Page images
PDF
EPUB

SERMON XI.

HUMILITY AND CONTRITION.

ISAIAH LVII. 15.

Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eter

nity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit; to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

One of the most striking features in the Scriptures of the Old Testament is, the contrast which their inspired writers are continually labouring to mark, with great strength and sublimity of expression, between the Creator and his creatures; between the majesty of God and the meanness of man. This is particularly observable in the prophecies and the Psalms, which contain many descriptions of the supreme power and glory of the Most High, and of the immeasurable difference between him and the most exalted of created beings, incomparably more just and noble, than the most splendid passages of heathen poetry or philosophy. And this, although not of itself a decisive proof of the inspiration of Scripture, is yet a collateral evidence of no inconsiderable weight. There is this remarkable difference between those writings which we receive as the word of God, and all others which have professed to declare to mankind the great truths of religion, as deduced from other sources ; that while these have attempted to elevate man to something like an equality with his Creator, or to bring down the Deity to the level of human understanding and affections, the Scriptures uniformly represent the Almighty Maker of the universe, as transcending, by infinite degrees, the proudest of those who call themselves lords of the creation; as dwelling in glory, unapproachable even to human imagination; and as clothed with attributes, of which the most consummate perfections of human nature are scarcely the faint shadows and resemblances. This peculiarity, which distinguishes the authentic records of inspiration, becomes more striking, when it is viewed in combination with another remarkable feature ; that the power and majesty of God are thus exalted, and the comparative meanness and insignificance of man contrasted with them, not for the purpose of exciting an abject terror and despondency in the inferior being, but rather for the purposes of encouragement and consolation. God is magnified, and man is disparaged in the Word of Revelation, in order that the latter may be driven, by a sense of his own worthlessness and insufficiency, to take refuge in the supremacy and excellency of an all-perfect Being; whereas the aim of natural religion, under all its shapes, has been this,—to persuade mankind that they possess the art of securing for themselves the favour and protection of God, by the exercise of their own moral perfections ; and to persuade them, in defiance of the admonitions of conscience, which loudly proclaim to every accountable and imperfect being, that he deserves punishment, and if left to himself, must encounter it. In a word, all other systems of religion are calculated to cherish and gratify the pride of man; that which is contained in the Bible beats it down. All other systems strive to exalt the dignity of human nature; this reduces it to nothing : but it does so, in order that it may, by the very process of humiliation, be instrumental in restoring it to that true dignity, from which it has fallen, and in which it is the object of religion to replace it. The great end of all religion must be, to teach and enable mankind to secure the favour of God. False religion has taught them, that this is to be accomplished by costly sacrifices, and splendid rites of worship; and by the ostentatious display of personal virtues; true religion declares, that her excellency and efficacy lie in lowliness of heart ; that they are in effect the nearest to God, who are most deeply sensible of their infinite distance from him; and that the first and most indispensable step towards their obtaining his mercy, is to feel, in the very depths of their soul, how richly they deserve his wrath.

These divine truths, although they were continually repeated by the inspired messengers of God, as the fundamental and vital part of religion, were but imperfectly understood, and too often entirely forgotten by the Jewish people; who were, not unnaturally perhaps, disposed to place the substance of religion in the observance of their prescribed ritual ; and to overlook and omit the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.' The false interpretations of their teachers, their hypocrisy, and worldlymindedness, went nigh to obliterate, from the

Matt. xxiii. 23.

minds of that people, all just and worthy notions of God, and of the service which they owed him: and therefore the Spirit, speaking by the prophet, commanded the teachers of the people, first to remove these obstacles, which opposed the admission of divine truth; and then to recall their attention to its first principles, at once awful and consolatory. Cast ye up; cast ye up ; prepare the way; take up the stumbling block out of the way of my people. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit ; to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. Such a description as this, I boldly say, carries, upon the face of it, the marks of a divine original. Human wisdom, and human piety, uninformed by the Spirit of God, would have been alike unequal to form so sublime a combination of the majesty and condescension of Jehovah. His descent, from the glories of his eternal habitation, into the heart of a sinful creature, is an image, which, while it carries conviction to the soul, by meeting all its wants, would never have occurred spontaneously to the imagination of a conscious sinner.

« PreviousContinue »