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house from whence 1 came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." Thirdly however this may be though they hover between truth and error, holiness and sin, the world and the church, heaven and hell, through life-this will not be the case in death. They will then be developed, and have their portion with the vile and the profligate; with swearers, drunkards, thieves, and murderers; with the devil and his angels. Ah! says the Saviour to the Laodiceans, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou were cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." And yet, oh! how he waits to be gracious, and is exalted to have mercy! Yet, even these characters, hateful as their state is, and sure, if continued in, to bring upon them the utmost destruction, he does not treat with neglect--but counsels them "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.' ." I cannot, therefore, conclude without endeavouring,
III. TO BRING YOU TO A DECISION. I therefore address you in the language of Joshua, "Choose you this day whom you will serve:" or in the words of Elijah, "How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him." The reason of the address, if you believe the Scripture, is obvious: for "no man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
Which then of these states will you take? What is your answer?
Shall it be the language of the convinced, penitent, returning Israelites, spoken of by the prophet; "Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the Lord our God. Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel." O that this were indeed your reply! To whom can you go but unto him: he has the words of eternal life. He is able, he is willing-to pardon, to renew, to satisfy, to delight-to bless you "with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ."
Or will you say, with the rebels among the Jews, who, when admonished, "Withhold thy foot from being unshod, and thy throat from thirst," said, "There is no hope: no: for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go." Ah! think again. Listen not to the dictates of despair-"There is hope in Israel concerning this thing"-"Come and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins were as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they were red like crimson, they shall be as wool." The bridge is not yet drawn. The door is not yet shut. Think again. Will you turn your back upon such an opening of deliverance? Can you mean what you say? Are you resolved to follow your idols, and to forsake the God of love? How shocking, how dreadful-to bid farewell to God!
Or will you take a middle course, and, neither actually complying or refusing, say to the man who importunes you, with Felix; Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will call for thee." But we cannot admit of this reply; it is evasion. Our commission requires an immediate determination: "To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts." And does not your safety require the same? Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation." How long have some of you hesitated already! How wonderful is it that God has borne with you to this day, when he might justly have considered your excuses and delays, ten, twenty, forty years ago, as a rejection; and have sworn "in his wrath, that you should not enter into his rest." Surely, after this fresh proposal, God may resolve, consistently with all the riches of his goodness, to address you no more; to order away all the means and influences that can benefit your souls, and to say, "He is joined to idols, let him alone." It is certain that the longer you waver, the more difficult you will find it to decide; for the world tyrannizes the more it is obeyed; and the heart is hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. And what is it to determine that you cannot decide at once?
Is there any comparison between the respective claimants? Between hell and heaven? Between the bondage of corruption and the service of God? Between the way of transgressors, which is hard, and Wisdom's ways, which are all pleasantness and peace! "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now, being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."
But the grand prevention is the world To give up the world!-But you must give it up soon-and who is most likely to resign it with ease and pleasure; the man who idolizes it, or he that is weaned from it?-To give up the world! But how are you required to give it up? Not as to your station in it, your business, or your duty; but only as to what is evil and injurious to yourselves. Giving up the world is not giving up happiness. Did it ever make you happy? Has it not left your heart cold and void; and, even in its best estate, led you to ask, "Who will show us any good?" And who enjoys the world most in its lawful pursuits and innocent indulgences? The man who is reconciled unto God by the death of his Son, and renewed in the spirit of his mind. To him the sun shines fairer, and the rose is more fragrant than before. "OLD THINGS ARE PASSED AWAY; BEHOLD, ALL THINGS ARE BECOME NEW."
And he said unto me, Arise, go forth in the plain, and I will there talk with thee.-Ezek. iii. 22.
sent: and says he, "The hand of the Lord was there upon me." This expression always marks an impulse of inspiration. What kind of impression it was that moved them in these cases we cannot determine; but they knew it to be divine. And we observe here—that no place can exclude God from approaching his servants, or holding intercourse with them.
But he is a sovereign; and may manifest himself when, and how, and where he pleases. Yet his sovereignty is never to be confounded with arbitrariness-He has reasons for his conduct; and though all places are alike to him, they are not the same with regard to us. To receive, therefore, the intended communication, he is ordered to withdraw. “And he said unto me, Arise, and go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee."
If we consider Ezekiel as a prophet, the order applies peculiarly to ministers: and says to them-" Appear, but live not in public. Be not too companionable. Retire much for study and devotion. It is there you will obtain an unction from the Holy One, and know all things." Look ye out, said the Apostles to the churches, deacons to manage your temporal affairs: but "we will give ourselves unto prayer, and the ministry of the word." And to Timothy, Paul said, “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to
But the address will apply to Christians at large and we may derive from it this observation-RETIREMENT IS FRIENDLY TO COMMUNION WITH GOD. Let us consider,
I. THE DUTY-And II. THE PRIVILEGE.
"Call me away from flesh and sense;
Be earth, with all her scenes, withdrawn ;
My heaven, and there my God I find.”
THE pleasures and advantages of solitude have been often admired and recommended. All love the world; yet all complain of it: and whatever schemes of happiness are devised, the scene is always laid in a withdrawment from it. "It is there," says the victim of perfidy and malice, "it is there the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest." It is there the warrior feeds his courage, and arranges the materials of victory. It is there the statesman forms and weighs his plans of policy. There the philosopher pursues his theories and experiments. There the man of genius feels the power of thought and the glow of fancy, and roves in a world of his own creation. "Through de-charged but by intermixture with them: and sire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom."
I have to consider solitude in reference to the Christian: it has a very interesting connexion with religion.
Ezekiel was now by the river Chebar, with the captives of Israel, to whom he had been
I. THE DUTY enjoined—“ And he said unto me, Arise, and go forth into the plain." It may be necessary to premise two things. First: The place is indifferent. It matters not whether it be a private room, or the open field. The thing required is to be alone. And, Secondly, It is not a state of absolute retirement that God enjoins. Man was made for society, as well as solitude: and so is the Christian. A great part of our religion regards our fellow-creatures, and cannot be dis
what our Saviour thought of resigning business, abandoning our connexions, and hiding ourselves in woods and cells, appears obviously, from the language which he addressed to his own disciples; "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle,
and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." It is, therefore, possible for a Christian to be alone, when he ought to be abroad; and to be indulging a favourite inclination, when he should exercise self-denial, in order to meet the calls of Providence. It may be much more pleasing often to sit alone, reading or reflecting, than to be called forth to give advice, or to visit the afflicted-but, as we "have opportunity, we must do good unto all men, especially to them that are of the household of faith."
But what our subject demands is, comparative and occasional secession for moral and spiritual purposes. This will be found a duty; and God says to you, as he did to Ezekiel, "Go forth, and I will talk with thee."
And says he not this by express commands? I hope you acknowledge his authority; and in the true spirit of obedience ask, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" And can you be ignorant that he has said, by the mouth of his servant and of his Son, "Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Enter into thy closet; and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which is in secret shall reward thee openly."
And says he not this by example? "Isaac went out into the field at eventide to meditate. Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled with him a man, until the dawning of the day." "Then went king David in, and sat before the Lord, and he said, Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And this was yet a small thing in thy sight, O Lord God; but thou hast spoken also of thy servant's house for a great while to come. And is this the manner of man, O Lord God?" Daniel retired three times a day. Peter went up to the house-top to pray about the sixth hour, and received a Divine communication. Of our Saviour, whose life has the force of a law, it is said; "In the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed." At another time "he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God."
Says he not this by the institution of the Sabbath? We are not to consider the appointment of the Sabbath as a display of the Divine prerogative only: "the Sabbath was made for man." It has a merciful reference, even to his body; by conducing to cleanliness, comfort, and health; but the provision principally regards the welfare of the soul. The Sabbath comes, and tells us, that while
we are not slothful in business, among all our
"Now from the crowd withdrawn away,
The light he beholds is the Lord's. The
And says he not this by the dispensations of his Providence? Affliction often at once disinclines us to social circles, and disqualifies us for them. Sickness separates a man from the crowd, and confines him on the bed of languishing, there to ask, "Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night?" A reduced condition will diminish your associates. It will drive off the selfish herd, who think that a friend is born for prosperity; but it will bring you Christians and ministers, whose religion teaches them to comfort those that are cast down; and they will bring God. "Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness"-is a groan that is, in time, wrung from every heart. What a solitude-what a dreariness does the death of relations for a time produce! The death of a child will desolate the world in feeling, if not in fact. "He sitteth alone, and keepeth silence:" or sighs, "I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house-top.”—Some have been deserted by weakness and perfidy: Job could say, "My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away; which are blackish by reason of the ice, and wherein the snow is hid: what time they wax warm, they vanish: when it is hot they are consumed out of their place." "At my first answer," says Paul, "no man stood by me, but all men forsook me"-but, adds he, "nevertheless the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me." For the Christian is often never less alone than when alone. When Joseph was sent to prison, and he tells
us God sent him there, "the Lord was with | forth into the fields, let us lodge in the vil Joseph." When John was banished to the lages." And says God of his people, "Beisle of Patmos, he was indulged with the hold, I will allure her, and bring her into the manifestations of the Almighty. Paul, in wilderness, and there will I speak comforta prison, wrote many of his Epistles: and there bly unto her." many others, whose works praise them in the gate, composed their most admired and useful publications-They were ordered out of the world, that God might talk with them!
Says he not this by the influence of his grace? This agency always produces in its subjects certain sentiments and dispositions, which urge and attach them to retirement. I will mention four of these.
The First is a devotional temper. Whoever delights in prayer will delight in retirement; because it is so favourable to the frequency and freedom of the exercise. There we can divulge what we could not communicate in the presence of the dearest earthly friend. There words are unnecessary-"our desire is before him; our groaning is not hid from him:" the eye poureth out tears unto God; and he hears the voice of our weeping. The Second is a desire to rise above the world. This will induce a man to retire. How often does the Christian lament that his conversation is so little in heaven, and that he is so much governed by things that are seen and temporal! But where is the world conquered? In a crowd? No: but-alone. In the midst of its active pursuits? No-but viewed as an object of solitary contemplation; viewed in the presence of Jehovah; viewed in the remembrances of eternity. Then its emptiness appears-Then the fascination is dissolved-Then we look upward and say, "Now what wait I for? my hope is in thee?" The Third is a wish to obtain self-knowledge. This will induce a man to withdraw. It is only alone that he can examine his state; that he can estimate his attainments; that he can explore his defects; that he can discern the sources of his past dangers or falls; and set a watch against future temptation.
The Fourth is love to God.-This will lead a man to retire. When we are supremely attached to a person, his presence is all we want; he will be the chief attraction, even in company; how desirable then to meet him alone, where he seems wholly ours, and we can yield and receive undivided attention. Friendship deals much in secrecy; kindred souls have a thousand things to hear and to utter that are not for a common ear. This is pre-eminently the case with the intimacy subsisting between God and the believer. There is a peculiarity in every part of the Christian's experience. "The heart knoweth his own bitterness, and a stranger intermeddleth not with his joy:" but both his pains and pleasures bring with them evidence that they are from God-for they dispose the soul to hold communion with him. " Come," says the Church, "come, my Beloved, let us go
II. Let us consider THE PRIVILEGE promised-" And I will there talk with thee." Mark, First-The condescension of the Speaker. We admire the nobleman that kindly notices a peasant; and the sovereign that deigns to converse with one of his poorest subjects. But who is it that here says"There I will talk with thee?" And with whom does he hold this converse? It is the Creator talking with the creature. It is the God of heaven and earth, holding communion with man that is a worm, and the son of man that is a worm.
Nor is this all-annexed to our meanness are our unworthiness, and our guilt. Here is, therefore, the condescension not only of goodness, but of mercy and grace. "Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou visitest him?”
Secondly. Observe the happiness of the believer. By what scale can we judge of blessedness so rightly as the degree of nearness to God, the supreme good, the fountain of life? In his presence there is fulness of joy, and at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore. How blessed, then, is the man whom God chooses, and causes to approach unto him now. Yet "such honour have all his saints." How would a man be envied if the king was to favour him with his presence and intimacy! Especially if he was known to meet him by appointment, from time to time, alone. Yet is this no more than every Christian expects and enjoys. He has insured interviews with the blessed and only Potentate. Some of us cannot aspire after intercourse with many of our fellow-creatures, by reason of our condition and our talents. We may wish to be in their company, yet shrink from their notice: we may long to hear them talk, yet could not talk with them-we should be swallowed up-we should deem it impossible for them to listen to our weakness. But, whatever be our condition, or our talents, we have a free and invited access to God-we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus-He hears our praises and complaints-and "there," says he, "will I talk with thee!"
Thirdly. What is the subject of communication? It is variously expressed in the Scripture. It is called his secret, and his covenant: "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant." It is called judgment, and his way: "The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way." It is peace: "He will speak peace unto his people." It regards every thing that is important to their welfare, or interesting to their
feelings and hopes. It takes in what he has done for them, what he is doing, and what he will do. He speaks concerning them for time and eternity; he gives them exceeding great and precious promises; and adds to his word his oath, that "by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, they might have strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before them."
Fourthly. What is the mode of address? He does not talk with us in a preternatural manner, as he did sometimes of old with his people. He came down and spake with Moses as a man talketh with his friend. Moses saw his glory, and heard his voice. But it is enthusiasm in us to expect dreams, and visions, and sudden impulses, and audible sounds. There are no new communications from God now I mean, new in themselves, and such as were not to be found in the Bible before; for as to us they may be, and will be often new. If a man born blind was to be restored to sight, the sun, which he never saw before, would be new to him; but it would not be a new sun. We may begin to feel truths which we never thought of before; yet the truths themselves are as old as the revelation of God to man. But he opens our eyes to see wondrous things out of his law. He opens our understandings that we may know the Scriptures. He leads us into all truth. He applies the doctrines and promises of his word by his Spirit; and by enabling us to realize our own interest in them, he says to our souls, I am thy salvation.
couraging unhallowed freedoms, gives a man such intimate views of the peculiar glory of God as fill him with godly fear. Thus it was with our prophet. It was the same with Jacob, with Moses, with Elijah, with Job, with Isaiah, with Peter.
Secondly. It will draw forth unquenchable desires after additional indulgence. That which contents the believer makes him also insatiable. From his intercourse with him he desires no more than God; but he will desire more of him; and from every fresh discovery the prayer will arise, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory."
Thirdly. It will produce likeness. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise." We soon acquire the tone and the manner of those who converse much with us, especially if they are our superiors, and we very highly love or revere them. Some boast of being much with God; but so censurable are their conduct and temper, that few of their fellow-creatures would like to be much with them. If you are selfish, and covetous, and censorious, and revengeful, some other being has been talking with you: this spirit cometh not from him who calleth you: it is from beneath; and is earthly, sensual, devilish. "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace."
From this subject-Some are to be censured.
Such are those who call themselves Christians, and are regular in their attendance on public ordinances, but are seldom alone. They who hear much, and reflect little, are always found very imperfect charactersfor it is not what we devour, but what we digest, that aids health and supports life.
Finally. What is the evidence of the fact? How shall we know that he does talk with us? Remember the two disciples going to Emmaus. Our Lord joined them as they journeyed, and inquired after the subject of their conversation and concern. "And beginning at Moses, and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the Others never retire-and what is the reathings concerning himself." Yet all this time son? "O, we have not time; so numerous they took him for a stranger. But at supper and pressing are the cares and avocations of their eyes were opened, and they knew him, life." Have you more engagements than and he vanished out of their sight. And this David, who had to govern a large and diswas the reflection they made on the occur-tracted empire, surrounded with enemiesrence; "Did not our heart burn within us yet could he say, "Evening, and morning, while he talked with us by the way, and and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud; and while he opened to us the Scriptures?" As if they had said—“Is it not astonishing that we did not know him earlier? That we did not discover him upon the road-For who could have conversed with us as he did? Who could have made such impression on the heart!"
Determine the Divine converse with you in the same way. Judge of it by its influences and effects. Three effects will always arise from it.
First. It will produce a deep and solemn sense of our vanity and vileness. Communion with God, instead of gendering and en
he shall hear my voice. Seven times a day do I praise thee, because of thy righteous judgments." Do you not trifle away more time every day of your lives than is required for the purpose of devotion? Could you not, by order, and diligence, and rising earlier, secure more leisure than you now command? Where there is a will there is a way. Disinclination loves to shelter itself behind difficulties. The slothful cries, "There is a lion in the way;" and so there is; but he puts it there. Zeal clears the road, and will often convert hinderances into helps.
Let me ask whether you do not decline