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every spectator; yet still, amidst the fairest scenes, the fallen state of God's viceroy, who, with criminal passions and a guilty conscience, with a soul full of disappointment, and “ with the imaginations of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually,” compels us to cry out that “ an enemy has done this,” and has undone the good work which the mighty Parent bad pronounced to be very good. 6 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” And all the works that are done under the sun are done by man only, and yet God “ created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him." Therefore, that which was obviously designed to be the perfection of the plan is most evidently its imperfection and its disgrace, and casts a shade on all the glory of the scene. If, therefore, any one will praise the God of creation for his goodness, and not deduce those praises from the manifestation of his grace, it must needs be that the race of man must first be obliterated, that so a clear stage being made for deistical homage, it may be consistent with right reason to extol that design which has been designed and executed without any flaw.
But this is not the ground of thankfulness and of worship chosen by the saints and prophets, who, in the power of the Holy Ghost, have discoursed of God in the Scriptures. They do indeed find abundant matter for their admiration of the Almighty in the works of his hands; and in a rapture of holy exultation call upon the sun and moon, and the stars of light,” to assist them in praising the great Architect. They invoke the aid of the fire and hail, the snow and vapours, and the stormy winds, the hills and mountains, the woods and forests, and the beasts and cattle, the reptiles and the fowls, to swell the chorus of their thanksgiving, and to fill the temple of nature with the echo of their eucharistic anthem : but they finish the theme with that which crowns it all,—a reference to the especial favour manifested by God to his elect. He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the Children of Israel, a people near unto the Lord. Praise ye the Lord (Ps. cxlviii.). And so throughout all the Scripture, the Creator is set forth as wonderful in the works of creation; but more wonderful in the work of grace. The glory of God, as known amongst men, is never traced to physical wonders alone : the material world is indeed acknowledged, and that most copiously, to be an object of high admiration; but the spiritual dominion of God is at the same time always brought forward as something far more admirable. “ Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God: who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his
food, and to the young ravens when they cry.... He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt
any nation : and as for his judgments, they have not known them.” On the world that lieth in wickedness there rest darkness and a palpable night; but not so in the Israel of God,” the church, in which all those blessings are taken up in principle, which were promised to the literal Israel. It has ever been the Goshen of Jehovah: his elect people have ever enjoyed the light of his countenance; his grace has ever done wonders for them; they understand his hidden will, for “ the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he doth show them his covenant;" and as in this covenant they understand how he does repair the evil that is in the earth, they can praise him for those acts of providential wisdom whereby he upholds the world, and cherishes and sustains the living creatures which animate its surface.
And the Almighty has himself given directions to look for his goodness in the operations of his grace, rather than in the manifestations of his power, or in considerations of his glory. 66 And Moses said unto the Lord, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And the Lord said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex. xxxiii.). All the goodness of God is exhibited in the proclamation of his name: and in that proclamation what do we hear of but of the sovereign grace of the Almighty Ruler ? “ And Jehovah passed by before Moses, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (Ex. xxxiv.).
The goodness of God, therefore, is concentrated in this his attribute, that he will be gracious to whom he will be gracious, and that he will show mercy to whom he will show mercy;" and this, in other words, is a reference to his sovereign act of grace, whereby he chooses and calls a people whom he has created for his praise to serve him, and to belong unto him as his own peculiar portion * and property, in whom he does at last manifest to all the world what he can and will do for man, when
“ The Lord's portion is his people ; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance” (Deut. xxxii. 9).
“ Blessed is the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance” (Ps. xxxiii. 12).
“ The portion of Jacob is not like them : for he is the former of all things ; and Israel is the rod of his inheritance: the Lord of Hosts is his name” (Jer. x. 16).
brought back again into his favour by reconciliation and adoption, and raised up from his fallen state into a dignity and eminence so complete, that the enunciation of it seems little less than blasphemy to those who are ignorant of the grace of God to his covenant people.
The church of God, then, is that which contains the evidences of the goodness of God-of all his goodness—“I will make all my goodness to pass before thee; I will,” &c.; for that grace and favour which selects the saints out of the world, and makes them a people “near unto the Lord,” is, in fact, the cause of any moral goodness at all appearing among the children of men, and the only means of divulging the secret that God is not only placable, approachable, and merciful, but that he is love itself (1 John iv. 8).
Here, then, let us for a while inquire into the goodness of God, as conspicuous in the kingdom of grace: and thus stands the matter; we, all of us, even as Adam our progenitor, are exiled from the
presence of God; the life which we live by nature is one of banishment, the doors of Paradise are shut against us, and we inherit the curse, and feel the weight of the sentence which brought down our Father in woe and weakness into the dust. We are smitten with his disease, and weighed down by his rebellion, “ through the offence of one many are dead,”—“ by the offence of one, judgment has come upon all men to condemnation.” Wherever we turn our eyes, we find most painful evidences of the severity of our lot: “ all things are full of labour; man cannot utter it.” The earth is cursed for our sake; it bears thorns and thistles by appointment, to disturb our peace, and to importune us with ceaseless vexations. That which we fear or hate has frequently the mastery in our lot; that which we ardently desire and labour for is denied; that which we love is taken away from us.
Our fellow-creatures are instruments of our vexation; and we ourselves are instruments of their trouble and affliction: there is a reciprocity of mischief every where conspicuous, there is evil busily working at all hands: there are conflicts of passions, clashings of interests, continual actings of injustice, and continual hatreds, animosities, and oppositions of revenge; there are wrongs done and wrongs remembered; treasuries of wrath and deposits of malignity in the heart of man, which, if they could all be brought forth and put into execution, would spread a conflagration over the face of nature, and speedily exterminate the human race. And within ourselves there is perturbation, discontent, a guilty conscience, and all the corrupted seeds of vitiated affections; the spirit of sin runs by hereditary pravity in our blood, there is an entail of iniquity within us that cannot be cut off; we are alienated from the life of God,
and under the service and villanage of the prince of darkness, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. 66 The carnal mind is enmity against God:” the lot of the exile has filled us with hatred of Him from whose presence we have been sent forth; and although this is not directly apparent in those cases where there is no knowledge nor thought of God, yet it may be indirectly seen in the hatred of the law of God, which every sin plainly indicates, and so consequently is to be deemed a contrariety to his will, and to all those attributes which flow from his will, as his goodness, justice, righteousness, and truth. And this enmity is furthermore an aversion to God: we are far from him by nature, and we desire to be still farther; the heart cordially gives in its vote for an absence from the Holy One of Israel, and all the thoughts and intents of the mind assent to and desire a wide separation from him as a spiritual guide. In one word, then, we are by nature enemies to the will of God, by rejecting his word; enemies to the Spirit of God, by withstanding his operations; enemies to the notions of God, by disliking and suppressing the thoughts and knowledge of him; enemies to the righteousness of God, by setting up our own works and merits; enemies to the ways of God, by fulfilling our own lusts, and perpetrating our wicked desires.
And then, if any thoughts of deliverance should be entertained by us, lo! the deliverance cannot be in ourselves. Our natural estate is “ without strength ;" so weak that it makes the law itself “weak” (Rom. viii. 3); is as unable to do the works of a spiritual, as a dead man, of natural life; for we are by nature “ dead in sin,” and “held under it:” and this is a fearful aggravation of the state of sin, that a man lies in mischief, as a corpse in the grave, and must needs be raised by a supernatural power: “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” All men are by nature strangers to the life of God, and foreigners from his household, able without him to do nothing, no more than a branch to fructify, when, by excision, it is separated from the root. In one word, so great is this impotency which is in us by sin, that we are not sufficient to “ think a good thing," nor able to understand a good thing, nor to comprehend the light when it shines upon us.
But this distressing portraiture of the human mind, which in holy Scripture is ever painted in the deepest tints of melancholy, is not left in utter darkness: light comes forth from behind the cloud, and God himself appears upon the scene, when nothing less than he could have intervened to bring assistance where the case seemed hopeless. Jehovah, the God of the Church, has made a covenant of grace; and that covenant he performs. With God all things are possible. The enmity, the antipathy, the alienation, the deep aversion which is in man against his Creator, is not a bar to the exhibition of premeditated grace: the ingrained iniquity of man's nature, and the loathsome state of his conscience, crowded with the records of ten thousand sins, do not repel the hand of mercy which is set upon deliverance: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will shew mercy to whom I will shew mercy.” If man neither wills nor is able to return unto God, God both wills and is able to make those return whom he chooses. The obstacles that are in the way to salvation he can remove; the difficulties apparently insurmountable he can easily obviate. There is no state of depravity and abomination beyond the reach of the covenant of grace, there is no opposition to the extent of the purposes of grace, which cannot be overruled and turned into means of conversion and reconciliation. When a man is sold under the power of a legion of lusts, every one of which hath an absolute dominion over him, and rules him as a sovereign by habitual edicts, when he is bound down and chained to the body of death, and never thinks of, or the least desires, a release; then can the God of Abraham triumphantly interfere, and rescue from captivity, and snap the chains, and dissolve the old ties, and change the inclinations of the captive, and give a desire for escape; and, with the desire, open wide and clear the way, and “say to the prisoner, Go forth; to him that sat in darkness, Shew thyself.”
From materials such as these, does the Almighty select his people to form his church: the old creation is under the curse, defiled and envenomed by the serpent, reputed dead by the God of holiness, and entirely unable to restore itself by any thing that it can offer, do, or suffer: there must therefore be a new creation in order to raise up a people for him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. The church is not the production of man; man cannot make the church of God: the work is the Lord's; he selects and he forms the great congregation of believers, whom he brings into life before him by the operations of the Holy Ghost : “the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth : so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” Converting, reviving, saving knowledge, is not of our own fetching in or gathering, but is a doctrine, a grace, a power that “comes” unto us, and is brought by that sacred blast of the Spirit which bloweth as he listeth. The existence of the Lord's people is ever spoken of as a new life;
they were dead in trespasses and in sins;" but they are now “ quickened and raised up;" they are “new creatures,” 6 old things