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God."* Before his ascension, Jesus said to his disciples, "Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." This the Apostles did. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, while they were all with one accord in one place, the Holy Ghost descended upon them, and filled them with light and love, with boldness and power to proclaim in every tongue the wonderful works of God. By the first sermon of Peter, about three thousand souls were added to the Church, so truly was he made a fisher of men. The work went on rapidly increasing. A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.§ The flame of persecution was now kindled, but the bush was not consumed, because Christ was in the midst of it. The Apostles planted churches, ordained ministers, and the Lord added daily to the Church, such as should be saved. From Judea, the Apostles stretched themselves out to heathen lands, especially that monument of mercy, Saul of Tarsus, who was emphatically the Apostle to the Gentiles, having received from Christ a commission, "to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.”||
From that time to this, Christ has had a Church in the world, and will have one to the end of time. But alas! those unregenerated members of the visible Church, whose hearts are still under the power of the evil one, have in every age hated and persecuted the true people of God; sometimes by fire and faggot, and always by cruel mockings and reproaches. In every age, the visible Church has exhibited "wolves, in sheep's clothing,”** hirelings, who care not for the sheep" and also, "witnesses, who prophesy in sackcloth:"+"men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."§§
Mark xvi. 19.
+ Luke xxiv. 49.
§ Acts vi. 7.
++ John x. 13. SS Acts xv. 26.
Acts xxvi. 17, 18.
Power and influence, connected with worldly advancement, are seldom to be found among the spiritual portion of the visible Church. It pleases God to carry on his great designs by the weakest and most despised instruments, that the power may be manifestly his own, and that no man may glory in his presence.*
His faithful servants, in the midst of fiery trials, have ever this promise for their support; "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."+ But not so, the unfaithful ministers of the gospel, who, though appointed to guide the people, darken, pervert, or destroy its simplicity and purity. Upon them, a woe, and not a blessing is pronounced. "Woe unto you, ye blind guides." Many times those that are most forward to add to divine commands, so making the way to heaven narrower to others than it is,§ are more ready than others to transgress the command. The Pharisees did add to the law of God by their traditions, and who more frequent than they in the breach of the law?" How strong are the words of our Lord and Saviour: "Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.......Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered."** To such teachers, Jesus applies the prophecy of Isaiah respecting hypocrites: "This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me."++
As in the Jewish, so in the Christian Church, there has ever been, and still is, a determination to graft the traditions of men on the truth of the gospel, to entwine the merit of human works with the merits of the Redeemer. To these judaizing teachers of Christianity, St. Paul is most unsparing. "I would they were even cut off which trouble you......He
that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be."*
The Apostle is so jealous of the honour of Christ, so anxious to preserve unimpaired the truth of the gospel, that he includes himself and his fellowworkers in the ministry, yea, even the angels of light, in this condemnation. 66 Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."+ Is it not surprising, that with such an inspired denunciation, men should so daringly add to, and take from, the words of eternal life.
Blessed Lord, impress deeply upon my mind these solemn, these awakening considerations. I feel the force of unbelief, oh! destroy its baneful influence. I am conscious of much spiritual blindness, Lord open my eyes to see wondrous things out of thy law. Preserve me from resting in the outward form of godliness. Cause me to experience its power. I am a member of thy visible Church. By baptism, when an infant, I was admitted into it. But, have I ever truly repented of sin? have I ever truly believed in thy name? have I ever from the heart obeyed the gospel? I know that without this spiritual renovation I am still dead before thee, resembling only the branch in the vine, which, bearing no fruit, shall be cut off and cast into the fire. Almighty Saviour, put forth thy renewing power; convince and convert my soul; enlighten my mind, and enliven my affections; subdue my will, and subjugate all my powers to thy service and glory. Hasten thy work of mercy, and make me wholly thine, for thy dear Son's sake. Amen.
*Gal. v. 12, 10. + Gal. i. 8, 9.
John xv. 1-6.
LXI. ON THE APPROACH OF DEATH.
Behold, thy days approach that thou must die."-Deut. xxxi. 14.
THE longest life, and the most useful one too, must draw to its close, for "death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned."* Though Moses was forbidden to enter into the earthly, he was not excluded from the heavenly rest. The time drew near when he must die. This event did not take him by surprise. The Lord said unto Moses, "Behold, the days approach that thou must die." We cannot expect such a divine intimation. Yet still, enough is revealed in the word of God, and sufficient evidence is afforded to teach us, that “there is but a step between us and death.”† "For what is our life? It is even a vapour, which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away?"
Nothing discovers our fallen state more than insensibility to eternal things, a neglect of the gospel, an unwearied search for happiness among the creatures, instead of from God, the Fountain of Living Water. While thousands of professing Christians are busying themselves for futurity, Death levels his dart, and lays the worldling in the dust.
How solemn was the message to Hezekiah : "Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live." How happy was its effect upon his mind. "Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the Lord."§ His prayer was heard, and fifteen years were added to his life.
"This year thou shalt die," said Jeremiah to the false Prophet Hananiah, "because thou hast taught rebellion against the Lord. So Hananiah the prophet died the same year, in the seventh month."||
The Scriptures abound with warnings and encouragements.
*Rom. v. 12.
+1 Sam. xx. 3. § 2 Kings xx. 1, 2.; Isa. xxxviii. 1, 2.
James iv. 14.
|| Jer. xxviii. 16, 17.
"This year thou shalt die." Then let me feel and act as if I knew it were so ordered by him, in whose hands my breath is, and who hath appointed my time upon earth after the good pleasure of his will. My stay upon earth cannot be long. My sand is running quickly down. My shadow is lengthening apace, which proves that the sun is fast declining. Soon will the evening shades overspread me, and the night of death hide me from the eye of man.
How important, oh! how all-important is the question,-Am I prepared to die? Have I fled for refuge to Jesus, the sinner's friend? Do I believe with the heart unto righteousness? Have I the witness in myself that I am born of God? Is Is my heart renewed after the divine image, in righteousness and true holiness? Have I received the Spirit of adoption, a loving, filial, obedient, thankful, humble spirit, enabling me to cry, Abba, Father, through a lively faith in Christ my Saviour? For thus saith St. Paul: "ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus."* If I truly believe in Christ, I have the Spirit of Christ, and I am a child of God. Then all the promises of God in Christ Jesus, to me are yea, and amen, sure and certain, and shall all have their blessed fulfilment in my salvation, and the display of the divine glory. Then I may exercise the assurance of faith, and hope; yea, the full assurance of these graces of the Spirit, if I have only a true and lively faith in the Son of God, a faith, working by love, purifying the heart, overcoming the world, and bringing the invisible glories of heaven, as realities before the mind; for "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."+ O! what a glorious and glorifying grace is faith in a crucified Redeemer.
With these gospel views and with the inward experience of the grace of God, who would not welcome the words: "Behold, the days approach that thou must die." It is as if our heavenly Father