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perty, which he purchased with his blood. “This shepherd of Israel, this bishop, this overseer of souls, never slumbers nor sleeps.”—Many seasonable, though unknown deliverances, did he work for you, even while you ungratefully despised and rejected him. Often did he pluck you out of the jaws of the bear and the lion, before you were acquainted with him, or had any thought of craving his protection : but now his eye is continually upon you, his ear is at all times open to your cry, bis everlasting arms are around and underneath you; and therefore you may boldly say, “ the Lord is my light, and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid ? Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid : for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation."
Ye are returned to him,—who hath not only almighty power to guard you against danger, but infinite compassion likewise to sympathize with you in all your distresses, and to comfort you in all your sorrows. He is meek and merciful, patient and condescending: “ He gathers the lambs with his arms, and carries them in his bosom, and gently leads those that are with young." He pities their infirmities, and pardons their errors; be spares them when they are weary, and attends them when they are sick: nay, what no other shepherd can do, he imparts strength to the faint, and health to the diseased; and not only bestows food, but gives them an appetite to feed upon it: he also blesseth their provision, and causeth it to nourish them.
What shall I say more? This shepherd and bishop of souls continues to be their guardian even until death; neither doth he leave them at that awful period, but enters with them into the deep and darksome vale, sup
ports them with “ his staff," and so comforts them with the rod of his strength," that they “ walk through it with dignity, and fear no evil because he is with them.” Many of the saints have been remarkably honoured in this respect; even some,“ who through fear of death were all their life long subject to bondage,” have, in their latest moments, been enabled to triumph over this king of terrors, and to say with the apostle Paul, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Or if to any of them these evening-shadows are so thick, that they cannot see the hand that supports them; yet this momentary gloom shall only serve to heighten their surprise, their gratitude and their joy, when, at the farther end of the valley, this good shepherd shall dispel the cloud, and stand before them revealed in all bis glory ; when he shall embrace them in his arms, and carry them upward to those greener pastures, and more fruitful fields of the heavenly Canaan; where, as it is beautifully expressed in the book of the Revelation, (chap. vii. at the close) “ they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
But I must not stay to enlarge upon these particulars ; the imperfect account you have already heard, of the past and present state of believers in Christ, what they were by nature, and what they are by grace, may suffice to direct us to that frame and temper of heart, with which
we ought to approach the table of the Lord. And it is obvious, in the
1st place, That we should do it with the deepest lumility. This is the garb that sits most gracefully, and suits us best, whether we consider ourselves as lapsed, or restored; as sinners, or as saints. Are we pardoned ? once we were condemnerl. Are we sanctified ? once we were impure. Are we found ? once we were lost. Are we made alive ? lately we were dead; and still we live by an act of grace; it was God who quickened us, and not we ourselves : he only maketh us to differ; neither have we any thing but what we received from him. Surely, then, pride was not made for man.
2dly. We should perform this service with the warmest emotions of gratitude and love ; giving thanks to the Father, who spared not bis own Son, but delivered him to be a sacrifice and sin-offering for us: giving thanks to the Son, who spared not himself, but having taken upon him the form of a servant, submitted to hunger and thirst, to watching and weariness, to ignominy and torture : nay, to death and the grave; that through the merit of his death we might live for ever : giving thanks to the Spirit of all grace, who unites us to Christ, and applies to our souls that redemption he hath purchased, who renews our depraved natures, and renders us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. How well doth that hymn of praise become the remembrance of Christ's death, with wbich the heavenly hosts celebrate the tidings of his birth? “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men.”
3dly. Godly sorrow for past offences, and lioly purposes to oflend no more, should likewise attend us to the table of the Lord. Is Christ there set forth as crucified before our eyes! and can we look upon him whom
we have pierced,” without mourning for those sins which were the cause of his sufferings? or can we mourn for them, without hating them, and resolving to forsake them? Should not this be the language of every sincere communicant? “ What have I to do any more with idols?” 6 What I know not, Lord, teach thou me; if I have done iniquity, I will do so no more.” But then, in the
4th place, These purposes must ever be accompanied with a sense of our own weakness, and of our absolute need of aid from above. Even after we are returned to the bishop of our souls, if left to ourselves we should quickly stumble and fall; the same hand that brought us back, when we were as sheep going astray, will always be necessary to uphold us in our journey, and to lead us forward till we arrive at the promised land. “Without me,” said our Lord, even to those who were united to him, as the branches are to the vine, “ without me," or separated from me, " ye can do nothing: as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me." What is undertaken in self-confidence, shall certainly issue in shame and disappointment. The apostle Peter, who boasted, that
though all should forsake his Master, yet would not he," not only forsook him, but with oaths and imprecations denied that he knew him. “ He that trusteth to his own heart is a fool:”-“Behold,” said the prophet Habakkuk, “ his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him." Needful, then, most needful, is that caution, “Let him who thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” At the same time, in the
5th place, This diffidence of ourselves ought always to be qualified with a steadfast truth, an unsuspecting confidence, in the power and faithfulness of our great Redeemer. Paul, who disclaimed the ability of conceiv. ing so much as one good thought, independent of God, did not however hesitate to say, “I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.” The same good shepherd who found us when we were lost, is able to “ lead us in the paths of righteousness;" and he will do it “ for his name's sake.” He upon whom our help is laid, is styled “the faithful and the true witness :" And these are his kind, encouraging words to all who are returned to him as the bishop of their souls, “My grace is sufficient for thee:"_" Fear pot, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am tby God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness."
Such, my brethren, is that temper of heart with which we ought to attend upon this great Christian solemnity: The deepest humility, and the warmest gratitude; god. ly sorrow on account of our wanderings in time past, and holy purposes to walk circumspectly for the time to come; a sense of our weakness, and of our absolute need of grace from on high, joined with a firm, unsuspecting reliance on the power and faithfulness of our glorious Redeemer, who hath promised the Spirit to them that ask it, and bid us “ ask, and receive, that our joy may be full.” Thus let us encompass the altar of God, praying that this gospel-feast may prove effectual, through bis blessing, for confirming our faith, for inflaming our love, and enlivening our hope;—that, by the nourishment it affords, we may be strengthened to pursue our journey through this wilderness, till, having past the dark valley and shadow of death, we shall enter into the promised land of rest, where, face to face, we shall behold the shepherd and bishop of our souls, and, surrounding the throne of God and of the Lamb, bear our