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XV.-THE HIDDEN CHURCH.
“I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people ;” saith the Lord by the prophet Isaiah, lxv. 19. These words give us an insight into the paternal love of God, which ought to draw us towards himself. We here behold the close relation which subsists between God and his people; of which indeed we should entertain conceptions far too mean, were we to compare
it merely to the relation subsisting between a gracious sovereign and his pardoned criminal subjects, or between a condescending and forbearing master and his servants. We are not only objects of his sparing and pardoning mercy, we are incomparably more than this. The Lord rejoices over his people ; he delighteth in them that fear him and trust in his mercy. He beholds them—not as they are in themselves, but as clothed with the righteousness of their Surety, and beautified with his spirit of holiness. He loves those who are renewed by his grace, even as he loves the express image of his person. For those whom he thus loves, are conformed to the image of his Son.
It has been said by some one, Suppose the sun in the heavens, which enlightens, warms, and fructifies every thing, were a rational being that could see every thing within the reach of its beams, it would then behold its own image in every sea, in every river, in every lake, and in every brook-nay, it would even see itself reflected on the loftiest mountains of ice; and would it not, in the abundance of its joy at such glorious radiance-forgetting itself-embrace all these oceans, seas, and rivers—nay, the very glaciers, in its arms, and delight over them? Thus Jesus Christ, the Sun of righteousness, beholds his image and divine work in every renewed soul as in a polished mirror ; hence, seeming to forget himself, in the abundance of the joy that was set before him, he could condescend to wash the feet of his disciples ; hence it was that he exclaimed to the syrophenician woman, “O woman, great is thy faith!”.
Thus our Eternal Father beholds in his children the beauty of his Son, Jesus Christ, with a complacency greater than we
are able to express.
He embraces them with the arms of his love; and he loves the image of himself in which he has renewed them.
Happy are the people that are in such a case; yea, blessed are the people who have the Lord for their God! Some of them are spoken of in the portion of the history now before us; and such, in all ages, may be called the hidden church.
1 KINGS XIX. 18.
" Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have
not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”
These words conclude the Lord's address to Elijah at Horeb. After announcing the heavy judgments which were to come upon backsliding Samaria, by means of Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha, this pleasing communication follows, like the still small voice. The last shadow of anxiety was now dispelled from the prophet's mind.
This announcement of God, respecting the seven thousand faithful worshippers reserved in idolatrous Israel, may lead us, I. To consider that God has ever a hidden church ; and, II. To reflect upon
the promises made to it.
I.“O Lord! thy name is forgotten, and the last pillars of thy temple are shaking; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” Such were Elijah's complaints, and they were correct enough for human knowledge. The days indeed were evil; the age of Noah seemed to have returned; all was dark, dead, ruined, and desolate; and the vintage of God seemed gathered from the earth, with the exception of two or three on the topmost bough. Painful in the extreme must all this have been to such a spirit as Elijah's ; but, suddenly, he receives from God himself the astonishing tidings, that seven thousand were still reserved, who had not bowed the knee to Baal, nor kissed him. How astonished must the prophet have been at this disclosure ! How ready to recall his words, “I, even I only, am left alone !” and with what renewed courage must his new commission have been undertaken !
And what could be more delightful, in this our day, than to be surprised by similar intelligence ? Certainly, our own age seems greatly superior to that of Elijah ; but there is much that is only exterior show, which can hardly be mistaken. If all that appears to be divine life were really such ; and if all were evangelists, who in modern times are preaching, not for the truth, but against it; if they were men of God, led and gifted by the Spirit of God, and bowed the knee in truth to the exalted Redeemer ; if all the multitudes, who in every place crowd into the places of worship, really said in their hearts, “ Come, let us return to the Lord !” if the thousands, who, in Bible and missionary associations, labour in building the ark, all came into this ark themselves—nay, if even all whom we see uniting for meetings of edification and prayer, could be regarded as true worshippers, then might we indeed say something good of our times, though much would still remain to be wished for. But of what use is it to deceive ourselves ? Things are far from being what their appearance would indicate. Alas, many things which, from a distance, look beautiful, are found, when more closely examined, to be full of deformities, if not mere phantoms of what they seemed to be.
Yet, supposing we could regard all who have the show of piety as real christians, how few would even these be, compared with the number of those all around us, who openly show themselves to be unbelievers ! The prevailing spirit of our times is that of infidelity and apostasy—a spirit of pretended illumination, but, in reality, of the blindest presumption—a spirit of opposition to the plain word of God, and of arbitrary determination upon good and evil—a spirit of idolatrous exaltation of mere natural reason above the revealed wisdom of God. Among the great mass of nominal christians, both of the learned sort and of the illiterate, it has long been taken for granted, that the doctrine of our native corruption is a gloomy fancy, and that of salvation by the blood and righteousness of Christ an antiquated and by-gone notion. It is held, that the miserable tinsel of exterior decorum, the mere flimsy garniture of selfishness, is quite sufficient to satisfy God; and that a Divine Mediator is not at all necessary to the salvation of men. Many have long been agreed, that the dogmas of a few conceited philosophers, so called, are more to be trusted than the truth of God delivered by Christ and his apostles; and that such faith as that of Paul, Peter, or John, is insufferable in the present day, as being absurd, mystical, and unworthy of any maturely instructed mind-yea, that it ought to be banished from the earth, even by persecution, if no other means will suffice.
Such is the prevailing spirit of our modern christendom, which, with some, is disguised by a christian profession; whilst with others it has shamelessly cast off all disguise. It is found in every district, and in all ranks of society, and is taught in by far the greater part of our schools and nurseries. Millions of men,
baptized in the name of Christ, lie at the feet of this impious lying spirit. If you travel through the country, in whatever direction, you find it discovering itself in every company, at public tables, and in private families. Go from one church to another, and
every where find that this spirit of seduction is the preacher and expositor. Inspect a multitude of our modern hymn books and catechisms, and instead of the Spirit of God, this spirit of darkness in the garb of religion will confront you; yes, and in a very large number of our places of education, this spirit is the Moloch to which our youth and chil dren are sacrificed. Yes, my brethren, a review of the christian world, in the present day, is enough to make every pious spirit shudder. The spirit of antichrist is prevailing in the world to such an extent as it has never done heretofore, and it is almost time to join in with the complaint of the psalmist,“ Help, Lord ! for the godly man ceaseth ; for the faithful fail from the children of men !” Psa. xii.
Surely then many think far too favourably of the present times. But do not others think far too gloomily of them? We are willing to believe they do, and the experience which Elijah had, who thought that he only was left, and afterwards heard, to his surprise, that there were seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal, may help to confirm us in this belief. Assuredly the Lord has many servants with whom we are unacquainted, he has hidden ones whom we may never hear of in this world; and many a country, and many a city, would perhaps long ago have been as Sodom and Gomorrah, had not a small remnant of such been left in those places. “ The kingdom of God cometh not with observation ;" for, behold,“ the kingdom of God is within you.” We do not sufficiently consider this, even as Elijah did not; and therefore we may be often mistaken with reference to this kingdom.
It is not unfrequently the case, my brethren, that we measure the temple of God with a very incorrect measuring line, and therefore deceive ourselves as to its breadth and extent. For instance, we are apt to take it for granted, that where there are no enlightened preachers, there can be no true christians. But we forget that God has promised, where the shepherds are corrupt, to take charge of the flock himself! Where has he made the regeneration of his chosen entirely dependent on human instrumentality ? Lol in the midst of the desert, he often plants, with his own hand, the loveliest roses; and from the rudest copse we often hear the sweetest notes of the nightingale. We are also apt to think, that where nothing is heard of awakenings, no awakenings take place. But must there be always a sound when it rains, and cannot children be born to the Lord as dew from the womb of the morning—silently and secretly, before day-break, and while multitudes are asleep? We are apr ro take it for granted, that where there is no opposition to the gospel, there must be a dearth of decided christians. Certainly, the words still hold good, “I am not come to send peace, but the sword !” and this is commonly shown to be the case.
Still there may be real christians, who, without living under the fear of man, go on in such a quiet, retired, and gentle way, as not to be so exposed to the rancour of the children of this world ; and if the Lord say to Laban, “ Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad,” can Laban act otherwise ? It is generally taken for granted, that in certain connexions, stations, and companies, for instance, in the courts of infidel or worldlyminded princes, a child of God cannot possibly be found; but do we not see, in the example of a Joseph, an Obadiah, and a Daniel, that even this may be the case ? Obadiah seems even to have possessed the confidence and regard of such a man as Ahab.
The state of christianity is also frequently estimated by the religious meetings convened in any place, and by the numbers who attend them ; but is this estimation always correct ? May it not be possible, that in a place where no such meetings are held, there still
many children of God, who are restrained from coming together only by timidity and reserve—for such things inay be found even in true believers—and who are obliged to secrete themselves, like the seven thousand in Elijah's days ? And is it not a part of the providential guidance of many souls, to be directed rather to secret and retired intercourse with God, than to much open conference with their brethren? Hence it may follow, that possibly in those places where no sympathy or activity exists for religious institutions, as for Missionary and Bible Societies, perhaps nothing is wanting but information respecting such institutions, for the excitement of such an interest ; or some sincere servants of God may have still so much to do with their own spiritual concerns, that they hardly know how to turn their attention to public efforts of this kind. All this is possible. But it may be asked, Can there be any ground for supposing a people of God to exist, where no works of pious writers are read; where there is no information found respecting the progress of the kingdom of God in the world ; where scarcely an evangelical sermon or book is ever read or heard of ? I answer, we are not sure that in such places there are no people of God. I know some whom you would all ac