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influence and example, did evil to as great an extent as any creature that ever lived: but when he exerted his royal influence to reclaim the persons he had seduced to sin, he could not prevail: they would still, notwithstanding all his edicts, and all his example too, continue to " offer sacrifices on their high-places," instead of conforming themselves to the commandments of their Godm. Thus, even supposing that we are now walking in the ways of God, the influence of our former lives will continue to operate to the ruin of many souls, and to the unspeakable augmentation of our own guilt. Contemplate this, I pray you, my Brethren; and remember, that though you may never have committed one single sin that should expose you to shame before men, you are guilty in the sight of God, to an extent that no language can paint, no imagination can conceive. Nay, strange as it may seem, the very blamelessness of your conduct before men, inasmuch as it has attracted a greater measure of their admiration, has unhappily contributed, even beyond the example of the generality, to deceive their minds, and to ruin their souls. I must then say to every one amongst you, that the injury which in your days of thoughtlessness you have unconsciously done to the souls of men, should be a ground of the deepest humiliation to you, to the latest hour of your lives.]
2. What a pre-eminent measure of guilt is contracted by the backsliding professor
[Whilst others, by their ungodly lives, encourage sin in all around them, you do it with far greater effect. For you are understood as speaking from experience ; whilst others deliver only, as it were, a hasty and ill-formed opinion. You are considered as proclaiming that there is no excellency, no reality, in religion ; that the ways of the world, from which for a season you had departed, are not either so dangerous or so sinful as you had ignorantly supposed ; that, in fact, there is no sincerity in those who profess godliness; and that, if all were as honest as you, they would, like you, throw off the mask at once. Ah! think what a stumbling-block you lay in the way of others; how you “ crucify the Son of God afresh;" and what cause multitudes will have to curse your very name for ever, whilst they call for vengeance on your souls for contributing so largely to their ruin !
And here let me speak to those who do not indeed draw back to open sin, but only so far as to conceal their principles in compliment to the world. You may account this prudence: but God will account it treason; and the Saviour, whom “ you thus refuse to confess, will refuse to acknowledge you in the presence of his Fatherh.” Consider this; and know assuredly
m 2 Chron. xxxiii. 15—17. Matt. x. 32, 33.
on what terms your sentence shall be passed in the last day : “ If you suffer with Christ, you shall also reign with him; but if you deny him, he will deny you. If ye believe not his testimony, yet he abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself”;" but will assuredly execute judgment, in perfect conformity to this rule.]
3. What an incentive we have to cultivate piety in the highest possible degree
[The more our light shines before men, the more shall we put to shame the wickedness of the ungodly, and encourage the exercise of all that is good in the world. And who can tell how far our influence may extend? If we be the means of leading one sinner to repentance, "we save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins P.” And what may be the ultimate effects on that person's family, or even on his remotest posterity, who can tell ? Let this then operate as an inducement with us to “ shine as lights in the world 9." I say not but that the saving of our own souls should be our first motive: nevertheless, a strong additional motive we may find in the subject before us. Nor ought it to have light weight on our minds: for, whilst we benefit the world, we greatly honour our God; who is most glorified in those who most reflect his image, and most advance his kingdom in the world.]
• 2 Tim. ii. 12, 13. P Jam. v. 19, 20. a Phil. ii. 15, 16.
DCCCXV. THE LIGHT ENJOYED BY THE GODLY. Prov. xxvii. 5. They that seek the Lord understand all things.
THERE are, in the Holy Scriptures, broad, and, if I may so call them, sweeping expressions, which, if taken in their strict and literal sense, have not so much as even the semblance of truth. Yet are they not liable to be misunderstood, because every candid reader will of necessity supply the restrictions which are necessary for a just interpretation of them. For instance: no one who should read the words which we have just heard, would suppose that Solomon ever intended to assert that all who sought the Lord were at once brought to the knowledge of all arts and sciences, and to an acquaintance with all the languages of the earth. Every expression must of necessity be restricted either by the subject of which it treats, or
by the context in which it stands. The words before us are used in a way of contrast with those which precede them. The writer has just said, that “ evil men understand not judgment;" that is, they understand not what they are doing, or what they ought to do, or the true end and scope of God's dealings with them. But they who seek the Lord are well instructed in these things : they may be as ignorant of worldly things as any other people ; but of things relating to their spiritual and eternal welfare they have a discernment which no ungodly man either does, or can, possess. Taking the words with this restriction, I shall, I. Confirm the sentiment
Here I might enumerate a great variety of particulars, such as the evil of sin, the beauty of holiness, the glory of Christ, which a spiritual man alone can truly apprehend: but, as the expression is broad and comprehensive, so shall my illustration of it be; that so the contrast between the spiritual and carnal man may more forcibly appear. Of those, therefore, who seek the Lord, I will say, they understand,
1. The true state and character of the world around them
[That every thing bears the appearance of some great change that has been wrought upon it, is obvious to all. The very elements bear this stamp upon them; as does also the whole creation, animate and inanimate, rational and irrational. No one can conceive of the world, or any thing in it, as having preserved that degree of perfection in which it was originally created. The ungodly therefore, as well as others, are sensible that there is a great deal of disorder in the world. But the godly man alone sees this in any degree according to its real extent. He sees that the whole universe is up in arms against Almighty God, under the command of that wicked fiend, who, having himself rebelled against his Maker, is labouring to bring every creature into a participation of his crime; and who, having succeeded in this enterprise, is justly called, “ the god of this world.” He sees that this contest is carried on, not by those only who are sunk in open profligacy, but by the most moral and sober of mankind; who, in fact, are as much “ alienated from the life of God” as others, and have their own “minds as much at enmity with him" as any other people upon earth. He sees, in a measure, what men ought
having preser conceivel courend inanimate, them; as "doctoral,
to be, and what they are ; and that all, without exception, are “ living to themselves, and not unto their God." The different orders of men are, in his eyes, only like different parts of one great army; differently habited indeed, and differently employed; some under the very garb of friends, whilst others are arrayed as open and determined foes : but all are acting, in their respective places, for the establishment of Satan's kingdom, rather than of Christ's. This, I say, the godly man sees, in perfect correspondence with what St. Paul has declared: “ There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that understandeth ; there is none that seeketh after God: they are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not onea."] 2. The real happiness of man
[The world at large conceive of this as consisting in temporal enjoyment. Pleasure, riches, honour, are looked upon as the great sources from whence happiness must flow: and where these are not eagerly coveted, there is something of a temporal nature substituted in their place: some fond conceit, or a mere state of carnal ease, devoid either of any strong emotions, whether of pain or pleasure. But the godly man knows that there is no happiness but in God—in a sense of his favour, in a performance of his will, in a prospect of his glory. There is in his views, and those of an ungodly man, a most perfect contrast with respect to this matter; each coveting what the other despises, and each regarding as contemptible what the other desires. Our blessed Lord's words will put this matter in the clearest light b ---- The rich, the gay, the honoured, are by the one regarded with admiration and envy; by the other, with pity and compassion. The poor weeping and persecuted saint, on the contrary, is by the one despised; whilst the other affects the experience of such an one with the fondest delight. In a word, whilst to the inquiry, "Who will shew us any good ?" the ungodly man says, "Give me a supply of corn, and wine, and oil;' the godly man pours out his soul in that petition of the Psalmist, “ Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon me."]
3. The proper tendency of all that God is doing in the world
[God is seen both in his word and works; and both in the one and in the other does he appear, to an ungodly world, to obstruct, rather than to advance, the happiness of his creatures. The word is too strict in its requirements to suit our fallen state; and the dispensations of his Providence are calculated only to embitter life by continual troubles or
Rom. ii. 10–12. b See Luke vi. 20—26. c Ps. iv. 6.
bereavements. Far different from these, however, are the sentiments of a godly man. The whole inspired volume, whether it promise or threaten, prohibit or enjoin, is in his eyes a fountain of good, springing up to everlasting life --- And all the diversified afflictions which arise, are regarded by him as blessings in disguise ; as messengers sent to “humble us, and to do us good at our latter end,” by weaning us from things visible and temporal, and stimulating us to lay hold on those which are invisible and eternal.
An ignorant novice may dread a cross wind, as calculated only to retard the vessel in which he is embarked: but the experienced mariner will welcome it, as filling all his sails better than a wind that is the most direct; and thus, whilst the ungodly man views afflictions only as calamities which he would most avoid, the godly man welcomes them from God's hands, in the assured hope that “his light and momentary afflictions will work out for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory d."]
Thus, to go no further, it sufficiently appears how much clearer insight the godly man has into God's word and works, than the ungodly man can pretend to. And now let us, II. Account for the fact
I readily concede, that, in point of natural talent or acquired learning, the godly man may be inferior to others; but in spiritual discernment he is superior to the wisest philosopher on earth. Does any one inquire how this should be? I answer, 1. He has God himself for his teacher
[All God's people " are taught of him;" and it is in consequence of their “having heard and learned of the Father,” that they attain to a knowledge which no other person can possesse. Were I to say that “the Spirit of God opens the eyes of their understanding,” and “brings them out of darkness into marvellous light,” I should say enough to justify all the assertions which I have made: nor would any one have a right to ask from me an explanation of the process by which this mysterious work is accomplished. Yet I think that the mode of divine teaching may be in some little measure comprehended by means of a suitable and familiar illustration. There are different ways in which an object which is obscure may be rendered visible: one way is, by bringing it nearer to us; another is, by removing intervening obstacles; another, by reflecting stronger light upon d 2 Cor. iv. 17.
e John vi. 45. VOL. VII.