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(1.) Under the first of these, religion neither demands nor boasts a perfect insensibility. The inspired psalmist displayed a great vicissitude of feeling, arising from this quarter; he mourned under the calumny and oppression of his enemies, and gave utterance to cries and tears under his affliction. He felt with agonized poignancy the insults he met with on account of his pious confidence in God: “ As with a sword in my bones, while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God ?"* The personal and domestic sufferings of Job are familiar to your recollection, and are penned [that they may] be monuments, to all ages, of the severity with which God sanctifies and tries his people, and of the happy and infallible issue.
(2.) Uneasy thoughts arise on a spiritual account. With a good man, his spiritual (welfare] is always an object of his first solicitude ; so that when he contemplates the holiness and purity of God, he cannot but have, at times, many a serious inquiry how he shall appear before him. When he surveys his own pollution and guilt, the thought of appearing before God is one upon which he can scarcely dwell without secret trembling: “ What if I shall be weighed in the balance and found wanting ?” When we consider our low attainments in religion compared with our opportunities, our latent corruption, and our frequent miscarriages and failures, we are often tempted to call in question the reality of our religion, and to fear that, after all, we are only “almost christians.” If I am truly regenerate, and a child of God, why am I thus ? Why such a mixture of earthly and sensual affections? Whence such coldness and deadness in religious exercises? Why so little delight in the Scriptures,--so little complacency? “My soul cleaveth unto the dust."*
* Psalm xlii. 10.
(3.) Under desertion, under the hidings of God's countenance, how many painful thoughts arise! how ready to indulge despondency, and to fear he will never be merciful any more!
(4.) In the prospect before him; in the contemplation of the dangers and temptations which still await him ; while he feels in himself nothing but frailty and weakness, how apt is he to apprehend some fatal overthrow! It seems almost too much for him to expect to be more than conqueror; that he shall be able to make his way through such a host of enemies, and pass into the celestial city. He seems to feel himself totally devoid of that spiritual strength and vigour which are requisite for such combats, which are necessary to enable him to vanquish such difficulties. He is ready to cry,“ I shall never see that goodly mountain and Lebanon ; I shall never see the king in his beauty, nor behold that land which is so far off.”
II. Let us briefly notice the consolations of God opposed to these uneasy thoughts.
1. We first adverted to such as arise from the disordered state of the world.
* Psalm cxix. 25.
On this subject great consolation springs from the conviction that the Lord reigneth. There sit at the helm infinite power, wisdom, and goodness. These perfections are of such a nature that renders it impossible for them to lie dormant or inactive: they are in perpetual operation ; and, in the final result, they will appear with ineffable splendour and beauty.
“ Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgement are the habitation of his throne.” Under the administration of such a Being, all events will infallibly terminate well, well for the interests of his glory, and well for the interests of his people. . With whatever [uneasiness] we may contemplate the prevalence of moral disorder, and its portentous effects in a future state, the page of revelation assures us, that ultimately the world will be filled with holy and happy creatures; that religion and virtue will prove triumphant ; and that all nations shall see the glory of God, and worship at his footstool. And with respect to the final state of the wicked, there is every reason to conclude that their numbers will bear no proportion to those of the blessed, and that thus no more misery will be inflicted than what will be rendered conducive to the order and happiness of the universe.
2. Under painful apprehensions respecting the state of the church, the comforts of God are neither few nor small. It behoves us. on such
occasions, to reflect that it is incomparably more his care than ours; that as the Saviour bought it with his blood, he will not fail to guide and govern it in the best manner possible. He has promised “ The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” His interpositions in its favour afford a pledge of what he will still accomplish : “I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Sheba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.”*
Afflictions [are] designed to purify the church.
3. Under the distressing thoughts arising from the state of a christian, as an individual, the divine comforts are proposed.
In temporal affliction and privations, how consoling is it to reflect that they are all ordered in infinite wisdom, proceed from the purest benignity; that they will issue in our advantage, and that they will be but of short duration. This, may the afflicted christian reflect, is not an eternal state; these afflictions are but for a moment. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”+
* Isaiah xliii. 3, 4.
+ Psalm xxx. 5.
James iv. 10.—Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord.
In that portion of his epistle to which these words belong, we find that James is addressing, not the professed christians, but their avowed enemies and persecutors, probably his countrymen, who still continued to display the highest antipathy to christianity. “ Whence,” says, he, “ come wars and fightings ? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye desire, and have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God ?"*
As the persons who were the objects of these remarks were, unquestionably, utterly estranged from the christian religion, and the enemies of God, it is evident the duty inculcated in the words under our present notice, enters into the first elements of christian piety. It is reported of the celebrated Austin of Hippo, that being asked what was the first thing in religion, he said, “Humility;" when asked what was the second, he answered, “Humility;" and what was the third, he still returned the same answer, “ Humility;"—alluding to the celebrated answer which the Athenian orator
* James iv. 144.