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THE KINDNESS AND CONDESCENSION OF GOD.
REV. J. STRATTEN,
PADDINGTON CHAPEL, JUNE 19, 1836.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's.”—-PSALM ciii. 1—5.
"My God," say the apostle Paul," shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." God supplieth our need very much through the medium of the Holy Scriptures, "that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works." Here are doctrines to inform the judgment, to illuminate the mind, to enlarge the boundaries of our knowledge, to multiply our thoughts and our conceptions. Here are precepts to guide us in our way-countless examples to direct us in our journey through life, and promises to support us in our afflictions. And not only is there this variety of experience; every fluctuation of feeling, every diversity of circumstances in the heart of man, in the Holy Scriptures is portrayed, in the Bible you will find a counterpart of. As face answereth to face in a glass, so does the heart of one good man to that of another; in the Bible, the picture is drawn and seen to perfection. If you indeed have darkness and difficulty, for that state of mind, and that condition of things, here are words ready put into your lips which you may use in the presence of God: "Out of the depths do I cry unto thee, O Lord." If your feelings are of a mixed character-if there be a conflict between faith and unbelief, between good and evii-if there be a struggle as between light and darkness in the twilight-here again it is represented: "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; I shall yet praise him:" and it is as the light of day, bright illumination, the ascendancy of the noon-day sun. If you are full of joy, how may you express that joy in language so appropriate as in the words of David: "O sing unto the Lord a new song;" "O be joyful in the Lord all ye lands." And if you have gratitude rising in your mind, fluttering in your heart, as a young dove in its soft nest-if you have thankfulness, and wish to express it in a lovely song, where can you find any thing come up to the expression of the text, "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeeınetb thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender 2 E
mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is enewed like the eagle's."
First, God, in his kindness, grace, and condescension, is said to "forgive ail thine iniquities." And this supposes that we have iniquities—that we have been defiled by transgressions. David, the author of these words, was a sinner; he was made sensible of his sin: and it is a very striking account which is given of Nathan coming to him, and by his exquisite parable, bringing the monarch into self-condemnation, convincing him out of his own mouth, and then saying to him, in the energy of the prophet, "Thou art the man." And sensible of his sin, broken-hearted, in the deepest penitence on account of sin, he composed the fifty-first Psalm, bewailing his transgression, supplicating pardon, seeking forgiveness, and presenting himself in the church as a public mourner, publishes his humiliation to all the nations, and to all the church to the end of time. The passage which is now before us may be regarded as the answer to that prayer, as the realization of that hope. David had said, "According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." God had done for him that which he asked, and now he says, "Bless the Lord, O my soul-who forgiveth all thine iniquities."
I bring the matter to your consideration and to my own. We are sinners in the sight of God. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one unto his own way: and the Lord hath laid on Christ the iniquity of us all." We have erred and strayed like lost sheep: we have done the things which we ought not to have done, and we have left undone the things which we ought to have performed: and if we had been in some other places of religious worship and holy devotion this morning, we should have said, over and over again, "Lord have mercy upon us, miserable sinners."
You have sinned in your hearts. The heart is pronounced in Scripture to be "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." "You have sinned in your thoughts. Would you permit the nearest and most intimate friend which you have under heaven to know every thought that has ever crossed your bosom? Have you never been invaded by thoughts blasphemous, and by thoughts so sinful, that you have almost looked round upon a sudden to see if the devil were not there? God sees the secrets of our hearts: but he will blot them out, he will forgive them. There are sins of our religious services: "Woe is me!" says the prophet, "for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips." There are transgressors of the tongue: there are words of folly, words of falsehood, words of exaggeration, words of extravagance. There are sins sometimes of silence-not only speaking when we ought not, but not speaking when we should. "Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar;" and he laid it upon his lips, and his sinfulness passed away from him. "If any man offend not with his word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." But who can stand up in the presence of God this day, and say, "I have never sinned with my tongue?" There are sins of the lifeactions, I mean, of unkindness, of ingratitude, of injustice, of inconsideration. Who is in all these points blameless? Who can affirm, "I am pure; there is na obliquity in me ?" There are sins in the relations of life: there are offences
committed against one another in our respective homes. Is there a husband who has loved his wife as Christ loveth the church? Are the words of Cowper a slander and a lie
"The wisest and the happiest pair
And something, every day they live,
I come to the lower relations-of the child to the parent, and the parent to the child. Is there a father who has done every thing he ought to have done for his son? Is there a son whom his father has no occasion to chasten? Who is without a speck? Who is without a blemish? There are sins of our holy things. I take it for granted that you go into your closets, that you shut to the door, that you pray to your Father who seeth in secret. But how is it done? Oft-times with what coldness-in the midst of what vagrancy of imagination; with no consecration of thought, no force of feeling, no vigour of spirituality! You come into the house of God; here you are; it is well you are here; we can say, as Peter did on one occasion, "It is good for us to be here." How do you come? Did you come in the innocency of the angel, in the purity of the seraph? And since you have been in this place, have you worshipped in the beauty of holiness? Have you listened to the word of God, as our first parents listened to their instructor? We are here: is it a scene of perfection? Is it heaven on earth? Is there no guilt even in our services? Is there not a strange intermixture of piety and profanity, of light and darkness, of good and evil? Is there every where upon us the traces and the stains of our fallen humanity? There is no end, if one enters into a detailed narrative, of the sinfulness of man.
But I come to the beauty and glory of the text: "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities." And I beg you to remark that it is "all." God in this matter is like himself; he does not forgive a part and retain a part; he does not remit the fraction, and keep the pounds against you. A servant owed to his lord ten thousand talents; and forasmuch as he had nothing to pay, he freely forgave him all. O noble lord! O blessed servant! GOD freely forgiveth all; and if all be forgiven, then, of course, there is freedom. Let the vesture be fully washed; let it be deeply and thoroughly cleansed; and it comes back to its primitive whiteness. And so our vesture (if I may venture the image and the similitude) purified by God's pardoning love to its consummate whiteness, is made to glisten with the light of heaven upon it, like as Christ's was, of which it is said, it was white as no fuller on earth could whiten it; it was white as snow. If all is purified, then there is no dross left in the midst of the pure gold; it is all glorious, all refulgent, and fit for the purest and most splendid vessels to be laid upon the altar and in the house of God: like the clouds on the face of heaven: look aloft to the topmost, turn to the right and to the left, survey the whole circumference of the horizon; there is no darkness, no mist, no obstruction at all! "Bless the Lord, O my soul, who, after this manner forgiveth all thine iniquities!"
I do not teach the great absurdity, that all men are in a pardoned state: but let there be repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ--let the blood of sprinkling be upon a man-let the act of absolution be administered] from the courts of heaven, and sealed on a person's conscience by the Holy
Ghost, and then, I say, that he is pardoned, that all his iniquities are forgiven, and that he ought to rejoice in the light and glory of God. You remember that woman who heard the invitation of Christ to come unto him; and she and at the feet of Jesus she stood, and bathed them with her tears, and wiped them with the flowing tresses of her hair; and Jesus said, “ Thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven thee." You see in Jesus the power and prerogative, in all its spledour and beauty, which forgives; you see in the woman the consummate picture of a penitential and self-emptied mind; you see in the Pharisee the dark, scowling objector to the doctrine; and you see the doctrine in the prevalence of its own power, and in the triumph of its own purity: "Jesus saith, Thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace."
"Who forgiveth all thine iniquities:" thine-for we must bring it home, and make it personal. It is matter of gladness to me, that God forgives any man. I delight in every believer's joy: I see him free, and pure, and happy, and I sympathize with him in his gladness. But suppose a man unrenewed, unpardoned, with whom you cannot participate in joy! Bring it home, then; let faith appropriate the blessing; let the sentiment go into the heart; let it sink deep into the conscience; let it thoroughly pervade the spirit: "Who forgiveth thine iniquities:" "who forgiveth"-the word is in the present tense; not did, not will, but who forgiveth-is continually in the act, as it were; who will cleanse from all sinfulness of the flesh and of the spirit, and thus perfect holiness in the fear of God.
May I not speak for a moment, not to the pardoned sinner, but to the man who is far from God, and, Cain-like, wandering from his Father in heaven? May I not say, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him ; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities."
The next thing God is said to do in this passage, is to "heal all our diseases.” I infer from many expressions in this psalm, that David was several times sick, that he was dangerously ill, that his life was in the most imminent juncture, that it just quivered in the balance, and was suspended, as it were, upon a hair. And I ask, if this be not true also of the great majority of men? I would ask, if all of us have not been at seasons in this condition? We remember the wormwood and the gall; we remember the anguish and the humiliation: but the fever left us, and we recovered; the malady was rebuked, and we escaped; the sickness was not unto death, but for the glory of God.
There are some, I know, who cannot adopt the language of the text. I have talked with persons who have said, "Sir, I know not what sickness is; I have had health from the beginning unto this day; I was never laid low for a week, nor for one hour." Is this the case with any of you? Then your mercy is signal, your condition is conspicuous: then your voices should overtop all other voices: then your gratitude should transcend; your praises should be superlative; you should say, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, who hath never permitted me to be sick at all!" There is a great difference between health and sickness. In health, the eye hath its fire, the countenance its bloom, the voice its strength, the foot its elasticity, and the hand its power. You can perform your enterprise; you can eat and drink; you can live and enjoy yourself, be
happy and minister to the happiness of others. If you are sick and laid low, the eye loses its brightness, the countenance its colour, the voice its strength, the foot its elasticity, and the hand its power; and the appetite is gone; you lie down languishing, and say, "I can do nothing, I am weary, I am faint, I am ready to die;" and you need all manner of attention. Is any sick? Let him send for the elders of the church: then is the time for sympathy; then is the season for prayer.
You may not have been sick yourselves. Lives there a person on this earth, is there one within the reach of my voice, who has not had to wait upon those in sickness who are near and tender to him as his own life? How I sympathize with Jairus, "Come, and heal my daughter." O what did that man feel; and what did the mother of the beauteous girl feel, when Jesus restored her safe to her mother; the widow of Nairn, who lost her son, and Martha and Mary their brother! I wonder how they were attended to in the progress of sickness. I knew a person bearing no appearance of tenderness or civility; and he went with his daughters abroad, and one of them was sick; and the physician was sent for, and he said, "Sir, it is a malignant and perilous fever; send instantly for a nurse." "I am the nurse," said the father, and threw off his raiment; and "for seven days and nights," he told me, "I left not the room; the cap of ice I put on myself with my own hands; and there is my daughter." Not that in every instance the tenderest sympathy and the kindest care, God heals and gives the restoration. There are other instances in which all is done that can be done, but the daughter dies, and the son dies. And I knew a widow, who for fourteen weeks put not off her raiment, and laid not down upon her bed ; but her child died.
I want to say upon this subject three things.
The first is, that when we are cured, or when those whom we love are raised up, we are to ascribe it, not to ourselves, nor to the physician, but to God. We may do a good deal as it respects ourselves; our health is, in some degree, in our own hands; so that by care, by circumspection, by proper self-discipline and management, we may foster and cherish it: and, on the other hand, by vice, by profligacy, by intemperance, by undue exertions, either of body or mind, we may reduce it, and bring it low. And, I presume, David referred to some such persons as these, when he says, "Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions." And, then, having shown that mercy, "O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing" as Christ said in a similar case. "Go, and sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee."
But in the direr diseases, neither we nor the physician have any control: God speaks, and calls the man away; he removeth him out of the world: who can restrain his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? On the other hand, if he will give us health and renovation, then no earthly power can resist him And I quote David again in this joyful case: " I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear