« AnteriorContinuar »
us to question-and therefore to inquire whe-ed of "that fulness of joy"-of that "crown ther we are the subjects of divine grace; of life"-of that "everlasting kingdom which whether we are the " heirs of promise;" God hath promised to them that love him?" whether we have a title to heaven, and are What would it be to lose your business, your in a fair way to obtain this blessedness. health, your friends, compared with the loss of the soul?
And remember, there is no medium between heaven and hell-if you miss the one, the other is unavoidable.
Now the thought of missing this rest is surely enough to awaken in you this peculiar concern-especially when you consider two things: the possibility of your coming short; and the consequence of your coming short.
And remember, also, the aggravations which will attend the misery of those who perish in your circumstances. There is nothing so healing, so soothing, as the expectation of hope; and of course there is nothing so tormenting as the disappointment of it, especially where the object is vastly important. What then can equal the regrets and horrors those will feel who shall come short of eternal life! What will be their reflections when they see that the blessing was attainable, but that their own folly had deprived them of it! And when they discover their mistake, but, alas, too late to rectify the error! -A timely fear would have prevented all this.
First. To excite in you this fear, remember the possibility of your coming short. And here let me mention a fact which should make you tremble. It is this-out of six hundred thousand Israelites, who came out of Egypt to possess the land of Canaan, two only entered!-But what is this to us? Hear how the Apostle applies it. " Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them: and that rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples"-adds the Apostle. They are emblems and warnings to us. We here behold persons, under a dispensation of peculiar privileges, considered as the people of God, delivered from their enemies by the most wonderful displays of Divine power; clothed in garments unimpaired by wearing, or by time; and whose meat and drink were not only miraculous, but sacramental-and, after all this, we see them perishing under the wrath of Heaven. "Wherefore," says the Apostle again, "let him that thinketh he standeth" high in the Divine favour, and is perfectly secure, "take heed lest he fall." Let him not depend on external privileges; on gifts; on being baptized in his infancy; on his partaking of the memorials of the Saviour's death-or a thousand other things, which are no certain proofs of salvation. Persons may go far, but not far enough; they may be convinced, but not converted; like Saul, they may have another heart, and not a new one. And indeed nothing is more common than delusions of this kind. Oh! how many there are who say, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked!" Oh! how many are there who entertain confident hopes of heaven, that will never see it! They are pillowed up on the-but the appearance of evil. He would bed of carnal security-die like lambs-and have us not only possess religion, but "adorn awake with the devil and his angels! "Let the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." us therefore fear." He would not have us remit our caution and our zeal in the smallest degree, so as to render our adherence to the truth suspicious, or
And observe, how far the Apostle extends the admonition-"Let us fear, lest any of you seem to come short of it." We see that he applies it to all: deeming none below the benefit of caution, and none above the necessity of it-lest" any of you." And he applies it to all in the greatest degree. Lest any of you-what! should come short? No -but seem to come short. He not only forbids us to go back-but even to look back. He would have us not only avoid the reality
But, Secondly. Consider the consequence of coming short. Is it not dreadful to be depriv
Yea, remember also, that you will not only be disappointed in coming short-but you will be punished for it. Your perdition will be your greatest sin. You could not be lost without contemning the authority of God, who commanded you to believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and trampling under foot his mercy and his grace. You offend him even more by your unbelief than by your iniquity. The Gospel has its threatenings, as well as the Law; and after the one has condemned you for transgressing its commands, the other will condemn you for the rejection of its remedy. Thus, as the Apostle says, the word you hear will "prove the savour of death unto death." How then can you escape if you neglect so great salvation? If you could even elude the curse of the law, you would have to encounter the damnation of the Gospel. What then think you of both? "Can thy heart endure, or thy hand be strong, when he shall deal with thee?"-"Let us therefore fear."
our declension from the ways of God proba- | truth of the promise-but only makes a man ble. He would not have you to leave your anxious to ascertain whether he has any part eternal state in the least uncertainty; or live or lot in the matter. so as to awaken doubts in others, and to lead the people of the world to say-"Ah! they are yielding by little and little; they cannot throw off every thing at once-they will soon join us again." We are, like the patriarchs, to "declare plainly that we seek a country" -and not puzzle our neighbours to determine whether to consider us at home, or only as strangers and pilgrims upon earth. We are not to be doubtful characters, so that no reader can make any thing of us, or say whose hand the writing is; but we are "to be manifestly the epistles of Jesus Christ, known and read of all men." "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it."
And should this be carelessly decided? Can a man in such a case be too safe or too certain? Is it not much better to be even needlessly distressed for a time, than to be deceived for ever? Is it not better to have a troubled conscience than a seared one? "To this man, says God, will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word." "Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear. Be not highminded, but fear. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling."
Indeed, this fear seems to be unavoidable from the very nature of the case. Whoever attends to the workings of his own mind, well knows that the proposal of any great or unexpected benefit always produces a variety of emotions. Wonder is the first: this is instantly succeeded by joy--but there is another feeling which also immediately seizes the mind and works very powerfully-and this is solicitude-care to attain and secure it-fear, lest after all we should not realize the possession of it. And this is what our Saviour means when he says, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field: the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth, and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field." This hiding is not in order to secresy, but safety for as by hiding things we commonly secure themthe one is put for the other; and this explanation accords with the experience of every awakened soul. For in proportion as you prize salvation, and desire it, and apprehend it to be necessary-will be your fear of coming short of it. Indifference does not generate fear-No-but conviction does, and so does attachment.
To conclude. Let us observe, first, how thankful we should be for such a promise left us of entering into his rest! For surely we could not have reasonably expected it. Had we been informed that God was about to give us a revelation from heaven, our guilty minds would have foreboded nothing but tribulation and wrath, vexation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil. This we deserved -but behold, he speaks-and his "thoughts are thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to bring us to an expected end." The address is to tell us of a remedy for our disease; a refuge from the storm; a passage from this world of misery into a better, even "a heavenly country."
O what welcome intelligence is this! How much did we stand in need of such a discovery, such an assurance as this! Our earth is a vale of tears; creatures are broken reeds and empty cisterns: our mortifications are frequent; our pains numerous; our enjoyments unsatisfying! Surely man walketh in a vain show!"-But he is not compelled to walk so now. There are realities attainable; there is satisfaction; there is rest. "He hath showed thee, O man! what is good. Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace, thereby good shall come unto thee." Do not, do not resemble the Jews of old: "to whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest, and this is the refreshing :-yet they would not hear.”
Let us, secondly, see how necessary it is in religion to avoid passing from one extreme into another. The Gospel encourages our hope: but then it enlightens it, and guards it. It tells us not to" refuse to be comforted;" but it teaches us to blend a holy jealousy with our confidence, and "to rejoice with trembling." Some people seem to consider the fear of which we have been speaking, as legality and unbelief-whereas it is promoted by an evangelical frame of mind, and is the cffspring of faith. It does not question the
Lastly. What are we to say of those of you who know nothing of this salutary con cern? Perhaps, if some of you were to speak what you feel, you would say, That the loss of this rest was the least of all your fears. It never disturbs your repose by night, nor embitters your enjoyments by day. Whenever the thought enters, you consider it as an intruder and soon expel it. All your fear is limited to the world and the present life. You fear for your health, and are alarmed when any unfavourable symptoms appear. You fear for your business; your fortune; your estate, and cannot deem yourselves too secure. "You ask, what shall I eat, and what shall I drink, and wherewithal shall I be clothed?" But you never inquire, must I do to be saved?"
And yet what is every other interest to this?-And do you imagine that this greatest of all concerns can be managed or secured without attention or care? Do you think that leaving the boat to the stream will bring
You safe-while you are asleep, or at play? | which was lost. He was delivered for our -This may do if you wish to sail down with offences, and was raised again for our justifithe stream and be carried into the gulf be- cation. "All things are now ready." But low. But the course to heaven lies against you are to be made ready too. Hence the the stream-and helm and oars and labour dispensation of the Gospel, and all the adand diligence are indispensably necessary. vantages with which you have been indulged. "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being By these, I mean your having been born in left us of entering into his rest, any of you a land of vision where the Saviour of the should seem to come short of it." Amen. world is known. I mean, your having enjoyed the blessings of the Reformation, which gave each of you the Scriptures in your mother tongue; in the original, the Bible I would have been no more to you than a fine well of water covered by a rock, which you could not move, or as so many beautiful pictures hung up in a dark room; but now the stone is rolled away from the well's mouth, and these pictures are placed in open day. I mean, your having had the word of life, not only to read, but also to hear. I mean, your having had ministers to call you to repentance, to warn you of your danger, to beseech you in Christ's stead to be reconciled unto God. I mean, the various ordinances of the sanctuary, and all the helps to seriousness and devotion which the goodness of God has afforded you. These means of grace are unspeakably important, and you have had them in rich profusion: you have had "line upon line, and precept upon precept." During the past year only you have to account for fifty-two sabbaths, and perhaps more than one hundred sermons!-What influence have all these had upon your minds? Are you crucified to the world? Are you denying yourselves, and taking up your cross, and following the Saviour? Are your affections more spiritual, your principles more powerful, your minds more enlightened? Must we address you as our Lord did his disciples, "Are ye also yet without understanding?" or as the apostle did the Hebrews, "When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat?"
REVIEW OF LIFE.
(LAST DAY OF THE YEAR.)
And God requireth that which is past.
WITH God, nothing is past; nothing is future. I AM is his name, and this is his "memorial in all generations." "One day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day."
The very reverse of this is the case with us. For with us, nothing is present: all is future, or past. Thus a man stands by the side of a river, and sees something swimming down the stream-now it is above him-and now it is below him-but it never abides before him-so of all the things that befall us in this world, to use the language of the poet,
"We can never say, they 're here,
But when they are gone by, we have not entirely done with them. Some consequences do remain, and others ought to remain-"And God requireth that which is past." He demands an account of the past -and this we shall have to render hereafter: he demands an improvement of the past -and this we must attend to now.
Let us then apply this to a review of our MEANS to a review of our MERCIES-to a review of our SORROWS-and to a review of our SINS. We cannot have a better opportunity for this exercise, than the present season, when we are closing another period of our short and fleeting time. While therefore the few remaining sands of the year are running out, let us remember, that God requires "that which is past"
I. A REVIEW OF OUR PAST MEANS AND PRIVILEGES. God judges of things as they are: he knows that the body is nothing to the soul, or time to eternity. He has therefore graciously provided for our spiritual and everlasting welfare. He remembered us in our low estate, and devised a way in which his mercy could be exercised in harmony with his justice. This purpose of grace, formed before the foundation of the world, was accomplished in the fulness of time. The friend of sinners came to seek and to save that
Oh! let me call upon you to review all your opportunities and means of instruction and improvement, and compare yourselves with them. See whether the end of them has been answered at all; and whether your proficiency has been proportioned in any degree to the number and value of your privileges. Do not think your concern with them is all over-"God requireth that which is past." What is become of these advantages? To what purposes have you applied them? Where are the fruits of them?-They were given you as talents to improve; and if they have been useless, be assured they will prove injurious. If they do not save, they will condemn; and if they are not the "savour of life unto life," they are the "savour of death unto death."
observe these remarkable interpositions themselves, and to say with David, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his bene
The proprietor of the vineyard said, "Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none." Observe this. You see God distinctly notices how many fits." Nothing can impress or influence our seasons of unprofitableness people have minds when it is forgotten. We should passed through. And if he thought of cut-therefore recall our mercies, and place them ting down this tree because in a favourable full before us, that we may feel whether we situation it had yielded nothing for three have rendered according to the benefit done years only, what can he resolve but the im- us. How much of our insensibility and inmediate destruction of those individuals who gratitude springs from inattention and a bad have been fruitless under the means of grace memory! and how well may it be said of for ten, twenty, perhaps forty or sixty years! thousands, as it was of Israel, "Of the rock Surely the vine-dresser himself cannot im- that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast plore for such, one year, one month, one forgotten God that formed thee!" week more!" He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
II. HE REQUIRES A REVIEW OF PAST MERWhen humble and attentive minds look back, their mercies appear so many that it is impossible to enumerate them. And hence divines have taught Christians to serve their mercies as botanists do flowers-to class them or as astronomers deal with the stars -to form them into constellations. They tell them, in looking back, to think of mercies temporal and spiritual; mercies public and private; mercies personal and relative. They tell them to think of continued mercies, restored mercies; and of preventing and delivering mercies. They would have them also fix their minds on particular instances for instances affect much more powerfully than things in a mass. They teach them also not to overlook the circumstances which enhance their blessings; such as are derived from their seasonableness, their utility. Take their advice, and pursue this plan.
How many times has he lulled you to sleep in his arms; fed you at his table; clothed you from his wardrobe! How often has he supplied your wants, and wiped away tears from your eyes! When brought low, has he not helped you? When in jeopardy, has he not defended you? When sickness has alarmed your fears, has he not led you back from the gates of the grave? When accidents have been ready to destroy, have not "all your bones said, who is a God like unto thee!" In how many cases has he given us favour in the eyes of our fellow-creatures; and blessed us with the advantages and pleasures of friendship! From what low and obscure beginnings has he raised some of us in the course of his wonder-working providence and how well does it become us to compare the former when with our staves we passed over Jordan, with the present, when we are become two bands, and have all things richly to enjoy!
There are few persons who in looking back are not able to perceive some very striking displays of Divine goodness. We do not wish people to be forward to publish these to the world-many of them would not be, and could not be striking to others; but they ought to
As it is so necessary to keep things in the mind, and as our memories are so treacherous, it would be well for us, in every possible way, to aid our recollection, and to endeavour to preserve and perpetuate those good feelings, which our mercies produce when we receive them. Thus "Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." And thus Joseph, by the very names of his children, would recall the wonders which the Lord had shown him: "Joseph called the name of the first-born Manasseh: for God, saith he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house. And the name of the second called he Ephraim: for God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." And hence the command given to Ephraim; "Set thee up way-marks, make thee high heaps; set thine heart toward the highway, even the way which thou wentest: turn again, O virgin of Israel, turn again to these thy cities."
If we had indulged a person year after year all through life, should we not require him to think of it; to be sensible of our kindness, and to behave towards us in a manner becoming his obligations? There is nothing perhaps we feel more painfully than the ungrateful reception of the favours we bestow: and a very few instances of unthankfulness are sufficient to induce us to discontinue our benefits. What then does God think of us? Not only are the expressions of his goodness infinitely more numerous than any favours we can show our fellow-creatures, but they are all undeserved. Our fellow-creatures have claims upon us, and we are bound, as we have opportunity, to do good unto all men. But God is under no obligation to us. All his bounty is grace; and therefore, if he is continually doing us good, and filling our hearts with joy and gladness, surely he expects that the language of our lips, and of our lives, should be, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me!He requireth that which is past." And he demands,
III. A REVIEW OF OUR PAST SORROWS AND
dulgences, you have had your hours of trouble; and have found this world to be a vale of tears. Can you forget those seasons in which your worldly comforts fled, your refreshing gourds withered, your beloved friends and relations were removed by death?-Oh! never-"the wormwood and the gall" of such -and such an affliction-"my soul hath it still in remembrance, and is humbled within me." And be not afraid to think of it. "By the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better;" it is made more serious, and more soft; and thus the soil is improved for wisdom, and truth, and devotion to flourish in. Do not derive your morals from the school of the world. Their maxims are imperfect opposition to the Spirit which is of God." They endeavour to banish from their minds every thing that has a tendency to do them good. Hence when troubles befall them, the design of which is to bring them to reflection, they do every thing in their power to escape a sense of them, and to prevent the remembrance of them. And thus the kind and salutary purposes of Heaven, in afflicting them, are disregarded, and they go on thoughtlessly, till the "evil day" comes upon them with all its horrors and surprise.
As our troubles are designed to do us good, not only in experience, but also in review, we should labour after a practical remembrance of them. They have been lost upon us, unless they have made us wiser, more sober-minded, and less disposed to expect a rest below the skies. We should judge of the future by the past, and conclude that life will be what it has been, a chequered scene; and that no condition, no connexion, will afford us unmixed happiness. Surely, after the experience of years of vanity, we should begin to gird up the loins of our minds, and to declare plainly that we seek a better country. Surely these disappointments and regrets urge us to say, with David, "And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee;" or with Micah, "Therefore will I look unto the Lord, and will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me !" We cannot now plead ignorance: our dreams have been disturbed: we are awake and it is high time to arise. It is high time that the trifler should become a man, and the man a Christian.
It is an awful thing to come out of trouble: for it always leaves us better or worse than it finds us. We should therefore ask, with peculiar concern-"What benefit have I derived from such a visitation of Divine Providence? The rod spoke-did I hear its message! The physician has been employed-is my distemper even beyond the reach of medicine? I have lost the life of my friend-and have I lost his death too? My relation has entered the joy of his Lord-I have one reason for loving earth less, and do I love it
more? one reason for loving heaven more, and do I love it less?"
Past afflictions should also teach us not to be too much dejected or dismayed in prospect of future ones. For how has it been with us? We feared as we entered the cloud, but the cloud was big with mercy, and poured down blessings. What terrified us in imagination, we bore with cheerfulness. When the day of trial came, we had grace to help in time of need; and it was found sufficient for us. And our God is the same, and has promised that he will never leave us nor forsake us.
And, oh! happy is he who, in reviewing his griefs, can say, "Well, so many of my troubles are gone for ever. So many steps of my wearisome journey I have taken-and the hour is not far off that shall end the toilsome pilgrimage.”—
"O most delightful hour, by man
"Worlds should not bribe me back to tread
"My home henceforth is in the skies-
IV. GOD REQUIRES US TO REVIEW OUR PAST SINS. Many of these have grown out of our privileges, our mercies, and our trials. They have been attended with singular aggravations. They are more in number than the hairs of our head. In many things we offend all.
It is well, if upon a review of the year, we can exculpate ourselves from sins committed against man-but what are these compared with the offences which we have committed against God! Indeed all sin is really committed against God. There is not a duty which we owe our fellow-creatures, but he has enjoined the observance of. He has com→ manded us to love our neighbour as ourselves, and therefore every deviation from this rule is a transgression of his law, and a provocation of his anger. But when we judge ourselves more immediately in relation to him, when we consider what he has righteously required of us, and reflect upon our omissions of duty, and our actual departures from him, in thought, word, and deed, we are compelled to exclaim-"Who can understand his errors?" The review is painfulbut it is useful, it is necessary.
It will lead us to admire the longsuffering of God, in bearing with us year after year. Though we have proved such cumberers of the ground, he has still spared us. Though we have so often provoked him, he has not destroyed us. We may look upon each other this evening with astonishment, and say, “It