« PreviousContinue »
external homage which they might have been afraid to withhold, but which it afforded them no pleasure or satisfaction to pay? All this, we are persuaded, they will readily admit, nor will they hesitate to acknowledge, that if they have in any measure known what it is to walk with God-if they have been conscious of any thing like a growing conformity to the divine image and if they have ever felt it to be as their meat and drink to do the will of their Father in heaven, it has been exactly in proportion as they have experienced peace and joy in believing
In proof and illustration of these remarks, we might appeal to the nature of the gospel itself, and to the effects which it must necessarily produce wherever it is understood and believed. Its first and imme. diate object is, to remove from the minds of sinners those unworthy suspicions of God, which constitute the strength of their enmity against him to convince them that he loves and
pities them and to persuade them to lay aside their unreasonable hostility to his government, and their infatuated unwillingness to hold with him any spiritual intercourse; and wherever the Spirit of God gives it power and efficacy to accomplish this object, it will present the divine law to those who are so influenced by it, in a light entirely new. Formerly they regarded that law as the authoritative mandate of a sovereign who was too powerful to be resisted, and too just to be offended with impunity; and, viewed in this light, it generated the spirit of bondage. From the moment their eyes were opened to the love of God manifested in Christ Jesus, that law appeared to them as the expression of the will, a transcript, so to speak, of the perfections of their heavenly Father—a Father whom they had learned to love and revere, and into whose image they longed to be transformed ; and from that moment, therefore, conformity to his law was identified in their minds with the perfection of their nature, and the consummation of their blessedness. "It thus appears that the belief of the gospel has a holy tendency, not merely by presenting the sinner with new and powerful motives to obedience, and laying upon him a stronger obligation to comply with the requirements of the divine law; but also and especially by exhibiting that law in a light entirely new to him : and in illustration of this remark, I might refer to any one of the precepts which have been there inculcated. As an example, let us consider the command given by our Lord to his disciples, whereby he enjoined them to love their enemies ; and let us suppose that this commandment is inculcated on one who is still a stranger to the con. straining power of the love of Christ. Such a man might be told that it was the authoritative injunction of the sovereign of heaven and earth-that he was required to comply with it on the pain of God's righteous displeasure and that, if he failed to do so, the forfeiture of eternal life should assuredly be the consequence. But we will venture to say, that even if he believed all this, and knew that his everlasting well-being depended on his obedience, it would not awaken in his mind one feeling of affection or regard towards one who was before the object of his displeasure and dislike. Let us suppose, however, that the same individual were awakened to a sense of his own obstinate and unreasonable hostility to God; that he were brought to see the malignity of that ingratitude, which none but a divine compassion could have so long and so patiently endured ; that he were melted into godly sorrow and contrition by the contemplation of the Saviour's love ; and that he turned from this contemplation to review the injuries that he had himself received at the hand of a fellow sinner: and what would be the effect of this change of character on the feelings which he formerly cherished towards his of. fending brother? Would he not feel humbled and ashamed that he should have for an instant entertained one angry or vindictive feeling? would not his dislike give way to a sentiment of pity-pity that would approach indefinitely near to a feeling of affectionate concern for his welfare and the more vividly he should retain the impression of the Redeemer's love to himself, would he not the more easily exercise that love towards another? It is thus that the divine law, which to the natural man is a painful and most unreasonable restraint, becomes to the renewed man a law of love ; and the more that he experiences enlargement of heart, the more cheerfully will he run the way of the divine commandments.
In the following two sermons, the connexion between the peace of conscience which is the fruit of justificatiou by faith, and Christian obedience, is further illustrated; and in the second of these, we meet with the following just remarks on a case by no means uncommon.
• Nor does this hold true with those merely who are vainly endeavouring by their own righteousness to avert the holy displeasure of an offended Judge, or, as it is in such cases sometimes expressed, to make their peace with their Maker. The unhappy effects of an indistinct or mistaken idea of the way of reconciliation, may be seen in many who have honestly relinquished, as they believe, every such ground of hope, and, under the conviction that Christ is the only mediator between God and sinners, manifest an earnest desire to be interested in the blessings of his salvation. Such persons will often be heard to employ the language of deep and heartfelt contrition on the review of their past disobedience; they will speak of their unworthiness in terms which leave no doubt of their being convinced, that it is by free grace alone they can ever be saved ; and, to judge from their whole manner, we should infer, that their spiritual concerns have assumed too momentous an appearance in their eye to leave them at peace or rest, till they have arrived at a clearer assurance than they yet have of their ultimate safety. And yet, with all this, they may in reality be acting on a self-righteous principle; they may be wasting their strength, as it were, in unavailing complaints about what they are, and fruitless wishes about what they ought to be, as if they were not yet warranted to put their spiritual interests into the Redeemer's hands; and, instead of believing on the simple testimony of God, that the gospel makes to them personally a free offer of a fuil salvation, they may be seeking a confirmation of this truth in a cer
tain undefinable evidence derived from something in themselves. 18 the question were directly and undisguisedly put to theni, whether they believe that any qualifications are required in them, in the way of righteousness or merit, before they are authorized to believe on Christ for salvation, they would probably reject such an idea, as utterly repugnant to the whole scope and tenor of the gospel. And yet they may at the very moment be acting as if such qualifications were necessary; they may, under the semblance of humility and self-abasement, be laying restrictions on the overtures of the gospel, which the gospel itself has not imposed; they may be refusing to enter into a state of reconciliation with God, on the ground that it is presumptuous in them thus to treat with the high and the holy one of Israel ; and instead of experiencing the animating hope of ulti-, mately triumphing in their warfare with sin-the hope which a sense of the divine favour never fails to impart-they may have been long laboriously struggling to reach the point, at which they may think themselves waranted to close with the proposals of pardon tendered to them in the gospel. It is thus, as the experience of many can testify, that error on the subject of the sinner's justification is iden-, tified with unbelief; and it is thus that a conflict with sin, even when some degree of hatred against it has been awakened in the mind, will always be a discouraging or a hopeless one, so long as the sinner has not come to something like a decision on the question of his reconciliation and acceptance with God.' pp. 292—294.
The concluding address to the young is extremely solemn and impressive.-Sermon the fifteenth is a sort of companion one to the third in the series. It appears to have been preached with a view to the recommendation of Sabbath-schools, and is in' every respect a very interesting and useful sermon. But no part of the volume has afforded us higher gratification than the seventeenth, eighteenth, and twentieth sermons, which treat, in a very original and masterly manner, of the nature and rationale of prayer, the place which it occupies in the economy of grace, and its practical influence on the character. The following extract is a long one, but we cannot persuade ourselves either to omit or to abridge it.
• Were the question put to a believer, why he prays, or how he can hope that his prayers can have any efficacy in determining the will and the procedure of him, all whose purposes are unchangeable, and all whose works are known to him from the beginning; he might satisfy himself with replying, that God has authorized and command. ed him to pray, with the express promise that the prayer of faith, of. fered up in the name of Christ, shall be heard and answered ; and that he can safely leave it, therefore, with God himself, to provide for the fulfilment of his promise, in perfect consisteney with the immutability of his counsels. But though he may hold this to be a satisfactory answer to every such question, and on this ground decline entering on the discussion of any difficulty that may be suggested, about
reconciling the efficacy of prayer with the unchangeableness of the divine will; yet there is enough in Scripture to enable him to go
much further towards the solution of such difficulties, and, what is unspeakably more important, to elevate his conceptions of the nature and privi. lege of prayer. He is there warranted to maintain, that prayer is most deeply concerned in the determination of all the purposes of God concerning his people; that every believing supplication that has been, or ever will be offered up, was as much the subject of the divine foreknowledge as any other action or event that was to take place in the moral world; and that the same infinite wisdom which so arranged the constitution of things as to provide for what we would call contingencies, and to determine the bearing and the effect of every one event upon another, did, by that same arrangement, make provision also for meeting every prayer of faith with a special and determinate act of his will.
• In support of this doctrine, the believer may refer, among many other passages of Scripture, to the statement made in our text. The event for which Daniel had been praying, namely, the restoration of his captive brethren to their country and their privileges, had been the subject of many a prediction variously expressed, and of special promises frequently repeated; he had been himself personally employed as an agent, and a very efficient one too, in bringing about a combination of circumstances most favourable to the accomplishment of his wishes: he had just witnessed a variety of events which had been expressly foretold, as the forerunners of the liberation of Judah, and which were so many distinct intimations, therefore, that God would neither forget nor falsify his promise ; and every circumstance conspired to give him the assurance, that the event which he longed for was infallibly secured. But though the state of things was such as apparently to place the hope of Daniel beyond the possibility of disappointment, and though he might seem to have nothing to do, but quietly to wait till the moment arrived when, according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, it was to be realized ; yet he gave himself to prayer, obviously with the conviction that, in order to give efficiency to all the subordinate causes that were conspiring to bring about the deliverance of Judah, there was required an immediate deiermination of the divine mind—an act of the will of him " who speaks and it is done, who commandeth and all things stand fast ;” and it is equally evident from our text, not only that this prayer of the prophet formed an essential part of the plan, by which God was graciously pleased to carry his purposes into execution, but that the place wbich it occupied in that plan was a very distinguished onethat it had to do only and immediately with the determination of the divine mind—and that there was suspended on it, so to speak, that act of the divine will that was to give efficiency to every other agency whereby the desired event was to be brought about. With respect, indeed, to the divine mind itself, there could be no contingency in the event wbich the prophet prayed for, and no suspense, therefore, about God's own determination regarding that event; inasmuch as the supplication of Daniel was as certain a thing in the divine foreknowledge, as the act of will whereby the object of that supplication was granted. But with respect to the prophet himself, the case was very different. Of the secret purposes of the divine mind he knew nothing; while he did know that God had expressly declared, with a reference to the very blessing which he supplicated, " then shall ye go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you;” and in as far, therefore, as concerned both his duty and his privilege, that gracious act of the divine will, which he knew was essential to the deliverance of his country. men, was made to turn upon his prayer, just as the other blessings, which God had made him instrumental in bestowing upon his brethren, had been suspended on the exercise of his personal influence with the king of Persia.
• In reply, then, to all that may be objected to the efficacy of prayer, the believer needs not hesitate to assert, that it has something to do, and a great deal more, too, than he is capable of estimating, with the determinations of the divine mind; and it is this very consideration that must elevate his conceptions of it as his most precious and honourable privilege. In every external act of obedience which he may perform, and in every enterprise of Christian benevolence in which be may engage, whereby to promote what he knows to be ac. cordant with the will of God, he has to do immediately with his fellow creatures ; and if he does act in co-operation with the will of his Creator, it is indirectly, and through the medium of created things. But in the mental effort of prayer, he is brought, as it were, into im. mediate contact with the very miod of God; he is thereby admitted to co-operate with the divine will more directly than he can do in any other way; and if God, in his infinite condescension, has been pleased to ordain, that such an exercise shall occupy any place, or that such efforts shall be accompanied with any effect at all in the execution of his purposes; the most distinguished privilege with which the believer can be invested, is to be permitted to pray, inasmuch as it is giving him to have an immediate concern in the determination of the divine mind respecting the subject of his prayer; and it is impossible to conceive, therefore, how any higher bonour could have been put upon the prophet, than to be told, as the text informs us that he was by the angel, “ At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee.".
pp. 374379. As a specimen, however, of all that a sermon ought to be, even in those very respects in which we have thought some of these sermons deficieni, the twentieth, in our judgement, is the most complete, and at the same time most truly eloquent in the volume. It searches into the depths and mazes of the heart with the lamp of Inspiration, and discovers to the Christian the often unsuspected source of his declensions and discomfort. With an extract from this sermon, we must close this article, deeming it unnecessary to add any formal recommendation of such productions to any reader of either taste or