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« Let not your
good cheer: I have overcome the world,” John xvi, 33.
The prayers of Christ, as well as his exhortations and promises, tend to produce and support the most exalted hope in the souls of believers. He has graciously interceded for them; he still continues to make intercession, and his prayer is always prevalent. Mark a few sentences of that memorable prayer, which he once offered up for all his followers, and which forms the seventeenth chapter of St. John's Gospel. “O Father! I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me. Holy Father! keep, through thine own name, those whom thou hast given me, and sanctify them through thy truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
that they may all be one, even as we are one. Father! I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold
my glory.” A lively hope, founded upon these prayers and declarations of the blessed Jesus, enabled the primitive Christians to triumph over every affliction. In the midst of the most terrible persecutions they could congratulate one another on their common blessedness, and say, “Our life is hid with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall also appear with him in glory,” Col. iii, 4. For " he shall yet come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe," 2 Thess. i, 10.
The apostles, agrecable to the example of their Master, were unanimous in publishing this glorious hope; and St. Paul very frequently insists upon it, as a most important duty. “Let us,” saith he, “who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation,” 1 Thess. v, 8. “I beseech you, brethren, present your bodies a living sacrifice unto God-rejoicing in hope, Rom. xii, 1, 12. “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, rejoice, Phil. iv, 4. This evangelical hope will ever be experienced, as a neverfailing source of consolation and thankfulness; and hence, wherever the hope of the Gospel is preached, there believers continue to be filled with unspeakable joy, Acts xiii, 52. How truly happy would Christians be, were such a hope to flourish among them! Far from disputing any longer for the trifles of time and sense, they would joyfully renounce them all, in expectation of an eternal inheritance; and instead of running to the frivolous amusements of the world for a momentary recreation, every passing day would appear too short for the exhilarating duties of praise and thanksgiving.
It is asserted by many, that this Divine hope is usually insisted upon by every minister. That preachers in general are accustomed to exhort their hearers, in a cold and languid manner, to hope in the Divine mercy, will readily be granted. But that such do not publish the real, evangelical hope of Christians, may be easily proved beyond the possibility
of a doubt. We have seen, in the preceding sections, that the minister of the present day is unacquainted with this hope ; that he is even without any just ideas of that true repentance, and that living faith, from which alone this hope can flow. And hence it is impossible for him, in the nature of things, to publish it in the Church of God. In vain has Christ himself declared that the broad way will conduct multitudes to destruc. tion, and that “except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” John iii, 5. In spite of these solemn declarations, the worldly pastor still imagines that this very way will conduct him to life, and that he shall be counted among the inhabitants of that kingdom without Scriptural regeneration. He supposes, at least, that he is suffi. ciently sanctified, though his righteousness exceeds not that of the Pha. risees, nor his devotion that of the Laodicean Church. Thus, entertaining a vain hope in his own heart, and indulging a confidence which is repugnant to the concurrent testimonies of every sacred writer, he necessarily leads his hearers into the same dangerous delusions.
As in order solidly to found our hopes upon a benefactor, or a surety, it is necessary to have an acquaintance with the person who presents himself in either of these characters, so the lively hope of which we speak must flow from an experimental knowledge of God, by Jesus Christ. “This is eternal life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent,” John xvii, 3. But the children of this world, whether they be laymen or ecclesiastics, are destitute of this knowledge. They know neither the Father nor the Son; and were it otherwise, the love of the world would not have dominion over them.
This lively hope can never dwell in an unregenerate heart. The child that is not born cannot possibly rejoice in hope of possessing the heritage of his father; since he is equally unacquainted with his parent, and the patrimony that is likely to be reserved for him. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary to be born of God, before we can exercise this exhilarating hope. Now a man is thus born when he is regenerated by that spirit of adoption, which God hath promised to those who sincerely believe in Jesus Christ. But they who are conformable to the maxims of the world are not able to receive this vivifying spirit. “I will pray the Father,” said Christ to his disciples, " and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him ; but [being already regenerated in part] ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you,” when you are fully born of the Spirit, John xiv, 16, 17. It is not till after the accomplishment of this promise has been experienced, that the following expressions can be fully understood : “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost ?" 1 Cor. vi, 19. “ Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost,” Rom. xv, 13.
Far from preaching this primitive hope, the worldly minister is alarmed at the bare mention of it. Let it here be observed again, that this celes. tial plant can flourish only in those hearts where the word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, has cut down every unfruitful appearance of Pharisaical hope. Now when a true minister is engaged in performing this preparatory work, cutting away the mortified members of the old man, and plucking from pride its unprofitable supports, the inexperienced minister preposterously takes offence at his holy zeal, and censures this necessary severity, as leading souls into the horrors of despair. Slow of understanding in spiritual concerns, he comprehends not that they who recline upon a broken reed must give up all the confidence they foolishly place in so slender a prop, before they can effectually choose the Rock of ages for their support.
The true character of these false apostles is not generally known. Covering their impiety with the cloak of religion, they are supposed by many to act on the part of Christ, and are frequently esteemed as pillars in the Church. But there are occasions on which they unwittingly throw off the mask, and make an open discovery of their secret thoughts. Some few persons are found in the world, who, refusing to attend card assemblies, rejoice to be present in those less polite assemblies which are formed for the purpose of prayer. Here it is usual for consenting neighbours to take sweet counsel together, and wrestle with ardour for the hope of the Gospel, in words like these : “Gracious Father ! forgive the sins of thy returning children, and grant us an increase of spiritual strength. Sensible of our own unworthiness, assist us to place all our confidence in thy unbounded mercy, manifested through Jesus Christ. Increase our faith in the Son of thy love, and confirm our hope in thine unchangeable promises. O thou Divine Saviour ! descend this day into our hearts, as thou didst once descend upon thy first disciples. Conse. crate us thy living temples, fill us with thy graces, and, during the time of our earthly pilgrimage, vouchsafe to lead us with the right hand of thy power. Let not thy Spirit of illumination and holiness, thy Spirit of consolation and joy, abandon us for a moment, as we pass through this valley of tears. May its potent operations subdue in us the power of sin, and produce in our outward conversation the happy fruits of righteousness, peace, and joy. Permit us, at this time, to return to our houses with a consciousness of thy love, and an assurance of thy favour; and grant that, after having been the temples of thy Spirit upon earth, we may one day be received into the temple of thine eternal glory in the heavens.”
A worldly minister, on a certain time, entering into an assembly of this kind, heard the prayer of these humble believers; and, as much sur. prised to see the ardour with which they offered their petitions, as to observe the time and place in which they were presented, withdrew from their society, with as much indignation as a good pastor would retire from a company of jugglers. But having understood that one of his own parishioners was of the religious party, he took the earliest opportunity of testifying the utmost disapprobation of his conduct. " What was it," said he, “ that you was doing with those people the other day, in such a place? Conventicles of that kind are contrary to order, and unworthy of toleration. The church is the only proper place for the performance of Divine worship. Moreover, I heard you foolishly praying for I know not what consolation, light, and power, of the Holy Spirit. Receive in good part the advice I offer you. Look upon inspirations and illuminations of this sort as no other than the idle fancies of visionaries and enthusiasts. Renounce the imaginary assurance, with which you do but deceive yourself, and repose upon the hope which I have constantly preached to you; a hope with which you, and your neighbours, may very well rest contented.” Confounded with a discourse of this kind, a weak and inexperienced Christian might have been drawn aside from the narrow path of truth. But the person here alluded to, by citing Eph. i, 17, 18, was enabled to prove that the very same illumination and power, which were treated so contemptuously by his opponent, were nevertheless absolutely necessary, as the groundwork of a solid hope. Nay, he pushed the matter still farther; and asserted, that the prayer against which the zealous pastor had so angrily exclaimed, was used in exact conformity to those very petitions which he himself was incessantly heard to offer at the feast of pentecost, and at other solemn seasons.
If this little relation faithfully describes the manner of thinking which is too common among the clergy of the day, is it not evident that they are more disposed to ridicule than to preach the Christian hope : and abundantly more earnest to obstruct, than to farther their parishioners in the pursuit of everlasting blessedness?
When the dawn of this glorious hope first began to glimmer; when, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole company of disciples began to praise God with a loud voice, strewing the way by which their Lord was to pass with garments and branches of trees, and crying out before him, “Hosanna to the Son of David : blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord : hosanna in the highest !" Some of the Phari. sees, who had mixed among the multitude, rudely exclaimed, “ Master, rebuke thy disciples.” And when he had entered into the temple, “the chief priests and scribes [those models by which the generality of ministers seem anxious to form themselves) seeing the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying Hosanna, were sore displeased, and said unto him, Hearest thou what these say?" And Jesus answered them, “ Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? I tell you, that if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out,” Matt. xxi ; Luke xix. There still exists the same opposition between those who cordially embrace the Gospel, and those who ungratefully reject it. As often as the former are perceived to give a loose to the transports of their gratitude, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, the worldly minister, displeased to observe any thing that appears to reproach his own lukewarmness, is prepared to stifle the motions of that joyful hope, which he deems no better than the confidence of presumptuous fanatics. While the faithful minister, who imitates St. Paul, on observing such a scene, will cry out with that great apostle, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost,” Rom. xv, 13. .
If penitents are not pointed to the blessedness of this hope, they will strive, like Cain, to stifle their remorse by passionately abandoning themselves to the business and enjoyments of the present world : or, like the Israelites, who found not sufficient pleasure in religion to banish the recollection of Egypt's vanities, they will indulge that spirit of trifling which the apostle thus describes : “ The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play,” i Cor. x, 7. On the contrary, when the Christian is directed to the hope of his high calling, he finds it a source of unutterable consolation, and having discovered the treasure hidden in the Gospel field, “ for joy thereof he selleth his all,” in order to purchase that field. He now renounces, without pain, what before had hindered him in running the heavenly race, counting nothing dear to himself, that he may finish his course with joy, and insure the crown of everlasting life. So powerfully were the first Christians supported by this Gospel hope, that they remained immovable amidst the sorest calamities of life, and suffered death itself with a courage that astonished the persecutors. But when they lost their confidence, like Demas, they began to indulge the fond hopes and foolish fears of the present world, becoming altogether weak, as other men. And such are the generality of Christians at this day. The love of many is waxing cold, while the Church of God is evidently falling into ruins. And how shall we assist to rekindle that love, or to repair that Church, but by zealously proclaiming abroad the “hope of the Gospel ?"
The true minister preaches Christian charity. If the evangelical pastor proclaims repentance, faith, and hope, it is with a view of leading sinners to that Christian charity which is justly esteemed the crown of every grace. In preaching repentance, he lays the axe to the root of every corrupt tree. In publishing evangelical faith, he plants the tree of life. When he proclaims the hope of the Gospel, he causes that tree to put forth a beautiful blossom. But when he preaches Christian charity, he calls forth the rich fruit from every vigorous branch. And while he is engaged in performing the various parts of this important work, he denounces the anathemas of the Gospel against that repentance, faith, and hope, which are superficial, unfruit. ful, and delusive.
The minister of the day piques himself upon preaching morality, which he is ordinarily accustomed to do in the manner of a heathen philosopher. Unacquainted with the importance and power of the doctrines of Christianity, he is ashamed to walk in the traces of St. Paul. If he is enabled to paint, with any degree of ability, the serpents of envy, the inquietudes of avarice, and the delights of charity, he imagines that he shall readily dispose his neighbours to love as brethren. He knows not that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is that alone which can make any man “free from the law of sin and death,” by delivering him from that envy, that avarice, that ambition, that indifference, and those worldly fears which are incompatible with evangelical charity. “What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh,” i. e. our degenerate nature, which has need of stronger motives and more powerful supports than those which the law proposes,
« God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh :" that by the new motives, and the Divine assistance offered in the Gospel, “the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” who, being regenerate, “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” Rom. viii, 4.
The judicious pastor, observing the same connection between the morals and doctrines of Christianity, as between the root and fruit of a