« PreviousContinue »
At tlry tribunal, former offenders have been forgiven, and former sinners have been taken into favour. To thy ears the cry of the penitent has never ascended in vain. Thou art ever nigh to all who call upon thee in sincerity of heart. When we tend to thee, at the first step of our return, thou stretchest out thy hand to receive us." So different is that repentance which is unto life from the sorrow of the world which worketh death. Different as the look of melancholy, upon the face of the virtuous mourner, is from the unkindly glow, which burns the cheek of shame; different as the tender tears, which a good man sheds for his friends, are from those bitter drops, which fall from the malefactor at the place of execution.
The third step is a resolution to return to a sense of duty. "I will arise."
Without determined purposes of amendment, contrition is unavailing and ineffectual. The Deity is not delighted with the sufferings of man. Sorrow for sin is so fur pleasing, as it softens the heart, and makes it better. It is the resolution of amendment, the purposes pointed to reformation, that make the broken heart and the contrite spirit an acceptable sacrifice; such is the nature of true repentance; it flows not so much from the sense of danger as from the love of goodness.
In true repentance, there is not only a change of mind, but a change of life. When the day-spring from on high arises on him who is in darkness, when God says, Let there be light, the scales fall from his eyes, a new world breaks upon his sight, futurity becomes present, and invisible things are seen: then first he beholds the beauty which is in holiness, and tastes the joy which flows from returning virtue. In that happy hour, he forms the pious purpose, and seals the sacred vow to be holy for ever. Then he prefers the peace which flows from virtue, and the joy which arUeth from a good conscience, to every consideration. Then the servants of God appear to him the only happy men; and he would rather rank with the meanest of these, than enjoy the riches of many wicked. »« Great God, withhold from me what thou pleasest, but give me to enjoy the approbation of my own mind, and thy favour. I would rather be the humblest of thy sons than dwell in the tents of wickedness. None shall enter into the New Jerusalem, and sit down at the right hand of the Father, but they who prefer the testimony of a good conscience, the smiles of heaven, and the sentence of the just, to all the treasure* of the world.
Had the penitent not heen in earnest, false shame might have prevented or retarded his return. Conscious of guilt, and covered with confusion, how shall he appear before his friends and acquaintance? "I know (might he have said) the malice of an ill-judging and injurious world. The sins which are blotted out of the book of God's remembrance are not forgotten by them. Let me fly rather to the uttermost parts of the earth, retire to the wilderness tintrod by the foot of men, and hide me in the shades which the beams of the sun never pierced, than be exposed to the scorn, and contumely, and reproach of all around me."
But the penitent was determined and immoveable. * * • * * The rest of the MS. was not legible.
1 Corinthians ii. 12.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God.
THERE are two characters which, in Sacred Scripture, are set in perpetual opposition, the man of the earth, and the citizen of heaven. The first character pertains to that class of men, who, whatever speculative opinions they entertain, yet, in practice, consider this life as their only state of being. A person of this character centres all his regards in himself; confines his views entirely to this world, and, pursuing avarice, ambition, or sensual pleasure, makes these the sole objects of pursuit. Good dispositions he may possess, but he exercises them only wheu they are subservient to his purposes Virtues also he may Cultivate, not for their own sake, but for the temporal advantages they bring along with them. The citizen of heaven moves in a nobler sphere. He does not indeed affect the character of sanctity, by neglecting hit temporal concerns. He looks upon themaxim of David, as inspired wisdon^ "If thou art wise, thou art wise for thyself." But although he has his temporal interest in his eye, he has a higher interest in his heart. What is necessary, what is useful, will often bea subjectofattention; but whatis generous, what is lovely, what is honourable, whas is praiseworthy, become the chief objects of pursuit. He cultivates good dispositions from a sense of their beauty, previous to his experience of their utility: he esteems the possession of virtue more than the earthly reward it procures; he lives in a constant discharge of the duties of life in this state, and, with a well-grounded faith, and an animating hope, looks forward to a better world, and a higher state of being.
These two characters, which divide all mankind, are always represented in Scripture as inconsistent and incompatible with each other. It is impossible, says our Lord, at one and the same time, to serve God and to serve Mammon. If an; man love the world, says the Apostle John, the love of the Father is not in him. The principles that actuate these characters, are represented in the text as two spirits opposite to one another, the spirit of the world, and the spirit which is of God. The spirit of any thing is that vital principle which sets it agoing; which keeps it in motion; which gives it its form and distinguishing qualities. The spirit of the world is that principle which gives a determination to the character, and a form to the life of the man of the earth. The spirit, which is of God, is that vital principle which gives a determination to the character, and a form to the life, of the citizen of heaven. One of these spirits actuates all mankind. While, therefore, I represent the striking lineaments in these opposite characters, take this along with you, that I am describing a character which is your own: a character which either raises to eminence, or sinks down to debasement.
I. The spirit of the world is mean and grovelling; the spirit which is of God is noble and elevated. The man of the earth, making himself the object of all his actions, and having his own interest perpetually in view, conducts his life by maxims of utility alone. This being the point to which he constantly steers, this being the line from which he never deviates, he puts a value on every thing precise
]y as it is calculated to accomplish his purposes. Accordingly, to gain his end, he descends to the lowest and the vilest means; he gives up the manly, the spirited, and the honourable part of life; he makes a sacrifice of fame, and character, and dignity, and turns himself into all the forms of meanness, and baseness, and prostration. The Prophet Isaiah, with infinite spirit, derides the idols of the Heathen world. "A man," sailh he, "planteth a tree, and the rain eloth nourish it; he heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak: and of the tree which he planted, he maketh to himself a god. The carpenter strctcheth out his rule, he maiketh it out with a line; be fashioneth it with planes, and niakelh it after the figure of a man; and then he worshippeth it as a god. Part thereof he burneth in the fire, with part thereof he maketh bread, and with the residue he maketh a god." Similar to this is the creation of these earthly gods. Read the pages of their history, and behold them rising to divinity by compliance, by servility, by humiliating meanness, and the darkest debasements. How dishonourable often is that path which conducts to earthly grandeur; and how mean a. creature frequently is he whom the world calls a great man! So low and grovelling is the spirit of the world.
It is a spirit of a different kind that animates the citizen of heaven. He is born from above; he derives his descent from the everlasting Father, and he retains a conscious sense of his divine oiiginal. Hence, Christians, in' Scripture, are called "noble;" are called "the excellent ones of the earth." It is unworthy of their celestial descent, it is unbecoming their new nature, to stoop to the meanness of vice. The citizen of heaven scorns the vile arts, and the low cunning employed by the man of the earth. He condescends, indeed, to every gentle office of kindness and humanity. But there is a difference between condescending, and descending from the dignity of character. From that he never descends. He himself ever feels, and he makes others feel too, that he walks in a path which leads to greatness, and supports a character which is forn.irg for heaven. Such is the difference between the spirit oi the world and the spirit which is of God. Suppleness, servility, abject submission, disgrace the one; dignity, elevation, independence, exalt the other. 'Die cue u a serpent, smooth, insinuating, creeping on the ground, aud licking the dust; the other is an eagle, that towers aloft in the higher regions of the air, and moves rejoicing in his path through the heavens.
II. The spirit of the world is a spirit of falsehood, dissimulation and hypocrisy ; the spirit of God is a spirit of truth, sincerity and openness. The life which the man of the earth leads, is a scene of imposture and delusion.— Show without substance; appearance without reality ; professions of friendship which signify nothing; and promises, which are never meant to be performed, fill up a life which is all outside. With him the face is not the index of the mind, nor the tongue the interpreter of the heart. There is a lie in his right hand. He is perpetually acting a part, and under a mask he goes about deceiving the world. He turns himself into a variety of shapes: he changes as circumstances change; he goes through all the forms of dissimulation, and puts off one disguise to put on another. He does not hesitate to counterfeit religion when it serves a turn, and to act the saint in order to gain his ends. Hence the spirit of the world hath often passed for the spirit which is of God, and Satan, under this disguise, hath been mistaken for an angel of light.— Such is the spirit of the world.
The spirit which is of God is a spirit of truth, sincerity, and openness. The citizen of heaven esteems truth as sacred, and holds sincerity to be the first of the virtues.— He has no secret doctrines to communicate. He needs no chosen confidents to whom he may impart his favourite notions; no private conventicles where he may desseminate his opinions. What he avows to God he avows to man. He expresseth with his tongue what he thinketh with his heart. He will not indeed improperly publish truths; he will not prostitute what is pure and holy; he will not, as the Scripture says, throw pearls before swine ; but neither will he on any occasion partake with swine in their husks. He is what he appears to be. Arrayed in the simple majesty of truth, he seeks no other covering. Supported by the consciousness of rectitude, he holds fast his integrity as he would guard his life. Such is the difference between the characters. The ma:i of the earth turns aside to the crooked paths and insiduous mazes of dissimulation ; the citizen of heaven moves along in the onward track of integrity and honour. The spirit of the world seeks concealment and the darkness and the shade; the spirit which