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[Some there are of a low, nervous, hypochondriac temperament both of mind and body, and who, whether they were religious or not, would of necessity be of a melancholy disposition; that being their constitutional tendency, just as cheerfulness or confidence are the tendencies of others. Persons of this class view every thing in a dark unfavourable light: they forbode nothing but evil: and, if religion occupies their minds, they write bitter things against themselves, and conclude that they never can be saved. They love gloomy thoughts, and brood over them day and night; and greatly injure both their minds and bodies by ruminating on subjects that are too deep for them. They perplex themselves about the divine decrees, and thus give occasion to many to represent religion as distracting their minds. But the truth is, that they seek for nothing but poison: they have no appetite for wholesome food: and religion is no more answerable for their distraction, than a fertilizing stream is for the death of a maniac who drowns himself in it.
Some there are who are brought into this state by long and complicated troubles. The mind of man, unless supported in a miraculous way, cannot endure a pressure beyond certain limits. Even Job himself, notwithstanding his extraordinary patience, seemed at times to sink under the accumulated load of his afflictions, and to be transported beyond the bounds of sense or reason. And the dejection of many, however it appear to originate in matters connected with religion, must in reality be traced to this source: their mind is enfeebled by a complication of bodily diseases, and of worldly sorrows, and then becomes an easy prey to any discouragements which may engross its attention.
Some are broken down by means of some great transgression, which, either before, or after, their religious course, they have committed, and which has destroyed all hope of respect from man, or comfort in their own minds. To such, life is become a burthen they cannot bear even the sight of those whose esteem they have forfeited: they affect solitude, which yet is irksome to them; and they long for death, as a relief from the torments of a self-condemning conscience. It is no wonder if such, though truly penitent before God, yield to desponding fears, and anticipate nothing but misery in the eternal world.
Some are in a more extraordinary degree than others exposed to the assaults of Satan. That powerful adversary seems, as it were, to take possession of their minds, as formerly he possessed the bodies of men: and by his fiery darts he inflicts the deadliest wounds upon their souls. He is well called, "The accuser of the brethren;" for he accuses them to God, as he did Job of old; and accuses them also at the bar of their own consciences, to prove them hypocrites and self-deceivers. Is it to be wondered at, if that roaring lion prevail over a weak
and unprotected sheep? The wonder rather is, that any are enabled to withstand him.
But once more: there are some who by God himself are brought into manifold temptations, and are suffered to experience much darkness in their souls. And though at first sight it should seem as if these persons were less beloved of the Lord than others, the truth is, that they are often to be found amongst those who are his chief favourites: "Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth;" and usually, those most, who are most beloved. We cannot doubt but that Job was an object of God's peculiar favour: yet who was ever more afflicted than he, even in the very way that we are now speaking of? Hear his own words: "The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me." And need we say how deeply our blessed Lord himself was afflicted, when "his soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death," and his mind was so distracted, that "he knew not what to say?"
That God sends these dispensations to his people in love, will appear even from our text: for Heman, who was eminent for his piety, declares, that he had been so "afflicted from his youth up." And where did he attain this extraordinary piety, but in the school of affliction? Whilst others were intent on pleasure, he by his troubles was led to study his own heart, and to seek an acquaintance with his God; and thus he gained a knowledge which well repaid him for all that he endured. And it is a well-known fact, that those who are most exercised with spiritual troubles, are usually best instructed in "the deep things of God."
It is evident, then, that pious souls may be reduced to great distress, and that, in fact, many in every age are really so reduced; some through constitutional infirmity; some by means of accumulated afflictions; and some by an irretrievable loss of character consequent on some heinous transgression: some are brought into it by the assaults of Satan, and some by the wise and gracious appointment of their God.]
Let us now turn our attention to,
II. The reflections which naturally arise from the subject
1. How great is the evil and bitterness of sin—
[If there had been no sin, there would have been no sorrow. Sorrow is the fruit of sin; the fruit which immediately sprang up, as soon as this root of bitterness was planted in the human breast. Till Adam fell, he enjoyed the sweetest
intercourse with his Creator: but, after his transgression, instead of going forth as before to meet his God, he fled from his face, and strove to hide himself. From that moment has the world become a "Bochim," a land of weeping and of mourning. Sorrow is that inheritance to which every child of man is born: and, even if any be truly converted unto God, still, as long as they continue in this vale of tears, they will, at a greater or smaller distance, be followed by two inseparable attendants, "sorrow and sighing :" and it is only when they shall arrive at the portals of heaven, that joy and gladness will be their sole companions: then indeed, but never till then, will that Scripture be fulfilled, "They shall obtain joy and gladness; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." How fearfully the minds even of good men may be oppressed, by a sense of God's displeasure against sin, will appear from the experience of David; who "ate ashes like bread, and mingled his drink with weeping, because of God's indignation and wrath'." And it yet more forcibly appears from the complaints of Job: "Thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions: so that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than life "." If we look to the terrifying effects of sin on the ungodly, the sad history of Judas paints them in their true colours. Let these sorrows then, in whomsoever they be found, be traced to their proper source: and let this at least be learned from them, that it is an evil and bitter thing to sin against the Lord.”] 2. What obligations to God do they lie under, who are favoured with any measure of peace and joy!
[This point, we apprehend, is by no means duly considered. It is thought by many to be a hard thing if there be any intermission of their spiritual comfort: but the wonder rather is, that there is any intermission of their sorrow. Who that considers the desert of sin, who that views the imperfection of his best services, has not reason to adore and magnify his God, for the willingness he shews to revive the hearts of the contrite? Were God extreme to mark what is done amiss, the experience in our text would be the lot of all without exception, even of those who should find grace in the eternal world. But, blessed be God! this is far from being the case: there are many to whom God vouchsafes the light of his countenance, and the joys of his salvation. We desire, however, that such persons should appreciate aright the blessings conferred upon them: and that, instead of ever complaining of darkness or of trouble, they should improve every manifestation of God's love to the furtherance of their confidence in him, and of their zeal in his service.]
i Judg. ii. 4, 5.
1 See Ps. xxxviii. 1, 2. and cii. 9, 10.
k Isai. xxxv. 10. m Job vii. 14, 15.
3. How astonishing was the compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he undertook to redeem a ruined world!
[He well knew, that, as the surety and substitute of sinners, he must bear all that the violated law would have inflicted upon them. And, if to us, who are by nature alienated from God, it is such a dreadful thing to endure the hidings of his face and the terrors of his wrath, what must it be to that immaculate Lamb of God, who from all eternity "lay in the bosom of his Father," and "was daily his delight"!" Yet behold, having undertaken for us, he suffered all that was due to us, "He the just, for us the unjust!" From his youth up was he "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:" and, especially at the close of his life, he drank to the very dregs the cup of bitterness that must otherwise have been put into our hands. Truly "he was made a curse for us :" and so grievously did he suffer under the united assaults of men and devils, and from a sense also of his Father's wrath, that he sweat great drops of blood, and, in the midst of his severest agonies, had yet further to bewail the hidings of his Father's face; "My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?" Let us learn to estimate as we ought this stupendous mystery, of "God manifest in the flesh" to expiate by his own sufferings the sins of his rebellious creatures. O let us contemplate this mystery, till we are altogether lost in wonder, love, and praise !]
4. How awful will be the state of all who die without an interest in Christ!
[This which Heman so bitterly bewails as his portion in this world, will, in an infinitely higher degree, be the portion of all who shall perish in their sins. They will indeed be "cast out from God's sight," as objects of his everlasting abhorrence. Never to all eternity will they have one look from him, but will behold "his face turned away" from them, and "his fierce wrath" executed upon them. Verily, "whilst they suffer his terrors, they will be distracted." Who can conceive the distraction of their minds at the overwhelming thought of eternity? Oh! what "weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth" will there be amongst that wretched assembly, whose agonies are so insupportable, and whose prospects so interminable! But thus it must be, if we will not flee to that Saviour, who has laid down his life for us. Shall we not then awake from our slumbers? Shall we not cry unto our God, now that his ear is open to our petitions? Shall we stay till we come into that place of torment, and have an impassable gulf fixed between him and us? O let us "seek the Lord whilst he may be found,
n John i. 18. and Prov. viii. 30.
and call upon him whilst he is near:" then, though we should not enjoy all that we may wish for here, we shall hereafter; and even, by our occasional sorrows here, be fitted for an uninterrupted fruition of his glory to all eternity.]
THE BLESSEDNESS OF God's people.
Ps. lxxxix. 15, 16. Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance. In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.
EVERY man by nature desires happiness: but few know where it is to be found. The generality imagine that it will be a sure attendant on earthly prosperity -But the Psalmist points out to us its only true source: "There be many that say, who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us." In like manner he instructs us in the text; "Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound."
In these words the character and blessedness of the Lord's people are fully declared. Let us consider, I. Their character
“The joyful sound" must here import the Gospel—
[In the Gospel a Saviour is revealed, even such a Saviour as our necessities require, a Saviour who has made a full atonement for our sins, and who promises" salvation to all who come unto God by him." When this Saviour was proclaimed to the shepherds, it was in these memorable terms; "Behold, we bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people: for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord!"
But "the joyful sound" refers to the sound of the trumpets under the law, when the people were convoked to come up to God in the solemn assembly, or when the year of Jubilee was proclaimed. On this latter occasion, in particular, it was indeed a joyful sound: for then all persons who had sold their houses and lands, yea, and their wives and children, and their own selves too for bond-slaves, were restored to perfect liberty, and to the full possession of their former inheritance Suppose a person so circumstanced, what a joyful sound would that of the trumpet be to him! Such then is the Gospel
a Ps. iv. 6.
b Numb. x. 1-3, 10.
e Lev. xxv. 8—13.