« PreviousContinue »
And, Secondly, while with weeping and supplications you are disposed to seek him again, guard against that despondency which would tell you that it will be in vain. It is not in vain. There is hope in Israel concerning this thing. He waiteth to be gracious, and is exalted to have mercy upon you. "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God. Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel."
Have any of you been restored? Turn not again to folly. Has it not cost you enough already? After all this, will not the very appearance of evil terrify you? Live near to God.-Your welfare depends upon it.
And as for those young converts who have just subscribed with their own hand and surnamed themselves by the name of Israel, let these also beware. Now perhaps you think there is very little danger of this caution. Such at present is your attachment to the Saviour and his way, that it seems to be impossible for you ever to forget the one or forsake the other. But how many who once had the same confidence with yourselves, have since denied him or followed him afar off! "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall. Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
"Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever!-Amen."
THE END OF THE SAVIOUR'S EXALTATION.
Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
Acts v. 31.
ELEVATION is necessary to influence. Of what advantage is "a candle under a bushel?" -but place it "in a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house." While the sun is below our earth, all is dark and coldbut when he arises, there is healing under his wings;" and from his loftiness in the skies he scatters his enlightening and enlivening beams. When the shrub rises up out of the ground, it rather requires than affords support and assistance-"but when it is grown, it becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." A man in the obscurity and contractedness of private life may feel dispositions prompting him to do good-but he can only pour forth benevolent wishes and shed ineffectual tears. But give him pre-eminence, place in his hands the reins of empire, and at his disposal the treasures of the state, and lo! thousands are refreshed by his shadow, protected by his power, and enriched by his bounty; his fame spreads encouragement; prayer also shall be made for him continually, and daily shall he be praised. Thus Jesus "ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things."
Or take another illustration. The life of Joseph is not only affecting as a history, but also important as a type. Joseph was hated of his brethren; and they sold him as a slave to a company of Ishmaelites in order to prevent the fulfilment of his dreams. But the means used to hinder his advancement terminated in the promotion of it; and in process of time he was made ruler over all the land of Egypt. And it is worthy of our regard, that his elevation was not only the aggrandizement of himself-but also the preservation of thousands, and in a peculiar manner the salvation of his father's house. He was the only dispenser of supplies to those who were perishing with famine-and "Go unto Joseph"-was the order given by Pharaoh to every petitioner.
But a greater than Joseph is here. Thus Jesus suffered from the hands of sinners: and they acted only as enemies-but the curse was turned into a blessing. His sufferings led to his exaltation; and this exaltation was not only a personal reward—but a relative glory. He is made head over all things "unto his body the Church." He has power given him over all flesh, "that he should give eternal life to as many as the Father has given
him." And him, says the Apostle, to the Jews, "him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins."
provided for him a ransom, and through a suf-
Thus he is advanced as mediator, to the grandeur and resources of his present station, not only to govern, but to save; and to save by governing. Some are exalted as princes who are by no means saviours. They do not study to secure the common rights of mankind. They do not set examples of temperance, humanity, and social aflection. They do not cultivate harmony and peace. They seem only raised up to oppress and to destroy. Murder and desolation mark their progress. The ruins of towns and villages, the tears of widows and orphans, are the materials of their glory. They sacrifice the lives of their subjects to save their own-yea, they frequently sacrifice them to gratify their pride, their vanity, their avarice, their revenge. But he sacrificed himself for the welfare of his subjects "I give my flesh for the life of the world." They are princes of war-but he is "the Prince of peace." They are princes of death -but he is "the Prince of life." They are princes and destroyers-but he is “a Prince | and a Saviour." He takes us under the wing the occasions of sin, and "abstains from of his protection; redeems us from the curse all appearance of evil."-And this is what of the law; delivers us from the wrath to we mean by having the heart broken from come; saves us from our sins. He makes his sin." subjects holy and happy-For "he gives repentance unto Israel, and forgiveness of sins."
The pressure of these various feelings constitutes what we mean by having the heart broken for sin. But the man has now new dispositions and resolutions; and hence a new course of life. He is delivered from the love of sin, the love of all sin, however dear before. He is freed from the dominion of sinso that it no longer reigns in his mortal body, that he should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yields he his members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yields himself unto God as those that are alive from the dead, and his members as instruments of righteousness unto God." He avoids also
And what is forgiveness? It is simply the removal of all obligation to punishment. It does not render a man innocent of the crimes which he has committed; for a man can never appear otherwise to God than he really is; and it will be everlastingly true, that Job cursed the day of his birth, and Peter denied his master. But sin contracts guilt, and guilt binds over to punishment: now, forgiveness cancels this obligation and re
I. Let us consider THEIR MEANING.-What is repentance? Every one will see the propriety of making this inquiry, who only reflects that every thing excellent admits of counterfeit that there are specious resem-stores the offender to safety. And frequently, blances not only of every moral virtue, but of at least among men, forgiveness extends no every Christian grace and that Pharaoh, further. But it does with God. He takes and Ahab, and Judas, and others, are said to pleasure in those whom he pardons as if they have repented, and after all died in their sins. had never sinned, and indulges them with the Perhaps a better definition of repentance was most intimate friendship. never given than by an old divine, one excellency of which is, that it is easily remembered. He tells us that "Genuine repentance consists in having the heart broken for sin, and from it."
Be it then remembered, that the subject of repentance is convinced of sin. He sees that it is the greatest evil in the universenot only as it is the cause of his sufferings, and has exposed him to the miseries of hell -but because it is the pollution of his soul, and the degradation of his nature, and has rendered him vile and abominable in the eyes of God. Hence he feels shame, self-loathing, abhorrence, grief, and contrition-especially when he apprehends the goodness of God, which has spared him under all his offences,
When two individuals have been at variance, the hardest to believe in reconciliation is the offender. The blame is his: and judg ing under a consciousness of his desert, he can hardly be persuaded that the party he has injured does not feel like himself. History informs us that when a man had offended Augustus, the emperor, to show his greatness of mind, declared that he pardoned him. But the poor creature, who expected only destruction, astonished beyond measure, and fearing the declaration was too good to be true, in all the simplicity of nature, instantly desired his majesty to give him some present as a proof that he had really forgiven him. Thus anxious is the awakened mind. Such a free and full forgiveness after all his heinous pro
Let us take three views of these blessings. -Let us consider-THEIR MEANING-THEIR CONNEXION and THEIR SOURCE.
have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
III. We remark THE SOURCE OF THESE BLESSINGS" He gives repentance unto Israel and forgiveness of sins."
Some think repentance a very legal subject, and are ready to condemn the man who preaches it, as a stranger to the Gospel. But there never was a greater mistake than this. For not to mention, that our Lord "came to call sinners to repentance," and that the Apostles "went forth preaching everywhere that men should repent"-I would observe, that repentance is a subject peculiarly evangelical. The law has nothing to do with re
vocations seems incredible; he therefore desires a token for good: and many pledges of the most perfect reconciliation the God of all grace affords in his dealings with his people. He hears their prayer; he is with them in every trouble; he delivers them and honours them; he makes all things to work together for their good, and engages to receive them to glory.
II. Let us glance at THE UNION OF THESE BLESSINGS. Repentance and forgiveness of sins are mentioned together. Now let it be observed, that this is not a meritorious connexion between repentance and forgiveness as if the one deserved the other-for they are both given-and how can one gift merit ano-pentance-it does not even command it-all ther? it has to do with the transgressor is to condemn. It allows him neither liberty nor ability to repent-but the Gospel gives him both. And indeed to little purpose would it give us the one without the other. But here is our encouragement-the Gospel not only gives us space, but grace for repentance. What in one view is a duty, in another is a privilege: and what is commanded is also promised. The "broken heart and the contrite spirit" is not only a sacrifice which he will not despise, but it is also a sacrifice which he must provide !
And he does provide it. He "gives re
But there is between them, First, a connexion of propriety. It would not accord with the wisdom of God to deliver from hell a man who would be miserable in heaven; to forgive one incapable of enjoying or serving him-yea, one who abhors him. Without repentance we should never value the blessing of forgiveness, and therefore we should neither be happy in nor thankful for the possession of it. If a servant or a child were to behave improperly, though goodness may incline you to pardon, you would naturally require a proper state of mind, and signs of sorrow, confession, and reformation; other-pentance unto life." For having ascended wise your forgiveness would look like con- up on high leading captivity captive, "he nivance at the transgression, or indifference received gifts for men, even for the rebellious to the offence, and encourage a repetition of also, that the Lord God might dwell among disobedience. them." The chief of these was the dispensation of the Holy Ghost. By his influence the understanding is enlightened and the conscience awakened; the heart of stone is taken away and a heart of flesh given; and sinners, before weak and averse to holiness, are enabled to "walk in his statutes, and to keep his judgments to do them." Thus the word is rendered effectual; and the events of Providence are sanctified; afflictions make them "acknowledge their offence; and the goodness of God leadeth them to repentance."
And if repentance be not derived from ourselves-can forgiveness of sins? If the former be a gift-can the latter be a purchase?"He gives repentance unto Israel, and forgiveness of sins." And hence two things follow.
Hence there is between them also, a connexion of certainty. They are indissolubly united-no one ever really enjoyed forgiveness without repentance; and no one ever truly exercised repentance without forgiveness. And hence it follows that the best way to ascertain our state before God is not a reference to dreams and visions, sudden impulses, and accidental occurrences of Scripture to the mind-no-but an examination of our character; a comparison of ourselves with the features of pardoned sinners pourtrayed in the Gospel. To know whether we are justified, let us inquire whether we are renewed in the spirit of our minds: and be assured of this, that he is not the partaker of Divine forgiveness who is not the subject of genuine repentance.
First, if we possess these blessings-we learn to whom we are to address our praise. "Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength."
On the other hand, as there is an inseparable connexion between these, if you had been humbled for your sins; if your hearts had been broken for them, and from them; Secondly, if we want them-we see to you should not despair of acceptance, but whom we are to address our prayers. Betake view this experience as the authorized evi- yourselves to the Friend of sinners, and say, dence of Divine favour. "Believe in God.""Lord, remember me now thou art come He cannot deny himself. And he has said, into thy kingdom.' 'Heal me, and I shall "He that confesseth, and forsaketh his sins, be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: shall have mercy. Let the wicked forsake for thou art my praise.' 'Lord, if thou wilt his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; thou canst make me clean.'-And hast and let him return unto the Lord, and he will thou not said, 'him that cometh unto me, I
will in nowise cast out? Behold a sinner] one that asketh receiveth: and he that seeketh that wishes to have nothing more to do with findeth: and to him that knocketh it shall be sin. O save him from the bondage of corrup- opened." Amen. tion, as well as from the burden of condemnation. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.""
But "blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." He is blessed in his duties, for he is assured of acceptance and assistance. He is blessed in his enjoyments, for he tastes the lovingkindness of God in them. He is blessed in his trials, for they flow from love and are designed for his profit. Now he is delivered from the curse, he can bear the cross. He will not endure his troubles long; and he does not endure them alone.
DISCOURSE XXXV I.
Oh! be induced to do this, and to do this immediately. Here is a Saviour exalted to bless you with all spiritual blessings-and especially to bless you, by "turning every one of you away from your iniquities"-and there is no blessing like this. Seek him while he may be found: call upon him while he is near. For there is a time when if you call The Epistle before us is of the third class. he will not answer, and if you seek him early-And as it is inscribed to one person, so it you will not find him. The season for ob- is limited to one subject. It furnishes none taining these blessings is short and uncertain. of those glaring scenes which the pencil of Surely you need not be informed that you the historian requires: but it is full of imare sinners but "the wages of sin is death." portance to a Christian teacher. It says While you are strangers to pardon, you are nothing of the intrigues of statesmen, the cononly "treasuring up wrath against the day tentions of senators, the exploits and mischiefs of wrath." You are open to all the miseries of heroes; but it yields topics of reflection of life, the sting of death, the torments of hell. much more interesting and useful to a serious Yea, you are exposed to a double condemna- reader. These are concisely expressed in the tion; one from the Law which you have words which I have read. transgressed, and another from the Gospel which you have despised. And how is it that you do not lay these things to heart! How is it you do not fear lest every moment "the earth should open its mouth," and your souls "go down quick into hell!" How will you contrive to sleep to-night-when you know that if you die in your present state, God is under an oath to destroy you!
We will therefore STATE THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE TO WHICH THEY REFER: and DEDUCE SOME REMARKS FROM THEM FOR OUR INSTRUCTION AND EDIFICATION.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE may be thus briefly stated. At Colosse lived Philemon. He appears to have been a person of some respectability, if not distinction. The Apostle calls him a fellow-labourer. He had a church in his house; and by his liberality often "refreshed the bowels of the saints."
With this Philemon lived a servant whose name was Onesimus. Onesimus like too many servants was ungodly, though he lived in a pious family and enjoyed religious means and privileges. He robbed his master, and with the purloined property made his escape. As it is usual for such criminals to go to some large populous place to avoid detection, Onesimus hastened to Rome, the capital of the world.
Here are some whom he has pardoned. He gave them to see and feel and confess their sins. He discovered to them the scheme of salvation revealed in the Gospel. He enabled them to come with all their unworthiness, smiting upon their breasts, and saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner"-and believing, they passed from death unto life. They found rest unto their souls. They are now serving him, and they find his "yoke easy, and his burden light.'
"And I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every
RELIGION MAKES US PROFITABLE.
beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me.- -Philemon 10, 11.
THE Epistles are of three classes. Some are addressed to Christians at large-some to particular Churches-and some to single individuals.
Thither Paul had arrived a little before in consequence of his appealing unto Cæsar; and having hired a house, "preached the kingdom of God, and received all that came in unto him." As he was the subject of conversation in the city, Onesimus is informed of him; and from curiosity or some other motive-perhaps he had heard his name or seen his person at his master's house, he goes to the Apostle's lodgings and attends his ministry. Probably Paul preached against thievery. However this may be, "the word was quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and mar
row, and was a discerner of the thoughts and | and a contrite spirit which God will not deintents of the heart." Onesimus is convinced spise." To return. and alarmed. He feels his guilt: and now dreads not only human but divine justice. He cannot get rid of his distress; but walks about the city crying to himself, "What must I do to be saved?"
Persuaded of his sincerity, the Apostle would have taken Onesimus into his service, had it not looked like detaining what is deemed another man's property. He therefore conscientiously resolves to send him back to Philemon. And influenced by the same principle, Onesimus wishes to return-but fears the displeasure of his offended master; and is conscious that if he demanded reparation, it would not be in his power to make it. The Apostle therefore undertakes to plead his cause, becomes his surety, and sends along with him a letter of recommendation full of the most persuasive eloquence-and this is the principal subject "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds; which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me."
Hence let us derive the following REMARKS. First. Observe the humility, the tenderness, the kindness of the Apostle Paul. Great as he was, he exemplifies in his own practice what he recommends in his doctrine to others,
At length he resolves to go and open his case to Paul-"He may afford me instruction and relief." He waits upon him. "Sir, Ilately heard you preach, and I am one of the characters you described and condemned." -What is your name? "Onesimus."-What are you? "I was a slave."-And who was your master? Philemon of Colosse."-Him I know. But what, Onesimus, brought you here!-Onesimus weeps" Oh! I cannot deny it, I cannot conceal it-I robbed my master and fled hither from justice. And ever since I heard that sermon, I can find no rest. My iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I cannot look up. My sin was the most heinous and aggravated: it was a good master I injured! How often did he admonish me! How earnestly did he pray for me!" See here what a victory grace obtains over" mind not high things, but condescend to nature! Onesimus goes and confesses him- men of low estate." He does not think it self a thief!-For he was now remote from beneath him to attend to the wants and wishes the scene of action; no person was there to of this poor slave, and to write a whole epistle impeach him? and if he had not acknowledg- on his behalf. The more the mind is raised ed the crime himself, it could never have been by intelligence and religion, the less will it known. This was no pleasant task. Nothing be impressed with those adventitious distinccould be more irksome to the pride of the tions which dazzle the multitude. True human heart. It is as common to cover as to greatness is always condescending and symcommit sin. Men, such is their injustice and pathetic. Are we mistaken? What do we self-love, men wish to appear better in the see yonder? Let us draw near. "He riseth eyes of their fellow-creatures than they really from supper, and laid aside his garments; and are; even better than they know themselves took a towel, and girded himself: after that to be. But when the Holy Ghost lays a bur- he poured water into a basin, and began to den upon the conscience, no diversion can re- wash his disciples' feet, and to wipe them move it. Divine grace produces self-abase- with the towel wherewith he was girded. So ment; and a true penitent will not only con- after he had washed their feet, and had taken fess his sin to God, but when called by cir- his garments, and was set down again, he cumstances, he will own it also to men, to said unto them, know ye what I have done his fellow Christians, to Ministers. And such to you? Ye call me Master and Lord; a disclosure may sometimes ease the mind of and ye say well: for so I am. If I then, a load of anguish, and teach the person to your Lord and master, have washed your whom the communication is made how to feet; ye also ought to wash one another's speak a word in season, and apply the remedy feet. For I have given you an example, that of the Gospel. We are therefore commanded ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, to "confess our faults one to another, and to verily, I say unto you, the servant is not pray one for another, that we may be healed." greater than his lord; neither he that is sent, Be it remembered however, that when such greater than him that sent him. If ye know a penitent thus acknowledges his sins-he these things, happy are ye if ye do them." will not do it as if he were relating heroical And who does them? Some imagine themdeeds or even actions of indifference-he will selves humble because their condescension not like some speak of his former wickedness has never been put to the trial. Others have with a kind of pleasure, arising from the ap- proved how very little they resemble our Lord prehension that they magnify divine grace, and Saviour by declining those instances in and render his conversion the more marvellous which their condescension ought to have apand certain, or at least with a tone and coun- peared. Alas! how many are there who tenance far from expressing deep humiliation "hide themselves from their own flesh;" and godly sorrow, but he will evidence, by who would think it beneath them to perform his feelings and his manner, "a broken heart, personally an office of humanity and charity