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claim interferes, then, with his dominion over us, must be founded in absolute injustice, without the guilt of which it is impossible to withhold any thing from him; and it is injustice of the worst description, for it is robbing God. “Will a man rob God ?” exclaims the prophet: “ yet ye have robbed me, saith the Lord, in tithes and offerings.”* But what are tithes and offerings compared to that love, adoration, and obedience, in which, even while they were enjoined, all their value consisted, and which are of perpetual obligation when they cease any longer to be enjoined ? Nor does the dominion of God rest only on his power as a Creator; it claims our submission also on the ground of those transcendent perfections and excellencies which belong essentially to the blessed God, and the exercise of which is inseparable from his administration. By virtue of these, he is the sovereign good, the only good; for, strictly speaking, “ there is none good but God;" the infinite, the absolute, the unchanging, the satisfying, the all-comprehending good; so that whatever appears beautiful or glorious among the creatures, is but an efflux from his fulness, the faint reflection of his glory.
2. If we reflect on the powers with which we are endued, we cannot suppose that they are formed for no other end than the indulgence of carnal appetites, the amassing of riches, the enjoyment of sensual pleasures, or the procuring
* Mal. iji. 8.
honours and distinctions from our fellow-worms. We shall be at no loss to perceive a strange disproportion between such powers and such pursuits, and that they cannot be confined to them without descending unspeakably beneath our level, without a base forgetfulness of ourselves as well as God, and a voluntary dereliction of our rank. Jeremiah, when he witnessed the ruin and desolation of his country, beheld with astonishment those that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills; a deplorable, but an involuntary degradation. But this we are now speaking of is chosen and voluntary; these dunghills, for such are the highest forms of created good when compared with the blessed God, are embraced with appetite and desire.
3. If God were disposed to relinquish his claim, the usurpation of another master might be yielded to with the more plausible pretence : but this is not the case. If we believe his word, he never means to part with his right over his creatures. “If I am a father, where is my reverence? if I am a master, where is my fear ?"* We cannot suppose, without the utmost absurdity, he will ever divest himself of his authority; which he could never do without impairing his dignity and introducing confusion into his empire. He owes it to himself not to relinquish what we owe to him. The claims of the flesh, then, are founded on plain and direct usurpation.
* Mal. i. 6.
II. Let us next examine the claims of the flesh by what we have already derived from it. Let us see whether it is such a master as deserves to be served any longer. Of the boasted pleasures it has afforded; say christians, what remains but a painful and humiliating remembrance ? “What fruit had ye in those things of which ye are now ashamed?” Has any thing accrued to you from the service of sin, which you would wish to renew? Though it might flatter your imagination with the appearance of good, did it not afterwards “ bite as a serpent and sting as an adder ?” You remember the wormwood and the gall you were made to taste, when you were first convinced of its evil, and you know what a bitter and evil thing it is to depart from the living God. It has already brought you to the brink of destruction; it has placed you in a situation in which nothing but the interposition of sovereign mercy could have saved you. By estranging you from God, it shut up the path to real good. In your unconverted state, it indisposed you to prayer, armed you with prejudice against the salutary truths of the gospel, darkened your understanding, and seared your conscience. Such was its deceitfulness, that you were led by it to put “ evil for good, and good for evil; sweet for bitter, and bitter for sweet.” Your ears were closed to the voice of the charmer, charmed he never so wisely. You were made to fancy that true religion was melancholy, that tenderness of conscience was needless scrupulosity, and that
happiness was only to be found in the pleasures and pursuits of this world. It engaged you in the chase of innumerable vanities. You“ followed after your lovers, but could not overtake them;” fled from one refuge to another, till, to speak in the language of the prophet, “ You were wearied in the multitude of your way.” In the mean time, to all pleasant and delightful intercourse with the Father of spirits, to the soothing accents of peace and pardon issuing from Christ, and to all the consolations of piety, you were utter strangers. In your more serious and reflecting moments, your heart meditated terror; death, judgement, and eternity, were awful sounds in your ears, and you only felt a delusive and sickly repose, while you forgot they had any existence. On a calm review of your conduct, you felt an uneasiness, which you were conscious was so just and well founded, that you seldom dared to reflect. Surely you will acknowledge, that you, at least, are not debtors to the flesh. And what has the flesh to plead for its services, which will bear for a moment to be weighed against these great evils ? What has Satan to plead, who, by means of it, “ rules in the children of disobedience ?” Will he venture to mention a few vain and sinful amusements, a wanton arbitrary liberty, or a few transient guilty pleasures, which, I trust, you are so far from wishing to repeat, that you never think of them without blushing before God ? How are you more indebted to the flesh, since you had reason to
hope you formed a saving acquaintance with God ? The partial indulgence to its dictates has robbed you of your comfort, has retarded your progress to heaven, and made you pass many a day sad and disconsolate, when, but for this, the joy of the Lord would have been your strength.
The more we observe what passes around us with a serious mind, the more we shall be convinced how little men are indebted to the flesh. Look at that young man, the early victim of lewdness and intemperance, who, though in the bloom of life, has “his bones filled with the sins of his youth.” Survey his emaciated cheek, his infirm and withered frame, and his eyes sunk and devoid of lustre; the picture of misery and dejection. Hear his complaint, how he mourns at the last, now his flesh and his body are consumed : “ How have I hated instruction and my heart despised reproof, and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to them that instructed me !—I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation of the assembly.” Is he a debtor to the flesh ? Behold that votary of the world, successful as he has been in the pursuit of it, and stained by no flagrant crime. Yet he has lived “ without God in the world;" and now his days are drawing to a close, he feels himself verging to the grave, and no hope animates, no pleasing reflection cheers him. The only consolation he receives, or rather, the only relief of his anguish, is in grasping the treasures he must shortly quit. Is he a debtor to the flesh ?