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suspicions which lead to despondency, are injurious to God, hurtful to ourselves, and repugnant to that whole system of mercy which I have been illustrating.
You complain, that when you engage in the solemn exercises of devotion, your spirits are depressed by a load of cares and sorrows; that in your thoughts there is no composure, and in your affections no elevation; that after
essays, you are incapable of fixing your attention steadily on God, or of sending up your prayers to him with becoming warmth and fulness of heart. This debility and wandering of mind, you are apt to impute to some uncommon degree of guilt. You consider it as the symptom of incurable hardness of heart, and as a melancholy proof of your being abandoned by God.Suchfears as these, in a great measure refute themselves. If you were really obdurate, you would be insensible of guilt. Your complaints of hardness of heart are an evidence of your hearts being at that moment contrite and actually relenting. Are there any circumstances of inward discomposure and perplexity, of which he is unconscious, who, at a critical period of his life, was “heavy and sore amazed ;' [Mark xiv. 33.] who was obliged to complain, that his soul was troubled within him,' and to acknowledge that though the spirit was willing, yet the flesh was weak?' To a superior nature, untouched with human frailty, you might, in such situations, look up with some degree of terror. But he, who remembers the struggles of his own soul, will not surely judge yours, like a hard and unfeeling master. Acquainted with the inmost recesses of human nature, he perceives the sincerity of your intentions ; he sees the combat you maintain; he knows how much of your present confusion and disorder is to be imputed not to your inclination and will, but to an infirm, an aged, or diseased body, or to a weak and wounded spirit; and, therefore, will be far from rejecting your attempts to serve him, on account of the infirmities which you lament. He hears the voice of those secret aspirations, which you are unable to express in words, or to form into prayer. Every penitential tear which your contrition sheds, pleads your cause more powerfully with him, than all the arguments with which you could fill your mouth.
II. 2. From our Saviour's experience of human misery, we may justly hope, that he will so compassionately regard our
distressed estate, as to prevent us from being loaded with unnecessary troubles.
He will not wantonly add affliction to the afflicted; nor willingly crush what he sees to be already broken. In the course of that high administration which he now exercises, he may indeed judge certain intermixtures of adversity to be proper for our moral improvement. But whatever afflictions our Lord may judge to be necessary for us, of this we may rest assured, that he will deal them forth, not with harsh and imperious authority, but with the tenderness of one who knows, from experience, how deeply the human heart is wounded by every stroke of adversity. He will not lay more upon us than he sees we are able to bear. Though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his tender mercies. He will stay his rough wind in the day of the east wind:' [Isaiah xxvii. 8.] for it is his state, but not his nature, which is now changed. Notwithstanding his high exaltation, he still retains' the compassionate sentiments of the “man of sorrows.' Still, we are assured, by an inspired writer, • he is not ashamed to call us brethren.' [Heb. ii. 11.) And with the heart of a brother, he regards those few and troubled days, such as his own once were, which good men are doomed to pass in this evil world.
From his compassion, indeed, we are not to expect that fond indulgence or unseasonable relief, by which the weak pity of men frequently injures its objects. It is to the material interests, more than to the present case, of good men, that he attends. When, under the impatience of sorrow, we exclaim, "hath he forgotten to be gracious ? hath He in anger shut up his tender mercies?' we recollect not in whose hands we are.
His compassion is not diminished, when its operations are most concealed. It continues equally to flow, though the channels by which it is conducted towards us, lie too deep for our observation. Amidst our present ignorance of what is good or ill for us in this life, it is sufficient for us to know, that the immediate administration of universal government is placed in the hands of the most attentive and compassionate friend of mankind. How greatly does this consideration alleviate the burden of human wo! How happily does it connect with the awful dispensations of religion, the mildest ideas of tenderness and humanity!
II. 3. The text leads us to hope, that amidst all the infirmities of our state, both under the temptations and under the distresses of life, our blessed Lord will afford us a proper measure of assistance and support. 'In that he hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them who' either suffer or “ are tempted ;' [Heb. ii. 18.] that is, he is perfectly qualified for discharging this beneficent office; he knows exactly where the wound bleeds, where the burden presses, what relief will prove most seasonable, and how it can be most successfully applied. Not only is the promise of divine assistance expressly given to Christians, but their faith in that promise is strengthened by an argument, which must carry conviction to every heart. If Christ had full experience of the insufficiency of human nature to overcome the difficulties wherewith it is now surrounded, will he withhold from his followers, that grace, without which he sees they must perish in the evil day? If, in the season of his temptation and distress, an angel was sent from heaven, to strengthen him,' shall no celestial messenger be employed by him on the like kind errand to those, whom he styles his brethren? Can we believe that he who once bore our griefs, and carried our sorrows,' will, from that height of glory to which he is now exalted, look down upon us here, contending with the storm of adversity, labouring to follow his steps through the steep and difficult paths of virtue, exposed on every side to arrows aimed against us by the powers of darkness; and that, seeing our distress and hearing our supplications, he will remain an unconcerned spectator, without vouchsafing us either assistance to support our frailty, or protection to screen us amidst surrounding dangers ? Where were then the benevolence of a Divine Nature? Where, the compassion of that Mediator, who was trained to mercy in the school of sorrow ? Far from us be such ungrateful suspicions of the generous friend of human kind !-Let us exert ourselves as we can, and we shall be assisted. Let us pray, and we shall be heard; for there is one to present our prayers, whom the Father heareth always.' “ These,” will he say, “are my followers on earth, passing through that thorny path of temptation and sorrow which I once trod.
Now I am no more in the world ; but these are in the world. Holy Father ! thine they were, and thou gavest them me. Keep them through thine own name. Sanctify them through thy truth. Keep them from the evil one; that they may be where I am, and may behold the glory which thou hast given me.'” (John xvii.]
III. 1. When we review what has been said, it is necessary that, in the first place, we avoid an abuse. The amiable view which it gives of our Lord's clemency, may Aatter some men with unwarrantable hopes, and lead them to imagine, that, in his experience of human weakness, an apology is to be found for every crime. But so far is our Saviour's experience of nature from affording any ground of hope to presumptuous offenders, that it ought to fill them with terror. For it shows them how thoroughly qualified he is to discriminate accurately the characters of men, and to mark the boundaries between frailty and perverseness. He who, from his own feelings, well knows all the workings of the human heart, clearly discerns how different their temper is from what was once his own. He perceives that vice, not virtue, is their choice; and that, instead of resisting temptation, they resist conscience. He sees that infirmity affords them no excuse; and that the real cause of their acting a criminal part, is not because they cannot do better, but, in truth, because they will not. Having forfeited every title to compassion, they are left in the hands of justice; and according as they have sown,' they must expect to reap.
III. 2. But in the second place, to such as are sincere and upright, the doctrine which I have illustrated affords high encouragement, and powerfully recommends the Christian religion. A Mediator between God and his creatures, was an object, after which men, in all nations, and under all forms of religion, had long and anxiously sought. The follies of superstition have served to disclose to us, in this instance, the sentiments of
The whole religion of paganism was a system of me. diation and intercession. Depressed by a conscious sense of guilt, nature shrunk at the thought of adventuring on a direct approach to the Sovereign of the universe; and laboured to find out some auspicious introductor to that awful presence. With blind and trembling eagerness, the nations fled to subordinate deities, to tutelar gods, and to departed spirits, as their patrons and advocates above. Them they studied to soothe with such costly gifts, such pompous rites, or such humble supplications as (they thought) might incline them to favour their cause, and to support their interests with the Supreme Divinity. While mankind were bewildered in this darkness, the Gospel not only revealed the true Mediator, who, in this view, may be justly called “the Desire of all nations,' but placed his character and office in a light, most admirably fitted to support the interest of virtue in the world, and to encourage the humble, without flattering the presumptuous.
III.3. Lastly, let us take notice how remarkably this dispensation of religion is calculated to promote a spirit of humanity and compassion among men, by those very means which it employs for inspiring devotion towards God. We are now drawing nigh to the Supreme Being through a Mediator, for whose compassion we pray, on account of the experience which he has had of our frailty. We trust, that having been acquainted with distress, "he will not despise nor abhor the affliction of the afflicted. The argument by which we plead for his compassion, concludes still more strongly for mutual charity and sympathy with one another. He who, in the midst of the common sufferings of life, feels not for the distressed; he who relents not at his neighbour's grief, nor scans his failings with the eye of a brother; must be sensible, that he excludes himself from the commiseration of Christ. He makes void the argument, by which he pleads for his mercy; nay he establishes a precedent against himself. Thus, the Christian religion approves itself as worthy of God, by connecting devotion in strict union with charity. As, in its precepts, the love of God and the love of man are joined,-so in its institution, the exercise of both is called forth; and to worship God through the mediation of a compassionate High-Priest, necessarily supposes in the worshippers a spirit of compassion towards their own brethren.
[DR. H. BLAIR.]