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On drawing near to God.
[Preached at the Celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord's
PSALM lxxiii. 28.
It is good for me to draw near to God.
IN this psalm, the pious author describes himself as
suffering a great conflict within his mind. His observation of the course of Providence, did not present to him such an order of things as was to have been expected from the justice and goodness of Heaven. The wicked appeared flourishing and triumphant, while the worthy were destitute and oppressed, and much disorder and darkness seemed to prevail in the course of human affairs. Hence his mind fluctuated for a while amidst doubts and fears. His trust in the Divine administration was even so far shaken as to create a suspicion that in vain he had cleansed his heart, and washed his hands in innocency: till at last he went into the sanctuary of God, and was there taught to view the state of human things in a juster and truer light. He then saw the vanity of that earthly prosperity which bad men appear to enjoy; and the happy issue of all things at the last to the pious and good. He saw the Divine presence ever surrounding them, and though with invisible guidance, yet with unerring hand, bringing them in the end to glory. His mind returned to tranquillity; and, struck with compunction for his past errors, he rose into those high and memorable expressions of devotion, which we find in the verses preceding the Text. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none on earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth ; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. His fixed principle and resolution, upon the whole, he declares in the words of the Text, It is good for me to draw near to God; words which will immediately occur to you as particularly suited to the solemn service in which we are to be engaged this day. In discoursing from them, I shall endeavour to show what is implied in drawing near to God; and what reason we have to agree with the Psalmist in judging this to be good for us.
To draw near to God, is an expression of awful and mysterious import; in explaining which, we have much reason to be sober and modest, and to guard with care against every enthusiastic excess; remembering always that, rise as high as we can, an immeasureable and infinite distance must ever remain between us and the Supreme Being. There are two senses in which we may be said to draw near, in such a degree as mortality admits, to God: either by the general course of a pious and virtuous life; or in solemn acts of immediate devotion.
1. By the practice of holiness and virtue throughout the general tenor of life, we may be said to draw near to God; for it is such an approach as we can make to the resemblance of his moral perfections, After the image of God man was created. That image was defaced by our sin and apostacy. By a return to God and our duty, that image, through the intervention of our Saviour, is renewed upon the soul; man is said to be regenerated or born again, and is in some degree restored to that connection with God which blessed his primeval state. He who lives in the exercise of good affections, and in the regular discharge of the offices of virtue and piety, maintains, as far as his infirmity allows, conformity with the nature of that perfect Being, whose benevolence, whose purity and rectitude are conspicuous, both in his works and his ways. - Worldly and corrupt men, on the contrary, estrange themselves from all that is Divine. They degrade their nature by unworthy pursuits, and are perpetually sinking in the scale of being. By sensuality they descend to the rank of the brute creation ; by malignity, envy, and other bad passions, they connect
themselves with devils and infernal spirits. Hence they are said in Scripture to be alienated from the life of God; to be without God in the world. Though in one sense God is ever near them, as he surrounds and encompasses them on all hands; yet, in a spiritual sense, they are farther removed from him than any distance of space can separate bodies from one another. Whereas a virtuous man, whose pleasure it is to do good, and his study to preserve himself upright and pure, is in the course of constant approach towards celestial nature. He is the lover of order, the follower of that righteousness of which God is the author and inspirer. He accords with the great laws of the universe, and seconds the designs of its Almighty Governor. He is, if we may so speak, in unison with God. Hence piety and virtue are described in Scripture as friendship with God, as introducing us into his family, and rendering us members of his household. Strong expressions are used on this subject by the sacred writers; a good man is said to dwell in God, and God in him.* If a man love me, says our Lord, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him ; and we will come, and make our abode with him.t
THESE high and magnificent views of religion, as an approach to God, may easily satisfy us how much it must be good for us to draw near to God, in this sense of the expression. It is visibly the honour and dignity of man to resemble his Creator; and surely his chief happiness will be ever found to lie where his highest dignity and honour are found. With God is the fountain of life. With him reside.' complete beatitude and perfection; and from him are derived all the portions of happiness and comfort, which are any where to be found among the creatures he has made. In exact proportion, therefore, as they approach to, or deviate from him, must the happiness or misery of all rational creatures be. As light and heat flow from the sun as their centre, so bliss and joy flow from the Deity; and as with our distance from that glorious luminary darkness and cold increase; so, according as by alienation of nature we are removed from God, ruin and misery advance in the same degree upon the soul.
Now consider, my brethren, that there is one or other course which you must pursue. If it be not
* 1 John, iii. 24.-iv. 13.
† John, xiv. 23.
your study to draw near to God by a religious and virtuous life, be assured that you are departing from him ; for there is no middle course between sin and righteousness; and let every thinking being seriously reflect what is included in this state of being far from God, and cut off from every kindly influence that descends from heaven. With shadows of pleasure, persons in this unhappy situation may be surrounded and amused; but shadows only, and not realities, they must be, as long as men have no connection with Him who is the origin of all good. Can the stream continue to flow when it is cut off from the fountain ? Can the branch flourish when torn away from the stock which gave it nourishment? No more can dependent spirits be happy, when parted from all union with the Father of Spirits and the Fountain of Happiness.
A good man, who is always endeavouring to draw near to God, lives under the smiles of the Almighty. He knows that he is under the protection of that God towards whom he aspires. He can look up to
. him with pleasing hope; and trust that he shall receive illumination and aid in his progress to perfection. His virtues may as yet be imperfect, and at
. tended with many failings; but his approach towards God is begun. The steps by which he draws near to him may be slow; but that progress is commenced, which in a future state shall be more successfully carried on, and which shall continue to advance through all eternity. They go on, says the Psalmist, from strength to strength; every one of them appeareth before God in Zion. * Hence, by a very beautiful and
* Psalm lxxxiv, 7.