“So when they had dined.”—John 21:15
They did not, we presume, continue long at table. Table indeed they had none. The place was the seaside. The viands, bread and fish. The fare dressed and served coarsely. Yet part of it was miraculously provided before they landed, and part of it supplied from the wonderful capture they had just made. Here were seven apostles and the Lord of angels. Who, then, would not have been at the
homely meal? Who, having any piety or wisdom, would not have preferred the entertainment, thus dignified, however humble, to the sumptuous feast of Belshazzar or Ahasuerus? Where there is much provision for the flesh, there is commonly little repast for the mind. And this is found after the meal. It has often been lamented, that the best part of society should be expected to withdraw as soon as dinner is ended; but females may be assured that, with few exceptions, they sustain no loss by their withdrawment.
But here, when they had dined, discourse followed which had been deemed worthy the page of inspiration; and was written for our learning and admonition. It commenced with an inquiry. “Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.”
The question was put to Peter because of his late conduct. Instead therefore of showing any preeminence in him, it implied his fall, and tended to his humiliation. This, and this alone, was the reason why our Lord thus freely, yet tenderly, addressed him in the presence of his brethren. It was necessary both for his sake and for their sakes.
The question was first put comparatively; “Lovest thou me more than these?” There is something ambiguous and equivocal in the expression. Did our Lord, by these, refer to the fish, the nets, the boat, his present occupation and profit? Doddridge says this is a forced and frigid sense. But this does not appear. By this calling, Peter had gained his subsistence; he might naturally be attached to it, and feel a degree of reluctance at leaving it without any other means of support in view; and as our Lord would be freely served, he inquires whether Peter was willing to resign all, and go a fishing no more, and be wholly engaged in his service. Or did he point to the rest of the disciples when he said, Lovest thou me more than these? That is, more than these thy brethren love me? To this Whitby objects, because it would be impossible for Peter to answer such an inquiry, as he could not know the hearts of others and compare them with his own. But the question refers not to Peter’s knowledge, but to his opinion. He had already expressed a degree of self-preference as well as self-confidence, when he said, “Though all should be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended;” and he had now done more than the other disciples in swimming to shore, to reach him first. “Am I, then,” says Jesus, “to suppose that thou lovest me more than these?” Peter’s reply shows his improvement. “I have done with judging others, and I say nothing of the degree of my love, but thou knowest the reality.”
It was thrice renewed. Thrice is used as a kind of perfect number. In Peter’s vision, the thing was done thrice to render it the more observable. [Acts 10:16] There is little doubt, however, that our Saviour alluded to the repetition of his offence, and the forewarning he had received: “Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.”
Peter, when asked the question the third time, was grieved. This grief was not anger at the Saviour’s conduct, but pain to think that he had rendered his love to so dear a Master suspicious; and fear also—as he knew he never spoke in vain—that there was a cause for his additional inquiry, and that it intimated an apprehension of some fresh peril. This sensibility showed a good frame of mind.
To all the inquiries he replies without a moment’s hesitation, and addresses himself in each instance to the Saviour’s own knowledge, with an additional force in the last appeal. “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. I do not say, I shall never yield to temptation again; Lord, preserve me. And I wonder not that those who can only judge from outward appearance think unfavorably of me, after all that I have done. But thou seest the heart.” We ought to stand clear with men; but it is a peculiar satisfaction, when we are misjudged of our fellow-creatures, to know that our witness is in heaven and our record is on high.
After every answer, our Lord commands him to feed his lambs and his sheep. Here, again, a desperate cause wants to find a proof of Peter’s supremacy. But he is not told to lord it over all the other shepherds, but to do the work of a pastor himself; the very same thing which Peter too himself enjoins upon others: “Feed the flock of God that is among you.” Yea, instead of his being exalted above his brethren, he is again reproved and abased. They had not forfeited their charge, but he had; and it was necessary to renew it. And therefore now he is reconverted, he is recommissioned. If a servant had offended and forfeited his place, it would not be enough for the master to say, I forgive thee, but I can no more trust thee or employ thee. Nothing would be deemed a full restoration but reemployment.
Two things may be observed here. First, the difference there is among the Lord’s people. There are not only sheep, but lambs. These mean new converts and weak believers. These are not to be disregarded. He does not despise the day of small things, and he tells those who are strong to bear the infirmities of the weak. Secondly, we see what the Lord requires as the principle of his service. “If you love me, Peter, feed my lambs, feed my sheep. I wish you to do nothing for me unless you do it from love. This alone will render your work your delight, and carry you through all your difficulties. Love is strong as death.” And while he requires the love as the principle of the service, he requires the service as the proof of the love. “You cannot show your love to me personally, show it relatively. I have a cause, endeavor to promote it. I have followers, aid them; and inasmuch as ye do it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye do it unto me.”
This love, O my soul, is the grand thing. Without it, whatever be my religious pretensions, I am nothing. Let me put my name in the place of Peter’s, and suppose the Lord Jesus asking me this question, Dost thou love me?
|“Lord, it is my chief complaintThat my love is weak and faint:Yet I love thee, and adore;
Oh for grace to love thee more.”
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, when thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.”—John 21:18-19
This was another part of his discourse, “when they had dined.” He had enjoined Peter his doing work, and now he appoints him his suffering work. In such a world as this, doing well and bearing ill are commonly connected. In the first days of Christianity they were inseparable.
The representation may be applied to the difference there is between youth and age. The glory of young men is their strength. They can gird themselves, and go with ease and speed whither they would. And let them use well their powers and opportunities. Let them be active and useful, and prepared for the future. Other days will come; and when they shall be old, they shall stretch forth their hands, and another shall gird them, and carry them whither they would not. Then they will be helpless and dependent. People long for age, but what is it but longing for days in which we have no pleasure; when we shall be dim-sighted, and hard of hearing, and tremblings will come upon us, and the grasshopper will be a burden, and desire fail. These are the effects of the state, and if by reason of strength our years are threescore and ten, yet is their strength labor and sorrow. Let us secure succor against such a period. It is said that an old man has no friend but his money. But if we are kind, and live not to ourselves, we shall not want those who will rock the cradle of our age. And above all, God will be our comfort and strength, and bear and carry us, and gently take us to himself, where our youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s, and mortality swallowed up of life.
But our Lord, we are assured, designed to intimate that after Peter had served him as an apostle, he was to honor him as a martyr: “signifying by what death he should glorify God.” Thus,
First, our Lord foresaw Peter’s sufferings, and the manner in which he was to finish his course. And he foresees all that shall befall each of us. We know not what a day may bring forth. But nothing is left to chance. No event will turn up that is new to him, and for which he has not provided.
Secondly, Peter was not to die till he should be old. Very good
and useful men have been removed in the midst of life, and this is one of the most mysterious dispensations of Providence. But this is not always the case. Religion conduces to health and longevity. Many of God’s most eminent servants have “filled their days,” and come to the grave in a good old age, like a shock of corn fully ripe in its season. And the hoary head is a crown of glory when it is found in the way of righteousness. Such a man is not only a kind of physical wonder, that he should have been preserved so long with such a feeble frame, and exposed to so many outward dangers, but a moral wonder, that with such a heart, and in such a world, he should have held on his way, and kept his garments clean, and have been without offence. He is a monument to the glory of divine grace.
Thirdly, he was to die by crucifixion. This is the meaning of his “stretching forth his hands, and being girded, and carried whither he would not.” That is, his arms would be extended on a cross, and he would be bound, to be led to a death of violence not agreeable to his feelings, and at which nature would revolt. For religion does not divest us of humanity; and aversion to pain is not inconsistent with submission to the will of God: we may love the result of death, and shudder at the passage. Paul wished not to be unclothed, but clothed upon; and Jesus himself, with strong cryings and tears, said, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Peter would, and would not; there would be nature in him, as well as grace. And while the spirit would be willing, the flesh would be weak. We see this related of some of the martyrs. Latimer, in one of his letters in prison, says to his friend, “Oh, pray for me. I sometimes shudder, and could creep into a mouse-hole; and then the Lord visits me again with his comforts; and thus, by his coming and going, shows me my infirmity.” Ridley, at the stake, said to the smith that was driving in the staple, “Knock it in hard, my good fellow; for the flesh may have its freaks.” And when they were leading Rawlins along to the flames, chancing to see his wife and children among the crowd, he burst into a flood of tears; and striking his breast, he exclaimed, “Ah, flesh, you would have your way; but I tell thee, by the grace of God, thou shalt not gain the victory.”
Lastly, his death was to issue in the divine glory. Persecution has always been overruled to advance the cause it aimed to destroy. The wrath of man has praised God. The blood of the martyrs has been the seed of the churches. The death of such men has been honorable to the truth and grace of the gospel. It has awakened attention, and induced inquiry; and by displaying the temper and supports of the sufferers, such impressions have been made upon the spectators that, before the ashes were extinguished, others were ready to be baptized for the dead.
We are not martyrs, but we are often called to suffer; and we may glorify God in the fires. There is only one way into the world, but there are many ways out. By which of these we are to pass we know
not. But we may glorify God by the death we shall die, if we are enabled to exercise faith, patience, and repentance; if the joy of the Lord is our strength, and we can, from experience, recommend his service.
For this we should be concerned. But for this, we presume many would desire to die “softly, suddenly, and alone.” Yet what they should choose, they wot not. They therefore leave all with their heavenly Father, only praying that Christ may be magnified in their body, whether it be by life or by death.
“And when he had spoken this, he saith, unto him, Follow me. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him, saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.”—John 21:19-22
This is another part of the discourse “when they had dined.” It is the reproof of Peter, who, though recovered from his fall, andrecommissioned to his office, was not faultless. Who can understand his errors?
The case was this. As soon as our Lord had tried Peter’s love and predicted his death, he said unto him, “Follow me.” This is to be taken literally; for though it might be intended as a symbol, yet he now arose from his seat, and walking away from the company, he told Peter to come after him; probably wishing to have some communication with him apart. Peter obeyed. But John seeing this, and fearing that our Lord was departing and would take Peter along with him, could not remain where he was; and so he followed them, silent and anxious, and perhaps weeping. Peter, turning round, sees him, and asks, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” It is probable this arose partly from an affectionate concern for his companion; and considering the peculiar friendship there was between them, we might have considered the question as excusable, if not even laudable.
But we are sure it was wrong in the motive. Peter, instead of being satisfied with a knowledge of his own duty and destiny, and praying to be able to perform the one and endure the other, wishes to pry into John’s future circumstances, and to know what was to become of him; whether he also should suffer, and what death he should die. This, in the view of Him who reproved not according to the hearing of the ear, involved in it an improper curiosity; a principle, when indulged, always the most unprofitable in itself, and often the most rude in its exercise, and injurious in its effects. Our Lord always discouraged it, and therefore he here rebukes Peter in these memorable words, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me”—as I have commanded thee. How many things engage our time and attention which do not concern us. How often do we turn from
what is plain and important, and perplex or amuse ourselves with what is too distant for us to reach, too deep for us to fathom, too complicated for us to unravel, or too trifling to merit regard. When poring over the future state of the heathen, and the destiny of idiots, and the decrees of God, and the union of foreknowledge and free agency, and the fulfilment of prophecy, is not the Saviour asking, “What is that to thee? follow thou me.” “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
Our present knowledge is proportioned to our present state. More information upon certain subjects would now injure rather than improve, by multiplying our diversions, and drawing us more off from the one thing needful. We are now in a state of action and preparation. Let us leave the knowledge that is too wonderful for us. A day-laborer will gain more of it in a moment after he enters heaven, than any philosopher or divine can acquire by the toil of a whole life on earth. Let us wait the great teacher Death, and God adore. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
But what have we to do? FOLLOW THOU ME. Lord, help me to follow thee as thy disciple and thy servant—immediately, without delay; freely, without constraint; fully, without reserve; and constantly, without change, or a shadow of turning.
“Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die; yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”—John 21:23
What did he mean by his coming to John? It may be understood three ways.
Of his coming to him by a natural death; and he was the only apostle who did not suffer a violent end.
Of his coming to destroy Jerusalem; and he survived that event.
Of his coming at the last day; in which case he answers Peter by the supposition of a miracle. “What if I choose that he should continue on earth till I come to judge the world?” In this sense it was taken.
But observe how it was misreported. Jesus only supposed a case, and it was turned into an assertion. He only said, What if I will that he tarry till I come? and it was circulated that he should so tarry, and the saying went abroad among the brethren that he should not die. Who has not heard the absurd story of the wandering Jew? Whether any now believe such a delusion, we know not; but we see what influence the notion had in the early ages. Beza mentions an impostor in his time, at Paris, who gave out that he was the deathless John, and was burnt at Toulouse.
But see how ready people are to credit things strange and wonderful. O that they were equally ready to receive the witness of God.
How many mistakes have arisen from deviating by little and little from the language of revelation. Many errors might be prevented, and many rectified, if we could bring the parties to the very words the Holy Ghost useth. Let us distinguish between divine truth, and men’s explanation of it. Let us not take up with the statements of Calvin, or Arminius, or any other reporter, while we can go to the Scripture itself. “To the law, and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
But let us make a moral use of this misrepresentation, and learn the importance of accuracy in our statements. It is owing to the neglect of this that there is so much circumstantial falsehood. We refer to the relations of facts, true in substance, but false in circumstances. Some seldom ever apprehend things distinctly; and how can they report them accurately? Some have memories that never retain perfectly what they hear. Some are careless. Some are full of eagerness and feeling, and love to excite; and for this purpose they love to enlarge and enhance. From one cause or another, many who would shrink back from a direct lie, occasion deception by those omissions or additions which can give an erroneous turn or effect to the case spoken of. By this means, what aid is given to slander, and what injury is often done to character, where there is no risk on the one side and no redress on the other!
Look at the text, and see what consequences may result from the substitution of a shall for an if; and always make conscience of your speech. Distinguish things that differ. What you know as probable, state as probable; and state as certain only what you know to be certain. As a good remedy for this, and every other evil of the tongue, let us be swift to hear, but slow to speak; let us remember, that in the multitude of words there wanteth not sin; let us believe, that by our words we are to be justified or condemned; let us keep our hearts with all diligence, for out of them are the issues of life; let us pray, Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.
“Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.”—Joel 3:13
The season renders the language interesting; and we may consider the words literally as an address to husbandmen.
“The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruits of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain.” He casts the seed into the ground, where it seems lost. For a while he sees nothing to reward his labor and expense; for that which he soweth is not quickened except it die. But it soon revives and rises, and he perceives the blade gently breaking through the earth. Then comes winter. The wind howls over it; the frost bends and binds it; the snow covers and oppresses it. But it weathers all. The spring arrives.
The stalk shoots up; the ear appears, and the full corn in the ear; the crop ripens, and the golden harvest waves its treasures, and calls for the reaper to fill his hand, and he that bindeth sheaves his bosom. The husbandman may think little or nothing of God, unless he wants fine weather; but it is He that worketh all in all. Whatever interventions there may be, He is the first cause: “I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel.”
And herein we see the power of God. The spectators wondered when five loaves were multiplied into a sufficiency for more than five thousand consumers. Why are not we struck, when we see the grain in the earth annually increasing thirty, sixty, a hundred fold? It is the commonness of the effect that prevents astonishment. The only difference in the cases is, that in the one instance the operation is sudden; in the other, it is slow; but this magnifies the agency, instead of detracting from it.
And here we see the truth of God. When Noah and his family left the ark, and saw the new world, every appearance of cloud awakened their fears; and God, to tranquillize them, said, “I will not again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease.” And every time the sickle is put in, he tells us that he is a faithful God, and that we may always rely upon his word.
Here we behold his goodness. For whom does he thus constantly and plenteously provide, but an unworthy, guilty, ungrateful world, who will overlook his kindness, and abuse his benefits, and turn his gifts into weapons of rebellion against him! Were he to deal with them after their desert, or reward them according to their iniquities, the heavens over us would be brass, and the earth iron; the grain would perish in wetness, or be burnt up with drought, and we should have cleanness of teeth in all our dwellings, and while the children cried for bread, the mother would have none to give them.
Here we also trace the wisdom of God. For though all things are of God, he does not encourage sloth. Our activity is as necessary as our dependence. Though there is a part we cannot do, there is a part we can do; and if this be neglected, God will do nothing. We cannot furnish the soil; but we must manure it. We cannot produce the seed; but we must sow it. We cannot ripen the field; but we must reap it. “What thou givest them, that they gather.”
Let us be thankful that another of these pleasing and instructive periods has arrived. And while we see the valleys standing thick with corn, and hear the little hills rejoicing on every side, let us pray for the appointed weeks of harvest.
And remembering another and an infinitely more important opportunity, may we give all diligence, while it continues, to secure its blessings; lest, in the anguish of disappointment and the remorse of despair,
we are forced to exclaim, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.
“Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.”—Joel 3:13
We have taken these words literally; let us now view them metaphorically. We have heard them addressed to the husbandman. Let us now consider them as addressed,
First, to the ministers of the word. That we are allowed such an application is obvious. Our Lord said, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth laborers into his harvest.” By harvest, he intends means of usefulness and opportunities; by laborers, those whose office it is to endeavor to make use of them. So again, “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” Here he refers to the season of doing good to the Samaritans, which he was now improving; for, in consequence of the testimony of the woman, many of them were eager to hear, and were coming over the plain. The case is, when the grain is ripe, if it be not gathered in, it is liable to perish. The season for saving it is short and uncertain. Men therefore forego ease and endure fatigue to secure it. Yet what is the safety of the grain, to the salvation of souls? How many are destroyed for lack of knowledge! But the period is favorable for informing them. We have religious freedom; our exertions are unimpeded. None makes us afraid. We have the Scriptures in full circulation. The rising generation are taught to read. Religious parties excite and emulate each other. Prejudices are wearing away. Persons are willing to hear. And not preachers only, but parents, masters, neighbors. Christians at large—all, in doing good, have the finest opportunities, if they will seize them, and the loudest calls, if they will obey them. But the space for all this will not, cannot continue. Therefore, “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
Secondly, as addressed to public judgments. Thus we are principally to understand the passage before us. The people spoken of were ripe for ruin. God therefore calls for the executioners of his wrath to cut them down. Thus it was with the people of Canaan, when their iniquity was full, and Joshua and his army were the reapers. Thus it was with the Jews themselves; and Nebuchadnezzar was called in to punish them, and afterwards the Romans to destroy them. Thus it has been with many nations since. And thus it has been with many a community even in our own times. The work was soon done, for the reapers were the
Lord’s, and the fields were fully ripe. Are we in danger? We have reason for apprehension, if we estimate our condition by our guilt, and our guilt by our privileges. Let us not be highminded, but fear. God can never be at a loss for instruments. He can mingle a perverse spirit in the midst of us. He can take wisdom from the prudent, and courage from the brave. Hearts, events, elements, are all his. He has a controversy with us, and by menacing dispensations seems to say aloud, Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? But these threatenings are mercifully conditional. “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” May we hear and fear, and turn unto the Lord, and he will leave a blessing behind him, that we perish not.
Thirdly, as addressed to the messengers of death, accidents, diseases, whatever can bring us to the grave. This regards us individually. Whatever be the destiny of the nations, we know our own destiny; old or young, rich or poor, it is appointed unto us once to die. This is the way of all the earth. But when are people ripe for this removal hence?
It is certain that sin ripens the transgressor for hell. But when he is ripe, it is not easy to decide. The most grossly and openly vicious are not always the most guilty before God. We see a profligate wretch, and deem, him ripe for ruin, and wonder he is not cut down, when perhaps, though not immoral, we ourselves are much more criminal in the sight of Him who judgeth righteously. He perhaps never had our advantages, and was pressed by severer temptations than we ever knew. If asked, therefore, when a man is ripe for destruction, we acknowledge we cannot determine. But it must be wise to beware, and to keep from every approximation to such a dreadful state. Surely when a man is insensible under the word, and incorrigible under the rebukes of Providence, and his conscience ceases to reprove, and he can turn divine things into ridicule, he must be, as the apostle says, “nigh unto cursing.”
Holiness ripens the saint for glory. But here, again, when he is matured and made meet for it we cannot ascertain. Actions strike us; but some have few opportunities for exertions, and yet they have much of the life of God in their souls. We should think favorably of a man in proportion as he was dissatisfied with himself, and esteemed the Lord Jesus, and relied upon him, and was anxious to resemble him, and acknowledged God in all his ways. However, the Lord knoweth them that are his, and them that are not his; and he chooses the most proper time to remove them—the wheat for the barn, and the chaff for the burning. But the end of all things is at hand. And,
Fourthly, God thus addresses his angels at the last day. When this mandate will be given is uncertain. But we are as sure of the event as we are ignorant of the period. And then shall the Son of man come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. Then cometh the end. Then all will be ripe. His purposes will be accomplished. His
promises and threatenings will be verified. Time itself will be no longer. The earth will be cleared of all the produce, and the very fields in which it grew will be destroyed. “The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Let him hear this. How many things are continually said! And how are we to judge of them? One says, this is excellent; another, this is all-important. But if you would know what is the real value of these things, bring them to the standard, bring them to the great day! How do they abide this trial?
“Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent, that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless.” If you say, “All this is far off, and many things must be previously accomplished,” remember, you cannot say this of death. There is but a step between you and death. How soon, therefore, may all the prophecies be fulfilled, and the world be at end, with you! And as death leaves you, judgment will find you. Many who once had the warnings, are now in possession of the facts. Could we ask them—now they have entered the eternal world by death, and are waiting for the judgment to come—is there one of them that would not bear his testimony to the importance of every Sabbath and every sermon with which you are favored? Is there one of them that would say, “While I was living, the preacher was too close, and too alarming?” Rather, would he not say, “Why was he not more in earnest? And O, wretch that I was, to disregard his voice, and come into this place of torment!”
“For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.”—1 Cor 4:20
Let us not abuse, but improve the important decision. It may be abused in two instances.
First, when it leads us to undervalue the outward institutions of piety and the ordinary means of grace. Some would so refine religion as to make it unsuited to human beings. We have bodies as well as souls, and we are required to glorify God in the one as well as in the other. Our devotion is indeed nothing unless we “lift up our hearts with our hands;” but bodily exercise need not be excluded in order to our worshipping in spirit and in truth. There may be the form of godliness without the power; but while we are here, the power cannot be
displayed or maintained without the form. Enthusiasts may tell us they never had so much religion as since they have given up what are called its ordinances, for now every day is a Sabbath, and every place a temple, and every voice a preacher. But they are not to be believed. Even all the private and practical duties of life are most fully and regularly discharged by those who wait upon God in his appointments. It is a dangerous delusion that leads people to the neglect of those means of grace which God, who knoweth our frame, has enjoined us to use, and to the use of which he has promised his blessing. In the new Jerusalem John saw “no temple there;” but the experience of every Christian leads him, while he is here, to love the habitation of God’s house, and to acknowledge that it is good for him to be there. The streams that will be needless when we reach the fountainhead, are valuable in the way. Our present aliments will be unnecessary hereafter; but what pretender would be so ethereal as to dispense with them now?
Secondly, when we are heedless of regulating the energy of our religion by the rule of the word. It is desirable to enlist the feelings on the side of truth and excellence. Impulse is useful and even necessary to exertion and success; but in proportion to its force, it requires guidance, if not restraint. It is good to be always zealously affected in a good thing; but, without knowledge, zeal may even in a good cause carry us astray; so that our good may be evil spoken of, and even produce evil. Something must be allowed for persons wanting in judgment, and for young converts, especially if they have been suddenly awakened. The novelty and the vividness of their views and impressions of eternal things may occasion some mistakes and improprieties in harmonizing religion properly with secular and relative life. But what we excuse we are not to commend. If one duty defrauds or kills another, it is a robber or a murderer. The wise man tells us, everything is beautiful in its season; and Paul enjoins us to do every thing decently and in order. But under the sanction of such a supposed authority as our text, we have known religious servants who have risen above their masters, and lectured and reproved them; we have known men who have left their callings, and rushed into offices for which they were not designed; we have known females who, instead of being keepers at home, have neglected their husbands and children to gad about after favorite preachers; we have known orthodox professors who have broken out into every kind of rudeness and rancor, under a notion of being faithful, and valiant for the truth. Disputants have contended earnestly for the faith with pens dipped in gall, and tongues set on fire of hell; persecutors have killed others to do God service; and the priest with the crucifix has urged the dragoon not to do the work of the Lord deceitfully, or keep back his sword from shedding of blood.
The decision may be improved by applying it in two cases. First, in judging ourselves. And here the leaning should be to the side of severity. Let us be satisfied with nothing short of the real power of
religion. Whatever we depend upon while we are strangers to this, will be more than useless; it will issue in the most dreadful disappointment. It is better to err on the side of caution than of self-security. According to our Saviour, the delusion accompanies some to the very door of heaven; they knock with confidence that they shall be admitted, and are surprised and confounded when they hear from within, I know ye not whence ye are. Do not place your religion in attending on divine ordinances, or in a mere belief of the truth, or in some outward reformation, or in some particular course of duty to which you may have inducements that render it easy. Search and try your ways. See whether you have given God your whole heart, and can sacrifice every bosom-lust. See whether your religion has anything in it above the efficiency of natural principles—whether it is flesh, or spirit; whether you are under the law, or under grace. Examine yourselves. If believers, does your faith work by love? And do you love in word and in tongue, or in deed and in truth? If penitents, have you said, with Ephraim, What have I any more to do with idols? If worshippers, do you only draw nigh to him with the mouth, and honor him with your lips, while your heart is far from him? If hearers, has the gospel come to you, not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance?
Secondly, in judging others. And here the leaning should be to candor. We should beware how we deny this power to a fellow-professor, without just evidence. It is always a difficult thing to decide the degree of another man’s religion. Men differ exceedingly, even in their natural temperament. How sanguine is one; how phlegmatical is another. Some are constitutionally bold and forward; others are equally timid and retreating. Is it to be supposed that all these will show their piety precisely in the same manner? We often ascribe to a religious ardor what is the effect of a liveliness and volubility of temper. Hence when we meet with an individual who is always speaking on religious topics, we are apt to consider him a zealous soul, and to suppose that all his talkativeness proceeds from pious principle; whereas it is more than probable, if we followed him through life, we should find him as eager on secular occasions as on religious. On the other hand, when we meet with a man who shrinks from notice, and is backward to speak of divine things, and especially of his own experience, we frequently set him down as one who is not fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. But may not this man be very much the same in all other cases? And if so, should we not do him injustice by judging of his state in religion by the slowness of his speech, and the hesitation of his temper, and the tardiness of his conduct, which constitute a caret in his whole life? Judge not after the outward appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
Again, if you have reason to conclude that a fellow-Christian has this divine reality, let it satisfy you. Love and esteem him, though he differs from your opinions, and walks not with you in the outward order
of the gospel. What is the chaff to the wheat? I love those scriptures which inspire us with a zeal, not to make proselytes to a party, but converts to the Saviour; which tend to unite the truly pious to each other, and embattle them against the common foe; which diminish those inferior things that bigots are always magnifying, and attach supreme importance to those that infinitely deserve it. “For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”
“Lord, teach us to pray.”—Luke 11:1
This was the language of one of his disciples, as soon as he had heard him pray “in a certain place.” He did not interrupt our Lord in the exercise; but when he had ceased, he said, wishing to resemble him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
It was well in him, not only to attach importance to prayer, and to feel his own ignorance and insufficiency in the performance, but to address one who is always able and willing to hear and help us. None teaches like him. Four ways he teaches to pray.
First, by his word. A form or model—why not both?—was immediately given these disciples. “He said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” The Scripture at large has many instructions how we are to pray. In one place we are told to pray without ceasing. In another, to come boldly to the throne of grace. In another, to let our words be few. In another, to ask in faith, nothing wavering. In another, to ask in the name of Jesus. “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.”
Secondly, by his example. Whoever lives without prayer, He did not. His example has the force of a law; and he “that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk even as he walked.” As to place, he prayed in the wilderness, and he prayed in the garden. As to time, we read of his rising up early in the morning to pray; and praying in the evening; and continuing all night in prayer. As to observation, he prayed privately, alone, and with his disciples, and in public. As to cases, he prayed when he was baptized; and has taught us to sanctify all ordinances and duties by prayer. When going to send forth his apostles, he prayed, to teach us to engage in no enterprise relying on our own wisdom and strength. When he was transfigured,
he prayed, to teach us how to escape the snares of glory and greatness. With strong crying and tears, he made supplication when he was sore amazed and very heavy, to teach us, if afflicted, to pray. To teach us to love our enemies, when they pierced his hands and his feet, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And to teach us how to finish our course, he dies praying, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
Thirdly, by his providence. All, Christians, this may explain many a dispensation that has made you tremble and grieve. “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face; in their affliction they will seek me early;” that is, I will teach them to pray. What did Absalom when he wished for an interview with Joab, who, when sent for, refused to obey? Go, said he to his servant, and set his corn on fire, and then he will soon come. And so it fell out. And speedily and eagerly approaching him, Why hast thou done this? says Joab. Absalom replies, Not because I designed to injure thee, but I wanted to converse with thee, and my messengers were rejected. So when you are lifeless in prayer, and backward in the exercise, and disregard the invitation, “Seek ye my face,” some fiery trial consumes or threatens some of your possessions or comforts; and alarmed and perplexed, then you anxiously say unto God, “Do not condemn me; show me wherefore thou contendest with me.” You then also want succor and consolation, and therefore pray, “Let thy lovingkindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.” How many of the prayers of God’s people in the Scripture were, both in their reality andexcellency too, the offspring of those measures by which the Lord, in chastening, taught them.
Fourthly, by his Spirit. What means “praying in the Holy Ghost,” but praying by his influence? Why is he called “the Spirit of grace and of supplications?” Is it not because he brings us upon our knees, and keeps us instant in prayer? If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his: and this Spirit awakens the conscience, and makes us sensible of our needy and perishing condition; and shows us the importance and glory of divine blessings, and causes us to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and leads us into all the truth connected with our relief; and through the blood of the cross, inspiring hope and confidence, enables us to cry, Abba, Father.
Nor is it only in the beginning of a devotional life that this assistance is required. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities,” says the apostle; “for we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” And where is the Christian who would not often have given over the exercise, under a sense of his imperfections and weaknesses, but for the hope of the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ; and the promise, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” This has revived
him again, and out of weakness he has been made strong, and delighted himself in the Almighty.
Happy they who, by the great Teacher, are thus taught to pray. You may be ignorant of many things, but you know your way to the throne of grace. You may have little learning, but you can speak the language of Canaan. You may be unnoticed of your fellow-creatures, but your fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And a life of prayer will soon be followed by an eternity of praise.
But how awful the condition of those who never express this desire, Lord, teach us to pray! Can the love or the fear of the Lord dwell in you? Can you dispense with the blessings of salvation? Or do you think that God, who has said. “For all these things will I be inquired of,” will deny himself? Well, another instructor will soon teach you to pray—a dying hour—a judgment-day. But you will pray in vain. “Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.”
“Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness.”—Jer 13:16
The removal of the gospel is darkness. The gospel will never be removed from the world, but it may be withdrawn from a particular place or people. And this has been done. The Jews are an eminent example. The kingdom of God was taken from them. And when we consider the miracles, the institutions, the privileges by which they were distinguished, and see how they were all laid waste, well may the apostle say, Behold the severity of God; and if he spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Where now are the seven churches in Asia? Where is the famous church of Rome, whose faith was spoken of throughout the whole world? At present, you have the inestimable benefit. Be not as the swine, who knows not the value of the pearl, and therefore tramples it under foot. What wonder if the manna should be taken away, when you despise it as light food? The Scriptures may be continued, and the preaching of the gospel be removed; and thus the word may be precious, because there is no open vision. What a blessing to see our teachers, and to hear a word behind us saying, This is the way, walk ye in it. Faith cometh by hearing. And what if the Lord should send a famine in the land—not a famine of bread nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord—and we shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it? Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness.
Impenitence is darkness. A man may be surrounded with food, yet he dies, if he cannot use and digest it, as much as if the aliment was wanting. The means of grace may remain, and we become incapable of deriving benefit from them. It is an awful fact, that God punishes one sin by another, and judicially blinds those who provoke him. Because they like not to retain him in their knowledge, he gives them up
to a reprobate mind. Because they receive not the love of the truth, that they may be saved, he sends them strong delusion to believe a lie. They are joined to idols, and he lets them alone. They delight in error, and they find it. They seek objections to the faith once delivered to the saints, [Jude 3] and they are overcome by them. They trifle with the gospel, and at length they cannot seriously regard it, or feel any impression under it. Thus is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive. Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness.
Public calamity is darkness. Was not the Babylonish bondage darkness to the Jews, when their country, the glory of all lands, was desolated, and they carried away captives, and oppressed as slaves, and insulted as a proverb and a byword? And would not national distress be darkness to us? Some effects of this we have experienced; but how inconsiderable have they yet been, compared with the sufferings of other countries, or with our own deserts. And is there no danger of greater? If God has a controversy with us, it is in vain to argue—we must submit. If he is provoked and determined to punish, vain is the authority of rulers, the wisdom of statesmen, the courage of warriors. “But he has a people among us.” He has, and he will take care of his own; but he can secure them, and destroy others. Or even they themselves may help forward, or even occasion the calamity, for no sins offend him like those of his own people. And they may be chastened of the Lord, that they may not be condemned with the world. When the ship sailed from Joppa, there was only one good man on board; and the storm was forhis sake, and the sea could only be calmed by his being cast into it. [Jon 1:15] Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness.
The loss of reason is darkness. And how soon may the understanding be eclipsed! How easily may the slender and mysterious basis on which intellect rests be destroyed! See Nebuchadnezzar eating grass like an ox. See the philosopher, moping in drivelling idiocy. Religion can only operate through the medium of thought; and therefore, while you have your mental powers, employ them, lest darkness come upon you.
The loss of health is darkness. Is it nothing to be made to possess months of vanity, or to have wearisome nights appointed us? To be chastened also with pain upon our bed, and the multitude of our bones with strong pain; so that our life abhorreth bread, and our soul dainty meat; and our bones, that were not seen, stick out? Yet, on this season many suspend an attention to the concerns of religion. When thought is broken to pieces, and every avenue to the soul is occupied with the anguish of disease and the anxieties of recovery, surely sufficient for that day is the evil thereof. Use your health while you have it, lest darkness come upon you. The same applies to age. Then desire fails; the grasshopper is a burden: sight and hearing and
memory and judgment decline. “Remember,” therefore says Solomon, “now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”
Death is darkness. Then you must give up your employments, however interesting; your possessions, however valued; your connections, however endeared; your religious advantages, however important; and stripped and silent, retire into the gloom of the grave. This darkness is certain. It cannot be remote. It may be close at hand. There may be but a step between me and death—”before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness, and the shadow of death; a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.”
Hell is darkness—outer darkness; where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. The dreadfulness of this state it is impossible either to describe or imagine. But we know that it is possible to escape it. We also know, that the present is the only opportunity. Behold, nowis the accepted time; now is the day of salvation. Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness.
Blessed be God for his longsuffering goodness, and his warning mercy. He might justly have spared his words, and come instantly to blows. But he speaks before he strikes, and he threatens that he may not destroy. May the kind alarm awaken our fear, and may our fear produce flight; and may we flee for refuge to the hope set before us, even Jesus, who delivers from the wrath to come.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”—John 3:30
This was spoken of the Redeemer by his forerunner John. And it is not to be considered as the language of complaint or sullen acquiescence, as if he would say, “I dislike it; but it is unavoidable. It is my grief; and I must bear it.” No. It was as agreeable to his feelings as it was firm in his belief. And it showed a fine and a noble soul in John. The spirit that is in us lusteth to envy. We love something distinguishing, and therefore exclusive. We wish to rise, even by the depression of others. It is trying, even to a good man, to withdraw, and see a successor filling his place better than himself, and, as the honors he has worn are transferred to another, to say, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” It is not an easy thing to go down well, or for a setting star to exult in a rising sun.
But it was thus with John. He knew his rank, and approved of his place. He was the servant, not the master; the friend, not the bridegroom. The church was not married to him. “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s
voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
What does he mean by this increase? Not an increase in his temporal condition. As he had been poor, so he was to continue. Many of his professed followers seek great things to themselves; but we may judge of his estimation of them by his choice, for they were all within his reach. But though he had a kingdom, it was not of this world. Nor is it by any kind of earthly condition and indulgence that he has characterized Christians, or raised their hope. He has nowhere engaged to make them rich in this world’s goods, but only rich in faith. He has nowhere told them that they shall be free from trouble, but only that in him they shall have peace.
The increase partly regards his personal ministry. Both John and Jesus were preachers and leaders. John’s “course” was ending; but Jesus was only commencing his public work. John was going to lose his disciples, and Jesus to gain them, and to become a much more famous minister, by miracles, and clearness and grandeur of doctrine, and the permanency of his success. Indeed, we have no reason to believe that John ever preached after this. The end of his mission was answered. He was a voice; and having made his proclamation, he was silenced. He was the morning star; and having ushered the Sun of righteousness in, he disappeared. He was the forerunner to introduce the Messiah; but the Messiah was now come, and verified and acknowledged.
But it was the same as saying, Christianity must increase. Christianity was small at first; but it was to resemble the shining light, which begins with the dawn, but becomes perfect day. Or to be like the mustard-seed, which, however diminutive, grows the greatest among herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof; or the portion of leaven, which, hid in the meal, continues to diffuse itself till the whole be leavened. His doctrine was possessed only by himself for a time. He then communicated the secret to twelve; then to seventy. His followers after this were not numerous, and they consisted chiefly of the common people, for it was scornfully asked, “Have any of the rulers believed on him?” After various trials, the number of disciples in Jerusalem, previously to the descent of the Spirit, was about one hundred and twenty. Then three thousand were added in one day; and the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. Thus mightily grew the word of God, and prevailed. It soon spread beyond the bounds of Judea, and reached the ends of the Roman world, the heralds thanking God, who always caused then to triumph in Christ, and made manifest the savor of his knowledge by them in every place. How much has his cause done since; and how is it expanding now! But a vaster increase is yet to take place. His glory shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. For now shall he be great to the ends of the earth. Such is the language of the Scripture, and nothing has yet taken place sufficient
to fulfil it. It is therefore before us. We know that heathenism and Mohammedanism and “the man of sin” shall be destroyed. And we know the Jews shall look on Him whom they have pierced; and if the casting them away was the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? [Rom 11:15]
And there is no uncertainty here; it must be. The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. His death insures it. He has power over all flesh to accomplish it. Let those who love him, and are laboring to advance his cause, rejoice, and be encouraged—they cannot fail. “His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him blessed. And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen, and Amen.”
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence.”—Phil 2:12
“That which is unsavory cannot be eaten without salt.” And therefore, to render it palatable, we season it. When we are going to reprove a fault or enforce a duty, we should as much as possible commend, for praise opens the mind, and prepares for the reception of rebuke or admonition. This wisdom the apostle here displays. There was nothing in him like flattery; but to introduce his most solemn charge, that they would work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, he applauds these Philippians for four things:
First, their obedience. Belief, knowledge, profession, talk—everything is vain without this. The gospel was made known for the obedience of faith. And these Philippians had “obeyed.”
Secondly, the constancy of their practice. Lot’s wife, at the angel’s command, left Sodom, but “she looked back.” The Galatians “did run well, but were hindered;” “they began in the Spirit, and ended in the flesh.” The goodness of Ephraim and Judah was like a morning cloud, and as the early dew, that passeth away. But these Philippians had “always” obeyed.
Thirdly, the increase of their diligence and zeal. They had “much more” obeyed. They not only held on their way, but waxed stronger and stronger; not only continued, but always abounded in the work of the Lord. Nothing is more desirable or pleasing than to see this progression. It is like the shining light, that shined more and more unto the perfect day. It is like the springing of the earth: first the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear.
Fourthly, the progress of their improvement under disadvantages. They had much more obeyed “in his absence” than in his presence. When he was no longer with them as a witness to observe, as an example to excite, as a preacher to warn and to animate them. Some attend the word and worship of God from the influence of a friend, or the authority
of a father or a master. Jehoash followed the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the high-priest, who brought him up; but as soon as this eminent servant of God was dead, the young prince became an idolater, and even slew the prophet of the Lord. There are many who regard the eye of man more than the eye of God. It is well when our devotion springs from inward principle, and does not depend upon outward excitement; when we not only forsake, but abhor that which is evil, and not only follow, but cleave to that which is good. There is scarcely an individual, perhaps, that does not sometimes pray. But does he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call upon God? There are few but are afflicted or alarmed into occasional piety. But are we the same in health as in sickness; in the house as in the temple; on the week as on the Sabbath?
What an immense loss must the Philippians have sustained in Paul’s absence from them; yet they obeyed much more in his absence than in his presence. Surely this shows that, when he left them, God did not leave them. It teaches us that God does not depend upon instruments, though he is pleased to make use of them. It proves that, by his own Spirit, he can make up for the want of any creature advantage. When by persecution the church has been deprived of her pastors, or by accident or disease Christians have been destitute of the public ordinances of religion, they have seen his power and his glory as they have seen him in the sanctuary. The streams were gone, but the Fountain was near. And where the providence of God has denied the usual means of grace, we have known the sufferers to prosper in the divine life even more than those who have enjoyed an affluence of privileges.
“Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.”—Ps 30:4
It would be perfectly useless to call upon others to do this in their present state.
|“None but the soul that feels his grace,Can triumph in his holiness.”
Since the fall, this attribute, which renders God so amiable in himself, and which draws forth the highest praises of heaven, makes him unlovely to an apostate creature. There is nothing the sinner thinks of with so much dislike as a perfection that justifies all his fears, and opposes all his inclinations and pursuits. What an enemy the world naturally is to the holiness of God, may be seen in the practice of the heathens. Among all the heroes they deified, they advanced none for those qualities which approached the most nearly to it, but frequently for passions the most remote from it, and at best only for some physical power, valued or useful in the concerns of this life. Esculapius was deified for his skill in curing diseases; Bacchus for the use of the
grape; Vulcan for his operations in fire; Hercules for his destroying monsters. But not one of them all was advanced to this honor for the virtue of holiness, as if this property was beneath their notice in the formation of a deity, or they loved a god better that had nothing to do with it.
It was upon this principle that they who are now saints “would” once themselves have “none of him,” and really said unto God, “Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.” Hence, if they loved the Sabbath, it was as a day of leisure and recreation, not as “the holy of the Lord.” Hence they disliked his people, as renewed, because they were images of this pure original.
What a blessed evidence is it in their favor, that they can now “glory in his holy name,” and “sing and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness!” But such is the change they have experienced, that they do contemplate him with pleasure as holy in all his ways, and righteous in all his works. It is a relief, a satisfaction to their minds, in every perplexity in nature or providence, that the Judge of all the earth must do right. They delight in the law of God, which is holy, just, and good, after the inward man. The gospel appears to their minds glorious, “because therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” This attribute now smiles upon them. They have a vast interest in it. As he is holy, they can depend upon his truth, and are assured of the fulfilment of his word. They know that He who has said, I will abundantly pardon, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee, is a God that cannot lie. Yes, says the Christian, since he who loves me is purity itself, and his influence is almighty, he will sprinkle clean water upon me, and I shall be clean. He will destroy in me the sin which he infinitely hates. He will make me a partaker of his holiness, and render me meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.
But without this love to holiness we cannot see the kingdom of God. We are, both by Scripture and by the nature of the case, excluded for ever from his presence, which could only make us miserable. What fellowship hath light with darkness? What communion hath righteousness with unrighteousness?
Some talk of the less amiable views of the Supreme Being, yea, of the darker side of the Deity. And what side is this? The Scripture tells me—and I believe it, I feel it—that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
Therefore thus saith the Lord, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exerciselovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.”
“And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”—2 Sam 9:1
Let me not pass this without remark.
See the low estate of Saul’s house. He had a very numerous family, sufficient to have replenished a country, and yet it was now so reduced, dispersed, concealed, or unknown, that it was necessary to inquire whether any remains of it were left. So God setteth the solitary in families. Some houses, distinguished by their wealth and nobility, fall into indigence and obscurity; while others are completely terminated, their last branch having withered in the dust. “Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwellingplaces to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man being in honor abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.” “Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased.” “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity.”
See a fine instance of the forgiveness of injuries. Saul had been David’s sworn foe, and had pursued him to the last with remorseless malignity. Yet while he was alive, David never took an advantage to injure him when he had him completely in his power. And when he died he mourned over him, and eulogized him far beyond his desert. And years after, he inquires whether any of his family was left—not to cut them off, lest they should disturb his government, or to punish the sins of the father upon the children. Thus Athaliah arose, and destroyed all the seed royal. Thus Abimelech would leave none remaining of his father’s house, and slew his brethren, the sons of Jerubbaal, being threescore and ten persons, upon one stone. And the same barbarous exterminations have been always practised in the East. But David asks if any is left, to “show him kindness.” Let us learn from hence, not to avenge ourselves, but rather to give place unto wrath. A greater than David has said, “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you.” And he perfectly exemplified his own command: “When reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not,” but prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
We have here a proof of real and refined affection. That I may show him kindness “for Jonathan’s sake.” Jonathan had been his bosom-friend, and his open and generous conduct had justly endeared him to David. Steadiness of attachment is to be admired. Thine own friend and thy father’s friend forsake not. A friend is born for adversity, and loveth at all times, and his regard will extend beyond the individual to his connections and offspring. God himself acts upon this principle, and tells us that the children of his servant shall continue, and that the generation of the upright shall be blessed. “I have been young,” says David, “and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” And shall not we act upon the same
principle in another case? Who remembered us in our low estate? Who, when rich, for our sakes became poor? Who died, that we might live? He was received up into glory, and is no more in the world. But are there none left of his family who stand in need of our assistance? Let us pity and relieve them. Whatever we do unto one of the least of all these, he will esteem as done unto himself.
It was honorable in David not to wait to be addressed, but endeavor to search out the object. We are to devise liberal things, and not only to seize, but to seek opportunities of doing good. The most needy and deserving are generally the least clamorous, and like the stricken deer, retire and bleed alone. Such we must seek after. We should not wait for the enforcement of claims, if conscience tells us they are due. Some, we fear, would never pay a debt, if they thought the creditor had forgotten it. But justice is the rule of our duty.
We can go no farther in our praise of David. Surely his kindness loses somewhat of its excellency in its lateness. Mephibosheth was five years old when David ascended the throne, and was now married, and had a son. Thus a considerable number of years must have elapsed since God had delivered David out of all his adversity. He therefore—though better late than never—should have made this inquiry much earlier. What shall we say to this? We ought to make the best of everything, especially in the conduct of great and good men. But none of them are faultless. And the sacred writers always show their impartiality. They always record things just as they occurred, regardless of consequences; their only aim is truth. It has been said, in exculpation of David, that he was so much engaged in war, and pressed with such a multiplicity of engagements. There was a truth in this, but it does not entirely excuse him. He had entered into covenant with Jonathan, and should immediately have shown his seed “the kindness of God;” that is, the kindness which he had sworn in his presence to exercise. Let us take heed that indulgence does not harden the heart, and when we prosper, let us watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation. The prosperity of fools destroys them; and the prosperity of wise men commonly injures them. As people rise in the world, they lose their recollection. The chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgat him. Lord, what is man!
In all things Jesus has the preeminence. He remembered us as soon as he came into his kingdom. And though he passed into the heavens, he is still touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
“And David said unto him, Fear not; for I will surely show thee kindness for Jonathan thy father’s sake, and will restore thee all the land of Saul thy father; and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually. And he bowed himself, and said, What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?”—2 Sam 9:7-8
David had inquired whether there was any left of the house of Saul, that he might show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake. Upon which,
Ziba, an old retainer in Saul’s family, said unto the king, “Jonathan has yet a son, which is lame on his feet.” This lameness was occasioned by an accident, in consequence of the battle of Gilboa, by which his grandfather and his father were both slain. The nurse, not only from the terror such an event naturally inspires, but also from knowing that Mephibosheth was now the heir apparent to the throne, and that the victors would eagerly seek to apprehend him, to secure and conceal her precious charge, took him up and fled, but fell, and crippled him for life. To how many perils are children exposed in their rearing, and how thankful should we feel to the providence of God if we have escaped them.
Yet, instead of pitying Mephibosheth, we ought rather to congratulate him on this affliction. In the earlier stages of society corporeal accomplishments are much rated; and had not Mephibosheth been thus disfigured and dismembered, the adherents of Saul’s house would probably, as he was the next heir, have proclaimed him, instead of his uncle Ishbosheth, and then it is most likely he would have been murdered, as he was. Who knows what is good for a man in this vain life? And who knows what is evil? How often have we deprecated things for which we have afterwards been thankful! How much do we owe to the disappointments of life! What dangers have ill health or reduced substance prevented!
|“Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take:The clouds ye so much dreadAre big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.”
“And the king said, Where is he? And Ziba said, Behold, he is in the house of Machir, the son of Ammiel, in Lodebar.” Here probably resided in obscurity his mother’s relations, and here he himself was forgotten, like a dead man out of mind. Machir, with whom he dwelt, seems to have been a noble, generous man, who took charge of Mephibosheth from pity for one born to honor, and the son of so excellent a father, and not from any disaffection to David. Yea, we afterwards find him equally kind to David, and furnishing him with every refreshment when he was driven an exile into his neighborhood, by the rebellion of Absalom. And may not David’s kindness to Mephibosheth at this time have induced Machir the more promptly and extensively to exert himself in favor of David in his subsequent distress? If so, it says, “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.” The aid we impart today we may want tomorrow. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
The king sent and fetched him. And observe his introduction at court. When he was come unto David, he fell on his face, and did reverence. David had done the very same to this cripple’s father a few years before, bowing himself three times to the earth. What changes take place in the conditions of men! David had too reflective
a mind not to think of this. He had probably never seen Mephibosheth before, though he was born about the time of his intimacy with his beloved father. The first thing I suppose he would look for in his features would be the image of Jonathan. David had too much sensibility not to be impressed with the affecting scene. Feeling is always brief in expression. He utters only one word, but the manner in which he pronounced it said every thing. And David said, Mephibosheth! It was the language of surprise, tenderness, and endearment.
Why was he afraid of David? It is not probable that he apprehended any danger from him. But he had been living in the country, and in privacy, from a child. And it is no unusual thing for a stranger to be intimidated at the presence of a very superior and extraordinary man. Madame de Stael, though accustomed to the highest society, and endued with such powers of address and conversation, says she was breathless in the company of the late emperor of France, and could never rise above this prostration of mind. But David was a greater man, and as great a warrior, considering the age in which he lived. Seeing the depression of his countenance and his tremor,
David said to him, “Fear not; for I will surely show thee kindness for Jonathan’s sake,” and gave him the assurance of two things. First, upon the suppression of Ishbosheth’s faction, Saul’s estate had been confiscated to the crown; this he promises to give him, with all its future revenues. And secondly, he assigns him a residence in his palace, and a constant access to himself. I will restore thee all the land of Saul thy father, and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually.
And how did Mephibosheth receive these honors? He was not one of those who take every favor as a debt, and imagine their friends are only doing their duty, and very imperfectly too, perhaps, in every kindness they show them, but he exclaims, “What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am?” A dog is fitter to be under the table than at the side of it, and a dead dog is fitter for the ditch than the palace. It was a strong, proverbial expression, used to signify how mean and base and unworthy and unqualified he deemed himself. But if he received these benefits from David with so much thankfulness and humility, how ought we to feel under those blessings which God bestows upon us? And here let me ask three questions:
And first—not to dwell on the ordinary bounties of his providence—has he not remembered us in our low estate? Has he not sought and saved our souls? Has he not restored our forfeited inheritance? Has he not given us a name and a place in his house, that we may eat and drink at his table in his kingdom?
Secondly, and are not the blessings he has conferred upon us infinitely greater than those Mephibosheth received from David? It might seem an immense thing, to a worldly mind, to be fetched out of distant obscurity, and enriched with a royal demesne, and allowed to live at a splendid court. But Mephibosheth, perhaps, was not even so happy as before; and for whatever purposes he valued his elevation, he soon left
it, and found that he had set his eyes on that which is not. But we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Our dignities and enjoyments yield the most perfect satisfaction. And they will endure for ever.
Thirdly, and how much less reason had we to look for such favors from God, than Mephibosheth had to expect such bestowments from David. He was David’s fellow-creature, and he had a claim founded in a community of nature. He was the son of an intimate friend, to whom he was under obligation. He was also a relation, being the child of his brother-in-law. Though a sufferer, he was innocent, and had always conducted himself properly towards David.
But, Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him; or the son of man, that thou visitest him? We were strangers, enemies by wicked works, unworthy of the least of all his mercies, deserving that his wrath should come upon us as the children of disobedience. What then ought to be our self-abasement, our gratitude? But where are they? Are they urging us to exclaim, Not unto us, O Lord; not unto us? By thy grace we are what we are. Are they inducing us to utter abundantly the memory of his great goodness, and recommend him all the day long to others? Are they constraining us, by his mercies, to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, which is our reasonable service?
“Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion; and unto thee shall the vow be performed.”—Ps 65:1
Here we have the church’s praise and the church’s vow; the suspension of the one and the fulfilment of the other.
In general, God waits for our praise. And how slow and reluctant are we in rendering it! And how seldom, at last, do we render according to the benefit done unto us! Here praise waits in Zion for him. The meaning is, that the deliverance or blessing which they were in need of had not arrived, but they were looking for it. They had their harp in their hand, ready to strike up a song of thanksgiving, but delay kept themsilent. Praise waited, therefore, because the church waited.
And this is no unusual thing, first, as to their spiritual experience. They wish to be able to view him as the strength of their heart and their portion for ever, and to claim all the exceeding great and precious promises as their own. But they are doubtful and uncertain; yea, they often exclude themselves from all part and lot in the matter. Now we cannot praise him for what we think he has not done for us or given to us, but only for what he has. If, therefore, he has forgiven and accepted us, the acknowledgment of the blessing requires the knowledge of it. Yet how many are in a state of anxiety, waiting for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning, and praying, Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation! And,
Secondly, as to providential dispensations. How long was it, even after David had been anointed by Samuel, before he was established on the throne. How long did Joseph wait, with every prospect growing darker, before his prophetic dreams were accomplished. And so Abraham, only “after he had patiently endured, obtained the promise.” God keeps back, till self-despair and the failure of creature confidence have spread a dark ground on which his glory must be seen. He loves to astonish as well as succor. He will convince us in future difficulties that he is able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think. Therefore at evening-time it is light, and he turneth the shadow of death into the morning.
Here, however, let it be observed, that Christians cannot be ever entirely silent. They have always much to praise God for. Whatever be their present condition, it might have been much worse; yea, in everything they are to give thanks. Nor will they be silent long. The vision is only for an appointed time. Yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. And they need not be silent at all, if they have faith in God; for faith can see the certainty of the thing before it takes place, and cause us always to triumph in Christ, while yet the warfare is not actually accomplished.
If hope deferred maketh the heart sick, when it cometh it is a tree of life. Therefore says the church, “Unto thee shall the vow be performed.” The vow means, their solemn engagement to praise him when the deliverance or blessing arrived. “If he appears to my joy, I will give him the glory that is due unto his name: witness my vow.” We do not always admire vows. They often ensnare the soul, and give the enemy an advantage over us. And Christians, as they advance in self-knowledge, are commonly more disposed to pray to God, than to stipulate with him. It is a useful hint which Cowper gives us,
|“Beware of Peter’s word,Nor confidently say,I never will deny thee, Lord;
But, Grant I never may.”
Yet vows, in some cases, may be useful. They may prove as a kind of fence to the field, or hem to the garment. They may serve to remind us when we forget, and to humble us when we fail. But two things should be always observed. The first is, that they be formed in an entire dependence upon divine grace. “By thee only will we make mention of thy name.” “Through God we shall do valiantly.”
The second is, that when we have made them, we should be concerned to fulfil them. “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” Yet how often have men bound themselves when they were in danger, sickness, and affliction, and forgetting or violating their vow, have turned again to folly. Even Jacob, after all his solemn covenanting with God in the prospect of his journey, was awfully remiss
upon his return, till, divinely rebuked, he said, “Let us arise, and go up to Bethel: and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way in which I went.” Hannah was more exemplary. She had vowed that, if her prayer was answered, she would give her son to the Lord as long as he lived. [1 Sam 11] The surrender was painful, but as soon as she had weaned him, she took him to Shiloh, and brought him to Eli: “And she said, O my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord.” “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
“Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money; that take, and give unto them, for me and thee.”—Matt 17:27
How well was it foretold that his name should be called Wonderful!
What a surprising combination of attributes was displayed in him! Observe the case before us. Here, while we behold his penury and dependence, so that he did not possess wherewithal to pay the temple tribute, we perceive his omniscience; so that in Peter’s house he could pierce the waters of the sea, and discern a particular fish, and see what was in its body, and announce a piece of money there, and the veryname of the coin. Surely the darkness hideth not from him, but the night shineth as the day. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
He who saw the stater in this fish, sees what money we are in the possession of, and how we acquired it, and the way in which we are using it. He sees whether we are needlessly hoarding, or wastefully expending it. He sees whether we are making it our hope and confidence, or valuing it only as an instrument of lawful enjoyment and of pious and benevolent use. He sees the responsibilities of the owner, and knows how he will feel when he shall be called to leave it, and when he will be required to give an account of it at the last day.
Here we also behold his power and dominion. He is Lord of all. The beasts of the field obey him. At his bidding not a dog moves his tongue in the departure of the Israelites. At his command the dumb ass speaks with man’s voice, and rebukes the madness of the prophet. The fowls of the air obey him. At his order the ravens bring Elijah bread and meat in the morning and the evening. The fishes of the sea obey him. At his command a great fish swallows the disobedient, and disembarks the penitent Jonah. And here a fish, at his requirement,
goes and takes up from the bottom of the sea a stater, and then goes and bites at Peter’s hook, with this in his maw. “All things are put under his feet; all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea.”
Could anything be better adapted to encourage the confidence of the disciples in the kindness and all-sufficiency of his providence, when he was sending them forth as sheep among wolves, and without any known supplies to live upon? He commissioned the seventy to go in pairs through the whole country. But he sent them forth without purse, or scrip, or shoes. And they had, it would seem, many uneasy and distracting thoughts at the time. They did not indeed express them, but our Lord was aware of them, and remembered them. And when they came back, he brings them to their own recollection: “How came you to think that I, who employed you, should not provide for you? Why did you doubt my inclination, or my ability? When I sent you forth without purse and scrip, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing, Lord.”
Are you called to leave behind you those who seem to hang on your care? Hear this Saviour at your dying-bed saying, “Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive: and let thy widows trust in me.” “O fear the Lord, all ye his saints; for there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.”
“Ye know all things.”—1 John 2:20
The reason or the cause is previously given: “We have an unction from the Holy One.” This unction means, the Spirit of grace and truth. This the Saviour possessed personally: he “was anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power,” and had the Spirit without measure. And as Mediator, for the suffering of death, he received all the fulness of it for the supply of his people. They therefore derive it from him, and it is not only sanctifying, but illuminating; it leads them “into all truth,” and “they know all things.” This is a bold expression; but the extensiveness of it must be taken with four distinctions.
First, it means only things religious. It does not intend to intimate that every Christian is familiar with the secrets of nature, the resources of trade, the mysteries of government, the structure of language, and a thousand other things. With regard to these, he may be far surpassed by the people of the world. Not that religion stultifies its possessor; it is favorable to the acquisition of knowledge generally, by rousing and employing the mind, and thereby improving it. But it is distinguishable from learning and science, and makes us acquainted with “the things which accompany salvation.”
Secondly, it means not only things religious, but revealed. “The
secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” This passage should never be forgotten. It would draw some persons a little farther from the decrees of God, and a little nearer to his commands. The sacred writers prophesy but in part. Had everything been made known in the Scripture, the world could not have contained the books that would have been written, [John 21:25] and our attention would have been so divided and diffused, that the one thing needful would have been forgotten. There are numberless subjects upon which a busy and curious mind would speculate, concerning which the word is silent. But where God says nothing, we are not to be wise above what is written. If men will conjecture, let them conjecture without devouring much of their time or injuring their temper, and without censoriousness, self-conceit, and positiveness. He that hath a dream, let him tell a dream. What is the chaff to the wheat? When our Saviour had foretold the duty and destination of Peter, and Peter, not satisfied with this, inquired concerning John, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” instead of answering him, he reproved his impatient and presumptuous curiosity: “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.”
Thirdly, it not only means things revealed, but revealed things of importance. Everything, even in the Scripture, is not equally momentous and interesting. Some things are hard to be understood, but then it is not necessary to be able to understand them. Yet such things as these are not without their use, if they make us humble, by showing us the limits of the human understanding, and lead us, while we adore here, tostudy elsewhere. How many things are there in the geography, the chronology, the natural philosophy of the Scriptures, in which we may be safely unversed. A man may be able to number his days so as to apply his heart unto wisdom, without knowing when antichrist will be destroyed. He may not know what creature Behemoth was, or where Ophir was, and yet he may know what is life eternal, and the way to it he may know. The Jews had the fiery cloudy pillar, not to examine, but to follow. They knew no more of its essence at the end of forty years than at the beginning, but it had led them by a right way to the city of habitation. There are things which concern the Lord Jesus, and to know these is the excellency of knowledge. These will make us wise unto salvation. There are things that are ornamental to a Christian, and these are not to be undervalued; but others are essential to his very being. Some things conduce to our comfort, but others involve even our safety. It is desirable, but not equally necessary, that a Christian should be informed in all these truths.
Fourthly, with regard to things of importance, it only means a comparative knowledge of these in our present state. Of the God of grace as well as of the God of nature we are compelled to say, “How small a portion is known of Him.” What one truth is there that we can trace back completely to its rise, or follow on to its last outfall? We
read of things which angels desire to look into; of a peace which passeth all understanding; of a joy unspeakable. The love of Christ passeth knowledge.
|“The cross, the manger, and the throne,Are big with glories yet unknown.”
More we cannot concede. If Christians are comparatively ignorant, they are comparatively wise. They are children of the light and of the day. They have an understanding given them to know him that is true. Not that they are endued with a new physical faculty, but they have another kind of knowledge; and it is as superior as it is peculiar. There is as much difference between their present and their former knowledge, as between the shining of the glowworm and the vital lustre of the sun. They have a heart to know. They see divine things, not only in their reality, but in their beauty and excellency; and while this gives them a firmer conviction of their certainty than they had before, so it gains their affection to them, and brings their souls under their influence. Thus with them the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. They walk in the light as he is in the light. The secret of the Lord is with them, and he shows them his covenant. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things.”
Thus another reproach is rolled away. Christians are not only considered as slaves, as cowards, as the victims of gloom and melancholy, but are often despised or pitied as fools. Yet are they the wisest people in the world. Their religion, from first to last, is wisdom. And it is justified of all her children.
“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord.”—Ps 5:3
Authors have found the morning the best time for study and composition. Hence it has been called the friend of the muses. It would be easy to prove that it is equally a friend to the graces and the duties. It is the finest season for reflection and devotion. David found it so; and therefore resolves, “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord.” What voice? The voice of praise, and the voice of prayer; the one excited by looking back, and the other by looking forward.
How much is there in the morning to call forth the voice of thanksgiving! Let us think of the season we have just passed through. How many houseless creatures this night have had no place where to lay their head. How many victims of accident and disease have been full of tossing to and fro, until the dawning of the day; their beds have not comforted them, nor their couch eased their complaint. How many have been deprived of repose while attending their neighbors, friends, and relations in sickness and sorrow. How many, since the last setting sun, have entered an awful eternity. How many this night have
been cut off in their sins! Many have been terrified, robbed, injured, murdered by wicked and unreasonable men. How many have been consumed by fire, or drowned with water. How many, this night, have been engaged in works of darkness; and who, if any knew them, would be in the terrors of the shadow of death. How many have risen this morning to pass the day in anguish; how many to suffer want. How many, who have all things richly to enjoy, have risen only to live another day without God in the world. They lie down, and rise up like the beasts that perish; God is not in all their thoughts. And is it otherwise with us? What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards us? Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. [Ps 34:3]
And with how many of these merciful nights have we been favored, Hence, perhaps, we have been so little affected with the goodness of God in them. How strange, that what increases the greatness of our obligation should diminish the sense of it. Yet it is by the interruption, the suspension, the want of our comforts, we are made to learn the value of them. Let us guard against this perverseness of ingratitude. Let us remember, that if our mercies are common, they must be numerous; and if numerous, they multiply the claims to our praise.
And shall our gratitude evaporate in a mere morning acknowledgment? Shall we not, by the mercies of God, dedicate ourselves to his service, and be in his fear all the day long?
And when we think of the day before us, how much is there to awaken concern. And what is our concern without the attention of God? He shall therefore in the morning hear, not only the voice of praise, but the voice of prayer.
Who is to guide me through the day upon which I have entered? How much depends upon one mistake in my movements. And how easily may I go astray. The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. “Cause me to hear thy lovingkindnessin the morning, for in thee do I trust; cause me to know the way wherein I should walk, for I lift up my soul unto thee.”
Who is to guard me through the day? And I am much more exposed when awake than when asleep. My soul is more exposed—more exposed to sin, and sin is the greatest evil. And what am I, to resist a corrupt heart, a wicked world, and all the powers of darkness? “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe. Be thou my arm every morning; my salvation also in the time of trouble.”
Who is to help me through the day? I have many duties to discharge. I am to live soberly, righteously, and godly. I am to walk in wisdom towards those that are without; I am to speak the truth in love; I am to adorn the doctrine of God my Saviour in all things. “Lord, without thee, I can do nothing. Let thy grace be sufficient for me, and thy strength made perfect in weakness.”
Who is to give me success in the business of the day? I know I
ought not to be idle, but to be diligently and prudently employed in my lawful calling. Means are mine, but how much more is necessary than my wisdom and anxiety. “The blessing of the Lord it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.” “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for me to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so he giveth his beloved sleep.”
Who is to prepare me for the events of the day? And I know not what the day may bring forth. Perhaps I may receive the most unwelcome intelligence. Perhaps I may sustain losses in property. Perhaps I may meet with mortifications from my fellow-creatures, and be tried with disappointments in friends. My child may this day be taken sick. The desire of mine eyes may be taken away with a stroke. There may be but a step between me and death. It is wonderful we live a day through. “May I know how to be abased, or how to abound. If in the world I have tribulation, in the Saviour may I have peace. So teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom. That whether I live, I may live unto the Lord; or whether I die, I may die unto the Lord: so that living and dying, I may be the Lord’s.”
“I am married unto you.”—Jer 3:14
Marriage is the nearest and the most intimate of all human relations. It is surpassed only by the union between soul and body. Here are two persons meeting together, who perhaps never saw each other some time before; yet coming under the power of this ordinance, are united in a connection that exceeds the claims of nature, and the wife becomes dearer than the dearest parent. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.”
Thus Christians, though once strangers and far off, become the people of God, a people nigh unto him; yea, one with him, in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten. He is not ashamed to own the relation, “I am married unto you.” What is supremely and essentially included in this relation, when properly established?
In such a marriage, there is mutual love. This love regards the person, and not the endowments. And such a love there is between God and his people. It commenced on his side much earlier than on theirs, and his love to them produced their love to him. For love begets love; and we love him, because he first loved us. Yet their love is mutual, and he says, “I love them that love me.”
The same may be said of mutual choice. In a proper marriage, the parties freely elect each other. God has chosen his people, and they have chosen him. For though once averse to him, as their Lord and
portion, they are made willing in the day of his power; and this power is not violence, but influence, the influence of wisdom and goodness. He works in them to will and to do of his good pleasure. He draws them, and they run after him; and they can all say from the heart, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.”
In this connection, there is also confidence and communication. Where this is wanting, the spirit of it is materially injured, and the relation is very defectively maintained. It is readily allowed, that the woman should not carry on designs concealed from the husband; but is not everything here reciprocal? And is he justified in treating her with reserve and silence? Yet there are many wives who have had no intimation of the state of their husbands’ affairs, till they have found themselves plunged into a condition overwhelming them with surprise, as well as calamity. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant. And they, in all their ways, acknowledge him. They pour out their hearts before him; they hide nothing from him.
There is also in this alliance, fellowship and community of goods. However poor or mean the wife was before, she is now raised to a participation of the husband’s rank and affluence; and however free and independent he was before, the husband now enters into all the condition of the wife. And thus the believer dedicates himself to God with all he is and has. He feels his cause his own; he deplores its reproaches, he rejoices in its success. And God gives himself, with all he is and all he has, to the believer. In all his afflictions he is afflicted, and he that toucheth him toucheth the apple of his eye.
Finally, there is a complacency and delight. As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee. He will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will rejoice over thee with singing.
How wonderful is this, and yet how true.
How blessed are the people who are in such a case.
Art thou in this happy, this glorious condition? All hail! Thy Maker is thy husband. There was joy in the presence of the angels of God the hour thou gavest thy consent to the proposals of the gospel.
Art thou willing to be united to him? His ministers invite and woo thee. Come, for all things are now ready. Resemble not Israel, who would have none of him, and so were given up. Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
“His going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.”—Hos 6:3
“His going forth,” and “his coming,” mean his displays and his communications on behalf of those who earnestly and perseveringly seek
after him; according to the words immediately preceding: “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord.” That contains theassurance of their success; here is added the illustration of it. It consists of two images, equally beautiful and encouraging.
The first derived from the morning: “His going forth is prepared as the morning.” When the morning is not yet come, we fully rely upon it. We know it is coming; we know it is secured in the appointment of Providence, and the arrangements of nature. It never yet failed, and it never will as long as the world endures. And does not the God of all grace express the immutability of his counsel by the certainty of this very allusion? “Thus saith the Lord, If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season, then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant.” What can hinder the approach and the rising of the sun? And his going forth is prepared as surely as the morning.
And as luminously too. The morning drives away the darkness, and shines upon our path, so that we see where we are, and how to move. “If a man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.” The Lord will come, and manifest himself to his people. He will show them his covenant; He will lead them into all truth. And with regard to doctrine and experience and practice, and also their interest in the divine favor, he will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight; these things will he do unto them, and not forsake them.
It is also as delightsome as the morning. The night is a season of gloom, as it is a period of confinement and danger, and fear and anxiety. Paul’s mariners, in the storm, cast four anchors, and wished for the day. David refers to travellers and sentinels, who watched for the morning, as the image of his waiting for the Lord. Some nights are less cheerless than others, but at best they have only the moon and stars; the sun is wanting. He alone can make the morning; and when he comes, the birds sing, the lambs play, and man partakes of the cheerfulness that spreads all around. “Truly the light is sweet; and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” Creatures are pleasing, but none of them can supply the place of God. He is our sun, as well as our shield; and the language of the gracious heart is, “Oh, when wilt thou come unto me? Thou alone canst put my fears to flight. Thou alone canst inspire me with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
But the morning comes not all at once, but gradually. What a difference is there between the first glimmerings of the dawn, and the splendor of noon. So the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
The second is derived from the rain: “He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.” God asks, “Can any of the vanities of the Gentiles send rain?” He claims the production
as his own divine prerogative, and justly wonders that we do not notice it more than we do. “Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God that giveth rain; both the former and the latter in his season.” In Judea the rain was less frequent and more periodical than with us. It peculiarly fell after autumn and spring; that is, just after seedtime, and just before reaping; the former to soften the ground, and quicken the grain, and aid the springing thereof; the latter to fill the corn in the ear, and hasten its maturity.
What would nature be without rain? We are equally dependent on the grace of God. But under the influences of his word and Spirit, we revive and grow as the corn. These influences are always needful; but is it pressing the metaphor to observe that there are two seasons when they are peculiarly experienced? The one is connected with the beginning of the divine life; this may be called the former rain. The other, with the close of it; this may be called the latter rain. The one is to enliven; the other, to confirm. To the “former” many can look back, and ask,
|“Where is the blessedness I knewWhen first I saw the Lord?Where is that soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and his word?”
Others are longing for the “latter.” Their salvation is nearer than when they believed, but they do not yet feel as they wish. They want more faith, more hope, more consolation, more of all the fulness of God. Let the last showers descend, and the appointed weeks of harvest come, and the produce be brought home with “shoutings, Grace, grace, unto it.”
“Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.”—John 11:3
These words furnish several sources of remark and instruction.
The first regards the love of Jesus. In his love to Lazarus there was something peculiar and something common. He loved him with a partial, and he loved him with a divine affection. To know Christ after the flesh is a privilege which has long since ceased, and to be loved by him under the advantage of his humanity was a favor restricted to few. But there is, however, another sense in which, as he loved Lazarus, so he loves us; and though we share not in the partial regard of the friend, we are the subjects of the divine regard of the Saviour. This love commenced from no excellency in us, like the love of creatures. It took knowledge of us when we were sinners. It began before the foundation of the world. It led him to espouse our cause, and brought him under an engagement to suffer and die for us. His people remember this love more than wine.
The second regards the affliction of Lazarus. He was “sick.” Sickness
is one of the common calamities of life, and it is one of the most painful and trying. Yet Lazarus was exercised with it, though he was loved of Jesus. This explains the nature of his love, and shows us that it does not exempt its subjects from distress. It is not the foolish fondness of a father, who, when correction is necessary, spares the child for his crying. He that thus “spared the rod, hateth his son; but he that loveth him, chastens him betimes.” Could we now see, as we shall hereafter, the principle, the design, the alleviations, the advantages of the afflictions of the righteous, we should perceive that they are not only compatible with divine love, but the fruit, the proof of it. “Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth; and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”
The third regards the mission of the sisters. “Therefore the sisters sent unto Jesus.” Their affliction led to this application. To induce us to send to him is the design of our trials, for we are too forgetful of him in ease and prosperity. “In their affliction they will seek me early.” What can we do without him then? Therefore says the Teacher as well as the Chastiser, “Call upon me in the day of trouble.” And what a solace; what a relief; what a source of support, sanctification, and deliverance is prayer. John’s disciples, therefore, when their master was beheaded, not only took up the body and buried it, but “went and told Jesus.” “I will say unto God,” was the resolve of Job, “Do not condemn me; show me wherefore thou contendest with me.” And says David, “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” Thus it has been with all who have heard the rod. They have all said, “A glorious high throne from the beginning has been the place of our sanctuary.”
Therefore his sisters sent unto him. It is pleasing when, in our natural relations, we have spiritual friends who will carry our cases, and spread them before the Lord. Many in their sickness have connections about them who are kind and attentive, but they never speak a word to them of their souls, and never administer to them the cordials of the gospel, though they often apply self-righteous opiates to stupefy conscience. They send for the physician and the lawyer, but do not address the Saviour for them. But some, like Lazarus, have those who will bear them upon their minds, and call in the aid of the Hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof, in the time of trouble. And what an encouragement and comfort is this to those who are scarcely able to lift a thought to God for themselves, whose broken and distracted petitions seem unworthy of notice, and who know that the prayer of the righteous availeth much.
The fourth is the message they conveyed to him, “Saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lowest is sick.” From hence we may learn two things. First, the Lord’s love gives us encouragement in prayer, and furnishes us with our most prevailing plea in dealing with him. They do not say, he whom we love, though this was true, nor he who loves
thee, though this was true, but he whom thou lovest. How wise, how expressive was this! As much as to say, “Hast not thou deigned to regard him already? Has not thy kindness for him raised our confidence in thee, and our expectation from thee? Will not others turn their eyes towards thee, and see whether thy friendship is like the friendship of the world, which leaves its dependents in the hour of necessity and distress?” “A true friend loveth at all times; but is born for adversity.” We read of pleading with God, and filling our mouth with arguments. Our most suitable and successful ones must be derived from himself, and especially from his own goodness. “I plead nothing of my own, not even my love to thee.
|‘Yet I love thee, and adore:O for grace to love thee more!’
But my love to thee is weak and cold; and whatever it be, it is the effect of thy love to me. I was once a stranger and an enemy, and should have remained so still, hadst thou not found a way into my heart. But thou hast redeemed me by thy blood. Thou hast called me by thy grace. Thou hast opened my blind eyes. Thou hast turned my feet into the path of peace. And after all this love, wilt thou cast me off? Couldest thou not have destroyed me without showing me such things as these?”
Secondly, it is better for us, when we seek the Lord for temporal things, to refer our suit to his own good pleasure. I admire the manner in which these pious women addressed him. They do not prescribe—they hardly petition—they particularize nothing. They do not say, Lord, come to this house—come immediately—remove his malady—what will become of us if Lazarus should die? but they state the case, and leave it: “Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” When therefore we have to pray for deliverance from some trouble, or the acquisition of some outward favor, let us do it with modesty and reserve. For these blessings are promised, not absolutely, but conditionally; that is, if they are good for us, and in the very same way they are to be implored. We must not desire them if they would be hurtful, and they may be injurious; and God only knows whether this would be the result of success and indulgence. Had the Jews prayed in this manner for flesh, he would not have given them their hearts’ desire, and sent leanness into their souls. What we extort, as it were, from God by restless importunity, turns the blessing into a curse. The feverish and inflamed state of the mind renders the gratification of the craving dangerous. We cannot be too earnest with God about spiritual blessings; but as to every thing of a temporal nature, temperance of mind becomes us, and in resignation at his feet, we must endeavor to say, “Here I am; let him do what seemeth him good.
|‘Assure me of thy wondrous love,Immeasurably kind;And, Lord, to thine unerring will
Be every wish resigned.’”
“The word of Christ.”—Col 3:16
So the Scriptures are called, because he is the author, and because he is the subject of their contents. They are not only derived from the inspiration of his Spirit, but they are full of his person and character, and sufferings and glory. There is nothing perhaps admitted into them but has some relation to him. We cannot in many instances trace this connection at present, but we shall see more of it when, in the church, the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days. And perhaps to explore it perfectly will be a part of the blessedness and employment of heaven. But when our Lord urged his hearers to search the Scriptures, he said, “They are they that testify of me.” And, going to Emmaus with the two disciples, “he expounded unto them, in all the Scriptures, the things concerning himself.”
We may divide the Scriptures into six parts.
There is the historical part. He is the substance of this. In Adam we see him the head and representative of his people. In Noah, as the restorer of a new world. In Isaac, as a victim laid on the altar. In Joseph, as a sufferer and a saviour. In Moses, as a lawgiver. In Aaron, as a high-priest. In Joshua, as a leader and commander. In Solomon, as the prince of peace. In Jonah, as buried, and rising from the grave.
There is the ceremonial part. Of this he is the substance. He is the body of all its shadows, the reality of all its types. He is the rock, whose streams followed the Israel of God. He is the manna, the true bread that came down from heaven. In the city of refuge we behold him as our security from avenging justice, and in every bleeding sacrifice as the atonement of our sins.
There is the prophetical part. Here he is all in all. “To him gave all the prophets witness.” “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
There is the promissory part. And how large and glorious a portion of it is filled with exceeding great and precious promises. What blessing can we need that is not furnished under the pledge of a God that cannot lie? “But all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen, unto the glory of God by us.”
There is the practical part. To be a Christian, is to live, not to ourselves, but to him that died for us, and rose again. Of good works, his example is the rule, his love is the motive, his Spirit is the author. He is the altar on which all our sacrifices are to be offered. Prayer is asking in his name. Morals are from him. We are to love our wives even as he loved the church, and gave himself for it.
There is the doctrinal part. And what is the great mystery of godliness? “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received
up into glory.” Every doctrine of the gospel, as treated by the inspired authors, leads to him. If we are justified, it is by his righteousness. If we are sanctified, it is by his Spirit. If the glory of God shines forth, it is in the face of Jesus Christ. Providence is all power given unto him in heaven and in earth. The whole of Christianity is called “The truth as it is in Jesus.”
Take him out of the Bible, and you take the sun out of our world, and the soul out of the body.
It is this that so powerfully endears the sacred volume to every real Christian. It is the word of one he supremely loves, and of one he feels to be infinitely necessary to all his comfort and all his hope. Of him he can never read or hear enough.
O my soul, let this word of Christ dwell in thee richly in all wisdom. Never forget the admonition of kindness as well as of authority: “Bind it continually upon thy heart, and tie it about thy neck. When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.”
“Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.”—Ps 37:34
Here is a twofold admonition.
First, “Wait on the Lord.” “I hope to do so.” But are you sure of this? Is there any thing in your religious exercises that really deserves the name of waiting on God? For persons may read without attention, and hear without faith, and sing without praise, and pray without desire. They may draw nigh to him with the mouth, and honor him with the lip, while the heart is far from him. But God is a Spirit; and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth. “I hope I do thus wait on him.” But do you thus wait on him sufficiently? In the sanctuary; in the family; in the closet; in all your concerns; like David, who said, On thee do I wait all the day, Lord?
Secondly, “And keep his way.” This is beautifully connected with the former. Wait and work; wait and walk. Get grace, and exercise it. Persevere in the use of means, if present comfort be withholden. Neither give up the course in which you are engaged, nor turn aside, nor stand still, nor look back, nor seem to come short, though superiors frown, and companions reproach, and iniquity abounds, and the love of many waxes cold, and numbers walk no more with you. In all opposition, and through every discouragement, let your soul follow hard after God. Thus did Job, and therefore he could say, “My foot hath held his steps; his way have I kept, and not declined. Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips: I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.” So it was also with the church. “Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way; though thou hast sore broken us in the place of
dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.” We have enough to animate us to hold on. “After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord. His going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the Litter and former rain unto the earth.”
Here is a twofold promise.
First, “He shall exalt thee to inherit the land.” God is the source of all elevation and honor. He raised the Jews to the possession of Canaan, the glory of all lands. He dignifies Christians with a title to a better, even a heavenly country, where “with kings are they upon the throne.” He advances them here as well as hereafter. For he is “the glory of their strength, and in his favor their horn is exalted.” And he exalts them not only with regard to spiritual, but temporal things. For “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Not that all of them are rich and great in the world. So far from it, they are commonly a poor and an afflicted people. Not that every thing is actually in their possession, or that they have a civil right to it. Dominion is not founded in grace, but security is; peace is; contentment is; happiness is. And as to covenant interest and enjoyment and improvement, “all things are theirs.”
Secondly, “When the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.” And they will be cut off. They are often cut off even in life from their places and riches and prospects. At death they are cut off from all their possessions and comforts; for, poor as their portion here is,
“‘Tis all the happiness they know.”
Yea, they are then cut off from all the means of grace and the hopes of mercy. In the last day they will be cut off from “the resurrection of life;” and before the assembled world they will hear the Judge irreversibly excluding them from himself, the source of all happiness: “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Dreadful as the ruin is, there is nothing in it to alarm the praying and persevering believer. He will have no share in it. The vengeance that falls and crushes the foe will not, cannot touch the friend. He will only be a spectator; and, strange as it may now seem, the sight will not affect his happiness. But is it necessary to go farther, and represent it as a source of pleasure and delight? Surely it is enough that he will see it, and adore the mercy that graciously saved him, and acquiesce in the justice that righteously condemns others.
As the saint will only see the destruction of the wicked, so the sinner will see the salvation of the righteous, and not partake of it. But to see such a blessedness, to see what was once within his own reach, and is now enjoyed by others, must be a source of the keenest anguish. Such was the display of plenty to the interdicted nobleman at the gate of Samaria: “Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes; but thou shalt not eat thereof.” And we know who has said, “There shall be weeping
and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see graham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourself thrust out.”
“Smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered; and I will turn my hand upon the little ones.”—Zech 13:7
We know who this Shepherd was. God speaks of him in the former part of the verse as “his fellow,” and calls him “his Shepherd.” He was God’s Shepherd, because he appointed him to take the charge of his church, and to perform on their behalf all the duties implied in the pastoral office. Hence it was foretold of him, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” This character the Saviour applied to himself with an attribute of distinction: “I am the good shepherd.” Paul styles him, “that great Shepherd of the sheep.” Peter calls him, “the chief Shepherd,” and “the Shepherd and Bishop of souls.” Let the language of my heart be, “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon.”
He was to be “smitten.” Every one that enters this vale of tears is a sufferer. But he was “a man of sorrows,” and could say, “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.” For though he suffered from devils, who had their hour and power of darkness, and though he suffered from men—for against him both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together—yet it was only to do whatsoever his hand andhis counsel determined before to be done. It pleased the Lord to bruise him. He put him to grief. When therefore the Jews esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted, they were right in the fact, but mistaken in the cause. They supposed he suffered for guilt; and he did thus suffer, but the guilt was not his own. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Here let me contemplate the evil of sin in the sufferings of this divine victim. And here let me dwell on that love which passeth knowledge, that led him, all innocent as he was, voluntarily to become a sacrifice on our behalf, and to suffer, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us unto God. The glory of the gospel, the hope of the sinner, the triumph of the believer, all lies here, “It is Christ that died.”
It was a sad thing that his own disciples should abandon him at the very moment he was going to die for them, and after all their professions of determined adherence to him. But when the shepherd was smitten, “the sheep were scattered.” In this desertion he was not taken by surprise, for he had previously said, “Behold, the hour cometh, yea,
is now come, that ye shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone.” Yet how much he felt it may be inferred from his lamentation and complaint: “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforter, but I found none.” Let not his people count it a strange thing, if they are betrayed or forsaken. It should remind them of the fellowship of his sufferings.
But behold an instance of forgiving mercy and renewing grace: “And I will turn my hand upon the little ones.” His disciples were little in the eyes of the world, and less in their own. They were few in number, and poor in condition. They were weak in faith and fortitude, and were now dismayed and desponding. But he did not give them over unto death. He knew their frame; he remembered that they were dust. As soon as he was risen from the dead, he appeared to them—not clothed in terror, but saying, “Peace be unto you.” He exerted again the powerful influence of his Holy Spirit. He renewed them again unto repentance. He established their faith and hope. He gave them enlarged views, and fresh courage, so that they were ready to suffer and die for his name.
Surely a bruised reed will he not break, and the smoking flax will he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. [Matt 12:20] And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.
“O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come.”—Ps 65:2
We have no claims upon God, and are not worthy of the least of all his mercies. It is therefore surprising that he should hear prayer at all. But he glories in it, and by nothing is he so much distinguished. He derives his fame, his character from it. “O thou that hearest prayer.”
And we need not wonder at this, when we consider how constantly he has heard prayer, even ever since men began to call upon the name of the Lord; [Gen 4:26] and how many prayers he has heard. If we are to pray without ceasing, the prayers of one individual would be very numerous. What then is the aggregate multitude that has been offered by all the millions that ever sought his face? And how largely he answers prayer. He gives grace and glory, and withholds no good thing pertaining to life and godliness. And how readily he answers prayer. “Before they call,” says he, “I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” And how certainly he hears prayer. We have his promises, which are firmer than the earth and the heavens. It may not be easy to ascertain when or how he answers us as the God of our salvation; but this we know, that he cannot deny us without denying himself. He cannot lie; and he has said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”
What should be the influence of this glorious truth, “Unto thee shall all flesh come?” If these words had stood separately, we should have taken them as affirming that all flesh would come to him at the last day to be judged. But the reference is not to God on the judgment-seat, but on the mercyseat; and it is well that we can kneel at the latter, before we stand at the former. The meaning is, that men shall seek to him inprayer. And not some, but many; not many, but all. Surely here is nothing less than a prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles. Not only shall the seed of Jacob his chosen seek unto him, but those also that were strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, and without God in the world, crying only unto idols that could not save. The Jews, in latter times, were carnal and selfish, and averse to the extension of their privileges; but the more ancient and spiritual of their nation rejoiced in the prospect of it. And they had intimations from the beginning, that the Gentiles also should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of the promise of Christ by the gospel, “All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee.” [Ps 86:9] “My house shall be called the house of prayer for all people.” [Isa 56:7]
If the practice here insured is to result from the character here expressed, the character must be known. “For how can they call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe on him of whom they have not heard?” Accordingly it is said, “From the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering.”
And to notice this more personally, we see of what importance it is to entertain encouraging views of God. Confidence in his mercy and grace will alone draw us into his presence. And therefore the ground of this confidence must be firm and obvious.
Much advantage also, upon this principle, must result from reviews of our own experience of his goodness. All success is animating, especially in prayer. “Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.”
Let me come to him among all those that are coming; and let me come immediately, for there is a time when he will not hear prayer. “Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer: they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.”
“Yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.”—Hos 2:19
In the covenant of grace, there is God’s part, and there is our part. But God, or it would never be accomplished, undertakes for the latter as well as the former. He engages to do all that is necessary for his people, and in them.
Here is the nature of the connection he will establish with them: “I
will betroth tree unto me.” And the manner of it: “In righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.”
First, I will do it, says He, in righteousness. He is holy in all his ways, and righteous in all his works. But the soul that sinneth, it shall die. Righteousness, therefore, seems to require that he should punish them, rather than admit them into his favor. And awakened souls want to see a way in which God is just, as well as the justifier. And he has provided for this. He tells us in the gospel, that though sin is pardoned, it is also condemned; and that though the transgressor escapes, the curse falls upon another, who, by bearing it himself, redeems us from it, and is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. The law therefore, instead of being injured, is magnified and made honorable, and even more glorified than it would have been by the destruction of the sinner. In the sinner’s destruction, justice would have been always satisfying, but never satisfied. Whereas the satisfaction was now completed at once, “by the one offering up of himself.” Then also justice would only have been displayed passively, but now it is displayed actively too. Then it would have been displayed only in them, but now it is also displayed by them. Then they would have hated and execrated it for ever; now they love it, and delight to extol it. For righteousness here is not to be taken only for the way in which he makes the guilty just, but the way in which he makes the depraved holy. This comes from the same gracious agency, and is equally necessary with the former, as he could not admit them to communion with himself while in a state of sin; for “how can two walk together except they be agreed?” and “what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?”
Secondly, in judgment. The heathens placed Mercury, the god of wisdom, by the side of Venus, the goddess of marriage; and for good reason, since there is nothing in which judgment is so needful. Yet few things are entered upon with so little discretion and reflection. Hence the wretched consequences that ensue. What can be expected from those hasty and thoughtless matches in which adaptation, age, temper, and even piety are all overlooked? But the Lord is a God of knowledge; he knows what he does, and why he does it. He has reasons which justify the measure to his own infinite understanding. Hence salvation is called his counsel; in which also he is said to abound towards us in all wisdom and prudence. And this is true, not only as to the contriving and procuring of it, but also as to the applying. The place, the time, the manner, the means of their conversion, will all evince, when known, that his work is perfect, and his ways judgment. We see but little of this now. Yet there are openings into it which carry the mind away in contemplation and surprise, and which assure us much more remains for our discovery and rapture in the world of light. This applies also to his people, as well as to God. Their choosing him and consenting to his gracious proposals will bear examination. It is wisdom, and wisdom which is justified of all her children. The world may
censure, but they are able to give a reason for the hope that is in them. The spiritual judgeth all things, though he himself is judged of no man.
Thirdly, in lovingkindness. Without this, it were better for persons never to come together. The parties mutually need it, and need it daily. They should be filled with tenderness, to bear and sympathize with each other; and the law of kindness should rule in all their looks, words, and actions. This is seldom wanting on the female side. Their love is not only more pure and disinterested, but more fervent and underlining, and better prepared to endure privations and sacrifices. Men are fond of power and authority, and therefore they are commanded—not to govern them, this they will do readily enough—but to love their wives, and not be bitter against them. God says to his church, “You shall find me full of tenderness and compassion. I know your frame, and remember that you are dust. I will pity your infirmities, and spare you. If I afflict, it shall not be willingly; if I chide, I will not contend for ever. I will look to the heart, and judge you according to your meaning and your desires.” It would seem strange to apply the exercise of this quality to them, as well as to him. Kindness towards God seems too low an expression, but he himself has sanctioned it. “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, and the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” Every thing they do for him, he takes kind at their hand; and their ingenuous disposition will make them fearful of grieving his Holy Spirit, and anxious to walk “worthy of him unto all pleasing.”
Fourthly, in mercies. This is distinguishable from the former. That was the effect; this shows the cause, and it is mentioned in addition tolovingkindness, to remind us that all we possess or expect springs solely from the free and undeserved grace of God; and also to meet thosediscouragements to which we are always liable, from a sense of our unworthiness and ill-deservings. There is not a just man on earth that liveth and sinneth not. In many things we offend all. What humiliations must a Christian feel, when he reviews even his Sabbaths and holy communions; and when he compares his proficiency with his obligations and advantages. But God will not cast away his people, but have mercy upon them according to the multitude of his tender mercies. This is children’s bread; and the children of God will not, cannot abuse it. Yea, the more they are persuaded of this truth, the more holy and cheerful and vigorous they will be in the performance of duty. Grass that grows in orchards, and under trees, is of a sour quality; it wants the sun. Fruits that grow in the sun are richer and riper than those which grow in the shade. The best frame we can be in is to be upholden by a free spirit, and to act under a full sense of our divine privileges. Let us therefore sing of the mercy of the Lord for ever; and if he ever seems to have forgotten to be gracious, let us plead with him, and say, “Where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels, and of thy mercies towards me? Are they restrained?” [Isa 63:15]
Here again the import includes not only that we receive mercy, but exercise it—not towards him personally, this is impossible, and he needs it not; but his creatures need it—his people need it. And what is done to them he will consider as done to himself. And what so just and proper as that they who are forgiven should forgive; and that they who live by mercy should be merciful?
If we properly observe those who are Christians indeed, we shall find in them a peculiarity that distinguishes them from, and an importance that ranks them above all other creatures. What an assemblage of qualities, excellencies, and advantages must they possess, to do any thing like justice to the various and numberless representations by which they are held forth to our view and admiration in the Scriptures of truth. Let me contemplate them under the character of heirs.
As such we may consider them in the grandeur of their estate. A man may be heir to a cottage, or a large domain, or even a throne. But what is the inheritance of Christians? In one place they are called “heirs according to promise.” In another, “heirs of the grace of life.” In another, “heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” In another, “heirs of salvation.” In another, “heirs of the kingdom, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” Paul prays that the Ephesians may be enlightened to know it; and speaks of “the hope of their calling,” and “the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” The inheritance of the worldling, who has his portion in this life; the inheritance of the Jew, in Canaan; the inheritance of Adam, in paradise; the inheritance of angels, in heaven, all come far short of the believer’s expectation. At present, it cannot be fully either described or conceived. It doth not yet appear what we shall be.
We may consider them in the solidity of their title.
No person ever had a claim to an estate so clear and decisive as the Christian has to his inheritance. He may not, indeed, be certain of it in his own mind. There is a difference between a right, and the perception of it. An heir, by reason of his tender age, or infirmity, or disorder, may be unconscious of what awaits him. And Christians may be ignorant and fearful. They may condemn themselves, when God has justified them freely from all things; and they may conclude that they have no part nor lot in the matter, while yet their title is as valid as the word and oath of God can make it. It is also perfectly inseparable from the birth that makes them new creatures, for they are born of God; and “if children, then heirs; and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ;” and being one with him, their heirship is as undeniable as his.
We may view them also in the certainty of their possession. An heir, who has had the clearest and fullest title to an estate, has yet never
enjoyed it. To take possession of it, perhaps he had to cross the sea, and was wrecked. Or he travelled by land, and was murdered. Or in reaching maturity, he fell a prey to one of the many diseases to which humanity is liable. Or if he was preserved, the estate was destroyed; for there is no place of security on earth. Or if the estate was not destroyed, it was usurped, and by fraud and villany alienated from its lawful owner. How many figure away only in the rights of others. But what shall hinder the Christian from realizing his hope? His inheritance is incorruptible and undefiled, and faded not away, reserved in heaven for him, where danger never comes. And the heir is as safe as the estate, being “kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation.”
But observe these heirs in the circumstances of their minority. For there is a period of nonage; and “the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.” Before this season arrives, he must submit to many restraints not pleasant to his feelings, and the reasons for which he cannot fully appreciate. Yea, there may be cases in which the may even be constrained to borrow from a domestic or neighbor, who has none of his expectancy. And Christians must not reckon that their present indulgences will equal their future reversions. They are now under a course of discipline, in which they must exercise self-denial, and appear less favored than many around them. But they rejoice in hope; and not only so, but as the heir has something more from his estate than the prospect of it—as he has education and attendance becoming his rank, and remittances to enable him to live answerable to his destination; so Christians have now supplies from their riches in glory, and are training up, under a divine Teacher, for the sublime spheres they are to fill; and their ministering spirits do always behold the face of our heavenly Father.
And what is the deportment that becomes these heirs? It ought to be ennobled. Holiness is the true dignity of the soul, and sin its vilest degradation. They are therefore to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” And Oh the infinite delicacy of the gospel—they are to “abstain from the very appearance of evil.” It ought to be humble and grateful. They were, by nature, only children of wrath. If their relation is glorious, it is derived entirely from grace. There were difficulties in the way of their adoption, which God alone could remove. “I said, How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land, a goodly heritage?” But he removed these obstacles by the sacrifice of his own Son, and the renovation of his own Spirit; and poor and vile as they were, he raised up the poor out of the dust, and lifted the needy from the dunghill, to set them with princes, even the princes of his people. It ought to be very cheerful and happy.
|“A hope so much divine,May trials well endure.”
But so inferior are natural things to spiritual, that when the one are applied to the illustration of the other, they teach us as much by contrast as by comparison. What then is the difference between these and earthly heirs? In other cases the inheritance is diminished by the number of coheirs. Here the multitude of partakers, instead of injuring, increases the blessedness of each possessor. In other cases the father dies before the child inherits. Here the father never dies. In other cases the heir by dying loses his inheritance. Here by dying he gains it; it is then he comes of age. In other cases an estate passes from hand to hand. Here is no succession; it is our heritage for ever. “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord; and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.”
“Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away.”—Ps 65:3
This is the language of complaint and of triumph. It was uttered by a Jew, but every Christian can make it his own. For as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man, in every age and under every dispensation.
As to the complaint, there are two ways in which iniquities may prevail against the Christian. The first is in the growing sense of his guilt. This may be occasioned by afflictions, which bring our sins to remembrance, or by anything that increases self-knowledge, for this must always show us more of our unworthiness and depravity. Suppose a man in a dungeon abounding with noxious reptiles. While all is dark there, he sees none of them; but as the light dawns, he begins to see them, and as the light increases, he sees more of them. The light seems to bring them and to multiply them; but it only discovers what was there before. Some pray that God would show them all the corruptions of their heart; but this would probably drive them into distraction or despair. They could not bear the whole disclosure, especially at first; and therefore they are made sensible of them by little and little.
The second is in the power of their acting. This prevalence cannot be entire, for sin shall not have dominion over them, but it may be occasional and partial. An enemy may make a temporary irruption, and do injury, though he may soon be expelled again. In a war, checks and discomfitures are not incompatible with general and final success, as we see in the history of the Romans. The Israelites were repulsed at Ai; but they returned to the assault with more caution and wisdom, and succeeded. And thus, whatever advantages the foe may gain againstChristians, the God of peace will bruise Satan under their feet shortly. David does not say, Iniquities prevail with me, but against me. As to many, they prevail with them. They drink in iniquity, as the ox drinketh in water. They draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it
were with a cart-rope. [Isa 5:18] But a Christian is made willing in the day of God’s power, and therefore can say, “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not. When I would do good, evil is present with me.” Ahab is said to have sold himself to work wickedness. But it is otherwise with a poor slave in Africa. He is kidnapped or taken by force, and disposed of to some demon-trafficker in flesh and blood. He resists and weeps, but they prevail against him. And says Paul, I do not sell myself, but I am sold under sin. So then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me? Poison in a serpent never produces sickness, but it does in a man; it is natural to the one, but not to the other. Sin does not distress the sinner; but it offends beyond every thing else the renewed mind.
The words are broken and abrupt; but when the church adds, “As for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away,” they are assuredly the triumph of faith, after a plunge of distress and a pause of thoughtfulness. There are two ways, according to the Scripture, in which God purges our transgressions, and they always go together. The one is by pardoning mercy. Thus David prays, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.” Thus the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin. And they that believe on him are justified from all things.
The other is by sanctifying grace. “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you.” And this is as much the work of God as the former. He subdues our iniquities as well as forgives them. He not only ordains peace for us, but works all our works in us.
The Christian is persuaded of this gracious deliverance, and therefore expresses himself with confidence. And a foundation is laid for this confidence, and such a firm and scriptural foundation as that he may feel himself perfectly safe in the midst of danger. Under the deepest sense of his desert, he may joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom he has now received the atonement; and with regard to all the conflicts of indwelling sin, he may take courage, and sing, “I shall not die, but live; and declare the works of the Lord.”
|“‘My spirit holds perpetual war,And wrestles and complains;But views the happy moment near
That shall dissolve its chains.
Cheerful in death, I close my eyes,
To part with every lust;
And charge my flesh, whene’er it rise,
To leave them in the dust.’”
“So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”—Gal 3:9
The outward distinctions of life awaken the envy of some, and gender discontents in others. And yet how little depends upon them. All that is essential to the real welfare and chief happiness of man, lies open to all who choose to avail themselves of it. All cannot become scholars, but all may be made wise unto salvation. All cannot acquire wealth, but all may gain the unsearchable riches of Christ. All cannot walk upon the high places of the earth, but all may be great in the sight of the Lord. Abraham, the founder of the Jewish nation, was considered the most dignified and indulged of the human race; yet every Christian, however poor and despised, stands related to this extraordinary character, and is blessed with him. “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” “They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” And how was he blessed?
He was justified. And blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered: blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. For him there is no wrath to come, no sting in death, no curse in affliction. But came this blessedness upon Abraham only? What saith the Scripture? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” So then they that be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham, and are all authorized to say, “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Abraham was called the friend of God, and was called so by God himself: “Thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.” If Eusebius held it such a privilege to be the friend of Pamphilius; if Lord Brookes so gloried in the distinction as to have it inscribed upon his tomb, “Here lies the friend of Sir Philip Sidney;” what was the honor of Abraham in being acknowledged the friend of God? Yet such honor have all the saints. They are not only pardoned, but admitted to intimacy. They walk with God. His secret is with them, and he shows them his covenant. In all their afflictions he is afflicted. He loveth at all times, and will never leave nor forsake them. “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”
Abraham was also blessed with usefulness. “I will bless thee,” says God, “and make thee a blessing.” This was done not only in the descent of the Messiah from him in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed eventually, but by his prayers and instructions and
example and exertions and influence, wherever he came. Thus also are all believers blessed. Not one of them is useless. They are disposed to do good, and their desire is gratified. They are qualified to do good, and as stewards of the manifold grace of God, they serve their generation by his will. They are the salt of the earth, to preserve; the light of the world, to inform; and a dew from the Lord, and as showers upon the grass, to cool and refresh and revive and fertilize. “I will save you, and ye shall be a blessing.”
Abraham was divinely protected: and God said to him, “I am thy shield.” “I will bless him that blesseth thee; and I will curse him that curseth thee:” He preserved him in his going out and coming in. He covered his head in the day of battle, when he rescued his kinsman Lot. He suffered no man to do him wrong; yea, he reproved kings for his sake, saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophet no harm. And thus, though many rise up against believers, and they feel themselves to be perfect weakness, their defence is of God, who saveth the upright of heart. He is their refuge and strength, a very present and all-sufficient help in trouble. They are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation; therefore they need not fear what their enemies can do unto them.
Abraham had not only a divine protection, but an infinite portion. “I am,” says God, “not only thy shield, but thy exceeding great reward.” This necessarily includes what God was to do for him beyond the grave. It could not have been fulfilled in this life. When we find him, a few years only after this assurance, sickening and dying, and laid in the cave of Machpelah, [Gen 25:9] we are constrained to ask, Is this the reward, the great, the exceeding great reward, consisting, so to speak, of God himself? Ages after this, God said to Moses at the bush, I am—not I was—but I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. [Exod 3:16] The relation therefore remained; for “he is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” They were then living as to their spirits, and would as certainly live as to their bodies in the resurrection, as if it had already taken place. Hence the reasoning of the apostle: “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” “And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.” Our Saviour also allowed him to be in glory, and even represented heaven by a union and intimacy with him: “The beggar died, and was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom.” And nothing less than this is the glad and glorious destination of every believer. For they that be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
The grand inquiry therefore is, “Dost thou believe on the Son of
God?” For we have access only by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
For they that are not of faith are cursed with the faithless nobleman, to whom it was denounced, “Thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not taste of it,” and “with the faithless Jews, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness, and who could not enter in because of unbelief,” and “with hypocrites and unbelievers, where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.”
“Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.”—1 Pet 1:17
From these words I might consider the nature of the Christian life, which is a sojourning here, and also the time appointed for it. But let me rather reflect upon the manner in which I am to pass the one in accomplishing the other: “Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” This cannot intend every kind of fear, without making the Scripture inconsistent with itself; for how often does it forbid fear.
We must not therefore give way to apprehensions of anything we may suffer from our fellow-creatures in following the path of duty. Here we should boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man can do unto me.” “Fear not,” says the Saviour—mentioning theextremest case—”Fear not them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.” And this Paul exemplified: “None of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy.” When Peter and John were threatened if they spoke any more in the name of Jesus, they replied, We have nothing to do with consequences; we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard: we ought to obey God rather than man, and he has commanded us to preach the gospel to every creature. So should it be with us. We are not indeed to run into sufferings for our religion, but we can never go on well in divine things till we are delivered from the fear of man that bringeth a snare. What is it but this that produces so many concealments and defections and inconsistencies in those who know what is right, and are excited by their convictions, but have not courage enough to resolve and proceed? Perfect love casteth out this fear.
We are equally to shun a distrustfulness of God’s word. This fear is at once the most dishonorable to God and injurious to our own souls. It robs us of comfort, and lays open the mind to temptation, as we see in Abraham, who, in a moment of unbelief, prevaricated, and debased and exposed himself in Gerar. Having the assurance of God in any case, we should feel no uncertainty as to the result; it must be accomplished; we have something firmer than the earth and the heavens to rely upon. But we may fear, not whether we shall perish in the way everlasting, but whether we are in it; not whether the promise will fail, but whether we are heirs of the promise. This the apostle even
admonishes: “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of us should seem to come short of it.” This is a case too important to be taken for granted. The consequences of mistake are remediless, and the possibility, yea, the probability of it is great. It will therefore be better to err rather on the side of solicitude than of security.
A servile fear, too, is not to be cherished. This may indeed precede something better; but if our fear of God begins with the judge, it must end with the father. It argues a very low degree of religion when a man can only be held to duty like the slave, by the dread of the lash. We have not, says the apostle, received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption. The slave is converted into the child, and God spares him as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
But there is a proper and all-important fear which God has engaged to put into the hearts of his people, that they may not depart from him. It is a fear of respect and esteem and gratitude. It regards not only God’s greatness, but his goodness. There is therefore nothing irksome in it. It is compatible with consolation and joy; and the first Christians walked in the fear of the Lord, and in the comforts of the Holy Ghost. It is in reality the same with affection: it is the love which an inferior bears to a superior; the love of a dutiful child to a parent, or of a good servant to a master, or of a thankful dependent to a benefactor. This shows itself much in a way of reverence and obedience and attention. Hence, the more I love God, the more I shall fear him, the more I shall dread to offend him, the more I shall study to please him, the more I shall ask, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? the more I shall pray, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.”
There is also a fear of caution in which it becomes us to live. This regards sin. Sin is the greatest evil to which we can be exposed. And we may see enough in the case of David to make even a good man stand in dread of it. For though God put away his sin, as to its future penalty, yet it was ever before him in the sufferings it occasioned. The sword never departed from his house. He was filled with the dread of divine abandonment. He was deprived of his peace and joy. His bones were broken, and his tongue was struck dumb. And a holy God will always cause the backslidings even of his own people to reprove them, and make them know that it is an evil and a bitter thing to sin against him. He will becloud their hope and destroy their comfort, and perhaps quarter troubles upon them for life. Reputation, which is the produce of years, may be ruined in a moment, and the effect of a thousand good actions may be lost by one evil deed. He who has befriended religion may cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of, and become a judgment on the whole neighborhood in which he dwells.
And are we in no danger of this? Read the Scriptures. See the falls of good men, and men eminently good. Have not we a subtle and
active enemy always at hand? Have we not a wicked world without us? Have we not an evil heart within us? Owing to our remaining depravity, are we not liable to be ensnared by everything we come in contact with, however harmless in itself? if we think caution unnecessary, we have the greatest need of it; for “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Be not highminded, but fear.
If we would maintain this frame of mind, let us walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise. Let us not be anxious to rise in the world, and gain the affluence which will require a moral miracle to preserve us. “He that makes haste to be rich, shall not be innocent.” “They thatwill be rich fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
Let us keep our mouth with a bridle. In a multitude of words there wanteth not sin.
Let us not run into perils uncalled of God. We are only authorized to look for his protection when we are brought into them in the discharge of duty. And while we watch, let us also constantly pray, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” “BLESSED IS THE MAN THAT FEARETH ALWAYS.”
“I will betroth thee unto me for ever.”—Hos 2:19
How well is it said of Christians, “Ye who sometime were afar off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” They are not only pardoned, but employed in his service. They are not only reconciled, but admitted into friendship and intimacy. Yea, they are not only friends and favorites, but they are his bride: “I will betroth thee unto me.” And Observe the permanency of the relation: “I will betroth thee unto me for ever.”
“Permanency,” says the poet, “adds bliss to bliss.” How is every possession and enjoyment without it impaired in value. Yea, the more important any acquisition be, and the more necessary we feel it to our happiness, the more alive are we to apprehension of danger, the more averse are we to absence, the more painful is separation, the more intolerable is the thought of loss.
Yet to whatever we are attached here, do we not set our “hearts on that which is not?” It is said the Jews, in their nuptial ceremony, always threw a glass upon the ground, to signify that the union then forming was as frail as the emblem was brittle. Without the figure, there is enough, if we are wise, to remind us of the fact; and well does the apostle reason, when he says, “Brethren, the time is short; it remains, therefore, that they who have wives be as though they had none.”
We take each other “till death do us part.” And the relation is terminated by death—not the death of both, but the death of either. What then is the tenure of the treasure? What is our life? It is even as a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. Has God given you a companion in the days of your vanity? Rejoice; but rejoice with trembling. Perhaps already the wife has been called to give up “the guide of her youth,” or the husband, “the desire of his eyes,” with whom they once took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company.
But Christians can never be in a widowed state. They can never lose their defence, their glory, their joy. There is nothing precarious in the transactions of God with his people. “I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, and nothing can be taken from it.” How delightful, in a world of changes, to know that He changeth not, and therefore, that we shall not be consumed. Everything seems reeling around me, and sinking beneath my feet, but I have hold of something firmer than the heavens and the earth. It is the word, the oath of eternal Faithfulness and Truth. “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” “I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” I have had many a persuasion which has failed me, because, though the confidence was strong, the foundation was weak. But here the full assurance of faith can never do justice to the certainty of the event. “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”