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HE history of the world impresses the reflecting mind with the universal tendency of human institutions to decay and dissolution. Whether we contemplate
the fate of man himself, or of illustrious empires raised by virtue, cemented by wisdom, but destroyed by luxury and sin, we trace in all the operation of that sentence of death which once passed on all men, and to which all that is merely human must bow.
But in the history of the Church we view not only the working of the law of death, but the counteracting tendency of the Spirit of life, sustaining man amidst his infirmities, elevating him above all that is carnal and terrestrial, and impressing on his actions and his destinies the stamp of eternity. Empires,
superstitions, and philosophies, have faded away, but true religion continues always to exist; and as it came in the beginning from above, so at the end of all things it shall return thither again. The patriarchs and the prophets, the law and the gospel, preached to mankind the same religion, which was expanded and developed as the fulness of time drew
We now behold the fulfilment of what the patriarchs desired to see; we enjoy the reality of those things which the law of Moses foreshadowed ; we worship the God of Abel and of Abraham, and serve him with their faith.
And as the true religion has always been essentially the same, so has it ever had to contend with the same inclination of the human heart. That inclination was awfully exemplified in the days of Noah, when “all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth ;” and that patriarch's family were alone found just. It was still more wonderfully manifested in the rebellions and backslidings of the children of Israel. It is again seen in the description which Scripture gives of the fallen state of Jew and Gentile, when the Son of God came to save a perishing world (Rom. i. 1). And who, that reflects on the exhortations and predictions addressed to Christians by the Lord and his disciples, can fail to perceive that the same evil tendency of the human heart was always to remain, even in the state of grace, and to form the chief danger and trial of the Church of God?
The life of a true Christian, as described in Scripture, consists of self-denial, of warfare against the inclinations of nature, of prayer and watchfulness under the deepest consciousness of infirmity, of labour to walk under the guidance of the Spirit of God, with objects, tastes, and desires, altogether different from those of the natural man. It was the sovereign will of God, that those who are saved
should be fitted for their glorious inheritance by the discipline of this rough and narrow way; but few, even of the best men, have passed through it without many grievous failures ; all have come short of the glory of God, and all have need of serious and frequent repentance. Many, who profess to be disciples, have altogether turned away to the broad and beaten track; and, as our Lord teaches that some should hear the word with joy, but in time of temptation should fall away; that others should permit it to be snatched from them by the assaults of the devil, or to be choked beneath the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches; he adds, that in that, day many shall begin to say, “We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets ;” and that his reply shall be, “I know you not whence ye are : depart from ye
workers of iniquity." i The kingdom or Church of Christ is, indeed, compared to a field in which tares grow with the wheat,” and to a net which was let down into the sea, and gathered of all kinds both bad and good.3 Such was to be the mingled state of the Christian Church, comprising not only evil men, but good men, subject to infirmities, errors, and sins.
Nor was the Church only to be tried by inward failings; it was to pass through the furnace of affliction and persecution from without. The saints in heaven are described as “they that came out of great tribulation;"4 and as the Captain of our salvation was made perfect through sufferings, so it was fitting that the Church, which is his body, should be baptised with the baptism of his afflictions; and accordingly his promise was, “In the world ye shall have tribulation : but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."7
I Luke xiii. 26, 27. 3 Matt. xiii. 47-50. 6 Col. i. 24.
2 Matt. xiii. 24-30, 37-43.