« VorigeDoorgaan »
There were six of these at certain distances | ways-in winter, as well as in summer-perhaps he bears most in winter, or at least more is then gathered than at any other time. Our external troubles, and our internal distresses, endear him, and urge us to make a more earnest application to him. But the Apostle tells us that he found him answerable to all his varying conditions: "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." If we prosper, he can keep us. If we fall into adversity, he can sustain us. He can bless you in social scenes; and also in solitary seasons. Joseph enjoyed him in the prison, and Daniel in the lions' den, and John in his banishment. And when nothing else looks green and fair-he affords succour and supplies. And therefore says the Christian, whose faith and hope are fixed on him; "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." Hence, in a case more distressing to a good man than any other; I mean, when his family yields him no comfort, bears nothing, yea, discovers no marks of spiritual life-he can pluck something from this tree, which is always bending with fruit: "Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow," And when we are taking a farewell of life, and all the powers of nature fail-he is the strength of our heart, and our portion for ever-And hence the same tried and triumphant believer exclaims, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
When our Saviour, as he came from Bethany, hungered, he saw a fig-tree, and went up to it, hoping to find fruit thereon, and found none, "for the time of figs was not yet." But he himself will never occasion such a disappointment in those who apply to him. Come when we will, it is always the time of fruit. The tree bears "every month." Ye young, you cannot come too soon. Ye aged, you cannot come too late. It is necessary, however, to observe that this is true only of the time of your continuance in this world. If you drop through life destitute of the blessings of his salvation, your opportunity is over, and will never return. You are therefore admonished to "seek the Lord while he may be found, and to call upon him while he is
from each other, that, in, what part soever of the country the man-slayer lived, he might soon reach a place of safety. They were situated on high hills, or on extensive plains, that the avenger of blood might not overtake him, while searching for them. The roads leading to them were fifty-eight feet four inches wide, and well repaired, that nothing should hinder his progress, or stop him for a moment. Where rivers would have checked their course, bridges were thrown over: and where crossways would have perplexed their minds, directing posts were fixed, with their extended arms pointing and crying, REFUGE, REFUGE!-The application of all this is easy. Oh! think of it, ye who are disposed to "flee for refuge to the hope set before you!" Here is strong consolation-and spiritual distress requires it.
Behold further, the fertility of this tree. First. It is said that it bears "twelve manner of fruits." Other trees yield only after their kind. To a vine we go for grapes, to a fig-tree for figs. But suppose a tree that should bear both these, and ten more sorts of the most delicious fruit! Would it not excite your curiosity? Would you not even go far only to see this wonder of nature?
"Turn your eyes towards me," says the Saviour, "I am all this. I am the child born,' and the everlasting Father.' 'I am the root and the offspring of David.' 'I am alpha and omega, the beginning and the ending.' I am he that liveth and was dead.' I am the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,' and the lion of the tribe of Judah.' Such a combination of perfections and blessings, O man, did thy salvation require! Though all thy miseries flow from one cause sin; thy wants are various, and demand various relief. You are enslaved, and need redemption—and I give my life a ransom for sinners.' You are guilty, and need justification-and my 'blood cleanseth from all sin.' You are unholy, and need sanctifying grace-and a new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.' You are weak-but my strength shall be made perfect in weakness.' You have tribulation in the world-but in me you shall have peace."" Thus God "supplies all our need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Thus we are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ."
Secondly. The produce is not only abundant but continual. It yielded her fruit "every month." This is not the case with our trees. They bear only once a year. And hence our spring is so important-we go out and anxiously look for the buds and blossoms; and if we find none, our hope is cut off, and for twelve months we impatiently wait for the return of the season. But this tree bears al
near. Behold, now is the accepted time: |eous men have desired to see those things behold, now is the day of salvation." which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them." Not only are these means instrumental in awakening us at first, but they are useful to revive, to refresh us; to strengthen our weak hands, and confirm our feeble knees, all through life. Here, like Hannah, we pour forth our sorrows, and leave them behind us. Here, with Jeremiah, we find his word and eat it, and it is the joy and the rejoicing of our hearts. Our doubts are solved. Our peace is restored. Our resolutions are invigorated. Our "strength is renewed. We mount up with wings as eagles, we run and are not weary, and walk and are not faint."
Observe, finally, what is said of the leaves of this tree. They "are for the healing of the nations." Other trees have leaves, and they are by no means useless. Not only do they add to the appearance and beauty of the tree-for how would a tree look without them! but they serve to screen the new born naked bud from the cold by night, and the excessive heat by day; they catch the dew and the rain; retain and guide the moisture; and thus they aid the preservation and growth of the fruit. The leaves of a tree afford a comfortable shade to those who not only wish to partake of its produce, but want also to stand out of the sun. The Church therefore says, "I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." Leaves, especially in the earlier ages of the world, were frequently applied to wounds, and many of them are to this day reckoned medicinal.
What then are the leaves of this tree, here distinguished from the fruit-but the institutions of religion, the ordinances of the Gospel, which we commonly and properly call the means of grace? These derive their being and their efficacy from him, as leaves from a tree. In the use of these he has promised his blessing: by the application of them, he brings us health and cure. What are our Sabbaths? What are our sanctuaries? What are the ministers of the word? What is this book-What are the leaves of this book? but "the leaves of this tree, which are for the healing of the nations?"
When we are perfectly recovered, and removed to that country, "where the inhabitants shall no more say, I am sick," these means and ordinances becoming unnecessary, will be laid aside. There will be no more prayer; no more sermons; no more bread and wine, the emblems and memorials of a Saviour's death. The end of all will be fully accomplished in our happy experience.
In the mean time, they are of unspeakable importance, and we should be careful to show our regard for them two ways:
First. By being thankful that we are indulged with the means of grace ourselves. Let us hear what the saints of old said, who lived under a dispensation far inferior to ours. "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts!-Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; they will be still praising thee. Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: he shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple." As soon as ever our ministers end their discourses, we should remember the words of our Lord: "Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily say unto you, that many prophets and right
Secondly. Let us be concerned for the extension of these privileges to others. Let us exert all our influence in diffusing them. Let us endeavour to spread them, not only in our own neighbourhood, and in our own country, but in all "the regions of darkness, and of the shadow of death." O when shall these leaves be for the healing of "the nations!" How much do they need the influences of the gospel of peace! How are they enslaved; how are they bruised; by tyranny, by war, by superstition, by "the God of this world!" Hear how they groan; see how they bleed and die! How many millions of your fellow-creatures are there who never heard of the name of a Saviour! They feel the same depraved dispositions with yourselves, but know nothing of that grace that can create a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within them. They are burdened with a sense of guilt, and many of them make costly sacrifices, and go toilsome pilgrimages, to get relief-but they never heard an Apostle saying, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!"
Let us therefore pray that God would pity the nations, and communicate to them the same means and privileges which he has bestowed upon us. It is easy to see how healing the institutions of the Gospel are to a nation, even when in numberless instances they are not effectual to salvation. Where they prevail, they civilize the multitude. They tame the fierceness of their passions, and the savageness of their manners. They tend equally to secure the prerogative of the prince, and the rights of the subject. The same may be said of all the other relations in life. They expand the affections, quicken sensibility, and promote benevolence. There was no hospital in the heathen world. The philosophers of Greece and Rome never planned an infirmary. But in this country, so highly favoured by the Gospel, it is hardly possible to move without being struck with the monuments of christianized humanity. Here the blind are led into an asylum. There orphans are snatched from ruin. There the victims of seduction are hid from infamy, and
encouraged to repentance. And here the sick are made whole.
What then would a nation be-if all its inhabitants were christians indeed! A single sentence of the Gospel, if every one would agree to be influenced by it, would be enough to turn a country into a paradise-"Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them!"
Lord Jesus, put this law into our minds, and write it in our hearts! Increase daily the number of those who shall make it the rule of their lives! "Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips therefore God hath blessed thee for ever. Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most Mighty-and in thy majesty ride prosperously, because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness. O King of saints, become the king of nations and reign for ever and ever!" Amen.
While we admire this tenderness, let us learn also to resemble it. Let us excuse and approve as far as we can; and in examining characters let us observe the good more largely than the evil. Let us beware of indiscriminate reflection; of speaking severely of persons in the gross; of branding a whole course of life with the reproach of a particular action. A man may redden with a blush, or turn pale with a fright—but what should we think of the painter, who in his delineation would secure this temporary incidental colour, instead of his natural and common complexion? When the angel appeared to Abraham, Sarah behaved very unbecomingly; she hid herself behind the door; she listened, she disbelieved, she laughed, and she denied the whole. There was only one good thing; one thing commendable and exemplary on this occasion-and the Holy Ghost has seized and mentioned this only to her honour: "Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him Lord, whose daughters ye are as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement." Job, in the paroxysm of his grief, cursed the day of his birth; but he is proposed only as an example of patience;
When the Jews left Egypt, and began their journey in the desert, it was the time of their "youth." And when, in Horeb, God claimed them as his peculiar people, and they said, all that the Lord commandeth us we will do, it was the season of their "espousals." Since that interesting period, they had become more remiss and degenerate." Ye have heard of the patience of Job." NotAnd Jeremiah is commissioned to cry in the withstanding the imperfections remarked in ears of Jerusalem-"I remember thee, the the seven churches of Asia-they are still kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espou-called the seven "golden candlesticks." sals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown."
Yet surely these words are not less suited to an individual than to a nation; or less true of Christians than of Jews. Let us then consider them two ways. I. AS THEY FURNISH US WITH REMARKS. II. AS THEY APPLY
Secondly. "God remembers the past." Our memories soon fail us. How little can we now retrace of all the busy concerns in which we have been engaged! How few of our actions, and how much fewer of our words, and of our thoughts, are we able to recover from the oblivion of time! But all of them are with God. Old impressions soon give place to new ones, and we often find it difficult to recall, without assistance, an occurrence that happened a few months, or a few weeks ago. But "a thousand years are in his sight but as yesterday, when it is passed, and as a watch in the night."
As he observes every thing, so he retains it; and what with us-is past, with him
BACKSLIDING REPROVED. Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.-Jere
miah ii. 2.
THIS address employs a figure of speech very common in the Scripture, especially in the prophecies. It consists in representing the state of a nation by the various ages, changes, and circumstances of a single individual.
much ingratitude and unbelief; they often complained and murmured, and sometimes talked of making themselves a leader, and returning back into Egypt. Nevertheless God here speaks of it comparatively with honour-" I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown." He was acquainted with all the disadvantages of their situation. He considered how material things affected the body, and how the body influenced the mind. He knew their frame, and remembered that they were dust.
These words supply us with several useful remarks.
First. Behold in God a disposition to commend, rather than condemn; to praise, rather than to censure. To a person who reads the history of the Jews, their early behaviour in the wilderness will appear very improper and blameworthy. They discovered
"He saw their flesh was weak and frail,
-is present. It was a persuasion of this that led David to pray, "Remember not against me the sins of my youth." For he can easily show us that he remembers them. He can write bitter things against us, and make us possess the iniquities of our youth. He can bring back old sins by afflictions; and he can bring back old sins by convictions. He can tell us all things that ever we did. Transgressions committed forty years back, he can revive, even in their aggravations and circumstances, with all the freshness of recent guilt. And it is well to be convinced of this truth, in a way of mercy, and while we can apply for pardon. For he will certainly convince every impenitent sinner of it hereafter, in a way of justice, when he will publish to the world all the private wickedness of his heart and life, and fill him "with shame and everlasting contempt."
Thirdly. It is well to be informed of what we once were, and to be led back to our former history and experience. It is useful for a preacher sometimes to cry in our ears, and remind us of our natural state; that we may "look to the rock whence we are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence we were digged." It is needful for him to remind us of the dispensations of Providence which have attended us in former years:
"Why should the wonders He has wrought Be lost in wonder, and forgot!"
It is well for us to raise our Ebenezers, and to inscribe upon them, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped me." Such memorials God himself prescribes. "O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim, unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord. And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no."It is desirable to bring back to the mind our former frames and feelings in religion. We need every thing that is favourable to selfexamination and self-knowledge. We ought to be able to judge of our progress, or of our declensions, in the divine life. The state of our souls in particular circumstances and seasons should be secured, that after the lapse of years, it may be reviewed. A comparison of our present, with our former experiences, will in some instances encourage; and in more condemn.
But we need reproof. It will be profitable for us to afflict our souls. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." This brings us, II. To consider those words
AS APPLICABLE TO CHARACTERS.
And First. They will apply to Christians
under declensions in religion. It is said of Jehoshaphat, that he walked "in the first ways of David his father." This is an intimation that his first ways were his best: that the king never equalled the shepherd. This is awful. But the case is not peculiar to him. Backsliding is no uncommon thing. For it should be remembered that where there are no gross and scandalous deviations from the path of duty, there may be many secret alienations of heart from God; and where iniquity does not abound, the love of many may wax cold. Let us imagine the Supreme Being, by his ministers, addressing such characters as these:
I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth -I remember thy simplicity. One motive influenced and decided you. If God was pleased and glorified, and you could enjoy his siniles and his presence-it was enough; and the applause or censure of worms was less than nothing and vanity. You rejoiced that you were "counted worthy to suffer shame for his name;" and binding the reproach of the cross as an ornament upon your brow, you said, If this be to be vile, I will yet be more vile. One thing you desired of the Lord, and that you sought after-it was a participation of the portion of his saints. Therefore, regardless of all other things, you prayed, "Remember ine, O Lord, with the favour thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with salvation; that I may see the good of thy chosen: that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, and glory with thine inheritance." You did not think of stipulating for any thing else—with this, having only food and raiment, you could learn to be con tent. But, alas! since this period, how often have you looked aside after the friendship of the world! how often have you yielded a little of your firmness to avoid the reproach of the cross! It is not sufficient for you now to have "God for your portion"-you are miserable unless you are in a fair way of adding house to house, and joining field to field. A little disappointment in worldly things fills you with fretfulness and despondency-as if all was gone or going--and, like Jonah, you sometimes exclaim, when a gourd withers, "I do well to be angry even unto death."
-I remember thy attachment to the means of grace. O how you loved his word: it was your meditation all the day!-How welcome was the preaching of the Gospel! Then a trifling indisposition; a little rain or cold; the unseasonable calling of a friend-did not keep you from the courts of the Lord-nor did you hear half asleep. How you prized the Sabbath! How you numbered the intervening hours that should draw it on! How you hailed it when it arrived-"This is the day which the Lord hath made: we will rejoice and be glad in it!" And O how precious were those seasons in which, around
the dear memorials of his dying love! In the reception you said-"His flesh is meat indeed! and his blood is drink indeed!" and in the review" I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste!" Then Christians appeared like angels. How attractive, how edifying, was the communion of saints! If two of you walked towards Emmaus, you took sorrowful and sweet counsel together; the Redeemer was your theme and your companion; and when you came to the village whither you went, you said one to another, "Did not our heart burn within us while he talked to us by the way, and opened to us the Scripture!" And when alone, was not your meditation of him sweet, and therefore frequent? Could you not say, with David, "How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O Lord; how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I am awake, I am still with thee."
the table of a crucified Saviour, you received | admonitions given to the declining Churches: "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." Lay these things to heart. Say, "O that it was with me as in months past!" Carry thy case to the Scriptures; to the cross of Christ; to the throne of grace; and pray-"Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit. Open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee? Show us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation."
Secondly. The words will apply to those who promised fair in their youth, and are now become irreligious. Many a fine morning has been overspread with clouds, and follow
I remember thy holy and active zeal:how you abounded in the duties of obedience; how you daily asked, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" How dissatisfied you were in the service of God, unless you could "draw near even to his seat;" how the bitterness of repentance made you loathe sin; at what an awful distance you kept yourselves from its approach; how you shunned "the very appeared by foul weather. Many a tree in spring ance of evil;" how, when the name of God has been covered with blossoms, which have was blasphemed, you could not sit "like a never settled into fruit. And thus it has man in whose mouth there are no reproofs," been with many a youth who has discovered but spoke for God, and defended his cause; amiable and pious propensities. Thus it was how "jealous" you were "for the Lord of with the young man who came to our Lord hosts;" how your bowels yearned over pe- as an humble inquirer concerning eternal rishing sinners; how you longed to teach life: it is said, "When Jesus saw him, he transgressors the way in which you were loved him." Thus Joash was remarkable for walking; how you seized every opportunity early goodness; and was preserved in it to invite others to taste and see that the Lord during the lifetime of the excellent Jehoiada; is good; how to relations, friends, neighbours, but, upon the death of his guardian, he was you said, "Come with us, and we will do you drawn aside by evil company and counsel. good; for the Lord hath spoken good con- And, from this and various other causes, there cerning Israel!"-I need not proceed. Such are many young persons in the same condiis the change.tion now.
And has God deserved it? Have you gained by these declensions from him? Have you not compelled him to say, "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel-a land of darkness? O that they had hearkened to my commandments! then had their peace been as a river, and their righteousness like the waves of the sea !"
How dreadful is it that, when every thing requires our advancement, we should be stationary! that, when means and ordinances, mercies and trials, unite to urge us forward; that, when our obligations to God are daily increasing, and the day of account every hour approaching-we should not only stand still -but even draw back!
Surely it is high time to awake out of sleep! Declining Christian! attend to the
Perhaps you say "But we are not vicious and profligate." So far it is well. And oh that this was true of all! but, alas! we have swearers now, who in their youth feared an oath; we have sabbath-breakers now, who in their youth revered the sacred hours; we have sceptics and scoffers now, who from a child knew and admired "the Scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation." You say, "We are not like them." But they were not thus drawn aside all at once; they became wicked by degrees. This is always the course of sin. They "proceed from evil to evil:" they "wax worse and worse." The way to hell is down hill; once in motion, it is easy to go on, and you know not where you shall stop. You say, "We are not like them." But let me, my dear