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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 fulfilled 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 rippling 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 grovelling 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 amiable in our eyes. But, as the text limits our views to the honour which accrues from them to God, we shall content ourselves with observing, that the change effected by the 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 topstone 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 creed, 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
soon to pass away: but that, glorious as it is, has no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth in the new creation.]
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, so are 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 "the treasure be put into an earthen vessel, God will display the excellency of his power by means of it:" he will plant the fir-tree 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
[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 grovelling 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.]
THE CHANGE TO BE WROUGHT BY THE
Isai. xi. 6-9. And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the
waters cover the sea.
THE happiness and prosperity of kingdoms depend much on the wisdom and equity of those who govern. Yet the best of rulers cannot always secure their people either from the turbulence of faction, or from the assaults of foreign enemies. Thus it is with the kingdom of Christ on earth. He, the Lord and governor of all, is endowed with every qualification for the discharge of his regal office, and executes that office with consummate equity and wisdom: yet, through the infirmities of his subjects, and the malice of his adversaries, his kingdom is far from enjoying the full advantages of his administration. There will, however, be a time, when his dominion shall be extended over all the earth, and perfect peace shall reign throughout all his empire.
The prophecy on which this observation is grounded, will naturally lead us to shew
I. The change that shall be wrought on men in the latter day
Men in their intercourse with each other too much resemble the brute creation
[It is indeed humiliating to compare man with venomous and ferocious beasts: but there is scarcely any beast, however savage, to which God himself has not compared us. Nor is it by figurative representations only, but by plain and express declarations, that God has marked the evil dispositions of our fallen nature d. And if we either look around us or
* Ver. 1-4.
b Ver. 5.
He likens us to foxes, Song ii. 15; serpents and vipers, Matt. iii. 7. and xxiii. 33; wolves, Matt. x. 16; wild asses, Jer. ii. 24; wild boars, Ps. lxxx. 13; wild bulls, Isai. li. 20, &c.
4 Rom. i. 29-31.
2 Tim. iii. 2-4•
within us, we shall see that his descriptions are by no means exaggerated. Let any one observe the proud and envious, the wrathful and malicious, the selfish and covetous workings of the heart, and he shall soon perceive that, if man were unrestrained by human laws, he would prey upon his fellowman with as much ferocity as the beasts themselves.]
But in the latter day universal harmony shall prevail
[Then this beautiful description shall be fully realized. Men shall dwell together as the beasts in the ark, none attempting to hurt or destroy another: or rather, they shall dwell together as the beasts in Paradise; none having so much as a disposition to hurt; but all filled with gentleness and love.
This event is foretold in other passages of holy writ*; and it shall surely be accomplished at the appointed season: "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."]
To confirm our expectation of this universal change, let us consider
II. The means by which it shall be effected
It is beyond the power of any human efforts to accomplish it
[However civilization may have changed the manners of men, it is but too evident that their hearts are the same as ever. In proof of this we need only appeal to the bloody wars which nations wage with each other; to the duels which are fought on account of the most trifling injuries or insults; and to the execrable traffic in slaves, which to the disgrace of the Christian name, yea, to the disgrace of humanity itself, is carried on amongst us, in spite of all the efforts that have been made for its abolition. If further proof were necessary, we may all find it very abundantly in the various circles in which we move: for there is scarcely a society, or even a single family, in which feuds, dissensions, quarrels, do not frequently arise: yea, the very relatives most interested in cultivating love and harmony, are often most at variance. Does not this shew how untamed we are, notwithstanding the restraints of wholesome laws, and the instructions given us in the word of God?]
But the gospel of Christ, when universally received, shall soon effect it
[Men continue like wild beasts, because" they know not the Lord." The knowledge of Christ, and of his salvation, would produce a wonderful change on their spirit and conduct. Behold, what it wrought as soon as ever the gospel was preached!