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I came at the fourth watch of the night, and immediately the ship was at the land whither ye went. And when I sent you forth without purse, and scrip, and shoes, you had many anxieties and fears; but lacked ye any thing? In every want I will provide. The latest watch shall find me near. Every storm shall bring me in its bosom-Lo! I am with you alway, even to the end of the world."
But how could this be? Did they live alway? Did they not all leave the world more than seventeen hundred years ago? He spake to them, not so much personally, as relatively and representatively. Had he intended themselves only, it would have been enough to say, I am with you alway, even to the end of life; but as he intended the Church whom he addressed in them, he says, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world. There is nothing unusual in such a mode of address. Speaking as Englishmen, we say, things have been so and so with us, ever since the Reformation or Revolution. No river has the selfsame particles of water it had a year or an hour ago; yet because it flows in the same banks, and from the same sources, we always call it by the same name. The Church of Christ is one community, and the unity is not affected by the variety of parts, or succession of time. We look backward to the days of his flesh, and say, " We beheld his glory :” we look forward to his coming again, and say, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed."
There is a world, the Lord prepare us for it! that will never terminate : but “this present world” is not only seen, but temporalIt will have an "end;" and we know it. We know not indeed when it shall take place; but we know that “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and all the works that are therein, shall be burnt up.” Then “time shall be no longer." But O delightful assurance! we know that till then, Jesus will be-must be with his people. Yet how is the assurance to be understood ? How can he be with them alway, even to the end of the world ? O, say they who only counsel to cast him down from his excellency; by his word, and ordinances, and ministers. But he speaks of his own presence: and he does not say, I shall be, but I am with you. Yet it could not be as to his bodíly presence : for he said, “the poor ye hare always with you; but me ye have not always."' "Now I am no more in the world :" and no more will he be corporeally in the world, till he shall appear a second time without sin unto salvation. It is impossible to explain these things consistently, without the admission of his divinity. It is absurd to suppose that a mere creature could be always with millions of persons at the same time. A man, an angel, cannot be in two places at the same moment. Yet, even allowing his divinity, some distinction is necessary. His omnipresence is an essential attribute by which he fills heaven and earth, and thus he is as near to the wicked as to the righteous. When his presence is spoken of in a way of privilege, it must be distinguished from a perfection of his nature, and refer to the agency of his grace, or the influence of his Spirit. So he had explained himself to his disciples: “I will give you another Comforter, that he may abide VOL. I.
with you for ever: even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him ; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you."
Let us realize this promise, as the promise of One that cannot lie. And while it fills us with wonder and admiration, and induces us to exclaim, “Will God in very deed dwell with man upon the earth ?" let it induce us to seek the blessedness of a union with his people, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you. And if we have reason to hope that we are in the number of his followers, let the promise establish our hearts with regard to the security of his Church, and the permanency and success of his cause. Let it animate us in every duty. Let it be a source of consolation in every trial. Are we reduced in circumstances ? deserted ? bereaved ? looking into the valley of the shadow of death? Let us hear him saying, “Fear not; for I am with thee." And may we be enabled to answer
"If Thou, my Jesus, still art nigh,
FEBRUARY 24.-"And he said, It is the Lord : let him do what seemeth him good.”—1 Sam. iii. 18.
Eli had many failings; but nis behaviour on this occasion does him honour. Samuel had feared to show him the vision. But though Eli foreboded that it was against him, he adjured the young Levite to " hide nothing" from him. This was well. But it was better still when having heard "every whit,” he exclaimed, “ It is the Lord : let him do what seemeth him good.”
We need not push this resignation to every extent. Eli considers the message as a temporal judgment, designed to degrade his family from the priesthood, but not as necessarily consigning them all to endless perdition. Some of the mystics have carried the principle of submission so far as even to include their future destruction, and have said, “If thou send me to hell, I shall continue to praise and love thee." The thing is impossible. It is not in our power to love a being that without compensation would make us miserable. By the law of our nature we are bound to pursue our welfare and happiness; and our resignation to be lost for ever, if it were a possible feeling, would oppose the revealed pleasure of the Almighty, “who will have all men to be saved," and "commands us to believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ”-Neither should we suppose that the state of Eli's mind at this time excluded sensibility. A man of his tenderness must have felt-and he ought to have felt-and he could have exercised no resignation without feeling. Our Saviour himself said, “Now is my soul troubled ;" and he prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;" and so may you, consistently with the most perfect submission, if you can add as he did: “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.”
But Eli humbles himself under the mighty hand of God without murmuring and complaining. He does not accuse him of injustice or severity, but meekly accepts the dispensation-"It is the Lord :
let him do what seemeth him good.” Two things contributed to this. First, a sense of his guilt. He had connived at the conduct of his sons, and thereby had dishonoured religion, and offended God. This he felt, and therefore said, “why should a living man complain; a man for the punishment of his sin ?" “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him." Let the afflicted compare their sufferings with their guilt, and they will see that they have no right to repine: God has punished them less than their iniquities deserve. Secondly, a recognition of divine agency. Natural men live without God in the world. They do not perceive and acknowledge him in their successes and comforts, out sacrifice to their own net, and burn incense to their own drag, And so in their disappointments and trials they exclaim, “ It was that unfortunate event; it was that unlucky servant; it was that malicious neighbour ; it was that perfidious friend"-But Eli says, "It is the Lord," and therefore I let him do what seemeth him good.” A man like-minded with Eli, does not stop at second causes; or think only of instruments. Instruments may inflict the injury, and we are not required to justify them in their conduct; but they could have no power against us unless it were given them from above. David did not excuse the malice and profaneness of Shimei, when he said, “Let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him." But he saw the providence of God in the permission and concurrence of the event. And is there an evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it? Does not he make darkness as well as create light ? Does not he wound as well as heal? And what can tend more to produce submission to his will than the sight of his hand ? Therefore David said, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it"_“It is the Lord,” whose power is almighty, and who cannot be resisted. “It is the Lord,” who has a sovereign propriety in us, and may do what he will with his own. “It is the Lord, who is righteous in all his works-shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? “It is the Lord,” whose understanding is infinite, and whose wisdom is unerring. “It is the Lord,” whose mercy endureth for ever; who does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the a children of men; who loves while he chastens, and chastens because o he loves; who will be with us in trouble, to sustain, deliver, and sanctify us; and make all things work together for our good-The cup which my Father giveth me, shall I not drink it ?-"Let Him do what seemeth him good.”
FEBRUARY 25._"Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord.”—1 Sam. xxi. 7.
This fact is not without its usefulness. It shows us that in divine worship, we appear before God. We are indeed always in his view; and should continually impress our minds with Hagar's conviction, Thou God seest me. But he is in some places as he is not in others : and a peculiar presence of God belongs to the sanctuary. David believed this; and therefore, longing for the ordinances of his house, he exclaims, “When shall I come and appear before God ?" And surely Christians have not less reason than Jews to expect the
special presence of God in their assemblies. Has he not said, “In all places where I record my Name, I will come unto thee; and I will bless thee ?” “For where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them ?" The tokens of his presence are less sensible under the Christian, than under the Jewish dispensation ; but they are no less real. They saw the cloud of glory, and heard the answers from the mercy-seat. And we see the beauty of the Lord, and inquire in his temple, and hear what he says concerning us. How often has he been found there, in his converting power, in his enlivening grace, and in the comforts of the Holy Ghost! How often has he been known in his palaces for a refuge!
Again. We see that persons may attend the means of grace, not from inclination, but constraint. What brought Doeg to the tabernacle at this time,-whether it was to justify himself from some uncleanness, to perform a vow, or for any other purpose, we cannot determine: but he would rather have been elsewhere. He was not doing his own business, nor finding his own pleasure there—he was not at home there-not at ease there-He“ was detained before the Lord"-as a bird is detained in a cage from the liberty he loves; or as a man is detained by complaisance in a party he dislikes ; or as a traveller is detained under a shed from the rain, but longing to be gone. There is no judging of men fairly, unless you observe them when they act freely. It is said of Peter and John, that "being let go, they went to their own company.” Unless he goes out of the world, the Christian must mix with others : but they are not his companions : he is a companion of all them that fear God; in them is all his delight. He does business with others, but he takes hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew; saying, I will go with you, for I have heard that God is with you. On the other hand, many things short of disposition may detain persons in their attendance on the means of grace, and but for which we should see them no more in the house of God.
Some are detained by reputation. Though we are not a country of Christians, we are a Christian country; and though few feel the power, all comparatively respect the forms of godliness; and to abandon these, would excite remark and censure, even among the worldly and indifferent. Some also are influenced by their connexions : children by the authority of their parents; servants by the requisition of their masters; husbands by the importunity of their wives. Some, and this I fear is frequently the case in the upper ranks, are attendants for the sake of example; and to sanction the thing in the eyes of the common people, who do want religion, and cannot well be managed without it. Some are urged by the uneasinesses of their minds, arising from conviction and fear. They feel no concern to please God, and have no desire to hold communion with him; but they want an opiate to allay the wakefulness of conscience. Some are attracted by a kind of entertainment which they find in the psalmody of the place, or the eloquence of the preacher. This was the case with Ezekiel's hearers: “Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.” If the Sabbath to some be not an irksome day, it is because ther divert it from its sacred purposes--otherwise they would exclaim, What a weariness it is to serve the Lord ! when will the Sabbath be gone? Yea, so irksome are religious exercises to some, that they feel perhaps more of the carnal mind that is enmity against God in their devotions, than in any other engagements; because they are irritated by restraint.
Let us bring home this matter to ourselves. We attend, and perhaps have long attended the services of the sanctuary. But let us ask, from what principle or motive? Is it to obey God? Is it to seek his face ? Is it to obtain the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ ? A Christian can say, “It is good for me to draw near to God.” “I have loved the habitation of thy house." “A day in thy courts is better than a thousand.” We have no piety unless we regard religious duties as religious privileges; and are able to say, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me."
We are too prone to err in judging of persons by their presence in our holy assemblies. It is a positive proof against a man if he neglects them: but his attendance is not a decisive evidence in his favour. Solomon saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy. And many a one, unless deprived of reason and reflection, will at a dying hour exclaim, “How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me! I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly.” Thus Doeg, while remaining demurely in the divine presence, instead of minding his devotion, was observing the intercourse between David and Ahimelech, doing mischief, and determining by lies to achieve murder! Lord, what is man!
FEBRUARY 26.-"Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.”—Psalm lxiii. 7.
Man is called a rational creature ; but he deserves the character for the possession of reason, rather than the exercise of it. He has powers; but his depravity leads to the neglect or perversion of them, Thus he is able to reflect, and to anticipate ; but governed by things only present to his senses, he never regards the past and the future, unless in connexion with the body and the life that now is. There indeed he often displays a prudence that forms a lamentable contrast with his indifference and inattention in the concerns of the soul and eternity. There he rises early, sits up late, compasses sea and land, and recalls all his former miscarriages or successes for his after use and improvement. But how foolish is he, and ignorant, and like a beast before God, in things that accompany salvation! It is otherwise with the follower of Jesus. He is renewed in the spirit of his mind. He regards religion as the one thing needful, and never imagines himself prospering unless his soul prospers. His reason is enlarged and directed by faith. He thinks for moral and spiritual purposes of the past and the future-he looks backward with humiliation and gratitude, and forward with prayer and hope. Therefore David said, “Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice." Let us make his words our OWD.