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Hebrews xiii. 5.
He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.
Tus comfortable declaration or promise is introduced by the Apostle, to enforce the duty of contentment, to which he had exhorted the Hebrews in the preceding part of the verse. Nothing can be more unbecoming in a child of God, than dissatisfaction with his present condition, or anxiety about his future provision in the world. It is no wonder to see worldly men, whose portion of good things lies wholly upon earth, loading themselves with thick clay, and eagerly grasping every thing which their craving appetites demand. Such persons cannot but be uneasy when they meet with disappointments, because, having nothing desirable in prospect beyond the grave, in losing their present enjoyments, they lose their all. But the Christian, who knows of a treasure in hea. ven, a treasure incorruptible in its own nature, and which no fraud nor force can take from him, may, and ought to look down with a holy indifference upon every thing here below, resigning himself entirely to the disposal of his heavenly Father, who' not only knows what is best for him, but hath likewise obliged himself, by covenant and promise, to make all things work together for the eternal advantage of those who love him, and confide in his mercy.
It was this argument which Christ used with his disci. ples, to dissuade them from an anxious solicitude about
their temporal concerns, Matt. vi. 31. “Take no thought,
First, To shew the import of this gracious promise, “ I will never leave thee nor forsake thee."
Secondly, I shall inquire who the persons are that may apply the comfort of this promise to themselves.
Thirdly, I shall lay before you some of those grounds of assurance on which the people of God may depend for the accomplishment of this promise; and then direct you to the practical improvement of the subject.
I begin with the import of the promise itself, “ I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." —And
1st, It is here supposed, that all other things may forsake us : for in this promise God plainly intends to distinguish himself from the creatures, by claiming this perfection of constancy or unchangeableness, as an attribute peculiar to himself. Vanity is engraved in deep and legi.
ble characters upon every thing below the sun. All things on earth are perishing in their own nature, and so fleeting and deceitful, that they who lean upon them, only secure to themselves a more intense degree of pain and vexation; for sooner or later they will slide from under them, and leave nothing in their room, but the disgrace of a foolish choice, and the bitterness of disappointed hope. History affords us innumerable proofs of this. The wisest men in every age, have observed and laniented the mutability of all earthly things; and we need only keep our eyes and our ears open, to learn this truth, by some fresh example every day we live.
How often do we see riches make unto themselves wings, and flee away as an eagle towards heaven? What a variety of accidents may suddenly deprive a man of all his substance, and reduce him to the lowest state of
pom verty and want? A storm at sea, or a fire at land, will in a few hours consume the labours of many years; and he who, whilst I speak, possesseth plenty of all things, and promiseth himself a long succession of prosperous days, may, before to-morrow's sun, find himself stripped of all his substance, and obliged to depend upon the bounty of others for the common necessaries of life. How many, who boasted that their mountain stood strong, have suddenly been thrown down from the highest pinnacle of power and greatness ? Even princes, when they least dreamt of it, have been forced to exchange their palace for a prison, and have learnt by sad experience, that crowns are but tottering emblems of power, and that royalty itself hath no exemption from the vicissitude of sublunary things. Reputation and friends, health and all bodily advantages, yea, reason, with all the endowments of the mind, are so uncertain and mutable, that no man ean promise on the possession of them. The fairest character may be sullied with the breath of calumny; our friends may prove false, or abandon us through mistake ; or when they are faithful, and in all respects comfortable to us, yet death may snatch them from us, one after another, till we are in a manner left solitary in the midst of the earth. Health and strength, and whatever else belongs to the body, are of all things the least durable, and the most subject to change. Life itself is but a vapour, which, for any thing we know, may vanish into air, the very next breath we draw. We see frequently also, that the mind, as well as the body, is liable to many sad disasters. In some men, the intellectual powers are so blunted and impaired, that they seem to be almost totally extinguished; and, in others, so strangely disordered, that, instead of being of use to them, they serve only to render them more completely wretched. In a word, our condition upon earth is liable to continual alteration, and there is nothing we can be secure of, so much as for one moment. How foolish then are they who promise themselves any durable happiness in this world ? Such persons may truly be said to build their house upon the sand; and though perhaps they may be allowed to raise it to some height, yet ere long some sudden unforeseen storm shall Jay it in ruins, and bury all their vain expectations under it.
But what I would chiefly observe upon this head, is, that frequently the people of God are exercised with the severest trials, and meet with the sharpest afflictions while they remain upon earth. For this mutability of the creatures is not the effect of chance, but of design. God thereby designs to render all those inexcusable, who choose them for their portion ; and when his own children are in danger of being ensnared by them, he pulls them, as it were, with violence out of their hands, that they may beware of contracting too close an alliance with them in future. He will not suffer them to continue long in so dangerous an error, and he sends the rod to undeceive them; he frequently repeats the stroke, to remind them that they are only sojourners in a strange land, and to quicken their desires for their Father's house
above ; for their Father's house, where alone they shall have fulness of joy, and pleasures for evermore.
2dly, As the inconstancy of the creatures is here supposed, so this promise necessarily implies, that the presence of God with his people, is a sufficient ground of consolation in every state and condition of lite. David was sensible of this, when he said, in the 23d Psalm, “ Though I walk through the valey of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me:" and upon the same principle, the prophet Habakkuk triunphs in name of the church, “ Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall there be fruit in the vines, the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat, the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stails; yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
We read in the book of Daniel, that after Nebuchadnezzar the king, had caused Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego, to be cast into the burning fiery furnace, he was astonished, and rose up in haste, and said unto his counsellors, "Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire ? And lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Is there a man who reads this passage, that does not prefer the condition of these captives, to all the splendours of the Ba. bylonish throne ? How little does the trembling monarch seem, though surrounded with his counsellors ? How glorious do the three young Jews appear, whilst walking amidst flames with their God and Saviour? How would they rejoice in this exalted privilege ? And yet, my brethren, all the saints who have God really present with them, although they cannot see him with their bos dily eyes, have equal cause to rejoice in the midst of tribulation. For if God be with them, then He is with them who is infinitely wise, who is perfectly acquainted with all their wants, and can never be at a loss to know