The Gospel of LUKE

Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries

 

MCCCCLXVI

John the Forerunner of Jesus

Luke 1:17. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

THE Mosaic dispensation may be called the age of prophecy; for under it was foretold everything which should be accomplished to the end of time. The nearer the prophets arrived to the commencement of the Christian era, the more minute and circumstantial were their predictions respecting it. Other prophets had spoken largely of the Messiah; but Malachi, the last of them, points out his harbinger; and closes the prophetic canon with announcing the mission of one, who should prepare the world for his reception. Accordingly, about the time that Christ was to come, it was expected that Elijah, or at least some prophet like unto him, should first appear. Hence, when the angel was sent to Zachariah to inform him, that he in his old age should have a son, who was destined by God to the office of introducing the Messiah; he cited that very prophecy of Malachi, and cast the true light upon it: he told him, that this son of his should go before the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elijah, and have the honor of announcing to the world the Messiah's advent.

Respecting this person, thus solemnly foretold, and thus miraculously born, we shall be led to notice two things;

I. His character.

It is in a comparative view that the text requires us to consider this:

He came "in the spirit and power of Elijah," whom he closely resembled.

The resemblance may be seen in the endowments of their mind—the habits of their life—the exercise of their ministry.

In this view, John is said to be "great in the sight of the Lord."

Such a character will not be admired among men: but with God it is in the highest estimation. We grant that, in some respects, it is not so much suited to us, as it was to John, and the particular office he sustained: but, for the most part, it is proper for every person in every age, and most of all for ministers. It is proper that we be "filled with the Holy Spirit;" and if we be so "even from our mother's womb," happy are we. We ought also to show a holy superiority to the world, to sit loose to its cares and pleasures, and to be regardless of its frowns or favors. We should dare to serve our God, even though the whole nation have departed from him: and bear our testimony against sin, by whoever it be committed. We should show ourselves determinately on the Lord's side, and "shine as lights in a dark world."

Suited to his august character was,

II. His office.

This was peculiar to himself; he alone of all the sons of men was appointed to be the forerunner of his Lord.

It was customary for great personages to send messengers before them to prepare their way: and such a messenger was John the Baptist. It was highly proper that so glorious a person as the Messiah should not even appear to come in a surreptitious or clandestine manner; but that the minds of men should be directed to him, and his arrival be made the subject of general expectation. Hence we find, that the great argument by which John excited men to repentance, was this, "The kingdom of Heaven is at hand." He continually disclaimed all pretensions to the Messiahship himself, and directed them to One, who was speedily to arise among them, "whose shoe-latchet he was not worthy to unloose." As the Messiah's harbinger, he strove to prepare the hearts of men for his reception. Men of all ages and descriptions were warned by him; and "fathers with their children were turned by him unto the Lord their God." The most "disobedient" among them "were converted by him to the wisdom of the just," even to that adorable Jesus, whom all the righteous love, and in the love of whom true wisdom consists. This was the end and aim of his whole ministry, even to point men to that "Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world," and, having succeeded in this according to his father's prediction, he was glad himself to "decrease," that "the Messiah might increase" and be glorified.

But similar to his, is the office of every minister.

The minds of the generality are as regardless of Christ as if he had never come into the world; they take his name indeed into their lips, but have no desire after his salvation in their hearts. Hence arises the necessity of crying to them continually, "Behold the Lamb of God," "behold him, behold him!" Him we must exalt as the only Savior of the world; and account our lives well spent, if we be the favored instruments of converting but a few to him.

We cannot but observe from this subject,

1. How great a person Christ must be.

From the preparations which were made for his reception, we are led to expect that he was possessed of more than human dignity: and accordingly we find him identified with Jehovah, and designated as the "Lord our God." Yes: he was "Emmanuel, God with us," or, as he is elsewhere called, "the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ." While therefore we contemplate his advent, let us think of it with the profoundest admiration, and the most lively gratitude.

2. How important must be the knowledge of him.

The very end for which John was miraculously given to the world, was to bear witness to Christ, and to commend him to the Jewish nation. Was then the knowledge of Christ of such importance to the Jews? Surely it is no less so to us: our salvation depends upon it, as well as theirs: and therefore we should all ask ourselves, 'What think I of Christ? What am I the better for him? What hope have I in him?' In him alone can we find acceptance, and "by him alone can we, be justified." To him then let us direct our most assiduous attention, and "count all things but as dross and dung" for the excellency of the knowledge of him."

 

MCCCCLXVII

Luke 1:35, 38. And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.… And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to your word.

AS none can tell what devices Satan is plotting for their ruin, or what snares he may bring them into; so none can tell what thoughts of peace and love God may have towards them, or what mercies he may speedily grant unto them. Little did the persecuting Saul think, when on his journey to Damascus, what God would do for him before he reached the place of his destination: and as little did the blessed Virgin imagine, when engaged in her domestic duties, what was in reserve for her, or what a single day should bring forth. The time fixed in the Divine counsels came at last, when the Messiah was to be brought into the world; and the Virgin Mother was to be informed of God's designs respecting her. Methinks, at the first address of the angelic messenger, she was filled with surprise and terror: but having been fully instructed respecting that peculiar favor which God had prepared for her, she acquiesced in the Divine proposals, and committed herself with all her concerns, into the hands of her Almighty Friend.

We propose to consider,

I. The honor promised her.

She was informed, that God had ordained her to be the happy instrument of bringing into the world his only dear Son: and, on her inquiring how that should be accomplished in her virgin state, she was told that the Holy Spirit, who at the first creation of the world "moved upon the face of the waters," and reduced the chaotic mass to order and beauty, should, by his almighty power, form in her that Holy Being, who should, in his human as well as his divine nature, be the Son of God.

But here a question arises, why should the Messiah be born in this way? Why might not the privilege of bearing him be given to her in a way more agreeable to the common course of nature? We answer, that there was, if we may so speak, a necessity for it:

1. That he might not be involved in Adam's guilt.

Adam was not a mere individual, but the head and representative of all his posterity; and, when he violated the covenant which God had made with him, he brought a curse, not on himself only, but on all his descendants also. This is evident from the death of infants, who cannot have contracted personal guilt, and yet suffer the punishment of sin. This could not be, if sin, in some shape or other, were not imputed to them. It is by "the transgression of Adam that they are accounted sinners, and that judgment comes upon them to condemnation." "In Adam all died."

Now if the Lord Jesus had descended from him in the common way, he would have lain under the same sentence of condemnation with others, and therefore would have needed a deliverer himself, instead of becoming a deliverer to others.

2. That he might not partake of Adam's corruption.

When Adam fell, he became corrupt in every member of his body, and in every faculty of his soul. And we are particularly informed, that "he begat a son in his own likeness," not in the likeness of God in which he was created, but in his own image as a fallen creature. An awful evidence of this truth he soon beheld, in Cain's hatred, and murder, of righteous Abel.

Of this corruption Christ must have participated, if he had been born in the way of other men: for "who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one," says Job: and again, "How can he be clean that is born of a woman?" In this case, he could not have been "a Lamb without spot or blemish;" and consequently not a proper sacrifice for sin. He must be without sin himself, if he is to take away the sins of others; and "offer himself without spot to God," if he is to purge away the guilt of a ruined world.

3. That the Scriptures might be fulfilled in him.

The very first promise which announced his future birth, designated him as exclusively "the Seed of the woman."We might not perhaps have so limited the import of that passage, if subsequent prophecies had not thrown the true light upon it: but Isaiah expressly says, that "a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel; and an inspired Apostle assures us, that this Scripture had an exact and literal accomplishment in the birth of Jesus. The Prophet Jeremiah also, encouraging the Jews to return to their native land, tells them, that "God would create a new thing there, namely, A woman should compass a man;" that is, should bear a man-child in her virgin state, which had never taken place from the foundation of the world, and which would in a peculiar manner require the exercise of his all-creating power.

Now the Scriptures cannot be broken: if therefore Jesus was to be the Messiah spoken of in the prophets, he must be born in this very manner; and the honor of bearing him must be enjoyed in this way alone.

From the conferring the honor, we are naturally led to consider,

II. Her acceptance of it.

Here, while we behold her virgin modesty, unalloyed with any mixture of pride or boasting, we are of necessity called to admire,

1. Her faith in the promise.

When Zachariah, an aged and pious priest, had been informed by the angel that he should have a son in his old age, he doubted the truth of it, and required a sign for the confirmation of his faith: but when this holy Virgin was told of a thing far less credible, she doubted not one single moment: her question was, not for the assuring of her mind about the truth of the promise, but merely for information respecting the mode of its accomplishment. Now in this she showed the eminence of her piety: and for this she was particularly commended by God himself, who inspired Elizabeth, at the first appearance of the Virgin, to exclaim, "Blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.". It was such an exercise of faith that made Abraham so distinguished among all the sons of men, and so eminently beloved of his God. This also was the grace which most particularly characterized all the saints of old; which also our blessed Lord invariably honored with his peculiar approbation; which therefore should exalt his Virgin mother exceeding highly in our esteem.

2. Her submission to the appointment.

She could not but know that the honor proposed for her acceptance might entirely ruin her character, and possibly even affect her life: for God himself had commanded, that a virgin betrothed should, if unfaithful to her engagements, be punished with death, exactly as she would have been if actually married. On these grounds she might well have suggested doubts, and inquired, how she should be protected from these awful consequences. But she felt no doubt, but that He, whose power and love could confer upon her the proposed honor, would exercise a watchful care over her, and either entirely prevent, or richly recompense, these dreaded evils. Like "Abraham, who at the call of God went out, not knowing where he went," she cheerfully committed herself to the Divine protection, knowing in whom she had believed, and assured that he would never leave her nor forsake her. That there was just ground for such fears, appears by the very purpose which Joseph formed, of putting her away as an adulteress: and which was only prevented by the intervention of God himself, who sent an angel to inform him by what means she was pregnant, and to commend her to his peculiar care.

Here again we cannot but admire that resignation and fortitude, whereby she rose superior to all those fears and apprehensions, which such a situation was calculated to inspire.

3. Her gratitude for the favor.

At the first, as we might expect, her frame was that of meek and humble submission. But, when she had had time to reflect upon the greatness of the mercy given unto her, and the blessings which would come upon the world by her means, she broke forth into the most exalted strains of praise: "My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior." She justly acknowledged, that, "He who was mighty had done to her great things," in the contemplation of which "all generations would call her blessed." She viewed with ineffable delight the accomplishment of that promise which had been made to Abraham; and doubtless, to the latest moment of her life, adored that God, who had made use of her as his honored instrument to fulfill it.

In the review of this mysterious subject, we may learn,

1. How God fulfills his promises.

The difficulty here seemed insurmountable: the Son of God, in order "to redeem those who were under the law, must be made under the law," yet not really obnoxious to its curse; and be "made of a woman," subject to all the infirmities of our nature, and yet be free from sin. But God is never at a loss: "with him nothing is impossible," he devised and executed a plan, whereby we might have "such an high-priest as became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners;" a plan, that filled all Heaven with wonder. Thus, in other dispensations of his providence and grace, he often permits difficulties to arise, which preclude all hope of our attaining the object of our desire. But, in the best and fittest season, he interposes, and "makes light to arise in obscurity, and our darkness to be as the noon-day." At this hour, as much as in the days of Abraham, is that saying true, "In the mount the Lord shall be seen."

2. How we ought to receive them.

Among the many promises which God has given us, there is one "exceeding great and precious," not unlike to that which has been the subject of our present consideration; namely, that "Christ shall be formed in our hearts; that being so formed, he "shall dwell in us;" and that so dwelling in us, he shall be to us "the hope of glory." This promise is even greater than that which was fulfilled to the blessed Virgin, inasmuch as a spiritual union with the Lord exceeds that which is merely carnal. And how should we receive this promise? I answer, precisely as the blessed Virgin did. We should not stagger at it through unbelief: we should not account it too good for his love to grant, or too great, for his power to execute. We should be alike unmoved by either the difficulties that may obstruct its accomplishment, or the dangers that may follow it. Our reputation, our interests, our life, we should commit to the hands of a faithful Creator, equally ready to suffer for him, or to be more illustrious monuments of his paternal care. O happy should we be, if in this manner we could embrace every promise he has given us, and in full expectation of its accomplishment say, "Behold the servant of the Lord, be it unto me according to your word."

 

MCCCCLXVIII

The Virgin's Song of Praise

 

Luke 1:46, 47. And Mary said, My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

THE characteristic features of the unregenerate man are pride and selfishness. If the distinctions of others are superior to his own, he regards them with envy; if inferior, with contempt. The reverse of this is universally produced by the grace of God. That teaches us to "seek not our own things only, but also the things of others;" and to "prefer others in honor before ourselves," being ready at all times to acknowledge and commend what is good in them, and to give God the glory of whatever good there may be in us. No where will this be found more beautifully exemplified than in the interview which took place between Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary. Immediately after the blessed Virgin had been informed of God's gracious design respecting her, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who had, by the immediate influence of Heaven, been enabled to conceive a son in her old age. On her very first appearance, Elizabeth, neither elated with her own honor, nor envious of Mary's, broke forth into the warmest congratulations; losing all sight, as it were, of her own mercies, and rejoicing altogether in those which had been given to her pious friend. The Virgin too, in her reply, showed clearly on what her mind was fixed, and what was the main desire of her heart. Not a single word savoring of self-exaltation escaped her lips: but with devoutest gratitude she ascribed unto God the honor due unto his name.

In considering these first effusions of her soul, it will be proper to notice,

I. The grounds of her joy.

Doubtless she had some respect to the peculiar mercy given to her: nor could she without base ingratitude have overlooked it. But it is evident that her views were directed to "God" himself, as the Benefactor, the "Savior," of mankind.

If we consider God the Father as the object in whom she rejoiced, still it was in him as sending his Son into the world, and by him reconciling the world unto himself. It was in him also as her Savior. Here then we see her sentiments in relation to the state of her soul before God. Holy as she was, she saw herself a sinner before God, and justly obnoxious to his everlasting displeasure. She was convinced also that she could not by any means make atonement for her sins, or reconcile herself to God. She felt that she needed a Savior as much as the vilest of the human race: and she looked for salvation solely as the gift of God through the merits of her Redeemer.

Were such her views? what ought to be ours? what should be our estimate of our own state? How vain must be that conceit, which the more chaste and sober among us are prone to indulge, that they do not deserve the wrath of God; or that they shall find acceptance with God because of their comparative goodness!

If we consider the Lord Jesus Christ as the object of her joy, (which we may well do,) then do we see what her views were of that child, whom she was in due time to bring into the world. "David, in and by the Spirit, had called him Lord," at the time that he spoke of him as his son, who should in due time arise to sit upon his throne. And Elizabeth had directly acknowledged that holy Being that was but just formed in the Virgin's womb, as "her Lord;" and had declared that the infant in her own womb had leaped for joy at his approach. The Virgin herself too knew his Divine origin, and that he was "the Son of the Highest." Well therefore might she "magnify" him for his astonishing condescension, and "rejoice in" him as her deliverer from the wrath to come. It is probable enough that her views of his work and offices were much less distinct than ours: but, whether more or less clear, they were manifestly the ground of her joy. She knew that he was sent to be the Savior of the world; and she had no doubt but that he would "finish the work which God had given him to do."

And have not we the same ground of joy? or rather, ought not our joy in him to be more sublime, in proportion as our knowledge of him is more clear? O let not our views of him be less exalted, or our affiance in him less firm!

From viewing the grounds of her joy, let us turn our attention to,

II. The expressions of it.

Here we behold a blessed mixture of admiration, gratitude, and joy. It is evident that her mind was full of her subject: the abruptness of her speech shows, that she had "mused in her heart until the fire kindled; and then she spoke with her tongue." She was naturally of a ruminating thoughtful turn: and, from the moment when the angel announced to her the Divine purpose, we doubt not but that her meditations had been on this subject night and day. Here then, overwhelmed, as it were, with the greatness of this mystery, she gives vent to her feelings, and magnifies him as her Savior, whom by faith alone she knew to have been formed in her womb.

Gladly would she have presented to her God a tribute of praise adequate to the occasion. Her soul and spirit "were engaged to the uttermost," but the language of mortality was too feeble for such a theme. Yet, as far as she could, she "magnified" her Lord, and rendered to him the acknowledgments so justly due.

As to the joy she felt, that also, no less than her theme, exceeded the powers of language to express. Even if she could have expressed it, her words would not convey to us any precise ideas, unless we had correspondent feelings within our own bosom.

If such, then, was her state, we ask, what can any man know of this mystery, who has not been filled with wonder at it? What can any man know of it, who does not rejoice in it with most exalted joy, and bless God for it from his inmost soul?—As a speculative truth, indeed, it may have received our assent, even though we have never contemplated it with any suitable emotions: but if the excellency of the truth have been ever felt, we have found that we sunk under it as ineffable, incomprehensible; and were constrained to adore in silence the mercies which we could not utter.

From this instructive history we may learn,

1. Our duty.

Persons readily acknowledge their obligation to do as they would be done unto, or even to perform some religious duties: but they can live all their days without rejoicing in God, and yet never feel any sense of guilt on account of it. But are not the commands on this head as clear, and as forcible, as on any subject whatever? "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice;" "Rejoice evermore, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." Indeed the exercise of this heavenly disposition is represented as characteristic of the true Christian, insomuch that no person can claim that honorable appellation, who is a stranger to it: "We are the circumcision, who rejoice in Christ Jesus." Let not any then imagine that they are in a state acceptable to God, while they continue to have such low thoughts of the Savior, and are so insensible to all the wonders of redeeming love.

2. Our privilege.

We are almost ashamed to have spoken of joy in Christ under the name of duty. What would a glorified saint feel, if exhorted to it as a duty? He would spurn at the idea: he would say, 'It is not my duty, but my privilege: it constitutes the very happiness of Heaven.' O that we could learn to think of it in that view! It is in this very light that Peter speaks of it, not as an object to be desired, but as an attainment common to the saints: "Believing in Christ," says he, "you rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified." Look at the Psalmist, and behold his state: he determined to praise his God with every faculty of his soul, and every member of his body, if we may so speak; and to spend every day, (I had almost said, every hour,) to the end of life, in this blessed employment. Let us imitate his example. "Let them give thanks, whom the Lord has redeemed," if we do not, "the very stones will cry out against us." We are not advocates for enthusiasm: but if to resemble the holy Virgin, to be filled with admiring thoughts of the Savior, and to anticipate the felicity of Heaven, be enthusiasm, let us be enthusiasts: such enthusiasts will God approve. Yet, that we give no just occasion for that reproach, let us combine discretion with devotion; according to the exhortation of the Psalmist, "Sing praises to the Lord, sing praises; sing praises to the Lord, sing praises; sing you praises with understanding."

 

 

MCCCCLXIX

The Song of Zachariah

Luke 1:67–75. And his father Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up an horn of salvation for us, in the house of his servant David; as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets which have been since the world began; that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us: to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.

CONSIDERING the depth of humiliation to which the Son of God was about to submit, in taking upon him our nature, it was necessary that his birth should be attended with such circumstances, as were calculated to impress the minds of men with a conviction of his real character. Accordingly we find, that, previous to his birth, there was ample testimony given to him as a most extraordinary personage, such as the world had never before seen. A person was sent "to prepare his way before him," and this forerunner was himself distinguished by a preternatural birth. The father of this messenger was informed by an angel, that his aged, and hitherto barren, wife should conceive a son, who should be called John. On his expressing some doubt of the angel's veracity, he was struck dumb for his unbelief; and continued so until the birth and naming of the promised child: and then, on his confirming the appointment of his wife respecting the name of the child, his tongue was loosed, and he brake forth into this prophetic hymn of praise: in which he blesses God for the advent of the Messiah,

I. As an accomplishment of prophecy.

The incarnation of the Son of God had been foretold from the beginning of the world.

It was announced to Adam immediately after his fall. To Abraham it had been promised with an oath. To David, from whose loins the Messiah was to spring, it had been confirmed by an everlasting covenant.

In a more particular manner it had been foretold that Christ should "visit and redeem" his people. The state of the Israelites in Egypt, and their redemption from thence, had been foreordained from the beginning, in order to typify this great event. Abraham was warned of the afflictions which his posterity should endure there, and of the wonderful deliverance which at a remote period they should experience. Joseph in his dying hour assured his brethren, that God would "visit them," and bring them thence. And Moses was in due time sent upon this errand, and commissioned to inform his wretched countrymen, that God was come at last to visit and deliver them. Now in the text, there is, as in the sequel will more fully appear, a reference, not to the event merely, but to the very terms in which that event was predicted: from which circumstance, the typical application of that history to the incarnation of Christ, is clearly warranted and confirmed.

For the accomplishment of this great event, this holy man blessed and adored his God.

The prospect of this event had excited a lively joy in the breast of Abraham, at the distance of two thousand years: and all who, in the intermediate space, had successively believed the promises, had lived and died in the pleasing expectation, that the happiness denied to them should be granted to their posterity. When the time for the Messiah's advent drew near, the expectation of him became more general, more joyful, more assured. Many there were who "looked for redemption in Jerusalem," and "waited for Jesus as the Consolation of Israel." What wonder then that, on the sight of his forerunner, Zachariah burst forth in these triumphant strains? What wonder that, in the confidence of faith, he spoke of the Savior as already arrived, yes, and the work of redemption as already effected by him, though there were yet several months to elapse before he would be born into the world? It was surely the fittest use of his newly-recovered speech; and had he forborne to use it thus, "the very stones would have cried out against him."

But the incarnation of Christ was a ground of joy to him:

II. As a mean of spiritual blessings.

Here the reference to the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt is yet more manifest than before. The requisition made by Moses to Pharaoh was, that Israel should go into the wilderness to serve the Lord. This was the ground of contest between them; until at last God, by his terrible judgments on the Egyptians, decided the point. But, after that the Israelites were brought forth to the very borders of the Red Sea, they were menaced with utter destruction by Pharaoh and all his host. The overwhelming of that army in the sea completed the deliverance of his people, so that they could from that moment serve the Lord without any fear of their ancient oppressors.

The redemption wrought out by Christ is in perfect correspondence with this. By his advent we obtain,

1. Deliverance from our spiritual enemies.

We are in the hand of enemies more cruel and tyrannical than those of Egypt; we are in bondage to sin and Satan, death and Hell. From these our blessed Lord delivers us. By the blood of his cross he expiates sin, overcomes Satan, destroys death, and liberates from the jaws of Hell. He is "an horn of salvation" to his people, a mighty and irresistible Savior, who will push down all his enemies. None can detain us any longer in bondage, when he comes to set us free: "if he make us free, then are we free indeed."

2. Liberty to serve our God.

Deliverance from the punishment of sin would be unworthy the name of a deliverance, if it were not accompanied with a restoration to the Divine favor, and a thorough renovation of heart and life. As long as we were destitute of holiness, we must of necessity be strangers to happiness. Heaven itself would be no Heaven to an unholy soul. But Jesus "redeems us from all iniquity, and purifies us unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works." He causes us to delight ourselves in God; and to "serve him without fear." In this respect we far exceed all who lived under the Jewish dispensation: for they were kept at a distance from God; and the very services which they rendered to him, tended to generate in them a servile fear? But we "have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father!"

Can it be doubted whether these things deserve our grateful acknowledgments? If the state to which the Israelites were brought in the Wilderness or in Canaan, was a just ground of praise and thanksgiving, is not ours much rather?

Application.

1. Let us bless God for the event we this day commemorate.

The Savior's birth was proclaimed by angels as "glad tidings of great joy to all people;" and the heavenly hosts themselves began a new song in Heaven, "Glory to God in the highest!" The virgin who bare him, the patriarch who took him in his arms, the prophetess who beheld him, together with many others, rejoiced exceedingly in his advent, notwithstanding they had such imperfect views of his character. Shall not we then; we who have had his nature and office so fully revealed to us; we who have seen him dying, rising, ascending, and enthroned; we who have beheld him sending down the Holy Spirit from Heaven, and saving myriads of sinners like ourselves; yes, we who have experienced his power to save, (if we have indeed experienced it,) shall not we praise him? Yes; blessed, "blessed be his name for visiting and redeeming" our souls! "blessed be his glorious name forever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen, and Amen."

2. Let us seek to participate the blessings accruing from it.

Though we are not properly affected with our spiritual bondage, because we are in love with our chains, yet is it far more terrible than any to which our bodies can be subject. Now we are well assured, that if heavy tasks were daily imposed on us, and we were constantly beaten for not executing what it was not in our power to perform, we should not unfrequently pour out our complaints before God, and cry to him to avenge our cause. What stupor then has seized us, that, in a situation incomparably more lamentable, we do not embrace deliverance when it is offered? Let us not be satisfied with captivity, when Christ is "proclaiming liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." Let us not "thrust him away from us," when he is come to visit us: but let us welcome him into our hearts, as well as into the world, and never rest until "we know him in the power of his resurrection, in the fellowship of his sufferings, and in a conformity to him" both in holiness and in glory.

 

MCCCCLXX

The Causes of Our Savior's Incarnation

Luke 1:78, 79. Through the tender mercy of our God, the day-spring from on high has visited us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

OUR Savior's birth, though in many respects peculiarly low and abject, was attended with some circumstances not unworthy the occasion. We might mention his miraculous conception, the acclamations of angels, etc. etc.; but we shall only advert to the account given in the context of his Forerunner, who was prophesied of by Isaiah; named by the angel before his conception in the womb; born in a preternatural way; celebrated by several to whom the spirit of prophecy was given after it had been withdrawn from Israel three hundred years, commissioned to prepare men for the reception of the Savior, and to publish the tidings in the text.

From them we shall be led to contemplate,

I. The advent of our Lord.

Our Lord is here represented under the image of the Sun.

This is a metaphor by which he has been designated throughout all the Holy Scriptures. Balaam spoke of him as "a Star that should come out of Jacob," Isaiah, as "a great light which the Gentiles who were walking in darkness should behold," Malachi as "the Sun of Righteousness that should arise on the world with healing in his wings." In the New Testament also he is declared to be "the true light which lights every man that comes into the world." Our Lord himself also assumes that character; "I am the light of the world: he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." Even in Heaven itself does he sustain the same character; for "the Lamb is the light thereof."

Moreover, what the sun is to the material world, that is he to us. He is the Author of all light, natural, intellectual, spiritual: and, as the face of nature withers or revives, according as the influence of the sun upon it is increased or diminished, so the souls of men continue dead or are quickened, according as the Sun of Righteousness withholds or imparts his invigorating rays.

Under that character he has visited our benighted world.

A dawning of his appearance had been long visible in the promises of God, and in all the prophetic writings, as also in the whole of the Mosaic ritual. But at his incarnation he began more clearly to illumine this horizon. He diffused a light around him by his doctrine and example: and they who could see through the veil of his flesh, "beheld his glory." And those who now will receive his truth, and "follow his steps," shall surely be as much distinguished from the world around them, as they who are groping in midnight darkness are from those who are walking in the light of the noon-day sun.

This will lead me to speak of,

II. The end of his advent.

The whole world were in utter darkness.

How little did even the wisest philosophers know respecting anything pertaining to the eternal world! Truly "the world by wisdom knew not God." Nor are we in reality more enlightened in reference to spiritual things than they. I grant that, so far as speculative knowledge is concerned, we have the advantage of them: but in respect to saving knowledge, we are as dark as they. Take the sentiments even of the world at large, and compare them with the word of God; and they will be found as far from the truth as if they had no inspired volume to instruct them. And where their mere sentiments are correct, how faint are their apprehensions of the truths which they profess to hold! How inadequate is their sense of the evil of sin, of the majesty of God, of the excellency of Christ, of the beauty of holiness, or of any one spiritual truth whatever! The truth is, that we are looking for "peace" "in the ways" of sin, as much as the heathen themselves, and, notwithstanding all our advantages, are, like them, "in darkness and the shadow of death," on the very confines of destruction.

To dispel this darkness He came into the world.

Human reason could not break through the clouds with which we were enveloped; still less could the lucubrations of reason convert the soul to God. No way for reconciliation with God could ever have been found out by mortal man. To make reconciliation for him, to reveal it to him, and to render it available for his eternal welfare, were the great objects of the Savior's incarnation: He visited our world "to give light to them who sat in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide their feet into the way of peace," and every soul that avails himself of the Savior's instructions, shall be "turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God."

Already, methinks, you begin to see,

III. The unbounded mercy of God displayed in it.

Well is it traced to "the tender mercy of our God."

To what else can we trace it? What could man do to merit such a gift as that of God's only dear Son?—But the expression in my text deserves particular notice. The words import, "the affections of mercy," which were moved in commiseration of our fallen state. Conceive of God as looking upon our first parents after the fall, and as saying concerning them, as he did concerning his people Israel; "How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver you up, Israel? How shall I make you as Admah? How shall I set you as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me: my repentings are kindled together: I will not execute the fierceness of my anger." Yes indeed, this will give a just view of the compassion which moved Almighty God to send his Son for the redemption of a ruined world.

And can we withhold our admiration from this stupendous act of mercy?

Let us only contemplate the benefits we receive from the material sun. Suppose we had been from the first moment of our existence in the state in which large districts of the habitable globe are for one half of the year: suppose we had been in utter darkness even until now; and God had unexpectedly, and unsolicited, caused the sun to visit us in meridian splendor: Would there have been any bounds to our admiration or gratitude?—What then shall we say now that he has caused "the Sun of Righteousness to shine upon us," and "the day-star to arise in our very hearts?" Truly, "if we do not bless him, the stones will cry out against us."

Address.

1. Those who are yet sitting in darkness.

This is the state of the whole unconverted world. If a man feeling in his bosom the ranklings of anger and hatred, "is in darkness even until now," what must they be who are living altogether to themselves and to the world? Think what you may, you are "in the shadow of death," and on the very confines of destruction—I pray you improve the opportunity now afforded you, and "while you have the light, walk in the light, that you may be the children of light."

2. Those who have been "brought out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Gospel."

Bless you your God: bless him without ceasing: bless him with your whole hearts. Is it a pleasant thing to behold the sun? What delight then must you have in beholding the glory of God as beaming forth in the face of Jesus Christ!"—See then that you walk worthy of this great mercy: for "if you walk in the light as he is in the light, then shall you have sweet fellowship with the Father and the Son, and the blood of Jesus Christ shall cleanse you from all sin." Let Christ be your light in this world, and you shall dwell in the beams of his meridian glory forever and ever.

 

MCCCCLXXI

Christ's Incarnation Glad Tidings to All

Luke 2:10, 11. Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

IT has pleased God on many occasions to confer upon the poor some peculiar tokens of his regard: he has even "chosen them," in preference to all others, "to be rich in faith and heirs of his kingdom." But, as though he had designed to mark with special approbation the exertions of honest industry, he has given his most distinguished favors to them at a time when they have been employed in the duties of their respective callings. Gideon, "who was of a poor family of Manasseh, and the least in his father's house," was threshing his father's wheat, when he was called to judge and to deliver Israel. Saul, who also was "of the least family belonging to the least of all the tribes," was seeking his father's donkeys, when he was anointed to be king over Israel. David also, the least of Jesse's family, was brought from the sheepfold, that, from tending his father's sheep, he might be exalted to the throne, and be made the shepherd, and king, of God's peculiar people. Thus, when God had sent his dear Son into the world, he commissioned an angel to announce the tidings of his advent. But to whom did he send the angel? to Herod, or the chief priests? No, but to poor shepherds, who, for the security of their sheep, and their own mutual convenience, were keeping their watches, in rotation, through the night. To fix their attention, and to counteract the scandal which the tidings themselves would occasion, (for it must seem strange indeed to hear of the Savior of the world, and the Lord of Glory, lying in a manger,) the angel appeared clothed with light, such light as clearly indicated the dignity of the messenger, and the importance of the message. Having dispelled the fears which his first appearance had excited in their minds, he addressed them in the words which we have just read: in elucidating which, we shall consider,

I. The tidings announced.

The birth of Jesus is here declared: and the city wherein he was born is specified in appropriate terms, in order that the accomplishment of that prophecy which had foretold the place of his birth might be distinctly seen and acknowledged. The description here given of Jesus is worthy of our deepest attention. The angel describes him by,

1. His office.

Many saviors had been sent to Israel in former ages : but here was one infinitely superior to them all; one who came to deliver, not one people only, but a whole world; not from temporal bondage or misery, but from sin and Satan, death and Hell.

2. His right and title to it.

The name "Christ," as also the name "Messiah," signifies 'Anointed:' and it was the name by which the great Deliverer was expected both by the Jewish and Gentile world. Now this name denoted his divine commission, together with his super-eminent qualifications for the performance of his office. The kings and priests, and, in some instances, the prophets also, were set apart for their respective offices by a holy unction. And he, in whom all these offices were combined, was consecrated to them by a public and immeasurable effusion of the Holy Spirit. He was no unauthorized obtrude; but a Savior duly sent and qualified.

3. His sufficiency for it.

Had the person announced as a Savior been a mere creature, he never could have effected all that was necessary for those whom he came to save. But he was "the Lord," even Jehovah himself. It had been said of him by the prophet, eight hundred years before, "To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and his name shall be called, The Mighty God," and that prophecy was declared to be now accomplished. Consequently, whatever he had undertaken, he was able to perform: his atonement would be sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world: his righteousness would be sufficient to justify all that should trust in it for acceptance: and his grace would be sufficient to make them conquerors over all their enemies.

Together with the tidings themselves, the angel announced also,

II. The importance of them.

The term, "behold," is always used to mark the importance of that to which it is prefixed. But here the precise view in which the tidings claim our attention is distinctly specified. They are a matter,

1. Of exceeding joy.

To illustrate this, we need only observe by whom the message was delivered, and to whom. An angel was the messenger: but he was not privileged to say, "To us is born a Savior," no; there was no Savior provided for the fallen angels: but for man, when he fell. God became incarnate: "he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham." Suppose then, that instead of being sent to men, the angel had been sent to his fallen brethren; and that, having opened the gates of Hell, he had announced the tidings to the apostate spirits, "To you is sent a Savior!" O what joy had been diffused through those miserable regions! How would the vaults of Hell have rung with acclamations and hosannas! How would every spirit instantly have forgotten his pains, and pressed forward to hear the full import of this astonishing message! Thus then ought the tidings to be received among us: since the only difference between them and us is, that on them is executed the sentence they deserve, and we are shut up in prison, waiting to have the same executed upon us, as soon as the full measure of our iniquities shall be completed.

2. Of universal joy.

These tidings were equally interesting to Jews and Gentiles; to those of the apostolic age, and to us who live at such a distance, both of time and place. Nor is there one among the children of men who has not equal cause to value the Savior that is here announced. Who is there that does not need the merit of his atonement and the efficacy of his grace? And who is there to whom they are not freely offered? There is not one on earth who can be saved without them; nor is there one, however abandoned, who may not, by a believing application to the Savior, be interested in them. Well therefore may they be called good tidings "to all people;" since they are so to all, of every age, and of every description: and well may the prophet call on the whole creation to shout for joy.

We conclude with inviting you all to imitate the shepherds:

1. Inquire into the truth of the tidings you have heard.

The shepherds instantly went to Bethlehem, to see with their own eyes the truth of what they had heard. To you then we say, "Go to Bethlehem," or rather, Go to the Bible, and search whether these things be not as they have been represented? What would you have thought of the shepherds, if, when they had such an opportunity of obtaining satisfaction on the point, they had neglected it, and had laid themselves down to sleep? O be not you such yourselves. You have incomparably better means of information than they had. You may see the whole record concerning this holy Child; his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, yes, you may see the union of the Godhead with his human-nature, and may read, in facts as well as in declarations, his ability to save you to the uttermost. O arise, and inquire into these deep mysteries, with all the humility and attention they demand.

2. When convinced of the truth of them yourselves, communicate them diligently to others.

The shepherds would not hide within their own bosoms the things they had heard and seen, but published them abroad for the information of others also. And should you be silent? When you have so much clearer instruction to convey, should you, not impart it gladly to those around you? Remember, that if you have the knowledge of Christ as the only and all-sufficient Savior, you are on no account to put that light under a bushel, but to make use of it that you may guide others also into the way of peace.

3. Make them the theme of your joyful praises in the midst of your earthly business.

"The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen," they forsook not their duty: but returned to it in a joyful and devout frame of mind. A discovery of the deep things of God is not intended to take us out of the situations in life which we have been called to fill; but to make us holy, and happy in them. Let this effect be wrought on you. Neglect not your worldly occupations, whatever they may be; but serve God in them, and abound in praises and thanksgivings for that which has been revealed unto you. However mean or toilsome your vocation be, care not for it; but make it to appear, that the knowledge of this Savior can render any yoke easy, and afford a joy which the world can neither give nor take away.

 

MCCCCLXXII

The Angels' Song

Luke 2:13, 14. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men.

THE circumstances of our Savior's birth characterize in a measure, the dispensation which he came to introduce. The Gospel exhibits a plain, yet profound, scheme of salvation: while its great outlines are intelligible to the meanest capacity, it abounds with the most sublime, and inscrutable mysteries. Thus, in the incarnation of our Lord, there was a baseness, which seemed unsuitable to such an occasion; and at the same time a majesty, that was worthy the person and character of the new-born infant: he was born, not in a palace, but a stable, and had only a manger for his reception: yet did an angel come from Heaven to announce his birth; and a multitude of the heavenly host attended to proclaim his praise.

In this divine hymn the incarnation of Christ is represented in a two-fold view:

I. As a subject for our deepest contemplation.

The subject itself is announced in those words of the angel to the shepherds, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." And, in honor of this marvelous event, a multitude of the heavenly host break forth into strains, so abrupt, as to need much careful elucidation, and so ardent, as to express as fully as possible what angels feel in the contemplation of this divine mystery.

Behold, "peace" now exists "on earth."

The whole race of man had fallen, and were subjected to God's heavy displeasure. Nor was there on man's part any possibility of restoring himself to the Divine favor. But God devised a mode for reconciling the world unto himself through the intervention of his only dear Son. On his co-equal, co-eternal Son, who was "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person," "he laid our iniquities," that so, his justice being satisfied by an atonement in our behalf, reconciliation might be effected for us in perfect consistency with all the Divine perfections. Hence peace was brought down from Heaven to earth, through the sufferings of our incarnate God, who is therefore emphatically called "the Prince of Peace." Now every sinner in the universe may have peace with God, and in his own conscience, if only he welcome this Savior into his heart, and believe in him as God's appointed instrument for the salvation of the world.

And now also is revealed "good-will toward men."

The strongest possible evidence of God's love to men was, the gift of his only dear Son, to die for them. In this view the incarnation of our blessed Lord is always spoken of; and Jehovah himself is represented as commending his love to us in, and by, this marvelous event.

But far more than this is comprehended in the expression here used by the holy angels. I understand by it, that, through the incarnation of Christ, a full scope is given to the exercise of God's "good-will to man," so that it can flow down in the richest abundance into the soul of every one that is "at peace" with him. Yes, to every believing soul "will God manifest himself as he does not unto the world," and "dwell in him, and abide with him," and give a spirit of adoption, yes, and the witness of the Spirit to attest to him the relation in which he stands to God," and will "rejoice over him to do him good," "rejoicing over him with joy, and resting in his love, and rejoicing over him with singing." There is no expression of good-will which a believing soul is capable of receiving from God, which shall not, more or less, be given by God to every one that is at peace with him through faith in Christ.

And by all this is "the highest possible glory reflected upon God himself."

There is not a perfection of the Deity which is not honored by this, yes, and more honored than ever it was before. Wisdom and goodness and power and love had been displayed before in the formation of angels, and in the blessedness diffused throughout the whole creation, and the perfect adaptation of everything to its proper end. Holiness too and justice had been rendered conspicuous by the expulsion of all the fallen angels from Heaven, and the consigning of them over to everlasting misery in Hell. But there had been no trace of mercy to be seen in any corner of the universe: nor could the highest intelligence in Heaven conceive how the exercise of this perfection could consist with the rights of justice. But now the union and harmony of all the Divine perfections was seen through the incarnation and death of God's only dear Son, justice exercised in a way of mercy, and mercy in away of justice, or, as the Psalmist expresses it, "Mercy and truth meeting together, and righteousness and peace kissing each other." Well then did the angels sing, "Glory to God in the highest." They had seen no "peace" proclaimed in Heaven; no expression of "good-will" towards the fallen angels: but towards men on earth both were most gloriously displayed. Hence with wonder and admiration this blessed assembly pour forth their praises in this appropriate song, "Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth, good-will towards men."

But to contemplate this subject will be of no use, unless we enter fully into it,

II. As a mercy devoutly to be acknowledged.

The angels, though in comparison of us they had no interest in this event, came down from Heaven to celebrate and proclaim it. And shall not we celebrate it? Shall so much as one of us remain indifferent, now that the glad tidings of it are brought to our ears? Consider, I pray you,

1. Your own personal interest in it.

Where would all of you have been, if God had not devised and executed these means for your restoration to his favor? You had all participated in the guilt of the fallen angels, and must all have partaken of their misery. What could you have done more than they to avert or mitigate your doom? You would have lived only to fill up the measure of your iniquities, and would then have been reserved, like those unhappy spirits, in chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day. But, through the substitution of God's only dear Son in your place, and the atonement he has offered in your behalf, there is not so much as one of you that may not be reconciled to God, and made an everlasting object of his favor. In fact, I who speak to you at this moment, am "an ambassador from God to announce to you these glad tidings." To me, as his servant, is "committed the ministry of reconciliation, to declare, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them," and at this very moment it is as if the Lord Jesus Christ himself addressed you: for, as bearing his commission, and actually representing him, "I now beseech you all in Christ's stead, be reconciled to God." Will not you then adore God for this revelation of his mercy to you? Will you not all rise as one man to welcome this Savior, and adore him, and to seek through him the blessings he is come to impart? What if such a revelation of mercy were sent to the fallen angels, do you think they would hear it with indifference? Or, if they did hear it with indifference, is there so much as one of you that would not say, "Leave them to themselves; their damnation is just?" Know then, that in condemning them, you condemn yourselves; and "out of your own mouth will God condemn you" at the last day. But I hope better things of you, my brethren; and I call upon you all now at this very moment, in spirit at least, to join the angelic choir, and sing, 'Glory to God in the highest, who has opened such a way for the effecting of my reconciliation with him, and for these wonderful displays of good-will to my guilty soul.'

2. The glory that will accrue to God from it to all eternity.

But for this revelation of God's mercy to us, there would have been little difference between earth and Hell: for God would have been no more glorified in the one than in the other. But God is glorified in the midst of us: I trust there are in this very assembly, some at least, who have found peace with God, and can attest from their own experience how sweet are the manifestations of his good-will to their souls. And the time is shortly coming when "all shall know the Lord from the least to the greatest," and "all flesh shall see the salvation of God." And O what a place will this wretched world then be! What bright manifestations of the Savior will then be given to men! Me thinks, the visions of Mount Tabor will then be common upon earth, and this song of angels will become the common tone of fellowship between man and man throughout the whole world.

But raise your thoughts to Heaven, my brethren, and consider for a moment what is passing there. There are already millions of redeemed souls that rest not day or night from these songs of praise. There the chorus is swelling louder and louder every day by the accession of saints made perfect, every one having tuned his harp to the heavenly song, and bursting forth at his first entrance into Heaven into acclamations and hosannas that shall never end. And what shall we say of that period when all the assembly of the redeemed, together with all the holy angels, shall join in one universal uninterrupted song: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and glory, and honor, and blessing; therefore blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever." Can you, my brethren, contemplate that day, and not rejoice in the expectation of it, and long to be found in the happy number of the redeemed? I call upon you, then, yes I charge you all in the name of the Most High God, to begin this very day this heavenly song. Leave to an ungodly world to make this a season of carnal festivity: make you it a season of holy joy; a very anticipation of Heaven itself.

Application.

But I cannot close the subject without entreating you all to imitate the conduct of these holy angels. They were not content with being happy themselves; they sought to promote the happiness of others by making known to them these glad tidings, and setting them an example of the frame of mind which they should cultivate. This is the way in which I would recommend to you, my brethren, to spend this holy season. Let each according to his ability improve the opportunities that are afforded him, of diffusing far and wide this divine knowledge, and of stimulating all around him to the attainment and the exercise of this heavenly joy.

 

MCCCCLXXIII

Inquiry into the Gospel Recommended

Luke 2:15. Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us.

IT is a rich mercy to have a faithful instructor, who will declare unto us the whole counsel of God. But, to obtain any solid benefit, we must search into the truths we hear, and endeavor to get a deep impression of them upon our minds. Without care and diligence on our parts, it would be to little purpose to enjoy the ministry of Paul himself, or even of angels from Heaven. What would the shepherds have been profited by the tidings which the angels announced to them respecting the Savior's birth, if, like too many among us, they had contented themselves with admiring the eloquence of the chief speaker, or the sweetness and melody of the hymn they sang? They set us a good example: they thought not of amusement, but of edification; not of the manner in which the messengers performed their part, but of the truths delivered by them: and no sooner had their heavenly instructors left them to themselves, than they proposed to go immediately and examine into the things which had been made known unto them.

From this striking incident we shall take occasion to set before you,

I. The event referred to.

In the preceding context we are informed what the tidings were, which were brought by the angels.

These tidings were, that a Savior was that very day born into the world. A general expectation prevailed among the Jews that about that time a person of most extraordinary character should be born in their land, and should become a Savior to the Jewish people. Very erroneous notions indeed obtained respecting the nature of the benefits which he would impart to them: but the more enlightened persons among them extended their views beyond a mere temporal deliverance, and looked forward to spiritual and eternal blessings. The advent of this person was now proclaimed to the shepherds; and it was declared, that the Child was born "in the city of David, as the prophets had foretold; and, that not the Jews only, but "all the nations" of the earth, were interested in the salvation which he was come to effect.

The tidings yet further intimated, that the new-born infant was none other than "the Lord of Glory." It was no common child whose birth was announced: though he partook of flesh and blood, yet was he possessed of a nature infinitely superior to that of men or angels. The shepherds were informed that "the Child which was born, and the Son that was given, was," as Isaiah had foretold, "the Mighty God," even "Emmanuel God with us." As the salvation which he was to accomplish was to be extended to all people, so he was fitted for his work, being the omnipotent Jehovah, who could not fail of success in whatever he undertook.

Lastly, it was declared, that notwithstanding the dignity of his person, and the greatness of his office, he was to be found in a state of the deepest humiliation. It was not in the palaces of Herod or the high-priest, or in the mansions of the great and noble, that this Child was to be found: no; they must go and look for him in the stable of an inn; and they would "find him wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and lying in a manger," like one that was ordained to be "a worm and no man, a reproach of men, and despised of the people."

The same tidings are announced to us at this day.

No angels are now sent, or need to be sent, on such messages, because the Scriptures give us all the information that we can desire. But ministers are ambassadors from God; and are commissioned from God to declare the same joyful tidings as were conveyed to the shepherds by the heavenly hosts. We then make known to you, that that very Jesus, who once lay in the womb of the blessed Virgin, and who, at his birth had no other mansion than a stable, no other cradle than a manger, that same Jesus, I say, was "God manifest in the flesh,"even "God over all blessed for ever. We moreover declare unto you, that he is "the Savior of the world," and that "there is no other name given under Heaven whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ."

From the regard which the shepherds paid to this event, we proceed to show you,

II. The inquiries to be made concerning it.

No message that comes from God ought to be treated with contempt; much less should one that is of such mysterious import, such universal concern.

Inquire then into,

1. The truth of the fact.

There is something so marvelous, and almost incredible, in the idea of God becoming man, in order to save a ruined world, that it should not be hastily embraced, no, not even though it were declared by an angel from Heaven. It becomes us to examine what can be adduced in confirmation of it. We should, with the Bereans, "search the Scriptures daily, to see if these things be so." We should inquire whether the prophets spoke anything respecting this great event; whether they gave any reason to believe, that God would ever take upon him our nature, and accomplish our salvation in so strange a way. We should inquire what proof the Apostles had, that they were rightly informed; and what evidence there is, that, in relating these things to us, they were divinely inspired. In short, we should, if I may so speak, "go to Bethlehem," and see for ourselves; yes, we should "make haste" to do so, lest we lose the opportunity afforded us, or become indifferent to the report itself.

2. The grounds and reasons of it.

It cannot be that such an event should ever have taken place without some urgent necessity. We should therefore inquire what occasion there was for it. If we do this, we shall find that among the various reasons that will occur to the mind, there are two peculiarly prominent, two that will sufficiently account for the whole mystery; and these are, Man's happiness, and God's honor. Without the incarnation and death of the Son of God, man could never have attained to happiness. He was reduced to the state of the fallen angels in respect of guilt; and he must have resembled them in respect of misery, if such a way had not been devised and executed for his recovery. Moreover, it was in this way only that God could save man, and at the same time maintain the honor of his own perfections. Without an atonement, his justice could not be satisfied: nor could his mercy be exercised in consistency with his truth and holiness. It was, that "mercy and truth might meet together, and that righteousness and peace might kiss each other;" it was for this end, I say, that our God became incarnate: and the more we examine into the reasons of this mysterious dispensation, the more we shall be satisfied, that it is in every respect worthy of its Divine Author.

3. Its use and importance.

We are not to amuse ourselves with empty speculations upon such momentous points as this; but to inquire into their practical use and importance. Now these tidings will upon examination be found as important to us as to any people at any period of the world. Our first and great concern is, How may we be reconciled to our offended God? To this we find a complete and satisfactory answer in the event referred to. The Lord Jesus Christ has become a mediator between God and man; he has taken our nature, in order that he might "bear our sins in his own sacred body," and work out a righteousness whereby we might be justified; so that "God may now be just, and yet the justifier of all that believe." In this mystery the burdened conscience finds rest and peace. From this, the vilest of the human race may take encouragement to return to God; and be fully assured, that, for Christ's sake, all his iniquities shall be pardoned, and not one of them be remembered against him any more for ever. Surely then we should spare no pains in investigating these things, that so we may derive from them the consolation and happiness they are intended to convey.

To recommend yet further this spirit of inquiry, we shall conclude, with showing you the benefits that will result from it:

1. You will receive conviction in your own minds.

The shepherds did not doubt the veracity of the angels; but their faith was certainly confirmed, when they had ocular demonstration of the fact that had been related to them. Thus, though we may not really disbelieve the incarnation of God's co-equal, co-eternal Son, or doubt whether he be the only, and all-sufficient Savior of the world, yet the more we examine the Scriptures with humility and prayer, the more deep will be our insight into this "great mystery of godliness," and the more shall we attain "a full assurance of understanding" with respect to it.

Let this then incline us to go with one accord to Bethlehem, and to commence the pious search: yes, let the hope and prospect of so rich a benefit stimulate us to united and instantaneous exertions.

2. You will be disposed to communicate the joyful tidings to others.

This was the first-fruit of the conviction which the shepherds had received: "When they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child." And will you be contented to "put your light under a bushel?" Will you not rather imitate the famished lepers, who when they had found the Syrian camp deserted, and a vast plenty of provisions and booty of every kind lying unprotected, "said one to another, We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings; and we hold our peace: now therefore come, that we may go and tell the king's household?" You find in general, that persons are averse to speak of the great mysteries of redemption, because they have so little considered them: on the contrary, they who feel the importance of them, cannot be restrained from speaking of them: and if they be derided or menaced for their zeal, they will give the same answer as the Apostles did, "We cannot but speak of the things which we have seen and heard."

3. You will abound in praises and thanksgivings to God for them.

In this respect also the shepherds manifested the fruits of diligent and humble inquiry: "They returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." And shall not we feel a similar disposition, if once our hearts be duly impressed with these things? Yes: if we "muse as we ought, the fire will kindle, and at last we shall speak with our tongues." We shall vie even with the angelic hosts in singing, "Glory to God in the highest for the peace which is brought down on earth, and the good-will that is thereby expressed towards man."

If, then, our fellow-creatures have any claim upon us for the benefit of our instructions, or God has any demands upon our gratitude for the stupendous mercies he has given unto us, then should we search with diligence into the truths that are revealed, in order that we may be quickened to the performance of our duty, and be stimulated to pay our tribute of love to man, and of praise to God.

 

MCCCCLXXIV

The Circumcision of Christ

Luke 2:21. And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

THE naming of children has often been used, not merely for distinction's sake, but also to express some expectation or wish which the parent entertained respecting his child. Of course, the name must frequently have ill-suited the character of the person that bore it. This was remarkably the case with the two first children that were born into the world. Adam named the first Cain, (which signifies getting,) supposing that he had gotten that Promised Seed who was to repair the ruins of the fall: and his second son he named Abel (vanity), having already had abundant evidence of the sinful dispositions of Cain. But in both he was mistaken; for the former proved a murderer; and the latter a distinguished saint.

But God has on several occasions condescended to give names to children previous to their conception in the womb: and the names so given have always designated the real character of the persons themselves. We are particularly informed, that God required the child which he gave to Zachariah and Elizabeth to be called John, which means grace or favor; because, while he was a favor bestowed on them, he was to be an object of God's peculiar favor, and an occasion of much good to others.

The name of Jesus also was given by the angel to the Virgin's Child, "before he was conceived in her womb." And how significant this was, it is scarcely needful to mention. It was the same name with Joshua, and meant Divine Savior: and was therefore most fitly given to Him, who was "Emmanuel, God with us," and who was destined "to save his people from their sins." The time of imposing the name on a child was generally that of his circumcision. It was thus in the case of John, as also in that of Jesus: the solemnity of that rite giving an additional weight to the name imposed.

But it is to the rite itself, that is, to circumcision, that we shall confine our attention at this time: for, in point of importance, it seems to have been the first and greatest of all the ordinances among the Jews. We propose to show,

I. The nature and intent of circumcision.

It was originally given to Abraham as a seal of the covenant of grace.

God made a covenant with Abraham, to give him a numerous posterity, with the land of Canaan for their inheritance; and at last one particular Seed, "in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed." This promise Abraham believed; and he looked forward to that peculiar Seed as the true and only source of blessings to himself. In consequence of this faith, he was accepted of God; who engaged to treat him as a righteous person, through the righteousness of the Savior imputed to him. And in token that he would execute every part of this gracious covenant, he appointed him and all his posterity to be circumcised. This is the account which Paul himself gives of this ordinance: he calls it a "sign," and a "seal," a "sign" to Abraham and his seed, that they were the Lord's peculiar people; and a "seal" to them, that God would be his and their God, provided they walked in the faith, and in the steps of their father Abraham. As a sign, it showed them their engagements to God; and as a seal, God's engagements to them.

But, as continued to the Jews, in and after the days of Moses, it was a seal of the covenant of works.

The Mosaic covenant differed materially from that of Abraham, and yet the same ordinance was a seal to both. The rite of circumcision was absolutely indispensable to all: it was invariably the rite, by which, and by which alone, any persons, whether infants or adults, were initiated into that covenant. And in what light were they taught to view it? We answer, as binding them to an observance of the whole law of Moses, and as suspending their salvation on their performance of this condition. In this light Peter viewed it, when that famous controversy respecting circumcision was brought before the whole College of Apostles at Jerusalem: he reproved those who insisted on the observance of that rite, for "putting a yoke upon the Christians, which not even the most eminent among the Jews had been able to bear." Of course, if circumcision had not bound them to the observance of the whole law of Moses, there could have been no foundation for this objection. Paul yet more strongly confirms this statement: for he says to those who were in danger of being misled by the Judaizing Christians, "Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing: for I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law" Here then the point is clear; that though circumcision was given primarily as a seal of the covenant of grace, it was eventually (though not expressly called so) a seal of the covenant of works also. From the time that it was first instituted, it continued to be a sign and a seal; but the privileges of which they were a seal, and the obligations of which they were a sign, varied according to the nature of the covenant to which the rite itself was annexed: to Abraham, it sealed the covenant of grace; to Moses and the Jews, the covenant of works.

This view of the rite will throw light upon,

II. The reasons of our Lord's submitting to it.

These were chiefly two:

1. That he might appear to be the Promised Seed.

The Person in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, was marked out by God as one particular individual, who should in due time arise, and in whom "the covenant made with Abraham should be confirmed." Paul infers this from the very term used on that occasion being in the singular number: and though we should not have conceded to him that inference, as a critic, we doubt not but that the truth he affirms, was intended, by the Holy Spirit, to be marked in that very expression on which he founds his remark. At all events, the Messiah was to be of the posterity of Abraham; all of whom were circumcised: therefore, if Jesus were not circumcised, he could have no claim, no allowable claim, to this distinction: whatever he might be, he could not be acknowledged to be a child of Abraham. It is true, this mark could not distinguish him as the Messiah, because it was common to all the Jews: but the want of it would have been an infallible proof that he was not the Messiah; and therefore he submitted to receive it.

2. That he might be fully under the obligations of the Mosaic law.

Mankind at large were subject only to the moral law; and therefore for their redemption it would have been sufficient for the Son of God to assume our nature: but the house of Israel, for whose salvation he was sent in the first instance, were under the ceremonial law; and therefore for their redemption he must be made under that also. This is particularly noticed by Paul, who says, that "in the fullness of time God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem those who were under the law." Now it was by circumcision that the children of the Jews were initiated into the Mosaic covenant, and brought fully into subjection to the law. Hence therefore Christ submitted to circumcision, and acknowledged at all times his obligation to obey that law in everything. He says himself, "I am not come to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them." There is one very remarkable instance of his obedience to the law, which reflects considerable light on the subject before us. Baptism was not any part of the original law: but it had been introduced as an additional rite for the admission of proselytes into the Jewish religion: and the introduction of it had been so far sanctioned by God himself, that John, the forerunner of our Lord, was expressly commissioned to baptize all who desired an admission into the kingdom of the Messiah. Hence Jesus Christ himself went to be baptized of him: and upon John's declining it as unsuitable to the dignity of our Lord, Jesus said to him, "Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness." The same strict adherence to the law was observable in him at all times, except when the execution of his high office, and the establishment of his Divine authority, required a temporary deviation from it. Indeed, he not only fulfilled the law, but was himself the completion of it; every part of it being accomplished in him as its great prototype. In a word, if he would redeem mankind, he must do it by obeying that law which we had broken, and enduring those penalties which we had incurred. This therefore he undertook to do, that, by his atoning sufferings and perfect obedience, he might restore us to our forfeited inheritance. Of this work his circumcision was the commencement: it was the commencement of those sufferings which constitute his atoning sacrifice, and of that obedience which constitutes our justifying righteousness. It was the commencement of that "work which God had given him to do," and which terminated at last in what the Apostle fitly calls, "his obedience unto death."

Let us now turn our attention to,

III. The lessons, which his submission to it may teach us.

It may well teach us,

1. To observe the instituted ordinances of our religion.

Circumcision, with respect to us, is done away, and is superseded by the milder rite of baptism. But baptism is as necessary for us, as circumcision was to the Jews; and it is to be administered to the very same persons.

We know that this is a point disputed by many; who are fond of bringing forward the controversy on all occasions. Far be it from us to encourage a controversial spirit: we would avoid it, and discourage it, to the utmost of our power. Yet it is necessary that we should instruct those who are under our charge in all things relating to their duty; and therefore, without offence to others, we may be allowed to state with plainness our views and sentiments.

Two reasons in particular are urged for not administering baptism to infants: the one is, that we are not any where commanded to do so; the other is, that children are not capable of all the ends of baptism; since baptism presupposes a knowledge and approbation of those principles, into which we are baptized.

But to this we answer, What occasion was there for renewed orders concerning a thing that had already existed two thousand years? A rite more suited to our dispensation was introduced; but the persons interested in it were not therefore deprived of their birthright. If it was intended to abridge the privileges of children, we might well expect that such an intention should have been expressed: but where has God expressed it? and who but God can take away the privileges which God has given?

Again: If it be any argument against the baptism of children, that they cannot understand the principles which they become pledged to maintain, it is equally so against the circumcision of infants: and whoever will condemn that, let him answer it to God.

Be it so; children are not capable of all the ends of baptism. But was Christ capable of all the ends of circumcision? was not one end of it to put away (emblematically then, and really afterwards) the lusts of the flesh? But had he any lusts to put away? Yet he was circumcised: and consequently, children may now be baptized, though they be not capable of all the ends of baptism.

Once more: Are not children capable of receiving the blessings of the covenant? for our Lord says, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God." And if they are capable of the blessings of the covenant, are they not also of the seal; when that seal is nothing more than a token from God that the blessings shall be theirs?

We have said thus much, not for the sake of stirring up controversy, but of confirming you in the principles, which, as members of the Church of England, you profess.

This only we add, that if Jesus Christ submitted to circumcision for the good of his enemies, much more should you consult the benefit of your children by dedicating them to God in baptism.

2. To seek that purity of which circumcision was an emblem.

What the true circumcision was, we are abundantly informed both by Moses and the prophets. Even at that time circumcision, if not accompanied with a suitable course of life, was accounted for uncircumcision: and much more, under our dispensation, must those only be accounted Christians, who are such in deed and in truth. We will call upon you all then, not to rest in your baptism, as though that made you Christians, but to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and "the answer of a good conscience towards God." It is remarkable that Paul represents this very purification as the thing intended to be produced by the circumcision of Christ. We are (federally) "circumcised in him," but (personally) we are to "put away the body of the sins of the flesh." And the very promise which God has given us, is, that "he will circumcise our hearts, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul." Look you to it then, my brethren, that this seal of our covenant be found in you. "Put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and put on the new man, which after God is renewed in righteousness and true holiness." It may be painful thus to mortify the flesh; but it must be done, if you would have any well-founded hope towards God: for, notwithstanding "salvation is bestowed by grace through faith," yet it is an unalterable truth, that "they who are Christ's, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts."

 

MCCCCLXXV

Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Luke 2:22–24. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of Turtle-doves, or two young pigeons.

IT is a comfortable consideration to the poor and ignorant, that they may possess the knowledge of salvation, though they have never been instructed in the nature of the Mosaic law, or seen its full connection with Christianity. But it is certain that a comprehensive knowledge of the Scriptures tends exceedingly to establish us in the faith, and to quicken us to a holy obedience. The importance of being acquainted with the Old Testament, appears from the frequent reference which there is to it in the New Testament. Sometimes we meet with references put interrogatively, "What is written in the law?" "What says the law?" and sometimes positively, "It is written in the law." Hence it is obvious that, without an acquaintance with the law, much of the force and evidence of the Christian Scriptures must be lost: and therefore we cannot but earnestly recommend an attention to the Old Testament, as the means of more fully comprehending the New. In the short passage before us, we are directed no less than three times to compare the history with the ordinances which had before been given to Moses: the time of the Virgin's purification, the offering she offered, and the presentation of her infant Son in the temple, are all said to be "according to the law of the Lord." To that then we shall refer you, while we consider,

I. The purification of the mother.

For the elucidation of this subject, there are several distinct inquiries to be made.

What did the law enjoin in relation to purification after child-birth?

A woman was deemed unclean for seven days after her deliverance from child-birth, so that she rendered every one unclean who even came in contact with her: and for thirty-three days afterwards she was not permitted to touch any holy thing, or to enter into the temple. The time was doubled for a female child: the mother was then more or less unclean for eighty days. She was then to come to the door of the tabernacle, and to present there a lamb and a pigeon; the pigeon for a sin-offering, and the lamb for a burnt-offering: by the sin-offering acknowledging her sinfulness, and by the burnt-offering testifying her gratitude for the mercies given unto her. If the mother were poor, she might offer a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons; the burnt-offering might be suited to her means; but, whatever were her circumstances, her sin-offering must be the same: because the same atonement is necessary for all; but the modes of testifying our gratitude must vary according to our various situations in life.

Such was the ordinance itself. We proceed to ask,

What sentiments was this law intended to convey?

The very offerings which were presented on the occasion, intimated, that they who had experienced deliverance from child-birth had just occasion for renewed expressions of humiliation and gratitude. Such is the state of human nature since the fall; that a taint is contracted, and communicated also, by that law which was given to man in innocence, "Increase and multiply." David says, "I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Indeed the very pangs of child-birth, remind all who are called to endure them, of the first transgression; and, as being inflicted on account of sin, they call for acknowledgments of our sinful state. This, I say, was intimated by the sin-offering, whereby "an atonement was made for her who offered it." The burnt-offering, as a token of gratitude, needs no comment; every one must see that it was proper for the occasion, and justly expressed what might be supposed to be the state of her mind.

Yet there is good reason to inquire,

What necessity was there for the mother of our Lord to obey this law?

Certainly, whatever taint may be contracted by others, none could have been by her on this occasion. Yet, as the manner of her conception was not generally known, and Joseph was her reputed husband, it was proper to comply with the requisitions of the law, as much as if she had borne a child in the common way. It would have ill become her to cast a stumbling-block before others on this occasion: and her own heart was so full of love to God, that she counted nothing a burden that she could do for him. She determined therefore, as Jesus himself did in the instance of his baptism, to fulfill all righteousness to the utmost of her power.

It may be asked however,

What is this law to us?

Doubtless, as to the ceremonial part of it, it is abrogated altogether: but, as to its spiritual import, it speaks as loudly to us as ever it did to the Jews. Humiliation and gratitude are the proper fruits of mercies received: I say, humiliation first, and then gratitude. This is not the order in which these feelings arise in the mind of a philosopher: but it is the order in which they rise in the heart of a Christian: a sense of unworthiness abases his soul in the dust, and enhances, beyond all expression, the favors conferred upon him. We appeal to every spiritual person for the truth of this: and we call on every one, whatever be the mercies he has received, to express his sense of them in this way. Certainly they who have been delivered from the pains of child-birth, have abundant reason to present such offerings to God: and we do not hesitate to say, that their expressions of gratitude should be diversified and enlarged according to the opportunities and abilities that God has given them. We must not however limit the subject to this particular deliverance; for, whatever mercy God has given unto us, we should endeavor to requite him according to the loving-kindness he has shown us.

Having thus considered the purification of the mother, let us direct our attention to,

II. The presentation of her Son.

Here is the same reference to the law, as before. We will state to you,

1. What connection it had with Christ's presentation in the temple.

Upon the destruction of the Egyptian first-born, while not one of the first-born, either of men or cattle, that belonged to Israel, died, God claimed the first-born of Israel, both of men and beasts, as his peculiar property; and required that the reason of his so doing should be transmitted carefully to the latest posterity. Afterwards he accepted the tribe of Levi and their cattle in the place of the first-born and their cattle; and appointed them, with very peculiar and impressive solemnities, to be consecrated to his service in their stead. He appointed also that the precise number of the persons belonging to each should be ascertained; and it being found that the first-born were two hundred and seventy-three more in number than the Levites, he ordered that they should be redeemed at the price of five shekels a-piece, (about 12s. 6d. each,) and that the money should be paid to Aaron and his sons for the service of the tabernacle, and from that time it was an established law, that every male which opened the womb should be holy to the Lord; the clean beasts were to be sacrificed to him; and the unclean to be redeemed with a Iamb: but the first-born of men were universally to be redeemed; his mercy to them, and his consequent property in them, being thus kept in everlasting remembrance.

Now Christ, as Mary's first-born, came under this law; and though his life had never been forfeited, yet, to fulfill the law, and cut off all occasion of offence, he must be redeemed in the same manner as others. For this purpose his parents carried him to the Temple, and presented him before the Lord, in the way that God had appointed.

But it may be asked, Did the blessed Virgin wish to exempt him from the peculiar service of her God? No, she knew that he was sent into the world to be his servant, and that his ear was bored to the door-post as soon as he assumed our nature: but she would omit nothing which the Law required, either at her hands or his: teaching us thereby to sink all personal concerns in a regard for the honor of our God, and the good of our fellow-creatures.

2. What their compliance with the law in this instance may teach us.

Loudly indeed does it speak to mothers. Behold the blessed Virgin taking her infant child "to present him to the Lord," is not this the thing which you should do the very moment you embrace your new-born babe? Should you not do it every time that you administer to its necessities, or supply its wants? Methinks you should never draw out the breast to it, without lifting up your heart in prayer for it, and entreating God to accept and own it, as a child of his. How can any of you endure the thought of bringing forth for Satan, and nourishing a child for him? Surely your prayer should often be 'Lord, I ask not for my child the things of this world; (give him food and clothing, and I am content;) but I ask for grace; I ask for mercy; I ask for peace; I ask for all the blessings of salvation for him. I ask that you yourself may be his portion, and that he may be the lot of your inheritance. Yes, you who have travailed in birth with your dear children, let your anxieties for them be summed up in this, that they may be "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." If you "travail in birth with them again and again until Christ be formed in them, so far from pitying your anguish, I will rejoice over you, and say, that "your labor shall not be in vain." Little do mothers consider how much, under God, the salvation of their children depends on them. Little do they think how the prayers they have offered for, and with, their children, and the tears they have shed over them, would impress their tender minds, long after their tongues have been silent in the grave: and probably induce a penitential sorrow, when some concurring providence shall have softened and prepared their minds. Were parents more anxious about the spiritual welfare of their children, we should not so often find them in their declining years bowed down with trouble, and "their grey hairs brought with sorrow to the grave."

And does not the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple speak to young people also? Yes surely; and that too in most instructive terms. You are ready to think it too early yet awhile to give yourselves to the Lord: but can that ever be too early, which is your most indispensable duty, your highest privilege, your surest felicity? Did Samuel ever regret that he was given to the Lord even from his mother's womb? Did Timothy spend a less happy life, because he followed the faith and piety of Lois and Eunice? If you could but once taste the blessedness of true religion, you would never think of it as a toil, or dread it as a bondage: having "drunk water out of the wells of salvation,"you would most contentedly leave to others the muddy draughts which they with difficulty collect from their own "broken cisterns." Be prevailed upon, then, to make the attempt; to give yourselves to the Lord; to commence that blessed course which Jesus trod before you. You have a special promise given you by God himself; "They that seek me early, shall find me," The Lord impress it on your minds, and lead you to a sweet experience of its truth and blessedness!

But the subject speaks to all of us; yes, I say, to all. Do we not all profess to be "the Church of the first-born?" and is it not on that ground that we hope to be numbered with "the general assembly, who are written in Heaven?" Behold then, we all belong to God: he lays claim to every one of us, and says, "They are mine." True, "we have been redeemed, yes redeemed, not with corruptible things as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." But wherefore have we been redeemed? That we might not serve the Lord? Nay; but that we might serve him: "Christ has redeemed us, that he might purify us unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works." In the name of God then I say, "You are not your own; you are bought with a price; therefore you should glorify God with your bodies and your spirits, which are his." And here let me observe to you, that there is no commutation of service admitted or allowed. If all the tribes of the earth should offer to stand in your place, and to serve God in your stead, he would not regard their offer, nor dispense with your service. All of you must surrender up yourselves to him. You have already been devoted to him in baptism: remember then the vows that are upon you: Remember "whose you are, and whom you are bound to serve," and know assuredly, that those words which are so often, but so ignorantly, uttered by us in our prayers, contain the very truth of God; "his service is perfect freedom."

 

MCCCCLXXVI

Christ the Consolation of Israel

Luke 2:25. The same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.

IN every age of the Church, there have been some distinguished from the common herd of professors, by their sincere zeal and piety. At the time when our blessed Lord came into the world, the Jewish nation were in a most degenerate state: yet were there some, who, with humble and assured expectation, "looked for redemption in Jerusalem." Among those was that aged saint, "to whom it was revealed, that he should not see death, until he should have seen the Lord's Christ," "the same man was just and devout," waiting for the sight of him whom he regarded as "the Consolation of Israel," and expecting it as the consummation of all his wishes.

The description here given of our Lord is worthy of peculiar attention; while the conduct of the holy patriarch is also replete with useful instruction. We propose therefore to consider,

I. In what respects Christ is "the Consolation of Israel."

The Scriptures inform us, that there is consolation in Christ, even abundant and everlasting consolation. Our Lord himself, speaking of the Spirit, calls him "another Comforter," intimating thereby that he himself had sustained and executed this office. But as the Israel of God in that age were in some respects different from the Israel that now is, it will be proper to distinguish between them, and to show in what respects this glorious title is applicable to Christ;

I. In reference to the Jewish Church.

He came to give them clearer light. Moses had revealed to them the will of God: but he had put a veil upon his face to intimate the darkness of that dispensation; and had expressly referred them to a prophet who should arise after him, to whom they must look for fuller instructions. The prophets of later ages taught the people to look forward to the times of the Messiah, when the glorious light should arise upon the Church, to chase away all the clouds of darkness in which it was then involved; insomuch that at the time of Christ's advent there was a general and assured expectation, that a fuller revelation was about to be given them by him: "We know that Messiah Comes, who is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.

He came also to deliver them from the yoke of the ceremonial law. This was a heavy burden, which not even the most spiritual among them was able to support. This was never intended to continue any longer than the period fixed for the Messiah's advent. It was foretold by David, that a priest should arise after the order of Melchizedek; and consequently, with the change of priesthood, there must be a change of the whole law that related to it. Other prophets spoke of "a new covenant," and of "a shaking again, not of the earth only, but also of the heavens," by which they intimated that the old covenant should vanish away, and that the new order of things, which could not be shaken, should remain, after that the former was abrogated and dissolved.

He came moreover to establish an universal empire. The Jews in general misunderstood the prophecies relating to this event, and supposed that their Messiah would erect a temporal monarchy: but those who had a clearer insight into the meaning of the prophets, expected the establishment of a spiritual kingdom, wherein they should not merely be "delivered from all their enemies, but should serve God without fear in righteousness and holiness before him all the days of their life."

To those who viewed him as the appointed Source of these benefits, his advent must be an occasion of most exalted joy: and accordingly it was announced as such by the angelic hosts, who said, "Behold, we bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

2. In reference to the Christian Church.

Having partaken of all the preceding benefits, we are led to contemplate the Savior more immediately in reference to our own necessities: and O, what a consolation is he to us, while we view him as a Atoning sacrifice for our sins! What tongue can utter the feelings of a contrite soul, when, after many fears of God's wrath, it is enabled to see the efficacy of Christ's atonement? O, the peace, the joy, the exultation that arise from every fresh application of his blood to the conscience! Well is "the peace said to pass understanding," and "the joy of believing to be unspeakable and glorified!"

But we are enabled to view him further as our "Advocate with the Father." In this light, he is, if possible, more precious than in the former. The comfort springing from his sacrifice would be greatly diminished, if we did not know that he is entered into Heaven with his own blood, to plead the merit of it in our behalf. What should we do under any fresh contracted guilt, if we had not an Intercessor, through whom we might return to God, and offer our petitions with confidence of acceptance? Weak and frail as we are, we should sit down in despair: but having such a High-Priest that is passed into the heavens for us, we may come boldly to the throne of grace, assured of obtaining mercy, and of finding grace to help us in the time of need.

Further, we behold him also as a fountain of all spiritual blessings. "It has pleased the Father that in Christ should all fullness dwell. Whatever we want, whether wisdom, or righteousness, or strength, there is a fullness of it all in him; and we may say, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strengths." What an unspeakable consolation must this be to those who feel their emptiness and poverty! What blessed confidence does it bring into the soul, when, under a full conviction that we have not in ourselves a sufficiency even to think a good thought, we are enabled to say, "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens men!"

In these views "Christ is so precious to those who believe in him," that they "account all things but loss and dung in comparison of the knowledge of him."

It will not be unprofitable to consider,

II. In what manner we are to "wait for" him.

In the precise sense in which this expression is used in the text, we can now only wait for his coming to judge the world. But there is a spiritual advent to the soul, which every believer is entitled to expect: for, as Christ said to his Disciples, "I will not leave you comfortless; I will come unto you; so he says to every obedient follower, "I will come unto you, and make my abode with you." This advent therefore we are entitled to expect: and we should wait for it,

1. In a renunciation of all other comforters.

The ungodly, in their troubles, go, like the Jews of old, to the creature for help and comfort: the worldling, to his business; the voluptuary, to his indulgences; the man of gaiety, to his sports; and the formalist, to his duties. They all "forsake the fountain of living waters, and hew out to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water." But we must go to Him, who invites the weary and heavy-laden, and gives them assurances of rest. The language of our hearts must be, "Lord, to whom shall we God? Whom have we in Heaven but you? and there is none upon earth that we desire besides you." "None else shall save us; for in you, even in you alone, the fatherless finds mercy."

2. In a firm persuasion of his all-sufficiency.

We shall in vain hope for comfort in Christ, if we doubt either his power or his willingness to save us. "If our faith be wavering, we shall receive nothing of the Lord." We should not therefore come to Christ, saying, "Lord, if you can do anything for us, interpose and help us;" but, "Lord, I know that with you all things are possible," your blood can cleanse from the deepest guilt; your grace can vanquish the most deep-rooted lusts; and one glimpse of your countenance can turn all my sorrows into joy. "Having you, though possessed of nothing else, I possess all things." What a holy glorying would such views of Christ introduce into the soul, even if its distresses were ever so accumulated! Surely, our consolations should abound not only above, but also in proportion to, our heaviest afflictions.

3. In an assured expectation of his promised advent.

That he has promised to come to the souls of his afflicted people has been before shown. Indeed a very principal end of his heavenly mission was, "to comfort those who mourn in Zion, and to appoint unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." Will he then relinquish the work he has undertaken? Will he violate his own engagements? "Is he a man, that he should lie, or the Son of Man, that he should repent?" Let us not then listen to the suggestions of unbelief and impatience: but rather obey the voice of the prophet, who says, "Though the vision tarry, wait for it; for in due time it shall come and shall not tarry."

Our improvement of this subject shall be,

1. In a way of inquiry.

What do we make the ground of our consolation? We see what is supremely and exclusively the consolation of Israel. O that our regard to Christ may testify for us, that we belong to the true Israel!

2. In a way of encouragement.

Consolation implies some previous trouble. Now, trouble, if not of a temporal, yet certainly of a spiritual kind, we must all feel. Let us acquaint ourselves with Christ, and we shall never be at a loss for comfort. Let us live near to him, and we may defy all the powers of earth and Hell.

 

MCCCCLXXVII

Testimony Borne to Jesus in the Temple

Luke 2:28–32. Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now let you your servant depart in peace, according to your word: for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

WHILE we are noticing, as they arise, the various steps of our Savior's humiliation, we shall have repeated occasions to observe, how carefully God has guarded us against the unfavorable impressions which we might otherwise have received from them. At no season was the Divine interposition more remarkable than at our Savior's birth. The circumstances that attended it were as humiliating as could well be conceived; for he was born in a stable, and laid in a manger. But the descent of angels from Heaven to announce and celebrate his advent, was more than sufficient to counterbalance the effect, which the baseness of his appearance might produce. Thus it was also when he was presented to the Lord by his parents, at the time of his mother's purification in the temple. He was presented in order to be redeemed, as all other first-born children were; as though his life had been forfeited, as well as theirs. But, as a counterpoise to this, an aged saint, to whom it had been promised that he should not die until he had seen the Messiah, was warned by an express revelation from above to go into the temple for that purpose. While he was there, the child was brought thither by his parents; and this holy man was inspired to distinguish his person, and to proclaim his character. His language on this occasion is very instructive: it shows us,

I. What views we should have of Christ.

We have no reason to think that in his outward appearance the infant Jesus was at all different from others. But this aged saint, on taking him up in his arms, announced him,

1. As the divinely-appointed Savior.

It was to God the Father that this holy man addressed his devout acknowledgments, and said, "Mine eyes have seen your Salvation." We must never forget, that the Father is the fountain, from whence the streams of salvation flow. He is "the giver of every good and perfect gift;" and the gift of his dear Son to a ruined world was altogether the fruit of his love. "He prepared for him a body." He qualified him for his office by an immeasurable communication of the Holy Spirit. He upheld him in the execution of his work, protected and preserved him until his hour was come, and enabled him to persevere until he could say, "It is finished."

Moreover the Father himself bore testimony to him under that character. Thrice, by an audible voice from Heaven, did he point him out to the world in that view; "This is that my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear him." He constrained angels (both good and bad), and men (enemies as well as friends), to unite their testimony with his. In raising up Jesus from the dead, he declared also with irresistible evidence, that Jesus was his Son; and that what he had done for the salvation of the world, was accepted in our behalf. The Apostles, whom he sent forth to instruct the world, were everywhere to bear this testimony, that the "Father had sent his Son to be the Savior of the world," and the Holy Spirit was poured out upon thousands, both in his gracious influences and miraculous powers, in order to confirm their word.

In a word, our blessed Lord himself always spoke of himself as sent by the Father to perform His will; and therefore, while we thankfully acknowledge the readiness with which Jesus undertook our cause, we must always regard him as God's salvation, commissioned by him for that purpose, accepted by him in that capacity, and proclaimed by him for that end.

2. As the universal Savior.

The immediate and primary objects of the Messiah's attention were, (as our Lord himself informs us,) "the lost sheep of the House of Israel" And, after his resurrection, he gave especial commandment, that his Apostles, who were commissioned to preach the Gospel to all nations, should make the first offers of salvation to the Jews, even in that very city where he had so recently been condemned to death, and to that very people who had imbrued their hands in his blood. Accordingly we find that the Apostles forbore to preach unto the Gentiles, until the Jews had obstinately rejected their testimony, and poured contempt upon the offered salvation.

But the ultimate design of God was to give salvation to the world at large. If the Jews were to have the peculiar glory of giving birth to the Savior, and of having the Gospel first ministered to them, they were not to engross all the benefits of his mission. The Gentiles, who sat in darkness and the shadow of death, were to behold his light, and to be guided by him into the paths of peace. Wherever there is a fallen child of Adam, there is a person for whom Christ came into the world, and to whom the Gospel, if thankfully accepted, shall become the power of God unto salvation. We are of Gentile extraction, and to us are the blessings of salvation offered: nor should we ever name the name of Christ, without feeling our obligations to him, and glorying in him as "all our salvation and all our desire."

These two points which we have noticed in the text, as distinguishing the character of the Savior, are united by the prophet; who represents the Father as addressing his Son in these memorable terms: "It is a light thing that you should be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the ends of the earth."

That these views are not merely of a speculative nature, will be evident, while we notice,

II. The blessed effects of them upon a dying hour.

That the aged saint was in a measure affected, as Jacob was at the sight of his beloved Joseph, we may very well concede: but still there was a difference between the two cases, corresponding with the difference between the objects seen: the one was affected as a parent, at the sight of a long-lamented son; the other, as a believer, at the sight of him on whom all his hopes, and the hopes of a ruined world, were built. The fact is, that a sight of Christ in his true character has now, and at all times, the very same effect. The mere circumstance of beholding his bodily presence, or of taking him up into one's arms, would never reconcile one to the thoughts of death: but the beholding of him as the Author and Procurer of salvation, (as we may do by faith,) will universally,

1. Divest death of its terrors.

That which makes death terrible, is sin. We know in our minds that sin is hateful unto God, and that he has denounced his heavy judgments against it: and consequently while that continues unrepented of, we cannot but feel a secret dread of God's tribunal, and of the sentence that shall be passed upon us. But, if we have "by faith seen him, who is invisible," if we have embraced in our hearts the Lord Jesus, and relied upon him as the appointed Savior of the world, what have we to fear? "Our iniquity is forgiven, and our sin is covered," by "believing in Jesus, we are justified from all things;" even "sins of a crimson dye are made white as snow." The sting of death therefore is drawn; and we may adopt the language of the Apostle, "The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law: but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"

It is true, that many, who are ignorant of Christ, are enabled to brave death on a field of battle, and even to look forward to it with composure in its more gradual approaches. But in both cases they either put away the thought of God's judgment altogether, or deceive themselves with the idea that they are prepared to meet it. Let them only be undeceived respecting the state of their own souls, and the state to which alone the promises of salvation are attached, and the most stout-hearted man in the universe will tremble: and it is uniformly found, that those persons who most appear to disregard death, are most averse to hear of it, or to reflect on its consequences on the souls of men. It is the knowledge of Christ only that affords a Scriptural hope of acceptance with God; and therefore it is that alone which will enable us to view with comfort the approach of death.

2. Make it an object of desire.

Paul tells us that to whoever "it is Christ to live, it is also gain to die," and he speaks of himself as "having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which he considered as far better" than the happiest state he could enjoy on earth. Would we know what it was that made death so desirable to him? he tells us; "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me." And in proportion as our views of Christ are clear, the same effects will follow: "We shall rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Who can hear that prayer of Christ's, "Father, I will that they whom you have given me may be with me, to behold that glory which you have given me;" who, I say, can hear this, and not long for its accomplishment? There may remain in us somewhat of a natural fear of dissolution; and a regard for our families may perhaps make us wish to prolong for a season our stay on earth: but when, like Stephen, we behold the Lord Jesus and the glories of the invisible world, we feel every other tie dissolved, and long to have "mortality swallowed up of life." We are like persons in a foreign land, who, after having formed many friendships there, are reluctant to quit it; but, feeling the stronger attractions of their own family and country, relinquish present comforts, in the hope and prospect of others more sublime. This is represented as the state of all who have made any progress in the divine life; they are "looking for, and hastening to, the coming of the day of Christ." Some may enjoy more of triumph in their end, and others less; but the testimony of David is found almost universally true, "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace."

We may learn from hence,

1. In what manner we should approach God's temple below.

It is particularly noticed respecting this distinguished saint, that "he came by the Spirit into the temple." Thus was his mind prepared for those manifestations of the Savior which he there received. And what is the reason that we come up so often to the house of God without any benefit to our souls? Is it not that we come thither merely in a customary formal way, perhaps from no better motive than curiosity, and never pray to God for his Spirit to accompany us thither? We do not go up with enlarged expectations: we do not even think of having Christ revealed to our souls. But why do we not expect to see Christ there? Has he not said, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world?" And is not this the particular direction of God to his ministers, "Say you to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your salvation comes?" Know then, brethren, that, though you cannot see Christ in the flesh, you may by faith obtain a far brighter view of him than that holy man enjoyed who embraced him in his arms: and if you would have such manifestations of him to your souls in the house of God, you must pray to God for his Spirit to accompany you to his house, and take away the veil from your hearts. "Be not straitened in yourselves, and you shall not be straitened in your God," only come hungering and thirsting after Christ, and you shall never be "sent empty away."

2. In what way we may secure admission into his temple above.

There is one great preparation for an entrance into Heaven, and that is, a sight of Christ by faith. "This is life eternal, to know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." Without the knowledge of Christ no man can behold the face of God in peace. "There is no other foundation whereon any man can build," "nor any other name whereby any man can be saved." It was this which saved those who looked forward to him before his advent; and it is this which alone saves any since his advent. O that we duly considered this! How diligently should we then inquire, What are my views of Christ? How am I affected with them? Do they lead me to cast myself upon him? Do they enable me to rejoice in him? Do I under the influence of them look forward to the period of my dissolution as that which will introduce me to his more immediate presence, and to the consummation of all my hopes? Brethren, rest not in a mere nominal profession; be not content with calling Christ, Lord, Lord; but seek such views of him as shall transform you into his image, and make you meet for his glory.

 

MCCCCLXXVIII

The Ends and Effects of Christ's Exhibition to the World

Luke 2:34, 35. Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yes, a sword shall pierce through your own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

THE ways of God are deep and unsearchable. The richest displays of his love have been often accompanied with the heaviest afflictions. The honor bestowed on Paul was the forerunner of great sufferings. Thus the Virgin's distinguished privilege of bringing the Son of God into the world was a prelude to the severest anguish to her soul. Even the gift of the Messiah himself, while it saves some, is the occasion of a more dreadful condemnation to others. It was foretold, that, as this was one end, so it would also be an effect, of Christ's mission.

I. The remote ends of Christ's exhibition to the world.

God has on the whole consulted his creatures' good as well as his own glory; but he will not effect the happiness of every individual.

The "fall of many" was one end of Christ's coming.

His appearance was contrary to the carnal expectations of the Jews. Hence he became a stumbling-block to almost the whole nation. It had been plainly foretold that he should be so. This prophecy is frequently quoted by the inspired writers. Our Lord himself expressly refers to it. He elsewhere confirms the declaration contained in it.

The coming of Christ actually produced this effect.

Many took offence at him. Thus they became more wicked than they would otherwise have been. Thus also they perished with a more aggravated condemnation.

But this was by no means the chief end.

The "rising of many" was another end of Christ's coming.

Jews and Gentiles were in a most deplorable condition: they were guilty, helpless, hopeless. From this state Christ came to raise them. This also was a subject of prophecy; and our Lord often declares that this was the end of his coming: hence he calls himself "the resurrection and the life."

And his coming produced this effect also.

Few believed on him before his death: but myriads were raised by him soon after. They rose from a death in sin to a life of holiness. This effect is still carrying on in the world. Many from their own experience can say with Hannah.

These ends, however, were more remote.

II. The more immediate end.

The minds of men in reference to God were very little known: neither ceremonial nor moral duties could fully discover their state; but he came to make it clear how every one was affected towards God.

In order to this he was "a mark or butt of contradiction."

No man ever met with so much contradiction as he. He was contradicted by all people, on all occasions, in the most virulent manner, in spite of the clearest evidence, and in the most solemn seasons—This was frequently as a sword in Mary's breast.

By his becoming such a mark, the thoughts of men's hearts were discovered.

The Pharisees wished to be thought righteous; the Scribes, the free-thinkers of the day, pleaded for candor; the Herodians professed indifference for all religion: yet they all combined against Christ. Thus they showed what was in their hearts.

The preaching of Christ still makes the same discovery.

Christ is still a butt of contradiction in the world. Before his Gospel is preached, all seem to be agreed; but when he is set forth, discord and division ensue: then the externally righteous people show their enmity; then the indifferent discover the same readiness to persecute. On the other hand the humility of others appears: many publicans and harlots gladly embrace the truth, and many believers manifest a willingness to die for Christ.

By way of improvement we may inquire,

1. What self-knowledge have we gained from the preaching of Christ?

He has been often "set forth crucified before our eyes." This must in a measure have revealed our thoughts to us. What discoveries then has it made? Let us take the Gospel as a light with which to search our hearts. Let us beg of God to illumine our minds by his Holy Spirit.

2. What effect has the preaching of Christ produced on our lives?

We must either rise or fall by means of the Gospel. Are we then risen with Christ to a new and heavenly life? or are we filled with prejudice against his Church and people? Let us tremble lest be prove a rock of offence to us. If we rise with him now to a life of holiness, he will raise us before long to a life of glory.

 

MCCCCLXXIX

Christ's Early Habits

Luke 2:49. And he said unto them, How is it that you sought me. knew you not that I mutt be about my Father's business?

THE prophets and apostles of old are proposed to us as examples in a variety of respects: but we are to follow men no further than they themselves followed Christ. Christ is the great pattern, to which all are to be conformed: and so fully is his character delineated in the Holy Scriptures, that we can scarcely ever be at a loss to know either what he did, or what he would have done, in any circumstances of life. The account we have indeed of his early days is very concise. There is little related of him to gratify our curiosity, but enough to regulate our conduct. The only authentic record which we have of the transactions of his childhood, is that before us.

His parents had carried him up at twelve years of age to Jerusalem, where all the males were obliged to assemble thrice in the year. After the paschal solemnities were completed, his parents set out on their journey homeward, and proceeded for one whole day, concluding that Jesus was in the company together with them. In the evening, to their great surprise, they sought for him in vain among all his kinsfolk and acquaintance; and therefore they returned the next day with their hearts full of sorrow and anxiety to Jerusalem, to search for their beloved child: but there they could hear no tidings of him all that night. Prosecuting their inquiries the third day, they found him at last, conversing with the doctors in the temple. Joseph being only his reputed father, left the task of reproving him to Mary his mother. She, gently chiding him for the distress he had occasioned them, received from him the reply which we have just read; in which he vindicated his conduct, from the superior obligations which he owed to his heavenly Father, and showed, that their anxieties had arisen from their own ignorance and unbelief. They, we are told, "understood not his saying," but we understand it: and from a sense of the vast importance of it, we will,

I. Explain to you his reply.

This was probably the first time that he had ever been at Jerusalem since he was quite an infant: and he was solicitous to improve to the uttermost the opportunity which this season had afforded him, of cultivating divine knowledge, and "increasing in heavenly wisdom." Not wearied with the seven days that he had spent in spiritual exercises, he was happy to prolong the time, and to sit among the doctors (not with dictatorial forwardness, but with the modesty of a child) to answer any questions that were put to him, and to ask for information on those points, in which he found himself not yet sufficiently instructed. It was in the use of such means as these that the indwelling Godhead gradually irradiated his mind, and trained him up for the office, which at a more advanced age he was to fulfill. This was "the business to which his heavenly Father had called him," at this time; and it was the delight of his soul to execute it: nor was he responsible to his earthly parents for overlooking on this occasion that attention to their feelings, which, in less urgent circumstances, he would have gladly shown.

For all this he appealed to them: "How is it that you sought me with such anxiety? Knew you not that I must be about my Father's business?" You know whence I am, that I am, in a way that no other child ever was, or ever will be, the Son of God. You know the end for which I was sent into the world, even to save my people from their sins. You know what marvelous interpositions have been given me, insomuch that I was preserved, while all the children of Bethlehem, from two years old and under, were slain. You know also that the same heavenly Father who bade you carry me into Egypt, advertised you afterwards of Herod's death, and directed you to return with me to our native land. And can you doubt that a child so born, and born for so great an end, and so miraculously preserved, shall be taken care of? Was not my heavenly Father's care sufficient without yours?

Again, You have known my habits from my earliest infancy, and how entirely I have been devoted to my God, while in no single instance did I ever show myself forgetful of you. You might well have concluded therefore, that I acted under the special direction of my heavenly Father, and might have been assured in your minds, that I was engaged "in my Father's business." You had abundant reason to be satisfied of all this; and therefore, though I cannot disapprove of your returning to search for me, I cannot altogether commend your sorrows and anxieties respecting me; since, if you had duly considered the circumstances I have referred to, your minds would have been comforted, being stayed on God.

Now, though "his parents understood not this at the time," we, who enjoy a fuller revelation of God's will, clearly comprehend it; and therefore may well, like Mary, treasure it up in our hearts. And being further informed, that during the whole of his youthful days "he was subject to his parents," we see, that the construction we have put upon his words is true, and our vindication of his conduct is correct.

Having explained his words, let me now,

II. Commend to your attention the sentiments contained in them.

Two things are here evidently insinuated;

1. That the service of God is of paramount obligation.

God's claims are infinitely superior to all that man can assert. We are to love and serve him with all our heart and soul and strength. In matters of mere arbitrary institution, he is pleased indeed to wave his claims, and to give a priority to ours; saying, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice," but in the service of the heart and of the soul, he will never for a moment abandon his rights: He says, "My Son, give me your heart," and this we must give him at the peril of our souls. In comparison of him, "our earthly parents, yes and our very life itself, are to be objects of hatred" and contempt. We are not to regard the authority of any superiors whatever, but to say, "whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, you judge. Nor are we to be influenced by any examples, however numerous; but like Joshua, we must say, "Whatever the whole nation may do, I and my house will serve the Lord." This is strongly inculcated under the Christian dispensation: "Give yourself wholly to these things." "Rejoice evermore: pray without ceasing: in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." In a word, our whole life should be such, as, if any one shall inquire after us, to leave no doubt upon his mind, but that we are dutifully and diligently engaged "in our Father's business." It is not necessary that we should be always praying: our Lord himself was not praying at this time, but gaining instruction in the things of God. This was his duty. Ours is to perform the various offices of life in their season, combining in their due measure the services which our station in life calls for, with those which we owe more immediately to God. But in all that we do, we must have respect to God's authority as appointing it, and seek God's glory in the execution of it. "We must live not unto ourselves, but solely and entirely unto God."

2. That in serving him, it is not possible for us to engage too early, or too earnestly.

Our Lord was only twelve years of age at this time: and now, after having fulfilled all his duties during the seven days of the feast, he persisted even until the tenth day in prosecuting what he judged to be for the improvement of his own mind, and for the honor of his heavenly Father. It is probable that, while all the males of Israel were at Jerusalem together, he, a little child, could not gain the attention of the great doctors at Jerusalem, who would almost of necessity be fully occupied with those who had come from every quarter of the land. But when the strangers were all gone, he might without difficulty gain access to the great and authorized instructors of the Lord's people. This probably was one reason of his staying at that time, that so he might improve to the uttermost the only opportunity that had ever been afforded him. In like manner, when, in the course of his ministry, he had been laboring all the day, and praying all the night, and then, without taking any sustenance, was laboring also the next day, his friends sought him, fearing "he was beside himself" (as we translate it), or rather, that "he was transported too far," so as irreparably to destroy his own health Now in all this he has shown us, that, however we may be wearied in the Lord's service, we are never to be weary of it; but are to prosecute it incessantly to the very utmost of our power. In short, whatever progress we may have made in our divine course, we are to "forget the things which are behind, and to reach forth to those that are before," and never to pause until we have gained the prize.

Address.

1. To parents.

You have a solicitude for your children's welfare: you are anxious for the preservation of their health, and the advancement of their temporal prosperity. These feelings, if kept within due bounds, I by no means condemn. But your chief anxiety should be for the welfare of their souls; and your labor should be to engage them thoroughly in the business assigned them by their heavenly Father. If you neglect this, or show a lukewarmness about it, you will involve yourselves in guilt of the deepest die. You remember how Eli was punished for this sin: and his sons Hophni and Phinehas will reproach him in the last day as accessary to their destruction, Beware lest that reproach be vented against you by your children: for assuredly, if your souls will be required at the hand of your minister, much more will the blood of your children be required at your hands.

2. To young people.

You have from the moment you came into the world a business assigned you by your heavenly parent, and you are bound to execute it from the very beginning according to your capacity. If you commence it early, you have a special promise from God, that you shall succeed in your efforts. And tell me, what period of life is there, in which you can be so well employed as in doing your Father's will? You may think that youth and manhood are seasons rather for pleasure and for temporal pursuits: but the more you resemble Christ, the happier you will be. Who is there among you that does not congratulate Samuel, Obadiah, Timothy, on their early surrender of themselves to God. Be assured, that such a retrospect in your own case will, in a dying hour, be a source of much comfort to your souls. In the meantime you will greatly honor God by dedicating your whole lives to him, and will diffuse blessings through the world, instead of being, as alas! too many are, curses to all around them. And thus, it may be hoped, you will conciliate the favor both of God and man. But if unhappily you be blamed for consecrating yourselves to God, then must you be ready to give a reason of your conduct with meekness and fear."

 

MCCCCLXXX

Ministry of John the Baptist

Luke 3:4–6. It is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

THERE is an abruptness in the language of the prophets, which, though it sometimes casts an obscurity over their writings, often gives them very peculiar force and energy. This may be noticed particularly in the passage referred to in our text. At the beginning of the fortieth chapter of his prophecies, Isaiah, without any particular intimation of it breaks forth into a distinct subject, which from that time occupies his chief attention. He has indeed in the preceding chapters occasionally spoken of the Redeemer's kingdom: but from the beginning of this chapter he almost loses sight of the deliverance from Babylon, and dwells, even in the primary sense of his words, on the more important deliverance of men from their bondage to sin and Satan. He informs us that God had commissioned him to comfort his drooping people with assured prospects of his returning favor through the intervention of the Messiah. Then, passing over eight hundred years as scarcely more than a single day, he seems to himself to hear the very voice of Christ's forerunner, and to see him occupied in preparing the Messiah's way: and then, with a confident expectation that God's word should stand, he predicts the ultimate and universal establishment of the Messiah's kingdom.

The passage is quoted by Luke as actually fulfilled in the preaching of John the Baptist; and it may well be considered as of peculiar importance, since it is quoted by all the Four Evangelists. In considering it, we shall be led to show,

I. What are the chief obstructions to our Redeemer's kingdom.

Some there were peculiar to the apostolic age.

The Jews were so attached to Moses and their law, that they could not endure anything which appeared to weaken their authority, and to transfer the people's regard to any other teacher. Knowing that their religion was from God, and not aware that it was intended only to be of temporary duration, they accounted it the vilest blasphemy to speak of the ministry of the one, or the authority of the other, being superseded.

They had also very erroneous notions of the Messiah's kingdom: they supposed he would be a great temporal prince, who would deliver them from the Roman yoke, and raise their nation to the highest pinnacle of human grandeur. Hence they were quite indignant that a poor despised Nazarene, who himself their Messiah.

These prejudices greatly obstructed the establishment of Christ's kingdom among them, and proved an almost insurmountable bar to their conversion.

Nor were the Gentiles in a state more favorable than the Jews. They were addicted to the vilest lusts, the grossest superstition, the most confirmed idolatry. The more learned among them were still further from the kingdom of God, and more hostile to it, on account of their philosophic pride, which led them to reject everything which did not savor of human wisdom, and the Gospel especially, which appeared to them so repugnant to it. To be saved by a man who was crucified, and therefore apparently unable to save himself, was in their eyes a most flagrant absurdity.

Thus Paul informs us, that "the preaching of the cross was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness."

But there are others, which are common to all ages.

It is not needful to distinguish between the different parts of the imagery, whereby these obstructions are described; else we might see in the elations of pride, the stubbornness of passion, and the gloominess of despondency, a correspondence between the terms that are used, and the obstacles that are depicted. Certain it is, without intending to refine upon the text, that these are the most common impediments to the establishment of the Messiah's kingdom.

Men will not endure to be told that they are justly obnoxious to the wrath of God, and utterly incapable of saving themselves; and that all, the best as much as the worst, must be indebted to the Lord Jesus Christ for all their hope and all their salvation. The pride of the human heart rises against this, and turns from it with disgust. The lusts and passions of men also are averse to the dominion of Christ: they hate control: they will not submit to the restraints of the Gospel: to have them mortified, is like the plucking out of a right eye, or the cutting off of a right hand: the spiritual, as well as the fleshly, filthiness that is in us, pleads for indulgence: and every disposition of the mind, as well as every appetite of the body, sets itself against the authority of Christ, and rejects his yoke.

But besides these, which are the more obvious impediments to the Gospel, there are some others, which, though little noticed, are both powerful and common. There is in most men a tendency to despair. While the unbelief of some leads them to despise the Gospel as an idle tale, in others, it operates to keep them back from embracing it, under an idea, that they never can be brought to the state that it requires. Either their guilt appears too great to be forgiven, or their lusts too strong to be subdued, or their circumstances so peculiar, as not to admit of so great a change in all the habits of their life.

These are obstacles which we all feel in a greater or less degree; and which must be removed, before Christ can enter freely into our hearts.

That a view of these things may not discourage us, let us consider,

II. How they are to be removed.

As there were some peculiar obstacles in the apostolic age, so were there also peculiar circumstances calculated to remove them.

The general expectation of the Messiah, which prevailed about the time of his coming, certainly tended to prepare his way. The preaching of John the Baptist, who with holy firmness laid his axe to the root of Pharisaic pride and hypocrisy, awakened a great and general attention to religion, insomuch that many doubted whether he were not the Messiah himself. The ministry of Christ also produced a general sensation through the Jewish land: the holiness of his life, the wisdom and authority of his words, and the number and beneficence of his miracles, wrought conviction upon the minds of thousands, and drove his enemies to the necessity of putting him to death, or of leaving him in the uncontrolled possession of universal influence. The ministry of the Apostles, confirmed as it was by the descent of the Holy Spirit, by the gift of tongues, and by miracles unnumbered, had yet greater effect: it bore down all opposition, and triumphed over the united powers of earth and Hell. The universal extension of the Roman empire contributed also not a little to the facilitating of the establishment of the Redeemer's kingdom; since it gave to the Apostles an easy communication both with Jews and Gentiles throughout the world, in almost every part of which the Jewish Scriptures had already prepared their way.

But it is of more practical importance to show how our difficulties are to be removed.

As these are the same in every age, so the means of removing them are such as are open to the use of all. We need notice only two; and these are, repentance and faith. Repentance is the great leveler of all obstructions: it "humbles the loftiness of man," and "brings into captivity every thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ." Wherever real penitence exists, it brings the soul into the dust before God. No longer is the Gospel deemed unnecessary or severe: the penitent sees, that without it he must inevitably perish. Whether he have been more or less moral, he is equally disposed to smite on his breast and cry for mercy. His vain conceits of his own goodness all vanish; and, instead of despising others as inferior to him in sanctity, he accounts himself rather "the chief of sinners." And it deserves particular attention, that the Baptist himself prescribed this as the very first and principal means of smoothing the way for the reception of Christ.

The next means, and that which renders the other effectual, is faith. This, no less than repentance itself, is an universal leveler. If repentance brings down the hills and mountains, faith exalts the valleys, straightens the crooked paths, and smooths the rough. Wonderful indeed is the efficacy of humble faith: it dissipates at once all desponding fears: the things which appeared utterly insurmountable, now become plain and easy: the blood of Christ is acknowledged as sufficient to cleanse them from all sin; and the grace of Christ as sufficient to make them victorious over every enemy. It is remarkable that our blessed Lord, on his first entrance on his ministry, united this with repentance, as the grand, the effectual expedient for establishing his kingdom in the world. And his Apostles after him continued to further his interests in the very same way: they preached everywhere "repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."

To stir us up to that exertion which is necessary, let us contemplate,

III. The blessed consequences of their removal.

The manifestation of Christ's glory is that which ever did, and ever shall, follow the removal of those things which have hitherto veiled him in obscurity.

See how it was on his first appearance.

The clouds which surrounded him, concealed in a measure the bright effulgence of his rays: his humble birth, his mean appearance, the contempt and abhorrence in which he was held, all tended to cast a veil over his divine majesty: yet even then his own more immediate Disciples "beheld his glory, as the glory of the only-begotten of the Father."

See it more particularly after the day of Pentecost.

Until that time his very Apostles saw but very imperfectly the nature of that kingdom which Christ came to establish: but when the Holy Spirit had opened their eyes, and had sealed their testimony on the hearts of others, what a splendor beamed from the countenance of our incarnate God! Then it was seen, that he who had been "crucified, was the Lord of glory," the brightness of the Father's glory, and the "express image of his person." Every eye looked to him: every heart trusted in him: every soul "received out of his fullness grace for grace." He was that object which, if I may so speak, was the center and circumference of the globe: in him all united; and beyond him none aspired. "In him the whole body of believers, collectively and individually, were complete."

See it at this hour.

Who is loved? who is honored? who is served? who is glorified, wherever the Gospel prevails? who, but that adorable Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ? Those who once saw "no beauty or loveliness in him for which he was to be desired," now behold him as "fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely." "He is truly precious" to their souls; and to call him "their Friend and their Beloved," is the highest object of their ambition, or, rather, the only thing about which they have any material concern. It is the same in every quarter of the world: it is the same among high and low, rich and poor, learned and unlearned: if "God have shined into their heart to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," they "determine to know nothing else," to"glory in nothing else," "this is all their salvation, and all their desire."

But who can tell what it shall be in the latter days?

The text informs us, that "all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Hitherto, notwithstanding all the efforts that have been used to spread the Gospel, darkness very generally prevails, and the obstacles to the Redeemer's kingdom are but partially removed. But the day is near at hand, when "all nations shall serve him," and "all people shall know him from the least of them to the greatest." Yes, "the mouth of the Lord has spoken it;" and therefore it shall assuredly come to pass. Obstructions there are, no doubt, both great and numerous: but "before Zerubbabel the mountains shall become a plain." The extension of vital Christianity through the world is not more incredible than the establishment which it has already gained in the earth; especially when we consider, that, what has been already done, is, under God, the work of a few unlettered fishermen. O that that day may appear! O that God would "hasten it in his time!"

Conclusion.

As "a voice crying in this our wilderness," I would now say to you, "Prepare you the way of the Lord." He has entered into the world: he has established his kingdom among men; he now "stands and knocks at the door of your hearts," and desires admission into them. O think what is it that obstructs his entrance into your hearts? Is it a proud conceit of your own goodness? Let this mountain be brought low, comparing your lives with the demands of God's holy law. Is it an inveterate love of sin, and of this present world? let it give way to penitence and faith, that your path may be plain and smooth. Is it a doubt of the practicability of your salvation? Rely on Christ: "all things are possible to him that believes."

Perhaps you will say, that "a preparation of heart must be from the Lord,"true; but it must be sought by you in the daily exercise of meditation and prayer. If you need any incentive to these duties, do but reflect upon the benefits resulting from them: think of a revelation of Christ to your soul! think of his glory exhibited to the eyes of your mind, and shining with increasing brightness to the perfect day! think too in how little a time you will "see him as he is," and "be with him forever!" Dearly beloved, beg of God to "take the stumbling-blocks out of your way," he is the same gracious God as ever he was; and if you cry unto him "he will make an high-way for you, like as he did for Israel in the day that he brought them out of the land of Egypt;" he "will make darkness light before you, and crooked things straight: these things will he do unto you, and not forsake you."

 

MCCCCLXXXI

Liberality to the Poor

Luke 3:10, 11. And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answers and says unto them, He who has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he who has meat, let him do likewise.

IN order to understand the true meaning of any part of Scripture, the strictest attention must be paid to the context. If this rule be not observed, there is scarcely anything which may not be sanctioned by the inspired volume; and the most contradictory positions may appear to stand on equal authority. Suppose, for instance, the question in our text be taken, as other apparently similar questions must be taken, namely, as an inquiry into the way of salvation; we shall make John the Baptist return an answer directly contrary to the whole tenor of the Gospel. When the gawler asked Paul and Silas, "What he must do to be saved?" they answered, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." This is the only true answer that can be given to that question; for "there is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we can be saved," but the name of Jesus Christ. But if we look into the context, we find that John the Baptist had been "preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;" or, in other words, had been preaching salvation by Jesus Christ, exactly as the Apostle Peter, and indeed all the Apostles, did on the day of Pentecost. Then, seeing multitudes coming to him for baptism, and apprehending that the great majority of them were taking up a profession of religion upon very light and erroneous grounds, he cautioned them strongly against a presumptuous confidence on the one hand, or an unproductive and hypocritical profession on the other; and exhorted them, if they would not experience the fate of a barren tree, to "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance." In reply to this, the people ask, "What shall we do?" That is, What fruits shall we bring forth, in order to evince our sincerity? And the direction which John gives them, is an answer exactly suited to the occasion: it is to this effect; 'If you would approve yourselves sincere and upright in your profession of faith in the promised Messiah, show forth your faith by your works, and, above all, by an abounding exercise of love.'

Having thus prepared our way by a view of the context, and having ascertained what the Baptist's design was in giving the people the direction in our text, we shall proceed to the more distinct consideration of his answer, and shall open to you,

I. Its import.

It is manifest that the direction given by him is figurative, and therefore not to be taken in its strict and literal sense. But we must not therefore imagine, that we are at liberty to disregard it, as though it had no force at all. There can be no doubt but that the Baptist intended to inculcate a very tender compassion towards our indigent fellow-creatures, and a very enlarged exercise of liberality for their relief. To obtain, with as much precision as the subject is capable of, the true import of his words, we shall adduce from other parts of Scripture, but especially from the writings of the same Evangelist,

1. Some other passages of similar tendency.

First, we shall notice one or two that are also figurative—There can be no doubt but that these require a very high degree of liberality to the poor, since they were actually practiced in their strictest sense by the first Christians—From these we may turn to others that are more plain—What an accumulation of words is there in the former of these passages to encourage our compliance with the precept; and what a gracious blessing in the latter!—To the rich there is an especial charge given to be bountiful; but it is not to them only that this duty belongs; but to those also who gain a daily subsistence by their manual labor. To all, according to their ability, it equally appertains; for, on the foresight of a dearth in Judea, all the disciples of Antioch, every one according to his ability, contributed instantly to their relief.

2. Some examples which are set forth for our imitation.

That of Zaccheus is particularly to our purpose, because he was just converted to the faith of Christ, and because our blessed Lord himself acknowledged this heavenly disposition to be an evidence of his having actually obtained acceptance with his God—But the example of the Macedonian Churches is yet more pertinent; because it is an example, not of an individual, but of whole Churches; and those, not in a state of ease and opulence, but of great affliction and deep poverty; and because it is expressly set forth for the imitation of others, who are called upon to imitate it, in order to prove the sincerity of their love to Christ. By carefully comparing these several passages, we see clearly what our duty is: we are not required to burden ourselves in order to ease others, but so to participate their burdens that they may partake of our ease: thus to "bear one another's burdens is eminently to fulfill the law of Christ."

Having thus marked the import of the injunction in our text, we proceed to show,

II. Its reasonableness.

The whole of God's "law is good," and the service it requires is reasonable. But the duty enjoined in our text, though arduous to a selfish mind, is particularly reasonable. For consider,

1. What obligations we owe to God for the superior comforts which we enjoy.

It is God who assigns to all their lot, not only in respect to the situation in which they are born, but in all the changes, whether prosperous or adverse, which they experience through life's. Whatever therefore we have above others, "it is God alone who has made us to differ." And how eminently is this the case with respect to the ravages of war which during these last twenty years have desolated almost the whole of Europe, but have never reached our happy land! Compare our state with that of a great part of Germany at this present moment, and then say, whether a compassionate regard for our suffering fellow-creatures be not called for at our hands, and whether such an expression of it as our text requires, be at all unreasonable? Methinks, it is not possible to have even the most indistinct view of our obligations to God, without saying from our hearts, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all the benefits that he has done unto me?"

2. What we ourselves should desire, if we were reduced to the state in which myriads of our fellow-creatures now are.

It is not easy to place ourselves in the situation of persons of whom we hear only by report: but yet we may conceive what we ourselves should desire, and what we should think reasonable, if we were perishing with cold and nakedness and hunger, while others, embarked in the same cause with ourselves, were exempt from those sufferings, and were enjoying comparative ease and affluence. Should we not wish them to stand forth for our relief? Should we not think it reasonable, that their exertions should rise in proportion to our necessities, and that they should almost literally fulfill the precept in our text, the man who had two coats imparting to us who had none, and that he who had meat should do likewise? Let us adopt for our principle the golden rule, and "Do unto others, as we would they should do unto us."

3. What our blessed Lord and Savior has done for us.

This is the consideration which Paul himself suggests in reference to this very point. O consider, "how rich he was" in the possession of his Father's glory; and how "poor he became," "not having so much as a place where to lay his head," but dying under the curse that was due to our sins. Consider too what his object was; namely, that we, who deserved to be in Hell without a drop of water to cool our tongues, might through his poverty be rich, and possess all the glory of Heaven. Does such love as this require no return? When this very Savior tells us, that what we do unto the least of his brethren, he accepts as done to himself, shall we think any requisition hard, or any sacrifice too great? Truly, not only our property, but even our life itself, may well be sacrificed for him; and we should account ourselves happy in proportion as we have an opportunity to advance his glory in the world.

But instead of dwelling any longer on the general reasonableness of this precept, we will proceed to notice,

III. Its suitableness to the present occasion.

Rarely, if ever, has greater occasion for charitable exertions existed than at present—Now therefore we might justly call upon you to comply with our text almost in the literal sense. But, waving that, we must urge you to adopt the principle that is there inculcated—and to bear in mind, that "he who sows sparingly, shall reap also sparingly, and he who sows bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let every man do according as he is disposed in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver." Do not however forget the important distinctions with which we began the subject. It is to glorify Christ, and to show the sincerity of your love to him, that we invite you—not to purchase Heaven by your alms. Bear that in mind; and God will not forget it in the day of judgment.

 

MCCCCLXXXII

Practical Duties Enforced

Luke 3:10–14. And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answers and says unto them, He who has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he who has meat, let him do likewise. Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.

WHATEVER want of human learning men may feel, they are, for the most part, well satisfied with their attainments in religious knowledge. If they are conscious of some faults, they do not suspect any want of just information, but only a defect in practicing what they already know. But when persons begin to see their guilt and danger, they find that they need to be instructed in the very first principles of religion; and they are glad to make inquiries, which formerly they would have utterly disdained. This was the effect produced by the ministry of John the Baptist. The Scribes and Pharisees, being filled with self-conceit, rejected his word, and represented him as no better than a demoniac: but multitudes of others came to him with great solicitude, not to obtain answers to any speculative questions, but to ask, What they must do, to escape the wrath which he had so forcibly set before them.

We shall find it profitable to consider,

I. His answers to their inquiries.

Those who successively applied to him, and to whom he gave his answers, were,

1. The people.

As these must of necessity comprehend a great variety of characters, the Baptist gave his answer generally, so as to strike at the characteristic evil of our fallen nature, selfishness. The natural man lives neither for God nor for his fellow-creatures, but for himself alone. If he has great superfluities, he may without any difficulty give something to the poor and indigent: but if he has little more than bare necessities, he feels little, if any, responsibility for the use of them, and is chiefly occupied in making them subservient to his own comfort. From this selfish disposition innumerable evils proceed: indeed, it lies at the root of almost all evil. Hence the Baptist set himself in the first place to counteract it; and recommend in its stead the universal exercise of liberality and compassion.

That the Baptist's injunction should be taken according to the strict letter, we do not say: but, to give it any sense at all, it must imply far more then is commonly practiced, or generally supposed to be our duty. The least it can mean is, that we should consider ourselves as stewards of all that we possess, and dispose of it conscientiously for the honor of God and the benefit of our fellow-creatures.

2. The Publicans.

The publicans were persons appointed under the authority of the Roman government to collect the taxes; and so odious was the office among the Jews, that few who had any regard for their own characters, would undertake it. Hence it was executed very generally in an unjust and oppressive manner; insomuch that the office, which was at first hated only on account of its evincing the subjection of the Jews to a foreign yoke, became proverbially infamous on account of the conduct of those on whom it was conferred.

Among the candidates for baptism were some of these: and they likewise inquired, what they should do. Now it is worthy of observation, that John did not recommend them to give up their office, notwithstanding the difficulties and temptations that attended the execution of it; but only to guard against the evils that were commonly practiced in the discharge of it. The greater the temptations to which they were exposed, the more desirable it was that the office should be filled by persons who were truly conscientious; and the more honor such persons would do to religion, by maintaining an unblemished character in such a post. His advice therefore to them was, to exact nothing beyond what they were authorized to demand, but to regulate their whole conduct agreeably to the laws of justice and equity.

This injunction however need not to be confined to them: it is equally applicable to all persons possessed of official authority, and indeed to all persons, whose interest might lead them in a way of trade or business to impose on others for their own advantage.

3. The soldiers.

The grace of God, which nothing can withstand, had reached the hearts of some of these: and they too made similar inquiries. To them also did the Baptist make a similar reply. Unfavorable as the life of a soldier is to the cultivation of piety, he did not tell them to get their discharge, but cautioned them against the evils incident to their profession. From their very education and mode of life, they are apt to disregard the feelings of men, and to injure or insult those who do not immediately comply with their wishes. In that age and country, it was also common for them to turn informers, that by false accusation they might share the fines that might be levied, or obtain bribes for exercising a pretended forbearance. Discontent and mutiny too were evils to which they were in general prone.

Against all of these practices the Baptist warned them. He testified that all such things were evil, and that every person must abstain from them, if he would avoid the wrath which hangs over the head of every impenitent transgressor.

But neither should these cautions be limited to those who made the inquiry, nor to persons engaged in the military life: for the duties of peacefulness, equity, and contentment are applicable to every situation, and every age.

That these answers may appear in their proper light, we shall proceed to show,

II. The suitableness of them to the occasion.

Certainly at first sight they appear defective, not to say, erroneous: for it never can be admitted for one moment that the correcting of those habits would procure everlasting salvation: such a reformation could make no atonement for their past sins, nor could it in any way supersede the necessity of believing in Christ. To understand the matter aright, we must consider what the import of their inquiries was, and what was the Baptist's more immediate office. John had told them all to "bring forth, (the word means, do,) to do fruits meet for repentance." They immediately inquire, each for himself, what are the particular things which they must do; that is, what they must do to evince the sincerity of their repentance? This is the question to which all his answers were directed. If it be thought that he should have begun to "preach Christ unto them," I answer, This was not his office, at least, not in the plain specific way in which the Apostles preached Christ on the day of Pentecost: he was rather "to prepare the way of the Lord;" and therefore he "preached only the baptism of repentance." Bearing these things in mind, his answer will be found precisely suited to the occasion. They were calculated to impress upon their minds the following truths:

1. Evil habits are an obstacle to the reception of the Gospel.

Who does not see that the indulgence of their respective sins was calculated to blind their eyes and harden their hearts? Are persons, at the very time that they are addicted to the grossest immoralities, in a state fit to receive instructions in the sublime doctrines of the Gospel? Must not every word of it appear "foolishness unto them?" What was the effect produced on the worldly-minded Pharisees, when our Lord spoke of "making to ourselves friends of the unrighteous mammon?" We are told, "the Pharisees, who were covetous, heard all these things; and they derided him." And does not daily experience show, that there must be a certain preparation of mind for the due reception of truth? If you cast the best seed that can be procured into land not broken up, but overgrown with briers and thorns, will you expect a harvest? So, if persons be not sufficiently convinced of the evil of their ways as to be willing to reform them in matters which unenlightened reason would condemn, there can be no hope that they will improve aright the sublimer truths of revelation.

The Baptist's answer then was precisely what you would give to a man who by continued drunkenness had brought on a fever: 'I can recommend you to a physician, whose prescriptions will infallibly cure you; but it is in vain to go to him, if you do not determine to put away your habits of intoxication.'

2. The putting away of besetting sins is an indispensable evidence of our sincerity.

The people professed to be penitent, and asked what they must do to prove it. Now can any one imagine that they could be sincere, if they were not willing to change their lives? What is repentance? It is not a mere sorrow for having subjected ourselves to God's displeasure; for then the devils, and those who have died in their sins, would be as great penitents as any: but repentance implies a hatred of sin, and a determination to forsake it: and consequently, the Baptist's injunctions afforded the people a proper test, whereby to ascertain the truth of their professions. If we at this day heard any one expressing a desire after salvation, and were informed that, notwithstanding the plainest warnings, he still held fast his iniquities, and would not part with them; should we give him credit for sincerity? No, we should tell him at once, that all his professions were mere hypocrisy, and that whatever he might pretend respecting a dependence on Christ, he would only deceive his own soul.

3. The following of the light we have, is a good preparative for more light.

A man brought out of a dungeon cannot bear at once the full blaze of the meridian sun; he must be brought to it by degrees: so neither can we hear at once the bright effulgence of Divine truth. Our blessed Lord told his Disciples, that "he had many things to say unto them, which they were not at that time able to bear," and "he spoke the word in parables, as the people were able to hear it." Paul adopted the same method of apportioning to his people his instructions according to their respective capacities; "giving milk to babes, and strong meat to those who were of full age." Had he not attended to this rule, he would have produced the same effects as would follow from a wrong administration of corporeal food; he would have destroyed those whom he designed to nourish: whereas by a more judicious conduct, he trained up the children for stronger food and higher attainments. Thus the Baptist directed his hearers to cultivate the acknowledged duties of humanity, honesty, and contentment: that in the exercise of these duties, they might gain a deeper insight into the evil of their past ways, and a fuller preparation of heart for a due reception of the Gospel.

Let us learn then from hence,

1. The importance of ministerial fidelity.

People in general love to have a minister who will "prophesy unto them smooth things and prophesy deceits." But what will be the end of such things? "If the blind lead the blind, shall they not both fall into the ditch?" It may be painful to us to hear the truth, when we are called to "pluck out a right eye, and to cut off a right hand," but it is better far that we should be informed of our danger, than that we should be left to involve ourselves in irremediable ruin We are told that many of the publicans and harlots actually repented, and became partakers of the kingdom of Heaven. Did not they bless him? And will they not continue to bless God for him to all eternity? Do not then be grieved, if your minister lay his axe to the root of your sins, if he "cry aloud, and spare not." It is his duty to do so; and if he forbear to warn you, "your blood will be required at his hands." He must "not use flattering words;" but must "commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God." It is in that way only that he can "deliver his own soul," or hope to save the people committed to his charge.

2. The need of mortifying our besetting sins.

Every man has some sins to which he is more particularly addicted, or, at least, to which he is more exposed. His age, his situation, his employment in life, have some peculiar snares, against which he ought to guard. Every one therefore should inquire, what are the dangers to which he is more especially exposed. Persons advanced in life should examine themselves respecting querulousness: men of business should maintain a jealousy respecting worldliness and the frauds of trade: young people should watch over the vanity of their minds, and the violence of their passions. In short, the inquiry of every one should be, what have I to guard against? What have I to do? What are the chief obstacles to my advancement in religious knowledge, and to my attainment of everlasting happiness? Happy indeed would it be, if we were thus intent, every one on his own particular case! and happy would it be, if, having found out our besetting sins, we could say with the Psalmist, "I have kept myself from my iniquity!" Doubtless there is much beyond this: this is only the threshold of the sanctuary: but it is a threshold which we must pass over, before we can get within the veil. It is not our concern at present to expatiate upon the Divine life, as it is experienced by the advanced Christian: we are now only preaching, like John, the baptism of repentance; reserving to other occasions the fuller delineation of the Gospel salvation. But we shall have attained no trifling object, if the drunkard, the swearer, the whoremonger, or any other person, be led to see, that, until he has put away his besetting sins, he can no more go to Heaven, than Satan himself be brought there from the depths of Hell.

3. The moral tendency of the Gospel.

The things insisted on by John, are mere preliminaries: instead of being the whole Gospel, they are only an introduction to the Gospel. The Gospel itself is not satisfied with a renunciation of evil habits; it requires also the cultivation of good ones: not to put away selfishness, dishonesty, and discontent, but to live altogether above this world, and to be ready even to "lay down our lives for the brethren." It does not call us to believe in Christ, in order that we may afterwards indulge in sin; but that our hearts may be purified by faith, and that we may be transformed into the very image of our God.

See then who are the true Antinomians: not they who urge you to come to Christ for life and salvation, but they who tell you that to be honest and just, and sober and charitable, is all that is required of you. With such persons it is common to quote those words of Balaam, "Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." But they quite forget the walking humbly with God; and then confine the doing justice and loving mercy to a few outward acts. Give the full scope to these words, and they do contain the whole of our duty: but we must omit no part of them: nor must we reduce any part to the puny standard of Pharisaic morality. Look at Christ and his Apostles, and there we see the morality which we are to aspire after. Those who are inquiring after Christ, do well to ask, What shall I do? but those who profess to have believed in Christ, must rather ask, "What do I more than others?

 

MCCCCLXXXIII

The Imprisonment of John

Luke 3:19, 20. Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.

THE inspired volume, when considered only as containing a history of other ages and other nations, is read rather for the purpose of informing the mind, than of benefitting the heart; and hence it produces comparatively little effect even on those who are most conversant with its contents. But the true light in which it should be regarded is, as a history of man, to whatever age or nation he may belong. It is a mirror, that reflects the human heart in all its dispositions, and in all its actings: and, when viewed in this light, it acquires a ten-fold greater importance, because it exhibits us to ourselves, and makes us the actors in all that is done.

In reading an account of John the Baptist, and of his imprisonment by Herod, we feel but little interest, except as we condemn the licentiousness of Herod, and commiserate the fate of his faithful monitor. But if we would divest ourselves of the idea that it passed many centuries ago, and consider the transaction as having recently occurred in our own neighborhood, we should almost of necessity be led to contemplate it in a more general view, and to notice in it the power and malignity of sin. It is in that view that I propose to call your attention to it at this time.

Let us take occasion then to remark from it,

I. The power of sin.

Wonderful indeed is its power to blind, to enslave, to harden all in whom it dwells.

1. It blinds.

Herod could not but know, that it was wrong for him to take his brother Philip's wife. Yet doubtless he contrived by some vain excuses to justify it to himself. And thus it is that every sinner deludes himself. In some cases, he denies the criminality of his actions altogether, "calling evil good, and good evil, and putting darkness for light, and light for darkness." Where they cannot altogether hide from themselves the evil of their ways, they find some excuse, either from their constitutional propensities, or the habits of all around them, or some peculiarity in their situation at the time. "They feed on ashes; and yet to such a degree has a deceived heart turned them aside, that they cannot deliver their souls, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?" Whatever be the particular lust of which they are enamored—it is "Satan that has blinded their eyes;" they walk in the vanity of their mind, "having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts," and "they know not where they go, because that darkness has blinded their eyes."

2. It enslaves.

Though Herod was willing to "do many things," and forbear many things respecting which he was admonished by John, he could in no wise be prevailed on to part with his incestuous consort. And thus it is with sinners of every description: there are some sins to which they have but little inclination, and which therefore they may be induced to renounce: but their besetting sin they cannot find it in their hearts to mortify, so addicted are they to the commission of it, and, as it were, "tied and bound with it as with a chain," which they cannot break—While they see, and cannot but acknowledge the sinfulness of their habits, they have a "law in their members warring against the law in their minds, and bringing them into captivity to the law of sin which is in their members;" or rather, they are "taken in the snare of the devil, and led captive by him at his will."

3. It hardens.

One would have supposed that when Herod, "knowing that John was a holy and just man, feared" him, he would never have been induced to persecute him for his fidelity. Yet of his own mind he had imprisoned John, and would have put him to death, had he not been restrained by his fear of the people; and, when solicited by his daughter to give her John's head in a charger, he sent an executioner to behead him, and presented it to her according to her desire. This he did for Holy Spirit oath's sake. But how could any oath bind him to the commission of murder? He would have found ample means of inducing her to alter her request, if sin had not "seared his conscience," and "made his heart as adamant." But sin is of its own nature progressive: and to such a degree do men become "hardened through the deceitfulness of sin," that evils, which once they could not have contemplated as possible ever to be committed by them, are committed easily and without remorse. Hazael, when warned of the enormities which he would one day commit, exclaimed, "Is your servant a dog that he should do such things?" Yet he afterwards executed these things to the full extent of the predictions concerning him. And if the future conduct of many, who are now but just beginning their career of sin, were opened to their view, they would not believe that they should ever attain to such impiety. But, what is said of strife, may be said of every other sin; namely, that "the beginning of it is like the letting out of water," the breach at first is small; but it soon widens, until the inundation becomes irresistibly powerful, and irremediably destructive.

Such is the power of sin; of which in the history we may yet further see,

II. The malignity.

It tends to inflict misery,

1. On all who indulge it.

Look at Herod in the midst of all his indulgences: was he happy? Which of the two, I would ask, was the happier; Herod, in the midst of his excesses, or John, when bound with chains in prison for righteousness' sake? No one, I think, can entertain a doubt. The truth is, that sin and misery are indissolubly connected even in this life; according as the Apostle, speaking of the ungodly, has said, "Destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known." Take the adulterer, for instance: You may suppose him as happy as his heart can wish. But what is Job's account of him? "The eye of the adulterer waits for the twilight, saying, No eye shall see me; and he disguises his face. In the dark they dig through houses which they had marked for themselves in the-day time. They know not the light: for the morning is to them even as the shadow of death: if one know them, they are in the terrors of the shadow of death." And of the wicked generally, Eliphaz says, "The wicked man travails with pain all his days: a dreadful sound is in his ears: he believes not that he shall return out of darkness, and he is waited for of the sword." Yes, an evil conscience will so haunt a man, that he shall be afraid to go out into the dark, or almost even to look under his bed: so truly is it said, "The way of transgressors is hard." There are indeed those who will profess to feel no apprehensions: but we are assured by the heart-searching God, that their boastings are vain: for "the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt: there is no peace, says my God, to the wicked."

2. On the world at large.

See what misery the gratification of Herod's lusts produced; on Philip, whose wife he took; on Herodias, whose mind and conscience he so defiled; on John, whom for his fidelity he murdered; and on all the Church of God, whom he thus deprived of a faithful counselor and instructor. But he cared not what evils he inflicted, if only he might have his own licentious passions gratified. And who can tell what miseries the seducer inflicts upon his hapless victim; and the adulterer, on the object of his unlawful desires?—The same may be spoken of the ambitious man, who wades through seas of blood to the attainment of fame and power—May I not mention the scoffer too, who hates and derides all serious piety, and cares not how many souls he ruins, provided he may but indulge his enmity against God and his Christ?—But what is it that has turned the whole world into one vast theater of contention and sorrow? It is sin, which has established its empire on the ruins of peace and love. Nor is there to be found a nation, or family, or individual, whose happiness has not suffered from this malignant evil.

From this subject we may yet further learn,

1. The danger of indulging sin.

Who shall say where one sinful thought shall carry us? Little did Herod imagine to what the first desire which he formed after Philip's wife would lead him. And little did David anticipate the results of the first glance which he caught of Bathsheba. Say not then, of a sinful thought or desire, that it is little: but learn to flee from it as from the face of a serpent; and let every declension from the path of duty be viewed by you as a step towards Hell itself.

2. The duty of reproving it.

We are not all called to act like John, and to obtrude our remarks on the ears of kings and princes. But a holy fidelity becomes us all in our respective spheres. We must take care indeed that we do not reprove others in a wrong spirit. There are many circumstances wherein silence may be the most effectual reproof. But a holy fortitude becomes us all. We must all be witnesses for God in the place where we live, and shine as lights in a dark world. And if for our fidelity we be called to suffer, as John suffered, we must rejoice that we are so honored of our God, and be willing to lay down our own lives, if only we may save the souls of others.

 

MCCCCLXXXIV

The Descent of the Spirit Upon Christ

Luke 3:21, 22. Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the Heaven was opened; and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from Heaven, which said, You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased.

IN every part of our Lord's history, from his first entrance into the world to his dissolution upon the cross, we observe an astonishing combination of the most opposite events: we see the majesty of Heaven degraded to the lowest depths of humiliation; and the meanest of mankind, who was "a worm, and no man, the very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people," exalted to the highest honors that Heaven itself could confer upon him. Observe the circumstance of his birth: what can we conceive more degrading than for the Savior of the world to be born in a stable, and to be laid in a manger? Yet, to counterbalance this, angels were sent to announce his advent, and a star to point out to the inquiring Magi the place of his nativity. Thus it was also at his baptism. The ordinance of baptism was intended to intimate the need which we have to be washed from our sins: Jesus, therefore, could not submit to baptism without acknowledging, in appearance, that he was a sinner, like unto us: nevertheless, for wise and gracious reasons, he insisted that that rite should be administered to him. But whatever ignominy might attach to him on this account, the offence was completely rolled away by the interposition of his God and Father, who on that occasion bore testimony to him by an audible voice from Heaven, and by a visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon him. These are the two subjects for our present consideration. We notice,

I. The visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon him.

There are many things relative to the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus, which are worthy of observation.

1. The time of it was remarkable.

Jesus had just conformed to God's ordinance of baptism. Though he had no need of baptism, (not having any sin to wash away,) yet, as it was a rite instituted by God for the introducing of men into the Messiah's kingdom, he judged it expedient to comply with it himself, that he might "fulfill all righteousness" in his own person, and be in all things a pattern to his followers. This was well pleasing to God, who cannot but be interested in the observance of his own ordinances. And the conferring of so distinguished an honor upon Jesus on that occasion clearly shows, that "God will honor those who honor him;" and that in a reverential attendance on the instituted means of grace, we may expect blessings which we shall in vain hope for in the neglect of them.

He was, moreover, actually engaged in prayer. On three different occasions did the Father bear testimony to Jesus by an audible voice from Heaven; and every time was either in, or immediately after, prayer. What an evidence does this afford us of the importance and efficacy of prayer! And who that lives near to God in the exercise of that duty, has not found that promise realized, "You shall call, and the Lord shall answer; you shall cry, and he shall say, Here I am?" Audible voices, indeed, we are not to expect; but we are sure that "God has never said to any, Seek you my face in vain."

There was something peculiar also in the manner of it.

It was of great importance that the attestation thus publicly given to the character of Jesus should be such as could admit of no doubt. Accordingly "the heavens were opened," just as they afterwards were at the time of Stephen's death, so that the very throne of God, as it were, became visible to mortal eyes; and the Holy Spirit descended visibly, in a bodily appearance, and abode upon him. Whether the Holy Spirit assumed the shape of a dove, or only appeared in a luminous body with a hovering motion, like that of a dove, we do not take upon us to determine: but the appearance was such as could leave no doubt in the minds of the spectators that there was a special communication to Jesus from Heaven, even such a communication as had never before been given to mortal man.

But the ends of the Spirit's descent are most worthy of our attention.

We are sure that it was designed to confirm the Baptist's mind. The providence of God had so ordered events, that John and Jesus, though related to each other, had lived thirty years in the world without forming any acquaintance with each other. Had they been intimate with each other, it might have been thought that an agreement had been formed between them to deceive the world: but John had no knowledge of the person of Jesus, until he was inspired to point him out as "the Lamb of God, that was to take away the sin of the world," and this very sign was promised to John, as the means whereby his mind should be satisfied that the testimony which be had borne was true: and John himself declares, that his own conviction of Christ's Messiahship was grounded on this very thing.

But there was another end, even the inauguration of the Messiah himself to his high office. The Jewish kings and priests, and in some instances the prophets also, were anointed with oil at the time of their consecration to their work: and therefore it behooved Jesus, in whom all these offices were to be combined, to be set apart for them by a nobler unction. Accordingly he was "anointed with the oil of joy and gladness above his fellows." It had been expressly foretold that he should be so anointed, and that "the Holy Spirit should rest upon him; and he himself mentioned, in his very first sermon, that these prophecies were then accomplished; and that he was then executing the very office for which he had been commissioned and qualified by that peculiar unction.

Besides this visible attestation to his character, we are called to notice also,

II. The audible testimony of the Father to him.

In many different ways did the Father bear witness to his Son: every miracle that was wrought by Jesus was a seal whereby the Father attested the truth of his divine mission. But on this occasion he addressed his Son by an audible voice; and therein bore witness to,

1. His person as the promised Messiah.

The Messiah had been long foretold under the character of "the Son of Man;" and that term was understood by the Jews as equivalent to the Son of God. That Jesus did indeed sustain this character, and that he was the very person of whom all the prophets spoke, was a point to be proved; and God determined that it should be proved by every species of evidence that could be adduced. Hence, besides the foregoing proof which was offered to the eyes of men, another was added which appealed to their ears. And in the very words which are used, there seems a reference to the prophecies which were accomplished in him. "You are that my beloved Son," that Son, whose advent has been so long foretold, and so long expected. In this view the expression of the text precisely corresponds with that which had been long before used by the Prophet Isaiah: "Behold my servant whom I uphold, my elect in whom my soul delights: I have put my Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles." Whatever pretensions, therefore, false Christs may urge, or whatever objections infidel professors of Christianity may raise against Jesus, we have the infallible testimony of God himself that Jesus is the Christ.

2. His acceptableness in that office.

In every view the Father could not but feel delight and delight in him. As voluntarily undertaking the mediatorial work, as richly qualified for the discharge of it, and as persevering in it notwithstanding all the difficulties that he should have to encounter, he must be highly acceptable to the Father. But God foresaw the perfect accomplishment of all his designs through the ministration of his dear Son: he saw, as it were, all his elect delivered from their guilt and misery, and made partakers of everlasting glory and felicity: he saw all his own perfections also honored and exalted in the mystery of redemption: and he cordially approved of it as the most stupendous effort of wisdom and of love. None can henceforth entertain a doubt whether he will accept those who come to him by Christ, since it was on account of the suitableness and sufficiency of his atonement that the Father was so "well pleased in him."

We may learn from hence,

1. How we should think of God.

We know nothing of God except from revelation. It is presumptuous, therefore, either to form notions about him from our own vague conjectures, or to refuse our assent to the representations which he has given us of himself. That there is a Trinity of the persons in the Godhead is doubtless an incomprehensible mystery: but it is plainly revealed in numberless passages of Scripture. It is indeed from other passages that we know each of the persons in the Trinity to be God: but that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are Three distinct persons, is as clear as any truth can be: and so clearly is it intimated in the very words of our text, that the ancients were accustomed to say, "Go to Jordan, and there learn the doctrine of the Trinity."

2. How we should act towards him.

All that is required of us is, to be like-minded with God. Did God point him out as his beloved Son? let us believe in him as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Did the Father profess himself well pleased in him? let us delight ourselves in him: let it be the joy of our, hearts to contemplate his fullness and sufficiency, and to be receiving out of his fullness grace for grace. Let us, in short, "count all things but dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ," and glory in him as all our salvation, and all our desire.

 

MCCCCLXXXV

Our Lord's First Sermon at Nazareth

Luke 4:21, 22. And he began to say unto them, This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.

THE Sabbath was appointed as a day of rest; yet not altogether for the rest of the body, but that the soul might be the more at leisure to acquaint itself with God. In this view it is a most gracious and merciful appointment; because, the time being fixed, all are disengaged at once, and ready both to serve their God together, and to receive instruction respecting their duty towards him. Our blessed Lord, after he had entered upon his ministry, employed every day in the execution of his work: but he availed himself especially of the opportunity which the Sabbaths afforded him, to instruct the people. At Nazareth, where he had been brought up, "he went into their synagogue, as his custom was;" and being called upon to read the portion of Scripture appointed for the day, he stood up and read a passage from the prophecies of Isaiah; and then sat down to expound it. His exposition or comment is not given us: but the substance of it is set before us, in few, but comprehensive, words.

It is our intention to consider,

I. His comment on the Scripture.

When he told the people, that on that very day the passage which he had read to them was fulfilled in their ears, we must suppose him to have spoken to this effect:

'I am the person whom the Father has sent.

'From my mean appearance you will be ready to think that I can have no pretensions to the office of the Messiah: but it is of me that the prophet speaks in the words which I have now read: I am the person on whom the Spirit has been poured out; "the Lord has anointed me, and sent me" to instruct and save the world.

'And this is the commission which I am come to execute.

' "The poor" are the special objects of my attention; they being particularly "chosen of my Father to be rich in faith, and heirs of my kingdom." Yet, if any be "poor in spirit," and sensible of their low and lost estate, to them am I sent; and to declare to them the glad tidings of salvation, is the delightful work which I have undertaken.

'More particularly, if any be "broken-hearted" with a sense of guilt and misery, I am come "to heal" them by an application of my blood and Spirit to their souls: their guilt will I remove by my all-atoning blood; and their misery, by sending them my Holy Spirit to be their comforter and guide—It is not as a temporal prince or conqueror that I am come: my conquests are altogether of a spiritual nature; but they are irresistible, and shall be complete. Are any persons so blinded by Satan, and enslaved by sin, that they appear like captives, immured in a dungeon, and bereft of sight, and galled with massive chains? I am come to set them free, not only breaking off their fetters, and restoring them to the light, but renewing even their organs of vision, and bringing them into the glorious liberty of the sons of God—And this I shall do, not by war and bloodshed, but by an exhibition of truth to their souls. The word is my sword, and the ministry of it is that chariot in which I will ride on, conquering and to conquer, until every enemy be put under my feet.

'In a word, you all know what is done in the year of jubilee, how debts are cancelled, slaves are liberated, and inheritances are restored: such are the benefits which I impart: I proclaim the arrival of that happy period, at least as far as respects the souls of men. Whatever debt of sin any man may owe, it shall be forgiven him: his bondage, however severe, shall be brought to an end: and his inheritance, however justly forfeited, shall be restored to him, even all the inheritance of Heaven.

'Thus circumstantially has the prophet described my office, which already I have begun to execute: "This very day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears," and all of you who will believe in me, shall enjoy the benefits I am come to bestow.'

Such we may suppose to have been our Savior's comment on the Scripture which he had read. Let us next view,

II. The effect produced by it.

This was far different from what might have been expected: yet it will afford much instruction to us.

1. They listened.

No sooner had he read the passage, than "the eyes of all were attentively fixed on him." The sublimity of the words, and the impressive energy with which they were read, engaged their attention, and made them very desirous of hearing what this celebrated teacher should deduce from them.

Happy would it be, if this eagerness to receive instruction were more visible among us. But, in general, when a minister has read the words which he proposes to explain, many, instead of putting forth all the powers of their minds to understand and apply the subject, compose themselves in the most easy posture, and sink habitually into listlessness and indifference; satisfied with having performed a duty, though they reaped not the smallest benefit—But consider, the word which you hear, though spoken by a sinful man like yourselves, is, as far as it is agreeable to the mind and will of God, to be regarded "not as the word of man, but as the word of God." "We are ambassadors for Christ; we speak to you in Christ's stead; and God himself beseeches you by us," Whenever, therefore, you hear the Scriptures explained, you should, like the Centurion and his friends, receive the word with all humility of mind, and treasure it up in your memory for the regulating of your hearts and lives.

2. They wondered.

Their wonder arose, in part, from their recollection of his parentage and education, which appeared to them ill suited to his high pretensions. But, in part also, it arose from the suavity of his manner, and the exalted nature of his discourse, to which they could not but "bear witness." And well indeed might they wonder that such a messenger should be sent from Heaven, and that such blessings should be imparted unto men.

But alas! the very same truths delivered among us are heard with indifference: yes, though opened in the fullest manner, and exhibited in the clearest light, they are regarded as uninteresting speculations, if not as an idle tale. The work and offices of Christ may be explained, and all the wonders of redeeming love be opened to our view, and yet no admiration be excited; yes, the talents of the speaker may be admired, and the subject itself be overlooked. But would this be the case if men felt their need of this salvation?—No, surely: they would be filled with rapture, and adore their God all the day long.

3. They disobeyed.

Much as they were struck with the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth, they could not overcome their prejudices. They had but lately seen him following the humble occupation of a carpenter, and they could not conceive that such an one could possibly be the Messiah. Hence they did not receive his testimony: hence also, when warned of the danger of rejecting him, and of God's determination to communicate to the Gentiles those blessings which they despised, they burned with rage against him, and sought to destroy him.

Alas! how common a character is this! How many are there who hear, and to a certain degree approve, the Gospel, while yet they are not effectually changed by it! They are still under the dominion of prejudice and passion; and sit in judgment on the Gospel, instead of yielding obedience to it. The sublimity of its doctrines is a stumbling-block to them; and the purity of its precepts an offence. What is gratifying to their feelings they will receive; but whatever tends to the mortifying of their pride or the subduing of their besetting sins, they will not endure.

O that the example before us may put us on our guard! This day is this Scripture fulfilled in our ears, as truly as in the day that Jesus read it in the synagogue. Jesus is still the anointed Savior: still does he retain and execute the commission given him by the Father: still does he "say to the oppressed, Go free," the captive that is bruised with chains, and deprived of sight, and broken-hearted with a sense of his sorrows, may even now be restored to sight, and liberty, and joy. Our adorable Savior is ever ready to give him "the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."

Beloved brethren, "receive not this grace in vain;" neither be contented with a partial approbation of the Gospel: but surrender up yourselves sincerely and unreservedly unto the Lord; ever dreading, lest your misimprovement of the light afforded you should provoke him to remove your candlestick, and to transfer your advantages to others.

 

MCCCCLXXXVI

Physician, Heal Yourself

Luke 4:23. And he said unto them, You will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal yourself.

WE are told that "Solomon spoke three thousand proverbs." To condense the results of general observation in some brief sentence, was a mode of communication which wise and learned men of old greatly affected: and to search out what was so communicated, was a study in which the young were deeply employed. By proverbs every species of instruction was imparted. By them, also, were reproof and encouragement conveyed with peculiar force and emphasis. Nor was there any one so wise, but he might be addressed in this manner without offence. Even our blessed Lord, after having represented himself as the great Healer of the world, conceived that his hearers would apply to him this proverb, "Physician, heal yourself." This, doubtless, was a common proverb at that time, as it is also among us at the present day: and it shall be my endeavor to show,

I. What is its import.

It may be understood,

1. As a sarcastic reflection.

This is the precise view in which it was understood by our blessed Lord. He had wrought many miracles at Capernaum: and now at Nazareth, where he had lived from his earliest years, the people hoped to see similar exertions of his almighty power: and, because he did not see fit to gratify their unreasonable expectations, they doubted the truth of the reports which they had heard concerning him. Hence "our Lord said to them, You will surely say unto me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself.' Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in your own country." But they had no right to dictate to him thus. The report of what he had done in Capernaum was authenticated beyond all reasonable doubt; and the people of Nazareth ought to have believed in him. But, being offended at him on account of his low parentage and connections, they could not endure to regard him as their promised Messiah: and it was to punish this unbelief, that our Lord withheld from them any further evidence at that time. This is the account given both by Matthew and St Luke: and this shows the precise meaning of the proverb, as applied to him by his countrymen at that time. Its meaning was, 'You profess yourself the Messiah; and, if you do not give us all the proofs of it which you have given to others, we will not receive you. We shall take it for granted that you are incompetent to the task; and that you decline all efforts for our conviction, because you are not able to impose on us, who know you, in the way that you have imposed on others, to whom you were not so well known.' Thus was the proverb used by them as a sarcastic reflection; intimating, that he could not do in his own country what he pretended to have done at a distance from it.

2. As a beneficial admonition.

Certainly, a person seeking to reform others should, so to speak, begin at home; and, if he do not, he will provoke others to retaliate with this advice, "Physician, heal yourself." It is in this sense that the proverb is more generally used among ourselves. And in this sense it exactly accords with the instruction given by our Lord, in his Sermon on the Mount: "Why behold you the mote that is in your brother's eye, and perceive not the beam that is in your own eye? Either, how can you say to your brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in your eye, when you yourself behold not the beam that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of your own eye; and then you shall see clearly to pull out the mote that is in your brother's eye." In this view it is a beneficial admonition, for which all must be prepared who would do good to others: and to cut off all just occasion for it must be the one labor of their lives.

When we see our blessed Lord supposing it applied to himself, it will be desirable to ascertain,

II. To whom it may with propriety be addressed.

You will bear in mind, that our Lord was supposed to possess and exercise such powers as fully attested his divine mission. These powers the people of Nazareth, therefore, called upon him to display among them: and on his compliance with these terms, they suspended their acceptance of him as their promised Messiah. Had he never given sufficient proof of his divine mission, they would have been justified in demanding more convincing evidence of it. But what he had done at Capernaum was abundantly sufficient to show that God was with him of a truth; and therefore their demand was unreasonable, and the refusal of it was a just punishment for their incredulity. But we may well apply the proverb,

1. To the proud moralist, who pours contempt upon the Gospel.

Many, like the Pharisees of old, adhere to the law of works, and regard the Gospel as foolishness. Their principles, they judge, are quite sufficient for the effecting of everything that is necessary for their salvation. Then, I say, 'Prove it to us. You profess that you have satisfied others: but, before we can acquiesce in your high pretensions, we call upon you to satisfy us. 'Physician, whoever you are, heal yourself," and let us see in you a proof of the efficacy of those principles of which you boast. That they will suffice to "cleanse the outside of the cup and platter," we readily admit: but that they will operate effectually to the cleansing of the inside, we greatly doubt. We will admit the truth of all that was alleged by your great prototype in the Temple: "I thank you, O God, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican: I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess." But, in our view of religion, humility, and faith, and love, are very primary and essential parts: and we beg leave to ask, What evidence you give us of these? we see not of these any proof whatever: and, until we see them visibly wrought into the frame and constitution of your soul, we must call in question all your high pretensions; and must consider your rejection of the Gospel as a proof of your own pride, and ignorance, and unbelief'.

2. To the censorious professor, who dishonors the Gospel.

Almost all classes of Christians are ready to censure and condemn those who differ from them: and, even in their own society, there are but too many who cast on each other unkind and censorious reflections: and, in fact, those who are the most faulty themselves are the foremost in finding fault with others. This disposition greatly prevailed among the Pharisaic Jews; who, boasting of their high privileges, were forward to condemn others, while they themselves were guilty of the very same or worse enormities than those which they censured in others. Hence Paul, in the true spirit of this proverb, reproved them; saying, "You who teach another, teach you not yourself? you that preach, a man should not steal, do you steal? you that say, a man should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? you that abhor idols, do you commit sacrilege?" Now, in this, must I reply to multitudes of professing Christians: do you complain of others as carnal and worldly and covetous, and are you yourselves faulty in these respects? Do you complain of pride, anger, and un-charitableness in others, and yet indulge them in yourselves? Do you censure others for bigotry and intolerance, and yet betray the same unhallowed spirit towards those who differ from you? In a word, look at home; and let your severity be directed rather against your own defects, than the defects of others; and, instead of prescribing remedies so profusely to others, apply them first for the healing of the disorders of of your own souls.

3. To true believers, who desire to adorn and recommend the Gospel.

Be sure that those to whom you recommend the Gospel will first mark its operation upon your minds: and, if they see that it has done little or nothing for you, they will not be disposed to expect any great benefits from it to themselves. On the contrary, if they see that it has wrought a valuable change on you, they will be ready to receive it, in order that they themselves may be made partakers of the same benefits. Hence, your first care must be to experience all its sanctifying and saving operations in your own souls; that, when you commend it to others, you may be able to say, "What my eyes have seen, my ears have heard, and my hands have handled, of the word of life, that same declare I unto you." Paul could appeal to his hearers, "how holily, justly, and unblamably he had behaved himself among them," and could boldly say, "Whatever you have heard and seen in me, do, and the God of peace shall be with you." This rendered his word incomparably more powerful than it would have been under other circumstances; and no doubt, if you also can make a similar appeal, whether you be ministers or private Christians, it will give ten-fold effect to your instructions. To all, then, I would say, labor first to improve the Gospel for the sanctification and comfort of your own souls; and then will those who behold the brightness of your light, acknowledge that God is with you of a truth; and that the Gospel, which has wrought such things for you, is worthy of universal acceptance.

 

MCCCCLXXXVII

Christ Escapes from His Blood-Thirsty Persecutors

Luke 4:28–30. And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way.

NOTHING is more uncertain or transient than popular applause. However just may be the grounds of any praise that is bestowed, the smallest circumstance is sufficient to obliterate all remembrance of a person's merit, and to render him an object of general indignation. At the close of his life our Lord experienced this in a most astonishing degree: for the very people, who but three days before had followed him with acclamations and hosannas, were instigated by their rulers to cry out with equal fervor, "Crucify him, crucify him." Scarcely inferior to this was the instance that occurred to him the very first time he preached at Nazareth. When his sermon was but half finished, his auditors were filled with admiration at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth: but before the close of it, they rose up in murderous rage in order to destroy him.

We shall consider,

I. The occasion of their wrath.

Our blessed Lord had preached to them in a kind but faithful manner.

He had opened to them a passage from the prophet Isaiah, and informed them, that it was accomplished in him. This on the whole afforded general satisfaction: but yet he saw that there were some objections lurking in their minds, relative to his parentage and education; and that they were displeased because he had not given a preference to his own townsmen, and wrought his miracles there rather than at other places. These objections he anticipated, and proceeded to return an answer to them. He observed, first, that prophets in general were not received in the place where they had been educated, because the people who had known them as equals or inferiors, did not like to submit to them in their prophetic character. Secondly, he showed them, from different instances in the Scriptures, that God had always dispensed his favors in a sovereign manner, and had sometimes imparted them to the despised Gentiles in preference to his own peculiar people.

This was the immediate purpose of what he spoke; but doubtless there was much more insinuated, than what was plainly expressed. His answer was intended to bring conviction upon their minds, and to show them, that they were indulging prejudices against him in spite of all they had heard respecting him; and that, if they yielded to their unbelief, they would constrain him to withhold his blessings from them, and even to send them to the Gentile world in preference to them.

This was the true ground of all their rage.

They saw the drift of his discourse: but they hated the light; and therefore sought immediately to extinguish it. They were not disposed to contend with him in a way of argument; for they saw that the truth was against them. They resorted therefore to clamor and persecution, the usual substitutes for truth and reason. But to reject him merely, was not sufficient; nor could they be contented even with expelling him from the city: no; nothing but his blood would satisfy them; and therefore, forgetting the sanctity both of the synagogue and of the Sabbath, they rose up with one consent, and thrust him out of the city to an eminence, that they might despatch him in a moment. Probably in executing thus, what they would have called, the judgment of zeal, they thought they were doing an acceptable service to their God; so blinded were they by their own passions, and "captivated by the devil at his will."

The inspired historian has declared to us,

II. The manner in which our Lord escaped its effects.

Our blessed Lord on different occasions withdrew himself from those who loved, and from those who hated him. His escape from them at this time may be considered,

1. As it respected them"

His withdrawment from them was miraculous, as much as if he had beaten them all down with his word, or smitten them with blindness, or struck them dead upon the spot. The precise mode of his withdrawment is not specified; but it seems that he rendered himself invisible, and thus escaped from their hands.

It was also merciful, both as it tended to convince them of his miraculous power, and especially as it prevented them from executing their murderous purposes. What a mercy did David esteem it, when by the interposition of Abigail he was kept from destroying Nabal! Much more, if they ever received grace to repent of their wickedness, was it a mercy to those infatuated zealots, that they had not been suffered to imbrue their hands in the blood of God's only Son.

But it was also judicial: for, by means of his departure, the people of Nazareth were deprived of many temporal benefits, which, if they had received him more worthily, he would have imparted to them: they were deprived also of his spiritual instructions, which, if duly improved, would have converted and saved their souls.

2. As it respects us.

In this escape of his we see, what care he will take of us, and what care we ought to take of ourselves.

Every faithful servant of God must expect persecution. But he is immortal until his work is done. God will screen him from his enemies, how numerous, potent, or inveterate soever they may be. Look at Paul when a conspiracy was formed against his life; and at Peter when chained in an inner prison in order to be brought forth the next day for execution: how seasonably, and in what an unlooked-for manner, did God interpose for their deliverance! Thus will he exert his almighty power on behalf of all who serve him faithfully, unless indeed the hour is come for them to receive their full reward. We never need to fear the face of man: for God has "put a hook in the nose, and a bridle in the jaws," of every man; "nor can any have even the smallest power against us, except it be given him from above."

But notwithstanding our assurance of Divine protection, we ought to take all prudent precautions to avoid the fury of our enemies, and to avail ourselves of those methods of escape which God in his providence has opened to us. "If they persecute us in one city, we should flee to another," and like Paul, when "let down by the wall in a basket," elude the resentment which we cannot pacify. We must not indeed deny Christ, or decline any duty, even though death should be the inevitable and immediate consequence of our fidelity: but we must never court death, if we have an opportunity of saving our lives by privacy or flight.

Inferences.

1. What need have all Christ's followers to count the cost before they take up a profession of religion!

Ministers indeed, for the most part, are called to stand foremost in the post of danger, and to bear the brunt of the battle: but every soldier of Christ is called to "endure hardness," and to "fight a good fight." If by our life and conversation we condemn the world, though the reproof be tacit, and rather intimated than expressed, the world will be filled with wrath against us; and, if suffered by God, will persecute us unto death. Let us then know what we are to expect, and stand at all times prepared for the worst.

2. What a ground of thankfulness should we esteem it, if we are in any measure divested of carnal prejudice!

All of us, if not restrained by God, should, like the Nazarenes, be ready to vent our indignation even against Christ himself, if he uttered any truths offensive to our ears. What a mercy then is it if we can hear our sins condemned, and have our indignation turned against them, rather than against our faithful monitor! Let us cultivate this disposition, whether it respects the public preaching of the word, or private admonition. Against our sins we cannot manifest too much displeasure. Happy would it be for us, if by one act of zeal we could despatch them utterly. Let us at least set ourselves against them without delay, and prosecute them from henceforth without intermission, and without mercy.

 

MCCCCLXXXVIII

An Unclean Spirit Cast Out

Luke 4:33, 34. And in the synagogue there was a man which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with you, you Jesus of Nazareth?

IF any doubt the existence and agency of devils, the history before us is well calculated to satisfy them upon that head. It is evident that though Satan spoke by the mouth of the man whom he possessed, he spoke in his own person, and in the name of those other spirits that were leagued with him. To represent this man as disordered with an epilepsy or falling sickness is to confound things which the evangelist was most careful to distinguish. Besides, we cannot conceive that a physician (for such was Luke) should mention it as a remarkable circumstance that a disorder "did not hurt" a man by leaving him; whereas, if we suppose this to have been a demoniacal possession, the observation is just and proper; for we may be sure that when Satan threw down his poor vassal, he would have hurt, yes, killed him too, if Jesus, by an invisible but almighty agency, had not interposed to prevent it. There being many accounts of evil spirits cast out by our Lord, we shall not advert to every circumstance of this miracle, but endeavor to improve that particular incident mentioned in the text; namely, the request of Satan that Jesus would let him alone. In order to this we shall,

I. State the grounds of Satan's request.

In acknowledging Jesus to be "the Holy One of God," Satan might be actuated by a desire to bring the character of Jesus into suspicion, as though they were in confederacy with each other; or perhaps he wished to impress the people with an idea that none but madmen and demoniacs would make such an acknowledgment: but in requesting Jesus to let him alone he was instigated rather by his own fears.

1. He knew Jesus.

Jesus was like any other poor man; his own Disciples, except on some extraordinary occasions, did not appear acquainted with his real character. But Satan knew him, notwithstanding the lowly habit in which he sojourned among men. He knew Jesus to be the Son of God, who had left the bosom of his Father, that he might take our nature, and dwell among us. He was well aware that this Holy One must of necessity feel an irreconcilable aversion to such an "unclean spirit," such a wicked fiend as he was; while at the same time there was no hope of prevailing against him either by fraud or violence. Hence he wished to be left to himself, and to be freed as much as possible from his interposition.

2. He dreaded Jesus.

It is not impossible but that Satan's expulsion from Heaven might have arisen from his refusal to do homage to the Son of God. However this be, he well knew that Jesus was "the promised seed," who should ultimately "bruise his head." He had already been foiled in a conflict with this despised Nazarene, and had learned by experience the impossibility of resisting his command. Nor could he be ignorant that Jesus was to be his judge in the last day, when the full measure of his sins should be meted out to him, and his present miseries be greatly augmented. Hence, while he "believed, he trembled." Hence those requests which he offered on other occasions, "Torment me not;" "send me not into the deep," that is, the depths of Hell. Hence also that question, in the passage before us, "Are you come to destroy us?" No wonder that, under such circumstances, he should be filled with terror, and ask, as the consummation of his highest wishes, to have a respite granted him.

That such desires were not peculiar to Satan will appear, while we,

II. Inquire whether similar requests be not offered by many among us.

It is certain that many hate the declarations of Christ in his Gospel.

Men will endure to hear those sins, from which they themselves are free, exposed and condemned; but when the light is brought to discover their besetting sins, they hate it, and wish to have it removed from them. This is found to be the case even in the public ministration of the word. But it obtains in a still higher degree in private and personal admonition. Let a servant of Christ come in his master's name to a man that is proud or covetous, lewd or dissipated, or under the dominion of any particular lust, and let him set before that man the enormity of his besetting sin, and the judgments denounced against it; will he find a welcome? will not the sinner wish to change the conversation? will he not say in his heart, perhaps too with his lips, 'Let me alone; what have you to do with me?' Will not he regard such a monitor as an enemy to his peace, and be ready to ask, "Are you come to destroy" all my hope and comfort? Yes; nor is this aversion to the light peculiar to the sensual and profane: it is rather found to be more inveterate among those, whose regularity in outward things has afforded them a ground for self-admiration and self-delight.

Such persons accord with Satan both in sentiment and inclination.

To hate the authority of Christ in his word is exactly the same as to hate his personal authority when he was upon earth: and to wish to have the light of his truth withheld from us, is the same as to desire the restraint of his personal interposition. Nor is this a mere fallible deduction of man's reason; it is the express declaration of God. They, who would not hear the law of the Lord, are represented by the prophet as saying to him, "Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us." Job speaks yet more plainly to the same effect: he represents those who spent their days in wealth and pleasure, as saying to the Almighty, Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of your ways: what is the Almighty that we should serve him? and what profit should we have if we pray unto him? It is evident, that not only the sentiments of these sinners, but also their very expressions, are almost the same with those of Satan in the text.

To evince the folly of harboring such dispositions, we shall,

III. Show the inefficacy of such requests, by whoever they may be offered.

It was in vain that Satan pleaded for a temporary liberty to indulge his malice.

Jesus would not even receive his acknowledgments, but peremptorily enjoined him silence. Nor would he suffer Satan to retain possession of his wretched slave: he would not even permit this cruel enemy to "hurt" him; so little were the wishes of Satan consulted by our Lord and Savior.

In vain also will be all our wishes to retain with impunity our beloved lusts.

God may indeed forbear to counteract us for a season, and say, "Let him alone." When he sees that we "will none of him," he may justly give us up to our own hearts' lusts. But this would be the heaviest curse that he could inflict upon us. It would be even worse than immediate death, and immediate damnation; because it would afford us further opportunities of "treasuring up wrath" without any hope of obtaining deliverance from it: besides, it would be only for a little time, and then "wrath would come upon us to the uttermost." When we stand before the judgment-seat we shall in vain say, 'Let us alone; What have we to do with you, you Jesus of Nazareth?' Our doom will then be fixed, and our sentence executed with irresistible power and inexorable firmness. When once we are "fallen into the hands of the living God," all hope of impunity or compassion will have ceased forever.

This subject affords us occasion to suggest a word or two of advice.

1. Rest not in a speculative knowledge of Christ.

We observe that Satan was well acquainted with the person and offices of Christ: but, notwithstanding all he knew, he was a devil still. To what purpose then will be all our knowledge, if we be not sanctified by it? It will only aggravate our guilt, and consequently enhance our condemnation also. We never know Jesus aright until we love his presence, and delight in an unreserved compliance with his will.

2. Endeavor to improve his presence for the good of your souls.

He comes to us in the preaching of his Gospel: he has promised to be with us whenever we are assembled in his name. Shall we then either by our aversion or indifference say to him, 'Let us alone?' Let us rather say, 'Lord, expel this evil spirit from my heart; take me under your care; and "fulfill in me all your good pleasure." ' Thus shall the "prince of this world be cast out," and we, his poor vassals, be "brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God."

 

MCCCCLXXXIX

Peter's wife's mother Cured

Luke 4:38, 39. And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simons house. And Simons wife's mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her. And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose, and ministered unto them.

HOWEVER much we may be beloved of God, we are not to expect an exemption from those troubles which are the common lot of humanity. Peter was one of the peculiar favorites of our Lord, and privileged to have more intimate access to him than almost any of the Apostles. Yet we find severe affliction in his family. This affliction however tended in the issue (as all the trials of God's children will) to the glory of God and to his own personal benefit. This observation naturally arises from the account which we have just read respecting the miraculous recovery of his wife's mother through the interposition of our Lord. In discoursing upon it we may notice,

I. The service which Jesus rendered her-

She was seized with a very dangerous disorder-

Peter, an utter stranger to the doctrine since established in the church of Rome respecting the celibacy of the clergy, was a married man, and an eminent pattern both of filial piety and conjugal affection. The aged mother of his wife was permitted to spend her declining years with him: but her near connection with this eminent servant of God could not preserve her from the common calamities of life; nor could her son-in-law restore her by a miracle without an express commission from God himself. The circumstance of her being detained from the ordinances of God must doubtless have been a great additional trial to her mind, especially at a season, when he, who "spoke as never man spoke," had come thither to instruct the people. Peter however saw no necessity for staying from the synagogue when his mother was properly attended at home. He the rather went; and availed himself of his access to Jesus to intercede for his afflicted relative.

At the request of Peter and his friends, Jesus restored her to perfect health.

Jesus paid the same attention to the intercessions of friends as he did to men's personal applications. It was the delight of his soul to relieve misery wherever he found it. Nor did he think his work finished, when he had exercised his ministry in the house of God. He would not cease from labor while the continuance of his labors could be of any essential service. He could indeed have healed her by a word without going to her in person; but he delighted to visit the chambers of affliction. And behold! with what condescension he acted towards her; "he took her by the hand and lifted her up;" he, the Maker and Governor of the universe, administered unto her as if he had been her menial servant! Yet with what authority did he "rebuke" and dispel "the fever!" Who could act thus but God? Instantly did the disease vanish, and instantly did her former strength return; and universal joy succeeded to the tears of sympathy and compassion.

In what manner she endeavored to requite this favor we shall see by considering,

II. The service she rendered him.

We are not to estimate services by the intrinsic worth of them, so much as by the affection manifested in them. In this view her services were as acceptable as any that could be rendered; "she arose and ministered unto them." By this conduct she unwittingly discovered,

1. The reality of the miracle.

Had she merely joined her family, the departure of her fever might have been imputed to a fortunate coincidence of circumstances. Nor would they, who ascribed the expulsion of devils to the agency of Beelzebub, have been ashamed to adopt such a sentiment: but, if this had been the case, her body must have still continued in a state of debility; whereas she was able to exert herself as much as before her sickness. This then was an unquestionable proof of the reality of the miracle; and she became a witness for Jesus while she intended nothing more than to testify her love towards him.

2. The goodness of her own heart.

The hearts of all are, strictly speaking, most "desperately wicked." But our Lord tells us that "a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things." In this sense she discovered much goodness of heart. So far from being puffed up with the favor conferred upon her, she was glad to execute the meanest offices. Her heart glowed with a desire to honor her benefactor: nor was she unmindful of the obligations she owed to those who had assisted her, or interceded for her. She ministered not to him only, but to "them" also. She rejoiced in an opportunity to testify her gratitude to all. How different was this from the conduct of the nine lepers! Who does not reprobate them as the basest of mankind? Whereas she did not delay one moment to testify her sense of the mercy given unto her. The one thought of her heart was, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all the benefits he has done unto me?" O that all were like-minded with her in performing a duty which is so "lovely and of such good report!"

3. The duty of all who have received mercies from God.

God is to be acknowledged as much in the blessing given to our food or medicine, as in the more visible effects of his miraculous interpositions. Have we then been preserved in health, or restored from sickness? Surely we stand indebted to God as much as if a miracle had been wrought in our behalf. And shall we be satisfied with making a few cold acknowledgments, and not render any active services to our benefactor? Or shall we pretend that there is nothing that we can do for him? Let us do what our capacity and situation enable us to do. However mean the service, it shall be accepted of him. But if we be too proud to stoop, or too idle to exert ourselves, we violate the plainest law of our nature, and render ourselves unworthy of the Christian name.

The foregoing history may be improved,

1. In a way of reproof.

There is not one of us who does not stand indebted to God for an infinite multitude of mercies. But in what manner have we requited him? Perhaps "in the time of trouble we have visited him, and poured out a prayer when his chastening was upon us." But no sooner has his rod been removed, than, like metal from the furnace, we have returned to our former hardness. We have resembled the hypocritical Jews, and forgotten all the vows which we made in trouble. Ah! what a contrast between us and this pious matron! Let us be ashamed, and humble ourselves before God. Let us remember how awfully Hezekiah was punished for his ingratitude. Let us instantly awake from our lethargy to the discharge of our duty, and "glorify Christ with our bodies and our spirits which are his."

2. In a way of consolation.

Whether we go up to God's house, or be confined on a bed of sickness, we may have access unto Jesus. He is with us at all times and in every place; and we may go to him with our petitions either for ourselves or others. What a rich source of consolation is this! And have we no disorders, bodily or spiritual, which need his aid? If our body be healthy, is not our soul languishing? Or if we ourselves be lively, have we no friend or relative that is in a sickly condition? Let us then apply to this almighty Physician, and we shall find him as condescending and as gracious as ever. He calls himself by this endearing name, "The Lord that heals you." He will "send his word and heal us;" yes, he will strengthen us for the most active and difficult services. Let all of us then surround his throne, and cry with united voices, "Arise for our help, and redeem us for your mercy's sake."

 

MCCCCXC

The Draught of Fishes

Luke 5:8–11. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: and so was also James and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not: from henceforth you shall catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.

OUR blessed Lord from the time that he entered on his ministry, prosecuted it without intermission, preaching in the synagogues, and wherever the people were assembled to hear him. On the occasion before us, that he might not be obstructed by the populace that pressed upon him, he got into a small fishing vessel; and having pushed out a little from the land, addressed them to the greater advantage. The discourse he delivered is not recorded: but the miracle which he wrought immediately after it, is deserving of particular notice, and that in different points of view;

I. As perverted by Peter.

Peter, and his partners James and John, had been engaged in fishing all the preceding night, and had caught nothing: but at our Lord's command they let down their nets, and inclosed such a multitude of fishes, that their nets began to break, and their ships, when filled with them, were almost ready to sink. Peter, overwhelmed with astonishment, saw that this was none other than the hand of God; and prostrating himself before the knees of Jesus, exclaimed, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"

Now this was well meant on the part of Peter.

He had a consciousness that he was "a sinful man;" and feared therefore that some heavy judgment would befall him in the presence of a holy God. Ever since Adam fled from the presence of Jehovah in Paradise, the presence of God has been rather a ground of fear and dread, than of hope and joy to fallen man. Manoah exclaimed to his wife, "We shall surely die, for we have seen God. This kind of apprehension it was which arose in the mind of Peter, and dictated his unwise request. If the circumstance of his being a sinful man was a reason why the Lord Jesus should depart from him, what person is there on the face of the whole earth that can desire his presence?.

But his request should have been the very reverse of what it was.

Was he a sinful man? he needed so much the more to receive instruction from the Savior respecting the way which God had provided for his deliverance. He should rather have said, therefore, 'Lord, I am a sinful man, and all my hope is in you alone; for, "to whom else can I go either for mercy or for grace to help me in the time of need?" You alone can bear with me; you alone can save me. My efforts to catch fish show me how little I can do of myself even in the way of my trade: and how much less can I do in the things that relate to Heaven! O, then, I entreat you, never, never leave me; never, never forsake me; but be with me as my Guide and Comforter, my Righteousness and Strength, even unto the end. Without you I can do nothing; but by strength communicated from you I shall be able to do all things.' Thus, instead of making his sinfulness a reason for entreating the Lord to depart from him, he should rather have urged it as a plea for mercy, saying, with David, "O Lord, for your name's sake, pardon my iniquity; for it is great." This would have honored the Savior, whose mercy is equal to his power; and any other use of the miracle was, in fact, an ignorant and unfitting perversion of it.

The true intent of the miracle will appear, while we view it,

II. As explained by our blessed Lord.

He dissipates the fear of his trembling Disciple, saying to him, "Fear not;" and for his comfort assures him, that the miracle was designed as an emblem,

1. Of the effects which should be produced by the Gospel.

The whole world is like the ocean, where sinners range without control: and the Gospel is as a net, which the servants of the Lord spread in order to gather them for him, not that they may be destroyed, but that they may live under his protection, and be regarded by him as his peculiar possession. The prophets in their endeavors succeeded to a very limited extent: but the time was fast approaching, when the whole world, both of Jews and Gentiles, should be drawn to the Lord by the influence of his grace, and all nations be brought to the obedience of faith." True indeed, both bad and good are gathered by the Gospel now, and are brought to an outward profession of the faith; a separation of the one from the other being left to be made at the last day: but the scope of the miracle before us is rather to show the saving effects of the Gospel, without adverting to any minute particulars respecting those in whom a difference shall be found.

And here let me remind you, that the emblem is now realized among you at this very hour. While I preach to you the glad tidings of salvation through a crucified Redeemer, I am, in fact, spreading the Gospel net, that I may draw you from the midst of a wide and sinful world, and present you to God as a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

2. Of the office to which Peter himself was now definitively called.

Peter and his partners had followed our Lord before, but not so as to remain with him as his stated attendants. But now they were to abandon their worldly calling altogether, and to become exclusively the servants of his household: they were henceforth to be by profession, as it were, "fishers of men." In this office Peter was to be pre-eminently distinguished: nor was either his apprehended sinfulness or his want of education to be any obstacle to his success. Accordingly the promise now given him was very fully accomplished in the first sermon which he preached on the day of Pentecost, when three thousand were converted to the faith of Christ. It was also again fulfilled, when he was made the honored instrument of first opening the kingdom of Heaven to the Gentile world, by the conversion of Cornelius and his company. From that time to the present hour the Gospel net has been cast with different measures of success in all the quarters of the globe: and we are looking for a period, not far distant now, when Pentecostal scenes shall be renewed in every place, and "all flesh shall see the salvation of God."

That the miracle may produce its full effects, let us contemplate it,

III. As to be improved by us.

See what it wrought on Peter and James and John: this is the effect it is to produce on us. We should all of us without exception be led by it,

1. To receive the Lord Jesus as the true Messiah.

To his miracles the Lord Jesus himself appealed as demonstrative seals of his Divine commission. And what could convey clearer evidence of it than the miracle before us? For, while it did not admit of a possibility of collusion, it showed how unbounded was the power of the Lord over the whole creation, and consequently how "competent he was to save to the uttermost all that should come unto God by him." While this proved that he was the true Messiah, it proved to our comfort, that all which he has undertaken for us shall surely be accomplished.

2. To trust in him under all circumstances, however discouraging.

Peter felt discouraged on account of his sinfulness; and he had seen his incompetency to effect anything by any power of his own. Now the same grounds of discouragement often exist in reference to ourselves, whether as objects of the Lord's mercy, or as agents in his service. But behold what the Lord effected both for him and by him in an instant of time: and can he not accomplish either for us, or by us, whatever shall be deemed conducive to his glory? Yes, he can, and will: our iniquities, if only we trust in him, shall be forgiven, and our wants of every kind shall be supplied: and through the communications of his grace we shall be made successful in all our efforts, whether to serve him ourselves, or to bring others to the enjoyment of his salvation.

3. To serve and honor him with our whole hearts.

These fishermen left their all to follow him. And this is what we also must do, in heart at least, and in act also, if fidelity to him require it: nor on any other terms than these will he acknowledge us as his disciples. And is he not worthy of being served thus? Did his Disciples ever find cause for regret that they had forsaken all for him? No, nor shall we. The Apostle Paul counted all things but loss for Christ: and thus must we hold in utter contempt everything that may interfere with our duty to him, or impede us in his service—I call on all of you then to make this improvement of the miracle before us. For those who minister in holy things the duty is indispensable—nor is it less so for those who are ministered unto—To follow him fully is the sure way to enjoy his presence both in this world and in the world to come.

 

MCCCCXCI

The Call of Matthew

Luke 5:27–29. After these things, he went forth, and saw a publican named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. And he left all, rose up, and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his own house.

IF we notice particularly who they are whom God has more especially selected as objects of his grace and mercy, we shall be struck with this plain and obvious truth, that "God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor his ways as our ways." Had it been left to man to dispense the blessings of salvation, he would have imparted them to those whose previous qualifications and endowments seemed to have marked them out for this high distinction. But God has rather sought, by the preference which he has shown, to magnify his own grace and mercy.

The person here chosen to the apostleship was a "publican." Now the publicans were characters universally hated by the Jewish nation, because, as tax-gatherers, they aided the Roman government, by whom they were appointed, and whose interests they served. The persons who executed this office, knowing that, independently of their own character, they were hated and despised by their brethren, were intent only on advancing their own interests, and were guilty of exacting in many cases more than they were authorized to require; and thus by their oppressive conduct they rendered the office, and all who held it, objects of unqualified reprobation. Yet of these persons did God select many, in preference to the Scribes and Pharisees, to participate the benefits of the Redeemer's kingdom; as our blessed Lord himself says, "The publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." The person whom our text mentions as executing that office, is here called "Levi," but in his own account which he gives of himself, he calls himself by the name of Matthew. Of his conversion we are informed in the words before us. He was "sitting at the receipt of custom," in the regular discharge of his duty, and, without any previous intimation or instruction, was called by our blessed Lord to a constant attendance upon him, as one of his Disciples. This event will be found deeply interesting to us all, while we consider,

I. His unexpected call.

In this there was doubtless somewhat peculiar. He was called to an office which was limited to twelve, and which now no longer exists. But still, excepting that peculiarity,

1. The same call is given to every one of us.

To us the Gospel speaks in the same authoritative tone as that in which Jesus addressed this busy publican: and in it the Lord Jesus Christ himself says to every one of us, "Follow me." 'Believe in me as the true Messiah: receive me as sent of God to be the Savior of your soul: give yourself up to me as your Lord and Master: obey my commandments, and tread in my steps. Let no present considerations operate to retard your compliance with my will: come, leave all, and follow me.' In all this there is nothing peculiar: it is the duty of every living man: the command is issued equally to all: "If any man will be my Disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."

2. Wherever it is effectual, it is equally the gift of sovereign grace.

To Matthew, the call came unexpected and unsought: and so it does in reality wherever it takes effect. The precise time of its operation may not, in all cases, be so distinctly seen, nor its power so deeply felt; but in all cases must its efficacy be traced to God, who, of his own good pleasure, dispenses his gifts to whoever he will. There may in some cases be a long season of gradual illumination, even as the early dawn, whose transition from darkness to light is imperceptibly progressive: but still, if we trace it to the first thought and first desire originating in the soul, we must without hesitation ascribe it altogether to God, who "gives both to will and to do of his good pleasure" Of all true converts it must be said, "You have not chosen me; but I have chosen you," "You loved me, because I first loved you," You did not "know me, until after you were known of me;" or "apprehend me, until you had first been apprehended by me." In reference to you all it must in this sense be said, no less than of Matthew himself, "I am found of those who sought me not; I am made manifest to those who asked not after me." Whatever "holy desires we feel, or good counsels we follow, or just works we perform," they all, as our Liturgy informs us, "proceed from God;" who, as our Tenth Article states it, "by his grace in Christ Jesus prevents us, that we may have a good will, and works with us when we have that good will."

That this call of Matthew may have its due effect upon us, let us consider,

II. His exemplary obedience to it.

As in the call itself, so in his obedience to it, there was somewhat peculiar. The office which he had held, he instantly resigned, (committing it no doubt to proper hands,) and became from that moment a stated attendant on our Lord. In this respect it is not necessary that we should follow him, unless the occupation in which we have been engaged be criminal. We are rather to "abide in the calling in which we have been called," yes, "therein to abide with God." But in other respects our obedience must resemble his. It should be,

1. Prompt.

There was in him no "conferring with flesh and blood." Elisha, when Elijah's mantle was cast upon him, felt an irresistible attraction, and obeyed without hesitation or delay. So it should be with us. Does the Lord Jesus by his word and Spirit command us to follow him? We should not wait for a second call: we should so act, that we may be able to say with David, "I made haste and delayed not to keep your commandments"

2. Self-denying.

Lucrative as his situation was, Matthew resigned it without reluctance, determining that nothing should obstruct him in the path of his duty. And should not we also despise all earthly gains or prospects in comparison of Christ? Should we not be ready to shake them from us, as we would "the thick clay from our feet" when we were about to run a race?—Yes truly, we should be ready to "leave all to follow Christ;" and account not even life itself dear to us, if only we may honor him by the sacrifice of it.

3. Grateful.

Immediately Matthew made a great feast for his divine Master, and invited to it a number of his former friends, who were still prosecuting the line which he had just relinquished. In this he sought to honor his Lord in the face of the whole world, and to advance the interests of His kingdom, by bringing others to the knowledge of him. This, under any circumstances, was a just expression of his gratitude for the mercy given unto him. And it shows us how we also should use our influence, when once we have become followers of our blessed Lord. We should not only not be ashamed to confess him openly before men, but should exert ourselves to bring our friends and relatives to an acquaintance with him, that they also may be made monuments of his grace, and become partakers of the blessings which we enjoy. Our very feasts should now be ordered with that view, and be made conducive to that end. Nor should we make any account of either expense or trouble, if we may but testify in the smallest degree our love to Christ, or advance the ends for which he came into the world.

4. Determined.

We never read of his expressing a wish afterwards to return to his former employment, or of his regretting that he had made so great a sacrifice. Nor should we ever "look back, after having once put our hand to the plough." The patriarchs, who had left their country and their kindred at the call of God, "had opportunities enough to return, if they had been so minded;" but they "looked forward to a heavenly country," and to their dying hour pursued their pilgrimage towards it with unabated ardor. And we also must go forward in a sweet and assured hope, that in the place of all that we resign or lose for Christ, we shall have "a better and an enduring substance in Heaven."

Reflect,

1. How strongly does this example reprove the whole Christian world!

We are all called as he was, and have been called ten thousand times, to serve and follow Christ. But on whom among us have the same effects been produced? Who has not had many excuses to offer for declining to accept the invitations of his Lord?—I may even say, who, if his own friend or relative had acted as Matthew did, would not have been ready to cry out against him as a weak deluded enthusiast? But this call must be obeyed, if ever we would be acknowledged by our Lord as his obedient people. I do not say that we must actually renounce all our worldly interests for Christ; but this I say, that we must be ready to renounce them, if they interfere with our duty to him, or if by the surrender of them. we may more advance his glory in the world. On no other terms will he receive us: if we be not willing to "lose father and mother, and houses and lands, yes, and our own lives also for his sake, we cannot be his disciples." O that his power might now go forth among you, as it did in the case before us; and that all your "souls may be subdued to the obedience of faith!"

2. How great is the benefit of obeying the Gospel call!

Matthew in appearance was degraded and impoverished; but he was made an eminent servant of Christ, and a blessed instrument of diffusing the knowledge of him through the whole world. (Of all the Evangelists, not one marks so fully the Messiahship of Jesus, and the accomplishment of prophecy in him, as he.) And what is his condition now? Has he not far better treasures than ever he possessed on earth? Know you then, that you also may appear to suffer loss by devoting yourselves to Christ; but if you have the honor of being his servants, his friends, his heirs; if he acknowledge you as members of his own body, yes, as his spouse, who shall participate all his glory, and have the everlasting fruition of his love; you have made a good exchange. Rejoice then in your high privileges; and be thankful to Him, by whose almighty power alone you have been made willing to accept them; and let your whole lives be henceforth consecrated, as Matthew's was, to his service: so shall you in your place be his witnesses to all around you; and before long be joined to that blessed society, where every loss shall be compensated with a proportionable weight of glory.

 

MCCCCXCII

The New Wine and Old Bottles

Luke 5:36–38. And he spoke also a parable unto them; No man puts a piece of new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new makes a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agrees not with the old. And no man puts new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.

THE cavils of objectors have been frequently overruled for the benefit of the church. They have given rise to many of our Lord's most instructive discourses, and thereby furnished us with a much clearer and more extensive knowledge of our duty. Thrice in this chapter do we see our Lord called upon to answer the objections that were either secretly entertained, or openly expressed, against him. His forgiving of sins, and associating with sinners, had given offence; but he vindicated his conduct with respect to both, and has afforded us herein a rich discovery of his power and grace. In the context he was condemned for leaving his Disciples so much at liberty respecting the duty of fasting. In reply to the queries put to him on this subject, he delivered the parables which we have now read: and in which are contained,

I. A virtual acknowledgment of the duty of fasting.

This duty, together with the attendant offices of humiliation and prayer, our Lord had forborne to insist upon so much as John had done: and for that he was blamed by the self-righteous Pharisees. But in his answer to the question put to him, he does not say, that the children of the bride-chamber were never to fast, but only not during the present season, "while the Bridegroom was yet with them." Nor in the parables before us does he say, that the old garment should not be mended, nor the wine put into vessels at all, but only that discretion was to be exercised with respect to the manner of doing these things. These intimations alone were sufficient to establish the propriety of practicing the duty there spoken of: but they are enforced by many other passages of Holy Writ; and especially by the admonitions given by our Lord himself respecting our conduct when we fast. Indeed, in our text itself he says, that after his removal from them "they should fast."

There being no doubt among us on this point, I proceed more particularly to notice that which is in fact the substance of both the parables, namely,

II. A special direction for the performance of this duty.

In inculcating or practicing this solemn duty, we are here taught to pay the strictest attention to the principal circumstances relating to it, such as the time, the manner, the end.

1. The time.

It is not every season that is suited to this duty. At a wedding-feast, for instance, it would be absurd to fast. But on occasion of any great calamity, whether public or private, a fit opportunity would offer itself. In a season of war, famine, pestilence, the deepest humiliation becomes us. So under the pressure of any personal affliction, and especially in a time of spiritual distress, when corruptions are strong, and temptations powerful, and self-reproach is deep, and God has hidden his face from us, it becomes us to betake ourselves to fasting and prayer. Respecting an unclean devil, which the Disciples were not able to eject, our Lord said, "This kind goes not out but by fasting and prayer." And so we find on many occasions our lusts too strong for us; and therefore too strong, because we use not these means of obtaining the victory over them. There are also in domestic life seasons when husband and wife may profitably separate from each other for a short time in order to address themselves more effectually to the discharge of this high duty of fasting and prayer. And thus has Solomon informed us; "There is a time to weep, as well as a time to laugh, and a time to mourn as well as a time to dance," and these seasons we ought more particularly to select, even "when the Bridegroom is taken away from us."

2. The manner.

Here also discretion is greatly wanted. To carry our austerities so far as to injure our own health, is highly inexpedient. Such conduct, instead of fitting us the more for the Lord's service, would rather incapacitate us for it, and defeat the very object we had in view. The putting of new wine into leathern bottles that were weakened by use and age, would lead to the destruction of the bottles themselves, and of the wine committed to them. And so would indiscreet austerities operate on us, and on all around us. For, what would the world at large think of a religion that prescribed such things? Would they not cry out against it as a gloomy superstition? And what would an inquiring soul be ready to feel? Would he not be discouraged and disheartened, and, through a distaste for such self-tormenting exercises, be ready to relinquish it altogether? We must take care then, that in our mode of inculcating these self-denying duties, we do not give occasion for such unfounded sentiments, and such erroneous conceptions.

3. The end.

The Pharisees put these services in the place of true religion, not knowing that they are only as means to an end, and as the scaffolding to the edifice which it is employed to construct. Hence arose their bitter complaint against our Lord. But we must ever remember, that, to whatever extent we multiplied these services, they never could stand in the place of repentance, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the great error of the Church of Rome: they place penance, that is, a round of observances prescribed by man, in the place of repentance as enjoined by God, and in the place also of the Lord Jesus Christ, "whose blood alone can cleanse from all sin." But I charge you before God to be on your guard against this, since it will "make void the whole Gospel of Christ," and cause "the blood of Christ to have been shed in vain." As a discipline for the mortifying of the flesh and the quickening of the spirit, fasting is good: but as a substitute for an entire renovation of soul, and for a simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is a broken reed, which will pierce even unto death the hand that rests upon it.

Learn then from this parable,

1. To judge with candor.

The Pharisees through their pride and ignorance were led to condemn our Lord. And thus we also are apt to judge our unoffending brethren. We have a standard of our own; and by that we try all other persons: and, if they exceed that standard we condemn them as enthusiasts; or, if they fall short of it, we account them but lukewarm formalists. But the same standard cannot be applied to all. There are ten thousand circumstances which may not only justify a difference of conduct in pious persons, but may actually produce it. The Disciples of John, we readily acknowledge, did right in fasting oft: but did the Disciples of our Lord act wrong because they did not fast at all? No, the circumstances of the two parties were widely different, as our Lord informed them; and therefore both were right. So it may be with many of our brethren, who differ from us in relation to this matter: and it does not become us to judge them. "To their own Master they stand or fall," and it is our part to commit them altogether unto God, who judges righteously, and who alone can estimate everything which is to be taken into the account.

2. To give advice with caution.

We ought to bear in mind the different situations and capacities of men, and not to be requiring of novices what is suited only to the strength of an established saint. Our blessed Lord spoke not all he knew, but only what his hearers were able to receive; and even from his own Disciples he kept back much which they were not able at that time to comprehend. So Paul "fed his Corinthian converts with milk and not with meat," because they were yet in too carnal a state to enter into the deeper subjects which he would gladly have brought before them. Thus then should we also do. We should "feed babes with milk, and minister meat to those only who by reason of a more adult age are able to digest it." Nor let any one think this unfitting a minister of God. It is the true and proper office of love. Jacob would not drive his lambs too far, lest in one day he should kill them all. And our blessed Lord "carried the lambs in his bosom, and gently led those that were with young." And thus must we also exercise the same tender care in administering to the lambs of our flock, lest by undue rigor we "break the bruised reed," or by overwhelming exactions we "quench the smoking flax."

3. To press forward with holy unremitting diligence.

It was of his holy Apostles that our Lord said, that in the days after his removal from them they should fast. Who then are we that we should think ourselves at liberty to remit our exertions in our heavenly course? Never will there be in this life a moment when our vigilance can be dispensed with, or our most self-denying labors be relaxed. Nor, if Paul was "in fastings often," should we account that holy discipline unnecessary for us. On the contrary, we should by all possible means "keep our body under and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, after having ministered to others, we ourselves should be deemed unworthy the approbation of our God.

 

MCCCCXCIII

The Apostles Chosen

Luke 6:12, 13. And it came to pass in those days that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his Disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named Apostles.

THE short period of our Lord's ministry on earth rendered it expedient for him to employ others as his co-adductors in the work. Accordingly, in reference to the twelve Patriarchs, who might be considered as the fathers of the Jewish Church, he selected twelve of his Disciples, who should be his instruments for planting and establishing his Church. There were other seventy, whom at a later period he sent forth, two and two, for the purpose of preparing the minds of the people for his personal ministry among them; but the Apostles were to be his stated servants after that he should have left this world and returned to his heavenly Father. The circumstances of their appointment were peculiar, and deserve our most attentive consideration. The night previous to their appointment he spent in prayer to his heavenly Father: which remarkable occurrence it will be proper to notice in a threefold view:

I. As an act for our benefit.

The appointment of the Apostles was a work of singular importance.

They were to be employed in the Church as his messengers to declare his truth—his witnesses to attest it—as patterns also to illustrate—and as martyrs to confirm it. But whence could a number of poor fishermen attain "a sufficiency for these things?."

Hence our blessed Lord continued the whole night in prayer for them.

His heavenly Father was able to furnish them for this great work, and to give them success in it; and therefore our Lord importunately sought for them the grace which they stood in need of: nor would he cease from his exertions, until he had obtained all that their necessities required. The benefit of his prayer was fully manifested as soon as they were endued with power from on high: then nothing could withstand their wisdom, or subdue their courage: they were deaf to menaces, and regardless of death. Their success was rapid, extensive, permanent: and we at this day enjoy the fruits of their labors. Through that prayer the Apostles were richly furnished unto every good work; and were enabled so to establish the kingdom of our Lord, that neither earth nor Hell have ever been able to prevail against it.

II. As a lesson for our instruction.

The ordination of ministers is also a most important work.

On them, under God, depends the everlasting welfare of thousands. We need only compare the state of those congregations where the Gospel is faithfully preached with those which are under the superintendence of careless ministers: in the one will be found little but ignorance and irreligion; in the other, there will be many whose minds are enlightened with divine truth, and whose souls are quickened to a new and heavenly life.

But where shall persons be found duly qualified for the work—where those who will be willing to undertake it? True; if the ministry of the word be made a source of temporal emolument, there will be multitudes ready to engage in it: but if the "signs of a minister," or accompaniments of the ministry, be like those in the Apostles' days, "reproaches, necessities, and distresses for Christ's sake," and the only pluralities be "labors, stripes, prisons, deaths," there will not be many candidates for the office, nor will the qualifications for it be thought so common as they are at present. How few are ready to go and preach to the heathen, where the labor and self-denial are great, and the earthly recompense is small! Large benefices, where little is to be done, or the work can be done by proxy, are caught up with avidity: but if nothing but a future reward be held forth, and God say, "Who will go for us?" there are few indeed that will answer with the prophet, "Here am I, send me."

This, therefore, should be the subject of our devoutest prayers.

God himself has commanded us to commit the matter to him in prayer: "The harvest truly is plenteous, and the laborers are few; pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth (thrust out) laborers into his harvest." And truly, all ranks and orders of men are concerned to "labor earnestly in prayer" concerning it.

How fervently should they pray, to whom the office of ordaining others is committed! for "if they lay hands suddenly on any man, they make themselves partakers of other men's sins." Nor should they be less earnest who are to be ordained. When we consider how arduous their work is, and how great their responsibility before God; when we reflect that their word will be "a savor of life to the life and salvation of many, or a savor of death to their death" and condemnation; and that the blood of all that perish through their neglect will be required at their hands; methinks it is a wonder that any one can be found, who, for the sake of filthy lucre, will dare to undertake it. Were the weight of the office duly considered, no one would presume to enter upon it without much prayer to God to qualify him for the discharge of it, and to bless his labors to the edification of the people.

But the people themselves also are no less concerned to pray, that God would "send them pastors after his own heart;" for the welfare of their souls essentially depends on the kind of ministry which they attend: if Christ be not exhibited to them in his person and offices; if they be not encouraged to receive out of his fullness all the blessings of salvation; if they be not led into discoveries of the evil of their own hearts, and instructed in the nature of that change which the Holy Spirit will effect within them; if, in short, they have not "the whole counsel of God set before them," they will be left to rest in very low attainments, if not to "perish utterly through lack of knowledge."

This lesson then should be learned by all; and so learned, as to be reduced to practice.

III. As a pattern for our imitation.

Prayer is both the duty and the privilege of all.

Our blessed Lord had doubtless more intimate communion with his Father than we can possibly have; yet are we also authorized to call God "our Father;" yes, we are commanded to do it, and to "open our mouths wide, that he may fill them." It is not, indeed, required of us that we should spend whole nights in prayer to God; for that would probably, unless in some very peculiar circumstances, render us unfit for prosecuting the duties of the ensuing day: but we are required to "continue in prayer, and to watch thereunto with thanksgiving," and the more nearly we can approach to the example of our blessed Lord in the frequency and urgency of our prayers, the more remarkable will be the answers that we shall receive, and the more abundant the communications of God to our souls. If we wrestled more like Jacob, we should certainly prevail to a much greater extent than in general we do.

We should therefore resort to it on every particular emergency.

Though the particular object of our Lord's continuance in prayer does not occur to us, yet we all have some occasions that call for more than ordinary direction and assistance from God. On these occasions, whatever they may be, whether they relate to the body or the soul, to time or to eternity, we should go and spread our wants before God. His own command to us is, "In everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." "In all our ways we must acknowledge him, and he will direct our paths."

In this then must all of us resemble the Lord Jesus Christ. In this has "he set us an example, that we should follow his steps," and "we must walk as he walked." By this must all his followers be distinguished; for they are "a people near unto him." They are hypocrites, of whom it is said, "They will not always call upon God," all true Christians can say, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ."

Application.

Learn hence the real state of your souls before God. Prayer has often been called the pulse of the soul: and truly it is so; for by that you may discern the state of the soul, incomparably better than you can by the pulse the state of the body. If you are prayerless people, you are dead, altogether dead in trespasses and sins. If your prayers are habitually cold and formal, they are such as God will never accept. No prayer will enter into the ears of the Lord of Hosts, but that which is offered "in spirit and in truth." Let us then beg of God to give us a spirit of grace and of supplication; and let us interest ourselves with God for the welfare of his Church. Let us especially remember "those who are over us in the Lord," and "labor always fervently for them in prayer," that they may be enabled to fulfill their ministry with diligence and success. Thus shall we both ensure blessings to our own souls, and be instrumental to the hastening on of that day, when "all shall know the Lord, from the least to the greatest," and "all flesh shall see the salvation of God."

 

MCCCCXCIV

The Analogy Between Bodily and Spiritual Cures

Luke 6:19. And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.

IN perusing the histories of ancient heroes, we may often be led to admire their skill and valor; but we shall much oftener be shocked at the means they used to exalt and aggrandize themselves; and, when we see them raising trophies to themselves on the ruins of slaughtered nations, we shall be induced to consider them rather as the plagues and scourges of mankind. But how different will be our sensations, when we read the history of Jesus! There we shall meet with nothing which will not be delightful to a benevolent mind. If we trace him in his circuits through the country, and view in every place the objects that surround him, we shall behold at one time the eyes he has just now opened, gazing on him with wonder and amazement; and at another time the ears he has unstopped, drinking in his words with insatiable eagerness and attention. Here we shall behold the hands he has restored to use, stretched forth to proclaim his praises; and the feet he has strengthened, leaping and dancing round him with inexpressible delight: there we shall hear the tongues he has loosed, shouting with exquisite love and gratitude; and see those whom he has dispossessed of devils, sitting with composure at the feet of their Benefactor. Sometimes we shall see the very dead starting forth into life and vigor at his command, and either rapturously saluting their disconsolate relations, or rending the air with their acclamations and hosannas. Such accounts as these, if considered only in a temporal view, cannot but excite in us a sympathetic joy, and afford the most pleasing sensations: but, no doubt, they were intended also to convey some spiritual instruction; in which view they acquire an additional, and almost an infinite, importance. Perhaps it may be too much to say that the miracles, wrought by our Lord, were types of the spiritual blessings he conveys; but we may affirm without hesitation, that there is a very strong analogy between them: and therefore, when we see what he did to the bodies of men, we have, at least, a very just occasion of considering what he will do for our souls.

In this view we propose to consider the account given us in the chapter before us. We are informed that a great multitude came to him out of Judea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases: and then it is said, in the words of the text, "The whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all."

To illustrate this subject we shall,

I. Trace the analogy between the miracles wrought by our blessed Lord on the bodies of men, and those which he yet works on men's souls.

For the more distinct elucidation of this point, we may observe,

1. There is resemblance between the disorders of the body, and the disorders of the soul.

Many were brought to our Lord, who were blind, deaf, leprous, and possessed with devils. And such are men at this time, in a spiritual view. Like the Laodiceans, however they may "think themselves rich and increased with goods, they are wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind; and therefore need to take counsel of our Lord, and to anoint their eyes with his eye-salve, that they may see." "Their eyes must be opened, before they will turn from the power of Satan unto God."

The natural man too is represented as spiritually deaf; as having ears, and not hearing; as being unable to hear the voice of the good Shepherd; yes, as like the deaf adder that stops her ear.

The leprosy also of sin lies deep in our hearts; as the prophet intimates, when, in allusion to the convicted leper, he says of himself, and of all around him, "Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips."

Though demoniacal possessions were not properly disorders, yet are they always enumerated with them, when the miracles of our Lord are recited. And, however humiliating the truth may be, it is certain that we are all, while in an unconverted state, possessed by Satan. The unbelieving world are blinded, governed, and led captive by him at his will. And, whatever evil they are excited to commit, it is through the instigation of that wicked fiend.

2. There is a resemblance between the cures wrought by our Lord upon the bodies of men, and the cures which he will work upon their souls.

Wherever the blessings of salvation are mentioned in the prophets, they are set forth in some highly figurative expressions; and by none more commonly than by those relating to bodily cures. Isaiah says, "In that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind see out of, obscurity and out of darkness." And again, "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped: then shall the lame man leap as an deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing;" which figures are afterwards explained as relating to the spiritual salvation of the Church.

The application which the inspired Apostles make of these prophecies further evinces the truth of our position. Matthew quotes a passage, which beyond all doubt relates to spiritual benefits that were to be obtained through the death of Christ, and explains it, in a way of accommodation, as referring to the bodily cures which our Lord had wrought. Further, our Lord himself, having healed a blind man, takes occasion to trace this very analogy between the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees, and the bodily blindness which he had just healed: "For judgment I am come into this world, that they who see not might see, and that they who see might be made blind." And both the answer which the Pharisees made to him, and the reply which our Lord gave them, manifest that this analogy was intended to be pointed out.

3. There is a resemblance between the manner in which the diseased persons applied to our Lord for healing, and the manner in which we should apply to him for spiritual healing.

Of all the multitudes that came to our Lord, there was not one who was not sensible of his disease. Moreover, they all came to him with deep humility, prostrating themselves before him in the most abject manner, and acknowledging the utter insufficiency of all other means. And such was their earnestness, that they came from afar, and could not be prevailed upon to hold their peace, nor would take a denial even from our Lord himself. It is worthy of notice also, that they all came in faith: some few indeed doubted his power, and some his willingness, to help them: but none doubted both his power and his willingness; and the greater part entertained no doubt at all.

Thus then should we go to him, "weary and heavy-laden" with our sins, and so sensible of our spiritual wants, that if he should ask us, What will you that I shall do unto you? we may answer him immediately, "Lord, that this disorder may be healed, and that sin forgiven." We must also, with all lowliness of mind, confess our inability to obtain relief from any other quarter, and our dependence on him alone. Moreover, in proof of our earnestness, we must not merely seek, but strive, determining to take the kingdom of Heaven by violence, and not to let the Savior go, except he bless us. Lastly, we must be sure to exercise faith on Christ, believing him both able and willing to save us: for we are expressly told that, he who wavers and is of a doubtful mind, must not expect to receive anything of the Lord.

4. There is a resemblance between the manner in which our Lord cured their disorders and the manner in which he will cure ours.

He sometimes healed the people secretly, as when he took the deaf man aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and said, "Be opened!" and then charged him to tell no man. So he has now many "hidden ones," in whose hearts he carries on a secret work, and heals them without attracting the notice of the world. At other times he performed the cures openly, and in the sight of all; as when he bade the man with the withered hand to stand forth. So he often converts the souls of profligate sinners, or bitter persecutors, in such a striking manner, as to fill all around them with wonder and amazement.

Sometimes he wrought his cures instantaneously; as in the man at the pool of Bethesda: and so he effects a sudden change in the hearts of many, causing them to cry out like the first converts and the jailor, "What shall I do to be saved?" At other times he performed his cures gradually, as in the blind man, who at first saw men, as trees, walking: and so he often carries on his work in a gradual manner in our souls, leading us from progressive conviction to thorough conversion.

Sometimes he used means in curing them; as when he put clay and spittle on the blind man's eyes: so he now converts many by the preaching of his Gospel. At other times he used no means, as in the case of the ten lepers, who were cleansed as they were going in the way: and so he often imparts the knowledge of himself by the teachings of his Spirit, without using any particular means or instrument to convey it.

But however varied his manner was with respect to these things, in one respect it was uniformly the same: whoever he cured, he cured perfectly: and thus he always carries on the work he has begun in the souls of men, and perfects that which concerns them.

Since then, without any forced interpretations or conceits, we may draw such instruction from the miracles in general, let us endeavor to,

II. Improve the particular miracle recorded in the text.

If, in the concerns of our souls, we desire either direction or encouragement, we cannot find them any where more suitably afforded than in the passage before us; where the conduct of the multitude suggests the former, and the conduct of Jesus the latter. Let us then improve it,

1. For direction.

We should not dare to exhort you in general to follow the multitude; since that would be to lead you in the broad road to destruction. But in the present instance we say, Follow that multitude.

Follow them in the conviction which they had of their own need of Christ. Every one felt within himself that he labored under a disorder which needed healing; and, if each of them had been asked, 'What is your disorder? and what is yours?' they could all have specified the principal symptoms of the disorders under which they labored. Now thus must we go to Jesus, feeling and lamenting the ravages which sin has made upon our souls. It is not sufficient for us to confess in general that we are sinners; we must open our case to him, and tell him, "Thus and thus have I done!" And, if the Spirit of God have truly convinced us of sin, we shall find no more difficulty in this, than a poor man does in opening his complaints to a physician. More particularly, we should get our hearts impressed with the evil of our besetting sin; and, carrying it to Jesus, we should confess it, lament it, aggravate it, and implore both his mercy to pardon it, and his grace to subdue it: and, if we thus go to him laboring and heavy-laden, we have his promise that he will give us rest.

Follow them also in their earnestness. We are told that the people pressed on Jesus, so that they who were nearest to him could not maintain their place by reason of the multitudes, who strove to get access to him, and to touch him. They not only left their own business, but, in many instances, prevailed on their friends to relinquish their occupations also, in order to carry them to Jesus. In short, they postponed every consideration to that of obtaining a cure from him. And who could blame them? They felt their need of healing, and knew that they might obtain it by going to him, and therefore they would on no account lose the opportunity afforded them: and, when they could in no other way get access to him, they would go up to the top of the house, and let down their diseased friends in a couch through the tiling. Would to God that we were all thus earnest for the salvation of our souls! that no consideration whatever were suffered to detain us from the Lord! and that not one of us might delay another hour to go unto him! We are far more favorably circumstanced than they were, since we can go to him without removing from our chamber, or intermitting our earthly business. He is everywhere present to heal us; if we can only break through the crowd of lusts and cares that are within our own hearts, there is no other crowd that can keep us from him. How anxious should we be to get immediate relief from an acute disorder, especially if there were but one physician able to heal us, and his continuance in our neighborhood were likely to be very short! Let us then show the same care for our souls, and go to Jesus without delay, knowing that "this is the accepted time, this is the day of salvation."

Once more—Follow them in their faith. They were not only convinced of Christ's power and willingness to heal them, but were assured that, if they could but touch his garment, they should be whole. They did not stand reasoning about the matter, or go and try other means, but applied to him as their all-sufficient helper. So must we go to him, not endeavoring first to heal ourselves by our repentance, or laboring to make ourselves fit for him by our amendments, or questioning whether he be willing to receive us: we must go to him just as we are, altogether filthy and abominable; and be firmly persuaded that we shall not seek his face in vain. To be reasoning and yielding to doubts and fears will be of little avail; but to go to Christ in faith, will prove an infallible remedy for every ill: whatever be our complaint, he will say, "Go your way; and, as you have believed, so be it done unto you;" and we shall be made whole from that very hour.

2. For encouragement.

We cannot conceive anything more encouraging than the behavior of our blessed Lord to the people.

Behold his condescension! How wonderful was it, that he, the Lord of glory, should suffer such a multitude of miserable and filthy objects to press upon him! yes, that he should go about through all cities, towns, and villages, for that very purpose! And will he now be inattentive to our spiritual wants? When we rush, as it were, with holy violence into his presence, and seek to touch him, will he forbid us? Will he withdraw himself from us, or say, 'Stand off; you are too vile to be admitted to my presence?' Has he not said, on the contrary, that "whoever comes unto him, he will in no wise cast out?" Let the trembling sinner then take courage; for his sighing shall soon be turned into that triumphant song, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name, who forgives all your sins, and heals all your diseases!"

Behold also his compassion! There was not one of all the multitudes that came to him, dismissed without a cure. Though many of them probably had despised him, and though he foresaw that many of those very persons would join in that general cry, "Away with him, crucify him, crucify him!" (as it is highly probable they did) yet his affections of compassion yearned over them. Many, no doubt, were as unthankful as the nine lepers; yet did he not withhold his mercy from their bodies. How much more then will he have compassion on those who seek him for their souls! When he beholds them supplicating for the pardon of their sins, and the renovation of their hearts, will he turn from them, and shut his ear at their cry? no; he will rather fall upon their neck, and kiss them; or, as the prophet speaks, "He will save; he will rejoice over them with joy, he will rest in his love, he will joy over them with singing." Only let us seek him in truth, and we shall find him rich in mercy unto all that call upon him.

Lastly, behold his power! However inveterate the diseases of many might be, the whole multitude were healed. And has he less power now that he is in Heaven? Has he not "the residue of the Spirit," yes, and "all the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in him?" Why then should any be discouraged? What though our sins be great? can he not forgive them? What though our habits be deeply rooted? can he not overcome them? What though our temptations be manifold? can he not deliver us out of all? Be our "enemies ever so mighty, he who dwells on high is mightier." Let us all surround him in expectation of his benefits; and "we shall find him able to save us to the uttermost."

To Conclude.

Let us now picture to ourselves the state of the multitudes who had touched him: what joys! what raptures! what ecstasies! what congratulations from surrounding friends! what universal shouts and acclamations to the honor of the Lord Jesus! none ascribing their recovery to an arm of flesh; but all acknowledging Jesus as the sole author of their happiness! And why should it not be thus with us at this time? Surely, if this whole congregation would but vie with each other in their endeavors to obtain his blessing, they would soon have far more abundant cause for joy, than ever they had, whose bodily health was restored: for their souls should be freed from the deadly malady of sin, yes, "virtue should come forth from him to heal us all."

 

MCCCCXCV

True Happiness Stated

Luke 6:20–26. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now: for you shall be filled. Blessed are you that weep now: for you shall laugh. Blessed are you, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice you in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in Heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. But woe unto you that are rich! for you have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for you shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for you shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.

MEN who dislike the doctrines of the Gospel are no less averse to its precepts. They may both approve and practice heathen morality; but the morality of Jesus will appear to them unamiable and precise. The words before us will fully establish this assertion: they lead us to consider,

I. The false notions which the world entertains of happiness.

Many have been the speculations of philosophers on this subject; but there are general views in which the world at large are agreed.

They think that wealth must of necessity conduce much to our happiness: they think that a freedom from care and trouble will greatly augment it: they think that an easy access to pleasurable amusements and carnal enjoyments will abundantly promote it; and, above all, that universal respect and honor will complete it.

These views, however, are very erroneous.

We deny not but that these sources of enjoyment afford a present gratification: nor do we say that wealth, or ease, or pleasure, or reputation, may not be very innocently enjoined: but it is a great mistake to think that happiness consists in these things; or that, if possessed in ever so great abundance, they would compensate for the want of spiritual blessings. There are riches of far greater value than the wealth of this world; nor can any one possess those, who is very solicitous about this. None can know his need of divine grace, and not pant after it: in such indigent creatures, a Laodicean state is abominable. Moreover, God calls men to mourn and weep for their sins: is it desirable then to possess a light and vacant mind? Such too is the enmity of the world against God, that it is not possible to retain the friendship of both at the same time. Should we then consider human estimation as of transcendent value? Surely these things may show us how erroneous the world's judgment is.

Nor is there any delusion more fatal.

Our Lord could not be mistaken in his judgment; yet he denounces the heaviest woes against the rich, the full, the mirthful, and the respected, and distinctly assigns his reason for each denunciation. They who are occupied with carnal gratifications, make no provision for their eternal welfare. Hence, when bereft of the things of this life, they will be forever destitute. Having had their portion now with the men of this world, they will participate in their lot hereafter. We may see these truths realized in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Having exposed error, we would establish truth, by showing,

II. The representations of happiness given us in the Scriptures.

Poverty, dissatisfaction, sorrow, and contempt, are, it must be confessed, not pleasing in themselves; nor indeed does any blessing necessarily attach to them; but under certain circumstances they may be a desirable portion.

Poverty and sorrow often have been, and still are endured for Christ's sake; nor is there anything more common than for his servants to be reviled and despised for their fidelity to him. It should seem indeed that the world could not hate and execrate those whom God esteems and declares blessed; but the treatment which the prophets, and Christ, and his Apostles, met with, proves the contrary. If we then be treated like them, we have no reason to be dejected; yes rather, we may consider it as an honor conferred on us by God.

In a spiritual sense, poverty, hunger, etc. are great blessings.

No doubt there is a spiritual meaning also in our Lord's words. And what so desirable as to feel our need of Christ? And what so desirable as to be hungering after his righteousness? And what so desirable as to be mourning for our corruptions? And what so desirable as to endure shame for his sake? They who experience most of this state, find most delight in it; they are most fortified against the incursions of worldly sorrow, and most abound in spiritual consolations.

And all who now submit to the pressure of spiritual afflictions, shall be abundantly recompensed in the eternal world.

In Heaven there is enough to repay all our labors. The riches of glory will compensate for all present losses; the fullness of joy in those blessed abodes will satiate the hungry soul; the inconceivable delights will far outweigh our transient sorrows; and the honor which God will put upon us in the society of saints and angels, will make us forget our short-lived disgrace. Christ, the true and faithful witness, has repeatedly affirmed this: and he who declares such persons blessed, himself will make them so.

Address.

1. The mistaken votaries of this world.

All profess to seek after happiness; but how many mistake the shadow for the substance. We may even appeal to you to declare who are truly blessed. O that we would take eternity into our estimate of present things! O that we would cease from circulating our fatal errors, and acquiesce in the unerring declarations of God! We can easily see, that a man who should drink a palatable but poisonous draught, would be no object of envy. Let us be persuaded then that momentary delights can never constitute us blessed. He alone is happy, who is happy for eternity.

2. The humble followers of Jesus.

Let not your hearts envy the prosperity of sinners. Remember that you are the only blessed people upon earth. Your very griefs and sorrows are grounds of self-congratulation. The time is shortly coming, when men's apparent states will be reversed. Then will be fulfilled that glorious prophecy of Isaiah. Be content then to "fill up the measure of Christ's sufferings," and take for your comfort that delightful promise.

 

MCCCCXCVI

The Blind Leading the Blind

Luke 6:39. And he spoke a parable unto them; Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?

IGNORANCE is, in itself, more excusable than vice; but in some cases its effects are equally pernicious. This is manifestly true in the concerns of the soul: a person, ignorant of the way of salvation, must fall short of Heaven; and if he undertake to direct others, will ruin all who follow him. To impress this truth on our minds, our Lord repeatedly uttered this parable.

I. The scope of the parable.

The Pharisees, through their professed sanctity, gained extensive influence, and were implicitly followed by the deluded populace. The consequences were extremely fatal to them both.

In this parable our Lord intended to reprove,

1. The presumption of such guides.

No man should undertake an office for which he is not qualified, much less so important an office as that of guiding men to Heaven. Yet many assume it for filthy lucre's sake, without any other qualification than that of a little human learning. But what would be thought of a man, who, because he was conversant with the learned languages, and philosophy, should engage to navigate a ship? Yet he would only subject a few hundreds of persons to temporal death; whereas a minister that misleads his people, involves thousands in everlasting destruction. How horrible is such presumption! and how surely must it bring down upon the offenders the signal vengeance of Heaven! Let all who would not perish under such an accumulated load of guilt, examine well their motives for undertaking, their qualifications for discharging, and their manner of executing, this high office.

2. The folly of such followers.

The generality never once consider whether their guide be competent to direct them, nor inquire into the truth of the directions given them. They commit their souls to his care, as though there were no possibility of erring, or no danger in error. They even prefer such teachers as "prophesy unto them smooth things." But would any man act thus in matters of less importance? Would any person who had a disorder to be healed, or a cause to be tried, employ a physician or a lawyer that was ignorant of his profession, if he could have access to one of approved ability? Would any blind person commit himself to the guidance of one who also was destitute of sight? Can any one doubt what would be the consequence of such folly? What madness then is it for men to rest satisfied with the instructions of those, whose whole dispositions and conduct manifest, that they are ignorant of the way to Heaven! That their guides will be partakers of their doom, will afford but little consolation to them, when they themselves are suffering the bitter consequences of their folly.

The truth asserted in the parable is too obvious to need either proof or illustration; we shall therefore proceed to consider,

II. The lessons we should learn from it.

Though the familiarity of our Lord's expressions appears at first sight calculated to produce a smile, they afford just occasion for the most solemn admonitions.

1. Guard against error in the concerns of your souls.

Many suppose that ignorance is an excuse for error: but God has sufficiently warned us against this mistake. It is certain, that there is a great diversity of doctrines among those who undertake to teach—and, that error is more prevalent than truth—But the multitudes who throng the broad road, cannot procure safety for those who walk in it. We must dare to leave the beaten track of self-righteousness and formality, for the less frequented path of faith and holiness; nor must we hope to reach the fold of God, unless we follow the footsteps of his flock.

2. Try what you hear by the touchstone of God's word.

The Scriptures are the only proper rule of our faith and practice: to them we must refer everything as to an unerring standard, nor must any human authority supersede the exercise of our own judgment. If an angel from Heaven were to preach, we ought to try his word by this test. This was approved in the Bereans of old; and it is expressly enjoined on us.

3. Seek the instruction and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

However plainly man may preach, God alone can enable you to profit. Of yourselves you will be far more ready to embrace the self-exalting tenets of deceivers, than the humiliating doctrines of the Gospel. But the Holy Spirit shall be given to those who seek his influence, and shall guide into all truth those who submit to his teaching. Let all then, whatever be their capacity or attainments, implore his help: then, though babes in human science, they shall be taught the things that are hid from the wise and prudent.

 

MCCCCXCVII

The Tree Known by Its Fruits

Luke 6:43–45. A good tree brings not forth corrupt fruit; neither does a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble-bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart, brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart, brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

IT is of infinite importance to every man to attain a knowledge of his state and character before God. For, as such a knowledge would be the best preservative against a self-exalting and censorious spirit, so would it keep us from deluding ourselves with a merely nominal and formal religion. In order to attain it we must examine our words and actions, and trace them to their proper source. Thus, by discovering what is in the heart, we shall be enabled to form a just estimate of our own character, and be guarded against a fatal presumption on the one hand, and a needless disquietude on the other. This mode of inquiry is suggested in the parable before us; which indeed deserves the more attention, because it was delivered by our Lord on several different occasions. There are two truths which it offers to our consideration:

I. It is the heart that regulates the life.

The heart is, as it were, a fountain, from whence all our actions proceed.

In it there is a treasure either of good or evil.

While we are unregenerate, we are full of erroneous principles, and sinful affections. We "think that God is even such an one as ourselves;" that he will neither "do good" to those who serve him, "nor evil" to those who rebel against him. We judge sin to be light and venial, and a worldly carnal life to be consistent with a hope of immortality and glory. While such are our principles, what can be expected, but that "our affections should be set on things below, and not on things above?" Our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, are excited only by the things of time and sense: and those invisible realities, which alone deserve our esteem, are disregarded and despised. What a "treasure of evil" is thus formed within us! who can number our rebellious thoughts, our unhallowed desires, our vicious indulgences? How has this treasure been accumulating from our earliest infancy to this present moment! and we, alas! are as averse to part with it as if it rendered us really happy, or would "profit us in the day of wrath." The regenerate person, on the contrary, has within him a "treasure of good." His principles and affections are the very reverse of what they once were. His views of God, of sin, and the world, are regulated by the Holy Scriptures; and his desires and pursuits are conformable to the dictates of religion. Thanks be to God, this treasure also is daily accumulating; and he esteems himself rich only in proportion as the love and fear of God increase in his heart.

According as this treasure is, such will be the life.

The "waters flowing from a fountain" must of necessity be "bitter or sweet" according as the fountain itself is good or bad. So where a treasure of evil is in the heart, the words and actions must be evil also. "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth will speak;" and by that great moving spring will all the members be actuated. Doubtless there may be a freedom from gross immorality, and a conduct in many respects amiable and praiseworthy, while yet the heart is unrenewed: but fruit that is really good can no more proceed from an unregenerate soul, than "figs and grapes from a thorn or bramble-bush." On the other hand, where the treasure of the heart is good, the life will certainly be good also. A holy practice must of necessity flow from holy principles and heavenly affections. We say not indeed but that there may be found some faults even in the holiest of men, even as blighted or unsound fruit may be found upon the choicest tree. But the good can no more practice iniquity, so as to continue in it, than the bad can bring forth habitually the fruits of righteousness. John assigns the same reason as is suggested in the text, "He can not sin, because the seed of God remains in him," and, as an operative principle, regulates his life.

This truth being established, the other follows as a necessary consequence, namely,

II. It is by the life that we must judge of the heart.

Though we are not to scrutinize too nicely the motives by which others are actuated, so as to form an uncharitable judgment respecting them, yet we may, and must in some cases, judge of men by their actions. Our Lord uttered the very parable before us on one occasion, expressly with a view to guard us against the influence of false teachers and false brethren. But it is of our own hearts that we are principally called to judge; and assuredly,

The man whose life is good may know his heart also to be good.

If "every tree is known by its own fruit," (and no man hesitates to call a vine, or a bramble, by its proper name when he sees the fruit) we need be in no fear of concluding that our hearts are good, when our dispositions and actions accord with the word of God. No man indeed is perfectly good, because we still carry about with us "a body of sin and death," but he, who discovers the renovation of his heart by the holiness of his life, is certainly possessed of a "good treasure," and may justly be called "a good man."

The man also whose life is evil may conclude with equal certainty that his heart is evil.

Many, when they cannot deny the sinfulness of their conduct, will yet affirm that their hearts are good. But what is this but to affirm, in spite of the most indubitable evidence to the contrary, that a bramble is a vine or fig-tree? Let any man put the question to his own conscience, Can a man, who lives in a neglect of God and his own soul, have a good heart? Can the proud, the passionate, the revengeful, the lewd, the intemperate, the covetous, have good hearts? Then may a bramble be a fig-tree, notwithstanding it never bears anything but thorns and briers.

Address.

1. Those whose fruits are evil.

It is not the openly profane, or the grossly sensual alone, but all, who are not really bringing forth the fruits of righteousness and true holiness, that we now address. And what must we say? Shall we flatter you? We dare not: the Scripture speaks plainly; and it would be at the peril of our souls to conceal the truth: John expressly calls you children of the devil: and our Lord declares that everlasting fire must be your portion. Shall it seem unreasonable that such should be the doom of the ungodly, while the righteous are admitted into Heaven? Are you at a loss to assign a reason why so great a difference should be put between persons, who, to outward appearance, do not differ very widely from each other? Know that, if you trace the stream to its source, and examine their hearts, there will be found as great a difference between them, as between the portions that they shall hereafter receive. The one has nothing but a treasure of evil principles and evil affections within him; the other is a "partaker of the Divine nature," and is "transformed into the very image of his God." Seek then to have "a new heart and a right spirit renewed within you." "You must be born again;" and that too for this plain reason, because what you have by nature is altogether carnal; and you must receive a spiritual nature to qualify you for the enjoyment of a spiritual kingdom. You must become "new creatures," "instead of the thorn must come up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier must come up the myrtle-tree," if ever you would be monuments of God's saving mercy.

2. Those whose fruits are good.

Doubtless you wish to have your evidences of conversion more and more clear. With this view it will be well to mark all your words and actions, and to trace them to their motives and principles. But do not forget that though your own works are the evidences of your conversion, they are not the grounds of your acceptance with God. It is Christ's obedience unto death that must be the one foundation of your hope. However holy your life be, your eyes must never be turned from Christ. He is your only, and your all-sufficient Savior. In him you are to hope, as well when your evidences are obscured, as when they are bright. Nevertheless you should endeavor to abound more and more in all the fruits of righteousness, that you may have the comfort of an assured hope, and God may be glorified in your deportment.

 

MCCCCXCVIII

The Folly of a Fruitless Profession

Luke 6:46. Why call you me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

THE honor of Christ and the salvation of our souls depend on our having right views of the Gospel: we cannot therefore too earnestly insist on the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ. Nevertheless we should constantly urge the practice of good works as the fruits and evidences of our faith. The folly of expecting salvation while we neglect them is strongly represented by our Lord in the text.

I. Show who they are that deserve the censure in the text.

The heathens have less to aggravate their sins than Christians. The greater part of those who live in countries that are evangelized are obnoxious to this censure.

1. Mere nominal Christians deserve it.

Many are Christ's, as having been devoted to him in baptism. By the appellation of Christians they profess themselves his followers; but they are in no respect subject to his will and word. Christ commands them to "seek first the kingdom of God," etc. and they seek it last.

2. Formal, self-righteous persons deserve it.

Many will go far in the outward duties of religion: they will profess too a veneration for the name of Christ: but he calls them to regeneration, and they deny their need of it. He bids them live by faith on him, and it proves a hard saying: they are satisfied with the form of godliness, without the power.

3. False professors deserve it.

None are so worthy of reproof as they: they will talk much of their dependence on Christ: they will profess perhaps to have experienced much of his power and grace: they may even glory in the recollection of his truth and faithfulness; but in the midst of all, they can be proud, covetous, passionate, censorious, unforgiving, deceitful, and dishonest. To such the text may be applied with peculiar energy..

Such persons ought to be addressed with all plainness of speech.

II. Expostulate with them on the folly of their conduct.

The service of God is justly called a "reasonable service;" but a fruitless profession is most unreasonable. No reason can be assigned "why" persons should rest in such a state.

1. Is not a conformity to Christ's precepts practical?

Many allege, that such strictness as he requires is unattainable. We allow that absolute perfection is not to be expected in this world; but an unreserved devotedness of ourselves to God is attainable. Thousands of the saints of old have walked thus with God: there is a cloud of living witnesses who exemplify this conduct. God has promised grace to all who seek it diligently.

2. Is not obedience to him necessary?

We may be good citizens if we possess only the virtues of heathens; but an sincere regard to Christ is necessary to constitute us Christians. Paul has fully declared the in-efficacy of outward religion. Judas and the foolish virgins awfully exemplified it. Our Lord has warned us all respecting it.

3. Will not a feigned allegiance be discovered by him?

We may easily deceive our fellow-creatures; but every motion of our hearts is visible to Christ: nor can the most specious appearances deceive him. In his final judgment he will show that he was privy to our most secret thoughts and desires.

4. Shall we not wish at last that we had been sincere and upright?

The reproach which attends the exercise of real religion, may make us satisfied with the form of it at present; but in the day of judgment we shall see our folly. We shall not know what to reply to this question then. The vain excuses we now make we shall not even dare to offer.

Application.

Let all then seek to become Christians indeed. Let us not be afraid to confess our Lord before men; and let us regard "what he says" not only above all, but in opposition to all, that human counselors can suggest. Let us take care that our lives be consistent with our professions. Let us trust in the Lord as simply, as if obedience were not required. Let us obey the Lord as zealously, as if obedience only were required.

 

MCCCCXCIX

The Centurion's Servant Healed

Luke 7:6, 7. Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not yourself: for I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof: wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto you: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.

NOTHING makes a wider breach among men than a difference in political and religious opinion: but mutual good offices would greatly counteract this evil. Though we can never hope to soften the rancor of all, we may by persevering kindness conciliate the esteem of many. We have before us a remarkable instance of the efficacy of such conduct. The centurion was a heathen, an officer of a hostile nation, stationed in Judea to keep the Jews in subjection; but instead of oppressing the Jews he had showed them much favor. He, in his turn, needed their good offices on behalf of his servant; and they gladly became his advocates and intercessors; they even prevailed on Jesus to work a miracle on his behalf.

To elucidate this miracle we shall consider,

I. The centurion's character.

Soldiers, for the most part, are unfavorably circumstanced with respect to religion; but here was one, though a heathen, whose character may well put to shame the greater part of the Christian world. We may observe,

1. His love to his fellow-creatures.

His servant was grievously afflicted with the palsy near unto death. In this disorder, persons can do nothing for others, or even for themselves; and in such a state, even dear friends and relatives are ready to think the care of one a heavy burden; yet this Centurion administered to his servant with the tenderest affection, and interested all he could in the promotion of his welfare. What could the servant himself have done more for the kindest master?

2. His piety towards God.

He had not embraced either the doctrines or discipline of the Jewish Church; but he had learned to acknowledge the only true God; and he was glad to promote the worship of God, even though he himself did not acquiesce in the peculiar mode in which he was worshiped. He even built a synagogue for the Jews at his own expense. What an admirable pattern of liberality and candor! How different from those who will not do anything without the pale of their own Church! Surely he never afterwards regretted that he had so applied his wealth.

3. His low thoughts of himself.

He did not arrogate anything to himself on account of his rank and authority; nor did he value himself on his benevolence to man and zeal for God. While others judged him worthy that a miracle should be wrought for him, he accounted himself unworthy of the smallest favor. This was the reason of his forbearing to wait on our Lord in person. How lovely does such an one appear in the eyes of God and man!

4. His exalted thoughts of Christ.

He judged our Lord to be too holy to admit of converse with a heathen. He believed also that Jesus could effect whatever he pleased, by a word, and at a distance, without the intervention of any means. Nor did he doubt but that universal nature was subject to his will far more than the most obedient soldier could be to the commands of his officer. Thus did he ascribe to Jesus a power proper to God alone. Well might our Lord's address to the discreet Scribe have been applied to him.

Such a character as this could never meet with a repulse from Jesus.

II. The kindness given to him by our Lord.

Instantly at the request of the elders Jesus set off to the Centurion's house. He who, though repeatedly importuned, declined to visit a nobleman's son, went, at the very first summons, to attend upon a centurion's servant; and no sooner met the centurion, than he richly recompensed his assiduity.

1. He expressed his admiration of the centurion's faith.

We never hear of Jesus admiring the things of this world: he rather checked in his Disciples such ill-judged veneration: but when he beheld the Centurion's faith, "he marveled at it." Not that such exercise of grace was really unexpected by him. Jesus both knew what was in the Centurion's heart, and had planted there the very grace which he exercised; but Jesus, as our exemplar, would teach us what to admire, and show us that the smallest portion of true faith cannot be estimated too highly. Our Lord declared in his very presence, that this faith had not been equaled by any even of the Israelites themselves. Such approbation from his mouth could not fail of comforting the afflicted Centurion.

2. He wrought the desired miracle in confirmation of his faith.

By a simple act of his Will he restored the servant to perfect health, and told the Centurion that it should "be to him according to his faith." Thus he removed the distress of the family in an instant. Thus too he confirmed the faith which had shone forth so nobly, and showed that we could never expect too much at his hands. What advantage for eternal life did the Centurion derive from hence! With what lively hope might he apply to Jesus for the healing of his soul! We can never suppose that such love and piety, such humility and faith, were left to perish. No, truly; that declaration shall be found true to all eternity.

3. He declared that many such persons should be saved, while many, with clearer light and higher privileges, should be cast out.

They who profess the true religion may be called "the children of the kingdom."But how many of them are destitute of the attainments this heathen had made! How many would have imitated that vile Amalekite rather than him—! How many grudge the necessary contributions for keeping up the houses of God! What doubting of Christ's power and grace, yes, what a proud conceit too of their own worthiness, is to be found among professing Christians! Surely what our Lord said respecting the unbelieving Jews shall be realized in Christians of this characters: and the humbler heathens, who walked agreeably to the light that they enjoyed, shall be preferred before them. Nor can we doubt but that the Centurion, in reference to whom these things were spoken, shall be among that blessed number.

Application.

Let us then learn to plead earnestly for ourselves; nor let a sense of unworthiness keep us from carrying our wants to Jesus—Let us also sympathize with, and intercede for, others. Job, like the Centurion, found benefit from his own intercessions: nor shall our supplications be in vain, either for ourselves or others.

 

MD

The Widow's Son Raised

Luke 7:14–16. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto you, Arise. And he who was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother. And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God has visited his people.

THE more faithful any servant of God is, the more he will abound in labors. Of those who were men of like passions with us, none ever equaled Paul; but our blessed Lord far exceeded all the children of men. No day elapsed without fresh manifestations of his power and compassion. He had on the preceding day raised the Centurion's servant from a bed of sickness; now we behold him employed in restoring a dead man to life. We shall consider,

I. The miracle.

The Jews used to bury their dead without the precincts of their cities. At the gate of the city of Nain Jesus met a funeral procession: the principal mourner that followed it engaged his attention.

She was a mother following her own son to the grave. How afflictive is such an event to a tender parent! This son had grown up to the estate of manhood. We may see in David's lamentations for Absalom what an affliction this is! Her loss was further aggravated in that this was her only child. If one out of many had died, she would have been deeply grieved: how much more in losing him, in whom her affections had so long centered! That which added ten-fold poignancy to her sorrow was, that she was a widow. When her husband had died she had been consoled by her surviving child; but now she had none left to be the support and comfort of declining years. Destroyed both root and branch, she had no prospect but that her name would be extinct in Israel.

Filled with compassion he wrought a miracle on her behalf.

Jesus, addressing himself to the mourning widow, bade her not weep. How vain, how impertinent had such advice been, if given by a common man! But, from him, it came as a rich cordial to her fainting spirit. He then stopped the procession, and said to the dead man, Arise. Nor were the hopes, occasioned by his interference, disappointed. On other occasions he wrought his miracles at the request of others. This he performed spontaneously, and unsolicited by any. Nothing moved him to it but that very compassion which brought him down from Heaven: nor did he exercise this power in the name of another. He spoke authoritatively, as one who could quicken whom he would: nor did he merely recall the soul without renovating the body; the restoration to life and vigor was effected perfectly, and in an instant. To complete the mercy, "he delivered the man to his mother;" and preferred the comfort of the widow to the honor he himself might have gained in retaining such a follower.

Such a stupendous miracle could not fail of exciting suitable emotions.

II. The effect it produced.

There is little in the Scriptures to gratify our curiosity. Hence we are not told what the man spoke, or how the mother was affected at the first interview with her son; but, if once she forgot her pangs, for joy that he was born, how much more her sorrows now, that he was restored to life? Doubtless the scene must have been inexpressibly interesting.

We may conceive Jesus, meekly majestic, delivering the man to his mother: but it is not so easy to conceive the first emotions of their minds. Nature would stimulate the reunited relatives to expressions of mutual endearment. Grace, on the other hand, would rather lead them first to admire and adore their Benefactor. Perhaps, looking alternately on Jesus and on each other, they might stand fixed in silent astonishment. We need not however dwell on that which, at best, is mere conjecture.

The effect produced on the multitude is recorded for our instruction.

1. They were all filled with fear.

The people that attended Jesus, and those who followed the funeral, meeting together, the concourse was very great; and one impression pervaded the whole body. The fear which came upon them was a reverential awe: this is natural to man, when he beholds any signal appearance of the Deity. It is equally produced whether God appear in a way of judgment or of mercy. Somewhat of this kind is felt by the seraphim before the throne: and it would be more experienced by us, if we realized more the Divine presence. When it is excited only by some visible display of the Deity, it will generally vanish with the occasion; but when it is caused by faith, it will abide and influence our whole conduct. Happy would it be for us if we were continually thus impressed.

2. They glorified God.

They did not know that Jesus was indeed a divine person; but they manifestly saw that he was "a great prophet," and that God, after suspending all miraculous interpositions for above three hundred years, had again "visited his people." In these tokens of God's favor they could not but rejoice. Doubtless they congratulated each other on this glorious event, and gave vent to their gratitude in devoutest adorations. We have reason indeed to fear that these impressions were soon effaced. Happy had they been if they had retained this heavenly disposition; but who has not reason to regret, that mercies produce too transient an effect upon his mind? Let us at least profit by the example they then set us, and labor to "glorify God" for the inestimable mercies he has conferred upon us.

Improvement.

1. This history may teach us to sit loose to the things of this life.

If we possess personal and family mercies, let us be thankful for them. The continuance of them is no less a favor than the restoration of them would be: but let us not inordinately fix our affections upon any created good. We know not how soon our dearest comforts may become the occasion of our deepest sorrows. The case of Job affords a striking admonition to men in all ages. Let us then endeavor to practice that advice of the Apostle, and place our affections on those things which will never be taken from us.

2. It shows us where we should flee in a season of deep affliction.

As no physician could restore the widow's son, so none could heal her wounded spirit; but there was one at hand, when she little thought of it, that could do both. That same Almighty Deliverer is very near unto us, and calls us to him-self when we are bowed down with trouble. Let us then call upon him under every spiritual or temporal affliction, and, above all, under the guilt and burden of our sins. And, with a conviction of his all-sufficiency, let us say with Peter.

3. We may take occasion from it to bless God for the preached Gospel.

The word of Christ is as powerful now in his Gospel as ever it was in the days of his flesh. It quickens many who were dead in trespasses and sins: it rescues them from the second death, and awakens them to an eternal life. How many have seen the souls, over which they had long mourned, called forth to life by the almighty voice of Jesus! Let the whole multitude of us then "fear the Lord and his goodness?." Let us "glorify him" for sending us such an adorable Savior: and let us seek, both for ourselves and others, fresh displays of his power and grace.

 

MDI

The Perverse Children

Luke 7:31, 32, 35. And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the market-place, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and you have not danced; we have mourned to you, and you have not wept.… But wisdom is justified of all her children.

THOUGH man is distinguished from all other animals by the faculty of reason, he is far from submitting readily to its dictates. In things that are agreeable to his mind he is easily persuaded: but where he is at all swayed by prejudice, or passion, or interest, he cannot be prevailed upon, even by the clearest arguments, to embrace truth, or to fulfill his duty. Thus it was with the Pharisees in our Lord's time; on which account he compared them to perverse children, who could not be induced by their companions to participate in their amusements, notwithstanding every endeavor on their parts to accommodate themselves to their wishes.

In this parable our Lord intimates,

I. The reception which his Gospel meets with.

God has used a great variety of means in order to recommend his Gospel.

He published it to the Jews under types and shadows, and gradually unfolded it to them in a long series of prophecies. When the time came for its more general promulgation, he sent the Baptist to prepare their minds, and the Messiah himself to preach it to them, and to confirm his word by miracles without number. He endued also a few poor fishermen with miraculous powers, and sent them to publish the glad tidings, that their divine mission being unquestionable, their testimony might be universally received. Nothing was wanting that could in any wise promote the acceptance of the truth.

But in every place the Gospel has been rejected by those to whom it has come.

The Jews rested in the letter of their law, but hated the spirit of it; they embraced the shadow, but rejected the substance. By whoever the Gospel was preached, or under whatever form, the great majority of that nation could not be prevailed upon to receive it. Thus at this day, the truth of God is generally disregarded and despised. Men, it is true, profess to be followers of Christ, and to approve of his religion: but they are not suitably affected with it in any respect; they neither rejoice in its promises, nor are humbled by its threatenings; "if we pipe to them, they will not dance; and if we mourn to them, they will not lament." Notwithstanding there is such a transcendent excellence in the Gospel, and such an exact suitableness to men's necessities, yet we still have reason to complain, "Lord, who has believed our report?"

It is a matter of no small importance to ascertain,

II. The true ground of this reception.

The ostensible ground is, that the Gospel is not properly administered.

The Jews could not confute the arguments of the Baptist or of Christ; but they took occasion from the peculiarities of each to reject their testimony. John, agreeably to the dispensation under which he ministered, was austere in his manners; and Christ, agreeably to the dispensation which he came to introduce, was affable and social: yet, so far were the people from being pleased with either, that of one they said, "He has a devil;" and of the other, "He is a glutton and a drunkard."

Thus it is at this time: men will not say, "I hate the Gospel, and therefore will not attend to it;" but they will find fault with the persons who administer it; and make their peculiarities a plea for despising their message. At one time they represent the ministers of Christ as speaking too much about faith, and thereby depreciating morality: at another time, as insisting so strongly on good works, that they drive men to despair. Sometimes they will object to the truth because it is not read to them from a written discourse: and sometimes because of the earnest and impressive manner in which it is delivered. Even the virtues whereby ministers endeavor to adorn and recommend the Gospel, are often made occasions of offence; and the strictness of their lives, the condescension of their manners, and their assiduity in labors, are stated as grounds of heavy complaint. And as no terms were too opprobrious to be applied to the Baptist and to Christ, so there is no name so ignominious, nor any treatment so harsh, but it is thought a proper portion for every faithful servant of the Lord.

The true ground, however, must be found in the perverseness of mankind.

We, at this distance of time, see clearly enough the perverseness of the Jews in their treatment of Christ and his Apostles: but we are not aware of the same principle operating in ourselves. Nevertheless the truth is, that we have imbibed notions, which we do not like to have controverted; and have adopted practices, from which we will not recede. The Gospel proposes humiliating doctrines which we are too proud to receive; and self-denying rules of conduct which we cannot endure to follow. Hence we must either acknowledge that we ourselves are wrong, or find some reason for rejecting the truth. But we cannot altogether profess ourselves infidels and despise the Gospel as a fable; we therefore are constrained to blame the mode in which it is administered, and to condemn the preachers of it in order to justify ourselves. But the real ground of our conduct is, that "we love darkness rather than light;" and, if Jesus Christ himself were again to preach to us, the same conduct which he formerly pursued would give the same offence to his hearers, and be made a pretext for rejecting his testimony.

But in the close of the parable, our Lord suggests,

III. The encouragement which ministers, notwithstanding this reception, have to preach the Gospel.

The Gospel of Christ, when justly stated, is the truest "wisdom."

It is called by Paul, "The wisdom of God in a mystery," and the wisdom of God does indeed beam forth in every part of it, whether we consider the mysteries it reveals, or the mode of its administration. Who can contemplate the method prescribed by God for effecting our reconciliation with him, or for fitting us to enjoy his presence, and not be filled with rapture and amazement? The more we consider the satisfaction of Christ, or the agency of the Spirit, the nature of faith or the beauty of holiness, or, in a word, the union of God's glory and man's happiness in the whole scheme of redemption, the more shall we be overwhelmed with wonder at the depths of wisdom contained in it.

The progressive steps also by which it has been dispensed, together with the means by which it has been confirmed and propagated, yes, even the manner in which it has been brought home with power to our own hearts and consciences, will furnish abundant matter to increase our admiration.

And must not the consideration of this be a rich encouragement to ministers under all the contempt and obloquy with which they and their ministrations are regarded? Yes, they know that what the world account foolishness is indeed the wisdom of God; and that "if they be beside themselves, it is to God."

Moreover, the children of wisdom will assuredly receive their testimony.

They are "the children of wisdom" who are willing to "sit at wisdom's gates," and to obey her dictates; and, such are to be found in every place, notwithstanding the generality prefer the ways of sin and folly. Now "of all these" the Gospel will be approved, embraced, "justified." They will show to the world, both by their profession and conduct, that it is indeed "worthy of all acceptance." While others pour contempt upon it, these will be nourished by it; and while others make it a stumbling-block, over which they fall and perish, these will be rendered by it "wise unto salvation."

What can a faithful minister wish for more? He knows that his labors shall not be altogether in vain, but that there shall be some who shall be saved by his means, and be "his joy and crown of rejoicing" for evermore: and this far outweighs all the injuries and insults, which in the discharge of his office, he meets with at the hands of a perverse ungrateful world.

To improve this subject, observe,

1. What enemies are men to their own happiness!

What end had the Baptist or Christ in view, when they preached to the people? Was it to raise a party? to get a name? to gratify their own vanity? Was it not rather to instruct and save mankind? Yet, men everywhere set themselves against them. And of what concern was it to John or Christ that they were called by opprobrious names? But to those who thus despised them it was of infinite moment; because they thereby ensured and aggravated their own eternal condemnation. Thus it is of small concern to us to be loaded with ignominy and reproach: but to those who thus requite our labors, it is an awful matter; for they despise their own mercies, and accomplish their own ruin. Let those who are thus disposed, remember, that they are far greater enemies to themselves than they are to us.

2. What a blessing is "an honest and good heart!"

They alone who possess this gift can profit from the Gospel. With such a disposition men will overlook the little peculiarities which there may be in those who minister the word, and will endeavor to derive benefit from the word they hear. They will consider that every minister has his proper gift; and that the method which they disapprove, may be well suited to others. They will be thankful that the glad tidings are sent to them; and will receive the word with the affections suited to it. They will either "dance or weep" according as the subject calls for humiliation or joy. Thus, instead of rejecting the counsel of God against themselves, they will "justify God" by an sincere acknowledgment of his truth, and a ready compliance with his will.

Let us then cultivate this disposition; so shall that which is to many "a savor of death unto death, be to us a savor of life unto life."

 

MDII

The Insolvent Debtors

Luke 7:40–42. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto you, and he says, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor, which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.

PARABLES are well calculated to convey reproof in the most convincing, and at the same time in the least offensive, manner. Nothing could exceed the beauty and efficacy of Nathan's parable to David: that also in the text was admirably adapted to the occasion.

I. The parable itself.

It presents to our view three important truths:

1. We all, though in different degrees, are debtors unto God.

There is not a man on earth who has not violated the law of God: but, though all are guilty in his sight, some are far more so than others. The profane and profligate sinner is doubtless worse than the more decent moralist. We must not, however, compare ourselves with others, but try ourselves by the standard of God's law; and if we bring ourselves to this test, we shall find no cause for boasting, even though we may have been preserved from gross offences.

2. No man, however little he may owe, can discharge his own debt.

If we could obey the law perfectly in future, our obedience would no more compensate for our past disobedience, than our ceasing to increase a debt would discharge a debt we had already contracted: but we cannot fulfill all that is required of us, or indeed perform any one action that is absolutely free from all imperfection. How then shall we discharge our debt, when, with all our care, we cannot but daily increase it? Nor will repentance obliterate our offences against God's law, any more than it will those committed against human laws. If therefore neither obedience nor repentance can cancel our debt, we must confess that "we have nothing to pay."

3. But God is willing freely to forgive us all.

There is no such difference between one and another as can entitle any one to a preference in God's esteem, or procure him a readier acceptance with God. Every one who truly repents and believes in Christ, shall surely obtain mercy: no recompense or composition is required to be offered by use. On the contrary, an attempt to offer any to God would absolutely preclude us from all hope of his favor. None can be accepted who will not come as bankrupts; nor shall any who come in this manner be rejected.

Such being the import of the parable, we proceed to,

II. The improvement that is to be made of it.

Our Lord evidently intended to reprove Simon, while he vindicated both the woman's conduct and his own. Hence it seems proper to improve the parable,

1. For the conviction of self-righteous Pharisees.

Persons who think their debts small, feel little love to the Savior themselves, and are ready to censure those who do love him. While they approve of zeal in everything else, they condemn it in religion. But this disposition shows that their seeming piety is mere hypocrisy. If they had any true grace, they would delight to see Christ honored, and to honor him themselves.

2. For the vindication of zealous Christians.

We would not plead for a zeal that is without knowledge: but such a zeal as this grateful penitent discovered must be vindicated, though the whole world should condemn it. Are there any then who weep at the Savior's feet, and who seek by all means in their power to honor him? Let them go on boldly, yet modestly, fearing neither loss nor shame in so good a cause; and let them know, that he, for whom they suffer, will soon testify his approbation of them before the assembled universe.

3. For the encouragement of all penitent sinners.

Our Lord, both in the parable, and in his address to the woman, showed that no sinner, however vile, should be spurned from his feet: he even declared to her accusers, and revealed to her own soul, that he had pardoned her sins. Henceforth then let no man despair of obtaining mercy at his hands. Only let us acknowledge to him our inability to pay our own debt, and he will say to us, as to the woman, "Depart in peace, your sins are forgiven you."

 

MDIII

The Sinner's Faith

Luke 7:50. And he said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace.

TO associate with the ungodly world is by no means expedient for those who have been redeemed out of the world. Yet there is a certain degree of fellowship with them which is both proper and desirable. There is a medium between an affecting of their society for our own gratification, and a contemptuous separation from them. Our blessed Lord has exhibited, as in everything else, so in this also, a perfect pattern. When invited by a Pharisee to dinner, he accepted the invitation with a view to instruct him and do him good: and when a woman who had been a notorious sinner came to him at the Pharisee's house, he did not refuse her admission to his presence, but received with kindness the expressions of her regard, and, commending her faith, imparted to her both the blessings and the comforts of his salvation.

The particular notice which our Lord took of the woman's "faith," and the reward he gave her on account of it, leads us naturally to consider,

I. The marks and evidences of her faith.

The first thing that calls for our attention is,

1. Her zeal.

She had doubtless seen many of our Lord's miracles, and heard many of his discourses; and though she was not yet one of his avowed followers, yet, having received good to her soul, she was desirous of honoring him to the utmost of her power. For this purpose she sought him out in the Pharisee's house, and went to him with a full determination to show him some signal mark of her regard.

Now this argued no little zeal. As being of the weaker gender, she was the more liable to be condemned as officious, impertinent, and obtrusive. And being of a notoriously vile character, she was particularly obnoxious to insult and contempt. But unmindful of these things, she went uninvited, to the house of a proud Pharisee (where she was least of all likely to meet with any favor) and (indifferent to the construction that might be put upon her conduct by any censorious spectators, or even to the treatment she might receive from any of them) in the presence of the whole company expressed to him all that was in her heart.

And what was it that enabled her thus to "despise all shame," and to triumph over the fear of man? Doubtless it was her faith: for the Apostle says, "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith."

2. Her humility.

Though she was bent on executing her pious purpose, she was solicitous to do it in as private and modest a manner as she could. She therefore went behind him as he lay upon the couch, and, having easy access to his feet, placed herself there, without attracting the notice of the company, or interfering with the conversation that might be passing at table.

This also was a strong mark and evidence of her faith. She knew his august character, and felt herself unworthy to enter into his presence; yes, she accounted it the very summit of her ambition to be permitted to kiss his feet. It was in this way that the faith of the centurion and others showed itself; and though, through the remaining pride and ignorance of their hearts, young converts often, like Jehu, seek the notice and applause of men, humility will always be found to exist in the soul in exact proportion to our faith.

3. Her contrition.

No sooner had she placed herself near the Savior, than all her sins presented themselves to her mind, and filled her with deep compunction. Instantly she burst into a flood of tears, with which she bathed, as it were, the feet of her Lord, while she embraced them, in hopes of finding mercy from the friend of sinners.

Now it is the property of faith to "look on him whom we have pierced, and mourn." Yes, the more lively faith any have possessed, the more abundant has been their self-loathing and self-abhorrence. We cannot doubt therefore but that faith was the principle from whence her humiliation flowed.

4. Her love.

While she wept over the Savior's feet, she wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed them, and anointed them with odoriferous ointment. It was not possible for her to manifest stronger tokens of her affection.

And was not this also an evidence of her faith? Had she been an unbeliever, she would have seen "no beauty or loveliness in Jesus" that deserved her admiration: but believing in him, she accounted him "fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely;" according to that declaration of the Apostle, To those who believe, he is precious.

5. Her confidence.

She would not have ventured to approach the Pharisee in this manner, because she knew that he would despise her in his heart, and dismiss her with scorn. But she felt no apprehension of such treatment from the Savior. She well knew his condescension and compassion; and therefore without reserve, and without fear, she cast herself upon his mercy.

In this too she showed the strength of her faith. Unbelief would have suggested many doubts; Will he receive me? Will he deign to look upon such an abandoned wretch? But faith enabled her to approach him under a full persuasion, that "whoever came to him should in no wise be cast out."

It was not in vain that she thus approached the Savior; as we shall see, while we consider,

II. The fruits and consequences of her faith.

Though despised and condemned by the Pharisee, she was well rewarded by her Lord. She obtained from him,

1. The pardon of her sins.

Numerous as her iniquities had been, they were all in one moment blotted out from the book of God's remembrance. Jesus, who "had all power on earth to forgive sins," pardoned all her offences, and "cast them, as it were, behind him into the very depths of the sea." What a blessed fruit and consequence of her faith was this! Had she been subjected to all the evil treatment that could have been shown her, she would have had no reason to regret that conduct by which, she had obtained so inestimable a blessing.

And was this peculiar to her? Shall not we also have our iniquities forgiven, if we apply to him in humility and faith? Shall the greatness of our sins be any bar to our acceptance with him, if we repent and believe? Let the word of God be deemed worthy of any credit, and all such apprehensions will vanish in an instant.

2. An assurance of her acceptance.

Twice did our Lord repeat to her the joyful tidings, that her sins were pardoned, and that her soul was saved; and to confirm it, he bade her depart in peace. What a cordial must this have been to her drooping spirit! How transported must she have been with the joyful sound! And what comfort must she enjoy through life in a sense of the Divine favor!

But neither was this peculiar to her. It is true, that many real Christians never attain to this high privilege: but it is owing to the weakness of their faith: if their faith operated as her's did, if it showed itself in such humility, such contrition, such love, such confidence, such zeal, they also should hear him say to them, "Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you." What though he should not utter it by an audible voice from Heaven, can he not reveal it to the soul by his Spirit, and enable us to say, "My beloved is mine, and I am his?" Yes: let us only glorify him to the utmost of our power, and he will give us a peace that passes all understanding, and a full assurance of hope unto the end.

3. Everlasting happiness and glory.

In the declaration of Jesus she received both a pledge and an earnest of her eternal inheritance. Nor can we doubt but that, after waiting her "appointed time upon earth," she was admitted to the enjoyment of her Lord in Heaven, not any longer to weep at his feet, but to sit with him on his throne, and to participate his glory.

Thus also shall it be with all who truly believe: "they shall never perish, but shall have eternal life."

From this history we may learn,

1. The nature of faith.

We cannot too carefully inquire into the nature of faith; for there is nothing respecting which so many, and such fatal, mistakes are made. Faith is not a mere assent to any doctrines whatever; but it is a living principle in the soul, which evidences itself by precisely such a regard to Christ as this woman manifested on this occasion. Would we then ascertain whether our faith be genuine and saving? let us inquire whether it lead us to Christ, in spite of all obstacles from without or from within, with humility and contrition, with love and confidence? For in proportion as we abound in these graces, or are destitute of them, we either possess, or are destitute of, a living faith.

2. The excellence of faith.

Admirable were the graces which this woman exercised; yet not one of them was noticed by our Lord: he overlooked them all; and noticed that only which was least apparent, and which every one else would have overlooked, namely, her faith. He knew that this was the root or principle from whence all her other graces sprang. It was this that led her so to honor him; and therefore he determined to honor it. And must not that be excellent which he so highly regarded, so studiously searched out, and so eminently distinguished?

But what is it that he here assigns to her faith? it is nothing less than the saving of her soul: he passes by all her other graces as having no weight or influence whatever in her justification before God, and specifies her "faith" as that which "saved" her. Is it possible to bestow a higher commendation on it than this?

If it be asked, why faith is thus distinguished above all other graces? we answer, it is because faith unites us unto the Savior, and interests us thereby in all that he has done and suffered for us: but this cannot be said of any other grace whatever; and therefore, though every other grace adorns the soul, no grace but faith will save it.

Let us all seek to attain right sentiments on this most important point, and pray with the Apostles, "Lord, increase our faith."

3. The condescension of Christ to believing penitents.

If a person of an abandoned character, however changed in his conduct, should come to us when in the midst of company, and that company of a higher order and Pharisaic cast, and should express such affection for us, our pride would be apt to rise; and, while we blushed for the degradation we seemed to suffer, we should be ready to condemn him for his unseasonable intrusion, or perhaps to suspect that he was deranged in his mind. But Jesus accounted himself honored by the testimonies of the woman's regard: and, though he could not but know what reflections would be cast upon his character on account of his kindness to her, he vindicated her conduct, and richly recompensed her kind attentions.

Thus will he do to every believing penitent. He will compensate the scoffs of an unbelieving world by manifest tokens of his approbation. He will not regard the quantity or quality of a man's past offences; but will speak peace to his soul, and in due time "wipe away all tears from his eyes" forever. O that we might all consider this, and experience it to our eternal joy!

 

MDIV

The Lighted Candle

Luke 8:16–18. No man, when he has lighted a candle, covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed; but sets it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed therefore how you hear: for whoever has, to him shall be given; and whoever has not, from him shall be taken even that which he seems to have.

AMONG the ancient philosophers there were some, who instilled into their more immediate followers, principles different from what they avowed to the public at large. But there was no such insincerity in our Divine Teacher. He did indeed instruct his peculiar Disciples more fully than others (for others were not capable of enduring the clear light of his Gospel) but it was his design that, in due season, the whole truth should be made known to the world; and of this his intention he advertised his Disciples, at the very time that he was explaining to them his public discourses.

In the parable before us he suggests the duty,

I. Of those who preach the Gospel.

The Gospel is a light in the midst of a dark world.

The world lies in utter darkness: nor has it any means of discovering the way of acceptance with God, but by the Gospel of Christ. Something of God may be learned from the visible creation: and reason may discover many things that are proper to that relation which we bear to God and to each other: but nothing can be known of Christ, nor can any means of reconciliation with God be devised, by unenlightened reason. It is in the Gospel only that the Savior is exhibited, and that all the things belonging to our peace are fully revealed. Hence the word of the Gospel is represented as a light shining in a dark place, and as that light to which the whole world must be indebted for life and salvation.

It is the duty of ministers to preach this Gospel,

1. With fidelity.

It is not sufficient to amuse the people with moral essays, or with dissertations that shall display our own learning. We must preach Christ crucified. We must "determine to know nothing else among our people." We must never omit any opportunity of setting before men that "light which God has sent into the world." We may indeed, yes we must, use discretion in our method of dispensing the Gospel, lest by an injudicious declaration of the truth we injure those whom it is our desire to benefit: but, in this, we must be actuated, not by worldly policy or the fear of man, but solely by a love to the souls of our fellow-creatures. When no such necessity imposes a restraint, we must declare the whole counsel of God.

2. With perseverance.

As a man should not substitute anything else in the place of the Gospel, so neither should he withdraw from the engagements he has solemnly entered into to preach the Gospel. Neither political ambition, nor worldly care, can ever justify a man in intermitting, much less in vacating, the paramount duties of the ministry: not even sickness itself is any excuse for neglecting to employ the strength we have in the service of our God. We do not say, that the education of youth is incompatible with the ministry: but it should never be suffered to make void the superior obligations which we owe to God, and to the souls of men. It may be made subservient to the ministry; but must never supersede it.

From the duty of those who preach the Gospel, we pass on to consider that,

II. Of those who hear it.

We should "take heed how we hear it."

We should be extremely careful what we hear; lest we be led astray by those who profess to guide us into the way of peace. We must also be duly attentive to the manner in which we hear. We must not be indulging a vain curiosity, or a disposition to cavil; but must receive the word humbly, as the word of God himself; attentively, in order to retain it; and obediently, with a view to practice all that it enjoins. If, like those to whom this injunction was given, we be already in the ministry, or are preparing for it, our obligations to profit by the word, whether in the Church or in the closet, are greatly increased.

An attention to this duty is of infinite importance.

1. We shall invariably receive benefit in proportion as we do attend to it.

Who that has ever searched the Holy Scriptures in private, and waited diligently on the public ministration of the Gospel, has not found that, together with increasing views of the truth, his faith, his hope, and all his graces, have been strengthened and confirmed?.

2. We shall assuredly suffer loss in proportion as we neglect it.

From whatever cause we are led to slight the ordinances of religion, or to decline from the study of the sacred oracles, we shall soon find occasion for regret and sorrow. We may ask of all who have experienced such declension, Have you not lost much of the light and liberty which you once enjoyed in your souls? have not your graces languished; your corruptions gathered strength; your difficulties increased; your comforts vanished?.

God has inseparably connected prosperity with diligence, and with remissness want.

Application.

If the true light now shine around you, be thankful for it, and walk in the light, lest the candlestick be removed, and you be left in utter darkness: and "let all make their light to shine before men;" that, being "as lights in the world," they may "win by their holy conversation" those who have resisted the light of the written word, and shut their ears against the preached Gospel.

 

MDV

Directions How to Hear Sermons

Luke 8:18. Take heed therefore how you hear.

THE office of a Christian minister is arduous. He is to explain and enforce every part of man's duty: he is to search out and censure every sin. After all his labors, he will see but little fruit. However faithfully he preach, there are but few who will hear aright: this our Lord had just declared in the parable of the sower. He then enforced his declaration with this most important caution. In discoursing upon which, we shall,

I. Assign some reasons for the caution.

Our Lord elsewhere cautions his people to take heed what they hear: nor can anything be more necessary than to be on our guard against error. But the caution how we hear was also necessary:

1. Because many hear in an unfitting manner.

The generality are careless hearers.

They attend God's house merely in conformity with the customs of the country: they suffer their thoughts to rove after earthly and carnal things: they discern very little difference in the doctrines which they hear: they, like Gallio, seem to "care for none of these things."

Many are critical hearers.

They can attend to nothing which is not composed with elegance; or they affect only what accords with their own views of religion: they judge of all they hear by a standard of their own. Hence they form parties, and set up one minister against another.

Many also are captious hearers.

They will not hear anything which militates against their prejudices: they cannot bear to have their favorite habits condemned: they are offended if their bosom lusts be faithfully reproved: they too much resemble the Scribes and Pharisees of old—While there continue such hearers, the caution will be necessary.

2. Because God himself speaks to us by the preacher.

Ministers are ambassadors for God, and speak in Christ's stead. If they preach what is founded on the Scriptures, their word, as far as it is agreeable to the mind of God, is to be considered as God's. This is asserted by our Lord and his Apostles. We ought therefore to receive the preacher's word as the word of God himself. With what humility then ought we to attend to it! What judgments may we not expect, if we slight it. Surely therefore on this account also we need the caution in the text.

3. Because every discourse increases either our salvation or condemnation.

The word delivered is either a savor of life or of death. Our Lord himself intimates this reason for the caution. Hence our Lord's preaching eventually enhanced the guilt of the Jews. The same awful effects will be felt by those who slight his ministers. What stronger reasons for such a caution can possibly be imagined?

The necessity of such an admonition being evinced, we,

II. Give some directions for obeying it.

An humble mind will naturally receive instruction in a proper manner.

We should hear,

With candor.

We cannot too carefully divest ourselves of prejudice: we should not "call any man master upon earth." We should rather weigh what we hear, in the balance of the sanctuary; but we ought to have our minds open to conviction. We should "receive the seed in an honest and good heart," we should "receive with meekness the engrafted word," nor can we hope to profit, if we do not cultivate this disposition.

With a desire to profit.

The word of God is profitable for many blessed purposes: yet it cannot be serviceable to us, if it be not received in faith; but when applied to the soul, its operation is very powerful. We should therefore at all times apply it to ourselves: we should go to the ordinances, as the sick to Bethesda's pool. Nor do we ever hear aright, except when we attend in this spirits: it is the practical hearer only that derives benefit to his soul.

With an humble dependence on God's Spirit.

It is God alone who "teaches us to profit." Human labors, without his blessing, will be vain. It is his work to open the understanding, and the heart. To him therefore should we look for the teaching of his spirit. We should plead the promise which God has given us—In this way we shall experience much benefit from the word. No obstacles whatever shall be able to withstand its power: it shall be a rich source of grace and wisdom to us. Let us then offer in sincerity that petition in the Litany.

 

MDVI

Jairus' Daughter Healed

Luke 8:50. When Jesus heard it, he answered him, saying, Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.

AFFLICTIONS may well be deprecated by us as painful to flesh and blood; but they are often the means of humbling us before God. Multitudes came as suppliants to our Lord, who would never have regarded him if they had not felt the pressure of disease or trouble. The rich in general were the most backward to acknowledge him; but they found that in the hour of affliction none other could do them good. Hence occasionally we see the opulent presenting their supplications before him. Nor did he reject the suit of any, whether they were rich or poor. The answer he gave to the ruler of the synagogue is recorded in the text; and it will naturally lead us to notice the ruler's faith:

I. How it was tried.

Jairus (such was his name) had much to try his faith.

He had an only child (twelve years of age) in dying circumstances. Having heard much of our Lord's miracles, he applied to him on behalf of his daughter, and earnestly requested him to come and restore her to health. But while he was returning with Jesus to his house, his servant brought tidings that the child was dead. This was a dreadful shock to the parent's feelings, and might have utterly destroyed all his hopes.

Thus it is that the faith of God's people is often tried.

They are enabled to make application to their God and Savior. But the storm in the meantime gathers thick around them: their difficulties so increase, that their hopes seem almost blasted. They have cried for pardon, and find only an increasing sense of guilt. They have prayed for deliverance from corruption or temptation, and experienced the assaults of Satan more violent than ever. Thus they are almost ready to think that God has cast out their prayer, and shut up his tender mercies from them. It was in this manner that holy Job was tried. Yes, the experience of most, however diversified, is generally found to agree in this.

But this accumulated trouble was permitted for the further exercise of the ruler's faith.

II. How it operated.

He was enabled humbly and confidently to depend on Jesus.

It was his faith that first led him to Jesus for help: nor, when his case seemed desperate, did he give up his hope. It is probable that our Lord might perceive some rising apprehensions in his mind; but he sustained him instantly with those encouraging words, "Fear not." Jairus expected now that his child should be raised as from a sleep. The idea of sleep, however, only called forth the derision of the mourners. Such was the fruit of their ignorance and unbelief: but the ruler himself resembled the father of the faithful.

It is in this way that true faith will ever show itself.

It will surely lead us to Jesus for relief: it will make us humble and importunate in our supplications to him. We shall not presently turn from him because our difficulties increase: we shall rather adopt the expression of holy Job. Unbelief may prompt us to deride what we do not understand; but faith will make us acquiesce in God's declarations, though we cannot fully comprehend them, and expect the accomplishment of his promises, however his providence may appear to contradict them.

Jesus did not fail to respect the faith that honored him.

III. How it was rewarded.

Jesus answered the ruler to the full extent of all his wishes.

Our Lord reproved the excessive lamentations of the people, and encouraged them to expect the restoration of the child; but he would not suffer those who had derided him to be spectators of the miracle. He took with him, however, persons sufficient to attest it: he favored the believing parents with admission to behold it, and restored their daughter, as it had been from sleep, in their very presence. The child arose instantly, and walked as in perfect health. For their further conviction he ordered food to be given to the child. By this also he intimated, that though she was restored by a miracle, she was to be kept alive by natural means. What a rich reward was this to the believing suppliant!

Nor shall any one who asks in faith, be disappointed.

Our Lord has commanded us to ask in faith; and has assured us that petitions, so offered, shall be answered by him. Things the most impossible to man, shall, if they will conduce to our good and to God's honor, be effected by the prayer of faith: crimes the most atrocious that ever were committed, shall be pardoned: lusts the most inveterate that ever enslaved a soul, shall be subdued. The dead in trespasses and sins shall be raised, like Christ himself, to a new and heavenly life: nor shall they fail of attaining eternal happiness in Heaven.

Application.

Every man must expect trouble in this valley of tears: the dearest friends must look forward to a day of separation; but let every trouble drive us to the compassionate Jesus, and every want be spread before him in prayer. We are not now indeed to expect miraculous interpositions; nor ought we to ask for temporal blessings in an unqualified manner. We should commit the concerns of this life to his all-wise disposal; but for spiritual blessings we cannot be too importunate, nor can our faith in his word be too strong. What he said to Martha he still says to us. The advice of Jehoshaphat is the best direction we can follow. Let us not then limit his tender mercies. If we resemble the Samaritan lord, we shall fare like him. Let us not in renewed troubles be like the unbelieving Jews; but let us bear in mind that encouraging declaration—, and determine henceforth to live like the Apostle.

 

MDVII

The Five Thousand Fed

Luke 9:12, 13. And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. But he said unto them, Give you them to eat.

WITH all our active services for the Lord it is proper to blend devotion and retirement; that so we may not neglect our own vineyard, while we are cultivating that of others. But there are calls which may properly supersede for a time our private duties; as God has told us by the prophet, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice."

Our blessed Lord, wearied with his continual labors, had retired to a desert place for meditation and prayer. But the people still following him in great numbers, he denied himself those necessary enjoyments, and not only renewed his exertions with all his usual earnestness, but supplied by miracle the wants of all who waited on him. This event being replete with instruction, I shall set before you,

I. The Miracle he wrought.

The multitudes who followed him were reduced to the greatest straits.

The evening was closing in upon them, and they had no provision for the support of their bodies after their great fatigues. What their motives were for such a protracted attendance upon him we do not exactly know. It is possible that some loved to hear his instructions; while others sought to obtain either for themselves or their friends a miraculous cure of their disorders: and some possibly were actuated by no better motive than that of gratifying an idle curiosity. But, however this might be, our Lord "had compassion on them,"and determined to avert from them the evils to which their inconsiderate zeal had exposed them. He proposed indeed to Philip, in the first instance, to purchase bread for them. But this proposal was made solely to try the faith of Philip; Philip knew that no funds which they possessed would suffice to feed so many. Two hundred pence, which is about six guineas of our money, would scarcely suffice to give to every one of them a little piece of bread, and much less to satisfy their hunger: and therefore the Apostles proposed that the multitude should be dispersed.

But our Lord wrought a stupendous miracle for their relief.

He ordered the multitude to be arranged in rows of fifty in depth and a hundred in breadth: and, that being done, he told his Disciples to dispense to them all the food which they had, consisting of five loaves and two small fishes. This was done: and every Apostle, while distributing the food, found the pieces in his hand still undiminished. And, after all were satisfied, he commanded the remnants to be gathered, to no less an amount than twelve baskets full; so ample was the supply, and so indisputable the miracle that had been wrought for them.

Without dwelling on any of the smaller incidents of the miracle, we may proceed to consider,

II. The instruction to be derived from it.

Truly, it will be found very instructive.

1. In a moral view.

Many valuable lessons does it suggest to us. We may here learn contentment: for, when our blessed Lord would feast this whole multitude, he did it not by spreading before them a luxurious entertainment, but by giving them only such provisions as were suited to a laborious fisherman, some barley bread and some cold dried fish. Shall it then be a matter of any concern to us, if we are constrained to exist on coarser fare, while people in higher life are fed with dainties? I am persuaded that this meal was to their taste far sweeter, yes, and in their eyes, more splendid too, than the feast of King Ahasuerus to the heads of his one hundred and twenty-seven provinces. In fact, it is a small matter whether our tables be strewed with delicacies, or we have merely the food that is convenient and necessary for us. "Having food and clothing, though of the coarsest kind, we may well therewith be content;" and may say, as Paul, when his necessities were thus supplied, "I have all, and abound."

And surely we may well learn from hence liberality also: for when our Lord proposed to his Disciples to give to the distressed multitude all the food which they had, the answer made, was not, 'Lord, what then shall we have left for ourselves?' but simply, 'Lord, for so great a multitude our little store will be of no use whatever:' and when our Lord gave the order to distribute it all, the order was obeyed without the smallest hesitation or delay. This kind of liberality would be but little approved by the Christian world in general. But it is highly approved in the Holy Scriptures; and the poor widow, who gave her whole substance for the use of the temple, was commended for it. In truth, there is no luxury under Heaven that can be purchased with money, that is equal to the luxury of doing good. If only we give as unto the Lord, we shall never repent of having given too much: for "what we so give to the poor, we lend unto the Lord;" and at no distant period "he will repay us again."

Methinks, too, we may here learn affiance also. Our Lord suffered these his followers to come into great straits, and then supplied their wants. And us also he may permit to be encompassed with difficulties for a season: but he will only make them an occasion of manifesting his own watchful care over us, and of magnifying his mercy towards us. True, we are not to expect miracles to be wrought in our behalf: but he has ten thousand ways of providing for his people; and he will do it in the time and manner that he shall see to be best for us: for he has said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all needful things shall be added unto you." Let him give us ever so much, we are to suffer no waste, but to preserve our very remnants for future use: on the other hand, let our wants be ever so great, we should never doubt but he will supply us in the time of need.

2. In a religious view.

Who does not see in the conduct of this multitude how we should seek the Lard? Did they press upon him thus for the sake of obtaining healing for their bodies, and shall not we for the healing of our souls? Did they forget the very necessities of nature that they might reap the benefit of his instructions, and shall we account any self-denial too great for the obtaining of grace and peace at his hands? I do not indeed think it necessary, or even right, for us to neglect our worldly callings as they did. They could not otherwise have gained access to our blessed Lord, whose august character fully authorized and called for those extraordinary attentions: whereas we have access to him at all times in his ordinances, and may therefore easily make our attendance on him consistent with the discharge of all our relative and social duties. But in heart and affection we may well "leave all to follow him," nor should our own carnal ease or worldly interests ever be suffered to detain us from him, or to interfere with the concerns of our souls.

Here, too, we see what we may expect at his hands. See how richly he fed that whole multitude: and will he withhold "the bread of life" from you? Will he not abundantly supply all of you out of his own inexhaustible fullness? Methinks you are here waiting upon him, and seated, as it were, before him to receive at his hands the communications of his grace: and here am I dispensing to you the bread of life according to his command. True, it is but barley bread that you receive: yet shall you find it sufficient for all your necessities, if only you receive it as from Him, and feed upon it as the food of your souls. You are told that, when "Jesus took the loaves and fishes, he looked up to Heaven, and blessed them, and then brake and gave them to the disciples, and through the disciples to the multitude. Now, if you will beg of him to bless your provision also that is now dispensed by me, what may you not hope for? Truly your souls shall be fed, yes, and nourished too, unto life eternal. And see that multitude when dismissed to their homes: was there one among those who did not adore and magnify their glorious Benefactor? O that it may be so with you at this time! that not one soul may be sent empty away, but every one of you depart refreshed and strengthened for all your future labors! Even so, Amen and Amen.

 

MDVIII

The Transfiguration of Christ

Luke 9:29–32. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his clothing was white and glistening. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elijah: who appeared in glory, and spoke of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter, and they that were with him, were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.

THEY, who were the immediate followers of our Lord, beheld him, for the most part, "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;" but, lest they should "be offended in him," and be tempted to forsake him, he sometimes spoke to them of "that glory which he had with the Father before the world was," and which he should resume as soon as ever the scenes of his present humiliation should be closed. On one occasion he condescended to give to three of them an ocular demonstration of his glory. The particulars are related in the passage before us; in opening which we shall consider,

I. The time and manner of his transfiguration.

Our Lord was at this time engaged in prayer.

God has on many occasions signally manifested his regard to prayer. It was at the beginning of Daniel's supplications that an angel was sent to reveal to him the period fixed for the Messiah's advent. The reason that God assigned for sending Ananias to open the eyes of Saul was, "Behold, he prays." Thus Jesus was at this time engaged in prayer. He had retired to a mountain for that very purpose: and this was the season which God chose for distinguishing him in this most signal manner. It is worthy of remark, that every time that God was pleased to bear testimony to his Son by an audible voice from Heaven, it was either in, or immediately after prayer. And if we cultivated more holy intimacy with God, he would more frequently grant to us also the special tokens of his love.

"While he was praying," his form was visibly and wonderfully changed.

In his transfiguration, as it is called, the Godhead displayed itself through the veil of his human nature, his countenance shone like the meridian sun; and his very garments were so irradiated by the luster of the indwelling Deity, that they were white and dazzling like the light, yes, "so white as no fuller on earth could whiten them." He had hitherto appeared only "in the form of a servant;" but now he appeared in his own proper form as God; at least, so far as his divine nature could be rendered visible to mortal eyes. Nor was this transfiguration intended as a mere ostentatious display of his glory: it was necessary perhaps for his support as man; that, when he should come into the scenes of his deepest humiliation, he might not faint. It was also well calculated to prepare his Disciples for that awful view of him, which they were afterwards to have, when they should see him in the garden, prostrate on the ground, bathed in a bloody sweat, and supplicating "with strong crying and tears" the removal of the cup which his Father had put into his hand.

The history further informs us respecting,

II. His conversation with his attendants.

Moses and Elijah were sent from Heaven to attend upon him.

The body of Moses probably had been preserved, as that of Elijah had been translated to Heaven, without suffering the total change which is usually effected by death. They were on this occasion arrayed "in glory," somewhat like to their divine Master, though, of course, they were but as twinkling stars in comparison of the meridian sun. And there was a peculiar propriety that these should be selected to wait upon him, not only because they had been faithful and highly honored servants of God, the one being the giver, and the other the restorer, of the law, but because they fitly represented the law and the prophets; and, in bearing testimony to him, resigned, as it were, their authority into his hands.

These conversed with him respecting his own approaching death.

One might have expected that they should have talked of Heaven: but they had a subject in which all were yet more deeply interested; a subject, in which the inexhaustible treasures of divine wisdom and knowledge are contained; a subject, which fills all Heaven with wonder, and which eternity itself will not be sufficient to unfold. Yes, that subject, universally exploded from the societies of men, was the one which occupied their attention during this delightful interview; "they spoke of his decease which he should accomplish in Jerusalem." O what do we lose by lending ourselves so entirely to other topics, and so totally discarding this! And how infatuated are men, that, even in the society of their dearest friends, they do not improve their hours by conversing on a subject of such universal importance!

Nor were his earthly followers wholly excluded. We read of,

III. The peculiar privilege granted to some of his disciples.

Some more distinguished favorites were admitted to this heavenly vision.

Christ has sanctified human friendships by manifesting the same attachments as are common among men. He not only chose twelve out of the body of his Disciples to be his stated followers, but admitted three of them to more peculiar intimacy than the rest: and even of these three there was one, who lay, as it were, in his bosom, and was called, by way of eminence, "The Disciple whom he loved." But the three, who had been taken up to the mountain to spend their time in prayer, had fallen asleep, and lost thereby much of the vision, which they might have seen, and of the conversation, which they might have heard. Alas! What an irreparable loss did they sustain! Well might Jesus have said to them, "Sleep on now and take your rest." But the effulgence of his glory roused them at last, and they both beheld this bright assemblage of persons, and heard the sublime discourse which passed between them. Happy were their eyes which saw, and their ears which heard, such things! Can we wonder that Peter should exclaim, It is good for us to be here! and that he should propose to erect tents for the accommodation of Christ and his heavenly guests, regardless of his own ease, if he might but protract his present enjoyments? But though well meant, it was an ignorant proposal; for it was needful both for themselves and for the world, that they should speedily resume their usual labors, and fulfill the work assigned them. Peter however may well be excused, for "he knew not what he said."

They also heard the testimony, which the Father on that occasion bore to Christ.

While the Apostles were wishing to rest in their present comforts, they were overshadowed with a cloud, and their joys were turned into fear and dread. The cloud perhaps was like that which guided the Israelites through the wilderness as a symbol of the Divine presence: and what can we expect, but that, as sinners, they should tremble at the near approach of the divine Majesty? But the testimony which they heard, amply compensated their transient fears: their divine Master was proclaimed as the only beloved Son of God; and they were bidden to "hear him" him chiefly, him constantly, him exclusively. Such was the singular honor conferred on him: and though they were forbidden to mention it for a season, lest it should provoke their enemies to wrath, and their fellow-disciples to jealousy, yet doubtless it tended much to support them in their subsequent conflicts.

Inferences.

1. How indisputable is the truth of our holy religion.

This was a most remarkable testimony to the character of Jesus; and it was given by God himself: and would God interpose in this manner in order to deceive? or could those Disciples be mistaken in what they so plainly saw with their eyes, and heard with their ears? Surely, strange as the tidings of the Gospel may be thought, here is evidence enough that it is "not a cunningly devised fable." It is remarkable that Peter selects this very event out of the many thousands to which he was a witness, in order to establish beyond a doubt the truth of that doctrine which he preached. Let us then receive that Gospel which is so well authenticated, so firmly established. Let us "hear Jesus," our divinely appointed Teacher, and make him "our beloved" Savior, "in whom our souls are well pleased."

2. How diversified are the states of God's people upon earth!

These highly favored Disciples were now upon the mount; but they were soon to descend into the valley again, and to go "through much tribulation in their way to the kingdom." Thus it is with all the Lord's people: the present is at best a chequered scene: nor is trouble ever nearer to us than when we are saying, "My mountain stands strong; I shall never be moved." Let us then be thankful for any seasons of joy; but never be so elated by them as to wish to set up tabernacles here, or to forget that we may soon experience a sad reverse: yes, let us rather improve our joys as means of strengthening us for future conflicts.

3. What a glorious place must Heaven be!

It must have been inexpressibly delightful to have beheld, though for so short a time, this heavenly vision: but what must it be to "see Jesus as he is," in all the full blaze of divine majesty; to see him, not attended with two only, but with ten thousands of his saints; and to hear, not a conversation about future sufferings, hut songs of everlasting joy and triumph? What must it be to see and hear such things; ourselves resembling the Lord Jesus; our "bodies fashioned like unto his glorious body," and our souls "shining above the sun in the firmament;" our body no longer to become torpid through sloth, nor our soul to be agitated by surprise or terror; but in the perfect exercise of all our faculties to participate that glory, with a full assurance that it shall never end? Well may we then say, It is good for us to be here. Then we shall need no tabernacles, for "we shall dwell in the temple of our God, and shall go no more out." May we all be counted worthy of that honor! may we be admitted to the enjoyment of that beatific vision; that "when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, we also may appear with him in glory!"

 

MDIX

Against Mistaking Our Own Spirit

Luke 9:55. You know not what manner of spirit you are of

WHEN we consider what attainments men have made in science and philosophy; when we see them marshaling the stars, measuring their distances, tracing their courses, and ascertaining their influence, we are amazed at the strength of human intellect. But when we turn our eyes to their spiritual attainments, and inquire into their knowledge of their own hearts, we are altogether as much astonished at the extreme ignorance which they betray. Even godly persons have but very limited and partial views of their own principles of action. The very Apostles, who had long enjoyed the instructions of Christ himself, showed on many occasions an unfitting spirit, while they supposed themselves actuated by the best motives. One instance in particular we have before us, where, under a cloak of zeal for their Master's; honor, they would have called down fire from Heaven upon a whole village. Our Lord, however, rebuked them in the words we have now read; from whence we shall inquire,

I. Whence is it that men are so liable to self-deception?

It is manifest, beyond a doubt, that many know not what spirit they are of.

The various classes of ungodly men are universally laboring under self-deception. However they neglect every duty, or violate every commandment, they persuade themselves that, on the whole, they have good hearts; nor have they the smallest conception that they are "haters of God." Even the proud persecutor, so far from accounting himself an enemy to God, will imagine that he is doing God service, while he is opposing to the utmost the Redeemer's kingdom.

Nor are the godly themselves exempt from similar delusions, though they are influenced by them in a less degree. The zealous are sometimes inflamed with an unhallowed fire; and the timid induced to temporized. The confident will resolve, when they should rather pray for strength; and the faithless will harbor fears, when they should rather be enjoying their security.

This propensity to self-deception is not hard to be accounted for.

1. There is a close affinity between good and evil.

Good and evil are in their own nature as opposite as light and darkness: but, through the imperfection of our knowledge, they appear very nearly allied. Indifference assumes the garb of candor: worldliness is dignified by the name of honest industry: the fear of man puts on the mask of prudence: a vindictive spirit passes for a nice sense of honor. There is scarcely any other disposition, however sinful, which does not assume the name of some corresponding virtue, and thus conceal at least its own malignity, or perhaps obtrude itself upon the world as amiable and praise-worthy. Hence there arises a great difficulty in distinguishing between the good and the evil that there is in our own actions, since the very same thing may be either good or evil, according to the principles from whence it proceeds, and to the time, manner, or degree in which it is carried into execution.

2. There is a backwardness in man to search out the evil that is in him.

There is in every man a self-love, which renders nun averse to view his own actions in an unfavorable light; and a partiality that leads him to put the best construction upon them. If there be reason to doubt the purity of our own intentions, we do not like to bring matters to the test, and to weigh our actions in the balance of the sanctuary. If a friend attempt to undeceive us, we shrink from the probe, and would gladly avoid the painful scrutiny. Were we told that there was some hidden fire likely to consume our house, we should search into every corner, and thankfully accept every assistance to discover it, in order that it might be extinguished before it had gained too great an ascendancy. But if a friend would point out the evil of our hearts, we are glad to conceal it from his view, and to harbor, rather than detect, the lurking foe. Even in the public ministry of the word, we are apt to think how suitable such and such admonitions are for others, instead of applying them to ourselves: and hence we continue in an evil way, persuading ourselves that we are influenced by a good spirit, while our most discerning friends lament the delusions which they cannot hinder.

It will be of no small benefit to us to consider seriously,

II. How we may counteract its baneful influence.

Doubtless, it is easier to prescribe means to others than to use them ourselves.

But, as God works by means, we would Suggest such as may prove most effectual.

1. Let every grace receive a due portion of our attention.

Many in their concern for one grace will trample upon another: in the exercise of zeal, they will forget charity; and, in maintaining confidence, will overlook humility and fear. The ungodly indeed are necessitated often to thwart one propensity, while they indulge another; but all the graces of Christianity may be exercised together, and in their highest perfection: every one tempers and limits that which appears opposite to it; and all, like the rays of the sun, must be combined, to produce their full effect.

2. Let every part of Scripture be regarded with equal reverence.

It is astonishing how irreverently even good persons will sometimes treat those portions of Scripture which militate against their sentiments or practice. The plainest declarations of God are considered as "hard sayings," and are slighted, either as impracticable in themselves, or as inapplicable to their case. But we must be careful to receive every word of God; and to improve it as "a light to our feet and a lantern to our paths," for it is only "by taking heed to it" that we can ever effectually "cleanse our way."

3. Let Christ be set before us as our pattern and example.

Wherever we can trace the steps of our blessed Lord, there we are to follow. There were indeed some things in him which would not become us, because we are not called to the high office which he sustained. But the spirit of his actions should be copied by us, even where the actions themselves would not be proper for our imitation. We should not attempt to fast forty days and forty nights; but we should exercise self-denial. Nor should we speak of rulers in reproachful terms; but we should be bold and faithful in the discharge of our duty. In doubtful circumstances it will be profitable to consider what he would have done if he had been precisely in our situation. By thus divesting ourselves of partiality, and proposing to ourselves his perfect pattern, we shall have our judgment assisted, and our conduct rectified.

4. Let us lean to the side that mortifies, rather than to that which suits, our natural inclination.

In the present corrupt state of human nature, we shall rarely, if ever, find our natural desires drawing with precision our line of duty. Self has too strong a bias, even where its tendencies most accord with the word of God: nor does it ever fail to operate in some measure. If therefore we lean to that side, we may be hurried, before we are aware, to great extremes, without any prospect of recovery. But if we lean rather to the opposite side, we are in no danger of being transported much too far; and we have a bias uniformly operating to bring us back to the line of moderation. This rule is founded on the supposition that our natural inclinations may, in some instances, prescribe what is right. But, in cases where the line of duty is at all doubtful, it will invariably be found safer at least, and in all human probability the only right way, to oppose and mortify self.

5. Let us keep our minds open to conviction.

If we will at all events conclude ourselves right, there is no hope of our being ever undeceived. We must he willing to suspect ourselves, and to listen to the counsel of our friends. Even Peter needed correction from his brother Paul; and the duty of "teaching and admonishing one another," necessarily implies a readiness to receive, as well as to impart, fraternal admonition. And if we cultivate this disposition, we shall often be preserved from evils into which we might have rushed, and have reason to adore our God for the advice we have received.

6. Let us pray constantly to God to search and try us.

Our treacherous hearts can put such glosses on our conduct as to deceive both ourselves and others: but they cannot deceive God. "He searches the heart, and tries the reins," he "weighs the spirits;" and discerns with infallible certainty the smallest mixtures of evil, and the minutest deviations from his holy law. And, as he beholds, so he can discover to us, the secret workings of our own corruptions. If he shine into our hearts, we shall be astonished to see the delusions which we have held fast perhaps for many years, and of which our dearest friends could never convince us! Let us then pray to him to search and try the very ground of our hearts; and he will not only make our senses more acute to discern good and evil, but will keep our feet in the way of his commandments.

 

MDX

Appropriate Addresses to Distinct Characters

Luke 9:57–62. It came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow you wherever you go. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go you and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow you; but let me first go bid them, farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

TO investigate and unfold the expressions of Holy Writ is an office in the discharge of which a minister renders most essential service to the Church of God: and hence it constitutes a very great portion of a minister's labors; so far, at least, as respects his public addresses to his people. But the eliciting of characters, as portrayed in the inspired volume, is also a work of great importance; inasmuch as it enables a multitude of persons to behold themselves, as it were in a glass, and to arrange themselves under the different classes to which they belong. It is this latter office which I shall endeavor to discharge at this time. Here are three distinct characters brought to our view, with distinct addresses to each. On the particular terms that are used, I shall say but little; my intention being rather to take the subject in one collective view, and to suggest reflections upon it as a whole.

Let us, then, contemplate,

I. The characters here presented to our view.

They all express different measures of regard for Christ and his Gospel: the first is all willingness; the second is all reluctance; the third is a compound of the two former, being partly willing, and partly reluctant, to obey the Gospel call.

The first professes the utmost willingness to follow Christ.

"Lord, I will follow you wherever you go." This is well spoken, on a supposition that it convey the deliberate purpose of the heart. Such a state of mind as this is a counterpart of Heaven itself; where all the redeemed are said "to follow the Lamb wherever he goes." But, from the answer of our Lord to him, it is evident that the man knew not what he was undertaking. He had not considered what conflicts he would have to maintain, what sacrifices to make, what self-denial to exercise. The very confidence with which he expressed himself argued a sad ignorance of his own heart, and a very partial acquaintance with the duties which he was so ready to engage in. He seems to have been under an impression that the Lord Jesus was about to establish a temporal kingdom; and, like the mother of Zebedee's children, to have contemplated a pre-eminence among his followers, as a post of worldly honor, and of enviable preferment.

Now, among ourselves, also, there are many who are under a similar delusion. They think of nothing in religion, but its joys and honors. As for "entering into it by a strait gate," and finding it "a narrow way," they seem never for a moment to have contemplated it in such a forbidding aspect. Like the stony-ground hearers, they have received the word with delight, and appear at once to experience all its fructifying powers. In a moment, as it were, they seem to have attained a high measure of grace, and to have made a considerable proficiency in the divine life: but their want of "root in themselves" will soon be made manifest, and their profession speedily be found to have been nothing but an empty boast.

The second manifests a great degree of unwillingness.

It is here particularly to be noticed, that this second character had received from Christ an express command, "Follow me." This, therefore, should have been obeyed in the way that Matthew had obeyed it at the receipt of custom, and the sons of Zebedee amidst their father's nets. But he pleads for delay, as feeling that he had an occupation which, at the present at least, was of superior importance. Whether his father was really dead, or only aged and in dying circumstances, is, among commentators, a matter of doubt. I confess I incline rather to the latter opinion; because the circumstance of his being engaged in attending the ministry of our Lord at that time, in a country where the funeral followed so closely on a man's decease, gives just reason to think that his father, though aged or sick, was yet alive: and in this view, the apparent harshness of our Lord's answer vanishes at once. There were persons in plenty to perform the last offices for his father; and, however commendable the exercise of filial attention was, the immediate call of God was of sufficient authority to supersede it; and "to love father or mother more than Christ," was to show that he was "unworthy of the kingdom of God."

But of this description, also, are many among ourselves. They may, possibly, really feel the obligations due to parents: but, in making filial duty a plea for delaying to obey the Gospel, they betray a total ignorance of what they owe to God. It is said of Levi, that, when commanded to go through the camp and slay the worshipers of the golden calf, he executed the commission without any partiality or reserve: "he said to his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor know his own children." And, however self-denying the office to which we are called may be, we are to discharge it instantly, without deference or regard to any human being. But many who hear the Gospel, and acknowledge their obligation to obey it, are yet kept back, from a mistaken idea, that respect even for a father, and that father in the most trying circumstances, will justify a delay in obeying the call of God. In saying, "Suffer me first to do" anything under Heaven, they actually rebel against God; who commands us "to seek, first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," and to "hate even father and mother" in comparison of Christ.

The third professes a willingness to follow Christ, but pleads for permission to delay it.

It is probable that the person who desired to "go home and bid farewell to his friends" had in his view the history of Elisha, who had made this request to Elijah, and received his permission to execute his wish. But the danger which this man would encounter was incomparably greater than Elisha's; for he might be sure that his friends would exert all their powers to divert him from his purpose.

A similar mistake proves fatal to multitudes at the present day. They wish to conciliate the regards of their earthly relatives, and for that end subject themselves to temptations which they are not able to withstand. Their friends know not how to give them up to follow a course which, to say the least, is so unpopular, and, with respect to this world, unproductive also; and, in order to retain their hold of their vacillating friend, they use every effort of intimidation, of raillery, of contempt: and thus they prevail on the unstable Christian to relinquish his holy profession, and to go back again to the world.

These several characters will appear in their true light, while we consider,

II. The appropriate answers successively addressed to them.

To the first, our Lord sets forth the difficulties attendant on the Christian life.

The man, it should seem, had expected little but outward prosperity; and our Lord informs him how unfounded this expectation was; since he himself, though Lord of all, was destitute of every earthly accommodation: and it could not be expected that "the servant should be above his Lord." The same would I say to those who are forward to engage in a profession of religion, and to number themselves among the Lord's people. In making such a profession, you are incomparably more likely to meet with want and shame, than fullness and honor. The Apostles of our Lord, and particularly the Apostle Paul, were exposed to cold, and hunger, and nakedness, and perils of every kind: and thousands of others, in different ages of the Church, have been called to experience the same: and though persecution for righteousness' sake is not carried to the same extent among us, we are not authorized to expect any earthly comfort, of which the men of this world can deprive us. A pre-eminence in our Lord's kingdom will, in the eyes of the ungodly, entitle us to nothing but preeminence in sufferings and reproach. And the man that will not follow religion on these terms must relinquish Christ altogether: for "if we take not up our cross daily to follow him, we cannot be his disciples." Let every one, therefore, that would be saved by Christ, be prepared to participate with Christ in his wants and sufferings; and let him "follow Christ without the camp, bearing his reproach," yes, and "glorying that he is counted worthy to suffer shame for His sake."

To the next, our Lord declares that every consideration under Heaven must give way, when we are plainly called to serve and honor him.

This I conceive to be the real meaning of that expression, "Let the dead bury their dead." Our Lord did not mean to discourage the performance of our relative duties, and least of all the duties which we owe to our parents. Both the Law and the Gospel concur in this, even in enforcing obedience to earthly parents. This was "the first commandment with promise;" and, "if we obey it not," whatever we may profess, "we are worse than infidels." But our duty to God is of paramount obligation. And, if we say, Who then shall perform the duties which we neglect? I answer, There will always be found enough of worldly people to attend to worldly duties: and we may well leave them to discharge what they supremely affect. We may "leave the dead to bury their dead." If we have a clear call to preach the Gospel, or to embrace it in such a way as shall be incompatible with those carnal occupations which may as well be performed by others, we may well leave those occupations to others; and, at all events, we must never so follow them as to let them interfere with the discharge of our higher duties: and if any one blame us for this, our answer must be, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge you: for we cannot but do the things which he requires."

To the last, our Lord administered a solemn caution.

It seemed that this person was more sincere than the others; though still by no means sufficiently aware of the danger to which, by the step which he contemplated, he would be exposed. The man who would finally be accepted of God, must "not only set out well, but must endure unto the end." He must take care of hankering after the flesh-pots of Egypt, which he has left. "Lot's wife" is a standing monument to all ages, and warns us all, not so much as to cast a look of regret at the vanities we have once renounced. A man at plough will execute his work but ill, if he look back in the midst of it: and a man who is working for eternity will never be judged fit for the kingdom of God, if he be not continually intent upon that which is before him, and carefully prosecuting his destined work. Let those, therefore, who plead for worldly gratifications, consider their tendency, and dread their effects. I grant that there are many things both seemly and innocent, if abstractedly considered, which yet a man in earnest for Heaven will do well to avoid; lest by means of them he should be ensnared, and diverted from his proper course. The man in a race will not only free himself from encumbrances, but will gird about his loins the garment that would obstruct his way. And in like manner we also should "cast away every weight, and the sin which either does, or may, more easily beset us, and run with patience the race that is set before us." It were "better never to have known the commandment at all, than, after having known it, to depart from it."

Permit me, then, to recommend to every one of you,

1. Consideration.

Take not up religion in a light and thoughtless way; but consider carefully, what duties it prescribes, what exertions it requires, what sufferings it entails; and, "before you begin to build the tower, sit down and count the cost, and see whether you have with which to finish it." If you will possess "the pearl of great price, you must sell all that you have, and buy it."

2. Decision.

Whether you be of a higher or a lower rank, it matters not; you shall surely find, that if you will live godly in Christ Jesus, you shall suffer persecution. David experienced this, after he sat on the throne, no less than while he fled from the face of Saul. You must expect it. You must expect it in its utmost possible extent, even to martyrdom itself. And you must be "ready either to be bound or die for the name of the Lord Jesus," if such a sacrifice should be called for at your hands. In nothing must you "consult with flesh and blood." To "follow the Lord fully" must be the one deliberate and determined purpose of your soul.

3. Constancy.

Never are you to be weary of well-doing. "If you draw back, God can have no pleasure in you," "you will draw back to certain and everlasting perdition". You must "be faithful unto death, if ever you would obtain a crown of life," "he only, that endures unto the end, ever will, or ever can, be saved."

 

MDXI

Against a Disposition to Relinquish the Lord's Service

Luke 9:62. Jesus said unto him, No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

SO infinitely important is the service of God, that nothing can ever justify the withdrawing of ourselves from it, or the relaxing of our diligence in the discharge of our proper office. However innocent any earthly employment may be, yes, however decorous, or even necessary, in its place, it must give way to the more urgent calls of our duty to God. Of this our Lord constantly warned his hearers, in order that they might fully count the cost before they became his followers. His answers to three different persons upon this subject are worthy of our particular attention: to the first, who voluntarily offered to him his services, he replied, that he must expect no worldly advantages in following him, but rather lay his account to meet with poverty and disgrace. In his address to the second, whom he had enjoined to follow him, and who wished to defer his obedience until he should have performed the last offices for his deceased father, our Lord required him to leave those offices to others, who were not occupied in higher pursuits, and instantly to comply with the direction given him; because nothing, however proper in itself, should interfere with the execution of a positive command. To the last, he gave this caution; that since his earthly relatives would most probably prove a snare to him under his present circumstances, he must make up his mind to forsake all for him; for that a wavering mind would unfit him both for the service of God on earth, and the enjoyment of God in Heaven. The request of this last person seems to have brought to our Lord's mind the circumstances of Elisha, when he was called to serve Elijah: and it is to Elisha's occupation that our Lord alludes in the answer he gave him. From his words we may deduce two important observations:

I. When we engage in God's service, we should determine, through grace, to continue in it.

When we "put our hand to the plough" we engage in God's service.

It is obvious that, as God's creatures, and more particularly as redeemed by the blood of his dear Son, we are bound to serve and obey him. Now the obedience which he requires, is, that we renounce the world, and mortify sin, and yield up ourselves to him sincerely, and without reserve. And when we begin to make a profession of religion, we do, in fact, declare, that henceforth we will walk conformably to the example of Christ, and the precepts of his Gospel. Our very putting of our hand to the plough is, as it were, a public declaration of our intention to prosecute and finish the work assigned us by our divine Master.

But it is of no use to begin the Lord's work, if we do not resolutely adhere to it.

When first we turn to the Lord, we propose to ourselves two ends, namely, to glorify God, and to save our own souls: and while we continue faithful to our engagements, we find no reason to complain of disappointment. But the very instant we recede from our work, we proclaim, as it were, to all around us, 'I have tried religion, and found it but an empty name: I have served the Lord, and experienced him to be a hard Master: I have weighed the world and its services in a balance with God and his service; and I bear my testimony, that the world deserves our preference.' By such conduct as this a person pulls down all that he has built: he brings incomparably more dishonor to God than ever he brought glory, and sinks his soul into a far deeper condemnation, than if he had never known the way of righteousness. As a man who should begin to plough, would render himself of no use, if he should relinquish his work as soon as he had proceeded to the end of a single furrow; so an apostate from religion renders his divine Master no service by a temporary obedience, but rather defeats, yes, most completely reverses, the ends proposed.

Nor is it an open apostasy only from our holy profession that is so fatal to us: for,

II. A disposition to recede from it manifests us to be unfit for the kingdom of God.

Not he only who indignantly throws away the plough, but he who, while he still professes to do the Lord's work, is "looking back" with a wishful eye upon the world, is in the state here mentioned. He is unfit for,

1. The kingdom of God on earth.

This is the primary import of the words of the text: nor can anything be more clear than the truth contained in them. The service of Christ, whether in ministering the word to others, or in obeying it ourselves, requires steadfastness. We cannot adhere to Christ without opposing in many instances our carnal appetites, and worldly interests; as therefore a man, who, instead of attending to his plough, looks frequently behind him, would soon prove himself unfit for the service in which he was engaged, so he who should undertake to serve the Lord Christ, while his heart was yet set upon the world, would walk very unworthily of his profession, and soon show himself unfit to execute the office assigned him. Like a bowl sent forth with violence, he might go steadily for a season; but he would before long feel the influence of the corrupt bias that was within him, and, like "Demas, forsake the way of truth from love to this present evil world." He must "be sincere, if he would be without offence until the day of Christ."

2. The kingdom of God in Heaven.

If any person be disposed to look back, after having put his hand to the plough, he shows, that he has not a supreme love to God, nor any real delight in holy ordinances, nor any resemblance to the characters of the saints of old. Look at Abraham, at Moses, at Paul, or any others recorded in the Scripture; they left all for Christ, "counting everything to be dung and dross for him," and "esteeming even the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than all the treasures of the world;" nor could even death, in its most formidable shapes, divert them from their purpose to serve and honor him. But how unlike to them are the irresolute and unstable! and how incapable of enjoying Heaven even if they were there! Could they be happy in God when they do not supremely love him? Would they not rather dread his presence from a consciousness that their hearts were known to him? Could they bear to spend an eternity in those employments for which they have no relish? would not their exercises be an irksome task, and an intolerable burden? Could they have sweet communion with the glorified saints when they differ so widely from them? Would they not rather be so condemned in their consciences as even to wish themselves out of their society? Surely a wavering professor of religion is alike unfit for the church militant, and the church triumphant.

Address.

1. Those who never put their hands to the plough.

How many are there who never set themselves in earnest to do the will of God, or even take pains to inquire what the will of God is! But such will comfort themselves with the reflection, that they are neither hypocrites nor apostates. Alas! how poor a consolation is this! Be it so; you have never made any profession of religion at all: but is that a ground of satisfaction and boasting? What must you say, but this? "Here is one, who has cast off all allegiance to his Maker, and lives without God in the world." Ah! glory not in such a distinction as this: for, whoever you be, God has assigned you a work to do, and will call you to give an account of your talent: and if you have hid it in a napkin, he will "cast you, as an unprofitable servant, into outer darkness." May God open your eyes, and interest you in his service before it be too late!

2. To those who, having put their hands to the plough, are disposed to look back.

We are apt to think lightly of secret declensions, if we do not openly apostatize from the truth. But what was it that rendered Lot's wife such an object of God's displeasure? Did she go back to Sodom, or refuse to proceed with the angel to the destined place of safety? No; she looked back, and thereby showed, that her heart was not thoroughly weaned from the things which she had left behind: and on this account it was, that she was instantly transformed into a pillar of salt, and made a monument of God's wrath and indignation to all succeeding ages. To impress this instructive lesson on our minds, our Lord bids us "remember Lot's wife," and it will be well to bear her ever in our minds, since, if we turn back, it will be unto perdition; and our last end will be worse than the beginning. We must endure to the end if ever we would be saved.

3. To those who are determined, through grace, to persevere in their work.

Doubtless the work will often prove heavy and fatiguing. But God has promised "grace sufficient for us." And the more we labor, the greater our reward. Yes, the very work itself is a source of much peace and joy, and wonderfully conduces to fit us both for this world and the next. Who will make so distinguished a preacher of Christ, or will so adorn his Christian profession, as he who is altogether dead to the world? And who is so fit to join the saints above, as he who already emulates them in their love to God, and their delight in holy exercises? Go on then, "forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth to that which is before;" and soon you shall both "rest from your labors," and "enter into the joy of your Lord."

 

MDXII

The Danger of Rejecting the Gospel

Luke 10:10–16. Into whatever city you enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city which cleaves on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come near unto you. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city. Woe unto you, Chorazin! woe unto you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you. And you, Capernaum, which are exalted to Heaven, shall be thrust down to Hell. He who hears you hears me; and he who despises you despises me; and he who despises me despises him that sent me.

NOTWITHSTANDING all the care which our Lord took to prepare the minds of men for the reception of his Gospel, his success was very small, insomuch that after his resurrection and ascension to Heaven, his disciples amounted to no more than five hundred. He foresaw it would be so; and when sending forth his seventy disciples into all the places where he himself was about to come, he guarded them against the offence which the contracted influence of his word might occasion. He directed them how to act towards any city which should not receive them: they should express towards its inhabitants the indignation of God, and should make known to them both their iniquity and their folly. In confirmation of what he instructed them to do, he himself denounced his judgments against the cities that had rejected him; and then proceeded to give a general admonition to all to whom his Gospel should come.

Were we addressing ministers, we should consider the subject more immediately in relation to them: but in an address intended only for private Christians, it will be more profitable to wave what relates to the conduct of the ministry, and to suggest rather such reflections as are applicable to mankind at large, especially that part of them which is disobedient to the Gospel of Christ.

I. How awful is their obduracy!

Our Lord complained that the cities to which he had ministered had resisted such means as, if used for the awakening of the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon, or even of Sodom and Gomorrah, would have been effectual to bring them to repentance: "they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes." Now, without stopping to inquire, why God withheld from Sodom the means of grace which would have been effectual, and given them to Jewish cities, where he knew they would not be effectual, (a question which no human wisdom can solve,) we would call your attention to this fact as illustrated in the present day.

We acknowledge that the hearers of our Lord had many and great advantages which we have not: but on the other hand, we have great advantages which they had not. We admit, that they were instructed by One who "spoke as never man spoke;" and that they saw the mighty works which he wrought in confirmation of his word: but on the other hand, the baseness of his appearance and of his followers was a stumbling-block, which it was exceeding difficult to get over, and which is entirely removed out of our way. Besides, they saw the plan of Christianity only in a very obscure and partial light; whereas we see it in all its fullness and completion: and the evidence we have from that great miracle of all, his resurrection from the dead, is stronger than all those which they beheld. We may, therefore, justly say that our advantages are greater than theirs: and yet multitudes hear the Gospel now, and are unmoved by it: some sneer at it as folly and enthusiasm; and others rest in a mere formal profession of it, without any experience of its transforming power. What then shall we say of them? Are not they blind and hardened in a very awful degree? Are not they also more obdurate than the idolatrous Syrians, or the filthy Sodomites? Yes: far less evidence, and an obscurer statement of the Gospel, would have brought them to "repent in dust and ashes;" whereas the unbelievers of the present day are proof against an accumulated weight of evidence, and against the full splendor of evangelic truth.

Let this then be considered by us: and when we wonder at the blindness and obduracy of the Jews, let us remember how blind we ourselves have been, and how unaffected by the most stupendous miracles of love and mercy that ever were given to men.

II. How heinous their guilt!

Unbelief is in general scarcely ever thought of as a sin: the open infidel justifies himself by a pretended want of evidence; and those who maintain a form of religion fancy themselves possessed of saving faith: so that, whatever men have to condemn in their own conduct, they never think of bemoaning their unbelief. But behold what was Christ's judgment respecting this! He considered unbelief as a more heinous sin than any which Tyre and Sidon, or even Sodom and Gomorrah, had committed, and as involving his hearers in a deeper condemnation than any to which the vilest of those cities would be doomed. He also commanded his Disciples to "wipe off the dust from their feet against those who received them not," in token of God"s indignation against them, and his abandoning of them to the evil of their own ways. Nor can we wonder at it, when Christ and his Father identify themselves with all the ministers of the Gospel: "He who hears you, hears me; and he who despises you, despises me; and he who despises me, despises him that sent me." What a view does this representation give us of unbelief! And how little idea have the unbelieving world of the light in which they are regarded by a holy God! But when once the Holy Spirit is sent into their hearts to convince them of sin, they become convinced of this sin in particular; and view it in its proper colors, as a mixture of ignorance, impiety, and rebellion.

Let the towering imaginations of the formalist then fall to the ground: let the most decent among us see what guilt he has contracted: and let every one acknowledge that God is just in consigning over to perdition those who, either in theory or in practice, reject Christ, and thus eventually "make God himself a liar."

III. How great their folly!

The seventy Disciples were especially commanded to testify to those who rejected them, that the contempt which they manifested for their message did not at all invalidate the truth or importance of it: "Notwithstanding, be sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come unto you." Thus must we say to those who disregard the Gospel: "Your unbelief cannot make the faith of God of none effect." If your neglect of the Gospel could set aside its authority, so that you should stand excused for your disobedience to it, your folly would not be so great: but you cannot alter one single word in it: Christ will still be the only Savior of the world, though you should pour ever so much contempt upon him: and faith in his name will be the only means of obtaining an interest in him, though you should dispute ever so much against it: and that declaration, "He who believes shall be saved, and he who believes not shall be damned," will be carried into execution, however you may complain of its harshness and severity. The ridicule and contempt poured on Noah while building the ark, did not at all affect the truth of his warnings: the flood came precisely as he had foretold, and swept away all the inhabitants of the earth. And so will it be in the day of judgment: the Gospel will prove true, and its sanctions will be executed, "whether men will hear it or whether they forbear." What folly and madness then is it to trifle thus with the words of life! Common sense, methinks, should lead men to consider what they hear, and to search the Scriptures daily whether these things be so. If they can disprove the truth of the Gospel, well: let them then despise it if they please: but if they cannot disprove it, let them obey it; and that not in a partial and formal manner, but unreservedly, and with their whole hearts.

IV. How pitiable their condition!

Could we behold the present state of those who once inhabited Sodom and Gomorrah; could we see their weeping, their wailing, their gnashing of teeth, how would our affections yearn over them! Yet, grievous as their condition is, it is more tolerable than that which is prepared for the despisers of the Gospel. This is not declared once, but often; and that, too, by him who will assign to all their proper doom. Say, then, whether we should not be filled with pity towards the thoughtless, deceived, and deceiving world? Suppose them enjoying all that earth can give; yet, with such prospects before them, who must not regard them as objects of the tenderest compassion? Behold a man just about to be racked upon the wheel, or to be burned on a slow consuming fire; give him what you will preparatory to his sufferings, you cannot but view him with most heartfelt grief. Thus then should we view the despisers of Christ, whether they manifest that contempt in a way of open infidelity or of secret disaffection. There will be degrees of misery, indeed, proportioned to the degrees of guilt which each has contracted; but the least miserable of those who perish under the light of the Gospel, will have a heavier doom than shall ever fall to the lot of Sodom and Gomorrah. O that our head were a fountain of tears to run down for them night and day; and that we might labor, all of us, while yet there is time, to pluck them as brands out of the burning!

Advice.

1. Let all who hear the Gospel consider their responsibility.

The generality think little but of hearing such or such a man: but be it known to you, that the word you hear is "not the word of man, but of God," and is to be so received, if it be agreeable to his revealed will. You know that an ambassador is the representative of his king, and that the reception or rejection of his message is considered as affecting, not him, but his master who sent him. So it is with the ambassadors of Christ—O that whenever we attend upon the house of God, we might attend as if Christ himself were come down to instruct us, or as if God the Father spoke to us by an audible voice from Heaven!

2. Let them improve their privileges.

It is an inestimable privilege to have the Gospel faithfully administered to us. What if Sodom and Gomorrah had enjoyed that privilege? they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes, and would probably "have remained to this very day." So, if millions that are now in Hell had heard what we have, they would perhaps have obeyed the truth and been saved by it. We are sure that many have made a far better improvement of it than we; and therefore we should humble ourselves on a view of our unprofitableness, and labor to bring forth fruits worthy of the culture bestowed upon us.

 

MDXIII

The Enrolment of Our Names in Heaven, a Ground of Joy

Luke 10:20. Notwithstanding, in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.

THERE is a holy jealousy which well becomes the ministers of God: for people are ever ready to pride themselves upon any distinctions which God may confer upon them, and to rest in the attainments they have made, instead of regarding them only as means to an ulterior good. It should seem that the seventy Disciples, who had been sent forth to preach the Gospel of the kingdom, were surprised when they found that devils and unclean spirits were subject unto them: and on their return to their divine Master, they could not help expressing the high gratification which this power had afforded them. Had their minds been more suitably affected, they would have rejoiced rather in the prospect which that circumstance afforded them of the final triumphs of their Lord. Jesus therefore, in a kind and tender manner, corrected their views, and pointed out to them a more just ground of self-congratulation: assuring them in the mean time that their powers should be still more enlarged, and their victory over Satan be more complete. The caution given to them is applicable to Christians in every age: their comforts and successes are doubtless a proper subject of joy and thankfulness; but it is the final success only that can make them completely happy; and the only solid joy is that which arises from a well-founded expectation of happiness beyond the grave.

In confirmation of this truth, we would observe,

I. That the enrolment of our names in Heaven is a fact which may be known.

The names of all God's people are, as it were, written in his book.

The names of all the tribes of Israel were registered in a book. It was of that book that Moses spoke, when he desired God to blot him out of it rather than not forgive his offending people. And as long as the Jewish states continued, such a book was carefully preserved. Such a register God himself is represented as having formed of all his chosen people. His book is called "the book of life, of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." This book, as well as the books of God's remembrance, in which the actions of men were recorded, will be brought forth at the last day; and they who were written in it will be exalted to glory, while "those who were not written in it will be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death."

Our enrolment in that book is a fact which may be known.

Paul knew it respecting many, both men and women, who had united with him in endeavors to advance the kingdom of Christ. And the same may be known also by those who are there enrolled. We cannot indeed go up to Heaven to examine that sacred record; nor can we have it brought down to us on earth: yet may we assuredly know its contents as far as respects ourselves. There are two ways in which this may be done; first, by the testimony of the Spirit; and next, by the evidence of our lives. Respecting the witness of the Spirit, we do not say that the Spirit will bear any direct testimony to our souls, irrespective of anything that he has wrought in us; (this I conceive to be a very dangerous error;) but he will shine upon his own work, and cause us to see it. When we are regenerate, he will, as "a Spirit of adoption, enable us to cry, Abba, Father;" and will "witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, and heirs of his everlasting kingdom." When we are regenerate, I say, he will do this, but not before; for he never did, nor can, attest a falsehood, which he would do if he were to witness to any unregenerate man that he was a child of God. The evidence of our own lives also will enable us to ascertain this fact. There are certain "things which infallibly accompany salvation," and which therefore warrant us to infer that we are in the number of God's elect, and to assure ourselves of a final and everlasting acceptance with him. The former is the more delightful to our feelings; the latter is the more convincing to our judgment: but from whichever source we draw our conclusions, if only our premises be right, our conclusions are infallible. Hence Paul was so assured of happiness in the eternal world; and hence every believer is authorized to adopt the words of the Church of old, "My beloved is mine, and I am his."

Having shown that the fact of our enrolment in Heaven may be known, we observe,

II. That when known, it is a ground of most exalted joy.

The expulsion of devils from the bodies of men was a just ground of joy.

It was an evidence of God's presence with the Disciples; (for who but God could cast them out?) it was also a strong confirmation of their word; (no stronger could be given:) it was, moreover, an unspeakable blessing to those who were thus delivered from Satan's power; (and who must not rejoice in the communication of so great a good?) above all, it was a pledge of greater victories over Satan, and the utter destruction of his kingdom. Our Lord's prohibition, therefore, must not be understood as absolute, but only as comparative; as when he bade his followers "not to labor for the meat that perishes, but for that which endures unto everlasting life."

But the knowledge of our interest in the Divine favor is incomparably a greater ground of joy.

Indeed nothing can for a moment be put in competition with this: this is infinitely beyond every other ground of joy.

It is the most sublime. What is the possession of thrones and kingdoms in comparison of this? All earthly things are lighter than vanity itself when weighed against the glories of the heavenly world.

It is the most pure. Every earthly joy has a tendency to corrupt the mind; to fill us with pride; to foster every evil disposition; to rivet us to the world; and to retard our progress toward the kingdom of Heaven. But who was ever corrupted by a view of his interest in the Savior? We do not ask, When did a corrupt man pretend to an interest in Christ, or boast that he was of the number of God's elect? for that, alas! may be found in every place and every age; but we confidently ask, Whom did the knowledge of his interest in Christ ever corrupt in any respect whatever? Ignorant people imagine that a view of our election of God will puff us up with pride; or render us indifferent to the attainment of holiness: but every child of God is the more humbled by a conviction that God is pacified towards him, and is the more determinately bent to fulfill the whole will of God. Of this we are assured on the authority of an inspired Apostle, on whose testimony we may rely with most implicit confidence.

It is the most substantial. Whatever other sources of joy we may have, they may all fail and disappoint us. Ask those who have attained the principal objects of their desire, whether they have found all the satisfaction in them that they once expected? and they will all be constrained to acknowledge, that vanity and vexation of spirit is the sum of all created good. In a little time our sweetest enjoyments cloy, and cease to afford us any material gratification: in a season of deep affliction they lose all their power, and are frequently turned into sources of the greatest sorrow. But whom did the pardoning love of Christ ever fail to comfort? Who ever ceased to derive consolation from it under the heaviest afflictions? Who ever found it a source or an occasion of sorrow to his soul, except indeed that he sorrowed because he did not value it more, and improve it better? Other joys embitter the thought of death, and vanish the moment that the soul takes its flight from the body: but the knowledge of our acceptance with God makes the thought of death delightful; and the joy arising from it is perfected in the very instant of our departure hence. Lastly,

It is that, without which no other ground of joy can exist. We will suppose that you possess health, and riches, and wisdom, and honor, and every gratification that your heart can wish, and that too in the highest degree that it can be enjoyed; what is it all, while you have no prospect beyond the grave? If you were sensible of your state, you would be like a person sitting down to a banquet, with a sword suspended over his head by a single hair; you would not know one moment's peace. Who would envy a man, that after a few hours was to be burnt alive? Whatever he might possess, he would be regarded by all as a pitiable object: and such is that man who, after a few more days, must be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone: whatever of wealth or honor he may have attained, he is a wretched creature, and if he be at all sensible of his state, he would gladly exchange conditions with the meanest and most afflicted saint on earth.

What comparison then will earthly joys bear with this? Even that of casting out devils, and finding them subject to one's power, would be nothing, when it is considered that the person so honored may soon be cast out himself, and bidden to "depart accursed into everlasting fire."

Learn then,

1. To seek this great blessing above all things.

Some may be ready to say, 'If God has not, of his own sovereign grace, inscribed my name in his book from all eternity, how shall I get it done now?' To this I answer, The secret decrees of God are no ground of action to you: you are to act precisely as if all depended on your own personal exertion: nay, more, God encourages you so to act, with an assurance that you shall not exert yourself in vain. Go to the Lord Jesus Christ, and cast yourselves at the foot of his cross, and then see whether it shall be in vain. He has said, that "Whoever comes unto him, he will in no wise cast out;" and you may rest assured, that that promise shall be fulfilled to you. However distant you have been from God, you shall be "brought near to him by the blood of the cross;" and "from being strangers and foreigners, you shall become fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God." This blessing its your duty to seek in God's appointed way; and if it be, as we have shown, incomparably the greatest that a human being can possess, seek it with an earnestness proportioned to its worth.

2. Never to grow weary in the pursuit of it.

Many persons are fond of perplexing themselves with the deeper doctrines of religion, when they should rather be edifying themselves with those which are more plain. Some will argue, that if God have written our names in his book, he will never blot them out again, because "his gifts and calling are without repentance." But though it is true, that "God will carry on his work," and "perfect that which concerns us," it is equally true, that "if we draw back, we draw back unto perdition, and God's soul will have no pleasure in us." Of his faithful people he has said, that "he will not blot out their names from the book of life," but he uses directly opposite language in reference to the ungodly, and to those who decline from his ways. It is "to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honor, and immortality, that God will give eternal life." Let no difficulties then discourage you; but "press forward for the prize of your high calling," and expect assuredly, that, as already "your witness is in Heaven, and your record is on high," so your unworthy names shall in due time be acknowledged by your Lord and Savior, and you shall "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

 

MDXIV

The Gospel Revealed to Babes

Luke 10:21. In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that you have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in your sight.

DEEP and mysterious are the ways of God, and "as far above our thoughts and ways, as the heavens are above the earth." But the more they are contemplated, the more will they approve themselves to to us; even where they are most inscrutable, and where the heart of the natural man would be most ready to rise against them, a humble and pious mind will find abundant cause both for submission and joy. Of our blessed Lord we are often told, that he groaned in spirit: for indeed he was altogether "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," as his daily and hourly companion: but on one occasion it is said, that "he rejoiced in spirit;" and it was in an hour when he had been particularly contemplating the dispensations of his Father in relation to his Gospel. To the proud indeed this would be a subject of complaint and murmuring; but to the humble it was a proper ground of gratitude and thanksgiving. This is evident from the words before us; for the fuller understanding of which I will show,

1. The conduct of God in relation to his Gospel.

Two things are here specified:

1. "He has hid it from the wise and prudent."

By "the wise and prudent" we are not to understand those that are truly wise and truly prudent, but those who are "wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight," who are just objects of God's heavy displeasure.

From these "God has hid" his Gospel. Not but that they have the same access to it as others, and might attain to the knowledge of it as well as others, if only they would seek it in a becoming spirit: for God does nothing either to withhold it from them, or to incapacitate them for the perception of it. God is said to do what he permits to be done: and it is not by any active exertion of his which man cannot withstand, but by such means only as leave men altogether responsible for their own blindness, that he hides his truth from the minds of any.

The Gospel is hid from this description of persons, partly, through the very constitution of the Gospel itself: for it reveals such a way of salvation as a proud conceited mind cannot receive: "it is foolishness to the natural man; neither can he receive it, because it is spiritually discerned." The doctrine of the cross is to the Jews a "stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness." It was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, that the same person who should "be for a sanctuary to his believing people, should be for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, many among whom should stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken." And to the same effect was it said of Jesus, by the holy man who took him in his arms, that "he was set for the fall, as well as for the rising, of many in Israel, and for a sign that should be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed."

It is yet further hid from them through the agency of Satan, to whom the blindness of unbelievers is especially ascribed, and who labors incessantly to prevent "the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, from shining unto them."

Doubtless it is also still further hid from them through their being given up by God to judicial blindness. "God's Spirit will not always strive with man." After having been long resisted, he will cease to "work upon their minds," they will then be given up to believe their own delusions, and to be taken in their own craftiness; and all "their wisdom and prudence will be brought to nothing." In this way vast multitudes have been blinded in former ages, and are blinded at this very hour.

2. But "it is revealed unto babes."

The term, "babes," includes not only those who are weak in respect of intellectual attainments, but those also, who, though of vigorous and cultivated minds, are sensible of their inability to discern spiritual truths without having first a spiritual discernment imparted to them.

To these the Gospel is revealed; and they have such a perception of it as brings peace into their souls, and holiness into their hearts and lives. Of course, we must not suppose that the mere circumstance of any person's being weak in understanding will procure for him this blessing: but if he seek this blessing in God's appointed way, the circumstance of his being of weak understanding shall not preclude him from the benefit. And in this respect persons of this description have an advantage, which is, that they are more easily convinced of their need of Divine teaching than persons of learning and refinement are; and are thereby more easily induced to seek of God the teaching of his good Spirit: and hence it is that many of them attain divine knowledge, while from the great mass of others it is hid.

That this preference is shown to them is evident, both from the records of God's word and from daily observation. Whom did our blessed Savior choose for his Apostles? Not the learned of the Scribes and Pharisees, but a few poor fishermen. To the proud he spoke in parables; which afterwards to his child-like Disciples he explained; saying to them, "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, but to others in parables; that seeing, they might not see, and hearing, they might not understand," and hence of the Rulers and of the Pharisees it is asked, "Have any of them believed in him?" In like manner the Apostles themselves found little success among the great and learned: "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble were called: but God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things to confound the mighty, yes, and things base and despised to bring to nothing those which were high in worldly estimation, that no flesh might glory in his presence." And is it not so at this day? Who are the people that experience the enlightening, comforting, and transforming efficacy of the Gospel now? Are they the rich, and the great, and the learned? Would to God they were! But it is not so: it is to "babes, and not to the wise and prudent, that the Gospel is revealed" at this hour, as well as in former days: the Gospel has still the same stamp and character upon it as ever, in that "it is preached chiefly, if not exclusively, to the poor," and that "the common people hear it gladly."

That the Divine conduct in this respect may not be an offence unto us, let us consider,

II. The dispositions with which it should be contemplated by us.

We should be duly sensible that this is indeed the conduct of God in relation to his Gospel: and we should evince,

1. Our submission to it, as an act of sovereignty.

Certainly in this matter God acts as a sovereign, who has a right to dispense his blessings to whoever he will: "it is even so, Father, for so it seems good in your sight." God might have revealed his Gospel to all, or hid it from all, if it had pleased him; and none would have had any right to complain. As well might the fallen angels complain that man alone had a Redeemer provided for him, as any child of man complain, that he has derived less advantage from the Gospel than another. Had any other of Paul's hearers reason to complain, because "the Lord opened Lydia's heart to attend to the things that were spoken by him?" Assuredly not: God's grace is his own; and he may dispense it as he pleases, according to his own sovereign will and pleasure. He himself asks, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own?" and if we claim such a right, much more may He, who is, as Jesus calls him, "Lord of Heaven and earth," and who consequently may dispose both of Heaven and earth according to his will, and "without giving to us an account of any of his matters." When therefore we behold this, shall we presume to strive with God, or to say unto him, 'What do you?' Shall the clay arraign the conduct of the potter, or "the vessel say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus?" "He who reproves God, let him answer it."

Many, who see that God does indeed dispense his blessings according to his own good pleasure and the inscrutable counsel of his own will, endeavor to get rid of the notion of his sovereignty by asserting, that God has respect to some goodness in man which he has foreseen; and that he regulates his dispensations in accordance with some worthiness which he knows will at a future period appear in the objects of his choice, bestowing his favors on those who he knows will make a good use of them, and withholding them from those only who he foresees would abuse them. But, if this be so, how shall we understand those declarations of our Lord both in the preceding and following context? He turned him, we are told, to his Disciples, and said privately, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things that you see: for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them, and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them." In this place the sovereign grace of God in the disposal of his gifts is clearly asserted. But you may say, 'True; God gave to some what he withheld from others: but he gave to those who he knew would duly improve his gifts: and the persons from whom he withheld them, were involved in no responsibility on account of them. In order to prove the doctrine which has been insisted on, you must show me, that God has bestowed the means of salvation on those who would not improve them, and withheld them from those who would have improved them: show me this, and I grant that the point is established beyond a doubt. Look then at what our Lord asserts in the context respecting Tyre and Sidon, and Bethsaida and Chorazin. To these latter were means of conviction afforded, which were withheld from the former. Were these latter better than the former? Quite the reverse: had our Savior's miracles been wrought in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes; but when done in Capernaum, they had no other effect than thrusting her down the deeper into Hell. Now all this must have been foreknown to God, else Jesus could not so positively have asserted it: yet here is evidence, that God withheld from some the very means which they would have duly improved, and imparted to others those very same means which he knew they would abuse to their own more aggravated condemnation. What shall we say then to these things? God himself tells us what to say: "Be still, and know that I am God," who "have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and have compassion on whom I will have compassion."

2. Our gratitude for it as an act of mercy.

Suppose that the Gospel were to be understood only as the deeper sciences are, by men of erudition and learning, in what a deplorable condition would the poor be! They have no time for laborious investigations, nor any of the endowments necessary for philosophical researches. They therefore could have no hope of ever attaining the knowledge of salvation. From absolute necessity their days must be consumed in making provision for the body: and unless they were so occupied, the whole world must be in a state of stagnation and want. But God has shown no such partiality for the rich as to confine the knowledge of his Gospel to them. Earthly comforts indeed he has given in richer abundance to them; but spiritual blessings he has rather reserved for the poor: as James has said; "Has not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him." Thus, where most there seems to have been an inequality in his dispensations, he has shown an impartiality, making up to the one in spiritual blessings what he has withheld in temporal; and giving advantages in reference to eternity to those who have the less favorable lot in respect of the things of time and sense.

And is not this a ground, a just ground, of joy? Who, that sees what privations are often experienced by the poor, must not rejoice to be informed, that, taking both worlds into the account, there is a preponderance in their favor? Our blessed Lord rejoiced in this; yes, and leaped for joy: and we also, if our minds be constituted like his, shall from our inmost souls contemplate it with gratitude and thanksgiving.

Let us learn then,

1. Rightly to appreciate divine knowledge.

We would on no account utter a word that should detract from the excellence of human knowledge. We readily allow that learning does elevate and expand the mind, so as to raise its possessor far above his fellows in many respects: but when compared with spiritual knowledge, it is a poor, and low, and groveling attainment. Paul was excelled by none of his contemporaries in mental attainments: yet, valuable as he once esteemed them, he, when truly converted to God, said, "What things were gain to me, those I count but loss for Christ; yes, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." And such must be your estimate also of this knowledge; for it is this only that will render us truly happy, either in this world or in that which is to come.

2. To seek it in God's appointed way.

Human sciences are to be attained by study; but the knowledge of the Gospel must be gained by prayer. In the words immediately following my text, our Lord says, "No man knows who the Son is, but the Father; or who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal him." Know you then that, though the study of the Holy Scriptures is necessary, it is not sufficient: for in the same place where you are told to "seek for wisdom as for hid treasures," you are told to "lift up your voice, and to cry unto God for it; for that it is God alone who gives it." Meditation and prayer must go hand in hand: and if you will seek for knowledge in this way, though you be but a babe, you shall attain it; and, though you be a mere "fool in all other respects, you shall not err therein."

 

MDXV

The Blessings of a Preached Gospel

Luke 10:23, 24. And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that you see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them.

OF all things relating to the world around us, the most delightful is the progress of the Gospel, and the consequent augmentation of the Redeemer's empire. This event had commenced through the ministrations of the seventy disciples, whom our Lord had sent as his harbingers throughout the land of Judea: and it had filled our blessed Savior himself with joy, in the midst of all the sorrows with which he was daily encompassed. His own more immediate disciples he particularly congratulated on the insight which they had into the mysteries of his religion; in which respect they were favored far beyond all the servants of God who had preceded them, not excepting the most distinguished of their kings, or the most enlightened of their prophets. To impress this the more deeply on their minds, "he turned to them apart, and privately whispered it, as it were, in their ears."

To you, publicly, I will offer the same congratulations, while I set before you the blessings of a preached Gospel,

I. As enjoyed by the immediate Disciples of our Lord.

The patriarchs and prophets were highly privileged in the light they enjoyed.

They were instructed in the knowledge of the one true God, of whom all the rest of the world were ignorant. They had a view also of all his glorious perfections, of which the wisest philosophers could form no just conception. They knew, moreover, in what way a sinner might find acceptance with God; while all the rest of mankind were left in awful suspense respecting their future state; not knowing, certainly, whether they should live in another world, or whether, if they did, they should partake of a happy or a miserable existence. Of Abraham it is said, that "the Gospel was preached to him in that blessed promise, that in him, and in his seed, should all the nations of the earth be blessed." "He greatly desired to see the day of Christ; and he did see it, and was glad." Succeeding prophets discerned it yet more clearly; for, with progressive accuracy and minuteness, they were inspired to describe his person, work, and offices; though, alas! they did not comprehend their own predictions, while they declared "the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." Yet, compared with all the rest of the world, they were in Goshen, while all others were surrounded with "a darkness which might be felt."

But the Disciples were far more highly favored than they.

They were permitted to see the Son of God himself; and that, not darkly, in types and prophecies, but clearly, and face to face. They were privileged to behold all his mighty works; and to hear from day to day the instructive discourses of Him who "spoke as never man spake."They enjoyed the yet further privilege of having his public discourses explained to them in private; and of being taught, by a fuller and more explicit interpretation, what to others had been communicated only in parables. At the same time, they had the peculiar felicity to see a perfect exhibition of the whole will of God in the life and conversation of their Lord; and that, not in circumstances which were inapplicable to themselves, but in circumstances in which they themselves were soon to move. Now, compare their advantages with any that were enjoyed by the patriarchs or prophets of former ages, and they must be acknowledged to have enjoyed privileges which kings and prophets might well desire, and which, in fact, they had desired, but in vain.

But the congratulations will be found still more due to us, if we consider the Gospel,

II. As enjoyed by ourselves at this day.

Great as were the advantages of those who attended upon our Lord, they were not without considerable alloy.

The very appearance of our Lord among them was such as to lay a stumbling-block in the way of his immediate attendants. How could they conceive him to be the Savior of the world, whom they saw exposed to hunger and thirst, and destitute of "a place where to lay his head?" Or, if from his miracles they entertained a hope, what must they think when they beheld him seized, condemned, crucified, entombed? Though lie had often told them that he should be put to an ignominious death, and shed his blood as an expiation for sin, they never could comprehend his meaning: nay, they would not endure the thought of his being so treated. They were, like all the rest of their nation, deluded with the expectation of a temporal Messiah, who should deliver them from the Roman yoke; and, even after his resurrection, they could not divest themselves of this erroneous hope. On the day of Pentecost, indeed, their views were rectified in a considerable degree: but not even the Apostles themselves, for a very long period, were able to understand the design of God in his Gospel to save the Gentile world, nor the extent of the commission which they themselves had received to "preach the Gospel to every creature." When Peter was prevailed upon, by a series of special visions and express directions, to go and show the way of salvation to Cornelius, the whole college of Apostles called him to an account for it, as though he had transgressed a positive command of God. And for many, many years did an opinion prevail very extensively through the Church, that the law of Moses was still obligatory on those who embraced the Gospel; so contracted were their views of Christ, as having fulfilled the Law; and so imperfect their knowledge of his salvation, as excluding every ground of hope, except that which was founded on his atoning sacrifice.

But to us is the Gospel preached under every advantage.

Neither Jewish prejudice, nor Gentile philosophy, have any longer a footing among us, to distract and darken our views; at least, such delusions are found only among those who love to indulge them, and who wish for an excuse to reject the pure Gospel. We see the whole plan of salvation in one entire view, as concerted between the Father and the Son, as carried into effect by the incarnation and death of the Lord Jesus, and as applied to the souls of men by the Holy Spirit. We see all the types fulfilled in Christ, and all the prophecies accomplished. We behold the perfect model as delivered to Moses, and can compare it with the structure itself which is now completed. We behold the Person of Christ, as God and man; his work, as obeying the Law, and enduring its penalties for us; his offices of King, Priest, and Prophet; and the office also of the Holy Spirit, in applying to us the salvation which the Lord Jesus has wrought out for us. We have the further advantage of seeing many prophecies fulfilled, in the destruction of the Jewish state and polity; the dispersion of that nation over the face of the globe, while yet they continue a distinct people in every place; and the establishment of the Redeemer's kingdom throughout the Gentile world. I say, then, that the congratulations given to the Disciples are due in a very superior degree to us; since, while we are partakers of their privileges in all that they saw and heard, we are freed from many disadvantages under which they labored, and enjoy many advantages which they were not privileged to possess.

Now let me commend this subject to the more particular attention of those who, like our Lord's Disciples, are capable of estimating their high privilege.

1. What a debt of gratitude do you owe to Almighty God, for the mercies you enjoy!

You would think, perhaps, that kings and prophets are objects worthy to be envied. But I declare to you, that not kings, with all their grandeur, nor prophets, with all their inspiration, are blessed in comparison of you. I will even go further still, and say, that not even the immediate attendants on our Lord are to be compared with you, in respect of the privileges you enjoy. A view of the Gospel salvation, and of the glory of God as revealed in it, is the highest privilege of man on earth, a privilege which even the angels in Heaven covet to enjoy. Alas! how little is a preached Gospel valued among you as it ought to be, and how unconscious are most of you of the distinguished mercies you possess! Do, my dear brethren, learn to estimate your blessings aright; and let the daily language of your hearts and lips be, "thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!"

2. What care should you take to improve these mercies!

You must not be satisfied with hearing the Gospel: no: you must embrace it with your whole hearts: it should be your life, your joy, your all. Do but consider how glorious it is in itself, and what blessings it brings into the soul: consider the pardon of unnumbered sins, the mortification of deep-rooted lusts, the peace it gives you with your offended God, and the very earnest of Heaven which it pours into your soul: I say, consider these things, and lay hold on them, and glory in them, and let them be "all your salvation and all your desire."

3. How earnest should you be in diffusing these blessings through the world!

It is not for yourselves alone that you are thus instructed, but for the world around you. And see how many millions of the human race are ignorant of that Savior whom you worship, and of that salvation which you enjoy! The unhappy Jews have yet the veil upon their hearts, which you should endeavor to remove; and the Gentiles are yet bowing down to senseless idols, that can never profit nor deliver them. Labor, then, both for Jews and Gentiles, to bring them to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Unite with the societies that are established for that end: and let no petty jealousies keep you from cooperating with those who are engaged in the blessed work of diffusing the Scriptures all the world over, and sending missionaries to every quarter of the globe. The sphere is large enough to occupy the utmost exertions of all. "The field is the world," and how few are the laborers to cultivate the ground! Let a sense of gratitude to God stir you all up to impart to others the blessings which you yourselves have received. "Freely you have received; and freely you should give," and know, for your comfort, that, instead of diminishing your own blessings by imparting them to others, the more richly you distribute them, the more abundantly will they flow into your own souls.

 

MDXVI

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:30–35. A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his clothing, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow, when he departed, he took out two-pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him: and whatever you spend more, when I come again I will repay you.

MUCH address is necessary in dealing with persons of a captious spirit: we should speak to them with faithfulness, yet avoid giving them any unnecessary offence. Our Lord was continually beset with persons of this description, but in nothing was his Divine wisdom more conspicuous than in the answers he gave them. The parable before us admirably illustrates this observation.

I. Explain the parable.

We cannot enter into the full meaning of the parable without attending particularly to the occasion of it.

A teacher of the law had interrogated our Lord respecting the way to life, and was desired by our Lord to state what the law required. The lawyer gave a just summary of its requirements, not doubting but that he had fulfilled them all. Our Lord suggested in reply, that though obedience to the law would entitle him to life, he was little aware of the extent to which that obedience must be carried. The lawyer (whether from fear of conviction, or confidence of having fulfilled it, we cannot say) passed over the first commandment, and asked for an explanation of the second. To convey the desired information, and to correct his self-justifying spirit, our Lord spoke this parable.

The circumstances of the parable deserve also to be noticed.

A Jew is represented as having been robbed and wounded between Jericho, and Jerusalem. A priest, and a Levite (thousands of whom dwelt at Jericho) are supposed to have seen him in their way to Jerusalem; but, though from their very office they were called to exercise compassion, they passed by him without administering any comfort or relief. A Samaritan is then introduced as performing the kindest offices towards him, and as engaging for the whole expense of his maintenance and cure. Thus our Lord showed, that any person, of whatever nation, or whatever religion, must be esteemed our neighbor. By his artful statement also, he drew from the lawyer himself an express, though reluctant, acknowledgment of this truth.

But the peculiar suitableness of the parable to the occasion is that which most needs explanation.

The lawyer was manifestly of a proud self-righteous spirit. Though he knew the letter of the law, he was ignorant of its spiritual import. He supposed that he had merited eternal life by his obedience; yet he was far from showing a loving disposition even towards our Lord himself. The parable opened to him more extensive views of the law: it showed him that, so far from having practiced his duty, he had not even understood it. Thus it destroyed at once all his self-righteous hopes, and, at the same time, inculcated the necessity of practical, and universal benevolence. Mild as the rebuke was, it could not but convince his judgment; yet was it so conveyed that it could not reasonably give offence.

The parable thus explained, we may now proceed to,

II. Improve it.

And

1. In a less appropriate way.

This good Samaritan was not intended to represent our Lord; and to put such a construction upon the parable, is utterly to pervert it. Yet, when contemplating the love of a fellow-creature, we may, without any impropriety, bring to your remembrance the infinitely richer love of our most adorable Redeemer. We justly admire the conduct of the benevolent Samaritan; and the consideration, that his kindness was shown to a detested Jew, greatly enhances its value. How then must we admire the love of Christ towards our ruined race! We were robbed of the image of God in which we were made: we were left altogether "dead in trespasses and sins: no created beings could administer any effectual relief; but Jesus beheld us lying in our blood; yet, though we were his enemies, he pitied us. He not only took care of us, but "laid down his life for us," he has taken upon himself also the whole charge of our cure: there is nothing that we want, which he has not freely bestowed upon us. Let us then magnify and adore our generous Benefactor. While we respect the exercise of love in a fellow-creature, let us study to comprehend the unsearchable love of Christ; and let us make his love to us the model of our love to others.

2. In the way expressly intended by our blessed Lord.

We have observed that the parable was intended to correct the lawyer's self-righteousness, and to unfold to him the true nature and extent of Christian charity. Let us therefore learn from it these invaluable lessons. Let us learn the folly of self-righteousness. The law requires us to "love God with all our hearts, and our neighbor as ourselves;" and if we obeyed it perfectly without the smallest defect throughout our whole lives, we might be justified by it. But who ever loved and served God to the utmost extent of all his faculties and powers? Who ever incessantly occupied himself in labors of love towards those who hated and despised him? Who has not felt some backwardness to communion with God, and some want of sympathy with his neighbor? Yet the law can be satisfied with nothing less than perfect obedience: it denounces a curse against us if we transgress it in one single instance. Hence we are told that no flesh living can be justified by it. Let us then cease to expect life by our own obedience. Let us forever shut our mouths and stand guilty before God. Let us acknowledge ourselves to need mercy as much as the Apostles, and adopt the language of Paul—Let us learn also the true nature of Christian charity. We are apt to imagine that persons of our own nation, sect, or party, are the proper objects of our love; but Christian charity extends itself to all mankind. The distinctions of religion or politics should be forgotten, whenever an object stands in need of our assistance; and we should sympathize as truly with our bitterest enemy, as with our dearest friend. Thus did Paul compassionate the unbelieving Jews; and our Lord weep over their murderous and devoted cities. Let us then endeavor to mortify our narrow, selfish principles, and to abound in unselfish, self-denying offices of love.

 

MDXVII

 

Martha and Mary's Characters Compared

Luke 10:41, 42. Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

IT is a generally prevailing notion, that religion should be confined to the Church and the closet, and not be brought forward as a topic of conversation in company. But our Lord's conduct completely refutes this absurd idea; and shows, that we ought to improve our fellowship with men, by causing our light to shine before them, and by endeavoring to instill the knowledge of religion into their minds. If it be objected, "that his office was peculiar, and that therefore we ought not to imitate him in this respect," behold, the history before us introduces us to him in the house of a friend, where he had occasion to determine this very point in reference to the women whom he was visiting: one of them was applauded by him for embracing the opportunity afforded her to obtain religious instruction; and the other was reproved for the neglect of it; and that too at a time when such neglect would have been as excusable as it could be under any circumstances whatever.

To elucidate this subject, we shall,

I. Compare the characters of Martha and Mary.

We may first notice wherein they were agreed.

We are assured that both of them were Disciples of our Lord. We could not, indeed, ascertain this from the circumstance of his visit to them; (for he sometimes associated with proud Pharisees, and notorious sinners;) but we know it from the strong and mutual affection that subsisted between them. We presume, therefore, that both of them believed in him as the Messiah: both of them looked to him as the fountain and foundation of all their hopes: both of them confessed his name, and were willing to bear his cross: and lastly, both of them desired to make his will the rule of their conduct.

We may next consider wherein they differed.

There are very different degrees of piety, where the same opportunities and advantages are enjoyed: and the very same persons are in different frames at different seasons. The very best of men, if considered in the light in which some particular action would place him, would appear very unlike a true Christian. Though, therefore, we must not apologize for sin, we must make allowance for the operation of peculiar circumstances, when we are weighing the general characters of men.

Martha then, we observe, was unseasonably anxious about the affairs of this life, while her sister Mary treated them with becoming indifference. The great Teacher and Savior of mankind had condescended to take up his abode with them: it might be expected, therefore, that they would lose as little as possible of his company, and devolve on others their domestic employments, rather than deprive themselves of his valuable instructions. And thus it was with Mary. She was so absorbed in her attention to his discourses, that she neglected secular matters as of inferior concern. But Martha, on the contrary, was so intent on providing for her guest, that she was quite forgetful of her spiritual interests. We do not mean to justify a neglect of domestic duties; but we contend that there may be occasions so urgent as to demand our immediate attention, even though some points of less importance should be neglected. No one could doubt but that a disregard of dress would be very excusable, in case our life were in danger from fire: and, in the same manner, Mary's disregard of worldly formalities might well be excused, when she was called from them by duties of paramount obligation.

Martha, moreover, was unduly anxious about the affairs of this life. Granting that she meant nothing but to honor her Lord, and that her way of honoring him was proper, still, why did she suffer her temper to be ruffled? Why did she reflect upon her sister, for not uniting with her in such unprofitable employments? Why did she endeavor to interest Jesus himself in her quarrels; and even find fault with him for not interposing his authority to make Mary as worldly as herself? All this betrayed a little mind, occupied with vanities, studious of show, and too susceptible of irritation from things which ought never to have gained such an ascendant over her. Mary, on the contrary, indifferent to earthly pomp, evinced the superior heavenliness of her mind, and thereby preserved the tranquility of it undisturbed.

We shall more accurately determine their respective characters, if we,

II. Consider the judgment of our Lord respecting them.

In this answer to Martha,

1. He lays down a general position respecting the care of the soul.

The care of the soul, by whatever terms we describe it, is justly called "the one thing needful." Were we indeed to judge by the conduct of the world at large, we should rather call it, 'the one thing needless;' since every pursuit, however trifling, is preferred before it. But there is nothing of such value as the soul; the whole world, in comparison of it, is a mere vanity. Nor is there any difference in this respect between the rich and the poor: the souls of all are of equal value in the sight of God; all are equally concerned to secure eternal happiness. There is no situation where an attention to our spiritual interests can be dispensed with; no situation wherein the concerns of eternity should not be uppermost in our minds. Other things may be desirable; but the care of the soul is needful, absolutely, universally, and indispensably needful.

2. He applies that position to the present occasion.

He first applies it in a way of reproof. Though he loved Martha, he would not forbear to reprove in her what he saw amiss. He tells her, that she was acting in direct opposition to this obvious and established truth; and that her distraction of mind, arising from "many things," argued an unmindfulness about "one thing," which was of more importance than all other things together. But, though he reproved her, he was far from showing even that severity which her petulance deserved. He spoke with a tenderness well calculated to conciliate her esteem, and with an earnestness fitted to impress her mind with the importance of the subject.

Happy would it be for us, if when we are too deeply involved in worldly cares, we would call to mind this beneficial reproof, and consider it as addressed immediately to ourselves.

Next our Lord applies this position in a way of approbation. The part which Mary had chosen is called by him, "that good part." Now what was it that Mary had done? She had been sitting at the feet of Jesus, and listening with delight to his instructive conversation. She had, in short, been more occupied about the welfare of her soul than about a vain parade of courtesy and compliment. This might well be called a "good part," it was good in the estimation of Jesus, and must be so in the opinion of all who judge according to truth. People indeed, when in the midst of gaiety and dissipation, ridicule it as absurd: but did ever any man that had chosen this good part find reason to condemn it? Can we conceive of any pious man on his death-bed, cautioning his surviving relatives against loving their Lord too much, and feeling too deeply the interests of their souls? It was no little commendation of the part which Mary chose, that "it should never be taken away from her," our Lord would not deprive her of it; nor would he suffer any other, whether men or devils, to take it away. As for Martha's case, the effect of that would be as transient as the feast itself: but the fruits of Mary's attention should last forever.

Let us only bear in mind this vindication of Mary's cause, and we can never doubt whose character we should prefer, or whose conduct we should imitate.

Address.

1. Those who are wholly occupied with the pursuits of this life.

What, think you, would our Lord have said to Martha, if her state had been like yours? Would he have approved of it, and have told her that her attention to her social and relative duties was sufficient, though she took no care at all about her soul?.

2. Those who, though professing to be devoted to Christ, are of a worldly spirit.

What a poor appearance did Martha make on this occasion! and what little encouragement you have to follow her example! Remember, that "you should be crucified to the world, and the world should be crucified to you."

3. Those who are seeking with all earnestness the salvation of their souls.

You must expect, that lukewarm and worldly professors will condemn you as much as the ungodly themselves do: and the more nearly they are related to you, the more asperity, perhaps, they may show towards you. But commit your cause to Jesus; and he will vindicate you in due season. Positive duties, indeed, you must on no account neglect. But, while the world has your hands, let Jesus have your hearts.

 

MDXVIII

One Thing Needful

Luke 10:42. One thing is needful

HERE we are introduced, as it were, into the bosom of a holy family; and hear, in part at least, the instructions given to them: "One thing is needful." Let us now suppose that we ourselves are that family; and that, in the place of our blessed Lord, I am called to instruct you. My subject shall be, that "One thing is needful," and while I deliver that truth, so necessary to be received by you, I would deliver it as myself feeling its importance, and declare it with all the fidelity that such a subject demands.

Let me then,

I. Show what this one thing needful is.

In general terms, it may be called, The care of the soul. But, that we may have the precise view of it which was conveyed at that time, I will speak of it,

1. Simply.

Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his instructions. This was the tiling complained of by Martha, and the thing applauded by our blessed Lord. Now, this is the one thing needful for you also. True, you cannot have the same access to him that Mary had: but he speaks to you in the written word, and through the ministration of his servants. What, then, should you do in relation to the written word? You should sit at the feet of Jesus there, from day to day, and ponder every truth that is there recorded. If you read, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by me;" you should instantly determine, through grace, to come to God by Christ, and to make him all your life and your salvation. Do you read that you are "not to live henceforth unto yourselves, but unto Him who died for you and rose again;" you should determine, through grace, to devote yourselves altogether to the service of your Lord, and to live for him alone. In like manner, when you attend upon the ministry of the word, you should "hear it, not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God." You should come in the very spirit of Mary, and sit as in the very spirit of Mary, and hear as in the spirit of Mary; not from curiosity, not in a caviling spirit, not to perform a customary duty, but to get instruction for your souls. Your whole soul should be swallowed up, as it were, in the subject proposed for your consideration; and every word that is spoken should be treasured up in your heart for the regulation of your faith and practice. This attention to the interests of your soul should be the one employment of your minds from day to day.

2. In a way of contrast.

The one thing needful is not contrasted with vice of any kind. The man who indulges in any evil course is far enough from the one thing needful: he goes in the high road to perdition, without so much as dreaming of the one thing needful. No, the thing of which Martha complained was, that when there were household concerns which called for her sister's attention, she was attending to the concerns of her soul. This was what she blamed; and what our Lord commended. Let me not however be misunderstood, as saying that any person is at liberty to neglect his worldly business; for an attention to that, in its place, is necessary for every living man: but it must not be suffered to interfere with the more important interests of the soul. On the contrary, where the two duties come in competition with each other, that must invariably be deferred. We blame not Martha for performing the rights of hospitality towards the Lord Jesus and his friends: but her care about this was excessive, and unseasonable too; inasmuch as, through her anxiety about this minor concern, she lost an opportunity for the benefit of her soul: and our Lord informs her that this was wrong. This, then, is the comparative view of the subject. The one thing needful is, to feel the paramount importance of eternal things, and to have the things of time and sense entirely subordinated to the concerns of the soul.

Having explained the one thing needful, I will now,

II. Commend it to your choice.

Mary had chosen it, as I wish you also to do. And that I may induce you to choose it, I will set before you,

1. The importance of it.

This is "needful," more needful than any other thing under Heaven. It is altogether needful both to your safety and happiness. Suppose you are ever so little engaged in worldly business, you may go to Heaven: whatever relates to the world may be done for you: but no one can act for you in relation to the soul: if all the people in the universe were to unite their efforts, they could not supply your lack of services in the concerns of your soul. They must be attended to by yourself: and without the strictest possible attention to them, you never can secure Heaven, never can be approved of your God. Nor can you be happy without this. You may be happy in the want of earthly things, even if you were as destitute as Lazarus himself: but can you be happy without the favor of God? without an interest in the Savior? without a renewed heart? without a title to Heaven? No, you cannot: you cannot know what peace is: you cannot look forward with comfort to a dying hour: you cannot contemplate, with any kind of satisfaction, the terrors of a future judgment, or the realities of an eternal state. Then, if without an attention to the one thing needful you can be neither safe nor happy, is it wise to neglect the concerns of your soul? It is well said, What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall he give in exchange for his soul? Methinks I have already said enough to engage you on the side of Mary, and to impress on you the necessity of following her example. Remember, this is "the one thing needful;" and, in this view, the only thing that is needful.

2. The excellency of it.

Two things our Lord speaks in commendation of it: first, it is good; "Mary has chosen the good part," and next, it is permanent; "It shall never be taken away from her."

Consider now these two points. First, it is good. Worldly labors, I grant, are good in their place, as means to some end: but there is nothing intrinsically good in any worldly office whatever. But spiritual exercises are good, irrespective of any end whatever. The love of God is good: the love of Christ is good: the love of holiness in all its branches, is good. The world may cry out against these things as they will, and load them with every opprobrious name: but they are good. They are reputed good by God, who expressly calls them so; and by angels, who know it by sweet experience; and by all the saints that ever lived, and who chose them on this very account. Yes, in the estimation of the ungodly too, even by the very men who hate and despise them, they are good: for it is in consequence of this conviction, that in their hearts they venerate a holy man, and wish to "die the death of the righteous," though they cannot be prevailed upon to live his life. What does every man feel on his dying bed? He may not feel any great desire to serve God; but he feels a secret wish that he had served him: and that clearly shows what his judgment of this subject is. As for those who are gone into the eternal world, ask one of them what he now thinks of the one thing needful? There would be no difference of opinion between one that should come from Heaven, and one who should come from Hell: they would be equally decisive in their judgment, though, alas! with widely different feelings: and the very instant any one of you shall open his eyes in the eternal world, I will venture to say, he, if suffered to come back and deliver his sentiments, would speak more strongly and more decidedly upon it, than I ever have done, or ever can do. Will any of you, then, be so mad as to go on seeking the poor contemptible vanities of this world, in preference to what, by all in Heaven, earth, and Hell, is acknowledged as supremely good?

But consider, also, its permanency: "If you choose this good part, it shall never be taken away from you." Can this be said of earthly things? Possess crowns and kingdoms, if you will: experience proves, that, by popular commotion or the events of war, you may soon be hurled from your eminence, into a state of bondage and misery. But of common possessions how soon may you be bereaved, by fraud, or violence, or inundation, or fire! And how soon must you, at all events, be deprived of them by death! But if you have sought for eternal happiness, who shall deprive you of that? God will not; and no other can. What can men do? All that they can do, is, to kill the body: they cannot touch the soul. And devils, what can they do? They can tempt, but they cannot force you to any single act. They could not even enter into the swine, without leave: how, then, shall they destroy a child of God? Your final enjoyment of the blessings you seek is secured to you by covenant and by oath: and while others, at death, lose all their possessions, you at death come into the fullest possible enjoyment of yours, an enjoyment that shall endure through all eternity.

Need I then say more? Surely, there can be but one common sentiment among you all. Would to God that there might be one determination also, a determination to devote yourselves unreservedly to God, and to mind from henceforth the one thing needful!

Think not, however, that this can be done without great and abiding efforts. For the ungodly world will surely cry out against you, as acting a most absurd part, and as carried away by a heated imagination. Yes, and even good people of a worldly cast, notwithstanding they be among your nearest and dearest relatives, will, like Martha, complain of you as carrying matters too far. And no doubt your minister also will come in for his share of the blame: for even Christ himself was blamed, and that by a pious person also, for encouraging Mary in an extravagant attention to her spiritual interests, to the neglect of her worldly business: "Lord, care you not that my sister has left me to serve alone? Bid her, therefore, that she help me," for I cannot but consider you as encouraging her to carry matters to excess. As for me, brethren, I am willing to bear my share of the blame: it is no pain to me to bear what my Lord and Savior bore before me. But be not you discouraged. You see in Mary what you have to expect. You see, however, on the other hand, what approbation she met with from the Lord himself. And that sufficed for her. Let it also suffice for you. Only approve yourself to him, and you need not mind anything that man can either say or do. It is decidedly "the good part" which I recommend to you; and therefore "choose it," and follow it, and adhere to it, under all circumstances. Never will you repent of this line of conduct. Sit now, with unwearied perseverance, at the feet of Jesus; and you shall, before long, receive his applauding testimony, and be seated with him on his throne of glory to all eternity.

 

MDXIX

Forms of Prayer, Good

Luke 11:1. And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his Disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his Disciples.

SCARCELY anything can more strongly mark our defection from God, than our inability to pray. It might well be supposed, that, considering how many sins we have to be forgiven, how many wants to be supplied, and how many blessings to be acknowledged, that we should never be at a loss for matter in our addresses at the throne of grace, or for a suitable frame in drawing near to God. But the truth is, that there is no duty more difficult than that of prayer: for as, on the one hand, "we know not what to pray for as we ought;" so neither, on the other hand, are we able to plead with God as we ought, unless "the Holy Spirit help our infirmities, and assist us in relation to every part of this duty." The Apostles themselves felt their need of instruction upon this head, and received from their Divine Master a form of prayer fitted for the use of the Church in all ages. From this circumstance, I shall take occasion to show,

I. The importance of sound formularies of instruction and prayer, for the use of the Church of Christ.

Every society has some ground of mutual agreement, and some principle on which the members are formed into one collective body. Now the Church of Christ is a society collected out of the world, and united in one common sentiment of adherence to Christ, as their only Lord and Savior. There have been minor differences between the different parts of this body; and different societies have been formed, to confirm in their respective views the members attached to each. But on the subject of these differences I have at present no call to speak: my purpose, in this part of my discourse, being simply to show, that, by the common consent of all, certain formularies have been judged expedient, for the marking and perpetuating of their respective sentiments. Some, indeed, have limited their formularies to a statement of principles; others have extended them to forms of prayer: and it is of these latter that I intend more especially to speak. I mean not to condemn those who differ in this respect; but only to vindicate those who, in addition to a statement of their principles, have also adopted a form of prayer.

A statement of principles is good.

It forms a bond of union between the members of the same Church. Doubtless, if the principles themselves be false, the record that contains them cannot be good: but, supposing the principles to be sound, the forming of them into an accredited and unchanging standard cannot but be a signal benefit to the Church that is governed by them. Such a statement is a great preservative from error; it strengthens the hands of the faithful members, and is a witness against those who are unfaithful; and it serves, in perpetuity, as a rallying point, both for those who adhere to truth and those who have departed from it.

A form of prayer is good also.

That there are persons capable of conducting public worship in a truly edifying manner without a form, is readily acknowledged. But the great mass of those who lead the devotions of the people (I mean not to offend any, but only to "speak the truth in love,") are far from equal to the task: and even those whose gifts are sufficient, find themselves too often destitute of the grace of prayer. They can utter words, perhaps, with fluency: but their words betray the absence of the heart: and the barrenness felt by those who speak, is diffused over all who hear. I grant that there may also be a hardness and barrenness in one who uses a pre-conceived form: but still, if that form express all that a devout spirit could wish, the persons who join in it may themselves, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, supply the unction, which the minister has failed to manifest.

In family devotions, a pre-conceived form is not only useful, but necessary, for the generality of Christians. In ministers, a kind of official fluency is obtained by habit: but in others, even in men of learning and of great intelligence, who can deliver themselves with ease in a popular harangue, there is a straitness, both of conception and expression, when they come before God in prayer; and if they had not somewhat of a form prepared for them, they must abandon the use of family prayer altogether.

As to the lawfulness of such forms, I conceive that to be placed beyond a doubt, by the answer which our Lord gave to the request made to him in our text. His Disciples desired him to teach them to pray, as John had taught his Disciples: and our Lord gave them a prayer, which they were directed to use, either in form or substance, whenever they drew near to God at the throne of grace: a clear proof that forms are good; and that in the use of them we may "worship God in spirit and in truth."

Assuming that sound formularies are good, I proceed to point out,

II. The peculiar excellence of those which are used and sanctioned by the Church of England.

The Articles, the Homilies, and the Liturgy, are the standard of Divine truth, as embraced and professed by our Established Church. Now,

The Articles are peculiarly excellent, both as to the soundness of their principles, and the moderation of their statement.

They have evidently been drawn up with a view to comprehend all persons whose views, upon the whole, are right. The Calvinist and the Arminian meet upon the ground there stated, each being satisfied that his own sentiments are contained in them. And this, considering how unqualified the Scriptural expressions, on which their respective creeds are founded, often are, is very desirable. They are articles of peace, and not of war: and they serve to combine in one Church all that is truly good, while they repudiate those only who deny some fundamental truth of Christianity.

The Homilies are a pattern of simplicity and godly sincerity.

Never was truth more plainly stated than in them. The language in which they are written is indeed antiquated; in consequence of which, the use of them has been discontinued: but, in their mode of stating divine truth, and enforcing it upon the conscience, they never have been excelled by any composition whatever. It were well if they were more regarded as a pattern for popular addresses at this day: for, in comparison of them, the great mass of public addresses, if viewed with candor and with Apostolic zeal, would be found, it is to be feared, exceedingly defective, both in energy and in scriptural instruction.

As for the Liturgy, no commendation can be too great for it.

Being of human composition, it must, of necessity, partake of human infirmity. But, taken all together, it comes nearer to inspiration than any book that ever was composed. Only let a person be humbled as a sinner before God, and he will not find in the whole universe any prayers so suited to his taste. They express exactly what a broken-hearted penitent before God would desire to express: yet is there in them nothing of extravagance or of cant: all is sober, chaste, judicious; so minute, as to comprehend everything which the largest assembly of suppliants could wish to utter; and at the same time so general, as not to involve any one to a greater extent than his own experience sanctions and approves. Throughout the whole, the suppliant is made to stand on the only true foundation, and to urge every request in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, his atoning Savior, his all-prevailing Advocate. Throughout the whole, also, is the Holy Spirit's influence acknowledged as the only source of light and life, and implored as the gift of God to sinners for Christ's sake. In point of devotion, whether prayer or praise be offered, nothing can exceed the Liturgy, either in urgency of petition or in fervor of thanksgiving. In truth, if a whole assembly were addressing God in the spirit of the Liturgy, as well as in the word there would be nothing to compare with such a spectacle upon the face of the earth: it would approximate more to Heaven than anything of the kind that was ever yet seen in this world.

Taking, then, the formularies of our Church in a collective view, I must say, that we have unbounded reason for thankfulness to Almighty God for the provision which has been made for the instruction of our minds, and the assistance that has been given us for our advancement in the divine life.

Now, then, let me state to you,

III. The claim which the Prayer-book and Homily Society has upon us in this particular view.

Here a summary view was given of the services rendered by that Society to the world. And they were shown to be such as to deserve the countenance and support of every pious man. Its having translated our Liturgy into so many languages, renders it an institution of far greater importance than would, at first sight, be supposed: for, if Bible Societies and Mission Societies are useful in gathering Churches, this is useful in confirming, establishing, comforting, and edifying all who are so united.

Let me then recommend,

1. That these formularies be duly estimated by yourselves.

The Homilies are too much laid aside at this time. It is well that the attention of the world is now more called to them than it has been for the last hundred years. I would recommend you all to read them for your own edification, and to circulate them for the edification of others. The Liturgy, also, is too much used as a form, without a suitable endeavor to enter into the spirit of it. But if we will, from time to time, compare our own frame of mind in prayer with the words which are provided for our use, we shall see how exceedingly defective we are in everything that is good; and how much we need a supply of the Spirit of God to bring us to any measure of that experience which we are bound, as Christians to attain.

2. That your regard for them be shown by your endeavors to circulate them throughout the world.

From the records of that society, you will see that nothing but a want of funds has prevented a still greater extension of their labors than has yet taken place. If the generosity of the Christian public enable them to proceed according to their wishes, there will not be a country under Heaven that will not, in due time, be blessed with the same advantages as we enjoy.

 

MDXX

The Force of Importunity

Luke 11:5–8. And he said unto them, Which, of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give you. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needs.

IT is common with proud infidels, when disputing against the doctrines of our holy religion, to reduce Jehovah, as it were, to a level with man; and to argue, that what would be unsuitable for man to do towards his fellows must therefore be unsuitable for God to do in his dealings with mankind. But what know we of Jehovah, that we should presume to judge of him by ourselves? or what claim have we on God, that we render him amenable to us for his dispensations towards us, when we might, every one of us, have been justly left, like the fallen angels, to have taken our portion in the abyss of Hell, if He, of his sovereign grace, had not determined to put a difference between us and them? To bring Jehovah to our bar, and to try him there by a standard of our own, is impious in the extreme. His ways and thoughts are infinitely above ours; "nor will He give account to us of any of his matters," and our province, in reference to his revealed will, is, not to dispute, but to believe, and to obey. Yet there are circumstances wherein we may, with great propriety, draw a parallel between God and ourselves: as, for instance, if there be anything good which man will do, we may be perfectly assured, not only that God will do the same, but that he will infinitely exceed it. Thus our Lord, having taught his Disciples to pray, and wishing to encourage in them the utmost urgency and fullest confidence of success in prayer, he appeals to them respecting the effect of importunity between man and man, and teaches them to expect still greater effects from it in their addresses at the throne of grace. From this appeal of his, I will take occasion to show,

I. The force of importunity in our fellowship with man.

Our Lord supposes a sudden emergency to have arisen. A friend, on a journey, having lost his way, and wandered about until midnight, suddenly comes to our house, oppressed both with fatigue and hunger; and, while we joyfully afford him a lodging, we accidentally have no provision, not so much as a piece of bread, to set before him for his refreshment. (This is a case which may very well be supposed; nor is there in it anything so extraordinary, but that it may fitly serve as a basis for a hypothetical proposition.) To what expedient would you have recourse? You yourself have a friend near at hand; and, while the weary traveler rests himself, you go to him, and knock at his door, and entreat him to lend you some bread for the occasion. (This, though undesirable in itself, on account of the unseasonableness of the hour, you would feel justified in resorting to, on account of the greatness of the emergency.) Your friend, who, with his children and servants, are all in bed, not liking to be disturbed at such an hour, and to have the disturbance spread over his whole family, excuses himself, and declines acceding to your request. (This is perfectly natural. What relates to self arises much more quickly in our minds than the concerns of others; and the trouble imposed on us, appears more immediately deserving our attention, than any which we are called upon to alleviate in others.) But you continue to plead with him the necessity of the case: and his friendly dispositions, which had not been sufficient to operate in your favor in the first instance, are awakened and called into exercise by your importunity; and he then arises, and gives you whatever you require. (In the whole of our fellowship with our friends, and indeed with the world at large, we find, that a perseverance in urging our requests will prevail, when higher considerations have lain dormant, and been ineffectual for the attainment of our wishes.)

This case is so simple, that it would be obscured, rather than elucidated, by any amplification of mine: it commends itself at once as a very probable occurrence, and as well fitted to illustrate the great truth which it was intended to inculcate.

Let us, then, proceed to notice,

II. The encouragement to be derived from it in our fellowship with God.

Our blessed Lord himself shows us how to apply the subject; first of all in a way of direct affirmation, "Ask, and you shall have," etc.; and then in a way of inference; namely, "If we, who are evil," will not refuse to supply the necessities of others, "much less will God," who is so infinitely good. To mark this inference, let the following considerations be duly marked:

1. Importunity, however urgent, will never offend our God.

Man it may offend; and not unfrequently does; and even irritates him to such a degree, as to draw from him expressions, which, in a calmer hour, he would not, on any account, have used. But God will never be offended: on the contrary, he tells us that "the prayer of the upright is his delight." To what an amazing extent did he bear with the importunity of Abraham, when, in a long strain of consecutive petitions and arguments in behalf of Sodom, he urged the sparing of that guilty city for the sake of fifty, forty, thirty, twenty, yes, even ten righteous persons, who might be there! So, we may be sure, he will never be displeased with us, though we "cry to him night and day," and "wrestle with him, as Jacob did, refusing to let him go until he bless us."

2. Nor can our petitions ever be unseasonable.

Unseasonable they may often be, if made to man. His occupations may not admit of his attending to them at the time they are offered. But no hour is unsuited for our supplications to God. He is never disinclined to listen to the case which we spread before him, nor ever so occupied as to defer it to a season of greater leisure. We find the Scripture saints "preventing the night watches" in their addresses at the throne of grace; and, however sudden the emergency that calls for his attention, he has shown himself, at all times, equally disposed to fulfill the desires which have been expressed even by a sigh, a look, a thought.

3. Nor can they ever exceed either his power or willingness to give.

The friend who was applied to for bread, might have been in the same predicament with him who made the application: or, as was the case, he might, on some account or other, be unwilling to grant the request. But God is never either unable or unwilling to grant all that we can ask. On the contrary, we are assured, that he is "able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask, or even think." The weakest or the vilest of the whole human race should "find mercy and grace to help him in the time of need," if only he sought it in Jesus' name: nor should all the glory and felicity of Heaven be withheld from one who applied to God in penitence and faith. "However wide he opened his mouth, God would fill it."

4. Importunity is the very mean which God himself has prescribed for our obtaining of blessings at his hands.

He bids us not only to pray, but to "continue instant in prayer;" yes, to "pray without ceasing," and to "give him no rest" until we have obtained the blessings which we have desired. He has spoken a parable, for the express purpose of showing us, that "we are to pray always, and not faint." Immediately after my text, the encouragement given by our Lord to importunity in prayer is conveyed with such remarkable repetitions, as cannot fail to strike every attentive reader, and to show how urgent God is with us, to make us urgent in our supplications to him.

Application.

1. Seek friendship with God.

A man may expect to prevail with a friend, for things which he could not hope for as a stranger. And what may we not expect to obtain at God's hands, if once we are reconciled to him in the Son of his love? Having given us his own Son, what will he withhold from us? If, indeed, we continue enemies to God in our hearts by wicked works, we cannot hope to obtain any blessings at his hands; for we are warned, that "if we regard iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us," but, if we come to him in Christ Jesus, with penitential sorrow, "he will never suffer us to seek his face in vain."

2. Whatever you ask of God, ask it in faith.

If you come with doubtful hearts, questioning whether God be able or willing to relieve you, you cannot hope to obtain an answer of peace. But the prayer of faith shall surely prevail. Whatever be the petition which we offer, provided only it be really good for us, it shall be given us. True, the cup was not taken from the hands of our blessed Lord, nor was the thorn taken from the flesh of the Apostle Paul, though both the one and the other urged their petitions with repeated earnestness: but our blessed Lord was enabled to drink the cup of bitterness even to the dregs, and the Apostle had his affliction greatly sanctified to the good of his soul: and therefore, though the blessings asked were withheld from each, as to the matter of them, they were more effectually bestowed on each as to their ultimate effect. Thus, only leave to God to judge for you as to the gift that shall be conferred, and you shall be sure never, in any case, to ask in vain.

3. Never be discouraged on account of any delay you may experience in the answers to your prayers.

The importunate widow, though often repulsed, prevailed at last: and though God may not answer us so speedily as we could wish, it shall, in fact, be "speedily," because it shall be at that precise moment when it shall be most for our eternal good. There are many reasons known to God for delaying to answer our prayers; and which, if known to us, would lead us to acquiesce in, and even to desire, the delay. We need to be stirred up to more importunity in prayer, and to be made more deeply sensible of our need of mercy. We need also to be made more thankful to God for his answers to prayer: and all these benefits may arise from delay. But, beyond the proper season, God will not withhold any communication which, in his wisdom, he sees needful for us. His declaration to this effect may be fully depended on: "The vision is for an appointed time; but at the end it shall speak, and shall not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come; it will not tarry." Only wait for the Lord, and you shall never be disappointed of your hope.

 

MDXXI

Importunity Encouraged

Luke 11:9, 10. I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asks receives; and he who seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.

THE prayer which our blessed Lord taught to his Disciples, and which is contained in the verses before my text, is suited to the Church of God in all ages: and it is a very encouraging circumstance, that, in approaching to the throne of grace, we are able to address the Most High in words which he himself has dictated for our use. But doubts are apt to arise in the mind, whether God will hear the prayers of such worthless and sinful creatures as we are: and, to remove such apprehensions, our merciful and gracious Lord has made an appeal to us respecting our own readiness to assist each other, especially in cases of emergency, and when urged by repeated applications. The appeal, as made by him, carries conviction to the mind. But the argument itself must not be pressed too far. We cannot, in all cases, infer from what man would do, that God will do the same: no, in truth; such a mode of arguing as that would lead, and often does actually lead, to the most fatal errors. I will therefore make the necessary distinctions on this subject; and show,

I. In what cases this argument is valid.

Certainly it is an argument much used in Holy Writ.

Our blessed Lord states it distinctly in the words following my text: "If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" To the same effect he speaks in the parable of the unjust judge: "Hear what the unjust judge says. And shall not God avenge his own elect, who cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you, that he will avenge them speedily." From these and many other passages it is clear, that the argument, if properly used, is weighty and conclusive.

But it is an argument much abused by ungodly men.

Nothing is more common than for ungodly men to state what they themselves would do, and to conclude from thence what they are authorized to believe respecting God. And, in fact, this is the strong-hold of atheism itself: for there is not a perfection of the Deity which is not practically denied upon this very ground. Hear how God himself represents this matter: for he who knows the heart, and can interpret infallibly its most secret motions, thus declares, respecting the atheistical and ungodly world: "Son of man, have you seen what the ancients of the House of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, The Lord sees us not; the Lord has forsaken the earth" What is here, but a plain denial both of the omnipresence and omniscience of God? His justice also, and his truth, are alike questioned by them upon the same grounds. Paul thus states the objections of an unbelieving Jew: "But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God," I. e. if our ungodliness be the means of displaying the efficacy and excellency of the Gospel, what shall we say? Is God (I. e. is not God) unrighteous, who takes vengeance? (I speak as a man.) God forbid (replies the Apostle): for then, how shall God judge the world? Then the objector, still pressing his argument, adds, "For if the truth of God has more abounded through my lie unto his glory (That is, if God has overruled my errors for the illustration and confirmation of his own truth), why am I yet judged as a sinner?" that is, if I am the means of honoring him, whether intentionally or not, it would be very unjust in God to deal with me as if I dishonored him. To all which the Apostle answers, 'You may as well speak out at once, and say, "Let us do evil, that good may come," and the only reply that I shall condescend to make to all such impious objectors is, "Their damnation is just." ' Thus, as the justice of God is arraigned in reference to what he has threatened; so also is his truth, in reference to his execution of his threatenings: "There shall come, in the last days, scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation;" construing thus the forbearance of God into an utter dereliction of his declared purpose. The sovereignty of God is that against which they set themselves with peculiar vehemence. That God should exercise mercy according to his own sovereign will and pleasure, and not according to any desert of man, is an idea which they cannot endure. They consider that as a warrant to cast all the blame of their condemnation upon God himself; and will confidently say, "Why does he yet find fault? For who has resisted his will?" But Paul's answer to that objection must silence every human being: "Nay but, O man, who are you that replies against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?" In a word, the whole that God has revealed to us respecting our fall in Adam, our condemnation by the law, our justification by faith alone, and the eternity of future punishment awarded to all who believe not in Jesus Christ; the whole of this, I say, is no better than "foolishness" in the eyes of unconverted men. And the ground of their accounting it foolishness is, that it is a different mode of proceeding from that which they themselves would follow towards one another: for, as they would not punish to all eternity any offence committed against them, so neither ought God to punish sin in that way; and, as they would reward men according to their merits, so ought God to do. In short, they think "God to be altogether such an one as themselves: but God will reprove them, and, with righteous severity, will set before them the things which they have done," for, however just a comparison between God and man may be in some respects, in other respects it can serve no other purpose than to lead us into the most fatal errors.

Let me, then, mark distinctly, when, and in what cases, this argument is valid.

There is a broad line of distinction to be drawn, and such a line as will suffice to keep us from any material error on the subject. When the comparison relates only to what is good and gracious, the argument founded on it is not only valid, but may be carried to an extent that would be utterly inadmissible on any other subject under Heaven. For instance, we may not only say, if an earthly parent will be kind to his child, how much more will your heavenly Parent be so? But we may put the argument thus: "If a man will show the smallest kindness imaginable to his beloved child, how much more will God exercise the greatest possible kindness towards a stranger, provided that stranger call upon him in humility and faith?" This is, in fact, the very statement which our Lord himself gives in the verses following my text: for it is worthy of notice, that, in the latter part of the comparison, he drops the relation of a child, and says, "How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit unto those who ask him?" But, when the comparison supposes or implies any claim on God, then is it not only vain, but impious in the extreme: for man has no claim whatever upon God. The very devils have as much claim upon him as we, unless we come to him in the name of Christ. On our fellow-creatures we have a claim; but on God we have none: and if we presume to say, I would not act so or so towards a fellow-creature; therefore God will not act so or so towards me; we reduce him to a level with ourselves; we bind him by laws to which he is not subject; and we prescribe rules to him which he will never follow. Of our duties to man we may form some judgment: but "we cannot by searching find out God;" who dwells in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man has seen, or can seem," and if we attempt to speak of him, we only "darken counsel by words without knowledge."

Having shown in what cases this argument is valid, I proceed to mark,

II. The force of it, as here applied.

Our blessed Lord here institutes a comparison between God and man, as moved by importunity to exercise kindness towards a suppliant friend. Hear,

1. His statement.

Who among us, if a friend came to him, even at midnight, for bread to set before one who had unexpectedly come from a great distance to take up his abode with him, would refuse his request? We might, probably enough, express reluctance at first, on account of the disturbance it would occasion to our family; but, on his urging his request, we should grant it: though the feelings of friendship should not suffice in the first instance to produce an acquiescence in his wish, his importunity would be sure to prevail. The parallel between God and us is here so obvious, that our Lord forbears to state it; because every one will naturally draw it for himself. For instance: will an earthly friend act thus? What then will not our heavenly Friend do, whose love so infinitely transcends all that ever existed in a mortal bosom? And will an earthly friend do this with such inconvenience to himself and family; and shall his reluctance be overcome by dint of importunity? What then will not He do, who, at whatever hour he be applied to, can experience no inconvenience, and who delights in importunity, as the best possible expression of our love to him? Here the argument is clear and strong; and such as must carry conviction to every mind. Hear then,

2. His conclusion.

Justly does our blessed Lord found on this statement an exhortation to us, to be in supplication urgent, and in expectation confident. Let us"ask" whatever our necessities require: let us "seek" it, too, in every way that we can devise: and, if our heavenly Friend appear inattentive to our suit, let us stand "knocking" at his door, until he come to our aid. Let us take no refusal. Of his sufficiency we can entertain no doubt; nor should we for a moment call in question his willingness to help us. Delays, instead of discouraging us, should only increase the ardor of our suit: for, succeed we must. Our blessed Lord tells us, "You shall," "you shall," "you shall" succeed. "Ask, and you shall have; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." Before we yield to any discouragement as to the issue of our supplications, let us find an instance wherein such importunity was ever known to fail. Let us search the annals of the whole world: and if, from the beginning of the world unto this hour, we find not one single exception, yes, and are assured by Him who knows all things, that no exception ever did exist; then let us, like Jacob of old, close, as it were, with our heavenly Friend, and wrestle with him all the night; and tell him plainly, that "we will not let him go until he bless us." If we act thus, we may as well doubt the existence of a God, as doubt the issue of our supplications: "for every one that asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him that knocks (however unworthy he may be of the favor asked), it shall be opened."

Behold, then, the force of the argument as here applied; and know, that where goodness and grace are the points of comparison between God and man, the argument can never be too strongly put, or the inference be too securely drawn.

Application.

Are there any here present who doubt the efficacy of prayer?

Such existed in the days of old; even men who said, "What profit should we have, if we pray unto him?" But on what grounds can such a question be asked? If it be from an idea that God is incapable of attending to the concerns of men, then hear his indignant reproof of this atheistical conceit: "They say, the Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it. Understand, you brutish among the people; and you fools, when will you be wise? He who plants the ear, shall he not hear? He who formed the eye, shall not he see? He who chastises the heathen, shall not he correct? He who teaches man knowledge, shall not he know? The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are vanity;" yes, and you will find them vanity too, my brethren, if you persist in such conceits as these.

Are there any who think they can be saved without prayer?

Be assured that, however willing God is to bestow his blessings, he will be sought unto before he will impart them: for the condition he has imposed is this; "Ask" and you shall have. And if you will not comply with that, then know, that nothing awaits you but "destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power," for he has irreversibly declared, that "the wicked shall be turned into Hell, and all the people that forget Gods." If you say, "This shall not be;" then will I bring to your remembrance that awful admonition, "God is not a man, that he should lie; nor the son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and shall he not do it? has he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" God's promises, it is true, are free and full: but "he will be inquired of," in earnest prayer, before he will grant to you his offered blessings.

Lastly, Are there any who are discouraged by the idea that God will not condescend to them?

Persons too of this description were found in the days of old, who, in a desponding mood, complained, "The Lord has forsaken me, and my God has forgotten me." But what was the answer of God to them? "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, they may forget: yet will not I forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me." Here is the very argument that is urged in my text, and with all the force which has been given to it. Let it come home to all your hearts, and make every one of you to "pray, without ceasing," and without a doubt.

 

MDXXII

The Strong Man Armed

Luke 11:21, 22. When a strong man armed keeps his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him and overcome him, he takes from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divides his spoils.

THE miracles wrought by our Lord were too manifest to be denied even by his most inveterate enemies. Some however endeavored to evade the force of them by ascribing them to a confederacy with Satan. Our Lord showed them the absurdity of such an idea. The expelling of evil spirits was a confirmation of our Lord's doctrine; consequently it tended to the destruction of Satan's kingdom, and the establishment of his own. This Satan could not but be aware of; he would therefore never concur in an act which must terminate in his own ruin. Hence it appeared that the power which Jesus exercised over the evil spirits, was not only without the concurrence of Beelzebub, but in spite of his utmost exertions to withstand it. To illustrate this truth our Lord delivered the parable before us.

Extreme caution should be used in explaining the parables, that we refine not upon them too much, nor give to any part a sense which it was not designed to bear. But some parables were certainly intended to be minutely applied in all their parts. That which is now before us seems to be of that number; we shall therefore open it in a way of familiar exposition.

Satan is fitly compared to a strong man armed.

The strength and power of Satan are frequently mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. His very names, Apollyon, the great Dragon, and the God of this world, evidently characterize him as possessed of exceeding great power. As an angel, he excelled in strength; nor, though he has lost his original purity, has his native energy been at all impaired. He is rendered more formidable too by "his armor." Alas! what fiery darts has he in his quiver! With what inconceivable subtlety does he plan his seasons and methods of assault! Nor can he have so long engaged in this warfare, without having learned much by experience.

The hearts of unregenerate men are "his palace."

He has the most intimate access to the hearts of men: he entered into the heart of Judas, and prompted him to betray his Lord. By the same invisible agency he urged Ananias and Sapphira to lie unto the Holy Spirit. In the same manner he stimulates all his vassals to the commission of sin: he rules within them as a monarch, and lords it over them with most despotic sway. Every apartment of the palace is occupied by his attendants: the understanding, the will, the affections, the memory, the conscience, are all under his control. If seven spirits only possess some, Legion is the name of others.

While he takes up his abode in them, he keeps all in peace.

One would think that a soul possessed by him should be filled with horror; but he contrives to divert the thoughts of men from all their spiritual concerns: he blinds their minds so that they cannot see their real state: he fills them with a presumptuous confidence that they shall do well at last. Perhaps he makes them laugh at the idea of Satanic influence. He suggests that God is too merciful to inflict eternal punishment, and that all apprehensions of divine wrath are the effects of superstition or enthusiasm. If at any time they are impressed by the word of God, he catches it away, lest they should believe it and be saved. Thus he continually deceives his vassals, and lulls them asleep in a most fatal security.

There is One however, even Jesus, who is stronger than he.

Satan indeed is a roaring lion: but Jesus is the all-powerful Lion of the tribe of Judah. Satan is the serpent that bruised the heel of Jesus: but Jesus is the woman's seed that effectually bruised his head. Jesus vanquished him in repeated combats, and at last triumphed over him upon the cross: yes, and led him captive in his resurrection and ascension: nor does he exercise less power in his people than he then did for them. His grace is sufficient to fortify us against the fiercest assaults of Satan: nor shall the weakness of his people counteract or retard his career of victory.

Nor can Satan any longer retain his hold when Jesus comes to eject him.

Satan strove indeed to the utmost to keep possession of the bodies of men; nor relinquished them at last without the most strenuous efforts to destroy them. Thus will he maintain a conflict with Jesus in their souls. If he be driven from the outworks, he will defend himself in the citadel. Sometimes he may appear for a season to defy Omnipotence itself; but in due season he is invariably overcome. His strong holds, one after another, are demolished, and he is constrained to surrender the palace which he can no longer keep.

Jesus, having driven him from the soul, will turn all its powers against him.

A sinner, while under Satan's dominion, has many things which prove serviceable to that wicked fiend: his wisdom, riches, influence, are all pressed into the service of the devil; all are used to strengthen his power, and to undermine the authority of Christ. But when Jesus has gained possession of a soul, he instantly secures all its powers, and turns the artillery of Satan against himself: whatever wealth or influence the man possessed, is now made subservient to the Redeemer's interests: the gold of Egypt is formed into vessels for the sanctuary of the Lord; and every talent is improved in promoting and establishing his kingdom. Thus does Jesus drive Satan from his fortress, and enable the once captive soul to trample on him as a vanquished enemy.

From the parable thus explained we may learn.

1. What true conversion is.

Conversion does not consist merely in a change of sentiment: it supposes that our false peace has been broken, and that Satan has been made to yield to the victorious grace of Jesus. Jesus himself too is now become the sole monarch of our hearts, and we are cordially serving him with all our power. Let us try ourselves by this touchstone: let us see whether we be indeed new creatures: nor let us rest until we be turned from the power of Satan unto God.

2. Whence it is that any are converted.

Men are in themselves the willing slaves of Satan: so far from desiring deliverance from him, they fight against their deliverer. Most assuredly therefore they are not the authors of their own conversion. It is Jesus alone who chooses the objects of his favor: it is he alone who begins and carries on the good work within them. To him therefore must every redeemed soul ascribe the glory. None can boast as if they had effected anything by their own power: nor need any despair as though their bonds could never be broken. To every one, who wishes to be made free, there is abundant encouragement in the Scriptures. May our eyes be so directed to Jesus that his power may be magnified in our deliverance!

3. What is the duty of those who are converted.

As Satan never leaves a soul without reluctance, so does he ever watch for an opportunity to return to it: nor will he fail of accomplishing his purpose, if our hearts be not guarded by the Lord Jesus. Let none then be satisfied with purging out only some grosser sins. In vain will the house be swept and garnished, if it be not occupied by the Divine inhabitant. Satan will return with seven devils worse than himself; and the last state of such men will be worse than the first. Let all then be on their guard, and commit the keeping of their souls to Jesus. Then shall all the attempts of their enemy be baffled. He who never slumbers will surely preserve them, and they shall be made the habitation of God to all eternity. What we say therefore to one, we say unto all, Watch!

 

MDXXIII

The Blessedness of the True Christian

Luke 11:27, 28. And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare you, and the breasts which you have sucked. But he said, Yes rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

THE words of our Lord, though made the continual subject of cavil and dispute among his obstinate opposers, carried conviction to the hearts of all who candidly considered them: nor was the gentleness of his manners less impressive than the wisdom of his discourses. He had been just exposing the folly of imputing his miracles to a confederacy with Beelzebub: and to such a degree had his discourse wrought upon one of his audience, that she exclaimed out of the midst of the multitude, "Blessed is the womb that bare you," etc. This was the most natural language for a woman to use in expressing her admiration of him: and it furnished him with an occasion to declare before all, who, and who only, could with propriety be accounted blessed.

In his answer he sets before us,

I. The character of the true Christian.

Numberless are the ways in which this is drawn in the Holy Scriptures. But there is a peculiar simplicity in the description before us, at the same time that it very sufficiently distinguishes the Christian from all others.

1. "He hears the word of God."

Every true Christian considers the preaching of the Gospel as God's instituted means of converting and edifying the souls of men. Instead therefore of making frivolous excuses for staying at home, he will suffer many inconveniences rather than absent himself from public worship. And when he is there, he will "receive the word, not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God." He will listen to it as the word of God to his own soul in particular, and will apply to himself the truths which the minister, as God's ambassador, shall set before him.

In this he differs widely from all other persons: for though others may be regular in their attendance on divine ordinances, they do not hear the word of God with that reverence, that self-application, that submission, which become sinners in the presence of their God.

2. He "keeps it."

The godly keep it in their hearts us a ground of hope. They do not come to the word of God, determining to receive nothing but what accords with their own pre-conceived notions; but they desire to know what method God has prescribed for the reconciling of sinners to himself: and when they find that he has sent his only dear Son to die for them, they do not say, How can this be? but they acquiesce thankfully in the divine appointment, and trust in Christ as their only Savior.

They keep it also in their lives, as a rule of conduct. They will no longer regulate themselves according to the maxims of the world, but will inquire, What does my God require of me? What is the way in which he has directed me to walk? Having ascertained these points, he does not turn back because the world calls him precise, or because his own corruptions render his progress difficult; but he holds on in his course with firmness and uniformity. He finds many who endeavor to turn him out of the way; but he keeps the word of God, as "a light," that points out his path in general, and as "a lantern," that is to direct every step he takes.

It is scarcely needful to observe, that this part of the character is peculiar to the Christian; for there is no other person that can at all be compared with him in these respects.

Together with the character of a Christian our Lord proclaims also,

II. His blessedness.

We are not to take a general view of this subject, but to consider it in that particular light, in which it is represented in the text.

The Virgin Mary, beyond a doubt, was the most highly favored of women, in that she was honored with bringing into the world her incarnate God. So the angel told her; and so she expected that all future ages would consider her. But the true Christian, whoever he be, is incomparably more blessed than she.

1. He has a closer union with Christ than ever she had.

The union which the Virgin had with Christ was that of a mother with her child. He was bone of her bone, and flesh of her flesh. Yet this, close as it was, cannot be compared with that which exists between Christ and his believing people: for "he is formed in their souls;" "he dwells in their hearts by faith," he in them is the hope of glory," and so inseparable is this privilege from the Christian character, that, "if he dwell not in us, we are reprobates." She was one flesh with him: but believers are one spirit with him. Her union was like that which universally obtains between parents and children; but that which believers enjoy, resembles rather that which exists between Christ and his heavenly Father.

2. He has a more intimate communion with him.

Doubtless, until he attained to the age of thirty, she must have enjoyed many sweet seasons of communion with him under her own roof: and during the four years of his ministry, she must have had familiar access to him on many occasions. But, after all, this was no other fellowship than what every parent, and every friend, enjoys. She beheld him only as a man; we behold him as God. she saw him merely as a prophet; we see him in the whole of his mediatorial character, as the King, Priest, and Prophet, of the universal Church. She heard only partial instructions, on particular occasions, with the outward ear: but we have access to him at all times, to hear the whole of his revealed will, and to receive instruction in our inmost souls.

How far preferable this is to his bodily presence our Lord himself informs us: and consequently our state is far more blessed than even that of his own mother.

3. He has richer communications from him.

She, as his mother, received nothing from him in this world; nor does she receive anything in Heaven on account of this relation to him. But every believer, as a believer, is blessed in him with all spiritual and eternal blessings. Unspeakable are the benefits he imparts to all his people. Whatever grace they possess, they have received it all out of his fullness. In Heaven also their relation to him shall be acknowledged, and suitable honors be conferred upon them. A throne, a crown, a kingdom, are the inheritance that he has reserved for them, and will finally bestow upon them.

Let these things be considered, and, however blessed we may conceive the Virgin to have been on account of her relation to him, we shall see that incomparably greater blessedness is ours, provided we hear the word of God, and keep it.

Address.

1. Those who do not regularly hear the word of God.

Upon what principle can you conceive that any blessedness belongs to you, when you prefer your ease, your business, your pleasure, to an attendance on God's ordinances? Can it be imagined that God is unconcerned about the honor of his word, and that he will not notice the contempt poured upon it? Has he not repeatedly declared the very reverse? Whatever excuses then you may make, remember that you have not even the semblance of Christianity, so long as you remain indifferent to the public ministration of the word, and neglectful of it in your secret retirements.

2. Those who hear the word, but without keeping it.

There are many who are regular in their attendance on divine worship, but never regard one word they hear. They are taught to come to Christ as their righteousness and strength; but they still cherish self-righteousness and self-dependence. They are instructed to die unto the world, and to live unto God; but they still continue alive to the world, and dead to God. But what will their hearing profit them, if they will not keep the word they hear? To what purpose do they cry, Lord! Lord! if they will not do his will? Let such then know that they deceive themselves; and that they must both embrace in their hearts, and exemplify in their lives, the word of God, if ever they would be blessed in their deeds.

3. Those who both hear and keep it.

Whatever the world may say of these persons, they are, and shall be, blessed. The Lord Jesus Christ pronounces them so, and will himself impart the blessedness that he has reserved for them. Go on then, holding forth, and holding fast, the word of life. You will find numberless temptations to forsake the good way; but keep it steadfastly unto the end. You may meet with trials for your adherence to the word; but your consolations shall be sure to abound above all your tribulations; and strength shall be given you according to your day. Even in this world you shall have no reason to repent of your steadfastness; and in the world to come your blessedness shall be complete.

 

MDXXIV

Caution Against Hypocrisy

Luke 12:1. In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trod one upon another, he began to say unto his Disciples first of all, Beware you of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

RARELY, if ever, can we find a greater instance of fidelity than in the history before us. Our Lord had been dining with a Pharisee, and, even while he was at dinner, he upbraided the whole sect of Pharisees, and accused them of the vilest hypocrisy. This might have been thought by some a breach of hospitality; but a sense of his duty to God was paramount to every other consideration. The Pharisee had begun with expressing his wonder that our Lord had not washed his hands before he sat down to meat; for among the Pharisees this ceremony had been magnified into a religious observance. This superstition our Lord had not chosen to sanction: and as among the Pharisees it was accompanied with a scandalous neglect of internal purity, he exposed the folly of it, and condemned in the severest terms all who substituted such a rite in the place of vital godliness. His reproofs, as might be expected, greatly irritated his indignant hearers: yet no sooner had an immense multitude assembled at the door, than he went out to them, and, in the presence of them all, enjoined his Disciples above all things to beware of that grand feature of the Pharisaic character, hypocrisy.

This caution, so boldly and so strongly given, deserves our attention, no less than that of the Disciples to whom it was spoken. We propose, therefore,

I. To consider the evil against which our Lord cautioned them.

The nature of hypocrisy is far from being generally understood. Many would suppose, that conduct which was notoriously evil, would, from its notoriety, be exempt from the charge of hypocrisy; and that there could be no hypocrisy, where the person was not conscious that he was deceiving others. But that term, according to the Scripture use of it, is very extensive: and under it may be included many different forms or degrees of hypocrisy.

1. That which is known both to ourselves and others.

Hypocrisy consists in acting contrary to our professions: and this we may do in such an open and shameless way as to manifest clearly to others, no less than to ourselves, that we are dissemblers with God.

How is it with the great mass of those who disregard religion? Do they cast off the Christian name also? Do they not rather account themselves Christians; and would they not be highly offended if their claim to that title were disputed? Yet have they in reality as little of Christianity in their hearts and lives as the very heathen: and there is reason to believe, that they would have lived precisely as they have, if they had all the while known Christianity to be a fable; and that they would continue to live in the very same state, if now for the first time they should learn that our religion were founded in imposture. To them we may safely apply those words of the Apostle, "They profess that they know God, but in works deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate."

It is precisely the same with many also who profess a high regard for religion. They are strenuous advocates for decorum, and are very observant of outward forms; but are as far from anything like vital godliness as the most profane—They may impose upon a few ignorant people, who have not an idea what religion is: but persons of the least education, who think at all for themselves, see that all those forms are a mere farce, if unaccompanied with the affections of the heart; and these formalists themselves know, and feel, and, among each other, will acknowledge them to be so. Of such persons Paul says, that "they have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof; that, like Jannes and Jambres, (two great opposers of Moses,) they resist the truth, being men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith; and that their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was."

Thus is the hypocrisy of many covered with so thin a veil, that every one of the smallest penetration may discover it: and if their professions be treated with respect, it is merely from a desire which every one feels to make the way to Heaven as easy as possible, and to lower the standard of religion to his own attainments.

2. That which, though hid from others, is known to ourselves.

It is no uncommon thing for persons to embrace certain religious principles, without ever attending to their sanctifying efficacy. Such were Judas, and Ananias, and Sapphira: these did actually impose on others; they were considered by all as sound converts: but could Judas be ignorant that he was a thief? or Ananias and Sapphira that they were liars? So it is then with many professors of religion, who pass for real Christians at this time: their exterior appearance is that of sanctity; but one is dishonest, another is addicted to falsehood, another gives way to lewd desires and practices, another is under the dominion of his evil tempers. Now, notwithstanding the esteem in which they may be held, must not these persons, to say the least, have many secret misgivings, or rather, if they consider at all, must they not know that their hearts are not right with God? We may see the character of such persons drawn to the life by the Apostle Paul: all their high professions and evil practices are exhibited in contrast with each other, and stand as a monument of the wickedness and deceit-fullness of the human heart.

3. That which, though hid from ourselves, is known to God.

It is but too possible for persons to "seem to be religious," and to think themselves so, at the very time that they are under the influence of some habitual evil, which proves that they"deceive their own selves, and that their religion is vain." The characteristic mark of the true Christian is sincerity: he is "an Israelite indeed, and without deceit;" attending to all the commandments equally, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. But the persons we refer to are partial in every part of their duty. Their repentance is partial: they mourn, not so much for sin, as for the consequences of their sin; nor yet for the consequences, as they respect God and his honor, but only as they respect themselves and their happiness. Even in relation to themselves, they are not grieved that sin has denied their consciences, and hardened their hearts, but only that it has injured their character, or brought guilt and misery upon their souls. Their faith also is partial: it has respect to Christ as a Priest to atone for them, but not as a King to rule over them: it receives Christ for righteousness, but not for sanctification. Moreover, while they profess to trust in God for spiritual blessings, they cannot stay themselves upon him for temporal things, but are as ready to sink under their trials, as if they knew not from whence they came, and to give way to despondency as if they had no God to flee unto. Their love too is partial: it is confined to those of their own sect and party, and knows little of that expansive benevolence which was so exemplified in the Lord Jesus, when he laid down his life for the whole world, not excepting even his bitterest enemies. Moreover, their zeal is also partial: it is ardent in some things; in one it is violent against superstition and forms of man's appointment; and in another it exclaims against schisms, and heresies, and divisions: but it finds no scope for exercise in things which would bear upon their own peculiar habits: it is active enough in things that gratify their feelings, and that tend to exalt their character, but slow to engage in anything that appears humiliating and self-denying. In a word, the hypocrite is neither uniform nor unreserved in any part of his obedience; but betrays his insincerity, whenever his interests, his habits, or his passions are to be sacrificed to God.

Seeing then that hypocrisy is so extensive an evil, and that our Lord judged it necessary to caution his own immediate Disciples against it, we proceed,

II. To enforce his caution.

But what words can be sufficient for this purpose? What arguments can we use to impress upon your minds the necessity of being ever on your guard against so great an evil? Consider,

1. Its subtle nature.

We are told that "Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, and his ministers appear as ministers of righteousness," from whence we may infer, that there is no person in whom hypocrisy may not find an asylum, nor any act wherein it may not have scope for exercise. It is the continual aim of Satan to infuse it into us, and by means of it to defile our very best actions. The pretexts too under which it can hide itself are innumerable. There is not any form which it cannot assume: and sanctity itself is its appropriate garb. What need have we then to watch against a principle which finds so easy admission into the heart, yet is so hard to be detected, and so difficult to be expelled! Let not any of us imagine that we are out of its reach; nor be too confident that we are free from its influence. Surely we should have a godly jealousy over ourselves in relation to it, and not only "search and try ourselves," but pray that "God himself would search and try us, in order to see if there be any wicked way in us, and to lead us in the way everlasting." Let us never forget that"there is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, while yet they are not washed from their filthiness;" and that there are many who "have a name to live, but are really dead" before God.

2. Its defiling influence.

As "leaven," a very small measure of it will soon "leaven the whole lump." It not only debases the act with which it is more immediately connected, but renders the whole soul abominable in the sight of God. We may profess ourselves the Lord's people—and take delight in his ways—and seem most exemplary in our conduct—and yet have it all rendered vain and worthless by means of this accursed principle. What a painful thought is this, that we may be apprehending ourselves most holy and most exemplary, and yet, after all, may be found to have deceived our own souls! But so it is,"A man may think himself to be something, and yet in the sight of God be nothing but an hypocrite and self-deceiver." Let us then spare no pains to purge out the old leaven, that we may be a new lump: and, as the Jews at their Passover were indefatigable in their exertions to banish leaven from their houses, so let us, now that Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, labor to banish it from our hearts, and to keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."

3. Its fatal effects.

Awful indeed are the denunciations of God's wrath against hypocrites, insomuch that to "have our portion with them" is to be exposed to his heaviest indignation. Nor is it gross hypocrisy only, such as is manifest to all, that so provokes his displeasure; but that also which is the most secret and refined: "the hypocrites in heart heap up wrath," and that too while they are flattering themselves perhaps, and expecting an accumulated weight of glory. And oh how fearful will be their disappointment! How distressing too will it be to their more upright friends, to miss them in the regions of bliss, and to find that, after all their professions of godliness, they were not counted worthy of the kingdom of Heaven! Consider these things beforehand. Consider that your state will be fixed by Him, "whose eyes are as a flame of fire," who "searches the heart, and tries the reins," and who will give to every man according to his works: and know assuredly, that whatever be now thought of your state, you will then stand or fall, according to your real character.

If you are disposed to ask, What shall I do to avoid this doom, I would suggest to you a few words of

Advice.

1. Be not too confident of your own integrity.

However unconscious we may be of our latent hypocrisy, it is well to be diffident of ourselves. Even Paul himself cultivated this kind of humility, choosing rather to cast himself on the mercy of his God, than to place too great a reliance on his own integrity. We say not, that you may not rejoice in the testimony of a good conscience; for this the Apostle did: but we recommend it to you to "rejoice with trembling," for we are sure that such a frame of mind is most favorable to a discovery of our real principles, and most conducive to our ultimate salvation.

2. Commit yourselves to the care of your gracious God and Savior.

To whom can you look for support, but to that blessed Savior, who has promised to "keep the feet of his saints?" He alone can "put truth in your inward parts," and keep you "sincere and without offence unto the day of Christ." Yet, however preserved by his grace, you will need to be washed continually in the fountain of his blood. Sprinkle yourselves then continually with his precious blood: from thence derive all your hope and peace; and doubt not but that he will both "keep you from falling, and present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy"

 

MDXXV

God to be Feared, but Not Man

Luke 12:4, 5. I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear: Fear him, which after he has killed has power to cast into Hell; yes, I say unto you, Fear him.

AN undue regard to the good opinion of mankind operates to the production of two apparently opposite effects, namely, a hypocritical assumption of the religious character, and a cowardly concealment of it. Moreover, the same persons may be alternately tempted to both these evils, according as the one kind of dissimulation or the other may be best suited to their present circumstances. The persons most likely to feel their influence, are those who have lately begun to venerate religion, and to desire the attainment of it in their hearts. Hence our blessed Lord earnestly cautioned his Disciples against them. He began with guarding them against hypocrisy, which was the leaven that pervaded all the Pharisees; and then he guarded them against the fear of man (which would induce them to put their light under a bushel); and, as the best antidote to it, to cultivate the fear of God.

The subject of our text cannot be rendered more clear by any artificial arrangement of it, nor can the words be treated in any better order than that in which they stand: we shall therefore follow them simply without any particular division.

The fear of man is a very powerful and prevailing evil.

Scarcely does any one begin to feel a desire after salvation, but he is beset immediately with this temptation: though perhaps he never at any time regarded the good opinion of men so far as to be deterred by it from the commission of any sin, now he is filled with apprehensions lest this or that person should despise him. He scarcely dares look grave, lest his friends should think him melancholy; nor will he venture to acknowledge any compunction for his past iniquities, lest they should say that he is going mad. He is persuaded in his mind that they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake are on the whole in the best way; but he dares not join himself to them for fear of participating in their reproach; nor dares he show any attachment to a minister of Christ, from whom he would wish to derive instruction, lest he should be classed with his followers. He dares not even go to a place of worship where Christ is more faithfully preached, lest he should be loaded with some opprobrious name. To bear an open testimony against sin, or to vindicate the ways of righteousness, would be an effort which he could not even contemplate without dread: so tied is he and bound with this ideal chain—the good opinion of the world.

If he have been enabled to surmount these first difficulties, he still is in bondage to fears of another kind. His father perhaps threatens to disinherit him, his master to dismiss him, his patron to turn his back upon him: the question then arises in his mind, How shall I sustain this trial? and then, to avoid the cross, he sacrifices his conscience, declines from the ways of God, and goes back again to the world: "tribulation and persecution arising because of the word, he presently is offended." Nor is it uncommon for those who have appeared bold in the cause of Christ, to turn back, when they are called to "resist unto blood." When Paul was first called before the Roman Emperor, there was not found one single Christian that dared to stand by him: "Every one of them forsook him." And God alone knows how any of us should act, if, like Daniel or the Hebrew Youths, we were called to seal the truth with our blood.

But to be governed by this principle, is both impious and absurd.

God expressly commands us not to harbor it in our bosoms: "Be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled." He cautions us against it as a fatal snare: "The fear of man brings a snare." He represents it as quite absurd: "Who are you, that you should be afraid of a man that shall die, and forget the Lord, your Maker? And in our text he shows how impotent man is, and unworthy to be regarded as an object of fear. Man may prevail so far as to kill our bodies; but this is the utmost that he can do. In doing this, he may exercise his ingenuity to put us to the most cruel torture: but God has graciously appointed that the body should not endure all that our enemies might wish to inflict: the soul will take its flight, if the body be too violently assailed, and will leave the body insensible to all that the most insatiate malice can devise. Now we grant that this is an evil: the Christian cannot be indifferent to pain, and anguish, and death; but still these things are not so formidable as to justify his being influenced by the fear of man. If, indeed, there were no state beyond the present, and no Being that was superior to man, and able either to recompense our sufferings or to inflict others more severe, then there were some reason why we should fear man: but

God is the more proper object of fear.

Him we ought to fear; indeed "he is very greatly to be feared;" for "with him is terrible majesty," we should therefore "stand in awe of him," and "fear him always," and "walk in his fear all the day long." We should do nothing without considering first whether it will please or displease him: if we have reason to think that it will displease him, we should not for the whole world presume to do it; nor should we neglect anything which our conscience tells us will be pleasing in his sight. In everything that we do, we should have respect to his will, as the reason; his word, as the rule; and his glory, as the end, of our actions. In comparison of his favor, all earthly considerations should dwindle into nothing: the allurements or the terrors of the world should be alike contemptible in our eyes: they should weigh no more with us than the small dust upon the balance.

There is very abundant reason why we should fear him.

The circumstance of our being his creatures, formed by him for the promotion of his glory, should of itself induce us to regard him chiefly, him continually, him exclusively: and the circumstance of his having redeemed us by the blood of his dear Son, should constrain us irresistibly to live altogether for him. But the consideration urged in our text is that which we are more particularly called to notice.

God can destroy the body, as well as man. He commissioned worms to execute his vengeance on a prince that robbed him of his glory. And on many of his own peculiar people also has he inflicted punishment, visiting them with sickness and death for their transgressions against him. In this respect then, to say the least, he is on a par with men, and is as much to be feared as they. But he can also wound the soul, which man can never touch. The saints of old, instead of being grieved at "the spoiling of their goods, took it joyfully." Paul and Silas, when their backs were torn with scourges, and their feet fastened in the stocks, so far from having their spirits hurt, were filled with unutterable joy, and "sang praises to God at midnight." And every saint is privileged to "take pleasure in afflictions," and to "glory in tribulations;" so little is it in the power of man to hurt his soul. But what distress cannot God inflict? Look at Judas: look at many also at this day, who, like him, "choose strangling rather than life." Whence arise the numerous suicides that we hear of continually? God lets loose his wrath upon the souls of men on account of their iniquities; and then they are so miserable that they cannot endure to live. The saints themselves, too, are sometimes made to experience his frowns: and then how inexpressible is their anguish! "A wounded spirit who can bear?" Here then God shows his superiority over man, even in this life. But God's power extends also to the future world: he can cast the soul into Hell; and can raise up the body also, and re-unite it to the soul, and make them monuments of his everlasting vengeance. Oh! "who knows the power of his anger?" Who can tell us what it is to lie down in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, and to spend an eternity in that place, "where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched?" Read a faint description of their state, drawn by the hand of an angel; and you will then see that "it is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Now judge whom you ought to fear. Now see why our blessed Lord so often, and so emphatically, repeats the same word, "Fear not man; but I will forewarn you whom you shall fear; Fear God; yes, I say unto you, Fear him." Alas! that the stupidity of our hearts should ever make such repetitions needful! but since our blessed Lord has condescended to make use of them, I pray God that our obduracy may not also render them ineffectual.

We acknowledge that these considerations are awful; but we state them to you as proofs of our love.

To speak of the wrath to come is always painful, and frequently offensive. Persons are apt to imagine that we take pleasure in alarming the minds of men; and they even conceive of us as disturbers of the public peace, and as enemies to the happiness of our fellow-creatures. But was this the character of our blessed Lord? or did he feel anything but love, while he gave these solemn admonitions? Yes, did he not account this fidelity to their souls the strongest expression of his regard? Hear how carefully he marks this in his address to them: "I say unto you, my friends." Permit me then to say, that, however men may be disposed to represent our fidelity as an indication of harshness, we are actuated only by a spirit of love, and are in reality your best friends. Many there are, indeed, who call themselves your friends, who would give advice directly contrary to ours: they would say, 'Do not indulge any foolish fears about the wrath of God; He is a very merciful Being; and you have nothing to fear at his hands. But think how absurd you will appear in the sight of all sensible men: think how you are ruining all your prospects in life: think what troubles you will bring upon yourself by these needless singularities: shake off all these groundless apprehensions: turn your back upon those who would fill you with false alarms: and act so as to ensure the approbation and esteem of all around you.' This, I say, is the common advice of parents, of brethren, and of many others who call themselves friends: but think a moment whether their counsel or that of Christ is to be preferred: they say, 'Fear man, but not God; and Christ says, "Fear God, but not man." Truly, brethren, we must join in the advice of Him who has proved himself your friend; has proved it by laying down his life for you: and we must declare to you that, while the fear of man is folly in the extreme, "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and the praise of it endures forever."

With this feeling, we urge them upon your minds with some additional arguments.

The minor sorts of persecution are unworthy the regard of a rational man. What signifies a reproachful name, or the contempt of those who despise God? You should rather account it your honor to be so treated. But whatever be the cross you are called to bear, God has provided abundant consolation under it. Only submit to your trials with meekness and patience, and you may defy the confederate hosts of earth and Hell. Think how your Savior suffered, not only "enduring the cross, but despising the shame;" and arm yourselves with the same mind, "rejoicing that you are counted worthy to suffer for his sake." If you are tempted at any time to obey man rather than God, then look to the eternal world, and consider whether temporal joys or sorrows deserve a thought in comparison of those that are eternal. Think of the noble army of martyrs who are gone before, sent by men, as it were, in a fiery chariot to Heaven: do they regret that they loved not their lives unto death? Thus, setting eternity before you, implore help from your God and Savior: then shall you be found "faithful unto death, and finally obtain a crown of life."

 

MDXXVI

Caution Against Covetousness

Luke 12:15. And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness.

THE instructions which our Lord conveyed to his Disciples almost always arose out of something that was immediately before him; so attentive was he to improve every occasion for their good. This was fraught with many advantages; for it tended to impress every truth more forcibly on their minds, and to show them how to render all events subservient to their own spiritual welfare. It was a trifling circumstance, which of itself did not seem to afford any particular occasion for remark, that gave rise to the discourse before us. A man who had been listening to him for some time, apprehending that, as he spoke with such authority, he could easily prevail to settle a point in dispute between his brother and himself, requested his interposition; "Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me." But our Lord, seeing that the man was more intent on his temporal than on his spiritual advancement, not only declined the office, as not being within his commission, but began to caution his Disciples against that covetousness, of which they now saw so striking an example.

A caution so solemnly given to them, cannot but deserve the attention of his followers in every age; and I pray God that the importance of it may be felt by every one of us, while we show,

I. How we may know whether we are under the influence of this evil principle.

It is not by overt acts of dishonesty merely that we are to judge of this, but by the workings of our hearts in reference to the things of this world. We may judge of it,

1. From the manner in which we seek them.

Earthly things may certainly be desired, provided that desire be regulated by the necessities of our nature, and subordinated to the will of our heavenly Father. But if we desire them for themselves, or in an undue degree, then immediately are we guilty of that very sin which is reproved in our text. If we desire them for themselves, we show that we think there is some inherent good in them: whereas they are altogether worthless, except as far as they are necessary for our support, and for the strengthening of our bodies to serve the Lord. All beyond mere food and clothing is an empty bubble. To invest earthly things with any inherent excellency, is to put them in the place of God, and to make idols of them: moreover, if our thoughts run out after them more than after God and heavenly things, if the pursuit of them be more delightful to us than the exercises of devotion, and, above all, if we will violate the dictates of conscience, or neglect spiritual duties in order to advance our temporal interest, what is this but covetousness? Can any one doubt whether such a preference to earthly things be sinful? Suppose, for instance, that any man follows an unlawful trade, or a lawful trade in an unlawful way, acquiring his gains from sources which he would be ashamed to confess, and afraid to have discovered; is he not under the influence of covetousness? Does he not prefer money before a good conscience, and the acquisition of wealth before the approbation of his God? Is this a "setting of his affections on things above, and not on the things on the earth?" Hear what an inspired Apostle speaks respecting the criminality and danger of such desires: "Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and tell you now even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, because they mind earthly things." It is not every degree of attention to earthly things that he condemns; but such a desire after them as is inordinate, and such a pursuit of them as militates against the welfare of the soul: and, whatever we may call it, God calls it covetousness, and declares it to be idolatry.

2. From the manner in which we enjoy them.

As all desire after them is not prohibited, so neither is all enjoyment of them; for "God has given us all things richly to enjoy." But what if we feel delight in the idea of wealth, and place a confidence in it as a barrier against the calamities of life; Is not this the very sin against which the Prophet Habakkuk denounces a most awful woe? "Woe to him that covets an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil." It is, in truth, to act the part of the Rich Fool in the Gospel, and to say, "Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years, eat, drink, and be merry?" We are very apt to imagine that the satisfaction which we take in the contemplation of our wealth, is nothing but an expression of thankfulness to God: but it is, for the most part, a "glorying in riches" (which is expressly forbidden); and a "saying to the fine gold, You are my confidence." The sentiments of Job on this head were far more correct than those of the generality even of enlightened Christians: "If," says he, "I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because my hand had gotten much, this were an iniquity to be punished by the Judge; for then I should have denied the God that is above." If it be asked, How such a construction can reasonably be put on a sensation of the soul, which appears both innocent and praiseworthy? I answer, That God is the true and only Rest of the soul; and that, in proportion as we look to the creature for comfort or support, our hearts of necessity depart from him. To be the one source of happiness to his creatures, is his prerogative; and his glory he will not give to another: for "the Lord our God is a jealous God."

3. From the manner in which we support the loss of them.

Christianity is far from inculcating a stoical apathy, or rendering us strangers to the common feelings of mankind: but it gives us a principle, which is able to support us under trials, and to fill us with joy in the midst of tribulations. In a word, it presents us with a view of God as our God, and shows us, that nothing in this world can either add to, or take from, the happiness of him who has so rich a portion. This is the principle which enabled Job, under the loss of all his worldly possessions, to say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord takes away: blessed be the name of the Lord." Now the want of this resignation argues an undue value for the things of this world. If, under an apprehension of some loss, we are filled with anxiety, so as to be quite unfitted for an attention to our spiritual concerns; if, on having sustained that loss, we give way to vexation and grief, instead of rejoicing that we have in God an all-sufficient portion; do we not then in effect say, like Micah, when he had lost his idols, "They have taken away my gods, and what have I more?" Assuredly this is an undeniable mark of covetousness: indeed, God himself puts this construction upon it: "Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have." When we are truly delivered from this evil principle, we shall be able to say with the Apostle, "I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content: I know both how to be abased, and how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need."

Our next inquiry must be,

II. Why our Lord so earnestly guards us against it.

The terms in which he expresses the caution, are exceeding strong; "Take heed, and beware." But there is abundant occasion for such earnestness; for covetousness is,

1. A common principle.

The man who came to desire our Lord's interposition, seems not to have had the smallest idea that he was actuated by this unworthy principle; and probably would have complained of a want of charity in any one who should have imputed it to him. And so it is at this time. However ready we may be to notice it in others, we all overlook it in ourselves, and cloak it by the name of industry or prudential care; so that, if we were to give credit to every man's account of himself, we should not find this principle in the world. But it is deeply rooted in the heart of man, and as naturally adheres to the soul as the members to the body. Even good people still feel its existence and operation within them. Who has not to lament, that in his fellowship with the world he feels somewhat of an undue bias at times, inclining him to lean towards his own interests, and to decide a doubtful point in his own favor? We do not say, that a good man will indulge this principle, but that he will feel it; and that he will find within himself a necessity of being much upon his guard, to prevent it from warping his judgment and influencing his conduct. If this then be the case with respect to those who are crucified to the world, much more must it be so with those who are yet carnal and unrenewed.

2. A delusive principle.

We are apt to think that earthly things will make us happy: but our Lord tells us, in the words immediately following our text, that "a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things that he possesses." The truth is, that man's happiness is altogether independent of earthly things. Hear how the Prophet Habakkuk speaks on this subject: "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation." This clearly proves, that, however destitute we may be of all earthly comforts, our hearts may overflow with peace and joy: "we may be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, having nothing, and yet possessing all things." On the other hand, it is certain that a man may possess all that the world can give him, and yet be miserable; or, as Job expresses it, "In the midst of his sufficiency he may be in straits." How often do we see persons, after attaining more than they had ever expected or desired, far less happy than they were at the commencement of their career! We may appeal to the experience of all, whether the increase of their happiness have kept pace with the augmentation of their wealth? We are well assured, that the more sanguine any person's expectations of happiness are from the acquisition of wealth, the greater will his disappointments be; and that every human being must sooner or later confess with Solomon, that all below the sun is "vanity and vexation of spirit."

3. A debasing principle.

It is worthy of observation, that the word 'lucre' occurs but four times in the New Testament, and every time has the term 'filthy' annexed to it. Nor is this without reason; for covetousness defiles and debases the soul as much as any principle of our fallen nature. Wherever it exists, it eats out every good principle, and calls forth and strengthens every bad principle, in our fallen nature. How feeble are the operations of honor, friendship, love, compassion, when covetousness has gained an ascendant in the heart! On the other hand, what injustice, falsehood, wrath, and malice will not this horrid principle produce! Well may it be said, "The love of money is the root of all evil;" for there is scarcely an evil in the world which may not arise from it. The opposition between this principle and every Christian virtue, is strongly intimated in the advice given by Paul to Timothy—and the utter abhorrence in which it is held by God, is marked, yes marked with an emphasis not exceeded in any part of the sacred volume: "An heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children." O that we were all duly sensible of its hatefulness and baseness!

4. A destructive principle.

See it, in whoever it prevails, how it militates against the welfare of the soul, and destroys its eternal interests. The Rich Youth, in despite of all his amiableness, renounced all hope in Christ, rather than he would part with his possessions. The hearers of the Prophet Ezekiel, notwithstanding all their approbation of his ministry and their professions of personal regard, could never be prevailed upon to renounce and mortify this evil propensity: and we read of some in Isaiah's days, whom neither the frowns nor chastisements of Jehovah could reclaim from it. The great proportion of those who make a profession of religion in our day, are like the thorny-ground hearers, in whom "the good seed is choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, so that they bring forth no fruit to perfection." But the most terrible of all examples is that of Demas, who, after having attained such eminence in the Christian Church as to be twice joined with Luke by Paul himself in his salutations to the saints, was turned aside at last, and ruined by this malignant principle; "Demas has forsaken us, having loved this present world." Thus it will operate wherever it is indulged: it will have the same effect as "loading our feet with thick clay," when we are about to run a race; and will shut the door of Heaven against us, when we apply for admission there. Of this God has faithfully warned us: and, to fix the warning more deeply in our minds, he even appeals to ourselves respecting the justice of the sentence, and the certainty of its execution: "Know you not, that the covetous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?"

To improve the subject, and assist you in mortifying this corrupt principle, we recommend you to consider,

1. The shortness of human life.

Who knows not, that our life is but "a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away?" Shall we then be anxious about matters which will be so soon terminated? Should we not rather live as pilgrims and sojourners, that are passing onward towards their eternal home? It will soon be of not the smallest moment to us whether we were rich or poor. The instant that the Rich Man's soul was required of him, his riches profited him not; they could not procure so much as a drop of water to cool his tongue: nor did the troubles of Lazarus leave any sting to interrupt or lessen his joys, when once he was safely lodged in Abraham's bosom. Let us then, like the holy Apostle, "die daily," let us "weep as though we wept not, and rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and possess as though we possessed not, and use the world as though we used it not; because the fashion of this world passes away.

2. The vanity of those excuses by which men justify their sin.

Every one has some cloak with which to cover his sin. One says, I only desire a competency. But a competency, in God's estimation, may be a very different thing from what it is in ours: we may be desiring so many hundreds a year; but he says, "Having food and clothing, be therewith content." Another says, "I care not for myself, but only for my family: and must not I provide for them? But we must no more covet an earthly portion for them than for ourselves: the welfare of their souls should be our great concern for them, as well as for ourselves. Another says, I am poor, and therefore cannot be supposed to be under the influence of covetousness. But the principle of covetousness may be as strong in a beggar as in any other person: for envy and discontent are as much branches of covetousness, as dishonesty or avarice can be. To all then, I would say, beware of the deceitfulness of sin, and the treachery of your own hearts; and be afraid, lest, after being acquitted by your fellow-creatures, you should at last be condemned by your God.

3. The infinite excellency of eternal things.

As the Apostle says, "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit," so I would say; Covet not earthly things, wherein is excess; but covet heavenly things, even to the utmost possible fullness; for in them there is no excess. It is not possible to desire too earnestly, or to seek too diligently, an interest in Christ: nor can you take too great delight in the enjoyment of him, or fear too much the loss of his favor. Here is scope for all the energies of our minds. In reference to heavenly things then I would say, Covet earnestly the best gifts: enlarge your desires to the utmost extent of your capacity to receive, and of God's ability to bestow. However wide you open your mouth, God will fill it.

 

MDXXVII

The Rich Fool

Luke 12:20, 21. But God said unto him, You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you: then whose shall those things be which you have provided? So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

HEAR we the voice of a gloomy enthusiast, a deluded bigot, or an imperious tyrant? Are these reproachful menaces the wild effusions of intemperate zeal? No, the text presents to us the just expressions of Jehovah's indignation. Covetousness, in whoever found, cannot fail of provoking his utter abhorrence. A young man had applied to Jesus to procure him an equitable share of his paternal inheritance; our Lord declined any interference, as foreign from the purposes of his mission; and, knowing the disposition which had assumed the garb of equity, reproved it. The parable before us was spoken to enforce that reproof; and the address of God to the character there delineated, strongly intimated the danger to which the youth himself was exposed. There are, alas! too many still who are actuated by similar principles. For their conviction we shall inquire,

I. What were the grounds of God's indignation against the Rich Man?

No evil could attach to the Rich Man on account of the fruitfulness of his ground: nor was he altogether to be blamed for devising prudent means of securing his property. He should indeed have remembered, that there were objects enough around him whose want should be supplied from his superfluities: but his offence principally consisted in two things.

1. An idolatrous regard to the world.

He imagined that the world was capable of rendering him happy, and that the enjoyment of it would be permanent for many years. But what could be more absurd than such expectations as these? Can affluence secure freedom from pain either of body or of mind? Can it ward off personal afflictions, or compose domestic troubles? Is there more real happiness in palaces than in the humble cottage? Does not the experience of Solomon attest the reverse of this? and has not our Lord himself affirmed the same? But, if wealth were capable of making us happy, can we secure the continuance of it a single day? Are not all exposed to such calamities as reduced Job to poverty? Is not the instability of riches declared in the strongest terms? or, if they were more stable, can we prolong our own lives? Has not the voice of Inspiration warned us against any such vain idea? And did not the event manifest the folly of the Rich Man's expectations? Well then might God address him by that humiliating appellation; well might he deride his fruitless anxieties, and delusive hopes; and justly did he cut him off as a warning to others,

2. An utter disregard of God.

Amidst his prospects of carnal happiness he had no thoughts of God. He addressed his soul as though it had no existence beyond the body, nor any capacity superior to the beasts. Had he regarded God, how different would his speech have been! 'Soul, you have hitherto been too solicitous about the body; but now the body, through the bounty of Providence, is amply provided for. From henceforth therefore banish all anxiety about carnal things, and occupy yourself about your spiritual and eternal interests. You shall now be the one object of my care and attention; and the body shall be altogether devoted to your service. God has provided for you a far richer portion than this world can give. Now therefore set yourself to serve him with all your faculties and powers: bless him that he has not "required you of me" unprepared; and the more time you have lost, exert yourself the more to redeem the moments that may still be allotted you.' Such an address would have been a just requital of the divine goodness; nor would it ever have brought upon him the judgments experienced. But such reflections were far enough from his mind. The bounties of Providence served but to confirm his sensual habits: and the donor was eclipsed by the very gifts which he bestowed. Surely then the Divine displeasure was not more than adequate to his demerits?

The improvement which our Lord made of this parable leads us to inquire,

II. Whether there be not among ourselves also similar objects of his displeasure?

A man anxious about the world and regardless of his soul is a very common character in every place.

To make provision for ourselves and families is by no means sinful: such prudent care will very well consist with fervent piety: but our concern about earthly things should not preclude an attention to the soul. Our first duty is to "lay up treasure in Heaven." By embracing Christ and his promises, we may be "rich in faith;" and by exerting ourselves in his service, we may be "rich in good works." Thus, however poor with respect to this world, we may be "rich towards God." But how few among us make this their chief employment! How languid is our desire after "Christ's unsearchable riches," when compared with our anxiety about the unrighteous mammon! How cheerful, constant, and indefatigable is our labor for the body, while that for the soul is at best feeble, occasional, and reluctant!

Every such person resembles the Rich Fool in the parable,

1. In his folly.

He shows that he disregards his soul in comparison of his body, and that the concerns of time appear to him more important than those of eternity. What can exceed the folly of living in such a state? How will such an one, if not stupefied by sin, condemn himself in a dying hour! How will he stand amazed when he shall appear at the tribunal of God!

2. In his punishment.

Every worldling indeed is not cut off without a previous warning: but, whenever he is taken away, he is summoned before God in wrath: he is torn from the idols which he had cherished in his bosom: not the smallest portion of his former comforts is left him: he is called by an incensed master to give an account of his stewardship, and for his folly is consigned over to everlasting burnings.

We cannot conclude without remarking, how widely different God's sentiments are from those of men.

Men account us wise in proportion as we prosecute our temporal interests, and consider a diligent attention to our eternal welfare as a mark of weakness and folly. But God forms a very different estimate of human actions: the amassing of wealth is in his eyes like the "loading of oneself with thick clay," but the laying up treasure in Heaven is the very beginning of wisdom. Let us then study to be like-minded with God; and let us be content to be despised by man, if we may but receive a plaudit from our Judge. Let us not however carry our disregard of the world to a criminal excess. While we are in the world we should diligently perform the duties of our station: but our first and greatest care should be to obtain an eternal inheritance. So, whenever our soul shall be required, we shall give it up with joy, and possess our portion when the vanities of time shall be no more.

 

MDXXVIII

The Privileges of Christ's Flock

Luke 12:32. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

AMONG the many faculties which exalt man above the brute creation, that of being able to look into futurity is by no means the least: but while this in many instances elevates him with hope, in many other instances it depresses him with fear. Hence he is often filled with anxiety to secure the good he hopes for, and to avert the evil which he dreads. To discountenance this solicitude, and to teach men to live dependent upon God, is the scope of our Lord's discourse before us. And, in the text, he fortifies his own peculiar people against fear and anxiety, by reminding them of the distinguishing favor of God towards them, and the glorious provision he has made for them. To elucidate his words we shall show,

I. What the Lord's people have to fear.

The Lord's people are but "a little flock."

They once "went astray like sheep that are lost," but they have been brought home by Christ, the great and good shepherd, and have been united together by him in one fold. They are kept enclosed, as it were, and distinct from the world: they "hear their shepherd's voice and follow him: he "leads them into pastures" which he himself has provided for them: "he administers to all their wants," "strengthening the diseased, healing the sick, and binding up the broken." The lambs he carries in his bosom, and gently leads those who are with young; and, however they may feed in different pastures, he considers them all as under his peculiar care.

But they are "a little flock." In every age and every place their numbers have been small: they are "the few that find the narrow way." When indeed they shall be all assembled at the last day they will be more than the stars of Heaven or the sands upon the sea-shore for multitude. But before that period they will receive an astonishing increase: the whole earth shall be overspread with them; and that too in successive generations for a thousand years. Until that day of God's power; they will be a little flock when compared with the herds of the ungodly. At present they are only "like the gleanings of the olive-tree, two or three upon the topmost branch."

Weak as they are, they have much to fear.

They are not exempt from the common calamities of life. In some respects they are more exposed to them than other people. They have reason to fear wants. In making provision for themselves, they labor under many disadvantages: they cannot use those means of acquiring wealth which the generality of the world employ without any scruple: they cannot devote all their time, and all their attention to secular engagements: they dare not neglect their soul, even if they could gain the whole world by it. Moreover, they have many in the world who would be glad enough to ruin them; but few, very few, that will exert themselves much to help them forward. On these accounts they may at times be tempted to indulge excessive care, and to harbor fears of want and embarrassment. They have also to dread sufferings. The flock of Christ are not only subject to the trials incident to our present state, but are liable to many sufferings peculiar to themselves: they are "as sheep in the midst of wolves," often among themselves are found some that are "wolves in sheep's clothing," above all, there is "a roaring lion ever seeking to devour them." Now Christians are not only weak when opposed to Satan, but also when opposed to the world: they cannot contend with carnal weapons: "The servant of the Lord must not strive." The rebuke given to Peter when fighting for his Master, sufficiently ties their hands from standing in their own defense. Their only weapons are faith and patience: they are to conquer indeed, but it is by suffering even unto death. Well therefore may they entertain fears respecting these things: for if they be not well armed with the mind that was in Christi, they will faint in the day of adversity.

But the exhortation in the text leads us to notice,

II. The antidote provided for them.

God has provided for them a "kingdom."

God condescends to call himself their "Father, and deals with them as his children. He has "prepared for them a kingdom" that is infinitely superior to all the kingdoms of this world. The glory of it cannot be expressed or conceived; nor will the duration of it ever end. This he has given to them for their inheritance. It is his determination to invest them with it, and his delight to preserve them for it—His almighty power is ever exercised for this purpose; yes, his whole heart and soul are engaged in accomplishing his gracious intentions.

This is a very sufficient antidote to all their fears.

Why should they be afraid of want who have God for their Father, and a kingdom for their inheritance? Can it be supposed that he who provides for the evil and unthankful, and sustains the ravens that call upon him, will neglect his own children? Will he, who of his good pleasure bestowed upon them all the glory of Heaven, refuse them what is necessary for their present sustenance? Why too should they be afraid of sufferings, since "not a hair of their head can perish," "nor can even a sparrow fall to the ground, without the permission of their Father?" If he see fit to let loose the enemy for the trial of their faith, will he not support their courage, and make them "more than conquerors?" Besides, will not their "light and momentary afflictions work out for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory?" "And will not a kingdom abundantly compensate all their trials?" Surely then they should dispel all fears; and commit themselves into the hands of a faithful God.

Address.

1. The flock of Christ.

God would have you without carefulness. He bids you cast all your care on him who cares for you. And shall God be so concerned about relieving your fears, and you not be concerned to honor him? O chide your unbelieving thoughts, and say, Why are you disquieted, O my soul? Jehovah is my shepherd, I shall not want; Jehovah is my Father, I will not fear? Surely if you reflect on the promises he has made to you, it will be impossible for you ever to be cast down again. "You, my flock," says he, "the flock of my pasture, are men; but I am your God, says the Lord God." "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the fire, you shall not be burnt." Consider, "If God be for you, who can be against you?" O be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

2. The herds of this world.

Shall we address you in the language of the text, Fear not? Alas! not only the Scriptures, but also your own consciences, would condemn us. You may possibly have no particular cause to dread either wants or sufferings in this world, (though you cannot tell what may befall you before you die,) but may you not have to "dwell with everlasting burnings," and want even "a drop of water to cool your tongue" in that world to which you are hastening? Know assuredly, that your numbers will not screen you from the vengeance of an angry God. If you be not of those who have put themselves under the care of the good shepherd, you will be considered as goats, and be forever separated from the flock of Christ. "He will set the sheep on his right hand, and the goats on his left." You will then find to your cost, that not God, but Satan was your father; and that with Satan must be your portion. It is not without much regret that God now gives you up to that misery. But in the last day he will find as much satisfaction, and be as much glorified, in your destruction, as in the salvation of his elect. He now complains, "You have wearied me with your iniquities," but then he will say, "Ah! I will ease me of my adversaries." Seek then to become the sheep of Christ. Beg him to bring you home to his fold, and to feed you in his pleasant pastures. Thus shall we all become one fold under one shepherd, and feed beside the living fountains of water to all eternity.

 

MDXXIX

The Watchful Servant

Luke 12:35–37. Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and you yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that, when he comes and knocks, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord, when he comes, shall find watching: truly I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.

SUCH is the uncertainty of life, and such the importance of eternal things, that one would suppose every one should feel the necessity of standing ready for death and judgment, even though no injunctions had been given us to that effect. But our Lord frequently insisted on that subject, and, in parables as well as in plainer terms, inculcated the duty of continual watchfulness. In the parable before us he mentions,

I. Our duty.

All of us are servants of one common Lord and Master. He is absent, and has commanded all of us to wait for his return:

1. In certain expectation that he will come.

The time of his return is the time of death and judgment. This may be protracted, so that scoffers may say, Where is the promise of his coming? But "he is not slack concerning his promise." He is only exercising his patience and long-suffering toward the ungodly world; and at the expiration of the time allotted them, he will surely come.

2. In constant readiness to receive him.

This is the more immediate import of the metaphors in the text. We should gather in the affections which too often entangle our feet. "Unite my heart to fear your name," should be our daily prayer. Whatever obstructs us in the way of duty should be put away. Our graces too should be kept in lively exercise; and the one desire of our soul should be, so to have everything within us regulated according to our Master's will, that the very instant he shall knock, we may receive him gladly and without fear.

To enforce the practice of this duty our Lord subjoins,

II. Motives to the performance of it.

The motives suggested in the parable are of very different kinds:

1. Encouraging.

Thrice does our Lord pronounce the watchful servant "blessed." Indeed what can be more blessed than to be prepared to meet our God? To such servants he promises the most exalted honor. We do not indeed conceive that Jesus will repeat in Heaven any such act of condescension as he once submitted to on earth; but there is no expression of kindness which the meanest servant could manifest to the most beloved master, which Jesus will not manifest to his faithful servants in Heaven. He has prepared the richest banquet for them; and will "feed them, and lead them unto living fountains of waters." And should not this prospect stimulate us to watchfulness? Who would not perform the work when they are promised such wages?

2. Alarming.

What indignation would a nobleman feel, if, having ordered his servants to be ready for his reception, he should be kept a long time knocking at the door at midnight, and find not a servant awake, or so much as a light in his house! And will not Jesus be justly indignant, if he shall find such a reception from any one of us? He tells us that he will scourge that servant with such severity as to "cut him asunder," and that he will assign him his portion among his open and avowed enemies. Nor will he treat in this manner those only who are riotous and debauched, but those also who neglect to prepare for his arrival. He will, however, make a distinction between the punishment of different servants, proportioning the stripes to the opportunities he had afforded them of knowing and doing his will. But the fewest stripes will be dreadful, and the pain of them eternal. How should such an awful consideration as this awaken us! Surely our hearts must be harder than adamant, if they be not impressed by it.

We may improve this parable,

1. For self-examination.

Peter asked whether it related to the Disciples? and our Lord directed them to examine themselves whether they were such servants? This is a proper direction for us. Are we then "like" such servants?—Let us remember that to such, and such alone, will our Lord's advent be a source of joy: to all others, what a terrible surprise will his coming be! Let us then resolve, with God's grace, to watch. Who would not watch, if he knew that his house would be assaulted by thieves? And shall we not watch to preserve our souls? Whatever be our station among men, our duty to Jesus is the same. O that we may all meet his approbation, and receive his blessing!

2. For consolation.

The time of his coming may appear long; but it is only as one or two watches of a single night. How soon will this be past! and how sweet will be our rest at the expiration of it! Let us then "exercise ourselves unto godliness." Let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober. Let us, as dear fellow-servants, strive to keep each other awake and lively; and soon shall we hear the wished-for knock. Blessed period! May we all be found ready for it; and welcome our divine Master with songs of gratitude and triumph.

 

MDXXX

Punishment Proportioned to Men's Desert

Luke 12:47, 48. That servant, which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

IF there be much spoken in Scripture concerning the necessity of faith in Christ, so is there much spoken also concerning the necessity of obedience to him. The two are never to be separated: they are indissolubly connected together in God's purpose; and must be also in our attainments: they are the root and the fruit, or the foundation and the superstructure. The importance of good works is marked with peculiar force in the words before us; wherein our Lord makes known to us,

I. The ground and measure of our responsibility to God.

The ground of our responsibility to God is, that we are his servants.

Every living man, from the highest to the lowest, is a servant of the Most High God. In this respect there is no difference between the king upon his throne and the beggar on a dunghill. Every one of us has his proper office to perform for him, and every one that measure of talent which He has seen fit to commit to our care. Had we been independent of him, we had had no responsibility: but, having received everything from him, and for him, we must, of necessity, give up an account to him of all that we have received, and of all that we have done.

The measure of our responsibility depends on the knowledge we have possessed of our Master's will.

A steward has much communication with his master, and an intimate acquaintance with his will; while a laborer is but very partially and imperfectly informed. Of course, therefore, much more is expected from the steward, than from the laborer. Thus it is in God's family. There is much more expected of a Christian, than of a Heathen, who has never received any revelation from God; and much more from one who has the Gospel faithfully administered to him, than from one who has never had its riches unfolded to him. The two different persons will be judged by a different law: the Heathen "being a law unto themselves;" but Christians being judged according to the opportunities of instruction that have been afforded them. Our blessed Lord told his hearers, that, "if he had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin; but that now they would have no cloak for their sin." And on the same ground he warned them, that they would have a more tremendous doom than Tyre and Sidon, yes, than even Sodom and Gomorrah, because they had possessed advantages which the inhabitants of those cities had never known, and had abused privileges which they had never enjoyed.

Agreeable to this view of our responsibility will be,

II. The rule of God's procedure towards us in the day of judgment.

Under the law, certain offences were to be punished with stripes, which were awarded to malefactors according to their desert. Now, in a family, every servant ought to know his duty; and, therefore, if he violate it through ignorance, he is deserving of blame: but if he violate it knowingly and willfully, he is, of course, worthy of severer reprehension. This, under the law, was particularly marked as a rule whereby to estimate and punish the faults of men: "The priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sins ignorantly, when he sins by ignorance before the Lord, to make an atonement for him: and it shall be forgiven him. But the soul that does anything presumptuously, the same reproaches the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his peopled."

His investigation of cases will be most exact.

The advantages of every person for knowing and doing his Master's will, will be distinctly marked, and weighed, as it were, in the nicest balance. We form some idea of this from the offerings which were required by the Law for sins of ignorance. If a priest sinned through ignorance, he was to offer a bullock for his offence; as were also the whole congregation, if they erred: for the advantages possessed by a priest for knowing his duty were so superior to that of others, that an error in him was equal in enormity to the same evil when committed by the whole people of Israel. If a ruler sinned through ignorance, he was to bring a male kid for his offering: but if one of the common people erred, a female kid or lamb would suffice for him. Ignorance was a sin in any one of them, and demanded an atonement to be made for it; but its enormity varied according to the means which different persons possessed of acquiring information. Conformably with this rule will justice be administered in the day of judgment. Ministers have, beyond a doubt, by far the greatest measure of responsibility; and, if they be unfaithful to their office, must receive by far the heaviest condemnation. Magistrates too, inasmuch as their duties call for the greater, and their errors produce the more pernicious, effects upon society, must be considered as deeply accountable to God for their conduct, and as involving themselves in a peculiar measure of guilt, if they execute not aright the trust reposed in them. Indeed, every member of society, according to the extent of his information and his influence, will be responsible to God for the discharge of his appropriate duties; and, in the event of his neglecting to fulfill them, will receive from God a corresponding punishment. Such will be God's mode of judging: and

His sentence, too, will be pronounced in perfect equity.

"Stripes," to whoever administered, will be proportioned, not merely to the offence committed, but to the circumstances under which they were committed. This is the rule of conduct among men. "Unto whoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they expect the more." If we ourselves have committed five talents to a servant, we expect a greater increase than from him to whom we have committed only two. And if there be a servant to whom we have entrusted only one, we expect a suitable improvement even of that one. This is what God also does: and, while to those who have approved themselves faithful he will give a suitable reward, he will say concerning the unprofitable servant, "Cast him into outer darkness, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth"

Consider now, beloved,

1. What is the aspect of this passage upon your state.

Not only the heathen world, but thousands of Christians also, possess not the privileges which you enjoy. Not only must you, but God himself also will, bear me witness, that I have not "withheld from you anything that was profitable for you." "I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God," so that, if you have neglected to fulfill it, you are altogether without excuse. Call to mind, then, the instructions that have been given you: and compare with them the state of your souls before God—Do this, and say whether you have not reason to fear that "stripes" will be your deserved recompense.

2. What is your duty in relation to it.

Rise to the occasion. Remember whose you are. You are the Lord's: you are his by creation: you are his by redemption: "you are not in any respect your own: you are bought with a price; and therefore are bound to glorify God with your bodies and your spirits, which are God's." Think not that ignorance will excuse you: "Say not before the angel or messenger of the Lord, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at your voice, and destroy the work of your hands?" Search out, with diligence, the mind of God: lose no opportunity of obtaining a further acquaintance with it: and, whatever you know to be his will, "do it with all your might.."

 

MDXXXI

The Bloody Baptism of Our Lord

Luke 12:50. I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened until it be accomplished!

ANY one who understands the true nature of Christianity would suppose that the religion of Jesus must of necessity approve itself to the heart and judgment of every person to whom it is proclaimed; and, above all, that the Founder of it, in whom every species and degree of excellence were combined, must, so far as his character is made known, be an object of universal approbation. But the very reverse of this has proved to be the fact, even as our blessed Lord himself declared it would be. In the verse before my text, he says, "I am come to send fire on the earth." And in the verse after my text, he puts the question to us; "Suppose you that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division;" and such a division, too, as shall separate from each other the nearest and dearest relatives. As to himself, he states, that he had nothing but the bitterest persecution to expect, so long as he should continue upon earth: and that, in fact, he longed for the period when the storm should burst upon him: "I have a baptism to be baptized with: and how am I straitened until it be accomplished!"

In discoursing on these words, it will be proper for me to show,

I. What a fearful "baptism" awaited him.

In baptism, the whole body was frequently immersed under water: and, in reference to this, our blessed Lord calls his own sufferings "a baptism;" because he was about to be wholly immersed in sorrow, and to become, to an extent that no other person ever did or could become, "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."

Inconceivably great were the agonies of his body.

We forbear to notice his privations during the course of his ministry: when he, on many occasions, "had not where to lay his head." We will notice only his sufferings during the short period of one single day. Follow him, after his seizure by those who were sent to apprehend him, and see how he was treated at the tribunals of his judges: see him arrayed in mock majesty, insulted in every possible way, spit upon, smitten in the face, and the crown of thorns driven into his temples: see him scourged, so that "long and deep furrows were made upon his back," see him fastened to the cross by nails driven through his hands and feet; and the cross, with him suspended on it, descending with such violence into the hole prepared for its reception, that almost all "his bones were dislocated" by the shock: see him left thus in the midst of all imaginable indignities, until he should be relieved by death: surely "his visage was marred more than any man's, and his form more than the sons of mend," so that it may well be asked, "Was ever sorrow like unto his sorrow?."

But it was in his soul chiefly that his pains so much exceeded those of all other men.

Who can conceive the agonies he endured in the garden, before his body had been subjected to any suffering from man? Then it was that the cup of affliction was put into his hands by God himself; and he was constrained to drink it even to the very dregs, until, through the agonies of his mind, the blood issued from every pore of his body, and he was, literally as it were, baptized in blood. Nor can we by any means conceive what his pure and holy mind must have endured, while he encountered such "contradiction of sinners against himself"," both in the courts of justice and on the cross—Hear him, under the hidings of his Father's face, crying, "My God, my God! why have you forsaken me?" Can any finite imagination conceive of the agonies he then sustained, when the sins of the whole world were laid upon him, and the debt of the whole human race was exacted at his hands?.

But if this baptism was so terrible, what reason can be assigned,

II. Why he so earnestly longed for its accomplishment.

Were it only as a woman longs for the pains which shall soon terminate in the birth of her child, he might well desire their speedy arrival, in order to their speedier termination. But he had far higher reasons for the desire which he expressed. He longed for this baptism,

1. Because by it the Father would be glorified.

This, in particular, operated upon his mind, at the time that he deprecated the bitter cup: "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify your name. Then came there a voice from Heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." It was by this event that all the perfections of the Godhead were to be displayed—and therefore our adorable Savior longed for the time when this most desirable object should be consummated.

2. Because by it his own work, so far as it was to be carried on in this world, was to be completed.

Christ had undertaken to "make his soul an offering for sin," and, by death, to expiate the sins of our fallen race. Without this, all his previous labors and sufferings would be in vain. For this, therefore, he longed, that he might be able to say, "It is finished."

3. Because by it salvation would be wrought for a ruined world.

This was the great work which Jesus had come to effect: and so intent was he upon it, that, when Peter would have persuaded him to spare himself, he reproved his infatuated Disciple in the most indignant terms: "Get you behind me, Satan; you are an offence unto me." This was, in fact, "the joy that had been set before him;" in the prospect of which he not only "endured the cross, and despised the shame," but desired both the one and the other; fully "satisfied, if only he might see at last of the travail of his soul" in the happiness and salvation of his redeemed people.

Think now, Brethren,

1. What obligations we owe to the Lord Jesus Christ!

How amazing is it, that ever He should undertake such a work for us; and that he should persevere in it, until it was altogether accomplished! He knew from the beginning all that should come upon him: yet, so far from drawing back, "he went before his timid Disciples, and, to their utter amazement, led the way" to the place that was to be the scene of all his sorrows. He showed, throughout, that the whole of his sufferings were voluntary. When, by his word, he struck to the ground the whole band that came to apprehend him, he showed, that he could as easily have struck them all dead upon the spot? And, in liberating his Disciples, he showed that he could with equal ease, if it had pleased him, have liberated himself also. He himself tells us, that, if it had pleased him, he might have had "more than twelve legions of angels" to deliver him. But "having loved his own, he loved them to the end;" and drew not back, until, by his own obedience unto death, he had "made an end of sin, and brought in an everlasting righteousness." How "passing the knowledge, whether of men or angels, was this unutterable, incomprehensible love!" Seek, my dear Brethren, so far as your feeble capacities will enable you, to comprehend it; that so, being transported with the view of it, "you may be filled with all the fullness of God."

2. How willingly, if occasion require, we should suffer to any extent for him!

We, his followers, must expect to be conformed to him; "drinking of the cup which he drank of, and being baptized with the baptism that he was baptized with." But shall we account this a hard matter? Has he endured so much for us, and shall we be averse to suffer for him? Shall we not rather "rejoice that we are counted worthy" of such an honor, and bless our God for conferring it upon us? Be prepared then, every one of you, for that "fire" and that "sword" which he has taught you to expect: and, to whatever extremities you may be reduced, be ever ready to "follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach."

 

MDXXXII

Judging What is Right

Luke 12:57. Why even of yourselves judge you not what is right?

IT appears truly wonderful, that any who beheld the miracles of our blessed Lord should be able to resist the evidence which they afforded of his being the true Messiah. Our Lord appealed to them, that they could judge with some degree of certainty about the weather: if they saw a cloud coming from the west (the Mediterranean Sea), they judged it a prognostic of rain: and if the wind blew from the south (the Arabian Desert), they expected that heat would ensue: and in these things their expectations were, for the most part, realized. Yet, though "they could thus discern, with some degree of precision, the face of the sky and of the earth, they could not discern the signs of that time;" which were so clear, that it was scarcely possible to mistake them. Hence he reproved them, in the expostulation before us, "Why even of yourselves judge you not what is right?"

Let me, from these words,

I. Show that man, though of himself he cannot find what is right, can yet form a good judgment of what is right, when once it is fairly proposed for his consideration.

Man, doubtless, could not of himself devise a way in which he might obtain reconciliation with God. This it was not within the reach of any finite capacity to conceive—Nor could he tell how to render acceptable service to his God. The nature and extent of perfect holiness were far beyond the utmost stretch of his imagination.

But when God had revealed a way of salvation for man through the mediation of his only-begotten Son, and through the operation of his blessed Spirit, man, though he could not comprehend such a mystery, must say at once, 'This, if true, is worthy of God, and fully adequate to the necessities of man:' and the more deeply he considered it, the more fully would this conviction flash upon his mind. He would say, 'I can never atone for one sin; but here is a sufficient atonement for the sins of the whole world. I can never work out a righteousness wherein to appear before God; but here, in the obedience of my incarnate God, I see a perfect righteousness, clothed in which, I may stand before God without spot or blemish. I can never restore to my soul that likeness to God, in which it was at first created; but the Holy Spirit, the Third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, is able to effect it, and to transform me into the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness. I see then, that, supposing this revelation to be from God, there is in the salvation there proposed, a suitableness, and a sufficiency, that commends it to my judgment, and must forever endear it to my soul.'

In answer to this, that affirmation of Scripture may be adduced, "The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." But this is not owing to his incapacity to judge, provided he would judge with candor; but to his prejudices and passions, which pervert his judgment: for, of those who believe not, it is said, "The God of this world has blinded their eyes, through the instrumentality of their own prejudices and passions, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." Hence the rejection of the Gospel is always represented as aggravating the guilt of persons, "who would have had, comparatively, no sin, if they had not heard it." And hence was that solemn warning given, "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world; and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." Light would commend itself to men, if they would but open their eyes to behold it: but they choose to shut their eyes, and therefore are fully responsible for the incapacity which they wantonly and perversely bring upon themselves.

This point being proved, I will now,

II. Address to you the expostulation which is founded on that hypothesis.

"Why even of yourselves judge you not what is right,"

1. In reference to the sentiments you shall embrace?

You have heard, times without number, the mystery of redemption set before you: and you are no strangers to the absurd ways of salvation proposed by an ignorant and ungodly world. And can you halt between these two opinions? Can you see in man's righteousness anything that can be compared with Christ's perfect righteousness, so as to doubt on which you shall rely for acceptance with God? Compare the two ways of salvation with the Scriptures of truth: Can you doubt which of the two is revealed there? which of the two appears more suited to the justice and holiness of God? which more suited to the necessities of fallen man? "Why of yourselves judge you not what is right?" Is it anything short of madness to reject that which God the Father has devised, and God the Son has wrought, and God the Holy Spirit has revealed; and to rest satisfied with the unauthorized surmises of short-sighted man?.

2. In reference to the conduct you shall pursue?

You are taught to "give up yourselves as living sacrifices to your God," and to aspire after "perfection" both of heart and life. On the other hand, the world tells you, that this is all enthusiasm, and that "a mere form of godliness" will suffice. Well: Are you at a loss to judge which is the better way? Let any one tell you, that you may win a race, or gain a victory, by sitting still; or that, if you take one step forward daily and another backward, you will as certainly arrive at your journey's end, as if you were pressing forward daily without any intermission: you would find no difficulty in forming a judgment on those subjects. How, then, can you, for a moment, suppose lukewarmness to be the proper frame of a Christian? or that, while indulging it, you have any prospect of bearing off the prize of victory, even eternal life? If you can entertain no doubt of what is required for the attainment of temporal things, how can you hesitate in relation to heavenly things? But turn to the Scriptures: see what they prescribe. See what was the course of the holy men of old, Prophets, Apostles, and the primitive saints: or think what you will wish you had done, the very moment you open your eyes in the eternal world. Judge thus; and you cannot hesitate to declare which is right; the advice that urges you to "give yourselves wholly to these things," or that which teaches you to be satisfied with outward forms and partial attainments.

Address.

1. Those who exercise no judgment at all.

You will bitterly regret this supineness at last.

2. Those who act not in accordance with their judgment.

Your guilt is still more aggravated. "The man who knew his lord's will, and did it not, will be beaten with many stripes." Better would it have been for you never to have heard the Gospel at all. The condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah will be less severe than yours.

 

MDXXXIII

Repentance

Luke 13:5. Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.

TWICE are these words repeated by our Lord within the space of three verses. And wherefore are they so repeated? Our Lord intended to check that common propensity which we all have to judge others; and to lead us rather to judge ourselves, and to prepare for that awful judgment which shall before long be passed upon ourselves. Some of his hearers, taking occasion from what he had just spoken, respecting the danger of persons delaying to seek reconciliation with God until they were hurried unprepared into his presence, told him of the Galileans, who had been slain by Pilate in the very act of offering their sacrifices, and whose blood had been thereby mingled with their sacrifices. Our Lord, seeing that they intended to insinuate that this calamity was a judgment from God on account of some enormous wickedness, rectified their error, and taught them to look to themselves instead of judging and condemning others. Such calamities as these, he observed, fell indiscriminately on the righteous and the wicked: but there was a day coming when a just discrimination would be made, and the impenitent would be subjected to God's heaviest judgments.

After seeing what stress our blessed Lord laid upon these truths, we cannot be thought uncharitable if we open them to you according to their true import. In order to this we will point out,

I. The nature of repentance.

All are ready to imagine that they know what repentance is; though, in truth, very few have any just notions respecting it. It consists in,

1. A humiliation before God on account of sin.

Though this will not be disputed, few are aware what kind of humiliation is required.

It must be deep. It is not a slight superficial sorrow that will suffice. Sin is a dreadful evil, and must be lamented in a way suited to its enormity. Hear in what manner God himself teaches us to deplore the commission of it: "Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness: humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God." Such was the compunction felt by the three thousand on the day of Pentecost: such also was the overwhelming sense of guilt which David felt: and such in every view was the contrition of Ezra, when he confessed before God his own and his people's iniquities. This is the humiliation which God requires; and everything that falls short of this will he despise.

It must be sincere. There is a sorrow, like that of Felix or of Judas, arising from convictions of the natural conscience, and ending in despair. But this is in no respect acceptable to God; for it will consist with a love of sin, and a hatred of God's law; and the person who is impressed with it would prefer a life of sin, provided only he might be assured of escaping the punishment attendant on it. Our sorrow should resemble that of the Corinthian Church, when they had seen their error, and were humbled for it, with "a sorrow which wrought in them a repentance not to be repented of," "For behold," says the Apostle, "this self-same thing, that you sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yes, what clearing of yourselves, yes, what indignation, yes, what fear, yes, what vehement desire, yes, what zeal, yes, what revenge! In all things you have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter." In them we behold what we consider as eminently characterizing true repentance, namely, an sincere shame on account of their past conduct, a readiness to justify God in any judgments he should inflict on them, a hatred of their sin, and a determination through grace to walk more circumspectly in future: and wherever such an experience is, there is the grace of God in truth.

It must be abiding. Transient emotions, of whatever kind they be, can never be regarded as constituting true repentance. Pharaoh's confessions, and Saul's, appeared to indicate a change of heart: but no real change was wrought in them, as is evident from their reverting almost immediately again to their former ways. The generality, if they had attained the humiliation of Ahab, would be ready to account themselves real penitents: but his subsequent conduct showed the insincerity of all his professions. Far different from this must our contrition be, if ever we would be accepted of our God: we must retain the impressions which have been made upon us: we must say with Hezekiah, "I will go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul," and, instead of accounting our acceptance with God a reason for putting off this frame of mind, we should regard it rather as a motive to still deeper humiliation. This is the design of God in exercising mercy towards us; and it is the inseparable effect, where that mercy is received aright.

2. A turning to God in newness of life.

This also will be acknowledged as essential to true repentance. But let not this change be mistaken:

It must be cordial; not the service of a slave under the influence of fear and dread, but the result of a conviction that sin is an intolerable bondage, and that the service of God is perfect freedom. Whatever change proceeds not from the heart, is mere hypocrisy; that which characterizes sound conversion, engages all the faculties of the soul. Thus it is represented by Solomon in his intercessory prayer: and agreeable to their representation is the direction given to us by the prophet Joel: "Turn you even to me with all your heart, with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning."

It must be progressive. Conversion is not a work that is accomplished all at once, or ever so perfect in this life, but that we need to be pressing forward for higher attainments. Even Paul himself, towards the close of his life, did "not consider himself as having attained perfection, or apprehended all for which he had himself been apprehended of Christ Jesus: and hence he, like a person in a race, forgot all that was behind, and reached forward for that which was before." As the body, though perfect in its parts even in the earliest infancy, grows in every part until it arrives at manhood; so does the new man advance toward "the full measure of the stature of Christ." We should "grow in grace;" and so grow as to make our "profiting to appear." We may not indeed be able to see any actual advance at very short intervals, any more than we can see the advance of the sun every minute: but yet we perceive after a time that the sun has proceeded in its course; and in like manner must our path be like the shining light, which "shines more and more unto the perfect day." We must be "going on unto perfection," and aspire after that which is proposed to us as the proper object of our ambition; namely, "to stand perfect and complete in all the will of God."

It must be uniform. Nothing under Heaven is to divert us from our duty. We are not ever to be influenced by times or circumstances, so as to decline a positive duty through fear of man, or to commit a positive evil for the sake of any earthly advantage. The changes which we see in the conduct of Paul, did not proceed from any deviation from principle, but from a strict adherence to principle. His one object was to save the souls of men: and in things that were non-essential, he accommodated himself to their habits and prejudices, in order to promote his main design: but when he saw that any evil was likely to arise from a particular act of conformity, he was as immoveable as a rock. Thus we may vary our conduct on particular occasions, provided we can appeal to God that we are actuated by a regard for the welfare of others, and not by any personal considerations of our own. But in no instance whatever must this principle be extended so far as to violate any known duty or the dictates of our own conscience: life itself must be of no value in our eyes in comparison of God's honor, and the preservation of a conscience void of offence towards God and man.

It must be unreserved. Not only must we labor to undo what we have done amiss, by making restitution of ill-gotten gain, and warning those whom we have led into sin, but we must strive to mortify sin of every kind in every degree. Every man has some "sin that more easily besets him," and to which he will be more strongly tempted. This sin is different in different persons; in one, pride; in another, passion; in another, lust; in another, covetousness; in another, ambition and the love of praise: in another, sloth; but, whatever it be, our victory over it is a just criterion of our state: if it lead us captive, we are yet carnal and unrenewed: whatever repentance we may fancy ourselves to have experienced, it has all been ineffectual; we are yet in our sins; we are "in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity." A right eye must be plucked out, if it cause us to offend, and a right hand must be amputated: no alternative remains to us, but to part with that, or to suffer the miseries of Hell.

Such is the view which God himself gives us of repentance; and to this alone does he annex any hope of salvation: "Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin."

These views of repentance will appear in all their importance, if we consider,

II. The necessity of it.

The word which we translate 'likewise,' may possibly be intended to mark a resemblance between the calamities that awaited the impenitent Jews, and those which had befallen the persons just spoken of. But, as we are more interested in what relates to ourselves, we shall rather take a general view of the subject, than attempt a parallel, which would be more curious than useful. We say then, in reference to repentance, that the necessity for it is,

1. Indispensable.

On this, eternal happiness and eternal misery depend; "except we repent, we must all perish." It is not for us to say what God might do: it is sufficient to know what he will do. He has appointed repentance, as the means of obtaining reconciliation with him: and he has given his own Son to die for us, in order that, the guilt of sin having been expiated by the blood of the cross, he may be able to receive returning sinners in a perfect consistency with the demands of law and justice. Let this matter be clearly understood. He has not appointed repentance to atone for sin; for if we could shed rivers of tears, they never could wash away the smallest sin: it is the blood of Christ only, that can cleanse from sin: no other fountain ever was, or ever can be, opened for sin and for unclean-ness, but that which issued from the wounds of our adorable Redeemer. But repentance is necessary in order to prepare our souls for a worthy reception of the Divine mercies, and for a suitable improvement of them. Though therefore it cannot atone for sin, or merit anything at the hands of God, It is indispensably necessary; and, if we do not repent, we must forever remain in the snare of the devil, and the gates of Heaven will assuredly be closed against us. The declaration in our text will certainly be fulfilled: and sooner shall Heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or tittle of it ever fail. Know you then, that whatever is implied in the "perishing" of an immortal soul, must be the portion of every impenitent sinner.

2. Universal.

There are authors, of no mean name, who have endeavored to prove that there are some who need not to repent. Because our Lord says, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance;" and, that "there is more joy among the angels over one sinner that repents, than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance;" they imagine, there is a class of persons whose natures are so pure, and their conduct so blameless, as not to have given any occasion for repentance. But the former of these passages relates to those who thought themselves righteous, and who, from a conceit of their being "whole," despised the offered aid of a physician: the latter evidently refers to those who have already been converted to God, and are as sheep living in the fold of Christ. Such persons are considered as secure, while those who are unconverted are in most imminent danger: and, as the recovery of a lost sheep affords more sensible pleasure to its owner, than the possession of a hundred that have not strayed; so the angels are filled with pre-eminent joy at the conversion of one, whom they had considered as in a lost and perishing condition. That these passages cannot be understood as sanctioning the idea that there are any persons so good as not to need repentance, must be evident to every one who considers what the Scriptures elsewhere speak respecting the universal state of man. Paul collects a multitude of texts, to prove that "there is none righteous, no not one: that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God: and that therefore every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God." "There is not a man that lives and sins not,"says Solomon. "In many things we offend all," says James. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves," says John, "and the truth is not in us." But where shall we find these persons who need no repentance? Will the advocates for this strange opinion venture to point out a person that possesses this high attainment? If they did, the person himself, unless peculiarly blinded by the devil, would contradict their testimony. But we will suppose this paragon of excellence produced: is he more righteous than Job, of whom God himself testified, that "there was none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feared God and eschewed evil?" For argument sake, we will suppose him equal to Job: would he then not need to repent? Hear what Job says of himself; "If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life. If I wash myself with snow-water, and make my hands never so clean, yet shall you plunge me in the ditch, and my own clothes shall abhor me." Let those then who will maintain such an unscriptural sentiment lay to heart that warning of the Almighty, "You say, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me: behold, I will plead with you, because you say, I have not sinned" If they will not humble themselves now, let them prepare to maintain their own cause against God in the day of judgment.

We say then that the necessity of repentance is universal: and we entreat every one to apply the declaration to his own soul, "Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish."

Address.

1. To those who think themselves penitents.

What has been spoken on the nature of repentance, may well lead us to examine ourselves, and to fear lest we should deceive our own souls. We entreat you all therefore to bear in mind the particulars which you have heard, and to try yourselves by them. If in anything we appear to have pressed the point too far, let the confession which we always utter at the Lord's supper, be taken in connection with it; and it will be found that we have not uttered a single sentiment which is not contained in that formulary.

And here we cannot but entreat all who are in the habit of frequenting the Lord's table to inquire, whether their repentance be such as, in that prayer, they profess it to be. We are told by our Church what is required of those who come to the Lord's supper, namely, To examine themselves whether they repent them truly of their former sins. This examination we now most earnestly recommend; lest in the midst of all "your sacrifices" the wrath of God break forth against you and you "perish" in a far more fearful manner than ever the "Galileans" did.

2. To those who desire to repent.

Delay not one moment to execute your purpose, lest death find you unprepared to meet your God. Knowing the terrors of the Lord, we would "persuade" you so to turn to him that you may have no reason to dread them. Yet remember not to address yourselves to the work of repentance in your own strength: for it is God alone who can give it you; and he has "exalted the Lord Jesus to his own right hand on purpose to give you repentance and remission of sins." If you are tempted to doubt whether he will bestow it upon you, know that "he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." In proof of that, we need only consider what is implied in the words of our text. When it is said, that "except we repent we shall all perish," we may fairly take the converse of it to be true, and conclude, that they who do repent shall not perish. O blessed truth, confirmed by thousands of positive declarations! Not to insist on that instructive parable of the Prodigal Son (which yet may be a source of comfort to every contrite soul); let that representation of God's love to penitents, which is given us by the prophet Jeremiah, be duly considered, and you will need no other encouragement to turn unto God with your whole hearts. Behold, then, our parting exhortation to every one among you is, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."

 

MDXXXIV

The Barren Fig-Tree

Luke 13:7–9. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbers it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, until I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that you shall cut it down.

PERSONS, who can least bear a scrutiny themselves, are apt to pass the severest censures upon others. But we can never form a just estimate of men's characters from the dispensations of Providence towards them; nor, though our conclusions were more certain, would it become us to place ourselves on the seat of judgment: we are far more concerned to prepare for the account which we ourselves must render unto God. Such was the advice which our Lord gave to his censorious hearers: he bade them repent of their own sins instead of presuming to judge others, and enforced his admonition with an apposite and instructive parable. We shall inquire,

I. In what respects we resemble a barren fig-tree?

Humiliating as the comparison before us is, it is but too just. We have enjoyed every advantage that could conduce to fruitfulness.

The fig-tree is represented as planted in a vineyard where the soil was good, and every attention was paid to it. Thus we have not been left in the open field of the heathen world: we have been planted in the enclosed vineyard of God's Church. His word and ordinances have been regularly administered to us: we have participated both the stated and occasional labors of his ministers; nor has anything been wanting which could render us fruitful. God may appeal respecting us, as he did respecting his Church of old: "What could I have done more for them than I have done?"

Yet notwithstanding all our advantages, we have hitherto been found barren.

For three successive years was the fig-tree destitute of fruit: and have not we been barren a much longer time? The fruits which God expects are repentance, faith, and obedience: but have we mourned over our sins with deep contrition?—Have we fled to Christ as the only refuge and hope of lost sinners?—Have we presented ourselves to him a holy and living sacrifice?—Has it been the labor and ambition of our souls to abound in these fruits? Have we not even to this hour been "barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ? Have we not rather, as cumberers of the ground, been prejudicial to those around us? Have not those who have been planted near us, reason to complain that they have been retarded by us, rather than furthered, in the spiritual life? Surely too many of us deserve the name once given to Israel of old; "Israel is an empty vine, (a barren fig-tree,) that brings forth fruit to itself alone, and none at all to God."

We may justly wonder therefore that we are suffered to occupy our respective places, and inquire,

II. Whence it is that, notwithstanding our unfruitfulness, we have been spared to this time?

We are not spared because our state is inoffensive to God.

The owner of the vineyard noticed all the pains bestowed on the fig-tree, and felt his disappointment greater every successive year: hence he spoke of its unfruitfulness with astonishment and indignation. And must not the heavenly vine-dresser wonder, that in the midst of so many advantages we remain unfruitful? And has he not declared that unprofitable servants are objects of his utter abhorrence.

Much less are we spared because we are better than others.

Doubtless there are degrees of sinfulness and guilt: as among men, so in the sight of God, there are some worse than others. But what good can be in him who answers no one end of his creation? The description given of such persons by the prophet is strictly just. (There is scarcely anything in the creation so worthless as the wood of a barren vine.) And to them may be addressed those humiliating words of Moses; "Not for your sakes have these mercies been given to you; for you are a stiff-necked people."

The intercession of Christ is the true reason of God's forbearance towards us.

The fig-tree was spared only at the request of "the vine-dresser." The order given would certainly have been executed, if he had not obtained a respite: and little do we think how often death has had a commission to cut us down. Surely our continued provocations must often have incensed our God against us: but, as in former times, he often revoked his word at the urgent request of his servant Moses; so beyond a doubt has the Psalmist's declaration been often verified in our great Advocate and Intercessor, "He has stood in the gap, to turn away God's indignation, lest he should destroy us."

The respite however which is yet prolonged, will not last forever. Know therefore,

III. What doom we must expect if we still continue barren.

God will deal with every man according to his works. If now at last we begin to bear fruit it will be well.

The vine-dresser undertook to bestow still greater culture on the fig-tree, and intimated that, if his labors should succeed, it would be a source of much satisfaction to him. But how much more is this true in reference to our souls! At this moment we may consider the trench digging, and the manure applied to us. And what a source of comfort will it be, if these means be blessed with success! The owner of the vineyard, the dresser of it, yes, and the inferior laborers too, will greatly rejoice. And what a blessing will it be to the tree itself! Instead of being cut down as useless, we shall be an ornament to the vineyard; nor will God himself disdain to regale himself with our fruit. In due season, too, we shall be transplanted to that richer vineyard above, and bring forth fruit to God's glory for evermore. Yes, our past unfruitfulness should be no obstruction to our bliss; but joy and honor shall be our everlasting portion.

But if the culture be still in vain, we must be speedily cut down.

The intercessor himself approved of this in reference to the fig-tree: and can anything else be expected by those whom the Gospel does not profit? Can any think that they shall be left to cumber the ground forever? Must not even the patience of God himself be at last exhausted? Shall He not before long definitively say, Cut them down? Must we not then be consigned over to everlasting burnings? And must not our Intercessor, yes, our own souls also, approve the sentence? Let every one then attend to the warning given to the antediluvian world, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man," and let not one among us defer until the morrow, what, if left undone, must involve him in everlasting ruin.

Inferences.

1. How thankful should we be to our great Advocate and Intercessor!

Many since the last year have been cut off by death. What a mercy should we esteem it that we have been spared! How dreadful must our state have now been if we had been taken unprepared! We should have been irrevocably doomed to dwell with the fallen angels; nor should we ever have heard one more offer of mercy from our offended God. Let us then bless and adore our Lord for this distinguishing favor; and let his love constrain us to turn unto him with our whole hearts.

2. How earnest should we be in improving the present moment!

Many are dead who lately seemed as likely to live as ourselves: but, when their time was come, they could not resist the stroke of death; nor can any who are now alive, tell how long a respite shall be granted them. It is probable that many of us will be gone before the expiration of this year; and whenever the fixed period shall arrive, all intercessions will be in vain. Let us then redeem the time with all earnestness and zeal, and accomplish the great work, before the night comes to terminate our labors.

 

MDXXXV

The Infirm Woman Cured

Luke 13:15, 16. The Lord then answered him, and said, You hypocrite, does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath-day?

THE command to sanctify the Sabbath was given to man in Paradise, and was perpetuated to all generations when it was engraved on stones by God himself, together with the other precepts of the law. But the sanctification of that day consists, not in a mere abstinence from bodily labor, but in a suspension of all temporal cares, and an application of soul to spiritual duties. This appears from the conduct of our Lord himself: he never was more active than on the Sabbath-day; and when censured by superstitious hypocrites, he vindicated himself by showing that works of necessity and mercy were perfectly compatible with that holy rest which God had enjoined. To this effect he spoke in the passage before us; in discoursing upon which, we shall consider,

I. The miracle he wrought.

There was in the synagogue a woman much afflicted in body.

By the force of some disorder her whole frame was so contracted or relaxed, that she was utterly incapable of standing upright. This disorder had been, in some way or other, inflicted on her by Satan. The same wicked spirit who smote Job with boils, and possessed the bodies of many in our Savior's days, had exerted his power over her; and she had been no less than eighteen years in this deplorable condition; yet as she was not ashamed to go to the synagogue on account of her deformity, so neither would she be detained from it by her weakness. Alas! how many among us absent themselves from the house of God under far less plausible pretexts, notwithstanding our ordinances are so incomparably superior to those which she was privileged to attend.

Our Lord, well knowing her case, afforded her a miraculous relief.

He needed not to have his compassion moved by earnest entreaties. Unsolicited he called her to him, and by the imposition of his hand conveyed an instantaneous cure. Thus he showed how easily he could "destroy the works of the devil;" and that neither length of time nor inveteracy of disorder could at all obstruct the efficacy of his word.

The censure which he incurred on account of this benevolent act, called forth,

II. His vindication of it.

The Ruler of the synagogue expressed his indignation at this exercise of power.

That which in reality hurt his feelings was, the popularity of Jesus. He could not endure to see him followed by such multitudes, and confirming his divine mission by such miracles. But, because he could not with the smallest appearance of reason condemn the miracle he had seen, he pretended to be offended at its being wrought on the Sabbath-day. He proceeded to reprove the people for paying so little regard to that holy day; and thus obliquely cast reflections on our Lord himself. What an evidence of his enmity against Christ, and of his being altogether destitute of compassion to his fellow-creatures! And how thin the veil under which he endeavored to cover these detestable qualities!

Our Lord, however, vindicated his own conduct in a most unanswerable manner.

He tacitly acknowledged the necessity of sanctifying the Sabbath; but appealed to his hearers, whether such a work as he had performed were any breach of it. If they universally considered themselves at liberty to loose an ox or an donkey from the stall in order to give it water on the Sabbath-day, how much more justifiable was he in loosing the far sorer bands of a rational being, yes, of a daughter of Abraham, on that day; more especially, when it was Satan himself who had bound her; when she too had been no less than eighteen years in that state; and when he had effected her cure simply by a touch of his hand. Such was our Lord's argument; and it flashed conviction upon every mind. Thus, while the ruler's hypocrisy was detected, and the adversaries, who had sided with him, were put to shame, our Savior's character rose in the estimation of all the people.

And this speaks loudly to us, if we will attentively consider,

III. The reflections suggested by it.

1. What blindness and hypocrisy are there in the human heart

Every one sees in an instant how deservedly our Lord reproached the Ruler for his hypocrisy; and we are ready to suppose that we should never have indulged so vile a disposition. But there is nothing more common than the very spirit which he manifested. He condemned people for seeking the healing of their bodies on the Sabbath-day. And are there none who are offended at men for seeking the salvation of their souls on the week-day? I know that these will plead a regard for order, and for the institutions of man; but the Ruler had a still stronger plea, namely, a regard for the Sabbath, and the express commandments of God. Yet, whatever they may think, neither the one nor the other are upright before God. The objections of both originate in the same evil disposition, a want of regard for the Savior's honor and for the welfare of their fellow-creatures. On this account the Judge of quick and dead called him a hypocrite. By what name I pray you will he call these, when they shall stand before him at his tribunal? Is not the soul of as much value as the body? and are we not as much justified in promoting its welfare on a week-day, or on the Sabbath evening, as a diseased person is in seeking relief for the body upon the Sabbath-day? Let us all then acknowledge the evil of our own hearts; and give God the glory if we be in any measure freed from the prejudices by which so many in every age and place are blinded.

2. How desirable is it to embrace every opportunity of waiting upon God!

The woman broke through every difficulty that she might honor the public institutions of religion. And was she not well repaid for her trouble at last? Surely the restoration of her body to health and strength was a blessing that would have abundantly compensated for still greater toil than she ever endured. And have none among us received a still richer recompense? If your bodily disorders have not been removed, have you never received grace both to bear and improve them? Have none of you been delivered from the bonds in which Satan held your souls? Has not your guilt been removed, and the corruption of your hearts been in some measure healed? Let this encourage all to wait upon God. Let it make you fearful of yielding to any excuses, lest you be absent from the ordinances at the very time that Jesus shall manifest his presence there: worldly business, worldly pleasure, dinner company, and such like engagements, will ill repay you for the loss of spiritual and eternal good. Say not, 'I can serve God as well at home;' for it is not the means we use, but the blessing of God upon them that renders them effectual to our benefit; and God's blessing cannot be expected, if we seek it not in the way of his appointment. And if proud and envious hypocrites condemn you, regard it not. Your Savior himself will vindicate your conduct, to your honor, and to their confusion.

3. With what comfortable hope may we look to Jesus under all our troubles!

It is alike easy to him to save from bodily or spiritual disorders. A touch of his hand, or word of his mouth, will convey the blessing we desire. Are we then laboring under any affliction of mind or body? Are we, like David, "bowed down greatly, and do we go mourning all the day long?" Behold, it is the Savior's office to bind up that which is broken, to heal that which is sick, and to raise up those who are bowed down. Nor can we doubt but that he, who prevented the application of this afflicted woman, will come at our entreaty, and impart the aid which we implore. Let us all, then, direct our eyes unto him, and may we all become monuments of his power and grace, for his mercy's sake! Amen.

 

MDXXXVI

The Last First, and the First Last

Luke 13:30. Behold, there are last which shall be first; and there are first which shall be last.

THIS is a declaration frequently made by our blessed Lord; and therefore we may be sure it contains some very important truths, that deserve our deepest attention. Persons who are addicted to human systems will put an exceedingly different construction upon these words; some pressing them to an unwarrantable extent; while others limit them, so as to enervate and destroy all their force. We, however, desire to treat them, not in a proud and controversial spirit, but in a spirit of humility and love; equally avoiding both extremes, and endeavoring to deduce from them such practical instruction as our Lord himself intended them to convey. With this view, I will,

I. Show to what an extent they have been realized.

That God acts as a Sovereign in the communication of good, we have no doubt; but not so in the distribution of evil: and therefore, while we see in this passage a clear evidence of electing love, we cannot for a moment admit that there is any ground for the doctrine of absolute reprobation. If the last are made first, it is by the grace of God: but if the first are made last, it is altogether by their own fault. This will appear in every part of the subject; while I show, that the truth here conveyed has been realized in all ages, and is yet daily realized among men, in whatever light they be viewed. View them,

1. In their national privileges.

The Jews were God's peculiar people. Never did any nation under Heaven enjoy such privileges as they. They, for the space of two thousand years, were "the first" in everything that related to eternal life. As for the poor benighted Gentiles, they were left in darkness and the shadow of death, given over to follow their own evil ways, and to be led captive by the devil at his will. But in the apostolic age the case was altogether changed; the Jews being cast off from God; and the Gentiles being admitted into covenant with him, and made partakers of far higher privileges than were ever accorded to the Jews. There is, in fact, scarcely any comparison between the mercies given to us, and those of which God's ancient people partook: so true is it, that "we, who once were last, are now first; and the Jews, who were once first, are last." In fact, that is now fulfilled which our blessed Lord foretold, that multitudes now "come to him from every quarter of the globe, to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven; while the children of the kingdom, the poor infatuated Jews, are cast into outer darkness, where is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth."

2. In their civil station.

The rich and great and noble appear to have immense advantages for Heaven, because they can employ a great portion of their time in heavenly pursuits; while the poor, who are necessitated to earn their bread by some earthly occupation, have but little time to spare for the acquisition of divine knowledge. But "the rich, for the most part, are too wise in their own conceit" to suspect their own ignorance, or to submit to divine teaching: and they have such a fullness and sufficiency of earthly gratifications, that they are not disposed to seek after happiness in things above. The poor, on the contrary, are more willing to receive instruction, and to listen to advice in relation to spiritual and eternal riches. This has been the case in all ages. In our Lord's day, it was said, "Have any of the Rulers and of the Pharisees believed on him?" But "the common people heard him gladly." In like manner, Paul says of those in his day, "Not many mighty, not many noble, are called." And in every age, James informs us, "God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of his kingdom."

3. In their intellectual attainments.

Certainly knowledge, beyond everything else, elevates man above his fellows. Yet, when his aspect is viewed in reference to religion, it is frequently found rather hostile, than friendly, to heavenly pursuits. Hence it is said, in a fore-cited passage, that "not many wise men after the flesh are called; but, instead of them, the foolish, the weak, and the base." Indeed, God has said, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" The truth is, that the wisdom of this world is so deeply impregnated with pride, that it cannot submit to the humiliating doctrines of the Gospel. "The wisdom of God is foolishness with man: and the wisdom of man is foolishness with God," and the only way for any man to become truly wise, is to become a fool in his own estimation, and to receive with child-like simplicity every word that God has spoken. And if any think it hard that such contempt should be poured on human wisdom, let him know that our blessed Savior saw nothing in it but ground for praise and thanksgiving: "I thank you, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in your sight."

4. In their moral habits.

These, above all, we should suppose to be favorable to the reception of the Gospel. But really experience is far from confirming this sentiment: for the Scribes and Pharisees were externally moral; yet did publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of Heaven before them." "The former justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John: whereas the latter rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him." And, as the fruit of these different dispositions, the Pharisee, who thought himself righteous, and despised others, went from the Divine presence with all his guilt upon him, while the self-condemning Publican was justified from all his sins. Where can we find a more impious character than Manasseh? or one more bitter than Saul? or one in a more desperate condition than the dying thief? Yet all these found mercy of the Lord, that "in them, as in the chief of sinners, God might be the more glorified." And thus it frequently is at this day: "where sin has abounded, grace much more abounds; that as sin has reigned unto death, so grace might reign through righteousness unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Thus, in all these respects, are our Lord's words fully verified; not only the Gentiles occupying a higher station than God's ancient people; but the poor, the illiterate, and the depraved being raised to a participation of God's kingdom and glory, to a far greater extent than the rich, the learned, and the moral: so true is it still, as in former ages, that "God raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory."

Having endeavored to elucidate the words before us, I will now,

II. Suggest the improvement which, in my judgment the subject calls for.

I cannot conceive any subject more calculated,

1. To put down presumption.

Let any person be as elevated as he will in national privileges, or civil station, or intellectual attainments, or moral habits, yes, I will add also, in religious experience; let him be the admiration of all around him; yet will I say, that if he be lifted up with pride, he will fall into the condemnation of the devil; and, from being the first in human estimation, he will become the last in Divine acceptance. Look at Demas: so eminent was he in the estimation of Paul, that twice did the Apostle join him with Luke, in his salutations to the saints: "Salute Lucas and Demas." Yet we find this man at last forsaking the way of godliness, and turning back to a state of utter worldliness and carnality. In the book of Job we read of many "whose excellency mounts up to the heavens, and their head reaches to the clouds; and yet, at last, they perish like their own dung; and they who have seen them are led, with a mixture of doubt and lamentation, to say, Where is her?" And where shall we find a Church in which such instances have not occurred, to the disgrace of true religion, and to the grief of all who held fast their profession? I say then to every soul of man, however advanced in piety he may appear, "Be not high-minded, but fear." Yes, though he may have attained the eminence of Paul himself, I will bid him "keep his body under, and bring it into subjection; lest, after having preached to others, he himself should become a cast-away."

2. To prevent despair.

Let not any one tell me that his guilt is too great to be forgiven, or his depravity too inveterate to be subdued. I will grant that the disadvantages under which a man may labor may be so great as to render his conversion, in all human appearance, impossible; yet will I say, that though he be the last, yet may he become the first. What cannot He do, who formed the universe out of nothing, and reduced the chaos to the order and beauty in which we behold it? If only we remember who it is that is engaged in our behalf, we shall never despond. For what is there that God cannot effect? If there ever was anything to be despaired of, it was, that Jesus should be restored to life after he had been committed to the tomb. But did not "the stone which the builders had disallowed become the head-stone of the corner?" and shall not He who was "crucified through weakness" "put all his enemies under his feet?" Then I say, let no man entertain desponding thoughts, as though he were beyond the reach of mercy: for however "far off we may be from God, we may be brought near by the blood of Christ." Only let us call on Him "who quickens the dead, and calls those things which be not as though they were;" and let us, "against hope, believe in hope;" and, like Abraham, we shall be made "friends of God," yes, and sit down, at last, with Abraham in the kingdom of our God, forever and ever.

 

MDXXXVII

The Man Cured of the Dropsy

Luke 14:1–4. And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath-day, that they watched him. And behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spoke unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath-day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go.

ALTHOUGH the Gospel requires those who embrace it to become dead to the world, it does not forbid us to maintain occasional and friendly fellowship with unenlightened men. Paul rectifies a mistake which had arisen in the Church upon this very subject, and tells us that to renounce all connection with the ungodly, would be to exclude ourselves from the world altogether. But peculiar caution is necessary when we are in their company; and the most effectual way of counteracting their pernicious influence is, to labor to do them good. This we may learn from our Lord's own example in the history before us. He was in a Pharisee's house, where he had been invited to dinner; and his conduct there will afford us many useful lessons. We shall consider,

I. The character of those who entertained our Lord.

The lawyers and Pharisees professed a high regard for religion, and on this occasion appeared to act a very friendly part. But they soon manifested,

1. Their inveterate malignity.

Under the mask of friendship they were traitors at heart. They "watched"our Lord's words and actions, not with a desire to receive instruction, but with a determination to seize an opportunity of traducing his character and destroying his life. Such was their employment on the Sabbath-day, when they should have been more particularly in the exercise of all holy affections. Such was their return to our Lord for all his condescension and kindness. And such was their conduct while they wished to be esteemed as patterns of sanctity and virtue. Would to God that this spirit had died with them! But are there none in this day like-minded with them? Do none, who appear friendly in their outward conduct, occupy themselves with watching the words and actions of a godly person, marking any frailty with critical acuteness, and animadverting upon it afterwards with malicious pleasure? Do none even on the Sabbath-day attend the public ministration of the word, with this captious disposition, disdaining to receive instruction, and seeking only to find some expressions which they may report and ridicule?

2. Their utter want of candor.

Our Lord put a simple question to them, "in answer" to what he knew to be passing in their minds. There was but one answer that could possibly be given to it. But they knew that a just reply would subvert their own superstitious notions, and justify our Lord in a conduct which they wished to condemn. Unable to maintain the sentiments they professed, and unwilling to acknowledge their error, they held their peace. What a base and disingenuous spirit was this! Yet, how many resemble them! If we address the consciences of some, how backward are they to acknowledge the plainest and most unquestionable truths! If they be compelled to give their assent to any position which militates against their practice, they show, in the very mode of assenting, a fixed determination to resist every inference that may be drawn from their concession. If invited to consider calmly the most important and most obvious truths, they will "shun the light lest their deeds should be reproved." They have no ears to hear, no eyes to see anything that condemns themselves; but are all eye, and all ear, when a religious person is to be exposed. Nor is this character found only among the profane; but often among those who affect a great regard for religion, and sometimes even among those, whose office calls them to propagate and defend it.

Difficult as the path of Jesus was hereby rendered, he was enabled to preserve himself unblamably in

II. His conduct towards them.

In every part of our Lord's demeanor he was a pattern of all perfection. On this occasion in particular we cannot but admire,

1. His wisdom.

Conscious as he was of the rectitude of his ways, he was nevertheless concerned to obviate the prejudices which subsisted in the minds of others. On this account he put the question respecting the sanctification of the Sabbath, before he proceeded to work the miracle; and again, after he had wrought it, appealed to them respecting their own practice. Thus, though he did not convert, he at least confounded them, and prevented those clamors which they would otherwise have raised against him. Worthy is this example to be followed by all who embrace the Gospel. We cannot extirpate the prejudices of men; but we should blunt the edge of them. We should condescend to reason even on the most obvious truths, and to defend, by argument, the most blameless conduct. We should endeavor to "cut off occasion from those who seek occasion" against us. We should "show out of a good conversation our works with meekness of wisdom;" and prevent, as much as possible, "our good from being evil spoken of."

2. His fortitude.

When he saw their obstinacy, he was not deterred from doing his Father's will. He would do good, even at the peril of his life, rather than lose the opportunity afforded him. He therefore healed the man of his dropsy, and dismissed him, lest he also should be exposed to their murderous rage. Thus should we act, whenever we are opposed in the way of duty. While we labor to disarm our adversaries by a meek and gentle behavior, we must not fear them. We should say, like Nehemiah, "Shall such a man as I flee?" We should be ready to face any danger and suffer any extremity rather than decline from the path which God, in his word or providence, has marked out for us.

Three cautions naturally arise from this subject:

1. Let us be on our guard when in the company of the ungodly.

The more friendly the world appear, the more are we in danger of being ensnared by them. While they continue carnal, they cannot but retain a rooted enmity against spiritual things. Though, therefore, considerations of honor, interest, or consanguinity, may restrain their anger, they will "watch for our halting;" they will seek to find some matter of offence in us, that they may seem the more justified in following their own ways. Let us then be doubly on our guard when in their company. Let us "keep our lips as with a bridle," and pray to God to "lead us because of our observers."

2. Let us study that not even our good may be evil spoken of.

A thing may be good in itself, and yet be imprudent as to the manner in which it is carried into execution. The primitive Christians were at liberty respecting the eating of meats offered to idols; yet in the use of their liberty they might offend their weaker brethren, and sin against Christ. It is a great part of Christian prudence to discern persons, times, and circumstances, that we may be able to adapt ourselves to the exigencies of the occasion. Let this, then, be our endeavor; let us "walk in wisdom toward those who are without," and endeavor to "put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. by well doing."

3. Let us proceed without fear in the way of duty.

Daniel and the Hebrew Youths would not conform to the sinful practices of others, notwithstanding they were threatened by the tyrants of their day. Our Lord also was continually opposed by the most malignant adversaries; yet both he and they chose to persist in what was right at the risk of their lives, rather than violate the dictates of their conscience. Thus let us be ready to live or die for God. Let us willingly "endure the contradiction of sinners against ourselves." Let us put away that "fear of man which brings a snare;" and continue "steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord."

 

MDXXXVIII

The Ambitious Guest

Luke 14:7–10. And he put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them, When you are bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honorable man than you be bidden of him; and he who bade you and him come and say to you, Give this man place; and you begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when you are bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he who bade you comes, he may say unto you, Friend, go up higher: then shall you have worship in the presence of those who sit at meat with you.

THE Christian is not prohibited from occasionally joining in carnal festivity; but he should carefully watch his own spirit and conduct when he ventures upon such dangerous ground, and should improve his fellowship with worldly company for the spiritual edification of himself and others. Our blessed Lord was sometimes present at feasts; but his conversation at those seasons was always pious and instructive. The things which occurred never failed to furnish him with abundant matter for useful observation. Having noticed at a wedding the indecent ambition of the guests, he animadverted on their conduct in the parable before us.

I. The principle here inculcated.

Our Lord did not intend these words merely as a maxim for the regulating of our conduct in one particular, but as a parable that should be applied to the whole of our deportment in social life. The scope of the text, whether as originally delivered by Solomon, or as quoted and applied by our Lord, is to recommend humility. But to enter fully into its meaning, we must analyze, as it were, the principle here inculcated; which implies,

1. A deep sense of our own unworthiness.

If we stand high in our own estimation, we cannot but expect a degree of homage from others, and shall be ready to claim precedence among our equals; but if we have an humiliating sense of our own extreme vileness, we shall readily concede pre-eminence to others, and take the lowest place, as that which properly belongs to us. Such a disposition cannot but spring from self-knowledge; nor can it fail of operating in this manner.

2. An utter contempt of worldly distinctions.

While we "love that honor which comes of man," we cannot but aspire after it, when it comes within our reach. But we are taught to be dead, yes crucified to the world; and, this once obtained, we shall despise the baubles that are so much the objects of rivalship and contention.

3. A readiness to give honor to whom honor is due.

Though religion teaches us an indifference to man's applause, it does not warrant us to level the established orders of society. God requires us to "honor those that are in authority," as well as to serve and honor him. While therefore a sense of duty will keep us from coveting human distinctions for ourselves, it will induce us cheerfully to pay to others the tribute due to their rank and station.

Excellent however as this principle is, it needs to be limited by prudence, and exercised with care.

Though this principle can never operate to too great an extent, it may exert itself in a very absurd manner. There are certain decencies in society that ought not to be violated, as would be the case if the great and noble should literally take the lowest place among those who are of very inferior rank: besides, it is possible that we may be actuated by pride, while we thus put on an appearance of humility. We need therefore take heed both to our hearts and ways, that in obeying this precept we act with sincerity and discretion.

Having endeavored to explain the principle, we shall point out,

II. Its importance in human life.

Humility is to the graces of a Christian what holiness is to the attributes of the Deity, the beauty and perfection of them all.

1. It conduces in the highest degree to the comfort of mankind.

Nothing tends more to the happiness of our own minds. What a source of vexation and anguish is pride! With what envy are they beheld, to whom precedence has been given! What indignation do they excite, who overlook our superior claims! A slight, whether real or supposed, will often fill us with rancor as much as the most serious injury could have done: but let humility possess our minds, and this source of uneasiness is destroyed. If we be willing to give honor to others, and be indifferent to it ourselves, and especially if we count ourselves unworthy of it, we shall feel no pain at seeing others preferred before us.

Nor does anything more tend to the peace and comfort of society. What is it but pride that makes every neighborhood a scene of contention? What is it but pride that creates such factions in a state? What is it but pride that involves nations in war and desolation? Even the Church of God itself is often torn and distracted by this fatal principle. Let humility once gain a proper ascendant in the hearts of men, and universal harmony will reign. Surely the importance of this principle cannot be too highly rated, or expressed in too energetic terms.

2. It is that whereby men most eminently adorn the Gospel.

The avowed scope of the Gospel is to improve the principles and practice of mankind; and they who receive the truth, are expected to excel in everything that is amiable and praiseworthy. How unseemly did the ambition of the sons of Zebedee appear! The ungodly themselves do not hesitate to pronounce them hypocrites who, while they profess religion, are under the dominion of pride and ambition. On the other hand, humility irresistibly commends itself to all. Who does not admire the concessions made by Abraham to his nephew Loti? Who does not adore the condescension of our Lord in washing his disciples' feet? Even those who are most elated with pride themselves, are constrained to applaud humility in others; and though nothing but the grace of God can induce any to embrace the Gospel, a suitable deportment in its professors will often silence the cavils, and disarm the prejudices, of those who ignorantly reject it.

This subject will naturally lead us to contemplate,

1. The folly of sin.

There is really as much folly, as there is sinfulness, in sin. In how many instances do men attain by integrity and humility, what others in vain seek for by dishonesty and arrogance! This is well illustrated in the parable before us. Let us then simply endeavor to glorify God by a holy conversation, and leave our temporal advancement to his all-wise disposal.

2. The excellence of religion.

Religion does not merely impose rules for our conduct towards God, but should regulate every disposition of our minds, and every action of our lives. Where it has its full influence, it gives a polish which is but poorly mimicked by the refinements of modern politeness: it will not indeed convert a clown into a courtier; but it will teach every one to act as becomes his station. Let us then exhibit in our respective spheres that simplicity of mind and manners, that, while it adorns the Gospel, shall disarm the malice of our enemies, and, if possible, conciliate their esteem.

 

MDXXXIX

Liberality to the Poor Recommended

Luke 14:12–14. Then said he also to him that bade him, When you make a dinner or a supper, call not your friends, nor your brethren, neither kinsmen, nor your rich neighbors; lest they also bid you again, and a recompense be made you. But when you make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and you shall be blessed; for they cannot recompense you: for you shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

IT is a thing yet to be learned in the religious world, that there is no part of Christian duty beneath the attention of those who hear the Gospel, or those who preach it. The Church is a building, which must be carried forward until its final completion. Its foundation must be laid; but in laying it, we must not imagine that it is of any use of itself; it is laid, in order to have a superstructure raised upon it; and the builder must advance in his work until he has "brought forth the top-stone." Paul would "not be always laying the foundation of repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, but would go on unto perfection." Thus we would do: and whatever our blessed Lord inculcated on his Disciples, that would we also inculcate on all who profess to belong to him.

Our Lord, dining at the house of a Pharisee on a Sabbath-day, set himself to correct some evils which he saw peculiarly predominant there. Among the company he perceived a spirit of ambition and self-preference; which he endeavored to correct by a parable suited to the occasion. It should seem, too, that the feast was sumptuous, or, at least, that none but rich people were invited to it: he therefore, to counteract the pride which such a banquet fostered and displayed, told them what kind of feasts he approved; and that, instead of laying out their money in sumptuous entertainments, he would have them rather to spend their money in making provision for the poor. In conformity with this precept, we shall endeavor to set before you some rules and reasons for a proper expenditure of our money.

I. Some rules.

Two are mentioned in our text;

1. Do not waste your money in giving entertainments to the rich.

We must not construe this so strictly as, to decline all friendly fellowship with our richer relatives or neighbors, or to refuse them the rights of hospitality; for kindness is due to them as well as to the poor, and doubtless may occasionally be exercised towards them in the way apparently forbidden in our text. But we must not affect high company, or spend money unnecessarily in entertaining them. Hospitality indeed is good; and we should "love it," and not "be forgetful to entertain strangers; because some have thereby entertained angels unawares," but still this is essentially different from a fondness for parade and feasting; which, however vindicated as necessary to form connections for one's children, and to promote social fellowship, and to keep up one's station in the world, is little else than sensuality and pride. To feast the rich, will involve us in great expense, which of course must lessen our means of doing good to the poor: therefore, though occasions may occur wherein we may not improperly exercise hospitality towards them, we must not find our pleasure in such feasts, nor should we devote to them any considerable portion of our income. The generality of persons account the keeping of high company, and the being able to entertain them in a splendid way, as the chief use of wealth; and they launch out into these kinds of expenses the very instant they have received such an accession of fortune as will enable them so to do. But we must show ourselves of a different spirit, and not sanction by our example any such evil practices.

2. Devote your property rather to the relieving and comforting of the poor.

God has ordained that there shall always be poor among his people, in order that graces of every kind may be called forth into exercise among them. These therefore are to be the special objects of our care; but especially those among them whom God in his providence has visited with afflictions which incapacitate them for labor; "the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind." The talents which God has committed to our care, are to be laid out with a particular reference to them. Under the law, it was appointed that every person should lay up the tithe of his increase every third year, for the express purpose of feasting "the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, in the courts of the Lord," that all of them together might "eat and be satisfied." In a similar manner, we also are enjoined at stated periods to "lay by us in store as God has prospered us," and even those who are forced to work with their hands for their own maintenance, are yet required to labor the more, in order "that they may have to give to him that needs." It is true, that there is no need of throwing down all distinctions in society, and feasting with the poor on terms of strict equality; but to make them happy, should be an object near our hearts. Indeed it is, if I may so express myself, a godlike employment: for God himself has shown a marked respect for the poor, in that "he has chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of his kingdom." He has set us an example of this very thing in the dispensation of his Gospel. In the verses following the text, he represents himself as having made a great feast, and invited many: and, because his invitations are slighted by the rich, the mirthful, the worldly, he says to his servants, "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind: yes, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled." Thus, as by his Gospel he makes them preeminently partakers of his spiritual blessings, so we also, as far as our circumstances will admit of it, should make them partakers of our temporal blessings.

This, though felt and acknowledged by us as a duty, needs yet to be enforced upon us, in order that it may be reduced to practice: we will therefore proceed to enforce it by,

II. Some reasons.

The two things which men aim at in the disposal of their money, are pleasure and advantage: and it is from an idea that these are more to be obtained by feasting with the rich, that people almost universally prefer that method of expending their property. But we do not hesitate to say, that the mode of expending it which has been recommended to you has greatly the superiority in point,

I. Of gratification.

We do not deny but that there is considerable pleasure in entertaining one's friends: we must however assert, that that pleasure is carnal in its nature, and transient in its duration. But the delight which arises from providing for the poor, and making them happy, is solid, refined, permanent. If it were nothing more than the thought of contributing to lessen the miseries to which human nature is exposed, it would be very delightful; the very sensation of sympathy is exquisite: but the thought of being God's messenger to them for good, and the hope that "by our means thanksgivings will abound to God," and that our heavenly Parent will be adored and magnified through us; this is a sensation which even an angel might envy. We can easily conceive the comfort which an indigent fellow-creature feels in being relieved from his distress; yet is that not to be compared with the happiness excited in the bosom of him who administers the relief: for One who cannot err has told us, that "it is more blessed to give than to receive." The comfort of the relieved continues only while the pressure of his calamity is removed: but the donor may look back at the distance of many years, and feel again the same delights which he experienced at the first communication of his alms.

Among the many considerations which tend to perpetuate his comfort, one in particular is, that, in administering to the poor, he has ministered to the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Christ has condescended to identify himself with his poor members, and to regard everything which is done for them, not only as done for him, but as done personally to him. O what a thought is this to one who feels his obligations to Christ! I suppose there is scarcely an enlightened Christian in the universe, who has not envied the women who had the privilege of "ministering to him of their substance," but the man who delights in comforting the poor, occupies their province; and is privileged to view, as it were, the very person of Christ in all such guests. Truly, he can have but little love for his Savior who does not feel more delight in this thought, than in all the gratifications which high company and a well-spread table ever afforded.

2. Of benefit.

All the benefit that the feasting of the rich brings with it, is, the getting a good name among them, and the being invited to their feasts in return. The latter of these is what our Lord rather teaches us to dread, inasmuch as it cancels the obligation we have conferred, and makes our expenditure in vain. It is to be lamented, however, that among his reputed followers, the being invited to feasts is no great object of dread. But the man who feasts the poor, can look for no recompense from them; (except indeed in their blessings and their prayers;) but from God, he shall be recompensed a hundred-fold.

The communications of grace and peace shall abound towards him whose delight is in doing good: "having watered others he shall be watered himself." This is declared by an inspired writer in the most express and most eloquent terms: "If you deal your bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are cast out to your house; if when you see the naked, you cover him, and hide not yourself from your own flesh; if you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall your light rise in obscurity, and your darkness be as the noon-day: and the Lord shall guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and make fat your bones: and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." What a glorious recompense is this!

But there is a time coming when his recompense shall be complete. "At the resurrection of the just," God will acknowledge all that has been done for the poor as "a loan lent to him; and he will repay it" all with interest. We take for granted indeed that the person is a believer in Christ, and that, in relieving the poor, he does it for Christ's sake, and not from an idea of establishing a righteousness of his own. This must certainly be supposed; else the liberality, however great, will only turn to the confusion of him who exercises it, and prove a foundation of sand to him who builds upon it: but, supposing the person's state to be right before God in other respects, and his motives to be pure in the distribution of his alms, we do not hesitate to say, that he treasures up a rich reward for himself in the day that Christ shall judge the world; insomuch that a cup of cold water only that has been given by him from right principles, "shall in no wise lose its reward." Jehovah himself in that day shall make a feast, a marriage-feast for his Son: and to it will he invite those who for his sake provided for the poor. There shall they sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob; and be regaled with all the delights of Paradise. Well is it said in reference to that day, "Blessed are they which are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb." Yes; in the words of our text it is said, "You shall be blessed;" but how blessed the liberal man shall be, none but God himself can fully declare.

We sum up the whole in two words of advice.

1. Accept God's invitations to you.

You have already heard that in his Gospel he has spread a feast, even "a feast of fat things full of marrow, and of wines on the lees well refined." The persons whom he invites are, not "the rich who think themselves in need of nothing, but the wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." As his servants, we invite you all; and declare to you, that the poorer you are, and the more unworthy in your own apprehensions, the more acceptable you will be at his table. Need I say how much God will be delighted to see his table furnished with guests? Hear his own invitation: hear how he pleads with you, and entreats you to accept it; hear how he expatiates on the delicacies he has provided for your repast. He sets before you nothing less than the body and blood of his dear Son; which Christ himself says, is "meat indeed, and drink indeed." Think of this, and let nothing for a moment delay your coming.

2. Conform your invitations to his.

We are enjoined to "be followers (imitators) of God as dear children," "to be merciful as he is merciful, and perfect as he is perfect." Behold then at what expense he has made provision for our needy souls! "he has not spared even his own Son, but has delivered him up for us all." Let not us then grudge any sacrifice for the comfort and support of our afflicted brethren. Economy should be practiced, in order to liberality; and self-denial, in order to an enlarging of our ability to supply the wants of others. You well "know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich: Let the same mind be in you that was in him." Let the happiness of others be your happiness, and the luxury of doing good be your daily food. Thus will everything you have be sanctified to you: and the blessing of God will rest upon you in life, in death, and to all eternity.

 

MDXL

The Great Supper

Luke 14:16–18. Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: and sent his servant at supper-time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse.

PERSONS, who are very ignorant of true religion, often express a desire to participate its blessings. Wherever we find them thus open to instruction, we should endeavor to teach them the way of God more perfectly. This was the uniform practice of our blessed Savior. The person, that addressed our Lord, seemed but little acquainted with the nature of the Messiah's kingdom. Our Lord took occasion to rectify his apprehensions on that subject, and to show him, under the idea of a feast, that the provisions of his Gospel would be slighted by that whole nation. The parable in this view declares the rejection of the Jews and the call of the Gentiles; but it is also applicable to nominal Christians in all ages. Its import, as it respects us, may be comprised in two observations:

I. God invites us to partake of the blessings of his Gospel.

The Gospel dispensation is fitly compared to a sumptuous feast.

In feasts everything is set forth that can gratify the palate. Thus in the Gospel there is everything that can administer delight or vigor to the soul. There is pardon for all the sins that we have ever committed: there is strength against all the corruptions or temptations that can assail us: there is communion with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: there are foretastes and earnests of the heavenly glory. On these accounts the prophets also spoke of it under the image of a feast.

God sends his servants to invite men to his table.

The first persons that were invited to it were the Jews. Upon their rejection of the Gospel the Gentiles were to be called in. The invitation to us Gentiles is still continued: the servants of God are sent to hasten your tardy steps. We are to inform you, that "all things are now ready, and, as it were, waiting for you: we are moreover to urge you to accept the invitation: we are to take, as it were, no denial from you. Such is God's desire to bless us with all spiritual blessings.

Nor are any, however mean or abandoned, to be overlooked.

We are to go and call people of all ranks and descriptions: we are to search out the persons most distant, most obscure, most impious: we are to bring them in, however laboring under infirmities of body, or distress of soul. God will have his "house to be filled," nor are his servants to desist from their labors until that work be accomplished; and, thanks be to God! "there is yet room" for more.

One would suppose that such rich blessings would meet with universal acceptance: but,

II. We ungratefully reject them with vain and frivolous excuses.

Few find any inclination to accept the invitations of the Gospel.

The Jews in their day withstood the solicitation of the Apostles: so now, all, however importuned, "begin to make excuse." Some plead the importance of their earthly business; others urge that they must attend to the concerns of their families. Thus earthly cares, or carnal ease and pleasure, stupefy the world.

But God will resent the contempt poured upon his mercy.

The pleas urged in the parable are not sinful in themselves: but nothing, however good, should keep us from attending to the one thing needful. Every concern becomes sinful, when it is inordinately followed. Hence God declares that he is "angry" with those who offer such pleas: he threatens that they shall never partake of the feast they so despise, nor even "taste" of his bounty to all eternity. "None," however attentive to their worldly callings, shall find an exception in their favor. How awful their state, who are never to taste of pardon, peace, or glory! May we never bring upon ourselves so terrible a doom!

Address.

1. Those who are averse to accept the invitations of the Gospel.

Every one is forward to offer pleas in extenuation of his guilt; and, while some civilly beg to be excused, others roughly answer, "I cannot come." But whatever be our plea, and in what way soever it be offered, God will discern its fallacy. Indeed the very persons who refuse our invitations, know that their excuses will avail nothing in the day of judgment. What folly, then, is it to offer that in justification of ourselves now, which will serve only to condemn us in the last day! Let us no longer cherish such fatal delusions. We may give to the world and our family a due portion of our care; but let nothing keep us from the feast which God has prepared.

2. Those who are afraid to come at the bidding of their Lord.

Many are kept from Christ by an apprehension of their own unworthiness. They think it would be presumption in them to accept his invitation: but it is not possible to describe more clearly the persons invited. If we be poor, or halt, or maimed, or blind, we are expressly called; nor is our distance or unworthiness any ground of exclusion. Let none then yield to unbelieving fears. We would "compel" you all, by every argument we can devise. Reflect on the greatness of the host that invites you, and the excellence of the feast he sets before you. Consider the blessedness of partaking of it, and the certain consequences of absenting yourselves from it. Let all come, and "delight their souls with fatness." The command given to the Church is yet addressed to you.

 

MDXLI

The Foolish Builder and the Inconsiderate King

Luke 14:28–33. Which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassage, and desires conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever he be of you that forsakes not. all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.

MANKIND in general, when they want us to engage in their pursuits, are apt to exaggerate the advantages, and to hide as much as possible the difficulties, that will attend the adoption of their plans Our Lord, on the contrary, declared plainly to his followers, the conflicts they must engage in, and the losses they must sustain, if they would be his Disciples. In the verses preceding the text, he states in very strong language the only terms on which he would admit them into his family; and, having cautioned them by two familiar parables against engaging rashly in his service, he again reminds them, that they must forsake all, if they will follow him. To elucidate the passage, we shall consider,

I. The scope of the parables.

Both of them have the same general tendency to guard men against a hasty and inconsiderate profession of religion. But,

The former points out the folly of such conduct.

Every one sees, that a builder, who, through neglecting to count the cost, should be compelled to leave his structure unfinished, would be universally derided as a foolish man. But incomparably greater is his folly who begins to follow Christ, and afterwards by his apostasy shows, that he had never duly considered how much was requisite to make us Christians indeed. The very people who have turned him aside, will be the first to deride him for his instability; and while they reverence him who maintains a firm and consistent conduct, they will despise in their hearts the man who proves unfaithful to his God. The saints indeed will not "mock him," because they know what a "fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God;" but they will pity him, as a poor infatuated creature, who has "left off to behave himself wisely," and reduced himself by his folly to the extreme misery. Nor is it long before he himself will see his folly in its true light; when he will behold afar off that Heaven upon which he turned his back, and inherit that portion which he so thoughtlessly preferred.

The latter leads us rather to contemplate the danger of such conduct.

A king who should inconsiderately plunge himself into a war with an enemy that was too powerful for him, would expose both his kingdom and his life to the most imminent danger. Thus it is also with a man who commences a warfare with sin and Satan without knowing how he shall make head against them: for as a hasty profession of religion exposes him to self-deception, so a hasty dereliction of it will subject him to the heavier condemnation. It is true that all must perish who do not enlist under the banner of Christ; but it is equally true, that cowardly soldiers, who forsake their standard, are far more guilty than if they had never been enrolled upon his list: "It is better never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after having known it, to turn from it," their end is worse than their beginning; and they shall be punished with more stripes, in proportion to the advantages they have enjoyed, and the professions they have made.

These parables will afford still further instruction, if we consider,

II. Our Lord's improvement of them.

Our Lord did not amuse his hearers with speculative truths, but brought them home to their conscience by a direct and personal application.

1. We must count the cost.

Here the cost is plainly told us; "We must forsake all;" that is, forsake all comparatively in respect of affection, and absolutely, whenever it stands in competition with our duty: nor, if we refuse these terms, can we be his disciples. We are not indeed to cast away our possessions at all events; but so to withdraw our affections from them, as to be willing to resign them whenever the retaining of them shall be inconsistent with our allegiance to him. This we ought to weigh in our minds, and to consider whether the benefits of religion be sufficient to counterbalance its trials. We must be ready to part with our reputation, our interest, our carnal ease and pleasures, our friends, our liberty, our life: but in return for them we may expect, "the honor that comes of God," "the riches of Christ that are unsearchable," "the pleasures that are at God's right hand for evermore," we shall even now possess that "peace which passes all understanding," together with the liberty of the sons of God; and soon we shall inherit eternal life and glory in his more immediate presence. We should dispassionately balance these against each other, that we may see which scale preponderates, and whether the pearl be worth the price demanded for it.

2. We must pay it without reluctance.

All have not the same trials to endure; but all will meet with some which shall prove a test of their sincerity. Whenever, or in whatever degree, we be tried, we must show our decided purpose, our fixed determination. We must "hate" (that is, we must esteem as worthless and of no account) our nearest friends, our dearest interests, yes, our very lives, when they stand in competition with our duty to God. Nothing must tempt us to draw back from him. If once we draw the sword, we must throw away the scabbard. If we slay not our spiritual enemies, they will destroy us. We must "endure to the end if ever we would be saved." On the other hand, we have every encouragement to "war a good warfare;" for, if we go forth in the strength of the Lord God, we shall be "more than conquerors through him that loved us."

We conclude with an address to,

1. The inconsiderate Christian.

Men promise at their baptism that they will renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil; but never afterwards think of fulfilling so much as one of their engagements. They expect wages without work, and victory without a conflict. But such conduct will expose them to "everlasting shame and contempt," and will ultimately involve them in irrecoverable ruin. Let it be remembered then, that, as it is no easy matter to be a Christian, so nothing but real Christianity will be of any avail. If we accept not salvation on the terms which God has prescribed, it is in vain to hope that we shall ever participate the blessings it affords.

2. The mistaken Christian.

It is too common to imagine that we can retain the friendship of the world, and preserve at the same time our fidelity to Christ. But we are plainly warned to the contrary. Our Lord elsewhere assures us, that we cannot serve God and mammon. And James affirms the friendship of the world to be enmity with God; and that whoever desires to be the friend of the world, he is thereby constituted the enemy of God. Would to God that this were more considered! But many, because they make some sacrifices, suppose that they come up to the terms which Christianity demands, when in fact, they retain their bosom lusts, and sacrifice only those, which their change of situation, or their more advanced age, has rendered less importunate. Instead of being jealous of their own sincerity, they are over-confident: and instead of being filled with shame and sorrow on account of their defects, they are ever pleading for indulgence, and laboring to persuade themselves that they come up to the mark prescribed to them in the Scriptures. Let such persons beware, lest, while they value themselves on their more liberal and enlarged sentiments, they deceive their own souls, and be found wanting in the day of final retribution. If when Christ calls them to forsake all, they are striving to forsake as little as possible, they have good reason to fear that they have not the mind which was in Christ Jesus.

3. The timid Christian.

Many, when the hour of trial comes, are ready to faint and draw back. But what are our trials when compared with those of thousands who have gone before us? We have not yet resisted unto blood. Besides, have we not been told repeatedly, that if we have no cross we must not expect a crown? Let us recollect, that, "if we turn back, God's soul shall have no pleasure in us;" and, that the whole world will be a poor exchange for an immortal soul. "As soldiers we must expect to endure hardness." Let us then "be strong and very courageous," let us "fight the good fight, and quit ourselves like men," and let us reflect for our encouragement, that, though our "enemies may encompass us like bees," "there are more for us than against us."

4. The steadfast Christian.

Have any ever found cause to regret that they endured the cross? Will any complain that they ever suffered too much for Christ? Has not a rich reward been invariably enjoyed by them in the testimony of their own conscience, and in the consolations of God's Spirit? Yes, whatever they have suffered, have they not had "an hundredfold more given them even in this present life; and will they not have life everlasting also in the world to come?" Surely the intrepid Christian has "chosen the good part; nor shall it ever be taken away from him." Go on then, "strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." "See that you lose not the things that you have wrought; but that you receive a full reward." "Be faithful unto death, and God shall give you a crown of life."

 

MDXLII

The Lost Sheep

Luke 15:3–7. And he spoke this parable unto them, saying, What man of you having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he Comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

THERE is nothing more injurious to ourselves or others than prejudice. While it operates as a bar to our own improvement, it leads us to put a perverse construction on everything we see or hear: it will extract matter for censure even from the most innocent or laudable actions. The malignity of it cannot be seen in more striking colors than in the conduct of the Pharisees towards our Lord: he conversed familiarly with the most abandoned sinners for their good; such condescension ought to have been regarded with the highest approbation, but it provoked only the spleen and malice of the haughty Pharisees. Our Lord however took the best method of silencing their murmurs. By appealing to their own consciences he forced them to condemn themselves.

We shall consider,

I. The parable.

The scope of the parable is not so much to mark the resemblance between a sinner and a lost sheep, as between our Lord and a faithful shepherd.

The parallel between them will appear, if we consider,

1. A shepherd's concern for his sheep when lost.

Though a man had ninety-nine others, he would not be indifferent about the loss of one. If he missed one, he would immediately begin to make inquiries about it: he would not expect it ever to trace back its steps unto the fold again. If he gained intelligence respecting it, he would go in quest of it: leaving the rest in the pasture, he would seek diligently until he found it: and the more it was in danger of being devoured by wolves, the more assiduously would he exert himself for its recovery. Such is the conduct of our Lord towards our ruined race. We all are fitly compared to sheep wandering from the fold. Never do we think of "returning to the great Shepherd of our souls," though every moment exposed to the assaults of a devouring lion. Our compassionate Shepherd came from Heaven itself to seek us. His solicitude for us is well delineated by an inspired prophet. He moreover sends his servants into every part of the world. By his word and Spirit he endeavors to apprehend us: nor does he account any labor too great, if he may but succeed at last. Though he has myriads in his fold above, he cannot endure to lose one; nor, while so much as one of his sheep is wandering from him, will he relax his endeavors to bring it back.

2. His joy over it when recovered.

When a shepherd has found his lost sheep, he seizes it with his crook: the more it struggles for liberty, the more he labors to secure it: rather than lose it again, he brings it back upon his shoulders: exulting in his success, he announces it to every one he meets, and receives with pleasure the congratulations of his friends. Do we not here also see the benevolence of our blessed Lord? Having apprehended us by his grace, he overcomes our resistance: having prospered in his labor, he regrets not the pains he has bestowed: he is satisfied with all the travail of his soul when he beholds us safe. With joy he brings us to the society of his peculiar people, and calls on them also to rejoice together with him. This is beautifully described by the pen of inspiration—, and gloriously realized in every quarter of the globe.

Our Lord himself elucidates the parable by suggesting,

II. The improvement of it.

Nothing could be more pertinent than this parable to the occasion on which it was delivered.

"Repentance" is properly represented as the return of the soul to God.

While we remain impenitent we are afar off from God: we wander further and further from the path of life. But in repentance we are made to see our guilt and danger: we gladly embrace the mercy offered to us in the Gospel, and give up ourselves to God to be governed by his will, and be saved by his grace.

Hence the repentance of sinners becomes a matter of joy to all the holy angels.

Whether the glorified saints take any interest in our welfare we know not; but we are sure that angels are not unconcerned spectators of us: they greatly delight both in God's glory, and our good. The perseverance of established saints is a permanent source of happiness to them: but the conversion of a sinner fills them with more abundant joy. The more desperate his condition had appeared, the more exquisite is the delight they feel in his recovery. Even "in the presence of God" himself they are attracted by this sight: not all the glory of the godhead can divert their attention from it; nor all the felicity of Heaven indispose them for rejoicing in it. However strange this idea may seem, it is truly scriptural. Nothing can be plainer than the affirmation in the text; nor can we doubt it without greatly dishonoring the character of Christ.

In this view the repentance of men should excite joy in us also.

This, though not expressed, is evidently implied in the words of our text. The chief scope of the parable was to reprove the envious spirit of the Pharisees. And what could so forcibly condemn it as the contrast here exhibited? Does Christ rejoice at the return of a sinner, and shall we repine? Do all the angels in Heaven exult at such a sight, and shall we make it an occasion of offence? Are we then indeed better judges of what is good than they? or do we well to oppose what they so desire to see accomplished? Let us take heed lest we be found at last to have "fought against God," let us rather encourage others both by precept and example: let us adore our Savior for his condescension and grace toward sinful man; and let that, which was urged as an objection against him, be the greatest commendation of him to our souls.

Address.

While some are turning unto God, others are striving to draw them back. But let those, who have scoffed at religion, confess their folly; and those, who have discouraged repentance in others, repent of their iniquity. On the other hand, let the humble penitent go to God with confidence. Who can read this parable and doubt Christ's willingness to save him? If there were but one penitent among us all, the angels would rejoice over him. How then would they shout for joy if we all began to implore mercy! Our past iniquities would rather enhance than diminish their glorying on our account. Let not those therefore, whose cases appear most hopeless, despond: let them forbear to trample any longer on the Savior's love: let it be their ambition to give joy to those whom they have so often grieved. Thus also shall they join in the general chorus at the last day, and ascribe the "glory to him who loved them, and gave himself for them."

 

MDXLIII

The Lost Piece of Silver

Luke 15:8–10. What woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, does not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she find it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and her neighbors together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.

THERE is nothing in which we are so deeply interested as the extent and riches of the Redeemer's grace. His familiar converse with publicans and sinners affords the richest encouragement to us, when we are bowed down under a sense of guilt. His condescension towards them indeed excited only disgust in the proud Pharisees; but Jesus was the more careful to vindicate the conduct which they condemned, and in repeated parables assured them, that it was the joy of his heart to save even the vilest of mankind. The parable of the lost piece of money very nearly resembles that which precedes it: nevertheless it suggests many useful thoughts which are appropriate to itself. Its import may be unfolded under the following observations:

I. There are none so worthless but the Lord is deeply concerned about them.

The woman expressed very great anxiety about the piece of silver she had lost.

The piece of silver was but of very trifling value in itself: yet she felt much solicitude about it in her mind; nor was she content to lose it, notwithstanding she had several others left.

Thus is our blessed Lord concerned about the souls of men.

In some points of view the soul is undoubtedly of great value, nor can the whole world itself be put in competition with it: but to Jesus the souls of men are not of the smallest importance. If they were righteous, their goodness could not extend to him: they could never profit him, nor add to his happiness. If all that ever existed were annihilated, he would suffer no loss: if men were necessary to his honor or happiness, he could create millions in an instant. But the souls of men are inexpressibly vile and guilty in his sight: until they have been washed in his blood, they are exposed to his wrath and indignation; nor is it anything but his marvelous compassion that preserves them from everlasting destruction. Nevertheless he is greatly concerned about the loss even of one among them. Though he has myriads that are now safely lodged in his hands, he cannot rest satisfied about those that are yet in danger. By the prophets he expressed his deep regret for those that were in a perishing condition: in the days of his flesh he wept over the most abandoned of the human race: and to this hour he is grieved at the thought of any dying in their sins.

Nor is his concern for them expressed only by inactive wishes:

II. There are no exertions, however great, which he will not use for their recovery.

The woman is represented as doing everything which could be devised for the recovery of her lost piece of silver.

She instantly lighted a candle, that she might search in every dark corner of her house. She moreover swept her house, that, if it were hid under any dirt or rubbish, she might find it: nor did she relax her endeavors until they were crowned with success. What more could she have done if the lost money had been of the greatest value?

Thus our Lord uses all possible means for the recovery of lost souls.

Were we lying in utter darkness? he has brought the light of his Gospel: this light he has sent into all the darkest corners of the earth. In the days of his flesh he used all diligence himself: since that time he has commissioned his servants to go into all the world. He has enjoined them to "be instant in their work, in season and out of season," he has even threatened that, if one perish through their negligence, he will "require his blood at their hands," he has moreover sent his Spirit to aid them in their endeavors, and to search the very inmost recesses of our benighted souls. However fruitless their exertions may have been, they are never to give up any for lost, as long as there is a possibility of their being found. May he not well say, "What could I have done more for them than I have done?" If he appeals to us about the conduct of a woman who had lost her money, how much more may he appeal to us respecting his own conduct?

When his labors are successful, then his kindness appears in its brightest colors.

III. There is nothing so pleasing to him as the recovery of one from his lost state.

The woman is represented as inviting all her neighbors to rejoice with her.

The cause of her joy seems very inadequate to such expressions of it: but women, being conversant mainly with domestic matters, are apt to be affected with small things. Her whole property also being small, she may be supposed to feel the more at the recovery of that part which had been in danger; and the circumstance of its having been lost would render the subsequent possession of it more pleasant.

Thus our Lord and all the angels in Heaven rejoice over a repenting sinner.

This is the main scope of this parable, as well as of that which precedes, and that which follows it; hence it is strongly marked in every one of the parables: we must not therefore omit it, or think the repetition of it tedious. Our Lord well knew the misery of a soul that perishes in sin: the angels too are doubtless well informed on this subject. Were it never to be sensible of its loss, there would be the less reason to regret it: but, if not put among the treasures of God, it must be for over miserable. To prevent this is the joy and delight of our blessed Savior. For this he came down from Heaven, assumed our nature, and died upon the cross: for this he is dispensing to us continually his word and Spirit. The effecting of this is the consummation of all his wishes and purposes: hence, however inadequate a cause of joy this may seem, he accounts it his highest honor and happiness. He is "satisfied with the travail of his soul," when one that was lost is found; and all the angels that surround his throne rejoice together with him. As all Hell is moved with triumph at the condemnation of one sinner, so does all Heaven exult in the elevation of one to happiness and glory.

Inferences.

1. How strange is it that men should have so little regard to their own souls!

The generality of men are as careless of their souls as if they were of no value. But should we disregard that which the Son of God seeks with so much anxiety? Should we be so indifferent about our own happiness, when all the angels of Heaven would shout for joy at the prospect of it? Let us never be satisfied with being immersed in darkness and wickedness—Let us rather be ambitious to have a place among the Lord's treasures—And let us be thankful that, though lost, we are not yet gone beyond recovery.

2. How blessed are the effects of a faithful administration of the Gospel!

It is by the Gospel that Jesus comes to search for lost sinners. If indeed it be delivered only in a general way, it will scarcely ever prove effectual for men's salvation: it is only the close application of the word, that will ever reach the conscience: but, when faithfully preached, and accompanied with God's Spirit, it will find out men in their darkest recesses. O that God may now make use of it to sweep away the rubbish under which we have lain!—and that we may be found of him, before he "sweep us away with the broom of destruction!"

3. What reason have we to adore the condescension and grace of Christ!

If he did not seek for us we should lie in our sins to all eternity, and when found at the last day, that word would be verified in us—What kindness then is it in him to use such means for our recovery!—Let us never forget what obligations we owe to him. Let us acknowledge ourselves his, that he may do with us as he will. He will then keep us that we may not fall from him any more, and will lodge us safely in his coffers amidst the treasures he has been collecting from the foundation of the world.

 

MDXLIV

Angels Rejoice over Penitents

Luke 15:10. I say unto you, There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.

HOWEVER paradoxical the observation may appear, man is really an enemy to his own happiness. He loves sin, which is the source of all misery: and hates repentance, which is the only remedy for that misery. He cannot persuade himself that that which he professes to seek after, is to be found in penitence and self-denial. But, had we no other proof of the blessedness which attaches to true repentance, it were sufficient to know, upon the authority of Jesus Christ himself, that the very angels in Heaven rejoice over any sinner in whom this good work is begun.

We will take occasion from our text to show you,

I. What is that repentance which causes joy in Heaven.

It is not every kind or degree of repentance that produces this effect: none but that which is effectual to the sinner's salvation, will excite these benevolent emotions in the breasts of angels. It consists in,

1. Sorrow for sin.

This is absolutely necessary. If sin be not our burden and grief, we have not the smallest spark of true repentance. There is a great difference indeed between the sorrow of the world, and that which is caused by a sense of sin. But in this there must be an agreement, that sin must lie as a heavy burden upon the soul; and under a sense of it we must experience brokenness of heart and contrition: for it is "the broken and contrite heart, and that only, which God will not despise."

2. Hatred of sin.

Many will be sorry that they have brought themselves to shame and trouble, when they have no aversion to the sins which they have committed. Many also will hate sin in others, when they do not hate it in themselves. When David, for instance, was totally unhumbled for his own enormous wickedness, he was so indignant against the man who was supposed to have taken the poor man's lamb, that he would have had him put to death for his offence. And Jehu was extremely zealous against the idolatry of Ahab, while yet he was very indulgent to his own crimes. But if we are truly penitent, we shall hate our own sins more than any; and shall be disposed to seek their utter destruction, even though they be dear as a right hand, or a right eye. It will teach us to say with David, "I hate every false way."

3. A loathing of oneself on account of sin.

Sin is a disorder that defiles and debases the whole soul. That is no exaggerated description of the prophet, who says of us, that "from the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in us, but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores." Now we may conceive in a measure, what loathing we should feel if we saw a person full of sores and ulcers: and such is the disgust which a view of our own souls should create within us. This is repeatedly mentioned as the experience of the Lord's people, even after that God is pacified towards them: and every one who really knows himself, will exclaim with Job, "Behold, I am vile, I repent, and abhor myself in dust and ashes."

4. A fleeing to Christ from the guilt and power of sin.

As long as we retain a hope of healing our own souls, we have not that "repentance which is unto life," we evidently have low thoughts of sin, both of its guilt and power. We must be brought to an utter despair of washing away our sin by our tears, or of breaking its force by our resolutions. We must see that there is no hope for us but in the atoning blood of Christ, and in his all-sufficient grace: and we must rely simply on him, saying, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength."

The importance of this to man is obvious: but it is not so clear,

II. Why the angels take so deep an interest in it.

Whether the spirits of departed men have any knowledge of what passes in this world, may well be doubted: but it is certain that the angels are intimately connected with mankind, and take a lively interest in the things relating to them. They view the return of a penitent with peculiar delight;

1. Because it tends so greatly to the benefit of man.

The angels cannot but be apprised of the misery into which the once happy, but now apostate, spirits are fallen: and they know that a participation of that misery is reserved for impenitent sinners. Whether they feel any pity towards a sinner in the midst of his rebellion, we cannot say: but we apprehend, that they rather look upon him with holy indignation, and stand ready to execute any judgment that God may see fit to inflict upon him. But their benevolent hearts rejoice, if they see any one fleeing from the impending judgments, and setting his face in good earnest towards the heavenly kingdom. They congratulate him in their minds, and exult in the thought of having him to all eternity a partner of their joys.

2. Because it opens fresh scope for the exercise of their own love.

It is essential to benevolence to delight in opportunities of exerting itself for the benefit of the objects beloved. Now, as soon as ever a sinner repents and becomes an "heir of salvation, angels are sent forth to minister unto him." "They encamp round about him" for the purpose. If they behold him turning out of the path of duty, as Balaam; or lingering in a place of danger, as Lot; or in any respect likely to "dash his foot against a stone;" they will lend him their friendly aid in such a way as shall tend most to his eternal welfare. How they act upon us, we are not told: but of their agency there can be no doubt. It is highly probable that they are busily employed in counteracting the devices of those wicked spirits, who are ever seeking to destroy us. In a dying hour, we are sure they encompass the bed of a true penitent, and watch for the dismissal of his spirit from its house of clay, in order that they may bear it in triumph to the realms of bliss. Nor are their labors of love then terminated: for in the day of judgment they will gather together the saints wherever they were scattered, in order to present them before the throne of their Judge, and expedite the final completion of their happiness. These offices being so congenial with their own feelings, they rejoice in everything that affords them an opportunity to perform them.

3. Because it brings the highest glory to God.

The contemplation of the Divine glory is doubtless the highest source of their felicity. Now in the return of a penitent sinner they behold all the persons of the Godhead shining forth in the brightest splendor. They behold all the wisdom and power and grace of the Father glorified, whenever his eternal counsels respecting the salvation of a soul are accomplished. They behold the infinite virtue of the Son's atonement, whenever the iniquities of a repenting prodigal are blotted out. They behold the wonderful "love of the Holy Spirit, and the invincible efficacy of his operations, when a creature, once bearing the impress of Satan himself, is transformed into the image of his God. When they had first a clear prospect of these things at the incarnation of our Lord, they sang, "Glory to God in the highest;" and every fresh manifestation of this mercy has filled them with additional and increasing joy.

Address.

1. To the impenitent.

Think what painful reflections your state suggests to those benevolent spirits; 'There are those infatuated people, laden with sins; on the brink of eternity; followed with overtures of mercy; assured that if they die in their present state they must perish forever; and yet continuing impenitent! What a miracle of mercy it is that God does not instantly cut them down, and assign them the portion they deserve!' Think too how the evil angels are exulting over you; 'There they are; we have them fast in our chains; we shall soon have them as partners of our misery; then how shall we triumph over our God! Yes; the Father's counsels with respect to them will all be frustrated; the blood of Christ will have been shed in vain; the Spirit's operations will have been successfully resisted: though we shall be in Hell ourselves, we will enjoy our triumphs even there; for we shall have robbed man of his happiness, and God of his glory.' O brethren, consider whether you are willing to afford such a triumph to your bitterest enemy: and beg of Jesus, who is "exalted to give repentance and remission of sins," that he will bestow these blessings upon you.

2. To the penitent.

Let others deride or condemn your change, we will congratulate you upon it. The angels would feel no joy at your acquiring a large estate: No; "if a beggar were elevated from a dunghill to a throne," they would not account it worth one single thought. But if the poorest or vilest person in the universe repent, it fills them with sincere joy. They have not so much joy in the very presence of God, but it is capable of being augmented by such a sight as this. Nor is it a day of Pentecost alone that attracts their attention. Even a solitary instance of conversion is sufficient to exhilarate their souls. Go on then, my brethren, sowing in tears; and you shall before long, in conjunction with the holy angels, reap a harvest of eternal joy.

 

MDXLV

The Prodigal Son

Luke 15:23, 24. Bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.

THE willingness of God to receive sinners is abundantly declared in Scripture; but in no place is it so amply, or so beautifully described as in the parable before us. The reference which the parable has to the Jews and Gentiles will be more properly noticed, when we come to consider the conduct of the elder brother: at present we may view it as a lively representation of a sinner's return to God. The text leads our attention to three points (which are also the three distinguishing parts of the parable) namely, the Prodigal's departure from his father, his return to him, and his reception with him.

I. His departure.

He went from his father's house, little thinking of the ruin he should bring upon himself.

The occasion of his departure was, that he hated the restraint of his father's presence, and longed for independence, that he might gratify his own inclinations. Hence he desired his father to divide him his portion. But little did he think to what extent his passions would carry him. Scarcely had he received his portion, before he left his father, and departed to a distant country, where his actions would pass unnoticed. Having thus thrown the reins upon the neck of his appetites, he was carried on with irresistible impetuosity. From one degree of sin to another he rushed forward without restraint; nor stopped until he had wasted his substance in riotous living. At last he began to feel the consequences of his folly: he was reduced to a state of extreme wretchedness; yet he determined to do anything rather than return to his father. Though a Jew, he submitted for hire to the ignominious employment of feeding swine: his wages however, there being a grievous famine in the land, would not procure him even necessary subsistence. In vain did he attempt to fill his belly with the husks intended for the swine. In vain did he solicit assistance from those who had known him in his more prosperous days. "No man," either from gratitude or compassion, "gave him" any relief.

Such is the departure of sinners from the presence of their God.

They have experienced the restraints of education, but have sighed for liberty and independence. With their growing years, they increasingly abuse the mercies which God has bestowed upon them. Their reason, their time, and other talents, they employ in the service of sin. Though they do not all run to the same excess of riot, they live equally at a distance from God. At last perhaps they begin to feel the misery which their neglect of him has brought upon them. His providence too concurs with his grace to make a deeper wound in their conscience: but they try any carnal expedients rather than return to God, nor can ever be prevailed on to turn unto him, until they have fully proved the insufficiency of the creature to afford them help. Whatever they may think of themselves in such a state, they are really "dead" and "lost."

But the Prodigal was not gone beyond recovery, as is evident from,

II. His return.

During his departure he had been as a person destitute of reason. At last however, "coming to himself" he thought of his father's house.

The various steps of his return are worthy of notice.

He first reflected on the folly and madness of his former ways, and on the incomparably happier state of those who lived under his father's roof, and whom perhaps he once despised for submitting to such restraints. He then resolved that he would return to his father, and implore his forgiveness: having formed the purpose, he instantly arose to carry it into execution, and set off, destitute as he was, to obtain, if possible, the lowest office among his father's domestics.

These exactly describe the steps of a sinner's return to God.

He first begins to see how madly and wickedly he has acted. He feels that he has reduced himself to a wretched and perishing condition. He considers how happy are those once despised people, who enjoy the favor of his heavenly Father, and how happy he himself should be, if he might but obtain the meanest place in his family. With these views he determines to abase himself as a vile, self-ruined creature. There are no terms so humiliating, but he finds them suited to his case. He is rather fearful of not humbling himself sufficiently, than of aggravating his sin too much. He resolves that he will go to a throne of grace and ask for mercy; nor will he wait for any more convenient season, lest he should perish before the hoped-for season arrive. He is ashamed indeed to go in so mean and destitute a condition; but he despairs of ever going in any other way. He therefore breaks through all the engagements he has made with sin and Satan, and goes, with all his guilt upon him, to his God and Savior. He now perhaps may be deemed mad by his former companions; but he should rather be considered as now "coming to himself."

The effect of the Prodigal's repentance appears in,

III. His reception.

His father, it seems, was wishfully looking out for him; and, on his first appearance, ran to testify his good-will towards him.

The sight of his returning child caused the father's affections to yearn over him; nor would he suffer an upbraiding word to escape his lips. When the Prodigal began his confession, the father interrupted him with kisses; and not only would not hear the whole of his confession, but would not even hurt his feelings by saying that he forgave him. He ordered the best robe, with shoes and a ring, to be instantly put upon him, and killed the fatted calf in order to celebrate the joyful occasion.

What a delightful representation does this give us of the reception which penitents find with God!

God longs for their salvation even while they are at a distance from him. He notices with joy the first approaches of their souls towards him. Instead of frowning on the prodigal, he receives him with joy. Instead of upbraiding him with his folly, he seals upon his soul a sense of pardon. He arrays him in robes of righteousness and garments of salvation. He adorns him in a manner suited to the relation into which he is brought. He provides for his future comfortable and upright conversation. He rejoices over him as recovered from the dead, and makes it an occasion of festivity to all the angels in Heaven. Thus do even the vilest sinners find their hopes, not only realized, but far exceeded. They come for pardon, and obtain joy; for deliverance from Hell, and get a title to Heaven. Their utmost ambition is to be regarded as the meanest of God's servants; and they are exalted to all the honors and happiness of his beloved children.

Application.

Who would not wish to resemble this Prodigal in his reception with his father? But, in order to it, we must resemble him in his penitence and contrition. Let none think that, because they have been more moral than the Prodigal, they do not need to repent like him. All of us without exception have walked after the imagination of our own hearts, without any love to God's presence, or regard for his authority. Let all of us then cry for mercy, as miserable sinners. The more vile we are in our own eyes, the more acceptable shall we be to God. Some perhaps may fear to return, because they have been so exceeding vile: but let none imagine that they have gone beyond the reach of mercy: the promise of acceptance extends to all without exception. "There is bread enough and to spare" for all that will go to God. Let all then accept the Savior's invitation. Let us this day afford an occasion of joy to all the hosts of Heaven; then shall we ourselves be soon made partakers of their joy, and dwell, as dear children, in our Father's house forever and ever.

 

MDXLVI

The Prodigal's Elder Brother

Luke 15:28. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.

IT is an undeniable fact, that many who have lived a profligate life are received afterwards to God's favor; and that many who have been externally moral are excluded from it. But this ought not to be a stumbling-block to us, since there will always be found a corresponding difference of character in the persons rejected or received. The Prodigal had been abandoned; but was renewed in the spirit of his mind: the elder brother had been moral; but was proud, envious, discontented, querulous. The character of the latter well deserves a distinct consideration. We shall notice,

I. The disposition of the elder brother.

Some think that he was intended to represent a pious character; and doubtless there have been good men, who too nearly resembled him: and, on this supposition, his father's address to him will have no difficulty. But the parable in this case would not have been suitable to the occasion: yes, it would rather have tended to mislead the Pharisees, and to foster the conceit they had of their own piety. His character rather represents that of the murmuring Pharisees, as that of the Prodigal does of the repenting Publicans. It might indeed have some further reference to the Jews and Gentiles: but it admirably portrays the character of Pharisees in every age. The two things noticed in the text especially demand our attention:

1. His displeasure at the reception of the Prodigal.

On being informed of his brother's reception, "he was angry." When entreated by his father to join in the festivity, he began to boast of his own blameless and meritorious conduct. He complained that sufficient respect had not been paid to his services; he rehearsed with envious triumph and malicious exaggeration the misconduct of the Prodigal; and disdained to acknowledge him as a brother, whom his father had received and entertained as a son. How strongly does this exhibit the disposition and conduct of modern Pharisees! It affords them pain rather than pleasure to hear of the conversion of notorious sinners. When urged to embrace the salvation offered in the Gospel, they deny that they are in danger of perishing, or that they have ever merited the wrath of God: when told that their own righteousness can never justify them before God, they complain that their works are undervalued, and that all inducement to perform them is taken away. The recital of a penitent's joy fills them with envious rage and malignant jealousy: they take occasion from his former misconduct to represent his change as mere hypocrisy; and, instead of regarding him with brotherly affection, they pour contempt upon him as a weak deluded enthusiast.

2. His unwillingness to participate in the happiness provided for him.

The invitations given to him by his father were rejected with disdain. As the feast was not made in honor of him, he could find no pleasure in partaking of it. Thus it is with Pharisees in every age. When we invite them to come to the feast provided in the Gospel, they put us off with excuses. However rich the feast, or sublime the joy, they have no appetite for it, no desire after it. If we were to tell them that their own good works should be the objects of admiration and applause, they would be delighted with the idea, and eagerly embrace the honor offered them: but when they find that all the praise is to be given "to God and to the Lamb," they have no ear for such music, no taste for such employment.

Having seen the disposition of the elder brother, let us notice,

II. The conduct of the father as contrasted with it.

Nothing can be more odious than the character we have seen; or more amiable than that which we are going to contemplate. Behold,

1. His forbearance.

How justly might the father have closed the conference on the first refusal, and given orders for the final exclusion of this insolent complainant! But, as he had borne with the Prodigal in his departure, so now he bears with the pride and obstinacy of his envious brother. And how long has he exercised his patience towards us! Times without number has he entreated us to accept of mercy; yet his invitations have, in many instances, excited nothing but disgust: still however, with much long-suffering, he continues to strive with us by his word and Spirit.

2. His condescension.

He did not send a servant, but went out himself to entreat his son; and, instead of controverting, as he might well have done, the statement of his son, he argued with him on his own principles. He affectionately reminded him, that if no such feast had been made for him, there had not been anything withheld from him that he had desired: that the favor shown to the Prodigal did not proceed from any undue partiality, but from the peculiar circumstances of his return; and that nothing would be more gratifying to him, than to have both his sons partakers of the same happiness. He showed him further, that there was a fitness and propriety in the joy manifested on that occasion; and that he, as a "brother" ought to join in it with his whole heart. Such is the condescension which we also have experienced at God's hands. How has he argued with us to overcome our reluctance, and labored to convince us, when he might justly have left us to our own obstinate resolves!

3. His love.

The love shown by him to the returning Prodigal excites our admiration; but that was no less which was manifested to his ungracious brother: the solicitude expressed was not at all inferior to the joy. And is he not showing to us also the same parental tenderness? Is he not as unwilling to give us up to our own delusions? Yes, his language to us is precisely that which he used to Israel of old.

Surely then this subject may teach us,

1. The evil and danger of self-righteousness.

Self-righteousness is a more complicated evil than is generally imagined. It not unfrequently is accompanied with pride, envy, discontent, and a thousand other evil tempers reigning in the bosom; and it always involves in it a high conceit of ourselves, a supercilious contempt of others, and a rooted aversion to the Gospel method of salvation: moreover, if persevered in, it will infallibly leave us self-excluded from the kingdom of Heaven. Let us pause then, and solemnly examine whether we be not under its dominion? Let us inquire whether we more resemble this elder brother or the repenting Prodigal? and, instead of justifying ourselves before God, let us thankfully accept his offered mercy.

2. The blessedness of true penitents.

While the elder brother was agitated with evil tempers, the Prodigal was filled with peace: and while the elder brother was self-excluded from the scenes of bliss, the Prodigal had "food to eat which the world knows not of," and "joy with which the stranger intermeddles not." Such is the harvest which all shall reap who sow in tears. Who that compares the state of the two brothers would not prefer that of the penitent, even in this life? And how much more will its superiority appear, when the happiness of admission to the Father's house, and the misery of exclusion from it, will be consummated! Let us then, if we determine (as we must) in favor of the Prodigal, go instantly, and prostrate ourselves before our offended God.

 

MDXLVII

The Unjust Steward

Luke 16:8. And the Lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

THE parables never were intended to bear to the same point in every particular: some admit of a fuller, and others of a more partial application: some are to be interpreted solely in reference to the principal idea contained in them. It is of great importance that we should read them under this impression. If we endeavor to accommodate all their parts to the main scope, we shall both mar their beauty, and deduce from them the most fatal errors. This observation is particularly to be attended to in considering the parable before us. It will instantly remove all the cavils which have been raised against our Savior as a minister of sin; and it will enable us to collect much useful instruction from this valuable portion of Holy Scripture.

The text leads us to consider,

I. The wisdom of the unjust steward.

He had frequently betrayed the trust reposed in him by his lord and master. If he had not purloined, he had profusely wasted, his master's substance; and for this he was now to be discharged from his stewardship.

It is in vain for persons to hope that they shall always escape detection. Dishonesty may be practiced for awhile; but it will generally defeat its own ends. This steward had hoped to derive pleasure, if not profit, from his unfaithfulness; but in the issue it involved him in much distress and poverty. No sooner was it discovered, than it exposed him to shame, and provoked his master to dismiss him from his service.

But he contrived a way to remedy, in a measure, the evil he had brought upon himself.

As soon as he had received warning, he began to say, What shall I do? nor ceased from his inquiries, until he had devised a happy expedient. He felt in himself that he was too idle to work, and too proud to beg: nor had he any hopes of obtaining another situation of trust and confidence. It was probable, therefore, that he might soon experience the pressure of extreme indigence. An artful plan for supplying his wants speedily arose in his mind. He determined to make all his master's debtors accomplices in his iniquity: he remitted to every one a considerable portion of the sum he owed. Thus he secured their present friendship and future recommendations. They would not dare to oppose him, lest their own dishonesty should be revealed by him. He would be able to make them afterwards accede to any of his proposals. He cared not how much guilt he contracted, or how many souls he ruined. All which he desired, was, to secure a home until he should be otherwise provided: and doubtless his contrivance was well adapted to the end proposed.

This device was commended by our Lord.

Christ himself seems to be the person who gave the commendation: but it was the ingenuity, and not the dishonesty, that he commended. The very epithet which he gave the steward showed his disapprobation of the act. The text itself explicitly declares the only ground of our Lord's applause.

It admirably illustrates (what alone our Lord intended to illustrate),

II. The comparative folly of God's own children.

"The children of this world" are very indefatigable in prosecuting their temporal interests; but "the children of light" ought to be incomparably more earnest in pursuing their spiritual interests.

They are called "children of light," because they are enlightened by God's word and Spirit. They have been "brought out of darkness into the marvelous light" of the Gospel. They see the vanity of all things that are visible and temporal, and the infinite importance of those that are invisible and eternal. They know what a strict account they must shortly give of their stewardship, and the necessity of improving every hour in securing an "everlasting habitation." They know how much more important are their interests, more honorable their work, more certain their success, and more glorious their reward: they therefore should be more concerned about their souls than others are about their bodies; and "labor more for the meat that endures, than others for that which perishes."

It must be owned however that the children of this world discover more wisdom in the prosecution of their interests:

They seek them more earnestly.

What quickness in conceiving, eagerness in maturing, and promptness in executing his plans, did the unjust steward discover! Thus worldly men in general find it easy to put forth the whole energy of their souls. But where is the Christian that displays such ardor in his pursuits? How rarely can the spiritual man thus engage in his work! Alas! what backwardness to duty, what languor in it, and what readiness to disengage himself from it, does he feel! Happy indeed would he be who could fully equal the zeal of worldlings: but Christians have to oppose the tide of their corrupt nature, while others have only to commit themselves to its impetuous current.

They follow them more uniformly.

The children of this world have at all times an eye to their own advantage. Though their thoughts be not immediately engaged about business, they can turn them into that channel the very instant that prospects of gain arise. But the children of light are often wholly indisposed for spiritual exercises. Too often do they find occasion to adopt the language of Paul—and frequently are they ready to compare themselves with the very beasts that perish.

They contrive for them more ingeniously.

If a worldly man have prospects of advancement he will devise a thousand means to attain his end. If he have reason to fear a loss, he will try many expedients to avert, to mitigate, or to remedy the evil. He will rarely lose anything which his cunning will enable him to secure. But how often does the Christian suffer loss purely through his own folly! How often does he see infallible means of gain, and yet neglect to use them! and infallible means of injury, which he is not careful to shun! Many times is he forced to adopt that most humiliating confession.

To prevent misapprehension, we subjoin a word of caution.

Let not any one suppose that one fraud may be committed in order to prevent the consequences of another. This is too often practiced: but it plunges the offender in deeper guilt and shame. God has warned us in many places what will be the reward of dishonesty. It is impossible that they who defraud an earthly master can be accepted of God. However their ingenuity may be admired, it will prove folly in the issue. Let every one then, who professes to be a child of light, remember the Apostle's words.

To enforce the subject we conclude with suitable advice.

1. Be faithful to your Lord and Master.

If you be Christians indeed, Christ is the Master whom you serve. Be faithful to him, then, whether you have little or much. Especially honor him in the distribution of the unrighteous mammon. He is a kind and liberal Master, that does not grudge you anything that is good. Nevertheless he expects that you improve for him the talents he has committed to you.

2. Be diligent in his service.

We see how diligent worldlings are in the service of the world. Let not us be surpassed by them. We have a far better Master, and an infinitely richer reward.

3. Stand ready to give up your account to him.

We know not how soon he will say, Give an account of your stewardship: but it will be a joyful word to those who shall be found ready. Let us then be daily inspecting and balancing our accounts. He will then give us the true riches: and will bestow upon us what shall to all eternity be our own.

 

MDXLVIII

Pressing into the Kingdom

Luke 16:16. The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it.

WHEREVER the Gospel is preached with fidelity and earnestness, the places of worship are, for the most part, well attended. And this is often made a ground of joyful congratulation. But if, instead of comparing the attendance of persons at such places of worship with that which is seen at other Churches, we were to compare it with what took place at the first introduction of Christianity, we should see in it nothing but an occasion of shame and sorrow. Under the law and the prophets, that is, during the Mosaic dispensation, there was but little of preaching: but when John, the forerunner of our Lord, came, he preached much and often; and so powerful were his ministrations, that persons of all ranks and orders pressed into that kingdom, which he sought and labored to establish. Let us then, for our humiliation, consider,

I. The effects of John's preaching.

"He preached the kingdom of God."

By "the kingdom of God" I understand, the kingdom of the Messiah, or the reign of Christ in the world and in the heart. He declared that Christ was come: and he pointed him out to the people as "that very Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." He called men to repentance, and to an acknowledgment of the Savior, by being baptized in his name; and announced that as the sure and only way of obtaining the remission of their sins.

Immediately, such was the impression on all descriptions of persons, that "every one pressed into it."

Most surprising was the effect of his ministrations. Persons flocked from every quarter, to be baptized of him. Pharisees and Sadducees, distant as they were from each other in their principles, equally felt the power of his word, and came to be baptized of him. Nay, all Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, were so wrought upon, that they actually submitted to his baptism, making public confession of their sins. They sought instruction also from him, every one (soldiers, publicans, and the people generally) being willing and desirous to approve his sincerity before God, by abandoning all the evils to which he had been particularly prone, and by practicing those duties which would most adorn his holy profession. Many of them, it is to be feared, went back afterwards: but such, at the time, was the power of the Gospel as ministered by him.

Let us compare with this,

II. The effect of Gospel ordinances in our day.

We preach the kingdom of God, even as he did.

Our blessed Lord commanded, that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem," and the Apostles obeyed this injunction, preaching this doctrine to the Jews first, and afterwards to the Gentiles. The same injunction, also, do we obey. You yourselves will bear us witness, that the great subject of all our ministrations is, "repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." Yes, like Paul, "we have determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. We proclaim the Lord Jesus to be "King in Zion," we call upon you to submit yourselves to him: we declare that "his blood was shed for the sins of the whole world;" and that "all who believe in him shall be justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses." In this respect we have even the advantage of John the Baptist: for he could only proclaim what the Lord Jesus should do; whereas we declare to you what he has done.

And what is the effect of our ministrations?

Do we see every one pressing into this kingdom? I had almost asked, Where we do see any one pressing into it as he ought? Alas! the word which we preach, "comes," to the generality, "in word only, and not in power," with many it is regarded only as "a cunningly-devised fable," with many who approve of it, it has no practical effect: they are pleased with it only "as with the melody of one who plays well upon an instrument," and, of those who feel somewhat of its power, how few press into the kingdom with that earnestness which becomes them! Look and see around; are there any "flocking unto the Lord, as doves to their windows?" Where do we find people "pressing," as it were, through all the obstacles which the world, the flesh, and the devil, can lay in their way, and "counting all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord?" Let the state of our auditors in general be viewed, and there is reason to weep over them with floods of tears. And let even the more approved among us be brought to the test of Scripture experience, and of by far the greater number we must "stand in doubt, whether Christ be indeed as yet truly formed in them."

Address.

1. Those who are but little influenced by what they hear.

Ah! how many of you are of this description! And are you content that it shall be always thus? Will you still hold fast the delusion that you shall win the race without running, and gain the victory without fighting? If success be not the portion of those who so demean themselves in relation to earthly things, how can you imagine it will in reference to heavenly things? Will it be no matter of regret to you in a dying hour, that you have been so supine and careless? or, if Satan be permitted to blind you then, will it be no grief to you when you shall open your eyes in the eternal world? O awake from your stupor: and "today, while it is called today, harden not your hearts, lest God should swear, in his wrath, that you shall never enter into his rest."

2. Those who feel some desire to enter into the kingdom.

I thank God, if there be in any of you a good desire. But did you never hear what our blessed Lord has said, that "many shall seek to enter into the kingdom, and not be able." How comes this? They seek, with good desires; but they do not strive with the full bent and determination of their hearts. But this is necessary, indispensably necessary, to the attainment of God's heavenly kingdom. The pursuit of it must be regarded by you as "the one thing needful." It must be entered upon with the same spirit as David manifested, when he said, "One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will seek: after." You must engage in it "with all your might," and, instead of ever looking upon your attainments with delight, or feeling yourselves at liberty to relax your ardor, you must, with Paul, "forget what is behind, and reach forward to that which is before, and press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." There must be "no looking back, after you have once put your hand to the plough;" "no weariness in well-doing," you must "endure unto the end, if ever you would be saved," and, like the manslayer, never rest a moment, until you enter the gates of the heavenly city.

 

MDXLIX

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:25. But Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and you are tormented.

THE more strongly the discourses of a minister bear upon the prevailing vices of the day, the more will they, whose besetting sin is pointed out and reprobated, pour contempt upon the preacher and his word. Our blessed Lord had spoken the parable of the unjust steward, in order to show, that every one should consider himself as responsible to God for the use he makes of that which is entrusted to him. "The Pharisees, who were covetous, immediately derided him." Our Lord, however, was not to be deterred by their derision; on the contrary, he addressed to them a personal and severe reproof, and added another parable, that should enforce, with tenfold energy, his preceding admonitions. He represented a rich man, after a short enjoyment of his carnal pleasures, doomed to eternal misery in Hell; and a poor man, after a transient scene of sufferings on earth, exalted to a state of everlasting felicity in Heaven.

In opening this parable we shall present to your view,

I. Their different conditions in this world.

The Rich Man enjoyed all that could gratify an earthly mind.

High titles, stately mansions, superb clothing, pompous equipage, numerous attendants, sumptuous entertainments, courtly friends, and flattering sycophants, were his distinguished portion, his daily enjoyment—These were the things in which he took delight; nor had his vain earthly heart a thought or wish beyond them, Doubtless he was to many in his day an object of admiration and envy. And many among ourselves are ready to say, Give me but such a portion as his, and I desire no more.

The Poor Man was as destitute as a human being could be.

He wanted even the most common necessities of life. In addition to this, he was "full of sores" from head to foot; without medical aid to cure them, or even a friendly hand to bind them up; so that "the very dogs came and licked them." Unable to walk, he was carried, and, as if no man cared what became of him, was cast at the Rich Man's gate, to gather a scanty and precarious subsistence from the crumbs which fell from his table. Thus destitute of food, of health, of friends, a very outcast from society, he protracted a wretched existence, until death relieved him of his sorrows.

Who would have thought that these two men were of the same species, or that, if they were, a just and merciful God should put such a difference between them?

But our minds will be reconciled to this seeming inequality of state, if we survey,

II. Their still more different conditions in the invisible world.

The Rich Man was reduced to a state of deserved misery.

We read not of any enormous crimes that he committed; and therefore we cannot justly impute any to him. His elegant clothing and costly fare were not in themselves sinful, provided they were such as were suited to his station in life. That which constituted his guilt in the sight of God was, that his heart was set upon them; that he sought his happiness in them rather than in God; and that he lived solely for himself, to the neglect of those, whose necessities he should have delighted to relieve. And behold, what fearful punishment this iniquity brought upon him! His career of sin was soon terminated; and nothing of all his happiness remained to him but the guilt which he had contracted by it. He was buried indeed in a sumptuous manner; but what pleasure could he receive from funeral processions, sepulchral monuments, or flattering inscriptions? Alas! his body was insensible of the honors paid to it, and his soul was enduring unutterable anguish in the flames of Hell. He prayed indeed, but his prayer was now too late. Had he called upon God when he was on earth, he might have obtained all the glory of Heaven: but now he was refused, though he asked no more than a momentary mitigation of his pain. He begged that a messenger might be sent to warn and to convince his five surviving brethren, who were walking securely in his delusive steps: but neither could this be granted him; nor indeed would it have been of any use to those who disregarded the testimony of the sacred records. Instead of finding any relief, he was upbraided with his having sought an earthly portion, while he neglected those things which were to endure forever; the remembrance of which folly could not but greatly aggravate his misery. Ah! how altered now his state, from honor to ignominy, from pleasure to pain, from affluence to extreme want!

The Poor Man, on the contrary, was raised to a state of unspeakable felicity.

As death put a speedy period to the enjoyments of the one, so it soon also terminated the sorrows of the other. Nothing is spoken of the burial of the Poor Man; he was carried unnoticed, unregretted, to the silent grave; or rather, his fellow-creatures probably rejoiced that they were rid of a public nuisance. Not but that he was honored in his death; for though disregarded by men, he was attended by angels, who gladly received his departing spirit, and bore it on their wings to the regions of light and glory. Let our eyes now follow him to his blessed abode: behold, he, who once had scarcely enough to satisfy the cravings of nature, is now sitting next to Abraham himself at the heavenly banquet; while the man who had "fared sumptuously every day" on earth, has not so much as a drop of water to cool his tongue! Nothing now remains to him of all his former sorrows, except indeed their sanctifying influence upon his soul. Now he has the good things which he sought on earth, the things in which alone he found delight. The enjoyment of the Divine presence was then his only consolation; and now it is his abiding, his ever-blessed portion.

Now let us contrast the two; and we shall confess that Lazarus with all his poverty was, on the whole, an object of envy; while the Rich Man with all his indulgences was, on the whole, an object of the deepest commiseration.

Let us learn from hence,

1. How vain are riches without grace!

What could the Rich Man's wealth procure him in this life? Nothing but food and clothing: nor were his delicacies more sweet to him, than to the cottager his homely meal. His riches could not ward off for a moment the stroke of death: much less could they "profit him in the day of wrath." They served only to witness against him, and to "prey upon his flesh like fire." Let not any then envy the great and mirthful; but rather seek to be rich in grace, and happy in the enjoyment of their God.

2. What consolation will religion afford under the severest trials!

Though Lazarus appeared so destitute, he doubtless had his comforts as well as his sorrows. He would console himself with such reflections as these: 'I have no earthly treasures; but I have treasures laid up for me in Heaven: I am diseased in body; but my soul flourishes in health and vigor: I am scantily supported with refuse crumbs; but I have meat to eat which the world knows not of: I am without a mortal friend to minister unto me; but God is my friend, and angels are my ministering servants: I have nothing that I can call my own in this life; but I have all the glory of Heaven in the life to come.' Yes, thousands of such considerations would raise his drooping spirits, and often render him happier than all the gratifications of sense could possibly have made him. And all who possess real religion in their hearts shall find it as conducive to their happiness in this life, as it is to their eternal felicity.

3. How earnestly we should improve our time in preparation for eternity!

Whether we be in prosperity or in affliction, we are hastening to the grave: the whole of this life is but as a dream: death will soon terminate our present joys or sorrows: and our condition in the future world will depend entirely on the manner in which we have lived in this state of probation. God has drawn aside for a moment the veil of the invisible world; and shown us what we shall all be in a little time: yes; all of us shall be banqueting in Heaven, or agonizing with inexpressible, unintermitted anguish in Hell; and in whichever state we be, all transition from it will be prevented by an "impassable gulf." Let us endeavor to realize these awful truths. Let us believe what the Scriptures have told us respecting the issue of a worldly life. Let us pity those who, like the five brethren, are hastening in the delusive paths of ease and pleasure to the place of torment. And let us live now, as we shall wish we had lived, when our state shall be forever fixed.

 

MDL

The Hopeless State of Those Who Disregard the Scriptures

Luke 16:29–31. Abraham says unto him, They have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.

IT is painful to reflect how men follow the footsteps of their forefathers, without ever seriously inquiring where they tend. If we examine the records of those who have gone before us, we find that, for the most part, they lived to themselves, rather than unto God. "This their way was their folly; yet their posterity approve their saying," and, like their predecessors, rush forward thoughtlessly to their own destruction. A very striking illustration of this is given us by one who was himself a spectator of the fact which he records. A flock of sheep, while going over a bridge, were frightened; and one of them jumped over the side of the bridge: the rest, imagining that he who led the way was safe and happy, followed in succession; and were all carried down a rapid river, and involved in one common, but unsuspected, ruin. Thus the different generations of men pass away; and each surviving race, concluding of course that those who went before are happy, follow the same fatal track, until it is too late to remedy their error.

The passage before us will illustrate this. It is part of a parable, wherein our Lord represents a rich man as living in luxurious indolence, until he is surprised by death, and made to feel the wrath of an avenging God. He had left his riches among five surviving brethren, who were all walking in his delusive steps, without ever once considering in what they would issue. The Rich Man, unable to prevail for even a drop of water to cool his tongue, requests, that if Lazarus may not be sent to him to mitigate his torment, he may be sent to his brethren to warn them of the danger in which they were, and to guard them against a continuance in their fatal security. But neither could this be granted: Abraham tells him, that they had the Scriptures in their hands; and that, if they would not attend to them, any message from the dead would be of no avail.

From this solemn declaration we shall take occasion to show,

I. The use and office of the Holy Scriptures.

This is plainly intimated in our text. The Rich Man had solicited that Lazarus might be sent to warn his brethren, lest they also should come into that place of torment. The reply was, that they had the Scriptures, and should attend to them: whence it appears that,

The use of the Scriptures is to guide men to Heaven.

They are intended to show us the way thither, and to guard us against every erroneous path—This they do with the utmost plainness and fidelity; insomuch that, if studied with diligence and prayer, they will assuredly "make us wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus."—There certainly are passages in them difficult to be understood: but the great and essential truths are stated in so clear a manner, that he who runs may read them. Who that searches the Scriptures can doubt the issue of a carnal and worldly life? "To be carnally-minded is death." Or who can doubt the acceptance of a sinner that humbles himself before God, and flees to Christ for refuge? Will it be found that any one was ever cast out, who came unto God through Christ? In a word, there is no instruction wanted, which is not contained in the sacred volume, and conveyed too in the most edifying manner. Its warnings are most solemn, its invitations most earnest, its expostulations most affectionate, its promises most enlarged—If only we pay attention to them, we shall infallibly "be kept from the paths of the destroyer," and have "our feet guided into the way of peace."

For this end they are fully sufficient.

Nothing is wanting in them, God himself being witness—The Old Testament writers and the New, alike declare the sufficiency of Scripture for every end that can be desired—It is "the rod of God's strength, whereby he effects his work upon the souls of men, quickening the dead, sanctifying the unclean, comforting the afflicted, and saving the lost—And all that is wanting to render the word effectual, is to get it applied to our hearts by the Spirit of God: when so applied, it becomes "the power of God to the salvation of our souls."

It must be remembered, however, that while the Scriptures are so powerful to save those who use them aright, they declare most unequivocally,

II. The hopeless state of those who disregard them.

The Rich Man imagined, that, if some new method were used for the conversion of his brethren, it would be successful; but Abraham informed him, that, where the Scriptures were ineffectual, not even a messenger from the dead would be of any avail;

1. To convince the unbelieving.

Though a messenger from the dead might be instrumental to awaken the attention of a person to the Scriptures, he could not convince him of any one truth contained in them. For what could he say that is not contained in the Scriptures? He could only affirm, that the truth of what they declared was now ascertained and felt by him, and placed beyond the reach of doubt. But this has been already declared by all the inspired writers, who in successive ages sealed the truth with their blood. Besides, the Scriptures corroborate their testimony by a thousand other proofs, which a person coining from the dead could not supply: and consequently, he who rejects the weightier evidence, would not be likely to be convinced by that which would he comparatively light. But the experiment has been made. Lazarus was raised from the dead: but many who saw him after his restoration to life, so far from being convinced by the miracle, sought to put him to death, lest a conviction should be wrought by it in the minds of others. Moreover, when our Lord rose from the dead, the soldiers, who guarded his tomb, went and announced it to the Jewish rulers: but they, instead of being suitably impressed by it, and acknowledging the truth of Christ's Messiahship, instantly fabricated a falsehood, and bribed the soldiers to attest it; and the soldiers actually accepted the bribe, and attested the falsehood, and joined in denying the truth of Christ's resurrection, even within an hour after they themselves had beheld it: so little power has any sight, however terrific or unquestionable, to convince a mind that is biased by prejudice, and blinded by the devil.

2. To convert the impenitent.

The sight of a person clothed with the splendor of Heaven or the terrors of Hell, would surprise and alarm; but it would never convert a soul. The same lusts that counteract the influence of the written word, would soon efface the impressions which any such spectacle might produce. The love of sin would still remain as strong as ever; and a desire to defer to a more convenient season that work, to which men are so radically averse. The effect of such a sight might be strong at the time; but it would gradually wear away; and probably before long become a subject of derision. We know how frequently such declensions are found after a person has been alarmed by some awful providence or some awakening discourse: we know also how the Israelites "forgot the Lord at the Red Sea, even at the Red Sea," and we are well assured, that they who can withstand the voice of God in his word, would equally withstand the voice of a fellow-creature, whether he should come down from Heaven, or ascend from Hell. Even if Heaven and Hell were opened to their view, the impression would be only transient; for, to convert a soul, is the work of God; and his power only can effect it.

We may learn from hence,

1. In what an awful condition are the impenitent hearers of the Gospel!

Many hear the Gospel, and approve it, who yet are never truly converted by it, never stirred up to flee from the wrath to come, never quickened to lay hold on eternal life: religion never becomes the one business of their lives: they never engage in it as the voluptuary in his pleasures, or as the worldling in his pursuits: they may go on in a round of observances; but they want the life and power of godliness; their religion is destitute of zest, and earnestness, and uniformity—Now these persons withstand the most powerful engine which God himself employs for the conversion of the world. If they had never heard the sound of the Gospel, there might be hope that they would submit to it as soon as it should reach their ears: but they have heard it, and continue to resist its power, or to yield to it only a feigned and limited obedience. Let such persons consider the warning given them by James: for, while they are "hearers only, and not doers, of the law, they fearfully deceive their own souls: it is the doer of it only, that shall be blessed in his deeds."—Let us then examine what effects the Gospel produces upon us; let us see what conformity there is in our spirit and conduct to the examples of Christ and his Apostles: it is not by a mere outward morality that we must judge of ourselves, but by the spirituality of our minds, and the heavenliness of our lives. It is to this, that "Moses, and the Prophets" invite us; and, if we "hear them" not to this end, we hear them altogether in vain.

2. How inexcusable are they who will not hear the Gospel!

Various are the grounds on which men slight the everlasting Gospel: some think it too early in life to pay any attention to it; others are too busy; others take up a prejudice against it; others are deterred by the fear of man. But what would they say to us, who are now fixed in their eternal state, if they were permitted to come and declare their minds? Would the blessed inhabitant of Heaven tell us, that his reward is too small a compensation for his labor, and that he regrets having paid so much attention to the concerns of his soul? Or would the wretched companion of devils and damned spirits represent his sufferings as unworthy to be regarded, and tell us that we need give ourselves no trouble to escape them? No, whether it should be the Rich Man from Hell, or Lazarus from Heaven, that should come to us, his testimony would be, "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, that is understanding." Beware therefore, brethren, lest you suffer anything to divert your attention from the Gospel of Christ. Be thankful that it is not yet too late for you to lift up your voice in prayer to God. Read the Scriptures, with prayer for the teachings of God's Spirit, and improve every opportunity of hearing them explained to you in public: they are given you as "a light shining in a dark place;" and it becomes you to "take heed to them" without delay. With our Lord, therefore, I say, "Search the Scriptures;" or, in the words of our text, "You have Moses and the Prophets, hear them."

3. What cause of thankfulness have they who have heard it with effect!

This is a mercy to you from God, the richest mercy that God himself could bestow. It is God alone can "give us an understanding, that we may know him that is true," and if he had not opened your understandings, you would still have been as blind as ever. Know then to whom you are indebted: and let it be the labor of your lives to express a just sense of the obligations conferred upon you. But how shall you do this to the best purpose? I answer, Look around you, and see how many there are regardless of the Scriptures, and of the state to which they are hastening. Unhappy creatures! they have many friends or relatives that would gladly come from Heaven or from Hell to warn them: but no such fellowship can be allowed. They have the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament; and if they disregard these, no other means of salvation will be afforded them. But it is not prohibited to living saints to warn them: you may have access to them as often as you please, and even a more favorable access, than a disembodied spirit could have. To you they may listen without any terror or dismay. Improve then the opportunity that is afforded you. "Freely you have received, freely give." It is not for yourselves only that God has given you light, it is for others also; that you may put it on a candlestick, and give light to all around you. You have some brethren or friends; go to them as an angel of light: and may God succeed your endeavors, to the salvation of many souls!

 

MDLI

The Importance of Faith

Luke 17:5, 6. And the Apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If you had faith as a grain of mustard-seed, you might say unto this Sycamore-tree, be plucked up by the root, and be planted in the sea: and it should obey you.

THE Gospel is truly "a doctrine according to godliness," its precepts are as much superior to heathen morals, as its doctrines are to the heathen mythology. The forgiveness of injuries is required of the followers of Christ, to an extent that unassisted reason would have deemed neither practical nor desirable. Our Lord told his Disciples, that they must not only forgive any occasional offence, but forgive it, however often it might be committed; provided the offender acknowledged his fault, and professed a determination to amend it. This seemed to them "an hard saying," and a requisition which far exceeded the powers of human nature to comply with: they therefore entreated him to "increase their faith." Now such a petition, so introduced, appears absurd: but it was, in reality, most judicious. In proof of this we shall show,

I. The reason of it.

At first sight we are ready to think that they should have prayed for an increase of patience or of love; since those graces appear far more intimately connected with the forgiveness of injuries than faith: but they were correct in their judgment, and right in their petition: for, respecting faith, it must be said,

1. It is the root of all acceptable obedience.

We may perform works that shall appear good, though we have no faith; but none that are really good: for, in order to be good and acceptable to God, they must flow from a principle of love to God; they must also be performed with a readiness of mind, as to the Lord: and with an sincere desire that he may be glorified by them. But whence can we obtain this principle? or how can we act in such a manner, or for such an end, if we have not been led by faith into a view of his glorious character, and to the knowledge of the obligations we owe him in Christ Jesus? We might as well expect to find fruit on a tree that has no root, as such actions without an humble and lively faith. Our Lord himself tells us, that "without him," that is, without an union with him by faith, "we can do nothing," and Paul tells us, that "without faith it is impossible to please God." The Thirteenth Article of our Church also confirms the same in the most express terms. Indeed all holy actions and affections are called, "the fruits of the Spirit," but it is by faith only that we obtain the Spirit: consequently, they must all be traced to faith, as the proper root from whence they spring.

2. It is particularly influential in the production of a forgiving spirit.

Until we know what we ourselves merit before God, and what mercy is offered to us in the Gospel of his Son, we shall be disposed to resent an injury that is done to us: at least, if we abstain from any vindictive acts, we shall feel an inward corroding of spirit, when the remembrance of the injury occurs to our minds. But let a person have a just view of redeeming love, and it will soon calm all his angry passions: when pained with the recollection of the evil treatment he has received, he will call to mind his own conduct towards God: when disposed to complain of others, he will think what reason he has given to God to complain of him: and when called upon to exercise forgiveness, he will bear in mind what mercy he himself has exercised at the hands of God. This, I say, is the necessary fruit of faith: for, "having been forgiven ten thousand talents, can he take a fellow-creature by the throat for a few pence?" No, "having been forgiven much, he will love much."

Having on these grounds presented to their Lord a petition for an increase of faith, he approved of their petition, and proceeded instantly to mark,

II. The importance of it.

Two things he intimates to them;

1. That faith was an irresistible principle.

What could convey an idea of difficulty more than the plucking up of a sycamore-tree by the roots, and planting it steadfastly in the tempestuous ocean? yet our Lord told them, that faith would be able to effect even that; and, consequently, it could pluck up by the roots their most inveterate resentments, and establish their minds even in the midst of the most tumultuous scenes. Accordingly we find that faith has done all these things: and what it has done for others, it can, and shall, do for us. Indeed, it brings, if we may so express ourselves, a kind of omnipotence into the soul, inasmuch as it interests Omnipotence in our behalf: and God himself says concerning it, "All things are possible to him that believes." Nor is this true only of faith in its most enlarged measure, and its strongest exercises: if it exist only in a small measure, it shall operate nevertheless to the production of the greatest good. Doubtless its effects will be proportioned to the measure of its existence in the soul: but still its operation will be exceeding powerful, even though it be small "as a grain of mustard-seed;" for the weakest faith, if genuine, unites us to Christ, and makes us partakers of all his fullness, even as the branch of a vine participates all the virtue of the stock and root. Moreover the smallest faith brings the Holy Spirit into the soul, and secures to us his almighty operations as far as they shall be necessary for our welfare. It also interests us in all the promises; every one of which shall be fulfilled to us in their season. Though therefore strong faith will bring more glory to God, the weakest faith shall ultimately prevail to the saving of our souls.

2. That they had done well in asking it at his hands.

Our Lord did not decline the honor which they offered him. On many occasions they had asked of him what none but God could bestow: and, had he not been God, as well as man, he would have rectified their error, and taught them to pray only and exclusively to his heavenly Father. When John mistook an angel for the Deity, and "fell at his feet to worship him, the angel forbad him, saying, See you do it not: I am your fellow-servant: worship God." So our Lord himself, when a certain lawyer, who conceived of him only as a man, gave him a title due only to God, reproved him, saying, "Why call you me good? there is none good but One, that is God." But here he so commended the subject of their petition as manifestly to intimate his approbation of the petition itself. In like manner, when Paul, some years afterwards, prayed to him for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, Jesus answered him, "My grace is sufficient for you: thereby leaving no room for doubt but that we may address our prayers to him, and that "he will fulfill all our petitions." "Do we then need faith; or, possessing it already in a small degree, do we need to have it strengthened and increased?" let us remember, that "whatever we shall ask of him, or of the Father in his name, that will He do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." He has "all fullness treasured up in him;" yes, "in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." and "out of his fullness shall we all receive, even grace for grace." As repentance is his gift, so is faith also his gift: wherever it exists, it is He who has wrought it in the hearth; for he is both "the Author and the Finisher of it." Let us then from day to day present to him the petition in our text, "Lord, increase our faith."

Now from this subject we may clearly learn,

1. The true order of Christian duties.

The Apostles asked for faith in order to produce in them a suitable practice: and this is what we also must do: we must not set ourselves, as many ignorantly do, first to perform good works, in order that they may serve as a warrant for believing in Christ: but we must believe in him, in order that we may be enabled to perform good words to his honor and glory. This may appear an unnecessary distinction; but it is of infinite importance: it lies at the very foundation of all our hopes, and of all our comforts. If we attempt to reverse this order, we shall be like persons who should prepare a superstructure without laying a foundation, or expect fruit from a tree that had no root. The Scripture is very express on this subject: we must lay hold on the promises first, and then make use of them for the purifying of our souls: we must first behold the glory of the Lord in the Gospel, and then by virtue of that sight be changed into his image.

2. The proper tendency of faith.

Why did the Apostles ask for faith? Was it to set aside the duties that had been just inculcated? No, it was, that they might be able to practice them. Perverse people will, though instructed to the contrary ten thousand times, represent the duty of faith as having a licentious tendency: but look into the Scriptures, and see how it wrought on the saints of old: or look to the fruits that are uniformly ascribed to it in the Scriptures: Is it not "by faith that we overcome the world?" Is it not also represented as "working by love" and "purifying the heart?" Perhaps it may be thought to bring us to duties in the first instance, and to set us above them afterwards. But behold its operation in its more advanced state; and hear what Paul says of the Thessalonian Church; "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith grows exceedingly, and (what? you are therefore above attending to good works? No, but) the charity of every one of you all towards each other abounds." Know then, that the prejudice which so generally obtains both against the grace and the doctrine of faith, is without any just foundation: and that, though a counterfeit grace will produce only a semblance of fruit, a living faith will uniformly operate to the production of good works.

3. The folly of calling ourselves believers, while we exercise an unforgiving spirit.

It must be confessed, that many will pretend to faith, who yet indulge very unhallowed dispositions: they are proud, and wrathful, and vindictive; if not to the same extent as others, yet sufficiently to show, that they are yet unsanctified and unrenewed. And what shall we say to such persons? Shall we encourage them to think that these tempers are to be regarded only as the infirmities of saints? No, in truth: "they are not the spots of God's children," but the proper character of the devil's. The criterion given of his people is universal and infallible; "By their fruits you shall know them: a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, nor a good tree bad fruit," therefore our Lord repeats the admonition, "By their fruits you shall know them." Excuse not then yourselves, you morose, quarrelsome, fretful, unforgiving people; for you are trees that shall be "cut down and cast into the fire," you are "trees, whose fruit withers, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." Talk not of grace: for grace, that is not effectual, is no grace; and faith, that produces not holy tempers, is no better than the faith of devils. If you complain, that you cannot overcome your tempers; I would say, Set about it in the right way. You make resolutions perhaps; and break them as soon as made: but go rather and exercise faith on God, and on his great and precious promises: go and contemplate the incomprehensible love of Christ in dying for you: go and sprinkle his blood upon your conscience, and get a sense of his pardoning love upon your soul: Go, I say, and get your faith increased, and exercised; and you shall no longer have to complain of want of power to do the will of God: let him "perfect that which is lacking in your faith;" and you will then be enabled to perfect that which is lacking in your practice: "through him strengthening you, you will be able to do all things."

 

MDLII

The Obedient Servant

Luke 17:10. So likewise you, when you shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

PRIDE is deeply rooted in the heart of man. It was that which first instigated him to disobedience; he wished to be as God. Since his fall it leads him openly to cast off his allegiance to the Supreme Being, and to become a God unto himself, independent, self-seeking, and self-sufficient. This principle operates even in the renewed mind, and endangers the acceptance of our persons and services. Our Lord frequently cautioned his Disciples against it. He had just inculcated the arduous duty of forgiving injuries, and had assured them that, however difficult it might be, faith would enable them to fulfill it; but, aware that such obedience might serve as an occasion for pride and vain-glory, he now teaches them, by a just comparison, what thoughts they should ever entertain even of their best services. We shall consider,

I. The comparison.

The extent of God's authority over us is not sufficiently considered. There is no slave so much at his master's disposal as we are at God's. The Jews exercised a most despotic power over their servants.

Some of the servants among the Jews were captives taken in war: others were slaves bought with money. Over these, their master had unlimited authority. They were regarded by him as his stock, and, like his cattle, were transmitted to his children as a part of their inheritance. They were employed in all kinds of services: nor did their master esteem himself indebted to them for any services they might perform. This was perfectly well known to those whom our Lord addressed. Perhaps many of his hearers had servants whom they so treated. Hence our Lord appealed to them respecting the truth of his statement.

But God has an infinitely higher claim to our services.

He originally formed us in the womb. We have not a faculty which we did not receive from him. This gives him an entire right over us. He, upon this very ground, has an unlimited authority over the greatest monarch, as much as over the meanest slave. He has preserved us every moment since our first existence in the world. However he may have made use of second causes, he has been "the author of every blessing" we have enjoyed. The beasts are not so dependent on their owner as we on him. On this ground he claimed the homage of his people of old, and may justly demand our utmost exertions in his service. He moreover has bought us with a price: he has paid down a sum which exceeds all calculation. Silver and gold were insufficient for the cost: nothing would suffice but the blood of his only dear Son. Behold, he withheld not the mighty ransom. He delivered up his Son for us. And has not this given him a right over us? Can we say in any respect that "we are our own?" or, is not the Apostle's inference just, That we should therefore glorify him with our bodies and our spirits which are his?

Hence it is evident that we can never confer an obligation upon him.

Even hired servants do not confer an obligation by the services they render. Much less do they, who belong to their master as his purchased possession. Least of all can we make God our debtor. We can do no more than what is our absolute duty to do. Works of supererogation exist only in the conceits of blind superstitious papists. The idea of performing them is arrogant in the extreme. None can entertain it in their minds without involving their souls in utter ruin. I he point is decided for us by the voice of inspiration.

The justness of the comparison being made to appear, we proceed to consider,

II. The command grounded upon it.

The injunction in the text is manifestly grounded on the preceding comparison. It imports,

1. That we should not be puffed up with a conceit of our high attainments.

There is no notice taken of our manifold defects. It is supposed that we actually do all that is commanded us; yet even on that supposition we have nothing to boast of. However perfect our obedience were in all other respects, pride would at once debase it all: God will have no flesh to glory in his presence. The very angels, who never fell, are constrained to give all the glory to God. The Seraphim around the throne veil their faces and their feet as unworthy to behold or to serve their Maker; and the glorified saints cast their crowns at the feet of Jesus, ascribing all their happiness to him alone. Sinful man therefore can never have whereof to glory before God. His zeal and holiness can be of no account with God if once they be made the grounds of his confidence. God, so far from approving such a proud boaster, would abhor him, and would surely abase him in the day of judgment.

2. That we should be humbled under a sense of our unprofitableness.

It is not possible that our works should profit God". Nothing that we can do can render him more happy or more glorious. We should live and act under a sense of this. The Apostles themselves were directed to consider their best works as worthless. Indeed, the truly enlightened in all ages have judged thus of themselves. Job abhorred himself in dust and ashes. Isaiah seemed to himself like a poor leper, at the very moment that he was favored with a heavenly vision. Paul accounted himself "less than the least of all saints," yes, the very "chief of sinners." In this light should we continually view our best performances, and acknowledge that "our very righteousnesses are as filthy rags."

Address.

1. Those who are looking for acceptance through their own works.

How manifestly is your spirit contrary to that which the Gospel recommends! You are endeavoring to establish a righteousness of your own: you not only think to compensate for your sins, but to have a degree of merit sufficient to purchase Heaven. Perhaps you profess only to rely on your works in part; but in whatever degree you expect them to weigh, you so far make God your debtor. Hear, I pray you, the voice of Christ in the text. Renounce from henceforth all self-righteousness, and self-dependence, and learn to say with the great Apostle, "I count all things but dung for the knowledge of Christ."

2. Those, who, professing to trust in Christ, are indulging self-delight.

It is inexpressibly difficult to maintain a truly humble spirit. Pride will rise in spite of our better judgment, and often operate when we are least aware of it. Our love of man's applause too often appears even under the garb of humility. Let us guard against self-deceit. God sees through the veil of our hypocrisy, and will leave us to feel the sad effects of our corruption: he has warned us plainly of our danger. "Let him therefore who thinks that he stands, take heed lest he fall," let him "not be high-minded, but fear."

3. Those who are dejected because of their unprofitableness.

It is well to be humbled under a sense of our infirmities; but the feeling of them is an effect of divine grace. Our contrition therefore should be tempered with thankfulness. Let us not forget that such a state of mind is approved of God. Instead of desponding, let us cleave more steadfastly to Christ. The viler we are in our own eyes, the more precious let him be to us. Thus will he increase, as we decrease; and we ourselves shall be exalted in proportion to our self-abasement. Let us in the meantime do all that we can to serve him. If we cannot profit him by fulfilling his commands, we may please him. Let that be our constant ambition. Then, though we have no claim upon him for a reward, he will requite our services; nor shall the smallest attempt to honor him be overlooked.

 

MDLIII

The Ten Lepers Healed

Luke 17:17, 18. And Jesus answering, said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.

AS the miracles of our Lord were greatly diversified, so were the effects produced by them. Sometimes they were regarded with stupid indifference; at other times they were made effectual to the conversion of sinners: we have an instance of both in the history before us.

I. Consider the various circumstances mentioned in the context.

The leprosy, though little known among us, was very common in Judea: ten persons infected with it made application to Jesus for relief.

Jesus had just been refused admission into a Samaritan village. On his entrance into another village the lepers saw him. How graciously was the bigotry of the Samaritans overruled for good! Had they used the common rights of hospitality, perhaps the lepers might never have had the opportunity that was now afforded them. It was not permitted to lepers to approach even their dearest friends. They therefore "stood afar off," crying earnestly for relief. A sense of need will make us importunate in our supplications. But, alas! the generality are far more anxious for the removal of bodily disorders, than of spiritual maladies. Happy were it for us, if our fervor were most expressed in the concerns which most demand it!

Jesus instantly given a gracious answer to their petition.

He did not indeed pronounce them whole, or even promise to make them so. He only ordered them to go to the priests, the appointed judges of leprosy. This however amounted to a virtual promise of healing, unless he intended only to mock and deride their misery. And it answered many valuable and important purposes. It served as a test of their faith and obedience. Their instant departure would prevent any combination to discredit the miracle. It would make the priests themselves to attest its reality, and might lead them to receive him as the promised Messiah. In obedience to his command, the lepers went, expecting a cure: nor were any of them disappointed of their hope. In going, they were restored by the almighty power of Jesus; and they felt in themselves infallible tokens of perfect health.

The effects however produced upon them were not alike in all.

Nine of them prosecuted their journey mindful only of their own comfort. Having obtained all that they wished, they forgot their Benefactor, nor ever thought of paying the debt which gratitude demanded. One, however, was more sensible of the obligations conferred upon him, and burned with a desire to acknowledge the mercies he had received. Returning instantly, he prostrated himself at the feet of Jesus. With heartfelt gratitude he glorified God as the author of his mercy, and gave thanks to Jesus, as the instrument by whom it was sent. Nor was he less ardent in his thanksgivings, than he had before been importunate in his prayers.

To open these more minutely, we shall,

II. Make some reflections on the text in particular.

The first reflection which naturally arises from the text is,

1. What ingratitude is there in the human heart!

We are amazed at the conduct of the ungrateful lepers. We are ready to suppose that nothing could induce us to act like them. Yet we may see in them a true picture of the world at large. How many temporal mercies have we experienced through our whole lives! What continuance of health, or deliverances from sickness! What freedom from want, or relief in the midst of it! What comfort in the society of our friends and relatives! Yet how little have we thought of him, who bestowed these blessings! How many spiritual mercies too have we received from God! What provision has been made for the healing of our souls! The Son of God himself has suffered, that he might "heal us by his stripes": and offers of pardon and salvation have been proclaimed to us in his name; Yes, we have been promised a deliverance from the leprosy of sin, and have been entreated to become children and heirs of God. Are not these mercies which demand our gratitude? Yet what returns have we made to our adorable Benefactor? May not God complain of us as he did of the ungrateful Jews? Let us then abase ourselves before God under a sense of our vileness; nor let us justify our conduct from the example of the world. Who does not commend the singularity of the grateful leper? Who does not admire the singularity of Noah among the antediluvians, and of Lot in Sodom? Let us then dare to be singular in loving and adoring our Benefactor. Let a sense of gratitude far outweigh the fear of man. Then, though the world despise us, we shall have the testimony of a good conscience; and "our record shall be on high" in the day of the Lord Jesus.

2. How often do they, who enjoy the greatest advantages, make the least improvement of them!

The nine ungrateful lepers were, by profession, the Lord's people. They had been instructed out of the law by God's appointed ministers. The wonderful works which had been wrought for their nation could not be unknown to them. The examples of David and other eminent saints had been set before them: they therefore could not but know much of God's will respecting them. The poor "Samaritan," on the contrary, was a "stranger" to God's covenant. The prejudices of his nation forbad all fellowship with the Jews. By this means he was cut off from all opportunities of instruction: yet he returned to glorify his God, while all the Jews overlooked the mercy given unto them. And are there not many among ourselves, who are far from improving their spiritual advantages? Are we not surpassed in virtue by many who never enjoyed our privileges? Are there not many illiterate and obscure persons whose hearts overflow with gratitude, while ours are as insensible as a stone? Let us remember that God expects from us according to the means of improvement he has afforded us; and let us labor to yield fruit suited to the culture bestowed upon us.

3. How plain is our duty both under a need, and after the receipt, of divine mercies!

The lepers could not possibly have adopted a wiser measure than they did: they were persuaded of Christ's power to help: and they sought help at his hands. And is not Jesus as mighty now as in the days of his flesh? Will not the diseases of the soul, as well as of the body, yield to his commands? Has he not encouraged us by many express promises of mercy? Let us then, like the lepers, cry, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us"; nor let us cease from our importunity until we have prevailed: but, if we have received answers of peace, let us be thankful for them. Justly did Jesus express his wonder at not seeing the other nine; much more will he if we should forget to pay him our tribute of praise. Waiting for our approaches, he says, "Where are they?" Let him then see us daily prostrating ourselves before him. Let us be earnest in our thanksgivings, as well as in our prayers. Let us often consider how we may best express our sense of his goodness. In his strength let us go and show ourselves to the world. Let us compel his very enemies to acknowledge his work, and constrain them by our lives to confess the efficacy of his grace. Thus shall we most acceptably honor him on earth, and before long be exalted to magnify his name in Heaven.

 

MDLIV

Suddenness of Christ's Second Coming

Luke 17:26–30. As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from Heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

WE cannot be too often reminded, that religion is not a matter of speculation, but of practice. The replies which our Lord constantly made to speculative or curious inquiries, leads us to this remark. He always endeavored to turn the mind inwards, and to make every question that was put to him subservient to the spiritual welfare of his hearers. The Pharisees, ever deceiving themselves with the expectation of a temporal Messiah, asked him, "When the kingdom of God should come?" He told them, that the Messiah's kingdom was not to be an outward and temporal one, such as they looked for, but an inward and spiritual kingdom, such as he himself was now establishing in the hearts of men. But as the nation at large would reject him, he warned his hearers, that the Son of Man should again come, even before that present generation should have passed away; that, when he did come, he would find them as supine and careless as they were at that moment; and that, unless they repented, his coming would issue in their utter destruction.

This seems to be the obvious import of the words. But, as the same expressions are used in a subsequent discourse, where they are blended with others relating to the day of judgment, we shall not confine them to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, but take them as declaring in general,

I. The state of mankind at large.

We are here told what was their state in the days of old.

In the days of Noah and of Lot the great mass of mankind were in a state of carnal enjoyment, of criminal security, and of contemptuous unbelief.

Their business and their pleasures altogether engrossed their minds: 'they ate and drank, and formed connections, and got fortunes, and built houses, and planted grounds, and consulted their own happiness and comfort in the way they liked best.' This was their entire employment, and the great object of their lives: if they could but make themselves happy and comfortable in their respective stations, it was all they cared for.

Had they pursued these things in subserviency to higher and better things, there would have been no blame imputed to them: for, the eating, and drinking, and marrying, and buying, and selling, and planting, and building, were not wrong in themselves: but the evil of this state consisted in its being their chief, if not their only, occupation. Had we been told, that, in addition to these things, they wept, they fasted, they prayed, they turned to God, and served the Lord with their whole hearts, we should not have grudged them one atom of their enjoyments, or have thought the worse of them for their worldly occupations. But God was not in all their thoughts; eternity was hid from their view; the things of time and sense engaged their whole attention: they took for granted that they had nothing to fear from the hands of God, and therefore they were under no anxiety to obtain his favor. In a word, they regarded their bodily welfare, but had no concern at all about their souls.

But this security of theirs did not proceed from ignorance: the antediluvians were taught by Noah, for one hundred and twenty years together, that God would punish their supineness, that he would punish it too by a deluge that should overwhelm the whole earth. Moreover, the ark was gradually prepared in their sight; so that at least they must see that the preacher believed his own declarations. In like manner, the inhabitants of Sodom were warned by Lot, who "vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds." But, as Noah was doubtless regarded as little better than a maniac, so, Lot's words, we are told, appeared, even to his own relatives, as idle tales; "he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law." This it was that chiefly aggravated the guilt of the persons referred to: they were called, but they would not answer; they were warned, but they would not hear: they cast God's words behind them, and set at nothing all his threatenings, and poured contempt upon all his messages of love and mercy. Such was their state in the days of old.

And similar to it will be the state of the world at the last day.

Should we attempt to describe the state of the world at this hour, where could we find words more proper to represent it than those in the text? We may appeal to all, whether the great mass of Christians, no less than of heathens, be not divided between the two pursuits of business and pleasure? Into how many companies may you go, before you will find a person that seriously inquires, "Where is God my Maker?" We might here speak of the open sins which are everywhere committed without shame and without remorse: but we purposely omit the mention of any gross sin whatever, and confine ourselves to the things specified in our text as characterizing the most inoffensive part of the antediluvian world, and of the inhabitants of Sodom; because it is to the more inoffensive part of the community that we now more especially address ourselves: and we ask whether the text be not a faithful picture of them? In particular, is not serious religion held up to scorn? and are not the promoters of it considered as "the troublers of Israel?" Blessed be God, the ark is rearing in the midst of you; and there are a few who boldly protest against the impiety that prevails: but how few improve the warnings that they hear, or set themselves in earnest to flee from the wrath to come!

Nor is this picture less descriptive of those who will be alive at the day of judgment. The same carnal enjoyments will be sought then as now; the same criminal security will obtain; and the same contemptuous unbelief will decry all need of vital godliness. The people of that generation will be warned, even as you have been; and they will regard the messages of God as the dreams of gloomy superstition, or the reveries of enthusiastic folly. This state of things will continue even to the very moment that Christ shall come to judgment, precisely as it did among the antediluvians, until the flood came, and, among the inhabitants of Sodom, until the fire came down from Heaven to consume them.

This melancholy prospect renders it necessary for me to point out,

II. The danger of that state.

We have before observed, that the text primarily refers to the coming of Christ to destroy Jerusalem, but has a further reference also to his coming to judge the world. Agreeably to this view of it, shall be our consideration of the danger that attends the state therein described.

Consider then its danger,

1. To the nation.

There is a time when Christ comes to punish nations, just as he did to punish Jerusalem. And how shall we judge of the time that he will come? I answer, then is he most likely to come, when a nation is in the state before described. That he is visiting the nations now, is a fact so clear, that no thoughtful man can entertain a doubt of it. Hitherto the showers of his wrath, which have deluged other lands, have but just sprinkled ours: but the clouds are black, and gathering thick around us: and the darkest symptom is, that, "though his hand is lifted up, we will not see it." Consult the Scriptures, and see whether this security be not the surest forerunner of his judgments? See what was the state of Jerusalem previous to the Babylonish captivity, and say whether, while our state so precisely accords with it, we have not reason to tremble at the prospect of her judgments? or let the predicted fall of the mystical Babylon be taken as a ground of your decision. The truth is, that, amidst all the advantages which we possess for superior piety, we take the lead in an idolatrous attachment to wealth and pleasure, and in a presumptuous confidence in an arm of flesh: we may well therefore expect, that the cup which others have drunk of, shall be put into our hands; and that our superior guilt will issue in more aggravated calamities.

2. To individuals.

The Lord Jesus may not in any signal manner visit men in this life; but he will infallibly call them to judgment in the world to come. For this end he will come to them, as soon as they shall have filled up the measure of their iniquities; and the same criterion which we have used in estimating the ripeness of nations for judgment, will serve us to judge of the state of individuals. God has told us, that "as fishes are taken in an evil net, and as birds are caught in a snare, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them." Moreover, to impress this the more strongly on our minds, he has represented a man, who, having succeeded in his temporal pursuits, congratulates himself on the prospect of many years of pleasurable enjoyment: and then he addresses that man in terms suited to the occasion; "You fool, this night shall your soul be required of you." Here then we see a lively example of the state which is described in our text, and of the visit which the sinner receives from his offended Lord. May this awful representation never be realized in us! But let us tremble lest it should: for we are taught to expect, that "our Lord will come in a time that we look not for him, and at an hour that we are not aware," nay more, we are assured, that, when we begin to say, "I shall have peace though I walk in the imagination of my heart, then will God's anger and jealousy smoke against us, and he will blot out our name from under Heaven."

3. To the world at large.

The precise season of the general judgment is not known to men or angels; nor was Christ himself, as man, informed of it, at least not so informed as to have it within his commission to declare it. But we have already seen in what state the world will be at its arrival. They will be expecting the period as little as we at present are. They will have been warned respecting it by the faithful ministers of Christ; but they will not regard the admonitions that are given them: they will rather scoff, as the antediluvians and the inhabitants of Sodom did, "Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. But, in the midst of all their occupations, enjoyments, projects, the trumpet shall sound, and the Judge appear in his glory. This will take place "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." "As the lightning that enlightens out of the one part under Heaven shines unto the other part under Heaven, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be." Alas! in what a condition will millions of the human race be found! some in the commission of the grossest crimes; some ridiculing the supposed weakness of their faithful monitors; and the more innocent among them occupied in nothing better than "eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage." How terrible to be called to judgment in a state so unprepared! Will the suddenness of the event be any excuse for them in that day? or will it be any reason for averting or mitigating their punishment? No, it will be with them as with those mentioned in our text: "As soon as Noah entered into the ark, the flood came and destroyed them all;" and, "as soon as Lot went out of Sodom, the fire and brimstone descended and consumed them all," so will all, that are unprepared to meet their God, be utterly and eternally destroyed. Hence the day of judgment is called, "the day of the perdition of ungodly men." As long as we are in this world, it is "a day of acceptance, a day of salvation." Yes, even to the eleventh hour we are warranted to invite men to return to God, and to assure them of a favorable reception: but when death or judgment arrive, there is an end of the day of grace, and then commences the day of everlasting perdition.

Address.

1. The congregation in general.

We would entreat every one of you to inquire, whether you are prepared to meet your God? This is no trifling question, no enthusiastic question, no party question; it is a question in which all are equally interested, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlearned. And we beg leave to remind you all, that an inoffensive conduct is not sufficient to secure happiness for you in the last day. You will observe, that no gross sin is imputed to the antediluvian world, or to the inhabitants of Sodom; many of them doubtless were guilty of heinous transgressions: but the universal sin, the sin that destroyed them all, was carelessness. Say then, brethren, whether this do not characterize your state? and whether you have not reason to tremble for the judgments that shall come upon you? You are apt to promise yourselves a more convenient season for turning to God: but how many are disappointed in that hope! Suppose that, at the deluge, there were some so far wrought upon by the ministry of Noah, that they determined to follow his advice as soon as they should have finished their present business, and got more time for spiritual employments: suppose them surprised by the flood, witnessing the destruction of thousands around them, and, from an eminence to which they had fled, seeing the ark borne up by the waves in which they were shortly to be immersed; how would they wish that they had improved the day of their visitation, and fled to the ark for refuge! Thus pungent, thus fruitless, will be the remorse of millions in the day of judgment. But, blessed be God! the ark is not yet closed: it is open for all who will flee unto it: the Lord Jesus Christ never did, nor ever will, close the door against a repenting sinner: he came to seek and to save the lost; yes, he shed his blood upon the cross to save them. To every one of you then would we say, "Come my people, enter you into your chambers, and shut the door about you, and hide yourself for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast." But, if you will not hear, know of a certainty, that "your judgment lingers not, and your damnation slumbers not," for, "if God spared not the angels that sinned … nor the old world … nor Sodom; but saved Noah … and delivered Lot, he knows at this time how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished."

2. Those among you who make a profession of vital godliness.

This subject may appear to some of you to be calculated to awaken sinners, but not very well suited to the edification of saints. This conceit appears to have entered into the mind of Christ's Disciples; and to have been justly reproved by him: for, who is he who needs not such an admonition? We grant, that here are no new truths brought to our view: "you know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night;" and that when men shall say, 'Peace and safety,' then destruction shall come upon them as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape. You, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. You are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night nor of darkness." But is this subject therefore uninstructive to you? Hear how the Apostle continues his address to the very persons whom he has thus described: "Therefore let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober: let us who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and, for an helmet, the hope of salvation." Hear also how another Apostle addresses the whole Christian Church: "The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night … Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in all holy conversation and godliness; looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God?… Wherefore, beloved, seeing that you look for such things, be diligent that you may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless." As we said to others, that an inoffensive conduct will not suffice; so we must say to you, that a religious profession will not suffice. You know full well in what a state men ought to die; (how penitent, how believing, how devout in their minds, how subdued in their tempers, how superior to the world, how intent on heavenly things:) this then is the state in which you ought to live: that, when Jesus shall say to you, "Surely I come quickly;" you may be ready at all times to answer, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."

 

MDLV

Lot's Wife!

Luke 17:32. Remember Lot's wife.

IT is necessary for mariners frequently to consult charts or maps, which have been formed for the purpose of pointing out to them the different bearings of different countries, and of guarding them against latent obstacles which would endanger the safety of their ship. But notwithstanding the utmost care that has been taken to ascertain the situation of rocks and shoals, it often happens that ships are wrecked, where no caution has been given in the most approved charts, and where no danger was apprehended. This however cannot happen to persons sailing for the port of Heaven. There is not a rock or shoal that is not plainly laid down in the inspired volume; nor is there any fear of shipwreck to those who will follow the course which is there prescribed. That multitudes do perish, notwithstanding they have that volume before them, is certain. Many who have for a long time enjoyed, like Demas, a prosperous voyage, have yet, through their inattention to the cautions given them, struck upon the rocks of worldliness, and come short of the desired harbor. But the fault is in themselves only; they have been guarded in a peculiar manner against the danger to which they were exposed: it had been said to them, and it is said to us also, "Remember Lot's wife." But let us inquire,

I. What we are to remember concerning her.

We may comprehend the whole under two heads:

1. Her sin.

She, as the history informs us, looked back towards Sodom after she had been delivered from it by the angels.

Is it asked, What harm there was in this? we answer, it was in many points of view exceeding sinful. It was (to speak of it in the most favorable light) a curious look. Curiosity may indeed be innocent in respect to some things; but in reference to others, it may be highly criminal. Who can doubt the criminality of those Bethshemites who looked into the ark; when above fifty thousand of them were struck dead upon the spot for their transgression? Or who that knows anything of his own heart can doubt, whether he has not often contracted guilt by indulging an unhallowed curiosity to see, or hear, or read, things which he had no proper call to inquire into, and the knowledge of which tended only to inflame his imagination, and defile his soul? And surely the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was not a fit subject for curiosity, at a time too that she was rescued from it by the ministry of angels: her mind ought to have been very differently occupied on so awful an occasion.

But it was also an unbelieving look. She had been told that fire and brimstone should come down from Heaven to destroy those wicked cities; and she was desirous to know whether the threatening were indeed true, or whether she was fleeing from only imaginary dangers. And was this no sin? Was not Sarah reproved for doubting an almost incredible promise? Was not Zachariah struck deaf and dumb for a similar fault? Yes, were not all the nation of Israel doomed to perish in the wilderness on account of their unbelief? Who then will say, What harm was there in her conduct?

Moreover, it was a wishful look. She had left a part of her family behind, together with (what she seemed more anxious about) the whole of her possessions; and, instead of being thankful for the preservation of her life, she was filled with regret about what she had lost. That this was a very essential part of her fault, is certain: because she is proposed as a warning to us in this particular view. Her treasure was more in Sodom than in Heaven; and she showed by her look, that "where her treasure was, there was her heart also." Was there then no crime in "setting her affections on things below, instead of on things above?"

Lastly, it was a disobedient look. However innocent it might be in every other view, it was palpably wrong in this. The command was plain and positive; "Look not behind you in all the plain." It was not for her to determine whether the command were more or less important; her duty was to obey it: and, in violating it, she rebelled against the Majesty of Heaven. Eve's eating of the forbidden fruit might be thought a slight offence; but it ruined the whole world. And Saul's sparing of Agag and the spoil, might be called a merciful and commendable deviation from the commission given him; but it was declared to be rebellion against God, and as criminal in his estimation as witchcraft or idolatry.

In remembering therefore her sin, we should remember, that God looks not merely on our outward conduct, but at the inward principles and dispositions of the heart.

2. Her punishment.

This was truly awful. She was instantly involved in the very same ruin that overwhelmed all the cities of the plain. Not a moment was allowed her for repentance; but she was cut off in the very act of sin, and summoned into the presence of her Judge to receive her doom at his hands.

It was moreover exemplary. She was made a monument of God's holy indignation, and a warning to all future ages, that men must not trifle with sin, or be inattentive to the Divine commands. Wherever the Bible shall come, even to the very end of time, she will be held up as an example of that vengeance, which shall sooner or later overtake all whose hearts are at variance with their professions.

It will be proper to state,

II. Why we are to bear her in remembrance.

Much there is that we may learn from her; but particularly,

1. Our duty.

That we are not to be altogether "of the world," is a truth that scarcely need be mentioned to those who make any profession of religion. But very few are aware to what an extent our renunciation of it should be carried. It is not sufficient, that we do not run to the same excess of riot with the ungodly; or that we differ from them in appearance and profession: we must indeed have some fellowship with them (or else we could not fill up our several stations in life); but we must "come out from among them and be separate, and have no more communion with them than light with darkness, or Christ with Belial." Nor must we have our heart set upon our property, when God in his providence is calling us to forsake it. We need not put away riches from us, if God is pleased to cast them into our lap; nor ought we to be indifferent to the preservation of them, if we can keep them together with our integrity; but they are not to be our idol; nor ought we to regret the loss of them, if we be called to sacrifice them for the honor of our God. We should have our affections withdrawn from things below, and set exclusively on things above. We should "love nothing that is in the world," so as to judge it at all necessary to our happiness: instead of wishing to accumulate possessions in it, or to enjoy its vanities, it should be our principal care to shun its pollutions, and escape its plagues. If we look back upon it at all, it must only be for the purpose of kindling in our hearts a more lively gratitude to God, who in infinite mercy has delivered us from it, and plucked us out of it as brands out of the burning.

2. Our danger.

Let not any one imagine himself safe, because he is come out of Sodom, and is associated with those who are fleeing from the wrath to come. We know that the Scripture does give many blessed assurances of the Divine protection to those who trust in God: but it is a very sinful perversion of the Scriptures to interpret them in such a manner, as to invalidate all the solemn cautions which are given against apostatizing from our profession, and falling short of the promised rest. We are in danger: and our security principally consists in feeling our danger, and in acting conformably to those sensations. For what end are we so frequently reminded of the destruction of the Israelites after they had been brought out of Egypt, and after they had been favored with God's visible presence in the wilderness? or why did our Lord so strongly recommend us to "remember Lot's wife;" and tell us, that "no man, who having put his hand to the plough should look back, was fit for the kingdom of God?" or where is the man, however confident he may be about the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, who will venture to say, that he himself is in no danger of "looking back," and that he is already so "escaped from the pollutions of the world, that he never can be entangled again with them and overcome?" I say again, we are in danger, all of us; and it becomes us "not to be high-minded, but to fear." "Let him therefore that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall."

In conclusion, we would suggest a few hints respecting the manner in which you should obey the admonition in the text. Remember her,

1. With thanksgivings to God, that you have not long since experienced a similar judgment.

2. With prayer to God, that he would "keep you by his own power through faith unto everlasting salvation."

 

MDLVI

The Duty of Persevering in Prayer

Luke 18:1. Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.

THE efficacy of prayer is continually exhibited in the sacred writings, and every incitement to it is afforded us: nevertheless we are prone to faint in the performance of it. To encourage our perseverance in it our Lord delivered a parable. Waving all notice of the parable itself, we shall consider,

I. Our duty.

To be always in the act of prayer would interfere with other duties: that which is here inculcated, implies that we pray,

Statedly.

Regular seasons for prayer should be fixed. Except in cases of absolute necessity they should be adhered to. We should constantly acknowledge God in the public assembly. We should maintain his worship also in our families; nor should we on any account omit it in our closets.

Occasionally.

There are many particular occasions which require us to pray: in prosperity, that God may counteract its evil tendency: in adversity, that we may be supported under it: in times of public distress or danger, to avert the calamity.

Habitually.

We should maintain a spiritual frame of mind. We may have a disposition for prayer in the midst of business; nor will secret ejaculations prevail less than solemn devotions.

To pray thus is our duty; "We ought," etc.

It is a duty we owe to God.

He, our Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer, has commanded it; nor can anything absolve us from our obligation to obey.

We owe it also to our neighbor.

The edification of Christ's mystical body depends, not only on the union of every part with the head, but on the whole being fitly framed together, and on every joint supplying its proper nourishment. But if we be remiss in prayer, we shall be incapable of administering that benefit, which other members have a right to expect from us.

We owe it to ourselves.

A "spirit of supplication" is as necessary to the soul, as food to the body; nor can we feel any regard for our souls, if we do not cultivate it.

It is, however, by no means easy to fulfill this duty.

II. The difficulties that attend it.

When we set ourselves to the performance of it, we shall find difficulties.

Before we begin to pray.

Worldly business may occupy, or worldly amusements dissipate, our thoughts. Family cares may distract our minds, and family disagreements indispose us for this holy employment. Lassitude of body may unfit us for the necessary exertions. We may be disabled by an invincible hardness of heart. A want of utterance may also operate as a heavy discouragement. By these means many are tempted to defer their religious exercises: but to yield to the temptation is to increase the difficulty.

While we are engaged in prayer.

The world is never more troublesome than at such seasons. Something seen or heard, lost or gained, done or to be done, will generally obtrude itself upon us when we are at the throne of grace. The flesh also, with its vilest imaginations, will solicit our attention; nor will Satan be backward to interrupt our devotions.

After we have concluded prayer.

When we have prayed, we should expect an answer. But worldliness may again induce a forgetfulness of God; and a habit of worldly conversation drive every serious thought from our minds. Impatience to receive the desired blessings may deject us. Ignorance of the method in which God answers prayer may cause us to disquiet ourselves with many ungrounded apprehensions. Unbelief may rob us of the benefits we might have received. Whatever obstructs God's answers to prayer, disqualifies us for the future discharge of that duty.

Application.

Let us not expect victory without many conflicts. Let us remember the effect of perseverance in the case of Moses. Above all, let us attend to the parable spoken for this end. So shall we be kept from fainting under our discouragements, and God will fulfill to us his own promise.

 

MDLVII

The Importunate Widow

Luke 18:6–8. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge says. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of Man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?

THERE is no duty more strongly enforced in Scripture than that of prayer: nor is there any which needs to be more impressed upon the conscience. To those, who have never engaged in this duty with real spirituality of mind, it may appear easy to be performed; but they, who are most earnest in the discharge of it, find many difficulties to combat with. To encourage us to persevere in spite of all those difficulties, our Lord spoke the parable before us.

We shall consider,

I. What the unjust judge said.

There was a widow laboring under some heavy oppression.

Sin has universally armed men against their fellow-creatures. The world is full of robbery and oppression of every kind; and they who are most defenseless usually suffer the greatest injuries. Every one is ready to take advantage of the fatherless and the widow. It is their comfort, however, that, if they have enemies on earth, they have a friend in Heaven.

She went to a magistrate to redress her grievances.

The appointment of magistrates is a rich blessing to the community, and they ought to be regarded with much respect and gratitude. We should not indeed be going to law about every trifle. We should rather settle our disputes, if possible, by arbitration; but under the widow's circumstances, it was right to solicit the magistrate's interference.

The judge, for a long season, would pay no attention to her req