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than probable that even in heaven we shall not be able to bear the full exhibitions of his nature; but we shall see him in the Lord Jesus. In him there will be such a softening down of the burning glories of the Godhead that we may see him with open face. But we must proceed to a particular consideration of the text.
How would it be known to the nations bordering upon Israel that they had found grace in the sight of God, unless notwithstanding their sins he would still go before them, and conduct them to his rest. His presence would render them a distinct and separate people, and would mark them out as the Lord's peculiar inheritance. In what will now be said the text will be considered as applicable not merely to that people, but to the people of God in every age. The doctrine which I shall attempt to illustrate is this:
The presence of God with his people distinguishes them from the world, and thus becomes the best possible evidence of their adoption.
By the presence of God we are to understand the manifestations he makes to them of his glory, the views he gives them, and the correspondent affections of heart which he draws out toward himself, his government, and his kingdom. The real believer who has known the pleasure of these manifestations will ask for no further explanation. He has adopted it as his dialect in his closet, Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon me, and has felt the pleasure of saying afterward, Thou hast put gladness into my heart, more than when their corn and their wine increased. There is no believer who is not acquainted to a greater or less extent with the joy that God's presence gives, who has not at times been alone, and found God in the place of retirement, and can understand us when we speak of the believer as being with God, and enjoying God. On this point then I shall not enlarge, but proceed to show how the presence of God operates to distinguish his people from the world, and how this distinctness is evidence of their adoption.
I. I am to show how the presence of God with his people operates to render them distinct from all other people; "So shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth." We easily see how all this was literally fulfilled in the case of Israel. While God led them through the desert by the pillar of cloud and of fire, and was present in the tabernacle and afterward in the temple to respond to all their petitions, to guide and light them in the way, to protect,
and feed, and cheer, and comfort them, we easily see that there could be no people like them. Egypt and Babylon, and Syria, and Philistia had no such guide and protector. No power, strong to save, and wise to guide, marched in the van of their multitude, and spread over them the wing of his protection and mercy. All their deliverances were by might and by power; but Israel had only to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, or when they went forward had only to follow the cloud that moved before them. Hence every foe was afraid of their coming, and every danger kept its distance till they had reached the place of their rest. Thus they were rendered a separate people, and the presence of their Lord was a wall of fire round about them, and the glory in the midst of them. And the Divine presence distinguishes his people now.
1. By elevating their views. It is the glory of man that he is an intellectual being. He was not born like the brute to be the mere slave of appetite, and at best the child of instinct. He can perceive, and think, and reason, can contemplate on the character and works of his Maker. But the apostacy threw him down from this elevation, and tended to make him a reptile as well as a rebel. It rendered him disaffected to the objects, that it was his elevation and his honor to contemplate. It excluded God from all his thoughts, and put in his place the creature he had made. Hence would you survey every thought of the ungodly, and trace every track of the mind, through its devious and degraded course, you would find it exhausting all its energies in low and debasing thought, thought whose highest objects are material, and whose highest flights do not transcend the starry heavens, and seldom rise so high. It holds more generally the tenor of its way, amid the appetites and cares and woes of a dying body. Hence its paramount concerns are, what shall I eat, and what shall I drink, and wherewithal shall I be clad, and how shall we obtain wealth, and honor, and influence? How shall I become the greatest among my fellows, and the leader among my equals? How shall I chase away want, and care, and fear of death? With thoughts like these, all low, and sordid, and debasing, the mind labors till the smiles of God invite it upward. Even when partially sanctified, if God hides his face, and there remains nothing to look upon, and nothing to contemplate but created objects, the heavenly mind of necessity must become sordid and terrene. The Christian forsaken, is but a worm or mole, and must feed on dust and ashes.
But the presence of God elevates the mind. It rises when he is seen, to higher and better thoughts, and finds and breathes a sublimer, purer atmosphere. The Christian has sometimes been afraid to live, lest he should lose the heavenly vision, and become again an alien and a slave. He has shunned the society of his dearest friends, as in a sense beneath his elevation, and incapable of sharing in his pleasures. He has viewed his Christian brethren as too darkened in their views and too sordid in their taste, to climb with him the Pisgah, where he surveys the fields of promise. Now this is the only employment where the mind can be said to be at home, and be furnished its legitimate occupancy. The man assumes in such an hour the attitude he held in Eden, when all the beauty that bloomed about him was viewed as but the mirror in which he saw distinctly his Creator:
"These are thy glorious works, parent of good;
How glorious these, thyself how glorious then ;"
and is led to cry in the same elevated language,
"Give what thou canst, without thee we are poor,
Hence, only during these happy periods, does the mind find its native, sublime, and dignified employment.
2. The presence of God with his people gives the heart its noblest, happiest employment. Man is not merely qualified to think nobly, but to feel nobly. When his thoughts are properly employed, if the heart does 'not feel corresponding affection, more than half the man is still enslaved and miserable. True, it seldom, perhaps never, happens, that the man is thus divided, half a tenant of the upper world, and half of this. Men may think of God philosophically, and may find the subject of their thoughts elevating and pleasant. But if, while the mind converses with God, the heart is hard, and cold, and sordid, it cannot rise to any very great elevation. It may speculate about his attributes, and names, and operations, but in its sublimest flights, all that makes heaven glad is hid; all that angels see, and admire, and adore, is covered with the veil of night. Hence said one of the best of men, An undevout astronomer is mad.",
But when God is present with his people, he does not suffer them merely to stand and philosophize about the exteriors of his being. They look upon him without a veil, and are happy. The
eye affects the heart, and draws out into active and delightful exercise, its strongest and its best affections. God, who is seen, is loved supremely. All his attributes are lovely, and his name is lovely, and his law is lovely, and his kingdom lovely. He would have the view continue for ever, and if it might continue would be satisfied. He gains in such an hour his best ideas of heaven, and when the vision is fled, and he would think of heaven, he endeavors to recall what he felt in that hour when his faith was strong, and God was nigh. Indeed the Christian is furnished from these seasons with his best, his happiest contemplations, and often experiences the benefit when the period of his joy is gone by. They go to form his character, and to render him a distinct man, from the best of those who have never enjoyed such delightful seasons; which leads me to remark,
3. That the presence of God with his people tends to form and mould them to uprightness of Christian deportment. I know there is a rapturous glow of religious joy, which is mistaken for the Divine presence, but which bears no heavenly fruits. When the rapture ceases, it leaves the man proud, and vain, and selfish. He compasses himself about with sparks of his own kindling, and walks in the light of his own fire. He imagines himself the favorite of heaven, as he could not else have been admitted to see, as he terms it, the Divine glory.
Now, when the soul has been with God, the effects are precisely the opposite of all this. It renders the believer humble. We cannot see God, without discovering by contrast our own true character:
"The more thy glories lure my gaze,
Thus while I sink, my joys shall rise
No apostle appears to have been admitted to more intimate views of God than Paul, yet none was humbler. Many of those expressions of lowliness, which have enriched the prayers of God's people in all ages of the Christian Church were uttered by him who had been caught up into the third heaven, and had seen things that were unutterable. He was ever after less than the least of all saints, was not meet to be called an apostle, and was heard to cry out, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death." The same will always be the effect of seeing God."I have heard of thee with the hearing of the ear,
but now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Ezekiel and John, when they saw God, fell on their faces. Hence a sight of God will not fail to render our deportment humble.
It will also produce deadness to the world. Uncover to our view the glories of a better world, and this must fade and lose its brightness. How mean and poor will appear the enjoyments and the interests of the present state, to one who has held, if but for an hour, uninterrupted communion with God. Nothing that is seen and temporal, can have any glory or any worth afterward, that can be deliberately compared with what was seen in God. Hence there will be a suppression of covetousness and envy, and of all the passions that grow out of them, and the deeds which these passions generate. Hence, when you meet with one whom nothing but gain will satisfy, who will cry after his gains, as one did when he missed his idols, "Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more," you may presume, without much fear of mistake, that he has never tasted of that joy of which we have spoken. He has seen no better things than those that are earthly and sensual, and they have become his supreme good. Moses would not wish to stay in the wilderness, after he had climbed Pisgah. Nor would Peter and John, after they had seen transfigured the Lord Jesus, have any wish to quit the place.
The presence of God generates a heavenly mind, makes every thing earthly look small and insignificant, and tends to render the man a pilgrim and a stranger. Hence a life of godliness, a course of conduct that has supreme reference to the life to come. The man becomes so changed, that the world takes knowledge of him that he has been with Jesus. He cannot enter again into all the little cares and quarrels that previously engrossed his mind.
4. The presence of God inspires pure and heavenly hopes. There must sit a gloom upon the brow of impenitence, when there is any thought. The impenitent man who is happy and who covers his face with a smile, while there hangs over him the wrath of God, is an object of painful contemplation. Not that there is any virtue in despair, or any merit in gloom and melancholy; but how can he be happy who casts his eye along the track of life and sees awaiting him ever, the horrors of the death-bed, and all beyond is the blackness of darkness forever? And there can be but little hope of a better doom till God has smiled upon the soul. Then there are generated high and heavenly hopes. The mind argues thus, God would not give me these comforts merely to render me