« PreviousContinue »
Our reason is not ours. While we possess | state of melancholy or madness, of which I it, we are subject to distractions, to absence just now spoke! Must the earth quake? of thought, to suspension of intelligence, Must the sea overflow its banks? Must the which render us entirely incapable of reflec- heavens kindle into lightning and resound in tion; and, what is still more mortifying to thunder? Must the elements clash, and the human nature, they whose geniuses are the powers of nature be shaken? No; there needs most transcendent and sublime, sometimes nothing but the displacing of one little fibre become either melancholy or mad; like Ne- in your brain! buchadnezzar they sink into beasts and browse like them on the herbage of the field.
On what is the high idea of yourself founded? On that self-complacence which fortune, rank, and pleasing objects, that surround you, seem to contribute to excite? And what is necessary to dissipate your selfcomplacence? Must the earth tremble? Must the sea overflow its banks? Must heaven arm itself with thunder and lightning? Must all nature be shaken? No; one caprice is sufficient. An appearance, under which an object presents itself to us, or rather, a colour, that our imagination lends it, banishes selfcomplacence, and lo! the man just now elated with so much joy is fixed in a black, a deep despair!
Our health is not ours. The catalogue of those infirmities which destroy it (I speak of those which we know, and which mankind by a study of five or six thousand years have discovered), makes whole volumes. A catalogue of those which are unknown, would probably make yet larger volumes.
Our life is not ours. Winds, waves, heat, cold, aliments, vegetables, animals, nature, and each of its component parts, conspire to deprive us of it. Not one of those who have entered this church, can demonstrate that he shall go out of it alive. Not one of those who compose this assembly, even of the youngest and strongest, can assure himself of one year, one day, one hour, one moment of life. None of us liveth to himself; for, if we live we are the Lord's.,
On what is the lofty idea of yourself founded? On your health? But what is necessary to deprive you of your health? Earthquakes? Armies? Inundations? Must nature return to its chaotic state? No; one grain of sand is sufficient! That grain of sand, which in another position was next to nothing to you, and was really nothing to your felicity, becomes in its present position, a punishment, a martyrdom, a hell!
People sometimes speculate on the nature of those torments, which divine justice reserves for the wicked. They are less concerned to avoid the pains of hell, than to discover wherein they consist. They ask, what fuel can supply a fire that will never be extinguished. Vain researches! The principle in my text is sufficient to give me frightful ideas of hell. We are in a state of entire dependance on the Supreme Being; and to repeat it again, one single grain of sand, which is nothing in itself, may become in the hands of the Supreme Being, a punishment, a martyrdom, a hell, in regard to us. What dependance! Whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord's.' This is the primitive condition of a Christian.
II. Our text points out the engagements of a Christian. Let us abridge our reflections. Remark the state in which Jesus Christ found us; what he performed to deliver us from it; and under what conditions we enter on and enjoy this deliverance.
These reflections are not quite sufficient to make us feel all our dependance. Our vanity is mortified, when we remember, that what we enjoy is not ours: but it is sometimes, as it were, indemnified by observing the great means that God employs to deprive us of our enjoyments. God has, in general, excluded this extravagant motive to pride. He has attached our felicity to one fibre, to one caprice, to one grain of sand, to objects the least likely, and seemingly the least capa-that thou wast born. I passed by thee, and ble, of influencing our destiny. saw thee polluted in thine own blood, and I
1. In what state did Jesus Christ find us, when he came into our world? I am sorry to say the affected delicacy of the world, which increases as its irregularities multiply, obliges me to suppress part of a metaphorical description, that the Holy Spirit has given us in the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel. "Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite,' says he to the church. When thou wast born no eye pitied thee, to do any thing unto thee, but thou wast cast out in the open air, to the loathing of thy person, in the day
On what is the high idea of yourself said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, founded? On your genius? And what is Live. I spread my skirt over thee, and covernecessary to reduce the finest genius to thated thy nakedness; yea, I sware unto thee,
Farther, No man dieth to himself. If we die, we are the Lord's.' How absolute soever the dominion of one man over another may be, there is a moment in which both are on a level; that moment comes when we die. Death delivers a slave from the power of a tyrant, under whose rigour he has spent his life in groans. Death terminates all the relations that subsist between men in this life, But the relation of dependance, which subsists between the Creator and his creatures, is an eternal relation. That world into which we enter when we die, is a part of his empire, and is as subject to his laws as that into which we entered when we were born. During this life, the Supreme Governor has riches and poverty, glory and ignominy, cruel tyrants and clement princes, rains and droughts, raging tempests and refreshing breezes, air wholesome and air infected, famine and plenty, victories and defeats, to render us happy or miserable. After death, he has absolution and condemnation, a tribunal of justice and a tribunal of mercy, angels and devils, a river of pleasure and a lake burning with fire and brimstone,' hell with its horrors and heaven with its happiness, to render us happy or miserable as he pleases.
Could our freedom have been procured by a ew emotions of benevolence, or by an act of supreme power? In order to deliver us from our griefs, it was necessary for him to bear them; to terminate our sorrows he must carry them (according to the language of a prophet), to deliver us from the strokes of divine justice he must be 'stricken and smitten of God,' Isa. liii. 4. I am aware that one of the most deplorable infirmities of the human mind, is to become insensible to the most af fecting objects by becoming familiar with them." The glorified saints, we know, by contemplating the sufferings of the Saviour of the world, behold objects that excite eter
Let us leave the metaphor, and let us confine our attention to the meaning. When Jesus Christ came into the world, in what state did he find us? Descended from a long train of ancestors in rebellion against the laws of God, fluctuating in our ideas, ignorant of our origin and end, blinded by our prejudices, infatuated by our passions, having no hope, and being without God in the world,' Eph. ii. 12, condemned to die, and reserved for eternal flames. From this state Jesus Christ delivered us and brought us into the glorious liberty of the sons of God,' Rom. viii. 21, in order to enable us to par-nal adorations of the mercy of him, 'who ticipate the felicity of the blessed God, by loved them, and washed them from their making us partakers of the divine nature,' 2 sins in his own blood, and made them kings Pet. i. 4. By a deliverance so glorious, does and priests unto God and his Father,' Rev. i. not the Deliverer obtain peculiar rights over 5, 6, but in our present state the proposing of these objects to us in a course of sermons is sufficient to weary us. However, I affirm that if we have not been affected with what Jesus Christ has done for our salvation it has not been owing to our thinking too much, but to our not thinking enough, and perhaps to our having never thought of the subject once, with such a profound attention as its interesting nature demands.
and entered into a covenant with thee, and thou becamest mine,' ver. 3, &c.
Remark, farther, on what conditions Jesus Christ has freed you from your miseries, and you will perceive, that 'ye are not your own.' What means the morality that Jesus Christ enjoined in his gospel? What vows were made for each of you at your baptism? What hast thou promised at the Lord's table? In one word, to what authority didst thou submit by embracing the gospel? Didst thou say to Jesus Christ, Lord! I will be partly thine, and partly mine own? To thee I will submit the opinions of my mind; but the regular dispositions of my heart I will reserve to myself. I will consent to renounce my vengeance but thou shalt allow me to retain my Delilah, and my Drusilla. For thee I will quit the world and dissipating pleasures: but thou shalt indulge the visionary and capricious flow of my humour. On a Christian festival I will rise into transports of devotion; my countenance shall emit rays of a divine flame; my eyes shall sparkle with seraphic fire; my heart and my flesh shall cry out for the living God,' Ps. lxxxiv. 2; but, when I return to the world, I will sink into the spirit of the men of it; I will adopt their maxims, share their pleasures, immerse myself in their conversation; and thus I will be alternately cold and hot,' Rev. iii. 15, a Christian and a heathen, an angel and a devil. Is this your idea of Christianity? Undoubt edly it is that, which many of our hearers have formed; and which they take too much pains to prove, by the whole course of their conversation. But this is not the idea which the inspired writers have given us of Christianity; it is not that which, after their example, we have given you. Him only I acknowledge for a true Christian, who is not his own,' at least, who continually endeavours to eradicate the remains of sin, that resist the empire of Jesus Christ. Him alone I acknowledge for a true Christian, who can say with St. Paul, although not in the same degree, yet with equal sincerity, I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me and the life, which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me,' Gal. xi. 20.
Bow thyself towards the mystical ark, Christian, and fix thine eyes on the mercyseat. Revolve in thy meditation the astoir-nishing, I had almost said, the incredible history of thy Saviour's love. Go to Bethlehem, and behold him who upholdeth all things by the word of his power' (I use the language of an apostle), him, who thought it no usurpation of the rights of the Deity to be equal with God;' behold him ' 'humbling himself,' (I use here the words of St. Paul, Heb. i. 3; Phil. ii. 6. His words are more emphatical still.) Behold him annihilated ;* for, although the child, who was born in a stable, and laid in a manger, was a real being, yet he may seem to be annihilated in regard to the degrading circumstances, which veiled and concealed his natural dignity: behold him annihilated by 'taking upon him the form of a servant. Follow him through the whole course of his life; he went about doing good,' Acts x. 38, and expose himself in every place to inconveniences and miseries, through the abundance of his benevolence and love. Pass to Gethsemane; behold his agony; see him as the Redeemer of mankind contending with the Judge of the whole earth; an agony in which Jesus resisted with only prayers and supplications, strong crying and tears,' Heb. v. 7; an agony, preparatory to an event still more terrible, the bare idea of which terrified and troubled him, made his sweat as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground," Luke xxii. 44, and produced this prayer, so fruitful in controversies in the schools, and so penetrating and affecting, so fruitful in motives to obedience, devotion, and gratitude, in truly Christian hearts; 'O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt,'
Consider, thirdly, what it cost Jesus Christ to deliver you from your wretched state.
* Videtur hic alludere ad Dan. ix. 26. Ubi dicitur Messias exinaniendus, ut ei nihil supersit. i. e, quasi in nihilum sit redigendus, Poli Synops, in loc
Matt. xxvi. 44. Go yet farther, Christian!
IV. Can it be difficult to persuade you on this article? Stretch your imaginations. Find, if you can, any circumstance in life, in which it would be happier to reject Christianity
than to submit to it.
Amidst all the disorders and confusions, and (so to speak) amidst the universal chaos of the present world, it is delightful to belong to the Governor, who first formed the world, and who has assured us, that he will display the same power in renewing it, which he displayed in creating it.
In the calamities of life, it is delightful to
belong to the master, who distributes them; who distributes them only for our good; who knows afflictions by experience; whose love inclines him to terminate our sufferings; and who continues them from the same principle of love, that inclines him to terminate them, when we shall have derived those advantages from them, for which they were sent. During the persecutions of the church, it is delightful to belong to a guardian, who can curb our persecutors, and control ever tyrant; who uses them for the execution of his own counsels; and who will break them in pieces with the rod of iron, when they can no longer contribute to the sanctifying of his
Under a sense of our infirmities, when we are terrified with the purity of that morality, the equity of which we are obliged to own, even while we tremble at its severity, it is delightful to belong to a Judge, who does not exact his rights with the utmost rigour; who 'knoweth our frame,' Psa. ciii. 14, who pities our infirmities; and who assureth us,” that he will not break a bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax,' Matt. xii. 20.
Under a recollection of our rebellions, it is delightful to belong to a parent, who will receive us favourably when we implore his clemency; who sweetens the bitterness of our remorse; who is touched with our regrets; who wipes away the tears, that the remembrance of our backslidings makes us shed; who 'spareth us, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him,' Mal. iii. 17.
In that empty void, into which we are of ten conducted, while we seem to enjoy the most solid establishments, the most exquisite pleasures, and the most brilliant honours, it is delightful to belong to a patron, who reserves for us objects far better suited to our original excellence, and to the immensity of our desires. To live to Jesus Christ then, is the felicity of a Christian.
But, if it be a felicity to belong to Jesus Christ while we live, it is a felicity incomparably greater to belong to him when we die. We will conclude this meditation with this article, and it is an article, that I would endeavour above all others to impress on your hearts, and to engage you to take home to your houses. But, unhappily, the subject of this article is one of those, which generally make* the least impression on the minds of Christians. I know a great many Christians, who
place their happiness in living to Jesus Christ: his wishes at the approach of death. This but how few have love enough for him to es- believer, living in this world, resembles the teem it a felicity to die to him! Not only is son of a great king, whom some sad event the number of those small, who experience tore from his royal parent in his cradle; who such a degree of love to Christ; there are knows his parent only by the fame of his very few, who even comprehend what we virtues; who has always a difficult and often mean on this subject. Some efforts of divine an intercepted correspondence with his palove resemble very accurate and refined rea-rent; whose remittances and favours from his parent are always diminished by the hands through which they come to him. With what transport would such a son meet the moment appointed by his father for his return to his natural state!
sonings. They ought naturally to be the most intelligible to intelligent creatures, and they are generally the least understood. Few people are capable of that attention, which takes the mind from every thing foreign from the object in contemplation, and fixes it not only on the subject, but also on that part, on that point of it, if I may be allowed to speak so, which is to be investigated and explained; so that, by a frailty which mankind cannot sufficiently deplore, precision confuses our ideas, and light itself makes a subject dark. In like manner, there are some efforts of divine love, so detached from sense, so free from all sensible objects, so superior to even all the means that religion uses to attract us to God, so eagerly as piring after a union more close, more noble, and more tender, that the greatest part of Christians, as I said before, are not only incapable of experiencing them, but they are also hard to be persuaded, that there is any reality in what they have been told about them.
To be Jesus Christ's in the hour of death, by condition, by engagement, and above all by inclination, are the only means of dying with delight. Without these, whatever makes our felicity while we live will become our punishment when we die; whether it be a criminal object, or an innocent object, or even an object which God himself commands us to love.
Criminal objects will punish you. They will represent death as the messenger of an avenging God, who comes to drag you before a tribunal, where the judge will examine and punish all your crimes. Lawful objects will distress you. Pleasant fields! convenient houses! we must forsake you. Natural relations! agreeable companions! faithful friends! we must give you up. From you our dear children! who kindle in our hearts a kind of love, that agitates and inflames beings, when nature seems to render them incapable of heat and motion, we must be torn away.
Religious objects, which we are commanded above all others to love, will contribute to our anguish on a dying bed, if they have confined our love, and rendered us too sensible to that kind of happiness, which piety proeures in this world; and if they have prevented our souls from rising into a contemplation of that blessed state, in which there will be no more temple, no more sacraments, no more gross and sensible worship. The man who is too much attached to these things, is confounded at the hour of death. The land of love to which he goes, is an unknown country to him; and as the borders of it, on which he stands, and on which alone his eyes are fixed, present only precipices to his view, fear and trembling surround his every step.
But a believer, who loves Jesus Christ with that kind of love, which made St. Paul exclaim, The love of Christ constraineth us,' 2 Cor. v. 14, finds himself on the summit of
I belong to God (these are the sentiments of the believer, of whom I am speaking), I belong to God, not only by his sovereign dominion over me as a creature; not only by that right, which, as a master, who has redeemed his slave, he has acquired over me: but I belong to God, because I love him, and because, I know, God alone deserves my highest esteem. The deep impressions that his adorable perfections have made on my mind, make me impatient with every object which intercepts my sight of him. I could not be content to abide any longer in this world, were he not to ordain my stay; and were I not to consider his will as the only law of my conduct. But the law, that commands me to live, does not forbid me to desire to die. I consider death as the period fixed for the gratifying of my most ardent wishes, the consummation of my highest joy. Whilst I am at home in the body, I am absent from the Lord,' 2 Cor. v. 6. But it would be incomparably more delightful 'to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord,' ver. 8. And what can detain me on earth, when God shall condescend to call me to himself?
Not ye criminal objects! you I never loved; and although I have sometimes suffered myself to be seduced by your deceitful appearan ces of pleasure, yet I have been so severely punished by the tears that you have caused me to shed, and by the remorse, which you have occasioned my conscience to feel, that there is no reason to fear my putting you into the plan of my felicity.
Nor shall ye detain me, lawful objects! how strong soever the attachments that unite me to you may be, you are only streams of hap piness, and I am going to the fountain of fe licity. You are only emanations of happiness, and I am going to the happy God. Neither shall ye, religious objects! detain me. You are only means, and death is going to conduct me to the end, you are only the road; to die is to arrive at home. True, I shall no more read those excellent works, in which authors of the brightest genius have raised the truth from depths of darkness and prejudice in which it had been buried, and placed it in the most lively point of view. I shall hear no more of those sermons in which the preacher, animated by the holy Spirit of God, attempts to elevate me above the present world: but I shall hear and contemplate eternal wisdom, and I shall discover in my commerce with it, the views, the designs, the plans of my Creator; and I shall acquire more wisdom in one moment by this mean than I should ever obtain by hearing the best
composed sermons, and by reading the best
and the Lamb.
True, I shall no more partake of you, ye holy ordinances of religion! ye sacred ceremonies! that have conveyed so many consolations into my soul; that have so amply afforded solidity and solace to the ties, which united my heart to my God; that have so
often procured me a heaven on earth; but I quit you because I am going to receive immediate effusions of divine love, pleasures at God's right hand for evermore, 'fulness of joy in his presence,' Ps. xvi. 11. I quit you because
Alas! your hearts perhaps have escaped me, my brethren! perhaps these emotions, superior to your piety, are no longer the subof your attention. I have, however, no other direction to give you, than that which may stand for an abridgment of this discourse, of all my other preaching, and of my whole ministry; love God; be the Lord's by inclination, as you are his by condition, and by engagement. Then the miseries of this life will be tolerable, and the approach of death delightful. God grant his blessing on the word to him be honour and glory for
THE EQUALITY OF MANKIND.
But if this diversity be connected with the higest utility to mankind in the original design of the Creator, it is become, we must allow, productive of fatal evils, through our abuse of it. On the one hand, they, whose condition is the most brilliant, are dazzled with their own brightness; they study the articles, which elevate them above their fellow-creatures, and they choose to be ignorant of every thing that puts themselves on a level with them; they persuade themselves, that they are beings incomparable, far more noble and excellent than those vile mortals, on whom they proudly tread, and on whom they scarcely deign to cast a haughty
PROVERBS xxii. 2.
The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the Maker of them all.
AMONG the various dispensations of Providence which regard mankind, one of the most advantageous in the original design of the Creator, and at the same time one of the most fatal through our abuse of it, is the diversity of our conditions. How could men have formed one social body, if all conditions had been equal? Had all possessed the same rank, the same opulence, the same power, how could they have relieved one another from the inconveniences, which would have continually attended each of them; variety of conditions renders men necessary to each other. The governor is necessary to the people, the people are necessary to the governor; wise statesmen are necessary to a powerful soldiery, a powerful soldiery is necessary to a wise statesman. A sense of this necessity is the strongest bond of union, and this it is, which inclines one to assist another in hopes of receiving assistance in his
eye. Hence provoking arrogance, cruel reserve, and hence tyranny and despotism. On the other hand, they, who are placed in inferior stations, prostrate their imaginations before these beings, whom they treat rather as gods than men; them they constitute arbiters of right and wrong, true and false; they forget, while they respect the rank which the Supreme Governor of the world has given to their superiors, to maintain a sense of their own dignity. Hence come soft compliances, base submissions of reason and conscience, slavery the most willing and abject to the high demands of these phantoms of grandeur, these imaginary gods.
To rectify these different ideas, to humble the one class, and to exalt the other, it is necessary to show men in their true point of view; to convince them that diversity of condition, which God has been pleased to establish among them, is perfectly consistent with equality; that the splendid condition of the first includes nothing that favours their ideas of self-preference; and that there is nothing in the low condition of the last, which deprives them of their real dignity, or debases their intelligences formed in the image of God. I design to discuss this subject to-day. The men, who compose this audience, and among whom Providence has very unequally divided the blessings of this life; princes, who command, and to whom God himself has given authority to command subjects; subjects, who obey, and on whom God has imposed obedience as a duty; the rich, who give alms, and the poor, who receive them; all, all my hearers, I am go