« הקודםהמשך »
men are well employed, in attempting to abate these dire mischiefs: but no effectual remedy will be applied, “ until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high.” Then the divine law will be written in men's hearts; and justice, benevolence, and universal temperance, implanted in the soul, will infallibly rectify these disorders, which are incurable by all other means.
We cannot reflect on the condition in which the nations remain to this day, without lamenting, that so large a proportion of the earth is still covered with Pagan darkness, Mahometan delusion, or Jewish incredulity. The ignorance, superstition, and wickedness, of nominal Christians; the prevalence of anti-scriptural tenets even in the Protestant churches ; and the rapid progress of impiety, infidelity, and atheism, present a very gloomy prospect to the mind of a true believer. And when we consider the immense difficulties of remedying these evils, and the inadequate effects of the most laudable efforts, we are ready to sit down in despair. We should however remember, that every degree of success far more than counterbalances the expence or labour of our exertions : and that we must not expect to make very rapid progress, “ until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high."-But then mountains will flow down at the presence of the Lord; nations will be born in a day; a new creation will prepare men's hearts to welcome the gospel : all other difficulties will vanish or be surmounted : and “ the earth be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
The various abuses, divisions, scandals, and false doctrines, which prevail among such as shew more regard to Scriptural Christianity, will not be counteracted ; nor will that revival of the power of godliness in our congregations, which every friend of evangelical truth must ardently desire, be effectually introduced, “ till the Spirit be poured upon us from on high.” So that this is the grand desideratum ; the only adequate remedy for all the evils we witness or hear of, in the church and in the world. Till our prayers in this respect be answered, we shall see on every side most lamentable disorders, which we cannot rectify; and few in comparison will be found, who have ability or zeal for making such arduous attempts : but this expected event will raise up and qualify instruments for every kind of service ; dispose the minds of multitudes cordially to unite in vigorous exertions; and render their endeavours rapidly and extensively successful.
IV. Then I proceed to point out some instructions, more immediately arising from the subject.
How ignorant must they be, as to the very first principles of Christianity, who treat our professed dependence on the Holy Spirit, and experience of his sacred influences, with supercilious contempt! A Jew of old, would not have been more profanely absurd, in ridiculing the expectation of a Messiah as fanaticism! Even if uninspired men could, by their superior talents, improve upon the oracles of God, (as some of them seem arrogantly disposed to think,) this would no more supercede the necessity of divine influences, than modern improvements in agriculture render the fertilizing showers and the genial warmth of the sun unnecessary. Even the preaching of Him, “ who spake as never man spake,” was rendered effectual by the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit ; without which, Paul would have planted, and Apollos watered in vain. No wonder then, than such teachers as deny, deride, explain away, or even keep out of sight, the promised influences of the Holy Spirit, harrangue the people in weekly lectures, from year to year, without witnessing or even expecting any great effect. While men depend on their own rationality, ingenuity, or eloquence, and dishonour the divine Spirit, we may be sure that the Lord will frown upon the presumptuous attempt, and blast all their vain endeavours. Indeed no man is warranted to expect success, even in preaching the pure gospel of Christ, except as he simply relies on the Holy Spirit to assist and prosper his labours, uses the proper means of obtaining his powerful co-operation, and explicitly gives him all the glory.
“ If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his." Unless, therefore, we possess some evidence in our own hearts, that we are the temples of the Holy Ghost, we cannot, without manifest presumption, expect that the Judge of the world will, at the last day, own us as his true disciples: but this cannot be known to us, except by the effects produced on our views, dispositions, affections, and conduct. Humiliation for sin, faith, love of Christ and his people, compassion for sinners, a spiritual mind, and an habitual aim to glorify God and do good to men, are the genuine effects produced by the Spirit of God dwelling in us. Can it be rational to overlook those Scriptures which speak on these subjects? or to expect the eternal felicity promised to Christians, while destitute of those things which are declared essential to Christianity ?
Again, would we prosper in our own souls, or succeed in endeavouring to do good in our families, connections, and situations, we must adhere to the doctrines and precepts of Scripture; pray with fervent importunity for the influences of the Spirit, and be very careful not to grieve him, or to quench that sacred fire which he kindles in the believing heart. If we have hitherto been remarkably unsuccessful, we should seriously inquire, on what account the Lord contends with us? And especially we should examine, whether we have not depended on our own supposed abilities, or sought our own honour, instead of relying simply on the Holy Spirit, with a readiness of mind to ascribe to him all the glory of every successful attempt.
They, who would enjoy the benefit of an able and faithful ministry, should be instant in prayer for their pastors. If this were more attended to, we should doubtless be enabled to set forth the true and lively word of God, both by our preaching and living, with far greater effect; and should be in all respects much more useful. But our fervent supplications should not be confined to those with whom we are more immediately connected; for we ought to pray continually for the " pouring out of the Spirit from on high," upon every part of the visible church, and upon all orders and descriptions of men throughout the world. This should constitute a prominent part of our daily prayers, in our closets and families; and enter particularly into the various circumstances in which mankind are placed. We ought to entreat the Lord to render all his ministers faithful, holy, and successful; to send forth labourers into his harvest; to unite all Christians in the bonds of brotherly love; to prosper all means used for the conversion of Jews, Mahometans, Pagans, or infidels ; and to “ fill the earth with truth and righteousness.”
We shall not probably live to witness this glorious scene : yet the Lord may bless some means which we use, in making way for that grand triumph of his cause. Thus David zealously prepared materials for the temple, though assured it would not be builded in his days. If we have little else in our power, either to serve our generation, or to sow seed for the good of posterity; we may perform an important service by our persevering prayers ; and whenever the Lord shall « pour out his Spirit from on high,” to make his gospel victorious over all opposition; his people will certainly go forth to meet him with their united fervent supplications.
ON A CONVERSATION BECOMING THE GOSPEL
PHILIPPIANS, 1. 27.
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ.
St Paul wrote this epistle, as well as some others, from his prison at Rome. and it is manifest that the Lord was with him, as he had been with Joseph in similar circumstances; which rendered his confinement unspeakably more pleasant, than a splendid palace with a guilty conscience and ungovernable passions. Instead of dejection, murmurs, or resentment, we find the apostle uniformly employing the language of cheerfulness, confidence, and exultation. He declares, that “to him to live was Christ, and to die gain." All his credit, interest, business, and pleasure in life, consisted in communion with Christ, and earnest endeavours to glorify him and promote his cause; and he was sure that death, in whatever form it should arrest him, would prove his richest advantage! What a blessed religion is this, which can turn the king of terrors into a kind friend, and the loss of all terrestrial things into the most valuable of acquisitions ? What, my brethren, can wealth, reputation, authority, genius, or philosophy propose, which is comparable to this? Why then shonld you hesitate to sell all, and purchase the pearl of great price?
But though the apostle had a longing “ desire to depart and be with Christ, as far better;" yet he was willing to continue on earth, " for the furtherance and joy of faith" of his beloved people.-As if a pardoned rebel should voluntarily submit to the inconveniencies and sufferings of a dungeon, in order to recommend the clemency of his prince to other criminals; or be helpful to those, who having likewise received mercy, were for some reason retained a while longer in confinement.
Hence he took occasion to exhort the Philippians in the following words, Only let your conversation be, as it becometh the gospel of Christ ; that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and in nothing terrified by your adversaries." From the part of this exhortation contained in our text, I shall endeavour,
I. To give a compendious view of the gospel of Christ.
II. To shew that this gospel, when rightly understood, and truly believed, will produce a correspondent conduct and conversation.
III. To mention some leading particulars in which “a conversation becoming the gospel" more especially consists.
IV. To make some remarks on the emphatical word “Only."
We know that the word rendered gospel signifies glad tidings; and a preacher of the gospel is a messenger or herald, bringing and publishing good news. “ How beautiful upon the mountains, are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things?" Isaiah lii. 7. Rom. x. 15.
The Ephesians, when they had formed the design of building the celebrated temple of Diana, were at a loss where to procure a sufficient quantity of the finest marble, to accomplish the plan; and it is recorded, that a certain per
son in this emergency, found a quarry at no great distance, exactly suited to the purpose. Running therefore without delay to inform the citizens of this fortunate event, he was saluted and afterwards called, Evangelus, or the bringer of yood tidings ; a name of exactly the same import, with that rendered a preacher of the gospel, or an evangelist. But though his tidings were infinitely less important and joyful than ours; it may be questioned, whether any whole city ever thus gladly welcomed the message of salvation; and we know that in general it meets with a very different reception !
Good tidings often derive a great part of their value, from their suitableness to the case of those who hear them. The promulgation of good laws, and the impartial adminstration of justice, though valuable blessings in themselves, can give no pleasure to condemned malefactors : but a report of the king's clemency, or an assurance of a pardon would suit their case, and tend to cheer their drooping hearts. An act of grace is glad tidings to confined debtors; though it may give umbrage to their creditors; and the arrival of a fleet with provisions, in a time of urgent famine, occasions a joy, of which such as live in plenty can form no adequate conception. We must therefore understand something of our own condition, before we can cordially welcome the gospel of Christ ; and inattention or mistake, in this respect forms one grand reason, why so many slight the message of salvation. But lectures on moral duties separated from the doctrines of grace, no more meet the case of lost sinners, than an extract from the statutes of the realm can give comfort and hope to condemned criminals.
We may know something of our situation by facts; and the Scripture further explains the humiliating and alarming subject. It cannot be denied, that the world is full of crimes and miseries, this is equally certain, whether men believe or disbelieve the Bible. Even they who are averse to the doctrine of human depravity, when applied to themselves and their connections ; shew by the caution with which they transact their affairs, that they consider mankind in general as basely selfish : and who at first disdains this sentiment, as unjust and illiberal, will be at length constrained to adopt it, or become a prey to designing men.
Hence it is, that incautious young persons, having been repeatedly deceived, often grow suspicious and peevish as they advance in years; and, when this is the case, they give vent to their vexation by reviling this or the other description of men. As if the fault lay in their rank or profession, and were not common to the human species, however restrained, disguised, or modified, except as true religion produces an effectual change of disposition.
At the same time, it is evident, that all our comforts are entwined with cares and disquietudes; every enjoyment, after a while, palls and grows insipid : all our possessions are precarious, and may either be torn from us, or become the causes of the most exquisite anguish. Pain and sickness are entailed upon us; death is certain, and who knows how near? Its approach is dreadful, its stroke inevitable, and its visible effects intolerably mortifying. A dark gloom overshadows the rest : who but he that believes the sure testimony of God, can say, what is beyond the grave? Yet there are forebodings of future retribution, which most men experience to their additional alarm; so that numbers seem to suffer many deaths in fearing one! To escape such distressing reflections, they who are not confined by daily business, have recourse to some species of dissipation. These at first yield a childish delight; but soon become irksome, unless novelty be superadded by unceasing variety. This is the real secret of public and private diversions ; and of the liberality with which immense sums are expended, in encouraging new species of amusement, however frivolous and absurd! These enable men, for a moment, to escape from the tediousness of life, or the anguish of solitude and reflection; and tend to promote forgetfulness of God, of death, and of a judgement to come.
We appeal to every man's feelings and observation, whether this description does not accord with facts? and whether it have any dependence on ro
ligious opinions, except as men are seldom able wholly to disbelieve a God and a future state? Let us then inquire what light the Scriptures throw upon the subject. There we learn, that “God made man in his own image," and created the world “ very good :" but that the first parents of our race ungratefully rebelled against their bountiful Creator, and disobeyed his express and easy command. Thus “ by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, in that all have sinned." Thenceforth the human race became subject to labours, pains, afflictions, and diseases, until “ they return to the dust, whence they were taken.” The holy image of God was also effaced, and men became incapable of spiritual felicity, dead in sin, and prone to every kind of evil.
When the root of our race thus fell, all the branches must share his doom, and become mortal and sinful : And as “ it is appointed to all men once to die, and after death the judgement;" still more terrible miseries may justly be dreaded in a future world. A criminal may suffer many things previous to his trial and condemnation, but his principal punishment follows afterwards. And as the human soul is subject to sinful passions, corresponding to the diseases of the body, we must inevitably be exposed to condemnation at the tribunal of God, and we also carry in our lapsed nature the seeds of misery and destruction.
But our pride and self-love start a thousand objections to these doctrines; though the difficulty of reconciling facts with our notions and reasonings unavoidably recoils upon us. We have, however, another view given us, in the sacred oracles, of our actual condition, still more suited “ to stop every mouth, and to bring in all the world guilty before God.”—We are doubtless, as reasonable creatures, accountable to our supreme Governor and Judge, for every part of our conduct ; and his holy law is the rule, by which every disposition, word, and action must be tried. Now, without entering further on the subject, who does not feel, that he hath in many instances violated the reasonable and righteous commandments of God? Who hath not heard that “cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them?"
Thus “ the Scripture hath concluded all under sin:” and it was not without cause, I hope not without meaning, that we this morning added after each of the commandments, ' Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.'
The man, who carefully compares his past and present conduct, with this most strict and spiritual standard, will soon find his own conscience bring in a verdict against him: “ And if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things." No repentance or amendment can compensate for past offences: because we cannot in any instance exceed our present duty; and our debt increases in proportion as we still fall short of perfect obedience. Nor can we estimate the intrinsic evil of our sins against the infinite majesty of heaven, or the punishment we deserve for our ungrateful rebellion.
When we attempt to frame our conduct by the holy law of God, we feel a wonderful reluctance and backwardness to this most reasonable service, and a strong propensity to disobedience. These evil dispositions, though common to all, are in some exceedingly strengthened by habit, and rendered ungovernable by peculiar temptations. Such men therefore, as have some serious thoughts and form good purposes, commonly find their resolutions enervated, and their endeavours bafiled ; and after some fruitless efforts, they return to their former course of life, unless relieved by the gospel of Christ.
When these things are seriously considered, the condition of mankind appears truly deplorable. Related to God and an eternal world; exposed to death and a future judgment; already guilty of many heinous crimes, and propense to increase the number ; liable to final condemnation, and vessels of wrath fitted to destruction : what can any one do, to rescue or ransom himself or his brother, from the awful sentence already published by the