« PreviousContinue »
to engage your thoughts in a profitable and appropriate course of meditation, to lead you to a serious scrutiny and careful examination of your own hearts, as to the grounds on which your religious duties, both private and public, are performed, as to the constancy and devotion with which they are followed, and as to the effect thereby produced on the heart and on the life. These form at all times a sure test of religious condition, and if duly attended to, will teach you the advantage of frequently inquiring, Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God. I shall, therefore, consider them,
I. First, as a source of appropriate and profitable meditation.
Seasons of retirement and recollection are indispensable to the Christian ; periods of serious thought and devout engagement of the heart, when the cares and duties of the world are intermitted, and its occupations give place to the higher occupation of acquainting ourselves with God, and of communing with our own spirit. Without this salutary practice, it may safely be affirmed, that religious impressions cannot continue, but will decline into mere formality, and deliver us back to the world in a worse condition than when we forsook its follies. If the unclean spirit hath really been cast out, yet if his former habitation continue empty, however well it may be garnished with outward profession, our Saviour himself gives the warning, that he will return with a reinforcement, and take up his abode more securely than before.
Hence it would appear, that religious impression, to be profitable, must be encouraged by our own exertions, must be strengthened by reading and meditation, deepened by prayer and self-examination, and confirmed by the practice of the duties of religion; and to all these, seasons of retirement and devout recollection are essential. For the mind can hardly engage in religious self-examination, or in the meditation of holy things, when exposed to interruption. Neither can it enter upon this duty without seriousness of spirit, without some solemn impression of God, of cternity, of our interest in him, and of our condition as respects his known will, and the appointments of his grace for our salvation. Now, to all this, the thought, wherewith shall I come before the Lord, must, either directly or indirectly, be previous. For it is the sense of seclusion with God, of his presence who reads the heart. It is the feeling sense of our own vileness and sinfulness, when compared with his perfect purity and holiness, and of his infinite goodness in providing for our recovery, that solemnizes the spirit and shuts out inferior things. So, that whether we read his word, or meditate on the discoveries of his wisdom and mercy to his creatures, or recall his providences to ourselves—whether we scan the frame of our own spirit, or bring our sins and omissions of duty to account--whether we are humbled in penitence or exalted in praise, God presides over the thoughts and occupies the workings of the heart.
According, then, to the frequency and solemnity with which such seasons are sought for and improved, may Christians look for the power and comfort of religion to increase with them may they expect the strength of temptation to decline, the power of sin to be broken, and the practice of righteousness to be confirmed. And according to the sincerity and fervour with which they persevere in thus frequently shutting out the world that they may hold converse with God, will the world be overcome, and the comfort of hope and the assurance of faith be realized. For in religion, as in other things, it is practice that makes perfect; and progress in the school of Christ is regulated by the same law, which, in all other pursuits, linits attainment by endeavour, and bestows advancement according to proficiency. Unto him that hath, shall be given, and he shall have more abundance, is the encouraging declaration which our gracious master holds out to his disciples to industry and perseverance in their high calling, while he warns the slothsul and the negligent, that from him that hath not, shall be taken away, even that which he hath.
II. Secondly, I will consider the text as prompting examination as to the grounds on which your religious duties, both private and public, are performed.
As religion is the reasonable service of rational beings, all who pretend to it should consider carefully whereon it is founded, and on what grounds their particular views of its doctrines and practice of its duties are supported, by the plain precepts of God's most holy word. Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God, is an inquiry which, from the nature of things, must precede all religious duty on the part of mankind, and must ever form an important subject of consideration to a serious mind. But as the answer can be derived from no other source than God himself, to his true and faithful word only can we look with certainty for information and direction. Now, my brethren, this is an advantage which we possess as Christians, not as men, and which, as Christians, we all have to account for. And I would to God, that both as men and Christians, we were more alive to our privileges and obligations, under the light of revealed truth.
That we have no means independent of revelation of knowing the will of God concerning us, and of determining satisfactorily in what manner he is to be worshipped and wherewithal rendered propitious and favourable to his creatures, is a truth proved to us by the enormous and disgusting superstitions of Heathen lands both ancient and modern.
The impression is universal and indelible that man owes reverence and worship to his Creator. So powerful is the sentiment that it must, in some way, be satisfied. Yet so dense is the cloud which sin has spread over the world, that where God hath not interposed to give light, men have only bewildered themselves in seeking out many inventions, not one of which was worthy of the object nor consistent with enlightened reason, and (it is well worth your notice, because conclusive against the infidel claim for the sufficiency of human reason in matters of religion) that where this faculty was most cultivated and had advanced the farthest in other sciences among Heathen nations, the science of religion was at the lowest ebb, and the ritual of its worship proportionally impure, bloody, and abhorrent.
In thus drawing your attention, my brethren, to the unspeakable advantage you possess in the light of life, and to the sure ground from thence on which you may advance with a firm faith to the performance of every religious duty, I wish it to be felt as a privilege for which no adequate return can ever be made-as a distinction from Gop which must be cherished and improved to the high and holy purposes for which it is conferred;
and that it may be thus felt and cherished, mark the contrast which my text suggests.
A Heathen inquires, Wherewith shall I come before the LORD! But there is none to answer save a senseless and bloody superstition, scorned even by the clouded understanding of its own ministers. The glories of the firmament, the grandeur of the universe, prompt him to bow himself before the high God their Maker; but there is no voice to tell him with what offerings to come into his courts—no hand to point to the propitiation made upon the cross for human guilt-no message of love and mercy displaying in its highest exercise the heavenly feeling of compassion towards a race of sinners. Under the silence of nature, as to what man can perform here or hope for hereafter, reason becomes bewildered in the maze of conjecture, and wandering farther and farther into its own darkness dishonours God and debases his fairest work with impurity, impiety, and crime.
How different, my brethren, is the condition of the same being under the light of the gospel! He, too, asks, Wherewith shall I come before the LORD ? and, lo! the page of inspiration stands ready to satisfy his most anxious wish. Where the book of nature closes the book of God takes up the wondrous tale, and by unveiling Deity to his adoring creature, calls forth the faculty of reason to its noblest use. Every step in the grand discovery gives increasing light, until God manifest in the flesh provides for every want, supplies every disability, and fulfils every wish which bumanity can feel, or deplore, or long for. Wherewith shall I come before the Lord ? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD thy God require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Wherewith shall I bow myself before the high God? He hath showed thee, O Christian, how to render acceptable service.-I am the way, the truth, and the life, says the Son of God. Believe in the LORD JESUS CHRist, and thou shalt be saved. Repent and believe the gospel.
Such is the solid and unshaken foundation which the believer occupies as the ground of all his religious duties. To him there is no uncertainty, no conjecture, no doubt in drawing near to God. Light bas come into the world, and he walks in the light. A new and living way is opened to the presence of God. Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel. A fountain is opened for sin and for uncleanness. Grace is given to renew his nature, and eternal life promised to faith and obedience. These are the glorious and gracious purchase of the love of Christ, and all these, my brethren, are prompted to your meditations by my text. God grant that they may stir you up and strengthen you not only to meditate but to act under a more lively sense of his rich redeeming love, a deeper penitence, and a more active faith. But let it not be overlooked, I beseech you, that as all you are favoured with is the appointment and gift of God for your good, that good is not to be expected disjoined from the means. Revealed religion and instituted means of grace are not the creatures of buman caprice or convenience; and whatever may be conceded to honest ignorance or sincere mistake in religious duty, it is a concession on the part of man only, a conjecture of human reason and not a declaration of the word of God. And this I say not only to enforce the duty suggested by the text, but to caution you, my brethren, against the prominent delusion of being wise in holy things above what is written, wresting the Scriptures to your own destruction. As the noblest work of creation, the image of his Maker, man hath dominion over all terrestrial things. He may construct systems of philosophy or policy, and alter and amend or abrogate them at his convenience. He may change the face of nature, and improve and beautify it to suit the taste of an ever varying fancy ; but religion is fenced about with the sanctity of heaven from such profane intrusion. He touches the ark at his eternal perilhe departs from revealed direction at the risk of threatened delusion. Under every dispensation religion has come perfect and complete from its author. It admits of but one improvement at the hand of man, and that is, faith and obedience in a conversation such as becometh the gospel of Christ.