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inquire into the state of those who uphold each other in iniquity, we shall find that no one of them has peace in his own soul: for, how should they have peace who seek their happiness in the world rather than in God? Compare, then, your state with theirs; and you will have reason to bless God, even though the whole world be against you. For them nothing remains but “a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation:" for you is prepared an eternal weight of glory, which will be augmented in proportion to the trials which you sustained for God, and the services you rendered to him. Be of good cheer, then : for your trials do, in fact, “ turn unto you for a testimony;" and
you suffer with Christ,” you are assured, by the voice of Inspiration, that "you shall also be glorified together.”]
A SAINT's views of HIMSELF.
Prov. xxx. 1, 2. The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the
prophecy : the man spake unto Ithiel, even unto Ithiel and Ucal, Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.
THE sayings of the wise and good have in all ages been regarded
with veneration, and been treasured up in the minds of men as a kind of sacred deposit, for the enriching and instructing of future generations. We have here a very remarkable saying of Agur the son of Jakeh ; to which I would now call your attention. It does indeed, we must confess, appear, at first sight, a rash expression, savouring rather of intemperance than of sound discretion. But as it was delivered to “ Ithiel and Ucal,” who were probably his disciples; and as it was introduced with the word, “ Surely," which marks it as the result of his deliberate judgment; and, above all, it being called “a prophecy,” which determines it to have been inspired of God; we should calmly inquire into it, and examine its import. That such an expression may be uttered by persons widely differing from each other in their moral and religious habits, I readily admit: and therefore, in order to prevent any misapprehension, I shall consider the text, I. As the language of passion
Sin, however fondly cherished in the heart of fallen man, is no other than folly and madness. So it is described by Solomon, in the Book of Ecclesiastes : “ I applied mine heart to know and to search, and to seek out wisdom and the reason of things; and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madnessa.” And again : “ The heart of the sons of men is full of evil; madness is in their heart while they live; and after that they go to the deadb.” When a person, who has been led captive by it, comes to discern somewhat of its true character, he is apt to feel indignation against himself, and to reproach himself in strong terms for the folly he has committed. We may well conceive of him as saying, in the language of our text, “ Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.” But this indignation against himself may be the mere language of passion, and not of genuine humiliation : and it may be distinguished from that which is the fruit of piety, 1. In its object
[An ungodly man may feel strongly, whilst he has no real humility: he may hate his actions and himself on account of them. But it is not sin that he hates, so much as the consequences
of his sin. Nor does he hate all its consequences: he hates it not as defiling to his soul, as offensive to his God, as injurious to his eternal interests; but as destructive of his peace, as degrading him in the eyes of his fellow-men, and as ruinous to his present welfare. A gamester, who has staked his all upon the cast of a die, and has thereby reduced himself and his family from affluence to want, curses his folly with the most indignant feelings; and so hates himself for it, that he can scarcely endure his very existence. But, if his money were restored, he would do the same again: or, if taught wisdom by experience, he would not refrain from his former habits on account of any regard for God or his own soul, but only on account of the injury that was likely to accrue from them in a temporal view. The same may be said respecting the votaries of dissipation. When their fortune is wasted by extravagance, and their constitution ruined by excess, they may be strongly impressed with the folly and madness of their past ways; whilst, if they could be restored to their former affluence and vigour, they would run the very same career again. Under all the à Eccl. vii. 25.
b Eccl. ix. 3.
painful consequences of his licentious habits, the libertine can scarcely avoid those reflections which Solomon represents as arising in his mind: “ Thou wilt mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, and say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me! I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly.” Nor can we doubt, but that in hell those reflections will be both universal and exceeding bitter: for the “ wailing and gnashing of teeth" which will be there experienced, will arise, in no small degree, from the consideration of the opportunities once enjoyed, but now irrecoverably and for ever lost 4.] 2. In its operation
[The indignation of an ungodly man is sudden and transient; and is always accompanied with a crimination of those who have been in any measure accessary to the evils that have come upon him. But, in a man of piety, they are the fruit of deep reflection, dwelling habitually in the mind, and always attended with self-reproach. We may see in the Prodigal Son a just exhibition of that which arises from genuine repentance. He does not, under the pressure of his distress, cry out with vehement exclamations, designating his conduct by every term that an embittered spirit can suggest; but he adopts a resolution to return to his father's house, and there, in measured and contrite language, confesses, “I have sinned against heaven and before thee; and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” Generally speaking, the more violent the expressions are, the less genuine is the contrition from which they flow. The exercise of deep and just feeling is rather in a way of temperate meiosis, than of vehement and fluent exaggeration. The two kinds of indignation may be easily distinguished by their attendant feelings: the one is the fruit of wounded pride, and the root of every thing that is unhallowed, whether in word or deed; the other is the offspring of deep contrition; and either the parent or the child of genuine conversion to God.]
Having discriminated, we hope, sufficiently between the expressions of our text as used by persons of opposite characters, and shewn how to distinguish them when uttered as the language of passion, we proceed to notice them, II. As the language of piety
We know assuredly that indignation is a fruit of godly sorrow: for St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “ Behold this self-same thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!" And we have seen it operate precisely as in the text, when, according to common apprehension, there would appear to be but little occasion for it. David, seeing the prosperity of the wicked, and not duly adverting to their end, had envied them: and in the review of his conduct he exclaims, “ So foolish was I, and ignorant; I was even as a beast before theef.” Nor are such views uncommon to the saints: or rather, I should say, there is no true saint who does not on some occasions apply them to himself.
c Prov, v. 11-14. d Matt. xii. 42.
If it be asked, “ How can such expressions fall from the lips of a real saint ?' I answer, they necessarily spring, 1. From a view of the law under which we live
[Whilst ignorant of the spirituality and extent of God's Law, we take credit to ourselves for our external conformity to its precepts; and are ready to imagine, that, “ touching the righteousness of the Law we are blameless 6." But when we come to see how“ broad the commandment is",” that it reaches to the inmost thoughts of the soul, prohibiting even so much as an inordinate desire, and requiring us to “ love and serve our God with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength,” we are struck dumb; our towering "imaginations are cast down;" and, like the Apostle Paul, we feel the sentence of death gone forth against us!, and attaching to us no less for our best deeds, than for the most sinful action of our livesk.” Then we become observant of our defects : and, O! how lothesome are we then in our own eyes', in the view of that very obedience of which we once thought so highly! It is no wonder, if, with this augmented view of his own deformity, the saint speak of himself in very humiliating and degrading terms. A person coming into a room at night with a lighted taper, would see but little: if he returned at the dawn of day, he would have a clearer view of all the objects that before were scarcely visible: but, if he entered when the sun was shining forth in its strength, he would discern the smallest specks of dirt, and even the very e 2 Cor, vii. 11. f Ps. lxxii. 3, 17, 22.
& Phil. iii. 6. h Ps. cxix. 96. i Rom. vii, 9,
k Job ix. 2, 3. 1 Ezek. xxxvi. 31.
motes in the air. But would he then conclude that all the dust and dirt which he now beheld had been cast in since his first entrance ? No: he would know to what he must ascribe the change in his views, even to the increased light by which he was enabled to take the survey. And so a clearer view of God's holy Law will give us a deeper insight into our own deformity, and turn the gloryings of self-esteem into the mournings of humiliation and contrition.]
2. From a view of that God against whom we have sinned
[The least knowledge of God is sufficient to abase us before him: but the more we behold his glorious perfections, the more shall we stand amazed at the coldness of our love to him, and our want of zeal in his service. Job, previous to his troubles, was considered as “ a perfect man" even by God himself. But when God had revealed himself more fully to his soul, how base did this holy man appear in his own eyes! “ Behold, I am vile!" says he. “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes m." This will be the effect of all God's manifestations of himself, whether in a way of providence or of grace. It is impossible to behold his goodness, his patience, his forbearance, and not stand amazed at our own insensibility. “The ox and the ass” do not appear so brutish as we"; nor " the stork or crane or swallow” so unobservant of the things which we are most concerned to notice": and our only wonder is, that it should be possible for God to endure with such long-suffering our great and multiplied iniquities.] 3. From a view of the obligations we lie under
[Our Lord has said, that our love to God will bear proportion to the sense we have of the extent of his mercy
towards us in forgiveness P. But, when we reflect on the means he has used, in order to open a way for the exercise of his mercy towards us, what shall we not account his due?
When we consider that he has "not spared even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all,” what bounds will there be to our gratitude; or rather, what bounds will there be to our humiliation for the want of gratitude? It will be impossible for us then ever to satisfy our own desires: if we had a thousand lives, we would devote them all to him, and at his call be ready to sacrifice them all for him. The services which we once thought sufficient will then appear little better than a solemn mockery; so entirely will our souls be absorbed in wonder at the thought of an incarnate God, a crucified Redeemer.]
m Job xl. 4. and xlii. 5, 6. n Isai. i. 3. o Jer. viii. 7.
p Luke vii. 47.