Were I to ask the youths who are before me what are their designs and expectations concerning their future life, and write down their several answers, what a vast difference would ultimately be found between those answers and the events which would actually befall them! To how great a part of that difference would facts, over which they could have no control, give birth! How many of them will in all probability be less prosperous, rich, and honorable than they now intend: how many devoted to employments of which at present they do not even dream; in circumstances, of which they never entertained even a thought, behind those whom they expected to outrun, poor, sick, in sorrow or in the grave.
First. You see here, my young friends, the most solid reasons for gratitude to your Creator.
God, only, directed that you should be born in this land, and in the midst of peace, plenty, civilization, freedom, learning and religion; and that your existence should not commence in a Tartarian forest or an African waste. God, alone, ordered that you should be born of parents who knew and worshiped Him, the glorious and eternal Jehovah; and not of parents who bowed before the Lama or the ox, an image of brass or the stock of a tree. In the book of His counsels, your names, so far as we are able to judge, were written in the fair lines of mercy. It is of His overflowing goodness that you are now here; surrounded with privileges, and beset with blessings, educated to knowledge, usefulness and piety, and prepared to begin an endless course of happiness and glory. All these delightful things have been poured into your lap, and have come, unbidden, to solicit your acceptance. If these blessings awaken not gratitude, it can not be awakened by the blessings in the present world. If they are not thankfully felt by you, it is because you know not how to be thankful. Think what you are, and where you are; and what and where you just as easily might have been. Remember that, instead of cherishing tender affections, imbibing refined sentiments, exploring the field of science, and assuming the name and character of the sons of God, you might as easily have been dozing in the smoke of a wigwam, brandishing a tomahawk, or dancing round an emboweled captive; or that you might yourself have been emboweled by the hand of superstition, and burnt on the altars of Moloch. If you remember these things, you can not but call to mind, also, who made you to differ from the miserable beings who have thus lived and died.
Secondly. This doctrine forcibly demands of you to moderate desires and expectations.
There are two modes in which men seek happiness in the enjoyments of the present world. "Most persons freely indulge their wishes, and intend to find objects sufficient in number and value to satisfy them." A few "aim at satisfaction by proportioning their desires to the number and measure of their probable gratifications." By the doctrine of the text, the latter method is stamped with the name of wisdom, and on the former is inscribed the name of folly. Desires indulged grow faster and farther than gratifications extend. Ungratified desire is misery. Expectations eagerly indulged and terminated by disappointment are often exquisite misery. But how frequently are expectations raised only to be disappointed, and desires let loose only to terminate in distress! The child pines for a toy: the moment he possesses it, he throws it by and cries for another. When they are piled up in heaps around him, he looks at them without pleasure, and leaves them without regret. He knew not that all the good which they could yield lay in expectation; nor that his wishes for more would increase faster than toys could be multiplied, and is unhappy at last for the same reason as at first: his wishes are ungratified. Still indulging them, and still believing that the gratification of them will furnish the enjoyment for which he pines, he goes on, only to be unhappy.
Men are merely taller children. Honor, wealth and splendor are the toys for which grown children pine; but which, however accumulated, leave them still disappointed and unhappy. God never designed that intelligent beings should be satisfied with these enjoyments. By his wisdom and goodness they were formed to derive their happiness and virtue.
Moderated desires constitute a character fitted to acquire all the good which this world can yield. He who is prepared, in whatever situation he is, therewith to be content, has learned effectually the science of being happy, and possesses the alchemic stone which will change every metal into gold. Such a man will smile upon a stool, while Alexander at his side sits weeping on the throne of the world.
The doctrine of the text teaches you irresistibly that, since you can not command gratifications, you should command your desires; and that, as the events of life do not accord with your wishes, your wishes should accord with them. Multiplied enjoyments fall to but few men, and are no more rationally expected than the highest prize in a lottery. But a well-regulated mind, a dignified independence of the world, and a wise preparation to possess one's soul in patience, whatever circumstances may exist, is in the power of every man, and is greater wealth than that of both Indies, and greater honor than Caesar ever required.
Thirdly. As your course and your success through life are not under your control, you are strongly urged to commit yourselves to God, who can control both.
That you can not direct your course through the world, that your best concerted plans will often fail, that your sanguine expectations will be disappointed, and that your fondest worldly wishes will terminate in mortification can not admit of a momentary doubt. That God can direct you, that He actually controls all your concerns, and that, if you commit yourselves to His care, He will direct you kindly and safely, can be doubted only of choice. Why, then, do you hesitate to yield yourselves and your interests to the guidance of your Maker? There are two reasons which appear especially to govern mankind in this important concern; they do not and will not realize the agency of God in their affairs; and they do not choose to have them directed as they imagine He will direct them. The former is the result of stupidity; the latter, of impiety. Both are foolish in the extreme, and not less sinful than foolish.
The infinitely wise, great and glorious benefactor of the universe has offered to take men by the hand, lead them through the journey of life, and conduct them to His own house in the heavens. The proof of His sincerity in making this offer has been already produced. He has given His own Son to live, and die, and rise, and reign, and intercede for our race. "Herein is love," if there ever was love; "not that we have loved him, but that he has loved us." That He, who has done this, should not be sincere is impossible. St. Paul, therefore, triumphantly asks what none can answer: "He, that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" Trust, then, His word with undoubting confidence; take His hand with humble gratitude, and with all thy heart obey His voice, which you will everywhere hear, saying, "this is the way, walk ye therein." In sickness and in health, by night and by day, at home and in crowds, He will watch over you with tenderness inexpressible. He will make you lie down in green pastures, lead you beside the still waters and guide you in paths of righteousness, for His name's sake. He will prepare a table before you in the presence of your enemies, and cause your cup to run over with blessings. When you pass through the waters of affliction He will be with you, and through the rivers they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle on you. From their native heavens He will commission those charming twin sisters, goodness and mercy, to descend and "follow you all your days."
But if you wish God to be your guide and your friend, you must conform to his pleasure. Certainly you can not wonder that the infinitely Wise should prefer His own wisdom to yours, and that he should choose for His children their allotments, rather than leave them to choose for themselves. That part of His pleasure, which you are to obey, is all summed up in the single word duty, and it is perfectly disclosed in the Scriptures. The whole scheme is so formed as to be plain, easy, profitable, and delightful; profitable in hand, delightful in the possession. Every part and precept of the whole is calculated for this end, and will make you only wise, good, and happy.
Life has been often styled an ocean, and our progress through it a voyage. The ocean is tempestuous and billowy, overspread by a cloudy sky, and fraught beneath with shelves and quicksands. The voyage is eventful beyond comprehension, and at the same time full of uncertainty, and replete with danger. Every adventurer needs to be well prepared for whatever may befall him, and well secured against the manifold hazards of losing his course, sinking in the abyss, or of being wrecked against the shore.
These evils have all existed at all times. The present, and that part of the past which is known to you by experience, has seen them multiplied beyond example. It has seen the ancient and acknowledged standards of thinking violently thrown down. Religion, morals, government, and the estimate formed by man of crimes and virtues, and of all the means of usefulness and enjoyment, have been questioned, attacked, and in various places, and with respect to millions of the human race, finally overthrown. A licentiousness of opinion and conduct, daring, outrageous, and rending asunder every bond formed by God or man, has taken place of former good sense and sound morals, and has long threatened the destruction of human good. Industry, cunning, and fraud have toiled with unrivaled exertions to convert man into a savage and the world into a desert. A wretched and hypocritical philanthropy, also, not less mischievous, has stalked forth as the companion of these ravages: a philanthropy born in a dream, bred in a hovel, and living only in professions. This guardian genius of human interests, this friend of human rights, this redresser of human wrongs, is yet without a heart to feel, and without a hand to bless. But she is well furnished with lungs, with eyes, and a tongue. She can talk, and sigh, and weep at pleasure, but can neither pity nor give. The objects of her attachment are either knaves and villains at home, or unknown sufferers beyond her reach abroad. To the former, she ministers the sword and the dagger, that they may fight their way into place, and power, and profit. At the latter she only looks through a telescope of fancy, as an astronomer searches for stars invisible to the eye. To every real object of charity within her reach she complacently says, "Be thou warmed, and be thou filled; depart in peace."
By the daring spirit, the vigorous efforts, and the ingenious cunning so industriously exerted on the one hand, and the smooth and gentle benevolence so softly profest on the other, multitudes have been, and you easily may be, destroyed. The mischief has indeed been met, resisted, and overcome; but it has the heads and the lives of the hydra, and its wounds, which at times have seemed deadly, are much more readily healed than any good man could wish, than any sober man could expect. Hope not to escape the assaults of this enemy: To feel that you are in danger will ever be a preparation for your safety. But it will be only such a preparation; your deliverance must ultimately and only flow from your Maker. Resolve, then, to commit yourselves to Him with a cordial reliance on His wisdom, power, and protection. Consider how much you have at stake, that you are bound to eternity, that your existence will be immortal, and that you will either rise to endless glory or be lost in absolute perdition. Heaven is your proper home. The path, which I have recommended to you, will conduct you safely and certainly to that happy world. Fill up life, therefore, with obedience to God, with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and repentance unto life, the obedience to the two great commands of the gospel, with supreme love to God and universal good-will to men, the obedience to the two great commands of the law. On all your sincere endeavors to honor Him, and befriend your fellow men, He will smile; every virtuous attempt He will bless; every act of obedience He will reward. Life in this manner will be pleasant amid all its sorrows; and beams of hope will continually shine through the gloom, by which it is so often overcast. Virtue, the seed that can not die, planted from heaven, and cultivated by the divine hand, will grow up in your hearts with increasing vigor, and blossom in your lives with supernal beauty. Your path will be that of the just, and will gloriously resemble the dawning light, "which shines brighter and brighter, to the perfect day." Peace will take you by the hand, and offer herself as the constant and delightful companion of your progress. Hope will walk before you, and with an unerring finger point out your course; and joy, at the end of the journey, will open her arms to receive you. You will wait on the Lord, and renew your strength; will mount up with wings as eagles; will run, and not be weary; will walk, and not faint.
MARKS OF LOVE TO GOD
Robert Hall, Baptist divine, was born at Arnesby, near Leicester, England, in 1764. Destined for the ministry, he was educated at the Baptist Academy at Bristol, and preached for the first time in 1779. In 1783 he began his ministry in Bristol and drew crowded congregations of all classes. The tradition of Hall's pupit oratory has secured his lasting fame. Many minds of a high order were fascinated by his eloquence, and his conversation was brilliant. His treatment of religious topics had the rare merit of commending evangelical doctrine to people of taste. Dugald Stewart declares that his writings and public utterances exhibited the English language in its perfection. He died in 1831.
MARKS OF LOVE TO GOD
But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.—John v., 42.
The persons whom our Lord addrest in these words made a high profession of religion, valued themselves upon their peculiar opportunities of knowing the true God and His will, and proclaimed themselves as the Israel and the temple of the Lord, while they despised the surrounding pagans as those who were strangers to the divine law. Yet the self-complacent Pharisees of our Savior's age were as far from the love of God, he assures them in the text, as any of those who had never heard of His name. In this respect, many of "the first were last, and the last first." The rejection of the gospel evinces a hardness of heart which is decisive against the character; and, in the case of the Pharisees, it gave ample evidence that they possest no love of God. Had they really known God, as our Lord argues, they would have known Himself to be sent by God: whereas, in proving the bitter enemies of Christ, they proved that they were in a state of enmity against God. By parity of reason, we, my brethren, who know God and His Word in the way of Christian profession, ought not to take it for granted that we possess the love of God, and are in the way of eternal life: the same self-delusion may overtake us also; and similar admonitions may be no less necessary to many present, than to the Pharisees of old. Suffer then, my brethren, the word of exhortation, while I invite each individual seriously to consider this subject, with a view to the discovery of his real character.
In proceeding to lay down certain marks of grace, let it be premised, that either these marks partake of the nature of true religion, or they do not. If they do, they must be identified with it, and here the mark is the thing: if they do not partake of its nature, some of them may exist as indications where genuine religion is not. It is necessary, then, that we combine a variety of particular signs of grace: any one taken by itself, may, or may not, exist, without true religion; but where many are combined, no just doubt can remain.
Whether you have the love of God in your soul presents a most critical subject of inquiry; since the love of God will be acknowledged by all to be the great, the essential, principle of true religion. The simple question, then, to which I would call your attention, is this: "Am I, or am I not, a sincere lover of the Author of my being?"
In endeavoring to assist you in the decision of this momentous question, as it respects yourselves. I shall entreat your attention while I suggest a variety of marks which indicate love to God; and supposing the conviction produced by the statement to be, that you have not the love of God, I shall point out the proper improvement of such a conviction.
In suggesting various marks by which you may ascertain whether you love God or not, I would mention the general bent and turn of your thoughts, when not under the immediate control of circumstances; for these, you are aware, give a new and peculiar bias to our thoughts, and stamp them with an impress of their own. There is an infinite variety of thoughts continually passing through the mind of every individual: of these, some are thrown up by occasions; but others, and often the greater part, follow the habitual train of our associations. It is not to thoughts of the former kind that I refer; it is to those of the latter class—those involuntary thoughts which spring up of themselves in the mind of every person: it is these, not the former, that afford clear indication of the general temper and disposition. The question I would propose to you is, What is the bent of your thoughts when, disengaged from the influence of any particular occurrence, you are left to yourselves, in the intervals of retirement and tranquillity, in the silence of the midnight watches, and, in short, whenever your mind is left free to its own spontaneous musings? Are the thoughts most familiar to your mind, at such times, thoughts of God and the things of God—or are they thoughts that turn upon the present world and its transient concerns? Are they confined, for the most part, within the narrow circle of time and sense; or do they make frequent and large excursions into the spiritual and eternal world? The answer to this question will go far to decide whether you have, or have not, the love of God. It is impossible that such an object as the divine Being should be absent long from your thoughts; impossible that His remembrance should long remain merged in the stream of other imaginations; unless you are supposed chargeable with a decided indifference to divine things! Unless you are destitute of love to God you can never be so utterly uncongenial in sentiment and feeling with the psalmist, when he says, "My mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips, while I meditate upon thee in the night watches." "How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God!" When that man of God gazed upon the starry heavens, his mind was not merely wrought into astonishment at the physical energy there displayed; he was still more deeply lost in grateful admiration of the mercy of Providence as manifested to man—a sinful child of dust, and yet visited by God in the midst of so magnificent a universe! But when day passes after day, and night after night, without any serious thoughts of God, it is plain that He is not the home of your mind, not your portion, center, and resting-place: and if this is the case, it is equally plain that you are not in a state of acceptance with Him; since nothing can be more certain than that, as our thoughts are, such must be our character. I do not ask what are your thoughts at particular times, or under the influence of some particular event: there may be little difference, on some occasions, between those who remember, and those who neglect, God habitually. The charge against the ungodly is, that "God is not in all their thoughts." If there are any here who feel this charge as bearing against themselves, let them take that solemn warning given by God himself at the close of the fiftieth psalm, "Oh, consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver you!"
Let me request you to consider seriously how you stand disposed to the exercises of religion. If God is the object of your love, you will gladly avail yourselves of the most favorable opportunities of cultivating a closer friendship with the Father of your spirits: on the contrary, he who feels no regard for these opportunities, proves that he has no love to God, and will never be able to establish the conviction that God is his friend. Wherever there exists a sincere friendship, opportunities of cultivating it are gladly embraced, and the opposite privations are regretted. Where a habitual neglect of sacred exercises prevails it must be interpreted as if it said, like those whom the prophet describes, "Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from amongst us. Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy way!" If your closets seldom witness your private devotions, if your moments in retirement are languid and uninteresting—your religion can have no hold on your heart; and the reason why your religion has no hold on your heart is because you have no love of God. There are some whose religion sits easy and delightful upon them; its acts and functions are free and lively: there are others who seem to bear their religion as a burden, to drag their duties as a chain—as no vital part of themselves, but rather a cumbrous appendage: this is a decisive and melancholy symptom of a heart alienated from God. There is no genuine religion, no real contact of the heart with the best of beings, unless it makes us continually resort to Him as our chief joy. The psalmist is always expressing his fervent desires after God: after the light of the divine countenance, and the sense of the divine favor: but do you suppose such desires peculiar to the state of believers under the Old Testament? No, my brethren; there exist more abundant reasons than ever, since the gospel of Christ has been displayed in all the glorious fulness of its blessings, why our souls should be inflamed with such feelings as those which inspired the psalmist, when he exclaimed, "As the hart panteth for the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God!"
If you would ascertain whether you love God, consider how you stand affected toward the Word of God. We can entertain no just thoughts of God, but such as we derive from His own Word: we can acquire no true knowledge of God, nor cherish any suitable affections toward Him, unless they are such as His own revelation authorizes. Otherwise we must suppose that revelation insufficient for its specific purposes, and set the means against the end. All, therefore, who sincerely love God, are students of His Word; they here, also accord in soul with the psalmist, and like him, can say, "O how I love thy word! in it is my meditation all the day:" they eat it as food for their souls, and find it sweeter than honey. They go to it as to an inexhaustible fountain, and drink from it streams of sacred light and joy. A neglected Bible is too unambiguous a sign of an unsanctified heart; since that blest book can not fail to attract every one that loves its divine Author. How is it possible to delight in God, and yet neglect that Word which alone reveals Him in His true and glorious character—alone discovers the way by which He comes into unison with us, and condescends to pardon us, to love us, and to guide us through all this mysterious state of being? It is observable that the only persons who are inattentive to their own sacred books are to be found among Christians. Mohammedans commit large portions of the Koran to memory; the Jews regard the Old Testament with reverence; the Hindu Brahmans are enthusiastically attached to their Shastra; while Christians alone neglect their Bible. And the reason is, that the Scriptures are so much more spiritual than the religious books received by others; they afford so little scope for mere amusement or self-complacency; they place the reader alone with God; they withdraw him from the things that are seen and temporal, and fix him among the things that are unseen and eternal; they disclose to his view at once the secret evils of his own condition, and the awful purity of that Being with whom he has to do. No wonder the ungodly man hates their light, neither comes to their light, but retires from it farther and farther into the shades of guilty ignorance. How melancholy the infatuation of such a character!
Estimate your character in respect to your love of God, by reflecting, with what sentiments you regard the people of God. God has a people peculiarly His own: they are not of that world to which they outwardly belong—not conformed to it in the spirit of their mind; they stand apart, many of them at least, in conspicuous conformity to Jesus Christ, and in earnest expectation of the glory which He had promised. How, then, do you regard these decided followers of God? Do you shun their society with aversion and secret shame; or do you enjoy their communion as one of the most delightful among your Christian privileges? Are you content merely to be the companion of those who "have a name to live, but are dead": or can you say with the psalmist, "My delight is in the excellent of the earth"? or, with the beloved disciple, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren"? for, as he adds, "He that loveth him that begot, loveth him that is begotten"; if you do not love the image which you have seen, how can you love the unseen original? If the features of holiness and grace in the creature are not attractive to your view, how can your affections rise to the perfect essence? How can you ascend to the very sun itself, when you can not enjoy even the faint reflection of its glory? He who knew the heart, could alone say to those around Him, "I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you": but tho none can address you now in the same tone of divine authority, yet we may hear it uttered by a voice—the voice of your own conscience: you may know, without any perturbations of hope or fear, by the spiritual insensibility and inaction of your soul—by this you may know, with equal certainty as by a voice from heaven, that you have not the love of God in you.
Consider the disposition you entertain toward the person and office of the Son of God. "If ye had loved the Father, ye would have loved me also," was the constant argument of Jesus Christ to those Pharisees whom He addresses in the text For Jesus Christ is the express image of God: the effulgence of the divine character is attempered in Him, to suit the views of sinful humanity. In the life of Jesus Christ we see how the divine Being conducts Himself in human form and in our own circumstances: we behold how He bears all the sorrows, and passes through all the temptations, of flesh and blood. Such, indeed, is the identity, so perfect the oneness of character, between the man Christ Jesus and the divine Being—that our Savior expressly assures us, "He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father; I and my Father are one." The purpose for which God was manifested in the flesh was not to reveal high speculations concerning the nature of the Deity: it was to bear our sorrows, and to die for our sins. But can you contemplate Him, thus stooping to your condition, thus mingling with every interest of your own, and not be moved by such a spectacle?—not be attracted, fixt, filled with grateful astonishment and devotion—crucified, as it were, on the cross of Christ, to the flesh, and to the world? What mark, then, of our possessing no love of God can equal this, that we are without love to Jesus Christ?—that neither the visibility of His divine excellence, nor His participation of all our human sufferings, can reach our hearts and command our affections?
In examining whether you love God, examine how you are affected by His benefits. These are so numerous and so distinguished that they ought to excite our most ardent gratitude: night and day they are experienced by us; they pervade every moment of our being. We know that favors from an enemy derive a taint from the hands through which they are received, and excite alienation rather than attachment: but the kindness of a friend, by constantly reminding us of himself, endears that friend more and more to our hearts; and thus, he that has no love to God receives all His favors without the least attraction toward their Author, whom he regards rather as an enemy than as a friend. But the Christian feels his love of God excited by every fresh goodness. The mercies of God have accompanied you through every stage of your journey; and they are exhibited to you in His word as stretching through a vast eternity. Are these the only benefits you can receive without gratitude, and suffer to pass unregarded How, then, can any love of God dwell in your bosom?
Consider, in the next place, in what manner you are imprest by the sense of your sins. The question is not whether you have any sins,—none can admit a doubt on this point; the only inquiry is, how you are affected by those sins? Are they remembered by you with a sentiment of tender regret, of deep confusion and humiliation, that you should ever have so requited such infinite goodness? And is this sentiment combined with a sacred resolution to go and sin no more,—to devote yourself to the service of your divine Benefactor? If you can live without an habitual sense of penitential tenderness and reverential fear, be assured you can not love God; you have no experience of those Scripture declarations: "They shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days;" "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayst be feared;" you know not that "the goodness of God leadeth to repentence." If the mind is softened by the love of God, all His favors serve to inflame its gratitude, and confirm its devotion to His will: but he who has no love of God in his soul, thinks of nothing but how he may escape from God's hand, and selfishly devours all His favors, without an emotion of gratitude to the Giver.
Finally, let me remind you to consider how you are affected to the present world. If you could only be exempt from its afflictions, would you wish it to be your lasting home? If you could surround yourself with all its advantages and enjoyments, would you be content to dwell in it forever? Yet you know that it is a place of separation and exile from the divine majesty; that it is a scene of darkness, in comparison with heaven, very faintly illuminated with the beams of His distant glory; that its inhabitant is constrained to say, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but mine eye hath not yet seen thee";—while heaven is the proper dwelling-place of God and His people! Could you then consent to remain here always, without ever seeing as you are seen—seeing light in His light—without ever beholding His glory; without ever drinking at the fountain, and basking in that presence which is fulness of joy, and life forevermore? always to remain immersed in the shadows of time—entombed in its corruptible possessions? never to ascend up on high to God and Christ and the glories of the eternal world? If such is the state of your spirit, you want the essential principle of a Christian—you want the love of God. The genuine Christian, the lover of God, is certain to feel himself a "stranger on the earth." No splendor, no emolument of this world,—not all the fascinations of sensual pleasure,—can detain his heart below the skies, or keep him from sympathizing with the sentiment of the psalmist: "As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I wake in thy likeness." I do not ask whether you have, at present, "a desire to depart": perhaps you may not be as yet sufficiently prepared and established to entertain so exalted a desire; but still, if you have received a new heart, you will deprecate nothing so much as having your portion in this life,—as having your eternal abode on earth. It is the character of faith to dwell much in eternity: the apostle says, in the name of all real believers, "We look not at the things that are seen, but the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal."
And now, my brethren, supposing the preceding remarks to have produced in any of you the conviction that you have not the love of God in you, permit me very briefly to point out the proper improvement of such a conviction.
First, it should be accompanied with deep humiliation. If you labored under the privation of some bodily organ, requisite to the discharge of an animal function, you would feel it as in some degree a humiliating circumstance; but what would be any defect of this kind, however serious, in comparison with that great want under which you labor—the want of piety, the calamity of a soul estranged from the love of God! What are the other subjects of humiliation compared with this—a moral fall, a spiritual death in sin: and this, unless it be removed, the sure precursor of the second death—eternal ruin! "This is a lamentation indeed, and it shall be for a lamentation."
Suppose the children of a family, reared and provided for by the most affectionate of parents, to rise up in rebellion against their father, and cast off all the feelings of filial tenderness and respect; would any qualities those children might possess, any appearance of virtue they might exhibit in other respects, compensate for such an unnatural, such an awful deformity of character? Transfer this representation to your conduct in relation to God: "If I," says He, "am a father, where is my fear? if I am a master, where is my honor?" "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me: the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider."
And let your humiliation be accompanied with concern and alarm. To be alienated from the great Origin of being; to be severed, or to sever yourself from the essential Author and element of all felicity, must be a calmity which none can understand, an infinite wo which none can measure or conceive. If the stream is cut off from the fountain, it soon ceases to flow, and its waters are dissipated in the air: and if the soul is cut off from God, it dies! Its vital contact with God,—its spiritual union with the Father of spirits through the blest Mediator, is the only life and beauty of the immortal soul. All, without this, are dead—"dead in trespasses and sins"! A living death—a state of restless wanderings, and unsatisfied desires! What a condition theirs! And, oh! what a prospect for such, when they look beyond this world! who will give them a welcome when they enter an eternal state? What reception will they meet with, and where? What consolation amid their losses and their sufferings, but that of the fellow-sufferers plunged in the same abyss of ruin? Impenitent sinners are allied to evil spirits, they have an affinity with the kingdom of darkness; and when they die, they are emphatically said to "go to their own place"!
This is an awful state for any to be in at present; but, blest be God, it is not yet a hopeless situation. Let no person say, "I find by what I have heard, that I do not love God, and therefore I can entertain no hope." There is a way of return and recovery open to all. Jesus Christ, my dear brethren, proclaims to you all, "I am the way. No man can come to the Father but by me":—but every one that will may come by this new and living way; and, if you lose life eternal, you lose it because—according to his words just before the text—because "you will not come to Christ that you may have life." If you feel the misery, deformity, and danger of your state, then listen to His invitation, and embrace His promise. See the whole weight of your guilt transferred to His cross! See how God can be at once the just and the justifier! Take of the blood of sprinkling, and be at peace! His blood cleanseth from all sin: He will send that Spirit into your heart which will manifest Him to you; and where that Spirit is, there is liberty and holy love. He is the mystical ladder, let down from heaven to earth, on which angels are continually ascending and descending, in token of an alliance established between God and man. United by faith to Jesus Christ, you shall become a habitation of God through the Spirit; the Father will make you a partaker of His love, the Son of His grace, angels of their friendship; and you shall be preserved, and progressively sanctified, until, by the last change, all remains of the great epidemic source of evils shall be forever removed from your soul; and the love of God shall constitute your eternal felicity.
THE FALL AND RECOVERY OF MAN
Christmas Evans, a Welsh Baptist preacher, was born at Isgaerwen, Cardiganshire, South Wales, in 1766. Brought up as a Presbyterian, he turned Baptist in 1788, and was ordained the following year and ministered among the Baptists in Carmaerthenshire. In 1792 he became a sort of bishop to those of his denomination in Anglesey, where he took up his residence. After a somewhat stormy experience with those he undertook to rule, he removed to Carmaerthen in 1832. He distinguished himself by his debt-raising tours, in which his eloquence brought him much success. It is said that once when he was preaching on the subject of the prodigal son, he pointed to a distant mountain as he described the father seeing him while yet a great way off, whereupon thousands in his congregation turned their heads in evident expectation of seeing the son actually coming down the hills. He died in 1838.
THE FALL AND RECOVERY OF MAN
For if, through the offense of one, many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.—Romans v., 15.
Man was created in the image of God. Knowledge and perfect holiness were imprest upon the very nature and faculties of his soul. He had constant access to his Maker, and enjoyed free communion with Him, on the ground of his spotless moral rectitude. But, alas! the glorious diadem is broken; the crown of righteousness is fallen. Man's purity is gone, and his happiness is forfeited. "There is none righteous; no, not one." "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." But the ruin is not hopeless. What was lost in Adam is restored in Christ. His blood redeems us from the bondage, and His gospel gives us back the forfeited inheritance. "For if, through the offense of one, many be dead; much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many." Let us consider, first, the corruption and condemnation of man; and secondly, his gracious restoration to the favor of his offended God.
I. To find the cause of man's corruption and condemnation, we must go back to Eden. The eating of the "forbidden tree" was "the offense of one," in consequence of which "many are dead." This was the "sin," the act of "disobedience," which "brought death into the world, and all our wo." It was the greatest ingratitude to the divine bounty, and the boldest rebellion against the divine sovereignty. The royalty of God was contemned; the riches of His goodness slighted; and His most desperate enemy preferred before Him, as if he were a wiser counsellor than infinite wisdom. Thus man joined in league with hell against heaven; with demons of the bottomless pit against the almighty maker and benefactor; robbing God of the obedience due to His command and the glory due to His name; worshiping the creature instead of the creator; and opening the door to pride, unbelief, enmity, and all the wicked and abominable passions. How is the "noble vine," which was planted "wholly a right seed," "turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine"!
Who can look for pure water from such a fountain? "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." All the faculties of the soul are corrupted by sin; the understanding dark; the will perverse; the affections carnal; the conscience full of shame, remorse, confusion, and mortal fear. Man is a hard-hearted and stiff-necked sinner; loving darkness rather than light, because his deeds are evil; eating sin like bread, and drinking iniquity like water; holding fast deceit, and refusing to let it go. His heart is desperately wicked; full of pride, vanity, hypocrisy, covetousness, hatred of truth, and hostility to all that is good.
This depravity is universal. Among the natural children of Adam, there is no exemption from the original taint. "The whole world lieth in wickedness." "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is as filthy rags." The corruption may vary in the degrees of development, in different persons; but the elements are in all, and their nature is everywhere the same; the same in the blooming youth, and the withered sire; in the haughty prince, and the humble peasant; in the strongest giant, and the feeblest invalid. The enemy has "come in like a flood." The deluge of sin has swept the world. From the highest to the lowest, there is no health or moral soundness. From the crown of the head to the soles of the feet, there is nothing but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores. The laws, and their violation, and the punishments everywhere invented for the suppression of vice, prove the universality of the evil. The bloody sacrifices, and various purifications, of the pagans, show the handwriting of remorse upon their consciences; proclaim their sense of guilt, and their dread of punishment. None of them are free from the fear which hath torment, whatever their efforts to overcome it, and however great their boldness in the service of sin and Satan. "Menel Tekel!" is written on every human heart. "Wanting! wanting!" is inscribed on heathen fanes and altars; on the laws, customs, and institutions of every nation; and on the universal consciousness of mankind.
This inward corruption manifests itself in outward actions. "The tree is known by its fruit." As the smoke and sparks of the chimney show that there is fire within; so all the "filthy conversation" of men, and all "the unfruitful works of darkness" in which they delight, evidently indicate the pollution of the source whence they proceed. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." The sinner's speech betrayeth him. "Evil speaking" proceeds from malice and envy. "Foolish talking and jesting" are evidence of impure and trifling thoughts. The mouth full of cursing and bitterness, the throat an open sepulcher, the poison of asps under the tongue, the feet swift to shed blood, destruction and misery in their paths, and the way of peace unknown to them, are the clearest and amplest demonstration that men "have gone out of the way," "have together become unprofitable." We see the bitter fruit of the same corruption in robbery, adultery, gluttony, drunkenness, extortion, intolerance, persecution, apostasy, and every evil work—in all false religions; the Jew, obstinately adhering to the carnal ceremonies of an abrogated law; the Mohammedan, honoring an impostor, and receiving a lie for a revelation from God; the papist, worshiping images and relics, praying to departed saints, seeking absolution from sinful men, and trusting in the most absurd mummeries for salvation; the pagan, attributing divinity to the works of his own hands, adoring idols of wood and stone, sacrificing to malignant demons, casting his children into the fire or the flood as an offering to imaginary deities, and changing the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the beast and the worm.
"For these things' sake the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience." They are under the sentence of the broken law; the malediction of eternal justice. "By the offense of one, judgment came upon all men unto condemnation." "He that believeth not is condemned already." "The wrath of God abideth on him." "Curst is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law, to do them." "Wo unto the wicked; it shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him." "They that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, shall reap the same." "Upon the wicked the Lord shall rain fire, and snares, and a horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of their cup." "God is angry with the wicked every day; if he turn not he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready."
Who shall describe the misery of fallen man! His days, tho few, are full of evil. Trouble and sorrow press him forward to the tomb. All the world, except Noah and his family, are drowning in the deluge. A storm of fire and brimstone is fallen from heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrah. The earth is opening her mouth to swallow up alive Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Wrath is coming upon "the beloved city," even "wrath unto the uttermost." The tender and delicate mother is devouring her darling infant. The sword of men is executing the vengeance of God. The earth is emptying its inhabitants into the bottomless pit. On every hand are "confused noises, and garments rolled in blood." Fire and sword fill the land with consternation and dismay. Amid the universal devastation wild shrieks and despairing groans fill the air. God of mercy! is Thy ear heavy, that Thou canst not hear? or Thy arm shortened, that Thou canst not save? The heavens above are brass, and the earth beneath is iron; for Jehovah is pouring His indignation upon His adversaries, and He will not pity or spare.
Verily, "the misery of man is great upon him"! Behold the wretched fallen creature! The pestilence pursues him. The leprosy cleaves to him. Consumption is wasting him. Inflammation is devouring his vitals. Burning fever has seized upon the very springs of life. The destroying angel has overtaken the sinner in his sins. The hand of God is upon him. The fires of wrath are kindling about him, drying up every well of comfort, and scorching all his hopes to ashes. Conscience is chastizing him with scorpions. See how he writhes! Hear how he shrieks for help! Mark what agony and terror are in his soul, and on his brow! Death stares him in the face, and shakes at him his iron spear. He trembles, he turns pale, as a culprit at the bar, as a convict on the scaffold. He is condemned already. Conscience has pronounced the sentence. Anguish has taken hold upon him. Terrors gather in battle array about him. He looks back, and the storms of Sinai pursue him; forward, and hell is moved to meet him; above, and the heavens are on fire; beneath, and the world is burning. He listens, and the judgment trump is calling; again, and the brazen chariots of vengeance are thundering from afar; yet again, the sentence penetrates his soul with anguish unspeakable—"Depart! ye accurst! into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!"
Thus, "by one man, sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." They are "dead in trespasses and sins," spiritually dead, and legally dead; dead by the mortal power of sin, and dead by the condemnatory sentence of the law; and helpless as sheep to the slaughter, they are driven fiercely on by the ministers of wrath to the all-devouring grave and the lake of fire!
But is there no mercy? Is there no means of salvation? Hark! amid all this prelude of wrath and ruin, comes a still small voice, saying: "Much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many."
II. This brings us to our second topic, man's gracious recovery to the favor of his offended God.
I know not how to present to you this glorious work, better than by the following figure. Suppose a vast graveyard, surrounded by a lofty wall, with only one entrance, which is by a massive iron gate, and that is fast bolted. Within are thousands and millions of human beings, of all ages and classes, by one epidemic disease bending to the grave. The graves yawn to swallow them, and they must all perish. There is no balm to relieve, no physician there. Such is the condition of man as a sinner. All have sinned; and it is written, "The soul that sinneth shall die." But while the unhappy race lay in that dismal prison, Mercy came and stood at the gate, and wept over the melancholy scene, exclaiming—"Oh, that I might enter! I would bind up their wounds; I would relieve their sorrows; I would save their souls!" An embassy of angels, commissioned from the court of heaven to some other world, paused at the sight, and heaven forgave that pause. Seeing Mercy standing there, they cried:—"Mercy! canst thou not enter? Canst thou look upon that scene and not pity? Canst thou pity, and not relieve?" Mercy replied: "I can see!" and in her tears she added, "I can pity, but I can not relieve!" "Why canst thou not enter?" inquired the heavenly host. "Oh!" said Mercy, "Justice has barred the gate against me, and I must not—can not unbar it!" At this moment, Justice appeared, as if to watch the gate. The angels asked, "Why wilt thou not suffer Mercy to enter?" He sternly replied: "The law is broken, and it must be honored! Die they, or Justice must!" Then appeared a form among the angelic band like unto the Son of God. Addressing Himself to Justice, He said: "What are thy demands?" Justice replied: "My demands are rigid; I must have ignominy for their honor, sickness for their health, death for their life. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission!" "Justice," said the Son of God, "I accept thy terms! On me be this wrong! Let Mercy enter, and stay the carnival of death!" "What pledge dost thou give for the performance of these conditions?" "My word; my oath!" "When wilt thou perform them?" "Four thousand years hence, on the hill of Calvary, without the walls of Jerusalem." The bond was prepared, and signed and sealed in the presence of attendant angels. Justice was satisfied, the gate was opened, and Mercy entered, preaching salvation in the name of Jesus. The bond was committed to patriarchs and prophets. A long series of rites and ceremonies, sacrifices and obligations, was instituted to perpetuate the memory of that solemn deed. At the close of the four thousandth year, when Daniel's "seventy weeks" were accomplished, Justice and Mercy appeared on the hill of Calvary. "Where," and Justice, "is the Son of God?" "Behold him," answered Mercy, "at the foot of the hill!" And there He came, bearing His own cross, and followed by His weeping church. Mercy retired, and stood aloof from the scene. Jesus ascended the hill like a lamb for the sacrifice. Justice presented the dreadful bond, saying, "This is the day on which this article must be canceled." The Redeemer took it. What did He do with it? Tear it to pieces, and scatter it to the winds? No! He nailed it to His cross, crying, "It is finished!" The victim ascended the altar. Justice called on Holy Fire to come down and consume the sacrifice. Holy Fire replied: "I come! I will consume the sacrifice, and then I will burn up the world!" It fell upon the Son of God, and rapidly consumed His humanity; but when it touched His deity, it expired. Then was there darkness over the whole land, and an earthquake shook the mountain; but the heavenly host broke forth in rapturous song—"Glory to God in the highest! on earth peace! good will to man!"
Thus grace has abounded, and the free gift has come upon all, and the gospel has gone forth proclaiming redemption to every creature. "By grace ye are saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast." By grace ye are loved, redeemed, and justified. By grace ye are called, converted, reconciled and sanctified. Salvation is wholly of grace. The plan, the process, the consummation are all of grace.
"Where sin abounded, grace hath much more abounded." "Through the offense of one, many were dead." And as men multiplied, the offense abounded. The waters deluged the world, but could not wash away the dreadful stain. The fire fell from heaven, but could not burn out the accurst plague. The earth opened her mouth, but could not swallow up the monster sin. The law thundered forth its threat from the thick darkness on Sinai, but could not restrain, by all its, terrors, the children of disobedience. Still the offense abounded, and multiplied as the sands on the seashore. It waxed bold, and pitched its tents on Calvary, and nailed the Lawgiver to a tree. But in that conflict sin received its mortal wound. The victim was the victor. He fell, but in His fall He crusht the foe. He died unto sin, but sin and death were crucified upon His cross. Where sin abounded to condemn, grace hath much more abounded to justify. Where sin abounded to corrupt, grace hath much more abounded to purify. Where sin abounded to harden, grace hath much more abounded to soften and subdue. Where sin abounded to imprison men, grace hath much more abounded to proclaim liberty to the captives. Where sin abounded to break the law and dishonor the Lawgiver, grace hath much more abounded to repair the breach and efface the stain. Where sin abounded to consume the soul as with unquenchable fire and a gnawing worm, grace hath much more abounded to extinguish the flame and heal the wound. Grace hath abounded! It hath established its throne on the merit of the Redeemer's sufferings. It hath put on the crown, and laid hold of the golden scepter, and spoiled the dominion of the prince of darkness, and the gates of the great cemetery are thrown open, and there is the beating of a new life-pulse throughout its wretched population and immortality is walking among the tombs!
This abounding grace is manifested in the gift of Jesus Christ, by whose mediation our reconciliation and salvation are effected. With Him, believers are dead unto sin, and alive unto God. Our sins were slain at His cross, and buried in His tomb. His resurrection hath opened our graves, and given us an assurance of immortality. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; much more, then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through him; for if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."
"The carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Glory to God, for the death of His Son, by which this enmity is slain, and reconciliation is effected between the rebel and the law! This was the unspeakable gift that saved us from ruin; that wrestled with the storm, and turned it away from the devoted head of the sinner. Had all the angels of God attempted to stand between these two conflicting seas, they would have been swept to the gulf of destruction. "The blood of bulls and goats, on Jewish altars slain," could not take away sin, could not pacify the conscience. But Christ, the gift of divine grace, "Paschal Lamb by God appointed," a "sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they," bore our sins and carried our sorrows, and obtained for us the boon of eternal redemption. He met the fury of the tempest, and the floods went over His head; but His offering was an offering of peace, calming the storms and the waves, magnifying the law, glorifying its Author, and rescuing its violator from the wrath and ruin. Justice hath laid down his sword at the foot of the cross, and amity is restored between heaven and earth.
Hither, O ye guilty! come and cast away your weapons of rebellion! Come with your bad principles and wicked actions; your unbelief, and enmity, and pride; and throw them off at the Redeemer's feet! God is here waiting to be gracious. He will receive you; He will east all your sins behind His back, into the depths of the sea; and they shall be remembered against you no more forever. By Heaven's "unspeakable gift," by Christ's invaluable atonement, by the free, infinite grace of the Father and Son, we persuade you, we beseech you, we entreat you, "be ye reconciled to God"!
It is by the work of the Holy Spirit with us that we obtain a personal interest in the work wrought on Calvary for us. If our sins are canceled, they are also crucified. If we are reconciled in Christ, we fight against our God no more. This is the fruit of faith. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." May the Lord inspire in every one of us that saving principle!
But those who have been restored to the divine favor may sometimes be cast down and dejected. They have passed through the sea, and sung praises on the shore of deliverance; but there is yet between them and Canaan "a waste howling wilderness," a long and weary pilgrimage, hostile nations, fiery serpents, scarcity of food, and the river of Jordan. Fears within and fightings without, they may grow discouraged, and yield to temptation and murmur against God, and desire to return to Egypt. But fear not, thou worm Jacob! Reconciled by the death of Christ; much more, being reconciled, thou shalt be saved by His life. His death was the price of our redemption; His life insures liberty to the believer. If by His death He brought you through the Red Sea in the night, by His life He can lead you through the river Jordan in the day. If by His death He delivered you from the iron furnace in Egypt, by His life He can save you from all perils of the wilderness. If by His death He conquered Pharaoh, the chief foe, by His life He can subdue Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, the king of Bashan. "We shall be saved by his life." Because He liveth, we shall live also. "Be of good cheer!" The work is finished; the ransom is effected; the kingdom of heaven is open to all believers. "Lift up your heads and rejoice," "ye prisoners of hope!" There is no debt unpaid, no devil unconquered, no enemy within your hearts that has not received a mortal wound! "Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ!"
CHRIST'S RESURRECTION AN IMAGE OF OUR NEW LIFE
Friedrich Ernst Daniel Schleiermacher, German theologian and philosopher, was born at Breslau in 1768. He was brought up in a religious home and in 1787 went to the University of Halle, and in 1789 became a Privat-Docent. In 1794 he was ordained and preached successively at Landsberg and Berlin. The literary and philosophical side of his intellect developed itself in sympathy with the Romanticists, but he never lost his passion for religion, a subject on which he published five discurses in 1799. We find in them a trace of the pantheism of Spinoza. His translation of Plato, accomplished between 1804 and 1806, gave him high rank as a classical scholar. In 1817 he joined the movement toward the union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches. As a preacher he was unprepossessing in appearance, being sickly and hunchbacked, but his simplicity of manner, and his clear, earnest style endeared him to many thousands. He died in Berlin in 1834.
CHRIST'S RESURRECTION AN IMAGE OF OUR NEW LIFE
As Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life.—Romans vi., 4.
It is natural, my friends, that the glorious festival of our Savior's resurrection should attract the thoughts of believers to a far remote time, and that it should make them rejoice to think of the time when they shall be with Him who, after He had risen from the dead, returned to His and our Father. But the apostle, in the words of our text, recalls us from what is far off to what is close to us—to the immediate present of our life here. He takes hold of what is the most immediate concern, of what we are at once to share in and which is to form us, even here, into the likeness of Christ's resurrection. We are buried with Him, He says, unto death, that as He was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also might walk in newness of life. And this new life is that which, as the Lord Himself says, all who believe in Him possess even now as having passed through death to life. The apostle compares this with those glorious days of our Lord's resurrection; and how could we more appropriately keep this feast—a feast in which, above all others, many Christians draw renewed strength for this new life from the most intimate union with our heavenly Head—how could we better celebrate it than by endeavoring to receive this directly for ourselves from the words of the apostle? Let us then, according to the teaching of these words, consider the resurrection life of our Lord, as the apostle presents it to us, as a glorious, tho it may be unattainable, model of the new life in which we are all to walk through Him.
1. This new life is like that of our risen Savior, first, in the manner of His resurrection. In order to appear to His disciples in that glorified form, which already bore in it the indications of the eternal and immortal glory, it was necessary that the Savior should pass through the pains of death. It was not an easy transformation; it was necessary for Him, tho not to see corruption, yet to have the shadow of death pass over Him; and friends and enemies vied with each other in trying to retain Him in the power of the grave; the friends rolling a stone before it, to keep the beloved corpse in safety, the enemies setting a watch lest it should be taken away. But when the hour came which the Father had reserved in His own power, the angel of the Lord appeared and rolled away the stone from the tomb, and the watch fled, and at the summons of omnipotence life came back into the dead form.
Thus, my friends, we know what is the new life that is to be like the resurrection life of the Lord. A previous life must die; the apostle calls it the body of sin, the law of sin in our members, and this needs no lengthened discussion. We all know and feel that this life, which Scripture calls a being dead in sins, pleasant and splendid as may be the form it often assumes, is yet nothing but what the mortal body of the Savior also was, an expression and evidence of the power of death, because even the fairest and strongest presentation of this kind lacks the element of being imperishable. Thus with the mortal body of the Savior, and thus also with the natural life of man, which is as yet not a life from God.
And this our old man must die a violent death in the name of the law, such as the Savior died, not without severe suffering and painful wounds. For if the body of sin dies out in a man of itself, through satiety of earthly things, and because no excitement can any longer affect his exhausted powers, that is a death from which we see no new life proceed. The power of sin must be slain in a man by violence; a man must go through the torture of self-knowledge, showing him the contrast between his wretched condition and the higher life to which he is called; he must hear the cry, and accept it as an irrevocable sentence; that an end is to be put to this life; he must groan and almost sink under the preparations for the execution of that sentence; all his accustomed habits of life must cease; he must be conscious of the wish that he were safely through it all, and it were at an end.
And when he has yielded up the old life to a welcome death, and the old man is crucified with Christ, then the world, which knows nothing better than that previous life, if it only goes on well and easily, uses all kinds of efforts to hinder the rising up of the new life, some of them well-meaning, others self-interested and therefore hostile. Some, with good intentions, like those friends of the Savior, consult together, and try all in their power, keeping away all extraneous influences, to preserve at least the appearance of their friend from being defaced, and tho no joyful movement can ever again be awakened, to preserve the form of the old life. Others, seeking their own interest and pleasure in a way by which they almost certainly accuse themselves, try to prevent an abuse being practised in this state of things, and also to guard against the gay, merry life which they lead, and into which they like so much to lead others, being brought into contempt by a question of a new life arising after this dying off of the old man, when, as they think, there is really nothing else and nothing better here on earth and when it is a vain pretense for some to assert that they know this new life, and a mischievous delusion for others to attempt attaining it. Therefore wherever they perceive such a state of things, they have their spies to watch against every deception that might be practised about such a new life, or at least at once to discover and publish what kind of delusions prevail in connection with it.
But when the hour has come which the Father has kept in His own power, then in one form or another His life-bringing angel appears to such a soul. Yet how little do we know about what part the angel had in the Savior's resurrection! We do not know if the Savior saw him or not; we can not determine the moment at which he rolled away the stone from the tomb and the reanimated Savior came forth; no one witnessed it, and the only persons of whom we are told that they might have been able to see it with their bodily eyes were smitten with blindness. And in like manner, neither do we know how the soul, lying, so to speak, in the tomb of self-destruction, is wrought upon by the angel of the Lord in order to call forth the life of God in it. It arises unseen in that grave-like silence, and can not be perceived until it is actually present; what is properly the beginning of it is hidden, as every beginning usually is, even from him to whom the life is imparted. But this is certain, as the apostle says, that the Lord was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, and thus also, according to the words of the Savior, no man comes to the Son except the Father draw him; that same glory of the Father, which then called forth the Savior from the tomb, still awakens in the soul that has died to sin the new life, like the resurrection life of the Lord. Indeed, among all the proofs of the Father's glory in heaven and earth, there is none greater than this, that he has no pleasure in the death-like condition of the sinner, but that at some time or another the almighty, mysterious, life-giving call sounds in his ears—Arise and live.
2. And, secondly, this new life resembles its type and ideal, the resurrection life of Christ, not only in being risen from death, but also in its whole nature, way and manner. First, in this respect, that tho a new life, it is, nevertheless, the life of the same man, and in the closest connection with his former life. Thus, with our Savior; He was the same, and was recognized by His disciples as the same, to their great joy; His whole appearance was the very same; even in the glory of His resurrection He bore the marks of His wounds as a remembrance of His sufferings and as the tokens of His death; and the remembrance of His former state was most closely and constantly present with Him. And just so it is with the new life of the Spirit. If the old man has died in sin, and we now live in Christ, and with Him in God, yet we are the same persons that we were before. As the resurrection of the Lord was no new creation, but the same man, Jesus, who had gone down into the grave, come forth again from it; so in the soul before it died the death which leads to life in God, there must have lain the capability of receiving that life when the body of sin should die and perish; and that life is developed in the same human soul amid the same outward circumstances as before, and with its other powers and faculties remaining unchanged. We are entirely the same persons, only that the fire of the higher life is kindled in us, and also that we all bear the signs of death, and that the remembrance of our former state is present with us. Yes, in manifold ways we are often reminded of what we were and what we did before the call to new life sounded in our hearts; and it is not so easy to efface the scars of the wounds, and the numberless traces of the pains under which the old man had to die that the new man might live. And as the glad faith of the disciples rested on the very fact that they recognized the Lord as being, in the glory of His resurrection, the same person that He was before; so also in us, the confidence in this new life, as a permanent and now natural state with us, rests only on this—that we recognize ourselves in it as the same persons that we were before; that there are the same faculties, lower and higher, of the human soul, which formerly served sin, but are now created anew as instruments of righteousness. Indeed, all the traces of that death, as well as of the former life, make us more vividly conscious of the great change that the life-giving call of God has produced in us, and call for the most heartfelt gratitude.
And as the Savior was the same person in the days of His resurrection, so His life was also again of course a vigorous and active life; indeed, we might almost say it bore the traces of humanity, without which it could be no image of our new life, even in this, that it gradually grew stronger and acquired new powers. When the Savior first appeared to Mary, He said, as if His new life had been, as it were, timid and sensitive, "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my God and your God." But after a few days He showed Himself to Thomas, and bade him boldly touch Him, put his hand in the Master's side, and his fingers into the marks left by the nails of the cross, so that He did not shrink from being touched even on the most sensitive spots. And also even in the earliest days, and as if the new life were to be fully strengthened by doing so, we find Him walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and from Emmaus back to Jerusalem, as well as going before His disciples into Galilee, and leading them back to Jerusalem, where He then ascended to heaven in their sight. And as He thus walked among them, living a life with them, human in every part, and exercising a human influence on them; so also His most important business was to talk with them of the kingdom of God, to reprove and rouse them up from their slowness of heart, and to open the eyes of their minds. Now so it is, my friends, with our new life—that is like the resurrection life of the Lord. Oh, how very gradually it gains its faculties in us, grows and becomes strong, only bearing still more than the new life of the Lord the traces of earthly imperfection. I can appeal on this point to the feeling of us all, for assuredly it is the same in all. How intermittent at first are the manifestations of this new life, and how limited the sphere of its action! How long does it retain its sensitive spots, which can not be touched without pain, or even without injurious consequences, and those are always the places in which the old man has been most deeply wounded in his dying hours! But in proportion as it becomes stronger, this new life ought the less to give the impression of being a mere fantom life,—the impression the Lord's disciples had when in the first moments they thought in their fear that they saw a spirit, so that He was obliged to appeal to the testimony of all their senses, that they might perceive He was no spirit, but had flesh and bones. And thus if our new life in God consisted in mere states of feeling and emotions, which were not in the least capable of passing into action, or perhaps did not even aim at doing so; which were too peculiar and special to ourselves to be actually communicated to others or to move them with good effect, but rather might touch them with a chill sense of awe; what would such a life be but a ghost-like apparition that would no doubt excite attention, but would find no credence, and would make men uneasy in their accustomed course, but without producing any improvement in it? No, it is a life of action, and ought to be ever becoming more so; not only being nourished and growing stronger and stronger through the word of the Lord and through heart-communion with Him, to which He calls us, giving Himself to us as the meat and drink of eternal life, but every one striving to make his new life intelligible to others about him, and to influence them by it. Oh, that we had our eyes more and more steadily fixt on the risen Savior! Oh, that we could ever be learning more and more from Him to breathe out blessing, as He did when He imparted His Spirit to the disciples! Oh, that we were more and more learning like Him to encourage the foolish and slow of heart to joyful faith in the divine promises, to active obedience to the divine will of their Lord and Master, to the glad enjoyment and use of all the heavenly treasures that He has thrown open to us! Oh, that we were ever speaking more effectively to all connected with us, of the kingdom of God and of our inheritance in it, so that they might see why it was necessary for Christ to suffer, but also into what glory He has gone! These are our desires, and they are not vain desires. The life-giving Spirit, whom He has obtained for us, effects all this in each in the measure that pleases Him; and if once the life of God is kindled in the human soul if we have once, as the apostle says, become like Him in His resurrection, then His powers are also more and more abundantly and gloriously manifested in us through the efficacy of His Spirit for the common good.
But along with all this activity and strength, the life of the risen Savior was yet, in another sense, a secluded and hidden life. It is probable that when, in order to show Himself to His disciples, He went here and there from one part of the land to another, he was seen by many besides them, who had known Him in His previous life. How could it be otherwise? But the eyes of men were holden, that they did not recognize Him; and He made Himself known only to those who belonged to Him in faithful love. At the same time, however, He said to them, Blest are they who do not see, yet believe! And what was the little number of those who were counted worthy of seeing Him, even if we add to them the five hundred whom Paul mentions, compared with the number of those who afterward believed in their testimony to the Lord's resurrection? And thus it is also, my friends, with the new life in which we walk, even if it is, as it ought to be, strong and vigorous, and ever at work for the kingdom of God; yet it is at the same time an unknown and hidden life, unrecognized by and hidden from the world, whose eyes are holden; and he who should set himself to force the knowledge of it upon them, who should hit upon extraordinary proceedings in order to attract their attention to the difference between the life of sin and the resurrection life, would not be walking in the likeness of the Lord's resurrection. As the people in the time of Christ had opportunity enough to inquire about His resurrection, in seeing how His disciples continued to hold together, so our neighbors also see our close alliance, which has nothing to do with the affairs of this world; and if they, because of this, inquire about what unites us, the answer will not be lacking to them. But our inner history we will as little thrust upon them as the risen Christ thrust His presence on those who had slain Him, and who had therefore no desire to see Him. Instead of this, as He showed Himself only to His own, we also will make known our inner life only to those who are just in the same way our own; who, glowing with the same love, and cheered by the same faith, can tell us in return how the Lord has revealed Himself to them. Not by any means as if we followed some mysterious course, and that those only whose experiences had been entirely alike should separate themselves into little exclusive groups; for even the days of the Lord's resurrection present examples of various kinds of experience, and of one common inner fellowship connected with them all. And not only so, but even those who as yet have experienced nothing at all are not sent empty away. Only they must first become aware, by what they see without our thrusting it upon them, that here a spirit is breathing to which they are strangers, that here is manifested a life as yet unknown to them. Then will we, as was done then, lead them by the word of our testimony to the foundation of this new life; and as, when the word of preaching pierced men's hearts, when to some of them the old man began to appear as he really is, and they felt the first pangs that precede the death of the sinful man, there also sprang up faith in the resurrection of Him whom they had themselves crucified; so will it always be with the knowledge of the new life proceeding from Him who has risen. Therefore let us have no anxiety; the circle of those who recognize this life will always be widening, just because they are beginning to share in it. And as soon as even the slightest premonition of it arises in a man's soul, as soon as he has come only so far as to be no longer pleased and satisfied with the perishing and evil things of the world, as soon as his soul absorbs even the first ray of heavenly light, then his eyes are opened, so that he recognizes this life, and becomes aware what a different life it is to serve righteousness, from living in the service of sin.
3. And lastly, my friends, we can not feel all these comforting and glorious things in which our new life resembles the resurrection life of our Lord, without being at the same time, on another side, moved to sorrow by this resemblance. For if we put together all that the evangelists and apostles of the Lord have preserved for us about His resurrection life, we still can not out of it all form an entirely consecutive history. There are separate moments and hours, separate conversations and actions, and then the Risen One vanishes again from the eyes that look for Him; in vain we ask where He can have tarried, we must wait till He appears again. Not that in Himself there was anything of this broken or uncertain life, but as to our view of it, it is and can not be but so; and we try in vain to penetrate into the intervals between those detached moments and hours. Well, and is it not, to our sorrow, with the new life that is like Christ's resurrection life? I do not mean that this life is limited to the few hours of social worship and prayer, glorious and profitable as they are; for in that case there would be cause to fear that it was a mere pretense; nor to the services, always but small and desultory, that each of us, actively working through the gifts of the Spirit, accomplishes, as it were, visibly and tangibly according to his measure, for the kingdom of God. In manifold ways besides these we become conscious of this new life; there are many quieter and secret moments in which it is strongly felt, tho only deep in our inmost heart. But notwithstanding this, I think all, without exception, must confess that we are by no means conscious of this new life as an entirely continuous state; on the contrary, each of us loses sight of it only too often, not only among friends, among disturbances and cares, but amid the commendable occupations of this world. But this experience, my dear friends, humbling as it is, ought not to make us unbelieving, as if perhaps our consciousness of being a new creature in Christ were a delusion, and what we had regarded as indications of this life were only morbid and overstrained emotions. As the Lord convinced His disciples that He had flesh and bones, so we may all convince ourselves and each other that this is an actual life; but in that case we must believe that, tho in a hidden way and not always present to our consciousness, yet it is always in existence, just as the Lord was still in existence even at the times when He did not appear to His disciples; and had neither returned to the grave, nor as yet ascended to heaven. Only let us not overlook this difference. In the case of Christ we do not apprehend it as a natural and necessary thing that during those forty days He led a life apparently so interrupted; but each of us must easily understand how, as the influence of this new life on our outward ways can only gradually become perceptible, it should often and for a long time be quite hidden from us, especially when we are very busy with outward work, and our attention is taken up with it. But this is an imperfection from which as time goes on we should be always becoming more free. Therefore always go back, my friends, to Him who is the only fountain of this spiritual life! If, ever and anon, we can not find it in ourselves, we always find it in Him, and it is always pouring forth afresh from Him the Head to us His members. If every moment in which we do not perceive it is a moment of longing, as soon as we become conscious of the void, then it is also a moment in which the Risen One appears to our spirit, and breathes on us anew with His life-giving power. And thus drawing only from Him, we shall attain to having His heavenly gifts becoming in us more and more an inexhaustible, continually flowing fountain of spiritual and eternal life. For this He rose from the dead by the glory of the Father, that we should be made into the likeness of His resurrection. That was finished in His return to the Father; our new life is to become more and more His and the Fathers return into the depths of our souls; there they desire to make their abode; and the life of God is to be ever assuming a more continuous, active and powerful form in us, that our life in the service of righteousness may become, and continue even here, according to the Lord's promise, an eternal life.
John Mitchell Mason, the eminent divine of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, was born in New York City in 1770. He completed his studies and took his degree at Columbia College and thence proceeded to take a theological course at Edinburgh. Ordained in 1793, he took charge of the Cedar Street Church, New York City, of which his father had been pastor. In 1807 he became editor of the Christian Herald, and in 1821 was made president of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He died in 1829.
Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.—Heb. i., 18.
In the all-important argument which occupies this epistle, Paul assumes, what the believing Hebrews had already profest, that Jesus of Nazareth is the true Messiah. To prepare them for the consequences of their own principle—a principle involving nothing less than the abolition of their law, the subversion of their state, the ruin of their city, the final extinction of their carnal hopes—he leads them to the doctrine of their Redeemer's person, in order to explain the nature of his offices, to evince the value of his spiritual salvation, and to show, in both, the accomplishment of their economy which was now "ready to vanish away." Under no apprehension of betraying the unwary into idolatrous homage by giving to the Lord Jesus greater glory than is due unto His name, the apostle sets out with ascribing to Him excellence and attributes which belong to no creature. Creatures of most elevated rank are introduced; but it is to display, by contrast, the preeminence of Him who is "the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his person." Angels are great in might and in dignity; but "unto them hath he not put in subjection the world to come. Unto which of them said he, at any time, Thou art my son?" To which of them, "Sit thou at my right hand." He saith they are spirits, "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. But unto the Son," in a style which annihilates competition and comparison—"unto the Son, he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever."
Brethren, if the majesty of Jesus is the subject which the Holy Ghost selected for the encouragement and consolation of His people, when He was shaking the earth and the heavens, and diffusing His gospel among the nations, can it be otherwise than suitable and precious to us on this occasion? Shall it not expand our views, and warm our hearts, and nerve our arm in our efforts to exalt His fame? Let me implore, then, the aid of your prayers, but far more importunately the aids of His own Spirit, while I speak of the things which concern the King: those great things contained in the text—His personal glory—His sovereign rule.
His personal glory shines forth in the name by which He is revealed; a name above every name: "Thy throne, O God." ...
Messiah's throne is not one of those airy fabrics which are reared by vanity and overthrown by time: it is fixt of old; it is staple, and can not be shaken, for it is the throne of God. He who sitteth on it is the Omnipotent. Universal being is in His hand. Revolution, force, fear, as applied to His kingdom, are words without meaning. Rise up in rebellion, if thou hast courage. Associate with thee the whole mass of infernal power. Begin with the ruin of whatever is fair and good in this little globe. Pass hence to pluck the sun out of his place, and roll the volume of desolation through the starry world. What hast thou done unto Him? It is the puny menace of a worm against Him whose frown is perdition. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh."
With the stability which Messiah's Godhead communicates to His throne, let us connect the stability resulting from His Father's covenant.
His throne is founded not merely in strength, but in right. God hath laid the government upon the shoulder of His holy child Jesus, and set Him upon Mount Zion as His King forever. He has promised and sworn to build up His throne to all generations; to make it endure as the days of heaven; to beat down His foes before His face, and plague them that hate Him. "But my faithfulness," adds He, "and my mercy shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. Hath he said it, and will he not do it? Hath he spoken it, and shall it not come to pass?" Whatever disappointments rebuke the visionary projects of men, or the more crafty schemes of Satan, "the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand." The blood of sprinkling, which sealed all the promises made to Messiah, and binds down His Father's faithfulness to their accomplishment, witnesses continually in the heavenly sanctuary. "He must," therefore, "reign till he have put all his enemies under his feet." And altho the dispensation of His authority shall, upon this event, be changed, and He shall deliver it up, in its present form, to the Father, He shall still remain, in His substantial glory, a priest upon His throne, to be the eternal bond of our union, and the eternal medium of our fellowship with the living God.
Seeing that the throne of our King is as immovable as it is exalted, let us with joy draw water out of that well of salvation which is opened to us in the administration of His kingdom. Here we must consider its general characters, and the means by which it operates.
The general characters which I shall illustrate are the following:
1. Mystery. He is the unsearchable God, and His government must be like Himself. Facts concerning both He has graciously revealed. These we must admit upon the credit of His own testimony; with these we must satisfy our wishes and limit our inquiry. To intrude into those things which he hath not seen because God has not disclosed them, whether they relate to His arrangements for this world or the next, is the arrogance of one vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind. There are secrets in our Lord's procedure which He will not explain to us in this life, and which may not perhaps be explained in the life to come. We can not tell how He makes evil the minister of good; how He combines physical and moral agencies of different kind and order, in the production of blessings. We can not so much as conjecture what bearings the system of redemption, in every part of its process, may have upon the relations of providence in the occurrences of this moment, or of the last. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us: it is high, we can not attain it. Our Sovereign's way is in the sea, and His path in the deep waters; and His footsteps are not known. When, therefore, we are surrounded with difficulty, when we can not unriddle His conduct in particular dispensations, we must remember that He is God—that we are to "walk by faith"; and to trust Him as implicitly when we are in the valley of the shadow of death, as when His candle shines upon our heads. We must remember that it is not for us to be admitted into the cabinet of the King of kings; that creatures constituted as we are could not sustain the view of His unveiled agency; that it would confound, and scatter, and annihilate our little intellects. As often, then, as He retires from our observation, blending goodness with majesty, let us lay our hands upon our mouths and worship. This stateliness of our King can afford us no just ground of uneasiness. On the contrary, it contributes to our tranquillity.
2. For we know that if His administration is mysterious, it is also wise. "Great is our Lord, and of great power; his understanding is infinite." That infinite understanding watches over, and arranges, and directs all the affairs of His Church and of the world. We are perplexed at every step, embarrassed by opposition, lost in confusion, fretted by disappointment, and ready to conclude, in our haste, that all things are against our own good and our Master's honor. But "this is our infirmity"; it is the dictate of impatience and indiscretion. We forget the "years of the right hand of the Most High." We are slow of heart in learning a lesson which shall soothe our spirits at the expense of our pride. We turn away from the consolation to be derived from believing that tho we know not the connections and results of holy providence, our Lord Jesus knows them perfectly. With Him there is no irregularity, no chance, no conjecture. Disposed before His eye in the most luminous and exquisite order, the whole series of events occupy the very place and crisis where they are most effectually to subserve the purposes of His love. Not a moment of time is wasted, nor a fragment of action misapplied. What He does, we do not indeed know at present, but, as far as we shall be permitted to know hereafter, we shall see that his most inscrutable procedure was guided by consummate wisdom; that our choice was often as foolish as our petulance was provoking; that the success of our own wishes would have been our most painful chastisement, would have diminished our happiness, and detracted from His praise. Let us study, therefore, brethren, to subject our ignorance to His knowledge; instead of prescribing, to obey; instead of questioning, to believe: to perform our part without that despondency which betrays a fear that our Lord may neglect His, and tacitly accuses Him of a less concern than we feel for the glory of His own name. Let us not shrink from this duty as imposing too rigorous a condition upon our obedience.
3. A third character of Messiah's administration is righteousness. "The scepter of his kingdom is a right scepter." If "clouds and darkness are around about him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." In the times of old, His redeemed "wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; but, nevertheless, he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation." He loves His Church and the members of it too tenderly to lay upon them any burdens, or expose them to any trials, which are not indispensable to their good. It is right for them to go through fire and through water, that He may bring them out into a healthy place—right to endure chastening, that they may be partakers of His holiness—right to have the sentence of death in themselves, that they may trust in the living God, and that His strength may be perfect in their weakness. It is right that He should endure with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; that He should permit iniquity to abound, the love of many to wax cold, and the dangers of His Church to accumulate, till the interposition of His arm be necessary and decisive. In the day of final retribution, not one mouth shall be opened to complain of injustice. It will be seen that the Judge of all the earth has done right; that the works of His hands have been verity and judgment, and done, every one of them, in truth and uprightness. Let us then think not only respectfully but reverently of His dispensations, repress the voice of murmur, and rebuke the spirit of discontent; wait, in faith and patience, till He become His own interpreter, when "the heavens shall declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory."