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THE mind of man, especially in early life, lives much more habitually in the future, than either in the past or the present. We are almost continually looking forward on the days or the years that lie before us; and leaning in thought on the shadows of coming events.' There is hence in the constitution and bias of our minds a natural preparation for the power of promises; nor have any of us, moreover, passed through the susceptible season of childhood without an abundant experience of their dominion. By the spell of a promise we can fasten the imagination of a child to a future hour-annihilate, in his estimation, all the interests of the time that lies between, and bind his eye or his ear to the clock that tells over, one by one, the moments devoted to expectation.
'we look,' he says, 'for a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
amazingly relieved and enhanced by the terrors The brightness of this promise, moreover, is with which it is associated: for the period of its fulfilment is not only the great, but likewise the terrible day of the Lord. It is that awful day of final retribution when the Son of man, coming in his glory with all his holy angels, shall gather the dead and the living of all generations to judg ment before his throne, and 'shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd separateth his sheep from the goats. And the King shall say unto them on his right hand, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.' Into such a great and eventful scene may we not safely say that God has concentrated all the interests both of time and eternity; and that whether we regard it in the light of a promise or a threatening, it beckons us forward to its coming with all the power that the Almighty perhaps ever brings to bear upon the sensibilities of our nature? It is the strongest appeal to the most susceptible passions of our souls, our hope, our fear, and our love,—for the King who sits on that throne of judgment is Jesus Christ. How therefore, let us ask ourselves, has
The power of this influence, however, depends entirely upon faith; which, in its turn again, derives its surest maintenance from faithfulness. Of all promises, therefore, we should expect those of the Almighty, in whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,' to take the strongest hold of our hearts, and fasten our imagination most stedfastly on their day of fulfilment. In the vast concerns of the soul, how-it hitherto affected us? or how is it affecting us ever, and of the world that is yet to come, we misapply the lesson bequeathed to us by our blessed Lord, when, setting a little child in the midst of his disciples, he said unto them, 'Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven: for just as to them a year, a month, or sometimes a week placed between them and a promise, is an impassable gulph, in which their imagination, like birds in the Dead sea, droop and drown by the way; so do we suffer our faith in the word of God, and with it all the interest and the influence of a great expectation, to wear themselves out on the apparent delay of ful
In the words upon which our meditations are at present feeding, we find the apostle mildly reproving this spirit of unbelief, or rather reasoning it out of our way; as he seeks to turn our expectation in the direction of his own; and fasten them on the great fulfilment of all divine promises in the conflagration of the world. For in that final 'melting of the elements with fervent heat,'
even now? Are we looking for, and hasting unto the coming of the day of God? We who live so much in the future; who in the very act of sitting down to the banquets of to-day, are saying, 'what shall we eat to-morrow;' and while reaping the harvest of the present year are ploughing the ground for the next; are we thinking within ourselves, on which side of the throne the Judge of that day shall place us; or where, and what manner of persons we shall be, when its solemnities shall all be over, and the day of judg ment added to the records of the past? Alas! thousands, and tens of thousands, yea, the vast majority of mankind, are eating, and drinking, and sleeping in the very same manner, as we might safely suppose, if the coming of such a day had never been revealed. The apostle ascribes this forgetfulness or unbelief to the apparent slackness of God in bringing his own promises to pass. But did God ever tell us when the end of the world was to come? Let it be sufficient for us to know that it lies before us on a road that we must all travel, and that a time is coming when
we shall look back upon it as we now do on the creation of the world, the deluge, or the death of Christ.
And O! above all things, let us read aright this apparent slackness of God in bringing his own judgments to pass; and may his grace save us from the crimson sin of turning his own mercy into a weapon of offence against the honour of his name. Why is God so slow in the accomplishment of his threatenings, or the fulfilment of his promises? Why is the day of judgment so long delayed? O! just because the heart of man is hard, and God is gracious. In the plans of his grace he has a great work to accomplish before the coming of the great day; a work no less than the total reformation of the human race, and putting all things under Christ. If God then be slow it is because the hearts of men are slow in ceasing from evil, and learning to do well.' And so is it in regard to individuals, and the judgment that awaits us all at death. Why, we may ask ourselves, are we still alive? O! it is because God is willing that we, as indeed all men, should be saved. And therefore does he give us time to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. There is a time allowed, in sufficient measure, for all men; for God hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desireth rather that all should come to him by repentance and live.' Why then should a single soul be lost? And why, O God, should that soul be mine?
Likewise, I say unto you, There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth,' Luke xv. 10.
As the resources of redeeming love are, like itself, infinite, so is there an endless variety in its ways of winning souls to God. Of the many strings in the human heart, there is not one which the author and finisher of our faith has left untouched and untried, or rather upon which he has not brought every imaginable influence to bear, in his persevering endeavours to awaken within them a response of love, and wring out of them a tear of repentance. When he has tried us with the power of terror, and the fearful looking for of judgments, he addresses himself to the tenderest chord of our nature, and seeks to allure us over to himself and to heaven by voices of love and visions of delight. To change, after his own example, the figure, he is at one time checking us on the road to ruin by an exhibition of its
unutterable woes; and when he has terrified but not turned us, or turned us in the outward man, but not the inner, he opens as it were the gates of heaven, and directs upon our softest sensibilities the power of all its allurements.
In the passage before us, we find the untiring Saviour bringing into action the power of sympathy, and endeavouring to soften us into repentance by an impression of the joy, excited by this greatest of all revolutions in the life of man, among the sinless inhabitants of heaven.
Of our fallen state, and our natural alienation from God, it is one of the many symptoms that we ourselves have no fellow-feeling with the holy angels, and are consequently slow to comprehend that they can have any sympathy with us. wrong feeling upon this subject is fed by wrong. thinking, and the heart defrauded of a pleasing and powerful sympathy by an error of the head. For in attempting to conceive the happiness of heaven, and its holy angels, we are apt to suppose that just because it is perfect and equable in its own nature, it can derive no accession from the events of human life; which, being in themselves fluctuating and uncertain, would seem to imply similar fluctuations in any order of felicity that can be affected by their changes.
We suppose, in short, that just as happens to ourselves, if joy be diffused over the family of heaven by the repentance of a sinner, or any tidings of great gladness from the earth, their joy must have been incomplete before; or, what amounts to the same thing, would have been less had such a repentance not taken place. And thus do we think ourselves forced, as long as we admit the perfection of their blessedness, to doubt the participation of angels in our welfare. We should observe, however, that as they are said to rejoice in the arrival of glad tidings from the earth, it is never said that the amount of their joys is thereby enlarged, and then we have only to conceive that the joyous events of our globe, such as the accession of a human soul to the kingdom of grace, may be one of the many sources that feed the ever-full and equable river of their bliss. Now this is just what Christ tells us; and there is therefore no other barrier between our hearts and the influence of such a beautiful truth but the want of all fellow-feeling, on our part, with the holy inhabitants of heaven, occasioned by sin, and perpetuated by impenitence.
Are we inclined, moreover, to marvel at such an insignificant event as the repentance of a single sinner, extending its effects all the way to heaven, and contributing to the bliss of all the holy angels? Can such a ripple in the stream of time communi
cate an impulse to the ocean of eternity? Oh! | within his scheme of redeeming love.
God gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever
In like manner do we find the incarnate Son the great mystery of divine love, manifest in the flesh, extending, in the day of fulfilment, his anxious regard over the whole face of the earth, and along the entire vista of future ages, till its termination in the day of judgment; and in whatever direction he looks, expressing his earnest desire that every soul of man within the compass of his care should be saved. Most affecting is it, at the same time, to observe this affectionate solicitude, all the while, giving itself utterance in actions, as well as in words, by our blessed Lord laying plans, appointing ordinances, issuing commands, and communicating instructions, with untiring patience and exertion, for giving effect to the large and benevolent desires of his soul. the reward and the joy set before him was to see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied. And thanks to the power of his blood, and the faithfulness of the everlasting covenant, he shall be satisfied. On goes the chariot of his everlasting gospel, conquering and to conquer till all things be subdued to the banner of his love, and the uttermost ends of the earth given unto Him for a possession. Shall we take upon us the yoke of Christ, and join in drawing his chariot-or stand still-be it in an idle, or an active resistance, to be driven down by its burning wheels. There is no other choice. The will of Christ, in the world of mind as well as of matter is accomplished by means, and unto men has he committed the task of evangelising the world. And what child of man does it not touch to see him, on the eve of returning to the Father, consigning his post to human disciples; just as a parent, when going on a journey, leaves one child to the care of another. In the passage before us, the disciples are
expressly commanded to go forth, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and teaching them, moreover, to observe all things, whatsoever I, the Lord, hath commanded them. With such a view of divine grace before us, can we be blind, or dead to the obligations thus lying upon all who have been made partakers of its blessings, to make themselves willing and unwearying instruments in working out the Redeemer's will, and promoting the regeneration of mankind. It is at once the duty, and the manifest interest of every Christian church, to labour continually in the great work of selfextension; for in no other way can its own security be maintained; and still more evidently can the injunctions of our text in no other way be fulfilled.
It is not only as churches or communities, however, that we are bound to serve the Lord in this field of duty, but likewise as individuals. O! if we have but a right sense of the privileges conferred upon us in baptism, and still more if we have tasted the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and the power of baptism in the inner man, then shall we not be slow to comprehend the obligation imposed upon all who are called by the name of Christ, to wage incessant war with iniquity; set their faces as flint against the reign of unbelief, and, within the little sphere of their personal influence, go on conquering and to conquer, till they make it as a green spot in the wilderness, fresh and sweet with the dews of Israel.
While teaching others, however, may we ourselves be wise to learn. We are taught in the passage before us, in aiming at salvation, to apply, with diligence, all the means appointed by the grace of God for working it out. The word all is here exceedingly emphatic, and manifestly implies that the neglect of any divine ordinance involves a nullification of all the rest. The express injunction of our text is to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded; and it is impossible, with such an explicit word as this all before us, strengthened, moreover, by the intensive term whatsoever, to overlook the manifest conclusion, that no commandment of Christ can we be keeping, while living in wilful disregard of any; for all his ordinances are wrapped up in this one commandment to observe them all; and therefore, as a system, they must stand or fall together. Just as obvious, at the same time, is the inference, that to neglect even the smallest ordinance of the gospel, is to renounce all its blessings; for we may be sure that Christ has given us no needless directions, or useless means of grace, but that, on
the contrary, they are just sufficient for our need And verily, when we contemplate, on the one hand, the end in view-the total renewal of our own nature after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness, together with an inheritance of honour, glory, and immortality in the purest dwellings of eternity; and on the other, the simplicity of the means appointed for working out such immeasurable results, we shall rather be inclined to wish that these means were enlarged than contracted; and, while working out our great salvation with fear and trembling, shall be careful to apply every direction that Christ has given in small things just as well as in great. For he that in this, his season of merciful visitation, is despising the day of small things, is in sad reality despising the great day of the Lord. O! let us be up then and doing while it is yet called to-day, for the night is fast approaching wherein no man can work..
'For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth,. so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: . . . it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it,' Isa. lv. 10, 11. We never doubt the power of God to do what he pleases. But it is one thing to admit, or not deny, and another to believe a truth, with an ease and familiarity of faith corresponding to its importance. There are many great truths, which, although no one ever thinks of denying them, remain so strange to our thoughts, that believing them is an effort and a process of the reason requiring to be repeated just as often as they force themselves on our notice. Of such a kind is, in the minds of perhaps most men, the motion of the earth, or the omnipresence of God; so that, when reminded of either, they have to think, and remember, and reason within themselves, in order to clear away the habitual illusion that the world is at rest, or that God is as far from their steps as he is from their thoughts. There are other truths, again, with which we are so familiar, that they affect us like instincts, and pour their influences direct upon the heart without passing through the filter of reason by the way. Of this sort is our belief in the regular return of the seasons, or in the divine promise that while the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease.'
These observations lead us to remark further, | heavens without accomplishing the purpose for that we find these two sorts of truth generally which it is sent; for most manifestly does it presented side by side in the bible; and the always produce an effect either for good or for things which are slowest in mounting to the evil; and it is but a short and sure stage in reasurface of the mind, so interlinked in the meta-soning, to ascribe that effect to the counsels by phors and comparisons of scripture, with the which the clouds are 'scattered and turned round themes of our quickest and easiest belief, that about.' they must either sink or float together. Such is the association of ideas in the short saying of our Saviour, I am the bread of life,' a metaphor connecting the great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh, with a subject of familiar and universal experience in natural life, and teaching us to connect them as closely with each other in our faith and our desires.
The comparison employed in the passage before us, is a beautiful instance of the same kind; and by the careful kindness of him who is not only the author of the simile, but also the contriver of the likeness, is admirably suited to interlink an important topic of religious faith and meditation with our most familiar modes of thought, feeling, and action.
Of all appearances in the natural world there are none that more manifestly lie within the kingdom of providence, or depend more unquestionably on the will of God, than snow and rain; nor are there any that make us more sensible of our own helplessness and dependence in the midst of our most strenuous exertions and most anxious expectations. Hence says the proverb, with emphatic simplicity, It is God who saith unto the snow, Be thou upon the earth;' and, with a sublimity of conception surpassing all human poetry, hath the psalmist called the rain the river of God. All rivers, indeed, might with abundant propriety be so called, but pre-eminently is the rain entitled to such a distinctive name, by its marvellous manner of flowing, in a perpetual alternation, from the heavens to the earth and from the earth to the heavens, performing the one portion of its endless circuit in the form of light vapour, and the other in that of rain. All the while, moreover, is its aërial channel, if we may so express ourselves, continually shifting with the blowing of the wind, of which we hear the sound, but cannot tell whence it cometh;' so as to pour out the small or the great rain' upon whatever spot of the earth God pleases, with the precision of a vine-dresser watering the plants of his vineyard. For the Lord by watering wearieth the thick cloud; he scattereth his bright cloud, and it is turned round about by his counsels, that they may do whatever he commandeth them upon the face of the world in the earth.'
Why then should we be slow in believing that just in like manner shall the word of God water the spiritual world, and prosper in the thing whereto he sends it? O! we never doubt; 'for who hath resisted his will?' But alas! do we believe it in the same manner as we believe in the fertilizing properties of rain? And do all eyes look up unto God for the reviving showers of his wind, as in the day when their corn is in the tender blade, and the heavens are like brass, they look up to him for the early rain? O! let us associate in our minds just as closely as we find them connected in the metaphors of scripture, the necessities of the soul with the wants of the body, and the promises of the life which is to come with that which now is ; let us connect the spiritual vineyard in our thoughts with the natural; and the word of the one with the rain of the other, till they blend together, and become, as it were, the same idea. Let us remember that the God of providence, and the God of grace, is one and the same Jehovah! And that a man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God! And O! if it be sweet, pleasant, and refreshing to our own hearts, to see the tender blades of a corn-field wet, and fresh, and green with the watering of God; can we be dull and dead to the reviving power of his word on the drooping graces of the soul! In the days when all eyes look up to heaven for rain as they do for meat in due season,' and when they see the passing clouds bearing to other hill-sides the quickening waters so much wanted on their own; and when, in the impatience of 'the hope deferred that maketh the heart sad,' they wish they had the winds in leading-strings, or the hills on wheels, are they not reminded that they themselves have feet to bear them to the spot where God is blessing the preaching of his word; and pouring down the spirit of revival, and satisfying the soul of the people in drought like a well-watered garden?
'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts,' Zech. iv. 6.
In the natural world, which is a picture of the
Never, moreover, does this rain return to the spiritual, great and permanent effects are most