« AnteriorContinuar »
sanctifying; and have rejoiced in God through Christ? How marked the difference! Are we to satisfy ourselves with thankfulness for our better seasons, and not lament over the other ? Which constitute the majority ? Let us not refer such difference to the divine sovereignty. The sovereignty of love is not capricious, but immutable; and the diversity is not to be accounted for by change in the administration of God the Spirit, but in the versatility of our qualifications for worship; arising from our unbelief, our unwatchfulness, or our sensuality. Much which causes our lamentation may be fairly traced up to this lack of duly and constantly honouring God. Humiliation becomes us; our better seasons encourage our amendment; and we may and should improve each occasion to personal and present profit.
The application of these thoughts to our family worship, discipline, hopes and fears, successes and failures, is easy; and will suggest to those who in this view enter into their consideration, important and profitable lessons of admonition and encouragement. Have we always, by the light of the Spirit, seen the sacrifice on our household altar? always heard the Spirit say, “ Come," to ourselves and our endeared circle ? always, in faith, responded to that call? Have we depended for, and, as we might, secured promised help at times when our most tender and pious care, and our utmost wisdom and experience, could avail but little? There have been such seasons, rich in family blessings; but all, though they might, have not been so characterized. Through the vagueness of the future veiling the certain present, many occasions of blessing have been unimproved, and sometimes opposite results have followed. Here, as in the closet, the Spirit should be honoured ; for here He waits to glorify Christ in them on whom our most tender affection rests, and for whom our most lively and deep solicitude is excited. If we here wait on God with our faith and prayer, and with the confidence of hope, He will create upon our “ dwelling-place a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night,” always discovered and rejoiced in; and “ upon all the glory there shall be a defence.”
So, also, of our public worship and the divine institutions of Christianity, intended to be efficacious by the accompanying power and blessing of the Holy Ghost; and, by his presence and agency, to be always so. “In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” (Exod. xx. 24.) This promise, made to the ancient church, is revived with great force under the Gospel : “ Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. xviii. 20.) “ Mark, not, “I will be,' but • There I am, to quicken, refresh, and comfort them by my Spirit.' Present as the sun in the midst of the universe.”* “ There is my restingplace, and there I am, by my Spirit and grace, like one come thither beforehand to bid them welcome.”+ « Wherever Christianity is preached, and its institutions are set up,—for Christianity is eminently the dispensation of the Spirit,—there all these institutions are surrounded by an atmosphere of divine light and power. Wherever the Gospel is preached, there is the Holy Spirit, moving and acting upon the heart, putting man into a capacity to hear with profit, leading him to think of his way, and to turn to God.” Too much stress cannot
* Matthew Henry.
Richard Watson, Sermon lxxix.
be placed upon this fact, in vindication of these institutions and ordinances, and in honour of their gracious Author. The divinely-sanctioned forms of our religion are never to be regarded as mere forms;, they are designed to embody and communicate the spirituality of the Christian system ; they do so to all true worshippers ; but viewed or used alone in their visibility, as they are by carnal men, and as they also are by those of better habits, in moments of unbelief or carelessness, they are useless as means of salvation, though they are powerful as evidences to condemn. These propositions commend themselves to our judgment: we do not doubt, but fully admit, their truth. But while this is done, has the admission, the intellectual persuasion, an unvarying practical influence in our worship? If it were so, every act of worship in the sanctuary would powerfully tend to the edification, comfort, and sanctification of believers. To them the place of worship would ever be “the house of God, and the gate of heaven.” In the thankful realization of the Spirit's presence, dissipation would be checked ; the circumstances and necessary human accompaniments and methods of worship would cease to exert an influence to the abatement of fervour and profit; and less dependence would be placed on even legitimate occasions and agencies of excitement. Our God would be so fully seen, by faith, as to place men and circumstances in their due subordination. This would more than supply the defects of what might be defective, in disclosing his blessing, as that which alonerenders any Christian ordinance successful; and without which no Minister or service can profit us, but with which all can. We may be thankful for those occasions when we have gone up to worship with true views of the Holy Spirit's presence, and with earnest and believing expectation of blessing, and in which we have consequently been blessed; but let us not, in what we conceive to be the absence of special reasons for the anticipation of religious profit, neglect the unvarying fact, that in every service, unless we are unfaithful to God and to ourselves, we may secure all the advantages which our spiritual condition requires. Now is the accepted time, now the day of salvation, as fully and as perfectly as any day, however it may be accidentally distinguished, or dignified into importance by any occurrence, circunstance, or Minister whatever. We must be very careful that we do not neglect and grieve the Spirit habitually whilst we only afford Him occasional honour; lest that which is human and temporary magnify itself against that which is divine and constant. The danger is not so much that we should not sometimes arouse ourselves or be aroused from our unfaithful nonimprovement of ever-present blessings, but that our forgetful habits should render such occasional awakenings necessary. Those who are the subjects of such habits (and, alas! they are but too many) should offer, with unwonted emphasis and fervour of anxiety, the prayer, “ Take not thy Holy Spirit from me," and learn to maintain the standard of their special faith and devotion, and to go even beyond it in the ordinary and regular worship of the sanctuary. As it is the privilege, so it is the duty, of the Christian to be less dependent on circumstances which change, for his spiritual advantage and edification, than on his God, who is unchangeably accessible, and “ mighty to save." By just so much as faith depends on the former, it is infirm and irregular, and the religious condition of its subjects unsatisfactory ; whilst those who develope its better and constant exercise, are enabled to advance in a
course of brightness increasing unto the perfect day. A religion which can only be produced or maintained by one class of agents, or hy one peculiar administration of Christian ordinances, no matter what that one class or method may be, is not of God; for though there are “ differences of administration," yet it is “ the same God,” and not the administration, “ which worketh all in all.” “God is above all means. Therefore, eye him in all, through all, and above all."*
In praying for the gracious outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the revival of the work of God, and the conversion of sinners, expectation must not be deferred, in the common forgetfulness of the present efficiency and willingness of the Spirit to bestow immediate blessing. Is there not as much of admonitory indication of responsibility as of encouragement in the truth, that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much ?” Certainly there is; and prayer should refer to, and faith should be concentrated on, the present opportunity, the present means, and present converted or unconverted men. Let not the mind be diverted from the present by visions of future abundant and sovereign manifestations of the Spirit's power; as though He reserved his influences to some more favoured period. More glorious developments will not be granted to individuals or churches in their neglect of his all-sufficient, ever-present power and grace, but in their improvement of these divine advantages. Every genuine revival of religion, every extension of the church, has arisen out of, and has co-existed with, the faithful realization and improvement of this efficacy of the Holy Spirit; whilst the declension which has frequently followed, is as certainly the result of the abatement of the force of this state of mind in the restored dominion of unfaithful habits. At the best, is there not reason to complain, that revivals have too much of man in them, and, consequently, too much of imperfection and unsatisfactory consequences ? In some cases man, and things human,-sense rather than faith,-have been offensively prominent: an edifice has been raised upon the sand, and the predicted fate of such a work has followed. The cure is before us, or, at least, the abatement of the evil is within our reach, in the cultivation of unremitting reliance upon, and faithful appropriation of, the Spirit's fulness, unquestionably connected as it is with all our worship, and with the right employment of all the ordinances of God. That which God does at any time, he waits to do at all times; and the faith which does not respect this, is more human than divine. One of the great needs of this day, in order to the personal profit and the evangelical usefulness of individuals and churches, is a larger measure and the more constantly pervading operation of a spiritual apprehension of the facts, that the “ Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life,” is inseparable from Christianity ; that the consequent vital power of religion is superior to circumstances, and creative of all truly profitable ones; and that it is always equal to the supply of all our need, and to the succeeding of every work, done in God's way, tending to our profit, to the welfare and salvation of sinners, and to the glory of Christ. Let this apprehension, and its legitimate expectant confidence and work, prevail in the closet, the family, in the pulpit, in the congregations of Christian people, and in the evangelical procedure of the churches, and abounding and abiding consequences will follow, and that without delay. There will be an increase of personal sanctification and comfort, of domestic happiness, and of ministerial usefulness. God will be honoured; the work of the Holy Spirit in glorifying Christ, no longer hindered by unbelief, will disclose itself in its majesty; the church will put on her beautiful garments and her strength together; times of refreshing will be the rule, and not the exception; and difficulties, though they rise like mountains, shall become plains. God will give more abundant testimony to the word of his grace, which shall have free course, shall grow and prevail amidst and over every antagonist principle and system ; Christian effort shall not fall short of its intention in comparative imbecility, but, by strength made perfect in weakness, shall be omnipotent for good; Zion, vital with indwelling Deity, beautiful as the temple of the Holy Ghost, and reflecting and communicating the light, the glory, and the salvation of the cross, shall be seen triumphantly rising above the hills, till, established in the top of the mountains, all nations shall flow unto it, and “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
* Wesley's Sermon on the Means of Grace.
Then, as the Saviour's atonement and the divine agency of the Holy Spirit are perfect, and both ever present with us, glorious evidences of the love of the Triune God, necessary and prevalent to salvation,mas we are not at any time left destitute of these great blessings, nor of grace to use them, we should let our faith be as real as its objects, and as continued as their efficacy : then would our God, who is “always more ready to hear, than we to pray, and wont to give more than either we desire or deserve, pour down upon us the abundance of his mercy.” He would bless us, and we should be a blessing. Amen. .
1 SCRIPTURAL ESSAYS. (No. XIII.) THE OBLIGATION OF THE BELIEVER TO WALK PERFECTLY
IN TWO PARTS. “ The Lord appeared unto Abraham, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God;
walk before me, and be thou perfect.”—Gen. xvii. 1.
PART 1. "WALK BEFORE ME.”
· The design of this essay is to present, in as brief a form as possible, and with objects entirely practical, a comprehensive and complete view of what may be termed the “moral obligations of man,” considered as a subject both of the government and of the redemption of God. Nothing is more clearly revealed in Scripture than the perfectly-harmonious combination of these. As a subject of God, man fell; and in this his low estate, He, whose mercy endureth for ever, remembered him, and devised means, which exhibit equally his wisdom, holiness, and love, that his banished should not be expelled from Him. Because with God is mercy, with him is
plenteous redemption ; and this redemption, in its full revelation, is styled, “ the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Now, in becoming our Redeemer, God has not, in the slightest degree, ceased to be our Sovereign ; nor, because he is our Sovereign, is he less our Redeemer. The aspect under which we are required to contemplate him, is that which was symbolized by the ancient mercy-seat: we are to worship and serve him on the throne of grace. In redemption, therefore, the divine law is magnified and made honourable. The great evil of sin, which is the transgression of the law, is shown by this, that God will not pardon it without a sufficient atonement: hence the expiatory sacrifice of Christ, and the free justification of the penitent sinner only by faith in his blood. But in another way also is the law honoured. In the provisions of redemption the power and pollutions of sin are contemplated, as well as its guilt. Redemption is holiness, inward and outward, as well as pardon. Christ “ gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." And thus do we see in redemption the full meaning of the symbolic phraseology, that Christ " came by blood and water.” He has not only power to forgive sins, but, having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he bestows all the blessings of spiritual life and strength. Through him we are to receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified. This is the ground-work and basis of the practical system of moral obligation under which man is now placed, and which is so plainly declared in the inspired scriptures of redemption.
The position of the portion of Scripture placed at the head of the present article, is very remarkable, and the consideration of it will suggest what is as instructive as it is important. That the dispensation of mercy was established from the first fall of man, is evident from the Apostle's language, “ The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” though manifested only in the last times. The established dispensation was likewise announced, and at least its grand principles and objects revealed, by the interposition of men inspired for the occasion, confirmation being vouchsafed by frequent divine interpositions. The manner and extent of communication are not made known to us ; but the fact is put beyond doubt. Micah, referring to the character of God as Saviour, speaks of it as declared by the Prophets from the times of old ; and Zacharias, when, filled with the Holy Ghost, he celebrated the approaching advent of the Redeemer, says, that God had promised to save man that he might serve him, by the Prophets that had been since the world began. And, therefore, in the antediluvian age, Abel offered by faith a more excellent sacrifice, and Enoch walked with God, and was not, because God took him. But from Abraham the church of the faithful, against which the gates of hell should not prevail, and from that day have not prevailed, took its rise, and with him was the great covenant of redemption established; so that the promises made to him have been ever since the unchangeable foundation of personal religion. So Micah, who speaks of the promises by Prophets from the times of old, refers especially to Abraham our father; and Zacharias, though mentioning the Prophets that have been since the world began, specifies particularly the oath of God to Abraham. Abraham knew that in his seed all families of the earth were to be blessed : he desired to see the day of Christ, saw it, and was glad. To him was the covenant-promise given of that deliverance which should prepare man for serving God, without fear, in righteousness and holiness before him, all the days of his life. Let there be a proper