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But let us in the last place, my friends, consider the rich consola. tion, which this passage of sacred writ exhibits to us.
Sinner, while thou standest this side the grave, it is never too late for thy repentance, this is the sacred comfort which springs forth from the words of the Redeemer on the cross.
'It is too late! Oh word of terror which has already fallen like the thunder of God upon many a heart of man!-See that father, as he hastens from the burning house, and thinks that he has taken all his children with him; he counts, one dear head is missing; he hastens back,-'It is too late!' is the hollow sound that strikes his ear; the stone wall tumbles under the roaring torrent of flame, he swoons and sinks to the ground.-Who is that hastening through the darkness of the night on the winged courser? It is the son, who has been wandering in the ways of sin, and now at last longs to hear from the lips of his dying father the word, 'I have forgiven you.' Soon he is at his journey's end, in the twinkling of an eye he is at the door," It is too late,' shrieks forth the mother's voice,' that mouth is closed forever!' and he sinks fainting into her arms.-See that victim for the scaffold; and the executioner, whetting the steel of death. The multitude stand shivering and dumb. Who is just heaving in sight on yonder distant hill, beckoning with signs of joy? It is the king's express; he brings a pardon! Nearer and nearer comes his step: Pardon! resounds through the crowd-softly at first, and then louder and yet louder. It is too late!' the guilty head has already fallen!-Yea, since the earth has stood, the heart of many a man has been fearfully pierced through by the cutting words, 'It is too late.' But oh, who will describe to me the lamentation that will arise, when at the boundary line which parts time from eternity, the voice of the righteous Judge will cry, It is too late!' Long have the wide gates of heaven stood open, and its messengers have cried at one time and another,-To day, to day, if ye will hear his voice! Man, man, how then will it be with you, when once these gates, with appalling sound, shall be shut for eternity! 'Agonize that you may enter in at the narrow gate; for many, I say unto you, shall strive to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house hath arisen and shut the door, then shall ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, and to say, Lord, Lord, open unto us,' and he will answer and say unto you, 'I know you not, whence ye are."
But, my friends, the more appalling the truth is, that, at the dividing line between time and eternity, the sentence will be proclaimed,'It is too late;' so much the more consoling is the word, flowing down to us from the cross of Jesus,-Sinner, while thou standest on this side the grave, it is never too late. Therefore let us fear,' cries an apostle to us, 'lest we should slight the promise of entering into his rest, and some one of us remain behind;—to day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.' Whether the voice of thy God will come to thee again and search thee out,—this thou knowest not; but whatever may lie behind thee, whether nights of the darkest error, whether mountains of sin,-thou distinctly hearest to day his proclamation,- It is not too late!'
THE PRESENCE OF GOD WITH HIS CHILDREN.
TO-DAY, beloved in Christ, I turn my attention to one particular class of hearers; not to those among you who are secure and at ease in the way to death, nor to those who enjoy peace and blessedness in the way to life; but to you, unhappy men, who hang between heaven and earth; who cannot die, and cannot live; whom the earth will not leave unmolested, and whom heaven will not accept. It is a fearful state when, in the heart that was created for God, the world and Satan reign, and yet the man can pass on in presumptuous confidence, and say to himself and to others,-I have peace, all goes well. But you will say, it is a condition still more fearful, when one looks at the opened heaven above him, full of grace and truth, and yet cannot break loose from the pollutions of earth; when he is thus the prey of two conflicting powers. Many supposing this latter state to be worse than that of careless sin, make no attempt to wake themselves from the slumber of death, but press down their eyelids so much the closer, that they may sleep the more. But let
1 For an Analysis of this Sermon, see Note S, at the close of the Sermons.
us see which of the two states is the more fearful.
Were the pangs of the struggling soul, which oscillates between death and life, to be your eternal portion, then would you have reason to regard it as of all portions the most disconsolate. But, my brother, such pangs are the pangs of the new birth. They are the contending of the morning twilight with the thick clouds of the night. Struggle on with fortitude, and the soul will be born anew; the sun will come out clear from the former darkness.1 Ye who are striving with sin, who are stretching out your hand for help, I will reach out to you a brother's arm. Ye who like Peter of old walk on the waves, and with hands stretched forth, cry out,' Lord, we sink ;' Christ will extend his hand to help you; ye shall not sink. From these birthpangs shall the new man be born after the image of God. From these night-heavens shall the sun of righteousness shine forth. Wilt thou be made whole? Thus the Lord asked the sick around him; thus also he asks you, to-day. Hear the words of the Holy Scripture which, in this discourse, I will present before you in the name of God. They should be to you like the hand, that is stretched out from heaven to raise up from the power of sin and death all who will take hold of it."Draw nigh to God," cries the apostle James, chap. 4: v. 8," and he will draw nigh to you."2
Before we commence the regular discussion of these words of the apostle, let us, beloved, free them from a misconstruction which might attach itself to them. It might easily appear from this mode of expression, as if it were man himself who took the first step in the way to life. But if so, where would be the apostle's words, 'What hast thou which thou didst not receive, and if thou didst receive it, why then dost thou boast of thyself." No, my friends, he who is the first to stretch out the hand and to come near, is God; and the apostle's assertion in this passage can be applied to support no sentiment but the following,-whatever aid is proffered thee, thou must eagerly embrace, if thou wouldst obtain more. We are, all of us, stewards of the manifold gifts and graces of God; accordingly he hath come to meet us all, and it is needful that we go forth to meet him, if we would receive more of his aid. In a manner altogether peculiar then, are the words of our text designed for you,
See Note T, at the close of the Sermons.
2 See Note U, at the close of the Sermons.
who with deep humility confess that the grace of God has already come near you, but yet weep, partly because you cannot appropriate this grace to yourself, and partly because you have not full and entire satisfaction in it. Let us then, in the first place, propound the question, how God draws near unto men, and secondly, how men draw near unto God.
1. How does God draw near unto men? He draws near to them as God the Father, in the work of creation and preservation. On all sides is every thing which liveth surrounded with the great mystery of love. It was love which, on the morning of the creation, cried into the darkness, 'let there be light,' and light was. The independent and eternal God, who might in his self-existence and blessedness have dwelt forever alone, desired to have co-partners of his blessedness, and he therefore created the world and spirits allied to his own nature. And now, soul of man! whenever in the elevation of joy thou lookest upon thyself, and sayest to thyself, I am ;' be sure that thou also utter this exclamation, 'It is eternal love which hath made me in the image of God.' That love, which brought thee into existence on earth, see, how it bears thee in its motherly arms through this poor life, which is wreathed about with thorns and misery. Far above this earth, where souls of men abide, thither penetrates a beam from this sun, and thither goes with it this motherly love, mild and blessing; and it warms and sustains and cherishes and shelters the ever needy heart of man. Even the rudest mind can form a conception of this near approach of God in the work of creation and preservation. Paul goes into the midst of the heathen world and proclaims, 'Turn ye to the living God, who made heaven and earth and the sea and all that is therein; and hath not left himself without a witness, but hath given us much good, and hath sent rain and fruitful seasons from heaven, and hath filled our hearts with joy and gladness."
But creating and preserving love has not provided a mirror for itself in thee alone. Around us and afar off has it also erected its tabernacle. The morning stars of heaven rejoice in their Maker, and the modest flower of the earth praises him in the lovely vale. When a man, who hath first received into his own heart the full consciousness of that love which encircles heaven and earth in the embrace of its motherly arms, when such a man goeth forth on a Acts 14: 15, 17.
bright day of spring into the solitary temple of nature; oh-what a unison doth he feel between his own heart and all created objects, as they adore and sing,- Eternal, all-protecting love! Hallowed be thy name!' Yea my brethren, in the work of his creation God the Father hath approached near unto us, inexpressibly near unto us, even as man to man ;-to us, his poor children, standing in the need of help; and let every thing which hath breath praise and exalt the Lord! 1
But although, my friends, we are placed in this glorious temple of nature as the priests of God, yet are we in no way profited by it, unless we be in reality priests. Of what avail is the fulness of all gifts and good things, which flow forth to thee from the exhaustless store-house of heaven and earth, if they do not expand thy heart to deep-felt gratitude, and humble obedience? Of what avail, that every star in the heaven and every worm upon the earth has a tongue, with which it bears witness of eternal love, when the heart is deaf, and thy mouth continues speechless? Of what avail to us, that God the Father has revealed himself in us and in nature as the Father of all that lives, unless we be his children? And until God the Son has transformed us to be the children of his Father, oh how pitiably man stands on the heaving bosom of nature; how poor, how ignorant; unable to expound the riddle; living like the heathen without God and without hope in the world; and instead of folding his hands, he wrings them in despair.
2. But, brethren, God hath come near unto us, as God the Son, in the work of Redemption. Without Christ the heaven of stars, as well as the heart of man, remains to us, a sealed hieroglyphic. Seest thou not how men conjecture about it? how diversely they unravel it? how they interpret scarcely a single syllable here and there of the great enigma? The Holy, the Unknown, whose characteristic features thou couldst not detect when thou soughtest to decipher them from the flowers, from the stars, from the hearts of men; lo, he hath come forth to meet thee, he hath come near to thee, as a man to his neighbor; in Galilee hath he set up his tabernacle; look into the heart of Jesus, and thou hast read the heart of God; for, this is his exclamation, Whoever hath seen me, Philip, hath seen the Father.' Adorable love! when I passed thee by and
See Note V, at the close.