Transcribed from the 1866 John Snow and Co. edition by David Price, email email@example.com
THE WESLEYAN METHODIST PULPIT IN MALVERN.
SERMONS PREACHED AT THE OPENING SERVICES OF THE WESLEYAN METHODIST CHAPEL, IN 1866, AT MALVERN, BY REV. W. M. PUNSHON, REV. W. ARTHUR, REV. J. H. JAMES, REV. C. PREST, REV. J. PRIESTLEY, REV. G. SMITH, REV. G. WOOD. With a Preface by Knowles King.
LONDON: JOHN SNOW & CO., IVY LANE, PATERNOSTER ROW; WARREN HALL & CO., CAMDEN ROAD. 1866.
TO RALPH BARNES GRINDROD, OF MALVERN, M.D., LL.D., F.L.S., F.R.G.S., F.G.S., &c., &c., This Volume of Sermons IS RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED, IN THANKFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE LEARNED DOCTOR'S GREAT GIFT OF HEALING; BUT MORE ESPECIALLY OF HIS LARGE CHARITY, AND HIGH CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.
The Sermons which make up this volume were preached at Malvern, in 1866, at, and immediately after, the opening services of the Wesleyan Chapel there.
This beautiful and commodious building owes its erection to the piety and energy of the Rev. W. M. PUNSHON, who, in the year 1862, proposed by Lectures, and otherwise, to raise a fund for building Wesleyan Chapels in places of summer resort.
This proposition was well responded to by Mr. PUNSHON'S friends, and the Wesleyan public, and forty thousand pounds have already been expended in the erection of new Chapels at Ilfracombe, Dawlish, the Lizard, Brighton, Weymouth, Eastbourne, Walmer, Folkestone, Bournemouth, Blackpool, Lancing, Llandudus, Rhyl, Saltburn, Bray, Matlock, Malvern, Keswick, Bowness, and the Isle of Wight. Others are in progress.
These Sermons are published with the consent of the several preachers, but it must be stated that they were preached without any view to publication, and now appear in print, nearly word for word, as they were delivered, extempore, from the pulpit. Some of them, indeed, have never been committed to writing by the authors; for instance, of the beautiful sermon of Mr. ARTHUR, "not a word" was written by him either before or since its delivery.
This will account for the fact that the subjects are not treated with any degree of scientific exactness, as essays might require; but in a manner intended to suggest useful thoughts to serious audiences.
Although myself of the Church of England, I have had many opportunities, during the past thirty-five years, of hearing discourses from Wesleyan ministers, and making personal acquaintance with them; and I believe the following Sermons are a fair specimen of the Wesleyan teaching in this country.
Why should not the Church of England and the great Wesleyan body be united? Circumstances are entirely altered since Wesley, and his coadjutors, were compelled to run away from the Church of England. Now, thank God, the majority of our clergy, like the Wesleyan ministers, are zealous, and energetic, and evangelical men; popular in the style of their addresses, distinguished by the vigour of their pastoral ministrations, and incessant in them; paternal in their care of the poor, of broad and social Christian sympathies, and earnestly pursuing the secular and religious education of the young. Why should not the priests of the Church of England and the ordained Wesleyan ministers be permitted to exchange pulpits as they may think fit? There is little danger that a Wesleyan minister would proclaim unsound doctrine. Such an evil is much more shortly and sharply rectified by Wesleyan discipline, which the Courts of Law uphold, than by any mere legal action to which the Church of England is bound.
May it please God, by His Holy Spirit, to make these Sermons effectual for the spreading of His truth and the quickening of His people.
SIDMOUTH HOUSE, MALVERN, December 3, 1866.
* * * * *
If any profit shall accrue from this publication, it will be given to the religious institutions at Malvern.
THE LIVELY STONES. REV. W. MORLEY PUNSHON.
"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."—1 PETER ii. 5.
There is a manifest reference in the fourth verse to the personage alluded to in Psalm cxviii. 22, 23: "The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes." And this passage is applied by Christ to himself in Matthew xxi. 42: "Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes." The Apostle therefore places the beginning of any connection with Christianity in coming to Christ, and assures believers that in their union with Him alone consists the fulness of their dignity and privilege. And there is no truth that will more readily be acknowledged, or receive a heartier acquiescence from the heart of a believer. What could we do without Jesus? In our every necessity He is our "refuge and strength," in our perils He compasses us about with songs of deliverance, his life is our perfect example, his death is our perfect atonement. Well might the Apostle interrupt the course of his argument with the grateful apostrophe, "Unto you, therefore, which believe, He is precious;" and exhort them "that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light." The text presents us with topics of meditation worthy of our prayerful study, as it reveals to us—
I.—THE CHARACTER. II.—THE PRIVILEGE. III.—THE DUTY OF BELIEVERS.
I. You observe that in the text believers are presented as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood; two different illustrations, which, if you translate the word here rendered "house" by the more sacred word "temple," will be found to have the same religious significance, and a close connection with each other. Coming to Christ as the foundation-stone of the building, "disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious," the Church rises into a spiritual temple. From Christ, the great High Priest, "consecrated after no carnal commandment," believers rise into a holy priesthood by a majestic investiture that is higher than the ordination of Aaron. There are two points in the character of the ransomed Church which are illustrated in these words:—spirituality and holiness.
Take the first thought, spirituality. They are lively or living stones, built up into a spiritual house. Any one who thoughtfully observes the successive ages of the world's history, will not fail to discover that each generation of men has in some important particulars progressed upon its predecessor. There has been not only an accumulation of the treasures of thought and knowledge but an increase of the capacity to produce them. Hence in every age there has been a higher appreciation of freedom, a quickened enterprise of enquiry, the stream of legislation has refined and broadened in its flow, improvement has extended its acreage of enclosure, and principles proved and gained have become part of the property of the world. Our nature has had its mental childhood. The established laws of mind admit only of a gradual communication of knowledge. It was necessary, therefore, that men should be first stored with elementary principles, then advanced to axioms and syllables, and afterwards introduced into the fellowship of the mystery of Divine truth. Hence any reflective mind, pondering upon the dealings of God with men, will discover a progressive development of revelation, adjusted with careful adaptation to the preparedness of different ages of mankind. In the first ages God spake to men in sensible manifestations, in visions of the night, by audible voice, in significant symbol. As time advanced the sensible manifestations became rarer, and were reserved for great and distinguishing occasions. From the lips of a lawgiver, in the seer's vision, and in the prophet's burden of reproof or consolation, the Divine spake, and the people heard and trembled. At length, in the fulness of time, the appeal to the senses was altogether discarded; the age of spirituality began, and in the completed revelation men read, as they shall read for ever, the Divine will in the perfected and royal word. And this progress, which appears through all creation as an inseparable condition of the works of God, present in everything, from the formation of a crystal to the establishment of an economy, is seen also in the successive dispensations under which man has been brought into connection with heaven. You can trace through all dispensations the essential unity of revealed religion. There have never been but two covenants of God with man—the covenant of works and the covenant of grace; never but two religions—the religion of innocence, and the religion of mercy. Through all economies there run the same invariable elements of truth. The first promise contains within itself the germ of all subsequent revelation—the Abrahamic covenant, the separation of Israel, all the rites and all the prophecies, are but the unfoldings of its precious meaning. Sacrifice for the guilty, mediation for the far-off and wandering, regeneration for the impure, salvation through the merit of another; these are the inner life of the words, "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." The gospel therefore was preached unto Abraham. Moses felt the potent influence of "the reproach of Christ." David describeth the blessedness of "the man unto whom God imputeth not iniquity." "Of this salvation the prophets enquired and searched diligently." Christ was the one name of the world's constant memory, "to Him gave all the prophets witness," and from the obscurest to the clearest revelation all testified in tones which it was difficult to misunderstand. "Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." The patriarchal dispensation had no elaborate furniture nor gorgeous ritualism. The father was the priest of the household, and as often as the firstling bled upon the altar it typified the faith of them all in a better sacrifice to come. Then came the Jewish dispensation with its array of services and external splendour, with its expressive symbolism and its magnificent temple; and then, rising into a higher altitude, the fulness of time came, and Christianity—the religion not of the sensuous but of the spiritual, not of the imagination awed by scenes of grandeur nor bewildered by ceremonies of terror, but of the intellect yielding to evidence, of the conscience smitten by truth, of the heart taken captive by the omnipotence of love—appeared for the worship of the world. Our Saviour, in his conversation with the Samaritan woman, inaugurated, so to speak, the dispensation of the spiritual, "The hour cometh, and now is,"—there is the moment of instalment, when the great bell of time might have pealed at once a requiem for the past and a welcome to the grander future, "when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth." Requiring spiritual worship, it was natural that God should have "built up a spiritual house," wherein he should dwell in statelier presence than in "houses made with hands." Hence there is now rising upon earth, its masonry unfinished, but advancing day by day, a spiritual temple more magnificent than the temple of Solomon, costlier than the temple of Herod. "Destroy this temple," said the Saviour to his wondering listeners, "and in three days I will raise it up." "Forty and six years was this temple in building, and will thou rear it up in three days?" "But He spake of the temple of His body." "What, know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?" Yes! believers everywhere are stones in the spiritual house, broken perhaps into conformity, or chiselled into beauty by successive strokes of trial; and wherever they are, in the hut or in the ancestral hall, in the climates of the snow or of the sun, whether society hoot them or honour them, whether they wrap themselves in delicate apparelling, or, in rugged homespun, toil all day for bread, they are parts of the true temple which God esteems higher than cloistered crypt or stately fane, and the top stone of which shall hereafter be brought on with joy.
The second representation of a believer's character is holiness, "a holy priesthood." In the Jewish dispensation the word was understood to mean no more than an outward and visible separation unto God; the priests in the temple and the vessels of their ministry were said to be ceremonially "holy." But more is implied in the term as it occurs in the text and kindred passages than a mere ritual and external sanctity. It consists in the possession of that mind which was also in Christ Jesus, in the reinstatement in us of that image of God which was lost by the disobedience of the fall. You will remember numerous scriptures in which holiness, regarded as the supreme devotion of the heart and service to God, is brought out as at once a requirement and a characteristic of a Christian. "What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness?" "Be ye holy, for I am holy," "as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation." "God hath not called us to uncleanness but unto holiness." "Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." And it is absolutely necessary that this grace should be cultivated if we would either fulfil the mission of our priesthood or abide in the Divine presence for ever. Holiness is requisite whether to see the Lord or to walk before men unto all well-pleasing; and as living witnesses, transcripts of His holiness, enabled by his grace to maintain purity of heart and life, God has promised to establish those who put their trust in Him. Some Christians have been deterred from the search after this blessing of heaven by the mistakes of those who have endeavoured to expound it, or by the hypocrisy of those who have assumed its profession that they might the better sin. It is marvellous how many different views of it have at times obtained currency in the world. By some it has been resolved into a sort of refined Hinduism, a state in which the soul is "unearthed, entranced, beatified" by devout contemplation into a pietistic rapture; others have deemed that the best way to secure it was a retirement from the vexing world, a recreant forsaking of the active duties of life, as if it consisted in immunity from temptation rather than in victory over it. Others have placed it in surpliced observance or in monastic vow; an equivocal regard to patterns of things in the heavens which common men mistake for idolatry. Others again, reversing the old Pythagorean maxim, and wearing the image of God upon their ring, have expressed it by unworthy familiarity, a continual adverting to the gifts of the spirit, and the experience of the soul in the flippancy of ordinary conversation, as did some of the fanatics of the Commonwealth. Others have represented it as a perpetual austerity, an investiture of our family circles with all the hues of the sepulchre, and a flinging upon the face of society the frown of a rebuking fretfulness, which would make the good of an archangel evil spoken of in this censorious world. But the scriptural holiness which believers long for, and which the Church is to spread through the land, is not a necessary adjunct of any or all of these. It is not the acting of a part in a drama, but the forth-putting of a character in life, the exhibition in harmonious action of the humble love and filial fear with which men "work out their salvation." "A holy priesthood." It is remarkable of this spiritual priesthood that it descends in no particular succession, nor limits its privileges to any exclusive genealogy. The holiness which is at once its distinctiveness and its hallowing comprehends and can sanctify all relations of life. Let the minister have it, and the love of Christ, his supremest affection, will prompt his loathing of sin and his pity for sinners; will fire his zeal and make his words burn, and will often urge him to cast himself upon the mercy-seat that his labours may not be in vain. Let the merchant, or the manufacturer, or the man of business have it, and it need neither bate his diligence nor hold him back from riches; but it will smite down his avarice and restrain his greed of gold; it will make him abhor the fraud that is gainful, and eschew the speculation that is hazardous, and shrink from the falsehood that is customary, and check the competition that is selfish; and it will utterly destroy the deceptive hand-bill, and the cooked accounts, and the fictitious capital, as well the enormous dishonesties as the little lies of trade. Let this holiness actuate the parent, and in his strong and gentle rule he will mould the hearts of his children heavenward, and train them in the admonition of the Lord, until, a commanded household, comely in their filial love, they shall reverence their Father who is in heaven. Let the child be impressed with holiness, and he will have higher motives to obedience than he can gather from the constraint of duty or from the promptings of affection. Let the master be holy, and while he upholds authority he will dispense blessing. Let the servant be holy, and service will be rendered with cheerfulness, "not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God." Let the man be holy, and vigorous health and lofty intellect and swaying eloquence and quenchless zeal will all be offered to God. Let the woman be holy, and patient prayer will linger round the cross, and ardent hope will haunt the envied sepulchre, and pitying tenderness will wail on the way to Calvary, and the deep heart-love will forget all selfish solicitudes in the absorbing question, "Where have they laid my Lord?" Let the world be holy! and the millennium has come, and wrong ceases for ever, and the tabernacle of God is with men, and earth's music rivals heaven's. Brethren, let us seek this blessing for ourselves. There, at the foot of the Throne, let us plead the promise, "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean." Imagination, intellect, memory, conscience, will;—sanctify them all. "Then will we teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto Thee." It is done, surely it is done. The hands are upon us now. We kneel for the diviner baptism, for the effectual and blessed ordination. Listen, the word has spoken, "Ye are an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."
II.—Certain blessings are presented to us in the text as the heritage of this spiritual and consecrated Church. Increase and acceptance. The spiritual house is to be built up firm and consolidated on the true foundation. The services of the holy priesthood are to be "acceptable to God through Jesus." Take the first thought. "Ye are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." The fact of God's constant supervision over his Church and care for its stability and extension is one that is impressed with earnest repetition upon the pages of his word. "Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken, but there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams." "Then shall thou see and flow together, and thine heart shall fear and be enlarged, because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee." "Then shall the mountain of the Lord's house be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it." "As I live, saith the Lord, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all as with an ornament, and bind them on thee as a bride doeth." From these passages, and many others breathing the same spirit, we may legitimately infer that it is the purpose of God that the kingdom of Messiah shall be universal; that the Church shall increase in steady and cumulative progression, and realize in herself all the "glorious things" which by the holy prophets were "spoken of the city of God." And in this matter God has not left himself without a witness. The present existence of the Church, after it has encountered and outlived all varieties of opposition, is in itself a proof which even its enemies, if they were not stupid and indocile learners, might ere this have discovered, that the eternal God is its refuge, and that the Highest will establish it for ever. From its institution it has had in the heart of every man a natural and inveterate enemy. The world has uniformly opposed it, and it has been unable to repel that opposition with weapons out of the world's armoury; for it is forbidden to rely upon the strength of armies or upon the forces of external power. Fanatics have entered into unholy combination. Herod and Pilate have truced up a hollow friendship that they might work against it together. Statesmen have elaborated their policy, and empires have concentrated their strength; the banners of battle have made hideous laughter with the wind; the blood of many sainted confessors has been shed like water, and the vultures of the crag have scented the unburied witnesses and have been ready to swoop down upon the slain. And yet the Church is living, thriving, multiplying; while the names of its tyrants are forgotten, and their kingdoms, like snow-flakes on the wave, have left no trace behind. No inborn strength will account for this mystery. No advance of intelligence nor philosophic enlightenment will explain this phenomenon. The acute observer, if faith have cleared his eye or opened an inner one, will go back for the explanation to an old and unforgotten promise, and will exclaim when he sees the Church struggling, but triumphant, like the fire-girdled bush at Horeb, "God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right early." And not only in the preservation from her enemies but in her unfailing progress among men in every age, has God shown that his purpose is to build up the spiritual house. The rapid spread of the truth in primitive times was a marvel and a mystery to those who saw not the arm which upheld it and the power which bade it multiply and grow. The whole history of gospel extension is indeed a succession of wonders. It began with a Pentecost, local, but prophetic of a universal one, when "its sound shall have gone out into all the earth and its words to the end of the world." In the times of the Apostles, and of their immediate successors, it overleaped the boundaries of nation after nation, acquired lodgment and proselytes in the proudest cities, subjugated the barbaric magnificence of Asia Minor, had its students in the schools of Greece, and its servitors in the imperial household at Rome. In its triumphant course it attacked idolatry in its strongholds, and that idolatry, though fortified by habit and prejudice, and sanctioned by classic learning, and entwined with the beautiful in architecture and song, and venerable for its wondrous age, and imperial in the dominion which it had exercised over a vassal world, fell speedily, utterly, and for ever. And in each succeeding age, obscured sometimes by the clouds of persecution, and sometimes by the mists of error, its progress has been gradual and sure. If it has not dissipated it has relieved the darkness. It has stamped itself upon the institutions of mankind, and they reflect its image. It has insinuated its leavening spirit where its outward expressions are not, and there is a vast amount of Christian and humanizing sentiment abroad, a sort of atmosphere breathed unconsciously by every man, whose air-waves break upon society with unfelt but influencing pressure, but its source is in the gospel of Christ. The building rises still! In distant parts of the great world-quarry stones of diverse hardness, and of diverse hue, but all susceptible of being wrought upon by the heavenly masonry, are every day being shaped for the temple. Strikes among the workmen, or frost in the air, may suspend operations for awhile, but the building rises! Often are the stones prepared in silence, as in the ancient temple-pile, with no sound of the chisel or the hammer. The Sanballats and Tobiahs of discouragement and shame may deride the work and embarrass the labourers; but one by one the living stones, polished after the similitude of a palace, are incorporated into it. Yes! the building rises, and it shall rise for ever. God has promised increase to the Church, and her enemies cannot gainsay it. From the more effectual blessing on churches already formed, from the reversal of the attainder, and the bringing into his patrimonial portion of the disinherited Jew, from the proclamation in all lands of the message of mercy, they shall throng into the city of our solemnities until "the waste and the desolate places, and the land of her destruction shall even now be too many, by reason of the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away." What Christian heart, looking for this promised blessing, rejoices not with exceeding joy? At the foundation of the second temple, amid the flare of trumpets and the clang of cymbals, while the young men rent the air with gladness, there were choking memories in many a Levite heart that chastened the solemn joy and were relieved only by passionate tears; but at the upbuilding of the "spiritual house" the young and the old may feel an equal gladness, or if some memories steal over the spirit of primitive days, and of the joys of a forfeited Eden, they may be stilled by the memory of the grander and abiding truth, that—
"In Christ the tribes of Adam boast, More blessings than their father lost."
Brethren, have you this joy? Does it pleasure you that the building rises? Do your hearts thrill with gladness as you hear of accessions to the Church and the conversion of sinners to God? Do you love the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob? Have a care if you feel not this sympathy, for ye are none of his. If it is within you a living, earnest emotion, give it play. "Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King."
The second privilege is the acceptance of her service and sacrifice through Jesus Christ.—To us, who are mean and unworthy, it is no small privilege to be assured of welcome when we come to God. To us, who are guilty and erring, it is no small privilege that we can come by Jesus Christ. The hope of acceptance is necessary to sustain the heart of the worshipper, which without it would soon sink into despair. The apostle, you perceive, places the ground of the acceptance of our services upon our union with Jesus Christ.
"Vain in themselves their duties were, Their services could never please, Till join'd with thine, and made to share The merits of thy righteousness."
He is careful to impress upon us that in our holiest moments no less than when we are wayward and criminal, our trust for personal safety, and our only chance of blessing are from our exalted Daysman, who can lay his hand upon us both. Our praise would be unmeaning minstrelsy, our prayers a litany unheard and obsolete, all our devotional service a bootless trouble, but that "yonder the Intercessor stands and pours his all-prevailing prayer." It is "through Him we both," the Jews who crucified Him and the Gentiles, who by their persevering neglect of Him crucify Him afresh, "have access by one spirit unto the Father." The words of promise touching the acceptance of the worship of the Church are explicit and numerous. "They shall come up with acceptance on mine altar, and I will glorify the house of my glory." "That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost." "In the place where my name is recorded, there will I accept." "In every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him." Oh, comforting thought, when I am convinced of my own sinfulness, and restless and disquieted wander about in distress, and lie down in sorrow, there is One who hears the stammered entreaty, and smiles a pardon to my agonized cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner." When in my daily life I encounter a terrible temptation, a temptation so strong that it tries my strength to the uttermost, and gives my heart a struggle and a bitterness which no stranger may know, there is One who marks my resistance and counts my enduring faith for righteousness, and whispers me that by and bye, he that overcometh shall wear the conqueror's crown. When in some moment of unguardedness I grieve the good Spirit, and become unwatchful, and in remorseful penitence I could almost weep my life away, the offering of my contrition is accepted, and there is One who heals my backsliding and soothes my fretting sorrow. My prayers offered in secret, pleading for purity and blessing, my praises, when the full heart, attuned, gives its note of blessing to swell the choral harmony, wherewith all God's works praise Him, the active hand, the ready tongue, the foot swift and willing in his cause, the service of labour, the service of suffering,—all these, if I offer them rightly and reliantly, are acceptable unto God by Jesus Christ. There is no room for distrust or for misgiving. I need not fear that, after all my efforts, I shall be met with an averted glance, or with a cold denial. The promise standeth sure, "To that man will I look." Oh, if there had been a pause after this announcement, how would the eager solicitudes of men have gathered round it, and waited for the coming of the words. Where wilt thou direct thy look of favour? To him who is noble, or wealthy, or intelligent? To him who with scrupulous rigidness fasts twice in the week, and gives tithes of all that he possesses? To him whose quick sensibility revels in all expressions of the beautiful, or whose graceful impulse moves him in all works of charity? No, to none of these, but, "To him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit; and that trembleth at my word."
III.—If there be this assurance of acceptance, how solemn and resistless is the call to duty, "To offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." Sacrifice, properly speaking, is the infliction of death upon a living creature for the purposes of religious worship, but this sacrifice and offering, happily, God requires not at our hands. No filleted firstling need now be led to the altar, the flocks of Kedar and the rams of Nebaioth may browse quietly in their pastures, for the Great Sacrifice has been offered, and it abides—"one sacrifice for sins for ever," needing no repetition, one for ever! unexhausted in its virtue, and unfailing in the blessing it confers. But in a secondary sense the recognized and fulfilled duties of the Church are fitly called sacrifices, for they cannot be properly discharged without the alienation from ourselves of something that was our own, and its presentation, whether time, ease, property or influence, to God. Brethren, to this duty you are called to-day. The name you bear has bound you. The holy priesthood must offer up spiritual sacrifices. Suffered to become Christians, permitted, a race adulterous and dishonoured as you were, to be united to Christ and partakers of his precious grace, the spell of these high privileges enforces every obligation, and hallows every claim. Ye are not your own. First offer yourselves upon the altar, renew your covenant in this the house of our solemnities, on this the instalment of our great Christian festival. It will be easy to devote the accessories, when the principal bestowment has been rendered. I claim from you this sacrifice for God. Yourselves, not a half-hearted homage, not a divided service, not a stray emotion, not a solitary faculty; yourselves, you all, and all of you; your bodies, with their appliances for service; your souls, with their ardour of affection; intellect, with its grasp and power; life, with its activity and earnestness; endowment, with its manifold gifts; influence, with its persuasive beseechings. I claim them all. "I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." This consecration made, all else will follow in the train; litanies of earnest supplication will rise from the full heart; the "prayer will be offered as incense; the lifting up of the hands as the evening sacrifice." Glad in its memory of the past, and hopeful in its trust for the future, the hosanna of gratitude will rise; "the sacrifice of praise continually; the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name." The property received gratefully from heaven will be offered freely and bountifully for Christ; and some outcast housed in a safe and friendly shelter, some emancipated slave or converted Figian, some Indian breaking from his vassaldom of caste and Shaster, and longing to sit at Jesus' feet and hear his word, will say rejoicingly of your liberality, "Having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God."
CHRIST'S WORK OF DESTRUCTION AND DELIVERANCE. REV. JOHN H. JAMES.
"That through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."—HEBREWS ii. 14, 15.
There is a special and ordained connection between the incarnation and the death of our blessed Lord. Other men die in due course after they are born; he was born just that he might die. He came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give" his "life a ransom for many." It is therefore evident that the theology which magnifies the incarnation at the expense of the atonement is fundamentally, fatally defective. The brotherhood of Christ with every son of Adam is a blessed truth, but it is by no means the whole truth, nor can it be practically available and influential apart from the offering of his body upon the cross as a sacrifice for sin. This is very clearly and strongly put in the text. The incarnation of the Son of God is proved from the Old Testament, and shown to have had reference to his redeeming death. Many purposes were answered by his becoming partaker of flesh and blood. His influence as a teacher, the power of his spotless example, his identification with the needs and sorrows of humanity, and the deep sympathy resulting therefrom,—these and similar ends were contemplated and fulfilled. But the grand purpose was disclosed and accomplished on the cross, where God made his soul an offering for sin. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."
The death of Jesus, then, and the end to be accomplished by it, constitute the central, vital, culminating truth of Christianity. The apostle puts the death of Christ in a striking point of view,—as a work done, rather than a calamity suffered. And it was a double work,—a work of destruction on the one hand, and of deliverance on the other,—of destruction in order to deliverance. That is the conception of his mission embodied in the first promise. The bruising of the serpent's head by the bruised heel of the Saviour, in order to repair the ruin wrought by the tempter, suggests very significantly the truth which is so explicitly announced here. And a similar combination runs through the ancient providential history. The destruction of the old world in order to the salvation of the righteous, and the fulfilment of the promise of redemption; and the destruction of the first-born of Egypt in order to the deliverance of Israel, are instances in point. But the death of Christ upon the cross in order to the emancipation of the slaves of Satan is the most glorious and perfect illustration. Let me ask your attention to the work of Christ's death,
I.—AS IT IS A WORK OF DESTRUCTION.
II.—AS IT IS A WORK OF DELIVERANCE.
I. AS IT IS A WORK OF DESTRUCTION. "That He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil."
1. Satan, then, is a person, and the enemy of Jesus, who died to destroy him.
(i.) The personality of the devil is necessarily implied in the words of the text. The theory which seeks to divest all that is said about the devil in Scripture of everything like personality, and to refine it away into figurative representation of "the principle of evil," is as unphilosophical as it is unscriptural. How can we conceive of moral evil in the abstract? How can we think of it apart from the depraved will of some intelligent being? Whatever theories may be held respecting the difficult question of the origin of evil, it is surely inconceivable that it should exist independently of some living, conscious, intellectual author. No truer or more philosophical solution can be found than that of the Bible, which attributes it to the devil,—a being originally good, who fell from his first estate, broke his allegiance to the Creator, and so became the leader of a vast and fearful rebellion against Almighty God. The case of man shows us the possibility of a being existing in a holy but mutable state, and lapsing, under certain inducements, into sin. What the inducements were in the instance of the prince of darkness we are not told; and thus the question of the origin of evil seems to be insoluble by us. But the identification of it with the personal defection of Satan is far more intelligible and reasonable than the attempt to treat it as a metaphysical abstraction. All the representations of the Bible on the subject are instinct with the awful personality of the devil. He is our "adversary;" he is "the accuser;" he is "the God of this world;" he is "the prince of the power of the air, that wicked one that now worketh in the hearts of the children of disobedience;" he that hath "blinded the minds of them that believe not;" he "leadeth" sinners "captive at his will." Surely that is a bold and unscrupulous theology which resolves all these clear and strong expressions into the mere ideal impersonation of a principle. O no! Satan is a being of subtle intelligence, with a depraved, unconquerable, malignant will; a dread living power, with whom we have continually to do, who "desireth to have us, that he may sift us as wheat," and with whom, if we wish to get to heaven, we must be prepared to fight at every step of our way.
(ii.) And he is emphatically the enemy of Jesus, who came to "destroy" him. "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed." It was in pursuit of his designs against the living God that Satan persuaded our first parents to commit sin; it was by lying insinuations against God that he deceived her who was "first in the transgression." Of course, he is the enemy of man. Of course, his design is to inflict ruin and misery on men, and to bring them to his own state and place of torment. But he does this by seducing them into rebellion against the Most High. Hatred of God is the spring of all his conduct, the motive of every enterprise which he undertakes. And Jesus, the Son of God, the vindicator of the divine honour, is necessarily the sworn eternal foe of the devil; and He has come into our world as into the arena of a supreme conflict for the defeat and overthrow of Satan; has assumed the very nature which the foul fiend seduced and degraded, in order that, in that same nature, he might avenge the wrong done to the being and government of God, and put an eternal end to the usurpation and tyranny of his enemy.
2. The devil "had the power of death."
(i.) We must not understand this as meaning that Satan has direct, independent, and absolute control over death, inflicting it how, and when, and where, and on whom, he will. The later Jewish writers taught the horrible doctrine that the fallen angels have power or authority generally in reference to life and death. But this never was the case. Death was the sentence pronounced by God upon man, and it could only be inflicted by his appointment and concurrence. The power of life and death is necessarily in God's hands, and his only.
(ii.) But Satan had the power of death, in this sense; namely, that he tempted man to commit the sin which "brought death into the world, and all our woe." He enticed Eve to sin, partly by denying that her offence would be visited with the punishment of death. "Ye shall not surely die," was the lie by which he contradicted and defied the God of truth, and induced the woman "to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." And so, he was "a murderer from the beginning." "God made man to be immortal, an image of his own eternity; nevertheless, through envy of the devil came death into the world." In this sense, then, as the author and introducer of that sin whose "wages" is death, Satan "had the power of death."
(iii.) Moreover, it is the work of Satan to invest death with its chief terrors. We shrink indeed from the humiliating prospect of corruption and decay; we cling fondly to those companionships, associations, and pleasures, from which death for ever separates us; we deprecate and dread the blighting of our earthly hopes, and the ruthless frustration of our schemes. These are very painful accessories of death; but they are not its sting; they do not make it a poison for the soul as well as for the body. "The sting of death is sin." That sting has been drawn for the Christian, and death hath no terrors for him. But, had the power of the devil in death been unassailed and uncounteracted, the dissolution of the body and the eternal ruin of the soul would have been alike complete and irrecoverable. By the consciousness of guilt, Satan has infused an element of insupportable terror into death. For it is that consciousness which makes death dreadful. It is quite probable that, if man had not sinned, his body would have undergone some great change, that it might be fitted for that "kingdom of God," which "flesh and blood cannot inherit;" but such change would have inflicted no pain, and involved no humiliation; it would only have been a change "from glory to glory;" and would have been anticipated with no sentiments contrary to desire and hope. But death, besides its own inherent ghastliness, is rendered dreadful through the malice of the devil, and the guilty fear of the penal hereafter which haunts all those who are in his power.
3. Jesus died to destroy "him that had the power of death." He has indeed provisionally destroyed death itself for all "the sons of God." "Death, the last enemy, shall be destroyed." But it is not absolutely and immediately abolished. The death of the body remains, even for God's people, as a sad and humiliating monument of the evil of sin; but to them it is not now a punishment, but the mode of their birth into a new and more glorious life.
"Mortals cry, 'A man is dead!' Angels sing, 'A child is born!'"
It may be truly said of the hour when a good man dies, that it is the hour when he enters into life. And this is because Jesus destroyed "him that had the power of death." He did not annihilate him, the word does not mean that, but He neutralized, counteracted, stripped him of his power. The whole design and effect of death, when in the power of the devil, has been defeated and reversed by the death of Christ. Though the bodies of his people be consigned to the grave, it is in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to everlasting life. That melancholy seed-time in which we cast the dust of our beloved into the earth, is the prelude to a glorious harvest; that when "He giveth his beloved sleep," is preparatory to their awaking to glory and immortality. "It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." This is what Christ's death has done for the bodies of his people; and is it not an entire breaking of the power of the devil over death? As to their souls, death delivers them from the burden of the flesh, that they may be in joy and felicity with God. "Absent from the body," they are for ever "present with the Lord." Death is no longer a dark and dreadful phantom, rising from the abyss, to drag down his victims and gorge himself upon them. He is an angel, pure and bright, sent to summon God's beloved to their Father's house above. That which men naturally dread as the crown and climax of all evils, becomes an object of wistful longing, for God's servants have "a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better." This stripping away of Satan's power, this destruction of "him that had the power of death," is due to the death of Jesus. He thus redeemed us from the debt of death, "acknowledging the debt in the manner in which he removed it." "Christ, by giving himself up to death, has acknowledged the guilt, and truly atoned for it; He has, in one act, atoned for the sinner and judged the sin." By dying for sins, He expiated that which gives to death its "sting," its power to injure and to terrify. He
"Entered the grave in mortal flesh, And dwelt among the dead,"
that He might put an end to Satan's power in and over death. Some sound and excellent divines are of opinion that, in the interval between his death and resurrection He literally "descended into hell," and there, in personal conflict, grappled with and overthrew the devil. However this may be, it is certain that the bruising of his heel by Satan was the chosen means for his bruising of Satan's head. Our enemy, who brought death into the world, is entirely baffled and defeated, as to the purpose and effect of that calamity, in the case of all who believe in the death of Christ. Their last act of faith gives them "the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Then the God of peace "finally beats down Satan under their feet." Death is "swallowed up of life." What power over death has the devil in such a case? Is it not wholly counteracted? Is not death a wholly different, nay, opposite thing to what he intended, when by tempting and conquering our first parents he brought it into the world? The body of the good man "is buried in peace, and his soul is blessed for evermore." He shall never more, through the long eternity of bliss, be assailed or injured by "him that had the power of death:" nor shall he see his enemy again, unless it be to triumph openly over him, in that day when "death, and hell shall be cast into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone." Many good people are unduly afraid of the devil, and especially they are in dread of his possible power in their last moments. But we may dismiss this fear as altogether needless and unworthy. Christ has not only rendered our great enemy utterly powerless for evil, but has, by his own most precious death, compelled even Satan into the service of the sons of God. He has turned the supreme calamity brought into the world by the arch-fiend into the supreme glory and joy of all who believe in himself. To all those who are by Jesus' death "to life restored," the day of death is infinitely preferable to the day of birth, for then beginneth that new life which shall never die. "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him until that day."
II. LET US NOW CONTEMPLATE THE WORK OF JESUS, IN HIS DEATH, AS A WORK OF DELIVERANCE. "And deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage." If we ascertain the import of this description of those whom Christ died to deliver, we shall easily understand the nature and mode of the deliverance wrought out for them.
1. They were in bondage. They were in fact enslaved by "him who had the power of death." This is a very fearful view of our natural state, and one which contradicts all the conclusions of our own vanity and self-complacency. Unconverted men believe that Christians are slaves, fettered by doubts, scruples, self-accusations; bound in the bands of moral routine, and able only to move in certain prescribed grooves; afraid to do as they list. According to their notion, true liberty consists in throwing off religious restraints, and following as much as may be "the devices and desires of our own hearts." But this is a terrible delusion, which only serves to show the depth and subtlety of him who, besides having "the power of death," is also "the father of lies," the great deceiver and ensnarer of mankind. History is full of analogous examples among men. In how many instances have the most cruel and remorseless tyrants made use of the passions and brute force of the multitude to secure their own elevation to absolute power, inducing their victims to forge and rivet their own chains. And it is so in this case. Sinners are the slaves of Satan; those evil desires and inclinations which they so recklessly obey are but the tools and bonds of the great oppressor. The wicked man sells his soul to the devil for the price of indulgence in "the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season." There is a very easy way of testing this question of freedom or bondage in sin. If you are really free, free to do as you like, you can do good as well as evil; you can give up your companionship with iniquity, and break your covenant with darkness, as readily, and with as little difficulty, as you made the compact. Let the man who rejoices in his liberty to sin try to abandon iniquity; he will surely find it an impossible task. However clearly he may discern the purity, justice, and goodness of God's law, however passionately he may long, and however earnestly he may strive, to regulate his life by it, he will find himself "carnal, sold under sin;" he will "find another law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin and death." It is easy to float with the stream, and the stronger the current the more buoyantly and exultingly it bears you on. But try to breast the current. You will soon find that you have undertaken a task which is "impossible with men," and will sink exhausted and undone with the vain endeavour. Alas! Satan is in very truth the lord of every enslaved soul, not rightfully, only by virtue of the foulest usurpation; but he is so in fact, and he "binds our captive souls fast in his slavish chains." And by this bondage unto sin he holds us captive to death. His law is "the law of sin and death;" and till Christ redeem and actually deliver us, we are bound over to endure "the bitter pains of eternal death." It is an awful thought, but it is as true as it is awful. Our cruel and relentless jailer keeps us in the prison of sin, shut up under his power, with a view to our everlasting death. May we be made conscious of our enslavement, for till we become so, we are not likely to seek for deliverance!
2. The sure sign of bondage to Satan is continual subjection, or rather liability, to the fear of death. It would scarcely be true to say of the great mass of the unconverted, that they are continually haunted and incommoded by the fear of death. Their general condition is one of thoughtless and careless ease, but they are always, even through their whole life, liable to be thus haunted and incommoded. Whenever the thought of death is brought home to them, as in the course of events it is ever and again sure to be, they are appalled and terrified. They then feel that death has a sting, and they have some foretaste of its sharpness and venom. They see nothing in death but the ruin of all their earthly hopes and schemes, and nothing after death but "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries," and when they seem to be themselves stricken by the hand of death, how do the terrors of hell make them afraid!
"O death, how shocking must thy summons be, To him that is at ease in his possessions!"
There is a difference however, and a very great one, between the fear of death and the fear of dying. Many good people are often tormented by the latter kind of fear. It is frequently the result of a sensitive organization, or ill health, or a naturally gloomy temperament; and many who have been much troubled by it through life have found it to vanish completely when the supreme moment came. But the fear of death is founded on the consciousness of unpreparedness for it, and on the anticipation of the punishments which it will bring. Every unsaved sinner has abundant reason for the fear which, however he may laugh it off, will assuredly at times gain the mastery over him. The brooding sense of insecurity; the secret sudden pang, stabbing him in the midst of his wildest joys; the desperate effort never to think, and the resolute refusal ever to speak of death; tell their tale, and show that the slaves of Satan are always liable to the fear of death. O, if this be your case, it is high time to look to yourselves! If you cannot bear the thought of death; if the great and solemn hereafter is haunted by images that scare and threaten you; if you "put far away the evil day;" be sure there is something radically wrong. Be sure, by that token, that you are the slave of the devil. Be sure that you "are in jeopardy every hour." Never rest, never for a moment be satisfied, till you can look death calmly in the face, and discern for yourself the life to come, and your inheritance in heaven.
3. For we all may have deliverance from our bondage to Satan, and from this characteristic effect and sign of it. The death of Jesus has provided this deliverance for us. By depriving Satan of his power over death, by expiating that sin which is the sting of death, and so entirely reversing and counteracting its penal efficacy, Christ hath wrought out for us a great salvation. And when we commit ourselves to Him, relying on the efficacy of his atonement, our chains are broken, and our craven fears are banished. Among the "first words" of newly-converted souls none are more common or triumphant than these, "I am not afraid to die now! I have a hope beyond the grave!" It is indeed a mighty deliverance. What calm, what security, what blessed hope does it inspire! To lose all fear of the last and greatest of human calamities; to look into the face of that which was "once an uncouth hideous thing," and to find that through our Saviour's death it hath become "most fair and full of grace;" to see no longer a dark and shrouded fiend arrayed in mortal terrors, and poising an envenomed dart for the purpose of laying us low, and compassing our lasting ruin; but a shining and smiling messenger from the King of kings, bidding us to an everlasting banquet in his royal palace; is not this true, priceless, boundless liberty,—worth toiling, striving, suffering, dying for? This flower of immortal hope blooms for each of us at the foot of the cross. If by the death of Jesus we gain spiritual life, we shall rejoice in hope of the glory of God, and shall look forward to the day of our death as the day of our eternal marriage with the King of glory. Let us not lose this unspeakable privilege! Let us, by faith in the death of our Lord, secure our freedom and our birthright! And, as we think of our smitten friends, let us thank God for their final deliverance from the power of death, and their admission into everlasting life. Finally, let us more and more glory in that cross whereby our Saviour Christ "hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light."
INCONSIDERATION DEPLORED. REV. JOSHUA PRIESTLEY.
"And they consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness."—HOSEA vii. 2.
Is it possible for any man to conceive of truths more fitted to arrest the attention and impress the heart than are those contained in this volume? It has been said that if a blank book had been put into our hands, and every one of us had been asked to put into it the promises we should like to find there, we could not have employed language so explicit, so expressive, and so suited to all our varied wants, as is here. And may I not say that no facts and declarations and appeals could be more fitted to rouse the conscience, and to regulate the life, than those we here find. Alas! however, with what affecting appropriateness may the Almighty say of Englishmen as of Israelites—of persons living eighteen centuries after Christ's death, as of those living eight centuries before it—"They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness."
This passage brings before us two parties. One is the speaker, the other the persons addressed. It states a fact respecting each. Let us look at these facts:—
I. "I remember," says Jehovah, "all their wickedness." What an idea does this statement furnish of the unlimited vastness of the Divine mind! For if He remembered all the evil deeds of all the Israelites, He remembered the evil deeds of all other persons. If He remembered all the evil deeds of all then living, He remembered all the evil deeds of all who ever had lived. And if He remembered all evil deeds, assuredly He remembered all good ones. The Scriptures declare this fact for the comfort of the righteous. What a cheering declaration to a good man is that found in Hebrews vi. 10, "For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister." What a vast number of incidents are included in the space of but one year in the history of each one of us! What a still vaster number in the whole period of life! And when we think of the ten hundred millions of mankind now peopling our globe; when we add to these the almost countless millions that have departed, and realize the fact that every incident of every individual of them is remembered—remembered as distinctly too as if one solitary incident were all that memory was charged with, what an idea is given us of the vastness of the Divine mind! What can we do but wonder and adore!
My text says much, but like many others, it means more than it says. How much of what Scripture intends to teach us shall we fail to learn, if we do not consider what is included and involved, as well as what is affirmed! This declaration imports three things. It imports—
1. That God observes all our wickedness. To remember a thing implies knowledge of it. This knowledge the Scriptures frequently declare the Divine Being to possess. They tell us that His eyes run to and fro the earth, beholding the evil and the good; that all things are naked and open to His eyes. They go further. They teach us that He is always present with us all, that there is no part of this earth, of the vast universe, from which He is ever absent. David expresses himself strikingly on this point—"Whither shall I go from Thy spirit?" says he, "or wither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell (hades), behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee." Psalm cxxxix. 7-12. How certainly therefore does God observe all our wickedness! Did we but constantly realize this fact what a restraining power it would exert over us when we are tempted to evil. A man left his cottage very early one morning taking with him a sack, and accompanied by his son, a little boy. That boy was a Sunday scholar, and little suspected his father's errand. After proceeding some distance the father entered a turnip field, and throwing down his sack, looked in this direction and in that to see whether any one was observing him. On discovering the father's object, the child said, "Father, there was one way you did not look." "Indeed," replied he, hastily; "which was that?" "You did not look upward," was the rejoinder, "and God is observing you." That was a word in season. The father's arm was paralyzed. He took up his sack and returned home. Remember, my friends, that the sleepless eye of the Omnipresent One is upon you. The man that goes forth at the still, dark, hour of midnight to plunder our habitations, how startled would he be if an inmate should noiselessly and suddenly present himself before him—the servant that robs his master, the circulator of base coin, the man of fraud—would these practise their misdeeds if they realized this truth: "Thou God seest me?" Would the slanderer, or backbiter, or hypocrite, indulge their habits if they realized this truth? Of what immense benefit would the realization of this truth be, both personally and socially!
2. When God says that He remembers all our wickedness, He means us to understand that He will exhibit it all. Why did He tell this people that He remembered all their wickedness? The Scriptures answer that question. They inform us that He intends to make use of the stores of which memory is possessed, and that He intends to make this use of them—to hold them up to the gaze of the universe. They teach us that the conduct of every individual will be investigated and published. "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil." "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." Important purposes will he answered by this. A declaration will be made of the righteousness of God in condemning the ungodly. He will hold up to view the nature and extent of the requirements He made of us, their reasonableness and beneficialness we shall all acknowledge. He will then make known the innumerable acts of goodness He bestowed—His forbearance to inflict punishment, and the various methods He employed to bring us to repentance. And by the side of all this He will exhibit our conduct toward Him—our ingratitude, our disobedience, our perverseness. And with what enormity will these things then appear invested! So guilty will thy conduct then appear, O sinner, that thou wilt be constrained to exclaim: "Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shall be, because Thou hast judged thus." What an exhibition will he made on that day!
3. When God says that He remembers all our wickedness, He means us to understand that He will punish for it all, if it be not repented of. The maintenance of law and order in the universe require the Divine Being to display His abhorrence of transgression. And how can that abhorrence be suitably displayed otherwise than by punishment? And the punishment must be of a degree to represent the guiltiness of the conduct. It must be impartial, and be inflicted therefore on every transgressor. The rich man cannot buy exemption from it. The man of mighty intellect, or powerful eloquence, cannot persuade himself, not to say the righteous Judge, into the belief that he ought to be exempt. The man of good desires and pious resolutions, he who was born of praying parents, and often bowed his knees at the footstool of his Maker, but delayed to surrender his heart, cannot escape. No, my friends, the decree of the Almighty has gone forth, it is irreversible—there is none more righteous, and none that will more certainly be fulfilled: "Though hand join in hand the wicked shall not be unpunished." "The wicked shall be driven away in his wickedness." "The wicked shall be turned into hell." What a mercy that we are not receiving our merited punishment at this moment! And why are we not? Because the God whom we have so shamefully and inexcusably resisted and provoked "is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Opportunity is afforded for repentance. He employs means to bring us to repentance. How good, how loving, God is! "God is love."
Can any of you still resist the strivings of his Spirit? "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?"
Christ has died that you might live, live with Him in His kingdom of glory for ever. He shed for you His precious blood. For you He now intercedes at the right hand of the Majesty on high. And if you come to Him, however guilty you are, truly sorry for your sins, and believe His own gracious declaration, that He came into the world to save sinners, to seek and to save that which was lost, He will pardon and bless you. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
God remembers all our wickedness. How much of it do you remember? How little of it do any of us remember! The past is to a large extent a vague and dim expanse. Many of you have climbed these noble hills, and as you stood on the summit, you observed that distinct as were the objects near, those remote were quite indistinct. It is but a few conspicuous objects you can discern at any considerable distance. Just so it is in reviewing our past lives. We can call to mind a few things. We can remember well—ah, we cannot forget, we have often wished we could, an act of rebellion against our parents of which we were once guilty; of obstinacy toward a master; of ingratitude toward a benefactor; of dishonourableness toward a friend, or unkindness toward a neighbour. There are several sad deeds in the life of every one of us which we cannot forget, but how many which we have all forgot. The things we can remember are as the milestones to the weary traveller, far, far apart. Yes, we forget, but God does not. He remembers them all. There is not a single improper word we have ever uttered, not a wrong feeling we have cherished, not an ungodly deed we have done, not a duty we have neglected, but God knew it, will exhibit it, and if unrepented of, will punish for it. Hear it, ponder it, hide it in the depths of your heart, God remembers all our wickedness.
Having considered the import of the declaration as it regards Almighty God, we come now to consider—
II. The charge against the Israelites. They are not charged, you observe, with denying the truth the Divine Being affirms respecting Himself, or even with doubting it. They admitted it, believed it, but it was unpalatable to them, and therefore they put it away from their thoughts. What a melancholy exhibition of character was this! And yet does not this declaration hold true of greatly more than one-half of the population of this evangelized land? Does it not hold true of every drunkard? Could he spend his hard-earned money in that which stupifies his mind, injures his body, degrades his character, shortens his life, and destroys his soul; and besides all this, brings want and wretchedness on his family, and makes himself a scandal and reproach to humanity—could any man yield himself to the power of intoxicating liquor that considered what is involved in such a course?
Does not this charge hold true of every sensualist? Could any man become the victim of degrading passions, could he consent to sacrifice the mental and moral part of his nature—the man to the animal—if he considered what was due to himself, to society, and to God?
Does not the charge hold true of the pleasure hunter? As a condiment, as a relaxation, pleasure seeking, if of the right sort, is not only allowable but commendable. He who gave life intended it to be a joy. To be always seeking after pleasure, however, exercises a dissipating and debilitating influence on the mind, and prevents the acquirement of true nobleness and worth of character. And would a creature, which is the highest workmanship of Infinite Excellence with which we are acquainted, yield himself to this, if given to the consideration of the fact the Almighty here states respecting himself?
To mention but one other class of character, does not the charge hold true of the fraudulent? Would a man rob his soul to enrich his pocket, would he narrow his heart to expand his purse, would he build up a character that is to endure for ever with such ill-tempered mortar as falsehood; would he be willing to encounter all the piercing looks and accusing words with which those he wronged will one day assail him, if he had taken his relationship to God, and man, and eternity, into consideration?
What incalculable mischief and misery this neglect of consideration has wrought in our world! Had our first parents considered the sad consequences that would ensue to themselves and their posterity, would they have plucked the forbidden fruit? Through what a long and mournful list of events that have happened from that day to this might I easily go, all of which would have been avoided if right consideration had been given! Every day during those six thousand years a multitude of such events have happened. Is there one of you but can recal deeds respecting which you say with bitterness of heart, I wish I had given it consideration—I wish I had considered it more fully?
My young friends permit me to urge consideration upon you. Your welfare for both worlds is largely in your own keeping. You can secure it or destroy it. But to secure it, consideration is essential. If you don't addict yourselves to reflection you will be largely at the mercy of impulse, be enticed probably by evil companions, and get wrong perhaps in a thousand ways. Reluctant as you may feel at first to engage in it—uninteresting as you may deem it, do not, as rational creatures, prefer the pleasing to the right and good. The young man of reflection is more respected, more valuable, and unspeakably more happy, than the frivolous and vain. If you forget all else I say, do not forget this—it is the declaration of your loving Father in heaven, who wishes to welcome you there, but can welcome those only who yield to Him a filial love—"I remember all their wickedness."
THE FRIEND WHOSE YEARS DO NOT FAIL. REV. W. ARTHUR, M.A.
"And thy years shall not fail."—HEBREWS i. 12.
You know that these words are taken from the hundred and second Psalm. There, they are addressed to God the Creator; here, to Christ the Redeemer. In both cases they express the same truths. Man finds himself here, looks out to what he can see around him, and then in thought passes on to what he cannot see. He knows that a very little while ago he was not here, he was not anywhere. He has an instinct within which tells him that though it is so short a time since he was not the time will never come when he will not be—an instinct that cries for a permanent foundation. He is not such foundation himself—he feels that. He stands upon the foundation of the earth: he did not lay it; it did not lay itself. Those layers of rock were not their own framers. But the foundation was laid. "Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth."
He is under a covering as well as on a foundation. He did not pitch that canopy, nor fix those lights, nor hang those curtains by whose silent closing and withdrawing the light is heightened or dimmed. "The heavens are the work of thy hand." But will these last? Will this earth that I stand upon last? No; I see on it the marks of age and decay as on myself. Like me it will perish. And those heavens that are over me, they shall perish—will all things perish? Will everything that is go out of being? "Thou remainest." They shall wax old, it is true, but that is only as if a garment waxed old; "As a vesture shalt thou fold them up and they shall be changed." All this that the eye can see above, below, around, is to the great King but as the robe upon the Sovereign to his person, and dominion, and when he folds up that vesture and lays it aside he will command another wherewith to show his glory to his subjects. "They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail!"
We have here a preacher, a listener, a subject: changeful nature, mortal man, immutable Godhead.
Changeful nature is a perpetual preacher, evermore proclaiming to us the twofold lesson, our own mortality and God's immutable glory and power. "Thy years shall not fail." What strange language applied to the Divine Being—perfectly natural as applied to us—"years!" Our life is finite, our life is measured, our life is dealt out to us in parcels. For us to speak of our "years" is natural, but when we look up to Him that is unmeasured, infinite, eternal, then this word "years" becomes but the representative of our small transient life when trying to contrast itself with his broad and Infinite Being. We are constantly speaking of two things wherewith we find ourselves related—space and time: and what are they? We hardly know. We know but something like this: space is a measured distance in infinity; time a measured duration in eternity.
We are launched in the midst of a sea of eternity, and all the time that comes to us comes by solemn public measurement, measurement conducted in the most formal and stately manner by the hand of the Creator. He made that heaven from which we can never shut our regard—we must see it; and in it He set those lights "for signs and for seasons and for days and for years." He might easily have given us a being that would have flowed on evenly from its beginning to its close without anything to mark it off into stages. We may almost watch a sunbeam starting from the sun and racing all the way to our world, passing over it, far on beyond it, till our eye and even our thought cannot follow it, and never anything to check or register its progress.
But not so the career that God has appointed to us. Everything is dealt to us under an economy of measure, of trust and of account. "For signs"—He set those things above us for signs. Cannot earth be a sign to herself? Cannot man be his own directory? Cannot the seas and the mountains and the rivers and trees and houses be their own tokens? Try this. Let that ship at sea, on which the fog has settled, ask the waves to say where is north, south, east or west; and when the gale springs up and the clouds cover the heavens let her ask the winds to tell how far from port. No, if the heavens give no signs she has none, she cannot tell where she is or whither she is going.
Suppose you find yourself within a mile of the house in which you were born: you know, as you think, every step of the way as well as you know your own bedroom; but there is neither sun nor moon nor star, the heavens are completely shut off and you are left to earth alone. Will the trees tell you the way? Will the houses show themselves? Will the road be its own exhibitor? No, if heaven fails you you cannot even see your own hand. You are under the perpetual preaching of the sky, that all your hours and all your movements are dependent upon heaven!
"For seasons" as well as for signs. The Lord might easily have established our lifetime under a different economy; might have given us one perpetual summer, or a perpetual spring, or a uniform co-existence of all the seasons, the fruits being sown, ripening and reaped simultaneously. But not so. He has settled two things so clearly that none, even the most sordid worm that ever wriggled under the clay, showing himself above it as little as possible, can help seeing them. First a fixed order that nothing can change and that proclaims one Lord, one will, one dominion, one plan. The seasons come in regular succession. Every man living knows when the summer is gone that winter is coming. That will not and cannot be changed. Were the whole world to conspire in one effort that spring should come next it would be unavailing. The winter is coming. But with this fixed order is established perpetual change, variety, mutability, so that although we know the season that is coming we know not what kind of a season it shall be, and all our temporal interests hang upon that question. When the merchant has got his stock, when the man of pleasure has fixed for his party, when the General has planned his campaign, when the Admiral has laid down the arrangements for the battle, when the grand politician has perfected the plot for a new crisis of the world, what must they do? Not look to what the earth but what the heaven will do. Everything depends upon that. They cannot decide the market price even of hard sovereigns, they cannot foretell the value of their wheat, they cannot determine the life and health of their soldiers or the hours and effect of movements independent of that one consideration, what will the heavens do? Three days rain will change a whole campaign or a harvest. By the arrangement of the seasons we are constantly kept at the door of Divine mercy, begging "Give us this day our daily bread." That eternal voice preaching through all our temporal interests is to us the solemn, never-ceasing protest against worldliness, earthliness, vanity, living for time, living for the body; and, above all, against every impure or ungodly method of attempting to secure our temporal aims.
"For days" as well as for seasons. The season passes slowly, but the day—oh what a solemn appointment is that! When the Lord made the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night it would have been very easy for Him to make two suns so that we should bask in perpetual daylight. But no, it was his will that our life should be cut into very short lengths and that by a mark so deep, broad, black, that the dullest man could not escape its impression. The dark gulf that lies between the dead day and the day unborn is the ever recurring remembrancer—Thy days are numbered; thy life is held under law; thy time is a measured current of golden sands. Every particle as it comes may easily slip away, if unwatched will slip, and once past thy hand it will be borne off by the rushing river and thou shalt never see it again, but if caught, held and brought to the mint of the great King it will there be turned into precious coin to serve in perpetuity the double purpose of enriching man and recording the majesty of God. Seize upon thy days as they pass! The heavens tell thee to do it; the dark and mantled earth tells thee; thy drowsy faculties tell thee; thy weary limbs tell thee; all are saying "numbered, numbered, numbered." Life is running away fast.
Not only for days but "for years." The days, as I have said, are short; they pass rapidly, and we calculate that the days of our years are threescore years and ten. And when you come to multiply 70 by 365 it makes a very large number, and if we have lost a few handfuls of days, well, cannot we make them up? Have we not been young, and are we not in this pleasant watering place, where one must see life and have a little pleasure, and if we do throw away a few days, why, cannot we recover them? Can we say that of the years? Are the years so very plentiful—such a large number assured to you that you can afford to squander a few, to turn them not only to useless purposes but to bad ones. Can you?—the years!—oh is not it wonderful, the way in which thy Lord and my Lord, thy Creator and my Creator, marks out before our eye the progress of the years?
Perhaps you may remember in childhood watching the day as it grew and spread itself out, making conquests from the night and winning moments, minutes, hours, till you began to think the day was going to do away the night. You saw it stretching over the hours that once were dark till it seemed as if the tips of the sunset touched the tips of the sunrise, and still the light was gaining so that in a little time the darkness would be all driven away and it would be day the twenty-four hours round. But just then the night began to come back and the day grew shorter, dimmer, colder, and the darkness spread itself over the light till it seemed as if in its turn the day was going to be quenched and darkness to wrap up the whole twenty-four hours. But then the day returned.
Was it an accident this first time? Would it ever occur again? You watched it: just the same process and at the same time, and you began to feel—it is a wheel! with its regulated, measured appointed movement; steady, by rule it rises to a certain point, and then comes down to a certain point, then turns again and comes up. It is a perfectly balanced wheel, making its revolution steadily, steadily. I did not fix those revolutions: the great Architect did! He knows how many the wheel itself can perform; He knows what each revolution marks off and what it accomplishes, and He knows too how many shall measure off my thread of life. I do not know the number, you do not know; but this we do know, it is marked upon the dial, and we are tolerably sure it is not more than threescore and ten. Suppose you saw the dial of life before your eye as plain as that dial is and the hand pointing twenty, thirty, forty, fifty of the divisions gone—gone never to return! Suppose you felt that that hand was pressing forward and would point and point to successive lines till at last, without a moment's warning, the hour will strike and it is over, no recall! Man of twenty, proud of thy youth! man of fifty, proud of thy maturity! man of seventy, proud of thy years! are you prepared to meet your God? Has your time been spent with a view to eternity? Has the measure of your days been taken? Has the course of your years been run in holiness? If not, by the deep voice of the heavens above thee; that voice which evermore is speaking; by the night and the day, and the season and the year, I charge thee prepare to meet thy God. For thy time is passing and eternity at hand.
"Thy years shall not fail." The thought of man never feels that it can say this to nature. He sees the stones themselves have marks of age and decay—the very mountains, the very seas tell of change and limit. And in the skies too far off for us to trace decay we trace something else—measure. Everything is measured. The moon goes by measure and the sun by measure, and the way of the stars is all measured. There are clear tokens that not one of them is its own master or gives its own law. One government moulds them all. They say "We serve." I take up the blade of grass and at once feel He that made that grass made the light of day, the dew of the morning, the beast that feeds upon it. One law pervades them all. I take up the corn. He that made that made the sun that ripens it and the soil that fattens it, and my blood that is my life. Everywhere is one mind, one plan, one hand, one sceptre, and all nature says "I serve, I serve. There is a force external to myself. I am measured. I move by rule." "I revolve," says every wheel in the heaven, "I roll round by regular law." "Measure" always means "beginning." That which is measured must have begun. Beginning always suggests the possibility of end. That which once was not hereafter may not be. Nature fails to fill the mind of man in any one of the three directions—the past, the future, the outward and the infinite. It cannot fill up this thought of ours that claims an eternity before, an eternity coming, an infinity on every side; and we feel nature is like ourselves—a servant, a creature, a machine, an organ, and every part of it proclaims a mind that lived before it.
Then will all things fail? all decay? No—"Thy years shall not fail." We turn to Him that made the law whereby the blade of grass grows, that whereby the sun statedly comes to it, that whereby the animal feeds upon it, that whereby the man lives upon the animal, and that whereby the human mind reigns over the animal, cultivates the grass and makes use of the light. We come to that great Being whom all these things indicate and proclaim. In Him we find no external law or force compelling Him. At his footstool all say "We serve," and to all He says either "Be" or "Do" or "Do not." We find in Him no internal decay. Years come, ages come, worlds arise and worlds pass away, but "Thou art the same"—the same in strength, the same in youth, the same in beauty, the same in glory, the same in wisdom. Never old, only "ancient of days." "Over all, God blessed for ever. Amen."
The years of his divine existence shall never fail, the years of his redeeming reign shall never fail. As I said, this Scripture is quoted from the hundred and second Psalm. If you turn to it you will find in it a contrast between man's perishing life and the eternal lifetime of the Lord; and especially the glorious lifetime of his Messiah and Messiah's kingdom. "My days are like a shadow that declineth, I am withered like grass." The Bible makes everything preach—it makes the sparrow preach and the bush preach, and the grass and the lily. It makes even the very shadows preach—"My days are like a shadow that declineth." Perhaps sometime in the morning you have stood and seen the great tree lying on the east of the hill, throwing its shadow broad and thick over the hill-side as if it really was a substance. But as the sun went up in the sky that shadow gradually shrank down until it totally disappeared under the leaves of the tree. My days are like that shadow—perhaps not like that only. You may have seen in the very bright moonlight shadows lying across the street till they looked solid as if they were something, so much so that the young colt started from them. But a cloud passed over the moon and where was the shadow? My days are like that. "But thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations." The remembrance of man is calling to mind those who are no more; the remembrance of God is calling to mind Him that is unseen. "Thy remembrance shall endure unto all generations. Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory." Not only will his days endure but his kingdom will endure; not only will it endure but it will go forward with a perpetual progress. "Thou shall arise and have mercy upon Zion." The Lord is building a city in the world, a city that hath foundations, a city that is compacted together, a city that has its families and houses and companies, its solemnities and social joys; a city that is all one brotherhood though composed of every nation and kindred and people. The Lord will arise in his strength to build this city and one of the signs for his time to favour her is when her children take pleasure in her stones and favour the dust thereof. We have that sign in our day. God's children are taking pleasure in the stones of Zion and favouring the dust thereof. Let us then, looking at the sign, lift up our eye for the fulfilment of the promise, "When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in his glory." We are trying to build Zion and the Lord is pleased to see it; but let us call upon Him—"Appear in thy glory! Do thou come and build! Give us the living stones, bring them to us by thy power out of the rocks, out of the heights and depths we cannot reach unto wilt thou not bring living stones to thy temple?" Call and He will come and He will build, and "the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord."
You will say, "They have not heard it yet"—but they shall. You say many that have heard it do not fear it, but they shall, they shall fear the name of the Lord—"and all the kings of the earth thy glory." The kings fear his glory! They think of ancestral glory, courtly glory, military glory, political glory; they do not think about Christ and his glory. But they shall, they shall fear his glory. The proudest kings in the earth shall feel that the glory of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is to them much as the sun is to that shadow I have spoken of upon the hill. Their glory must pale and pass away. It is but a little time ago, only nineteen centuries ago, since Christ had no kingdom in the earth, no follower, no temple, no power. Now is there a monarch in the world will come out and say, "I shall sweep the name, the law, the love, the power of Christ out of the earth?" No, of all powers now acknowledged there is none so deep, wide and mighty.
Every day adds to that power; every year opens to it new spheres, new languages, new adherents, and on will it go and on till the whole earth is subdued under the power of the Lord and his Christ. What is the instrument of its progress? "He will regard the prayer of the destitute and not despise their prayer." Not despise prayer! Why, do not the wise men of the world despise prayer? Do not many talkers tell us that prayer is a thing not to be looked upon as a force in the light of elevated reason? You may despise it if you please and try to rear a kingdom over human souls on a system that does. God will not despise it, Christ will not despise it. There is a kingdom to be invoked by prayer, with its throne and its crown and its sceptre. All the powers of that kingdom are moved with the cry of a destitute heart. It is so, and you cannot alter it. "This shall be written for the generation to come," how you go and write down that prayer is of no effect, and we will write "He will not despise their prayer," and let the "generation to come" judge. Your predecessors, eighteen hundred years ago, wrote what you say—ours wrote these words, and see the kingdom of Christ to-day! "This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people." What people "shall praise the Lord?" The people that are in Jerusalem? No. In Rome? in Athens? No. What people? The people that are not anywhere; the people that are neither in heaven nor in earth; "the people that shall be created." "That shall be created"—existences now not existing, beings now not being, offspring of God and members of the family of immortals not yet born—they shall praise the Lord. Coming up out of the dark of that great future they shall rise to obey the King we worship and to praise the Saviour we love. "For He hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary: from heaven did the Lord behold the earth." Ay, from that holy place, that sanctuary—from that high place, that heaven—He looked to behold this earth, this vile place, this base place. Yet it was not to curse it—He looked "to hear the groaning of the prisoner; and to loose those that are appointed to death." Here in every corner of the world you will see a man who is appointed to death, accused, guilty, a lawbreaker, with witness heard and evidence taken and judgment recorded—the sentence is against him. Oh, if we had an eye such as looks from above how many might we see in this fair congregation who are condemned to death. You know it; you are breakers of eternal law; just judgment is against you; you are appointed to death, and unless you are delivered from that condemnation die you shall, die by a public execution before all worlds in the great day. But He comes to deliver them "that are appointed to death"—to bring you pardon, to bring yon salvation, to bring you mercy, to make you a child of God, to blot out all the sin that you have committed. Christ died that you might be delivered; reigns that you may be delivered, and this day He is speaking to thy heart that thou mayest turn from thy sin, seek mercy and follow Him in the way of life.
So the Psalmist goes on ever anticipating the growth and stability of this kingdom. "He weakened my strength in the way; He shortened my days." God does not make his Church and work to depend upon the length of any man's days. "I said, O my God take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations. Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure? yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shall thou change them, and they shall be changed; but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end." Ay, and there is something else that has no end. The heavens shall perish, the earth shall perish. God will endure. And will nothing else endure. Yes, "The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee." The servants, the children of God, those that are born again by the Spirit's grace, those that come to Christ, the Messiah, and through Him recover, by adoption, the place in the family of God that was lost by sin, they shall continue, they shall be established. What! when the earth flees away? Yes, when the earth flees away. What! when the heaven falls? Yes, when the heaven falls; they shall be established with the same immortality as their Father in heaven. "Thy years shall not fail." God will not fail; Christ will not fail; the Rock of Ages will not fail; and all and every one that through Christ is in God will never fail. The world will pass away, the word of God will not pass away, and the child of God will not pass away.
Take then this word to thy heart and say "Thy years shall not fail." It will give you a worthy fear. Man is always rightly or wrongly fearing something. One is afraid of a man that has him in his power. He says, "If I offended him I should lose my bread; it would be as much as my living is worth; I must take care not to offend him;" and rather than offend that man he will stain his conscience and offend his God. Come back in twenty years and ask where that man is, and they will take you to his grave, and that was what you were afraid of! Another fears this bright, witty, active young man, whose word either cuts or flatters with amazing power. He feels as if he could not face him; as if he could not bear that he should look him in the face and call him a saint or tell him he had been praying to God or been commending his soul for mercy to Christ. If he said these things to him it would actually appear as if it was something against him, something he ought to be ashamed of! Come back in twenty years and enquire for him—perhaps you will find him in a mad-house, perhaps in a gambling-house, perhaps in chains among convicts. Perhaps you will find a broken-hearted mother in black, wishing that he had never been born, and that is what you are afraid of! Another is afraid of the fashion. Every one does it, and if he did not do it he would be remarked. Every one says there is no harm in it, and if he scrupled they would make fun of him, and on this account he will do a thing that he knows ought not to be done. Come back in two generations and enquire from the grandchildren of these people about this fashion and you will find they are all laughing at the folly of their grandfathers and grandmothers. And that is what you are afraid of! Set the Lord alway before you. Say, "Thy years shall not fail. Thou art worthy to be feared. I will fear thee. Thou hast power—power over my breath, over my body, over my day, over my night—power to destroy both body and soul in hell; power to kill, power to make alive; power to condemn, power to save; power to cast me down, power to lift me up to heaven—I will fear thee, O God in Christ, and be thou my only fear."
Set the Lord alway before you and there you will find a sure refuge. Nature is changing and decaying, and we are changed faster than nature. We are all passengers in a ship that is floating in an ocean and has fire in her hold. This air around us has an ocean in it, an ocean of real water, and did God will it a little change in the weight of the air would bring a universal deluge. This earth has fire in it, stores of fire, and did God will a very little change in the chemistry of the air it would be a universal blaze. We are passengers, I say, in a ship sailing in an ocean with fire in the hold, and we know that the fire is to break out and that the moment will come when the ship will be burnt up. You and I are pacing this deck with the fire beneath, and the day, the hour, the moment, that the signal will be given no man living can tell. Are we prepared to meet our God? Can we look forth from this frail world unto that infinite bosom of eternal rest and say, "Thou art mine and I am thine to all eternity?" You may look to other refuges but they are not secure, to other coverts but they are not safe. Here is the Rock of Ages and that rock is cleft for you. God manifest in the flesh. Behold Christ crucified and flee to Him, flee for refuge, flee to-day; once in Christ you will know that you are safe. Let the storm come, let the winds blow, let the floods beat, let the fires break out, safe! safe! safe! Nothing can move Him and nothing can touch thee. Thou shalt "dwell under the shadow of the Most High."
Set the Lord alway before thee and you will have an unfailing stay, an unfailing resource. Many things you may think will not fail. Here is the old man, and his friends tell him he does not fail, and how he likes to hear it! "Thy years do not weigh thee down." He goes on and it seems as if to him the years come as the snow falls on the mountains, not to enfeeble but to embellish. He does not fail. Ay, but he will fail and be bowed down to the dust. And the wiry woman that has gone through enough to kill many and yet hath more spirit and energy than the young. Ay, she shall fail too; you will see her smitten and trodden under the grass. "Well I know I must fail," one says, "I am failing, but then there is my boy, I shall never want some one to lean upon, I can trust him." Ah! he may fail; you may stand by the grave where they are saying, "Dust to dust," or you may with your hands over your eyes look upon a sadder grave where his character lies corrupting. Another says, "Well, I know I am failing, but there is my daughter so good and sweet and true—I shall never want a comforter for my old age." Ah, you do not know, she may fail, you may have to weep over her coffin or to blush over her faults. And another says, "Well, I have never depended upon anything but my own honest industry. I have something to rely upon. Mine is not speculation, it is good steady business—I can trust it." Can you? can you? God may permit you by one mistake to undo the doing of a life. "But I am not depending upon the chances of business—my position is secure—settled property. I shall not fail." Are you sure? You know not the ways by which earthly things can make themselves wings and flee away; or if they do not flee you may depart from them. Another says, "Well, I have never trusted to anything but my right hand and I shall not want—wherever I go I can take care of myself." Ay, but suppose the right hand should fail? As long as the strong arm and the strong will work together it is well, but suppose a day should come when an invisible knife should pass between the arm and the will: and the will said, "Stretch forth!" but the arm hung idle by the side. It may fail. "Well, but my heart never fails me; whatever goes wrong I can make the best of it." But suppose your heart should fail and that you became one of those to whom the grasshopper was a burden, one that made the worst of everything, that could look no difficulty in the face. Your heart may fail, your flesh may fail, your money may fail, your employ may fail, your friends may fail, everything upon earth may fail. If you have Christ for your friend you will never fail, if you have God for your Father you have a shelter, a home, a comfort that will never fail. If you have not you have nothing that you can count upon. Then come this day, come and say to all the shadows, "I trample over you, I clasp the substance. Holy God, my Eternal Father, let me be reconciled to thee! Be thou my God! Make me thy child! Give me a part and a lot in the family of the holy! For the sake of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, write my name in thy book of life and cover me from the storm that is coming, so that amid the change of life and the ruin of death, the awe of the judgment-day, my spirit may abide under an everlasting shelter! may look forward to the eternity that is to be and say to it, 'Welcome—open all thy scenes—uncover thy deepest secrets—world of the unknown, bring out all that thou hast hidden, for all things are mine, for I am Christ's, and Christ is God's.'" Amen and Amen.