Sermon XII. The Importance of Fidelity in Warning Sinners. Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Isaiah lviii. 1.
This was the fearful injunction of God on the holy prophet. Ofttimes he was charged with the messages of mercy and the tidings of salvation. The vail that concealed future ages was removed the light of Gospel-day beamed on the soul of the prophet; and he was commanded to proclaim to the chosen people of God, that the Sun of Righteousness should arise with healing under his wings. Ofttimes did to soul bound with joy at the grateful commission, to comfort disconsolate Judah and captive Jerusalem with the tidings that her inquiry was pardoned, that she should receive at the Lord's hand double for all her sins. In enraptured vision he beholds a messenger on the distant mountains hastening to proclaim to Judah and Jerusalem the advent of their Lord, and he bursts forth in the strains of joy and triumph--"O thou that tellest glad tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain: O thou that tellest glad tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with great strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!"
Offtimes did the prophet, [137/138] impersonating the blessed Messiah, describe in joyful strains his gracious character and offices. "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives/ and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." Oft-times did the prophet, looking down the long tract of time, hail the dominion of the Prince of Peace, the accession of the nations to the spiritual kingdom of the Messiah, and the glorious and everlasting blessings of his reign. These were the exalted subjects that animated his strains when he proclaimed that "they should not hurt nor destroy in all the holy mountain of God;" "that the righteousness of Jerusalem should go forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burneth;" "that Gentiles should come to her light, and kings to the brightness of her rising; that violence should no more be heard in her land, wasting nor destruction within her borders, but that she could call her walls Salvation, and her gates Praise. Her sun should no more go down, neither her moon withdraw itself, but the Lord should be her everlasting light, and the days of her mourning should be ended."
But alas! the prophet was not always the messenger of glad tidings to Israel; for "their iniquities had separated between them and their God, and their sins have hid his face from them. Their thoughts were thoughts of iniquity, wasting and destruction were in their paths." Therefore [138/139] the holy prophet who had so often proclaimed the messages of mercy, was charged with, the awful commission of judgment and of wrath.
"Cry aloud," was the charge to him, "spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins." With plainness, with impartiality, with decision, with energy, show the rebellious people of Jehovah their transgression, the guilty house of Jacob their sins.
Like the holy prophet, the church has been occupied, in her preceding joyful festivals, in proclaiming to her members only the messages of glad tidings. She called upon us to prepare for the coining of the Lord of hosts to his temple, even that Messenger of the covenant whom we should delight in. Hitherto she has gladdened our hearts with the tidings of great joy, that "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given;" and that "he should be for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house." These have been the joyful subject of all her holy services.
But alas! he whose glorious character and offices she has thus triumphantly set forth, "has come unto his own, and his own have received him not." "Our iniquities have separated between us and our God, and hid his face from us, that he cannot hear." Therefore doth the church change the songs of triumph for the lamentations of mourning, and the tidings of joy for the calls to contrition; and devoting this season to solemn reflection, [139/140] humiliation, and penitence, she charges her ministers with the commission of the prophets--"Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins."
Yes, brethren, in obedience to the command of that God whose commission we bear, and of the church whose ministers we are, it is our duty to "show you your transgressions and your sins;" and in the discharge of this duty to "cry aloud, and spare not, to lift up our voice like a trumpet," to execute her commission with plainness, with fidelity, with energy, and with zeal.
1. The charge respects sinners of every description, not only those who have advanced to the last stage of confirmed impiety, openly denying the Lord who bought them; treating his divine mission as an imposture, the messages of his salvation as idle tales, and that judgment and eternity which he came to reveal, as only phantoms conjured up to impose on the credulous and alarm the timid. Not only those who, having for a long time sought only the gratifications of their sensual passions, have at length given themselves up to work all un-cleanness with greediness, who riot without shame and without remorse in the scenes of intemperance and lewd-ness, and from whose lips proceed blasphemous imprecations of the God who made them, and of the Saviour who redeemed them. Not only those who, however they may abstain from those gross vices that would destroy their reputation, their property, and their health, are restrained by these considerations alone; and making the acquirement of gain, and the enjoyment of pleasure, their supreme aim, pursue these objects in the neglect and [140/141] violation of those sacred duties which bind them to their God, of that justice and charity which they owe to man, and of that sobriety and purity which ' they should cherish in their conduct and their hearts. Not only sinners of this prominent and marked character, but they also, who, whatever may be the comparative innocence of their lives, have not yet secured their Christian privileges, pledged to them in baptism, by fulfilling its sacred obligations, nor made their peace with God by unfeigned repentance and lively faith; who, while they cultivate integrity, and justice, and kindness, in their intercourse with their fellow men, and abstain from the gross indulgences that would corrupt their own hearts, live in the habitual neglect of the service and homage which they owe to their Almighty Maker, Benefactor, and Saviour. To impenitent sinners, to unrenewed and unholy men of every description, the voice of God's judgment is directed--"Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways, lest iniquity prove your ruin." [Ezek. xviii. 39.] Every violation of the laws of God which we commit, is preparing for us, if not in the present world remorse of conscience, assuredly in that which is to come, the worm that never dies, and the fire that never will be quenched. For every sinful gratification, for every profanation of the holy name of our God, for every violation of his laws, he will bring us into judgment. And does that awful event, which will bring us with all our sins and iniquities into the presence of the Almighty Sovereign and Judge of the world, and whose tremendous and eternal vengeance we have justly provoked, impress us with no terrors? My brethren, [141/142] we may be free from gross and enormous transgressions, and from any violations of the laws of justice, charity, and purity, but the sins of omission, as it regards the homage and obedience due to the Almighty Being who made and rules us, our merciful and gracious Protector and Father, the Fountain of all our blessings, the Author and Finisher of our redemption, will be charged upon us at the great day of account. Until we are reconciled unto God through repentance and faith in the merits of his Son Jesus Christ, and transformed by the renewing of our minds, walk in newness of life, we are in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity.
2. There are also insincere professors of religion, to whom this injunction of the prophet, to "cry aloud, and spare not, to show them their transgressions and their sins," will apply.
The profession of religion is sometimes assumed from some motive of worldly reputation, interest, or advancement, under the cloak of sanctity, to deceive the world, while, in secret, unhallowed passions and sensual and selfish aims are pursued and gratified. There are some who, like the pharisee of old, "make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, while within they are full of extortion and excess." [Matt. xxiii. 25.] Against such as these did the Lord direct, by his prophet, the voice of judgment--"Cry aloud, spare not." To the guilt of transgression against their Almighty Maker--of sinful passions cherished and indulged--they add the deeper guilt of attempting not only to deceive their fellow-men, but to impose upon the all-seeing God. But assuredly the period is approaching, when that [142/143] sovereign and just God, whom they are mocking and insulting by the pretences of piety and devotion, will come and assign them their just portion for ever in that place where there is only "weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth;" for "the hope of the hypocrite shall perish." [Job viii. 13.]
3. There are also superficial professors of religion, who are the just objects of this injunction of God to the prophet.
They who consider religion as consisting merely in decency of conduct, in an attendance one day in the week on public worship, and in professions of attachment to the cause of piety and virtue; who are punctual in observing the indispensable forms of religion, but are not attentive to the spiritual import and tendency of these institutions, nor diligent in making them instrumental to their growth in piety and virtue, and to their advancement in that holiness, without which no man can see the Lord." [Heb. xii. 14.] They have not laid the foundation of their religion in that "renewing of the mind" by the Holy Spirit which their baptism denoted and enforced, and for which it pledged the necessary grace and the most powerful motives, and which alone can make us real, consistent Christians, and by assimilating us to the image of God in his purity and holiness, qualify us for the enjoyment of his presence. They are strangers to the quickening, transforming, invigorating power of faith as the principle of the Christian life, that faith which is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," [Heb. xi. 1.] which constantly brings to our minds, as the objects of our supreme love, [143/144] confidence, desire, and pursuit, the glorious realities of a spiritual and eternal world--our gracious and all-powerful God and Saviour, his all-prevailing merits and grace, the perfection and the bliss of his heavenly kingdom. Satisfied with a certain routine of public observances, they neglect those no less indispensable private means of grace, those high sources of consolation in the Christian life--secret and fervent meditation and prayer. Ah! my brethren, how far short of the claims of the Gospel is this superficial piety! how inadequate to the righteous demands of our God and Saviour! how delusive as a preparation for heaven! All these considerations unite in demanding that we be transformed by the renewing of our minds; that we be sanctified in soul and body; that the lives which we live in the flesh, be lives of faith on the Son of God, in whom, though now we see him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; and that, looking supremely, not at the things which are seen and temporal, but at the things which are not seen and eternal, we earnestly and constantly press for the mark of the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus. Let us not then deceive ourselves with a form of godliness while we are destitute of its power, nor draw near to God with our lips with an external, superficial service, while our hearts are far from him.
4. There are professing Christians of a different description, to whom the injunction of God to the prophet to "cry aloud, spare not," should be directed.
They who place their religion in the sallies of irregular zeal, and not in the sober and uniform dispositions and virtues of the Christian spirit and [144/145] character, who, instead of being occupied with their own demerit and unworthiness, and with the humble publican, "smiting their breast and saying, God be merciful to me a sinner," indulge the censorious spirit of the self-righteous pharisee, and in the elation of spiritual pride and arrogance, say to their brother, "Stand off from me, for I am holier than thou:" they who, while they are loud in their professions of ardent love to God and zeal for his glory, are unmindful of the command, that "he who loveth God should love his brother also," and should uniformly display the virtues of humility, of mildness, of tenderness and benevolence. There are those who, in the fervours of an unhallowed enthusiasm, will neglect or undervalue the ministry and ordinances of Christ's church, which God has made the means of his grace and the pledges of his mercy, and yet lay claim to extraordinary inspirations of his Spirit. But God has commanded us to walk blameless in all his statutes and ordinances: he has gathered us into a church, that thus, as members of the mystical body of his Son, we may be united in the exercise of a living faith to its divine Head. The fruits of the Spirit are not pride, arrogance, censoriousness; but humility, meekness, love. It is the declaration of Christ--"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven." Let us take heed therefore, if we are thus deceiving ourselves, lest, at the solemn day of account, the Almighty Saviour and Judge confound our boastful pretensions with the sentence [145/146] of reprobation--"Depart from me, I know you not."
5. There are also professing Christians who fall very far short of the claims of their Christian calling.
Contented with low attainments in piety and virtue, with only such a measure of obedience as they think will save them from the penalties of the divine law, they are indifferent about attending to its highest demands, and fulfilling its sacred spirit. Aiming at the fruitless task of serving God and mammon, while they wish to rank themselves among the humble followers of Christ--for it is their wish to die the death of the righteous, and to have their last end with his--they are yet loth to relinquish the corrupting circles of sensual enjoyment. But it is the indispensable characteristic of Christians to aim at the highest standard of holiness--at being pure, as the holy Being whom we serve is pure--at being perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect; and not to "love the world, nor the things of the world: for if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." And though this injunction cannot be intended to separate us from the indispensable duties and innocent enjoyments of life, it was surely designed to forbid all those indulgences that corrupt the purity of our hearts and weaken the fervours of our piety. We must then be prepared, in all these cases, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow the path of holy obedience and patience marked out by our crucified Lord, or we cannot be his disciples.
6. Even the sincere followers of Christ are the objects of the injunction--"Cry aloud, spare not, [146/147] show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins."
For how far short do they fall of that perfection in piety and goodness after which they should aspire! How warm is their attachment to earthly pursuits and pleasures, and how feeble their love for spiritual and eternal objects--for the truths that will save them from error, and sin, and death--for the objects that will make them happy to all eternity! How many secret imperfections alloy the virtues that shine fair unto the world! How often have they to lament the inconstancy of their pious resolutions, the feebleness of their holy desires, their susceptibility to the many allurements of a tempting world!
Yes, Christian brethren, sincere as is your devotion to your God, supreme as are your resolutions to serve him, you must bear testimony to the truth, that "there is no man that liveth and sinneth not." Let the reflection on your numerous frailties and imperfections teach you the deepest humility, and while it excites to increased watchfulness and circumspection, lead you to seek the powerful succours of that grace which only can keep you from falling. Let your prayers, your desires, your exertions in the great duties of your Christian calling, be sincere, and earnest, and constant; and then, whatever may be the frailties of your nature, you may take comfort in the assurance, that he who hath called you, is faithful as he is merciful, and will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able to bear, and to resist, and to overcome.
Finally, brethren, while the servants of the sanctuary are diligent and faithful in the execution of [147/148] that commission for which they must render an account--that commission which enjoins them to "cry aloud and spare not, to show the people their transgressions and their sins"--let each individual carefully examine his own heart and life, that he may humbly repent of the trespass which he hath committed, and of the sin in which he hath sinned.
This sincere, deep, and faithful examination of our spiritual character and state is a paramount duty at all times, essential to our advancement in the great work of our Christian calling--the putting off the sins of our corrupt nature, the putting on the graces of the new man in Christ Jesus. Yet wise is the institution of the church, which at this holy season calls us to more serious and frequent exercises of self-examination, meditation, and prayer, lest uninterrupted occupation with the scenes of the world should weaken the ardour or tarnish the purity of our spiritual affections, or confirm us in our indifference to the things that belong to our eternal peace.
Deep repentance, leading, through divine grace, to newness of life--faith unfeigned in the merits and power of the blessed Redeemer, working by love, and bringing forth the fruits of righteousness--are the indispensable conditions of salvation. "Turn then, turn then from your evil ways, lest iniquity prove your ruin." "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but had rather that he should turn from his evil ways and live. Turn then, turn then; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." If the guilty children of men would listen to the [148/149] affectionate invitations of God their Saviour, and turning from their iniquities, would fulfil the purpose of their being, and devote themselves to the Lord ' their God in righteousness and holiness--if the professors of the Christian name would walk worthy of their holy vocation, adorning the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things--the ministers of the Most High would be absolved from the necessity of fulfilling the injunction, "Cry aloud, spare not--show my people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins." Theirs would then be the more delightful duty to fulfil the commission of peace and reconciliation, to proclaim the glad tidings of mercy and salvation. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." "For the Lord will redeem Jacob, and will glorify himself in Israel." "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God." "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint." "The redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
Even so, blessed Lord, hasten this glorious consummation of the felicity of thy people--if not in this world of sin, of sorrow, and of tears--in that new heaven and new earth, wherein dwelleth for ever the perfection of righteousness and the fulness of joy.