« PreviousContinue »
of piety; has more enjoyment when he may teach than when he must learn, when he may lead in the prayer than when he must join with his brother. One believer so neglects his worldly concerns, as to come under the censure of not providing for his own, and especially those of his own house, while another suffers himself to be pressed with the cares of the life that now is, to an extent that seems hardly to comport with the exercise of a heavenly mind. When once we meet with the Christian character in all its native loveliness, meek, humble, watchful, prayerful, heavenlyminded, prompt in the discharge of every duty, but willing to be unnoticed and unknown; diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord—when once we see it thus clothed in all the attributes which it must wear in heaven, we meet with it often so deformed as hardly to recognise in its countenance the features of the heavenly family. With these deformed beings the believer must mingle ; must come into close and friendly alliance; to them must be bound in everlasting covenant ; and from their number, deformed as they are, must select the best associates he shall find till he reaches heaven. Hence, why be surprised if the wish escapes him that he could fly away and be at rest, could go and mingle with the general assembly of the Church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven, and enjoy there the society of those who have put off the body of sin and death, and are clothed upon with their house from heaven.
But when all this is said, there still is no object in all this polluted, and disloyal, and miserable world, with which he is so much disgusted as with himself. When the circle of his contemplations is contracted till it embraces nothing but his own deformed, and polluted, and wretched heart, then does he put forth his most ardent wish, and prefer his warmest prayer, that he may be permitted to fly away and be at rest. There is no object that disgusts him so much, for in no other case is pollution so nigh him, or so distinctly seen. It often seems to him impossible that his heart should have been renewed, and he be still so depraved. He is conscious of putting forth at times every depraved and base affection. He finds himself giving to created objects the regard due only to God. Every comfort Jehovah gives is liable to be erected into an idol, and loved with supreme attachment. He often finds himself disinclined to obey the law of God, esteeming his commandments grievous. He receives without due gratitude the bounties of heaven, or blesses only his own wisdom and prudence for the benefits which God bestows. When he has sinned, he finds his heart hard and impenitent. If he has any glimpse of God, or of heaven, and attempts to rise to some tone of higher devotion, he finds his wretched heart attracted back by some object of sense, and coveting his ease and his indulgences. I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on ? I have washed my feet, how shall I defile them? To obey his Redeemer requires of him a self-denial and an enterprise for which his heart is not prepared. He knows he has fallen, but cannot put forth the effort necessary for his recovery; and still does not hope to be happy till that effort is put forth.
And if the Spirit of God revives him, and this poor world is, for a time, blotted out; and he covenants anew with God, to walk in his ways, and do his commandments; still, in the midst of such mercy, compared with which, no blessing ever enjoyed on earth is equal, he sees some object that lures him away from God, and he follows it, and is plunged again into darkness and distress. In no other case, perhaps, does he commit a greater crime, or do himself a greater injury, or imitate more closely the deeds done in heaven by the fallen spirits. When God lets down so much of heaven into the soul, and permits his people for a week or a month to gaze upon his glories, it is no light thing to provoke him to eclipse the view. But the child of God who has ever been happy with the light of God's countenance, and is not happy now, must lie down under the conviction that he has done this very deed. God will never forsake us, till we forsake him. If he has caused his glory to shine upon us, he will never darken the view till our attention is divided between him and some created object with which he abhors to have his glory associated. The child of God thus laments when the vision is gone, in the pensive language of the poet :
« Trifles of nature or of art;
With fair deceitful charms,
And thrust me from thy arms.
When I repent and vex my soul,
That I should leave thee so;
That let a Savior go ?”
In every duty to God he finds himself coming short of his glory. He is ashamed of his prayers, his songs, and his sacrifices. Selfishness, pride, or ambition mingle at last with all his better moVOL. II.
tives, and mar every duty. “ The very songs I frame,” says the same poet,
are faithless to thy cause,
“ And steal the honors of thy name,
If God makes him useful he claims some of the honor, and if he does any noble deed he expects his reward. He finds himself loving too ardently the things of time and sense, has too many cares and too many ties that are earthly and sensual, that assimilate him to the beasts that perish. He could not name, should he attempt it, the Christian grace that thrives in his heart as he could wish. He lacks the humility that becomes a sinner, the patience and the meekness that befit a daily offender, the repentance that God demands, and the faith which should purify his heart and work by love. His love to God does not measure itself by the attributes to be adored, and his esteem of the Lord Jesus Christ falls infinitely below his character. His benevolence is partial and limited, and shamefully inoperative. His regard to the gospel is measured and cold compared with the interest he has in it, and the faith he has professed, and the hopes he founds on it, and the beauty he thinks he has once seen in it. When he casts his eye upon an impenitent world he views their pollutions with too little disgust, their danger with too small emotions, and their approaching destiny with too little alarm. He carries haste to his closet, and formality to the family altar, and dulness to the sanctuary, and coldness to the communion, and unbelief to the Bible, and guilt, and shame, and apprehension to the chamber of meditation. The amount of the whole is a conscientiousness that his attention and his affections are divided between God and the world, between earth and heaven. In no one point does he come up to his own standard. His language is unclean ! unclean! O wretched man that I am ; who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
And when the believer contemplates the dulness and darkness of his own mind he is far enough from being pleased with himself. His dulness often renders it a task to think, and his darkness renders every view he takes confused and indefinite. And he knows that the whole is his crime. He could easily have been more intellectual in his character, had he not debased himself by his sins, had he not limited his powers of thought and reflection by too exclusive an attachment, and attention too exclusive to small and mean objects. Hence when he would contemplate the character of God it is not easy and natural for him to soar away and dwell on the Divine attributes. Some little object, awakening a little thought, and demanding no effort, calls him back to the creation, and God passes out of his mind. As soon might the domestic fowl join himself to the bird of passage, and with untired wing light in some foreign territory, as his mind sustain any prolonged interview with the great objects of faith. Hence he seldom mounts and quickly tires. The meditation necessary for the application of truth to his own sanctification is often a weariness. His mind has been weakened by its mean employment, by its neglect of thought, for the enterprise to which piety would summon it, till almost does it need regenerating as does the heart. It often seems to him impossible that with such a mind as his he can ever be the associate of angels, and think without tiring as they do. The great truths of revelation are above him, and the bible a dark book to him. Thus he is about as much dissatisfied with his intellect as with his heart. He wonders at the clemency of God, that it should ever have entered into his heart to fit him for heaven, and that he does not abandon his purpose of making him an angel. When he believes it possible that he can ever be made capable of sublime conceptions, and soar away to hold untiring communion with his Maker, then he utters himself in the language of the text, “O that I had wings like a dove, then would I fly away and be at rest.”
Hence his very great dissatisfaction with his own conduct. His settled purpose is to walk uprightly. He would do good, but evil is present with him. He finds a law in his members warring against the law of his mind. Hence his retrospect of life is uniformly forbidding. Duty has been neglected ; and when done, done in so poor a manner as not to deserve the name. And every little section of life has been polluted with something that should have been left undone; some wrong affection that should not have been exercised, some wrong passion that should not have been indulged, some wrong corruptions that should not have been conceived, some wrong hopes that should not have been embraced, some wrong apprehensions that should have been spurned, and many wrong deeds that should never have been committed. Hence find we the bitterest foe the Christian has, and let him exhaust his eloquence in berating him, and belittling him, and belying him, and when all is done, although he will be accused wrongfully, he will not have been rendered more degraded than he is degraded in his own view, nor be exhibited as more unworthy of heaven than he esteems himself.
Hence the good man feels that he has all the character he de
He has done so much to insult and abuse infinite purity, has stained his moral reputation with affections and deeds so at war with truth, and holiness, and righteousness, that he wonders if it be possible that heaven should ever respect him, and angels honor him, and the redeemed associate with him. Thus the believer is more disgusted with himself than with any other object in all the creation of God, would quit if he might his contact with moral corruption, would fly away and be at rest.
Finally, it is to the believer a source of grief and pain that he must meet with opposition in every effort he makes to meliorate the condition of his fellow-men. He sees the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain to be delivered from its bondage to sin, and yet unwilling to cast off its yoke.
Men are ignorant, and yet unwilling to be enlightened. What they know not is precisely that which they wish not to know, and their reluctance to learn, not the want of light, is the grand cause of their ignorance. As to God, they wish not to retain him in their knowledge. They are content not to be acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ, because they will not have him to reign over them. The distinguishing doctrines of the Bible only distress them, exhibit their depravity, their dependence, their danger, their demerit, and their destiny. Hence they are willingly ignorant. They love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. They hate the light, and will not come to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved. Hence every effort of the good man to remove the thing that pains him, to cure the wound that rankles before his eye and affects his heart, meets a repulse that distresses him. His kindness is nicknamed impudence, his tears are pronounced hypocritical, and his motives selfish. He must go into the wilderness and be a hermit, or see a whole world covered with the shadow of death and not weep for it, or contend for the truth, and carry in one hand the sword for his own defence, and with the other build the ruins of Jerusalem.
Men have a misguided conscience, and wish not to be put right. While they may act conscientiously, they feel secure, and hope to be forgiven if they err. The kings of Judah and Israel would have the prophets prophecy smooth things, true or false. Men would hope that their course leads to heaven, if it terminate in perdition ; and you offend them if you rudely tear this hope from them. So, many species of game, when pressed in the chase, are said to hide their heads in the snow, and dream not but that they are quite secure from the huntsman till the fatal moment when they are