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from shutting their eyes to the light, they were not much more guilty than others may be in disobeying Him; that it is almost as great a sin to reject His service in the case of those who do not see miracles, as in the case of those who do; that the sight of miracles is not the way in which men come to believe and obey, nor the absence of them an excuse for not believing and obeying.
Now let me say something in explanation of this, at first sight, startling truth, that miracles on the whole would not make men in general more obedient or holy than they are, though they were generally displayed. It has sometimes been said by unbelievers, • If the Gospel were written on the Sun, I would believe it." Unbelievers have said so by way of excusing themselves for not believing it, as it actually comes to them; and I dare say some of us, my brethren, have before now uttered the same sentiment in our hearts, either in moments of temptation, or when under the upbraidings of conscience for sin committed. Now let us consider, why do we think so ? I ask, why should the sight of a miracle make you
better than you are? Do you doubt at all the being and power of God? No. Do you doubt what you ought to do? No. Do
doubt at all that the rain, for instance, and sunshine, come from Him? or that the fresh life of each year, as it comes, is His work, and that all nature bursts into beauty and richness at His bidding ? You do not doubt it at all. Nor do you doubt, on the other hand, that it is your duty to obey Him who made the world and who made you. And yet, with the knowledge of all this, you find you cannot prevail upon yourselves to do what you know you should do. Knowledge is not what you want to make you obedient. You have knowledge enough already. Now what truth would a miracle convey
do not learn from the works of God around you? What would it teach you concerning God which you do not already believe without having seen it?
But, you will say, a miracle would startle you; true : but would not the startling pass away? could you be startled for ever? And what sort of a religion is that which consists in a state of fright and disturbance? Are you not continually startled by the accidents of life? You see, you hear things suddenly, which bring before your minds the thoughts of God and judgment; calamities befall you which for the time sober you.
Startling is not conversion, any more than knowledge is practice.
But you urge, that perhaps that startling might issue in amendment of life; that it might be the beginning of a new course, though it passed away itself; that a miracle would not indeed convert you, but it would be the first step towards thorough conversion ; that it would be the turning point in your life, and would suddenly force your path into the right direction, and that in this way shocks and startlings, and all the agitation of the passions and affections, are really the means of conversion, though conversion be something more than they. This is very true : sudden emotions-fear, hope, gratitude, and the like, all do produce such effects sometimes; but why is a miracle necessary to produce such effects ? Other things startle us besides miracles : we have a number of accidents sent us by God to startle
He has not left us without warnings, though He has not given us miracles ; and if we are not moved and converted by those which come upon us, the probability is, that, like the Jews, we should not be converted by miracles.
Yes, you say ; but if one came from the dead, if you saw the spirit of some departed friend you knew on earth: what then? What would it tell you which you do not know now? You do not in your sober reason doubt the reality of the unseen world : not at all ; only you cannot get yourself to act as if it were real. Would such a sight produce this effect ? you think it would. Now I will grant this on one supposition. Do the startling accidents which happen to you now, produce any lasting effect upon you? Do they lead you to any habits of religion? If they do produce some effect, then I will grant to you that such a strange visitation, as you have supposed, would produce a greater effect; but if the events of life which now happen to you produce no lasting effect on you, and this I fear is the case, then too sure I am, that a miracle too would produce no lasting effect on you, though of course it would startle you more at the time. I say, I fear that what happens to you, as it is, produces no lasting effect on you. I mean, that the warnings which you really have, do not bring you to any habitual and regular religiousness; they may make you a little more afraid of this or that sin, or this or
that particular indulgence of it; but they do not tend at all to make you break with the world, and convert you to God. If they did make you take up religion in earnest, though in ever so poor a way, then I will grant that miracles would make you more in earnest. If God's ordinary warnings moved you, His extraordinary would move you more. It is quite true, that a serious mind would be made more serious by seeing a miracle; but this gives no ground for saying, that minds which are not serious, careless, worldly, self-indulgent persons, who are made not at all better by the warnings which are given them, would be made serious by those miraculous warnings which are not given. Of course it might so happen in this or that particular case, just as the same person is moved by one warning, not by another; not moved by a warning to-day, moved by a warning to-morrow; but I am sure, taking men as we find them, miracles would leave them, as far as their conduct is concerned, very much as they are. They would be very much startled and impressed at first, but the impression would wear away. And thus our Saviour's words would come true of all those multitudes who have the Bible to read, and know what they ought to do, but do it not :-" If they hear not Moses and the Prophets,” He says, “ neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” Do we never recollect times, when we have said, “ We shall never forget this; it will be a warning all through our lives?" have we never implored God's forgiveness with the most eager promises of amendment ? have we never felt as if we were brought quite into a new world, in gratitude and joy? Yet was the result what we had expected? We cannot anticipate more from miracles, than before now we have anticipated from warnings, which came to nought.
And now, what is the real reason why we do not seek God with all our hearts, and devote ourselves to His service, if the absence of miracles be not the reason, as most assuredly it is not ? What was it that made the Israelites disobedient, who had miracles ? St. Paul informs us, and exhorts us in consequence. “ Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness ... take heed ... lest there be in any of you,” (as there was among the Jews) "an evil heart of
unbelief in departing from the Living God.” Moses had been commissioned to say the same thing at the very time ; O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep My Commandments always.” We cannot serve God, because we want the will and the heart to serve Him. We like anything better than religion, as the Jews before us. The Jews liked this world; they liked mirth and feasting. “ The people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play ;" so do we. They liked glitter and show, and the world's fashions. “ Give us a king like the nations,” they said to Samuel; so do we. They wished to be let alone; they liked ease; they liked their own way; they disliked to make war against the natural impulses and course of their own minds; they disliked to attend to the state of their souls, to have to treat themselves as spiritually sick and infirm, to watch, and rule, and chasten, and refrain, and change themselves; and so do we. They disliked to think of God, and to observe and attend His ordinances, and to reverence Him; they called it a weariness to frequent His courts; and they found this or that false worship more pleasant, satisfactory, congenial to their feelings, than the service of the Judge of quick and dead; and so do we : and therefore we disobey GoD as they did, -not that we have not miracles; for they actually had them, and it made no difference. We act as they did, though they had miracles and we have not; because there is one cause common to both them and us--heartlessness in religious matters, an evil heart of unbelief; both they and we disobey and disbelieve, because we do not love.
But this is not all; in another respect we are really far more favoured than they were; they had outward miracles; we too have miracles, but they are not outward but inward. Ours are not miracles of evidence, but of power and influence. They are secret, and more wonderful and efficacious because secret. Their miracles were wrought upon external nature; the sun stood still, and the sea parted. Ours are invisible, and are exercised upon the soul. They consist in the sacraments, and they just do that very thing which the Jewish miracles did not. They really touch the heart, though we so often resist their influence. If then we sin, as, alas! we do, if we do not love God more than the Jews
did, if we have no heart for those “ good things which
men's understanding,” we are not more excusable than they, but less so. For the supernatural works which God showed to them were wrought outwardly, not inwardly, and did not influence the will ; they did but convey warnings; but the supernatural works which He does towards us are in the heart, and impart grace; and if we disobey, we are not disobeying His command only, but resisting His presence.
This is our state ; and perhaps so it is that, as the Israelites for forty years hardened their hearts in the wilderness, in spite of the manna and the quails, and the water from the rock, so we for a course of years have been hardening ours in spite of the spiritual gifts which are the portion of Christians. Instead of listening to the voice of conscience, instead of availing ourselves of the aid of heavenly grace, we have gone on year
with the vain dream of turning to God some future day. Childhood and boyhood are past; youth, perhaps middle age, perhaps old age is come; and now we find that we cannot love the thing which God commandeth, and desire that which He doth promise ; and then, instead of laying the blame where it is due, on ourselves, for having hardened ourselves against the influences of grace, we complain that enough has not been done for us; we complain we have not enough light, enough help, enough inducements; we complain we have not seen miracles. Alas ! how exactly are God's words fulfilled in us, which He deigned to speak to His former people. • O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt Me and My vineyard. What could have been done more to My vineyard that I have not done in it? wherefore when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes ? ?"
Let us then put aside vain excuses : and, instead of looking for outward events to change our course of life, be sure of this, that if our course of life is to be changed, it must be from within. God's grace moves us from within, so does our own will. External circumstances have no real power over us. If we do not love God, it is because we have not wished to love Him, tried to love Him,
2 Isaiah v. 3, 4.