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But while we give vent to our lamentations, let us not sink into despairance, however deplorable our present circumstances may be, they are not totally remediless. Though for so many ages, self love has usurped the throne of charity: though mankind are prone to injure one another, in their reputation by slander; in their property by injustice; and in their persons by murder, whether perpetrated in the character of an assassin, or that of a duellist; though wars are fomented on the slightest pretences, and Christian princes appear eager to wash their hands in the blood of thousands: though "all the earth is full of darkness and cruel habitations," Psralm Ixxiv, 21, yet will we not give up our hope. These unhappy times were foretold by our gracious Master, Matt, xxiv, 12. And as he had prescience enough to predict the decays of Christian love, and the calamities consequent thereupon; so he is possessed of sufficient power to re-establish the empire of charity in the world. Believers, then, amidst all their afflictions, may patiently and confidently expect those "times of refreshing" which shall assuredly " come from the presence of the Lord;" looking forward to that promised "restitution of all things," concerning "which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began," Acts iii, 19, 21. In the meanwhile, let those who are hastening, by their prayers, this desirable revolution, be careful to preserve in their own hearts those sparks of charity which shall one day kindle the universe into a sacred flame. And let the ministers of the Gospel make a constant display of those evangelical truths which were formerly sufficient to light up this glorious fire; that, bvNtirring up the dying embers of grace, the little light, which still remains in the Church, may be preserved from total extinction.
Should it be here objected—Are not all the ministers of our Church to be considered as preachers of Christian charity? We answer, By no means. The charity, concerning which we speak, must flow from a union with Christ; a union which ministers of the present day are accustomed to treat as enthusiastic and vain. This excellent grace " is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us," Rom. v, 5. But he who dares openly to plead for this Scriptural truth, is esteemed by such preachers no better than a deluded fanatic. These insincere preachers are frequently heard, indeed, to speak of Christian charity, but far from endeavouring to spread it through the world, they use every effort to destroy the very seeds of this grace in the Church of God. If, in a parish that is unhappy enough to have a pastor of this kind, a few persons are happily converted to God, and united together in Jesus Christ; if, having one heart, and one soul, they frequently join together in prayer and in praise, mutually exhorting and provoking one another to love and good works; the worldly minister, instantly alarmed, imagines that these persons, for the sake of formtog a new sect, are destroying the unity of the Church; when, on the contrary, they are but just about to experience the communion of saints. And, if he be possessed of zeal, or party spirit, he will labour to make it appear that these Christians, who are beginning to love as brethren, are forming conventicles to disturb the order both of Church and state. Such a minister will give encouragement to companies of jugglers, dancers, and drunkards, rather than tolerate a society which has Christ«n charity for its object and basis.
The true minister believes and preaches the three grand promises of God, together with the three great dispensations of grace.
WE have seen, in the preceding chapters, that believers are saved by a lively faith and a joyftil hope, which mutually serve to excite and increase in their souls the superior grace of charity. Now this faith and this hope must necessarily have for their foundation some promise of God. A promise already accomplished is embraced by faith alone; but a promise, whose accomplishment is protracted, is equally the object of faith and of hope. He, therefore, who is appointed by Christ a preacher of the everlasting Gospel, is solicitous to obtain clear ideas of the great promises of God. He is constantly engaged in meditating upon their past or future accomplishment, in order to maintain in his own heart those inestimable graces with which he is desirous to animate the souls of others. Observe the order in which he considers, embraces, and preaches them.
Under the dispensation of the Father, the grand promise was that which respected the external manifestation of the Son. The original promise, as made to Adam, was expressed in the following terms:— "The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent," Gen. iii, 15. As the Messiah was to descend from Abraham, according to the flesh, the same promise was thus renewed to that patriarch: "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed," Gen. xii, 3. In the days of Moses, it was repeated to all Israel, as follows: "The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, unto him shall ye hearken," Deut. xviii, 15. David and the other prophets powerfully confirmed this prophecy, and Malachi thus recapitulates the promises which had been given before his time: "The Lord whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the Messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in; behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts," Mai. iii, 1. "Unto you, that fear my name, shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in'his wings; and ye shall go forth," out of your present obscure dispensation, "and grow up," in spiritual strength, "as calves of the stall," Mai. iv, 2. Thus speaks the last of the prophets, under the dispensation of the Father.
Immediately upon the accomplishment of these promises, while the dispensation of the Son was but darkly opened by his precursor, another promise was given for the exercise of faith and hope, under this new economy, respecting the full manifestation of the Holy Ghost, as a Spirit of truth and love. Behold this grand promise as announced by John the Baptist: "I am not the Christ; I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord," John i, 20, 23. "I baptize you with water unto repentance," as a preparation for the spiritual kingdom and baptism of the Messiah: "but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear." He shall introduce a more spiritual dispensation, and administer a more efficacious baptism: for "he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire," shedding abroad those gifts and graces of his Spirit, which shall penetrate and purify your hearts, as metals are penetrated and purified by material fire," Matt . iii, 11. This promise is of so great importance that it was thought necessary to be repeated by the four evangelists.
Our Lord, continuing the dispensation which his forerunner had opened, "made and baptized more disciples than John, though Jesus himself baptized not, with water, but his disciples," John iv, 1, 2. The baptism which he was about to administer, was as far superior to the baptism of John, and that of his own disciples, as the water of which he spake to the woman of Samaria was superior to the water of Jordan, or that of Jacob's well. "Whosoever shall drink of the water that I shall give him," said he to that inquiring woman; whosoever shall come to my baptism, and let down his vessel into the inexhaustible fountain of my grace, "shall never thirst: but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water," a source of righteousness, peace, and joy, "springing up into everlasting life," John iv, 14.
In order to strengthen the hope of those who had been baptized with water, our Lord publicly ratified the promise which had been so frequently repeated to them by John the Baptist. "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this he spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on him, in every age, should receive. For the Holy Ghost was not yet fully given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified," John vii, 37-39. An inestimable promise this, which deserves to be deeply engraven in the minds of those who are merely acquainted with Christ, according to his exterior appearance in the world. Observe here the method by which the blessed Jesus endeavours to prepare all such, in every country and in every period, for his manifestation in the Spirit: "If you love me, keep my commandments;" be faithful to the present dispensation of my Gospel, "and I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever. At that day," when ye shall experience the fulness of his presence, "ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you." For "he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him," John xiv, 15-23. By comparing these words with the seventeenth and twenty-sixth verses of the same chapter, it is evident, that by-this spiritual manifestation of the Father and the Son, nothing less can be intended than the full measure of that Holy Spjrit '"which proceedeth from the Father," John xv, 26, and which is expressly called "the Spirit of the Son," Gal. iv, 6.
Our Lord, who knew the stupidity of those who were under the inferior dispensation of his Gospel, and how "slow of heart" they were "to believe" what either the prophets or himself had spoken, judged it expedient to repeat the grand promise of the Spirit again and again. "When the Comforter is come," said he, "whom I will send unto you from the Father, he shall testify of me," John xv, 26. "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you," John xvi, 7. "Behold I send the promise of my Father upon you," Luke xxiv, 49.
The abundant ell'.ision of the Holy Spirit was termed by our Lord the promise of the Father, for two reasons: first, because, coming to instruct mankind how to worship the Father "in spirit and in truth," it became him to refer alljhings to that Father. And this he was strictly and con. stantly accustomed to do. Secondly, because "the Father of lights" is to be considered as the author of " every good and perfect gift." It was he who so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son to die for the world, and from him proceeds that Holy Spirit, which Jesus Christ still continues to shed abroad among his faithful followers. The Father had already promised, under the law, that he would grant unto his people a general outpouring of his Spirit, under the reign of the Messiah. The memorable prophecy of Joel, as quoted by St. Peter, is generally known; and the following promises equally merit the attention of believers. "In that day I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications. And they shall look upon me, whom they ha/e pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son," Zech. xii, 10. "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground. I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thino offspring," Isaiah xliv, 3. "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean. I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes," Ezek. xxxvi, 25-27. "I will give them one heart: I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh," Ezek. xi, 19. That man must be prejudiced to an extreme degree, who perceives not that these gracious prophecies began to receive their accomplishment upon the day of pentecost, when the multitude of them that believed were "of one heart and one soul."
The last day our risen Saviour passed upon earth was employed in strengthening the faith of his disciples, with respect to this promise. After having assembled them together, "he commanded them to wait for the promise of the Father, which," continued he, "ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water," and ye have done the same by my direction, "but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence," Acts i, 4, 5.
After the grand promise under the dispensation of the Son was in part accomplished; when the disciples were filled with faith, and with the Holy Ghost, another promise was given to exercise their faith, to fix their attention, and to perfect their patience; the promise of Christ's second coming to "gather his wheat into the garner, and to burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire," Matt, iii, 12. "This same Jesus," said the angels who appeared to the disciples on the day of their Master's ascension, "this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven," Acts i, 11. This important promise was afterward repeated by St. Paul and the other apostles. "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that obey not the Gospel; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe," 2 Thess. i, 7-10. "Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him," Rev. i, 7. "The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night," 2 Pet. iii, 10.
This coming of Christ, which is disregarded by many, for the reason assigned by St. Peter, 2 Pet. iii, 9,10, is so fully expected by those who lire under the dispensation of the Spirit, that they are constantly " looking for, and hastening to, the coming of the day of God," 2 Pet. iii, 12. According to St. Paul, sinners are converted from the error of their ways, that they may "serve the living and true God, and wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead," 1 Thess. i, 9, 10. "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ," Tit. ii, 13. This second coming of Christ was the object of this apostle's highest hopes, after which he represents himself as groaning with the most fervent desire, Rom. viii, 23. "Yea, I count all things but loss,"-continues he, "that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection. Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is even able to subdue all things unto himself," Phil, iii, 20, 21.
As God had afforded believers, under the Old Testament, a perspective view both of the manifestation of the Redeemer in a mortal body, and of that dispensation of the Spirit, which he was to open among his followers under the New Testament; so he had likewise foretold, by his prophets, the glorious return of that Saviour to the earth. "The Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints to execute judgment," Jude 14. "Behold, he.shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming 1 And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap," Mai. iii, 1, 2.
Mark the terms in which our Lord himself declared this sublime dispensation. "The love of many shall wax cold. False prophets shall arise, and ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the Prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place. Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the powers of the heaven shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. But of that day and hour knoweth no man. Watch, therefore; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come," Matt. xxiv. Thus Jesus himself testified of his second coming; and his first disciples, in conformity to their Master's declaration, addressed a large assembly in the following terms, almost immediately after his ascension: "Repent ye, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus, winch before was preached unto you; whom the heavens must receive, until the time of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets, since the world began," Acts iii, 19-21.
So long as a minister embraces these different promises; so long as, with a lively faith, which is " the evidence of things not seen," he believes that the Father sent his Son for the redemption of sinners, and his Holy Spirit for the sanctification of believers,—so long as, with a faith which is "the substance of things hoped for," he believes that Christ shall one day return for the glorification of his saints; so long he is saved by that faith and hope which enable him to preach the Gospel in all its wondrous extent: so long he not only comprehends but experiences the power of that Gospel in his own soul, while he labours to make it manifest before the world, by his public discourses, and by the whole tenor of his conduct.