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with dependence on human merit— you venture into the presence of an infinitely righteous and holy God?
O! brethren, it is really dreadful to look upon a world going down quick into perdition, deluded by hopes of mercy that are founded on any thing, and every thing, but the cross of Christ! To see men of fine endowments and extensive erudition rejecting the offer of salvation in the only way of God's appointment, and looking for it in some other: to hear thousands upon thousands declaring, often and complacently that God is merciful—though not one among them knows clearly and distinctly how only it is that God can be so. Truly the imagination has not power to conceive a more fearful and appalling spectacle, than that of the poor sinner of a day entering into controversy with all the plaos and perfections of the Eternal— challenging the approbation of the righteous judge to his respectability of character—his rank in life—his amiable and social qualities—and virtually expecting to get to heaven without obtaining mercy.
But let me ask the individuals who expect to get to heaven by their works, if they need no mercy when such a man as St. Paul needed it? Look at him again before his conversion. It was no subordinate degree in the scale of moral dignity and worth at which you find him. The errors of his character, his persecuting and blasphemous spirit, all sprang from good intentions, the only blot in his character was a good intention guided by a wrong influence. He verily thought he was doing God service. He hadprofitedin his, the Jewish religion, above many his equals in his own nation; no man was " more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of the fathers," than he was—and in all that was considered virtuous, and lovely, and of good report among men, he signalized
himself in general estimation. But he had been taught to see the difference between his own obedience in which there was so much short coming, and the obedience of Christ in which there was no short coming. He felt the force of the alternative between the one and the other, and therefore was he so anxious to win Christ, and be found in Him, not having his own righteousness which was of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
Then, brethren, let the saying sink down deep into your hearts, and find a lodgment in your most serious thoughts, that, while they who trust in the general mercy of God, do so at the expense of God's whole character, they who trust in His mercy as it is manifested in Christ Jesus, as it has appeared unto all men through the Saviour, shall assuredly obtain mercy, and never be confounded.
How easily and delightfully are we thus brought to the last remark which I shall make, as suggested by these precious truths; namely this—That no man need despair of obtaining mere)/. So long as there is an ear willing to listen to its gracious offers, or a tongue to ask for them, or a heart to receive them, so long may mercy be obtained. Come, then, ye awakened, trembling sinners—come all ye weary and heavy laden—condemn yourselves—renounce all reliance on any thing of your own, and let your trust be in the tender mercy of God for ever and ever.
Perhaps you will tell me, this you have often done. Your soul has been long in heaviness by reason of strong convictions; and you are almost tempted to fear, that your hope is perished from the Lord. But you have God's word to rest upon, confirmed by the experience of all His ransomed people. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye_shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." You are not permitted, by any means, to interpret delays of mercy into denials of mercy. God is as wise as He is kind, and has infinitely good reasons for every thing He does. Why, it was three days after Paul was arrested in his career to Damascus, before he obtained comfort. And why was this, but to bring him to think— to shew him what sin is—to make him feel the need of mercy—to prepare him for displays of Divine grace— to dig deep, and lay low, the foundation of a superstructure that was to rise so high? And so, perhaps, with you. Wait, then, patiently on the
Lord, and He will incline unto you, and hear your cry ; and the longer you have been praying for mercy, the nearer it certainly is to you. Perhaps some messenger of mercy is now hastening his cheerful way towards you. Perhaps the next Christian you may meet may speak a word in season. Perhaps the next sermon you may hear may let in the light of heaven upon your gloom, and chase away every shadow of your present deep despair. "The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and shall not lie: though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely come, it will not tarry."
DELIVERED BY THE REV. E. SCOBELL,
AT MART-LE BONE CHURCH, SUNDAY EVENING, MAT 1, 1831.
Matthew, vii. 13, 14.—" Enter ye in at the ttrait gate; fir wide U the gate and broad i t the way that leadeth to detiruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because ttrait it the gate and narrow u the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
There is a habit which prevails to a very great degree among men, of speculating upon God's declarations when it suits their purpose, and drawing imaginary conclusions, far beyond the warranty of the sacred word. I say, "when it suits their purpose;" and this is literally the case, whenever it accords with their own wishes and with their own practice, that a particular doctrine should be established in such and such a way; then they have a host of conjectures and verbal refinements and excuses ready, by which they endeavour to bring the passage within the scope of their own purpose: whereas, when they find words in the Bible that help them, as they fancy, and support their pretensions, no peo
ple can be more strenuous to interpret them in their literal and strictest sense. But in reading the Bible there are two things which should be particularly observed, and they are these—that passages are to be taken, in general, in their plain and obvious sense, without unnecessary refinement, or far fetched qualifications. And, in the next place, that whenever difficulties really do occur; whenever statements are made, that we cannot easily reduce to the standard of our apprehension; whenever, for instance, any of the attributes of God seem to interfere with each other, either his mercy with his justice, or his justice with his mercy, or his presence with both, or any thing, in fact, which goes
beyond our rules of reason and our intellect, yet, we are implicitly to acquiesce notwithstanding: our faith must operate; we must first say to ourselves, "it is the undoubted word of God, therefore it must be true"— then ask ourselves, "why do we not comprehend the doctrine ?"—because we are not in possession of the materials for judgment; or even if we were, these materials may depend, in their operation, upon principles with which we are and shall, nay, more, must be, totally unacquainted, as long as we are here below in the flesh! Lastly, we should reflect, that God will, in his own good time, justify his ways to man; that every valley shall then be raised, and every hill brought down to our own level; then, we shall know in whom we have trusted, and that our confidence has not been in vain in the Lord.
Having laid down these rules of proceeding, I shall now go on to consider the words of our Lord in the text. It is possible that the terms there used may strike some of you, at first, as appalling and terrifying and melancholy; they may appear harsh and discouraging and irreconcilable to other accounts in the Bible; to those, for instance, which describe the ways of religion to be pleasant and peaceful, or to those which assert, in general terms, Christ's love for sinners, and his suffering disgrace and death for the sins of the whole world.
Upon this head I shall only, at present, say what St. Paul said to the Romans, respecting human laws:— "Rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil. Wilt thou, then, not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same."—My brethren, man is fallen from God; and when we talk of the spirit and course of this world, "we mean the collected force of that habitual neglect of God, and
supreme love of things present, in which the great mass of mankind live." Now this spirit is perfectly consistent with an outward form of religion. It is not necessary that men should be grossly immoral, in order to be of the world. To seem religious and to be so are two very different things. To have the grace of God at our baptism and to use it; to take the sacrament and to act up to it; to bear the cross of Christ on our foreheads, and to have it engraven on our hearts, are far from being always united in one and the same thing; and it is from a presentiment of this frequent inconsistency, that our Saviour, at the conclusion of two of his parables, uses twice these remarkable words, "For many are called but few chosen." And in the history connected with the text, as you will find it given in the thirteenth chapter of St. Luke, we have a specific question put to our Lord upon this very point. "Then said one unto him. Lord, are there many that be saved 1"
Now you will remark here, that our Saviour does not give a direct answer to this: and he hereby reads us this important lesson, that we should not endeavour to be wise beyond practical benefit. Whenever we can draw a good influence upon our hearts and lives from any doctrine, however abstruce or metaphysical, then, up to that point, it is fair and allowable to pursue and search it out: but we should most cautiously be aware of a vain and rude curiosity, that, in the absence of facts, would deal in surmises; and which, after all, tends to unsettle, rather than confirm, the faith which is delivered to us.
Upon another occasion, however our Lord speaks upon the subject in plainer terms—" Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." Now, from these passages it strikes me, as a certain inference, that the number of those who are walking in the way of truth and life, with the probability of eventual salvation, is far less than those who are pursuing the paths of sin and of error. I grant that this is awful! But what then? is God the author of sin? is it his decrees that thus decide the fate of his creatures? Is He, who willeth not the death of a sinner, thus to send so many souls (the value of which is, by his own account, beyond all description or price) into wretchedness and punishment? God forbid, my brethren. Never for a moment suffer your minds to suppose that God arbitrarily decrees for death. It is all the fault of man. There never was a single sinner lost but he brought destruction upon himself. If not, the whole Gospel is a fable "your faith is vain, and our preaching is vain ;" nay more, I contend that the doctrine of the text is a doctrine full also of hope, and comfort, and support, that while it shows the wicked this awful truth, that if they persevere, die they must; there is no escape—no false hope in the mercy of God—no chance—that heaven will relax from its declarations, so often, so fully, so plainly given in the Bible. So, on the other hand, it shews the humble and willing disciple, that if he comes up to the terms he is sure of the reward; that so far from fighting uncertainly—so far from beating and buffetting the air, that the crown of glory most indubitably will be ready for him, who, through grace, endureth to the end.
Let us now then examine fairly the state of these two entrances, through one of which we must all pass, and of which the descriptions appear so very different. "Wide is the gate, and
broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which' go in thereat : because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." Such are the words of the evangelist.
I remember, almost in my infancy, to have seen what made, and still continues to make, a strong impression on my mind, a picture descriptive of this very scene of our Lord. On one side stood a massive gate and castle, ornamented on every part with the most beautiful proportions of architecture; the pillars were at a great distance from each other, and the entrance grand, spacious, and noble. This led to a high road within, broad and beautiful; surrounded by verdant meadows; ornamented with blooming flowers, gently sloping with the most delightful declivity. The gate was thronged with eager visitants, and the road was covered with joyous, and many of them gorgeously drest travellers. Some were sporting in the fields—others refreshing in the streams —others in parties singing, and dancing, and banquetting—and all apparently delighted at the ease with which they were pursuing their luxurious journey. Further on, however, the road began to get less beautiful, and signs of a rocky and barren soil to appear. Just round the angle of the prospect, unseen by them, there was situated a deep and dismal gulph; in this the journey ended; and to this, all who were travelling, imperceptibly declined.
On the other side, what a contrast existed to this splendid scene. There stood a low, humble, unpolished entrance, so close, as scarcely to allow room to pass, that led to a small straggling, solitary looking pathway, winding up the side of a steep and craggy mountain; no flowers, no splendours, no crowds! A few poor abject tottering figures were seen here and there toiling up the precipice, too inconsiderable to excite notice, or at all events, only raising the contempt of those who were journeying in a different direction. But mark their progress; the higher they ascended, the easier became their march. The road grew more and more verdant and cheering; the sun brightened upon their course; the flowers began to enliven the prospect, and they were at last lost to the view amidst groves and bowers and temples. Such was the picture, and such also is the fact, in life and in religion. Look at the multitudes of the world, and at the tenor of their practice. There stands the gate of sin, wide, spacious, open, inviting. Dressed off in the most beauteous colour—it tempts every one, and escapes no one's observation. Every attraction is there. Music and gaiety, and title, and equipage, and wines, and feasts, and lusts, and passion. There they are, fluttering around the gateway, beckoning and smiling, and using every artifice of seduction. And what is the consequence? Why exactly the one which the text declares, "Many there be which go in thereat." The road is crowded—for how easy is it to enter—examine your own hearts —trace the progress of any one sin in your lives, with what facility has it grown upon you—from what small, and sometimes accidental, beginnings has it derived its origin with us! to what a degree has it arrived, before almost we are aware of our danger, or its magnitude !—take any sin. Look at the drunkard for instance. He began, perhaps, by indulging the good humour of his disposition. The idea of becoming the character he has at last assumed, was the farthest from his thoughts and intentions; but pleasant company, delightful entertainments, or fascinating music, or a want -< fortitude to refuse a hospitable host.
or a desire to be thought liberal and unshackled by narrow prejudices ; one or more of these, operating upon the natural inclination and depravity of his own sinful heart, brings the man thus to the " broad gate."
O sinner! whoever you are, stop for one moment before you enter, and ask yourself, " What is it I am about to do I" You are about to pass that barrier which you shall never repass, but with tears, and sighs, and agony of heart. Stop while there is time. But no—thoughts like these may, and in fact do, constantly arise in the failing transgressor; for I will venture to say there never was a beginning of sin made by any one: but the holy Spirit of God offered many a whispering warning, and many a forcible remonstrance; but still they are too often heard only to be disregarded— onwards he goes—he is borne along with the crowd—and he passes the fatal gateway. Look in the same way at the liar, the swearer, the profaner of the sabbath, the miser, the man of pleasure, and the man of fraud. There they are all in the crowd—and how came they there? Why, most of them in the very way I have just been describing, imperceptibly, gradually; because the road was broad, and easy, and inviting, and required no trouble nor labour; because it was crowded, they floated with the stream—they went with the "multitude to do evil." Companions give courage.
But there is not a more destructive mode of reasoning than this; namely, that the danger is none at all, or at all events not so great, because so many in the world, besides, are in the same predicament. And yet how frequently is this done! men cheer themselves with this very circumstance. They look around, and behold so many of their neighbours doing like themselves; many, whom they respect for their talents, their in