Page images

endeavour to ascertain the time and the man- | ject before there can be enjoyment; if those ner, and the instrument of their conversion distinctions must be maintained which pre-and distress themselves because they can- serve the moral order and harmony of the not determine. But the grand thing is to world; if we must be like God, before we inquire-whether the work be done; whether can hold intercourse with him; if light can we have passed from death to life; whether have no communion with darkness, and rightwe can say, "One thing I know, that where- eousness have no fellowship with unrightas I was blind, now I see?" On the other eousness--then, upon every principle to hand, persons may talk of a change that took which either reason or religion conducts us, place in them at such a period, under such a every unrenewed sinner stands inevitably minister-of the reality of which it would be excluded from the kingdom of heaven. difficult to find any present evidence. But what has your supposed conversion done for you? In what state, in what temper has it left you? Wherein do you differ from others and from yourselves? Whom do you now resemble! The picture here pourtrayed? Do you resemble little children by your spiritual desires, your faith in God's word, your reliance on his providence, the kindness of your disposition, the humbleness of your mind? And is your want of more conformity to this model your chief distress? And are you praying, as if nothing comparatively had been yet done, "Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me?"


III. Let us observe THE IMPORTANCE OF POSSESSING THIS TEMPER. Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" -An exclusion the most awful; the most unavoidable; the most universal.

First. The most awful. Many things court our attention that are by no means essential to our safety or welfare. We ought to be ashamed of the impressions they make upon our minds; they are unworthy of our hopes or fears; it is of little consequence whether we gain or lose them; and it will be our wonder hereafter that we could ever have been so much influenced by them. But to be deprived of the blessings of the Gospel dispensation; to be excluded from all the treasures of grace and glory; to see infinite riches, honours, and pleasures, and to hear a voice saying, They are not for thee! "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out." If you do not deem these blessings of importance now, it is because you never reflect upon them-but you will not always be able to banish thought: it is because you have substitutes for them, and these divert, though they do not satisfy-but all of them will soon be torn from you: and what in a dying hour, and in a judgment-day, will you do without an interest in this heavenly kingdom!

An exclusion, Secondly, the most unavoidable. If God has said in the Scripture that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord;" if God must be true, and the Scripture cannot be broken; if there must be a suitableness between the faculty and the ob

An exclusion, Finally, the most universal. There are few things in the world so invariably established as not to allow of some deviations. Every general rule has its exceptions. Even the fixed laws of nature have been changed; iron has been made to swim, and flames have been forbidden to burn. But be not deceived; our Saviour here reveals a law that admits of no change; and lays down a rule that allows of no exception. There never has been, there is not, there never will be, there never can be an instance even to qualify this assertion: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

Let us conclude with these additional reflections.

First. From our Saviour's address, you learn to improve from the various objects we behold in the world of nature. If you wish to hold communion with God, you may be reminded of him all the day long; if you wish to learn, you never need be at a loss for a teacher: "Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee." Hast thou a garden? And dost thou never walk in it but as a creature-delighted with its flowers and its fruits? Dost thou never think of that garden in which Adam fell; or of that garden in which Jesus suffered? Hast thou children? They are cares; they may be comforts; but they must be instructers and admonishers, unless we are careless and stupid in the most criminal degree.

Secondly. We see what a difference there is between the opinion of the world and the judgment of God. The natural man admires the temper that will endure no insults; he applauds the successful votary of wealth and power; he talks of a becoming pride, a noble pride; to him it is a paradox that "all pride is an abomination to the Lord;" that "the meek shall inherit the earth;" that "the slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his own spirit than he that taketh a city." He wonders to hear, that if "he would be wise, he must become a fool that he may be wise;" that to sink in his own esteem is the way to rise in the esteem of Heaven; that he who "exalteth himself shall be abased, and he who abaseth himself shall be exalted." But such is the testimony of God; and his judgment is always according


[blocks in formation]

The narrative of his crime has, it is to be feared, been the occasion of hardening ungodly men in their iniquity. But this has been the consequence of perversion. It was written not for encouragement, but for caution. It cries, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall;" it shows the readiness of God to pardon the truly penitent who confess and forsake their sin; and it exemplifies not only the efficacy, but the nature of genuine repentance.

You will not wonder that I have referred to this awful event in David's history, since the subject of our present meditation is derived from it. Let us consider-HIS AFFLICTION—HIS BEHAVIOUR UNDER IT AND THE


I. His AFFLICTION was the death of his child. The death of a child is by no means an uncommon event, If our offspring are

spared, and appear like olive plants around our table, we ought to be thankful, and to rejoice; yet to rejoice with trembling. When we reflect on the tenderness of their frame, and consider to how many accidents and diseases they are liable; and that many of their earliest complaints cannot be perfectly ascer tained, and may be injured by the very means employed for their relief-the wonder is that they ever reach maturity.

Near half of the human race die in a state of infancy. Some have the allotment which Job so passionately wished had been hisown: " Why died I not from the womb? Why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? Why did the knees prevent me? Or why the breasts that I should suck?!" Others are dressed and appear on the stage of mortal life; but, long before the close of a single scene, withdraw, and are found no more. Others are spared longer, and multiply attractions and endearments. Some begin to open their powers, as well as charms. You saw rising up the seeds of instruction you had sown; the child was forming into the companion-but you looked, and, lo! he was not-and you sighed," Childhood and youth is vanity!"-Some lose one child from among many; and even this can ill be spared. What then must it be to lose an only one: and perhaps not the only one in possession, but the only one in hope! What a mortality is there in some families. How often have some fathers and mothers been visited with breach upon breach. Here, as I walk over the mansions of the dead, I find two buried in the same grave, and inscribed above them,


not divided." There I find six slumbering in They were pleasant in life, and in death the same bed of dust, and the stone thus vents the anguish and submission of the pa rental heart

"The dear delights we here enjoy.
And fondly call our own,

Are but short favours borrow'd now,
To be repaid anon."


The death of David's child was predicted by Nathan, and was the consequence of the father's sin. "Because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child that is born unto thee shall surely die." But how is it that the guilty father continues, and the innocent babe is cut off? "The landlord," says an old writer, "may distrain on any part of the premises he chooses.' We would rather say, that there are many cases in which he requires us to walk by faith, and not by sight: that he does all things well, even when clouds and darkness are round about him: we would say, that he indemwhile the father was punished, and suffered nified this child by taking it to himselfmore relatively than if he had died himself. The execution follows the sentence. "The


[ocr errors]

Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick."



It takes in prayer-"He besought God for the child." What was so likely to enable him to gain his wishes, or to bring his mind into" a state of preparation for a denial of them? Prayer is always proper: but how seasonable, how soothing, how sanctifying, in the day of trouble! Blessed resource and refuge! may we always make use of thee. "From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed! lead me to the Rock that is higher than I."-" Is any afflicted, let him pray."

He also humbled himself: "He fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth." There was doubtless something peculiar in this case the child was the offspring of adultery. Much of David's distress arose from reflection on his sin: his grief was the grief not only of affliction, but of penitence. And when are our losses and trials purely afflictions? Is there nothing in our sufferings to bewail but the smart? Is it not sin that has made this world a vale of tears? Is it not our remaining depravity that constrains a merciful God to employ such painful dispensations? Are we not guilty of idolizing or undervaluing the blessings we are going to resign? May we not charge God foolishly in the trouble we are going to enter? Is it not desirable to know wherefore he contends with us? Humiliation is as necessary as prayer.

We have seen David's behaviour before the death of the child; let us remark his behaviour after it. His servants feared to tell him of the event; for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself if we tell him that the child is dead? But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead." And what does he?

Some disregard their persons, and affect a a slovenliness in grief. But David "arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel."

Some disregard the duties of their stations and connexions in life; and weeping hinders Sowing. But David knew he had a family that demanded his attention, and whom it behoved him to convince that the exercises of religion can relieve and refresh the mind: and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.”

Some remain invisible; and even the temple sees nothing of them during the season that peculiarly requires their attendance: for "God is known in his palaces for a refuge." But David "came into the house of the Lord and worshipped." It was to acknowledge the hand of God in his affliction; it was to say, with Job, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; and blessed be the name of the Lord:" it was to praise him, that his sin, though chastised, was forgiven; and to beseech him to proceed no further.

Believers are "men wondered at;" and they who are estranged from the life of God cannot comprehend the principles upon which the actions of believers turn. They consider forgiveness of injuries as a proof of cowardice. They mistake deep humiliation and fervent prayer for an inordinate attachment to creatures; and view acquiescence and thankfulness under trials as senseless indifference. "Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? Thou didst fast and weep for the child when it was alive; but when the child was dead thou didst rise and eat bread."

"But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, though he himself is judged of no man." His service is a reasonable service; his conduct results from conviction and motive. David therefore explains himself: "And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."

This brings us to the

III. part of our subject.—“And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live?"-He deemed the event uncertain. It is obvious that he did not consider the threatening as absolute and irreversible. He knew that many things had been denounced conditionally; and he knew also that the goodness of God was beyond all his thoughts.

As there seemed a possibility of success, so the desirableness of the blessing led him to avail himself of it. One might have supposed that the death of a child so young would not have been a very considerable affliction, especially as he would have been always a memorandum of his sin, and he could not have questioned his future happiness; but he speaks of his recovery as an instance of God's grace to himself-so great is the force of parental affection. His attachment indeed seems to have been extraordinary; and this was doubtless permitted of Heaven to render his correction the more severe. Such is the import of his reasoning: "I should have deemed it a peculiar favour had God spared my child; and while life remained, the indulgence of hope was not improper, nor the use of means unlawful. Submission follows the event."

But what led him to assuage his grief? What made him-I will not say insensible,

but resigned? Attend, ye who have sustained the reflection of a pious man* after burying bereaving providences, and behold your model. his child :-"And now one of our family is "But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? gone to take possession of the sepulchre in can I bring him back again? I shall go to all our names. Ere long I shall lie down him, but he shall not return to me."-The with my child. Perhaps many of the feet unavailableness of grief-the certainty of his that followed it shall attend me thither. It own dissolution-the hope of a union in hea- is a warning of Providence, that these conven-these were the sources from which his cluding days of my life may be more regular, resignation flowed. more spiritual, more useful, than the former."

First. Continued grief was unavailing. "Now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again?" Ah, no! says one; but this is the very accent of my loss. "There is hope of a tree if it be cut down, that it sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease; but man lieth down and riseth not." I have seen my child asleep, but I could awake him at pleasure; but no call can pierce the ear of death. I have taken leave of my child for a journey, but the pain of parting was alleviated by the hope of meeting again; but now I shall see his face, and hear his voice no more. I am reminded of his presence throughout the long day; he meets me no more in my favourite walk; at table his seat is empty-and the places that once knew him will know him no more for ever. But, upon this very principle, grief is proved useless; and what cannot be prevented or removed, must be endured. Such is the appointment of Heaven; and his determination is not only sovereign, but righteous and good. To alter it is therefore not only impossible in the execution, but rebellious in the attempt.

Secondly. He contemplates his own death as certain: "I shall go to him." By this he intends the grave; and this part of our subject is common to all mankind. As sure as any of your connexions are gone, you are going after, and will soon join them "in the house appointed for all living." And has not this a tendency to moderate your grief! Does it not remind you of the vanity of life? Does it not proclaim that "time is short; and therefore it remains that they that rejoice be as though they rejoiced not, and they that weep as though they wept not?" If we were to live here always, or to live here long, we should be justified in feeling a deeper interest in its events; but we are only like a wayfaring man that turns aside to tarry for a night, and in the morning goes on his way.And does it not show me that my chief business is to prepare for my own removal, rather than to lament the departure of others? have no time for unprofitable sadness-I am just going to take a journey of infinite importance


"Awake, my soul, with solemn care
Thy true condition learn;

What are thy hopes? how sure, how fair?
And what thy great concern?"

How natural, how beautiful, how solemn is

Thirdly. He expects to follow his child not only into the grave, but into glory; and anticipates a renewed union with him in heaven. This was unquestionably David's case; but this part of our subject must be limited. When we see people in affliction, it seems hard to deny them consolation; but we dare not administer every kind of comfort to every kind of character-it would be only deceiving and destroying their souls. This part of our subject then must be limited two ways.

First, as to the dead. We cannot join those in heaven who are not gone there; and all do not go there when they die. We are not called to pronounce positively upon their misery; but what hope can we entertain, without offering violence to the Scripture, of the salvation of those who lived without prayer, who profaned the Sabbath, who were slaves to avarice and pride? In many other cases, if we have a hope concerning the deceased, it must be weak, and ought to be concealed: weak, from the deficiency of evidence; and concealed, from the fear of mischief.

But of others, when they die, we have a scriptural and a pleasing persuasion. And why should we mourn for them? They have overcome and are crowned. They have done with trouble, and have entered "the rest that remains for the people of God." Now this consolation extends to all children who die in a state of infancy. I know there are some who believe in the damnation of infants. They have no higher a notion of a God of love, the Father of mercies, the God of all grace, than to suppose that he will punish eternally creatures whom the Scripture itself calls innocent as to personal and actual transgression, and whose condition depended entirely upon himself. Admitting this barbarous notion; could such a Being ever be trusted in? or loved? But the God we worship is not Moloch; neither is the punishment we contend for in a future state separate from the effects of conscious guilt, regret, self-accusation-of all which those who die in infancy are incapable. We listen not to unfeeling and system-hardened divines, but to that Saviour "who gathers the lambs with his arms, and carries them in his bosom," and who, having invited our own souls to rest, cries, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

The second limitation regards the living. * Dr. Doddridge.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

You cannot join those who are gone to heaven, if you do not go there yourselves. And if you are not "new creatures;" if you do not "deny yourselves, and take up your cross and follow the Redeemer," you must join another assembly, to whose taste you are now conformed, and whose portion you have here chosen. Death separates the precious from the vile, and unites only those of similar dispositions. But where we entertain a hope concerning our connexions, and concerning ourselves, the bitterness of death is passed.

Let us close. What parents are the most afflicted? Those who have children livingbut living in sin and-walking according to the course of this world. Where is the father who would not a thousand times rather follow his son to the grave than see him growing up an enemy to God by wicked works? There is no hope of meeting such a child again. And yet instances like these are by no means unusual. But surely they should become subjects of serious inquirysurely parents should ask themselves whether they have faithfully discharged the trust committed to them. And while we ought to be tender of those whose hearts are bleeding over undutiful and ungodly offspring, we should not overlook the word that says, "Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

As for those who have buried early hopes; remember that by their removal you have an opportunity afforded of exercising the grace of submission, and are left more free to attend to other duties. Guard against an excess of sorrow, which will drink up the spirits and work death. Comfort one another with the assurance that their death is their everlasting gain. Here they were in an enemy's country surrounded with snares; and who can tell how soon they might have fallen the victims of temptation? They are infinitely happier than it is possible for you to conceive, and their blessedness is secured beyond the power of injury.

Remember they are not separated from you for ever-you are going to them. They are waiting to receive you into everlasting habitations. On your arrival there, you will know them, and they will know you; even they will know you there, who never knew you here.

That world is a world of condescension, of kindness, of love. There are pious friends. There are angels who attended them here. There is "your Father and their Father, your God and their God." "Thus saith the Lord; a voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children, refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border."

And may you not indulge the expectation, not only that you will know them, but be serviceable to them-be employed in forming and in teaching them? Oh! the pleasing work of a mother, to rear a child in that better country, free from sin, perverseness, pain; without anxiety, and without fear!

Nor imagine that in the mean time they are disregarded or overlooked, because of their tender age, or their inferiority of any other kind. Selfishness and pride only reign here.



And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.-John vi. 35.

"YEA, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." Such is the exclamation of Paul. And he does not despise what he could not possess, or undervalue what he did not understand. He was a man of genius and of learning. He had examined the claims of human science, and knew how little it could do for man in his most important interests. He was also no stranger to the knowledge of his Lord and Saviour. The Son of God had been revealed in him; and from that blessed hour his acquaintance with him had been constantly increasing. He knew whom he had believed; and such was the efficacy of this knowledge, in purifying his passions, in tranquillizing his conscience, in refreshing and delighting his heart, that he was led comparatively to depreciate every thing else; and determined "to know nothing save Jesus Christ and him crucified."

And is not this the determination of every Christian? And is it not justifiable? Is it not wise? Need we wonder that his Saviour is every thing with him, since he is every thing to him?-his sun and shield-his guide and guard-his physician and friend-his righteousness and strength-his clothing and his food. "And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »