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Christians have little acquaintance with the literature and science of the world; their moral capacities may be weak, and not improved by education; they may be in the esteem of men, as they are in their own, but babes ; yet they know more than the wisest philosophers who are destitute of the grace of God. They know themselves, they know the Lord, they know the evil of sin, and the way of salvation; what their proper happiness consists in, and how it is to be obtained. They have learned to endure affliction, to forgive injuries, and to overcome evil with good. They have attained a just sense of the vanity of the world, and the importance of eternity. They are instructed to be contented and useful in their stations, to discharge their duties in relative life with propriety, and to meet death with comfort. In all these particulars, many who have dazzling talents, and are celebrated for abilities and endowments, are miserably at a loss. True believers are conformed to the spirit and temper of their Saviour, and therefore are different and distinguished from the world around them. And they have, at least, the beginnings of true peace and solid happiness, in communion with him whom they serve.
2. The cause. They shine wholly by his light. If their own words may be taken, the proof of this is easy. They are free to confess that they are only wise by his wisdom, strong by his power working in them; and that, without him, they have not sufficiency to think a good thought.'* Experience has taught them that they cannot stand unless he upholds them, nor watch, unless he watcheth with them, nor be safe or happy a single day, without fresh communications from him. But this their experience and acknowledgment, is the express and current doctrine of Scripture. There is a real, though mystical union between Christ and his people. He is the vine,' they the branches : he is their head, they the members of his body. They dwell in him by faith, he dwells in them by his Spirit. He is their root and their life; all their springs are in him, and it is out of bis fulness that they receive.' Therefore the apostle says, 'I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.'§ I can do all things through Christ strengthening me.' And our Lord himself, who comforted Paul with that promise, My grace is sufficient for thee," apprised all his followers of their entire dependence upon him, by saying, Without me ye can do nothing.*** The language of the Old Testament is to the same purport, they looked unto him, and were enlightened.'++ In the Lord Jehovah I have righteousness and strength.' He giveth power to the faint,
John. i. 16.
Isa. xlv. 24.
Gal. ii. 20. 2 Cor. xii. 9.
and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.'* things are constituted and conducted,' that no flesh should glory in his presence, but that he who glorieth may glory in the Lord.'t
III. They who wilfully refuse and turn from this light, do thereby involve themselves in double darkness, and become more infatuated and wicked than those to whom the light has not been proposed. Their evils, likewise, are more aggravated than they would have been if the light had not visited them. Thus our Lord, MESSIAH, speaks of the Jews; If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.' And again, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind.' He came to make the ignorant wise unto salvation; but they who, from a proud conceit of their own wisdom and sufficiency, disdain his instruction, being left to themselves, gave abundant evidence that the light they boast of, is but gross and palpable darkness. The grossest errors, the greatest obduracy of heart, the most extreme profaneness of spirit, and the most abominable wickedness in practice, may be expected, and will certainly be found, where the Gospel is despised.
It is evident that the morality which is so highly admired by the Christian world, and set in opposition to the Gospel of Christ, is much leaner, and more scanty, than the morality of the heathens. I speak of the idea only; for neither have the Heathens of old, nor of the present day, acted up to their own rules. But I do not hesitate to affirm, that none of your modern moralists who have disowned the Gospel revelation, have given us a system of morality equal to that of Tully the Pagan. Many of the Heathens acknowledged the desirableness and necessity of revelation; though infidels, born in a Christian land, think it a high mark of their wisdom to despise it; and avowed atheists, that is, men who deny either the Being or the Providence of God, or the obligations mankind are under to obey him, are seldom to be met with but in countries where the Bible is known. The heart must have obstinately and repeatedly resisted light and conviction, before it can ordinarily proceed to these dreadful lengths. But while the blind stumble in the noon of day, MESSIAH'S people shall walk in confidence and peace, and shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. T
IV. The third verse of this chapter foretels, and therefore se
*Isa. xl. 29. lxxxix. 15, 16.
1 Cor. i. 29-31. John, xv. 22. John, ix. 39. Psalm, Phil. ii. 15.
cures, the conversion of the Gentiles or Heathens. The times and the seasons are in the disposal of God, but the Scriptures must be fulfilled. Much was done in the first age of Christianity. A single instrument, the apostle Paul, as he himself informs us, preached the faith, which he formerly laboured to destroy, 'from Jerusalem round about to Illyricum,'* and probably much further afterwards. And the Lord, who appointed him to this service, accompanied his message with his own power; so that he had signal success in turning men from darkness to light, and from the worship of dumb idols, to serve the living and true God; and in planting the Gospel, and gathering churches in every province. The Gospel found an early reception at Rome, which facilitated its spread into the different parts of the Roman empire. And we have reason to believe it was introduced into our island in a few years after our Lord's ascension. And though what was called the conversion of Heathen nations, in some following ages, went little further than to prevail on them to assume the name of Christians, and left them, considered as nations, as destitute of the spirit and blessings of Christianity as it found them; yet, I cannot doubt, that wherever the New Testament, and the sufferings of MESSIAH, were known, some individuals, at least, experienced a real and saving change. And we are warranted to hope for still greater things; for a time when the gross darkness, which as yet covers a great part of the world, shall be dispelled; and the Redeemer's kingdom spoken of by Daniel the prophet, as a stone cut out without hands, shall become a great mountain, and fill the whole earth.' But this pleasing subject will come more directly under our consideration hereafter.
V. The call in my text may be taken in a general sense, like that of the apostle, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.' Natural light requires eyes to perceive it. It would be absurd to point out the beauties of an extensive prospect to a blind man. To him the face of nature presents only a universal blank. But the light of the Gospel not only discovers the most important objects to those who can see, but has a marvellous efficacy to open the eyes of the blind. It is the appointed instrument of Divine power for this purpose. In vain would be the labour and expectation of the husbandman, if God will not afford the rain and the snow, to water the earth, and the enlivening influences of the sun, to draw forth the tender blade, and to ripen the corn. Equally unsuccessful would the preaching of the Gospel prove to sinful men, though in itself it be eminently the truth and wisdom of God, exEph. v. 14.
*Rom. xv. 19.
† Dan. ii. 35.
actly suited to their state, and of the highest importance to their welfare, if he had not promised that his word, where simply and faithfully delivered, in dependence upon his blessing, shall not be spoken in vain, but shall certainly accomplish the end for which he has sent it.* This promise, together with the experience of its truth in our own case, and our knowledge of its uniform effects in every age and country where the doctrine of the cross has been preached, encourages ministers to persevere in publishing the glad tidings, in defiance of all the opposition and disappointments we meet with. We lament, but cannot wonder, that the Gospel is so generally neglected. As a dispensation of grace, it offends the pride of man; as a dispensation of holiness, it contradicts his desires and passions. His spirit is degraded, his heart is pre-engaged, he loves the present world, and has no more taste or inclination for a life of communion with God here, and such a heaven as the Scripture proposes hereafter, than the beasts of the field. But the Lord has said, 'I will work, and who shall let it ?'t When he is pleased to clothe the word preached, with the influence of his Holy Spirit, and to apply it to the conscience, it is quick, powerful, penetrating, and irresistible as lightning; it conveys a voice which the deaf, yea, the dead, must hear it forces a light upon the mind which cannot be evaded. Then things are seen as they are. The nature and desert of sin is apprehended, and then the Gospel is found to be the only balm for a distressed and wounded conscience. Therefore, having the Lord's command and promise, we are not to be discouraged by the carelessness or obstinacy of those who know not what they do. We are aware of the difficulty, yea, the impossibility of succeeding in our endeavour to save the souls of our hearers, if we had only to depend upon our own arguments or earnestness. We are not to reason, but to obey. Our business is to deliver our message, and, in our happier moments, to water it with our prayers and tears. When we have done this, we can do no more. The event must be left with him in whose name we speak. We must not suppress nor disguise what we are commanded to declare; nor wilfully make any additions of our own, to accommodate it to the taste or prejudice of our hearers. Let those preach smooth things who will venture to answer, at the great tribunal, for the souls that have miscarried under their ministry; we dare Let those be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ,|| who feel no obligations to him for his dying love; we cannot, and, by the grace of God, we will not. We will glory in it. God forbid that we should glory in any thing' else ! Like Ezekiel, we are
* Isa. lv. 10, 11. † Isa. xliii. 13. 2 Cor. iv. 2. || Rom. i. 16. Gal. vi. 14.
commanded to preach and prophesy to dry bones; and he who sends us can cause the dry bones to live. 'O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord."* The word of his salvation is sent to you. The Lord is risen indeed !' Arise, shine; for your light is come.' In his name we proclaim pardon and peace to all who will seek him. But seek him to-day, while it is called to-day; to-morrow is not yours. Seek him now, while he may be found. Harden not your hearts. Tremble, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should finally come short of it.'t
THE SUN RISING UPON A DARK WORLD.
ISAIAH, ix. 2.
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
CONTRASTS are suited to illustrate and strengthen the impression of each other. The happiness of those who, by faith in MESSIAH, are brought into a state of peace, liberty, and comfort, is greatly enhanced and heightened by the consideration of that previous state of misery in which they once lived, and of the greater misery to which they were justly exposed. They are not only made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; but they have been delivered from the powers of darkness. Thus, while they have communion with God as a Father, they contemplate the privilege with a greater pleasure than they probably could do if they had never known a difference. They remember a time when they were afar off, without hope, and without God in the world;' and they remember how carelessly they then trifled upon the brink of destruction. In this deplorable and dangerous situation they were found of the Lord, when they sought him not.' He convinced, humbled, and pardoned them, and brought them near to himself, into a state of adoption and communion by the blood of Jesus. The admiration, gratitude, and love, which they feel for this undeserved grace, gives them a more lively sense of the blessings they enjoy. Yea, the Col. i. 12, 13. Isa. lxv. 1.
Ezek. xxxvii. 4. † Heb. iv. 1.