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is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit. Let us go forth, my brethren, to the duties and trials of another year, strong in the Lord and the power of his might. And may that blessing which turneth the wilderness into a fruitful field, and maketh streams to break forth in the desert, go with you, and give you victory, and return seven fold into your bosom those fruits of affection, regard, and kindness which your pastor has received from his flock.
THE CAUSE OF UNFRUITFULNESS IN RELIGION
HEDREWs iv. 2.
" But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them
that heard it."
It is very profitable, my brethren, and calculated to make a good impression upon the heart, to consider carefully what great pains Almighty God bath taken to make the fruits of his compassion for a race of sin-ruined creatures, effectual for their recovery and restoration to his favour. To this end, he has not only acquainted us with his will in bis revealed word, and given us commandments for the regulation of our lives; but he has added thereto the most powerful motives which rational natures can contemplate, in the happiness or misery of eternity. These he hath set forth, as the unavoidable consequences of the part we shall perform in the present life, and urges us, in the most earnest and affectionate manner, to believe and obey, that we may obtain eternal life.
He has not only given us a faithful delineation of our own dispositions and affections, as corrupted and perverted by sin, together with the wisest counsels and most effectual means to guard against and counteract their destructive influence; but he has added example also, in the history of men of like passions with ourselves, in every variety of condition, and under the progressive displays of that grace which he has been pleased to manisest, at sundry times and in divers manners, for the salvation of sinners. In an especial manner, he hath set forth the history and example of his chosen people, the children of Israel, as the standing admonition to Christians, in the improvement of their most gracious dispensation ; furnishing to every condition in life, and in every variety of trial, that lesson of wisdom which precept and example united, present to rational beings, under failure or success, favour or rejection, unalterably consequent on faithfulness or disobedience to the divine commands; and, that this was the wise and gracious purpose of the recorded history of the Jewish people, we have the authority of an inspired apostle for believing. All these things, says St. Pau!, happened unto them for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Of this most profitable use of the Scriptures of our faith, in the Christian warfare, many most striking instances might be given; but none, perhaps, more in point or more applicable to the present times, than that which is referred to in the words of my text; which the same inspired apostle applies as a warning to the Hebrew Christians; and which we, my brethren and hearers, may, and, if we are wise, will, apply to correct that careless, unconcerned temper—that bold, and increasing infidel spirit, under whose baleful operation the mercies of the gospel are all neutralized, and the power of religion is fast fading away from the profession of Christianity.
But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
In discoursing on these words, I will first notice the circumstance to which the apostle alludes, and then apply them to general edification.
The promise of God to Abraham was, that he would give to his descendants the country where he then sojourned, to the utmost extent of its boundary, as a rest and inheritance to them and to their children for ever. To this promise, however, was annexed the condition of fidelity and obedience on their part. At the deliverance of the children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt, this promise was renewed, and formed the prominent object of their expectations. To prove their faithfulness, however, and at the same time to manisest himself more fully, and to make his laws and bis worship known to them, as his peculiar people, God led them by the hand of Moses through the Red Sea and the wilderness of Arabia ; sustaining them miraculously with bread from heaven and with water from the rock, which followed them in all their wanderings through a barren and burning desert.
With the immediate protection and providence of Almighty God thus certified to their senses, the heart of this people nevertheless failed them, when they understood, that many and powerful nations were in possession of the promised land, with whom they had to contend for this inheritance; they, therefore, refused to go up and possess the land; murmuring against Moses, and in the face of all the wonders hitberto wrought for their deliverance and support; dishonouring God by unbelief, in distrusting his power to subdue their enemies and make good his promises. Wherefore the LORD sware in his wrath, that none of that rebellious generation, with the exception of two individuals, should enter into the promised rest, or even see the land; but that they should wander in the wilderness, until death had consumed the rebels, in the usual manner in which human life
passes on to its termination.
This is the particular circumstance in the history of the Jewish people to which the apostle alludes, and on which he grounds his exhortation to Christians, to a hearty reception and steadfast belief of the promises of God in the gospel of our LORD Jesus Christ; and by which he shows, beyond all reasonable objection, that those promises are not absolute and unconditional, but adapted to the condition of moral beings, who are to be judged, and rewarded or punished, according to their works in the present state of trial and preparation for eternity. Let us, therefore, fear, says this apostle writing to Christians—Let us, therefore, fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it; for unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them. But the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
A faithful application of this subject to ourselves, then, my brethren and hearers, will instruct us as to the cause, and warn us of the consequences, of permitting the mercies of our condition, and the counsel of God for our salvation, to remain unheeded and unimproved. Let us, therefore, consider with attention, the cause here assigned for the indifference, carelessness, and disregard of those unspeakable benefits, to the knowJedge and attainment of which, God hath called us by the gospel.
That the promises and threatenings of Almighty God should be disregarded by rational beings, on any other ground than that of unbelief, is next to impossible to imagine. When, therefore, the Scriptures uniformly denounce this as the cause of all sin and wickedness among men, they appeal to a principle, the truth and correctness of which is confirmed by individual experience ; for who is influenced by information to which he gives no credit ? or, who is affected by either promises or threatenings, of which he doubts or disbelieves the performance ? Now, while it is certain that there are thousands and tens of thousands, under the light of the gospel, and who are not ignorant of the facts and doctrines of revelation, who are yet wholly unaffected by any religious impression; it is equally certain that there are very few, perhaps not one, of such persons, who could honestly claim the benefit of entire unbelief, were any advantage possible from such an unhappy state of mind. And, this is certified to us by the anxiety and alarm which such persons manifest at the approach, or under the serious apprehension of death. Not that such apprehensions, then, come upon them for the first time.—No ! repeatedly, continually through life, have they knocked at the door of their hearts, and urged the reasonableness, the prudence, the safety of listening to the still small voice of God, speaking through their consciences, but have been told to wait for a more convenient season. Hence, it appears that this master sin of accountable beings is not only a voluntary act, but, in a very high degree, a forcible rejection of such testimony as, in the agreement of the witnesses, makes truth itself more certain. When the voice of conscience is confirmed by the revealed word of God-and it is immaterial which speaks first—there is no refuge for the neglecters of such irrefragable testimony, but wilful unbelief.
Now I take upon me to say-and I appeal to your own hearts, my hearers, for its confirmation—that this is the actual condition of by far the greater number, who, here and elsewhere, give an occasional Sunday forenoon to “hearing preaching," as it is called.
Repeatedly has the truth preached, received this double confirmation. Again and again, has the heart almost been persuaded to yield. Yea, in many instances, con