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wretched captive, presume to sing the songs of Zion ? No evidences of grace are legible in my heart. Grief and fear have so thoroughly possessed it, that the love of God can find no room. How then, or to what purpose, should I lift up my voice, whilst my soul is cast down and disquieted within me?--Now, to such I would answer in general, that, let your case be as bad as you suppose it, yet still you have cause to bless the Lord. If you cannot thank him for his special grace, yet surely you ought to praise him for his unwearied patience, and these offers of mercy which are daily tendered unto you: Bless him that you are still on earth, in the land of hope, and not confined to the regions of everlasting despair.
But I must not stop here. Come forward into the light, thou dark discouraged soul, and, in the presence of God, give a true and proper answer to these few questions. Thou complainest of the want of love to God, and thy complaints indeed show that thou hast no delighting, enjoying love: But answer me,
ist, Ilast thou not a desiring, seeking love? A poor man who desires and seeks the world, shows his love to it as convincingly as the rich man who delights in it;-the tendency of the heart appears as truly in an anxious pursuit, as in a delightful enjoyment. But, as the weakness of hope is frequently mistaken for the want of desire, I must ask you,
2dly, Do you not find a moaning, lamenting love ? You show that you loved your friends by grieving for their death, as well as by delighting in them whilst they lived. If you heartily lament it, as your greatest unhappiness and loss, when you think that God doth cast you off, and that you are void of grace, and cannot serve and honour him as you would, this is an undoubted evidence that your hearts are not void of the love of God. Once more,
3dly, Would you not rather have a heart to love God, , than to have all the riches and pleasures in the world?
Would it not comfort you more than any thing else, if you could be sure that he loveth you, and if you could perfectly love and obey him ? If so, then know assuredly, that it is not the want of love, but the want of assurance, that causeth thy dejection.
And therefore I charge thee, in the name of God, to render unto him that tribute of praise which is due. To be much employed in this heavenly duty, has an evident tendency to vanquish all hurtful doubts and fears ;-by keeping the soul near to God, and within the warmth of his love and goodness ;-by dissipating distrustful vexing thoughts, and diverting the mind to sweeter things ;-by keeping off the tempter, who usually is least able to follow us when we are highest in the praises of our God and Saviour ;-and especially by bringing out the evidences of our sincerity, while the chiefest graces are in exer: cise.
Praise brings comfort to the soul, as standing in the sunshine brings warmth to the body, or as the sight of a dear friend rejoices the heart, without any great reasoning or arguing in the case. Come then, my dear friends, and make the experiment. Obey that voice which proceedeth out of the throne, saying, “ Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great." Let no voice be amissing on this solemn occasion, but let us all be as one, praising and thanking the Lord, while we commemorate his goodness and everlasting mercy; and then may we hope that he will grace our communion table with his presence, proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, and fill all the guests with the fatness of his house. Amen.
EZEKIEL Xxxvi. 31.
Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings
that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.
Tue Jews were at this time captives in Babylon, and so dispersed through that vast empire, that they said of themselves, in the language of despair, “Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts."Even the Prophet liiniself looked on their case as so irrecoverable by human means, that, when God gave him a visionary representation of their state, by a valley covered with dry bones, and put the question to him, “ Son of man, can these bones live ?” his answer was,
O Lord God, thou knowest.” With thee indeed all things are possible : Omnipotence may do this great thing; but whether it shall be done, or by what means it may come to pass, thou, O Lord God, and thou only, knowest.
Thus abject and hopeless was the condition of the Jews, when God published his gracious design to take them from among the heathen, and to bring them back into their own land, ver. 28. “ Ye shall dwell,” saith he, “in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. I will also - save you from all your uncleannesses : and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you.
will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen." And thei:,,even at this season of returning peace and plenty, at this season, which so often misleads and intoxicates the mind of man, “ Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and for your abominations.”
The account which we have of these penitents, furnisheth us with some very important instructions with regard to the nature of true repentance, which I propose, in the first place, to illustrate; and then to recommend their example to your imitation. And the
1st Instruction which we obtain from this passage is, That true repentance is the gift of God, and the peculiar effect of his Holy Spirit. The course of providence is indeed admirably adapted to reclaim the sinner from the error of his ways. Bitterness is written as with a sunbeam on the line of folly, and certain degrees of misery never fail to accompany our deviations from the path of duty. Yet so dead are men naturally in trespasses and sins, that nothing less than a divine power can render the best means of reformation effectual. Without this, judgments will harden rather than humble or reclaim the transgressor. We read of Ahaz, king of Judah, that in the time of his distress, he did trespass yet more against the Lord. And we are told, in the book of Revelation, that the vials of wrath, which the angels shall pour out upon the men who have the mark of the beast, instead of leading them to repent and give glory to God, shall only cause them to blaspheme the name of God, who hath power over these plagues, and to curse the God of heaven, because of their pains and their sores. The calamia ties with which the Jews were visited in their captivity to the king of Babylon, were in like manner unproductive of any genuine repentance in that stiff-necked people. They had not only polluted their own land, but had also profaned the name of God among the heathen whither they went, and continued to do so, until He whom they had offended had pity on them for his own name's sake, and gave them a new heart and a new spirit, having taken away the stony heart out of their flesh, and given them a heart of flesh. A
2d Instruction which we derive from this passage is, That the grief and self-loathing of true penitents, do not flow so much from their feeling that sin is hurtful to themselves, as from the consideration of its own base nature, and especially of the ingratitude which it carries in it towards a kind and merciful God: For when were the Jews to remember their own evil ways? When were they to loathe themselves in their own sight for their iniquities and their abominations ? Was it when they felt the rod, and lay under the feet of their cruel oppressors ? No; it was when they should be delivered out of their hands, brought back to their own country, and enriched with the multiplied fruits of their trees, and the increase of their fields. Then were their sins to rise up in their remembrance, filling them with grief and shame, for having offended a Being of such transcendent goodness, and unmerited condescension.
Times of calamity do indeed often produce a temporary humiliation and repentance, which for a time resemble the real feelings of penitence; but self-love alone is at the bottom of the appearance. The man is wearied of the inconvenience, but not weaned from the love of sin. But true penitence hath its source in a nobler principle, and is rather the child of love than of fear. It is the melting of the soul at the fire of divine love; it is the relenting of the prodigal son, when his injured father runs forth to meet him; it is the tear of gratitude, which bursts from the condemned criminal, when a pardon from his offended sovereign is put into his hands. It appears, in the