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S E R M O N S.
THE TRUTH AND IMPORTANCE OF SCRIPTURE
DEUTERONOMY XXXII. 47.
It is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life. Tue
'he honoured servant of God, whose words are here selected, was favoured with health and the unabated force of all its faculties, at a very advanced time of life : and, so far from claiming a privilege of relaxation from labour, he seems, as death approached, to have redoubled his diligence, in order that the Israelites might have the things which he had taught them, in perpetual remembrance." An hoary head is indeed a crown of glory, when thus found in the way of righteousness : and “ blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so doing.”
Among other methods of durably impressing the minds of the people, Moses was directed to compose a prophetic song; as poems are generally learned with greater eagerness, and remembered more easily than other compositions : and at the close of this sacred song he thus addressed the people, " Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, even all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life : and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land, whither ye go over Jordan to possess it." Having given this earnest admonition, he was directed to ascend mount Nebo, that he might die there : a circumstance which could not fail to add peculiar energy to his concluding exhortations.
The nation of Israel had spiritual blessings proposed to them by types and shadows, and Canaan represented the everlasting felicity of heaven, the inheritance of true believers. We live under a different dispensation, and enjoy peculiar advantages. “ God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.”_" Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip:—for how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" Heb. i. 1-3. ii. 1—3. The words of the text are therefore at least as ap
plicable to us, as they were to Israel of old ; and we may from them take occasion
I. To consider the subject, which is declared to be no vain thing.
I. Let us consider the subject, which is declared to be no vain thing.
No doubt Moses spake this concerning religion: but numbers would agree to' the sentiment as thus stated, who would object to it when more particularly explained. For it is evident that the prophet was not speaking of natural religion, or that religion which man in his present condition can discover or attain, by the exercise of his natural powers without any assistance from revelation. Alas! the history of the human race proves, that this is indeed a vain thing, and utterly insufficient to direct us into the knowledge of God, or to make us partakers of happiness in his presence and favour. But that religion, which Moses had taught' Israel, was given by immediate revelation from God, and was exclusively intended. The same is delivered to us at present, more fully and plainly, in the sacred Scriptures, and we may perhaps obtain the clearest conceptions of it, by considering them as a message from God to us; sent by prophets, apostles, and evangelists; or rather by his well-beloved Son. As far therefore as ministers adhere to the oracles of God, they also deliver the same message; and all, who disbelieve or despise them, disbelieve and despise him that sent him.
This message from God declares to us his own mysterious nature, by which he is distinguished from all the objects of idolatrous worship; it discovers to us his glorious attributes ; his infinite power, knowledge, wisdom, and greatness; his eternal, omnipresent, unchangeable, and incomprehensible majesty ; but above all, his consummate justice, holiness, truth, goodness, and mercy, as harmoniously exercised in his dealings with his rational creatures, and comprising the full perfection of all that is adorable and excellent.
The message teaches us our relations and obligations to this glorious God, as our Creator, from whom we derive our being and all our capacities ; " in whom we live and move and are,” and “ who giveth us all things richly to enjoy ;" and as our Governor and Judge, to whom we are in all respects accountable. It further assures us, that our souls are immortal; that our bodies will rise again from the dead; that after death is the judgment; and that a state of eternal retributions will succeed to the present transitory scene. And after all the conjectures, and boasted demonstrations of philosophers, even these fundamental doctrines must rest entirely on the sure testimony of God : for could it be proved with certainty that the soul is naturally immortal, who could know, whether the Creator might not see good to annihilate it, now it is become contaminated with sin? So that in every sense, “ life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel.”
The same message from God makes known to us his holy law, in its extensive, spiritual, and reasonable requirements, and awful sanction; with the rules of his providential government. It instructs us in the malignant nature, and fatal consequences of sin; and gives us a general intimation of the manner in which this destructive evil entered into the world ; though it does not satisfy our curiosity by fully explaining that mysterious subject, the difficulties of which are not peculiar to any religious system. But it far more copiously and clearly instructs us in the way, by which we may be saved from sin and misery, which is unspeakably more conducive to our advantage.
The Scriptures are indeed more especially a message from God to us, concerning the person and salvation of Christ. “ This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” 1 John v. 11, 12. This is the centre of revelation, in which all the lines meet from
every part of its ample circumference. The everlasting mercy of God in purposing the salvation of sinful men; his infinite wisdom, forming the grand design of glorifying bis justice and holiness, even in pardoning and blessing those who deserved the most tremendous punishment; his unfathomable love, in giving his only-begotten Son to be the Saviour of the world; the great mystery of godliness, “ God manifest in the flesh,"--Emmanuel purchasing the church with his own blood; the love of Christ in his obedience unto the death of the cross for us ; his glorious resurrection, ascension, and mediatorial exaltation ;-these constitute the central and most essential part of the message of God to us. “ This," says he, by a voice from heaven, “ This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased : hear ye him.”
Revelation also announces to us our real situation in this world, as criminals condemned to die: “ Dust ye are, and to dust ye shall return." This sentence will certainly and shortly be executed upon every one of us ; but we are also liable to a more awful condemnation in another world, from which deliverance may now be obtained. We are therefore respited from day to day: or rather we are put to death by a lingering execution; as every pain, disease, or natural decay is an anticipation of the separating stroke. But we are placed under a dispensation of mercy, and it is the grand concern of our fleeting days to seek the forgiveness of our sins, and the salvation of our souls, before the opportunity be for ever gone. The message therefore warns all men to flee from the wrath to come, commands them to repent and believe in Christ, and exhorts them without delay to forsake and break loose from every object, which keeps them from “ feeing for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them in the gospel.
The sacred Seriptures give us likewise most important information concerning the Holy Spirit, as the author of divine life, and the giver of wisdom, strength, holiness, and conso.ation; as engaged to give efficacy to the word of salvation by his regenerating influences; and as promised to all those who pray for the inestimable benefit. “ If ye, 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.” Luke xi. 13.
The same divine message prescribes also the means, by which we may apply for these blessings, and render our benefactor the tribute of thankful adoration. It directs us to diligent and persevering investigation of the Scriptures, and to continual earnestness in prayer ; it reveals to us our God upon a throne of grace, to which we are invited to approach through a merciful and faithful High Priest : suggests pleas to be used in our supplications ; and sets before us exceedingly great and precious promises, to direct our desires and animate our hopes ; and it appoints other ordinances, in which we may wait on the Lord, and renew our strength, that we may run with patience the race set before us. We are also informed in the same manner, that there is an innumerable company of holy angels, who worship before the throne of God, and are nevertheless “ all sent forth to minister unto the heirs of salvation :” and on the other hand, that there are fallen angels, numerous, powerful, subtle, malicious, and indefatigable, who watch every opportunity of doing us mischief, and especially of deceiving, defiling, and ruining our souls; from whose devices we can have no security but in the protection and guidance of him, who “ was manifested to destroy the works of the devil."
Finally, the message of God shews us the peculiar character, motives, and conflicts of those who are truly religious; and distinguishes them from all other persons : and it gives directions, instructions, examples, cautions, and encouragement sufficient to render us wise unto salvation, and thoroughly furnished unto every good work. This view of the subject is indeed too compendious to give us an adequate idea of it; but it must suffice for our present purpose. We proceed therefore
II. To illustrate the import of the declaration, “ It is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life.”