« PoprzedniaDalej »
going to the eternal world,—that in heaven or in hell we are to dwell forever, according as we receive or reject its messages of grace. This renders the hearing of the gospel a very serious busi. ness. This throws a grandeur and an awe around the services of the sanctuary, that may well bid us beware with what feelings we enter this holy place, and engage in its ministrations. Consequences of everlasting moment are pending; the work of judg. ment and of mercy is going on, the effects of which will be as lasting as our being and as solemn as eternity. And it is froin a consideration of these effects that I wish to show that hearing the gospel places sinners in a solemn and critical situation. For,
1. In the first place, it lays them under immediate obligation to embrace it. The gospel is worthy of all acceptation. It is a system of truth which needs only to be understood in order to commend itself to every enlightened conscience. Even those who have been most unwilling to submit to its authority, have been obliged to acknowledge its excellence. The most severe and sceptical examination of it has never been able to detect anything wrong in its doctrines or unreasonable in its precepts.
Now, assuming the fact that men are free moral agents, we say that as soon as they hear and understand the gospel, they are under obligation to embrace it. A bare knowledge of duty always binds the conscience to a performance of it. So the common sense of men decides. The parent considers his child bound to obey his commands as soon as he understands them. The magistrate regards the laws as binding on the subject as soon as they are published. And God always considers men as under obligation to obey his will as soon as it is made known. No allowance is made for indisposition. Whether they have a heart to obey or not, they are under eternal obligation to do what they know is right; and all do know, who have the bible in their hands, that it is right for sinful men to repent and obey the gospel. This is the command of God; this is the dictate of conscience, and no excuse for delaying obedience can be justified either at the bar of God or of conscience.
I am aware that the want of a disposition, or a right heart, is often urged as an excuse for not obeying the divine commands. But does the parent regard this as absolving his child from obligation to obedience? or the magistrate the subject? Admit that unwillingness, or the want of a right temper of mind, frees men from their obligations to obey, and you put an end to all government, and to all restraint. The sensualist could plead it, and indulge without remorse or fear of punishment, the vilest passions. The thief and the assassin could plead it, and range unrestrained through your streets in quest of plunder and of blood. The fact is, obligatiou to obedience depends on a knowledge of duty, and not in the least on a disposition to perform it. Accordingly, the apostle declares, that to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to bim it is sin. To know our duty is to be under obligation to do it. There is not in the wide universe an exception to this rule. The moment the Lord Jesus speaks, there is no longer any cloak for sin. The moment the commands of God are known, they are binding. Publish the command, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself;" and it instantly becomes obligatory on every one that hears it. Publish the command, “Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ;" and every sinner is laid under obligation to repent and accept the Savior. Propose the terms of mercy revealed in the gospel, and all are bound by obligations from which they can never escape, immediately to embrace them.
2. Hearing the gospel places sinners in a solemn and critical situation, because it renders it necessary for them either to receive or to reject it. When the child knows the will of its parent, he must obey or disobey. And when sinners know what God requires of them, they must be either willing or unwilling to yield obedience. There is no middle course. The commands of their Sovereign are made known; they understand them, and now the only alternative is, either to obey or disobey. There is no possibi. lity of assuming neutral ground. They are forced to a stand, and must either submit to, or rebel against the acknowledged authority of God, their Savior. And certainly, than such a situation none more solemn can be conceived, this side the eternal world. He is an immortal being, a lost sinner, to whom proposals of mercy are made, and the question to be decided is, shall he accede to them and live, or reject them and die; one or the other he must do.
The attitude of indifference or neutrality he cannot take. The command is positive :-Repent, believe, take up the cross, follow Christ. These duties, binding as they are on every living man, as soon as he understands them, demand feeling, action, effort. Indifference, then, is disobedience; neglect is transgression. To stand still when the command bids you go forward; to do nothing when God calls you to action, is as truly resistance to his authority, and as distinctly marks you a despiser of his grace, as open defiance or positive rebellion. Here is no room for exemption, none for neutrality. For or against the Savior, the friends or the enemies of Christ, we must be; and whether we will be the one or the other is necessarily decided by us, whenever the proposals of the gospel are proclaimed in our hearing.
3. Hearing the gospel places sinners in a solemn and critical situation, because it is to all who hear it, a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death. It always hardens or softens the heart; prepares for heaven, or fits for beli. It is impossible to hear the great truths of the gospel without being essentially affected by them—without receiving impressions that will last forever.
It is a common and just remark, that we are the creatures of habit. We are the pupils of every object around us. The works of creation, the events of providence, our fellow men, our common enjoyments and daily occupations; and above all, the great truths of the bible, are constantly operating to form our characters, and prepare us for our future and everlasting state. Whether these things shall prepare us for happiness or misery-shall save or destroy us, depends upon the state of our hearts, or upon the use we make of them. The gospel, with its system of instruction and warning, of invitation and mercy, is certainly fitted and designed to save us from our sins, and fashion us for the service and enjoyment of God. And it actually produces this effect on the minds of all who open their hearts to its holy influences, and yield themselves to its transforming power. For we all, says the apostle, beholding as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image. But, upon the minds of the carnal and sen. sual, of the sinful and stupid, of the depraved and the worldly, it produces entirely opposite effects. Instead of melting, it hardens; instead of preparing them for glory, it fits them for destruction. Accustomed to hear, without feeling the truths of the gospel, they form a habit of insensibility and carelessness. Their hearts become hard and unimpressible. Eternal things lose their power to awaken or move them. They have so long heard the accents of mercy and the threatenings of justice, that both are alike indifferent to them. They can neither be won by love, nor alarmed by terror. Year after year they have sat under the light of the gospel, and have had disclosed to them the rewards and the punishments, the joys and the sorrows of an eternity at hand; but the only effect has been to increase their blindness, and make them more heedless of God and careless of their own souls.
Of this fatal apathy and hardness of heart, how many affecting examples do we find in the history of our ruined race ? For illus. tration, I might point you to Chorazin and Bethsaida, to Capernaum and Jerusalem, places exalted to heaven by their privileges; but fitted for, and thrust down to hell, for their abuse of them. I might point you to multitudes in Christian lands, who have, evidently, by a long continued resistance to light and motive, passed themselves into that region of hardness and guilt where the Holy Spirit never interposes to bring to repentance, or fit for heaven. But I come nearer home, and appeal to your own experience. Do not some, who occupy these seats, know full well that the longer they hear the gospel without embracing it, the less they are affected by its truths? Can you not remember the time when eternal things more deeply impressed your minds than they do at present? As Sabbaths, and sacraments, and sermons, and prayers, and exhortations, and warnings, have been multiplying around you, have you not been traveling away from God and holiness; and is there not painful evidence, in respect to some of you, that you are to-day farther from repentance and beaven than ever before?
In this connection, it is important to observe, that in righteous judgment, God often abandons to hardness of heart and blindness of mind, those who abuse the riches of his forbearance and long suffering. Go, says he to his prophet, giving him a commission against his ancient people; go, make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes ; lest they hear with their ears, and see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and convert and be healed. In executing this mournful commission, the prophet did nothing but preach. But the truth falling upon depraved hearts, had the dreadful effect of stupefy. ing and destroying them. This fearful power of divine truth to harden, to seal over to judgment, to hasten and bring it down, is often mentioned in scripture, as if on purpose to warn careless men against trifling with the messages that are sent to them. See, declares God to the prophet, I have this day set thee over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build up, and to plant. A dreadful instrumentality is here; but it is all embodied in that truth of God which is as the fire and the hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces. I have hewed them by the prophets, says God, I have slain them by the words of my mouth. In the same strain of solemn warning, the apostle declares that God will send strong delusion upon those men who believe not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness; and the effect will be that they shall believe a lie, and be damned. Ah, my friends, it is a serious business to sit under the preaching of the gospel
. Its truths are clothed with mighty power. They heal or they kill all to whom they are sent.
4. One thought more, I must add in illustration of our doctrine. An aggravated condemnation awaits all those who hear without embracing the gospel. He who now governs in mercy has appointed a day when he will judge men in justice. The Savior, whose gospel is now proclaimed in all the fulness of eternal love to a dying world, will one day exchange his throne of grace for a throne of jndgment, and before him will be gathered all the tribes of men.
Their deeds and their deserts will then pass in solemn review, and life or death eternal to every soul of man, will hang on the awful scrutiny. And of all the multitudes who shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ, none will be burdened with deeper guilt, or fall under a more fearful condemnation, than those who have lived under the light, and abused the grace of the gospel. They will be in the condition of that servant who knew his master's will, but prepared not himself to do it, and was therefore worthy to be beaten with many stripes. They will be found to have resisted great light and abused great mercies; and to have passed on to perdition over the ten thousand obstacles which the goodness and forbearance of God have thrown in their way. They were warned, they were invited, they were commanded, they were threatened, but all in vain. The only effect was to stupefy and harden. They were fitted for destruction by the abundance of divine goodness-prepared for ruin by the mercies of God; and when they shall appear at the judgment, a holy universe will approve the sentence that shall cause them to sink far below Chorazin and Bethsaida, Tyre and Sidon, in the world of everlasting punishment.
In reflecting upon the preceding discourse, we cannot forbear to notice, 1. How full of meaning is that question of the apostle“Who is sufficient for these things ?" He had been speaking of the opposite effects produced by the preaching of the gospel. “For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ in them that are saved and in them that perish. To the one, we are a savor of life unto life; and to the other, à savor of death unto death ; and who is sufficient for these things ?" The apostle's eye was open full on the momentous results of his ministry. He looked beyond the transient scenes of time to the eternal consequences pending on his labors; and he felt that it is indeed a most serious business to be employed in fitting men for their future and everlasting state. And it is this view of the sacred office which must always most deeply affect every faithful minister of Christ. His aim is the salvation of his hearers. His heart is fixed on presenting every one of them perfect in Christ Jesus, on the great day of his coming. For this he studies and preaches; for this he labors and prays. But in respect to many of his hearers, he labors in vain, and spends his strength for nought. After having made his best preparations-after having selected, with anxious thought and prayerful attention, truths which he judges best adapted to awaken the conscience and draw the sinner from his dangerous ways, he comes before his hearers to deliver his message, under the painful, heart sinking impression that to some of them it will be a savor of death unto death; the means of throwing them into a deeper sleep, and of fitting them for an aggravated condemnation. Here is work that might well make an angel tremble. It is for eternity. The effects of every faithful christian sermon will be felt forever. This makes preaching a serious business. This spreads an air of sacred awe around the pulpit, and inscribes on the doors and walls of the sanctuary-"How dreadful is this place !"
2. It is an obvious inference from the preceding discourse, that sinners lave no excuse for not embracing the gospel. There are, indeed, many excuses which they are wont to urge for neglecting this duty. They plead their farms and their merchandise, their worldly engagements and worldly connections. They even resort to the bible, and attempt to draw something from that to justify their disobedience to its plain and positive commands. They plead the purposes of God, the depravity of the heart, the nature of regeneration, the power of temptation, and their inability to do what God requires of them,—to palliate or excuse their impeni. tence and unbelief.
Not to say that those who urge these doctrines in excuse for sin, are generally inconsistent with themselves,—alleging the divine purposes as an excuse for not obeying the gospel, when they do