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GOD'S COMPASSION TO THE MISERABLE.
PSALM cii. 19, 20.
heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the groaning
The youth on whose account I have chosen this passage, for the last time appears in this assembly. Before we shall meet here again for public worship, he will be numbered with the dead! That body, now bound in chains, will be committed to the dust, and his immortal spirit have passed to the throne of God, to receive an irrevocable sentence! This circumstance cannot fail of promoting an uncommon solemni. ty through this great congregation, and of exciting compassion towards the prisoner in every humane breast. A smile on any countenance on this occasion, will be looked upon as an evidence of a want of humanity. And I take it for granted, that those of you who have believed in Jesus, who know the consolations which his religion affords, and are acquainted with the value of an immortal soul, will assist the preacher by your prayers, that the word may be spoken as becomes the oracles of God, and prove of infinite
* Preached at the desire of LEVI AMEs, who attended on the occasion. He was executed for burglary, Oct. 11, 1773, aged 22.
advantage to the multitude, and especially to this poor young man. If ever plainness, žeal, and an artless address were necessary, it is now; when, amidst a crowd of dying men, there is one, who knows not only the day, but the hour, yea, minute of his dissolution. In such a situation, where shall support be found ? Only, my brethren, in the religion of the Bible ; which amply declares the grace and condescension of Jehovah, who “ looked down from the height of his sanctuary : from heaven did the Lord behold the earth; to hear the groaning of the prisoner, to loose those who are appointed to death.” The very title of this psalın discovers its suitableness to the present occasion ; it is said to be “a prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his soul before the Lord.” We may well suppose, that this unhappy youth never knew before such an affliction as the present ; which he hath indeed brought upon himself, by repeated instances of theft and robbery: yet is he the object of our pity and prayers, and may be the subject of the free forgiveness of God in Christ ; seeing the abounding of sin has been exceeded by the superabundance of divine grace. And admitting that the prisoner has a just sense of his guilty condition before God, he will passionately adopt the language of the context, “ Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee. Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble ; incline thine ear unto me. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass ; so that I forget to eat my bread,” &c.
After the psalmist had thus described the case of the afflicted, he brings to mind the following comfortable considerations, such as the eternity
and kindness of the Lord, who will “regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This (says he) shall be written for the generation to come ; and the people who shall be created shall praise the Lord.” Meaning that God's readiness to hear the cries of his
people shall be duly remembered ; and that all such as are created in Christ Jesus shall praise him for this instance of his condescension. And in the text he enlarges on the same subject, which he had mentioned in verse 17, in order to shew that the Lord is so far from disregarding the prayer of the destitute, that he listens attentively to their cry, and will grant deliverance. The Lord takes a general notice of the earth, and its inhabitants, but is particularly attentive to the mourning of Ephraim; or to the afflicted state of his people; for the comfort of such, the text is evidently designed. In the following discourse I shall not strictly confine myself to the primary sense of the passage ; but expect your indulgence, while I introduce such reflections as may be pertinent to this solemn scene,
1. Let us attend to the instance of complicated affliction described by the strong terms, the groaning of the prisoner, and those appointed to death.
II. The truths which are here recorded for the support of such. The Lord behotdeth the earth, &c.
1. The instance of keen distress described by the psalmist.
David, as one observes on the place, has a particular respect to the condition of believers under
persecuting princes; by whom many have been imprisoned and put to death, for their attachment to the Lord and to the testimony of Jesus ; who, according to sacred and profane history, have been sensibly supported, and have thereby triumphed gloriously, to the confusion of their enemies. But there are different senses, in which it may be said that mankind are prisoners, and appointed to death.
1. This, O Ames, is your unhappy case in a literal sense. You have been tried by the law of your country, found guilty, received sentence of death, and are now waiting in close iinprisonment, the day of your execution. In this view your condition is gloomy : my soul feels for you; and the crowd who behold you, evidently discover their sympathy with you.
2. But there is a more awful sense, in which it may be said, that you and all mankind, as sinners, are prisoners, and appointed to death : I mean as transgressors of the law of God, holden by the cords of iniquity, and led captive by the devil at his will.
When Jehovah created man, he gave him a law to be the rule of his temper and conduct, the requisition of which was perfect conformity; which conformity involved the tempers of the heart, and the actions of the life. To this law were annexed rewards and punishments. He who doth the things required shall live by them; but he who fails in a single instance shall be condemned. However some may trifle with the extent and spirituality of the divine law, it is as true as God's existence, that he who “looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed
adultery with her already in his heart.” A lust. ful look, observe, is heart adultery. Hence said Paul, “I had not known lust, except the law had said, thou shalt not covet.” If we admit the truth of revelation, we shall find no method of evading this plain but awful conclusion, that the law of God is exceedingly broad, reaching to and condemning for the irregularities or sins of our hearts; and that too, not only for many such instances of transgression, but for one. “ Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law to do them.” To which add, “that whoever keepeth the whole law, and offendeth in one point, is guilty of all ;” i. e. he who hath broke one command, is certainly a transgressor of the law; though we should suppose that there were other precepts which he had not violated. The apostle explains himself in this manner in the verse following the words just read. “For he who said, Do not commit adultery ; said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law."
Thus from the current language of the holy scriptures we learn that the law of God reaches to the thoughts and intents of the heart, and that
mankind stand condemned by it, for thinking evil, as well as for committing it openly. And this circumstance essentially distinguishes the divine from human laws. The latter can never accuse us for wrong tempers, but only for actions; the former have as much to do with dispositions of the heart as with any external behaviour, And thus it is right it should be ; thus it must be, if we admit that the law of God is the trans