« PreviousContinue »
JEREMIAH xiii. 23.
“ Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ?"
No; the thing is impossible: no change of clime or situation can alter him. He will wear the same dusky aspect beneath the torrid zone and amidst Zembla's everlasting snows. So does the com. plexion of the worldling remain unchanged unchanged through all the vicissitudes of life. His habits, tastes, feelings, remain unaltered. The storms and trials of life may bow his spirit, as toils and dangers wither the frame of the Ethiopian; but they alter not the complexion of his soul. It abides the same; and 0, amidst all his sorrows and disappointments, the syren-song of worldly pleasure can still brighten the languor of his eye, and the voice of human applause still thrill his heart; for all that he knows of happiness is to be found within the magic circle of that world; and the social converse of that world, vain as it is, trifling as it is, impure as it is, is which he still delights in; and the world's pleasures, the world's honours, the world's riches, still engross his heart. On looking at such characters may we not well exclaim“Can the Ethiopian change his skin?"
Alas! the course of the guilty and unrenewed in heart affords us abundant proof of the tyranny, the despotism, of confirmed habits. If habits may be acquired even where there was at first a repugnance felt to them, how must it be when the natural bent and bias the mind are altogether in their favour! O how inveterate must become the habits of selfishness in a heart naturally so selfish; how inveterate those of covetousness in a heart naturally so covetous; how deep-rooted must habits become when the formation of them is but the following out the natural bent, the swimming with the current!
Observe the mind of such a man as he advances in years. All that was once soft and impressible is daily growing into an iron hardness. How, then, shall we set the stamp upon it? Can we make an impression ? O, you may impress the wax while it is newly melted and soft, but, when it is hardened and fixed, can you stamp it? And whoever has made the attempt to impart new views or inspire new feelings in one that has reached this compactness and hardness of mind, will find what a difficult, nay, impossible task he has undertaken. Alas! the conduct of men of the world shows that, according as men advance in years, their pro. pensities only grow stronger and more decided; and on looking at them, and seeing the inveteracy of habit in them, the exclamation involuntary breaks from us "Can the Ethiopian change his skin?" O, they love sin as the lion loves his forests and his prey; they love sin as the eagle loves its native clouds and storms!
But do we declare the impossibility of the conversion of such? God forbid! Experience would contradict us if we did. We know of no habits of sin, however confirmed, which the grace of God cannot conquer and subdue. We know of no heart, though it be like the flinty rock, which the Word and the Spirit cannot break. You could at this moment point to no case, even of the most inveterate and confirmed guilt, concerning which we might not safely aver, that there are amongst the trophies of divine grace some who were as bad or even worse. No; but we do assert that the change is beyond the reach of human means to effect.
The work is a work for God, and not for man. All our efforts our arguments, remonstrances, warnings—are feeble and uninfluential; they are but as the reed used to break the rock. But, on the other hand, if we go in simple dependence on God's grace, take his word and pray for the assistance of his Holy Spirit, that word may be like the rod when wielded by the arm of Omnipotence. It will break the rock in pieces. If we would succeed in this case, we must look up for success to the power accompanying the preaching of the word in its simplicity; and, if we do behold a change, that change we must regard as an instance of the efficacy of the grace of God, not as an instance of the success of man's persuasions, entreaties, or expostulations. If, then, we have spoken of the inveteracy of evil habits, it is only with a view to exalt and magnify the power of divine grace, and to throw contempt upon all the efforts that are merely human. They are as ineffectual to alter a single habit, as the soft touch would be to shake the embedded oak; yet that word, when wielded by the Spirit, can break the same in shivers.
We have heard of an African chief, who, from being one of the most ferocious of his tribe, became truly converted by God's grace. He was present at the unlading of a vessel which contained as part of its cargo several chests of Bibles, sent out by the Bible Society. One of the chests was opened, and when he saw its contents, he seized one of the precious volumes, and, trembling with
emotion, he exclaimed, “ This will conquer Africa, for it conquered me.”
Yes; and we know instances of those who were “accustomed to do evil” till their habits became so confirmed, that we could as easily imagine the Ethiopian to change his skin, as for them to alter. And, although providences dark and dismal fell upon them, yet they made no permanent impression : and, although death in many forms presented itself, yet the heart only grew more rivetted to sin. All means, humanly speaking, were tried, and tried in vain; but when it pleased God to put forth his power, then a work was begun which bore the evidence of its divine original. A change commenced in the habit and complexion of the soul far more wondrous than if the Ethiopian changed his skin, or the leopard his spots; because there was a new creation—a turning from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God-a quickening from “the death of sin to the life of righteousness.”
“ Hardened his heart's temper in the forge
SORROW FOR SIN.
The true Christian has a very deep sense of sin. His understanding is enlightened by the Spirit of God; and that inward light which he possesses enables him to discern more of the spirituality of God's law, and the holiness of God's nature; and the very first effect of this is to give a deep impression of sin. His standard is at once inconceivably raised, and his perception of his own deficiencies is in the same degree increased. By the teaching of the Holy Spirit,
he has new, and cloarer, and more exalted views than he ever had before, of the infinite perfection of God; he has altogether a different standard of holiness of heart and life, to which he sees he must attain ; and, with this improved light on these points, he has a clearer insight into his own heart: he has a tenderer conscience than he had, and therefore he sees more clearly, and feels more sensibly, the immeasurable distance between himself and the perfection to which God calls him, and to which he desires to attain. He now sees sin in thoughts, and words, and actions which before he thought were good. The first impression of this, when the mind is first awakened to this sense of spiritual feeling, is often overwhelming, is always very humbling; and it invariably causes and keeps up a sense of sin. Thus it was with Job_“I have heard of thee with the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee : wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” It was so in Isaiah_" Woe is me; for I am a man of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." And this will be the feeling of every Christian to the end of his days; he will always have a deep sense of his own sinfulness, and that an increasing sense; he will feel himself more and more sinful every day; so much so, that he will think he is growing worse rather than better, retreating rather than advancing in the spiritual life, and so will almost despair of being saved. And this sense of sin cannot but be very painful; it must be a cause of continual sorHe would be sinless
he would be perfect he would have every thought of his heart brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; but the more he struggles and prays for it, the further he seems to wander from it. And, do you ask, is this Christianity? We reply, it is ; it is the very work of the Holy Spirit; it is what St. Paul describes as the feeling of his own heart-" To will iş present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not. For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do. I find then a law that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I find another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into capti. vity to the law of sin which is in my members.” But this is a subject of deep and peculiar sorrow to every one who feels it: it is deep, for it makes them cry out with the apostle (and it is the only thing that ever did make him cry out) wretched man that I am!" And it is peculiar, because a Christian only can feel it. Any one may weep over worldly losses without divine grace. Rachel might have mourned for her children, and refused to be comforted without divine grace; and a sinner, under the conviction of sin and the apprehension of divine wrath, may tremble with it; but no one without divine grace ever shed a secret and a bitter tear over the sinfulness of his own heart, and the worldliness of his own motives. It is the Spirit of grace and supplication poured out from on high, which alone can enable him to mourn and be in bitterness over Him whom he has pierced.
FRIENDLY ADDRESS TO RINGERS.
An illness having kept me in my bed during the greater part of the Christmas and New Year's rejoicings, my attention has been often attracted by the sound of the merry bells, pealing their glad notes from the Old Church tower. At times they disturbed my slumbers, and at others they seemed a strange contrast to a bed of sickness; but I believe they have taught me some useful lessons, namely “that the world was not made for me;" and therefore, as their sound gave pleasure, and responded to the feelings of many, I ought pot selfishly to wish them to cease, because they caused me a little inconvenience, and did not correspond with my feelings at the time.
These reflections, on the last night of the old year, led me to think of you, my friends, “the Ringers" of this parish. The cold easterly wind blew against my windows, and reminded me, that if in a warm room and comfortable bed the keen night air penetrated even to me, how chilled and cold you must have been as the piercing blast blew round and through the tower.
This consideration led me to ask myself, “ Are we not much in. debted to the Ringers, if we enquire into their office? Are they not meant to give utterance to the feelings of the rest of the parishioners? And are not 'the Bells' the mouth-piece of the parish individually and collectively?" Let us examine this.
Is a person united to the object of his affection in the holy bonds of wedlock—“the bells” are employed to proclaim his happiness
, and call on others to rejoice with him.” Is an heir born to the Squire,” who will (if spared) be the future landlord of our children “the bells” salute him with joy, and convey our sympathy to the