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not your case! Are not the things of the world "thy good things ?" The chief objects of thy desire and pursuit? Are they not thy chief joy? If so, thou art in a very dangerous state; in the very condition which Dives was in upon earth! Do not then dream, that all is well, because thou art “highly esteemed among men;" because thou doest no harni, or doest much good, or attendest all the ordinances of God. What is all this if thy soul cleaves to the dust ? If thy heart is in the world: if thou lovest the creature more than the Creator.
8. How striking are the next words! “Beside all this, between us and you there is a great gull fixed; so that they who would pass from us to you, cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” This was the text which occasioned the epitaph on a right honourable infidel and gamester :
“ Here lies a dicer; long in doubt
Convinced ;-but, ah! the die is cast!” But, blessed be God, your die is not cast yet. You are not passed the great gulf, but have it still in your power to choose whether you will be attended by angels or fiends, when your soul quits its earthly mansion. Now stretch out your hand to eternal life, or eternal death! And God says, “ Be it unto thee, even as thou wilt!”
9. Being repulsed in this, he makes another request : “I pray thee, send him to my father's house : for I have five brethren ; that he may testify to them."--It is not impossible that other unhappy spirits may wish well to the relations they have left behind them. But this is the accepted time for them, as well as for us. Let us, then, address them ourselves ; and let us beg our living friends to give us all the help they can, without waiting for assistance from the inhabitants of another world. Let us earnestly exhort them to use the helps they have; to “hear Moses and the prophets." We are, indeed, apt to think, like that unhappy spirit, “If one went to them from the dead, they will repent.” “But Abraham said, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
III. I am, in the third place, to prove the truth of this weighty sentence: which I will do, first, briefly, and then more at large.
1. And, first, to express the matter briefly : It is certain, that no human spirit, while it is in the body, can persuade another to repent ; can work in him an entire change, both of heart and life : a change from universal wickedness, to universal holiness. And suppose that spirit discharged from the body, it is no more able to do this, than it was before: no power less than that which created it at first, can create any soul anew. No angel, much less any human spirit, whether in the body or out of the body, can bring one soul" from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” It might very possibly fright him to death, or to the belief of any speculative truth; but it could not fright him into spiritual life. God alone can raise those that are “dead in trespasses and sins.”
2. In order to prove more at large, that is men“ hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be effectually) persuaded [to repent,] though one rose from the dead;" I will propose a case of this kind, with all the advantages that can be conceived. Suppose, then, one
6. I am.
that does not “ hear Moscs and the prophets,” that does not believe the Scripture to be of God, to be fast asleep in his bed, and suddenly to awake, while the clock was just striking one. He is surprised to observe the chamber as light as if it were noon day. He looks up, and sees one whom he perfectly knew, standing at his bed side. Though a little surprised at first, he quickly recollects himself, and has the courage to ask " Are not you my friend, who died at such a time ?" He answers,
I am come from God, with a message to you. You have often wished you could see one risen from the dead ; and said, then you would repent. You have your wish; and I am ordered to inform you, you are seeking death in the error of your life. If you die in the state you are in now, you will die eternally. I warn you in his name, that the Scriptures are the real word of God; that from the moment you die, you will be remarkably happy, or unspeakably miserable; that you cannot be happy hereafter, unless you are holy here: which cannot be, unless you are born again. Receive this call from God ! Eternity is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel !” Having spoken these words, he vanishes away; and the room is dark as it was before.
3. One may easily believe, it would be impossible for him not to be convinced for the present. He would sleep no more that night; and would, as soon as possible, tell his family what he had seen and heard. Not content with this, he would be impatient to tell it to his former companions. And, probably, observing the earnestness with which he spoke, they would not then contradict him. They would say to each other, “Give him time to cool; then he will be a reasonable man again.”
4. Now it is constantly found, that impressions made on the memory gradually decay: that they grow weaker and weaker in process of time, and the traces of them fainter and fainter. So it must be in this case; which his companions observing, would not fail to seize the opportunity. They would speak to this effect: “ It was a strange account you gave us some time since: the more so, because we know you to be a sensible man, and not inclined to enthusiasın. But, perhaps, you have not fully considered, how difficult it is, in some cases, to distinguish our dreams from our waking thoughts. Has any one yet been able to find out an infallible criterion between them? Is it not then possible, that you may have been asleep, when this lively impression was made on vour mind ?” When he had been brought to think, possibly it might be a dream ; they would soon persuade him, probably it was so; and not long after, to believe, it certainly was a dream. So little would it avail, that one came from the dead !
5. It could not be expected to be otherwise. For what was the effect which was wrought upon him? 1. He was exceedingly frightened: 2. This fright made way for a deeper conviction of the truth then declared : but, 3. His heart was not changed. None but the Almighty could effect this. Therefore, 4. The bias of his soul was still set the wrong way: he still loved the world, and consequently, wished that the Scripture was not true. How easily then, as the fright wore off, would he again believe what he wished! The conclusion, then, is plain and undeniable. If men hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded" to repent and believe the gospel," though one rose from the dead."
6. We may add one consideration more, which brings the matter to a full issue. Before, or about the same time, that Lazarus was carried into Abraham's bosom, another Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, was actually raised from the dead. But were even those who believed the fact persuaded to repent? So far from it, that “they took counsel to kill Lazarus," as well as his Master! Away, then, with the fond imagination, that those who “ hear not Moses and the prophets would be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
7. From the whole we may draw this general conclusion: that standing revelation is the best means of rational conviction : far preferable to any of those extraordinary means which some imagine would be more effectual. It is therefore our wisdom to avail ourselves of this; to make full use of it; so that it may be a lantern to our feet, and a light in all our paths. Let us take care, that our whole heart and life be conformable thereto; that it be the constant rule of all our tempers, all our words, and all our actions. So shall we preserve in all things the testimony of a good conscience towards God : and when our course is finished, we too shall be carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom.”
Pirmingham, March 25, 1788.
SERMON CXVIII. - The difference between walking by sight,
and walking by faith.
“We walk by faith, not by sight,” 2 Cor. v, 7. 1. How short is this description of real Christians! And yet how exceeding full! It comprehends, it sums up the whole experience of those that are truly such, from the time they are born of God, till they remove into Abraham's bosom. For, who are the we that
are here spoken of? All that are true Christian believers. I say, Christian, not Jewish believers. All that are not only servants, but children of God. All that have “the Spirit of adoption, crying in their hearts, Abba, Father.” All that have“ the Spirit of God witnessing with their spirits, that they are the sons of God.”
2. All these, and these alone, can say, “We walk by faith, and not by sight.” But before we can possibly "walk by faith,” we must live by faith, and not hy sight. And to all real Christians our Lord saith, “Because I live, ye live also :" ye live a life which the world, whether learned or unlearned, “know not of.” “You that,” like the world, “were dead in trespasses and sins, hath he quickened,” and made alive; given you new senses, spiritual senses, -"senses exercised to discern spiritual good and evil."
3. In order thoroughly to understand this important truth, it may be proper to consider the whole matter. All the children of men that are not born of God, " walk by sight,” having no higher principle. By sight, that is, by sense ; a part being put for the whole; the sight for all the senses ;—the rather, because it is more noble and more extensive than any, or all the rest. There are but few objects which we can discern by the three inferior senses of taste, smell, and feeling : and none of these can take any cognizance of its object, unless it be brought into a direct contact with it. Hearing, it is true, has a larger sphere
of action, and gives us some knowledge of things that are distant. But how small is that distance, suppose it were fifty or a hundred miles, compared to that between the earth and the sun! And what is even this in comparison of the distance of the sun, and moon, and the fixed stars! Yet the sight continually takes knowledge of objects even at this amazing distance.
4. By sight we take knowledge of the visible world, from the surface of the earth, to the region of the fixed stars. But what is the world visible to us, but“ a speck of creation,” compared to the whole universe ? to the invisible world ? that part of the creation which we cannot see at all, by reason of its distance ? In the place of which, through the imperfection of our senses, we are presented with a universal blank.
5. But beside these innumerable objects, which we cannot see by reason of their distance, have we not sufficient ground to believe, that there are innumerable others of too delicate a nature to be discerned
of our senses? Do not all men of unprejudiced reason allow the same thing, (the small number of materialists, or atheists, I cannot term men of reason,) that there is an invisible wond, naturally such, as well as a visible one? But which of our senses is fine enough to take the least knowledge of this? We can no more perceive any part of this, by our sight, than by our feeling. Should we allow, with the ancient poet, that
“ Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth
Unseen, both when we wake, and when we sleep;"Should we allow, that the great Spirit, the Father of all, filleth both heaven and earth; yet is the finest of our senses utterly incapable of perceiving either him or them.
6. All our external senses are evidently adapted to this external, visible world. They are designed to serve us only while we sojourn here, while we dwell in these houses of clay. They have nothing to do with the invisible world: they are not adapted to it
. And they can take no more cognizance of the eternal, than of the invisible world: although we are as fully assured of the existence of this, as of any thing in the present world. We cannot think death puts a period to our being. The body indeed returns to dust; but the soul, being of a nobler nature, is not affected thereby. There is, therefore, an eternal world, of what kind soever it be. But how shall we attain the knowledge of this? What will teach us to draw aside the veil—" that hangs 'twixt mortal and immortal being?" We all know,-"the vast, the unbounded prospect lies before us :" but we are constrained to add,-"yet clouds, alas! and darkness rest upon it.”
7. The most excellent of our senses, it is undeniably plain, can give us no assistance herein. And what can our boasted reason do? It is now universally allowed, nihil est in intellectu quod non fuit prius in sensu: "nothing is in the understanding, which was not first perceived by some of the senses.” Consequently, the understanding, having here nothing to work upon, can afford us no help at all; so that; in spite of all the information we can gain, either from sense or reason, both the invisible and eternal world are unknown to all that "walk by sight.”
8. But is there no help? Must they remain in total darkness concerning the invisible and the eternal world? We cannot affirm this : even the heathens did not all remain in total darkness concerning
them. Some few rays of light have, in all ages and nations, gleamed through the shade. Some light they derived from various fountains, touching the invisible world. “The heavens declared the glory of God," though not to their outward sight : “ The firmament showed,” to the eyes of their understanding, the existence of their Maker. From the creation they inferred the being of a Creator, powerful and wise, just and merciful. And hence they concluded, there must be an eternal world, a future state, to commence after the present; wherein the justice of God in punishing wicked men, and his mercy in rewarding the righteous, will be openly and undeniably displayed, in the sight of all intelligent creatures.
9. We may likewise reasonably suppose, that some traces of knowledge, both with regard to the invisible and the eternal world, were delivered down from Noah and his children, both to their immediate and remote descendants. And however these were obscured or disguised by the addition of numberless fables, yet something of truth was still mingled with them, and these streaks of light prevented utter dark
Add to this, that God never, in any age or nation, “ left himself quite without a witness” in the hearts of men; but while he “ gave them rain and fruitful seasons ; " imparted some imperfect knowledge of the Giver. “He is the true light that” (still in some degree) “enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world."
10. But all these lights put together availed no farther than to produce a faint twilight. It gave them, even the most enlightened of them, no ensYX05, no demonstration, no demonstrative conviction, either of the invisible, or of the eternal world. Our philosophical poet justly terms Socrates, “ the wisest of all moral men;" that is, of all that were not favoured with divine revelation. Yet what evidence had he of another world, when he addressed those that had condemned him to death? " And now, oh ye judges, ye are going to live, and I am going to die. Which of these is best, God knows; but I suppose, no man does.” Alas! What a confession is this! Is this all the evidence that poor dying Socrates had, either of an invisible, or an eternal world! And vet even this is preferable to the light of the great and good emperor Adrian. Remember, ye modern heathens, and copy after his pathetic address to his parting soul. (For fear I should puzzle you with Latin, I give it you in Prior's fine translation.)
“Poor, little, pretty, fluttering thing
Must we no longer live together?
To take thy Hight, thou know'st not whither?
Lies all neglected, all forgot!
Thou hop'st and fear’st, thou know'st not what." 11. “Thou know'st not what !" True, there was no knowledge of what was to be hoped or feared after death, till " the Sun of righteousness” arose, to dispel all their vain conjectures; and “ brought life and immortality," that is, immortal life, "to light, through the gospel." Then, (and not till then, unless in some rare instances, God revealed, unveiled the invisible world. He then revealed himself to the children of men. “The Father revealed the Son" in their hearts; and the Son revealed the Father. He that of old time commanded light to shine