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as a figure of heaven, that better country, to which all God's elect people are bound, and to which they shall all be led for these reasons, we shall, I apprehend, put no force on the words of that text, which stands as a motto to this essay, nor strain them beyond their due meaning, if (beside their literal signification as a history) we consider them in a spiritual light, as importing the safety of those, who, in consequence of being called forth from a state of nature by converting grace, are enabled to set their faces Sion-ward, and to enter on a journey to the kingdom of God. The chief business therefore of the present attempt, shall be to show, that, to every real Christian, the present life is only a journey to a better; and that all they who do in earnest set out for the heavenly Canaan, the Jerusalem which is above, shall certainly get safe to their journey's end, and not one of them perish by the way.
When a merchant sends out his fleet on a trading voyage, he is not sure of the event. His ships may arrive at the desired haven, and return with the wished increase; or they may founder on their passage, and both cargo and crews be lost.–Or, when a person takes a far journey, he has no assurance of safety. He cannot pre-discern what is before him ; nor whether he shall come back to his house in peace or no. Such is the uncertainty of earthly transactions with regard to our foreknowledge of them. We cannot tell what a day, what 'a moment may bring forth. The issue of things lies hid in the womb of futurity, till providence and time make manifest the determinations of God, by bringing those determinations to pass.
Not so clouded are the better things which relate to a better life. The feeblest seeker of salvation by the blood of the Lamb, and the meanest hungerer after the kingdom and righteousness of Jesus, may be assured beforehand, that the kingdom shall be his. The inseparable blessings of grace and glory are styled, the sure mercies of David (Acts xiii. 34.) Ta ooia Ambiò ta 7415, the sacred [i. e. the inviolably certain, and] the faithful things of David, i. e. of Christ: or more conformably to the original passage in Isaiah, the sure benefits of David: meaning, the infallible certainty of those benefits (such as pardon, justification, sanctification, final preservation, and eternal happiness), which are secured to the church, by virtue of that unalterable covenant subsisting between the Father, the Spirit, and Christ the antitype of David, in behalf of all who shall be made to believe through grace.
This everlasting covenant of peace and salvation, entered into with God the Son, by the other two divine persons, St. Paul had in view, when he says, God, willing to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise, the immutability of his counsel [Beans, of his decree], confirmed it with an oath, that by two unchangeable things [namely, his decree and oath], wherein it is impossible for God to falsify, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us, Heb. vi. 17, 18.
Now, as Abram literally set forward from the land of his nativity ; so, in a figurative sense, does every person who is effectually called by grace. By nature, we are insensible of our sinful state, and ignorant of our extreme danger; impenitent, and unbelieving; and (which argues the utmost blindness and depravation) self-righteous, though unholy. This is a compendious map of the natural man. He is a native of Mount Sinai; born under the covenant of works ; fondly expecting to be justified by the deeds of the law; though he has broke the law, more or less, in every particular.
From this legal state of insensibility, impenitence, unbelief, self-righteousness, and bondage to sin, every child of God is delivered, by the effectual operation of the Holy Ghost; through whose almighty agency, we are caused to turn our backs on the blind road we were pursuing before, and to steer a different course. No longer insensible of our real condition, we feel that every step we took, was leading us farther and farther from God and happiness in heaven. Ignorant no longer of the danger, to which we were obnoxious, by reason of original and actual sin; we have recourse to Christ alone, as the way, the truth, and the life. No more impenitent, we bewail the depravity of our hearts, and the transgressions of our hands; we love the rectitude we hated, and hate the sins we loved. Retrieved from absolute unbelief, we feel the necessity of Christ, and throw ourselves upon the grace of God in him, for deliverance from the wrath to come. No longer habitually self-righteous, we not only most willingly submit to, but most thankfully embrace, and most devotedly rest upon, and triumph in, the righteousness of Christ, as the sole procuring cause of our acceptance in the Father's sight. And, no longer quite unholy, we pant after inward conformity to the divine image, and outward conformity to the divine law: thoroughly sensible, that, without holiness no man can see the Lord; and that faith without works is dead.
Whosoever is brought thus far, is more than halfway to the kingdom of heaven. He has made through grace, a good progress on the road to Sion ; and shall go on, from strength to strength, till he appear before the God of gods in glory.
When this happy change is effected, and the converted person begins to evidence his new birth, by forsaking his old companions in sin, and by leading a new life; different people will pass different censures upon his conduct. One will, without ceremony, dub him a new-fashioned Methodist. Another will set him down for an old-fashioned Puritan. A third will roundly pronounce him a madman, that has lost his senses by being righteous over-much.
A fourth, who has more politeness, and less illnature than the rest, will say to him, I wonder how a person of your good sense in other things, can be so precise. You will hurt your (a) nerves, and damp your spirits. There is no occasion for all this ado. Take a cheerful glass! Give the rein to your appetites! and make a merry life of it, though it be a short one.
Thus will multitudes endeavour, by various methods, to call the traveller back, and to divert him from his Christian course. But he still holds on his way: answering, as he passes, We shall see whose life will be merriest in the end.
Yet let not the follower of Christ cause the way of truth to be ill spoken of, or bring an evil report on the good land, by needless rigour, and by affected severity. Do not sullenly reject the gifts of providence, under a pretence of superior sanctity;
but use them, without abusing them. If you have them not, be not anxious after them. If you have them, enjoy them in the fear, and to the glory of God. There is a sober, restrained sense, in which a true believer may say with the poet,
“ The blessings thy free bounty gives,
Let me not cast away :
To enjoy, is to obey.” Receive, gratefully. Distribute, cheerfully. Enjoy, innocently. Give thanks, incessantly. When you set out for heaven, do not set up for a monk; nor look upon those things as criminal, which the
(a) The late Dr. E -n; bishop of St. David's, dissuaded a lady from hearing Mr. Whitefield preach, for fear it might hurt her nerves. But what was this, when weighed against the piety and religion of a great churchman now living? who, no longer ago than the very last month that ever was (viz. in the month of August, 1775) actually said to a lady of quality, “ Do not tell me of St. Paul, Madam : it would have been happy for the Christian church, if St. Paul had never wrote a line of his epistles.”
word of God does not declare to be so. Gnatstrainers are too often camel-swallowers : and the pharisaical mantle of superstitious austerity is very frequently, a cover for a cloven foot. Beware, then, of driving too furiously at first setting out. Take the cool of the day. Begin, as you can hold on. I knew a lady, who, to prove herself perfect, ripped off her flounces; and would not wear an ear-ring, a necklace, a ring, or an inch of lace. Ruffles were Babylonish. Powder was antichristian. A ribband was carnal. A snuff-box smelt of the bottomless pit. And yet, under all this parade of outside humility, the fair ascetic was
But I forbear entering into particulars. Suffice it to say, that she was a concealed Antinomian. And I have known too many similar instances.
Take heed, however, o believer in Christ, of, verging to the opposite extreme. Beware of a supine, lukewarm, libertine spirit. Watch unto prayer, guard against negligence. Advance not to the uttermost bounds of your liberty. It is a just remark, which I have somewhere met with, that the best way to be secure from falling into a well, is not to venture too near the brink. Swim not with the stream, if the tide roll downward; neither follow a multitude to do evil. It is the duty of a Christian, not to be ashamed of being singularly good; especially in an age like this, when so many are not ashamed of being eminently bad. Better go with a few to heaven; than to go with much and polite company to hell. He that fears men, and seeks to please men at the expence of gospeltruths, or of good morals, is not an honest man, much less a servant of Christ. And though in matters of mere indifference, you are not absolutely bound to abridge your liberty as a Christian ; nor is it meet that you should affect to be good, any more than to be wise, above that which is written; yet, if you find (as in some instances you pro