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give light to them that sat in darkness; which words do very exactly describe the posture and circumstances of men in a prison. Worse than the midnight darkness of a dungeon, was the blindness of the Jews, and the ignorance of the heathens. According to the strictest sense of these words of the prophet, darkness had covered the earth, and gross darkness the people, when the Lord arose, and his glory was seen upon them. Under the ministry of Christ himself, the Jews received the light of knowledge; and by the preaching of his apostles, this light of instruction was spread abroad from Mount Sion into all the quarters of the earth; till the light of the gospel became as universal as the light of the sun, which visits every side of the globe, and nothing is hid from the heat thereof.
The consequence of this light, is liberty; and thus it follows in the history of our apostle's deliverance: “ he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, say
ing, arise up quickly.” Thus must every believer be smitten, before the great work of his redemption can succeed. The gospel doth not address itself to the liead and to the wit: it strikes at the heart and the affections. If the soul is insensible of the stroke, and will not be convinced of its misery, the wretched prisoner sleeps on and takes his rest: he is either in love with the sordid life of a dungeon, or lies dreaning that he is in a palace. The heavenly light shines round about hinı; but his eyes are not open to make any use of it: he loves his darkness rather than light, because his deeds are evil. Oh, what a heart must that be, which neither feels the stroke, nor hears the voice of the heavenly messenger, who is sent for its deliverance! But happy is the broken and the contrite heart, which feels its own misery, and answers to the call of heaven : blessed are the eyes, which
awake, to see and rejoice in the glory of that light, which truth diffuses round about them! The prisoner, who has this sense of things, rises and stands upright, as Peter did when the Angel had smote him: be hears the voice which speaketh to him by the prophet, awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. Blessed and holy is he that liath part in this first resurrection from sin to grace : over him the second death shall have no power.
The words which the Angel used to St. Peter, will admit of an useful application to us all : " arise up
quickly:" for if our salvation is an çscape, no time is to be lost: life and death may depend upon the present moment; and he who hears not the first call, may hear the last trumpet as the second, when the hour of deliverance, and the day of
grace, If reformation is put off to a convenient season, that season, as we are taught by woeful experience, never
And where must the blame be laid? God is not obliged to wait the idle man's leisure : he will be justified, and the sinner will be lost. If Peter had desired the Angel to wait while his sleep was out, he had been left to the consequences of his imprisonment; and would soon have been carried out to
gratify the malicious Jews with the spectacle of his execution. You think he would have acted like a madman, if he had neglected to rise up and follow the Angel immediately: and do not you think, that any man would be mad in the like circumstances ? He would certainly : but thou, whosoever thou art, that delayest to obey the call of God's messenger, and forsake thy sins, and avoid the consequences of them, while thou mayest, thou art that man. Is eternal damnation so light a matter, that our escape from it
must be niade a work of convenience? Look at the example of our Apostle : he stood not arguing with the Angel about a proper season, though it were then midnight, but complied immediately. A circumstance meets us here, which merits a particular attention. The Angel bids him rise up: but to what purpose, when two heavy chains fastened him down to the floor? and what would the soldiers say, who lay by the side of him? yet he made no difficulty ; God never commands any thing that will prove to be impossible: so he rose up in faith, and in the attempt the chains that bowed him down fell off from his hands. And though you, in your own case, may think the
power of sin which holds you down is so strong as to render all your struggles ineffectual, yet, you are to remember, that all things are possible with God : and that it is not your own strength, but a divine miracle that must save you at last. Fear not then the companions that lie by the side of you, whether they are evil men or evil spirits, whose office it is to keep you where you are, and confine you to your bondage : God can defend you against their attempts: the light which comes from heaven to guide you may bring upon them either terror or stupefaction, so that they shall become like dead men, and make no resistance. Neither look with despair upon your chains, nor pretend to say you cannot help your sins: hath he not said, my grace is sufficient for thee? His power, and the directions he hath given thee in his word, are to accomplish this great work, for which all the abilities of man are insufficient. It is required of the captive sinner, only that he should be willing and try to raise himself up: strength will come to him in the attempt, and the power of the adversary will fail; as the fetters and chains, which confined the Apostle, fell away
to the ground when he obeyed the voice of the Angel.
This case throws so much light on a theological question of great importance, that I shall take a little time to insist farther upon it, with your leave. It shews us, how the endeavours of man are consistent with the help and grace of God; and so confutes, as well the error of those who exclude the free will of man, as of others who reject the grace of God, because they think it would make human reason unnecessary. But this is not the case : for, doubtless, Peter might have refused to obey the summons of the Angel, if his reason had been weak enough: but he attempted to rise, and found himself released. We have other cases in the scripture of the same kind. When Peter healed a cripple at the gate of the temple, he bid him stand up upon his feet; but how should he do so, when he had no ability ? his feet and ancle bones were doubled under him, and become useless: yet he believed, endeavoured, and stood upright. A man with a withered hand presented himself to Christ: he bid him stretch it out: but how could that be? might he not have said, “ Lord, thou art an hard man, to com“ mand me thus to stretch out an arm, of which, as " thou seest, I have lost the use.” However, he had the heart to try; and in the trial his arm become whole as the other. The moral therefore is this; that you are not to be so foolish as to oppose the work of your own deliverance: only be willing to be saved ; put yourself into action; try to get up; and the power of God will be present to help you through. With this the doctrine of the scripture agrees, as well in its precepts as its miracles; work out your own salvation--For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Work for yourselves;
but then remember, that your labour is not in vain, because it is God that worketh with you. I thought it
proper to take this opportunity of illustrating the concurrence of divine grace with human endeavours; a very weighty and (as some have made it) a difficult subject How far the act of man proceeds, and where the power of God comes in, we cannot exactly determine ; nor is there any occasion; the fact is as I have set it before you; and one fact gives more light than all the metaphysical disquisitions in the world.
But to return to the case of St. Peter; after whose example, the soul being set at liberty, has recovered the use of its faculties, which satan had bound with the bond of iniquity. God having begun the good work, the convert must proceed to do something for himself, under the direction of his guide, who will not yet forsake him. If we go on with the account of St. Peter's deliverance, we read in the next place, that “the Angel said unto him, gird thyself, and bind
on thy sandals : and so he did; and he saith unto him, “ cast thy garment about thee and follow me.'
The same advice is given to us, when we are brought froin darkness into light. We are commanded to have our loins girt about with truth; to be right and ready in our faith; taking care that no folds and impediments of error hang loose about the feet to retard our progress, and become an occasion of falling. Whatever may binder our steps is to be gathered out of the way, and the girdle of truth is to be put
This done, we are to bind on our sandals ; that is, we are to be shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace ; without which preparation, the Christian can no more pursue
and safety through the trials of the world, than a poor traveller