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THE GOSPEL RECLUSE.
PSALM LV. 6.
Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest.
WHEN a sentiment like this originates in spleen, in disappointed ambition, in the reluctant subjugation of a proud mind, it is wholly the result of depravity, and is unlovely. One may be sick of the world because the world is sick of him, and may wish to retire from its noise because he cannot enjoy more of its confidence, its honors, and its wealth. He sees in himself a merit that others do not discern, a worth and a greatness, where others behold only pride and vanity. Hence generally a charge of ingratitude, a want of discernment, knavery and villany, all because he has not the place he has assigned himself, a seat higher than others are willing he should occupy.
Now a spirit like this deserves only contempt, not sympathy. It is the sorrow of the world that worketh death. If the man has no humility it would seem he might have discernment enough to put himself in his proper place.
Now there was nothing of all this in the mind of David, when he uttered the sentiment of the text. He was sick of sin, and tired of witnessing the conduct of wicked men, and would absent himself from the busy scenes of life if he might, because he longed to quit his contact with moral pollution. He was tired of violence, oppression and wrath, of scandal and strife, and deceit and guile, and hypocrisy. The comforts of social life were, for the time being, overbalanced by the miseries it produced, and he would quit the one if he might fly from the other.
To distinguish nicely between these sensations and those which are the result of mere dejection, is of great practical importance. To wish an asylum from moral pollution, and shut our eyes upon wrong, is a gracious affection; but to be discontented with our lot, and vexed with the world because it will not love and honor us, is but the paroxysm of pride, and vanity, and ambition. And if the two exercises are closely examined they will not be found to
resemble each other very minutely. He who would retire from the world because of its moral pollution, and the consequent abridgment of its comforts, is still active in making it better. He weeps over its miseries, and prays earnestly to heaven for that sanctifying influence that can heal the plagues which afflict it. He would by no means retire from the world, if he can do anything to make it better. He would not quit the post of duty, nor spend all his energies in complaints and frowns and despondencies. He would mingle with the world just enough to apply to its plagues, every remedy in his power, for its comfort and its cure. While the man of mere discontent cares not, if he can be happy himself, if every woe he witnesses should prove incurable. He wishes only a rest for his own spirit. If the world would only honor him, and love him, it might remain as miserable as sin can make it, and not a tear would drop from his eye.
I. It will be my object in what follows to notice some of the things that afflict the good man and contribute to render him sick of the world. "O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest." If he be a man of enlarged mind, he casts his eye over the world, and surveys at one view the whole surface of its desolations. It is a world that God built for the advancement of his glory. There are scattered over it wondrous monuments of his wisdom and his power. It rolls with other worlds, which have not like this become disobedient, and like them is lighted and warmed and moved by the hand of God. But sin has rendered it a vast wilderness. On its surface it wears marks of the curse, which we cannot believe could be traced on other planets. Much of it is a stormy ocean, and much of the residue an uncomely and fruitless wilderness, from which heaven withholds its showers, or has given it up to be the prey of darkness and frost, and storms; where roam the beast of prey, and where lurk the deadly reptile, raging with hunger and armed with death.
But all this, dreary as is the prospect which it presents to one who would have God honored in all his works, is nothing compared with the moral desolations which are seen at the same glance. The intelligent population of this world has become apostate, and has covered it with a deformity more disgusting than its oceans, its storms, its deserts, or its beasts of prey. Three-fourths of its population have made no effort to become acquainted with their Creator, will not even use the light that shines around them, and worship, instead of God, a beast or a block. They know not that
any part of them is immortal, and make no provision but for the life that now is. Thus the mind is lost, and the vast tracts of idolatry, as to any praise that God receives, might as well have been the exclusive territory of the ape and the owl. Then we should have had before us a less afflicting view. But the heathen are depraved and miserable and yet immortal. Intelligence, when it becomes alienated from its author, proves an engine of misery. Beasts of prey cannot be as wretched as men. Hence the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. The heathen delight in devouring each other. Their wars are perpetual, and bloody and desperate. Their forms of religion are about as cruel as their wars. Their human sacrifices outdo in frequency and horror our utmost corruptions. Prisoners of war are offered to their infernal deities or devoured as delicious morsels. Females are en masse a band of slaves, children are destroyed at pleasure, and the sick exposed to perish by their nearest friends. Thus heathen lands, except when there is some special counteracting influence, can only have at best a sparse, and cruel, and miserable population. But to the man of faith this is not all. The heathen have souls that must live for ever, and enough of God can be known from his works, to render them without excuse for not loving and serving him. Hence we shall see them in the judgment, and shall see every final idolater condemned. Wretched then as they are in this life, there are more consummate miseries for them in the life to come. For the invisible things of God from the creation are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without
Hence when the good man, surveying the scenery about him, casts his eye to the limit of his landscape, how gloomy must be his contemplations. He sees six hundred millions of the population of the globe, immortal like himself, and like himself pressing on to the judgment, but ignorant of the way of salvation, and destined by the plainest testimony of Scripture to persist in their forgetfulness of God, and, on their way to ruin, employing their intelligence to render each other as miserable as possible. How gloomy to the good man is such a prospect! How can he fail to recognise, in the millions of the miserable, his brethren and his kindred, and how can he suppress the wish that he could quit a world so disloyal and reprobate? He will be doing all he can to lessen the woe he laments, but when all he can do is done, there will remain so much misery as to make him sigh for a better world; and he will
involuntarily utter the language of the text, "O that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away and be at rest."
I have embraced among the heathen the followers. of Mahomet. We cannot contemplate those sections of the earth, overrun by the men of that religion, with emotions any less gloomy than those with which we survey the heathen world. Their character is so universally savage and their religion so bloody, as to even place them among the most forbidding of the human race. All Mahommedan countries are the seat of war, robbery, assassination, slavery, and crime of every hue. They constitute one broad empire of ignorance, iniquity, and death, where reigns the prince of darkness in undisturbed and appalling sovereignty. Every man holds his life by a very frail tenure, from the monarch to the menial; every mind is dark, every heart totally polluted, every conscience misinformed. Light is put for darkness and darkness for light. Their hope is a lie, and the heaven they expect a paradise of polluted, sensual, and beastly enjoyment. Hence no territory is surveyed with more disgusting and horrid sensations.
But when the good man limits his view to the fields of Christendom, still is there much in his prospect to fill his soul with pain, and make him sigh for a lovelier world. There are parts of Christendom where religion has not produced the blessedness it might. Their religion is concise, and dark, and dubious. It fetters the intellect, the conscience, and the affections, clouds the objects of Christian attachment, and casts a horrid confusion and uncertainty upon every object of faith. Upon all Catholic countries it cannot be denied, that there shines merely the twilight of revelation. God committed to them his word, but they have so corrupted its light, that they have become afraid of the sacred book, and have committed it to the flames. Hence many districts of Christendom are about as dark as pagan lands, and can be said to have only the appendages of the gospel; and their population, instead of being guided to heaven, are lost and bewildered amid the mazes of an awful and complicated superstition. From these darker shades religion emerges, till in a few small districts she is seen to enjoy her freedom and her beauty. Thus Christendom itself presents a dreary aspect, and is lighted rather by a taper than by the Sun of Right
Hence much of this sacred territory is an almost continued scene of quarrel and of blood. The badge of authority is the sword, and men are made decent and subordinate by the fear of death, rather than by the laws of the Lord Jesus. An armed force
protects the king, and gives efficiency to the laws and the magistrate. Nations professedly Christian can draw the sword upon one another, and either army, as God shall give them the victory, return to offer praise in his sanctuary. Could the heathen know all this, how could they be persuaded to believe our religion from heaven? What, the Lamb of God, the author of a religion quarrelsome, and bloody, and pitiless.
Nor can even this be said to be Christendom's foulest stain. There comes a curse from Africa upon all her fields, for having carried her sons into bondage, for having bred war in her bosom, for having crimsoned the sea with the blood of her children, torn from their parents, and borne like beasts to the market, to die by plague or famine, or what is sometimes considered worse than death, to bleed under the lash of a task-master till sufferings and toil consume them. If a few sections of Christendom have begun to wipe off this blot, it still is seen to adhere, like leprosy, and cries to heaven for judgments. God will avenge a deed that has begotten so much pain, that has spread so wide, and has so long protracted its cruelties and its misery.
But all this must distress the good man. Must he trace the very territory to which there is due from heaven a storm of wrath? Must he walk the streets, and sleep on the very ground where a righteous God will yet avenge iniquity? How can he fail to enter into the views of the Psalmist, and long for the wings of a dove, that he may hasten his escape from the windy storm and tempest.
But the good man need not look so far to see cause of pain. He may limit his view to his own country, and still wish an asylum from the pollution and the misery that lie spread out before him. The men at the head of our government, it is to be feared, are very few of them men of piety. We hear of their splendid balls and parties, but when did they once meet to unite their prayers in behalf of their country? A few of them may be at the place of worship on the Sabbath, but how many spend that day in mirth and festivity? What is there about the hall of legislation to remind a stranger that its inmates are the representatives of a Christian people, a people in the midst of whom God is their glory, and about whom he is a wall of fire? If there should come down upon us a storm from heaven, who would turn his eye to the general government, as the place whence there would ascend the prayers that might avert the calamity? When men are selected to fill the highest offices in the land, who does not know that reli