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JEREMIAH xiii. 16: "Give glory to the Lord your God before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and while ye look for light he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness!"
These are solemn words; they were addressed by the prophet to his own people amid their fearful impiety and perversion of the truth. Often had similar warnings been addressed to them, but, in the pride of their heart, they had disregarded them; more than once had divine judgment been added to enforce the admonition to repentance; but these they were self-conceited enough to attribute to accident, to any thing rather than to divine displeasure on account of their sins. When reminded of them, or when threatened with the repetition of them, still they refused to hear, spurning from them every friendly counsel as but the whining of morose melancholy, or the cursing of cherished malevolence. It seems to have been thus that they felt and acted toward Jeremiah. Yet their conduct was by no means singular. How does the thoughtless, perverse sinner still feel and speak, when pressed with the message of the gospel, and warned of the danger of neglect? With a mixture of contempt and indignation, do they turn a deaf ear to what they would fain regard as but the babbling of a fool; and in the pride of their hard heart and alienated mind, give the lie directly to the truths they are so indisposed to hear. The prophet Jeremiah, in that spirit of evangelical benevolence and unshrinking fidelity, which ought to be the character of every ambassador of God, still urged on his hearers the message with which he was entrusted, and in the verses of which our text forms a part, enforced it with a pathos and power peculiarly his own. Convinced, as we are, that there are those before us that are still careless about the one thing needful, still unhumbled beneath the mighty hand of God, still deaf to the gospel call, we would seek to enter into the prophet's spirit, and whether ye will hear, or whether ye will forbear, declare unto you the whole counsel of God, and urge on your attention the importance of the necessity of giving honour to whom honour is due, even glory to that God from whom we are by nature alienated, by your repentance and obedience unto faith: the prophet's own words would we reiterate in your hearing, as alike applicable to you, "Give glory to the Lord your God," andc., andc.; and in seeking to direct your thoughts to the words of the prophet, let me unfold to you, in dependence on divine assistance,
I. The important counsel they contain--Give glory to the Lord your God. There is a glory belonging to God which no creature can affect--which is in itself incapable of being either increased or diminished; a glory essentially inherent in him who is Jehovah, as originating in him. He dwells, we are told, in light, inaccessible and full of glory, which nothing can becloud or even disturb. In this way, who could honour or dishonour him from whom all honour comes? Who can glorify, or who can refrain from glorifying him who is infinitely glorious in himself. The reference in the text is to the manifestation of the glory of the infinite Creator which he is pleased to require, and which he seeks from every creature. Every creature has been brought into existence by him, to the end that he may mirror forth divine excellency. It was his nature that they first reflected--the glory of his wisdom and power. The heavens declared the glory of God, the firmament shewed forth his handy-work, then Jehovah was satisfied. It was so, again, in Eden, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God celebrated his praise; and man, in his primitive state, bodied forth his image of infinite righteousness, and wisdom, and holiness--it was so in Jesus. Immanuel was regarded from on high, as he walked in the view of the universe, as the brightness of the Father's glory, the express image of his person. It ought to be so with every creature, intelligent as well as otherwise. But wherein, it may be asked, consists the holy employment in which men should be united, and which it is at once their imperative duty and highest privilege to be engaged in? What is it to give glory to the God of our being? We might reply we are called on to glorify him, first, by a practical acknowledgment of his being. "The fool hath said in his heart there is no God." The carnal mind, in its hardened enmity, lives without God in the world; the only God it acknowledges is itself. May not this be true of some now before me? Think not there must needs be a verbal denial of him, an intellectual atheism existing, ere it can be applicable to you. It is possible you may not have reached so far in your folly as to resolve all creation and continued existence into the accidents of a blind fate, and yet you may be a practical atheist; in heart denying God; in life acting as if free from his power, and careless about his supervision. When is he in your thoughts? or, if thought of, where are the reverence and fear that are his due? Is not the language of your heart, "Who is the Lord that we should serve him?" When his judgments are abroad, where is your acknowledgment of him?, When his voice is speaking to you in his word, where is your attention? He is not in all your thoughts! His glory you have given to another, have taken to yourself, or given to your gold, to your lusts, to the world; but will ye rob God, that thus ye will deny him his glory? Consider this, ye that forget God. Behold around and within you those evidences so ample and clear, that the Lord is God. Confess him as your God, worthy to be exalted; and, in your life, see to it that ye set the Lord always before you, and make him your fear and your dread--thus will you give him glory.
We give, secondly, glory to God, by cultivating right views of his character and perfections. Nothing is there more important than correct views of the divine character, and yet how few are possessed of them. Many there are who imagine him to be such an one as themselves. Many regard him as carelessly indifferent about the creatures of his hand; some suppose his sphere of direct active operation too limited for man to respect his prescience; others represent him to themselves as perpetually clothed with the habiliments of terror and wrath, that repel every approach; others, again, speak of him as so abounding in mercy, as to be regardless of the interests of holiness, and heedless of the claims of equity and truth; but all of these have changed the truth of God into a lie. Would we know him rightly? Would we be possessed with a standard by which to ascertain his excellence, to measure his perfections? The means of discovery neither nature nor reason furnish; but in his word has he graciously condescended to describe his own character, and reveal his perfections. There may we learn of him from his own lips, and be brought to understand him. He with whom we have to do is the Lord, "the Lord God merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty."
But further, thirdly, we should give glory to God by a contrite confession of our sins before him. Fools, the Bible tells us, make a mock at sin, and we have but to mark their words and actions to realize its truth. What, the mad babble of the infidel, the obscene ribaldry of the libertine, the barefaced jibes of the scoffer, but sin turned into a jest by the thoughtless fool. What, the frittering down of the most glaring iniquities, the blackest crimes, into so many excusable failings, so many pardonable weaknesses, so many innocent practical jokes, but the foolish talking of those who have forgotten God; and in this respect, we fear, that not a few who have the name of Christ, share in the folly of the sinner, and would palliate, if not pass by, the foulest sin, as if the stain was but a spot, or the spot but a speck to look at. Why otherwise is it, that we hear sins, which ought ever to be set before us, and all their naked hideousness shewn, so often softly wrapped up in those unmeaning phrases which neither shock the ear nor scare the conscience? Why is it that we speak of whoredom and adultery as but pitiable slips; of falsehood and deceit as clever equivocation and business dexterity; of profanity and reckless impiety as but bluntness of speech, or coarseness of manners? It was from such mockery of sin, such disregard of holiness as that there manifested, when it was sneeringly asked at the close of the prophet's warning, "Do we not certainly know that every bottle shall be filled with wine ?" that the prophet would have Israel turn and humble themselves before him, against whom they had sinned. It is to like confession of the number and heinousness of our sins, that God invites even us, as those who will give him glory for his justice, whose claims we have so fearfully violated; for his holiness which we have so long insulted; for his goodness and forbearance, which we have so perversely despised; for his mercy and forgiving love, which we in our contrition of soul and our brokenness of heart, are constrained to implore.
But fourthly, we should give glory to God by the reception of his own terms of reconciliation. That God against whom we have rebelled, and who could easily and fully glorify himself in our destruction, has graciously provided for our restoration from the misery of the fall, and has caused the infinitely compassionate and condescending invitation to be addressed to every sinner, "Return unto me, for I have redeemed you ;" "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?" In the person and work of his Son, whom he appointed mediator between himself and the sinner, he proclaims himself well pleased, and reconciled, and ready to receive and bless every one receiving and trusting and rejoicing in Christ as his substitute. The command has gone forth to us to believe in him; and in believing, to give him glory. "He that believeth on the Son," says John, "hath the witness in himself; he that believeth not God (and the witness which he hath testified of his Son) hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son, and this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and that this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son shall not see life." By thus yielding submission to the righteousness which is of God, in giving heed to his command, and receiving the record of the gospel, ought we to give glory to the Lord our God.
But lastly, we ought to give glory to God, by entire consecration of ourselves to his service. There can be no glory rendered by us if this be wanting; our acknowledgment of the divine being and character would be a solemn mockery; our sorrow for sin is vain, if it work not repentance ; repentance, not only as respects the habitual renunciation of sin, but as regards the turning to righteousness, which occupies so large and prominent a place in the doctrine of the gospel; sorrow without this would be but the prelude to that which is eternal ; and the glory given in it be but that which is rendered amid the penitence of hell; the glory of divine justice operating in the production of weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; such glory as an Ahab, an Esau, a Judas could render. When redeemed from our vain conversation, it is that we may be active in the service of God, in holiness, and righteousness all our days; and he is only honoured with the rebel that has thrown aside the arms of his hostility, and freely and cordially surrenders himself; soul, body, and spirit to him, as a living sacrifice, and seeks to be a devoted subject to him, as King of kings, as the King of Zion. It is not by the occasional fit of reverence and righteousness, nor by the sudden enthusiasm of an excited heart, that any is to comply with this counsel, to give glory to the Lord; this dishonours him even more than the utter disregard of all his claims by those that know him not. However we may be circumstanced or employed, it must ever be manifest, that we deem ourselves not our own, but bought with a price; that thus we are constrained habitually to live to him, and in whatever we do, even in the seeming small matters of eating and drinking, to give him the glory.
It was thus the apostle exhorted, Glorify God in your bodies and in your spirits, which are his. "He that lacketh these things," do we find Peter declaring, after he had enumerated the graces which it became the saint to cultivate, that he might be found perfect before God, "He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and bath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins." But let us hasten from the consideration of the counsel that is given, to reflect on
II. The solemn motives by which it is enforced, Give glory before he cause darkness and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, andc. This language is figurative as it is forcible; still the meaning is easily apprehended. The sum of it we might express in these other solemn words, now is the accepted time and the day of salvation, while the day of the Lord is at hand, when even though they would repent there will be no way of repentance. One would almost suppose that in the knowledge of the divine character and goodness, there would be found motive enough to constrain the sinner to concern; but it is not so; and if we seek for the cause of so singular perverseness, we will not unfrequently find it in the very fact of divine forbearance giving place for repentance. We might appeal to the conscience of any sinner within these walls, and would find that to be the secret of their procrastination, they presumingly trust to a future repentance; there is forgiveness with God, and therefore they will not yet repent. This it is that reconciles to them all those contradictions of interest and religion; this solves every doubt; this silences every demur; this assures the modern Balaams that they will die the death of the righteous though they live on the wages of iniquity; this it is that unites for them the joys of heaven with the pleasures of earth, the promises of God and the precepts of Satan; it makes sin seem rational, and induces conscience even to seal and second the cravings of the basest desires. My appeal for proof of this is to every man's conscience! Say, friends, as you reflect on your repeated reasonings on spiritual things, when you are tempted to that of the unlawfulness of which, in the sight of God, you are fully convinced, if ye look not for impunity ere ye commit it, to the interposition of an after repentance; say if ever when conscience startles and shrinks back at the awful words, "the soul that sinneth shall die," the future penitence stands not forth and soothes and silences every fear with the satanic delusion, ye shall not surely die, thou mayest repent and live; and then, let the sin be ever so ruinous, the cup ever so poisonous, it is indulged in, it suits the taste, if the sinner fancies he has an antidote. How important, we would almost say, is the argument if it be a sound one! But, brethren, we are prepared to prove it utterly fallacious, and most dangerous though absurd; nay, we would find in the very fact of its fallacy a powerful motive, the very motive, indeed, from the text to urge you to a contrary course, and now, ere it be too late to give glory to the Lord your God. A future or deferred repentance is a soul-ruining delusion! Such is the substance of Jeremiah's argument. Why is the delay to give glory to God a presumptuous imposture? first, we would reply, because the events of the future are too uncertain for man to be secure of them. It is as likely, nay, more so, that the sinner will be under the cloud of divine wrath when repentance is well nigh impracticable, as in the calm of the divine forbearance he now enjoys. The Lord is the God who formeth light and createth darkness, and where his favourable presence is, there is light, where it is withdrawn there it is indeed gross darkness. The light of the truth and of the Spirit have been long offered to the sinner, yet this is the word of him who is faithful and true, "my Spirit shall not always strive with man;" many in the past and even still, are given over but to a reprobate mind. Of old it was said of long warned Ephraim, " He is joined to his idols, let him alone," and Saul in the bitterness of his soul found at length that God, from whom he had erred, had departed from him. Can you contemplate a more awful position than to be left to your own infatuation, to be deprived of the Spirit of God? 'Tis vain for any to suppose that without converting grace he can repent betimes; that without the candle of the Lord on his soul he can grope through his darkness to penitence and peace; if God be not with him to lead him to repentance, there will be as hard a heart, as dry an eye as ever; sooner will the brass spontaneously melt, or the flint besprinkle itself, than man, by any power of his own alter himself. The rod of omnipotence must strike the rock ere the waters will flow forth; the Spirit which bloweth where it listeth must blow there ere the showers will ever fall. And what security have you, sinner, that God will not at any time, say tomorrow or tonight, in his anger at your present impenitence, seal up every fountain and shut you up to your hardness of heart? Where then your future repentance? Farewell every thought of it, and every hope of light when God thus causes darkness. But, secondly, we reply, that the events of the future are too uncertain for the sinner to be secure of ease and inclination on his own part to repent; it is as likely that he may be stumbling on in the feebleness of physical infirmity or mental exhaustion, as walking in the present fitness of thought for repentance. What traveller is there that will leave himself to be benighted on the mountain tops amidst the solitude and clouds? Or who, if he must cross in the darkness, will be unprovided with his guides and his lamps to lead and to lighten him on his way. Yet if we mark the foolish pilgrim to eternity, is his the reasonableness of conduct which his earthly type exhibits? No! Mark the giddy youth released from parental control; joyously he walks in the delusive paths of sinful indulgence; following the heated guidance of his carnal appetites, his unhallowed lusts, he drinks of the sweetened poison and runs to riot with the noisy and the sensual. Does he seem to pause and ruminate the while? Does he glance for a moment at the contrasted pleasures of spiritual life, it is but for a moment only, to resolve to sow his wild oats while he has time, as there will be after opportunity to repent and live. Well, follow him! We find him not now in the haunts of vice, at the gaming table, or in the tavern. His feet have stumbled, and he has fallen into disease and emaciation, and, horror-stricken, he would now repent; but, alas! he is on the dark mountainshe has erred; it is there enfeebled he lies; there is no friendly voice from on high, to bid him be comforted; no sympathising fellow-traveller to direct him. Every glance around only reveals to him the dark horror of that hell he has made for himself in his own bosom; only discloses to him those multitudes of sins, rising in all their hideous deformity to his view. Every effort of body only tells him of exhausted nature, too enfeebled to open, far less to read the book of life; every effort of mind only reminds him that once his faculties were clear, but now they are clouded and useless. His ease he looked for to repent is only bitter trouble. His inclinations,--alas! his anxiety and alarm at approaching wrath dissipates his every effort. Ease to repent ! ah, strange is the ease of a shattered constitution, a fevered, frenzied, dissipated intellect. Ease! Mark it in the bloated form, the laboured breathing, the glazed eye, the death-cold sweat, the awakened conscience, the clouded mind. Ease,--alas! his is only the ease of the maniac, wandering ever in the madness of his thoughts over the items of a misspent life, and visiting in his delirium even those regions to which he is doomed.
But we turn from this procrastination to another, and we mark the giddy daughter of vanity and fashion. We follow her as she trips along so vauntingly in her tinsel and her beauty; as she keeps in her room with her pleasant novel or her idle thoughts; as she goes from her mirror, that altar of her self-idolatry, to the round of her fashionable friends; as she enters her favourite ballroom, and exults in the feverish excitement of the dance; or as she lounges in reckless frivolity, amid the impurity and impiety of the theatre--she is happy; or, if there be a moment's pall in her taste, and the dignity of the Christian character invites her to assume it, it is but for a moment, to resolve soon to begin a new life; and yet we follow her, to see her ease and inclination arrive. But ah! if the scene we have already glanced at be not here again realised, there are but few of its horrors wanting; or even if there be, have we reason to hope for a different result? How is it possible for one whose days are passed in insensate giddiness, to rid herself of her confirmed habits? How is it possible for one accustomed only to frivolities, when at length frightened into involuntary, unchosen, sudden piety, to find the inclination or case to believe and live! Were it but practicable, by the heaving of a sigh, to remove the load of the sinner's guilt, or by the shedding of a few tears to expunge it, or such fragments of devotion as could be gathered in from the ruin of old age to expiate it, the sinner might hope to succeed; but heaven is not to be so easily purchased --divine favour not so easily procured, and it is strange such a vain thought should delude a single soul. How would that which cost the Son of God his life, be so lightly attained as by a deathbed sigh? How will this which ought to have employed the energies of our golden days to secure, and which, even in such a case, would have been but imperfectly done, be gained by a few hours' service of hoary hairs, while the shroud is already preparing for us. None are so apt to suppose so as those who are engaged in the business of the world, and whose best days are spent in seeking the spoils of this earthly life; but let us tell such that they delude themselves if they suppose that heaven and happiness can thus be made but the venture of the after game. Sowing to the flesh, they can never reap the fruits of the Spirit; living to the world, they cannot die to God. We might have gone on to shew, that the longer it is deferred there is the less hope of its being completed, from the fact, that the more sin is indulged in, the harder grows the heart that commits it. In the morning of life the business of giving glory to God is easy; then the heavenly penitential dews descend and dwell in the soul; but when the day is far spent, and the heat of temptation has dried them up and they are gone, and the soil of the soul is parched and dry, if the business be begun at all, it will be severe labour; for every tear a struggle, for every desire a writhing, and even if the blessing be given, can the fruit to the praise of divine glory be other than stunted and poor?
The theme of the text is not exhausted, but we have done. Prepare to meet thy God.
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