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shall be; but the day is coming when their mourning shall be ended, their characters vindicated, and they shall shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Lord. They shall stand before him with confidence, and not be ashamed when he appears. Then shall the difference between the righteous and the wicked be clearly discerned. In that day the righteous shall say, 'Lo, this is our God, we have waited for him, and he will save us this is the Lord, we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation !'* while the others, however once admired or feared by mortals, the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, no less than those of inferior rank, shall tremble, shall wish in vain to conceal themselves, and shall say to the mountains and rocks, fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, for the great day of his wrath is come.' In that hour, the striking description in the book of Wisdom (which, though apocryphal, is in this passage quite consonant with the declarations of authentic Scripture) will assuredly be realized: Then shall the righteous man stand in great boldness before the face of such as have afflicted him, and made no account of his labours. When they see it, they shall be troubled with terrible fear, and shall be amazed at the strangeness of his salvation, so far beyond all that they looked for; and they, repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit, shall say within themselves, This was he whom we had sometimes in derision, and a proverb of reproach. We fools counted his life madness, and his end to be without honour. How is he numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints.'
3. We may well admire the condescension of this great King, who humbleth himself even to notice the worship of heaven, that he should look upon the worship of sinful men with acceptance, and permit such worms as we are to take his holy name upon our polluted lips. If we know ourselves, we must be conscious of such defects and defilement attending our best services, as are sufficient to affect us with shame and humiliation. What wanderings of imagination, what risings of evil thoughts, what unavoidable, though unallowed workings of self complacence, mingle with our prayers and praises, and disturb us in our secret retirements, in the public assembly, and even at the table of the Lord! I hope we know enough of this to be sensible that we need forgiveness, not only for our positive transgressions of his will but for our sincerest, warmest, and most enlarged attempts to render him the glory due to his name! Yet we are incompetent and
* Isa. xxv. 9.
+ Rev. vi. 15, 16.
Wisd. v. 1-5.
partial judges of ourselves; we know but little of the evil of our own hearts, and have but a slight sense of the malignity of that evil which is within our observation. But the Lord searches the heart and the reins; to him all things are 'naked,' without covering; open, without concealment. He understandeth our thoughts afar off, and beholdeth us exactly as we are. Our dislike of sin is proportionable to our attainments in holiness, which are exceedingly short of the standard. But he is infinitely holy and therefore evil is unspeakably hateful to him. How vile and abominable, therefore, must our sins appear in his view! Indeed, if he was strict to mark what is amiss, we could not stand a moment before him; nor would it be agreeable to his majesty and purity to accept any services or prayers at our hands, if we presumed to offer them in our own name. But now there is an atonement provided, and a way of access to a throne of grace, sprinkled with the blood which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. Now that we have an Advocate, intercessor, and High Priest, to bear the iniquity of our holy things, we are accepted in the Beloved. Now the great and holy God vouchsafes to admit such sinners into communion with himself. He invites us to draw near with boldness; and, because of ourselves we know not how to pray as we ought,† he favours us with the influence of his Holy Spirit. It is a great instance of the power of faith, that, remembering what we have been, and feeling what we are, and having some right apprehension of him with whom we have to do, we are enabled to approach him with confidence, and to open our hearts to him with greater liberty than we can use to our dearest earthly friends. His people know, by many infallible proofs, that his presence is with them in their secret retirements, and in their public assemblies, according to his promise. He hears and answers their prayers, he revives their spirits, he renews their strength; he gives them reason to say, that a day in his courts is better than a thousand of the world's days. Such are their expectations, and such, in the exercise of faith, is their experience. They worship him whom the angels worship; and they know that, unworthy and defective as they are, their worship is no less acceptable to him than that of the angels in glory, by virtue of their relation to him, who is Lord both of angels and men.
4. Heuce we may infer the necessity of that change of heart which the Scripture expresses by a new birth, a new life, a new creation, and other representations, which denote it can only be effected by divine power. Till we are subjects of this operation,
we are incapable of enjoying, or even of seeing, the kingdom of God.* Though to outward appearance, the congregation before me seem all to be serious and attentive, as if engaged in the same design, and animated with the same desire and hope; he to whom our hearts are known, doubtless observes a great difference. Some of you, though custom or a regard to your connexions bring you hither, yet must ye be sensible that this is not your chosen ground, and that these are not the subjects which give you pleasure. We preach Christ Jesus aud him crucifiedChrist Jesus the Lord. The Lord sees, though I cannot, the indisposition of your hearts towards him. You are soon weary and uneasy; and you wish to throw the blame of your uneasiness upon the preacher. You regard his method, his manner, his expressions, with no friendly intention, in hopes of noticing something that may seem to justify your dislike; and a sermon not very long in itself, is to you very tedious. We wish well to your souls, we study to find out acceptable words; for though we dare not trifle with or flatter you, we are unwilling to give you just offence. But if you will be faithful to yourselves, you may perceive that it is not so much the length or the manner, as the subject of our sermons, that disgusts you. You would, perhaps, hear with more attention and patience, did we speak less of him whom the angels worship. There are assemblies more suited to your taste, and there are public speakers to whom you can probably afford a willing ear, for a much longer time than we detain you; because there you are at home. You are of the world, and you love the world. The amusements, the business, the converse, and the customs of the world, suit your inclination. But here you are not, if I may so speak, in your proper element; and yet it may be, there are persons in the same seat with you, who think themselves happy to hear what you hear with indifference or disgust. If you knew your state as a sinner, your need of a Saviour, and the excellency and glory of the Saviour whom we preach to you, you likewise would be pleased; and a preacher of very moderate powers would fix your attention, and gain your esteem, if he preached this Gospel. But what ideas do you form of a future state? Surely, you cannot suppose, that in the eternal world you will meet any of the poor expedients you have recourse to now, for filling up your time, which otherwise would hang heavy upon your hands. To attempt a detail of the round of vanities which constitute a worldly life, would be unsuitable to the dignity of the pulpit. Let it suffice, that death will remove you from them all. If they are now necessary to what you ac
count your happiness, must you not, of course, be miserable without them? If you believe you shall exist hereafter, do you not desire heaven? But such a heaven as the word of God describes could not afford you happiness, unless your mind be previously changed and disposed to relish it. Neither the employment nor the company of heaven would be pleasing to you. It is a state, where all the inhabitants unite in admiring and adoring him who died upon the cross. If this subject is displeasing to you here, it would be much more so there. Heaven itself would be a hell to an unhumbled, an unholy soul. Consider this seriously, while there is time to seek his face; and tremble at the thought of being cut off by death in your present state, insensible as you are of who he is, and what he has done for sinners. May he enlighten your understanding, and enable you to see the things pertaining to your true peace, before they are for ever hid from your eyes!
GIFTS RECEIVED FOR THE REBELLIOUS.
PSALM lxviii. 18.
Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive; Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.
WHEN Joseph exchanged a prison for the chief honour and government of Egypt, the advantange of his exaltation was felt by those who little deserved it.* His brethren hated, and had conspired to kill him. And though he was preserved from death, they were permitted to sell him for a bond-servant. He owed his servitude, imprisonment, and sufferings to them; and they were afterwards indebted to him for their lives, subsistence, honour, and comfort; God in a wonderful manner overruling their evil conduct for future good to themselves. Thus Jesus was despised, rejected, and sold; and he was actually slain. But he arose, and ascended. The man of sorrows took possession of the throne of glory; and not for himself only: his honour is the source of happiness to those who were once his enemies, and rebellious against him. For the sake of such he lived and died.
* Gen. xlv. 4, 5.
For their sakes he lives and reigns. He fought, conquered, and triumphed over their enemies. As their representative, he received gifts to bestow upon them: such gifts as their necessities required, derived from the relation he was pleased to stand in to them, and from the value and dignity of his engagements on their behalf; such gifts as he alone could communicate, and which alone could restore them to the favour of God, and revive his image in their hearts, so as to make it suitable to his holiness and truth for the Lord God to return to his polluted temples, and to dwell in them and among them.
I formerly observed, that this Psalm and the twenty-fourth, were probably composed and first published on the memorable occasion, when David, having obtained the victory over his numerous enemies, and settled his kingdom in peace, removed the ark, which till then had no fixed residence, into Zion. The apostle's application of this passaget authorizes us to consider that transaction as typical of our Lord's ascension. Jesus is the true ark. The holy law of God was in his heart; his obedience unto death was fully commensurate to the demands of the law; as the mercy-seat, or propitiation, which covered the ark, was exactly equal to its dimensions. He who had thus obeyed on earth, ascended on high; the everlasting gates unfolded, and he ' entered the holy place not made with hands, there to appear in the presence of God for us.' In this state he is highly exalted upon a throne of glory, and administers all power in heaven and in earth. From hence is the honour, safety, and happiness of those who believe in him. They have nothing to plead for themselves. But, unworthy as they are, he is not ashamed to own them; and he assures them, that all he did, and that all he has received, so far as they are capable of sharing in it, is for them. The clauses, as they lie in the text, suggest a convenient method for our meditations, and will lead me briefly to consider four points:
His ascension-his victories—the gifts he received for menand the great end for which he bestows them.
I. Thou hast ascended on high.' God formed man originally for himself, and gave him an answerable capacity, so that no inferior good can satisfy and fill his mind. Man was likewise, by the constitution and will of his Maker, immortal, provided he persevered in obedience. But sin degraded and ruined him, shut the gates of paradise and the gates of heaven against him. Man destroyed himself; but wisdom and mercy interposed for his recovery. A promise was given of the seed of the woman,
* Page 212. + Eph. iv. 8. VOL. III.
Rom. iij. 25. 30
Heb. ix. 24.