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FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT.
THE RIGHTEOUS DELIVERED.
Gen. xix. 29. And il came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of
the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of 1he midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt.
[Text taken from the first Morning-Lesson.]
When God executed the vengeance to which the text referreth, he certainly spake, in an audible voice, to the hopes and fears of all the dwellers upon earth. By the deliverance vouchsafed to his righteous servant, he encouraged the hopes of such as, like him, preserved their integrity in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation; while, by the unparalleled destruction of the cities of the plain, lie alarmed the fears of those who resembled them in impiety and iniquity. It is with the utmost propriety, therefore, that the Church, in the course of her Proper Lessons, openeth the present season of humiliation, with a display of so awful and affecting a scene of mercy and judgement; that the sinner may know how terrible is the wrath of an incensed God, and the penitent be taught the way to escape it.
In conformity to so judicious an appointment, it is proposed, in the following discourse, to take a view of the whole narrative, illustrating the several parts of it with such observations and reflections, as, it may be presumed, the Church intended we should make upon it, with an eye to the great doctrine of repentance, at this time of Lent more especially to be recommended and inculcated.
In the preceding chapter, we find the holy patriarch Abraham interceding with Jehovah for sinful Sodom. And we find (such is the amazing extent of divine mercy) that had there been only ten righteous persons in the city, the rest would have been spared for their sakes. But the corruption was universal, and Abraham himself can intercede no longer. 'The Lord left communing with Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.' The destruction of Sodom being thus determined, Lot was to be first called out of it. Accordingly, 'there came two angels to Sodom,' on the evening before the dreadful sentence was put in execution; * and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom.'
Happy were the days, when celestial visitants thus deigned to descend, and converse with men, 'as a man converseth with his friend.' But surely, we have no reason to complain of any partiality shown, in this respect, to our fathers; we, to whom God hath been manifested, not under a similitude, or temporary appearance, but verily and indeed, in a body of our flesh, no more to be deposited, or laid aside, but actually taken up into heaven with him; we, to whom the word of life hath been sent by the hand of such a messenger, the * angel of the covenant;' [Mai. iii. 1.] we, to whom this comfortable promise hath been made by the mouth of truth itself, ' If a man love me, my Father will love him, and we will come, and make our abode with him.' [John xiv. 23.] By his Word, and by his Spirit, Christ continually visiteth his people, and dwelleth in the hearts of the faithful. Blessed is the man, who • sitteth at the gate of Sodom/ ready to arise and depart out of a wicked world, at the moment when his Lord shall call him hence. He shall be visited with the visitation of the Almighty, instructed in the counsels of heaven, and delivered in the day of vengeance.
Upon the sight of his divine guests, 'Lot rose up to meet them, and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my Lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay, but we will abide in the street all night. And he pressed upon them greatly, and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house: and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.'
The admonition of the Apostle, grounded upon this occurrence, naturally offers itself; 'Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.' [Heb. xiii. 2.] It may be added, thereby Christians entertain their Redeemer, who for their sakes was once a stranger upon the earth, and who therefore regards hospitality shown to strangers on his account, as shown to himself. 'I was a stranger, and ye took me in; for inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.' [Matt. xxv. 35, 40.]
Instructed moreover by this example of Lot, when we have the honour, like him, to entertain heavenly guests, who present themselves to us by means of the word and sacraments, in the church, let us instantly 'arise,' in heart and mind, 'to meet them,' laying aside, for a time, all worldly business, and forgetting those things that are behind. Let us 'bow ourselves with our faces toward the ground,' in humble and fervent prayer, .saying, 'Turn into the house of thy servants, and tarry with us.' At first, perhaps, our prayers may seem not to be heard, as the angels said, they would 'abide in the street all night,' and as Christ, when invited by the two disciples at Emmaus, 'made as though he would have gone farther.' [Luke xxiv. 528.] But all this is done with the same intent that our Lord spake the parable of the poor widow and the unjust judge, to teach us, that 'men ought always to pray, and not to faint.' [Luke xvii. 1.] By delaying the return of our prayers, God designs to try our love and train us to perseverance, not to reject our petitions, and to hide his face from us for ever. When Lot earnestly pressed the angels, they went in and tarried with him; and the two disciples constrained Jesus to go in and sup with them. Faint hearts and feeble hands obtain not the kingdom of heaven, which 'suffered! violence,' and must be taken by a 'holy force.'
No sooner had Lot received and lodged his divine guests, but he suffered persecution on their account. And although he went out and spake with all the mildness imaginable to the wretches that 'compassed the house about, old and young, from every quarter—I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly: to these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof;' what was the return made to this reasonable request, worded in the most humble and submissive terms?—' Stand back. This fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge. Now will we deal worse with thee than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door. But the men put forth their hands, and pulled Lot into the house to them and shut the door. And they smote the men that were at the door of the house, with blindness, both small and great; so that they wearied themselves to find the door.'
Truth and righteousness are guests that often bring those who entertain them, into trouble. Wherever the Gospel was preached, it produced a commotion among those who could not bear the lustre of its beams, and 'hated the light, because their deeds were evil.' Lot had lived too long in Sodom, and knew too much of its inhabitants, to desire the office of a judge among them, or any further connection with them, than was necessary. But his righteous example condemned their wickedness; and that circumstance provoked them more, than if he had really usurped the government. It was charged, likewise, upon our Saviour, though the meekest and lowliest of characters, that he * made himself a king,' and endeavoured to supplant the authority of Caesar. And for that crime, if we believe the superscription on the cross, he was executed. But the true cause both of the accusation and execution was no other than this, that, by doctrine and example, he detected a set of the vilest hypocrites the earth ever bore. Nor let the disciple of Christ vainly imagine, that the most inoffensive carriage, framed by the rules of Christian prudence, will prevent him from being sometimes accused of designs, to which his soul is an utter stranger. Would he escape the censures of the world? He must cease to convict it of sin and error; he must conform to all its ways, and pace quietly in its trammels; a conduct, which, as they well know, who tempt him to adopt it, will soon deprive him of all authority and ability to do his heavenly Master service, and promote his religion among men. So far, therefore, let him imitate the example of Lot, as to part with any thing, rather than suffer violence to be done to his divine guests. Let him guard his faith and his conscience, and trust God for every thing else. He who preserved Lot, and smote his adversaries with blindness, can save them that love him in every age, and secure them under the wings of his Providence, until the tyranny of the wicked be overpast; while the ungodly that trouble them, blind to their eternal interest, find not the gate of heaven, and come not into the dwellings of the righteous; but falling from one wickedness to another, and filling up the measure of their enormities, perish, at the last, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, when ' he cometh to judge the world in righteousness.'
Lot, being thus preserved from the malice of his enemies, is now informed concerning the decrees of heaven. * The men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides? Son-in-law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place. For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord, and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it.' How alarming this intelligence! No further respite allowed; instant destruction determined; the day of grace expiring, and a stormy night about to succeed it: he who would not perish, must leave all, and escape for his life!
But are 'the cities of the plain' only concerned here? Or is not this written for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, it is written; since the Scriptures of truth, give us the same information, relative to the world in which we dwell, namely, that ' the Lord will destroy this place,' and will 'purge away the iniquity thereof with the spirit of judgement, and with the spirit of burning.' For ' Behold the Lord coiueth out of his place, to visit the wickedness of such as dwell upon the earth. But who may abide the day of his coming? Who shall be able to stand, when he appeareth? His fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the barn, but he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.' Such, therefore, being the message delivered to mankinds-may it not be said to every one of them—' Hast thou here any besides? Son-in-law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast, bring them out of this place;' endeavour to withdraw their affections from a world doomed to ruin, and take them to heaven with thee. In a word, give all thy relations, thy friends, and thine acquaintance, the warning which is given thee.
The injunction, received by Lot from the divine persons, was immediately obeyed. 'He went out unto his sons in-law, saying, Up, get ye out of this place, for the Lord will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked, unto his sonsin-law.' A denunciation of approaching destruction, in the midst of peace and security, appeared so very extraordinary to them, that they could not bring themselves to believe it possible their father-in-law should be in earnest. They looked around them, and saw no symptoms of impending ruin. The city wore its accustomed face of gaiety and pleasure. No alteration was to be observed in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath. And that the knowledge of an event so iiu