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But chiefly, as offered to himself in particular, ought the true member of Christ's Church to regard these Divine warnings. (For, as I said, the whole book of the Prophet is to be considered as belonging to the lesson.) It is of small use, perhaps I might say of no use at all, to go on complaining of the wickedness of the times, and of the bad way in which so many people live and die, in this which is called a Christian land.
Rather, instead of lamenting and complaining, we should set in earnest to the work of personal repentance and amendment, unless we think ourselves so good, as that we need neither to repent nor to amend. To mention one instance : supposing a quiet, well-disposed person lives amongst swearing, blaspheming, drunken, profligate, quarrelsome neighbours, (as is the case with some of us,) it is better, instead of merely lamenting the evil, to consider it as intended for our own judgment and correction.
Perhaps, if we had set them a better example, they might have been better.
Perhaps, if we had been consistent members of Christ's holy Church, and endeavoured to have our practice suitable to our professions, our neighbours and relations also, now so often, alas ! ordained for our judgment and correction, might have been to us sources of consolation and encouragement.
Perhaps, if our lives had been more holy, our prayers more earnest and regular, our sense of the value of Christian privileges more deep and substantial, those also with whom we are connected by the ties of kindred, or of neighbourhood, might have been the very opposite characters to what they now are; and, instead of disgracing, might have “ adorned the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things."
These are very painful and humiliating thoughts, especially to persons who have on their hearts a serious sense of the importance of Christian holiness, and at the same time a consciousness of their own fearful imperfections; and who have, besides this, a real earnest desire to improve, and to be what Christians ought to be. It is a painful thought, that we have so many faults of our own to answer for. More painful still to call to mind how many may be the worse for our evil or thoughtless conduct-for what good we have left undone, as well as for what wrong things we have done—how many, many persons may be the worse off for us, both now, and eternally ; this, I repeat, is painful and humiliating to reflect on.
The great LORD and Master, whom we call ours, is “ of purer eyes than to behold evil, or to look on iniquity” with approbation.
Those who are going onward in such rash and headstrong courses are what
be called, according to the sacred expression of the Prophet, a “judgment” on the neighbourhood where they dwell. And if there be many such, so as to keep one another in countenance, then the scale of Christian morality, as it is called, is in men's estimation set very low. Great crimes are accounted small errors, small errors (if there is any such thing) are accounted nothing, or even, perhaps, good qualities. Meanwhile, the strict severity of real Gospel holiness is set aside as altogether out of the question. The ancient discipline of the Church is utterly discarded ; if mentioned, even by serious people, it is only in a whisper, as something which our forefathers ought to have been ashamed of. Somewhat like this is, without question, our condition at this day.
Who can doubt then, that, as a Christian nation, we are fallen, lost, and ruined; and, compared with the primitive Christians, have scarcely more than the name of a Church among us?
Still, amidst the ruin and confusion, there is hope in the words, “I will not make a full end." The eye of the omniscient Shepherd is on His own sheep; "they hear His voice, He knows them, and they follow Him." They follow Him, though with shame, humiliation, and with what may be called a prostrate feeling of unworthiness. They follow Him, in praying and striving more and more, from day to day, to be guided by His blessed heavenly example; they desire, like Him, to be “ of purer eyes than to behold evil, to look on iniquity” with approbation, or on our desolation with indifference. At the same time they cherish the tenderest compassion for all who are in error, knowing how greatly they will need mercy themselves in the day of account.
May the Holy Spirit of God enable us, my brethren, so to walk worthy of our high calling, that although our lot is fallen on times when iniquity abounds, and the love of the many is waxed cold, we may yet, for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope, be accounted worthy to escape all those things that shall come to pass, and to have our place before his dreadful tribunal, not on His left, but on His right hand,
GOD'S MERCY SHOULD MAKE US FEAR HIM.
Psalm cxxx. 3, 4.
“ If Thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities; O LORD, who shall stand ? But there is] forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared.”
“If Thou, LORD, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss : 0 LORD, who may abide it ? For there is mercy with THEE: therefore shalt Thou be feared.”
It is recorded of an eminent person, who lived about two centuries ago, that when he was on his dying bed, he expressed his feelings to his friends in these remarkable words :- I repent (said he) of all my life, except that part of it which I spent in communion with God, and in doing good.'
He who said this was no wicked, irreligious person-quite otherwise ; yet, on looking back on past years, and forward on that judgment which he should have to undergo, his natural feeling was, that he had wasted and misspent a great deal of precious time; that he had let slip innumerable opportunities of glorifying his heavenly Father; in short, that he could look with no comfort on the way in which he had been going on, when he compared what it was with what it might and ought to have been; all seemed to him in a manner lost and wasted which was not spent in direct communion with his God, or in doing some good or other to his fellow-Christians.
Under the like feelings of genuine humility, we may well suppose the inspired Psalmist to have framed his beautiful one hundred and thirtieth Psalm : “Out of the depths have I cried unto THEE, O LORD : 0 LORD, hear my voice.” A passage this, of which we may observe, that it seems to have been dwelt on with peculiar earnestness by the holy father Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, in Africa, who died more than fourteen hundred years ago; whose illustrious character is not unknown to those who have given attention to the history of the ancient Church :
“We ought, each one of us, to consider (he says) in what a deep we are, out of which we must cry unto the LORD.
“ Jonah cried out of the deep, even from the whale's belly. He was not only underneath the waves of the sea, but even in the bowels of the sea-monster; and yet not even that body and those waves could shut out or stop his prayer from reaching the ALMIGHTY ; the belly of the whale could not keep back the voice of his supplication.
“No; this voice of prayer pierced all obstacles—burst through all-reached to the ears of God, if indeed it is right to say that it burst through all to reach to the ears of God, since they (the ears of God) were in the heart of him who offers the prayer. For where is not God present to him, whose voice is uttered in faith?
“But, as I said, (these are still the words of St. Augustine) we also ought to feel and understand from what a deep we must cry unto the Lord, for this mortal life is to us a deep. Whosoever, then, findeth himself sunk in the deep, crieth, groaneth, sigheth, until he may be rescued from the deep, and may come to Him who sitteth above all depths, yea, above the cherubim, above all things which he hath created, not only things corporal but also things spiritual, until the soul comes to Him; until He set free that human nature (or form) in us which in this world's deep is as it were agitated and worn by incessant stormy waves, if it be not repaired and renewed by God, who framed it at the first-unless the soul, I say, be set free, it will be for ever in the deep.
“But when once a man crieth out of the deep, he riseth from the deep, and his very cry hindereth him from being in the very