« PreviousContinue »
when the people had greatly declined from the pure worship of God, and were enshrouded in the greatest darkness.
The substance of his predictions may be said to be, a declaration that God will utterly consume all things, but will save the afflicted people.
First, He will cut off Baal from his place, and those that worship the host of heaven upon the housetops ; that swear by the Lord and swear by Malcham ; those that are turned back from following the Lord, and those that never sought the Lord, nor cared for him ; and that he will punish the princes and all such as are clothed in strange apparel. Now we may here remark in what manner this prediction can by any possibility have an application to us. I am not fond of fanciful interpretations, but there are one or two things that seem to strike me.
1. “ He will utterly destroy all those who are turned back from following the Lord.” Now we cannot have been long in profession of religion, without seeing that many, after awhile, turn back from the profession they have made. I can well understand that such is the deceitfulness of man's heart, there may have been no deliberate intention of turning back from following God, but after making a profession by being baptized and received into a church, they gradually decline and fall away from the truth.
Something arises to test that profession, for Satan knows not the tares from the wheat-the wise from the foolish virgins, but by the endurance of those temptations with which he asails both alike. And he appears to be divinely permitted to apply these tests, that “the sons may be distinguished from “the bastards." How many we have met with who have waxed wanton, and kick against Christ ! The truth they once professed to love is utterly repudiated as a thing of the past, with which they have now no concern ; the novelty has worn away ; the friendship they once had with one or other of the Lord's people has become cool, or the object they had in view has been attained ; a name, a wife, a business; and then the truth is left, forsaken for an erroneous ministry ; or, it may be, the pleasures of the world, the lusts of the flesh, the love of money, or the honours of the world, draw them away ; and God here says, that he will utterly destroy all those that have turned back from following him.” Remember, they did not follow him like Caleb, “fully and with all their heart," nor as true disciples : their faces and footsteps were not both set Zionward. A word is put into their lips, but not into their hearts, and they are amongst those who worship God with their lips, whilst their hearts are far from him.
2. “ All such as are clothed in strange apparel,” he will also consume. Now, how shall we apply this declaration ? At the feast a man was found in strange apparel, not having on the garment provided for the guests ; thus the ruler of the feast said, “Friend” (he ironically called him friend, -he came as a friend, and other salutation would have been uncourteous,)“ why camest thou in hither, not having on a wedding garment? Oh,
inquire of thyself, what is thy true state ? Religion is not merely profession or excitement, but a preparation for eternity ; therefore, on what is your hope based ? What is the righteousness in which you stand before God? Your own, wholly or partially, or the righteousness of Christ, which is on, and only on, true believers ? If you are clad in this heavenly robe, your own righteousness has been cast away as filthy rags, and there is to you something infinitely beautiful in the righteousness of Christ, so that you desire its possession above all things, and to be enabled to say with the poet
“ And lest the shadow of a spot,
Should on my soul be found;
And cast it all around."
It must be a sinless obedience, and, therefore, a garment without spot, a righteousness beyond that of the Scribes and Pharisees; it must be the righteousness of God. As the law is the transcript of the Divine perfections, so the righteousness that justifies and presents faultless before the throne of his glory, must be commensurate with those perfections, and the fulfilment of all the law's demands. “Be ye holy, for I am holy," and " as I am holy;" so that whilst by the works of the law no flesh living can be justified, God justifies his people by faith without the works of the law, by the imputation to them of Christ's righteousness.
Now this is what God threatens, without multiplying illustrations, that those who fear him not, nor love him, who are not Israelites indeed, but strange children, who are not clothed in his righteousness, but in strange apparel, he will utterly consume. But he “ will leave in the midst of the land (Zion) an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord.” Zion is a type of the church of Christ for a great number of things; but I pass by this part of the text to notice the persons whom God will leave in her.
“An afflicted people.” A girl selling pikelets came into my grounds some little time ago, asking me to buy. At first I refused, but was interested by her earnestness. I said, “Why are you so urgent for me to buy? I do not want any.” She replied, “ There's six of us ; father's dead, and mother's blind, and they are depending on my exertions for a piece of bread.” This is what I call an eloquent exposition of my text-“ a poor and an afflicted people.”
We may have troubles of more or less duration, and of smaller or greater weight. The sorrow enduring only for a night, may be removed by the joy felt in the morning ; but many afflictions are tenants, not visitors, and they are what neither wisdom can foresee, prudence prevent, nor energy remove ; and I think these are three striking characteristics of affliction. All mankind are, in one sense, poor and afflicted, but it is only those who feel before God that this is their case, that can be said to be interested in the grace of the promise.
“ A sinner,” Hart says, " is a sacred thing.” A sinner is a bad thing, a transgressor, a rebel against God ; but a sensible sinner is a sacred thing, inasmuch as a man who feels and knows his sins, and who loathes himself on account of them, is taught by the Spirit of God.
Let us take “ a poor people” first. They are not comparatively, but absolutely poor. They each owe ten thousand talents, and cannot pay one mite of the great debt; but unregenerate man is ignorant of this fact. But I dare say there are persons even in Bilston who declare the contrary ; who urge men to make a composition with their inexorable creditor, and tell them that theirs is only “a limited liability,” and that if they will perform their part, Christ will do his.
Now if their part is to pay any portion of this debt, in what coin will they make the payment ? It must be pure gold, tried in the fire-Christ's merits arising from his sufferings, and an obedience purely the work of love, or the ring of the coin will detect its baseness, even without the trouble of assaying it ; for all the law is fulfilled in this one word “love." Their tender will be rejected, their coin defaced as “Brummagem dumps ;" their hopes will turn out to be but a spider's web, and those who advocate such a doctrine, as well as those who vainly believe it, to be but coiners and utterers of counterfeit coin.
It is but the pride of the human heart that deludes men to think that they can do anything acceptable to God, man being “ dead in trespasses and in sins."
Even to the present time, travellers say that in Syria and Palestine many of the inhabitants are absolutely wretched, and thus literally our text has an ample fulfilment. We said it was absolute poverty, and it is so. Man is carnal ; sold under sin into slavery to his lusts, and into bondage to the law, to death, and to Satan. He has no spiritual strength, and thus all true preparation of heart is from the Lord. “Without me,” Christ says, “ye can do nothing." And so we may elaborate these thoughts, for Christ only supplies that which man lacks ; and as a man is utterly ruined and lost, he is not only without strength, but without wisdom and righteousness ; so that in the sinner's salvation, “ Christ is all and in all.”
Watts says truly that the Christian's great sorrow is, that he cannot “ from sin ; that this is his burden and grief, and that when he has the will he often lacks the power.” Oh put this question to your consciences ! is it your grief and burden? Is your poverty, when on your knees before God, this morning, yesterday, the day before, ever since you have known God, the great sorrow of your soul ?
“Oh wretched man that I am ! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?” I have no power to believe in Christ, to worship God in spirit and in truth, to embrace the promises, to walk in the spirit, to repent unto life eternal. I find myself from day to day so miserably poor and completely penniless, that I need and desire Christ's Spirit to work in me, both to will and to do; thus fulfilling in me the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power.
“ An afflicted people.” We said that many afflictions are tenants, not visitors, and are unpreventable and irremovable. All men are paralyzed spiritually, are blind, dunib, deaf, and without understanding, and think only of evil. This is the condition of man. The feeling sense of these spiritual defects is the evidence of Divine life, whilst they constitute the burden of the soul.
Now God designs to subordinate these afflictions to his people's good, and it is not so much their endurance of them, as the hinderance we often feel them to be in spiritual duties, that makes us mourn.
This, of course, is only one view of the subject, as we account the sorrows of life to be afflictions equally designed by our heavenly Father for his people's profit. AMictions are sure to come ; they may be long before they make their appearance, but the rod—though slow, is sure of coming. We may have said, “I shall die in my nest ;" but God says, “I will empty you from vessel to vessel, that you should not settle on your lees.” I will correct you in measure, you shall not go altogether unpunished.
This design, being for our good, is in love. As Hardy says, “ Affliction is a parcel of love wrapped up in the ugly cover of much tribulation, with the words, “ As many as I love I rebuke and chasten." The Lord has chosen his people in the furnace of affliction, and so in my text, “I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people.”.
One design of affliction is preservative,”, and it is so frequently literally. We find that through some great calamity, such as blindness or spinal affection, the subject of it has been preserved from sins and evils that other members of the same family have fallen into ; and I have seen in the cases of idiots and imbeciles generally, a striking providence preserving and providing for them. I do not say in every case, but I believe that if you take one hundred of these unfortunates, and one hundred widows or fatherless children, there would, in the majority of cases, be found to be such a display of the Divine care, that they would compare
in the maintenance of their social status and general success in life with one hundred others, indifferently chosen, though exempt from these calamities.
Ness says truly that, “God preserves his people in the vinegar of attiction whilst the wicked rot in the honey of prosperity." You may very possibly look into your own experience and say, with David, “ Before I was aftlicted I went astray, but since I have kept thy word.” If it had not been so, you don't know thit you would have been here to day. Had your circumstances continued to prosper as they once did, --sunk in carnal security, neglecting to assemble with God's people, ---you might have been bringing God's holy day into contempt, guilt upon your conscience, and the rod upon your back. We are all exposed to temptations which would carry us away, did not sanctified affliction preserve us by its humbling influence :
“ He that is down need fear no fall;
He that is low, no pride;
Have God to be his guide.” Afflictions are disciplinary. God disciplines the mind to hear the and Him who hath appointed it, by shewing to us that our happiness and peace are intimately connected with submission to his will ; and thus we are brought to pray that He would give us grace to sily approvingly, “Thy will be done." Ahlictions are corrective: “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments, then will I visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquities with stripes. Nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.”
Amictions are manifestive. “ What son is he whom the Father chasteneth not ?" They shall "pass under the rod,” and “I will bring them into the bond of my covenant.” Even as the farmer who, when he shears his sheep, rebrands them that his ownership may be made more apparent, so some personal, pecuniary, or mental trial comes upon us, and in the midst of that trial, as the bow is seen in the cloud, so God reveals his love to us, and then divinely manifests us as his children. “I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. They shall call on my name, and I will hear them. I will say, This is my people, and they shall say, The Lord is my God.”
Prayer is certainly a duty, but especially a grace ; therefore, when divinely led, the heart seeks unto God as one whom it honours and loves, and in whom it trusts and reposes.
Afflictions are purgative or purifying. Take the dross from the silver, and there comes forth a vessel meet for the Master's use. Thus God puts us into the furnace, shewing to us therein our deep, necessities; that our iron wills need bending, that our stubborn tempers need humbling, that our hard hearts need softening, and how nothing but grace can make crooked things straight, and rough places plain. We cannot kiss the rod except God humbles our hearts and sanctifies the affliction to our souls.
Afflictions are God's appointment; they are sent in love, they are preservative, disciplinary, corrective, and manifestive, and lastly, they are operative. Tribulais said to work and to work out. It does not begin the thing and leave it, but it works it right out to the end designed. It works patience. How and in what way does it work it? It works it in this way: we find we cannot make one hair white or black, that by taking thought we cannot add a cubit to our stature ; it is the Lord alone who sent the trial that can deliver out of it, or mitigate it ; and that it is both our wisdom and mercy, as well as our blessing to say, “Let Him do as seemeth good in his sight.”. He will do as seemeth good, He giveth no account of any of his matters, He rideth on the wings of the wind, 'His path is in the deep waters and his footsteps are not known.
All our fretting and fuming does not remove the cross, so that we plainly see that not only His will must be done, but that there is a Divine providence and purpose in our trials, causing them to work together for our good. Thus, one good wrought by tribulation, is patience, whilst patience works experience of God's being present with us in the trial: “I will be with them in six trials, and in seven I will not forsake them." We see that God is with us, his eye is upon us, and his powerful arm is put forth to sustain us, and oftentimes to deliver us. Experience works hope. You say he hath delivered, he doth deliver, and we trust that he will get deliver us. This
poor man cried unto the Lord, and he heard him, and delivered him out of all his troubles.” The Lord appeared in such a strait, or at such a time, when I could not believe the interposition of his providence would occur, or that grace would have been given equal to the occasion; so that though we believe not, he abideth faithful, and is never a barren wilderness unto his people, or as waters that fail. My hearers, who can tell his worth to the soul ?
It is a priceless jewel, when hope, wrought in the soul by sanctified experience, rises up and says, Who can tell but that he will return and leave a blessing behind him. Experience thus worketh hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because of the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, given unto us.
We are not trusting in one who is deaf to our supplications or indifferent to our sorrows, but in One who is equal to every emergency, and whose arm is not shortened, for “ Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word shall not pass away.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUTH. essentially to consist in the right know Now the right worship of God neces- able affections towards him. In order to
ledge of God, accompanied with suit sarily supposes a sound apprehension of those Divine and spiritual truths which him as a being infinite, indivisible, and
which, it is necessary that we conceive of are essential to salvation. We have been told indeed, that it matters not what we in that nature there are three distinct
incomprehensible in his nature; and that believe; that a merciful God cannot condemn an honest man, whether he be persons in one undivided Godhead; who a Jew, Turk, or infidel; that it is of of the whole world, the Searcher of all
is the Almighty Creator and Preserver very little importance whether we
hearts, the Disposer of all persons, events, worship Jehovah, Jove, or Lord, or any and things in heaven and in earth: who is other imaginary God, which we may infinitely holy, inflexibly just, invariably have formed in our own brain. And faithful and true, and unspeakably graso, according to the sentiments of these
cious and good. gentlemen of more enlarged ideas, a false
Such a view of the glorious God, if it teacher is a very harmless animal; an be of a practical nature and have a error in judgment is a very trifling conthem as a damnable heresy, and it is conviction of our own helplessness, guilt
, cern ; and there is no such thing with proper effect upon the heart, is never
separated from true self-knowledge, or a no matter what men’s principles are, if and misery, of which we must have a their lives be good.
right sense and feeling ; acknowledging "For modes of faith let learned bigots fight,
with all the wise and pious, whose He can't be wrong whose life is in the right.” characters are left upon sacred record for
our example and imitation, that we are Admit this maxim, and you make divine by nature the children of wrath, enemies revelation of none effect; you give a to God, and heirs of everlasting woe ; sanction to infidelity of every kind and that we are naturally depraved and cordegree ; you frustrate the design of the rupt throughout, having ihe understandincarnation of Christ in every view ; and ing darkened, our wills full of rebellion you make Paganism itself as safe a way against the will of heaven, and our affecto heaven as Christianity.
tions earthly, sensual, and devilish ; that If truth be an immaterial thing, why our minds and consciences are defiled, did Christ come down from heaven, to and that we are morally dead in tresbear witness to it? If points of doctrine passes and sins ; alienated from the life be not worth contending for, why did an of God through the ignorance that is in apostle say, Though we, or an angel us, and from the supreme love of him, from heaven, preach another gospel to because of the blindness of our hearts. you, let him be accursed ?”
And why Few people, indeed, will be fond of such do we read of some whose great sin and a picture as this ; and therefore manfault was, that they received not the kind will be very unwilling to acknowtruth in the love of it, that they might ledge their own likeness in it, much less be saved? And why do the sacred to allow it to be their express image, writings speak of damnable heresies ? though it be drawn by an unerring hand. Certainly these are sufficient testimonies But, however, Lord Shaftesbury certo convince us that, though right prin- tainly spoke the truth when he said, that ciples without practice be worse than no- “ They are likely to be the greatest imthing, practice without right principles is postors, who speak most favourably of good for nothing. So that “if there be mankind; for, in so doing, they must any virtue,"
whatsoever ings are contradict, the same time, the most true,” as well as whatsoever things are stubborn facts and the oracles of God," lovely," are to be had in equal estimation which assure us that “the heart of man by every serious mind.
is deceitful above all things, and desTrue religion, therefore, may be said perately wicked;" that “ every imagina