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We have never known any remarkable reformation effected, but by means of the word. It is by this, that God inftructs the ignorant, awakens the careless, humbles the felfconfident, undeceives hypocrites, converts finners, and faves them who believe. God could by an immediate energy change men's hearts. But he chooses to treat them as intelligent beings. He calls them to come and reafon with him. He gives them his word, and requires them to hear it and attend to it. The operation of his spirit is indeed neceffary to the radical renovation of their tempers. But an attendance on the word is the ordinary mean of their obtaining this gracious operation.
Before Ezekiel prophefied to the dry bones, there was no noise, or fhaking among them. They lay scattered in the valley. When he prophefied, they began to move and come together. The word often produces an external reformation in finners, before the spiritual life really begins. The bones in the vision came together; but there was no life in them. Then Ezekiel prophefied to the wind, and prayed, that this might breathe on them; and they lived and ftood on their feet. This may denote the power of religion in the foul.
As there may be a human form without animal life, fo there may be a religious form without fpiritual life. The renovation of the mind is a work of divine grace. "We are faved by the renewing of the Holy Ghoft." But as in the creation of the first man, the body was formed, before life was infufed, fo in the new creation, there is a reformation of the outward man, before a holy principle is wrought in the foul. The finner, under fenfible convictions and awakenings, renounces the gross forms of vice, and attends to
external duties on the natural principles of hope and fear. Such a correction of manners ufually precedes that renovation of heart, which confifts in a direct and univerfal love of righteousness.
Renewing grace is to be fought by prayer. "For this God will be enquired of."
Where a general revival of religion begins, a fpirit of prayer will be apparent in many; in the teachers and profeffors of religion, and in those who are the fubjects of convictions and awakenings. When the prophet prayed, "Come, O wind, breathe on these flain, the breath came into them, and they lived." Previous to the converfion of the Jews in the latter days, God will pour on them the spirit of grace and of fupplication. Whenever we fee fuch a fpirit poured out, we may expect happy confequences to enfue. It is a token that God is about to perform fome great and good work. The apoftle exhorts the Chrif tians in Rome to ftrive together with him, in their prayers, for the fuccefs of his miniftry. If God gives a fpirit of prayer, he has fomething else to give. He has not faid to us, "Seek ye me in vain." "The effectual fervent prayers of the righteous avail much." Where they agree togeth er concerning any thing, which they would ask, and which they ought to afk, it will be done for them by their heavenly father.
There is one thing more here to be obferved, Fourthly; When Ezekiel prophefied on the bones fcattered promifcuously in the valley, they came together, bone to his bone, and finews came upon them. This circumftance in the vision suggefts to us, that where a real revival of religion takes place among any people, there will be order, harmony and peace. Religion is not altogether a private and perfonal thing; it is, in its nature,
focial, friendly and benevolent. It feeks the gen. eral good. It ftudies the happiness of all within its reach. And wherever it extends its proper influence, it brings men together into a well regulated fociety. It puts every member and bone of the body in its natural place, and binds the parts one to another by the joints and finews of reciprocal affection, and mutual kindness.
There is fometimes a noife and fhaking among dry bones, which is followed with quite different effects. The bones, inftead of coming together, éach in its place, to form a regular, compact body, fly off from one another, fo that they can form nothing like a body; or they meet in total confu fion and diforder, one bone rufhing into the place, and one member affuming the office of another, and all without finews to hold them together, and without joints to perform regular movements.
Thus they form, not a proper body, but a mis fhapen, difcordant mafs. Such a fhaking as this, is very different from that which the prophet faw in the valley.
Where real religion has dominion in the foul, it fubdues turbulent paffions; it introduces and enlivens kind affections; it brings all the faculties into fubjection to God, and into harmony with one another. Where it fpreads among a people, it infpires them with mutual love, joins them together in the fame mind, foftens their hearts to fympathy in affliction, and prompts them to encourage and aid one another in their spiritual interefts. In a word, it forms fuch a body, as the apoftle describes; a body united to, and depending on its proper head, from which all the parts, by joints and bands, having nourishment miniftered, increafeth with the increase of God. Such a body will grow unto a perfect man, and will rife
to the measure of the ftature of the fulness of Christ.
Charity is the bond of perfectness. It is this which completes the Chriftian character. It is this which confummates the beauty, and confolidates the ftrength of a Chriftian fociety. This is the mark which discriminates true religion from false zeal.
The edifying of the church in love is the end of all divine ordinances. We are to come together in the church, to worship together in the fanctuary, to fit together at Christ's table, to eat of his bread and drink of his cup, that we may be united together in one body, and may grow into an holy temple in him.
How joyful would it be to behold a revival like that, which the prophet beheld in vifion—to see dead finners arifing from the duft, animated with fpiritual life, cafting off their filthy garments and putting on the robes of righteoufnefs, engaging with united zeal in works of piety and charity, encouraging each other in a devout attendance on all divine inftitutions, and keeping the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
Such a revival will be feen in the latter day. Let us pray, that something of the fame kind may be seen now.
Awake, ye that fleep, arife from the dead; Christ will give you light. Awake, awake, put on ftrength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerufalem. Arife, fhake thyfelf from the duft. Let not the unclean pass through thee. Cleanse thyself from all thy filthinefs, and perfectholiness in the fear of the Lord. Then fhall thy children break forth into joy, and fing together. Then shall the wafte places become fruitful fields, and their dew fhall be as the dew of herbs. Then the Lord shall make bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and the ends of the earth fhall fee his falvation.
Birds and Beafts Preaching to Men.
JOB xii. 7.
Ask the beafts now, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee :
NE of the fathers of the Roman church, taking in the moft abfolute fenfe Chrift's command to his difciples, "Go, preach the gospel to every creature," went and preached to birds and beafts. This certainly was no part of Chrift's commiffion to his apoftles. But though men are not commanded to preach to beafts and birds; yet God in his providence has appointed thefe to preach to men. Job, to confute certain erroneous opinions advanced by his friends, refers them for inftruction to the beafts of the field, and the fowls of heaven. "Afk them, and they will teach you."
The fcripture inftructs us, not only by plain doctrines and precepts, but alfo by pertinent images and allufions. Among other methods of inftruction, it refers us to certain difpofitions ob fervable in the animals around us. For though thefe creatures are not capable of moral conduct, yet there are in them certain inftinctive actions, which are emblems of human virtues. Hence the fcripture often fends us to them for inftruction and reproof. To them our text calls our atten tion.