Page images
PDF
EPUB

holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts,” the unceasing song of the seraphs before the throne-is the reply. Glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders,” the hymn of Moses—is the reply. “Be ye holy, for I the Lord your God am holy," the words of the Almighty himself—is the reply. “Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord,” the words of the apostle—is the reply. "That God might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus : for he hath made him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the Righteousness of God in him," the language of the same apostle-is the reply.

This is the fundamental doctrine of all revelation ; the one living and true God is as glorious in holiness, as he is in power and eternity. He is as much “the high and lofty One" by the purity and ex, cellency of his moral attributes, as he is by the inajesty and immutability of his natural perfections. That union and harmony of every species of moral goodness in its highest measure, or rather beyond measure, which we understand by the holiness of God, forms his distinguishing glory. All that desire to be acquainted with him, must know him to be most holy, in creation, in providence, in redemption, in grace, in the final judgment of the world, in the adjudication of man to heaven and hell.

4. All these moral and natural excellencies are further illustrated by the exalted place of abode, where he more immediately manifests his presence ; “I dwell in the high and holy place;" in the heaven of heavens, surrounded by angels and archangels, and all “the Church and assembly of the spirits of just men made perfect." There doth our God dwell, exalted; placed on high ; worshipped, obeyed, and adored by all holy and blessed beings that“ face, that do his commandment, hearkening to the voice of his word.” There he“ dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man" (no one clothed with mortality)“ hath seen nor can see ; to whom be glory for ever and ever.Amen,

see his

II. What, then, must be the correspondent temper of mind which becomes such a creature as man, before this great God? This is our second point. We are not yet arrived at consolation. Something must intervene. Man must be brought down to his proper place. Till this is done, he compels, as it were, the Almighty to set himself in array against him.

Now, whether we consider man as a creature, or as a transgressor, or as under divine rebukes, low. liness on every account becomes him.

1. For as a frail, mortal, feeble creature, who is “crushed before the moth,” humility is the only suitable temper for man before the great and glorious God. Even angels and archangels veil their faces with their wings in his presence. The saints who are in the glories of heaven itself“ fall down before the throne, and cast their crowns at the Almighty's feet. Adam in his original innocence must ever have been sensible of his infinite distance from his Creator; of his dependance on him, his weakness, his obligations. And if men knew their relative position now, they would acknowledge that between him “who inhabiteth eternity,” and “ a shadow that passes by,” there are no measures of comparison ; that before him who “ dwells in the high and holy place,” man, who says to “corruption, Thou art my father; to the worm, Thou art my mother and sister, should prostrate his understanding, as well as his passions and appetites.

Nothing can be so arrogant and presumptuous as the pride of intellect which is now so commonly admired. Even natural religion implies the depend. ance, ignorance, frailty of man. All declamations

against religion generally; all profane and light language on the doctrines of Christianity; satire upon the persons or employment of the servants of God; all contempt for piety; all indifference to Christianity as a revelation from heaven; all abstract objections to express matters of inspired truth ; all popular declamations against any mysterious parts of Christian truth are all contrary to the obligations of natural, as well as revealed, religion. To trifle with what appertains to “ the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,” brands the deist with impiety, as well as inconsistency.

2. But it is as transgressors that we are chiefly to lie abased in the awful presence of the most High. Something more than humility becomes man as an offender against his rightful sovereign. Humility is a just estimate of ourselves. Contrition is more; it is penitence for sin, brokenness of heart for having offended God. The first is always man's duty as a creature; the second, as a sinner.

The primary idea of contrition is derived from any thing which is crushed under foot, trodden down, bruised, totally broken and destroyed, and ground into powder, as it were. In this sense it is used by the prophet, I“But I will put the cup into the hand of them that afflict thee, which have said to thy soul, bow down that we may go over; and thou hast laid thy body as the ground and as the dust to them that went over.”

When this primary idea is transferred to the mind, it is often used to express any excessive grief, dejection, or sorrow. And thus we familiarly speak of this and that person dying of a broken heart.

But if it be in a religious sense that the transferred word is employed, it imports poverty and grief of spirit on account of sin, as committed against the great God. It is the union of the two beati

1 In his 53d chapter,

P

tudes of our Lord, “Blessed are the poor in spirit;" and “Blessed are they that mourn.” Contrition thus stands opposed to hardness and stoutness of heart generally; and, except as the consolations of grace are vouchsafed, to that “reviving of the spirit” of which the latter part of our text speaks.

King Josiah was an instance of this contrite heart: “Because thy heart was tender, and thou humblest thyself before me, when thou heardest all the words written in this book.” And Manasseh, when he “humbled himself greatly before the Lord God of his fathers, and sought the Lord his God.” And the publican, who “stood afar off, and durst not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

This contrition for sin springs from a view of the corruption and rebellion of our nature against God, brought home to the conscience and heart by the Holy Ghost; and producing a sense of the guilt, folly, apostacy, treachery of man before the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy.” Conviction of sin original and actual, is the source of all grief, and contrition on account of it. Shame, regret, confusion of face follow. The guilt of neglecting, forgetting, provoking, insulting the high and only Potentate; the demerit of a life of folly, perverseness, sensuality, pride, worldliness, formality, death, descend as an overhanging mountain upon the soul, and grind it in the dust.

Two things especially contribute to real contrition. The one, a sense of God's gracious, benignant character; his forbearance and long-suffering with man-his name and very nature in every way consistent with his moral attributes, being love ; his law also being all goodness, holiness, and truth; his provision of mercy in his only-begotten Son, rich and abundant. Nothing sets man's frightful ingratitude in so odious and prominent a light, as the unspeak

able goodness of the great God. So long as man falsely conceives of him as a hard master, he feels, he can feel, no contrition ; but when he discerns that God is, and ever has been, infinitely good, and to him also, his heart bursts with ingenuous grief and self-abhorrence.

The other, is the inscrutable wickedness and deceit. fulness of his own heart, which, like the prophet Ezekiel's “ chamber of imagery,” discloses more and more of its interior "abominations," as it is more closely examined. These two things break the heart, silence objections, convince us of the helpless state in which we are as sinners, show us that we can neither make an atonement for past sins of ourselves, nor perform acceptable obedience for the future.

Accordingly, one principal object of divine teaching and grace under the gospel, is this very contrition of soul : “ I will take away,” saith the Almighty, “the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” “I will pour out on the house of David the spirit of grace and supplication, and they shall look unto him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son; and they shall be in bitterness, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.” “ That thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done."

3. The penitent is now prepared for the further measures of humiliation which God's rebukes and chastisements require. This was the case with the Church when the prophet addresses it in the text. God had been wrath with the people for their scoffs and profaneness, their covetousness, and, generally, their "going on frowardly in the way of their hearts." For these provocations the Lord had smitten them; and in the words before us, he points to that spirit of contrition which alone corresponds with their position as creatures, as sinners, and as a people un

« PreviousContinue »