« PreviousContinue »
is with man as with a rude block of marble. Raised from its dark low quarry-bed, it is, in the first instance, removed to the sculptor's studio. There the shapeless mass gradually assumes, under his chisel, the features and form of humanity--blow after blow, touch after touch is given, till the marble grows into a triumph of his genius, and seems instinct with life. And, now a perfect image, it is once more removed, and leaves his hand to become on its pedestal the attractive ornament of some hall or palace.
Now, it is the change of state corresponding to the removal of the block from the quarry, that we have here to do with. And let us take care that the word employed to describe the change from nature to grace leads to no mistake. It were a great mistake to suppose that God only is active while man remains passive in this work. You may, indeed, translate a man from one earthly kingdom to another, you may carry him, for instance, across the channel which parts Great Britain from France, while his senses and faculties are steeped in slumber. The traveler falls asleep in one country to awake in another; and, conveyed smoothly along the level road or over an arm of the searocked, it may be, into deeper slumber by the gentle motion-he opens his eyes, amid a Babel of tongues, on the strange costumes, and faces, and scenery of a foreign land.
Not only so ; but, greater and most solemn change, a man may be translated from this world into the next in a state of entire unconsciousness. As I have seen a mother approach the cradle and gently lift up the sleeping babe to take it to her own bed and bosom, so, muffled in the cloud of night, death has stolen on the sleeper, and, moving with noiseless step across the floor, has borne him off so gently, that, on awaking, he was in heaven, and opened his eyes on the glories of the upper sanctuary ; and when his children, wondering what detains their father from the morning meal, enter his chamber, they find the spirit fled, and, as one who had done his work, his lifeless form resting on the couch in a posture of calm repose. Such sudden transition from time into eternity brings an awful arrestment to a life of sin! The sinner is like some wretched criminal, who has been tracked to his hidingplace. Lying asleep in the arms of guilt, he is roused by rough hands, loud voices, and the flash of lanterns ; starting up, he stares wildly round ; and how pale he turns to see his bed beset, and door and window guarded by the stern officers of justice—they are come to drag him to prison. But to die and not know it, not even to taste death, to be spared the bitter cup, to be exempt from the mortal struggle, to be borne across the deep cold waters asleep in Jesus' arms, to be awakened from nature's unconscious slumbers by strains of heavenly music, and the bright blaze of glory, what a happy close of a holy life!
It is not in this quiet, gentle, placid way, that sinners are translated out of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son; far otherwise. And in illustration of that, I now remark :
1. That this translation is attended by suffering and self-denial.
Killed by a bullet, prostrated by a blow, deprived at once of consciousness and of existence by means of an opiate or some other narcotic poison, man may die to natural life quite unconsciously. But thus he never dies to sin. Best of all deaths ! yet it is attended by a painful, and often a protracted struggle ; during which he is as sensible of pain as the victim of a cross, who, when the nails have crashed through nerve, and flesh, and bone, hangs convulsed and quivering on its extended arms. Hence these striking metaphors : “They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts ;” “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” I would not deter you from the cross, or from resolving now, by the grace of God, and aids of the Holy Spirit, to take it up, and deny yourselves daily, and follow Jesus. On the contrary, I say, the crown is worthy of the cross. I have no doubt that there is far more pain suffered in going to hell than to heaven. And, although there were not, how will one hour of glory recompense you for all the sufferings and sacrifices of earth ? I only wish to dissipate the delusion under which some apparently live, and, living, certainly perish, that indolence, and ease, and self-indulgence may inherit the kingdom of God. They think, therefore, that they have no occasion to be anxious about their souls ; and rest satisfied that it may be, and is all right with them, though they are not conscious of having ever felt any serious alarm, having made any great exertion, or suffered, indeed, any selfdenying pains whatever.
Be assured that, as it is among pangs and birthstruggles that a man is born the first time, it is in sorrow and pain that he is born again. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice : and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail. hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” May it not be in part with reference to this, that John, speaking of Jesus, said, He that cometh after me is mightier than I-he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire! To be baptized with fire is another thing from being baptized with water. How often has the water fallen from our hand on the calm brow of a sleeping infant, which, held up in a father's arms, was returned to a mother's bosom perfectly unconscious of its baptism-translated into the visible church of Christ in a state of profound repose. But a fiery baptism ! that which symbolises the descent of the Spirit in conversion, implies painsuch convictions of sin and dread of hell, such selfreproach, and deep remorse, as have often risen to agony, and sometimes driven man to the verge of madness. Fire burns the flesh, penetrates to the bone, and dries up the very marrow. Can a man take fire into his bosom, and his clothes not be burned ? If not, how could a soul receive the fiery baptism of the Holy Spirit, and be unconscious of it? Ah, fancy not that it is to sinners only that our God is a consuming fire. He is a consuming fire, not indeed to his people's souls, but to his people's sins. The unholy pleasures and habits that bind those whom he has chosen for himself out of a world that lieth in wickedness, he will burn. Nor are these bonds burned off them in a way as painless as happened to the three Hebrews. They, whom Nebuchadnezzar cast bound into the fiery furnace, were suffering for God, and not for sin. And preserved by Christ's presence, like his people in corresponding trials, they walked right pleasantly on burning coals, and found the flames as fresh as the breath of a balmy morning. If you have never felt pain, be assured that you have never parted with sin. Nothing short of burning out will remove it. Yet, painful as it may be, throw open your bosom for this baptism of fire! Whatever wounds it inflicts, they shall be healed. There is balm in Gilead, and a physician there,
2. In this translation both God an:} nan are active.
When the hour of our Lord's ascension had come, he rose from Olivet neither on angel's wings, nor in the prophet's fiery chariot. He put forth no effort. His body, as if belonging to another sphere, floated buoyant, upward through the air, until, as he bent over his disciples in the attitude of blessing, a cloud received him out of their sight. But no man rises in this glorious manner from a state of nature into one of grace; or leaves the horrible pit, for the light, and love, and liberty of a son of God. There is help afforded on God's part ; but there is also an effort required on ours. We must climb the ladder which divine love lets down. ..
The soul is not, as some seem to think, a piece of softened wax, receiving the image of God as that does the impress of a seal. We receive salvation ; still, we must put forth our hand for it, as the starving for a loaf of bread; as he who dies of thirst for a cup of water; as a drowning man, who eagerly eyes and rapidly seizes the falling rope-clinging to it with a grasp that neither his weight nor the waves can loose.
“ Between us and you,” said Abraham to the rich man," there is a great gulf fixed ; so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us that would come from thence.” I know that