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2. The friends of God
[It is a great mercy to be “ delivered from the love of this present world.” But we may mistake our experience with respect to this. Age, sickness, poverty, disappointment, and other trials may render us apparently indifferent to the world, while yet, under other circumstances, our old attachment to it would revive. Let us take care therefore that, as an evidence of our friendship with God, our delight in him proportionably increase. This must of necessity accompany our deadness to the world. As one scale descends, the other must rise. We must guard also against a relapse; for the world is ever soliciting a place in our affections; and if we be not on our guard, we shall, like Demas, forsake the path of selfdenial for the more enchanting one of earthliness and selfindulgenced.]
d 2 Tim. iv, 10.
REPENTANCE URGED. Jam. iv. 8—10. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to
you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep : let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
THE season of Lent has been set apart by the Church for the purpose of calling all her members to deep humiliation of soul before God: and, were it observed according to the intention of those who destined it to this holy use, there can be no doubt but that it would tend exceedingly to the advancement of religion in the world. So, at least, the reformers of our Church judged; as appears from the peculiarly solemn service which is appointed for the day with which this season commences. And I cannot but think, that, whilst we value ourselves on an increased freedom from the errors of superstition, we have reason to fear that we have suffered loss in respect of real piety ; since, with the forms of religion, we have relinquished also, in no small degree,
a For Ash-Wednesday.
the spirit of it. Not that a becoming reverence for this season has altogether ceased. On the contrary, a discourse which was not pertinent to the occasion would very generally be deemed unseasonable and indecorous : so that I have at least your prejudices and your expectations in my favour, whilst I propose to your consideration the solemn subject before us.
In the Apostle's exhortation we see, I. An encouragement to repentance
A person under conviction of sin is ready to fear that God will not receive him to mercy,
[Nor is this without reason, when we consider how awfully we have all departed from our God. Though “ in him we live and move and have our being," and are bound by all possible ties to obey and honour him, we have altogether * contemnedb” his authority, and “ lived without him in the world." We have in our hearts said to him, “ Depart from me; for I desire not the knowledge of thy ways d.” We have altogether “forgotten hime," and wished that there were “no God"," or, at least, that, as to his claims upon us, he might be “ made to cease from before us 8.” Would it be wonderful, therefore, if God, in his righteous indignation, should execute on all, what he certainly will execute on every impenitent offender, a sentence of utter and everlasting exclusion from his presence h? -- - This is merited by all; and therefore might well be apprehended by all, if God, of his unbounded mercy, had not assured us of his willingness to receive returning penitents.]
But God has declared, that, “ if we draw nigh to him, he will draw nigh to us”—
[He will not despise the prayer of the poor destitute," or “ cast out any who come unto him” in his Son's namek However great or long-continued their sins may have been, he will not withhold his mercy from them! No, in truth : “he will incline his ear unto them, and hear them :" he will “ look down upon them from the habitation of his holiness and his glory m;" yea, “ he will rend the heavens, and come down";" and " at their cry he will answer, Here I am.” Even “ before
o Ps. X. 13.
c Eph. ii. 12.
d Job xxi. 14.
the supplication is well uttered, he will answer; and whilst they are yet speaking, he will hearp.” No language can express the depth of the condescension which he will manifest to the poor suppliant, or the riches of that grace which he will impart to the believing penitent. Pardon, peace, holiness, glory, are not too great for him to bestow on the most unworthy of men, who call upon him with their whole hearts.]
But, that we may not miscarry in the exercise of this duty, the Apostle gives us, II. A direction for the acceptable performance of it-
Our repentance must be attended with, 1. A sincere renunciation of all evil
[Oh! “ cleanse your hands, ye sinners ;” and think not to find acceptance with God, whilst ye “ hold fast iniquity” of any kind. Hear what God said to his people of old : “ When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hands, to tread my courts? .... When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash ye; make you clean ; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes : cease to do evil : learn to do well." In truth, “the very prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord.” Look, I pray you, to all the habits of your past life ; your conduct in your respective trades and callings, no less than in your common intercourse with mankind : and, as God enjoins you to'“shake your hands from holding of bribes," so I would say, Shake your hands from holding of unjust gains of any kind, and from retaining any evil which you have been wont to perpetrate .
Nor is this sufficient : you must put away evil from the heart, as well as in the act : for“ if you regard iniquity in your heart, the Lord will not hear yout.” “ Your heart must be right with God," who demands the whole of it for himself, and will not accept " a divided hearty." “Purify your hearts then, ye double-minded :” for “ ye cannot serve God and mammon too ?." You must “ not love the world, nor any thing that is in it," if you would approve yourselves to Goda : the very desire to retain friendship with the world is constructive treason, and a decisive proof of enmity against God.
p Isai. lxv. 24.
Isai. i. 12-16.
s Isai. xxxiii. 15.
sebener it be hold you
See, then, that ye be “ Israelites indeed, in whom is no allowed guile.” Then, whether it be " under the fig-tree," or in any place whatever, God will behold you with complacency; and not only listen to your prayers, but exceed in his answers your largest petitions or desires a.] 2. A deep contrition for all your past iniquities
[A forsaking of sin is not sufficient. There are many grounds on which some lust may be subdued : a change of age, or even of our circumstances in life, may operate to the abstaining from some sins, whilst yet the evil of them may never have been truly felt. Sin, of whatever kind, is hateful in the sight of God; and must become so in our eyes. “Be afflicted therefore, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness: humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, if ever ye would be lifted up." It is “the broken and contrite heart, which God will not despise e :" and all repentance that falls short of that, will only prove “ a repentance that must itself be repented off.” But, if ye come to God with a holy and ingenuous shame, even though you had been as wicked as Manasseh himself, you shall not be rejected: for “ all manner of wickedness shall be forgiven unto men 8;" nor will God ever suffer any human being to "seek his face in vain." No, verily; if he see one prostrating himself before him in dust and ashes, he will “ lift him up,” just as the father in the parable did his prodigal son; testifying over him the joy with which he will restore him, not to his favour only, but to all the blessedness that he himself is able to imparti. He that thus sows in tears, shall surely “reap in joyk." and "he who thus humbles himself, shall surely be exalted?."] APPLICATION
1. It may be, that some amongst you doubt the necessity of such a repentance
But who amongst you is not " a sinner" before God? or, who amongst you has not been “ double-minded,” giving at least a portion of his heart to the creature, when the whole of it should have been fixed on God? --- I accuse not any one amongst you of gross sin: but as corresponding with the character drawn in my text, I must accuse every child of man. I grant there is a great diversity in the guilt of different men: but there is no man so innocent as not to need repentance,
c John i. 47.
d John i. 48–51. with Eph. iii. 20.
and repentance too of the very kind that is here required. I pray you therefore, brethren, not to rest satisfied with a few faint acknowledgments of your guilt; but to abase yourselves before God, even as holy Job did, in dust and ashes ---]
2. There may possibly be others, also, who doubt its efficacy
[You may perhaps have sought the Lord for some time, and not yet have obtained an answer of peace. But does this discourage you? Think, I pray you, how long God sought after you, and followed you with his invitations and entreaties to return unto him. Think, I say, of this; and then you will acknowledge, that, if you cried to him for a hundred years, and yet obtained an answer only at the last hour, you would have no reason to complain. But God has gracious designs in delaying the manifestations of his favour towards you. He desires to humble you the more deeply before him, and to prepare you more fully for the due reception of his favour. St. Peter says, “ Humble yourselves under his mighty hand, and he will exalt you in due timem.” And who is the best judge what “the due time" is? Surely you may well leave this matter to Him who cannot err; and who,“ having given you his dear Son, will surely with him also freely give you all things." You yourselves do not give to your child a thing the instant that he cries for it, but judge of the fittest season wherein to give it. Wait, then, the Lord's leisure; assured, that "the vision, though delayed, shall not tarry” beyond the period which you yourselves, if you saw things as clearly as God does, would be the foremost to assign for ito.]
m 1 Pet. v. 6. n Rom. viii. 32. Hab. ii. 3.
THE FOLLY OF UNDUE Security. Jam. iv. 13, 14. Go to now, ye that say, To-day or to-morrow we
will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain : whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
RELIGION has ever a tendency to decline. Sin has pre-occupied the ground: and though religion expels it for a time, it is ever watching, as it were, for an opportunity to return, and to regain its former ascendant over the soul. Even in the Apostolic age