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one view, reckon up the amount of pain and sickness, of misfortune and temporal loss, of disappointment and blighted prospects, which is allotted to each in his earthly career ; could we apprehend, at the outset, all that is involved in a daily cross and a following of Him who died thereon,—the paths how arduous, how rugged, how full of peril; how, as each ascent is gained, a higher and a higher peak still opens upon us which must be surmounted ere the summit can be reached ; could we know all that the Christian profession requires of us, at our setting out, our spirits would be broken, our resolution would fail, and we would shrink, perhaps, altogether from the contest. But our merciful Father, in his love and tender compassion, leads us on little by little, according to our strength ; showing us no more of the way than we can accomplish without exhaustion ; concealing the coming, till we have escaped the present danger--and thus gradually teaching us to trust Him, to wish for no more light than He vouchsafes us, and to be content to follow step by step in the direction He calls us. The “man of the world" is callous to all this,-shrinks from the thought of his inevitable fate; and if forced to look forward to it, dismal is the view ; dismal to all it must be who have not habituated themselves to the thought that their blessings are given for a time only ; dismal to all who have not learned to possess as though they possessed not; to die daily, and to sacrifice by mortification and constant self-denial even things indifferent, for Christ's sake.
The hour of death-that hour with blessings on its wings-is that which is to give the weary Christian pilgrim the liberty, the rest, and peace which here he has not. He long has looked for it, and therefore he calmly meets it—not boldly and presumptuously-with no blind self-confidence; but meekly and trustfully,- without despondency, without dismay, with trembling, and yet with godly hope. He knows the Saviour in whom he has trusted—the all-sufficiency of his atonement—and the power of his intercession with the Father. Wretched and miserable sinner as he knows himself to be, he still trusts that mercy and loving-kindness to bring peace at the last, and provide him a place beneath the footstool of the Redeemer's throne. When “the day is far spent,” the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep, will readily enter the chamber of the dying Christian, and be “known to him," as he was known to the disciples of Emmaus, in the "breakiug of bread,”—as the High Mystery of His own Death and Passion is, once more, celebrated. And if darkness follow, through the decay and feebleness of the outward man-and the dissolving Christian scarcely seems conscious of the presence of his Lord—then we can only' say, that if, as with the disciples, the Lord hath “vanished out of sight,” it is that he may appear in more glorious form, and welcome to Paradise the disembodied soul. God grant us such a happy exit from the strife and toil of this mortal life, for the sake and through the merits of Jesus Christ.
THE EFFECTS OF PIETY ON A NATION.
DELIVERED ON TUESDAY EVENING, October 6, 1857,
BY THE REV. W. M. PUNSHON,
AT THE CITY ROAD CHAPEL.
“And he said, Oh, let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake."Genesis xviii. 32.
Most remarkable and most encouraging is this instance of prevailing prayer. It might well stimulate us to the exercise of sublimer faith when we behold a mortal thus wrestling with Omnipotence-wrestling with such holy boldness that justice suspends its inflictions, and cannot seal the sinner's doom. Passing over that, however, with all the doctrines it involves, there is another thought couched in the text, to which, at the present time, I want to direct your attention. The history of nations must be regarded, by every enlightened mind, as the history of the providence of God. It is not enough, if we would study history aright, that we follow in the track of battles, that we listen to the wail of the vanquished aud to the shout of the conquerors; it is not enough that we excite in ourselves a sort of hero worship of the world's foster-gods, the stalwart and noble peerage of mankind; it is not enough that we trace upon the page of history the subtle and intricate developments of human character; to study history aright, we must find God in it, we must always recognize the ever present and the ever acting Divinity, working all things according to the counsel of his benevolent and holy will. This is the prominent aspect in which history ought to be studied, or grievous dishonour is done to the Universal Ruler, and intense injury is inflicted upon the spirits of men. God, himself, you remember, has impressively announced the guilt and danger of those who regard not the works of the Lord, nor the operations of his hands. The history of ancient Israel, for instance, the chosen people, led by the pillar of cloud by day, and by the pillar of fire by night through the marchings of that perilous wilderness, what was it but the successful development, in a series of wondrous deliverances, of the ever active* providence of God! There were some things in that history which of course were incapable either of transfer or of repetition, but the history itself included, and was ordained to set forth certain prominent principles for the recognition of all nations, principles which were intended to assert the rights of God, and to assert the obligations of his creatures, principles which are to be consummated in their evolution amid the solennities of the last day. It was so in the case of Sodom, punished as an example to God's chosen people. Their transgressions had become obduracy, their obduracy had blossomed out into punishment. But a chance in the Divine government yet remained to them ; peradventure there might have been ten righteous in the city.
If there had been ten righteous in the city, those pious men would have been the substance, the essence, the strength of the devoted nation ; for them, on their account, for their sakes, the utter ruin of the land might have been averted, and through them, after the Divine displeasure had passed by, there might have sprung up renewed strength and recovered glory. We may fairly, I think, take this as a general principle, that pious men in all ages of the world's history, are the true strength of the nations in which, in God's providence, they are privileged to live ; oftentimes averting calamity, oftentimes restoring strength and blessing when, but for them, it would have lapsed and gone for ever. This is the principle which I purpose, God helping me, to apply for a moment to our own times, and to the land in which we live ; and in order to give the subject a great deal of a practical character, I will in the first place paint the pious men, and then show the effect which the consistent maintenance of a course of piety may be expected to insure.
I. In the first place, who are the pious men? Who are they whom God, who never judges in short-sightedness, who sees the end from the beginning, and who cannot possibly be deceived or mistaken in his estimate of human character, who are they whom God designates, "the holy seed that shall be the substance thereof"'--the pious men that are the strength of the nations in which they live ? In order to sustain the honourable appellation which is thus assigned, men must cultivate habits of thought and of practice that are appropriate to such a character. I will just mention two or three particulars.
In the first place, they are pious men who separate themselves avowedly and at the utmost possible distance from surrounding wickedness. Men are placed under the influence of religion, in order that they may separate from sin, in order that they may be governed by habits of righteousness and true holiness. In times when depravity is especially flagrant there is a special obligation upon pious men to bring out their virtues into braver and more prominent exercise, regarding that surrounding depravity as in no wise a reason for flinching, or for cowardice, or for compromise, but rather for the augmented firmness of their purity. Now, it cannot for one moment be doubted that in the times in which we live iniquity does most flagrantly abound. There is not a sin which does not exist and exist in all rankness and impurity. Because of swearing the land mourns. God's Sabbaths are systematically desecrated, his sanctuaries contumeliously forsaken, his ordinances trampled under foot, his ministers met with the leer oftentimes due to detected con. spirators, and regarded as banded traitors who have conspired against the liberties of the world. The lusts of the flesh scarcely affect to conceal their filthiness, everywhere unveiling their forms, and everywhere diffusing their pestilence. We do not venture upon any sort of comparison, we do not venture to compare the aggregate depravity of this age with the depravity of any age that has preceded. We do but affirm the general fact, that the heart of man is “ deceitful and desperately wicked,” and that the depravity we see around us, the exhibition of the carnal mind, “which is enmity against God," is most fearfully aggravated by the abundance of privilege by which the people are surrounded. Now, it is the duty, I repeat, of those who would have God's estimate of them as pious men, that they should regard this depravity as invoking them to bear the testimony of unsullied and spotless holiness. Let the exhortations on this matter which are scattered throughout the pages of the Bible be solemnly pondered. “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed according to the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove
what that is good, and acceptable and perfect will of God.” “ Abstain from the appearance of evil.” In times when depravity is especially flagrant do not even borrow of the garments of falsehood; do not let there be any mere. tricious semblance of that which is hateful in the sight of God. Abstain from the appearance of evil. Come out of it so thoroughly that the fellowships and intercourses of social life do not seduce you into a sort of complicity. “ Be not partakers of other men's sins. Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove." * Be ye not unequally yoked together to unbelievers, for what fellowship hath light with darkness, and what concord hath Christ with Belial, and what part hath he that believeth with an infidel ?" " Cleanse yourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit ; perfect in holiness in the fear of God." You will not fail to perceive that the whole of these passages have one aim and one summons, and that is holiness-holiness, as spotless in the secrecy of individual consciousness as in the jealous watch of men-holiness shrined in the heart and influencing benignly and transformingly the entire character-holiness, that is something more chivalrous than national honour-holiness, something that maintains a higher standard of right than commercial integrity-holiness, something that is more noble minded than the conventional courtesies of life-holiness which comes out in every day existence, hallowing each transaction, taking hold of the money as it passes through the hand in ordinary currency, and stamping upon it a more noble image and superscription than Cæsar's—holiness written upon the bells of the horses and upon the frontlet of the forehead, an immaculate and spotless lustre exuding, so to speak, from the man in daily life, so that the world starts back from him, and tells at a glance that he has been with Jesus. Now, brethren, it is to this, to the exercise and maintenance of this unflinching holiness that you are called. Here is the first prominent obligation of pious men. You are to confront every evil with its exact and diametrical opposite ; and he who in circumstances like these in which we stand ventures to hesitate, or ventures to parley, brand him as a traitor to his country, a traitor to his religion and a traitor to his God.
Secondly, if you would be what God regards as pious men, you must cultivate firm attachment to the doctrines of Christian truth. There is, brethren, in our day a very widely diffused defectiveness of religious profession, a very widely diffused departure from the faith that was “ once delivered to the saints." This is a Christian country. Men call it so, I know, but there is in daily practice a strange and sad departure from the precepts of Christianity-ay, on the part of men by whom the theory of this being a Christian country is most noisily and boisterously maintained. Are you strangers to the presence in the midst of us of the dark and subtle spirit of unbelief a venal press and active emissaries poisoning the fresh blood of youth, disheartening the last hope of age, and which, if their own account of the cir. culation of their pernicious principles is to be relied upon, has already tainted hundreds of thousands with that infectious venom whose poison lies not in the destruction of the body? True, it is for the most part bland, conciliatory, plausible, rather than audacious and braggart as in former times, veiling its deadly purpose in song or in story. But the dagger is not the less deadly because the haft is jewelled, and infidelity is not the less infidelity, not the less pernicious, not the less accursed, because genius has woven its stories to adorn it, and because fancy has wreathed it into song. Are you strangers
to the avowed denial on the part of some of the divinity and atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ to the man-exalting opinion which relies for its own salvation upon the piled up fabric of its own righteousness, or which through the flinty rocks of self-righteous morality would tunnel out a passage to the eternal throne? Are you strangers to the workings of the grand apostacy darkening the sunlight of the Saviour's love, dislocating the perfection of the Saviour's work, hampering the course of the atonement with the frail entangled framework of human merit, restless in its endeavours to regain its ascendancy-crafty, and vigilant, and formidable as ever? Are you strangers to the heresy which has made its appearance in the midst of a body once deeming itself the fairest offspring of the Reformation, and which would exclude thousands from covenanted mercies, because they own not priestly pretensions, and conform not to traditional rites ? Are you strangers in the other quarter of the horizon and of the sky to dark and lowering portents that have come over with rationalistic and German infidelity! Brethren, there is a duty solemn and authoritative resting upon the pious men that they hold fast that which was “once delivered to the saints.” Let the exhortations, too, on this matter, be carefully pondered. “Be no more children tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of man and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to betray.” “Stand fast"-not loose, not easily shifted, not having a firm foundation-"stand fast in the faith once delivered unto the saints.” Be “rooted in the faith ;" be “grounded in the faith ; " "contend earnestly for the faith.” Brethren, here is another invocation, and it is solemnly binding upon you. And while there are some around us that would rob Christ of his grace, and others that would rob Christ of his crown, and others, more royal felons, that would steal both the one and the other, let it be ours to take our stand firm and unswerving by the altars of the truth; let our determination go forth to the universe, “I determine to know nothing among men, save Jesus Christ and him crucified."
And, then, thirdly, if you would be pious men as God estimates piety, you must cultivate cordial, brotherly love. In times like these, there is a solemn obligation resting upon all “ who hold the head" to cultivate the spirit of unity with all “who hold the head.” By unity, we do not mean uniformity. There is noue ; there can be none in the free universe of God, You have it not in nature. You may go out into the waving woodland, when death is on the trees, and you may prune their riotous growth, and mould, and shape, and cut them into something like a decent, a decorous uniformity; but the returning spring, when it comes, will laugh at your aimless labour. Wherever there is life, there will be found variety of engaging forms which attract and fascinate the eye. We do not mean uniformity, therefore ; the harmony of voices, or the adjustment of actions, the drowsy repetition of one belief, or the harmonious intonation of one liturgy; but we mean “the unity of the spirit in the boud of peace," which we are to intensely labour to maintain and procure. Let the exhortations on this matter also be very solemnly pondered. “A new commandment”--so that there are eleven commandments now; the decalogue has been added to by this new commandment, which is, indeed, the substance and essence of all the rest—"A new commandment give I unto you that ye love one another.” “ Be kindly affectioned one to another, in brotherly love, in honour preferring one another.” Nay, the apostle does not hesitate to set it down as one of the surest evidences of Christian discipleship, “We know that we have passed from death