« AnteriorContinuar »
“ peace,” is not the religion of the gospel. If a man bas embraced the true religion, his devotions should be interesting. They must be performed in such a manner that the recollections of them will be pleasing, and the recurrence to them inviting. There should be no horrours about our closets. We should never punish ourselves with“ long prayers,” or painful postures. Our places of devotion should be the most retired, but the most convenient and the most comfortable apartments in our houses. Our exercises should not be too long. If sacred musick animates us, we should sing a bymn. If the beauties of nature elevate our thoughts, we should view them. If reflection best disposes us for communion with God, we should enjoy it. If the sound of our own voice quickens our devotion, we should pray aloud. Whatever has a tendency to connect with our devotions associations of pleasure, of the holiest kind, should not be disregarded.
Prayer is a distinguished mark of God's gracious favour. Those, whom he permits to be oftenest near his throne, are his peculiar favourites. Those who attend bis court with reluctance, and remain with restlessness, receive from bim no marks of favour. We should think, then, of the millions on earth, who are daily approaching the " throne of gruce," and feel that he is most blest who is oftenest there.
It is equally important that our devotional feelings should be habitual. There is a great difference between praying occasionally, and a continual flow of devout feelings. It is conceivable that a man may “ say his prayers," for years, and yet never, during the whole period, experience devout feelings. A devout spirit must get into the very constitution of his soul, if he would master the disease of our fallen nature," and offer acceptable worship to God. He must cherish that frame of mind which will enable him, although engaged in his secular duties, to comply with the apostolick injunction, and “ pray always.” His mind should be always prepared“ to converse with God." That sweet expression, “ walking with God,” conveys the same idea. The patriarch was ever prepared to turn his thoughts to God, to tbank him for every mercy, to irnplore him for all his wants, to fly to bim in all his temptations, and to have bim“ in all his thoughts.”
Such habitual devotion produces ejaculatory prayer. And this sudden and inomentary direction of the thoughts to God is of great importance to the Christian. There are so many situations of temptation, when the mere lifting of the eye to God will impart strength to the dying resolution ; there so many moments “ rich in blessing," when the beart should utter its swelling emotions, and be ennobled by the expression of its own gratitude ; there are so many pangs which are relieved by offering this short petition, “ Father, thy will be done," that our devotions should be habitual, as well as interesting.
In reflecting upon tbe unhappy and perilous condition of the undevout worshipper, who would not be willing to bestow, upon the acquisition of a devout spirit, all that watchfulness and attention which so excellent a grace requires. In reflecting upon the pure rational
and exalting pleasure of a devout mind, who would not adopt the language of the pious Cowper,
O for a closer walk with God!
Hosea X. 12. Sow to yourselves in righteousness; reap in mercy;
break up your fallow ground ; for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.
Much figurative language is used in holy scripture, and some. times in such a way as to obscure the meaning of the inspired writers. But, when the language is explained, it exbibits tbe senti. ments in greater variety and beauty, and fixes them more strongly upon the mind. May this observation be verified, while we attempt to explain, enforce, and apply the exbortation of the prophet in the text. “ Sow to yourselves in righteousness; reap in mercy ; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, till be come and rain righteousness upon you."
I. We will consider, first, the duty enjoined, “Sow to yourselves in righteousness,” &c. These three expressions are explained by the prophet, as implying together, that we should “seek the Lord.” But, taken separately, they point out the particular manner, in wbich we should seek him.
1. We should " sow to ourselves in righteousness," should seek in the performance of his will. In worldly things, no inan expects to reap, unless he has sowo. Nor does any one expect wheat, where he has sown some other grain. But in spiritual things people are more unreasonable in their expectations. Almost every one is looking for a blessing, whether he has used any means to obtain it or not. Ask the people around you, my hearers, the most careless, the most dissipated, and the most abandoned, whether they are expecting to go to heaven, and they will generally answer in the affirmative, though they do not pretend to have taken a single step in the way of religion. The man who indulges in profaneness, in intemperance, in fraud, in debauchery, expects to obtain the favour of God by some means or other. St. Paul, however, teaches a different lesson ; " whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” 6« If he sow to the flesh, he shall of the flesh reap corruption.” If he spend his days in vanity and sin, and uses no means to seek the Lord ; if he sows no seeds of grace, and brings forth no fruits of righteousness; if he never lays the foundation of repentance from dead works, nor rises to newness of life ;-he shall obtain no blessing; he shall receive no mercy. If, then, we would have a joyful harvest at the great day; if we would come with joy, and bring our sheaves with us; let us not be provoking God by a life of negligence and sin. Let us turn unto him in the way of righteousness. Let our hearts be humbled in the dust for our transgressions. Let us endeavour not only to keep the duties of the law, but the duties of the gospel, and be faithful in doing the whole will of God, without gainsaying, and witbout reserve.
2. I would observe again, that we should reap in mercy;" we should seek the blessing in dependence upon the mercy of God. It is “ not by works of righteousness of our own, but according to his mercy that he saves us." As there are many who hope to find without seeking, so there are many, who imagine that they make God their debtor by their good works, and who expect to merit the reward by their virtuous deeds. And, unfortunately, such people are not always the most virtuous people neither. As to real holiness, they know nothing about it. But the true Christian's reward must be of grace, and not of debt. Though he is to “ sow in righteousness," yet he must not depend upon his righteousness for a harvest; he can reap only in mercy, in humble dependence on the grace and mercy of God, through the merits of a gracious Mediator. Such sinful creatures as men are, may deserve evil of their Maker, but they cannot merit or deserve good. Death is the wages of sin ; it is a reward justly due to sinners for their transgressions. But, on the contrary, life is not the wages of righteousness; it is not to be purchased by any good works that we can do. “All our righteousness, of itself, is as filthy rags;" foul in its nature, and insufficient to cover our nakedness ; our best deeds are mixed with sin, and deserve evil rather than good; and, therefore, if we obtain the blessing, it is only through grace; it is the unmerited gift of God through Jesus Christ. We must, then, “ reap in mercy,”—“not having our own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
3. But further, we must “ break up the fallow ground.” We must seek, with a due preparation of heart to receive the blessing. It would be in vain for man to sow bis seed on fallow ground, not broken up. The very rains from above would be of no service, if the ground were not broken up, and the weeds and grass destroyed, and the seed buried in the soil. The husbandman is fully sensible of this, and prepares his field accordingly. Would to heaven we had all as much wisdom in spiritual things! The seed of God's word will make no impression upon the soul, unless it is broken and harrowed up by the Divine law. The heart must be completely humbled by a sense of its unworthiness, and every weed and root of self-righteousness must be torn up and destroyed, before the true seed can find any place. Till the law has been exhibited in its full power, and shown the singer bis condemnation, the way of salvation by grace will appear foolishness to him; he cannot receive nor understand the things of the Spirit, because he has no spiritual discernment. It may be thought absurd and paradoxical, that we must be diligent in working righteousness, and after all must depend upon mere mercy.
31 GOSPEL ADVOCATE, vol. III.
But yet such is the truth of the gospel ; and the deluded, wandering, prodigal soul will be sensible of it, when it really comes to itself. When it is suitably humbled by a view of the spirituality and extent of the Divine law, it becomes willing to submit to the righteousness of God. It renounces all pretensions to any merit as goodness of its own, and delights to receive the blessing as a free gift. It counts all things but loss for the excellency of Christ, that it may be found in him, and clothed in his righteousness. And yet, at the same time, it does not forget the necessity of good works ; it endeavours to become pure and holy in all its exercises, and to produce a pure and holy conduct. The true Christian, though he depends wholly upon grace for pardon and salvation, yet is anxious to purify his conduct and live a holy life; he feels under the same obligation to obedience, as though every thing depended upon his own works. He feels himself dead to the law by the body of Christ, that through him be may bring forth fruit unto God. “Through the law he is dead to the law, that he may live unto God.”
If we would “truly seek the Lord,” we must “ break up the fallow ground” of the beart in a deep conviction of sin ; we must “reap in mercy,” by an humble dependence on Divine grace; and we must " sow in righteousness' —must perform a faithful obedience to the Divine will. That is, we must repent of our sins, put our trust in God's mercy through Christ, and live boly and righteous lives.
11. To impress these things more strongly on our minds, let us consider now the arguments by which they may be enforced. Passing by other considerations, we will dwell upon the urgency of the duty and the certainty of success. “ It is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.”.
1. The urgency of the duty; "it is time to seek the Lord.” At the proper season, the husbandman goes forth to till and sow his ground, sensible that if he then neglects he shall have reason to repent in the day of harvest. He knows, that unless his field is cultivated and sown at the proper time, he has no reason to expect a blessing. We ought to be equally sensible of the necessity of breaking up the fallow ground of the heart, and sowing the seeds of grace in their proper season. It is now time, my friends, for these gracious exercises ; " it is high time to seek the Lord.” “Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." Are we advanced in years? Are our locks whitened, or our faces furrowed with the marks of age ? Surely we have no time to lose. It is important that we should immediately be attending to every thing necessary for our final welfare. Our days are principally gone, and we have perhaps bitherto neg. lected the most interesting business of life. Our years are going rapidly, and will soon be past; soon we shall go the way whence we shall not return. My more aged bearers, are you not astonished that you have so long delayed that most necessary work of preparing for a better world? Your feelings are becoming more hardened, more difficult to be impressed with religious considerations ; even if your days should be prolonged, you will find it more hard, more difficult, more impossible, to take up the subject and make any improvement in it. The Spirit of God has been so long opposed, that it is withdrawing its influence ; and the day of probation will soon be past, and every privilege lost for ever. For the aged, then, “it is high time to seek the Lord.”
It is also a favourable time for those who are in early life. What time so fit for religious consideration as youth? Then we have no vicious habits rivetted upon us. Then our consciences are not seared, our minds are not distracted with worldly cares, but are tender and pliable, and susceptible of serious impressions. This is the most precious season of life, because it is the seed time for all the rest, and even for the life to come. In almost every case those who neglect religion in youth, neglect it through life, and lose its blessings for ever. In youth, then, it is time to seek the Lord ; and dreadfully alarming is the case of those, who put it off to their advanced years. They may live yet many years; and they may be cut off in a short time.
They can suffer no loss by an early attention to religion ; but they may suffer an inconceivable loss by neglect. Let nothing then binder them from improving the precious moments, and laying up a treasure for the remainder of their days, and for the life to come.
If any feel their minds seriously impressed, it is then, in a peculiar 'manner, a “time to seek the Lord.” The desire they feel is an evidence that God is waiting to be gracious. It is an evidence, that he is stretching out his band ; that he is knocking at the door of their hearts; that he is actually working in them, and standing ready to receive them. The moment, then, is extremely critical ; on the decision of the present moment, may depend the destinies of eternity. Now an effort should be made as though every thing was at stake; the Divine aid should be implored, and the soul should be cast entirely upon the Divine mercy; and every faculty of the mind should be put in vigorous exercise, to turn from sin, and submit to offered grace. If the present moment is neglected, there is no promise of another. If the present impressions are allowed to subside, and the present convictions suffered to wear off, it may be the last time. The Spirit will not always strive; its influences may be withdrawn and cease to operate, and we know not that they will ever return. How important, then, to redeem the time! How necessary to arouse at the moment, and make use of every means : now, while the fallow ground is in some measure broken up; while the heart is moved and impressed, the seed should be sown, which may produce an abundant harvest of grace and glory. "It is time, my friends, to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you."
2. These last words show the certainty of our succeeding, if we seek in the way here commanded. The husbandman knows, that however diligently be may sow bis seed, if it be not watered by suitable rains, his labour will be wholly lost. Yet still, though he cannot command the showers, he performs his labour, and sows his seed, trusting that God, in mercy, will bestow a blessing. We have indeed no promise that our worldly labours shall be prospered ; but