Meditations and Prayers
Jared Bell Waterbury, 1840
1. THE SAINTS' REST.
"There remains therefore a rest for the people of God." Hebrews 4:9
The earthly Sabbath is a beautiful, but inadequate, symbol of the rest above. We lay aside our secular business, cease from worldly toil, and repair to the sanctuary, to offer unto God our praises and thanksgivings. But alas, we cannot divest ourselves of the flesh, which impedes and mars our worship; and which, in a few hours, becomes weary under the most exalted spiritual privileges. Above all, have we to lament the remaining depravity which works within us — begetting unbelief, coldness, and deadness — distracting the thoughts even in the most solemn acts of worship — and rendering, at times, the most appropriate means of grace, inefficient. What believer has not groaned over this cause of misimproved Sabbaths?
Still, there are seasons when the sanctuary seems like one of the outer courts of Heaven's glory. There are times, when we can exclaim, "How lovely are your tabernacles, O Lord Almighty!" Then, by faith, we see the glory of the Lord. The word is living and powerful. Our souls are borne upward as on eagles' wings. A sacred calm delight takes possession of us; and God appears to bow his heavens and come down to bless us.
But even such Sabbaths are not worthy to be compared with that eternal rest, where the unfettered, unpolluted soul shall worship the Lamb without interruption and without end. The body will there not impede, but augment our happiness; for it will be a spiritual body, which can no longer be the medium of temptation, and which shall experience no fatigue. Nor will sin, O blissful thought, be there, to dim our eye or to pollute our worship. We shall not only see God — but see him with unobstructed vision. We shall not only love him — but love him with unwavering affections. We shall not only praise him — but praise him in pure, exalted strains forever. Glorious rest! Let us rise and hasten towards it with renewed vigor; for "Here we have no continuing city."
Blessed be your name, O God, that you have prepared and reserved an everlasting rest for your people. This poor world, You have taught us, is the scene of our toilsome pilgrimage — that we are not to expect our Heaven here. Yet O, how often are we building tabernacles on earth! We act as if this were to be our permanent abode. Enable us, O God, to cast the eye of faith forward to "The rest that remains for the people of God." Give us such views of its alluring glories, as shall make the brightest scenes of earth look dim. Let us see the enthroned Lamb! Let us see the pure company of the saints and angels. Let us have a sweet foretaste of the celestial joys. Then, O God, shall we cease to desire the honors or the pleasures of this vain world. Then shall we forsake its attractions allured by visions of so much superior luster.
Do we not feel some faint desires after you, O God? Are we not oppressed with sin's heavy load? Have we not waged eternal war against our lusts? Grant then, that the grace which has equipped us for the conflict; and thus far sustained us in it — may carry us triumphant to the close, and put us at last in possession of the heavenly rest. Then, O Lord, will we give you all the praise. Our song shall be, "Unto Him who loved us, and that washed us from our sins in his own blood!" To Him, and to You through Him, will we ascribe the glory and honor, the dominion and the power, forever. Amen.
2. THE CONFLICT.
"He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son!" Revelation 21:7
Although our reward is not of debt but of grace — yet the necessity of struggling against and overcoming our spiritual enemies, is constantly urged upon us. Every motive drawn from danger on the one hand, and from delight on the other — is presented in order to rouse us to a vigorous contest. How numerous, subtle, and powerful are our foes!
The world appeals most attractively to our natural susceptibilities.
Satan assumes at one time the form of an angel of light; and at another, advances boldly to the attack, in all his hellish malignity.
Our own lusts are ever ready to kindle in the soul an unhallowed excitement.
What a phalanx of spiritual enemies! Blessed be God, we have not to meet them alone and in our own strength! Greater is he who is with us, than all that are against us. The spiritual armor is offered to us; and, invested in it, we are prepared for a successful warfare. Jesus too, the great Captain of salvation, has already achieved a signal victory over these foes, and he promises to stand by us, to strengthen our weakness, and to lead us on to certain victory.
He has moreover held forth a glorious reward, "He who overcomes will inherit all things." Yes, all that Heaven has of happiness, shall be ours. God will be our God, and we shall be his adopted children. Here is an all-powerful stimulus to animate us in the conflict. Look then steadily at the crown of glory! When the world allures — remember, it is a foe in disguise. When Satan attacks — raise the shield of faith to ward off his fiery darts. When the flesh pleads — take a determined stand against its clamors. Yes, crucify it!
Soon the warfare will be over. The last enemy, which is death, being conquered — nothing will remain, but to enter upon the glorious, the everlasting reward!
Surrounded by the enemies of our souls, we look upwards to you, O God, for help. You know their power and their malignity — and you are acquainted with our weakness. Within us, is a "heart deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." Everywhere around us, are the allurements of the world. Without your protecting and supporting hand — we must inevitably fall before the power of the tempter. How often indeed have we been overcome by evil! How often by our melancholy lapses, have we proved our own helplessness! The flesh has corrupted us — the world has allured and deceived us. Satan has suddenly attacked and prostrated us, and were it not that your mercy is boundless, that your love is unchangeable — we would long since have been abandoned to the powers of Hell. But thanks to your name, O God, you have made a way for our escape with every temptation. When, overwhelmed with shame and sorrow at our fall, we have ventured to cast an imploring look towards the mercy seat, you have been ready to pardon, restore, and strengthen us. We come to you anew. We beseech you to invest our souls with the armor of righteousness. O put your strength within us.
Help us to watch unto prayer. Instead of confiding in our own arm, may we make you our refuge and our fortress. In all times of temptation, will you deliver us. Uphold us by the right hand of your righteousness. Enable us to war a good warfare. May we, without presumption, look forward to the rewards of the faithful; and impelled by the glorious "hope set before us," may we, through grace, overcome every foe, and at last be invested with the privileges and honors which are promised to all your children, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
3. THE RISEN SAVIOR.
"Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus." John 20:14
We may say of Mary weeping at the sepulcher: behold how she loved him! She came to find her Savior's lifeless body and to weep over it — but even that is gone. Her heart is broken. In the anguish of despair, she exclaims, "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." Mary little thought how near to her stood that very Master, whose death she mourned. He was there to console and to cheer her. No sooner had the supposed gardener uttered the word, "Mary," with all the benignant emphasis of expression with which he was accustomed to address her, than she recognized his well known voice, and flew to embrace his feet.
Thus does the weeping believer, or the heart-broken penitent often find, when all seems darkness and despair, that Jesus is near, and about to reveal himself to their troubled souls.
He loves to find us weeping. It is a state indicative of our penitence, and expressive of our desire for his consoling grace. It is in the valley of humility that our Lord seems to abide. There he would have us seek him. It is when, like Mary, we are weeping in the garden, at the cross, or around the tomb — that Jesus draws near, to speak a comforting word to our souls.
O, let us welcome afflictions, if they do but bring us near to him! It is Heaven, to behold his countenance and to hear his voice. When, borne down with the burden of sorrow, we go to some lonely spot to give vent, in prayer, to these sorrows — sweet is the surprise to our souls, to find there him, of whom it is said, "He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows!"
How comforting, O Lord, is your presence! It makes afflictions light and easy to be borne. Nay, it enables us even to "glory in tribulations." But when you withdraw your presence — when, by our sins, we create a distance between you and our souls — then how heavy are our spirits! Nothing then can impart comfort or satisfaction. To a heart that has once felt your love — it is not in the power of earthly objects to afford substantial bliss. But, O Lord, though our sins have separated between you and us — yet when we return with weeping, you are ever ready to meet us, and to "restore to us, the joy of your salvation." You even hasten to embrace us, and to bestow upon us anew the tokens of your love. You look tenderly upon your penitent children. When they seek you with a sorrowful heart — you are always near. Your voice seems to say, "Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven!" Blessed be your name, gracious Savior, that now you are risen; and have given us the assurance that you will be with your people, not only in their solitude, but where "two or three of them are gathered together in your name." O, may our souls ever live beneath the light of your blessed countenance! When we lose sight of you, our Lord, may we go weeping until we find you. Let our hearts never be at rest, when you are absent. Let it not be in the power of any creature to separate us from your love. Reign supreme in our affections, and reign there forever. Amen.
4. FRUITS OF HOLINESS.
"My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples." John 15:8
God's glory is the great end of salvation. The whole plan of salvation tends to illustrate the wisdom, power, goodness, justice and mercy of God. Christians are specimens of the divine workmanship. If the change which grace has wrought in them is not strikingly manifested — then God is dishonored and the gospel despised. After all that God the Father has done in sending his Son, and Christ the Son has done in dying for us — if we, who profess to be redeemed, do not exhibit unequivocal evidence of the power and reality of the gospel — then our conduct must draw contempt upon the whole scheme of divine mercy. But if, on the contrary, all men are obliged to confess the power of God in our conversion, and the purity of the gospel in our lives — then we then glorify him "who is the author and the finisher of our faith."
The more excellent is the tree — the more exuberant and healthful the fruits! If after we have borne only "fruit unto death," we begin to show the "fruit which is unto holiness" — men will be obliged to acknowledge in us the saving grace of God. Our light will then so shine, that others may be led also to glorify our Father. Then we may boldly announce ourselves the disciples of Jesus, and fear no charge of hypocrisy or inconsistency. It will be evident that we have been with Jesus, and that we bear somewhat of his image. Our usefulness will be extended — our hope become confirmed — and our zeal burn with a steady and increasing flame. God will then acknowledge us as his redeemed people, and will at last receive us with the welcome, "Well done, good and faithful servants!"
Grant, O merciful God, unto your servants, the filling of your Holy Spirit to enable us to live to your glory. May the same power which brought us "out of darkness into your marvelous light," assist us to "walk in the light as you are in the light." The eyes of the world, we know, are fixed upon us; yes we are watched by angels, by devils and by men. Our spiritual enemies stand ready to triumph in our downfall. Every artifice of Satan is employed to accomplish it. Wicked men would gladly find in our conduct, an argument against your cause. But, O Lord, "Hold us up — and we shall be safe!" Our trust is in your grace alone. We have no ability to secure or to advance our own spiritual interests. To you we cling as to "the strength of our heart." Never for one moment forsake us. We mourn that our life has been thus far so poor a testimony to the saving power of your gospel. We are humbled in the dust at the recollection of our sins. O, how often have we dishonored you! But, heavenly Father, let us now "cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light." Let us henceforth exhibit the fruits of holiness. Yes, let us bear "much fruit." May we be enabled to gain one victory after another, until every sin shall be overcome, and every gospel grace shall adorn our souls. O make us "holy, as you are holy." All this we entreat for Jesus' sake. Amen.
5. RISEN WITH CHRIST.
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." Colossians 3:1
Risen with Christ! What can be the meaning of the sacred penman? How are Christians risen with Christ? It is evident that the language is highly figurative. "You are risen with him," says the apostle in the 12th verse of the preceding chapter, "through the faith of the operation of God, who has raised him from the dead." Our faith, then — wrought in us by the power of God — disconnects our souls in a sense from "things seen," and introduces us to "things not seen."
We leave behind us as motives, and as principal means of enjoyment, the things of earth — and we walk by the light of things celestial. This is our resurrection, whereby we are likened to our glorious Lord, who, assuming a spiritual body, came forth from the darkness of the grave. Having thus risen with Christ, we must of course direct our vision to him, and to the scenes with which he is surrounded. We must "set our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." Our deepest interest should be concentrated on Heaven. There dwells he whom our soul loves — our Father — Redeemer — and Sanctifier. There is the congregation of angels and the spirits of the just made perfect — all sinless and dwelling in a region of absolute purity. Why then should we be enamored of earth? Why fear to cross death's dark valley?
"O if my Lord would come and meet,
My soul would spread her wings in haste;
Fly fearless through death's iron gate,
Nor feel the terrors as she passed."
We acknowledge, with shame and contrition — O Lord — that our affections have been "earthly and sensual." So weak, for the most part, has been our faith, that we have seldom had a distinct and impressive view of "the invisible things of God." We have hence been criminally influenced by carnal hopes and pleasures. Alas, we have not lived as those should live, who profess to be "crucified to the world" — to have "risen with Christ." Help us truly to repent of our earthly-mindedness; and O impart to us that faith which "works by love, purifies the heart, and overcomes the world." "Turn away our eyes, O Lord, from beholding vanity." Let us henceforth "rise to newness of life." Separating our thoughts from this vain world, enable us to "seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God."
Blessed Jesus! One glimpse of your ineffable glory shall draw our affections from all that is bright and attractive on earth. Disclose yourself then to our view — give us ravishing conceptions of the heavenly state — that henceforth we may be dead to the world; and that our "life may be hid with Christ in God."
6. ALL VANITY.
"Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it — and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun!" Ecclesiastes 2:11
The author of the book of Ecclesiastes gives us his experience of the unsatisfying nature of all worldly honors and pleasures. Everything that could . . .
please the eye,
charm the ear,
gratify the taste, or
amuse and enrich the mind —
was by him, sought and enjoyed. The whole circle of earth's pleasures was tested. But in the end, all is pronounced "vanity and a striving after wind."
The disappointment results from the very nature of the soul. Its capacity being illimitable — no finite enjoyment can fully meet its enlarged desires. Nothing but a faithful discharge of duty, and the approving smile of God can make the soul happy. Give the soul whatever you will — gratify every earthly wish — it will still be wretched if it is without God. All below is vanity.
The consideration that all worldly good must so soon be relinquished, is of itself enough to cast a shadow over its enjoyment. The heart must feel that there is nothing permanent here in this poor world.
"What is your life? You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away."
All earth-born pleasures are transitory.
Death withers every flower as soon as it blooms.
Man too is hurried to the tomb — and then forgotten.
If then all below is stamped with vanity — then O, let us seek our all in God. Let us relinquish in desire, what we have been accustomed so much to value — that the soul may start anew in the race for a prize worthy of her struggles, and which when obtained will amply reward her toils. Let us fix our eye on the "unfading crown of glory!" Let us deliberately renounce this vain world, and take God for our only and all-sufficient portion!
Whether on earth we are known or unknown, honored or despised; let us seek after this one thing — to secure the favor of God — to enjoy His presence — and at last to be with Him and inherit His glorious eternal kingdom!
Unsatisfying, O Lord, as the world is — still a strange infatuation exists within our hearts, which leads us to covet its distinctions and its pleasures. As far as you have permitted us to test its power to produce happiness — we have been invariably disappointed. We have found it to be "vanity and vexation of spirit." Its sweetest pleasures have turned bitter in the enjoyment. Its loveliest scenery cannot charm us apart from You. Its honors — so far as obtained — have proved but empty bubbles.
Yet why, O Lord, do we still hanker after these vain delights? Why do we not learn to evaluate them at their true worth? Come into our souls, with all Your fullness, and then our hearts will quickly bid adieu to them. You know that we are never satisfied — never happy — when we are not living unto You, and holding sweet communion with You. You know how weary is the soul — though surrounded with earthly good — if You are not with us, or if we have failed to place You first in our affections! We will return to our rest. We fly to You our God once more. Heavenly Father, hear our humble prayer, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
7. THE INVITATION.
"Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28.
Who is there to whom this invitation is not applicable? How few can be found, who do not "labor for that which satisfies not," or who do not at times feel the burden of a guilty conscience? But there is a class for whom the kind compassionate Savior especially intended it. There are hearts subdued and softened by divine grace, which are yet still enveloped in darkness and oppressed with an inward weight of sorrow. They are personified in the "bruised reed and the smoking flax." From some inscrutable causes — traceable possibly to their physical or emotional constitution — they go mourning as in sackcloth, considering that the promises — those well-springs of consolation — are not written for them.
"O, afflicted, tossed with tempest and not comforted," listen to the sweet inviting voice of the Savior, "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Is not this language suited to such as you are? Can you not venture to approach, and touch by faith "the hem of his garment?" As heavy as may be the load of guilt on the soul — do you not remember that "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin?" As dark as your path may be — do you not know, that "he is the light of life?" As high as the waves may rise, and loud as the winds may roar — does he not address your trembling soul, and say, "It is I, be not afraid!"
He says, "I will give you rest." What thousands have ventured on this promise, and found the peace which they sought! "Go and do likewise." Let not unbelief — so dishonoring to Jesus — hold you back any longer. You have not to "ascend up into Heaven to bring Christ down, nor to descend into the grave to bring him up again from the dead. His word is near you." Yes, he himself is near unto you. It is only to "believe in your heart" the word which he has spoken, and light shall break in upon the soul. Hasten, then, at the call of Jesus. Seek rest for your troubled spirit no where else; for it is to be found in him alone.
Why, O Lord, are these hearts so slow to believe your word, so reluctant to appropriate it? From the realms of light and glory you came, veiling your divinity in a fleshly form, suffering every extremity of pain and grief, yes even death itself — to redeem us; and yet we ore tempted to entertain a guilty distrust of you. We feel as if all this could not have been done and suffered for us. But, Lord, we know your word makes no exceptions. It has not singled us out and said, your blood was not shed for us — your promises were not for our comfort. O no! blessed be your name, the sacrifice on Calvary was for lost sinners. The voice of invitation is to all who feel their sins. It is the "weary and heavy laden" whom you have invited to your gentle bosom.
Why, then, may we not come? Weighed down with griefs and sorrows, we surely need the rest which your pardoning mercy alone can confer. Unworthy as we are, we would venture to your feet. O take away that unbelief which has been so long the barrier between you and our souls. May we look out of ourselves — where all is so dark — and fix our gaze upon the cross, where all is radiant with the light of hope!
8. ALL FOR THE BEST.
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose!" Romans 8:28
The believer, when smarting under the rod of temporal distress — is often ready to say like Jacob, "All these things are against me!" Owing to the weakness of his faith, he concludes that "God has forgotten him." He forgets that "whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives" — that his Lord once said, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows." To sink down under troubles, and conclude that there is no relief for us — is to distrust our Father's care — and to doubt His everlasting love.
It may not seem good to God, who orders each event of our lives — to grant us the prosperity which we naturally desire. He may discover in us so much remaining depravity — developed in the forms of pride, sensuality, or self-seeking — as to make it necessary to visit us with the rod of correction. When that rod is intended to extirpate these sins — should we not be prepared to kiss it? Is it not designed to wean us from the world — and to drive us more closely to the bosom of eternal love? "All things" — including of course these very trials and afflictions — God causes to work together for our good.
Are we sick and suffering in body? Let us not despair. The affliction shall work for our good. Relief will come in due time; or if the sickness "be unto death," God can make it conducive to a calm or triumphant departure. Doubt not that His mercy is in your every trial and affliction.
Are you poor, and apprehensive that your needs may not be supplied? O trust in your Father's care, who will "Withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly."
Do enemies beset your path? God can change the bitterest of them into friends — or can defend and deliver you from their ire.
And what though all these afflictions press upon the soul at once, even then the promise is not nullified — it is only made the more precious!
And always remember, that when Heaven is attained, these sorrows will be felt no more forever.
How precious, O God, are Your promises! They apply to us, your sinful and suffering children, under all circumstances. You have declared, that of chastisement "all of us must be partakers." You have promised that the way to Your abode is rough and thorny. Why, then, should we fear to walk in it? Why wish to tread a smooth and easy path?
Our sufferings, we acknowledge, are caused by our sin. Instead of hating and suppressing sin — we have nourished it. Yes, we have known it to be offensive to your pure eyes, and yet we have committed and recommitted it. Should you, O Lord, afflict us still more heavily, should you embitter our whole life with aggravated suffering, and then cast us into Hell — it would be but the just reward of our rebellion. But gracious Father, we come to plead for forgiveness through Jesus Christ. O, for his sake pardon us, and permit us to take hold of the promises and call them ours.
You have said that You "cause all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Grant that we may love you, and have the evidences of that love, by "keeping your commandments." Then may we "glory even in tribulations." Then, whatever be our earthly lot, joyous or sad, one sweet promise shall gild the darkest hours of our existence. We shall be cheered by the thought that "all things are working together for our good;" and when we have done and suffered your will on earth, we shall be admitted to your glory, to see your face and to sing your praises forever. Amen.
9. THE EVIL HEART OF UNBELIEF.
"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God." Hebrews 3:12
The unbelief of the ancient Israelites is a beacon to all succeeding generations. For while Jehovah, by a miraculous symbol, was guiding them through the desert — feeding them also by miracle — and showing himself amidst the most sublime and over-powering visions — they were ever and always forsaking him and turning to the worship of idols. Their conduct however is but an illustration of the wickedness of human nature generally. There was in them "an evil heart." This fully explains their conduct.
But the same evil heart exists in us. The people of God, but partially sanctified — see and feel this secret depravity. It is the fruitful source of all their misery. It fosters unbelief, a sin upon which God looks with peculiar abhorrence.
O, this hateful unbelief! What Christian does not mourn over it, as the great barrier between God and the soul? Unbelief leads us to doubt sometimes even the existence of God. It is this which weakens our confidence in the precious truths of revelation. It is this which represents earth's pleasures as substantial — and Heaven but as a fanciful vision. How does it paralyze every spiritual effort! How does it quench every spark of zeal, and drive us to a melancholy distance from God!
Let us then take heed, lest this unbelief be found in us. O, let us cultivate a strong confidence in God! Let us live near the cross, and be much in the study of his word. Daily let us resort to the Savior with the petitions, "Lord, increase our faith!" "Help, Lord, our unbelief!" Since faith is the gift of God, let us earnestly wrestle for it. The more faith we have, the nearer shall we live to God. Unbelief drives us from him — but faith draws us to his arms.
We would bring these unbelieving hearts to you, O God, and beseech you, through Jesus Christ, to confirm our faith. O that we could have and retain a deep impression of your perpetual presence! We would gladly act under the constant belief that "You O God, see us." We desire that measure of faith which shall recognize your presence in every created object, and your direct agency in every event of our lives. Help us to believe unwaveringly in your holy word — to rely implicitly on all your promises. Let not the adversary beget in us, distrust of your providence, nor a doubt of your sacred truth. May we receive all your providences, however mysterious; and cast our souls upon your testimonies. May we take hold of Christ as the sure, the only foundation; and let no influence of Satan, no secret depravity of the heart shake our hope and trust in the gracious Mediator.
Lord Jesus, increase our faith. Let us take you as you are offered in the gospel, to be our prophet, our priest, and our king. Yes we do now commit the keeping of our souls to you. Weak indeed is our faith — yet it is enough — blessed be your name — to enable us sincerely to do this. O root out from these hearts every unbelieving thought. Enthrone yourself within, and subdue our will to implicit obedience to you. And when faith is no more needed, may we see you without a cloud to darken our vision, and dwell in your redeeming love forever!
10. TIME PRECIOUS.
"Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." Ephesians 5:16.
Christians reflect, with sorrow and self-upbraiding, on the unprofitable and sinful manner in which much of their lives has been spent. Before the grace of God was revealed to us — how were our days and nights given to vanity! And even since we professed to be swayed by higher principles — how have we neglected or misimproved many of our opportunities for doing or for obtaining good! What progress in holiness might we have made, had we applied as frequently and as fervently to the throne of grace as we might have done? How much of divine truth might we have learned, had we studied the sacred record as diligently and prayerfully as we might have done? How many souls might have been instructed — warned, and possibly saved — had we been as faithful as we ought to have been, in using the influence over others which your divine providence has given to us?
Alas, we must acknowledge, that in all things we have come short. Our days have been days of evil. How can we look back upon the past without shame and contrition? Much precious time has been lost. Yes, it is gone, never to return. The opportunities for usefulness which have been lost — are lost forever. There is only one way in which time can be redeemed. It is by seizing the present moments and consecrating them all to God. It is by beginning at once, and in good earnest. In this way alone can we redeem the time.
O God, we mourn over time lost, yes time murdered in sinful pleasures or in guilty indolence. We have been for the most part only "cumbering the ground;" and justly might we have been cut down, and made the monuments of your severe displeasure. But O, for the sake of your dear Son, spare us a little longer. "Hide your face from our sins and blot out all our iniquities." Let not our past unfaithfulness provoke you to destroy us.
Give us grace, that we may commence anew your service, and consecrate every power we possess to the great work of piety. We renewedly give ourselves away to you, O Lord. May what remains of life be devoted to your service. Show us what you would have us to do. Make the path of duty plain before our face. Let your holy providence open before us fields of usefulness, and your grace dispose us and enable us to enter them, and faithfully to labor until you shall call us to our account. And then acknowledging ourselves but "unprofitable servants," we will hope for your approval, and for an admission to the joys of your kingdom, solely for the sake of Jesus our Savior. Amen.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits." Psalm 103:2.
There is no duty more delightful than that of praise. The Psalms of David are replete with it. His devotions often consisted wholly in it. At one time, he breaks forth in the ecstatic language, "O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him; sing psalms unto him; talk of all his wondrous works." At another he calls upon all creation, animate and inanimate, to assist him in praising Jehovah's great and glorious name; and concludes by saying, "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!"
But how seldom do we imitate this pious bard in his holy work! Alas, we live not, I fear, as near to the mercy-seat as he did, nor do we breathe so much of the atmosphere of Heaven. Else why have our devotions so much of the slavish spirit — and so little of the filial spirit in them? Were a kind earthly parent to be hourly bringing us new tokens of his favor — would we not express our gratitude for such favors? Why then are we not found praising our heavenly Father, "Who daily loads us with benefits," and "who gives us richly all things to enjoy?"
O, the very abundance and constancy of his gifts seem, in some instances, to harden the heart. Ungrateful man! Often do days and weeks pass away marked by this guilty forgetfulness. And is it possible, that we can forget that Being "in whom we live and move" — whose hand is open to satisfy our every reasonable desire, and to whose protecting care we owe our safety? Above all, can we forget the love which he has bestowed upon us, in giving his dear Son to die for our sins — or the compassion which that Savior has manifested in dying to redeem us? Never, never let us forget these infinite favors.
Let us pour forth our praises unceasingly to God and to the Lamb. Let us adopt the language of David and sing, "Bless the Lord, O our souls, and do not forget all his benefits." Let us ask ourselves, morning, noon, and night, at the close of the week, month, or year — what common and special favors we have received; and while we humble ourselves for our sins, let us, in exalted strains, praise the Lord for his innumerable and unmerited mercies.
O Lord God, we have been prone to overlook the innumerable favors with which you have daily crowned our lives. It is "in you that we live and move and have our being." Not the exertion of a muscle can be made without you. Why then have we not habitually recognized your upholding hand in the continuance of our forfeited lives? O, pardon your servants for this; and let us hereafter cease not to praise you, "in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways."
You also provide us with food and clothing. You have given all nature as a vast storehouse for the supply of our needs. And yet too seldom have we eaten our "bread with gladness and singleness of heart."
Through what troubles have you carried us!
From what billows of adversity have you rescued us!
In what perils have you guarded us!
Ten thousand thousand mercies have fallen around our paths; and O, above all, and as if to crown all, you have given your only begotten Son — and have sweetly constrained us to accept of salvation. You have been our guide through all our weary pilgrimage. In darkness you have been our light. In sorrow you have been our consolation. In despondency you have been our only trust and stay. And shall we forget all these benefits? Shall we, in view of them, refuse to praise you? O, forgive our past ingratitude. Touch these cold, unfeeling hearts with your grace; soften them into penitence; and awake in them a permanent feeling of gratitude and love; for the sake of our Advocate and Redeemer. Amen.
12. THE PROMISED SPIRIT.
"But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you." John 16:7
How consolatory is the language of our Lord to his desponding disciples! He had intimated to them the necessity of his departure. The crisis had come when he must "lay down his life for his sheep," and go to possess his mediatorial throne in Heaven. But they were overwhelmed at the thought of losing their compassionate master. They had entertained optimistic expectations as to an earthly kingdom, and they had supposed that its honors and distinctions would naturally fall to themselves.
They had, however, a still deeper foundation for their sorrow. They dearly loved their Lord — nay more, they adored him as "God manifest in the flesh." And must they now part with him? The thought is agony. But Jesus had a word of consolation suited to their feelings. He speaks of the expediency of his departure — in view of the completion of his great work, which includes the descent of the Spirit, as well as the sacrifice on the cross. "If I depart," says Jesus, "I will send him unto you." And soon this blessed Comforter came according to promise . . .
to assuage their grief,
to inspire them with heavenly gifts,
to fill them with holy boldness,
to pour light into their minds, and
to sustain them under all their labors and persecutions.
Still does the same divine Agent dwell with the people of God. Yes, though with our bodily eyes, we no longer see Jesus — yet does the Spirit, "receive of the things of Christ, and show them unto us."
It is through the Holy Spirit, that we catch an occasional glimpse of Immanuel's glory. When, at times, our strength has failed, and deep depression has seized upon us — have we not, by the Holy Comforter, been lifted up and restored to the light of God's countenance? The Holy Spirit dwells in us, if we are the children of God. "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit." And does this heavenly guest indeed dwell in such polluted hearts as ours? How careful then should we be, lest by pride or some hateful lust, we grieve him away! Let us, with holy jealousy, watch against any rival which may come to dispute with him the possession of our hearts. Let us remember the exhortation, "Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, by whom you are sealed unto the day of redemption."
O divine Spirit, promised by the Savior, and given through his intercession — come, dwell in these polluted hearts to subdue and to sanctify them! The heavens have received our Lord, but you have come to reveal him to our souls. Reveal things of Christ unto us. Earnestly we desire to know more of Immanuel — we would be ravished with his beauties. We long to see him clothed in that resplendent glory which irradiated him on the mount of transfiguration. But if that be too blissful a revelation for such unworthy sinners; at least show him unto us, bowed beneath his sufferings — and enable us to weep over sin, the cause of all those sufferings.
Blessed Comforter, take possession of us, and dwell in our hearts forever. We would be your consecrated temples. Expel, we beseech you, every polluting image. Purify every unhallowed affection; and, by your grace, make us a fit residence for yourself. We would be wholly sanctified; for only then, shall we be supremely blessed. Pardon the many sins whereby we have so often grieved you, and may we henceforth be vessels of honor, purified by your indwelling, for the master's use. Grant this, O Lord, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
13. THE LOVE OF CHRIST.
"The love of Christ constrains us!" 2 Corinthians 5:14
The love of Christ! What a motive to one who has felt its constraining influence! Can we say that we have not only experienced the love of Christ to us; but have felt in return, the outgoings of love to our blessed Savior?
The apostle Peter could appeal ingenuously to his Lord and say, "You know all things — you know that I love you." Impelled by this love, he went forth boldly proclaiming the gospel, and enduring cheerfully, for Christ's sake, persecution and death.
Paul also was constrained by it to offer himself as a living sacrifice unto God. It bore him above all his trials. It was the fountain of his joy, and the impulse of his zeal.
How much influence has the love of Christ had over us?
Has it led us to practice self-denial for Jesus' sake?
Has it fed the flame of our devotions?
Has it been the secret spring of our charities?
Do we daily go up to Calvary, and study our obligations at the foot of the cross?
See, on that cross, the adorable Savior! Behold Him, who is the equal of the Father, stretched in bleeding agony — expiring under an inconceivable weight of sorrow — to redeem us wretched, guilty men! All this He does . . .
to rescue us from sin and from Hell,
to make us heirs of God,
to purchase for us an unfading and incorruptible inheritance!
And what have we ever done for Him?
Let us weep, that we have made such returns of ingratitude and sin.
Let us renew our vows at the foot of the cross.
O let us go forth to our work with increased diligence.
Be it ours, to say with Paul, "For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's!" Romans 14:8
O, our adorable Savior, when we reflect on Your matchless love, which led You first to pity us, then to come into this polluted world to redeem us; when we think of all which You have done and suffered for us sinful worms — we are lost in wonder, and we cannot find language to express our infinite obligations! But O, what poor returns have we made for all Your love and compassion! Well might we bury our faces in the dust; nor, but for your mercy, could we venture to look up to You. 'Twas not enough that the sins of our unregenerate state were laid upon you; we have added to that oppressive load, by sinning against love and mercy — Your dying love and boundless mercy!
Yet does your love, O Savior, overtop all these mountains of iniquity!
It says "Your sins, which are many, are all forgiven!"
May this love reach and melt our obdurate hearts.
May it constrain us to "live, not to ourselves, but to You, who has died for us and risen again."
And while the children of this world are laboring to aggrandize self — let us, forgetful of self, be absorbed in the work of glorifying our adorable Redeemer. "For us, to live may it be Christ." When we can no longer glorify You on earth — then, O Savior, let us have a place in that bright world where love — that grace which outlives faith and hope — shall endure forever!
14. THE CONTRAST.
"There are many who say, 'Who will show us any good?' Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon us." Psalm 4:6
How unsatisfying is all earthly good! Such must be the exclamation of every honest heart. Yet should we infer, from the eagerness and untiring diligence with which worldly pleasure is pursued — that it must bring to its possessor entire satisfaction? Do the votaries of the world find the good which their imaginations have pictured? Is there no disappointment — no draw-back in their bliss? Does not the soul secretly ask: "Is this all?" Do they not exclaim, under their disappointment, "Who will show us any good?"
O you worldlings, you sensual, groveling souls, do you not know that you were made for the enjoyment of higher and purer bliss? Reflect on the fact that your immortal nature can never be satisfied with the earthly good which you are pursuing?
Go to the Christian, and learn where the true source of happiness lies. He has a joy that is unspeakable. It consists in the light of God's countenance. His prayer is, "Lord, lift upon me the light of your countenance." Such bliss cannot be yours until, forsaking your "broken cisterns" — you turn to "the fountain of living waters."
The Psalmist declares, that the light of Jehovah's countenance affords to the believer more real joy, than does the increase of worldly substance to the avaricious.
Let us inquire, then, if this is the case with us, if the light of God's countenance is desired more strongly than the influx of wealth and honor? Is it our daily prayer, as we see others struggling for earthly gain, "Lord, lift upon me the light of your countenance?" How beautiful the allusion! As when, after a night of darkness, the dawning rays appear, chasing away the gloom — or as when through the murky cloud, spreading its thick folds around, the full-orbed sun is seen bursting with its cheering light; so, O God, let your reviving smiles fall on our dark and troubled souls! Let us but enjoy the light of God's countenance — and we can sing in the absence of every other earthly good. It is this which can cheer the abodes of poverty — which can gild the darkest path of sorrow — which can make the heaviest burdens seem light — and which, when the valley of death is in view, can prove an undying lamp to light the soul in triumph across it.
O God, the fountain of all happiness, let us approach you with the confidence of children. No merits of our own have we to plead. Our holiest services are sin-polluted. O look upon the face of your Anointed, and for his sake look graciously upon us.
Lord, we have sinned in attempting to find our happiness in things below. Forsaking you, "the fountain of living waters," we have turned to "broken cisterns which can hold no water." Our supreme affections ought ever to have been fixed on your blessed self. Then would our souls have found a satisfying portion. You have taught us, by experience — the emptiness and vanity of this world's pleasures. When we have had the fullest measure of them — they have appeared most vain. You, O God, are the only satisfying portion of the soul. Separated from you — shut out from the light of your countenance — we must be wretched. It is Hell to be removed from your presence — though surrounded by all that earth can give. It is Heaven to enjoy you — though bereft of all besides. Oh then "lift upon us the light of your countenance" — grant us one sweet approving smile, that shall assure us of your everlasting love. For Jesus' sake. Amen.
My Jesus, you have taught
This heart to love but Thee;
The sweetest joys of earth are fraught
With emptiness to me.
If sorrow shades my eyes,
It is when you are fled;
Deep in the dust my spirit lies,
And mourns its comforts dead.
The world has lost its power
To soothe this inward pain;
To me it is a faded flower,
That cannot bloom again.
But when your smile appears,
To chase this gloom away;
How bursts my song — how sink my fears,
My night is turned to day!
Then, Lord, no more permit
This heart from Thee to rove;
O that I may forever sit
At your dear feet, and love!
15. THE REFUGE.
"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble!" Psalm 46:1
"Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards." The world in which we dwell is but "a valley of tears." Sin has caused these tears to flow; and every sinner must, sooner or later, pour in his contribution of personal grief, to swell the general tide of sorrows. The domestic circle must be invaded by the ruthless hand of death. Wealth may abound one day, to be followed by poverty the next; or even if retained, riches may prove a source of anxiety and temptation to its possessor. In short, all must drink of the bitter cup.
Alas, the poor sinner, who finds all his happiness in the things of earth — when these are gone, has nothing left. He has no shelter from the storm. It must beat upon his naked head. But not so the Christian. He can say, under the severest afflictions, "God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble!"
O what an unspeakable blessing to have an almighty support! How calming to the soul in the dark hour of adversity, to be able to pour all its sorrows into the bosom of God! When death has seemed to hover over us, to aim his shafts at us or ours — what sweet consolation have we found in God! In "the secret place of the Most High," we have been able to dwell safely. When the world without has been covered with gloom — all has been sunshine within. When the power of the tempter has overwhelmed us — the arm of Jesus has lifted us up and pointed out a way of escape. Whatever then are our trials, let us still trust in God. "God is an ever-present help in times of trouble." His promise — whatever is our situation, is "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me!" 2 Corinthians 12:9
O God, it is the hour of darkness for me. "Fearfulness and trembling have come upon us, and horror has overwhelmed us." Where can we look, but unto You? What now can be our support, but Your precious promises? You have declared Yourself to be "a refuge" to Your people, "their ever-present help in times of trouble." Often have your redeemed people experienced the truth of this comforting declaration. When trouble, and sorrow, fear and anxiety, have taken hold upon them — they have fled to this sweet refuge. They have poured out their souls unto You — and You have helped them in the time of their distress. You have calmed their rising fears, and enabled them to resign every event into Your nail-scarred hands. What peace has then pervaded their souls! Let Your merciful loving-kindness then visit us in this hour of our tribulation. Hide not Your face from us. O speak peace to our troubled spirits. Hide us under the shadow of Your wings "until these calamities are over and past." Strengthen our faith to take a firm hold of Your promises, and let no vicissitudes of this life, no threatening dangers — shake our confidence in You or in Your declarations. For the sake of Jesus Christ, our hope and our Redeemer. Amen.
16. PRAYER HINDERED.
"When you ask, you do not receive — because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." James 4:3
It is important to investigate the spirit and motives with which we pray, as well as to inquire into the subject matter of our petitions. We may pray earnestly, and for things in themselves lawful — but the motive which actuates to the duty, may be wrong. We may ask for health; not that when received, it may be devoted to God — but that we may be enabled more perfectly to enjoy our earthly pleasures. We may ask for temporal prosperity in general — simply because we naturally shrink from suffering, and covet pleasure and ease. We may even pray for more of the sensible joys of religion, because of the mere pleasurable excitement which accompanies them.
Alas, our prayers are too often exclusively selfish. The glory of God has but little to do with them. Frequently do we mutter over a form of prayer, while the heart is wandering and cold. When we have finished, we scarcely know for what we have been praying, nor reflect on the solemn majesty of the being whom we have addressed. The sins of our holy things are not the least of our transgressions. How offensive to God must have been many of our prayers! Truly we need not wonder, that they are not oftener answered. "When you ask, you do not receive — because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."
O, for more of the spirit of prayer! Why do we not oftener avail ourselves of our precious privilege of coming to the divine mercy seat? May we not there disburden our souls? May we not invoke the divine presence to attend us on our pilgrimage. May we not draw upon his fullness, even "grace upon grace?" Has he not said, "draw near to God — and he will draw near to you?" Is not the mercy — seat always accessible? Hear his inviting voice. "Ask, and you shall receive." Have we not also an "Advocate with the Father," to present our prayers?
Only let us ask aright, and the blessing shall be ours. Let our prayers be importunate — sincere — submissive — with faith in the promises — offered in Jesus' name; and above all, having reference to the glory of God — and we cannot doubt that God will hear and answer them.
O Spirit of holiness, breathe into our souls the true feelings of devotion! It is Your merciful prerogative to help our infirmities. We are bowed down greatly. Our iniquities are so great that we cannot look up. O lead us to a believing view of the atoning Lamb. Let us feel him to be our strength, and let us see in him our pardon and our righteousness. Often, alas, have we prayed with our lips, while our hearts have been fur from God. The remembrance of such prayers fills us with shame and confusion of face. Often too have we asked for blessings from motives which you could not approve; and sometimes, we fear, even that we might "consume them on our lusts." O God, forgive us this great iniquity.
Draw us once more to you, and fill us with the spirit of supplications. Teach us how to pray, and what to pray for. Let us wrestle as did Jacob — let us sigh and mourn as did Hannah — let us repent and pray as did the publican. May we "come boldly," yet humbly, "to the throne of grace, and obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." May we have such frequent and such delightful communion with you, that prayer shall be our daily bread; that like Enoch, we may walk with God. Amen.
17. DIVINE GUIDANCE.
"Lord, what will you have me to do?" Acts 9:6
How often is the path of duty involved in obscurity, which nothing but light from Heaven can dissipate! But it is the believer's privilege to implore the God of all grace to point out to him the way in which he should go. As to practical religion, there is a general course or tenor of feeling and action which is comparatively plain. In all ordinary circumstances the Word of God will, by its precepts and counsels, indicate the path of duty. "By taking heed thereto," we cannot go wrong.
If, for example, we are tempted to distrust Providence, by an undue anxiety as to the supply of earthly good which we need; we may learn, from our Savior's declaration, to be no longer of "a troubled mind;" but to trust Him who "clothes the grass of the field, and feeds the birds of the air." Are we prone to anticipate evil of any kind? Let us remember that the same authority says, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34
Are we in doubt how we should feel towards one who has injured us, or who has forfeited our esteem? The clear response from the Bible is, "Love hopes all things." "Forgive every one his trespasses." "Heap coals of fire" — that is tokens of love — "upon his head." But often with the believer, there are seasons of deep perplexity and distressing anxiety as to what he shall do; when he cannot so clearly discern the path in which he should tread. His way is often actually hedged up. Like the Israelites on the Egyptian side of the Red Sea — he seems completely environed with difficulties. What now shall he do? If he can do nothing else, he can with Paul give himself to prayer. "Lord, what will you have me to do?" should be his earnest cry.
Yet let him understand, that this sense of dependence on God exempts him not from the obligation to make every effort possible, to know the path of duty, and to do the will of God. Every lawful means to understand the leadings of providence must be resorted to; and then prayer may be offered in the confident expectation that God will say to us, in a language intelligible to a pious heart, "This is the way — walk in it!"
Lord, the petition which the subdued and broken-hearted Saul offered, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" you quickly answered, instructing him both what to do and where to go. Are you not equally ready to impart to us your servants a knowledge of our path of duty? We have consecrated to you our souls and our bodies. Having vowed to be yours — we stand prepared to obey your call — to labor for your glory — when and where you shall see fit to employ us. We ask no higher honor than to be engaged, until our dying day, in advancing our blessed Redeemer's kingdom, and in promoting your glorious designs on earth.
Lord, in what way may we most effectually subserve this great object? Where would you have us to go, and what would you have us to do? In all that respects present duty, let us clearly understand your will. Give us grace, O Lord, to discharge that duty. May we not stand, like the servants in the market-place, "all the day idle." May we not indulge in spiritual reverie as to future opportunities or more favorable circumstances; but, looking around us upon the fields already white unto the harvest — may we at once enter upon our labors and prove faithful even unto death.
Help us to be watchful of the occasions of usefulness which your providence affords, and so to improve them as that, at last, we may be saluted with the welcome, "Well done, good and faithful servants!" Enable us to do your will, in the subjugation of our own evil nature — in bearing the cross — in "seeking not our own, but the things which are Jesus Christ's." And while laboring in the work of personal piety, may we be equally zealous in efforts to save from death the souls of our fellow men, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
18. THE SEARCHER OF HEARTS.
"The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart!" 1 Samuel 16:7
In our judgment of men, we are very often deceived. Being able to look only on the outward appearance — we cannot always understand their inner principles and feelings.
But it is the prerogative of God to look on the heart. His eye searches deep into the soul. He knows perfectly, everything that passes there. Go where we may, and do what we may — that omniscient eye rests upon our heart, and perceives the incipient emotions and desires, even before they are known to ourselves.
What a startling thought is this to the guilty bosom? How would that bosom shrink and tremble — were that eye, in visible fire, to glare upon it at every step of its career! But does it not really behold us in public and in private? Has it not followed us through life and marked our every feeling? O that we could henceforth act under the sentiment, "You O God, see me!"
When we are alone, let us remember that really we are not alone — that God is there. When the tempter assails us in solitude — let us look up, and see the eye of God fixed upon us, and hear his voice calling us to resistance. When we offer in public or in private the prayer that savors of insincerity — let us remember that what may appear as sincere devotion in the eyes of men — may be but the sacrifice of the wicked, which is "an abomination to the Lord."
O let us remember that God cannot be deceived, neither will he be mocked. Let us have "truth in the inward parts;" and be willing, as David was, to be searched even as to our thoughts; so that "if there is any wicked way in us, God may lead us in the way everlasting."
Omniscient God! "You know our down-sitting and our up-rising, you understand our thoughts afar off!" Not our outward conduct only, but the most secret feelings of our bosoms lie open to your all-seeing eye! You have followed us with your keen inspection, in all our devious wanderings. We tremble to reflect on the many secret as well as open sins which you have marked against us. How have our hearts been festering with pollution, even when to human view our conduct may have been unblamable! O Lord, we are not to be "judged by man's judgment." Man looks on the outward appearance only. We are to be weighed in your balances. You require purity of heart. You can not took upon sin but with abhorrence.
How then shall we come before you? In the language of penitence would we exclaim, "Have mercy upon us, O Lord, according to your loving-kindness, according to the multitude of your tender mercies — blot out our transgressions. Wash us thoroughly from our iniquities, and cleanse us from our sins. Create in us a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within us." "Cleanse us from secret faults."
Let us henceforth live and act, "As seeing You who are invisible." In all our plans — in all our private meditations — in every act of devotion — may a sense of your constant presence overawe us. O may we not seek to please men, but You! May "integrity and uprightness preserve us;" and may we be numbered among the "Israelites indeed, in whom there is no deceit." This we implore for the sake of Jesus our Redeemer. Amen.
19. PRAYER IN JESUS' NAME.
"Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete!" John 16:24
Blessed indeed were those disciples who sat at the Savior's feet! Did they need counsel — he was at hand to furnish it. Did they need more knowledge in relation to the kingdom of God — he, their all-wise master, was willing to impart it. Were they destitute of the comforts of life — he, though apparently indifferent to them himself, was ever ready to work a miracle to supply their necessities. On him, they constantly leaned for support. From him, they hoped for support in all times of trouble.
What then could they do, if he should depart from them? He tells them what they must do — they must pray. "Until now," says Jesus, "you have asked nothing in my name." You have looked directly to me. Now look through me as mediator to the Father. My name is henceforth to be the precious passport to the mercy-seat. If you make mention of my name in your supplications, my Father will supply your needs.
How consolatory, how encouraging is this promise! Nor was it made to those disciples only. It was for all believers. "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete!" Go, then, to the mercy-seat in Jesus' name. Take it as the precious seal which God the Father will recognize, and thereby admit you to a participation of the blessings of his grace. Would you have "joy unspeakable," and be filled with it? Go, plead for it, in the name of Jesus. He ever lives as our intercessor at the right hand of God; and the feeble petitions which flow from our faltering tongues and polluted lips, if offered with faith in his name, shall be rendered acceptable through him, our Advocate and High Priest. "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
O, most merciful Father, taught by your only Son to approach you in supplication for spiritual blessings, we come in his name, and plead his merits as the only ground of acceptance. Vile and polluted, we are not worthy to direct our eyes upwards to your mercy-seat. Jesus alone is worthy. He is the unspotted Lamb; and his blood has flowed to give our souls access to you. Receive our prayer, O gracious God, for Jesus' sake; and grant our souls the blessings which we need. We would gladly repent of every transgression — and we long to feel the joys of pardoned sin. O give us repentance unto life; give us that faith which . . .
works by love,
purifies the heart, and
overcomes the world.
Bestow it, O Father, for it is your gift. Under its influence, enable us to obtain the victory over every spiritual enemy. O for more love to you! Let it be the governing impulse in the discharge of every duty. Give us also love to your dear children. May your people be our people. May their persons and their reputations be dear unto us. May we love your kingdom. O may its interests be uppermost in our affections and our labors.
Gracious Father, implant in us every Christian grace. Let our joy be the joy of your people. Let it be pure, spiritual, and full. While others are rejoicing in the increase of their gains, or in the possession of sensual pleasure — may our happiness be kindled at a purer source; may it come from the light of your countenance, and the indwelling of your Holy Spirit. We ask all in Jesus' name. Amen.
"Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?" Psalm 85:6.
When the Holy Spirit is poured upon believers, there is great joy among them. Whatever earthly comforts they may have valued or coveted, all seem to be forgotten in the joy which is connected with the revival of their Christian graces. When coldness and stupidity are upon the church, her members lose in a great measure their relish for divine things. The world comes in like a flood, and they are more or less swept away on its powerful current. They become sinfully conformed to its spirit and fashions. The light of the divine countenance is withdrawn from them; and impenitent sinners, emboldened in sin by their loose example, rush madly on in the road to death and damnation.
How sad is such a state of spiritual declension! How dishonoring to God! How ruinous to the soul! But God, who is rich in mercy, does not forsake his saints even though they, for a season, forsake him. For his own glory he will and does bring them to repentance. He bids them return from their backslidings. He fills them with shame and self-abhorrence, in view of their sins. He renews within them the love which they breathed forth in ardent vows when first they gave themselves to his service.
Then do they again rejoice in God.
The world once more loses its attraction.
Communion with God is again realized and relished.
The mercy-seat is frequented.
The souls of sinners are viewed as precious.
Then is offered "the effectual fervent prayer which avails much." The light of God's countenance is restored, and multitudes are brought into the kingdom of Christ. Who would not pray for such a glorious season? Who can be content to lie stupid and dead, far from God and happiness — when such a change may be wrought by prayer? Who can consent to fold his arms in idleness, to behold sinners dropping into perdition, God's name and cause dishonored, and his own soul deprived of spiritual joy — when God is ready to revive his work, and to restore to his people the joy of his salvation?
O Lord, when first your grace was revealed to us, how new, how strange — yet how delightful were the emotions? Darkness fled, and the true light shined into our souls. The oppressive burden of sin was taken off. Our spirits walked unencumbered, breathing the air and enjoying the liberty of your children. The days then flew away swiftly and happily, spent in delightful communion with you, or in efforts to bring others to the knowledge of your salvation. But O merciful Father, a thousand vanities have courted our attention, and a thousand earthly cares engrossed our souls. Satan and our own evil hearts have combined to rob us of our peace, and our spiritual joys have fled. You have made us to see and feel that we have "an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." O, if we have thus wounded your cause, or indirectly even been the means of injury to souls, may we be brought to realize our guilt, to repent of our backslidings; and through your boundless mercy, may we obtain forgiveness.
"O Lord, revive your work." For the sake of your cause, for the glory of your name, for the honor of your truth — Lord revive us! May we no longer be stumbling-blocks, nor bring a reproach upon that dear name by which we are called. May we engage heartily in efforts to promote your kingdom. O let your Holy Spirit come upon your people. Let great searchings of heart be experienced. Let the hypocrite be surprised, the stupid aroused, the lost sinner convicted, and the disconsolate comforted. Yes, "let your kingdom come," for Jesus' sake. Amen.
"How shall we that are dead unto sin, live any longer therein?" Romans 6:2
To say that a believer is dead unto sin, is using strong language. Though not literally true, it implies much more than most Christians are willing to believe. Not the most holy can assert perfection. There still lives in the believer's heart a depraved tendency, upon which Satan and the world are constantly acting to draw us away from God. But the sincere disciple of Jesus keeps a watchful eye upon this inward foe and these outward temptations. He stands girded by grace to resist these evil influences. He may be said, therefore, to be dead to the continual practice or enjoyment of sin. He does not allow it even a parley. He holds it in utter detestation, and he has declared against it an exterminating warfare. When off his guard, sin and Satan may occasionally surprise him, and obtain a temporary advantage over him; but he is still no less the enemy of sin; and he returns to the attack with redoubled energy. This is being dead unto sin.
Who can say, in sincerity, that such is his own condition? Are the enjoyments of the world, the haunts of pleasure, the delights of carnal indulgence — all abandoned as objects unworthy of the heart's affections? Have they ceased habitually to influence us? Is our "life hid with Christ in God?" Is our "conversation in Heaven?" False and unfounded is their claim to discipleship, who are eagerly pursuing this world — searching it through and through for a little happiness. Hypocritical and vain is his hope who lives in sin — who allows . . .
his imagination to be polluted by it,
his affections to be swayed by it,
his desires to be governed by it.
No; it is the "pure in heart" alone, who shall "see God." "Nothing that defiles" shall ever enter into the celestial city.
To be freed from sin, O God, is our most earnest prayer. We perceive it to be that "abominable thing which you hate."
It was sin which ruined our race.
It was sin which crucified your own dear Son.
It is sin which is the source of all our misery.
And yet are we daily chargeable with its commission. What shall We say unto you in view of our oft-repeated transgressions? We would fall down before your face, and exclaim with the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner!"
But, O Lord, it is not forgiveness alone we seek. Our chief desire is that we may be thoroughly purified from the hateful influence of sin. Eradicate the very principle of depravity. "Search us, O God, and see if there be any wicked way in us, and lead us in the way everlasting."
By profession we have become "dead unto sin." Our vows and resolutions are to contend against it, under every form which it may assume. And you know that we do abhor it; and that we abhor ourselves on account of it; that we "delight in your law after the inward man." O then grant that we may be more and more purified by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, until our bodies shall become temples hallowed by and fit for his perpetual residence; and at last may we, through grace, reach that pure and glorious rest which no sin or sorrow can invade. For Jesus' sake. Amen.
22. CONDESCENDING MERCY.
"Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet — they will be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson — they will be like wool." Isaiah 1:18
What infinite condescension is it in the great Jehovah, to hold fellowship with mortals! But when it is considered that these mortals are rebels against his laws and government — the astonishment is heightened. He not only thus condescends, but he even entreats his wandering creatures to come back to his arms. He declares himself willing to reason with them. He is prepared to pardon all their transgressions — if they will but repent and seek his mercy.
But O, says the conscience-smitten sinner, how can God forgive me? My sins are too great. There is none so vile. There is no guilt of such crimson dye as mine. There is in my case, a peculiar aggravation. It seems as if divine mercy could not reach it. All this that you say of the enormity of your guilt may be true. But do you not add to your sin, by denying the efficacy of Jesus' blood? Have you calculated the value of those big drops which bedewed Gethsemane? Have you measured the depth of those woes which Jesus endured on the cross? "His blood," remember, "cleanses from all sin." The Father has "laid on" his holy Son "the iniquity of us all." Hence it is that we are so cordially invited to come and reason the case with him.
Come, says he, show your heavy account — present your crimson guilt — and I will, for Jesus' sake, cancel it all. The blood of the atoning Lamb is an all-sufficient equivalent. Only bow your soul in the dust, confess your aggravated sins, turn from them with all your heart, and Jesus shall answer for you at the bar of eternal justice.
From your exalted throne, O God, you have stooped to notice and to pity us fallen creatures. You have even put forth your hand to reclaim us. Justly might you have launched against us the fiery bolts of your indignation. Had no atoning Lamb been provided — no precious blood been spilt — no voice of mercy sounded in our ears — still would you have been "holy, just, and good." We would then have been abandoned to the darkness which we chose, and which we loved.
But O compassionate Father, you had from eternity designs of love and mercy. You provided redemption through your Son Jesus Christ. Spurned as has been this gracious way of salvation, it is still offered to us. Your language is, "Come now," sinner, "and let us reason together." To this gracious invitation we respond. Lord, we come. We come in our shame and guilt, to cast ourselves at your feet, and acknowledge ourselves to be among the vilest of sinners. Our guilt is indeed of crimson dye; but since you have promised to cleanse it away — we venture in the name of the atoning Lamb to plead for your mercy. O Lord, pardon. O Lord, purify. May the Holy Spirit seal our forgiveness, and take up his dwelling in our souls. May our repentance be deep and sincere. May our faith in the merits of Jesus be unwavering. May it work by love and purify our hearts. O for inward purity! O for the "clean heart," and the "contrite spirit."
23. POVERTY OF SPIRIT.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit — for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." Matthew 5:3
Poverty is almost always associated in our thoughts with misery. Yet the poor are often happier than the rich. If they possess fewer comforts — they have also fewer cares and fewer causes of vexation.
But poverty of spirit is attended always with happiness. It may be possessed by the rich or the poor. It implies that the soul is meek and humble. It indicates the absence of pride. It says, "however pure I am in the eyes of others — in my own eyes I am the vilest of the vile." No boasting of what it is or has done — no high-sounding pretensions, or censorious judgment of others — characterize it. It is in a good measure emptied of self. It has no store-house of good works.
It lives daily, hourly, on the grace of God.
With implicit trust, it follows Jesus.
When hungry, it asks Him for food.
Or when naked, asks Him for clothing.
The spiritual pauper does not revenge when injured.
When abused, it does not revile in return.
It prays for its enemies.
It is more anxious to approve itself to God, than to be approved of men.
Its devotions are in secret retirement.
It loves the prayer-closet more than the conspicuous assembly.
It esteems its holiest works as unworthy to appear before God.
Its very tears — it desires to have washed in the blood of Jesus.
Grace, grace is its only hope — and the cross its only boast!
For such a spirit, is the kingdom of Heaven provided. Yes, in yonder bright regions — whatever may be its condition in this world — mansions of rest are fitted up for it, where it will enjoy God forever, and sing without interruption the sweet songs of redemption — ascribing all glory and honor to Him that sits on the throne, and to the Lamb forever!
O God, if in these hearts of ours, your searching eyes discover the workings of pride, or the existence of self-righteousness — do in mercy eradicate them, and give us the meek and humble heart. We are sensible that we cannot stand the test of your scrutiny. Our depravity is constantly manifesting itself even to our own eyes. In no form does it more frequently appear than in that of pride. And O how wretched is the heart of pride! But when, through grace, we can lie low in our own esteem; when we are enabled to keep down self and exalt you, the Lord our God — then are we indeed happy. Then does spiritual joy abound; and we are permitted to have a foretaste of the kingdom of Heaven.
O give us then such discoveries of your character and of our own — let us see your glory in such a light, that like Job, we shall "abhor ourselves, and repent in dust and ashes." It is poverty of spirit that we need. We would be "clothed with humility."
O that we might in this respect be likened to our adorable Savior! Sweet was the spirit which our Lord exhibited, when he washed his disciples' feet. May we be willing to wash the feet of the poorest of our brethren. "Esteeming others better than ourselves," and looking upon ourselves as most vile — may we "associate with the humble," and always rather serve than be served. Thus, not only shall we have sweet peace within; but we shall give evidence of possessing the spirit of him who "came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." And this we ask for Jesus' sake. Amen.
24. FIXED DESTINY.
"He who is unjust — let him be unjust still;
he who is filthy — let him be filthy still;
he who is righteous — let him be righteous still;
he who is holy — let him be holy still." Revelation 22:11
How solemn is the thought, that at death, not only will the soul meet its final destiny — but that destiny will be irreversible. Then must we appear before our holy and righteous Judge without disguise. No time will then be allowed to prepare the soul for the solemn scene. He who has "sowed to the flesh" — will then reap his dread reward, in the condemnation to which the carnal mind is doomed. He who has "sown to the Spirit" — will then "reap life everlasting."
The holy will exult in the approach of their inflexibly holy Judge.
The wicked, trembling with horror, will "call upon the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them."
Yes, the true believer will rejoice that "his redemption" — from sin — "is drawing near." Weak as may have been the principle of holiness within him, he is sure that when his Savior comes, it will be both increased and perpetuated. All will then be purity. No clouds will come between him and his adorable Redeemer.
What child of God can look at the happiness and purity of Heaven, and not long to experience them? What but sin embitters his life, and makes his pilgrimage a weary way? Should he not then rejoice when this hateful and polluting thing shall be gone forever?
But while the godly man has reason to rejoice — the wicked may well be dismayed. O, what is his prospect! Filthy, and still more filthy, through eternity. His eternity must be not only wretched — but increasingly wretched. He will go on sinning and suffering forever! In Hell there will be no change but from bad to worse, and from suffering to still deeper anguish.
Thanks be unto your name, O God, that you have provided a Heaven for the righteous. Not only have you prepared glorious mansions for their repose and happiness — but you will make their souls fit to take possession of them. Your Holy Spirit dwells in your people, to purify them; nor will he leave his work incomplete — but will carry it on to perfection. Grant, O most merciful Father, that we may possess those principles and feelings which shall fit us to enjoy "the rest which remains."
May we be habitually in readiness for the coming of the Son of Man. Since that event will only make the holy more holy, and the sinful more corrupt and hopeless — grant that we may be daily rising in purity, and becoming more and more assimilated to the likeness of God. "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, may we also appear with him in glory."
Let not the world, nor anything that appertains to it, so engage our hearts or hands, as to make us reluctant to rise and follow our Lord, whenever his voice shall call us hence. O, may we be so weaned from earth — so enraptured with the prospect of heaven — so burdened with a sense of the sin that remains — so desirous of perfect holiness, that we may desire and even long "to depart and be with Christ."
25. LIKENESS TO JESUS.
"But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:16
This was affirming a great deal. And yet when we consider who said it, and on what grounds — we cannot consider it as pharisaical or presumptuous. Has there ever lived a mortal who, in character and conduct, approached nearer the Lord Jesus Christ than the apostle Paul? Though the last, he was the chief of the apostles.
his self-sacrificing spirit,
his untiring labors,
his unceasing prayers,
his purity —
all show, that "he had been with Jesus, and learned of him." O that we could follow this apostle as he followed Christ!
Why is it that we cannot say in the same confident tone, "we have the mind of Christ?" Is it because, in these days, there has been a falling off from that primitive purity and self-denial which characterized the first disciples? Let each believer inquire in what respects he differs from the great exemplar? Let him ask himself the question, "Do I possess the mind of Christ? Do I breathe his spirit; do I bear his image? Do I pursue the same unwearied exertions for the good of souls? The mind of Christ, recollect, was all benevolence. It was for the salvation of men, that he lived and died. While "about his Father's business," he was above the tempting influence of worldly honors and pleasures. Under sufferings, he was all patience and submission. In the prosecution of his great work, he neither feared the frowns nor coveted the praises of men. Much of his time was spent in solitude and prayer. His Father's glory was his great aim. He loved his enemies, and prayed even for his murderers. He was the friend and instructor of the poor, and the comforter of the distressed. Such was the mind of Christ.
Have you, O my soul, the same spirit? Alas; how few of us can say, that we have the mind of Christ? Then let us, "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
How far short, O Lord, do we fall of that perfect pattern which you have exhibited for our imitation! Sin is still so prevalent, and the power of temptation so strong — that we seem to bear much of "the image of the earthy;" and but little of "the image of the heavenly." But blessed be your name, that you have given us some longing desires to throw off the "old man which is corrupt" and to be delivered entirely from the bondage of sin.
You have opened our eyes to see the loveliness of your character. The contemplation shames us — yet attracts us. Never can we be satisfied with anything less than entire conformity to your blessed image. Enable us then to struggle until the old nature is completely subdued, and the new man, "which is after God," reigns without a rival. Grant us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us; that every faculty and affection may be brought into captivity to your will. Form yourself within us, the hope of glory. Bind our souls to you in all the intimacy of a daily fellowship. O let us walk with you our God and Savior. Thus by a vital union — a close and habitual converse with you, may we lose more and more the image of the earthy, and acquire more and more that of the heavenly, until we shall become complete in you, and arrive at "the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus."
26. THE RESTLESS SOUL.
"But the dove could find no resting place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth. So it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark." Genesis 8:9
This passage has been beautifully applied to the condition of a Christian wandering over earth in search of rest — and disappointed, returning at length to his Savior — glad to be received again into His bosom, where alone there is peace. Surely he who has been accustomed to drink at the pure fountain of spiritual joy, can never find rest for the soul in this polluted world.
How true is it, that to one whose affections have been directed to things above — earthly pleasures seem to have lost their usual relish. No prospect however beautiful — no pleasures however tantalizing can be enjoyed — without the associated presence and blessing of God. Yet when God is recognized in them, and the heart is properly affected towards Him — then do even earthly scenes acquire an additional interest.
But let the Christian lose sight for a season of his heavenly inheritance, and wander over earth's surface in search of worldly good — how soon will he find an unsatisfying vacuity, where not even an olive leaf shall be found to greet his eye or to cheer his heart. The Christian may so far backslide, as to wish to explore anew the world which he professes to have forsaken — and God may allow him to do so. But O how soon his wing will tire, and his prospect become gloomy! Glad will he be to return and flutter around the ark, longing to be taken in, where he can once more feel himself happy and at home. And Jesus kindly extends His hand to take us in — even when we have sinfully wandered from His loving arms.
Why is it that we can be so often deceived? Have we not tried the world — and have we not been disappointed in the pursuit? Never again then let us leave the sacred ark — never again wander from our Lord.
Ever blessed God, You have taught us to find our supreme felicity in You — for You are an all-sufficient portion. But O how prone are we to wander from You — to forsake "You, the fountain of living waters, and hew out cisterns — broken cisterns that can hold no water."
But away from You, how can we he happy? How soon does sadness invade our hearts, and sorrow sit upon our eye-lids! The creature cannot make us blessed. We have tried the creature — and found all on earth to be but vanity. Wander where we will — from place to place, from pleasure to pleasure — all is unsatisfying, if you O God are absent.
We are like that dove, when out of the ark, which saw itself surrounded by one wide waste of waters. How glad was she to get back within her sacred retreat! Just so, O Savior, would we gladly flee into Your loving arms. We will search no longer for happiness here below. Henceforth, let us repose on Your kind bosom. Let us feel a holy indifference to the attractions of this deceitful world. May it be our privilege to be taken at last unto that secure ark — that glorious Heaven where no storms can come and no temptations allure our souls away from you. Amen.
27. THE VESTMENT.
"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." Romans 13:14
By a figure of speech, the believer is exhorted to clothe himself with the imitable attributes of the Savior.
Jesus our Lord was adorned with meekness. His followers should therefore cultivate the same spirit.
The robe that Jesus wore was immaculate. His spirit was pure. He was, in this respect, "separate from sinners." All therefore who have "named his name" should be careful to "depart from iniquity." They should "purify themselves even as Christ is pure."
Jesus was self-denying. He shrank from no labors or sufferings when the good of others was concerned. He toiled unceasingly and suffered submissively. This is the spirit which we are bound to imitate. Instead of courting ease and flinching from suffering in the cause of God — we should tread in the very footsteps of our Master. Like the apostle, we should glory in sufferings, endured for Christ's sake.
With Jesus was the spirit of prayer. Whole nights were spent in agonizing supplication for our lost race. Believer — have you ever yet tested the possible results of such a spirit of prayer? O, for the sweet, holy temper of Christ our Lord to be breathed into us!
But the flesh clamors. It pleads for indulgence. It provokes an appetite for sensual pleasure. Influenced by it, we strive for worldly grandeur, or for transitory joys — and immediately, peace, nay hope itself departs. Some provision for the flesh, we know must be made. But what does the flesh need? Not pampering — no, merely sustaining. Simple should be our fare; and then our work for Christ will be proportionately easy and delightful. The danger is that we "make provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof;" and then comes sin, darkness and ruin.
O, for the full impress of our Savior's image! We would be clothed, O Lord, in your spirit. Infuse into our souls those heavenly traits which shone so perfectly in your character. Grant to us your meekness, your humility, your zeal and your purity. How deplorably deficient are we in all these graces!
Our spirits are haughty, often over-bearing. We cannot brook an injury, nor are we quick enough to forgive it. O give us your meekness.
Our zeal in your service may be called coldness. Rekindle our zeal by a living coal from off your altar.
Our hearts are defiled. A thousand polluting images have passed through them; and they are "desperately wicked." But, O Savior, you shed your blood to purify us; and we humbly entreat you to wash and sanctify us, that we may be made to resemble in some humble measure, the master whom we profess to follow.
We would be like you in all things. We would gladly imbibe the sweet spirit of self-denial and benevolence, which carried you through so many labors and sufferings for the salvation of souls. Help us also to deny ourselves for the good of others. Especially may we deny the "lusts of the flesh." Let us not seek ease, nor any form of self-indulgence. Make us "good soldiers of the cross of Christ." May we delight to bear that cross even though fainting under the load. And having suffered with you here, O, may we reign with you forever. Amen.
28. JESUS LOVED.
"Though you have not seen him, you love him. And even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy!" 1 Peter 1:8
Love to Christ differs from love to a mere creature in this circumstance: that, in the one case, the emotion is excited by the sensible presence of the individual; but in the other, there may exist a strong and ardent love, though the object of it has never been revealed to the eye of sense. Every true believer can say "to me, Christ is unspeakably precious!" The attachment is founded on a perception of the moral beauties of his Savior. The believer has never seen Jesus. It was the privilege of but a few to follow Jesus' footsteps — to sit at his feet — and to look on his benevolent countenance. But blessed be God, we have transmitted to us, a faithful record of . . .
his doctrine, and
By the eye of faith we discern him seated at the right hand of the Father. We inquire not how he looked; but who he was, and why he came into the world. When we learn that he is "God manifest in the flesh". We read that he came into the world "to seek and to save that which was lost". When we consider his benevolence, his humility, his meekness; in short, when we see in him "the fullness of the Godhead" — we are melted and subdued by love divine.
When we can call him our Savior — when we can say, "Jesus is mine and I am His" — when with a penitent heart we can look on Calvary, and from Calvary, glance to the glories of the enthroned Lamb — how can we but love and adore our divine Redeemer! It is faith that begets and sustains this love. When faith is strong — love will be proportionably ardent. We shall rejoice in Christ, "with an inexpressible and glorious joy!"
But soon will faith cease, and — glorious thought — we shall then "see him as he is!" O, how transporting! Nothing shall ever again intervene between us and the Savior whom we love. It will be one unclouded beauteous vision forever!
Why is it, O exalted Redeemer, that we do not love you more? In your character there is everything attractive. Our judgment decides that you are all beauteous. But alas, our hearts seem benumbed. They will not feel, where they ought to be transported. How easily are we interested and excited by objects of sense! But even when we look upon you — though so glorious to behold, though in you dwells such unearthly beauty — sin will often seem to fetter our affections. Still do we mourn over this deficiency; and we trust you to enable us, at times, to say, "Lord, you know all things — you know that we love you."
Our prayer is that you would reveal yourself to our faith. May the Holy Spirit reveal you unto us, that our love may kindle into a glowing flame. We would gladly feel it, warming every fibre of our hearts, and rousing us to live and to labor for you alone. Let your love constrain us to love you. May it be the moving principle in all we do and say. Clear our obstructed vision. A thousand vanities, O Lord, have intervened between you and our love. Remove them, we beseech you, and let us gaze upon your image, until we are transformed into it; and, at last, permit us to see your face without a veil, and to worship at your feet, forever. Amen.
29. INFIDELITY REBUKED.
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
The displays of divine grace are made often upon subjects whose transformation is striking and wonderful. The ignorant as well as the degraded, are visited with mercy. Even children, whose buoyant spirits and thoughtless hearts would seem almost to incapacitate them for reflection on the great subjects of religion — are sometimes found drawn, as by an invisible hand, to the fountain of eternal truth. As their young minds drink in the waters of life, their lips become vocal with the praises of the Redeemer. This is done in such a manner as to confound the skeptic, and to illustrate the grace and power of God.
To an infidel mind, there is no argument so irresistible as the example of one of wicked habits effectually enlightened and purified through the blessed gospel. The enemy and the avenger is stilled by such an exhibition. He is obliged to say "this is indeed the finger of God!"
One practical inference from all this should be, that, to overthrow infidelity, our best plan will be to multiply living examples of the transforming power of God's grace. O that we might feel the force of this inference! Argument has been tried again and again against the ramparts of infidelity and of heresy; but they have been in a measure proof against the assault. Let Christians then arise, in the power of faith and prayer, with zeal for the Lord Almighty — and strive for the out-pouring of the Spirit and the conversion of souls.
O Lord, you have inscribed your glory on the visible heavens. But the greatest exhibition of it which you have made, is in the transformation of the human heart. O what a wondrous change does your grace effect! Carry forward the triumphs of that grace. Subdue millions more, until all shall know you from the greatest even to the least.
O Lord, how bold and blasphemous are your enemies! They deny the truth and vital power of your gospel; yes, they ridicule and despise it. Will you not arise and vindicate your cause? Refute and confound and still these enemies, by exhibiting the work of the Spirit upon hearts so ignorant, or so degraded, that men will be compelled to confess your hand.
And while your grace is enlightening others, O let its influence be felt upon us. We are still but babes in Christ. Strengthen us then, O Lord, and increase our knowledge of divine things. Let us feed upon the "sincere milk of the word," and thereby "grow in grace" continually. From being "babes" let us become "full-grown men in Christ Jesus." And, O Lord, when you have fulfilled your good pleasure with us here on earth, receive us to your courts above, where we shall "put away childish things," and "see as we are seen, and know as we are known." For Jesus' sake. Amen.
30. THE PATIENCE OF HOPE.
"It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." Lamentations 3:20
Hope implies the existence of something which we wish removed — or the absence of something which is strongly desired. In either case, the mind becomes agitated and restless.
If afflictions press upon the soul or the body, we are liable to be fretful or impatient. We would have them, at once, removed. We are not apt to inquire into the cause of them; nor whether the will of God in laying them upon us has been fulfilled. Averse to suffering in any shape — we naturally long to be free from it. Under the yoke, impatience sometimes grows into murmuring and rebellion. Let us be careful to guard against such a spirit, lest its indulgence should provoke God to perpetuate our sufferings. Let us behave as a "weaned child" under our afflictions. Let us submit to them as a wholesome chastisement; and be more anxious to derive benefit from them, than to have them removed. We should remember that God's time for their removal is the best time; it therefore becomes us "quietly to wait for the salvation of the Lord."
So also, when strongly desiring things which we do not possess, but which may be needful or indispensable — let us beware of a covetous or impatient spirit. With pious resignation, let us leave the event with God.
Hope is the anchor of our souls. But even when clinging to it, may we not forget, that our expectations, as it respects earthly things, may never be realized, or may be realized at a period and in circumstances altogether unexpected.
But as to spiritual good, our hope, if we are Christians, must end in glorious fruition. The darkest night must be followed by the morning; and the heaviest trials of the believer will result in the "salvation of the Lord."
O God, to know your will, to obey it, to submit to it — is the duty and the happiness of man. But how often do we utter the expression, "May your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven," without feeling the full force of the sentiment! Alas, our deceitful hearts lead us astray; and hence we often find our lips uttering what our conduct denies.
It has pleased you, O Lord, to place us in a stale of trial and discipline. You have promised, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows." You lead us, at times, into a dark path, and place upon our necks a heavy yoke. But, kind Father in Heaven, your design in all this is most paternal and gracious; it is to try us as gold in the furnace, and to prepare us for your glorious rest. Let us never murmur at your inscrutable dealings. There has no affliction happened unto us that is not peculiar to your people; and you can with the temptation, O Lord, "make a way for our escape." Never allow us to deny or even doubt your faithfulness, though clouds and darkness surround your mysterious dispensations. Still trusting in you, may we patiently wait for the removal of the affliction. Bow our spirits in sweet submission to your will. Enable us to say from the heart, "It is the Lord — let him do what seems to him good." And to exclaim, with the once suffering patriarch, "though he slays me — yet will I trust in him."
31. SPIRIT OF LOVE.
"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you!" Ephesians 4:31-32
We have here a rule for the reciprocal fellowship of believers. It bears upon it the pure stamp of Heaven. It is melancholy indeed, that Christians should need such cautions and counsels as the above. But alas, who that knows his own heart, is not sensible how necessary as well as pertinent they are! The remaining corruption — still lingering in the heart of the most sanctified believer — exposes him to temptation. When we are injured, or when we imagine ourselves to be so — how prone are we to resent it! Our first impulses generally are sinful. We can even use harsh and bitter terms in application to the conduct or motives of our professing brethren. To be liable to such sallies of passion is a great evil. They rob our own bosoms of peace — injure the cause of Christ — -and give occasion to the wicked to triumph.
O, for more of that sweet forgiving spirit, which dwelt in the bosom of our Lord! Consider the argument of the apostle, "forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Exercise towards your real or supposed enemy the spirit of forgiveness which God has manifested towards you. Surely, towards your brethren — those who are co-heirs with you of the heavenly inheritance — you should entertain no feelings but those of the most generous attachment. If you have anything against a brother, go to him alone, and let the breach be healed by mutual explanation and forgiveness.
Do not broadcast the faults of any member of Christ's body. Carry about with you the mantle of charity, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." 1 Peter 4:8
Open not your mouth to calumniate, nor your ear to receive the calumny of others. Away with the spirit of detraction. When tempted to think evil or to speak evil of others — remember how you yourself would appear, were God to treat you as severely as you are disposed to treat others. Cultivate a meek, forbearing spirit under injuries; remembering that, "love works no ill to his neighbor."
O God, there is nothing for which our hearts more frequently condemn us than selfishness and unkindness. We are prone to prefer our own happiness and comfort, to the happiness and comfort of others. Too often have we been guilty of wrong feelings and censorious remarks towards those whom we ought to have loved as brethren. But "if our heart condemns us, you O God, are greater than our heart and know all things." For every such offence, we would repent in dust and in ashes. Forgive us, O God, and dispose all whom we have ever injured to forgive us also. Enable us henceforth to exercise no bitter emotions towards our fellow men, and especially towards our Christian brethren — but only those of love and kindness. May no hateful or censorious remark ever fall from our lips. O give us the sweet forgiving spirit of the Savior.
May we so study our own faults — see so deeply into our own depravity, that we shall be ready to esteem every other Christian better than ourselves; and ourselves as less than the least of all your creatures. Give us the meek and lowly heart. Impart to us that "charity which is the bond of perfectness; which suffers long and is kind; which thinks no evil; which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things." O may this never-failing grace be in us and abound. May we be able, at all times, sincerely to pray, "forgive us our trespasses — as we forgive those who trespass against us." Lead us not into the temptation of evil speaking; but deliver us from so great an offence, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
32. THE FURNACE OF AFFLICTION.
"But He knows the way I take. When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold!" Job 23:10
It is a consolation to the suffering Christian, to reflect that every affliction is designed for his purification. The patriarch Job, under the heavy pressure of sorrow, sought his God. But alas, God seemed to hide himself. "I go east — but he is not there. I go west — but I cannot find him. I do not see him in the north — for he is hidden. I look to the south — but he is concealed." Job 23:8-9
It would seem then that the sufferer must have sunk down in despair. But no; he declares that although he could not see God — God could see him. His father on high knew the way in which he was leading him; and would at last — after sufficient trial had been made — bring him forth as gold. Here is strong faith under the most troubling circumstances. O let us imitate it, trusting in God, even when we cannot see the way in which he is leading us.
It may indeed be a dark and disagreeable course. The flesh may shrink and the heart droop; but we know that God our father is our guide. He sees perfectly the way in which we are led — his kind hand has marked it out. It is therefore the best way. When our spirits are sufficiently humbled — our confidence tested, and our hope tried — he will bring us forth from the furnace as gold. We shall shine with a purer luster after our passage through the fire. We shall be more fit to gem the diadem of our Savior — more fit to swell the song of eternal praise for his redeeming mercy.
Our way, O Lord, is in the dark. We see not why it is you contend with us. We are tempted to exclaim, "God has forgotten us — and our Lord has forsaken us." But we will not indulge these distrustful thoughts. We acknowledge that our sins are sufficiently numerous and aggravated to call for the heaviest chastisements at your hand. Should you even cast us off forever, our consciences must approve the rectitude of your decision. But O, let us not perish, when there is an infinite provision for our salvation. No other plea than the Savior's precious blood would we offer. For his sake remove your stroke, and "return and visit us early with your mercy."
O God, we are humbled under your chastisements. We bow beneath your rod. For our sins and our unfaithfulness, we deserve to feel it. May we be enabled to submit to the chastisement of our sins — to behave ourselves as befits offending but penitent children. May we be consoled, by the consideration that our afflictions are for our own good — that they are designed to purify us and to prepare us for Heaven. Why should we pray for prosperity, and why deprecate affliction — when prosperity has proved so injurious, and affliction so beneficial to our souls? Still, O God, would we pray, that when, by these trials, you have fitted us to glorify you, you would remove the stroke and bring us forth as gold to serve you on earth, and to praise you through eternity; for Jesus' sake. Amen.
33. TRUE RICHES.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21
Some will be ready to apply this language to the disciples only. They will say — surely it cannot apply to us. We must toil and hoard for the sake of our children and dependents. Not to do so, would be tempting Providence. It will be well for those who thus speak, to take heed, lest this prudent forethought be not, after all, a cloak for avarice. To such persons, let me say, the language does apply to us; if not literally — yet surely in the spirit of the sentiment.
There is at the present day too much hoarding among Christians. There is, in respect to a worldly competence, too much distrust of Providence. Let a habit of hoarding get possession of a man, and almost inevitably he will become a groveling worldling! While heaping up treasures here, he must employ most of his thoughts upon them, and upon the means of obtaining and securing them. Thus, "where his treasure is, there will his heart be also." But a Christian's heart is professedly fixed in Heaven. He is to "set his affection on things above, not on things on the earth." Should he then be anxious lo accumulate another and an opposite kind of treasure here below, when the process and the influence are so detrimental to the soul? Can he serve both God and mammon?
Does he reply: that unless he accumulated a fortune, either himself or his children may come to poverty? O, unbelieving, faithless disciple! Go, give a portion of your wealth to the Savior's kingdom, and be sure, from God's own promise, that your needs shall be supplied, and that your "seed shall never beg their bread." O, labor not thus earnestly for the "food that perishes." It may prove a curse to your soul, and the ruin of your children. "Take heed and beware of covetousness!" "Seek first the kingdom of God; and all other (necessary) things shall be added unto you!"
You have declared, O Lord, that "where our treasure is — there will our hearts be also." Search then these hearts of ours. Behold and see if the love of the world is lurking here. You have said, "if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Well may we tremble at this fearful declaration; for if this secret love of the world is not in us — then why are we so pleased with its riches? Why are we so joyous when it bestows its honors — or so sad when deprived of them? Do not these feelings tell us alas, that we still love the world? O that we might be enabled to bring forth the accursed thing, and repent of our idolatry!
Surrounded by objects of sense — allured by pleasure — impelled by a thousand unworthy motives to make gold our confidence — how powerful is the temptation to lay up our treasure on earth, and to forget our inheritance above! But such a course must end in disappointment. It must "pierce us through with many sorrows." From these temptations, and from this worldly spirit, O Lord, deliver us. Enable us to keep in view that better inheritance which is laid up for us in Heaven. May we tread the world beneath our feet. Without a sigh, may we see its pleasures and its honors pass into other hands; and may we rejoice that God has reserved some better thing for us. By growing in grace, may we daily add to our treasure in Heaven; and may we so use the "mammon of unrighteousness," as that, at last, "we may be received into everlasting habitations."
34. UNSEEN GLORIES.
"But as it is written: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man — the things which God has prepared for those who love him!" 1 Corinthians 2:9
The glories of the gospel lie concealed from all but those who have been taught of the Spirit. To the eye of the sensual or worldly man . . .
Christ has no beauty,
his doctrines have no interest,
his invitations have no attractiveness.
To his dull ear there is no melody, even in the harps of Heaven. In his heart there is no feeling, though his attention is directed to his guilt as a sinner, and to the agonies of Calvary which were endured to expiate it.
But O how differently does the Christian view these subjects!
To him, Christ is "the chief among ten thousand."
His doctrines are the daily food of his soul.
His promises are full of sweet consolation and encouragement.
The very name of Jesus sounds sweet in his ear.
His heart thrills as he contemplates the glories of Heaven.
He is filled with gratitude, at the thought, that they are purchased at so great an expense for so unworthy a sinner.
Faint however are his most enlarged conceptions. Before he can fully appreciate these glories, the fleshy veil must be withdrawn. He must have new and glorious perceptions. Every sense must be refined, and every affection purified — to enable him to estimate his bright reward. It has not entered into his heart, how great will be the bliss and the brightness of Heaven. O, let us then "cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light." Let us anticipate a portion of our Heaven upon earth; and pluck an occasional leaf from the tree of life, before we are admitted to a seat under its immortal foliage.
Why, O God, when Heaven is so glorious — should earthly vanities hold such an attractive power over us? Why should we pause to amuse ourselves with trifles — when the crown of glory is offered, and the mansions of bliss are almost in sight?
Come, O divine Spirit, and breathe new energy into our sluggish souls. Come and spread your benignant wings over us; or rather bear us on them, towards the blissful regions where our Savior dwells. We are sick at heart of earth's pleasures. There is naught in them to satisfy us. The most attractive scenes of earth have now less influence, since, by faith, we have caught a glimpse of that bliss which is permanent and soul-satisfying. O for still brighter visions of faith! We would gladly see more of those invisible eternal realities which neutralize the glare of this vain world. Give us, O Lord, a glimpse of your merciful and benignant countenance. May we see, with spiritual vision, the glories of the Lamb. Or should it please you to keep us lowly, by withholding these ecstatic views; O, at last, when there will be no more place for pride, assign to us some humble seat in your blissful kingdom, where we may gaze on your glories, and unite in praising your name forever, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
35. EXTENT OF MERCY.
"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst." 1 Timothy 1:15
What believer does not value this precious text; "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners?" Salvation was the glorious errand on which the Prince of life came into this dark and polluted world. O, we were all his enemies, and yet behold, he dies for us! Having thus made forgiveness possible, he transforms us from enemies into friends. We are reconciled to God through his blood.
We are saved from . . .
the curse of the law,
the pollution of sin,
the deceitfulness of the world,
the malice of Satan,
the fear of death, and
the damnation of Hell.
We are saved unto . . .
the favor of God,
the protection and guidance of his providence,
the privilege of adoption into His family,
and the incorruptible eternal inheritance.
Who can sufficiently appreciate this great salvation? Eternity alone will suffice to celebrate the praises of Jesus, its great "author and finisher." This salvation is for the chief of sinners. Such, in his own estimation, was Paul — and such doubtless every sincere believer regards himself. Each one knows more of himself than any other — and hence he must consider himself the chief of sinners. How should we then be clothed with humility! O, were it not that Jesus can save the chief of sinners — then who could hope for the divine mercy? As the salvation is so great — then who, if penitent, need despair?
"Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!" Had you, O God, withheld your Son from us, when nothing but his intervention could have saved us — how universal and overwhelming would have been our destruction! Even now, after Jesus has died, do we deserve to be cast off forever for rejecting him. Yet such are your patience and forbearance, that throughout the period of our unbelief we were not consumed; nay, we indulge the hope, that your boundless mercy has forgiven us even this aggravated sin. It is to the atoning blood that we are indebted for all.
O, for a thousand tongues, to speak of your love and compassion, blessed Jesus! In sincerity we declare ourselves the chief of sinners. Truly our sins are of the crimson dye. Despair would forever take possession of us, had You not declared that "Your blood cleanses from all sin." We fly to your feet, O Lamb of God. We come to weep as did the penitent Mary. Dissolve these adamantine hearts. Let them bleed and break at the recollection of our abominable deeds. Cast upon us, O Savior, one renewed look of mercy. Enable us by faith to touch the hem of your garment — to lay hold anew on your salvation — to surrender ourselves and all we have into Your faithful hands. Amen.
36. KEEPING THE HEART.
"Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." Proverbs 4:23
The streams do not more certainly indicate the nature of the fountain whence they flow — than do the actions of men the true state of their hearts. For a while hypocrisy may succeed in its disguises; but sooner or later all men reveal themselves. Avarice will be seen greedy in the pursuit of gain. Ambition, leaping forward at a bound, or lurking for some favorable opening to mount the steep of fame — will show its selfish and restless spirit. Sensuality will look out at the eye, or reveal itself in a career of criminal indulgence.
But where divine grace has cast in its salt at the fountainhead — we discover a corresponding and growing purity in the conduct. Humility begins to displace pride. Contentment comes in the place of avarice and ambition. Temperance usurps self-indulgence. "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good."
We must therefore keep a vigilant eye upon the heart, which is the fountain. If there we discover the incipient evil, it must be cured before it breaks out into the overt act. By close observation, we shall discover within us, the risings of almost every evil propensity which ever disgraced the conduct of man. Envy, revenge, infidelity, sensuality, ambition, avarice, yes, selfishness in a thousand forms — will meet the eye. But if these passions show themselves — even in the germ — we should fly at once to the throne of grace, and beg not only for their suppression, but their extirpation.
"Create in us a clean heart," should be our cry. Penitently should we mourn over indwelling sin; and faithfully should we contend against it, until we conquer by the blood of the Lamb.
O Lord, sensible that our hearts are "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked," we come to you with the prayer of your servant David, "Create in us a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within us. Wash us thoroughly from our iniquity, and cleanse us from our sin." Purify our hearts, and then shall we be secure from the danger of "presumptuous sins."
Not a day passes, but these depraved hearts are exhibiting all the passions and feelings which your law condemns, and which shock us by their turpitude. O Lord, we mourn over the remaining indications of the old, corrupt, and deceitful man. "Who shall deliver us" — we are ready to exclaim — "from the body of this death?" May we he able in faith to add, "we thank God," we shall be delivered, "through our Lord Jesus Christ." Yes, his grace can reach the deep-seated malady. Though it lies deep within, his blood can wash it out. O then sprinkle our guilty hearts with that atoning blood.
Enable us also to keep a strict watch over the inner man. May we hate the incipient thought of evil. Never may we indulge, even for an instant, a depraved passion. May we abhor it as soon as it appears. May we in every time of temptation, obtain your grace to help us. And may we at all times, so keep the heart, that our conduct shall be a living testimony to the purifying influence of the gospel. Amen.
37. DIVINE ILLUMINATION.
"Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law!" Psalm 119:18
Such should be the prayer of every one who peruses the oracles of God. They are not to be understood, nor can their beauty or force be appreciated — by a cursory or careless reading. There are in them hidden mysteries which it is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit alone to reveal. He who inspired men to write them, who alone knows the mind and will of God — He must enlighten our understandings, or the Bible will be to us a sealed book.
Who has not felt the weakness and ignorance of his own mind when poring over the deep truths of Scripture revelation? It is indeed "a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path;" but the Holy Spirit must show us our darkness, and enable us to see and follow the heavenly illumination.
Why is it that we so seldom truly relish the divine testimonies? Why do we so often peruse the Word with coldness and indifference? Do we not rely too much on our own sagacity — or read it in a prayerless frame of mind? O that we could feel towards it that holy reverence which its truth and importance demand! O that we could always study it with a feeling of child-like teachableness.
Wondrous things are in God's law, which we have not yet discovered — mines of spiritual wealth which we have never yet seen — divine beauties which yet lie concealed from our view. The glory of God shines in every page. The wondrous schemes of providence and redemption are there unfolded. Let us, then, in reading or studying this blessed volume, ever pray, with David, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law!"
Ignorant and blind, weak and depraved, we come to you, O God, for knowledge and light, strength and purification. Your Word is as "the refiner's fire." By the application of it through the Holy Spirit, it purifies the soul that truly understands it. O, then, "sanctify us through your truth, your Word is truth." Enable us to read the sacred oracles with a spirit of teachableness and meekness, sensible how dark by nature is our understanding. O may the Divine Spirit be ever present to impart his heavenly illumination.
Too carelessly have we read the sacred record, which testifies of Jesus. Our hearts have been cold and our minds wandering. We have neither relished nor understood, as we ought, these living oracles. O forgive this practical irreverence, and take away this hardness of heart. Give us a strong desire to know You, and to understand Your will. May "Your statutes be our songs in the house of our pilgrimage." Enlighten unto us the mysteries of Your Word. Let us understand its concealed glories; for, O Lord, You have "hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes." Be ours the privilege to sit as children at Your feet, and learn with meekness what the sons of pride scorn to listen to. "Open our eyes, that we may behold wondrous things out of Your law!" For Jesus' sake. Amen.
38. CHRISTIAN ENERGY.
"Arise and begin working, and the LORD will be with you." 1 Chronicles 22:16
What David said to his son Solomon, God says to every believer. The temple was to be built. The materials were ready. The workmen were at hand; and Solomon was charged to set about the enterprise without delay.
"The Lord will be with you," says David. Without the divine blessing, the king well knew, the work could neither rightly proceed, nor come to a happy completion. And what a magnificent edifice was reared for the worship of Jehovah! There was nothing like it before, nor will there ever be after. Its greatest attraction however was, that the presence of Jehovah was revealed in its holy courts.
There is a temple now to be erected. It is to be built of "living stones." It is commenced on earth, to be completed in Heaven, where its top-stone is to be laid amid the praises of the holy universe. The materials are ready. Nothing is lacking but faith and Christian energy. "Arise therefore," O people of the living God, "and begin working." The responsibility of this work rests on you. It is a weighty responsibility. It cannot be met, unless you rise and consecrate your entire energies to the work. And if you do, "God will be with you." He has promised this. He has also declared that the world shall be filled with the glory of this spiritual building. When it is completed — for completed it must be — O may it be said that we had some humble part in its erection! May we henceforth cast off our laziness, and endeavor to lay at least one polished stone in this glorious structure.
"Glorious things have you spoken," O God, "of Zion," your holy city." You have declared, that "her walls shall be salvation, and her gates praise." Your ancient temple you condescended to grace with your presence. You filled its courts with your glory. But the spiritual temple which you have designed, and in part erected, is far more precious in your sight. Have you not promised that it shall he one day completed?
O then let your people, whom you have honored as co-workers with you, arise, and with one heart and one mind, engage in the work. Move them, O God, by your Holy Spirit. Let the rich bring of their abundance — and the poor their pittance. Let young and old, yes all, engage in the glorious enterprise.
The world is still "dead in trespasses and in sins." Hundreds of millions are yet to be enlightened. O, when shall we feel the pressure of the responsibility which lies upon us? By all that Jesus has done for us — by all that he has done to save a ruined world — may we be constrained "to come up to the help of the Lord, against the mighty."
Will you bless your people in all their efforts to build the spiritual temple. O impart strength, self-denial, zeal, courage, perseverance. Without your omnipotent arm to aid us, we fail. But with it, we are sure to succeed; and when the work is completed, to your name shall he all the glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"So then, we must not sleep, like the rest, but we must stay awake and be serious." 1 Thessalonians 5:6
The apostle calls believers "children of the light." The unbelieving are children of darkness. They see not their guilt and danger. They understand not the glories of the gospel. On these subjects they are in darkness; and "they love darkness rather than light." Therefore when death comes they are surprised, overwhelmed, and eternally lost!
But believers have come out of this night of unbelief. "The light of the glorious gospel has shined unto them." They see the beauties of the divine Word. They understand spiritual things. "The day has dawned" upon them, "and the day-star has arisen in their hearts." Therefore they "must not sleep" as do the wicked; but "stay awake and be serious." They should arise and "work while it is day."
Up to the period of their conversion, they were asleep over the solemn subjects of eternity. Now that the Spirit of God has awakened them, they should commence laboring for their Master with all possible diligence, remembering that the time is short, and that soon they will be called to their account.
Let us inquire, whether we are truly awake to our responsibilities? How has the day of our spiritual life thus far been spent? Have we been "watching unto prayer?" Have we been soberly addressing ourselves to the great work of our "high calling?" Or have we been criminally slumbering at our post? Have sensual pleasures unnerved us? Has the world beguiled us? O let us rise, like Sampson, and shake off this drowsiness, and put forth our strength in God. Our day may be a short one. But little time may be left us to serve our Lord. Soon may we be called to give in our account. Would we be found of him in peace — we must be found at our post, with our "loins girded, and our lamps trimmed and burning."
Thanks be unto your name, O Lord, for having opened our eyes, and enabled us to discern your glory. It was your grace which broke in upon our guilty slumbers, and roused us to a sense of our danger. It was your grace which poured light into our darkened understandings, and which gave us eyes to see and hearts to appreciate your love in Christ Jesus. Now, O Lord, the scales have truly fallen from our eyes. While thousands and tens of thousands around us are still in darkness; and, as it respects spiritual things, "know not their right hand from their left" — you have graciously brought us into the light and liberty of the gospel. How ungrateful and guilty should we be, to fold our arms and again revert to a state of spiritual slumber?
Alas, O God, we have too often, like the foolish virgins, thus "slumbered and slept." If now this guilty indolence has crept over us, O let the voice of your Word and Spirit arouse us, that we may trim our lamps and be ready for the bridegroom's coming.
Everything around us admonishes to vigilance. Satan, the world, our own evil hearts, wicked men, slothful professors — all are ready to draw us aside from the path of duty. Keep us, then, O Lord, "as the apple of your eye." Let your grace impel us forward in "the race which is set before us." May we never faint nor tire. O "may we not sleep as others do;" and when you shall call us hence, may we be received with the welcome of "Well done, good and faithful servants!" For Jesus' sake. Amen.
40. GREAT GAIN.
"But godliness with contentment is great gain!" 1 Timothy 6:6
There is a dissatisfaction with our earthly lot, which is felt at times by everyone.
The wicked are seldom satisfied, though satiated often with earthly pleasures. Give them their heart's desire, and they will soon become restless and uneasy. They will see in the possession of others, some things which excite their envy or discontent.
Even the believer has often to chide his heart for its refractory feelings under the adverse dispensations of Providence. To be content with such things as God has given, when the measure of earthly good is exceedingly scanty — is a high attainment in the Christian life.
Yet Paul learned the lesson of contentment! In whatever situation he was placed, he was "therewith content." O may we imitate Paul in this; and endeavor, with him, even to "delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties." 2 Corinthians 12:10
The apostle speaks of a connection between godliness and contentment. There is a close connection. True contentment must result from godliness — as an effect follows the cause. Godliness implies an intelligent view of Providence as concerned in all the circumstances of our being. Godliness implies also a spirit of submission to the divine will — however expressed, whether in giving or in depriving. Godliness brings into view so much higher bliss than earth can yield, as to make the Christian regard all earthly joy with comparative indifference. Thus godliness must promote contentment. To counteract a murmuring spirit then, let us cultivate true godliness. It will prove to us "great gain." Yes, in a world where there is so much suffering, godliness will tend to smooth the rugged path, and point us to the glorious termination.
Let then the dissatisfied worldling rove in search of imagined good — be it ours to cultivate true piety, the only solace in trouble, and the only safety amid the prosperities of life.
Why, O Lord, should we ever murmur at Your dispensations, or be dissatisfied with what You give to us? What would be our condition, were we to receive our deserts at Your hand? How would every cup of pleasure be turned into bitterness, and every source of happiness be dried up forever! But You have not "rewarded us according to our iniquities." You have often made "our cup to run over" with undeserved blessings.
But alas we have been ungrateful. By wishing for something more, we have shown our discontent. This has been one of the innumerable sins which we have committed. In view of it, we deserve to be stripped of every earthly good. O let us then, by looking at our deserts and Your mercies, learn to adore and praise You for the continuance of blessings which we have forfeited.
Have You withheld from us wealth and honor? We know You have done it for our good. Yes, with such hearts as ours, we have reason to fear, that unless great grace were bestowed, prosperity would prove our ruin. It is good for us, O Lord, to feel our dependence — to ask of You "our daily bread." Grant us but that "godliness" which brings "contentment," and it will be to us "great gain."
May we be resigned to Your holy will, even when the deep billows of adversity are rolling over us. If poverty is our lot, O let us cheerfully bear it. Let us be "content with such things as we have" — be they ever so few; remembering Your promise, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So long as You are our portion, may we not covet the fleeting portions which earthly minds are so eagerly pursuing. May You be our all, and may we at last enjoy Your blissful presence. For Jesus' sake. Amen.
41. FAITH IN GOD.
"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Genesis 18:14
This sentence contains a severe rebuke for Sarah's unbelief. It required indeed strong confidence in Jehovah's power and faithfulness, to rely implicitly on his word — when the event predicted was contrary to the course of nature. But still it was her duty so to do. He who fixed nature's laws, could supersede them. Nothing was "too hard for the Lord." His omnipotence is a guarantee for the fulfillment of all that he predicts and promises.
Such, alas, is the amount of evil within us, that the very greatness of Heaven's mercy — the infinite condescension implied in it — begets a guilty unbelief. We are ready to doubt whether so great a being will thus pledge himself to convey to "worms of the dust," so great an amount of blessings. But we should not allow Satan thus to get an advantage of us. To this skeptical state of mind we should oppose the question, "is anything too hard for the Lord?"
When darkness rests upon our path, let us not conclude that all is lost. Let us inquire again, "is anything too hard for the Lord?" When temporal afflictions press down our spirits to the dust, let us not yield to despair. When we survey the desolations which sin has made — consider what millions are sunk in idolatry — and how their rescue and regeneration, to human view, seems impossible — let us silence our doubts by asking, "is anything too hard for the Lord?" In all circumstances of trial; in every strait to which we may be reduced, it is our consolation to remember that God is omnipotent — that his hand can deliver — that his providence can provide — that his mercy can save; when, to human view, deliverance, provision and salvation seem impossible. O, for more implicit reliance on Jehovah's power and faithfulness!
O most merciful Father, allow us to approach you as the God of Abraham. You pronounced him "the father of the faithful." You enabled him to trust in you with all his heart. "He staggered not at the promise through unbelief." Relying on your faithfulness, he cheerfully obeyed your commands, even when you required his dearest earthly blessings. Will you graciously enable us to copy his example. Eradicate from our hearts the seeds of unbelief. We are prone, O Lord, to sink down under trouble, as though there was no relief even from Heaven. Pardon this distrust, we beseech you; and enable us to stay ourselves on you, and to hope in your mercy.
When we labor for the salvation of souls, and are tempted to believe that no blessing will follow, may we be rebuked by the question, "is anything too hard for the Lord?" Or if, O Lord, we are, at any time, disposed to ask, in the spirit of doubt or unbelief, how can this sin-ruined world be converted to you; let us be silenced and convinced by your promises and the power of your regenerating grace, which is able to fulfill them. O, make us "strong in faith, giving glory to God."
Permit us to apply your precious promises to our own souls. May we exercise a child-like confidence in your truths. Although so insignificant — so guilty — yet are not these promises ours? Are they not all "yes and amen in Christ Jesus?" We would plead them in Jesus' name. We beseech you to fulfill them for Jesus' sake; that "your kingdom may come," and "that all men may honor the Son even as they honor the Father." Amen.
42. THE BACKSLIDER.
"Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love." Revelation 2:4
What Christian does not look back with some degree of mournfulness, as well as with gratitude — upon the history of his early religious experience? It is true that we were then influenced principally by feeling. But that feeling was deep and delightful. It was the strong emotion of love to God and man. The change which the Holy Spirit had wrought, was a great change. The Bible, once so dull, had then become the most precious of books. We roved through the promises as through a field of fragrant beauties. All nature wore an extraordinary loveliness. God was seen and adored in everything. Prayer was as our very breath. Praise dwelt upon our lips. The people of God were inexpressibly dear to us. The sanctuary was as the portico to Heaven, and the Word of God "was sweeter to the taste than honey and the honey comb."
These were the scenes and emotions of our first love. They were not indeed without some passing clouds; for many a sore temptation beset us; but who can review them and not wish for a return of similar emotions! It befits us to ask why these feelings were not perpetuated, nay increased by the lapse of time?
Have we grown cold in the service of our God? Have we lost or left our first love? If so, then has God something against us. This change cannot have taken place without guilt. God is the same glorious being as he was then. The Bible is still as precious in itself. Prayer is now equally a privilege as then. O, has not some secret evil been in operation to cool our love — to abate our zeal — to separate us from our God? Is it the love of the world? Is it the love of the creature? Is it ambitious designs, or sensual indulgence? Search us, O God, and enable us to search ourselves. It is time to return from our wanderings. Yes, we will retrace our steps; perhaps God will again "lift up the light of his countenance upon us," and "restore unto us the joys of his salvation."
"O that we were as in months past, when the candle of the Lord shined upon our heads!" Those were happy days. We remember them with gratitude, but with sadness. They have alas been followed by days and months of darkness and of sin. O Lord, we have indeed "left our first love." How delightful were the days of our espousals! Then was prayer no burden. Our feet seemed to be winged, as we ran the Christian race. We then possessed the "heart of flesh." Inflamed with love and zeal for Christ, his "yoke was easy and his burden light."
But O we have to mourn over a sad decay in our spiritual affections. A thousand temptations have pressed in upon us; and by yielding we have driven ourselves from You and become cold in Your service. Well might You cast us off, for our almost perpetual backslidings. But you, O God, are unchangeable. "Those whom You love — You love to the very end." This is our hope. We come to you, immutable Jehovah, and beg you to receive your guilty but returning children. Embrace us once more in the arms of Your eternal love. O, let us once more rejoice in our Father's smiles. Though wanderers, we have been wretched. Our souls can find happiness in nothing but Yourself. We do therefore renew our vows to be Yours — yes, Yours forever. Bind us to You "by the cords of love." Fasten our affections to the cross of Jesus! Never, O never more let us wander. Amen.
43. PLEASING GOD.
"But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." Hebrews 11:6
The more we confide in God, the more do we honor him. Nothing in the conduct of the disciples met with a more frequent rebuke from the Savior, than their unbelief. God would have us believe what he says, and confidently expect the fulfillment of his promises. But alas, we are tempted, at times, to doubt even some of the fundamental truths of religion. These relics of skepticism are connected with our remaining depravity. In the sight of Jehovah, such thoughts are as guilty as they are offensive.
We are to "believe that God is." Can a doubt enter the mind on this point? Whore can we look — to whatever object in the entire universe — which rebukes not the skeptical thought? It is "in him that we live and move;" we should therefore, in approaching him as suppliants, regard him as near; as in us and around us.
We should also remember and believe that "He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." How precious this promise! But we must remember the condition, "diligently." It is not a cold and formal service that he will recompense. It is not a careless or infrequent application that he will approve. No, we must with agonizing earnestness, seek after God. We must give "all diligence" in the work, and bring all our powers to bear upon it. We must do it in faith — assured that God will reward us with success. Then will he "lift upon us the light of his countenance." He will make "crooked things straight, and rough places plain." O then, let us henceforth come to our Father with a believing heart. Let us come in the spirit of adoption. Let us throw ourselves upon his mercy, and seek, in the name of Jesus, those things which we need, and which he has promised to all his confiding children.
O God, "before the mountains were brought forth, before you had formed the earth and the world; even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God." Your existence is declared in every object in nature, and confirmed in every event of providence. "You are over all, and through all, and in all." Enable us to come to you in a humble, believing frame of mind. May we believe not only that "you are — but that you are a rewarder of those who diligently seek you." Encouraged by this precious promise, we come in the name of Jesus, to implore your forgiveness and favor. Unworthy and guilty as we are, you will not reject us, if we come through the merits of our great atoning high priest.
But O Lord to obtain your blessing, we must seek you "diligently.'' No sluggish efforts will avail. "The effectual and fervent prayer" must be offered. O give us this spirit of prayer. Let us pour it forth, mingled with humility, penitence, and faith. May we plead with an earnestness and importunity proportionate to our necessities. Then let us have the rich reward. The reward we crave is that we may know you more and serve you better — that we may be perfected in your love — that we may be transformed into the image of Christ — that we may have grace to take up our cross daily and follow him — that we may love your church — live to your glory — labor for your kingdom — that we may "live unto the Lord, and die unto the Lord." These things constitute the reward for which we plead. O grant them unto us, as free, rich, unmerited mercies, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
44. CHRISTIAN CONDUCT.
"Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ." Philippians 1:27
How persuasive and powerful would be the influence of Christians, did their conduct and conversation always comport with the gospel! Each member of the church would be a "living epistle, known and read of all men." Christ would no longer be "wounded in the house of his friends." Christians would reflect the image of their Lord. The eyes of the world would be riveted upon them; and men would be compelled to acknowledge that "they had been with Jesus," and that "they loved one another."
To a vain and wicked world, this would be powerful preaching. Nothing arms the conscience of sinners with such power, as a holy example. Theoretically the wicked know the gospel to be pure. But how would they feel its obligations, were all its professors habitually to exemplify it! Then, the line between "those who serve God and those who serve him not," would be broad and visible. Conscience would then do her office with tenfold power. No building up in sin on the faults of professors could then be practiced. God would be glorified, and the world, we might hope, would be speedily converted.
With such motives to a godly life, how is it that we have so often furnished an occasion for the enemy to blaspheme? O let us weep over our past conformity to the world. Let a broad line of distinction be seen henceforth between our conduct, and that of the wicked. Let us be guided and governed by the principles of the gospel. What it approves, let us pursue. What it condemns, let us avoid. Let us keep close to He counsels of our blessed Master; and let "the same mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus."
Blessed he your name, O God, that you have given us a perfect rule of moral conduct. Your law "is holy, and just, and good." "In keeping it there is great reward."
How pure also is your gospel! It is but a more complete development of the law, with additional motives to obedience, drawn from the tender mercy and dying love of Jesus your Son.
But O how far short do we come of fulfilling the precepts of the law or the gospel! We profess to be entirely governed by them; but alas, the selfish heart suggests a thousand base and unworthy motives. Still do we "delight in your law after the inward man." We would gladly be governed by its precepts both in feeling and conduct. Inscribe it upon our hearts with your own hand, that we may not depart from you.
How glorious also is your gospel! O, our blessed Redeemer, you have taught us how to live. Your own lovely example is before us. But how often has our conduct been in contrast with yours! How unworthily of our high calling, have we walked! But now grant us your grace that we may order our conduct according to your gospel. Make us to let our light shine before men. We pray that we may exemplify your gospel so strikingly, that others may be led to embrace it; that the Father may be glorified, and your blessed cause advanced. Thus may we and every other professed follower of the cross live and act — that the world may see how transforming and glorious is your grace — until all shall come to the knowledge of the truth, and every knee bow to your universal scepter. Amen.
45. THE NATIVITY.
"And she shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:21.
We have here the annunciation, not only of the Savior's birth, but of the great end for which he is born. What heart can contemplate this event and not be overwhelmed with a sense of the divine goodness! "Unto us this child is born; unto us this son is given." The angel of the Lord is sent to proclaim his advent. All Heaven is moved at this interposition of the divine mercy. Christ Jesus comes in a weak and lowly form. He condescends to be "born of a woman — to be made under the law, to redeem those who are under the law, that they may receive the adoption of sons."
If Jesus had not been born, there had been no hope of forgiveness. "There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." Without this Savior, how dark and terrifying would have been our prospects! Satan would have triumphed over the destruction of our entire race. The grave would have closed over us — until the "resurrection of damnation." Every earthly prospect would have been covered with gloom.
Adore then, O my soul, the prince of life, who, for your salvation, thus humbled himself to the form of a servant! His very name is precious. It is "Jesus." Is there not in this name something attractive? You who feel sin to be a burden — who daily groan over its polluting load — remember "Jesus." That name ensures salvation from sin.
O remember that the blood that pardons, also purifies. If you are borne down under sin's oppressive weight, "look unto Jesus." It is his voice which says, "your sins are forgiven!" But let none dare to call Jesus his Savior, who consents to live in sin — who wishes to "have fellowship with the works of darkness." That faith alone is genuine, which "purifies the heart."
Ever blessed Lord and Savior, make us to feel our obligations for your interposition in our behalf. Your coming has brought us not only pardon, but purification from the pollution of sin. Did you leave your glorious throne; did you humble yourself to be born of a woman in order to rescue such abject worms as we are? Infinite condescension! Amazing love! We stand astonished at your advent — your sufferings — your triumph.
As we pore upon the scene of your nativity, we are lost in view of the extremes of your greatness and of our baseness. We see God in human flesh. You are the babe of Bethlehem, cradled in a manger; and you are the "mighty God, the everlasting Father." We would bow with the reverential Magi, and offer you, not the fragrances of eastern climates, but the poor sacrifice of our sinful hearts. O Jesus, let these hearts be broken for sin. Let them be laid a willing sacrifice at your feet. Take us and purify us from all sin.
This was the end of that salvation which you brought; and this is what we need — what we most earnestly implore, "O save us from the power and pollution of sin. Let it no longer reign in our mortal body. Create in us a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within us."
To you shall be all the glory. Our song shall ever be, "unto him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever." Amen.
46. THE CAUTION.
"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." 1 John 2:15
This is a hard command to the unsanctified heart! For "the things that are in the world" are the objects of its deepest interest — of its supreme affection. The creature, in some form or other, has absorbed its desires. Now it is a thirst for gold — and now it is the promise of advancement — and then, it is the indulgence of a mere sensual appetite. Some make a Heaven of their domestic joys; and some are wholly devoted to the pursuits of science.
In the command, "Do not love the world," it is not intended that we should feel no interest in its concerns; that we should cease to admire its scenery; that we should forget the claims of kindred and affection — for in all these respects, religion allows what is lawful and proper. But the command respects the sin of placing the world first, and God and his service secondary in our desires and affections. The requisition is, that we "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
We must cease from our idolatry. We must give to God his rightful dominion. When we love any object more than him, or when we prefer mere earthly pleasure to his service — then do we love the world, and then "the love of the Father is not in us."
Does the Christian need this exhortation? Alas, too often are we found looking back with secret longings after the world. The objects of sense still claim too much of our regard. O let us hear the voice of God, saying, "Do not love the world." "Set your affection on things above." Every affection we give to this poor world is a ligament, in breaking which, death will give additional pain. But every affection we give to Heaven, will be a pinion to bear the soul in triumph to its eternal rest!
And now, O Lord, we pray that you would give us the victory over the world, and the flesh, and the devil. These potent enemies can be overcome only by the power of that faith which is the gift of God. How often have we been brought into captivity to one or another of these adversaries! We have thought that our mountain stood strong. The world has seemed at times to be a conquered enemy. But how little of ourselves have we known, in supposing it had lost its power over us! O Lord, we have found out our weakness, and have felt how inadequate are our strongest efforts to resist its influence. When the world holds forth the prospect of its gains, or its pleasures, or its honors — our poor depraved hearts are kindled with excitement. Desires, which we had supposed slain, recur with terrific power.
Lord, help us to overcome. Impart your strength to our weakness. Give us such soul-enrapturing views of yourself, and such a relish for your service, as shall make the world seem but vanity. Do we not still love you, O our God; and can we not, amid all our wanderings, still say in sincerity, "whom have we in Heaven but you; and there is none upon the earth that we desire in comparison with you!"
Then let us love you more and more. Let every idol be abandoned. O may we, by holy contemplation, converse so habitually with heavenly things, that we shall feel but "as strangers and pilgrims on the earth;" while we regard the heavenly state as the soul's happy home, upon which our most eager desires shall fix, and where our feet shall travel with increasing zeal. Grant this, O Lord, for the Redeemer's sake. Amen.
47. HUMAN FRAILTY.
"Then the dust returns to the ground it came from — and the spirit returns to God who gave it." Ecclesiastes 12:7
The body, then, is but intricately organized dust. The eyes, so radiant with the light of mind — the hair, so finely spun, and of such uniform texture — are but dust; and are soon to be reunited with kindred dust. The whole frame-work of the body is to crumble at the touch of death. His cold hand is soon to be laid upon us, and then what a change will take place! The very features of beauty, are now turned into deformity. The eye, that most attractive organ, we are obliged to close, in order to shut from the view of survivors, its fixed and inexpressive glare. There is a cold collapse of every feature, telling us that the ethereal inhabitant is gone. Even relatives will be constrained to take up the body and bury it out of their sight. Then it returns to its original elements. It is soon incorporated with and undistinguished from the cold clay that surrounds it.
But where is the spirit? Has death, in invading the body, extinguished the soul? O no! "The spirit has returned unto God who gave it." The last pulsation of the heart gave it liberty. If sanctified by the grace of God, it flew on angels' wings to the bosom of its Savior. Like the beautiful chrysalis, it burst from its fetters and expanded its wings in the sun-light of Heaven, and drank the refreshing dews which sparkle around "the fountain of living waters."
But if the soul shall go unsaved; if at death it shall be claimed by inflexible justice, and dragged to Heaven's tribunal to answer for a thousand sins unrepented of, unpardoned — O how fearful will be the transition!
Let us then consider our latter end. Let us take a look at death as an event which we must personally meet; and let us ask ourselves, if we are at this moment prepared to die? Are we truly penitent? Have we by faith taken hold of Jesus, who "is the resurrection and the life?" Can we say, that "for us to live is Christ!" Are we "crucified to the world?" In one word, Are we living the life of the righteous? Let us answer these questions as we would, if this were our last hour, and eternity, with all its terrors and its transports, were in view.
O God, the decree which has gone forth, consigning the body to the dust, is but the righteous retribution of sin. We recognize it as the mark of your disapprobation towards our guilty race. Nor would we complain that we must pass the dark portals of death, inasmuch as we are among the chief of sinners. But O the thought of dying is so solemn. Our soul shudders at the approach of the king of terrors. Deliver us, O God, from this bondage, to which hitherto we have been so subject. Take away these gloomy apprehensions, and extract "the sting of death, which is sin." Let us be but cleansed from sin, and then we shall no more fear to die. Then, O Lord, shall we obtain the victory which through Christ is given to believers. "Where sin has abounded, may your grace much more abound." In these hearts, where sin has reigned unto death, O may grace reign through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord."
Not only do we desire submission and resignation in view of the certainty and solemnity of death; but we beseech you, give us even "a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better." Help us to live the life of the righteous — and then when the hour of our departure shall come, may we "die the death of the righteous, and may our last end be like his."
O for the presence of our Savior, when we are called to "pass through the valley of the shadow of death!" Then may we "fear no evil." May our spirits, steadfast in hope, and "looking unto Jesus," lie sweetly resigned, and depart, if not in triumph, at least in holy tranquility. And when the trumpet shall sound, may our sleeping dust come forth in the image of the Savior, and reunited with the happy soul, he forever with the Lord. Amen.
48. THE CONSUMMATION
"It is finished!" John 19:30
Thus exclaimed the dying Savior, and immediately he gave up his spirit. In these words we have the consummating act of the great work of redemption. "The cup which the Father had given," was now drank even to the dregs! Henceforth sufferings were to be exchanged for joy; and ignominy, for glory and honor. From that body, quivering in death, the spirit passed in triumph to Paradise. There is no more suffering now. "It is finished." From the moment of his appearance in the world, until the moment of his departure, it was little else than a continued scene of trial and suffering. He was indeed "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."
But even our Redeemer's sufferings had an end. The prospect grew darker and darker. It deepened at every step, until his soul lay buried in anguish at Gethsemane, and was enrapt in more than midnight gloom on Calvary. There even the Father's face was hid. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!" But harken, he exclaims, "It is finished!" The death pang is felt, and his last words assure us of the final triumph.
O my Redeemer, was all this endured for me? Could nothing less than your life-blood answer the demands of a violated law, and secure for me the mercy of Heaven? Could nothing less "finish transgression, make an end of sin, and bring in everlasting righteousness?" Then let me fall at your feet, meaning the gratitude which I cannot express. For such love, I would give myself and all I have, to be yours, and to be employed for you forever.
"Let sin no more reign in my mortal body." Let me take a view of sin's turpitude in the blood-stained cross. And when the table is spread, whereon the emblems of your dying love, are laid, let me go and commemorate that love, and renew my vows to be your forever.
"Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all!"
Thanks be unto you, O God, for your unspeakable gift of Jesus! You were "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;" but foreseeing that all must perish, unless an infinite sacrifice were made, you gave your only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should have everlasting life.
From the bosom of the Father — from the bliss of heaven — he came to bleed and die for us, lost sinners. One with the Father, he was willing to become one with us, that through "the incarnate mystery," we might become reunited to the Father.
Precious Savior! What language can properly express your condescension, love and compassion! What requital can we make you for Your labors and your dying love! You "finished the work which was given you to do." Wondrous work! It was no less than . . .
to raise our ruined nature from the fall,
to pay to violated law in full equivalent,
to satisfy divine justice,
to open the gate of mercy to mankind,
to secure the soul's purification as well as its pardon,
to disappoint the powers of Hell, and
to fill all Heaven with new raptures.
Wondrous work indeed! Who but yourself could have undertaken and finished it! Your dying breath has pronounced it finished. Glorious consummation! O let us partake of the benefits of so dear a purchase! Nothing can be added to this finished salvation, nor can anything be taken away. Blessed be your name, no merits of ours are needed. We come, then, naked, poor, and wretched. O that we might have faith to receive this finished salvation, and hearts to give you all the glory. Amen.
49. THE COMFORTED AFFLICTION.
"The Master has come, and is calling for you!" John 11:28
Precious news! How must the heart of the pious Mary have been soothed, when she was informed that her Lord had come to administer the cup of consolation to her! What hand but his could wipe away her tears, and speak peace to her troubled spirit? Himself "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" — he could enter with deepest sympathy into her afflictions.
It was for this object, among others, that he came as a sojourner in this "valley of tears." It was to "bear our griefs and to carry our sorrows." Behold him approaching the hospitable cottage at Bethany! There he had found a shelter from this friendless world. There he had experienced the kindnesses of sincere and devoted friendship. But now Lazarus whom he loved, sleeps in death. The heart-broken sisters are mourning that their Lord had not been with them to halt the malady and save their brother.
But hark; the well-known footstep is heard. "The Master has come." But "O," exclaim the weeping sisters, "he has come too late!" The declaration implies too little faith. Jesus has not come too late. His voice can raise the dead. "Dry up your tears," says the compassionate Master, "only believe; your brother shall rise again." This cheering word the pious Martha bears to her weeping sister; and instantly she goes from the place of sorrow — to the place of sweetest consolation — to Jesus' feet.
Let the mourner imitate the conduct of Mary. Be your grief ever so great, listen to the call of Jesus. He invites you to come and cast your burden upon him. Mourner, do not sit down in hopeless sorrow. There is one who can enter into your troubles. He drank a far more bitter cup — and can enable you to drink your cup with holy submission. Although you cannot now expect a miraculous interposition — though death will not be called upon to deliver back the loved one; still Jesus will come — if you will but invite him — and pour into your soul the balm of heavenly consolation. Let every child of affliction listen to the gracious invitation, "The Master has come, and is calling for you!"
To whom shall we go, in the hour of affliction — but to you, O Redeemer, who were yourself "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief?" The sufferings of soul and body incident to our nature — you endured, that we might find in you a sympathizing friend as well as an almighty Savior. "You were tempted in all points like as we are."
Grant, then, that we may hear your voice inviting us, as you did weeping Mary to come to you — and to cast our sorrows at your feet. If left to sustain the burden alone, Lord, we shall sink; for it is heavier than our feeble spirits can endure. How weak are the powers of nature, even when no afflictions press upon us! But when the stroke actually falls, how do we faint without your all-supporting arm! It is in vain, O Lord, that we look for consolation from the world — or even from the dear friends who feel for us. Their sympathy cannot reach the deep fountains of grief. The wound is too severe to he stanched by any but a divine hand. O, it is only that nail-pierced hand, and that heart which burst in agony on the cross, which can effectually soothe or heal the broken heart.
We bring our burdens, Lord, to you. We acknowledge the rectitude of your dealings, and in our heaviest trials, we bow to the justice which imposes them. We deserve it all — yes, ten thousand times more than we suffer. Still may we come and crave that grace which can help us to bear the load, and which can sanctify the dispensation to the good of our souls. O let the rebukes of your providence lead us to repentance; let us be weaned thereby from the world; and through this and other tribulations, let us enter at last into the kingdom of God. Amen.
"Lead us not into temptation." Matthew 6:13
Daily, yes almost hourly should this prayer arise; since there is scarcely a place or a moment in which we are not exposed to the influence of the tempter. How does the body plead for indulgence! Every sense is an inlet to temptation. The eye is roving after the forbidden object. The appetite is clamorous for dainties, or pushes us beyond the bounds of strict temperance. The very touch will sometimes sting the soul. Around us on every hand are seductive influences, by which Satan manages to rouse sinful desires. Here the cup of sensual pleasure is presented — there the golden idol — and there again, in distant but attractive glory, rises the temple of fame. Go where we will, the enemy is in our path!
If we muse in solitude — the imagination will tempt us to scenes of folly and of sin.
If we mingle in the social circle — flattery, and pride, and vanity, and sensual emotions will sometimes be provoked.
If we engage in business, O how difficult to keep "a conscience void of offence towards God and men!"
If we perform even a religious exercise, the tempter will be near to promote hypocrisy or self-delight.
Where can we flee to hide ourselves from the destroyer's power? He followed our Master even into the solitary wilderness — and shall we hope to escape?
But Jesus has put into our mouths a prayer of defense. "Lead us not into temptation." Sensible of our exposure and weakness, let this petition dwell on our lips. If offered in sincerity — if we truly hate sin, and wish to avoid its contamination even in thought — there cannot be a more suitable prayer than this. Nor will it be offered in vain. He who taught it to us, well knows our liability to sin; and having been Himself exposed to Satan's attacks, He will not fail to support those who sincerely call upon him.
Blessed Savior, who has taught us to pray, "lead us not into temptation" — to You may we flee in every dark distressful hour, and find You "a refuge, a very present help in trouble." Even in our best frames, we feel, O Lord, how weak is our strength! No arm, we are confident, but Yours can hold us up, and bear us forward in the path of holiness.
Satan is at hand watching for opportunities to cast his darts, and scarcely an hour passes in which there is not an opening for his attacks. The body is one source of temptation. O Lord, enable us to keep it under control, and to bring it into subjection. Enable us "to crucify the flesh, with its affections and its lusts."
But what power, O Lord, could the body have — if the heart were not deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked? Alas! here is the fountain of evil! "Create in us a clean heart," and all will be safe.
But what power, O Lord, could the body have, if the heart were not wrong? Alas; here is the fountain of evil. "Create in us a clean heart," and all will be safe. Since, blessed Savior, you were yourself tempted, and know the wiles of the adversary, O be our strength and our shield. Help us to say to every evil suggestion, "get behind me Satan!" Help us to contend against worldly allurements; and clothed in the panoply of the gospel, may we be able, through your strength, to overcome all our spiritual enemies, and we will ascribe the victory and the glory to your name alone. Amen.
"This man receives sinners!" Luke 15:2
Though spoken by an enemy of Jesus, these words are a precious testimony to His condescending love and mercy. "I came," says He, "not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." Blessed truth! Were it not for this, how many a poor soul would go weeping to the grave! The heart deeply smitten with a sense of its sins — feeling almost as if there could be no mercy for one so vile — has caught at these encouraging words, and ventured to make application to Jesus.
"This man receives sinners!" This has inspired confidence in the soul, even when conscience has been so loud in her reproofs as almost to overwhelm the mind with despair. Why need any keep back from the gracious Savior, on the ground of their unworthiness? It is not the righteous, not the worthy, whom He calls, and whom He receives. O no; it is "the poor in spirit," those who feel themselves "the chief of sinners." It is the Mary Magdalenes and publicans with broken hearts and weeping eyes, whom Jesus receives. He said to one who wept over her sins, "daughter, your sins are forgiven!" Let nothing, then, hinder us from fleeing at once to this gracious deliverer.
Are our sins many and aggravated?
Do they seem of mountain-magnitude?
Who but Jesus can take them away?
What but His blood can wash out the crimson stain?
Venture then to go and lay your polluted soul at His merciful feet!
"This man receives sinners!" This is enough for even the vilest of the vile! On this assurance we may go to Him; we may cast our burden on His arm, and commit our souls into his hands, not doubting that His precious blood cleanses us from all sin!
Blessed Jesus, had you not uttered words of encouragement even for the vilest who mourns for sin — we would have not dared to make application to you for mercy. For not only are we sinners, in common with others, but O, there seems to be in our case a deeper criminality, from circumstances which you only can know and appreciate. What the guilt of others may be, we know not; but fixing our eyes upon our own case, it seems as if none could have sinned in a manner so vile, so ungrateful. We know it would be depreciating the merits of your blood, to assert that it could not reach and cleanse even our guilt; nor would we dare to indulge the thought. But at times, something will suggest the impossibility of our finding mercy even at your hands.
O rid us of this unbelief! Let the assurance that "you receive sinners," comfort and encourage us. Reveal to our faith your sufficiency; and enable us to cast our sin-sick, sin-burdened souls at your nail-scarred feet. Let the examples on record of your willingness to receive even the chief of sinners, urge us to fly without delay to your mercy. Yes, we will come, even now, with all our sins and heart-burdens. Receive us, O Lord, and speak to us, as you did to weeping Mary. Say to us, "your sins, which are many, are forgiven." Those words of mercy shall fill our souls "with joy unspeakable." Since you "receive sinners," O receive us, who are among "the chief of sinners!"
52. THE SOLEMN QUESTION NEW YEAR.
"What is your life? You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." James 4:14
What is more fleeting than a vapor? We have scarcely time to notice it, before it is gone. The mist that lies on the mountain-side, born in a night, receives the sun-beam of morning and fades away from our vision. And is such is the life of man! Truly the pen of inspiration has drawn a vivid picture of our vain life.
Nor is this the only passage of inspired truth which speaks the same idea. "Man," says the Psalmist, "at his best state, is altogether vanity." "Surely every man walks in a vain show." And again, "he comes forth like a flower and is cut down. In the morning it flourishes and grows up — in the evening it is cut down, and withers."
Time past is as though it were not. As to the time to come, we know not whether another year will find us in the land of the living. How many during the past year — some of whom were known to us, and, it may be, loved, dearly loved, by us — have gone to their long-home, the chambers of death! Their race is run. They are no longer objects of interest to any but to those who loved them. The unthinking world treads carelessly over their graves.
O what supreme vanity are the projects of the ambitious and the covetous! What object is worthy of our pursuit, save the discharge of duty, and preparation for eternity! Let us be deeply impressed with the shortness of time. "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12
Look back, my soul, and see how time has fled unimproved — nay, worse, even murdered, in indolence and in sensual indulgence. O the past! Painful is the review of life's scenes! But let me "redeem the time" — let me save, out of a lost existence, some fragments, which shall tell of good accomplished by the grace of God — which shall serve to light up my otherwise gloomy pilgrimage.
In view of our frailty and our sin, we may well exclaim, "What is man, that you are mindful of him!" We are of yesterday — and tomorrow we die. What goodness and forbearance have you shown, in sparing us to the present hour! How many sins and provocations have marked our course from childhood onward — and what hardness of heart have we evinced under the difficult dispensations of your providence! Truly "you have not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." Had you cut us down long ago, and consigned our bodies to the tomb — it would have been but a righteous expression of your displeasure against us. Nay, had you cast our souls into Hell, it would have been a retribution which the holy universe must have approved.
How have we abused the powers given us to glorify You! How have we wasted our time, extended to us that we might repent and turn to you! How have we slighted the day and the means of grace, conferred on us, but withheld from millions! We bow in deepest shame before you, O offended — yet long-suffering Jehovah. O let us now receive forgiveness and grace.
Help us to redeem time which has been lost and abused to purposes of evil. May we devote what remains to your service, and to preparation for eternity. Blot out, O God, from your book, all the past. Let the precious blood of the Lamb cancel the dark account. Let your Holy Spirit strengthen us to commence anew our journey, and to "run with patience the race that is set before us." Whether our days be few or many, O may they all be spent in your service; and when they shall close, let our spirits cheerfully bid adieu to earth, in the sweet and comforting assurance of future felicity through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen.