« AnteriorContinuar »
indeed an evil and bitter thing, and salvation from it a matter of the greatest importance. And shall we so pursue our farms and merchandise as to make light of it? Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. It is sufficient to warrant our coming to him, that such are we. Finally, if he came to save the chief of sinners, whatever our sins have been, they can furnish no reason for despair. Even the sin against the Holy Ghost is not unpardonable, as being too great for the mercy of God, or for the atonement of Christ ; but as precluding that which is necessary to an interest in both—repentan e . Heb. vi. 6. If therefore our sins be lamented, and we have faith in Christ, however numerous or fieinous they have been, we shall find mercy. If a ship founders at sea, and while her company are some floating on pieces of wreck, and others swimming for their lives, a friendly vessel bears • down and throws out a rope to every one of them, would it be . for any one to hesitate as to his taking hold of it?
Many in the day of adversity have, like the prodigal, been brought to a right mind; but many are not so. Some are unaffected, and even hardened under their afflictions. Nothing is heard but murmurings ad complainings; and nothing seen but sullen discontent, depression, nd despondency. Others, being deeply intrenched in the persuasion that they ha e lived a good life, all that is said to them respecting the gospel makes no impression on their minds. Others are secure in consequence of Having imbibed some false scheme of religion; and others, who are.tender at the time, and appear to believe the g el are no sooner restored to health, than they lose thcr impr. ssions, and return to their former courses.
Let us review these cases. If affliction has been the means of humbling you, and bringing you to a right mind, you have reason, not only to be reconciled to it, but to consider it among your greatest mercies. It has en good for you to b. ar the yoke of adversity; and this should teach you o be resigned to the will of God as to your future lot. 'It was by affliction,' said a good man, 'that I was first brought into the way, and by affliction that I have been kept in it.' Before I was afflicttd, I went astray, but now I have learned thy word..
But if the visitations of God have tended only to harden you, and to provoke you to sullenness and discontent, you have reason to fear lest you should be given up to such a state of mind. Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more.— Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone!
If you be full of self-righteous confidence, flattering yourself that your life has been good, and that you have nothing to fear, consider whether you be not in the very condition of those whom .our Saviour describes as whole, and so needing no physician. You appear to have no wants ; and therefore none of the blessings of the gospel are interesting to you. A very interesting narrative was published a few years since of such a case as this. A worthy minister, on visiting a dying man, was told by him with great self. complacency, that 'he had never been guilty of any particular sins, and was not therefore uneasy on that score.' "To every thing I said," (says the minister,) " he gave that unlimited assent, which, when coining from an unenlightened person, has always appeared to me peculiarly embarrassing. To every truth I stated, his monotonous reply was, ' Yes, sir,'—' To be sure, sir,'—' Certainly, sir,' and the like. I now felt (as I have often done under similar circumstances) discouraged, perplexed, and grieved ; and could not but deeply lament the mental darkness under which the poor man appeared to be enveloped. After a short pause, 1 frankly confessed that I knew not what to say to him ; observing that he appeared to have no wants—that the blessings of the gospel were forthe poor, the wretched, and the lost—that if he were lamenting his sins, crying for mercy, and inquiring the way of salvation, I thought I should know how to address him; but that with his present views, the gospel must necessarily appear to him of very little value." This faithful remonstrance, together with a charge of having neglected his own salvation for the sake of worldly advantage, which charge the minister was enabled to bring home to his- conscience, appears to have been the means of awakening him to a sense of his danger. 'What,' said he, ' and is it too late? Is all lost? Is my poor soul abandoned? Have I lived in the neglect of all these things ? And is it come to this? O what, what shall I do? O my sins! O my poor soul! O mjkGod, my God! Shall I be cast off for ever? What must I do to be saved? Is there no way open for me? O what, what must I do to be saved "—The way of salvation being pointed out to him, he appeared with great sincerity to embrace it, and died very happily. But many have died in the very spirit of the Jews, seeking after acceptance with God, without attaining it. And wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it irere by the works of the law : for they stumbled at that stumbling-stone. • But your security may be in consequence of your having imbibed some false species of religion, which influences your mind like an opiate, divesting you of all painful reflection, and filling you with dreams of future happiness. A confidence of this sort is more difficult to be shaken than self-righteous hope itself. Those who have not made much pretence to religion have not so great sacrifices to mak* in embracing the gospel as those who have. You account your darkness light: but if the light which is In us be darkness, how great is that darkness! There is an intoxicating quality in false religion, and in the false joys excited by it: like strong drink, it produces a kind of happiness at the time, and a vehement desire of repeating the delicious draught; but its end is bitter. Prov. xxiii. 29—~35. We have no mind to dispute with you, but wish to declare unto you the gospel of God, and leave it. If the faithful saying above referred to, be received, it will issue in your salvation ; if not, we can only deliver our own souls! tian conversation, that his word has taken deep root in your mind, your fellow-Christians will rejoice over you, and join in blessing God that the day of visitation has been to you a day of salvation.
Finally: Though your mind may have undergone a change during your affliction, yet, recollect that sick-bed repentances are often, though not always, like what is said of the goodness of Ephraim: As a morning cloud, and as the early dew, it goeth away. If you abound in vows and promises as to your future life, it is rather a sign that you know but little of yourself, than of a real change for the better. An immediate apprehension of death is capable of producing great effects, which are often mistaken for a change of heart. Be confident of the truth of Christ s doctrine and promises; but be diffident of yourself. To doubt his word is unbelief; but to be jealous of yourself is one of the fruits of faith. If God should restore you to health, and you prove by your Chris
That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.—Eccl. i. 15.
The wise man inquires, What is that good for the sons of men, which they should do all the days of their life? At the close of his inquiries he answers, Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. But before he comes to this conclusion of the matter, as he calls it, he takes a large survey of human af'fairs, the result of every inquiry concerning which is, All.is vanity and vexation of spirit. Every thing that passed under his review was either void of substantial good, or connected with some evil which embittered it.
Two of the marks of vanity inscribed on earthly things are, that a great number of them are inveterately crooked, or devious from the line of what is good for the sons of men; and that a still greater number are wanting, or defective; so that though there were nothing in them repugnant to what is good, yet they are insufficient to satisfy the mind.
That devious and defective things should be found in the world is not surprising; but they are found also in the church, and our endeavours to rectify and supply them are often ineffectual. It is too much to infer from this that we are to sit down in despair, and attempt nothing; but it will be profitable to know the limited extent of our powers, so as not to waste our time and energies on that which will answer no good end.
Many have been employed during the greater part of their lives in striving to correct the errors and disorders of the church, and to supply its defects. This has certainly been a good work. What else were the labours of the Reformers, of the Puritans, of the Nonconformists, and indeed of all the servants of God in every age, but so many attempts to bend the minds of men to the mind of Christ? Nor have they laboured without effect. When we compare the present state of things with what we wish, we seem indeed to have done nothing : but when with the state of things in times past, we may say, What hath God wrought ! Paganism has been excluded from Europe; Popery has been so diminished as to have lost its wonted energies; and Christianity, cherished under the wing of religious freedom, has of late taken a notable flight, alighting in the very heart of the Pagan world. But with all this, there are many crooked things among us, and things which by human hands cannot be made straight. The spirit of infidelity has pervaded the minds of millions in Europe, whose fathers were once the decided friends of the reformation. The systems of many who would be thought to be Christians are so tinged with it, as to become antichristian. And among those who profess to believe the doctrines of the reformation, many content themselves with the name of orthodoxy, without the thing. There is a tendency in the human mind to deviate from divine truth. Had it not been for the illuminating influence of the Spirit of God, we should never have understood it; not because of its abstruseness, but on account of the uncongeniality of our minds : and when we do understand and believe it, there is a continual tendency in us to get wrong. It might seem that when a person has once obtained a just view of the gospel, there is no danger of his losing it; but it is not so. There is a partiality in all our views, and while we guard against error in one direction, we are in equal danger from a contrary extreme. Many, in shunning the snare of self-righteous pride, have fallen into the pit of Antinomian presumption; and many in guarding what they consider as the interests of practical religion, have ceased to teach and preach those principles from which
Vol. VIII. 63