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The sentiment to which the psalmist was led to give utterance, is weighty, and deserves to be pondered. It is a truth which the professed people of God, in every age, should seriously lay to heart. A clean conscience, and a lively enjoyment of religion, are necessary to extensive usefulness and influence in the cause of God, and in winning souls to Him.
This will appear from three reasons, embracing the elements on which a successful result depends—Experience, Confidence, and Joy.
I. Only an experimental acquaintance with religion can qualify any one to speak of it to edification.
A blind man has been known to lecture on colors ; blind man could not teach the art of painting. In like manner. Religion is not a mere theory, but a practice also. Its vitality and excellence consist in action. It is a life and a power. Hence the apostle speaks of the power of godliness, and distinguishes between the power and the form. Without the former, the latter is but an empty shell. It is no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
Notions picked up at second-hand must necessarily be crude, superficial, and inadequate. What a man learns by hearsay, he may, parrot-like, prate about, but his conceptions lack clearness and solidity. No description can give the same vivid idea of a thing as an actual acquaintance with it. Describe to any one the flavor of some tropical fruit which he has never seen, or some charming landscape which he has never visited; what distinct impression will be left on his mind? But, on the contrary, let him taste the fruit himself, and he has an accurate idea of its flavor at once. Let him see the landscape with his own eyes, and though he should have but a single glimpse, and his sight should be from that moment irreparably lost, yet that momentary glimpse has sufficed to reveal to him, and to daguerreotype ineffaceably upon his memory, glories and beauties which fancy never could have conjured up. Such is the infinite superiority of knowledge gained by experience over that obtained from the description of others. Doubtless it is in allusion to the clearness and distinctness of an experimental knowledge of religion, that the exhortation is addressed to us by the sacred writers, “O, taste and see that the Lord is good !" “ Come and see!” “Prove all things ; hold fast that which is good.”
Acting upon this principle, the apostle Paul charged Timothy, when employed as an evangelist, and ordaining elders in every city," the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” He was persuaded that an experimental knowledge of the trials and supports of the Christian life was necessary to furnish the pastor for his work, and enlarge his usefulness and efficiency among the children of sorrow. How could he who had never mourned enter into the feelings of the mourner, or be qualified to administer either soothing sympathy or scriptural consolation ? Therefore he used the language, “who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."
Luther was of this opinion when he said that there are three things that make a divine-temptation, meditation, and prayer. He believed that none was competent to give saving advice to souls plunged in melancholy, agitated by stormy trials, and abandoned to despair, except one who had gone through deep waters himself, and who was familiar with like tempestuous emotions. Should a person, laboring under great anxiety and distress of mind on account of sin, and ignorant how to be rid of his burden, come to an inexperienced pastor, instead of directing him to the blessed Saviour and his atoning blood, he would very likely (as unhappily has been done) content himself with telling the distressed person to take medicine, or go into cheerful society, and try to get rid of his melancholy by diverting his mind from serious subjects. Such are the blind leaders of the blind; and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
People have a wonderful instinct and sagacity in determining who is likely to benefit them. As the Babylonians brought their sick to the market-place, and asked such of the passers-by as had had the same disease, to tell the remedy that cured them, so the conscience-stricken will turn away from the learned and profound preacher, who is deficient in a wide experience, to hang with breathless eagerness upon the lips of him who can say, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.” Men want those that have suffered and sorrowed like themselves, to show the way of relief for their burdened hearts. Just so in a battle, it is the veteran, in a shipwreck it is the old mariner, to whom all eyes are turned with expectation, because they have been in such scenes before. They have not acquired their knowledge at second
II. This leads us to notice another element of success—Confidence. Without confidence we cannot undertake to guide others.
A guide must have the confidence of those who follow him ; and, in order to command it, he must have confidence in himself. Hesitation is most undesirable. Time is lost by pausing to study the path, or by retracing one's steps. Guessing and doubt awaken well-founded distrust and alarm. No wonder if men abandon such a guide for their own conjectures. They are at least no worse off.
But how can a man have satisfaction in his own mind, and confidence in his own judgment, when he is disturbed by doubts and fears ? Fear is the natural concomitant of a guilty conscience. A conscience ill at ease will transform the bravest into cowards. Why else did Adam and his consort hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Always before had they been glad to observe the tokens of his walking in the garden in the cool of the day, but then they were innocent. Now they skulked like guilty culprits, and sought concealment for their shame. David, after Joab's complicity in that dreadful affair before the walls of Rabbah, cowered before his general, and bore his rebukes without reply ; nay, he was completely unmanned, even before that dead dog Shimei, “ let him alone, and let him curse," said he, "for the Lord hath bidden him." Would you have another instance ? See those two disciples, at early dawn, passing to the sepulchre to ascertain the resurrection of their Master. “So they ran both together, and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.” When before did Peter suffer John to outrun him? When before did he allow another to be first in any duty ? Who would recognize in him the same Peter who was always foremost to speak, foremost to build tabernacles on the Mount, foremost to plunge into the sea, foremost to draw the sword, now lagging behind, his impetuosity checked, his ardor chilled? What a sad change! It is an effort to drag along his weary feet, for guilt, like a weight of lead, clogs them; the remembrance of the oath, and the denial, of the cock-crow, and the look of reproach, retards his steps.
Not otherwise was it with the Israelites at Hormah, and on various occasions before their Syrian enemies. “How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up ?” How differently they acted when, sustained by a righteous cause, and animated by a good conscience, they discomfited the armies of the aliens, and, under the Maccabees vindicated the independence of their country. “The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” They that are conscious of being forsaken of the Lord shall be subject to the most dreadful panics, as was predicted, “ Upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies, and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall fiee as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth," Lev. xxvi. 36.
It needs not that we look abroad, or summon from the infernal world, the Furies that shall lash the guilty conscience. "Every one that finds me shall slay me," said the first homicide, trembling with undissembled cowardice. “My sin is ever before me,” exclaimed David, with sack cloth on his loins. Before Belshazzar understood what the handwriting meant, as soon as he saw the flaming letters on the wall, “his countenance changed, and his knees smote together.” Ahab exclaimed in undisguised agitation, when he met Elijah in the way, "hast
thou found me, oh, mine enemy
?" Who told him that Elijah was in search of him, or that he was his enemy? So also Herod's first thought, when he heard of Christ's miracles, was, that “John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded, was risen from the dead.” Thus doth every culprit, like Pashur, who insulted the Lord's prophet, become a Magor-missibib, a terror to himself
. “Terrors shall make him afraid on every side, and shall drive him to his feet. His strength shall be hunger-bitten, and destruction shall be ready at his side," Job xviii. 11, 12. "A dreadful sound is in his ears,” Job xv. 21. “ The first-born of Death shall devour his strength. His confidence shall be rooted out of his tabernacle, and it shall bring him to the king of Terrors. They that come after him shall be astonied at his day; as they that went before were affrighted,” Job xviii, 13, 14, 20.
" 'Tis not the babbling of a busy world,
Where praise and censure are at random hurled,
Wretched, most wretched is the condition of the sinner laboring under poignant convictions. If his guilt has been detected and exposed to the world, the consciousness of that exposure, and the dread of scorn's slow moving finger, weigh him down. And even if he feels secure against detection, he knows that God is privy to it, and has “set all his sins before him, his secret sins in the light of his countenance." How cutting his self-upbraidings ! how prompt his remorse! how bitter his loathing of himself! No position seems too humble for him to take, no penance too heavy to undergo. He drowns his pillow in hot tears; he rises at midnight from a sleepless couch, and flings himself upon his knees at his bedside, praying in the anguish of his soul for mercy—that mercy that was extended to the publican—and longing for the peace of God to cool and soothe his distracted bosom. His soul is a desolate waste, whose bleakness no verdure refreshes. His proud heart is nigh to bursting, and a fever parches his veins. And then comes a disconsolate wringing of the hands, and a compressure of the quivering lip, and a shrinking from the pleasant light of day. The CURSE seems to rest upon him. It has an unearthly amplitude. It fills the bounds of space. It is palpable and embodied, as though he could clutch it in his convulsive grasp. It weighs him down, and sits upon him like a mountain of lead. He cries in his agony, “Reprobate that I am! the fire of God's wrath is already epkindled within my bosom. Jesus of Nazareth, torment me not before my time !” Would we could admit this to be nothing but a fancy sketch, a fiction without a counterpart in reality! But it is itself the dread reality. And to such a fearful height does this uneasiness sometimes rise, that the unhappy victim of unappeased remorse is willing to seek relief in the grave, and courts the aid of the tube, the cord, or the wave, in order to terminate his agonizing suspense.
“ And know the worst his fears foreshow."
Can such a one, destitute of all satisfaction in his own soul; an utter stranger to the peace of God which passeth understand ing; devoid of confidence in God, in himself, in the truth and efficacy of religion; can such a one invite sinners to Zion, or teach transgressors the ways of God? He may be a beacon to warn, but never a clarion to rouse to victory. No! a clean heart and a clear conscience must he have who takes the awful name of God upon his lips, or would act as interpreter and guide to the conscience-stricken and sin-laden. "Unto the wicked God saith, what hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth ?”
III. We are now prepared to advance to a third proposition, as before indicated. In order to win souls to God, it is desirable that we have a lively enjoyment of religion.
“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit! Then,” adds the psalmist, "then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and,” through my zeal and fidelity, "sinners shall be converted unto thee.” The connection between these two things, the condition and the result, could not be more plainly pointed out.
Enthusiasm begets enthusiasm. All the sympathies of our nature respond in unison with it. The indifferent will not be listened to. He who would make others feel, must feel himself. He who would unlock the fount of tears, must be the first to weep. He that would enkindle and carry away his auditors, must have his own soul on fire. We cannot expect others to be interested where we feel no interest ourselves.
A certain person of influence once procured the pardon of a culprit who lay under sentence of death. As soon as the poor man regained his liberty, he sought out his benefactor, and relieved his full heart of the torrent of his gratitude. “Every drop