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young friends, ask you-Are you not much takes it as kindness-"I love them that love less piously inclined than you once were? me, and they that seek me early shall find Have you not exchanged a lovely teachable- me." He will guide you with his counsel, ness of mind, for conceit and self-sufficiency? and afterwards receive you to glory. Should a tenderness of conscience, for an insensi- life be spared to a late period, it will only exbility of mind, which the word can seldom tend your course of usefulness, and with pleamove? Have you not given up private prayer? sure you will look back upon a life of mercy Have you not lost much of your veneration and grace, of communion with him, and dedifor the pious and the good? Cannot you trifle cation to him. Found in the way of righteouswith what once made you tremble? Are you ness, he will view your hoary head as "a not beginning to "walk in the counsel of the crown of glory." When the days come in ungodly;" to "stand in the way of sinners;" which many will say, "We have no pleasure," to "sit in the seat of the scornful?" it shall be otherwise with you. Under the decays of nature, and the loss of friends of which time has robbed you; when every thing earthly has become distasteful: and you are made to "possess months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed unto you"-with humble boldness you may plead, "Cast me not off in the time of my old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. O God, thou hast taught me from my youth: and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also, when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come." And he will answer you: "Even to your old age I am he; and even to hoary hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you."
Ah! had you proceeded in the good course in which you were once engaged, ere now you might have been far advanced and established; ere now, actions would have produced habits, and habits have yielded pleasure. What can be more distressing, than your declensions from the good ways of God, to your pious friends; to your godly ministers! O how does it grieve them to see you breaking over the barriers of a good education, and resolving that the prayers, and tears, and vows of your connexions shall be all in vain! Ministers viewing you with hopeful pleasure as they buried the aged and the honourable, were saying-Well, others are coming forward, and will be the pillars of our bereaved churches: "instead of the fathers shall be the children." Your parents were beginning to say to each other-We shall soon be laid low in the dust-but these our loved offspring shall be a seed to serve him. Now a death has spread over all their hopes!-especially when they reflect, that-you are likely to go greater lengths in error and wickedness than others; and that you will be reclaimed with much more difficulty than those who never did such "despite to the Spirit of grace."
But Thirdly. There are some who in their early days are truly devoted to the service and glory of God. To you, my dear young friends, the words are applicable-not in a way of reproach, but honour-not in a way of rebuke, but encouragement. And what we wish you to observe is this-that early piety is peculiarly acceptable to the God of your lives and mercies. He takes it kind-Ŏ wonderful condescension! O touching motive! he takes it kind: "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown."
are pressing through a thousand allurements and seductions to reach him, and to say, kneeling at his footstool, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee." You give him the first-born of your days, the first-fruits of your reason and affections-And I say again-he
THE MISERY OF CONTENDING
Wo unto him
Isaiah xlv. 9.
THE life of man is held forth by various images: and it is worthy of our observation that they will apply equally to the righteous and the wicked. For instance,
The Christian is a traveller-and so is the sinner; only the one is journeying to heaven, and the other to hell.
The Christian is a husbandman-so is the sinner. Both sow: only the one Sows to the flesh, and shall of the flesh reap corruption; while the other sows to the Spirit, and shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."
The Christian is a soldier-and we read in the Scripture of his commander, his enemies, and his arms of his "fightings without," and of his "fead within;" of his toil, and of his triumph. But if the life of the Christian be
You are forsaking the world, and willing to follow him whithersoever he goeth. You a warfare, so is the life of the sinner. There
is however this difference between them. The one wages a good warfare, and is crowned with glory and honour-the other is engaged in a cause the most infamous, and covers himself with shame and confusion. The one is sure of victory-the other is certain of defeat. The one fights for God --but the other against
him-and "Wo unto him that striveth with his Maker!"
I. LET US MENTION SOME INSTANCES IN WHICH THE SINNER STRIVES WITH GOD.
II. CONSIDER THE WO WHICH HIS OPPOSI
TION NECESSARILY ENTAILS UPON HIM.
And, O! let me beseech you this evening to hear, not only with seriousness, but with self-application, that while I am endeavouring to lay open this crime, and this curse, you may individually ask yourselves, in the presence of God, whether you are chargeable with the one, in order to determine whether you are exposed to the other.
I. Let me specify some INSTANCES IN WHICH THE SINNER MAY BE CONSIDERED AS STRIVING WITH GOD. And here I hardly think it worth while to mention atheism, which opposes his very being, and tries to banish him from the world which he has made. Some indeed have supposed that a speculative atheist is an impossibility. I have often thought that if such a monster can be found, he is to be found, not in a heathen but in a Christian country. How far God may give up a man "to strong delusion to believe a lie," who has despised and rejected the advantages of revelation, it is not for us to determine-but "if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
It is undeniable however that we have a multitude of practical atheists. That is; we have thousands who live precisely as they would do if they believed there was no God; and are no more influenced by his presence and perfections, than if they were persuaded the Scripture was "a cunningly devised fable." Yea, they not only live" without God in the world," but they live against him! Wherein?
own righteousness, and save ourselves; if we endeavour to rear a shelter, instead of repairing to the only refuge provided-we are striv ing with God. In the Gospel God says, “Come and let us reason together;" but the sinner says, Depart from us: we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." The language of the Gospel, as a token of willing submission, is, "Kiss the Son"-the language of the sinner is, "We will not have this man to reign over us." The language of the Gospel is, "Go and wash in Jordan seven times; and be clean"—the language of the sinner is, "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of DaMascus, better than all the waters of Israel! may I not wash in them and be clean?" No. And the reason is, that your cure can only come from God, and he has determined to save you in his own way: he has revealed only one remedy; to this the promise is made; to this he requires you to submit; and if you refuse this method, and think of becoming your own physician, you are at variance with God. And even after persons have some serious concern about their souls, they find it no easy thing to yield up themselves unreservedly to this sovereign plan. Such is the pride of reason, and the force of legality; such a difficulty is there in relinquishing all apprehension of some worthiness and strength of their own; and such a disposition have they to make themselves better before they rely on the Saviour, that they are often detained long in opposing this gracious scheme, till increasing conviction compels them to acquiesce. And, though the force of it be subdued, something of the old leaven remains in the people of God all through life.
Thirdly. The sinner strives with God by violating the dictates of conscience. Conscience is the Divinity in man. And how often, and how faithfully, has it addressed you! "O do not that abominable thing that I hate'"--and yet you did it. "Abandon that vicious course: its steps take hold on hell' "—and yet you pressed forward. "Beware of that irreligious connexion: ⚫ evil communications corrupt good manners: a companion of fools shall be destroyed" "—and yet you complied with their enticements. And O! what labour have you had to lull conscience asleep, that you might steal forth and pursue your iniquities undisturbed! How hard have you often found it to subdue the uneasinesses which have sprung from its reproaches and condemnation! And sometimes, in struggling with you alone, has it not been ready to gain the victory, till you went forth and called in to your assistance-your comrades, and your dissipations; and thus rallied and reinforced, you have renewed the contest, and again "done despite unto the Spirit of grace?"
First. They strive with him by transgressing his holy and righteous law. And this is done, not only by the commission of those sins which it forbids, but also by the omission of those duties which it enjoins. The man that does not love his neighbour and strive to do him good, is therefore criminal, as well as the man who robs and oppresses him. This law is also broken by the desires of the heart, as well as by the actions of the life. It is so spiritual as to apprehend murder in angry words, and adultery in wanton looks. Now every instance of disobedience is a contention with God; a daring struggle to determine whether we shall be governed by his will or by our own.
Secondly. The sinner strives with God by opposing the Gospel. The Gospel is a scheme of mercy designed to glorify God in the salvation of man, and is made known for the obedience of faith." It calls us to repentance. It calls us to renounce our own righteousness. It calls us to flee for refuge to the Saviour of sinners. If, therefore, we go on in our impenitency; if we endeavour to establish our
Fourthly. The sinner strives with God by refusing to resign himself to the dispensations
of his providence. By various blessings and indulgences, in his person, in his family, or in his business, God would attach his heart to himself. Hence the Apostle says, that "the goodness of God leadeth to repentance:" it ought to do so it is the design and the tendency of it-But the sinner frustrates this design and tendency-yea, he does more he turns it into an encouragement to sin. He is evil because God is good; and the mercies, which should serve as so many "cords of love" to draw him to God, he employs as so many weapons of rebellion against him! "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Let favour be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord."
And be it remembered, that men will be judged not according to their success, but according to their intention. God may overrule their rage for good, and make all their efforts to subserve the cause they oppose— but as this was not their design, it will not be their exculpation. It was "in their heart" to prevent the diffusion of truth, and the influence of the Gospel and God deals with them accordingly. He "looketh to the heart;" and will punish them in proportion
God tries other means. He sends a succession of disappointments and afflictions. These are designed to wean him from the world-but "he holds fast deceit, he refuses to return." They are "to hedge up his way with thorns"-but he breaks through them, to the good they would have hindered, and and wanders on. By these God arms him- the evil they would have spared, had they self to awaken his fears, and drive him back-been successful. For "wo unto him that but "he rushes upon the thick bosses of his striveth with his Maker!" backler." God strikes-and he strikes again! “O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock: they have refused to return."
II. NO WONDER SUCH A WO IS HERE DENOUNCED-for this striving with God is,
First, A practice the most shameful and ungrateful. What would you think of a child who should strive with his father, reproach his character, counteract all his designs, and endeavour to injure his concerns?—But such is your conduct towards God. "Is not he thy Father, that hath made thee?" What would you think of a person who would set himself against a benefactor that had never given him the least ground of provocation, and had always been doing him good? But such is your conduct towards God. He has preserved your souls in life. His air you have breathed. From his table you have been fed. He has given you all things richly to enjoy.
Has he not therefore reason to be astonished at your baseness and ingratitude? "Hear, O heavens; and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider."
It is, Secondly, a practice the most unreasonable and absurd. For observe-in all the instances in which you oppose him, he is aiming to promote your good: his design is to make you wise, to make you holy, to make you happy; and the advantages of compliance will be all your own. Besides
Can you do without him?-Can you do without him in life? In death can you do without him? Who else can pardon you?
He fixes the bounds of our habitations; arranges all our affairs; leaves nothing to chance. And upon this principle we "should learn, in whatsoever state we are, therewith to be content." For God cannot err. But the sinner murmurs and complains; he quarrels with the allotments of Providence; he wishes to rectify the Divine proceedingsGod has not properly disposed of him, or of others-and the common sentiment is, that God has placed him too low, and others too high; indulged him too little, and others too much.
Again. The sinner strives with God by the persecution of his people. For such is the intimate and inseparable union between him and his followers, that in whatever degree you endeavour to injure them, you oppose him he considers it as done against himself: "for he that toucheth them, touches the apple of his eye." Therefore said our Lord and Saviour, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?"
vealed will of God, "who will have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth." Persons may endeavour to justify their opposition in some cases, because those who are labouring to do good are not of their community, and "walk not with them”—but, surely, it becomes them to be exceedingly cautious in their conclusion, and to weigh the admonition of Gamaliel: "Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it: lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."
Finally. He strives with God by trying to hinder the spread of his cause. He who, by fraud or force, would keep the Gospel from entering a neighbourhood, or, by reproach or threatening, would discourage people from hearing it, is in avowed opposition to the re
or sanctify you? or comfort you? or give you and prospered. Did Pharaoh? Did Belshazan abundant entrance into the everlasting zar? Did the Jews? kingdom of our Lord and Saviour? What To improve this awful subject, let me ask then can equal the folly of offending and pro--Whether you are for God or against him! voking Him whose favour is life, and upon Be not surprised-you are either his friends whom you absolutely depend for every thing or his enemies: there is no neutrality here. essential to your happiness in time and eter- In some cases, neutrality is allowable if not nity? commendable. In family disputes, or in quarrels among neighbours, it may be proper to stand neuter. If we can do no good, we shall do no harm; and this is often a considerable point. In the senate of a nation a member may waive his vote; things may be balanced in his mind; and nothing for the time may cause either side of the question to preponderate. And it is the excellency of a representative to be of no party. Two nations may worry and consume each other, while a third however pressed, may remain neutral and save its wealth and its subjects. But here we repeat it-and it cannot be repeated too often; here, there is not, and there cannot be a state of indifference. "He that is not for me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. 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."
And therefore, Thirdly, Nothing can be more injurious and ruinous. In striving with him, you only resemble the wave that dashes against the rock, and is driven back in foam; or the ox that kicks against the goad, and only wounds himself; or the thorns and briers that should set themselves in battle array against the fire. Hence says God," Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth." If you will contend, choose an enemy like yourselves, with whom you may claim some kind of equality. There is none between you and me. There are cases, in which it may be proper to wage war, where there is only a probability, or even a possibility of victory. But what desperate madness actuates you? You strive with an adversary by whom you know you must be conquered. For "have you an arm like God, or can you thunder with a voice like his?" Need you be told, that he can work immediately upon the mind, and in the twinkling of an eye could produce such terrors in your consciences as would be intolerable? Need you be told that he is able to destroy both body and soul in hell? Need you be told that all creatures, from an angel to a worm, are under his control, and only wait his signal to fall upon you?
This, you say, only shows what he can do. Let us then see what he will do. What has he said? Read these threatenings: "If ye walk contrary to me, I also will walk contrary to you; and will punish you seven times for your iniquity." "He shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire; taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him."
Are you then the enemies of God; and have you to this hour been striving with your Maker? O! let me admonish you. Let me address you in the words of Eliphaz to Job:
Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee." Let me urge you, in the language of the apostle Peter: "Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and he will exalt you in due time." If you are willing to return, be not discouraged. Behold him stretching forth the golden sceptre, saying, Touch, and live: "I will be merciful to the unrighteous, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." He is " in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." He has established "a ministry of reconciliation," and sends forth his ambassadors to "beseech" you to be reconciled unto God. How wonderful that he should not wait to be solicited, but make the proposal himself, and urge you to accept of it! Will not such love prevail? Do you still harbour doubts in your minds which keep you from him? Let me if possible dispel them by another illustration-for till your hope be excited, it is in vain to expect your return. A king may justly punish rebels: but suppose from his clemency he has issued a proclamation, assuring them that whoever within a given period will come in and give up his arms, shall be pardoned and released
"But what reason have we to believe that all this is true?"-Because it is found in a book written by God himself. Because many of these threatenings have already been accomplished. Because it accords with those-What would you think of this prince, evils and miseries which are found to attend if, as soon as one of these rebellious subwickedness even in this world. And because jects entered his presence to claim the no one ever hardened himself against God privilege, he should have him immediately
COMMUNION WITH THE SAVIOUR
John xiii. 8.
executed!-But you say-surely he never could do this-his honour would be at stake. Though he was originally under no obligation to save him, he is now; for he has bound himself by his word. And can God deny himself? Venture then upon his promise. If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Go to him with weeping and supplication, and say, "O Lord, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us: by thee only will we make mention of thy name." But remember, you have no time to lose the season of allowed submission is fixed, and will soon elapse. "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison."
Happy are you who have abandoned the unrighteous struggle, and are now one with God. The enmity of your heart has been slain, the weapons of your rebellion have been thrown down, and many a tear shed upon them. Be as zealous for him as you have been against him. He has done much for you; and you have much to do for him. Rise up for him against the evil doers, and stand up for him against the workers of iniquity. Redeem for him the time which you have lost. Honour him with your substance. Employ in his service every power you possess, and every blessing you enjoy. Whether you live, live unto the Lord; or whether you die, die unto the Lord; so that, living or dying, you may be the Lord's.
To conclude. We have been speaking of a striving with God which is unlawful and destructive but there is a striving with him which is allowable and necessary. It is by prayer and supplication. Such was the strife of the woman of Canaan under the several discouragements she at first received, to try her fervency and her faith. "Let me alone," said God to Moses; Moses was striving with him in prayer for the preservation of the Israelites; and God speaks as if he could do nothing against prayer. "Let me go," said the angel to Jacob; Jacob was wrestling with him; and "he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he blessed him there."
IF the most minute circumstances in the lives of illustrious characters be perused with eagerness and pleasure, surely we can never feel indifferent to any part of the history of our Lord and Saviour. He was fairer than the children of men: he was higher than the kings of the earth: all he did was wise and good: and we are concerned in all.
Observe the transaction to which the words before us refer-"Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; he riseth from supper"-Such a solemn preface raises a high degree of expectation. From such an introduction, who would not look for an illustrious display of his power and glory ?-But "he laid aside his garments; and took a towel and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter said unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?" How much was all this in character with Peter!-He was strongly attached to his Master, and deeply sensi ble of his own unworthiness; but forward and impetuous; rash in action, and often speaking without due reflection. Therefore "Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter." "There is something more in this action than you are aware of, and by-and-by you will perceive it." The intimation refers to the design of this washing, which was twofold. First, exemplary-to enforce upon them condescension, humbleness of mind, brotherly kindness. And secondly, symbolical-to lead their minds impressively to things of a higher nature. What therefore was perhaps excusable in Peter before, became censurable now. After such an intimation he should have implicitly acquiesced; instead of which, he saith, "Thou shalt never wash my feet." Upon which, Jesus answered him in plain and awful terms, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me."
And when Providence seems to oppose the promise; when experience seems to disagree with the word; when we are exercised with delays and rebukes too--then to persevere-to pray and not faint-this will be found nothing less than a wrestling with God. But this is a holy violence. This is a pleasing resistance. And in this strife we are sure to prevail. He never said to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me, in vain. "Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. The king-"no part with me," seems too dreadful to be dom of heaven suffereth violence, and the denounced against an unwillingness to comviolent take it by force." ply with this ceremonial observance, which
Though this declaration intends nothing less than the necessity of obedience in this instance, it surely comprehends much more. He therefore now does not mention the washing of his feet, but of himself: if I wash thee not. And the threatening-thou hast