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Church people, whenever they do come to church do not come to pray. They sit and hear the prayers read perhaps, but they cannot in any sense be said to pray.
One great cause of this is, that so many people never have been used to kneel in the church; and having never been used to do it, they are ashamed to begin, and afraid of being laughed at, or else they do not like to take the trouble.
But whatever the cause, the fact is too certain, that God's house to many persons is no house of prayer-a house of music, or a house of preaching, it may be; but not a house of prayer.
This is an evil way surely of treating the blessed privileges placed within our reach, and one which the sooner we turn from the better. God is mocked by this sort of conduct, and will sooner or later make us feel His vengeance.
Again, while some persons (it is to be feared) presume to come to the holy table of the Lord with unregenerate, uncharitable, worldly hearts, great numbers on the other hand, equally presumptuous (it is evident), excommunicate themselves on the plea that they are not fit; a plea which is the poorest of all things, for it is no reason, and but a poor excuse :-no reason, for in the sense they mean they will never be fit; and but a poor excuse, for why do they not endeavour to become fit?
The fact is, it is altogether an evil way—evil, when men come without a repenting believing heart—evil, when they stay away habitually for any cause at all.
At least, if the Scripture is true, these ways are evil. Let all turn from them who do not wish to go on living without God in the world, and to die at last the second death.
To mention one more matter of warning. Many persons, keeping up a certain character for religion, will allow themselves from time to time in what may be called sly ways of evil. They will take an advantage of a neighbour in some matter of business, in cases where they think they are sure of not being found out; or, where the forms of law enable them to defraud him, (for it is a fraud,) they will not much scruple; or perhaps in an underhand way they will say something indirectly, which may injure his character for a long time after: in such ways as these, which surely we must all allow are very evil ways, (at least we shall allow it when ourselves are the sufferers,) we may, almost without knowing it ourselves, or appearing so to others, in the sight of the omniscient God be guilty of the worst crimes.
Hence the necessity of our examining ourselves so strictly, and turning so resolutely from all that we find amiss in us, as knowing that evil dispositions, when allowed of, lead to evil habits. " Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."
But consider again what encouragement and consolation to all humble and contrite hearts is contained in the divine words, “ As I live, saith the LORD God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live : turn ye, turn ye
from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel ?”
Here we see that, evil and undeserving as we are, yet that our Heavenly FATHER watches over us with the utmost possible tenderness and anxiety, and not merely this, but if one may so speak with reverence) has taken great pains to impress on our hearts the conviction that He does so watch over us.
This He has mercifully ordered, as among other reasons, so no doubt for this : that humble, contrite souls, trembling at God's word, His word of awful warning, through patience and comfort of the same Scriptures might also have hope; that by so many immutable promises, in which it was impossible for God to lie, they might have strong consolation, seeking Him in His own appointed ways,
ways of His Church, with deep and heartfelt penitence and humble reliance on the blood of the REDEEMER, and the guidance of His Holy SPIRIT.
To persons so disposed, worthily lamenting their sins, and acknowledging their wretchedness—worthily, that is, according as that wretchedness and those sins justly call for lamentation,-to hearts so cast down, I say, the consolation is invaluable, contained in the thought that the holy and just God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked : and this, encourages them to go forward with cheerful and happier thoughts-to strive to please so kind and compassionate a FATHER-to think no sacrifice too great which may evince their confidence, gratitude, and filial love towards Him who has forgiven them so often, and loved them so tenderly.
The considerate mind, pursuing the same line of thought, will be greatly comforted by the conviction, that there is no need or ground whatever for any sincere penitent to despair, though, perhaps, it will at the same time appear, that this tendency (I mean to encourage feelings of despair) is more common than we generally suppose. Thus, as we find in the verse immediately preceding the text, the Jews in Ezekiel's time were in the habit of renouncing all exertion, and at the same time all hope, under pretence that if they were so wicked as the prophets described them, there was no possibility of their being restored to the Divine favour. “ If our transgressions and our sins be upon us (said they), and we pine away in them, how should we then live ?" Some probably talked in this way from mere despondency, and some from pride and indolence, because they did not wish to acknowledge their sinfulness, or to take any pains or trouble about religion at all. And this latter is (I suppose) the kind of despair which is most to be guarded against, and not that which leads a person to be low and desponding about his spiritual condition, though this last is the most painful to bear for the time, but the other the most fatal in its consequences. However, against both there is offered the most merciful and solemn encouragement in the Divine assurance—“As I live, saith the LORD God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”
And hence we are taught further, that whoever turns from any evil way, any wrong course, either of sin committed, or of duty neglected,—whoever, I say, though ever so faintly, sincerely resolves and endeavours to amend what is amiss in himself, such a person has unquestionably God's blessing on him, has the best possible pledge and test that he is so far in the right way-a pledge and test, doubtless, more to be depended on than any external flattery or internal feeling. A
person who learns to be suspicious of himself, and not to go on any longer in that self-confident manner which we are too apt to do, even the best of us, soon finds that he cannot trust his own feelings, or other people's example or opinion. He asks himself, Am or am I not in earnest trying to be more what a Christian ought to be? Am I more resolute against all evil ways, all deceitful notions of being satisfied with half religion ; all ways and views inconsistent with the rule of life laid down for us all in the Holy Gospel of the LORD JESUS Christ? And putting these questions to his conscience from day to day, he still finds plenty to correct and amend, and so will find to his dying day—so, I
say, that even on his dying bed he can only “lift up his heart with his hands," and call for mercy in His LORD's own prayer“Forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive them that trespass against me."
These things then let us consider, and reposing our full trust on the unbounded compassion of our Heavenly FATHER, let us at the same time be careful lest we become careless and presumptuous. If we are not aware of our faults, let us search and inquire, and they will soon appear; God sees them, though we do not. And thus striving sincerely, and resolutely, and consistently, to grow in grace, and in the true practical knowledge of our gracious Saviour, we need not fear but His blessing will be upon us, to lead us in all the way wherein we should go, even through the valley of the shadow of death, to our Home above, the House not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens.
MAN'S SIN, GOD'S JUDGMENT.
(TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.)
HAB. i. 12, 13.
"O LORD, Thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, Thou hast established them for correction. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity."
THOSE who have given any attention to the rules prescribed by the Prayer Book of the English Church, must be aware that there are Proper Lessons out of the Old Testament appointed for all the Sundays throughout the year.
The word lesson, or lecture, is a Latin word, which signifies “reading ;" and it has been used from ancient times in the Church to express such a portion of Scripture as could conveniently be read at once. Such portions were called readings or lessons; just as we say that in our Church Service, morning and evening, there are appointed first and second lessons, that is, first and second readings.
Now as there are four such readings assigned for every day throughout the whole year, so we observe that on Sundays and other sacred days there are select readings, or, as we commonly call them, Proper Lessons. Yet I suppose
be said without irreverence, that for the hardness of men's hearts this rule was made, but from the beginning it was not so.
From the beginning, as is plainly to be seen from the Calendar, and other rules in the Prayer Book, the intention of the Church