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ON CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP.
MALACHI iii. 16, 17. Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened,
and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name: And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them as a man sparcth his own Son that serveth him.
T requires but a small degree of attention, in reading this Prophecy, to perceive that the Jewish nation was then in a very degenerate state ; and that those who stood in the lrighest stations in the church of God, were deeply corrupted, and had made themselves vile in the sight of the Lord. The priesti and ministers of God whom he had appointed to guide and instruct the people, had turned away from the holy commandment delivered to them, and the common people in general had followed their bad example. Hence this faithful servant of God reproves their wickedness, and denounces the heaviest judgments against them. “A Son,” saith the Prophet, " honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is my honour? and iflle a master where is my fear? saith the Lord of Hosts unto you, o priests, that despise my name! And ye sar', Wherein have we despised thy name? Ye offer polluted bread upon my altar, and ye say, Wherein have we polluted tbee?"
It is answered, “In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible." It appears that they not only had profaned the holy ordinances of the blessed God; but were so hardened in wickedness, and blinded by Jong continued habits of sin, that they called in question the justness of the faithful reproofs of the Prophet, and attempted to justify themselves in their evil ways. And as they obstinately refused instruction, and slighted the loving reproofs of this servant of God, he shews them what would be the dreadful consequence. « Now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you: If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory to my Name, saith the Lord of Hosts, I will even curse your blessings : yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to
heart." How dreadful beyond description, niust be the state of that people, to whom the God of Love speaks in this terrible manner ! If the Lord curse our blessings, how completely wretched must we be!
As the priests, "s whose lips ought to keep knowledge, and at whose mouth the people should receive the divine law," they being the messengers of the Lord to the people, had thus wickdedły departed from God, we need not wonder if tbe people had done the same. Accordingly, the prophet complains of them also; “Even from the days of your fathers, ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Will a man rob God yet ye have robbed me : but ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
And it then follows; “Ye are cursed with a curse ; for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation." Into this deplorable state had sin brought the peculiar people of God, in the time of Malachi.
Yet even in these degenerate days, these days of darkness, and almost universal depravity, the Lord bad his secret ones, who still honoured his sacred Name. The faithful in different ages of the world, have been brought low; but the Lord hath never left himself without witnesses, he hath always had a chosen remnant, a seed who served him. Thus it was at this gloviny season, there were those wba feared the Lord, and who strengthened each other's bands, by speaking one to another, and God approved of their conduct; no matter then who despised or condemned, them.
In the words of the text, we bave,' First, The character; and then, Secondly, The conduct of the people of God, described. We will therefore endeavour to consider both the one and the other, as they are here laid down before us.
First, We have the character of the people of God de scribed ; " They are such as fear his sacred Name,'
Under the Old Testament dispensation, the people of God stand distinguished from the rest of mankind, in that they are said to fear the Lord, and it is easy to observe, that this is an exceedingly comprehensive expression, and includes in it the whole of religion. But although under the Mosaic dispensation, the people of God were not so highly favoured as we now are under the gospel, as their light was not so clear, and their privileges not so great as ours; and therefore they were only said, to fear the Lord i yet many of them were lavoured with clear views of the mercy and love of God, and of their interest in him : they
were blest with his gracious presence, and frequently walked in the light of his countenance.
The fear of God, which his people live under the influence of, is a gracious habit wrought in the soul by 'the Holy Ghost, which is attended with a sacred awe, an holy reverence for his Majesty, and a sincere desire to please him in all things, by carefully and constantly avoiding whatsoever they know to be contrary to his holy will, and by doing that which is well-pleasing in his sight. The truth of this will
appear from those scriptures, where the nature of the fear of God is described. “The fear of the Lord,” saith the wise man, “ is to depart from, or to hate iniquity;") It is a natural consequence of the fear of God being planted in the mind. The fear of God and the love of sin, cannot dwell together in the same person, at the same time. But as we are taught in every part of the word of God, that the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord, and that by grace we are, and must be saved, so it is easy to observe here, that a man being a fallen creature, and as an Apostle speaks, is carnal and sold under sin, it follows of course, that while he lies in the ruins of the fall, he cannot be said with propriety, to hate sin. But on the contrary, it may be said with the greatest degree of truth, that he loves it, and finds a sort of pleasure in the commission of it. Nay, so deeply is the mind of man vitiated, that there are not a few who not only delight in gratifying their sensual appetites and passions, however sinful in the sight of God, but Ohumiliating truth! “ They have pleasure in those who do so!" Hence we see the absolute necessity of divine grace; of the illuminating influences of the Holy Spirit, in order to our experiencing the fear of God; for as we shall never have proper views of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and of its hateful and destructive consequences, till divine light' is communicated; so we shall never hate sin, till this is our experience.
The law of God is spiritual, and every commandment is holy, just, and good, but as it was with the Apostle, so it is with us; we can only see the spirituality of the divine law; and the length and breadth of the commandment, when the day spring from on high graciously visits us, till then, that we see sin in its own proper colours, its hateful contrariety to the will of God, bow abominable it is in his sight, and what dreadful consequences it is attended with; how it dishonours God, defiles the conscience, depraves the mind; and would bring eternal destruction upon
It is not
the sinner. Hence he who fears God, as he hates sin, so he fies from it, carefully abstaining from every appearance of evil, and hating even the garment spotted by the esh.
" The fear of the Lord," is said, by an inspired writer, "to be the beginning of wisdom :”It naturally follows, when the fear of God is fixed in the mind, the person who enjoys it, is made truly wise': “ wise unto salvation.” But let it only be remembered, how the human mind is blinded by sin and the god of this world ; and we shall again see the necessity of spiritual illumination, for as the things of the Spirit of God, the things which make for our everlasting peace, can only be spiritually discerned ; and only known by the light of God shining into the mind, it cannot be supposed; that any one will have a proper regard for, or seek after the enjoyment of them, till he is made acquainted with their nature and value. And as the carnal mind is enmity with God, and nothing under leaven can remove that en. mity but divine grace communicated to the soul, how can we expect that any one should have a proper regard for spiritual" and everlasting things, or should be properly acquainted with, or have a sacred regard for, the holy precepts of God's word, till' he is renewed in the spirit of bis mind, by the power of the Holy Ghost. All the exertions of nature to keep the law of God, will be in vain, and the most powerful and convincing arguments we can use with fallen mån, to love the divine law, will fall to the ground, till under a deep sense of his own guilty condition, he comes to the blood of Christ for a free pardon; and by the clearest conviction of his utter inability to fulfil the duties commanded in the word of God, he comes to the Redeemer, and by a living faith receives that grace which purifieth the heart, and so strengthens the soul, as to enable it to run in the way of God's 'coinmandments. We
must, whether we will or not, take Christ and the riches of his
grace into the account, or we shall try to build without a foundarion; we shall try to Ay, to aspire after God, and to delight in the enjoyment of him, but we shall find that we have no wings, our souls will cleave to the dust,' and we cannot mount upwards ; we may try to run in the way of God's holy precepts, but we shall find we þare no strength, and it will be found a certain truth: de They that are in the flesh cannot please God.” But let the gate of God be communicated, and the captive soul is brought into a state of glorious liberty ; -*. The Sou makes us free, and we are free indeed ; “free, from the galling, yoke of sin and the devil; free to serve God in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." The com mandments of God are no longer grievous, but we can say with the Psalmist, “ () how I love thy law, all the day long is my study in it.” The fear and the love of God reign in the heart, and the man walks in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless: He orders his whole life and conversation according to the holy precepts of the gospel of Christ ; this is the character of those who fear God.
Secondly, We have the conduct of the people of God described; “ They spake often one to another."
Here two things are observable, 1. They separated themselves from the ungodly, and united one with another in holy fellowship; and 2. They frequently met together for spiritual purposes, that they might strengthen each other's hands in the Lord.
In obedience to the word of God, they separated from the ungodly; so the followers of God have done in all ages. “ A companion of fools shall be destroyed," saith Solomon. And who are such fools as' ungodly men? Sin is of an infectious nature, and men generally become such as the company they keep: The holy Apostle, deeply sensible of this, exhorts us to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to reprove them :" And let men say what they will, he who is a volunteer in associating with the wicked, and can delight in their company and conversation, gives a melancholy proof that he is of the same spirit and temper with them, and will finally have the same portion.
Those who feared the Lord united in holy fellowship with each other ; Thus they have always done, down to the present day. “ Ye are not of the world," saith our blessed Lord to the disciples, “but I have chosen you out of the world.” And in the Acts of the Apostles, we are told, that those who then embraced the gospel, “continued stedfast in the Apostles' doctrine, and in fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayer.” It would be endless to quote all the Scriptores which might be recited, to shew the necessity as well as the usefulness of this conduct; but these are quite sufficient.
Man certainly is a social creature; he is formed for society. Every description of men are naturally led to associate with each other ; they well know the necessity, and ex