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employed in the search, will be obliged to confess that in our flesh dzelleth no good thing.
Among the most affecting specimens of this evil character, a conscientious investigator will be deeply afflicted with those, which constitute his own personal debasement. If he open
eye on what he has been, and what he has done ; he will find the most abundant reason to exclaim, with Job, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. He will find, that he has in the true and evangelical sense, neither loved God, nor man; that he has neither accepted of his Saviour, nor repented of his sins; that he has neither laboured to be a blessing, nor even endeavoured not to be a nuisance to the divine kingdom. Instead of worshipping God in spirit and in truth, according to the first dictates of his conscience, and of revelation, he will find, that he has, in truth, prostrated himself to gold, to office, to fame, and to pleasure. Instead of the exact justice, unwavering truth, and expansive benevolence, of the Gospel, he will see, written in the volume of his life with a
pen a succession of melancholy scenes, and acts of unkindness, insincerity, and injustice; all contrived, and finished, by a mind shrunk with selfishness, swollen with pride, heated with anger, debased with avarice, and steeled with insensibility. Page after page he will see stained with the licentious wanderings of an impure imagination, and deformed by the malignant purposes of an envious, angry, and revengeful spirit
. In vain will his eye, pained with these narratives of shame and sin, wander from one leaf to another with an anxious, inquisitive search, to find the delightful records of filial confidence, submission, and gratitude, to the Creator; or the sweet and cheering remembrances of Evangelical charity towards those around him ; or a portrait of himself, which shall be a fair counterpart to that of the good Samaritan. In vain will he watch and explore the humiliating story, to glean from it refreshing recollections of self-purification, the refinement of his mind, the amendment of his heart, or the cleansing of his life. Over himself he will find the most distressing reasons to mourn, as over a graceless and ruined child ; ruined, on the one hand, by the gratification of pernicious appetites and passions, and on the other, by a senseless, thoughtless indulgence, doting with a unixture of idiocy and madness.
The public exhibitions of the human character are still more striking displays of human guilt. Almost the only government of mankind has been tyranny. Almost all the conduct of nations may be summed up in the rage of plunder, the fury of war, and the frenzy of civil discord. Men seem to have thought their blessings too numerous, and too great, and the duration of their life too long. Accordingly they have robbed each other of the former, shortened the latter, and struggled hard to reduce both to nothing. At what time has human blood ceased to flow? In what country have rage and revenge ceased to desolate? When, and where Vol. II.
have the cries of mourning and misery ceased to resound? The groans of suffering have echoed from California to Japan. The stream of sorrow has flowed without interruption for six thousand years. On all the public concerns of man; on every nation, on every age; have been labelled Lamentation, Mourning, and Wo!
Such has been the conduct of man towards man. Not less shameful, not less guilty, has been the conduct of man towards his Maker. Instead of rendering to this glorious Being, whose we are, and whom we are bound to serve, the direct, instinctive homage of the heart, and cheerful obedience of the hands; instead of acknowledging his rightful government, rejoicing in his divine perfections, and voluntarily labouring to accomplish his exalted purposes; we have said to him with one united voice : Depart from us ; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. For Jehovah, the only living and true God, mankind have substituted deities, formed by the imagination, graven by art, and molten in the fur
The forest has been scoured, the ocean swept, and the sky ransacked, for objects of worship. The world has prostrated itself before men, deformed with villany, and putrid with pollution. The knee has bent to the ox, the snake, the frog, and the fly. Nay, the heart has yielded its homage, prayers, and oblations, to the stock of a tree; and parents have sacrificed their children to the great enemy of God and man. Look over the long page of history; and you will be astonished to see how rarely a country is mentioned, and how rarely a period occurs, in which you would be willing to have lived.
But guilt is not the only ingredient of the human character. It is scarcely less humble and insignificant, than it is guilty. We are born of the dust, allied to worms, and victims to corruption. Weak, ignorant, frail, perishing, and possessed only of an ephemeral existence, we still are proud; proud of our reason with all its errors, and of our temper with all its sins. We claim a kindred to Angels; but by a voluntary slavery to passion and appetite, assimilate ourselves to the beasts which perish. We boast loudly of the dignity of our nature; and prostitute that nature, daily, on objects of shame, and remorse, and to purposes, which we would not, for a world, have known even to our nearest friends. What a dreadful display of our character would our thoughts, wishes, and designs, make to mankind, if they were all printed in a volume, and read even by such eyes as ours! How few thoughts do we form, which we should be willing to have an Angel know! How few purposes, over which an Angel would not weep!
In this character, at the same time, we are immoveably fixed and perverse. No event in the immense providence of God has contributed to prove, that there is in a sinful mind a tendency to renovation. Arguments plead, reason testifies, judgments warn, and mercies allure, in vain. The sinful heart is incased in adamant,
and is proof even to the arrows of the Almighty. God calls earnestly, and continually; but we refuse. He stretches out his hand, both to smite and to heal, but we disregard.
In consequence of our Character, our Circumstances have become deplorable. The law of God, with an unalterable sentence, has declared, that the soul which sinneth shall die. As a prelude to the execution of this penalty, thorns and briers have overspread this melancholy world. Toil and care, and suffering, disease and death, entered paradise, the moment it was polluted by sin; withered all its bloom; and blasted its immortality. Death, the dreadful offspring of this dreadful parent, has claimed the earth as his empire, and mankind as his prey. All nations have perished under his iron sceptre; the young man and maiden, old men and children. Half mankind has he compelled to the grave in the dawn of childhood; and converted the world into one vast burying ground. We walk on human dust; and the remains of men once living, are turned up by the plough, and blown about by the wind.
From this deplorable lot, and the guilty character of which it is the reward, there was, independently of Christ, mediation, no escape ; and to both there was no end. With heaven our communication was cut off. No messenger ever came from that delightful world, to soothe the fears, or awaken the hopes, of mankind, concerning future existence. If in the vast of being, or the boundless extent of divine Benevolence, good was laid up in store for them; it was unknown. No tidings of relief or hope, no intimations of forgiveness or reconciliation, had ever reached this desolate region. Eternity, solemn and awful in itsell, and more solemn and awful from its obscurity, became intensely dreadful to beings, who could make no claims to acceptance, and find no solid ground of hope.
To such beings, how delightful must be any tidings of good! How much more delightful, tidings of extensive good! How transporting, tidings of such good, which by their certainty, banished distrust and doubt from the Soul !
II. The Nature of these tidings next demands our consideration.
This is exhibited in five forms of phraseology: That bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good ; that publisheth salvation ; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth. The first and third of these forms indicate, generally, that the tidings are good, or joyful; and tidings concerning good of great value. The remaining forms teach us the nature of that good.
In the two first mentioned forms of expression, we are assured, that the subject of these tidings is real good, attainable by us, reserved by God for our enjoyment, certain, future, and immortal. Good fitted for the enjoyment of such minds as ours; such as God himself esteems real good; and such as it becomes his character to proffer, and to bestow. The tidings concerning this glorious
allotment are, also, in themselves pronounced to be good; because they are sincere and certain, and because they communicate easy and effectual means of making it ours.
It is styled, in the second phrase, Peace. Peace is the cessation of war, or contention; and in the present case, the cessation of our hostility with God, ourselves, and our fellow-men. The soul of Man is at war with his Maker. The great subject of controversy, here, is our obedience to his Will. This He requires, and we refuse. Nothing can terminate the contest, but our submission : for it cannot be supposed, that the Creator will bend his own pleasure to the rebellious spirit of his creatures. In announcing these tidings to mankind, Christ first proclaims to them, that God is willing to be reconciled. This is intelligence, which, before the mediation of Christ commenced, could never have gained credit, even in the world of benevolence itself. Angels knew no reward for revolt from their Creator, but final rejection: the reward, to which their own companions had been irrevocably condemned. With wonder and amazement they saw a new system of dispensations commencing in this apostate world, and heard forgiveness and reconciliation proclaim to man. Humble as was our origin, guilty and little as was our character, we were commanded, invited, and entreated, to lay down the weapons of our warfare ; to return to God, our duty, and our happiness; and to receive from his hands peace, commencing in this world and extending its benign and delightful inAuence throughout eternity:
The soul, reconciled to its God, becomes at once reconciled to itself. With himself man is as truly at war, as with his Maker. A contention, real, unceasing, and violent, is carried on between the conscience and the passions. Conscience claims to control the man, as her original and rightful province. Against this claim a mob of furious passions revolt; and demand, and wrest out of her hands, the controverted dominion. As in all cases, where the order established by God becomes inverted; so, here, every real interest is sacrificed. The soul is de based with guilt, harassed by fear, tossed by a tempest of conflicting desires, wounded with remorse, and hastened onward to final destruction. Conscience, in the mean time, infixes all her stings into the heart of this miserable subject of domestic discord, and holds up her awful mirror before his eyes; presenting him with an exact and terrible portrait of himself; pale; languid ; sickly with mental diseases; his spiritual life already gone; and himself, both soul and body, destined spcedily to an eternal grave. But when the soul submits to its Maker, and bows its own will to his, the man becomes reconciled to himself. The control of Conscience is not only permitted, but chosen. The froward passions, like stubborn children, who have renounced their filial impiety, bend with a gentleness and serenity, before unknown, to a dominion, now first discovered not only to be safe, but easy, reasonable, and delightful. No longer a seat of confusion and discord, the soul becomes, henceforth, a mansion of peace and harmony; where sweet affections rise and operate, under the control, and the approbation of Conscience. The man is reconciled to himself; and, turning his eye inward, beholds benceforth a prospect beautiful and lovely; an image of heaven; a resemblance, faint and distant indeed, but still a real resemblance, to the character of his Maker.
Peace with our fellow-men is the natural consequence of peace with ourselves ; not indeed necessarily, nor uniformly; but always, so far as they are possessed of the same blessing, and under the influence of the same disposition. While the same internal hostility predominates in them, they are unfitted to be at peace with God, or man. But the period is hastening, when this happy state of mind shall be the state of all men, and
peace shall prevail on earth, according to the full import of the hymn, sung by Angels at the birth of the Saviour. The tidings of the text will then be illustriously realized; and man, at peace with his Maker, and himself, will be at peace also with all his fellow-men. The confused noise of the battle of the warrior will then be heard no more; and
garments be seen no more rolled in blood. Violence shall, then, be no more heard in the world; wasting, nor destruction, within its borders. The earth, no longer convulsed by human passions ; no longer gloomy and desolate with the miseries of human conflicts; will assume the aspect of a delightful morning in the spring ; where all is verdant and blooming beneath, and all is bright and glorious above.
In the fourth of these forms of expression, this good is styled Salvation.
Salvation denotes a deliverance from evil, and an introduction to the enjoyment of good. In the present case, both the evil and the good are immeasurable.
The evil is two-fold; a compound of sin and misery; both imperfect in this world, and both finished in the world to come.
From both, in this world, the deliverance announced is partial ; beginning from nothing, and enlarging, and ascending, with a constant, though unequal progress towards perfection. The soul, before a mass of deformity and corruption, begins to be adorned with life, and grace, and beauty. With it angels love to commune ; on it God is pleased to look with complacency.
From future sin and future misery the deliverance is complete. With death, our last sins terminate; and our last misery is undergone. Cast your eyes forward through the vast of duration; and think what it would be to sin and suffer for ever. How amazing the evil! How astonishing the deliverance !
The good announced is two-fold also; a glorious union of Virtue and Enjoyment : like the evil, imperfect here, and consummate hereafter. The Virtue of man in his present state is infantine; tottering with an unsettled step, and lisping with half-formed ac.