, verse 4, “ of them that can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do." He guards them against this fear, first, by reminding them of what was infinitely more terrible than any thing which man could inflict: "Fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell." He guards them farther against it, by the consideration of an overruling providence : “ Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God ?" Or, as the words are repeated by St. Matthew, with a very inconsiderable variation, chap. x, verse 29, “not one of them shall fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered."
6. We must indeed observe, that this strong expression, though repeated by both the evangelists, need not imply, (though if any one thinks it does, he may think so very innocently,) that God does literally number all the hairs that are on the heads of all his creatures : but it is a proverbial expression, implying, that nothing is so small or insignificant in the sight of men, as not to be an object of the care and pro