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"ENDEAVOURING TO KEEP THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IN THE BOND OF PEACE." "Jesus CHRIST, THE SAME Yesterday, TO-DAY, AND FOR Ever. WHOM TO KNOW is
MAN UNWORTHY, GOD ALL-WORTHY, OF TRUST ; OR,
THE BELIEVER LOOKING OUT OF HIMSELF.
WE HAD THE SENTENCE OF DEATH IN, OURSELVES, THAT WE
SHOULD NOT TRUST IN OURSELVES, BUT IN GOD WHICH RAISETH THE DEAD.—2 Cor. 1. 9.
BELOVED, so long as you and I are left to look within, to pore over self, sin, and misery, just so long shall we be oppressed, burdened, and cast down; and just so long will our God be necessitated, as it were, to visit us with trial upon trial, tribulation upon tribulation, in order that we should be driven out of ourselves, that “we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.”
We find by experience, that in looking within, at self, or surrounding circumstances, we are so terrified and alarmed, “that we groan being burdened ;' yea, as the apostle says in the verse preceding our text, “we are pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despair even of life.” And our God sees that we are so prone to “settle on our lees,” so desirous of tabernacling here below, and taken up with anything and everything short of himself, that he finds it needful to curb--to put a check upon—to disappoint our unruly and inordinate desires, in order that we may flee to him as poor, helpless, needy creatures. And when we can look simply to a blessed Jesus for the supply of all needful grace, and the communication of every temporal favour, then, and not till then, do we know anything of
vo. VIII. Vol. I.-New Series.
solid peace, comfort, and satisfaction ; so that it brings us to this point, that, living or dying, we desire to be “ looking unto Jesus.” Blessed be his dear name, he is so great, so glorious, so long-suffering, so compassionate and kind, that he is worth looking at to all eternity; and it will assuredly constitute the happiness, the joy of heaven, to be looking at him, and singing to him and of him for ever. And what a sweet mercy it is to contemplate, poor tried believer, who here art called to walk'in much darkness, and to enjoy but little of the light of his blessed countenance, that there—in heaven's glory-it will never, never be veiled ; no, not another frown shall sit, or appear to sit, upon his brow—he will wear an eternal smile ; and we shall not be plagued with a backsliding, a deceitful, a treacherous heart, that works us much tribulation : there will be an end, a glorious end, to all that here annoys, distresses, and brings darkness and confusion into the soul. Oh what a happy, what a thrice-happy day will it be. Is it not worth suffering for, think ye? “ for our light affliction which is but for a mo. ment, worketh out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” And there is another sweet consideration, that there are some every moment entering upon this blessed inheritance ; yes, the portals of bliss are every moment opened to admit some weary pilgrim.
“We had," says the apostle, “the sentence of death in ourselves." Now there is something very repulsive in the expression ; and what is there that is not repulsive in the contemplation of the trial, the exercise, and misery, which the apostle herein intended to set forth? To convey his meaning he uses the strongest figure which could be adopted
-death, the sentence of death. Our minds are directly led by it to the contemplation of a criminal under the sentence of death; and where can a more pitiable object be presented to the imagination ? Shut up in a gloomy dungeon, into which scarcely a ray of light, and not one of human hope, can penetrate-heavily fettered, and he left in solemn stillness to ruminate upon the misery into which his crimes have led him, and the awful doom which awaits him. We say, where can there be a more pitiable picture ? and yet no less painful is the condition of one of the Lord's prisoners, shut up and heavily fettered as an offender against Sinai's law ; he is bowed down by the chain of his sins, and finds them a burden too heavy to be sustained. He looks back, and sin upon sin, transgression upon transgression, stand before him in terrible array ; his conscience is indeed “pressed out of measure ;” he looks within, and he feels as if he were a habitation for devils and every foul spirit; he feels nothing but awful enmity working in his heart against the Majesty of heaven, and his cry is, “Oh that I had never been born; oh that there were no hereafter—no heaven, no hell ; oh that I had been an ox, or an ass, or anything but an accountable being; he looks forward, and discovers nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment. Before him, intercepting his pathway, stands Moses, with his law in the one hand, and the flaming sword of justice in the other, crying, “Pay me-pay me what thou owest.” Here is the poor law-condemned, conscience-smitten criminal; this is his condition ; and what can boasted free-will or human power or merit avail him? What of his own can such a lump of iniquity plead ? He has not a
desire after God, he hates him with a perfect hatred, and would gladly, pluck him from his throne : so far from having any love to him, he wishes from his heart that there were no God ; and would gladly unite with any power that could divest him of existence, and thus avert his own condemnation. And in this condition would the sinner lie till stern Justice cut him down, did not sweet Mercy appear, and did not the blessed Spirit implant a ray of hope in his bosom, and put a cry into his heart, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Here is the first act of looking out of self—this is bis first step towards deliverance ; under the blessed leadings of God the Holy Ghost, the sentence of death which he had found in himself, and from which he has strove and strove again to free himself, has now taught him not to trust in himself, but in God which raiseth the dead. He was law-condemned, law-dead; or in other words, dead in the eye of the law, the same as a criminal upon whom the judge has passed sentence, and left for execution. In this condition the God-man, Christ Jesus, our glorious Mediator, stands forth and says, “ I'll espouse that man's cause ; look to me for the payment of his debts ; charge home his sin to my account ; visit me with the punishment of his transgressions. I foresaw his condition, and in eternal purpose designed to rescue him ; and in the fulness of time I took upon me the same nature (sin only excepted) in which he transgressed; yielded implicit obedience to that law which he had violated ; shed my blood, laid down my life as a ransom for his, and now I demand his freedom.” Justice is satisfied, the Father accepts the Surety-yea, the Surety of his own appointment ; for from all eternity he set him up as the salvation of his church and people, and says, “Deliver him from going down into the pit, I have found a ransom.” And the blessed Spirit, who first put the cry for mercy into the sinner's heart, now gives him faith to lay hold on the Surety—to accept him as the Father's gift, and plead his merits, his blood, his righteousness, before the throne. Is not this, then, venturing out of self, poor law-condemned reader, and being “raised from the dead ?” Oh that the Lord the Spirit may thus lead thee to look unto him, even unto our glorious Shiloh, our elder Brother, our Brother born for Adversity, our Refuge, our Strength, our Hiding-place, our Strong Tower, and our Defence.
We pass on to take a second view of the subject. When pardon has thus been communicated, and the sinner's acquittal ratified and confirmed ; yea, when his fetters are knocked off, his prison-doors thrown open, and, Peter like, the Angel of the Covenant conducts him forth into the open streets of Gospel liberty and sweet filial enjoyment, he enjoys a peace, a quietude beyond description. He whom once he had regarded as an enemy, has become his best friend ; and of his majesty, his grace, and love, he delights to tell ; his praise is continually upon his lips. In his uprising and downsitting, Jesus, and he only, occuples his thoughts ; and in the rapture of his heart he is continually exclaiming, “Come all ye that fear God, and I will tell you what he nath done for my soul ! I was à captive, and he has freed me ; an exile, and he has brought me home ; à rebel, and he has proclaimed my pardon full and free.” In this sweet liberty he walks until, like
Bunyan's pilgrim, he loses his roll, and with it a feeling sense of his right and title to glory, and the blessed manifestations of covenant love. He looks within for comfort; he looks, and looks in vain, for the peace, the satisfaction, the blessed enjoyment of which before he was the partaker ; all is cold, formal, and death-like; yea, “ he has again the sentence of death in himself, that he should not trust in himself, but in God which raiseth the dead.” While looking within, and at himself, he discovers so much of his former self, the working of a carnal mind, love to the world, fleshly corruptions, hard thoughts of God, and opposition to his will, that he becomes amazed and affrighted ; the enemy taking advantage of his unskilfulness in the word of righteousness, suggests that it is all delusion, that nothing has been done for him : and but for an omnipotent arm, the poor soul would be just as ready to despair now as when first locked up in prison. But by and by, after he has had such a sight of himself as to cause him to feel and acknowledge “ that in him dwelleth no good thing ;' that in himself considered, he is no better now than he was before ; that he is as weak as ever ; that he cannot “keep alive his own soul,” nor carry on the work he had hoped was begun within him, the blessed Spirit leads him forth afresh to look unto him in whom alone is his help.
Beloved, you and I, in the contractedness of our minds, are apt to imagine that the work is completed when guilt has been removed, and pardon and peace proclaimed to our consciences ; but it is not so, as dear Hart says,
i “From that moment our conflict begins.” As to security, it is done, and that, too, from all eternity. Though buffetted by sin and Satan, we are as safe here as those in heaven, as Toplady sweetly sings,
“More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heaven.” And why? Because we are in the hands of covenant love and omnipotent power. “Whoso toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye,” says Jehovah. “My sheep hear my voice,” says our precious Lord, “and they follow me, and a stranger will they not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers ; and I give (mark, it is a free gift) unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them me, is greater than all, and none is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.” Blessed be God,
“ The soul that on Jesus hath lean’d for repose,
He'll never, no never, desert to his foes;
He'll never, no never, no never forsake.”' Why, beloved, thou that hast forsaken thy first love, that art now walking in darkness and hast no light, and art the subject of ten thousand fears whether or not thou shalt not come short after all, see thy security. It is in the person of Jehovah Jesus ; thou art bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God; and as well might that bundle of life fall from the throne of Omnipotence down into the depths of the bottomless pit, as that thy soul could, by a superior power, be plucked
out of that bundle of life and perish. The expression is strong, we admit, nevertheless it is a true one (read Col. iii. 3); “Thy life is hid with Christ in God;" thou hast Omnipotence on thy side, that must triumph over all its foes, and must, for its own word's sake, its glory's sake, bring off every elect vessel of mercy more than conqueror. But learn whence is thy knowledge of this, thy enjoyment of it ; is it in thyself, or from thyself, or anything thou canst do or suffer ? No; in thyself thou hast the sentence of death ; thy comfort and enjoyment are to be found alone in God which raiseth the dead. Oh that he may lead thee to look out of thyself unto him, “casting all thy care upon him who careth for thee.” Mark, it is all thy care, not certain portions of it ; not this trouble and that anxiety ; but ALL care, whether temporal or spiritual ; care on account of ourselves or respecting other people ; business cares, domestic cares ; soul cares, bodily cares; the small cares as well as the large cares ; cares about the past, the present, or the future ; cares known only to thyself, as well as cares with which others are acquainted : “casting ALL thy care upon him.” Oh it is blessed work so to do ; it is a sweet exercise when we can go to him with all the candour and simplicity of a child ; “Lord, I thy poor, helpless, doubting, fearing child, am come again to thee with another trial. I sometimes think, Lord, that thou wilt be weary of me—that I shall wear thee out; but yet thou hast invited me to come, thou hast said, “Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let thy request be made known unto God;' and thou hast said, “If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth unto all men liberally, and upbraideth not. Now, Lord, I am come to thee with such and such a trial ; thou knowest all about it, it is true, but thou hast said, “For all these things will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do them for them.' And this trial or perplexity is too much for me, Lord, and therefore, according to thy word, I bring it unto thee ; now wilt thou direct me, succour me, preserve me, that my footsteps slide not. Fulfil thy sweet promise, I will teach thee in the way that thou shalt go, and will guide thee with mine eye ; I will cause my goodness to pass before thee, and as thy day so shall thy strength be. I ask nothing more of thee, precious Lord, than what thou hast promised ; and beseech thee to do as thou hast said, and the praise and the glory shall be thine, now, henceforth, and for ever. Amen.”
“We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves.” A third point of view in which the subject may be regarded, and which appears to us to be in more strict accordance with the apostle's meaning in the words before us, is in a temporal or providential sense. In these particulars, a soul born of God has equal cause to distrust himself, and to look to a higher source for wisdom, direction, and supply, as in spiritual matters. And the more a child of God walks with God, and enjoys a blessed familiarity with him, the more will he carry his temporal as well as his spiritual concerns to the throne ; and the greater the fellowship, the richer the communion he will enjoy with his loving God and Father. For what so sweet as to behold the evident leadings, arrangements, and all-gracious deliver