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recovered, refined, strengthened, and carried forward to the acquisition of permanent beneficial influence, to this service will be communicated a character which must ever be remembered with thankfulness and pleasure.
I. Let us consider THE NATURE AND EXCITING
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE DISPOSITION ALLEGED.
Your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.
The images here employed, you will at once recognize as the emblems of brevity and evanescence. The morning cloud is soon dispersed, and the early dew soon evaporates before the sun-beam; transitory is the shadow of the one, and the glittering of the other, and in a few moments of time none can tell where they have been. It is intended to affirm, of the persons whose case was portrayed by these interesting figures, that they had been the subjects of certain emotions towards God and his will, which appeared to be right and good, and gave fair promise that the principles and conduct of future life would be correct and holy, but which were yet transitory and unsubstantial, and soon gave way altogether to returning habits of transgression and rebellion.
The people of Israel frequently expressed, under different exciting causes, deep repentance and humiliation on account of sin, uttered determinations to live in obedience to the divine law, and affirmed anxious
and pre-eminent desire to be preserved in the enjoyment of his favour; but again speedily revolted, and plunged once more into the perpetration of foul and malignant crime. In the possession of this character Israel has not stood alone ; it has been exemplified in numberless instances besides, performing its mournful process ; nor can we look over the past history, or present state of multitudes under the government and dispensations of the eternal Lawgiver, without having to charge on them habits thus beautifully represented—“ Your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.”
That the “ goodness” now brought before us is separate from vital godliness, and, however powerful or promising in its first operations, is not in any case to be confounded with the change of heart produced by the Spirit of God, ought to be carefully remembered. There may often be the plausible semblance of regeneration, without the vivifying reality. There may often be expressions and signs of feeling which seem to comprehend all that real religion can excite and require, while its genuine and substantial principles have no existence whatever. This important and distressing fact unequivocally applies now. True godliness, infused by the operation of divine grace, is not exposed to such an ultimate fate as is recorded in the text ; it does not depart with a momentary ebullition, but continues with an enduring power;
possesses a permanent influence over the habits and desires ; it brings forth fruits corresponding with its nature, fruits of righteousness and true holiness; and although susceptible of minor variations, from the remaining imperfection of the beings among whom it dwells, it is a gift that cannot be recalled, a seed that cannot perish, a life that cannot die, a “ good work” that must be “ performed until the day of Jesus Christ.” But here is a disposition which effects no mental renovation, and takes no established hold,-a mere inflamed excitement, subject at once to removal on the rise of new suggestions, and the presence of new scenes, preserved and fed by no lasting aliment, sinking and expiring with the impulse of the moment, agitating and subsiding, promising and disappointing, springing and withering. The distinction surely is palpable and decided ; and you at once perceive, that the Almighty did not speak of the failure and annihilation of his own gracious bestowment, but of that which was only a temporary similitude of it, fair indeed for a season, but powerless and unavailing.-We shall mention more fully some of the circumstances under which this inadequate “ goodness” has arisen, and is most likely to arise ; and O, that He who knows the secrets, and can master the powers of the heart, may inspire in all whose case may be depicted, the godliness that is effectual to salvation !
1. This disposition may be observed as excited by remarkable interferences of the providence of God. Public and national providences, either in the bestowment of mercy, or in the infliction of judgment, have given rise not seldom, to what has thus appeared as the spirit of religion. The history of the Jews, signalized by many wonderful interferences of Heaven, affords several striking examples of the“ goodness,” and its end. When they had been led out from Egypt, and seen the sudden destruction of their foes, and heard the divine promise of preservation and blessing, they solemnly vowed obedience to him who gave it; and yet, in sight of the mount where the covenant was ratified amidst signs and wonders, every pledge was forgotten, and they defiled themselves with the rites and practices of an infamous idolatry. There is a remarkable record of the same conduct at a subsequent period, when the mercy of God interposed to relieve them from the national distresses produced by their national sins. • The Lord raised up judges which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. And it came to pass when the judge was dead, that they returned and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, by following
other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them ; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way. David gives very emphatic summaries of the exhibition of the emotion and its result, under circumstances of public grace or judgment. “ When he slew them, then they sought him; and they returned and inquired early after God: and they remembered that God was their Rock, and the high God their Redeemer. Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues : for their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.”—When he delivered them, “ then believed they his words; they sang his praise. They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel ; but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert.”t
Their history on other occasions, to which a particular reference need not now be made, further confirms what we illustrate—the too common result of the public dispensations of the universal Ruler. In later times, and to other people, national mercies and deliverances, when important and signal, have been followed by professions of gratitude and devotion from many in the land which has been favoured ; and when the judgments of God have been abroad, and when his scourges have struck deep in havoc and desolation, how loud often have
* Judges ii. 16-19. + Psalm lxxviii. 34–37. cvi. 12–14.