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that he was the person, anointed with the Holy Spirit, of whom the prophet spake, and that according to those words would be the character of his preaching that day. Happy day, which at length saw the accomplishment of that promise which had been delayed for so many centuries!Happy people, (if they had known their happiness,) for whom it was reserved to hear those things which "many prophets and righteous
men had desired to hear" in vain! But most miserable in this, that, when they, "who sat in darkness saw a great light, and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light sprung up," the darkness which possessed their minds. was so "gross" that it "comprehended it not!" Most miserable, inasmuch as "they rejected the counsel of God against themselves," and when the blessed gospel was preached to them, even by Christ himself, they madly "put it from them, and counted themselves unworthy of everlasting life!" They "would not come unto Christ that they might have life; "-nay, he came unto them, -"he came unto his own, and his own received him not; " he preached to them with his own lips, he "pleaded with them face to face,"-and what was the result? After the first emotion of thankfulness, after the first effusion of idle admiration, when his words were applied closely to their
consciences, when they heard their sin denounced in being prejudiced against him because he had lived amongst them, and they knew his lowly extraction, and when they were persuaded that the privilege, which they despised, would be withdrawn from them, and conferred upon others, "they were filled with wrath," and would have destroyed him, but that they "had no power against him at all," because it was not "given them from above."
I will not pass over this event without a brief observation on the instruction to be derived from it, both by a minister and by his congregation. We are sometimes apt to be discouraged and faint-hearted when we can behold no fruit of our labours, and have reason to fear that "our preaching has been in vain; we are almost ready to despair, to fly from our posts, to relinquish our work altogether, and to say with Elijah, "It is enough, now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers." But who is that presumptuous servant that expects to be "above his Lord?" When Christ himself, preaching in person, was so often "despised and rejected of men," shall his ministers think it a strange thing, if his words, conveyed and expounded by their lips, very frequently meet with similar treatment? Disappointed as they may be at the small progress in christian
attainments which they may observe in their flocks, and grieved that so many refuse their own mercy, shall they cease to tend them still with anxious care?-shall they neglect the apostle's injunction to "preach the word, to be instant in season, out of season, to reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine?" No: still let us labour in faith and love, and having planted and watered the seed as far as our abilities extend, however unfavourable may be the prospects of a harvest, let us trust in God that in due time he will give some increase.
And you, my brethren, have something to learn from the conduct of the congregation, to whom Christ preached in the synagogue of Nazareth. You find that at first they were highly pleased with his discourse; "they all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words, which proceeded out of his mouth." Does this prove that his sermon had done them any real good?—that it had converted them?-that it had produced in them an humble conviction of their sins? that it had disposed them to embrace his religion with sincerity, and to take up their cross and follow him? It was but a momentary impression that had been made upon them; instantly their old prejudices return, "Is not this Joseph's son?" Why should we listen to his preaching? What right has he to undertake
to instruct us? And speedily did they pass from contempt to hatred; the very words that ought to have humbled them, filled them with wrath, and the whole audience were so far from having imbibed any of the meek and gentle disposition of the gospel from that discourse, that there was not one among "all in the synagogue," who would not readily have participated in a foul murder, had not the deed been miraculously prevented; in the hearts of all of them it was perpetrated.
Do you not see then that to admire and applaud a sermon, is a very different thing from being improved by it? and that a person may often say that he has heard excellent doctrine or exhortation, and yet himself be no better christian after all? I have met with several, who seemed to have a great fondness for hearing sermons, but of whom I could not think they had ever heard one to their real benefit. I have known people whose religion is all form,-who love to hear preaching,―speak highly of what they have heard, and yet remain formalists. I have known persons approve of discourses, which most expressly condemned themselves, and yet apply no part of them to their own case. Be not deceived therefore into the thought, that if you are fond of hearing sermons, that it is a sure sign of your being religious; but see whether you like the personal application of
what you hear, whether you can patiently bear to have it said to you, "thou art the man;” whether you can endure to have your own hearts laid open to you, your own practices or defects brought before you, and examine critically whether this personal application has had the effect of correcting what was amiss in you. I verily believe that the reason why people in general are so fond of listening to preachers, is, because they apply nothing of what is said to themselves. I know at least, very certainly, that if I were to say the same things to individuals, which I address to large bodies assembled together, and to declare that I was speaking particularly of their own state, almost every one, however true my words might be, would be offended. You can hardly admonish any one of the sinful errors he is proceeding in, but he is made angry, he considers it a great affront, he thinks you mean a personal insult towards him; and if he makes any acknowledgment at all, it is always coupled with the observation, that he is not worse than his neighbours, indeed that he is much better than many. And yet this same person would not at all object to hear the very same things from the pulpit ;-he might even go away and declare that he had heard a very edifying discourse, and flatter himself, that because he thought it edifying, therefore he was edifyed.