« PreviousContinue »
like the breaking out of the bright and cheering | sun from behind a dark and lowering cloud. "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." We shall notice
I. The people to whom these promises were addressed.
II. The condition of that people, as supposed in the text. And,
III. The promises themselves.
I. The people to whom these promises were addressed.
From the context we learn that Israel was the people to whom the promises were made. The name Israel was given to the patriarch Jacob. It was given to him when, on wrestling with the angel, he prevailed. The name signifies a prince with God, or prevailing with God. "And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed" (Gen. xxxii. 28). Jacob was at the time in deep distress, from fear of his brother Esau; and the angel of God appeared to him to comfort him. In that distress, Jacob had prayed to his God. The distress that drives us to the throne of grace is a blessed affliction. May we, whenever the name Israel occurs to us, remember the value and efficacy of prayer, and be led, especially in our troubles, and distresses, and undertakings, to strive mightily with God in prayer, as Jacob wrestled with the angel and prevailed!" Call upon me in the day of thy trouble," is the instruction; " and I will deliver thee," is the gracious promise; " and thou shalt glorify me" (Ps. 1. 15), is the grateful return which we are to make. How consoling to the perplexed and distressed mind is it to know that there is a throne of grace, and that on that throne sits the Father of mercies, dispensing his various and needed blessings to all such as, like good old Jacob, call upon him by prayer and supplication! It was the recorded saying of that great man of God, Elliott the missionary, Prayers and pains, through faith in Christ Jesus, can do any thing."
The name "Israel," by way of distinction, was afterwards given to the descendants of Jacob-the people of Israel: that people was elected and called to be the people of God. To that people 66 were committed the oracles of God;" and the pious portion of that people looked by faith, through types, promises, and prophecies, to the Messiah who was to come; not only "to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, but also to be the glory of his people Israel." They looked
forward, by faith, to Christ who was to come, and they were saved by him, as we look back to Christ through the records given of him; they believed the prophecies and promises of Christ to come, we believe the records of Christ having come; and thus in Christ both believing Jews and believing Gentiles meet, and both are made one in Christ. "There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither bond nor free; there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. iii. 28).
Israel of old were primarily the people to whom the promises in the text were made. But as all who believe in Christ are said to be Abraham's seed, or children of Abraham, so they are called Israel-"the Israel of God." "Know ye, therefore, that they who are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." Indeed, the Church of God under both the old and new dispensation is the same Church, passing under different external modifications. Hence, many of the promises, primarily made to ancient Israel, have an ulterior application to the Christian Church, and to individual members of that Church. We conclude, therefore, that the promises contained in the text apply to God's people in all periods of his Church apply to each one of his people-apply to you and to me, if we are among the true Israelitesif we are among those who worship God in spirit and in truth-if we are among those who are not only received by baptism into the visible Church of Christ, but are also lively members of the same—if we are among those who have not only an outward form of godliness, but who also enjoy the power of godliness-if we are among those who not only call Christ "Lord, Lord," but who also do his holy will. For we may have been admitted by baptism into the Church of Christ; yet if the Spirit of Christ be not in us, we belong not to him." If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." And if the Spirit of Christ be in us, the fruit of that Spirit appears and abounds in our walk and conversation. What is that fruit? The apostle tells us (Gal. v. 22), "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance."
We proceed to notice,
II. The condition of the people as supposed in the text. Great dangers and afflictions, represented as passing through waters and fire: "when thou passest through the waters, through the rivers, through the fire." The various and heavy oppressions which the people of Israel endured at the hands of theirge
enemies, especially their captivity in Babylon, which the Jews would suffer for seventy years, and the subsequent overthrow and scattering of the nation by the Roman power, were as water-floods overwhelming the people, and threatening their entire destruction.
Waters are frequently mentioned to represent troubles, afflictions, distresses; and fire to represent severe trials or temptations. To pass through waters, rivers, fire, represents in the text the enduring of heavy afflictions and trials. Thus, the Psalmist speaks of the sorrows which heavily pressed on him; "Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing. I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me" (Ps. lxix. 1, 2). "All thy waves and billows are gone over me" (Ps. xlii. 7). Again, in writing to the Christians, forewarning them of approaching trials, St. Peter represented those trials as fiery: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you" (1 Pet. iv. 12). So again: "Thou, O God, hast proved us; thou hast tried us, as silver is tried;" "We went through fire and water" (Ps. lxvi. 10, 12).
The Christian's afflictions and temptations from without and from within are aptly represented by water-floods and fire. Fire and water, which have destructive qualities, have also cleansing and purifying qualities. Hence the Christian's trials, which tend to improve his graces, as well as to prove the sincerity of his professions and the value of his principles, are spoken of as the fire which refines the gold and silver, but does not destroy them: " Though now, for a season, ye are in heaviness, through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire," the gold, though tried and purified with fire, and though the fire does not destroy the gold, yet the gold itself is among the perishable things of this world, and is not to be put competition with the grace of true faith. And yet, strange as it seems, men pursue, grasp, and idolise the gold that perisheth, while they neither value nor seek that faith without which they must perish everlastingly. Ah! what if you could amass and retain to death's dark hour all the gold and the silver which the most greedy heart can covet; what if you could command all the wealth of this world, all could not avert the hour of death; it could not prolong your lives one day; it could not open for you the gate of heaven; it could not close against you the gate of hell; and it would leave you to sink into the grave under the pressure of disease, and to
sink into eternal perdition and woe, beneath the tremendous guilt of idolatry-for covetousness is idolatry-the guilt of having neglected, if not despised, the Gospel of the grace of God. O, be wise, and seek that faith which is more precious than tried gold; that faith which in the day of adversity will cheer you; which in the hour of death, when heart and flesh must fail you, will support you, and bear you triumphantly through death's dark and dreary valley, into the realms of light and life everlasting. From a cursory notice of the condition supposed in the text, we proceed,
By God's presence with his people, we do not mean any visible presence or visible divine agent, though sometimes the divine presence with his people in ancient times was visible. Instances of this are recorded in the Old and New Testament. By the presence of God, the text seems to mean his superintending care, his controlling power, and comforting influence,-that invisible power of the divine Being which not only sways the vast and numberless bodies that compose the planetary system, and which directs the affairs of the most mighty empires among men, but which also governs the affairs of individual men, even to the numbering of the hairs of their heads; and which also directs, controls, and measures the trials, dangers, sorrows, and consolations of his beloved and redeemed children.
In their ex
Protection and deliverance were experienced by God's ancient people when literally passing through fire and water. odus from the land of their bondage, with Pharaoh and his host behind them, and the Red Sea before them, destruction seemed ininevitable. The divine command was, "Go forward." But, whither? To be drowned in the depth of the sea? No; but to see "the salvation of your God." In obedience to the Divine will, the people marched forward, and, through the interposition of the Divine power, they passed "through the waters" as on dry land: when, having sojourned full forty years in the wilderness, they came to Jordan, the same power was there exercised on their behalf.
Were the people to pass through a great wilderness and through hostile lands to take possession of the promised land of Canaan? what was the promise? "Behold, I send an angel before thee to keep thee in the way, and
to bring thee into the place which I have prepared" (Exod. xxiii. 20). Was Joshua commissioned to succeed Moses as the leader of Israel? the promise to him was, "There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so will I be with thee; I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee" (Josh. i. 5). Was Elisha the prophet besieged by the Syrian army, and his life in jeopardy? who was invisibly present to protect and deliver him? "The Lord of hosts" (2 Kings, vi, 13). When the three holy children were cast into the fiery furnace for their faithfulness to God, who was present to protect and deliver them? "The king answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the son of God" (Dan. iii, 25).
It was confidence in God's promises, of his presence and protecting care, that enabled the Church of God, though in the prospect of imminent dangers and distress, to sing so triumphantly in the 46th Psalm, "the Lord of hosts is with us," &c.
The promise of the Divine presence is renewed in the New Testament. Take this one, made not only to Christ's ministers in their arduous duties and discouragements, but also, we opine, to all the faithful in Christ Jesus: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. xxviii. 20). When St. Paul, for having preached the Gospel at Rome, was cited before the emperor Nero, and forsaken by all his friends, who was present to support and to deliver him? It was the Lord, ever faithful to his promise: "At my first answer no man stood with me; but all men forsook me. Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me; and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion." Paul and Silas found the fulfilment of the promise of God's presence to comfort and deliver them when they were thrust into the inner prison at Philippi, their feet made fast in the stocks, and their persons smarting from the stripes which had been laid on them; for at midnight they sang praises unto God, and sang so loudly as to be heard by their fellow-prisoners (Acts, xvi.). The promised Divine presence it was that sustained and consoled the noble army of martyrs for the truth as it is in Jesus. It is on the promise of God's gracious presence with his people that those two comprehensive ejaculations are grounded and reciprocated between the minister and the congregation,-" The Lord be with you;"" And with thy spirit."
the deep waters of affliction and sorrow, God will support you, that you may not sink; he will bear up your heads above the waterfloods of tribulation and distress; he will even comfort you in the midst of your sorrows. "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, who comforteth us in all our tribulation" (2 Cor. i. 3). When you pass through fiery trials, which are to try and improve your faith and patience, your submission to God's will, and perseverance in the path of life, the Lord will defend you, for there shall no temptation happen to you but what is common to man; and the Lord, “who is faithful, will, with the temptation, make a way for your escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. x. 13). When you pass through the last and deepest waters, the Jordan of death, the Lord will carry you through, and safely land you on the shores of the heavenly Canaan.
NECESSITY OF ATTENDING THE SERVICES OF RELIGION.*
MEN engaged in active labours for the good of their fellow-creatures often find it exceedingly difficult to understand the grounds upon which we urge them to cultivate those habits and attend to those services which are technically, perhaps not very happily, distinguished as religious. They ask whether God has not given them an important work to perform, and whether they are not likely to please him better by discharging it faithfully, than by occupying themselves in acts of devotion to him? They ask whether it is not acting more in the spirit of Christ's commands, more in imitation of his example, to be doing deeds of mercy, than to be offering sacrifices. I do not think these questions are always fairly met by those to whom they are addressed. I fear that we are sometimes guilty of confusing men's minds respecting the nature of their obligations to God, and even of converting religion, which should be the great instrument for overthrowing selfishness, into a means of encouraging it. But I think that the remarks which I made respecting the kind of blessings which it is your privilege and your duty to impart to those whom you visit may, perhaps, assist in extricating you from the difficulty. If to attend the bed-side of a patient were required of you than that you should give sound merely a mechanical act; or if nothing more were advice, I do not know that I could establish any very clear connexion between your ordinary tasks and those exercises of which I am now speaking. But it is degrading the dignity of your profession to think this. Your consciences tell you that more, much more than this, is required of those who are brought into constant experience of the woes of humanity; you feel that the kindness, and sympathy, and sincerity, of which I was my last are as much demanded of you as scientific knowledge itself; and you feel that these qualities cannot be acquired at the moment, cannot be got up for exhibition at the bedside; you feel that the man who merely presents counterfeits of them is an impostor and hypocrite, far less to be esteemed than he who honestly shews
Now the rich and precious promises contained in the text are applicable to all God's children at this day-applicable to each one of us, if we really are the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. When you pass through
From "The Responsibility of Medical Students: a Sermon preached in the Chapel of Guy's Hospital. By the Rev. F. Maurice, A.M., Chaplain to the Hospital.”
forth the indifference or unkindness that are in him. It is necessary, then, that these should form the very substance of your characters, that they should be worked into your very selves. But, now, consider how this can come to pass. Can you trust to the ordinary influences of society to do it? Do not you know perfectly that these influences are adverse to the cultivation of such a character; that they tend to form in us habits of confirmed selfishness? Can you trust to the mere sight of pain and suffering to do it? Have we not said already, that the repetition of these sights deadens the impression which they at first produced? Can you trust, then, to your belief and recognition of the principles which I have been endeavouring to assert,-to your conviction that the Spirit of God has indeed endowed you with all your gifts and powers; that the Lord of man has appointed you to administer these gifts for the good of men? But do you not feel that commerce with the world is continually corroding these convictions, changing them from practical realities into mere formal phrases; and that if they be honestly held, they must imply something more; they must imply the desire and necessity of seeking continual help from that Spirit, of holding intercourse with that Lord? Do you not feel that all gifts, all administrations, must be profitless unless there were also operations of God to renew our minds and characters, and form them into the likeness of his own?
But you wonder that God should require of you acts of prayer and praise. My brethren, ask your own hearts if they do not require these acts. I cannot think of a fellow-creature merely as the author of certain gifts and blessings to me; I cannot think of him merely as making certain provisions and arrangements for me. The moment I believe he is the source of these blessings, the author of these arrangements, that moment I desire to know what he is, and desire to think of him as a person in himself; I desire to commune with him, to contemplate his character, to enter into the feelings in which these kind acts to me originated. Unless I can do this, I feel that I shall never really preserve a recollection of his benefits; I shall never feel any relationship to him; I shall never connect him with others as well as myself; I shall care for him only for my own sake. This is the case with us in reference to our fellow-men; and is it not still more emphatically the case with us in reference to the most high God? If we believe him to be the source of every blessing to us, the ordainer of every scheme of life for us, we must carry our thoughts beyond these gifts, beyond that scheme of life, to himself. We must desire to enter into holy and awful intercourse with him. We must desire to think of him, and to utter our thoughts to him as a distinct Being. We must desire to adore, and wonder, and worship.
delighted to mock and deceive himself. You cannot be staggered at mysteries in this highest region; you are encountered with them at every turn in the region of your own experience. You will only ask, "Would any other than this suffice me? Can I live without this?" Can there be any other way into the presence of Him who is perfect love, but through Him with whom he is perfectly well pleased? Will any thing less than a participation of his substance, of his life, of that love which overcame death, and sin, and selfishness, enable me to do his meanest work here on earth, enable me to behold his glory in heaven?
Do not suppose that I am limiting the operations of God on the hearts and minds of men to these ordinances; I am urging you to take the privileges which they offer you, because I am sure they interpret to us all his other operations; because they enable us to feel his presence, to hear his voice in all the common events and accidents of life; in sickness and in health; in the daily pleasures and the daily crosses of life; in the wonders of nature; in the wonders of our own frame; in the sufferings of our fellow-men; in the acts which we are permitted to do for the relief of them. The persons whom I ordinarily address from this place are men who have neither science nor a profession; they have this only, they are men carrying about with them the signs of Adam's curse, the marks of suffering and death. Yet I am bound to look upon them as the objects of God's love; I am bound to tell them that all the privileges of the kingdom of Christ are theirs; I am bound to believe that they are as able to enter into the deepest mysteries as the wisest man upon earth; I am certain that they may, if they will, know God and love him, and dwell with him for ever. In these ordinances you will learn to feel yourselves one with these poor creatures; you will learn to feel that what you possess in common with them is more precious and permanent than that which separates you from them; you will learn that you, and they, and all God's creatures, have desires which nothing but God can satisfy; you will learn to love them, and to care for them, as sharers of the same glory with yourselves; ; you will rejoice to meet them in the last day, when all other voices shall be silent, but when this one shall be heard by every true and faithful man, "Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
Here, then, is the meaning of all the offices and ordinances of Christianity. All those ordinances are built upon the idea, that an actual communion has been established between God and man; that it is possible for man to express his sorrows and his wants to God; that it is possible for God to communicate his own life, his own character, to men. This is the meaning of prayer; this is the meaning of the teachings of the commissioned minister of Christ; this, above all, is the meaning of the sacrament of the Lord's supper. Of the deep mystery which is involved in all these ordinances, and especially in the last, I will say no more than this, that were there no mystery, every reasonable man would feel that it was not the thing he was seeking after, the thing he was wanting. He wants something which shall bring him into intercourse and fellowship with the invisible and eternal God; and the man who says that there is no mystery in such a fellowship is not worth listening to; he is mocking and deceiving us, because he has first
A REMARKABLE INSTANCE OF A REVIVAL
OF RELIGION IN THE AMERICAN EPIS-
AN incident occurred in the course of Bishop Moore's ministry on Staten Island so remarkable, that it deserves to be recorded. The bishop was never at any time disposed to countenance the unnatural and feverish excitement in congregations, which, often the result of animal emotion powerfully wrought upon, perhaps by artificial machinery of man's inventions, sometimes passes current for a work of the Spirit of God. He did not, however, perceive why the same Spirit, which, by its blessed influences, operates on the heart and conscience of one sinner, bringing him to repentance towards God, and a living faith in the Redeemer, might not also operate simultaneously on many sinners with the same happy result; though, for the production of such an end, he knew of no means except such as were sanctioned in the orderly services of the Church to which he belonged, Prayer, public and private, the stated worship of the Church, her com
• From Dr. Hawks's Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of the United States.
fortable sacraments, and the faithful preaching of the Gospel, were all the machinery of which he knew either the lawfulness or the use. He had been perseveringly engaged in the use of these for a length of time, until, at an hour when nothing unusual had seemingly occurred to produce any solemn effect, the minds of his people seemed to be simultaneously awakened to the infinite value of divine things.
It was at one of his stated lectures in the church, that after the usual services had concluded, and the benediction been pronounced, he sat down in his pulpit, waiting for the people to retire. To his great surprise, he soon observed that not an individual present seemed disposed to leave the church; and after an interval of a few minutes, during which a perfect silence was maintained, one of the members of the congregation arose, and respectfully requested him to address those present a second time. After singing a hymn, the bishop delivered to them a second discourse, and once more dismissed the people with the blessing. But the same state of feeling which had before kept them in their seats, still existed, and once more did they solicit the preacher to address them. Accordingly he delivered to them a third sermon; and at its close, exhausted by the labour in which he had been engaged, he informed them of the impossibility of continuing the services on his part, once more blessed them, and affectionately entreated them to retire to their homes.
It was within the space of six weeks after the scene above described, that more than sixty members of the congregation became communicants; and in the course of the year more than one hundred knelt around the chancel of St. Andrew's, who had never knelt there before as partakers of the sacrament of the Lord's supper.
It is not wonderful that in the retrospect of the facts we have here related, the bishop should entertain an opinion best expressed in his own words: "That although we have the promise of Heaven to be always present with the Church, still there are particular seasons in which the Almighty displays his power in a manner so overwhelming as to command the attention of his rational creatures; to dispel that coldness which makes them indifferent to the calls of duty; to excite their gratitude to God for his mercies; to melt obdurate offenders into contrition; and to oblige them to sue for forgiveness at the throne of grace."
Nor is it matter of surprise that the good bishop should be led by this incident in his own ministerial experience often to impress, as he does, upon his younger clergy, the duty at seasons in which the Almighty manifests his presence in a more than ordinary way, gladly to avail themselves of such propitious times to put forth redoubled efforts in their Master's
HERESY.-Many are the heresies which have sprung from a learned pride: from ignorance alone scarcely perhaps a single one; none certainly from ignorant humility. Rev. S. Wilberforce.
FORGIVENESS.-He that means to communicate worthily, must so forgive his enemy, as never to
upbraid his crime any more. For we must so forgive, as that we forget it; not in the sense of nature, but perfectly in the sense of charity. For to what good purpose can any man keep a record of a shrewd turn, but to become a spy upon the actions of his enemy, watchful to do him shame, and by that to aggravate every new offence? It was a malicious part of Darius, when the Athenians had plundered Sardis; he, resolving to remember the evil turn, till he had done them a mischief, commanded one of his servants, that every time he waited at supper, he should thrice call upon him, "Sir, remember the Athenians." The devil is apt enough to do this office for any man; and he that keeps in mind an injury, needs no other tempter to uncharitableness but his own memory. He that resolves to remember it, never does forgive it perfectly, but is the under-officer of his own malice. For as rivers that run under ground do infallibly fall into the sea, and mingle with the salt waters, so is the injury that is remembered: it runs under ground indeed, and the anger is hid, but it tends certainly to mischief; and though it be sometimes less deadly for want of opportunity, yet it is never less dangerous.-Bp. Taylor on Forgiveness.
GOD'S FORBEARANCE.-If by the light of nature it be judged a crime worthy of a burning fiery furnace, to refuse the worship of what it esteems to be God, although it be but the work of men's hands, how shall we escape the far more dreadful punishment, if we neglect the worship of the living and only true God? On the other hand, if we compare the judgments of almighty God, in regard to this life, and the hasty and passionate sentence of this enraged king, "Ye shall be cast the same hour," &c., how infinitely more patient is the great God of heaven towards men, than man generally is to man! How forbearing is the Divine justice, though provoked every day by the most enormous crimes, nay, by repeated profanations and contempts of his holy name, as well as righteous laws; and especially by refusing honour and worship to that image, that only image of himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, which he hath set up, and commanded all people, nations, and languages to fall down and worship! Yet he still forbears, still respites the punishment, not only for hours, but for days and years! Experience, then, must needs teach us how full of compassion and mercy, how long-suffering and gracious the Lord is. And can we forbear to love the Lord our God, who so loveth us? Such men only taste not the sweetness of his mercy, who feel not their own misery. Such only are insensible of his goodness, who hate not their sins, who love not their own souls, who choose death. Did we but know thee, did we but know ourselves, we could not choose but love thee. O, may we so know and love thee here, that hereafter we may know thee as thou art, and love and enjoy thee for ever! Amen.-Wagan.
DECEITFUL RICHES.-Usually, when a worldling is dead, we ask how rich he died? "Oh," say many, "he died rich; he hath left a great estate." Alas, the poor man has slept his sleep, lost his dream, and now he awakes, he finds nothing in his hand. Where lies his golden heap? only the rust of that heap is gone to witness against him: his mansion fails him; only the unrighteousness of it follows him; others have the use of it, only the abuse of it he carries to judgment with him he hath made his friends (as we say), but he hath undone himself; so that I may justly write this motto upon every bag, "This is the price of blood." Shall I then treasure up the price of blood? No; Christ hath entrusted me as a steward: therefore what I have, and need not, Christ shall have in his members that need, and have not. So the transitory creatures, when they shall slide away, shall not carry me with them; but when I shall pass away, I shall carry them with me.—Lucas's Divine Breathings.