"We have sinned," the Israelites said to the LORD. "Deal with us as You see fit; but please deliver us today!"
A wonderful summary; an evangelical anticipation.
I. IN WHAT THESE CONSIST.
1. Heartfelt sorrow and confession of sin.
2. Absolute yielding of oneself into the hands of God.
3. Forsaking the sins that have deceived and destroyed.
4. Serving Jehovah with new obedience and zeal.
II. How THESE APPEAL TO THE MIND OF GOD. "His soul was grieved for (literally, endured no longer) the misery of Israel." The alternate hardening and melting of God's soul an accommodation to man's conceptions and feelings; yet with a reality corresponding to them in the Divine nature. They have a disciplinary effect, and their succession is impressive. So God "repents." To our heavenly Father the proofs of our sincerity are an irresistible petition. He welcomes the first signs of true repentance, and leads it forth into saving faith. The truly repentant were never yet rejected. In working this repentance in their minds he began to answer their prayer even whilst rejecting it. - M.
I know not how anything can be imagined more sublime, more edifying, or more truly affecting than the delineations of the moral character of the Almighty Governor of the universe, afforded us by Scripture. Immensity of power, combined with the most unrestricted condescension to the wants of the meanest of His creatures; and purity, which charges the very heavens with comparative uncleanness, united with plenitude of compassion. Perhaps, however, there is no passage in the book of the Old Testament more completely to this purpose than the text. Now, be it remembered, that a correct theory of the Divine Being, and sound views of practical morality, are as closely connected with each other as cause and effect. All real morality being the adaptation of our actions to some authentic first rule, and that rule being the presumed will of the great Being who has an undisputed claim to our obedience, it follows as a matter of course that, in order that our standard of morals should be high, our notions of Him to whose approbation that standard is referable should be high in a like proportion. We might as well expect the subsequent course of a stream to be more elevated than its fountain as imagine holy and perfect actions to proceed from belief in an imperfect or impure deity. This con- sideration will at once show us that spiritual debasement is a necessary result of false worship; and will point out the fallaciousness of that favourite assertion of the unbeliever, that accuracy of our abstract notions respecting the Deity is of no consequence provided our practical theory of morality be correct, And now, then, by this infallible test let us try the Christian revelation, comparing it with all that the most plausible surmises of pagan philosophy, or of modern infidelity, have at any time suggested in opposition or rivalry to it. The more substantial theories of paganism on this subject lie in very small compass. It is true that the better disposed heathens in all ages have, from an instinctive feeling of religion, been ready to admit the occasional intervention of Providence with the affairs of mankind, and something like a general system of rewards and punishments, having reference to the morality of human actions. These opinions, however, so far as they went, were, I believe, on all such occasions, rather the spontaneous suggestion of the moral feeling within them, acting against theory, than the result of any deliberate assent of the understanding, founded upon rational inquiry. In fact, I know only of two views of the great question, "What is God?" or, "What is the great moral sanction for the guidance of man's actions?" as taken up after mature deliberation by the philosophers of antiquity, which can lay claim to the character of a regular system; the one is that adopted by the Stoics, which pronounces virtue to be so intrinsically lovely in itself as, under all external circumstances, to prove its own reward; the other, that which, though not formally avowed, would, if strictly reasoned out, necessarily result from the principles of the Peripatetics, which, considering the Creator of the universe as the summit of all possible perfection, would represent Him as eternally wrapt up in the contemplation of His own transcendental nature, and consequently indifferent to the vicissitudes which may befall inferior beings. Now it is obvious that both these views, either if entertained as physically true, as affording a substantial first principle of religious morality, are quite unsatisfactory and inoperative. Strange, then, as the proposition may sound in the ears of those who have not been accustomed to consider the doctrines of paganism in all their strictness and in all their consequences, it is undoubtedly true that the belief in a Being at once all perfect in His own nature, and yet at the same time watchfully attentive to all that passes in the creation beneath Him, is the result of revelation only. Our natural reason not only never could have arrived at such a conclusion, but in fact, at the first blush of the question, it absolutely recoils from it. Can God really regard, not merely perishable man, but even the very worms that creep at our feet? Our first impulse, when we consider the presumed impassiveness of its nature, is to say, "Certainly not." How can He be at once complete in His own perfection and happiness and accessible to prayer; or, in other words, liable to be influenced by causes external to Himself? Our natural reason is quite unequal to the solution of this difficulty. It is only, I repeat, when we reflect how entirely the whole sum and substance of religion, the elevation of our souls, the establishment of all morality, and the consequent entire welfare of society turn upon this very doctrine, that we learn how much more complete is the revealed wisdom which is from heaven than that which it is given to unassisted man to find out. The question is, not what God might have done, but what He actually has done. The infidel may try to get rid of the difficulty by turning the whole discussion into ridicule, and attempting to show that human life, and all connected with it, is merely like a feverish dream or an ill-told tale without object or connection. The worldly man may assert that, after all that may be said against it, life is still a state of tolerable ease and comfort, and contented with living like the brutes, may think it unnecessary to inquire further; or the more stern philosopher, arguing upon the principles of the ancient Stoics, may assert, contrary to self-evident fact, that life in reality possesses no evil for the truly wise, and that the theory of a future state is not necessary for the vindication of the ways of Providence. But meanwhile the really painful circumstances of our existence will make themselves felt, whether we will or not; and, if we would explain them in a manner satisfactory to our highest notions of God's goodness, we must have recourse to our Bible. I do not, indeed, say that even in our Bibles we shall find all our difficulties removed. Very far from it; but I do say, that the Bible presupposes the existence of all these very difficulties; that the theory of the Bible would be false did we not find the world precisely what we do find it; and that the great object of the Bible is to show how this very state of things (the great stumbling-block of every other form of religious belief) is part and parcel of the Divine arrangements for the accomplishment of God's wise and beneficent purposes. Let us pass on to the inferences resulting from these momentous facts. Consider, then, in what a new position, with respect to everything around us, we are all of us placed by this circumstance of the intimate, and almost social, connection which revelation thus declares to exist between ourselves arid our Maker. What a vast interest is communicated to the whole tenor of our existence when we recollect that we are not, as heathen speculation would teach us, placed as in a dreary moral solitude, withdrawn from the superintendence of the Divine mind, who has other and better occupations than to trouble Himself with the details of our sorrows or of our pleasures, of our good or of our bad actions; but that we subsist day and night under His all-searching eye; that not a thought passes through our breasts, not a word escapes our lips, but is pregnant with the consequences of our future weal or woe; that every apparent blessing, every seeming evil with which we are visited, has its peculiar errand and object, viz., the disciplining of our hearts, and the preparing us for immortality!
Cry unto the gods which ye have chosen.
EVERY SINNER IS DESTINED TO MEET WITH TROUBLE. Personal afflictions; social bereavements; death.
II. IN GREAT TROUBLE HE INSTINCTIVELY CRIES TO HIS GOD.
1. Every man has a god.
2. Every man's god ought to be able to help him when help is needed.
III. NO GOD CAN HELP HIM IN TROUBLE BUT THE TRUE ONE.
Travellers tell us that they who are at the top of the Alps can see great showers of rain fall under them, but not a drop of it falls on them. They who have God for their portion are in a high tower, and thereby safe from all troubles and showers. A drift rain of evil will beat in at the creature's windows, be they never so well pointed: all the garments this world can make up cannot keep them that travel in such weather from being wet to the skin. No creature is able to bear the weight of its fellow-creature, but as reeds break under, and as thorns run into the sides that lean on them. The bow drawn beyond its compass breaks in sunder, and the string wound above its strength snaps in pieces. Such are outward helps to all that trust to them in hardships.
It is a most grievous casting them in the teeth, by an ironical mocking of them with their idolatry, as if he should say, "Now ye prove and see what your gods can do." As Elias did the like to the prophets of Baal. Therefore by thus speaking, and bidding them go seek help at their idols' hands, they having shaken off the Lord, he teacheth us that they whom we have served, and committed ourselves to, must pay us our wages, and to them the Lord justly doth and will send us to their patronage in our greatest need, even to our horror, yea, destruction, if He take us not, as He did these here, to His mercy. They therefore that have trusted, and still do in man, and have made flesh their arm, shall know by experience one day that they have trusted to a bruised reed. Briefly to conclude this doctrine with some other uses thereof, we see secondly by this that God doth import no less than that (by the law of like equity, and by virtue of a far stronger covenant) if this people had persisted faithful in His service He could not have denied their suit for help and defence against their enemies. Thirdly, these words note out this, that it is wisdom for a man to bestow his chief cost there whence he looks for best recompense and acknowledgment in the time of most need. A man is not ashamed of that labour which hath brought him in plentiful gain, but of that which answers not his cost and hope. Men that have run themselves out of breath all their life, groping after a blind happiness, in their unprofitable, superstitious, profane course, at length, seeing themselves deceived, wish they had served a Master who might have saved them and received them into everlasting habitations. Thus the Lord is fain to upbraid men (though not by word, saying, "Go to your idols," yet in effect, in that He leaveth them shiftless), or else who should persuade one of a hundred that he soweth among thorns, or loseth his labour and cost, when he casteth it and himself away upon idols?
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