Prov. xvi. 33.
Printed by L. Graham & Co., 73 Camp street, Second Floor.
THE following discourses are published, not only for the vindication and establishment of Christian profession; but also, as a means of reaching the benevolent. It is believed that the want of plain, short and Catholic instruction on great, practical truths, occasions the present alarming increase and progress of speculative views in religion, of novel doctrines, and dangerous theories. Definite knowledge in relation to what is fundamental, is a safeguard. This will foster Christian growth and protect the Church from the heresies and schisms now so prevalent. Uncertainty in matters of faith exposes the soul to the perilous assaults of infidelity and to the seductive influences of every form of false teaching. Should the following sermons in any measure, fortify the mind against the insidious attempts of sin, the labor in compiling them will have been more than rewarded.
An apology, however, maybe claimed by the Church for thus venturing a treatise, so humble and imperfect, on subjects already so ably handled by our many giant theologians. It is therefore added in extenuation of this temerity that a recompense of a more ordinary kind is greatly coveted; indeed, particularly and most earnestly sought and solicited. The proceeds of this attempt are consecrated to the payment of a crying, Parish debt. Smitten with poverty and subjected to many trials, the faithful in this suffering Diocese are now compelled to seek abroad that charity which once they could and did gladly dispense to others,--yes, with both hands. And how many noble disciples of the cross, yearning for opportunities of doing good, would, with delight, respond to this appeal were its merits truly and fully known to them! Visited by Divine Mercy, blessed by some signal deliverance, replenished with an abundance of temporal things, or moved by the fervor of earnest piety, many a devout soul, desirous of recognizing Heaven's [1/2] bounty, would then, cheerfully and gratefully improve the occasion, thus offered to all, of fostering and furthering the sublime cause of true religion. Commended therefore to the sympathy of the whole Church, and of the benevolent everywhere, this little work is confidently sent forth on its pious. errand, in the name of the Lord.
It is earnestly solicited that on receiving the Sermons, Fifty Cents be subscribed and enclosed to the address given below; or, such aid donated as may in any measure evidence the Christian tokens of brotherly kindness and charity.
Orders for copies and remittances can be forwarded, through the Post Office, to the Rector's residence, Eighth and Camp Sts., New Orleans; or, to Richard Rhodes, Esq., 55 St. Charles St., New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS, 1875.
Eleventh Anniversary of the Restoration of the Free Church of the Annunciation.
Sermon on Confession. Preached in CHRIST CHURCH, New Orleans, before
the Annual Diocesan Council, 7th April, 1878:
Text: XXVIII Proverbs, 13 verse--"He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.
SIN is a usurping and therefore, an alien power. It affects, aspires to and claims supreme and universal dominion. When, or how, or where it originated, whether co-extensive with eternity, or only contingent,--permitted as a discipline for the revelation and vindication of the Attributes of Deity to finite minds,--these are questions forever open,--problems impossible of human solution. Awful traces of the ravages of this baleful principle, even before the Creator's Throne, arrest and rivet our attention,--while here, on our earth, a melancholy chapter of its history of sorrow more especially and directly falls under the cognizance and shapes the destinies of our race. The inspired page, embracing the records of Time from the cradle to the sepulchre reveals a sad legacy of woe and doom, bequeathed to his children by Adam, their fallen Sire.
Original Innocence itself seems not to have been an estate of unmingled experience. Even under this, the Golden Rule of our history, good was not so absolute as entirely to exclude the idea of another power, strangely contrasting with and hostile to it. Whispering everywhere in solemn echoes, the doom concealed in the forbidden fruit, warning voices besieged the steps and fell upon the ears of guilelessness, purity and the highest degree of earthly bliss. Drawing her inspirations from the source of Truth itself, the delineations of Nature silently manifested to human perception the vivid outlines of alien, active energies, disturbing the order and peaceful government of the Godhead. The sinking of the sun beneath the horizon, inaugurating the mysteries of night; the vain attempts of the feeble moon, though beaming in all her splendor, of the hosts of heaven, though decked in all their sheen, to dispel the gathering gloom, or wholly banish the pervading and prevailing darkness,--these were solemn intimations, perceived and felt, even in Eden, of a mighty, secret influence ever at work, and strangely contrasting with that more genial serenity born of the light and only fully returning to the soul with the cheerful and cheering day.--The marvel of sleep, in its cause and [3/4] effect; the changes, silent and slow, yet steady and constant, universal and vast, secretly and silently wrought in Nature; the returns of hunger and thirst; the sensations of weariness and fatigue, discovering wants and awakening reflection; the yearnings of the affections, and the cravings of the desires; the differences of heat and cold in their qualities and operations; the powers and mutual antipathies of fire and of water: the effects of blows and of falls,--these and kindred truths constantly courting the senses and reaching the mind, must, long anterior to the Fall, have forcibly impressed our first parents, must have raised those difficulties and started those curious enquiries which, through Satanic promptings, received a certain, final and terrific resolution in the violent and aggressive use of the "tree of knowledge of good and evil." And that strange, oppressive sentiment which impelled Adam and Eve to seek in the recesses of Paradise a retreat and a refuge from Divine Justice, now suddenly revealed to and experienced by them in this daring act of transgression, faithfully and forcibly interpreted the vivid, disturbing hints and foreshadowings of their Fallen Estate which together, in every region of nature, they had so often detected and contemplated; which causing them to marvel and enquire, had so frequently surprised and startled them; and which, hitherto, had been involved in the depths of a mystery always inviting, yet continually baffling their united efforts to fathom.
Originally and when untainted by sin, it would seem that, from certain, singular contrasts, scattered over a wide and extended field of observation, man might have been led to suspect and infer the existence of powers and qualities, alien to his sympathies which might possibly be supposed to aim at his own nature and which, therefore, might in the issue even characterize and leaven his own inner life. And these striking phenomena would doubtless seem to receive further and peep liar significance in their evident bearing on and direct relation to, the Divine and awful prohibition,--"In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." And should such interpretations of Nature's silent and forcible teachings be indeed prophetic of this terrible doom, thus pronounced by God Himself and everywhere foreshadowed,--then were the unnumbered evidences of the unknown, dark and menacing principle, appealing to the perceptions; benevolent interventions in behalf of human security, warnings and cautions specially provided by Infinite goodness, merciful alarms designed and furnished for the protection of unsuspecting innocence. In and by transgression the mystery was fully explained; for the actual and experimental knowledge of evil was at once subversive of all good, and therefore, of happiness and of hope. As we all but too well know, by violence and usurpation sin was introduced into our nature; and, the act of invasion being sanctioned by the will, its contamination infected all the powers of our [4/5] humanity. To original guilelessness, innocence and purity, had been revealed the Goodness of God, as exemplified in the sublimity, beauty, peace, security and happiness of a rejoicing world: but to Sin, guilt and the usurpations of insatiable transgression was Divine Justice discovered, as seen in the soul at war in and with itself, in the disorganization and contamination of Creation, and in the ceaseless anticipation of an unknown, ever impending retribution. Good and Evil, by a hideous anomaly, now co-exist in the soul of man, as fire and water in the same vessel, as light and darkness in the same temple, as hostile desires and affections, opposing wants and tendencies, antagonisms and antipathies, forced and impelled into unnatural, forbidden union. Such is the moral prodigy; such, the monstrous anomaly which sins' intrusion on Divine sovereignty has effected in our human nature. Such, in brief, is the actual Fall of Man. A similar invasion had at once, been fatal to the angelic orders, subdued, as we learn, by its deadly infection. Driven into hopeless chaos thereby, these heavenly intelligences were precipitated into irrecoverable perdition.--Man's destiny has not been thus disastrous. For him there is hope. The heavens have opened for the manifestation of other perfections of the Godhead, which, though not invoked, not understood by him, yet have human mercy and helplessness reached and conciliated. And these latest and greatest evidences of Divine Goodness shall rescue the immortal and perishing soul even from the desperate doom pronounced against transgression. Yes, the fairest attributes of the Supreme Being, God's Mercy and God's Truth, are now freely and fully revealed to our race, and the restoring operations of these precious qualities Divine are here, in the text epitomized, by the Hebrew sage, for our comfort, encouragement and edification. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy."
This passage is an inspired antithesis, involving a Divine menace and a Divine promise. Two classes of sinners are described and contrasted; and, under this grouping, may be understood and mustered the whole race of man,--all the world, as it stands for judgment before God. Apt terms are forcibly employed by Solomon to designate these two classes,--the definition, "He that covereth his sins," denoting one division of sinners and the description, "Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins," distinguishing the other. Now, since the covering of sins is opposed to the confessing and forsaking of them, we are authorized to teach that, under the Divine Law, he who covereth the least sin shall not prosper; but, whoso confesseth and forsaketh the greatest shall have mercy. For, the contrast is not between sins of one kind, number and degree as compared with sins of another description and character; the whole force of the sacred antithesis rests in the nature [5/6] of the action of the sinner in relation to his sins,--whether the sins are covered, or confessed and forsaken. And this leads us to enquire, in the first place, what is meant by covering sin? In answering this question, it may be observed that, since the expression 'to cover sins,' is opposed to the confession and forsaking of them,--by omitting this, and by substituting the equivalent negative phrase, we may, without impairing the great truths involved, render the whole text by one set of terms only. The passage would then read as follows: "He that confesseth not and forsaketh not his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy." 'To cover sins,' therefore, is not to confess, not to forsake them. And as we have seen, sin is a subtle, secret, deceiving and domineering power. The guilty conscience, therefore, being alas! only too willing and resolved to endure its tyranny, seeks to defend itself; to cover its transgressions by taking refuge in the hidden recesses of concealment. With Adam and Eve it hurries away to the deep coverts, in order to screen its nakedness, to withdraw from view the hideous deformities which, in vain it endeavors to hide from itself, which it may not brook to discover to others, unless impelled by a necessity it cannot resist. Always in hollow disguise, because felt and known to be degraded and disgraced, ever, also, retiring into the shelter of obscurity, it shuns the verdict of unleavened truth, it avoids the sheen of unclouded day. Though ashamed of and condemning its own temerity, 'it cometh not to the light' to be purified, but rather stealthily recedes within the gloomy folds of night, to escape detection, to efface if possible, every trace that might lead. to its exposure. Thus, in pride, the guilty soul relies on concealment only; and so, bears the strongest negative testimony in favor of the excellence of innocence. Rendering homage to the claims of truth, hypocrisy seeks to rescue the sinner from his shame, by covering his odious deformities under the specious appearance of virtue. Alas! to what excuses and shifts is he not carried and driven who affects to cover his sins! It is but an affectation; for the attempt may rarely be successful even when the effort is limited to the concealment of transgression from man. To his utter shame and confusion, sooner or later, sin will discover the sinner. "Be sure your sin will find you out" is one of those voices of inspiration, which human experience in every age has fully vindicated. Adam and Eve would fain hide their crime even from God Himself, and the first murderer, Cain, their wicked son, imitated the folly and temerity of this their strange attempt: but the dread voice of Him whose "eyes are in every place," discovered to the guilty conscience of the former the vanity of affecting any concealment, and to the latter that there was in a brother's blood a force of testimony which no earthly barriers, or human wisdom could restrain. Remorse of conscience, becoming intolerable, forced from their [6/7] laboring breasts that confession of common crime which Joseph's wicked brethren could no longer hope to cover, while the wilful lie, presumptiously invented to blind the Holy Seer, inspired by the Lord, hands down to all posterity, in the snowy leprosy of the rash Gehazi, a solemn warning and example of the fearful doom invoked by him who essays to hide his sins under premeditated deceit. Thus does the love of sin fight against conscience; thus is conscience avenged. 'Extenuation,' 'ignorance,' 'strong temptation,' 'sudden surprise,' 'first offence,' 'human weakness,' 'the Divine Decrees,' 'the compensation of other and better qualities'--these are some of the wretched pleas commonly urged in favor of the usurpations of that Satanic power which, first reducing to ruins, primeval innocence next, in subtlety and malice, advances persistently on, to subvert, if possible, even the operations of Divine Love in the manifestations of Messianic mercy to the fallen. Every pretext is alleged, in palliation; every excuse is offered in justification, by the deluded sinner. Alas! such 'fig leaf coverings,' rather evidence a settled purpose to be enslaved by the wiles and seductions of sin,--a desire to cling to that guilty pride of heart which would fain hide in secret hostility, from God,--than any willingness to accept, full mercy as a condemned culprit. "There is," however, "no darkness, nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves." The darkest deed is done in the open face of an All-seeing God, and "set in the light of His countenance," to be, hereafter, proclaimed--if not confessed and forsaken--'upon the housetops,' before the assembled world.
But, since it is urgent to obtain clear and Scriptural views on the fundamental doctrines of confessing and forsaking sins, this brief and imperfect exposition of what is meant by covering them, must now suffice. And, in approaching, in the second place, this portion of the subject, it will not, perhaps, be deemed too discursive to state here, certain relations either directly or indirectly affecting it. Confession of sins may be plainly described as an ingenuous and penitent acknowledgment of them to God; a voluntary, full and sincere discovery of them, all and every, to Him, as opposed to and contrasted with the daring act of wickedly concealing or covering them. If this be accepted as a sufficient definition of confession of sins, a general acknowledgment of sinfulness, though having the form and character of penitence, is not, necessarily, such a discharge of this solemn duty as is required. For then, confession might be made and yet iniquity be covered and hid. The terms of the text, therefore, although not condemning the open recognition of a fallen and erring nature, which may indeed be the outward sign of an inward, humble and saving conviction,--expressly and distinctly exact the particularizing of sins, as the essential element of [7/8] the precept enjoined. The language is clear and precise," Whoso confesseth,"--not his depravity, his fallen estate, his frailty and imperfections of nature but, "Whose confesseth his sins,"--all his actual sins, severally and separately considered; every transgression, in kind, in number and in character; the offenses to which the soul is privy, and more especially those, the remembrance of which is continually festering in and burdening the conscience, breaking down courage, darkening life and rendering all things wearisome, dreary and joyless. And with this inspired description of confession, the voice of Holy Scripture fully harmonizes. Throughout that blessed Book, Divine Love urges the sinner to an humble acknowledgment of every fault, saying, "My son, give glory to the. Lord God and make confession; tell now what thou hast done, bide it not." Now, it is urged by the advocates of a doctrine, not authorized or sanctioned, as we shall show, by the Holy Scriptures, that, since it is not possible to hide anything from God, confession of sins to Almighty God is not inculcated in the text. Let us consider the measure of importance to be attached to this interpretation. It is certain that confession of sins is absolutely enjoined in the passage before us; and, if it be pretended that confession to God is not the doctrine taught, it follows that confession at some other tribunal, not Divine, is here declared by Solomon to be of essential obligation. If the premises be tenable, this deduction is inevitable. We may ask, therefore, "What is that Tribunal which thus claims to derive its sanction from Divine Law? Where must we perform Allis duty? To whom are we to make our confession? We are enjoined duly to discharge a solemn obligation, involving the most serious issues. What course must we pursue that, in all things, we may comply with the precept?" The Council of Trent pretends to have most precisely determined this question by laying down the following instructions to be observed in relation to it: "Secret confession to the Priest alone of all and every mortal sin, which upon the most diligent search and examination of our consciences, we can remember ourselves to be guilty of since our baptism, together with all the circumstances of these sins, which may change the nature of them; because, without the perfect knowledge of these, the Priest cannot make a judgment of the nature and quality of men's sins." It is further declared by the same Council,--"that secret confession of sins to the Priest was instituted by our Lord, and is authorized by the law of God to be necessary to salvation and to have always been practised in the Catholic Church."
Though weak and enslaved, through the fall, reason teaches us that, being the transgression of the Divine Law, sin must however, be directly confessed to God. Our natural perception of what is just and in order seems to demand this arrangement. Laboring under the pressure of conscious guilt, the soul [8/9] recognizes, by some secret intuition, its direct responsibility to the Great God who has been offended; and, though fallen and in exile, nature seems to discredit any attempt at reconciliation with Heaven which voids, or ignores, an essential relation, never interrupted, unless the breach of Divine Law be further complicated by some scandal, or injury done to man. Under the operation of this general principle, the ends of justice seem to be fatly secured. The injured and the wrong doers are directly brought together, and considered under their true relations. That comparative and righteous adjustment, securing what is equal, can thus be properly arranged. Satisfaction is made; reconciliation is effected. It may here he remarked also, that the ends of Mercy can be subserved only by maintaining this balance and necessary relation; for He alone who holds the right to inflict penalties, can duly exercise the blessed prerogative of forgiveness.
And the light thus thrown upon this cardinal doctrine by reason and experience, shines feebly indeed, but in happy correspondence with the Heavenly Splendor, illustrating it, in the pages of Holy Scripture. The Word of God plainly teaches that the confession of sins to men, is not, as a rule, necessary to their pardon. Under certain circumstances only, when sins have been committed against God and against man, must confession to men be made. In all other cases, confession to God alone, will secure pardon of sins. Such, briefly, is the clear Law of Confession of sins as taught by nature and revealed in the Bible. That exposition of our text, however, which excludes confession to the Lord, altogether, directly opposes this doctrine and virtually enforces that of the Confessional. It evidently counsels secret confession to man. But, assuming this, for argument's sake to be the true interpretation of Solomon's precept, how shall we then meet the more serious and formidable difficulty, that confession of sins directly to God is, nevertheless, universally taught by the Bible to be a necessary condition of the pardon of them? The whole volume of Scripture, be it repeated, declares this truth very plainly. We have to choose, therefore, between a confession of sins which has the promise of God's pardon of them, and one which can furnish no certain, or sufficient guarantee for securing this precious benefit, between a construction of the text which destroys the harmony of Scripture, and one which vibrates in unison with nature, experience and inspiration. It may, indeed, be urged that-the acknowledgment of sins, as enforced in the text, is in effect, made to God through His own Ambassador and Representative at the Confessional. It is however, absolutely proved that by the atonement on the cross, direct communion and relations between God and the soul of man have been re-established: and, since there is no revealed command, either to pray, or to confess to any, save God, there surely, can at least be no greater obligation to make private confession of sins to man, [9/10] than there is to make private prayer to man. Confession also, being an essential element of prayer, the injunction of our Lord in relation to the devotion of the closet, while harmonizing with the whole canon of Scripture, strongly prohibits that dangerous innovation which pretends, as here, to derive its sanction from God's Holy Word. Were 'Auricular Confession,' therefore, in other respects, worthy of commendation, the argument for its enforced use, it most be acknowledged, rests but upon a spurious, an arrogant claim,--upon a usurpation therefore, which would not only send us to a mere, human tribunal to perform the solemn duty commanded; but also, to be consistent, should exact from every one of us the prodigious practice of making our prayers to man. How repugnant even the thought of this spiritual bondage is to humanity and to the teachings of Holy Scripture, needs not here to be described! What a different lesson is taught by that simple and humble confession of sins which the Holy Spirit breathes into His penitent children! "I said I will confess my sins unto the Lord." "I acknowledged my sins unto Thee and mine iniquity have I not hid." Such are the terms of a pious resolution formed by David. He determined to discover himself directly to God by a full acknowledgment of his sins,--by a detailed confession of his transgressions to Him. He declared, "mine iniquity hate I not hid."--The inference cannot be resisted. Not to acknowledge sins,--not to confess transgressions is to bide them, to cover them, from the Lord. When, therefore, Solomon writes, "He that covereth his sins"--he in fact writes, "He that covereth his sins" from the Lord. Thus, the objection raised against the text is doubly refuted. So far from prescribing enforced, private confession, as of Divine authority, Solomon here expressly inculcates the doctrine of confession of sins, not to man,--but to God, only.
Now, it is not necessary to show here, that the usurpations of the Confessional aim at the prerogatives of the Godhead, tend to the undue exaltation of the Priesthood, and in many ways do great and enduring injury to the cause of true religion. These evils are proved by the clearest and highest evidence, as given above; they are matters of history and experience; they are also, well known to the Church and so need not now be set forth and discussed.
The few passages of Holy Scripture, in addition to the text, adduced in support of this unnatural dogma, cannot be accepted as even tending to establish its claims. In truth may it be qualified as an unnatural dogma; for surely, both intuitively and by Divine precept are we restrained in spiritual as in carnal things, by a preserving and priceless modesty, by an ingenuous sense of personal privilege and self-respect from that revolting exposure of our deformities to men which disturbs the social order, shocks the moral senses, outrages reason and does violence to revelation. Modesty will cede to force only. [10/11] Three texts are quoted in support of 'Auricular Confession.' In the first of these, however, no mention is made at all of confession, and nothing therefore of the particular confession exacted by the Tridentine Decree. [St. John XX, 23.] In the other two, nothing is said of confession to the Priest,--a matter which surely, should not be omitted, since it is proposed by these passages to establish the doctrine contended for. [St. John I, 9; St James v. 16.] Clear words, not vague inferences, must be brought forward to prove and to ratify a dogma by Divine Law. Such testimony however, cannot be produced; we therefore conclude that forced confession of sins to man is unscriptural. But it is pretended that 'Auricular Confession' is a catholic practice and belief,--that it has been observed by all Christians in all places and always.--This assertion also, is but a pure assumption; it is incapable of proof: and, were it even true it could be of no weight in determining this question. Holy Scripture is not to be interpreted by tradition; but tradition must be tested by the Word of God.
In the early ages of Christianity, public confession for open and scandalous crimes was indeed in use and rigidly enforced. There was however, then, no law exacting private or secret confession to a Priest as a necessary condition of the pardon of sin. In due course of time, this discipline was discontinued, which shows that, however useful, the custom was not considered necessary, absolutely for the reconciliation of the sinner to Almighty God. To this public confession succeeded the acknowledgment of notorious offenses to a priest, specially appointed to this office and called the 'Penitentiary.' On occasion, however, of great scandal in connection with this tribunal, a bishop of Constantinople abolished the office. We hence infer that this form of confession was not deemed essential for securing the pardon of sin.--The great St. Chrysostom, who lived about this time, expressly, forcibly and persistently teaches the duty of confession to God, alone. He repeatedly declares in his writings that confession to man is not necessary for the forgiveness of sins. From this period of ecclesiastical history, the close of the fourth century, to the age of Pope Innocent, the Third, the doctrine and practice of the Church in relation to this question remained as thus apparently settled. In the year A. D., 1215, however, at the Fourth Lateran Council, held under this Pontiff, the necessity of secret confession was established. By the Council of Florence, A. D., 1453, and by that of Trent, A. D., 1545, the Lateran Decrees were ratified and in many particulars enlarged. So far therefore from being a custom, existing from the first and in every place, ecclesiastical history shows that 'Auricular Confession' was never perfectly established amongst the whole body of Christians. At the present hour, this unauthorised dogma is only fully embraced by one branch of the Church Catholic. We cannot, therefore, find either in Holy Scripture, or in the faith and [11/12] practice of Christians any reliable evidence of its absolute necessity to salvation, as claimed and demanded for it by its advocates. We will close this part of the subject with the following summary. Confession of sins is an amends claimed by Divine Justice for the violation of law. When the injury is done to man as well as to God, in addition to this acknowledgment to God and to man, suitable reparation mast also be made,--such a reparation as may be required by the nature of the wrong done, by the ability of the offender, or by the just claims of the injured person. All sins committed against God must be confessed to Him, alone; but, should council or advice be needed as to the manner of making this acknowledgment to Him "Who searcheth the reins and the heart,"--should a poor sinner, anxious fully to discharge his obligations in this grave and vital business, find himself so entangled as to be unable himself to compose the difficulties by which he may be surrounded, then, as in other important cases, may he have recourse to the Sacred Ministry, learned in spiritual causes, to be taught the Law of God, and to be wisely directed in his good purpose of making full confession of his sins to his Maker. And since confession pre-supposes conviction of sin, when from the depths of the heart, when unfeigned and sincere, it will always be accompanied with shame and sorrow. He cannot fail to be subdued, who truly feels that he has sinned, and this confusion and grief will be more or less intense in proportion to the degree and perception of sinfulness. Ezra's confession discovered its sincerity by the distress it describes. "O my God," exclaimed the penitent, "I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to Thee, my God." Similarly David expressed his trouble and uneasiness of mind in the devout acknowledgment: "I will declare mine iniquity and be sorry for my sin." Tears are not absolutely necessary to signify the sinner's anguish; but, if he can easily weep on other occasions, certainly 'rivers of waters' ought to run down from his eyes for having broken the Divine Law. In all cases, however, the penitence must needs be thorough in the deep feeling it raises and in the character of its external manifestations. It must be real, earnest, active and strong enough to produce that frame of mind which begets the pious and unalterable resolution of amendment of life, and which secures that comfortable absolution accorded in the promise--"Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." Without this result, confession of sins is not complete; besides an awful mockery, it may then be even a very rash and dangerous act. Happy indeed, are we, members of a faithful Church where this sublime doctrine is so guarded by the impregnable fortress of truth, as to be on the one hand, protected from the profanation reducing it to the low level of a secularizing latitudinarianism; and, on the other, emancipated from that strange and daring usurpation which, [12/13] claiming for it a temporal importance and power, ascribes to the creature, through its perversion, the inalienable prerogatives of the Creator. Happier, still, are we, if knowing these things, we are so led by the Spirit of God, that, avoiding both evils, we keep ever shining and brightly burning in our lamps the blessed light of truth, mercifully vouchsafed for our own guidance and for the safety of those who, treading in our steps, shall soon take our places in the Church Militant here on Earth. We live at a time when for the Gospel fervor which can only spring from the calmness of reasonable conviction under the Holy Spirit's influence, is being substituted a dangerous and carnal zeal kindled by exciting appeals to the imagination and to the perceptions of the lower nature. This earthly flame cannot brook that ardor, which, caught from heaven, is nourished by reasonable arguments and inspired evidence, addressed to the understanding and the conscience.
The ancient pathways, so faithfully trodden by the worthies of the Church are now, alas! found to be tiresome and monotonous. The excitement awakened by novelty and sensation must rather come and quicken the "dry bones" of a steady, uncompromising, and passive confession of Christ before men. This higher law, so considered, must replace by its more pleasing influences, the venerable and peaceful sentiment, that draws its warmth and, invincible loyalty from the flaming altars of the cross alone. We have indeed, need of patience and fidelity. Our age is turbulent, revolutionary and irreverent We are censorious; but, not humble. We demand the truth we crave knowledge; but, we are rebellious. We trust in God, assent to the creed; yet, we lack faith as a principle of Christian life. We claim the service of exalted gifts, the example of eminent virtues; but, alas! how sadly are we ourselves wanting in grace and self-denial.--Is obedience to God the reign of self-will, of insubordination? When the carnal mind shall have been so subdued as to be 'crucified,' then, and only then, will Heavenly truth be secured and preserved. But, to conclude. It will be observed that the promise of mercy is accorded, in the text, to that confession of sins which is followed by a hearty renunciation of them. "Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy." Sins of commission are given up when we actively cultivate the contrary duties, when we "cease to do evil and learn to do well." It is an old saying that, to fly from vice, men must be virtuous. Not to be drunk is to be sober; not to defraud, or deal falsely, is to be just and honest. Confession of sins is preparatory to the grand aim and result of forsaking them. Only when we break off our sins by obedience, may we hope for acceptance with God. "If thou wilt enter into life," said our Lord, "keep the commandments." Without an accompanying reformation, the confession is rather a covering than an acknowledgment of sins; and the act of hiding sins under any form, will certainly [13/14] and in all cases, bring down the Divine retribution, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper."--How sweet and refreshing to escape from this menace of woe, which like a frowning sky portends rain and disaster, and breathe the pure air of reconciliation and peace! How grateful to strike off the fetters and break the chains imprisoning the soul,--to taste the delights of emancipation from a sleepless justice which blights our hopes, mocks our attempts, turns our every joy into mourning and robs us of all prosperity! How blessed to flee from the anger of an offended God,--from Divine wrath kindled by our sins, and assailing us at every step,--alarming us by its dreadful echoes from the past, and menacing us from the distant future! How unspeakably comforting to find safety, reconciliation and bliss in Divine Mercy! Oh, how shall miserable, lost man duly extol this latest revelation of the Godhead! Mercy! most blessed attribute of the Deity! "Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall have mercy." Yes, for God, "who cannot lie," here declares it. Let the ministers of Christ hasten to deliver their joyful message of reconciliation, to absolve the trembling, humble and sorrowful sinner, to declare to him authoritatively, that God's truth is engaged for his pardon, for his release and salvation. The mercy of God as revealed to us in the Old and New Testaments is reconciliation and peace. Isaiah writes, "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He "will abundantly pardon him." St. Peter's preaching continues this prophetic message;--"Repent ye, therefore," exclaims this apostle, "confess and forsake your sins," that they "may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall, "come from the presence of the Lord and He shall send Jesus Christ who before was preached unto you."
Having parried the blows, mercy has now sheathed the sword of justice. Having re-opened the Heavenly Paradise, mercy now, by the co-operation of the Holy Spirit, exalts mankind to the realization of its unspeakable bliss. Mercy takes away the sting of death and robs the grave of its prey. At the last day, mercy shall greet the saved with the final sentence of absolution and acceptance:--"Come, ye blessed; enter into the joy of your Lord." Children of the Promise, members of the Holy Church which the Son of God has purchased with His own most precious blood, "lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." The ineffable brightness of the Sun of Righteousness now fills the spiritual firmament. Glimpses and foreshadowings of the new heavens and the new earth everywhere catch the eye and appeal to the sober thought. Though her sight be dim, the celestial effulgence reaches the ardent gaze of the expectant Church. Bathed in the blessed beams, the fair walls, palaces and towers of Zion, majestically rise and flash on the steadfast view,--yes, though the 'far-spent' [14/15] night intervene, though the malignant powers of darkness frown upon the ravishing vision.--The spiritual realms sublime, as in safety the 'Ark of the Covenant' passes over the troubled Sea of Time to the Eternal Shore, are studded with the splendor of shining saints and,--
"All the spangled hosts of heaven,
Keep watch in squadrons bright.
"The moon above, the Church below,
A wondrous race they run;
And all their light and all their glow
Each borrows of its sun."
Sermon on Absolution. Preached in CHRIST CHURCH, New Orleans,
August 15th, 1875.
Text: XXIV Deuteronomy, 8th verse--"Take heed in the plague of leprosy that thou observe diligently and do according to all that the Priests, the Levites, shall teach you; as I commanded them, so ye shall observe to do."
There are probably, few of riper years who have not been, more or less frequently, agitated by certain vivid and extraordinary impulses, which, besides startling the mind by their sudden and vigorous action, have, for a space, enchained every faculty of nature to the contemplation of matters and issues of the most weighty description and solemn significance. These irregular, unearthly manifestations, in origin mysterious, imperious and pressing in mission, seem under the control of influences, unknown in the sphere of ordinary, human perception. As the portentous comet in the natural world, irresistible in their operations and flashing across the common path and established order of the inner realms of thought and of feeling, they sweep out a way for themselves. Like this sovereign meteor also, they come on a special errand; as accredited heralds to mankind, to speak of what is unknown, to discourse of regions and themes as yet unseen, although inseparably and closely linked with the destiny of our race.
And such testimony, since it appeals to the intuitive, everlasting principles, underlying our humanity, may never be safely or successfully resisted. In itself august, supernatural, imperative, by no force of argument, by no pressure of business, by no mental pre-occupation, can either its remembrance or its character be wholly effaced from the thought. And who, at least once in his history has not been thus summoned and carried, so to speak, into the immediate presence of God? Who has not been some time called away from earthly things to gaze upon a sublime scene presented to his soul, to contemplate a splendor within himself and unknown to his ordinary experience,--a living, speaking vision, clearly revealing the reality and certainty of a higher life, of a life, not transitory and temporal only, but akin to the Divine,--an immortal estate for which at his everlasting risk, he is now held accountable? Is it not a solemn fact vindicated by the voluntary testimony of multitudes, that occasionally and for a sublime purpose, [16/17] strong, sudden and alarming impressions are made upon the slumbering soul,--that an unseen hand, now and again, arrests nature on her appointed way, as were sun and moon summoned to halt in the days of Joshua? And is it not also true that then, as in this memorable 'time of old,' the prodigies of Heaven may be as distinctly seen and contemplated? Doubtless, yes. Some time in a life, the gates of the invisible are suddenly thrown open, and then is the soul bathed in celestial light. The life-giving breath of the world to come fans the spirit, and unspeakable revelations seem to awaken, to ravish, to stir the whole being even to its elements. Then, if indeed, not actually visible, is the Divine presence realized, perceived and felt. That which was deemed incorporeal, seems to be made tangible. As though endued with new powers, the senses readily and fully apprehend what before was beyond their grasp. Heaven and Hell; Sin and Death; Time and Eternity; Calvary and Judgment,--all that is most imposing in conception, grave in relation and awful in issue, comes suddenly before the troubled conscience, in force and coloring vivid as the lightning, irresistible as its shaft. All that commonly confuses thought, puzzles philosophy, or breaks down reason; all that nerves hope, or stimulates fear; breeds trust, or nourishes faith; raises doubt, or feeds despair,--all these conflicting emotions, careering in opposing activity, alternately swell the breast, exert their fearful tension on the powers of the soul and fill the mind with a sentiment, supreme in its order, distinct in its character and correspondence, in its impressions and exactions, awful and perpetual. Is this overdrawn? Answer, thou brand plucked from 'everlasting burnings.'
Wisdom inculcates the neglected truth, that though the pioneers of action, our feelings and emotions, must ever be under vigilant government; because, depending on conviction for healthy direction, their inspirations may not always be accepted as safe rules of conduct. The calm and sober judgment must first be established. This is the true centre originating and developing all noble action. And the stirring manifestations, awakening every power of the mind, above faintly described and insisted on, being in themselves solemn matters of fact, fulfil these capital conditions. In them we perceive a special message front God to the human soul. They are, therefore, particular revelations of the highest moment to the individuals thus Divinely visited, and, consequently, to all mankind. Amongst the many precious hopes they engender, we may notice the consolations which flow from the thought that God has not forsaken us, that our sin-laden nature may be eased of its intolerable burden, that a life superior to the powers of evil is possible, and that our lost Paradise is once more in sight and may be regained. It is commonly admitted that all creation is involved in the [17/18] Revolution which has overthrown our humanity. When man fell the whole world fell with him: a second and new chaos, prevailing to this hour, was then evolved. From the marvellous vestiges and sublime ruins that yet remain, a general spiritual reorganization, similar to that to be wrought on the human body, may not perhaps be deemed irrational to look for. Should the character of the "new heavens and the new earth" be indeed foreshadowed by this striking analogy, the future habitation of all human souls though, as now, material, would yet be spiritual, as will be the risen incorruptible body of man. But this allusion to the final constitution of the Grand Ruin, now the temporary dwelling of our race, is incidental. We seem to entertain the desire that when, in the world to come we recover our bodies, purified, spiritualized and immortalized, we shall also, then behold again, renewed and regenerated, this dear scene of created things in which we now live,--that our hearts may rejoice. Tender associations beget deep sympathies, and so ever and anon, the yearning glance of affection enquiringly turns to its home,--turns readily, to what is so fondly cherished, so inexpressibly dear. Yes, O venerable earth, loved abode and refuge of our laboring nature, beautiful, glorious, wonderful and sublime in thy very wreck! From age to age thou hast safely carried the dying generations of thy hapless children in thy fostering arms. Ever nourishing them from thy teeming breasts, thou hast shared their rained lot, their exile and their disgrace. Tempest-tost and riven asunder, thou also, hast inherited their curse. Yet, unfailing, in thy love, thy sheltering arms open wide to cover thine own. True in life; thou art also, in death, faithful. And, in filial affection, thy children all return to thee,--sweetly to rest, softly to sleep in the deep silence of thy peaceful bosom. Receive them back to thee, not as they were made by sin, but as they are now, as renewed by Grace, as sanctified 'dust,' hallowed 'ashes,' once the living temples of the Holy Ghost. Yes, garner them in hope, within thy secret chambers, as holding the germ of a blessed immortality, as sacred 'earth,' a regenerate seed which, fructifying among thy 'briers and thorns' may yet preserve and purify thee also, for a destiny exalted as is the 'Great Cause,' of which thou art the visible sign and type.
Impressed with the conviction, born of common experience, that the Divine Spirit has not abandoned us, that he moves upon the actual as upon the original chaos,--upon the disorders also, alas! obtaining in our perishing souls, sometimes in quickening impulses, again in powerful promptings and deep impressions,--it follows, that we are not only salvable, but that our broken humanity is commanded to take up its march back to Paradise. "Forward!" is the sinner's watchword. The hope of everlasting life is discovered to be co-extensive with our nature. Wherever toils a child of man, there throbs a heart to be buoyed up by this blessed support. Wherever the upturned, [18/19] human gaze invokes the invisible, there also, will work this irrepressible principle. Wherever flashes of original splendor, kindled by some gracious impulse Divine, dart forth from the blighted energies of the soul, the mystic ladder descends, to raise our nature beyond the skies. The heavenly manna is for all. It finds the poor, wandering, benighted child of the heath as well as him whom not only nature, but revelation continues to nurse. And this glorious truth lent to the gifted poet his loftiest theme. Catching from its inspiration a glimpse of the sublime features of God's love to lost man, be burst forth" in that oft-quoted strain;--
"Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutor'd mind,
Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
His soul, proud Science never taught to stray,
Far as the 'Solar Walk,' or 'Milky Way;'
Yet simple Nature to his hope habit giv'n,
Behind the cloud-topp'd hill an humbler heaven.
To be, contents his natural desire;
He asks no angel's wing, or seraph's fire,
But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
His faithful dog shall bear him company."
Now, no sooner is the soul awakened to a just perception of its situation, than it anxiously casts around, to find, if possible what it must do. Instinctively it sets about the great business of life, about the 'one thing needful.' And this natural impulse towards primitive order is the intuitive recognition of the prerogative of free-will. It is the sign of vitality also, in the self-acting principle of humanity,--a spontaneous confession of personal responsibility, and therefore, a direct and convincing evidence of an inherent, original power of perfect and ac countable self-government. And here we stumble on the true origin of all religion,--of all those outward forms of worship, visible institutions, ritual observances, sacrifices and offerings ever obtaining on earth and usually comprehended under this name. Recognizing itself to be a responsible agent, bound by strict obligation under government, the soul, taught of nature and enlightened by the secret influences of the Holy Spirit, diligently seeks to know and to perform its duties. In the practice and pursuit of this chief business, the sublime truths affecting the condition of mankind in Time and Eternity, gradually dawn upon the mind. Hence the outward worship, under its manifold forms and ceremonies, symbolizing such doctrines. Hence also, as a means to an end, the many religious systems conceived and framed by the mind of man and marking the origin, progress and development of the religions principle from the beginning of its history to the present hour. Here is the source of idolatry under all its forms of superstition, of mythologic fable and of the endless theorizing of groping philosophy.
Three ruling calamities have overtaken and overthrown our race. Sin has entered and permanently occupied the soul of [19/20] man; confusion in consequence, has successfully assailed and continues to warp his reason; disability also, characterizes his will and often rules it. Man is a criminal before God and his own conscience. He is diseased in judgment, corrupt in decision, smitten with a fatal, consuming leprosy. The tendencies of human nature, however, are to correct the evils which, continually overpowering it, impel it in the direction of a fearful doom. Reason and the will, though diverted, are yet not so absolutely turned from their true course, as to be altogether driven from it. On the contrary. These fallen powers ever pertinaciously aim at the free and untrammelled exercise of their birthright. The direction they now take however, is not alas! that Royal Way ordained of the Creator; and so, disappointment and ruin ensue. Self-assertion, cruelty and passion are the ruling attributes of sin. When accepted as gods, such guides conduct the deluded soul directly to destruction. Science and Education, Philosophy and Religion,--all the efforts of man, even his pursuits of every day life, in reality, tend to a sublime end. They are conditions of humanity, which when thoughtfully viewed, discover the soul's restless activity, her ceaseless endeavor and struggle to regain her freedom. For what purpose the toil and drudgery of making books and of searching them? Why are the arts and sciences so diligently cultivated, so carefully preserved? Why is history written and studied; tradition hoarded, sifted and interrogated; the avocations of life in general, embraced and followed, if not to find the mystic clew to the moral labyrinth in which our disorganized nature continues to stray and to wrestle even to desperation t A necessity seems to spur us on. We cannot be at rest; remain inactive. We turn in every direction in search of somebody, or something, to aid us; and, in this act, repeated for ever and under every form, we confess our Fall, our degradation, our utter helplessness. Will the Holy Spirit fail us in this emergency? Will He whose help is vouchsafed when we ask it not, refuse us aid when we so greatly need, so earnestly seek it? Blessed be God, this peerless question is already answered. Anticipating his every want, man's Heavenly Friend is always on the watch, so to speak, for opportunities to aid him. "He is a very present help in time of trouble." Adapting His external aids to His inner manifestations, the Holy Spirit provides for His children. Guided by His gracious promptings the untutor'd heathen seizes upon the precious remnants of ancient truth as they are borne along to him on the flood of time. In these rude, traditional records, he is enabled to discover something of his origin, history and destiny. From these he learns that the wise and the good are rewarded by the joys of Elysium,--that the cruel, the selfish and the infamous are delivered to the excruciating wheel, are torn by the insatiable vulture, are consigned to the desperate doom of the eternal stone and everlasting steep. For the covenanted people of [20/21] God, even better things are prepared. The films and conceits of an ignorant and superstitions age are no longer permitted to obscure the sheen, or narrow the sphere of spotless truth. In the face of God's chosen people, the full and clear light of day now gloriously shines. They learn the way of life from the oral and written inspirations of the spirit which faithfully interpret and satisfy the yearnings awakened by His blessed movements on the soul.
It cannot however, be too carefully borne in mind when tracing the origin and nature of human co-operation with the Divine Spirit, that as already intimated, man is a principal in the work of his own redemption. He naturally and spontaneously evidences this truth also, in his vain, mis-directed attempts to free himself from the chains by which he is enslaved to sin. Hence, whatever is accorded in response to his cry for help must be considered as sent on a double service: first, directly, to supply the want expressed in the petition; secondly, indirectly, to discharge the general and continual mission of instructing mankind from age to age. And the inspired oracles thus vouchsafed have been received,--have been also, transmitted, faithfully to others, orally and in writing. In this way originated the Visible Church, or Family of the living God on earth. Here we discover the foundation and constitution of God's chosen people in all ages. The same truths also, expanded in all the fullness of the Old and New Testaments, shall perpetuate the household of faith to the last. "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall he, world without end." Hence the credit, respect and reverence to be given to the office and person of the authorized teachers of religion. Directly co-operating, as we perceive, with the Holy Ghost in saving the world, these men, like the beacons on the shore, are specially chosen and endowed with Heavenly gifts, to warn their fellows of their danger and to point out the way of safety. At first, the Revealed Truths they were inspired to deliver, established their claims to respect and obedience; and, the formal appointment of duly qualified men, by special and regular ordination to the sacred function of expounding the same, is now the solemn sanction which lends to the ministry all its weight and authority. It is with such views of our actual condition, with such religious sentiments that we must now venture to treat more directly the striking compendium of all faith and practice now selected for our consideration. "Take heed in the plague of leprosy that thou observe diligently and do according to all that the Priests, the Levites, shall teach you; as I commanded them, so ye shall observe to do."
Since the function of true religion derives all its virtue and efficacy from a supernatural source, and since there is not on record a single instance of failure in its power to supply fully and adequately the varied, spiritual wants of our fallen nature, [21/22]--it follows that not only are all false systems, so-called Divine, to be rejected, but also, that far from propitiating the favor of Almighty God, the irreverent and unlawful use, or the wilful neglect of what He has specially appointed for our salvation, must "provoke His wrath and indignation against us." If we examine as we ought, the passage before us, we shall be deeply impressed with its exceptional character. It furnishes the striking particulars of a sovereign rule of conduct to be strictly and constantly observed; and, it enforces this rule in relation to a matter of the most pressing description, by the highest and most solemn sanction. A disease is brought to our notice before whose malignity, tyranny, foulness and virulence, all other maladies of whatever name attacking the body, whether singly viewed or considered together, appear, in comparison, unworthy of mention, fade away into utter insignificance. Leprosy is a crushing, slow, wasting, noisome and disgusting disorganization of the physical constitution; and, whenever a wretch discovered himself to be smitten with this frightful distemper, he commonly gave himself up for lost. No earthly remedy could reach his case; no human succor or sympathy, remove the burden of his calamity. Bound also, by the severe enactments of the law, he had only to repair as an unclean thing, to the appointed tribunal, to receive a sentence even more terrible than death itself. Any attempt to conceal his condition could only be followed by a still more awful fate. Such a coarse would be in itself an act of folly, would deprive the sufferer of the faint glimmerings of hope that remained and would also be a rash venture involving the most serious consequences. For, besides the neglect and profanation of the ordinances of religion, by such attempted covering of the highest legal uncleanness, the loathsome sickness when not confined in its action by the separation of its victim from all social relations, would, even in spite of the greatest caution, be communicated to others, and so swiftly contaminate all with its deadly poison. Hence the solemn caution directly addressed by the Holy Ghost through Moses, in the text, to every member of the Church in olden time, in relation to this direful plague. The leper must convict himself. If he did not, his malady itself would quickly find a tongue and expose him. "Take heed in the plague of leprosy that thou observe diligently and do according to all that the Priests, the Levites shall teach you; as I commanded them so ye shall observe to do." Constituted by this most precise and special order sole judges in determining the actual condition of all persons, supposed to be leprous, the Levitical Priesthood was endowed with extraordinary authority for the due discharge of this weighty and peculiar function. From the sentence of the Priest there was no appeal. Receiving his instructions directly from God, whatever he declared to be of legal obligation, all that was to be diligently observed and done. And, to render the injunction [22/23] still more impressive, it is emphatically repeated. The Jews believed that leprosy was a direct visitation from God; for only those supposed to be afflicted were ordered to repair to the Priests. They were not to go indeed, as to physicians in search of a cure, but as suspected criminals to be judged,--to be bound under a withering bondage if victims to the pestilence,--to be judicially and formally absolved from the charge of infection, if unattainted, or if cleansed by the secret, invisible purification of God Himself who alone holds the power to bind and set the captive free. We seem yet to bear echoing through the forsaken avenues of departed centuries, that mournful and lamentable appeal to the Lord of the ten lepers who, outcasts and forlorn, stood afar off and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" We catch the melancholy ejaculation of him who, falling down at the Saviour's feet, worshipped Him, and, in an agony of wailing hope, exclaimed, "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean." But what is leprosy of the body and all these its horrible accompaniments when contrasted with that appalling, moral taint of which it is but the feeblest emblem? What are the hideous sores and ulcers making the repulsive deformity of the lone leper in comparison of the crimson and the scarlet which disfigure and discover the miserable sinner. If this plague of the flesh be indeed, "more terrible than an army with banners," what shall be said of its fearful antitype? Banished indeed, from the face of man, from the happy walks also, and cherished pursuits of hope, and consigned to the exceptional doom of a living sepulchre, leprosy hurries its helpless and hapless victim through the dreary wastes of desolation and. hopeless suffering. To the fourth generation even, it often continues to harass and ravage its miserable prey. Happily however, confined to a very narrow sphere, its crushing yoke, its intolerable rule is neither lasting nor extended. Alas! the leaven of sin is not so restrained. Both in time and in place, this foul spiritual malady is co-extensive with humanity. No one of Adam's line, Christ alone excepted, is free from its baleful infection. Attacking, with fierceness and force, the soul which it has seized by subtlety, this insidious influence banishes it from God's presence, robs it of peace and of the Divine protection, and surrenders it helpless and broken to the gloom of ignorance, superstition and depravity, in a world already reduced to ruins by its ravages. Often bursting forth as a destroying flood, sin brings down on individuals and on nations every form of disaster and of woe. Essentially pernicious in its tendencies, operations and aims, it seeks the utter subversion of order, the triumph of anarchy and of phrenzied riot, the reign of universal death in all its violent and odious features of pain, bereavement, toil, desolation, misery, anguish, fear, doubt, agony and torture. This moral leprosy would blot out all that is good, would wrap up the universe in thunder, fire and [23/24] tempest, would unseat the Creator, would close the story of all life,--yes, of everything, in a general blank, in the Cimmerian darkness of utter annihilation. To appreciate the horrors of this monstrous plague as they are in fact, the Spirit's gentle voice must be heard; amid the vexed elements of the moral disorganization and decay, His blessed movements must be felt. To be rescued from the living death here, and from the living death in eternal fire, hereafter,--from the giant power of this fearful gangrene thus made known to and ravaging the soul, the same comforting spirit, working by the agency of the outward ordinances of religion He has appointed, must cleanse and purify us by the precious blood of the crucified which takes away the guilt and stain of all sin. The Christian Church is a Divine Institution whose wide and open gates and spacious aisles invite and welcome "All who labor and are heavy laden" as well as those whose "weary limbs" have sought and found shelter within her hallowed and ample enclosures. Catholic in time and Catholic in space, her unstinted hospitality, inexhaustible sympathies and unfailing resources cover and meet all the wants of the whole human family. Within her sacred walls is placed a priceless Laver hewn out of the riven side of the 'Rock of Ages.' In this living fount are healing waters, quickened with that typical and spiritual force which once rescued the leprous-Naaman. Taught by the Prophet of the Most High, the despairing Syrian dipped under Jordan's wave and was made whole. In the Christian stream, all sinful stains, sores and ulcers may be washed away,--every soul regenerated, every wretched leper perfectly cleansed. Taken out of that plague ridden body, the old Adam, our corrupt and decaying nature may thus be sacramentally restored and fashioned anew by the Spirit, in the likeness of the Second Adam, of the New Man, Christ Jesus, the Lord. We may all be born again. Our flesh also, may become as that of the little child. We may be united to the sinless humanity of Jesus,--may become "members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones." Such miraculous cure, however, is not ordinarily, the work of a moment, of a day, of a year. It is rather the labor and trial of a life. By co-operation with the Holy Spirit, in the offices of religion, through many interruptions, weaknesses and failures, little by little advances the regenerating principle; little by little is the old rebellious life brought under, subdued and removed. First, a babe in Christ; then is the soul carried through the several stages of spiritual growth to maturity, till it attain to perfect manhood. Alas! it is not all of faith, to believe; it is not the whole of the Christian life to begin it well! We are admonished to remember Lot's wife. Many fail of the grace of God. 'Like the sow that was washed,' many 'return to their wallowing in the mire.' Acknowledging the possibility of being himself a cast-away in the end, St. Paul constantly used the utmost circumspection to avert so fearful an issue. We also, [24/25] may fall, and, like Judas, we may rise no more. There is, however, hope, nay provision for the recovery even of the backslider. There is, blessed be God, place also, for him to change his mind in whom the foul leprosy of sin has again broken out, 'in wounds and bruises and putrifying sores.' 'The just man falleth seven times and riseth again.' Peter, who so profanely and persistently denied his Master, afterwards by Divine grace cleansed his soul in a healing shower of bitter and penitent tears.
There is a deep, impressive foreshadowing of the Holy Spirit's work on and in the soul of man, discernible in the natural creation. Rain and sunshine and the preparation of the soil precede the sowing, culture and tending which shall be finally crowned with a rejoicing harvest. The heavenly showers and light moreover, ever seek to exercise their nourishing and quickening influences on the promising growth. From the beginning to the end, when, at length, the coveted fruit falls ripe to the earth, these fertilizing agencies are actively at work. Similarly, in the inner and new creation, the spiritual rain, sunshine and husbandry,--repentance, faith and the cooperation of the human will,--stir up the soul, and prepare the heart of man for the reception of the Divine seedling destined to grow up to Christian maturity. Planted by the Holy Ghost at the Sacred Font in the good ground, tended and strengthened by religious vigilance and culture, the Heavenly principle thus beginning its wondrous being springs into active life and ultimately reaches that abundant fertility Which yields to the diligent husbandman some thirty, some sixty and some a hundred fold. And, as the ravages made by the noxious tares and noisome insects; by the drought and chilly murkiness of cloud and wind in nature, are regularly and folly repaired by the continued out-pouring of healing waters from above, by the unfailing, fostering and powerful vigor of the sun, whose glorious rays disperse and destroy all blight and decay, and by the skill of the ever careful and vigilant husbandman; so is it also, in grace. Repentance, which is the ever refreshing, restoring and unceasing shower of the Spirit; faith, which is the enlivening beam from the matchless sun of righteousness; and the co-operation of the faithful worker himself by the diligent use of the appointed means,--these repair the ravages made on the growth of the soul by the weeds of corruption ever rising and festering in the carnal mind, by that pride and naughtiness, that selfishness and deception which never fail to attack the fair beauty of the garden of the Lord. And further. As in the outer world the hopes of the husbandman will be dashed to the ground should the rains cease, the sun be hid, due vigilance and care be spared; so again, is it also, in the invisible world within us. Should the sources of repentance be [25/26] exhausted, should faith take wing and Christian activity cease, then will the hapless soul be given over to reprobation. Then has the backslider reached the point of desperation. He is beyond recovery; absolution is impossible. Amendment of life can only be guaranteed to the Church by the Priest when the evidences of it appeal to the convictions through the irresistible force of the backslider's repentance and faith. Restoration to the Communion of Saints is to be effected, when the struggling, spiritual growth is evidently declared by those outward manifestations of the true life which may originate only in the 'One baptism for the remission of sins:' for then only is it possible. The blessed, the spiritual agencies, as the natural,--the rain and the sunshine, are superhuman. When not in force, or suspended, man cannot, may not without sin, pretend to set them in motion. Sacraments and ordinances of religion, potent and alive with a sacred energy when the soul is Divinely and secretly watered by the Spirit from above and illumined with the light of Heaven, are otherwise utterly unprofitable and lifeless. Mysteriously begun by God, the operations of Providence and Grace can be carried on and matured by Him only. Material agencies, even though ordained by the Creator, can only subserve His designs and forward His counsels, when in accordance with His blessed will. When. Heaven smiles, the Earth is radiant; where Christ breathes and abides, there forevermore is safety. O then, whoever thou art, poor, lapsed leper, be washed, be purified from the sinful spots and offensive sores which now again may be eating away, as a canker, the precious substance of thy spiritual nature. Though not an outcast from the society of men, though not formally excommunicated by those who now, under 'the administration of the spirit,' hold the power of the 'keys,'--yet be sure thy disgraceful plague cannot be concealed. Its infection rises to Him whose 'eyes are in every place:' its wasting impurity will publish thy shame, its malignity will find thee out. Discover thy leprosy to the Lord who even now 'searches the heart and tries the reins', and who alone can truly purge and make thee whole. Hide it, cover it no longer; for, to this course thou shalt not prosper. Go to God with thy woe; He will heal, He will set thee free. Penitence and pardon are inseparable; absolution shall dry thy tears. But, until thou hast diligently observed and done according to all that is taught thee by those who interpret the Divine Law; until the remission of thy sins be formally declared by the authority appointed in the visible Church,--profane not the sacred things of the Most High, venture not again to use that which is holy lest thou be consumed. To conclude. We have seen that our fallen nature is laboring under the ravages and throes of a fearful, moral disease, typified in the odious and incurable [26/27] leprosy of the body. We have also, seen that a dreadful feature of this plague is its direct and powerful tendency to render mankind indifferent as to consequences, as to the true issues of life. We commonly live on, as we well know, ignorant and fearless of the present, careless and unsolicitous of the future. To arouse us to a due appreciation of our perilous condition, and of our grave responsibilities, the spirit of God moves on the moral disorder, and turbulence, obtaining in our hearts, and at length, we become seriously alarmed about our condition and prospects. We endeavor to extricate ourselves from our grinding slavery; but, failing utterly in this attempt, we look up to God in oar extremity and obtain the aid of His Holy Spirit. By co-operating with Him and diligently using the ordinances of religion given to comfort and refresh us, Christ is born and matured within us; we are made clean, absolved and saved.
May God in His infinite mercy vouchsafed in our Blessed Redeemer, enable us to see and to value as we should, all that has been done to rescue our souls. May we ever also, remember that if we know these things, happy shall we be only when we do them.
"The Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst, Come. And "whosoever will, let him take of the water of life, freely."
Sermon on Obligation. Preached in TRINITY CHURCH, New Orleans,
11th July, 1873.
Text: Proverbs III, verses 5 and 6--"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."
Considered as it stands, this sublime passage, this precious revelation of saving truth, consists of four elements, which we may classify as three precepts and a promise. Of the precepts, two are positive; one is negative. The promise, a general one, is directly related and attached to the positive precepts. By omitting the negative element, we may thus arrange the text: "With all thine heart trust in, and in all thy ways acknowledge the Lord, and He shall direct thy paths." And surely, this inspired counsel may well be received as a summary of all religious obligation. Foreshadowing in a sublime compendium all the richer blessings of the Gospel, the Hebrew Sage, in this passage, delivers to the Church Universal, the yet happier message of David's Greater Son. The text seems to anticipate 'the glad tidings of great joy' brought from Heaven by the Son of God who now so lovingly invites all mankind to accept His easy yoke and Heavenly rest.
In gloomy contrast with this cheering doctrine, the negative precept looms up, unsympathetic, menacing, penal. The solemn interdiction, "Lean not to thine own understanding," is suggestive of woe. Placed in the very centre of the text, it arrests both the eye and the thought. Intervening as though to send us back for refuge to the Heavenly promise and to fix our gaze more intently on its inviting radiance, with persuasive tongue, this startling prohibition thus powerfully pleads for 'the more excellent way of the Lord.' The dreary and dismal prospect opened before our feet by the uncertain, insufficient light of the natural guide, causes the new and living way of hope to appear yet more comforting, more attractive; brighter, dearer to us. Rendering the positive precepts still more impressive and emphatic, the negative most solemnly warns us against a coarse so violently and directly opposing the precious and safe counsels of wisdom. Nay, with the greatest torte, the prohibition enjoins all that the whole text so evidently inculcates: for, it we may not lean to our own [28/29] understanding, if we may not venture to rely on the teachings, admonitions and pleadings of the inner guide specially provided by nature herself for our defence and protection,--then are we by necessity driven to the precept. If the staff, placed in our hands be not a trusty one, then are we compelled to seek support where 'everlasting strength' may be secured. And thus the wholesome violence of wisdom is added to her gentle entreaties that we may be urged on by every means, moved by every consideration to trust in the Lord with all our "hearts, to acknowledge Him in all our ways."--Under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, whose aid we now humbly invoke, let us endeavor to treat briefly and in order this most beautiful and instructive passage of Holy Writ.
Two descriptions of character, both directly developed under the government of the antagonistic principles here presented, claim our special notice and closest study. Some there are whose rule of life is derived from the preter-natural as revealed in the Text for the consolation and 'healing of mankind. These will ever be found diligently and gladly following the precepts;--"With all thine heart trust in and in all thy ways acknowledge the Lord." Re-created by an invisible force above and beyond all that is merely human, these, the true children of God, will be safely led according to the promise, by a sovereign director and ally which now, the light of nature can neither discover, nor follow. But alas! this trust in, this recognition of the. Lord, which is yet farther and more forcibly insisted on in the prohibition "Lean not to thine own understanding" is altogether overlooked and even despised by the vast multitudes who deem it an original right to choose their own way. The many, rejecting the counsel of' the wise man, follow the promptings of their own hearts. Their rule of life is the false and fatal maxim of the self-sufficient Deist--'The voice of reason is the voice of God.' It is so natural for fallen man to assert a principle in word and to deny it in act! How easily we mingle truth and error together! How eagerly and obstinately we attempt impossibilities! Whether, or not, it be possible for man to choose his own way, however, is a problem not difficult of solution. Before adopting therefore, the plausible creed of naturalism, let us first endeavor to discover whether, by following such an independent coarse, by leaning wholly to the finite understanding man can now truly obey God, can indeed, live uprightly, and in all things accomplish the work for which he is sent into the world. The position of those who with the heretic Pelagius contend for the supremacy of man's understanding may be thus stated;--Since reason was given that by its light, a discrimination might be at all times made between opposing lines of conduct, and perfect freedom of will secured in the choice of [29/30] action, our prerogatives as responsible beings can be truly enjoyed only by leaning on ourselves, by following the inner principle Divine which is specially provided, to preserve our peace and happiness. Well; it may be conceded that our beneficent Creator did give reason to man, to guide him in the way he should go,--that this monitor was sufficient also, for the weighty obligations imposed;--and farther, that this is the Divinely appointed and true form of self-government, ender whose authority the human family was to exercise and maintain the God-like privilege of free will. These points are yielded, and so need not occupy our time. We must, however, approach this deep. and solemn matter as honest and impartial judges should and must, if we sincerely desire to find the truth. Most assuredly, human reason was 'a good and perfect gift' when bestowed. During the period of primeval innocence, this precious endowment also, must in all things, have fully discharged the sublime functions of guiding, protecting and securing Adam and Eve; for certainly, our first parents did remain within the limits of law, at least, until the Fall. In this 'the Golden Age' of our history, 'perfection was of perfection born' Beaming on the original order, harmony and symmetry of all the powers of the soul, the pure light of reason shed its perfect radiance both within and without. There was then 'no variableness, neither shadow of turning.' The splendor of the understanding opened before the happy foot, the pleasant and peaceful way of life. Only was there any gloom perceived or felt, when this blessed lustre seemed to be dimmed by some strange, unknown influence suddenly intervening and showing a path which the innate Heavenly brightness might neither illumine nor enter. But alas! this sublime endowment of our nature as it was thus graciously vouchsafed from Divine Goodness, and as it is deformed by man's use, or rather abuse of it, presents for our serious contemplation a striking and hideous contrast. The anomalous course of mankind, as compared with the primitive standard of living, above faintly set forth, can far better illustrate this sad decay, than any mere, verbal descriptions, however exact, apt and forcible. We have only to glance at the untold accumulation of human error in every age and nation, courting our sober and sorrowful consideration to be fully persuaded that this Supreme Director of perfect living has been dethroned,--that this mighty counsellor of the immortal soul has lost empire: yes, so far as any inherent principle of recovery and restoration now remains in our nature, reason has alas! irrecoverably fallen. And all human institutions of whatever name discover unmistakeable traces of this sublime ruin. The wisest and best governments, the ablest codes of morality and law, the most approved systems of education and of religion, whether considered in their originals, [30/31] or in any revision of them, undertaken to banish error from them, and thus, if possible, finally to reach perfection,--all are peculiarly eloquent with the universal utterances echoing and re-echoing through every condition and relation of society, "It is not in man to direct his steps." It should not be forgotten, moreover, that we here give to reason all the conditions calculated to induce implicit confidence in its decisions. Intuition and tradition, experience in its ceaseless developments, the most intelligent minds at any time and place assembled for deliberation, the keenest perceptions of the most gifted individuals,--all are here comprehended. All have, however, failed, and do ever signally fall short of that unerring certainty, inexorably demanded in order to surrender to the human understanding without jeopardy to the soul, the supreme control over action for which they who place the so-called 'Age of Reason' above the Divine Rule, so loudly, so unreasonably contend. And, if it be not only dangerous but fatal, as it so evidently is from an impartial consideration of this subject in all its relations, to 'trust in,' to 'lean to,' human wisdom alone, even when its expression is the verdict of all that can be determined by the most enlarged experience from multitudes of counsellors, from the brightest scintillations of genius in the most gifted intellects,--what shall be said of that folly which, disregarding the common judgment of all mankind is satisfied to accept as the unerring guide of life the mere crudities, contradictions and perversity dwelling in the ignorant mind, in the heart corrupt, untutor'd, sinful and sin-loving? And yet, practically, this is the common, beaten way taken and followed by far the greater number of those who are enslaved by, and willing votaries to, the pernicious principle in question. The pure Rationalist spurns from him even the better judgment of our erring humanity. Looking to himself alone for counsel and direction, he chooses and magnifies his own way. He lives according to the inclination given to his character by natural disposition, personal motives and considerations, the bias of prejudice and of education. Asserting his right to be Lord and Master of himself, the sovereign arbiter of his own destiny, he acknowledges his Creator only when and where it would be madness to disown Him; he remembers the Great God only when to forget Him is found to be an impossibility in a word, he who 'leans to his own understanding' really proposes to live and die for himself alone. But, is the Rationalist true and constant to his creed? Does he live in all things in accordance with his profession? Let any devotee of Reason rise and honestly say, 'I have fully and always obeyed the voice of nature speaking within me.' Oh! can there one, but one be found who has thus lived! Originally kindled at the altar of God, the celestial flame indeed, even in the dimness that now eclipses [31/32] its transcendant lustre, yet emits such native rays as pierce through every barrier; and ascending aloft, it ever points, as the unchangeable magnet, to the true home of the soul beyond the skies. But, shall that be called right reason which, because correct living brings health to the body, vigor to the mind, respectability to the character, social distinction to the person, a security to the conscience, and; complacency to the soul, admonishes us earnestly to observe temperance in all things, constancy and fidelity in our engagements, truthfulness, soberness and sincerity in all our words, promises and dealings with each other, purity in thought and chastity in act? Is that the precept of an enlightened reason which, because riches seem to command all that is desirable and pleasant on earth, counsels the unceasing accumulation of wealth as the proper pursuit of man?--Who that pretends to a faithful discipleship of this new philosophy may venture to answer these plain questions in the affirmative? The human understanding, even in its captivity yet retains a force superior to the base, the perishable, the merely material. The splendor of its birthright ever teaches it to despise and reject what is only temporal and carnal. Has the avowed worshipper of reason calmly weighed this truth? Has he gladly and persistently followed this inspiration? Again. When the voice of nature orders a stern restraint on the lawlessness of passion and desire, even though it be to secure but the limited good of the earthly advantages above enumerated, has the advocate of reason closely and rigidly adhered even to this limited and selfish course? If he has not, why then should he look for a recompense? If he has yielded perfect obedience, why after such rare fidelity, should he yet be dissatisfied, disturbed, unhappy? Why, when he has kept all these requirements 'from his youth up,' should he yet he painfully conscious of an aching, craving void within him? Why should he yet experience a hungry want, a famine in his nature which his god has utterly failed to satisfy. Is it not because reason, knowing the secrets of the heart, goes deeper down into our humanity and whispers to us:--"Children, obey me indeed, in all things; for this is wise: And yet there is a higher law, which, alas! I, in my degradation cannot keep. To this, nevertheless, I yet can and ever will faithfully direct you; but, by this 'Royal Rule' I am now powerless to govern my followers." And with this counsel, doubtless, the experience of mankind fully harmonizes. We must admit and accept the painful truth, that our nature is shattered, prostrate, utterly helpless in itself. The blessed light of the Divine precept however dawns on the straining eyes as that of fallen reason thus so sadly fades away on the view and sinks into gloom. Our ear catches the heavenly strain of revelation, as the lyre struck by mortal skill refuses to raise the ravishing song. A [32/33] Heavenly voice speaks to our drooping souls. We hear the inspired monition, "Lean not to thine own understanding;" for it is unstable,--it is treacherous. "Trust in the Lord." Though, indeed, not utterly confounded, the guide that so safely directed our steps in the infancy of our history, is now disabled. Reason, alas! will prove as a broken reed to all who shall lean on it for support. But this Divine principle, once moving in sovereign grandeur, and even in its very wreck, sublime, shall yet regain its native seat, its native excellency. To repair the disasters occasioned by the incapacity of the natural guide, a new and living way "has been opened." The Creator Himself becomes our Restorer and Redeemer. The wise Solomon therefore, admonishes every one, in tender entreaty not "to lean to his own understanding" which is a stranger to Divine knowledge and powerless for good; but, "with all his heart to trust in, and in all his ways to acknowledge the Lord." In its sublime integrity reason was God's vice-gerent in the soul of man. In its ruin, God Himself enters the heart, writes thereon His perfect law and adds the gracious promise of the text: "I will direct thy steps."
Once again. The disciples of reason deny the necessity of any special revelation to teach man knowledge, to describe his actual situation and to spew how it may be remedied,--to define his relations to the Creator, and his obligations to mankind. It is clear however, from what has been already said that such God-like intervention was necessitated by human helplessness; for otherwise, salvation were an impossibility. An Almighty arm must be stretched out, were human nature to be rescued. But what has Deism, under any of its names, merited of, or done for man, that its pretensions should be met with favor or credited? What has been, what will be gained by the attempts of this earth-born science, falsely so-called. Surely it is no valid objection to the Holy Bible, that many of its truths are beyond the grasp of the human mind. When reason shall have herself satisfactorily discussed, described and explained the mysterious problems of her own nature and operations, then perchance may revelation be deemed superfluous; then may the finite understanding refuse to be guided and governed by the infinite. The character of the evidence adduced in vindication of the genuineness and authenticity of the Sacred Scriptures is rather philosophical than doctrinal. It is in fact, identical with the kind of proof required and used for all similar investigations. The claims of the Bible therefore, cannot by reason be rejected on the ground that the testimony is not of a kind to satisfy the candid enquirer after truth. Far from being opposed to reason, on strict and unprejudiced examination, religion as authenticated by revelation is in fact, reason restored, recovered. The Divine way of saving man, brings God back to the heart, [33/34] which sin has invaded, seized and depraved. It re-establishes, reseats the Lord in His own holy and living Temple. It makes the Omnipotent Creator Himself, the teacher, the strength, the security, the peace, the hope, the model,--nay the very life of man. But the human way of salvation prohibited in the text, counsels immediate, continued departure and separation from God. This most pernicious and fatal scheme admonishes mankind, in effect, to hasten away from the good and safe government of the Lord,--to seek to be free from that Divine Alliance, in union with which, perfect freedom alone is to be found,--to be, in brief, altogether irrational.--But this must now suffice. Enough has been advanced to shew that he who 'leans to his own understanding' makes choice of a staff which shall in the end utterly fail to support him. Degraded by the Fall, and obscured by the corruption of the heart, reason cannot be other than a dangerous guide. Whenever therefore, we consult our own understanding, or hearken to self-reasonings, though these may seem to be geed, tending to our preservation, yet is the principle of true life then stifled, and in the issue, we who pursue this way, shall be surely cast down therein.--Let us now, briefly, enquire into the nature of that Divine Trust and recognition of the Lord, which carries off the promise and which is so earnestly recommended to us by King Solomon,--"With all thy heart trust in, and in all thy ways acknowledge the Lord."
Now, to comply with these precepts, a relationship of intimacy and friendship must first be formed between the parties concerned. There can be no trust where there is no love; no reliance, where there is no strength. The hypocrite, the backslider and the sinner therefore, are guilty of profanity when they profess to trust in the Lord.--Union and Confidence are the life of trust. Now to being about a close union, two elements at least, are necessary and mast be in nearest sympathy. God and man are considered in the text. We must therefore, each one of us, first be united to God before we can trust in Him. And how is this to be effected? The imposition of an obligation under the sanctions of religion presupposes surely, an ability and opportunity to discharge the same. Man must certainly have in himself and at his command the means to bring obedience within the reach of his powers, otherwise the injunction is a mockery, because an impossibility. And here, therefore, Solomon not only discovers to us the ends and the necessity of all the appointed means of grace on Earth, as ordered in the Visible Church, but preaches also that sublime, ancient and glorious gospel truth, which is the foundation stone, the chief corner stone, the fortress impregnable of all saving religion--that God became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. To [34/35] reconcile and unite man to God,--our human nature has been assumed by the Divine. The Son of God was made flesh. Such is the sublime doctrine of human regeneration, preached in the Text. We are there taught that that 'Seed of the woman' 'which was to bruise the serpent's head,'--the Bow of Promise, embracing in pardon and reconciliation a revolted universe, the 'Royal Sceptre' of Judah, the long expected Shiloh, is Christ, revealed in Enoch, in Isaac on the Altar, in Joshua, in Moses the Law-giver and Deliverer, and in Elijah. Seen by the eye of faith in the scape-goat, in the lamb offered up in a daily sacrifice, in the ark of the Covenant, in the Star of Moab, in the Manna and in the Rock,--the 'Desire of all nations,' whose name is 'the Lord our Righteosuness,' 'Immanuel,' God with us,--cones to us in the manger as the Virgin's Son, that through His incarnation,--the 'wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption' Divine, might flow into and exalt our defiled humanity. No one in sincere search for the Rule of Life ever turned his eager gaze on Jesus, the God-man but received confidence, relief; courage and hope from His post gracious lips and inviting mien. "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest to your souls." No one ever obeyed this precious and tender call by faithfully uniting himself, through the ordinances of religion with Christ and thus with God the Father, but found in Him a sure refuge for his anxious and perishing soul,--a haven of rest for his troubled spirit, and a tower of strength in all his trials and straits. 'Repent' therefore, 'and be baptized,'--yes, all become members of the Church,--of the mystical Body of Christ--and thus united with Him, be made also, children of God and heirs of Heaven. Now, in regard to the measure of the duty here enjoined, we are commanded, to trust in the Lord not only with the heart, but with all the heart. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart." Our obedience therefore, must not flow from a cold, calm conviction of the wisdom of this course, but it must be warm with the embrace of all our affections. We must surrender ourselves with unquestioning confidence wholly to the will and keeping of the Lord. God is All wise; He therefore, cannot be deceived. He is also, truth itself, what therefore, can we lack, or desire when He promises as full protection and security? Anything less than a childlike trust, an unwavering confidence in God, would after this promise be a heinous offense.--Again. This trust must be exclusive as well as entire. Nature feeling the need of support, instinctively leans upon itself. Human power is its idol; man's understanding, as we have seen, is made his god. There are many who would willingly forfeit everything rather than endure the trial [35/36] of being considered defective in intelligence. Others again, irreverently presume to test even the Word of God' by their own criticisms, that they may find an excuse for not practising it. And such are some of the ways wherein 'man trusted' to 'himself and his heart departed' from the Lord.' Youth is specially prone to fall into this error. Seldom are we edified by the comely spectacle of the younger submitting to the elder.' When counsel is sought from those who are older. Is it not alas! but too often, with the hope of confirming a previously formed purpose? All such trust however, is alien to the spirit of the precept and must be put away as being carnal and fatal. The closing admonition enjoins us to uniformity in our dependence on God. "In all thy ways, acknowledge the Lord."--God must be in everything, supreme. Nothing may be attempted unless with the Divine Sanction; every work also, must be stamped with the seal and signature of Heaven. It were surely, a mark of impiety to dispose of ourselves and of our time,--to make arrangements and engagements, as though we were absolutely independent of, our Creator. Rather should a habit be formed of going to God in the first place, before self-will, self-pleasing, self-wisdom, human friends, conveniences, expediency. In "all" thy ways, be it-remembered small matters as well as great; in all thy concerns,--personal as well as realtive, temporal as well as eternal. Such is true faith, not superseding but invigorating exertion. One word more. If we be weaned from the idolatry of making our 'bosom our oracle,' and our 'heart our counsellor,'--if, in true poverty of spirit we continually go to our Lord, as not knowing how to guide ourselves, our eyes constantly looking upwards for direction,--then will the true light come down: "God shall direct our paths." And what can we desire more than this? Let us strive then, to keep the will always in a quiet, subdued, cheerful readiness to move at the Lord's bidding. We may indeed, be led in a way we know not, but in the end we shall doubtless exclaim, "He led me forth by the right way."