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For there is a day for the sheep as well as a way: “Christ is the way;” (John xiv. 6;) and the sabbath is the poor man's day, a glorious opportunity for the sheep, to shake off the care of one week, and lay in a store of consolation for the next!
Yet it cannot be denied, that even this has its difficulties; as there will always be some in the way of the sheep. “For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, (to wit for the sheep,) receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. (Heb. vi. 7, 8.) Whereupon another very eminent shepherd has also left this caution for the sheep, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (John I. iv. l.) We should therefore beware of straggling through a propensity to new and extravagant doctrines, as sheep are naturally fond of running over the ground; also of one or two evils besides, which may be apprehended nearer home, according to the presentiment of another shepherd on leaving his flock. “For I know this, (said he) that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also OF YOUR OWNSELVES shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts xx. 29, 30.)
For myself, I have no scruple in saying, that a principal view with me, as well on other occasions as throughout the observations now offered, and that “not by constraint but willingly,” (Pet. I. v. 2,) has been the enriching of my objects with Christian principles or characteristics; as well subjective as objective, and on incidentals as well as constituents; and to raise their consequence by increasing their worth, “that they might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;" (Col. VOL. II.
i. 10;) warning them also as long as I could be permitted, and in as plain terms as the subject would permit, of the practices injurious to such principles, and most particularly of the most destructive. But I hope, that my views will be rewarded in the sequel rather according to their sincerity, than according to their present success.
THE KNOWLEDGE AND ENJOYMENT OF GOD.
“ Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection ?”
JOB. xi. 7. In the poetical style of the Old Testament, of which the book of Job is a beautiful specimen, it is not unusual for an author to hold forward some favourite conception, by repeating it with circumstance: and this, like other figures, more frequently as the subject becomes more poetical. Thus, for example, in the song of Deborah, we read of horses' hoofs being broken by means of the prancings, “the prancings of their mighty ones;" also, of a prey of divers colours, a prey of dirers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needle-work on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil :” (Judges v. 22, 30:) and in this book of Job it occurs continually; as for example, "God speaketh once, yea twice; and man perceiveth it not; in a dream, in a vision of the night; when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed.” (Job. xxxiii. 14, 15.) This figure is not like tautology, it is an improvement in the expression at least : and the author's idea may have gone no farther in the words of my text, “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection ?" meaning to denote the greatness of the accident by this reduplication. But, as there is good room for understanding more than a verbal improvement in the latter clause, without understanding aught different or contrary to the meaning of the former, it deserves to be so considered: that is: the two clauses may both be understood of an active or intentional perception of the Deity,that sort of perception that one has of an object when one directs one's attention towards it; but with this difference, that one shall be preliminary, and as it were, subservient to the other, like apprehension and comprehension, or knowledge and enjoyment.
It would seem as if these two parts, or either of them, were a sufficiently arduous undertaking, to judge from the language of some who have considered them with the greatest interest, and of Job himself, for one: who thus exclaims on the difficulty, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him! that I might come even to his seat:Behold, I go forward, but he is not there ; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him.” (Job. xxiii. 3. &c.) The perplexity of an earnest, and, as it seemed to himself, unsuccessful inquirer, is warmly represented in this exclamation, and by no means extravagantly. For the knowledge of God is indeed a long and arduous pursuit, “though he be not far from every one of us." (Acts xvii. 27.) It is as high as Heaven, deeper than hell, longer than the earth, broader than the sea. age of endless discovery, that we are sent upon by the Author of our existence; and yet not to be despaired of by those who seek him sincerely; neither is there any discouragement, or any want of encouragement, for such to attempt this important acquisition from those who have tried it themselves, that ever a one of them should be able to say, I have sought the Lord sincerely, according to his word, and sought him all my life in vain. The royal Psalmist lived long, had sought the Lord late and early, in youth and in age: and the last advice that he gave to his illustrious successor in the throne of Israel
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was this, “And thou Solomon, my son; know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind. For the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.” (Chron. I. xxviii. 9.) He says, “The lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they who seek the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good.” (Ps. xxxiv. 10.) It is easier for a lion to miss his prey, than for a sincere inquirer after God. He says elsewhere, “ The lions roaring after their prey do seek their meat from God.” (Ib. civ. 21.) “And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast never failed them that seek thee." (Ib. ix. 10.)
Indeed, God himself is more anxious, if I may so say, about our proceeding in this respect, than ever we can be on account of ourselves and each other. It is as much his wish to be sought by us, as it is our interest to seek him: and that he has often signified to his people, speaking to them as it were in his own person, in order to render his application to them the more striking, and varying his tone at the same time according to circumstances, from the most peremptory to the most encouraging. By the mouth of Hosea, he threatens his people to leave them until they seek him, “I will go, and return to my place, (says he,) till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: IN THEIR AFFLICTION THEY WILL SEEK Me." (Hos. v. 15.) “Seek ye my face,” says the Spirit again : and the pious soul replies, “ Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” (Ps. xxvii. 9.) After the dedication of the temple, the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (Chron. II. vii. 14.) So he has signified repeatedly by others, both before and after, that if his people would seek him, they should find him: only their views were to be hearty and sincere. “And ye shall seek me and find me, (says he by the prophet,) when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” (Jer. xxix. 13.)
And as if it were not encouragement enough only to be assured, that we shall find the Almighty on seeking him, he is represented as being truly solicitous on this head: “I love them that love me: (says he,) and those that seek me early shall find me.” (Prov. viii. 17.) “For I desired mercy
and not sacrifice; and THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE LORD, more than burnt offerings." (Hos. vi. 6.) But nothing can shew his interest in this matter, or his will to be known and observed by men, more strikingly than that image of the Psalmist's, where the Almighty is represented as leaning out of Heaven, to catch the regard of poor mortals, walking all their lives in a vain shadow here below: “The Lord looked down from Heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that would understand and seek after God :” (Ps. xiv. 3 :) as it might well be expected, considering the facilities and inducements that he had provided for this purpose. And puts us himself upon this inquiry, it seems a matter of course almost, that he should endow us, as he does, with every help and advantage requisite for the same: so that nothing can hinder us from making a delightful progress herein, it may be, not only for the term of this mortal life, but also through the immeasurable space that lies beyond it, if we fail not ourselves. For the life of every child of God is but one continued search or pursuit after God from beginning to end; and the ministry of every servant or promoter of his Kingdom upon earth is but one continued effort to aid and encourage that pursuit, when he proceeds as he ought.
Considering, therefore, for one how the present opportunity would be most effectually employed for the end of