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Whatever degree of mental culture, education, combined with genius and taste, may confer, whatever amiable qualities may adorn the life, the heart, in the absence of divine influence, will continue unrenewed still ; still will sin rage there like the pent up fire of a volcano that nevertheless presents a verdant and beautiful surface, until at length the hidden and struggling flame finds a vent and explodes, when all the lovely scenery is swept away. Is not this matter of fact What has ever been achieved towards the regeneration of our apostate race by the best systems of speculative philosophy, or the most strenuous efforts of man practically to apply them 1
What has human legislation accomplished 1 Doubtless it has frequently answered its design, and done good service in restraining public and deluging outbreaks of depraved passion, damming up the sluices of sin, and affording a safe-guard to society. Yet in many instances it has failed in its attempts to oppose any adequate barriers, even to the open inundation of moral pravity: at all events, it has proved incapable of preventing the bitter tide from secretly oozing through those barriers, and forming itself into many silent streams, which have no less effectually, though more imperceptibly, injured society by sapping its foundations, than when, like a mountain torrent, it has occasionally, with alarming violence, openly invaded its rights and overwhelmed its fairest institutions. But supposing that any code of human laws were completely and invariably successful in securing public morals and reforming human manners, it could only take cognizance of overt acts; it could not control the mind, could not influence the motives or regulate the springs of action. We must look to a far higher source of legislation for this. “Behold, saith the Lord, ... I will put
my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” What has moral suasion done, apart from almighty influence 1 The most powerful arguments and the most affecting appeals fail of ensuring any permanently salutary result. They may, and often do, produce a temporary excitement. But there is nothing lasting. There is no real vitality or spiritual energy. They are only like the experiments of galvanism on a corpse, that occasion muscular contortion and momentary motion; but all without life “Can a well composed oration,” asks the excellent Charnock, “setting out all the advantages of life and health, raise a dead man or cure a diseased body ? You may as well exhort a blind man to behold the sun, and prevail as much. No man ever yet imagined that the strewing a dead body with flowers would raise it to life ; no more can the urging a man spiritually dead with eloquent motives ever make him to open his eyes, and to stand upon his feet. The working of mighty power is a title too high for the capacity of mere moral exhortation. A mere suasion does not confer a strength, but supposes it in a man; for he is only persuaded to use a power which he hath already.” What are the best resolutions without divine aid Unquestionably they are of consequence when made in the exercise of humble dependence on power from on high. And we are called upon to resolve in the strength of divine grace, to serve the Lord, and to pay our vows unto him. But, if made in our own strength, our resolutions will prove no better than fences of sand before the whirlwind of passion, or of snow beneath the heat of temptation. , III. That divine influence is sovereign and gracious in its bestowment. It is sovereign. It is of God's pleasure as to when he will bestow his almighty agency, and in connexion with what class of means. We can have no absolute claim on its communication even in our attendance on the means of grace. Often is it actually withheld, and always is the time when it will be conferred, unknown, in order to impress us with a sense of its value and the necessity of diligence in seeking it. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand : for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good. The wind bloweth where it listeth, . . . . so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” It is gracious. Of God's good pleasure, —or as the expression (trip ric tookiac) may be rendered,—according to his own gratuitous benevolence. Although in the donation of his Holy Spirit God acts most freely and sovereignly, he never acts capriciously. He proceeds as he does for the most beneficent as well as the wisest of purposes, with a view, as we have said, to enhance the unspeakable gift in our estimation, that we may solicit it more earnestly and enjoy it more fully, whilst we yield the glory to him by whom it is so gratuitously and graciously conferred. IV. That the bestowment of almighty influence is perfectly compatible and closely connected with man's free agency and personal efforts. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” We do not attempt to explain how divine influence operates on the human spirit. We cannot tell how one finite mind holds communion with, and operates on, another finite mind. Who can describe the union and sympathy subsisting between his own soul and body, or give a satisfactory solution of the ten thousand questions which might be started relative to the natural phenomena and atmospheric influences around us? Who can tell, for example, how dew, to
which divine influence is so often and beautifully compared, is produced? Whether the vapour is condensed by cold, or electricity, or both 7 Yet the existence of the facts is undeniable. And equally certain is it that the Spirit of God does influence the heart and direct the conduct of every one who acts in his fear and is devoted to his praise. For every effect, as well moral as physical, must be the result of an adequate cause. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” Nor is it less true, as matter of fact, that divine influence does not destroy, or interfere with, the free exercise of human agency. God does not do our work; he cannot work out our salvation with fear and trembling. He gives the power to will and to do according to his own righteous will; but the use of that power belongs to man. Otherwise, man were a mere machine, only acting as wrought upon by foreign force, whether for good or for evil, and therefore irresponsible as to the qualities of his actions not voluntarily performed. How could God then judge the world, or pronounce upon any of his creatures a sentence either of condemnation or of approval; Are we not assured that, whilst the wicked will reap the fruit of their works, the righteous will also receive the reward of their doings? “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” And may we not appeal to the experience of those who have believed through grace, and ask, whether your thoughts and desires do not flow as freely now, whether your actions are not as voluntary now, as when you were opposed to the things in which you now delight ! Hence you are addressed and exhorted as moral, free, accountable beings. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Cherish habitual reverence of God, and exercise constant jealousy over your own hearts. If the apostle says of himself, “I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway,” certainly it behoves us to give heed to ourselves, and to fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into rest, any of us should seem to come short of it. The cultivation of such feelings will, therefore, induce watchfulness and prayer. You will frequent the throne of grace more, and seek more importunately enlarged effusions of that holy and blessed influence of which you will increasingly feel your personal and
indispensable need. And, meanwhile, you will watch against every thing that would grieve the Spirit of God and obstruct your growth in grace ; and assiduously employ every means by which, under God, that growth may be accelerated and matured, encouraged, as you are, by the assurance that he is always near freely to afford his aid. “For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure ; for if ye do these things ye shall never fall. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Bridport.
THE MOURNERS COMFORTED.
BY THE REW. J. J. DAVIES.
“Blessed are they that mourn:
THERE is an obvious adaptation in the promise mentioned in this passage to the characters to whom it is given. Jesus promises comfort to the mourners. The mourning of which he speaks does not hinder comfort; it is rather a necessary preparative for its enjoyment. As the setting of a dislocated limb is necessary to ease, as the probing of an old and corrupt wound, however painful the operation, is necessary to its healing, so is godly sorrow for sin necessary to the enjoyment of spiritual health, and of holy consolation. The first work of the Divine Spirit in the recovery of man is to convince him of sin. As the whole need not a physician, but they that are sick, we must be made sensible of our spiritual malady or we shall never avail ourselves of the remedy
which the great Physician of souls has |
vol. x.-FOURTH SERIES.
for they shall be comforted."
prepared, and which he freely offers to us in the gospel. Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; he came to seek and to save that which was lost; we must, therefore, be made conscious of our helpless and hopeless condition as sinners, or we shall never avail ourselves of the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, but will remain strangers alike to the healing influence of his grace, and to the consolations which he affords his people. Hence, where the Spirit comes, he convinces men of sin. He shows them their real character and condition. When they know this they are filled with apprehension and sorrow ; they are pricked to the heart; they loathe themselves; they repent in sackcloth and ashes.
This inward sorrow is needful to our 4 K
spiritual healing. It is needful as a preparative to the enjoyment of the consolations which Jesus gives to his people. The tears of pious sorrow are often bitter, but they are of Inedicinal virtue; they contribute to the purification of the soul, and they prepare it for those joys which the unholy cannot realize. None of the tears of these pious mourners are lost; they water the soil of the heart; they prepare it for the seed of the kingdom; they refresh the plants of grace, and cause them to grow and flourish. Yea, there is a luxury in the tears of godly sorrow. Though they are bitter, there is some sweetness in them too. While the heart is unbroken for sin, while the mind is unsubdued to God, and efforts are constantly being made to cover sin, to hide it, if possible, from yourself and from God, what restlessness, what anxiety, do you not experience You are a stranger to inward peace; your mind is like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, which is continually casting up mire and dirt. But when your mind is subdued, and your spirit is melted in contrition; when you freely confess your sins, and take part with the righteous God even against yourself; when you acknowledge that he has been altogether right, that you have been altogether wrong, and you submit yourself unreservedly to him, then you have peace; you mourn, but you do not murmur; you repent, but you do not repine or rebel; you weep, but through your tears you look confidingly to the mercy-seat; you find that “tears have their own sweetness too,” and you realize the truth of the Saviour's words, “Blessed are they that mourn : for they shall be comforted.” We may here remark, in passing, how different are the ways of religion from the ways of sin. The draughts of sinful pleasure may be sweet to the taste; but afterwards they are bitter as
gall, and venomous as the serpent's sting. In the service of sin you begin with joy and you end with sorrow; every pleasure contains in itself the seeds of pain; and your gratifieations are only preparing for you the bitter cup of death. But in the service of God, though you sow in tears you will reap in joy. “Sorrow may endure for a night, but joy will come in the morning.” Your tears will all be converted into smiles, and your mourning will be turned into dancing. You will have “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” But what is the nature of the consolation of which Jesus speaks in this passage, and which he gives to them that mourn ? As it is not every kind of mourning of which our Lord speaks, so neither is it every kind of consol tion that he promises to his people. There are many mourners who will never be comforted, and there is much comfort which Jesus never gives, and which indeed is not worth possessing. There are many who say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” There are many who have their joys and their raptures, but they are all delusive, and will terminate only in disappointment and distress. It is of great importance, therefore, that we should have right views of the consolations which Jesus promises to them that mourn. Let it be remarked, then, 1. That the consolations of the gospel are always connected with humility. They are the mourners who are comforted; that is, they are those who apprehend the evil of sin and their exposed condition as sinners, and who are therefore bowed down in spirit before their God. We must be stripped of those feelings of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency which are natural to us, before we can enjoy the consolations of religion, To the proud they are never imparted; by them they can never be realized. The tendency of our nature is, unhappily, to abuse every thing; and to convert even these consolations into the food of pride, Paul was in danger of being exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations with which he was favoured; and to keep him still humble he had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him. But whenever we indulge a spirit of pride and self-sufficiency, we are deprived of these consolations. They grow not on the high hills, but in the lowly valleys. They flourish best beside the waters of affliction, and amidst the tears of penitence. The happy Christian is always the humble Christian; he lives out of himself in Christ. 2. The consolations which Jesus gives are characterized by purity. They are essentially holy comforts. They are holy in their nature; and they are holy in their tendency and in their effects. Their author is the Holy Spirit; and all his gracious operations, as they are worthy of himself, so are they like himself; they partake of his own infinitely holy nature. Their subjects are holy beings; men who are renewed in the spirit of their minds. They cannot be enjoyed in connexion with the love of sin. Those who yield to temptation and indulge in sin lose the consolations of religion. Their source is the pure truth of God. They do not originate in false views, in fancies, impulses, and visions. Peaceful emotions, feelings of rapture and ecstatic joy, arising from impressions on the imagination, and growing out of false views, may sometimes be found in truly pious minds ; but they are perfectly distinct from the consolations of religion. These are at once enlightened and pure. Their source is truth; and they are insepara
bly connected with right yiews of the divine character and government, of the economy of redemption by Christ Jesus, of the promises of the gospel, of its sacred requirements, and of the glorious prospects which it opens to the believing mind, 3. The consolations of the gospel are distinguished by the certainty of their enjoyment. Our Father who is in heaven is the BLEssed God; and it is his gracious purpose that his children should be made partakers of the divine nature. God intends that his people should be happy; and he has made the most ample provision for their comfort. He has given them “strong consolation, and a good hope through grace.” We do not, indeed, see all tears wiped away, all wounded spirits healed, all mourners comforted. It must, however, be borne in mind that the fault is not in the gospel or in its Author. Jesus came into the world to comfort all that mourn; and if there be any wounds yet bleeding, any broken hearts yet unhealed, any sorrowful spirits yet uncomforted, it is not because he is unable or unwilling to accomplish the purposes of his mission. He can close those bleeding wounds; he can heal those broken hearts; he can soothe and comfort those sorrowful spirits. And there is no reluctance on his part to do this. All mourners are welcome to come to him, and he will not cast them out; but will heal and comfort them. But, alas ! there are many who will bear their burdens alone rather than come to Christ that they may find rest unto their souls. God is called by the apostle, “the God of all comfort;" and his gracious assurance to his people is, “I, even I, am he that comforteth you.” With more than maternal gentleness and kindness does he do this, “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” Who can doubt the certainty of