« PreviousContinue »
But our humiliation must not end there, where it has begun, with the ministers of Christ. To do much real good, it must extend to our people. They, too, must be called upon to take their place in the ranks of the mourners; to turn to the Lord with weeping and fasting, that He may turn away from His wrathful displeasure, that we perish not. And what time can be more suitable for such an united act of self-abasement and mortification of the flesh, than this season of Lent, which our Church has wisely set apart for this purpose, but which has long been, to a great extent, either abused to superstitious formalism, or passed over with slight and indifference. Dear brethren, need I say, these things ought not so to be? “Our land,” as one says, “must put on the appearance (and, let me add, the reality,) of a Bochim, before she will ever wear the aspect of an Hephzibah.”*
Nor let us think that a transient and temporary humiliation will suffice; far otherwise. The soul which is truly bowed down, and brought to feel the weight of sin, will rather be disposed to adopt the language of the pious king of Judah, when he was recovered from his sickness; “I will go softly (as a mourner,) all my years in the bitterness of my soul.” Instead of boasting of our numbers, respectability, learning, and wordly influence; instead of glorying in our Ecclesiastical pedigree, as the children of the Prophets, the lineal successors of a Cranmer, a Ridley, and a Latimer, and other holy Martyrs and Confessors of our Church; ours should be the spirit of deep self-abasement, prostration of soul before the Lord, and loathing of ourselves, on account of all our offences and provocations; even while resting with affectionate confidence on the forgiving love of a reconciled and covenant God. Instead of allying ourselves with the children of this world, living as they live, and speaking as they speak; using the Shibboleth of a party, and numbering our forces as on a grand field-day: ours be the exercise of the closet, the closer walk with God, the life of faith in a crucified Saviour, the communing with our own hearts, the searching out our own spirits, the girding on our spiritual armour, and the pouring out of our souls before God as true penitents.
2. This leads me to a second point of duty, which suggests itself to us all as befitting the present occasion, namely, Prayer. In this exercise we were engaged yesterday, by the command of our Church; and are so to-day at the call of a dear brother, and the voluntary agreement of those who are here assembled. But, dear brethren, need I remind you that our prayers, however fervent and sincere, must not pause or be relaxed, if they are to be effectual. Short breathing-time we may take, but that is all. As Christians, as ministers, prayer must be the business of our lives; and never more emphatically so than at the present day. The Lord seems now to be calling to us, as to Israel of old: “Come, my people; enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee.” It is only in our closets that we can gird ourselves with thật strength which shall enable us to contend successfully with the enemies of our Church and country. David fought with the lion and the bear in the lonely wilderness, before he overcame the giant of Gath in the field of battle. Our blessed Lord wrestled with his great enemy in the desert, and in the garden of Gethsemane, before he conquered so triumphantly on the Cross of Calvary. And so, brethren, it has ever been ; the sling and stone of simple
* Sermons by the late Dr. M'Crie. Ser. xviii. p. 341.
faith has brought down the giant might of the foes of truth; but not till it has been wielded by a hand that was strengthened by secret prayer. Look to our men of might of former days—the champions of the Reformation. Were they not all men of prayer ? What was Luther? Was he not emphatically a man of prayer? Witness those hours which he spent on his knees in fervent wrestling at the throne of Grace. And what was the result? That simple monk, with all his failings, (and he, too, was a frail man,) shook Rome to its centre, and liberated Christendom. This hath God wrought by effectual, fervent prayer. Brethren, let us also try what can be done by prayer. As a good old Homily of our Church says, “there is nothing in all the world more strong than a man that giveth himself to fervent prayer. But then prayer must be persevered in. “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Alas! it is that fainting and weariness in prayer, which so spoils our good designs, and pours confusion and disappointment upon all our endeavours. We begin well, but soon grow cold and faint-hearted. We receive not a ready answer to prayer, we see not an immediate end to our troubles; and so we, by degrees, remit our efforts, and our labour is lost. Oh! let it not be so with us now! “ The Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear.” Who knows but this very time of humiliation and prayer may be the special season of His grace and mercy to our Church and nation? We have great need of both. We all see and feel that “a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,” would be most acceptable. We want discipline in our Church; we want purity, we want union, we want liberality. We want enlargement of heart, and devotedness of soul. We want the cold, calculating, commercial spirit of the age to yield to the crucified, simple, self-renouncing character of the disciple of Jesus. And how is all this to be effected? Simply by fervent, united, believing, persevering prayer. Dear brethren, let us pray for our Bishops at this crisis, that they may have a “spirit of grace, wisdom, and understanding” vouchsafed to them, to meet the difficulties in which they are placed with firmness and meekness. Pray for our Rulers, that the Lord may incline their hearts to protect His cause. Pray for our people generally, that they may cordially submit themselves to those measures which are adopted for their spiritual good, and may listen to those teachers who shall benefit their souls. Pray for us all, that the Lord may pour out His Spirit” upon us, and “revive His work” in the midst of us; and “make us glad according to the days wherein He hath afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil.” Who knoweth if He will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him?"
3. But we must hasten to the third point of duty which demands special attention at the present time, namely, The Faithful Preaching of the Gospel. I need not dwell long on this head, so clearly is it our duty, as ministers of the Gospel, to preach that Gospel; being “instant in season, and out of season,” and “reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with all long-suffering and doctrine.” At the period of the Reformation, this was the instrument which God especially made use of for the calling of His chosen people out of Popish darkness, into the glorious light and liberty of the Gospel. This has also been the chief means which God has blessed to produce thereby a revival of religion in our own day.
* Hom. xix. Concerning Prayer.
And if the dangerous principles of which we have spoken are now to be met and combated with success, it is only by the use of the sword of the Spirit that this can be accomplished. But it is not enough that each of us should preach the Gospel faithfully to our own flocks; they form but a very small part of that Church of Christ which He has bought with His own blood.
“ The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few." What are all the evangelical clergy of our land put together, when compared with the thousands who are yet living in almost Heathen darkness, ignorance, and sin? “Pray we, then, the Lord of the harvest, that He will send labourers into His harvest." And permit me, brethren, to remind
you of the importance of a due observance of the Ember Weeks for this purpose, as a means of concentrating an united interest in prayer for the ordination of duly qualified ministers in the Church of Christ. Nor let us rest here. Some of us have a solemn, and sometimes a painful and difficult duty to perform, in connection with the admission of young men into the Church; whether it be in the way of affixing a signature to their testimonials, or of giving a title for holy orders. Need I remind any of you, my dear brethren, of the unspeakable importance of exercising the utmost possible care, and prayerful vigilance, decided firmness, and godly wisdom, in this matter, especially at the present crisis? Doubtless, many candidates are now pressing forward into the Church, whom it would be the greatest kindness to themselves, as well as to others, to exclude. But there is also another point to which I would ask a moment's attention before leaving this subject. I mean the need there is of providing additional labourers, wherever they can be obtained; godly and decided men, well instructed and sound in the faith; pure in motive, self-denying and consistent in character. No expense or trouble, no sacrifice of any kind, should be declined in the preparation and support of such men, when the land is groaning for want of spiritual instruction. Nor let us forget the cause of Christ abroad, in our just concern for precious souls at home. The whole Church is one. Nor, if the Missionary work be suffered to fail for want of adequate support, can we reasonably expect a blessing upon the seed sown in our own borders. Oh! that the Spirit of Love may be so largely poured out upon us all, that we may come with full hearts and open hands, “to the help of the Lord against the mighty.” “ The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.”
In conclusion, permit me to offer, with becoming deference, three suggestions respecting the manner of conducting the warfare of principle, in which, as ministers of Christ, we are, or shall be, engaged.
1. To appeal to the Scriptures as the sole rule of Faith. The supreme authority of the Word of God was the chief weapon wielded by our Reformers, and yet we may, perhaps, regret that they did not at all times, so distinctly as one might wish, take care to separate between the authority of Scripture and that of the ancient Church. Their situation was indeed peculiar; and, perhaps, called for a peculiar line of conduct. They had to contend with that Popery which was clearly an invention of comparatively modern times; and which might, therefore, be successfully combated on the basis of antiquity. But this is not the case now. We have, indeed, to combat with Popery; but not exclusively with the Popery of Rome, of Trent, or the Lateran. We have to meet the more specious, but not less dangerous Popery of the Nicene age; the superstitions of Africa and the East, as well as of the West; that deference to human authority; that intolerant bigotry; that lowering view of Divine grace; that overweening esteem for ritual observances; and that superstitious abuse of sacred ordinances, which we now witness, is only to be met fully and successfully by an appeal to the Bible alone; throwing aside the cumbrous apparatus of the Patristic learning, just as David put off Saul's armour; and chose rather to go forth against the Philistine with nothing but a sling and a stone, in the name of the God of Israel.
2. To maintain, with unflinching firmness, the peculiar Doctrines of the Gospel. I wish to keep clear of names and designations which have the air of party.
But truth must not be sacrificed to a fear of giving offence; and I greatly apprehend that the current of public opinion in the present day is set strongly in against a full exhibition of the sovereignty of Divine grace; and tends to repudiate, under an odious appellation, those precious truths of a free and finished salvation in Christ Jesus which are the very life and soul of Christianity; the hope of the Church in her darkest day; the anchor for the storm; and the rich deposit of Scripture faith which our godly forefathers have handed down to us in the Liturgy, Articles, and Homilies, which cheered their own dying hours, and which we must resolve not to let go, but with life itself.
3. To exercise forbearance and charity towards all our opponents. While we boldly and resolutely refuse, by God's grace, to give up any portion of saving truth, let us remember that we have especial need to keep a diligent watch over our own spirit and temper, lest we become exclusive, proud, overbearing, and intolerant. The danger is great on either hand; so that nothing but humility and prayer, by divine grace, can preserve us from falling. The beautiful Collect for last Sunday may well be often in our thoughts. Q! how much do we need that “most excellent gift of charity, which is the very bond of peace, and of all virtues;" to enable us to take a just measure of our differences, and “ in lowliness of mind to esteem others better than ourselves.”
THE PERPETUAL OBLIGATION OF THE MORAL LAW
AS A RULE OF LIFE.
The word “law" is used in Scripture to convey different ideas. Sometimes it signifies the Ten Commandments,* or the Decalogue, which is, perhaps, the most common acceptation of "the law of God” at the present day. At other times it refers to the ceremonial law;t or, again, to the Legal Dispensation, of which it was a part; or to the Pentateuch,ll or five books of Moses, in which it was contained; or to the whole Revelation of God. (John xv. 25, comp. Ps. xxxv. 19) Sometimes it has a wider range, as expressive of the moral law,s or our duty * Rom. vii. 7, 12. xiii. 8, 10. f Heb. x. l. I Gal. iii. 23, 24. || John i. 45.
§ Rom, iv. 15.
to God and man, whether taught by the light of nature, or revealed in the word of God. In other places it merely expresses the idea of power, rule, or commanding influence, either natural or acquired; and that either in a good or evil acceptation; as we read of the law of faith,” “the law of sin,” and “the law of the Medes and Persians.”*
This variety of senses is apt, without continual watchfulness, to produce confusion of mind, and lead to an improper use of the passages in which the term occurs. But a little attention to the context will
generally clear up the intention of the inspired writer, and remove all ambiguity from the mind of the simple inquirer after truth.
The object of the following remarks being to shew that the law of God is of perpetual obligation as a rule of life, such passages only will be referred to as relate strictly to the moral law; and it will be our endeavour, by Divine assistance, to prove that this law, which is briefly summed
up in the ten commandments, or, more comprehensively still, in the two precepts of love to God, and love to our neighbour, has never been abrogated.
That man requires a law for his guidance in moral duty, seems evident to every serious mind: and that such a law has been given even to the heathen, is clearly declared by the Apostle Paul. This is what is commonly called the light of nature, or natural conscience; imperfect, indeed, and apt to mislead those who have no other director, but still not to be despised, as being in the main, doubtless, in accordance, as far as it goes, with the mind and will of God. But this law " written in the heart” is only a fragment of that perfect transcript of the Divine will which was engraven there when God made man upright | in Paradise. An uncertain guide at the best, it is often so far overborne by bad habits, and seared by sinful indulgence and inattention, as to cease to lift up its warning voice, and point the way from misery and ruin to the paths of purity and peace. Such being the case, to repair that image of God in man, which was lost by the fall, and to remedy the manifold imperfections of this inward rule, the law of the Ten Commandments was given from Mount Sinai, amid all the circumstances of solemnity imaginable.|| It was uttered by the voice of God himself, 9 and written by the finger of God on two tables of stone, T to shew that these commandments were quite distinct from, and far superior to, all the other precepts given by God to Israel, through the mediation of Moses.** These tables, thus prepared, were laid up in the ark of the covenant, and covered over with the mercy-seat;tt all which circumstances, we have just grounds to believe, were typical of the place which the moral law of God was to hold in the plan of salvation.
When the eternal and co-equal Son of God was sent into the world to redeem mankind from the curse of the broken law, He declared, by the Psalmist, “Lo! I come: I delight to do thy will, O
yea, thy law is within my heart.”#1 So far from intending to do away with the law of God as a burdensome, low, and temporary institution, the Holy One of God delighted to perform it: and shall we, who call ourselves His followers, desire to be free from its requirements ? * Rom. iii. 27. vii. 21, 23, 25. Dan. vi. 8. f Rom. ii. 14, 15. Eccles. vii. 29.
|| Exodus xix. 16, 20. xx. 18, 21. Heb. xii. 18, 21. $ Exodus xx. 1 T Exodus xxxi. 18. xxxii. 16. xxxiv. 1. ** Exodus xx. 19. xxi. 1, &c. #f Exodus xl. 20, called “the testimony;" comp. xxxiv. 29, Deut. x..2, 5.
* Psalm xl. 7,8. compare Heb. x. 7. 1845-MAR.