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"COMFORT YE, COMFORT YE, MY PEOPLE, SAITH YOUR GOD." "ENDEAVOURING TO KEEP THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IN THE BOND OF PEACE." "JESUS CHRIST, THE SAME YESTERDAY, TO-DAY, AND FOR EVER. WHOM TO KNOW IS LIFE ETERNAL."
NEW YEAR'S MORNING, JAN. 1, 1848.
To the Readers of the Gospel Magazine.
BELOVED, the year opens with the intense desire of our hearts, that the Lord would vouchsafe unto us, unitedly, his own special blessing. We have been musing upon the brevity of life. It has been given to us lately to see how very fast the sands are running through the glass. The thought was very forcibly presented to the mind, "Suppose that twenty or five-and-twenty years should be added to thy course, how soon-yea, how very soon-that twenty or five-and-twenty years shall have fled away, and thou find thyself an old man, waiting at the verge of Jordan for the Master's call." And then, dear readers, our thoughts recurred to you, for we can with truth say, you dwell very near the heart-you are entwined about the affections of our innermost soul-and we thought, "If it be thus with us, barely yet sevenand-thirty, how really is it the case with many, very many, of our readers? Some of them have reached their three-score and ten! How near, then, how very near the time of their departure." And is it not so, dear brethren and sisters? Doth not the thought present itself with peculiar force on this, the opening morning of another year, "Shall I see its close? Is it reasonable for me to expect to do so? Well, do I realize the fact that I am but a stranger and a pilgrim here? Do I live as if this were not my rest, but as one who is looking for a better country, that is a heavenly? Is the paramount desire of my heart, that which was expressed by Paul, "Having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better?" God grant that it may be so, dear aged friends; and may He warm, and animate, and encourage your hearts, as you stand at Jordan, perhaps
"Shivering on the brink,
"Faithful is He that promised." If in Jesus, all is well. It shall be but a narrow crossing, and blessed shall be your company, whilst you ford the river. You shall (as Bunyan's Pilgrim) "find the bottom that it is good;"
"And after death your joys shall be
And you, dear readers, in the meridian of life-bearing the burden and heat of the day; immersed, perhaps, in the cares and perplexities of business-surrounded by large and probably increasing families, who, entwined about the heart and affections, tie you down to earth, and cause you to know experimentally what Paul meant (I Phil. i. 23, 24) by being in a strait betwixt two, "Having a desire to depart, and be with Christ;" but feeling that "to abide in the flesh is more needful for them," your kindred in the flesh. Well, beloved, such is the road to the kingdom-the path the Lord hath allotted to you in the wilderness. Whilst "diligent in business" may you know, by the Lord the Spirit's special outpouring, "what it is to be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." You have been taught, during the year just closed for ever upon us, an important truth-the vanity of all creature speculation. The spirit of worldly enterprise, in which even so many of the Lord's own children have been wont to be entangled, has received a check scarcely to be equalled within the memory of man. "Men's hearts have failed them from fear." Probably thousands have sunk to rise no more. Poverty and privation occupy the place of affluence and luxury. Oh, that the lesson may be a profitable one to the Lord's family! "This is not their rest-it is polluted." Worldly emolument-earthly gain- are not their treasure. This they have in heaven. May there the heart be also! But even to you, dear friends, the summons may come suddenly; most unexpectedly may the message reach you, "The Master is come, and calleth for thee." Oh, how desirable to be ready; to be sitting so loosely to earth and earthly things, as to be enabled to exclaim, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly."
And what shall we say to you, our younger readers? The Lord bless you. Life is before you, with its difficulties, its trials, its temptations. Yes; but have you "Goodness and mercy Faithful Friend. a shall follow you all the days of your life." You have a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother, who will stand by you, strengthen you, provide for you, and do for you exceeding abundantly above all that you can ask, or are worthy to receive. Not a trouble shall overwhelm you— not a difficulty shall finally oppress you-not a temptation shall assail you, but what with it the Lord will make a way for your escape. You may anticipate, and that reluctantly, a long and a troublous life. It may, however, be but a short career. The Lord may cut short his work in righteousness. But if otherwise-and we speak feelingly on the subject- you will hereafter rejoice in that the Lord hath kept you in the wilderness, on the one hand that he may try you, and prove to you what is in your heart; on the other, that he may show to you his love-his grace-his faithfulness-his marvellous and innumerable loving kindnesses: the which you could not
know but as you realize them as you daily walk through the wilderness.
Finally, dear brethren-babes, young men, and fathers" we commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified." "Our love be with you all in Christ Jesus." To whom be glory for ever. Amen and Amen.
"Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God." (Isaiah xl. 1.)
BELOVED, we are not-we cannot be among those who regard with indifference the earlier movements of the Spirit! If we are not mistaken, there are some even among God's own children, who set down to the flesh that which is really and truly of the Spirit, and thus "despise the day of small things" (Zech. iv. 10). They do so by denying that God is the Author of that inward conflict, contention, and desire of which many a soul is the subject, probably months or years before they are manifestively " delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son " (Col. i. 13). Such agree that man by nature is "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. i. 2). Undoubtedly he is. We say so, too. He is as void of the common functions of life-sight, hearing, and feeling-in a spiritual sense, as a dead body is in a natural point of view. Hence, upon their own premises, we contend that the very first conviction of a man's danger, with the accompanying cry, "Lord, save, or I perish," is a sign of life, and that life has been infused (or communicated, if you prefer the word) by the Lord the Spirit. But we shall be met again by the objection, "If there were life, it would show itself. It would not remain in a quiescent state." Who made you a judge in the matter? Can you search the heart? Can you, as it were, analyze the soul, and trace how the life is operating, or whether it is in operation at all? Do you remember there is such a passage, "He will not break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax" (Isaiah xlii. 3)? How long that reed is to be a bruised condition, or when the flax is to burst into a flame, is a secret with which neither you nor we are intrusted. He who hath the management keeps it to himself.
Again it will be asked, "Then what becomes of the thousands of convictions of which men are the subject? Will you not agree that conviction is not conversion? We will admit that that conviction which arises from the light of natural conscience, and which operates in
every man to a greater or less degree, is not conversion; but we will not--we dare not-ascribe to the same source that conviction which is accompanied with a sense of helplessness and a desire for, and cry after, help. With merely natural convictions will be associated legal effort, a turning to self in the observance of varied works for the appeasing of conscience, and for the purchase (for it amounts to this) of peace of mind, and the assurance that all is well. From such observances the doers thereof will rise with a species of self-satistion and pride which, according to Scripture testimony, "renders the last state of that man worse than the first" (Matt. xii. 45). But whilst yet not wholly freed from that blindness and ignorance in which poor human nature has involved him, the true convert seeks to struggle with himself, and to perform that which he is utterly unable to effect, yet his mind is gradually opened to the truth. The sun just now rising from beneath yonder horizon has thus, in its early dawn, darted a ray into the dark prison of the mind; the light increases; objects become plainer-more and more visible. The former character shall, by the mere rush-light glimmering of conscience, seek to patch up and decorate a dungeon which shall, after all, remain a dungeon; but the latter, by virtue of that twofold discovery which has been made to him of the discomfort within, and the manifold blessing that is without, longs for deliverance from this his captivity. The one is content to remain, the other pants for freedom! Listen to his plaintive cry for help! See him climbing to his grated window, there to supplicate, in his esteem, each happy passenger-to gaze with anxious longing on that liberty which reigns around; mark, how he listens at his dungeon-door, in hopes some benefactor's steps will be directed towards him.
In this, we must maintain, consists the difference between merely natural and spiritual conviction. We admit the difficulty of distinguishing between the two, whilst yet in early operation. Those spiritually taught, may for a season, appear to be but under the same fears which actuate the natural man; but the abiding nature of Divine instruction-the soul's perpetual anxiety, increase of desire, and that inward mourning over self, are so many conclusive evidences that he is taught in another and a better school than that of nature.
From this conviction, then, beloved, rises the first source of that comfort which we are commissioned, in the words of our text, to proclaim to the people. Yes, adored be Jehovah, Israel's God in covenant, it is the province of the Lord's messengers, to adopt (though but in humblest example of their all-glorious Lord and Master) the language of the 61st of Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."
Reader, are you in the prison of poor sinful nature? Do you feel yourself to be a captive-" tied and bound by the chain of your sins?" Do you wish for deliverance? Would you, if you could, seek after it with increased earnestness-intense importunity? Is
sin loathsome? self a burden? Are you really and truly in a state of captivity? anywhere but where you would be, as far as your own . feelings are concerned? Do you think the happiness you seek is contained in the lines of the poet :
"Now freed from sin, I walk at large,
This Saviour's blood my soul's discharge;
A sinner saved, and homage pay."
Do you say, It is the happiness I want. I would give worlds (did I possess them) to say so. What is all the world short of it? I am a stranger to peace and satisfaction without it. Give me Christ, or else I die. One word from Jesu's lovely lips; one sweet assurance from his own mouth, "I have redeemned thee-thou art mine; then-and not till then-I can be happy." Is such, we repeat, your language? Then we have a Divine warrant to preach the comfort spoken of in our text to you-personally to you. These good tidings are for you-for you; the Lord hath made you meek. Who, think you, but Himself could have humbled your proud heart-subdued the natural untowardness of your will-slain that enmity and controlled those vile rebellious feelings which you felt rising against Jehovah; and who have brought you down-laid you low at his feet-and made you willing, to receive salvation as a poor pennyless pauper, at the hands of Divine bounty? Who but the Lord could have meetened you thus? And is not your heart broken? Do you not mourn over yourself as a sinner? are you not filled with discomfort? do you not sob and sigh over your manifold and aggravated transgressions? And would it not be the richest mercy you had ever yet experienced, if some good Samaritan (Luke x. 33), would come and bind up your wounds and pour in a little oil and wine? Suppose one like unto the Son of Man-even Jesus, that precious Friend of publicans and sinners-were to visit you in your "captivity," and suppose He were to open your prison door, and say, as the angel did to Peter, "Arise up quickly, and follow me," do think you you would be glad to do so? Do you feel as if you could say with Peter at another time, "Ah, even to prison and to death?" Reader, dear reader, this is all the Lord's doings. Salvation is yours, and all the comforts springing from that salvation belong to you. You shall experience them. Yours shall yet be the enjoyment of liberty-freedom
and life! for" He is faithful that promised" (Heb. x. 23).
We have cited but one out of the many cases that might be introduced, because the next verse would seem so specially to bear upon those who as yet do not know for themselves the pardon of sin. It is pardoned-the debt is cancelled, but as yet the joyful news have not been communicated; and now the Lord commissions his servants, “Go, tell them that such is the case." He entrusts them with a knowledge of his will-a sweet revelation of his mercy; so that under the authority and power of the Spirit, they may say to every poor, distressed, brokenhearted sinner, as Isaiah was commissioned to say to Hezekiah (Is. Xxxviii.) "The Lord hath heard thy prayer-hath seen thy tears," or as the angel said to Cornelius (Acts x. 4), "Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God." Yea, "Speak ye comfortably