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2. His almighty power
[As the Omnipotence of God was manifest in producing such a nation from two, whose "bodies were as good as dead," so it is no less visible in the “ quickening of those who are dead in sin," and forming "an host of living saints from those who were like dry bones scattered over the face of the earth” -Can any, then, who have been quickened by grace doubt whether God be able to preserve or restore them?--Can " any thing appear to them too hard for God?”–Surely though their souls appear at present only like a desert or a wilderness, they need “not stagger at the promises of God;" but yet may entertain the hope that they may. “ blossom as the rose,” yea, that they shall “ put off their sackloth, and gird them with gladness”-] 3. His unchanging faithfulness
[After God had promised to Abraham, he never would recede-Though he delayed, he did not forget his promiseAnd even when constrained to punish his people, he did not cast them off—Not even at this time are they finally abandoned: but are preserved a distinct people, monuments of God's faithfulness, and a seed for a future harvest-And is not every saint a distinguished monument of God's faithfulness? Would any one stone of God's building have withstood the shocks and tempests that have assaulted it, if God himself had not interposed to keep it fixed on the foundation?-Would not every vessel of his sanctuary have been dashed in pieces times without number, if the potter himself had not averted the stroke or hardened us to endure it? Where is there a saint who is not a wonder to himself, a spark kept alive in the midst of the ocean?—well then may the faithfulness we have already experienced confirm our hope, that God “ will never leave us nor forsake us” —And well may the most disconsolate of God's people wait, “knowing in whom they have believed," and assuredly expecting the promised revival-] APPLICATION
Let us HEARKEN to the advice given us in the text
1. Let us, both for our humiliation and comfort, re. view the dispensations of God's providence and grace towards us ...
2. Let us, under our heaviest trials, look forward to the season when God's promises shall receive their final accomplishment.
CCXI. THE CHANGE WROUGHT BY THE GOSPEL.
Isai. lv. 12, 13. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth
with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle-tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off
THE change wrought annually on the face of nature from desolation and barrenness to beauty and fruitfulness, is a lively representation of the change effected by the gospel of Christ. “The rain and the snow descending on the earth” nourish the whole vegetable creation, and cause every part of it to spring forth in its appointed season: and, in the same manner, “the word of God, dropping as the rain and distilling as the dew” upon the souls of men, infuses life into them, and renders them fruitful in every good word and work. This is the parallel drawn by the prophet himself, who, expatiating on the subject, predicts, under the image of the Jews' return from Babylon, the progress of the gospel in renovating the intellectual and spiritual world. His words will lead us to consider I. The effects of the preached gospel
The civilizing of the world is a very small part of the work which the gospel is intended to accomplish. It is sent 1. To inspire new feelings
[Man in his natural state is an entire stranger to spiritual joy, or solid peace. The peace that flows from a want of foresight or reflection, and the joy that consists in mere animal gratifications, he may possess: but he is as destitute of spiritual enjoyments, as the brute creation are of intellectual pleasure. His state however is wonderfully changed when he receives the word of God in truth. At first indeed he feels trouble and anguish; but as soon as ever he has a sense of his acceptance with God, his tears are wiped away, and “ the bones which were broken rejoice." It frequently happens, especially where the preceding sorrows have been deep, that the joy which succeeds them is rapturous and abundant.
The surprise of Peter, on the eve of his expected execution, was not unlike that of a new convert: suddenly, a light shone in upon
him, and his chains fell off, and the prison doors flew open, and an angel conducted him out, so that he could not persuade himself that he was awake, but thought he saw a vision: thus when the new convert is first brought forth into light and liberty, and finds the obstacles, which had seemed insurmountable, removed, he is ready to think it must be all a delusion: it is with him as with those of old, “when the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream: then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing;” yea, “ the very hills break forth before him into singing, and all the trees of the field clap their hands."
We must not however suppose, that all are equally elated; or that the joy which any feel will continue with them: it will rather subside into a peaceful tranquillity of mind: they may go out with joy; but they will be led forth with peace. The Saviour's joy, which is to be fulälled in us, consisted rather in peace than exultation; and such is the legacy that he has left to us. At first we are like a stream ribbling and murmuring near the fountain head; but afterwards we resemble rather the deepened river flowing with silent majesty.] 2. To infuse new dispositions
[A thorny bush is unproductive and worthless; as a brier is unseemly and injurious. The one is a just image of the more decent of mankind; the other, of the more profane. All are low and groveling in their nature, having no desires beyond this present world; and too many, by their influence as well as by their example, would impede the progress of those who are walking in the good way. The fir-tree on the other hand lifts its head on high; while the myrtle diffuses its fragrance all around; and both of them retain their verdure all the year: yet such shall the vilest of mankind become, when once they embrace the gospel of Christ. They shall soar to heaven with devout affections; they shall spread around them a sweet savour of the knowledge of Christ; they shall be unfading ornaments in the place where they grow; and instead of wounding, like the brier, all that come in contact with them, they shall, like the myrtle, emit the sweeter fragrance the more they are bruised, and perfume, as it were, the very hand that bruises them.]
To impress our minds with a due esteem for the gospel, let us proceed to consider II. The excellency of those effects
There is an inherent excellence in holy dispositions, which, independent of the consequences flowing from
them to ourselves or to society, must render them ami. able in our eves. But, as the iext limits our views to the honour which accrues from them to God, we shall content ourselves with observing, that the change effected by ihe gospel is to the Lord 1. An occasion of praise
[None who are quickened and renewed by the word ever take the honour to themselves: all with one voice cry, " He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God; therefore, Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the praise.” The greater the change that is wrought in any person's heart, the less will he be disposed to arrogate any thing to himself on account of it: and most of all, “ when the top-stone of the spiritual building shall be brought forth, will he shout, Grace, grace unto it." From his first acquaintance with divine truth will he begin to speak of God with love and gratitude. His own experience will furnish him with an inexhaustible fund of praise and thanksgiving. Nor will his acknowledgments any longer be a dull recital of an established treed, but the lively effusions of a grateful heart.
Now if that be deemed excellent, which causes the name of any human being to be held in estimation, and to be transmitted to posterity with honour, how much more must that be excellent, which makes the name of God to be reverenced and adored!] 2. A monument of glory
[It is not in this world only that God is glorified by the dispensations of his grace: at the day of judgment every saint will “ be to him for a name, and for a praise and for a glory.” “ Christ will come to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all that believe.” How sovereign will the grace of God appear to every one amongst them, when each sees himself as a brand plucked out of the fire! What stupendous wisdom will be discovered in the plan, whereby he has effected their restoration to his favour! What marvellous patience will he appear to have exercised towards them under all their backslidings; and what unbounded mercy in pardoning their multiplied transgressions! Nor will his power be less an object of admiration, when it is seen how wonderfully it has been exerted in converting their souls, and in preserving them unto his heavenly kingdom. Yea, as long as there shall exist one glorified saint in heaven, so long shall the perfections of the Godhead be most eminently displayed in the salvation of sinful man.
How excellent then must that change be, which to all eternity shall be the brightest monument of the divine perfections! The work of creation is excellent, though it is so
sobn to pass away: but that, glorious as it is, has no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth in the new creation.] INFER 1. What encouragement have men to hear the gospel!
[As a person who had never seen the face of nature but in the depth of winter, would scarcely conceive it possible that so great an alteration could take place in it as is annually made within the space of a few weeks, soʻare many ready to imagine, that their hard and barren hearts are incapable of experiencing such a change as God requires. But his word is as powerful as ever: it is still “ like fire, or like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces:" and though it runs not, nor is glorified" to the same extent as in former days, yet wherever it is preached in sincerity and truth there are some to attest its efficacy, and to prove that “it is the power of God to the salvation of men." Let none then despair: for though treasure be put into an earthen vessel, God will display the excellency of his power by means of it:” he will plant the firtree and the myrtle where nothing grew but thorns and briers; “ he will make the wilderness like Eden, and the desert like the garden of the Lord.”]
2. What a sure criterion have we whereby to judge of our state!
[An insensibility with respect to spiritual things characterizes the natural man; and a quickness of perception with respect to them
marks the person in whom the word of God has taken due effect. Have we then surrendered up our false peace, and our carnal joy? and have we attained to a scriptural “joy and peace in believing?” Have the creatures all around us been led, as it were, to sympathize with us, and congratulate us on the change? Look then next to the tempers and dispositions of the soul: have the low groveling desires of the carnal mind been made to ascend to heaven; and the natural aversion to holy exercises been exchanged for an unfeigned delight in them? In short, is God now glorified in the whole of our deportment, so that, whosoever beholds our spirit and conduct is constrained to admire the grace of God in us? Doubtless, this change is not perfect in any; nor can we expect it to be so, while we carry about with us this body of sin and death; but is the change begun? and is it carrying on towards perfection? O that on considering these questions we might have the testimony of our consciences that things are so! But if there be no evidence of these things, let us beware, lest, instead of being eternal monuments of God's love, we be objects of his everlasting displeasure.]