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industry,--tombs, pillars, triumphal arches, castles, pyramids,-be able to withstand the flaming conqueror ! All, all will die, perish, vanish, away, like a dream when one awaketh!
3. It has indeed been imagined by some great and good men, it requires that same Almighty Power to annihilate things as to create; to speak into nothing or out of nothing ; so no part of, no atom in, the universe, will be totally or finally destroyed. Rather, they suppose, that, as the last operation of fire, which we have yet been able to observe, is to reduce into glass what, by a smaller force, it had reduced to ashes; so, in the day God hath ordained, the whole earth, if not the material heavens also, will undergo this change, after which the fire can have no farther power over them. And they believe this is intimated by that expression in the revelation made to St. John, “Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like unto crystal," Rev. iv, 6. We cannot now either affirm or deny this ; but we shall know hereafter.
4. If it be inquired by the scoffers, the minute philosophers, how can these things be? Whence should come such an immense quantity of fire as would consume the heavens and the whole terraqueous globe ? We would beg leave first to remind them, that this difficulty is not peculiar to the Christian system. The same opinion almost universally ostained among the unbigoted heathens. So one of those celebrated free thinkers speaks, according to the generally received sentiment :
" Esse quoque in fatis reminiscitur, affore tempus,
Quo mare, quo tellus, correptaque regia cæli
Ardeat, et mundi moles operosa laboret.” But, secondly, it is easy to answer, even from our slight and superficiai acquaintance with natural things, that there are abundant magazines of fire ready prepared, and treasured up against the day of the Lord. How soon may a comet, commissioned by him, travel down from the most distant parts of the universe! And were it to fix upon the earth, in its return from the sun, when it is some thousand times hotter than a red hot cannon ball; who does not see what must be the immediate consequence ? But, not to ascend so high as the ethereal heavens, might not the same lightnings which "give shine to the world,” if commanded by the Lord of nature, give ruin and utter destruction? Or to go no farther than the globe itself; who knows what huge reservoirs of liquid fire are from age to age contained in the bowels of the earth? Ætna, Hecla, Vesuvius, and all the other volcanos that belch out flames and coals of fire, what are they, but so many proofs and mouths of those fiery furnaces; and at the same time so many evidences, that God hath in readiness wherewith to fulfil his word ? Yea, were we to observe no more than the surface of the earth, and the things that surround us on every side, it is most certain (as a thousand experiments prove, beyond all possibility of denial) that we, ourselves, our whole bodies, are full of fire, as well as every thing round about us. Is it not easy to make this ethereal fire visible even to the naked eye, and to produce thereby the very same effects on combustible matter, which are produced by culinary fire ? Needs there then any more than for God to unloose that secret chain, whereby this irresistible agent is now bound down, and lies quiescent in every particle of matter? And how soon would it tear the universal frame in pieces, and involve all in one common ruin!
5 There is one circumstance more which will follow the judgment
that deserves our serious consideration : “ We look,” says the apostle,
according to his promise, for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness," 2 Pet. iii, 13. The promise stands in the prophecy of Isaiah, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth : and the former shall not be remembered,” Isa. Ixv, 17:—so great shall the glory of the latter be! These St. John did behold in the visions of God. I saw,” saith he,“ new heaven and a new earth, for the firsi heaven and the first earth were passed away,” Rev. xxi, 1.
And only righteousness dwelt therein : accordingly he adds, “And I heard a great voice from [the third] heaven, saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people; and God himself shall be with them, and be their God !" chap. xxi, 3. Of necessity therefore they will all be happy: “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain," chap. xxi, 4. “ There shall be no more curse, but they shall see his face," chap. xxii, 3, 4;~shall have the nearest access to, and thence the highest resemblance of him. This is the strongest expression in the language of Scripture, to denote the most perfect happiness.
“ And his name shall be on their foreheads;" they shall be openly acknowledged as God's own property, and his glorious nature shall most visibly shine forth in them. And there shall be no night there, and they need no candle, neither light of the sun, for the Lord God giveth them light; and they shall reign for ever and ever.”
IV. It remains only to apply the preceding considerations to all who are here before God. And are we not directly led so to do, by the present solemnity, which so naturally points us to that day, when the Lord will judge the world in righteousness? This, therefore, minding us of that more awful season, may furnish many lessons of instruction. A few of these I may be permitted just to touch on. May God write them on all our hearts !
1. And, first, how beautiful are the feet of those who are sent by the wise and gracious providence of God, to execute justice on earth, to defend the injured, and punish the wrong doer! Are they not the ministers of God to us for good; the grand supporters of the public tranquillity; the patrons of innocence and virtue; the great security of all our temporal blessings ? And does not every one of these represent, not only an earthly prince, but the Judge of the earth ? Him, whose
name is written upon his thigh, King of kings, and Lord of lords ?” Oh that all these sons of the right hand of the Most High, may be holy as he is holy! Wise with the wisdom that sitteth by his throne: like Him who is the eternal Wisdom of the Father! No respecters of per sons, as He is none; but rendering to every man according to his works: like Him inflexibly, inexorably just, though pitiful and of tender mercy! So shall they be terrible indeed to them that do evil, as not bearing the sword in vain. So shall the laws of our land have their full use and due honour, and the throne of our King be still established in righteousness.
2. Ye truly honourable men, whom God and the king have commissioned, in a lower degree, to administer justice ;-may not ye be compared to those ministering spirits who will attend the Judge coming in he clouds ? May you, like them, burn with love to God and man!
May you love righteousness and hate iniquity! May ye all minister in your several spheres (such honour hath God given you also !) to them that shall be heirs of salvation, and to the glory of your great Sovereign ! May ye remain the establishers of peace; the blessing and ornaments of your country; the protectors of a guilty land ; the guardian angels of all that are round about you !
3. You, whose office it is to execute what is given you in charge by him before whom you stand; how nearly are you concerned to resemble those that stand before the face of the Son of man, those servants of his that do his pleasure, and hearken to the voice of his words! Does it not highly import you, to be as uncorrupt as them? To approve yourselves the servants of God? To do justly, and love mercy; to do to all as ye would they should do to you? So shall that great Judge, under whose eye you continually stand, say to you also, “Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord !” 4. Suffer
me to add a few words to all of you who are at this day present before the Lord. Should not you bear it in your minds all the day long, that a more awful day is coming ? A large assembly this! But what is it to that which every eye will then behold, the general assembly of all the children of men that ever lived on the face of the whole earth! A few will stand at the judgment seat this day, to be judged touching what shall be laid to their charge; and they are now reserved in prison, perhaps in chains, till they are brought forth to be tried and sentenced. But we shall all, I that speak, and you that hear, “stand at the judgment seat of Christ.” And we are now reserved on this earth, which is not our home, in this prison of flesh and blood, perhaps many of us in chains of darkness too, till we are ordered to be brought forth. Here a man is questioned concerning one or two facts, which he is supposed to have committed : there we are to give an account of all our works, from the cradle to the grave; of all our words; of all our desires and tempers, all the thoughts and intents of our hearts ; of all the use we have made of our various talents, whether of mind, body, or fortune, till God said, “Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward." In this court, it is possible, some who are guilty, may escape for want of evidence; but there is no want of evidence in that court. All men, with whom you had the most secret intercourse, who were privy to all your designs and actions, are ready before your face. So are all the spirits of darkness, who inspired evil designs, and assisted in the execution of them. So are all the angels of God, those eyes of the Lord, that run to and fro over all the earth, who watched over your soul, and labou:red for your good, so far as you would permit.
So is your own conscience, a thousand witnesses in one, now no more capable of being either blinded or silenced, but constrained to know and to speak the naked truth, touching all your thoughts, and words, and actions. And is conscience as a thousand witnesses ?-yea, but God is as a thousand consciences! Oh, who can stand before the face of the great God, even our Saviour Jesus Christ!
See! see! He cometh! He maketh the clouds his chariot! He rideth upon the wings of the wind! A devouring fire goeth before him, and after him a flame burneth! See! He sitteth upon his throne, clothed with light as with a garment, arrayed with majesty and honour ! Behold his eyes are as a flame of fire, his voice as the sound of many waters !
How will ye escape ? Will ye call to the mountains to fall on you, the rocks to cover you ? Alas, the mountains themselves, the rocks, the earth, the heavens, are just ready to flee away! Can ye prevent the sentence ?' Wherewith? With all the substance of thy house, with thousands of gold and silver ? Blind wretch! Thou camest naked from thy mother's womb, and more naked into eternity. Hear the Lord, the Judge! “Come, ye blessed of my Father! inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Joyful sound! How widely different from that voice which echoes through the expanse of heaven, “ Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!" And, who is he that can prevent or retard the full execution of either sentence? Vain hope! Lo, hell is moved from deneath to receive those who are ripe for destruction! And the everAsting doors lift up their heads, that the heirs of glory may come in !
5. “ What manner of persons then ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness ?" We know it cannot be long before the Lord will descend with the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God; when every one of us shall appear before him, and give account of his own works. “Wherefore, beloved, seeing ye look for these things," seeing ye know He will come, and will not tarry, " be diligent, that may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”
Why should ye not? Why should one of you be found on the left hand, at his appearing? He willeth not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance; by repentance, to faith in a bleeding Lord; by faith, to spotless love, to the full image of God renewed in the heart, and producing all holiness of conversation. Can you doubt of this, when you remember, the Judge of all is likewise the Saviour of all ? Hath he not bought you with his own blood, that ye might not perish, but have everlastiug life? Oh make proof of his mercy, rather than his justice ; of his love, rather than the thunder of his power! He is not far from every one of us : and he is now come, not to condemn, but to save the world. He standeth in the midst ! Sinner, doth he not now, even now, knock at the door of thy heart? Oh that thou mayest know, at least in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace! Oh that ye may now give yourselves to him who gave
himself for you, in humble faith, in holy, active, patient love! So shall ye rejoice with exceeding joy in his day, when he cometh in the clouds of heaven!
SERMON XVI.--The Means of Grace. " Ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them," Mal. jii, 7.
I. 1. But are there any ordinances now, since life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel ? Are there, under the Christian dispensation, any means ordained of God, as the usual channels of his grace? This question could never have been proposed in the apostolical church, unless by one who openly avowed himself to be a heathen; the whole body of Christians being agreed, that Christ had ordained cer tain outward means, for conveying his grace into the souls of men, Their constant practice set this beyond all dispute; for so long as
all that believed were together, and had all things common," Acts ii, 44,
"they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers,” ver. 42.
2. But in process of time, when “the love of many waxed cold,” some began to mistake the means for the end, and to place religion, rather in doing those outward works, than in a heart renewed after the image of God. They forgot that “the end of” every “commandment is love, out of a pure heart,” with “ faith unfeigned;" the loving the Lord their God with all their heart, and their neighbour as themselves; and the being purified from pride, anger, and evil desire, by a “ faith of the operation of God.” Others seemed to imagine, that though religion did not principally consist in these outward means, yet there was something in them wherewith God was well pleased, something that would still make them acceptable in his sight, though they were not exact in the weightier matters of the law, in justice, mercy, and the love of God.
3. It is evident, in those who abused them thus, they did not conduce to the end for which they were ordained: rather, the things which should have been for their health, were to them an occasion of falling. They were so far from receiving any blessing therein, that they only drew down a curse upon their head; so far from growing more heavenly in heart and life, that they were two fold more the children of hell than before. Others, clearly perceiving that these means did not convey the grace of God to those children of the devil, began, from this particular case, to draw a general conclusion, that they were not means of conveying the grace of God.
4. Yet the number of those who abused the ordinances of God, was far greater than of those who despised them, till certain men arose, not only of great understanding, (sometimes joined with considerable learning,) but who likewise appeared to be men of love, experimentally acquainted with true, inward religion. Some of these were burning and shining lights, persons famous in their generations, and such as had well deserved of the church of Christ, for standing in the gap against the overflowings of ungodliness.
It cannot be supposed, that these holy and venerable men intended any more, at first, than to show that outward religion is nothing worth, without the religion of the heart; that “God is a spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth;” that, therefore, external worship is lost labour, without a heart devoted to God; that the outward ordinances of God then profit much, when they advance inward holiness, but, when they advance it not, are unprofitable and void, are lighter than vanity; yea, that when they are used, as it were, in the place of this, they are an utter abomination to the Lord.
5. Yet it is not strange, if some of these, being strongly convinced of that horrid profanation of the ordinances of God, which had spread itself over the whole church, and well nigh driven true religion out of the world—in their fervent zeal for the glory of God, and the recovery of souls from that fatal delusion-spake as if outward religion were absolutely nothing, as if it had no place in the religion of Christ. It is not surprising at all, if they should not always have expressed themselves with sufficient caution; so that unwary hearers might believe they condemned all outward means, as altogether unprofitable, and as not designed of God to be the ordinary channels of conveying his grace into the souls of men.