« הקודםהמשך »
amples of Scripture are in this respect very encouraging and instructive. The Lord had given promises of special blessings to the posterity of Abraham, and he was made a principal instrument in preparing the way for their accomplishment. “I know him," saith God, « that he will command his children and his household after him ; and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do judgment and justice, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham the thing that he hath spoken to him of.” Gen. xviii. 19.
« As for me, and my house,” says pious Joshua, “ we will serve the Lord.” Cornelius the centurion, who “ feared God with all his house,” and who had pious domestics and even soldiers around him, though doubtless most of them had been educated Pagans, may be considered as a remarkable instance of the blessing attending this kind of religious instruction : while the awful doom of Eli and his family, through a neglect of this duty, may serve as a salutary caution to all who are tempted to indolence or timidity in this important concern.
The ancient method of rendering the truths and precepts of religion familiar to the minds of men, especially of children and servants, is described in the text : “ Thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” And why should the same method be less effectual at present, if it were properly employed? Did we daily instruct our households, by reading and explaining the Scriptures to them, along with family worship; and then frequently converse with seriousness on edifying subjects : did we take occasion from common occurrences, to direct the attention of those around us to the over-ruling providence of God, the fatal effects of sin, the lamentable evidences of human depravity, and the suitableness of the gospel to the state of the world; and did we joyfully embrace every opportunity of inculcating right principles, rectifying mistakes, and making pertinent remarks: young people would be more generally preserved from scepticism, and a considerable barrier would be placed to the incursions of infidelity and impiety. Our Lord himself hath taught us this way of improving conversation ; in the most simple and easy manner imaginable, he deduced profitable instruetions from every occurrence ; and grafted the most important admonitions, even on the insidious questions and impertinent objections of his enemies. We cannot indeed expect to speak with his consummate prudence, and irresistible energy ; yet we should remember that in this, as in all other things, he hath left us an example that we should follow his steps ; and promised to give his disciples “ a mouth and wisdom, which all their enemies shall not be able to resist.”
We are also taught in Scripture to encourage young persons in asking questions on religious subjects, by giving them plain and satisfactory answers: and some institutions seem to have been in a measure intended to give occasion for such inquiries. Exod. xii. 36. 37. “ The Lord established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law which he commanded our fathers; that they should make them known unto their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children that should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God.” Psalm lxxviii. 5–8.
The neglect of this duty is a very dark sign of the present times. Children in general are trained up amidst those very vanities, which they who presented them for baptism solemnly vowed they should renounce. They are early initiated into the corrupt maxims and fashions of this evil world, and brought to join in its frivolous and fascinating pleasures ; and instead of being cautioned against the dangers of conformity to it, are taught to fear nothing so much as the appearance of singularity. Nay, those persons who profess a serious regard to religion, often act as if they were anxious to give their children a relish for those seducing trifles, from which they themselves appear to be weaned; and afraid lest they should too early choose the good part that can never be taken from them! It is inexpressible how much these
things promote ungodliness, and prevent the permanent success of the gospel. But let us, my brethren, aim “ to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord;" hoping and longing that they may be chosen generation, a royal priesthood ;” an holy and peculiar people, by whom true religion may be supported after our decease, and transmitted to future ages. In this view we may consider them as real blessings; but in what other light can a pious parent behold his beloved offspring without the most painful reflections ?
We ought not, however, to confine our efforts within the limits of our own families, but should endeavour to propagate our religious principles in the world. What reason indeed can we have to be ashamed of them? Or how can we timidly conceal them without being ashamed of Christ and his words? We live it is true among men called Christians : yet it is almost deemed an outrage on good manners, to speak seriously of the doctrine and salvation of our Lord and master! Shall we then hold our peace, and sanction the conduct of a lukewarm or apostate generation by our example? God forbid ! We are commanded to bind the great truths and precepts of his word, “ as a sign upon our hands, and as frontlets between our eyes ; and to write them on the posts of our houses, and on our gates." This can imply nothing less than an open profession, that we are the worshippers of God, and the disciples of Christ ; that we believe the Scriptures, embrace the gospel, and make the commandments of the Lord the rule of our conduct. These things should be clearly understood by our friends and connections, that when they enter our houses they may say, 'God is worshipped in this family;' that they may be restrained from evil in our presence, by the consideration of our character and profession; and be prepared to hear from us such pious reflections, as may occur in the course of conversation.
We shall rejoice at the last day, to have our faith and piety made known before the assembled world : what then can induce us to conceal them at present, but fear of ridicule or reproach? We should recollect, therefore, that an intrepid profession of the truth, without ambiguity or prevarication, is expressly required by the Lord Jesus from all his disciples; that this is one grand means of promoting his cause in the world ; that the scorn to which it may expose us, is a clear demonstration of the great contempt in which the divine Saviour is held even among his professed disciples; and that this is evidently a cross to be borne by us for his sake, “ who bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” Let us then,
III. Consider the reasonableness of such a conduct.
Should a liberal and honoured benefactor earnestly demand our attention to a message he had sent us ; we should doubtless examine it with studious accuracy, ard implicitly comply with his desires. Should a friend bequeath us a legacy, we should not be wanting in examining the favourable clause of his testament, and availing ourselves to the utmost of his kind remembrance. But the message of God, in all respects, is far more entitled to our strictest regard. He who made us, and against whom we all have sinned, condescends to teach us how we may escape eternal misery, and obtain eternal happiness! Is it not then most reasonable, that we should diligently observe his instructions, and recommend them with our whole influence? The world is against us ; the broad road to destruction is thronged ; false religion unites with impiety, in rendering our situation most perilous; God himself condescends to guide us in the safe and happy path ; and shall we reject his counsels ? Our own hearts are deceitful, the powers of darkness unwearied in their subtle efforts to delude us; and shall we not use every means of escaping their wiles, and warning others to elude their devices? New forms of delusion start up every day: shall we not then bestow pains to distinguish the truths of 'revelation from damnable heresies? Surely it is most reasonable, both to study the Scriptures, and to pray without ceasing for the teaching of the Holy Spirit, that we may be kept from
the ways of the destroyer, established in the pure principles of Christianity, preserved from innumerable dangers, find unfailing resources of support and comfort in trying circumstances, be rendered useful in our respective stations, meet death with joyful hope, and leave the world in full assurance of everlasting felicity.
The knowledge and wisdom which may be derived from a careful investigation of the Scriptures, will be found of the utmost importance, even in conducting our temporal concerns. We shall thus learn the best discretion in estimating characters, and judging of men's pretensions and professions : be directed how to act even in respect of their prejudices and mistakes; and learn to accommodate ourselves to varying circumstances, without countenancing evil by improper compliances, or preventing our own success by violent opposition, where gentleness might have obviated the difficulty.
But the subject is too copious to be fully discussed on this occasion. It must suffice to observe, that the advantages of diligence and earnestness, in the grand concerns of our holy religion, far more than counterbalance the self-denial that it requires. For what is it, but bestowing pains to be happy and useful ? to live and die in 'comfort; and to use proper means of rendering our children and relatives happy; that they too may serve their generation according to the will of God, leave the world with joyful hope, and meet with us in heaven. And are not these objects well deserving of our utmost diligence, and unwearied attention ?
Let me then conclude with the observation which introduced the subject: • If religion be any thing, it is every thing. It must be our business in this world, if we would enjoy a warranted hope of felicity in the world to come: yea, it must be our element here, in order to a meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light. Every man's own conscience must decide, how far this is his character and experience; and every, one must be left to apply the subject to his own case, for conviction, admonition, or encouragement. And may the Lord himself enable us to attend to these things, according to their immense and eternal importance; and teach us so to“ number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Amen.
ISAIAH'S VISION EXPLAINED AND APPLIED.
ISAIAH, VI. 5—8.
Then said I, woe is me! for I am undone : because I am a man of unclean lips, and
I dwell among a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts :- Then flew one of the Seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his band, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar; and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I, send me.
When Isaiah had already been employed for a considerable time in the prophetical office, he was greatly disconcerted by a remarkable vision, which he records in the chapter before us. We ought not to imagine that things do outwardly exist, as they appeared to the minds of the prophets, when their senses were closed during the visions of the Almighty ; but that they were impressed with such representations, as were suitable to convey the instruction which it was intended they should receive and communicate. The scene, therefore, of these emblematic discoveries was laid at the temple ; every intervening veil was apparently removed ; the most holy place was made manifest; and Jehovah was seen in glory above the mercy-seat, as on " a throne high and lifted up, and his train,” (or the skirts of his flowing robes,) “ filled the temple.' This description evidently leads the mind to the idea of one in human form; and St John instructs us, that the prophet at this time saw " the glory of Christ and spake of him." John xii. 41. For indeed the glory of God is especially made known, not only to the church on earth, but also to the hosts in heaven, by the person and redemption of Emmanuel. 2 Cor. iv. 6. Eph. iii. 10. 1 Pet. i. 12.
Above the other worshippers, and nearest to the throne, stood the Seraphim, the most exalted of the angelic host, who glow with love and zeal, like a flame of fire. Psalm civ. 4. These, in other respects appearing in human form, had each six wings; “ with two of which they covered their faces," in token of the profound reverence with which they contemplated the majesty of the Lord, before whose uncreated glories their derived excellencies were eclipsed and disappeared : with two of them they covered their feet, as conscious that their services, though perfectly undefiled with sin, were not worthy to be noticed by the infinite and eternal God; and with their other two wings they did fly, an emblem of the celerity, alacrity, and delight, with which they execute the mandates of their Creator. At the same time they sang aloud in responsive strains,“ Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory." Entirely filled with admiration of the divine majesty and holiness, they had no leisure to reflect with self-complacency oh their own endowments, or to panegyrize one another. Such employments they leave to us poor sinful mortals, who amidst the obscurity of our fallen state, unaccustomed to contemplate any thing more splendid than the accomplishments of our fellow-worms, are apt to shine in our own eyes, or in those of each other, like glow-worms during the darkness of the night. But these bright seraphs, satisfied with the love of God, before whom they stand, desire no other commendation; and are wholly taken up in adoring the glorious holiness of Jehovah.
The threefold ascription of holiness to the Lord of hosts has generally been considered as an intimation of a Trinity of persons in the Godhead, and a reference to the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, displayed in the salvation of sinners. Matt. xxviii. 18—20. Rev. iv. 8. While this
song of praise' was re-echoed by the seraphim, the pillars shook at every response : and smoke, or darkness, filled the whole temple, as when it was first dedicated by Solomon. The effect this awful scene had upon the mind of the prophet, is described in the words of the text, which may suggest the following subjects for our present consideration,
I. The causes of the perturbation which Isaiah experienced on this occasion.
II. The peculiar nature and tendency of it.
I. The causes of the perturbation which Isaiah experienced on this occasion.
It appears at the first glance, that the prophet was on this occasion both alarmed and humbled; and that the glorious scene which he had been contemplating had caused this frame of mind. Indeed suitable views of the divine majesty and glory always produce proportionable humility, and by this touch-stone, spiritual illumination may be distinguished from that knowledge which puffeth up. When Job, to whose eminent piety the Lord himself had borne decided testimony, had been so carried away in the warmth of controversy, as to use irreverent language concerning the dispensations of provi
dence; he was convinced of his presumption, and awed into submission, by discoveries of the divine majesty and glory; and exclaimed, “ Behold I am vile, what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken, but I will not answer; yea twice, but I will proceed no further.” And again, “ I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” He seemed to himself to be of some consequence, while he disputed with his friends, and vindicated himself from their unjust charge of hypocrisy: but when Jehovah spake to him from the whirlwind, he shrunk as it were into nothing, and his self-importance was changed into self-abhorrence. In like manner, when Peter saw a little of the Saviour's power and authority, in the draught of fishes which had been brought to his net, he fell down at his feet, and said, “ Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
But while discoveries of the majesty of God will awe the soul into selfabasement, the knowledge of his moral excellencies is the immediate cause of those humiliating convictions, by which sinners are rendered truly penitent, and induced to welcome the salvation of the gospel. And the prophet seems to have been especially affected by that view of the glory and beauty of Jehovah, which was the principal subject of adoring praises to the Seraphim before the throne. While men think little of our holy God, mis take his character, or continue in a great measure unacquainted with his perfections, commandments, and judgments ; they compare themselves with their associates in disobedience, and estimate their conduct by some defective standard. Thus enveloped in darkness, they judge favourably of them. selves, imagine they possess various excellencies, and even pretend to merit in the sight of God!' Nor is this the case only of the moral and virtuous; for self-love will furnish the most criminal with some palliation of their vices; they will call them by a soft name, imagine others more faulty than themselves, and endeavour to compensate for undeniable and inexcusable transgression, by some pretended good actions or qualities !
But when the Lord directs the sinner's attention to the Scriptures, and makes known in some degree his own glorious holiness to the soul; deep conviction of sin is the infallible consequence, every plea is silenced, and the trembling criminal is even ready to despond, and deem himself lost beyond all hope of recovery.
This fully accounts for that change, wbich often takes p!ace, in the opinion that moral and amiable persons entertain of themselves, when they have begun seriously to study the holy Scriptures. Their decent lives, on which they formerly reflected with abundant self-complacency, are now mentioned in very degrading language ; and even their present strict and exemplary conduct accompanied with very humble confessions of guilt and defilement. This excites the astonishment of those, who judge by other rules; and they are apt to suspect, either that such persons have secretly practised very gross enormities, or that they use this language in a mere affectation of humility. But in reality the same characters and actions must appear good or bad, according to the balance in which they are weighed: no wonder therefore that they, who have lately become acquainted with an holy God and his perfect law, and who have learned to judge by another standard, are compelled to bring in a verdict against themselves, though before they trusted that they were righteous and despised others. Thus St Paul informs us, that “ he was alive without the law once : but when the commandment came, sin revived and he died.”'He had entertained very favourable thoughts of his own moral and religious character; but when his understanding was opened to “ behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ;" he condemned himself as the chief of sinners: nay, after all his labours and proficiency in Christianity, he was in his own esteem “less than the least of all saints."
But these things were also illustrated to the mind of the prophet by the