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THE PRECIOUSNESS OF THE WORD OF THE LORD IN THE DAY OF EVIL
REV. W. JAY.
“ The word of the Lord was precious in those days.”—1 Samuel, iii. 1.
“ THERB never was," said the late Emperor Napoleon—“There never was a very excellent, nor a very extraordinary character, that did not owe much to his mother." This remark may be particularly exemplified with regard to religious distinctions. Many of you know the acknowledgments of Newton, and Cecil, and many others in our own times. We know nothing of the paternal relation of Timothy; but we read of the unfeigned faith which dwelt in his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice, and in him also. How David's memory lingers about this connexion : how tenderly he pleads it with his God! “ I am the son of thine handmaid ;" “ Save the son of thine handmaid."
And the same may be said of Hannah and Samuel.: We consider Samuel as one of the finest characters recorded in all history. Here we have his birth, his dedication to God, his employment in the temple, and his call to the prophetical office : for while he was yet but a child, dressed in a linen ephod, and ministering before the Lord, he received in the night a summons to deliver an awful message, involving the destruction of the whole house of Elie You may peruse the details at your leisure ; we have now only to notice the character of the period in which the vision came. The days were evil: profligacy had invaded the sanctuary of God; the priestly office was prostituted to the vilest purposes of sensuality, so that men despised and abhorred the offering of the Lord. the word of the Lord was precious in those days :" there was no vision;" that is, there was no acknowledged prophet, accustomed to receive divine communications, to whom the people might statedly and publicly repair for instruction.
Let us take occasion, from the few words we have selected, to enlarge, this evening, upon three things. The word of the Lord: the preciousness of that word: and the season of that preciousness. Consider what we say; and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.
First, The WORD OP the LORD. To this high honour the Bible professes to aspire: it claims to be nothing less than the word of the Lord; and we say at once on its behalf, “ All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;" and
holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” I hope none of you, in this large assembly, have rendered it desirable or necessary to deny this truth. For this is the unhappy process with many; they first make the Bible their enemy, and then they feel interested in opposing it. They hate it, because it doth not prophesy good concerning them, but evil. The late Mr Wilberforce told me, that some years ago, when he was passing through Dorchester, during the confinement there of Carlile, he went to see him in prison, and endeavoured to engage him in a conversation upon the Scriptures; but he refused: he said he had made up his mind, and did not wish it to be perplexed again: and, pointing to the Bible in the hands of his visitor, he said in an awful manner, “ How, Sir, can you suppose that I can like that book; for if it be true I am undone for ever.” “No," said the divine philanthropist; “ this is not the necessary consequence, and it need not be; that book excludes none from hope who will seek salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we may live together with him."
Infidelity should be considered morally always, rather than intellectually; it is absurd to suppose that it results from a want of evidence. If there were only a probability, or even a possibility, of the Scripture being true, such are the awful consequences depending upon its rejection, and since no injury can arise from confiding in it, and much good must ensue from its adoption, reason itself requires that we should embrace it. But how many in number, and how convincing, are the proofs in its favour, compared with the objections alleged against it? We say objections; for infidelity only abounds with objections. Now it is the easiest thing in the world to object : specious objections may be advanced against a truth, however firmly established: and it is a very fine remark of Paley, that “we should never suffer what we know, to be disturbed by what we do not know.” Why do not infidels undertake to answer Grotius, or Lardner, or Leslie, or Doddridge, or Paley, or Watson? Have they ever done this, have they ever attempted this, in one single instance ?
I now go back to the beginning of the Gospel ; and there we find two classes of persons-Jews and Gentiles-neither of which, forsooth, can find evidence enough to believe it. The Jews–0 they could not believe that Jesus was Messiah ; though they stood by and saw him open the eyes of the blind, and raise the dead, by a single word, and in a moment. But they could believe the relations of their Elders, and the stories of their Rabbies—the greatest impositions that ever yet were invented on human credulity. Then take the Greeks : “ 0," said they, “how absurd it is for persons to believe in, and adore as a God, one who suffered and died on the cross." At the very same time, you will observe, they acknowledged, they adored as gods, beings whose infamous lusts and passions they allowed ; as if sinning was less incompatible with divinity than suffering. Whether, therefore, they refused to believe from a want of evidence, judge ye.
It is the same now; the evidence ventured upon by men as to their everlasting all, is such as they would be ashamed to act upon in the lowest concerns of life. The faith of the Christian! What does the Christian believe, compared with the man who believes that the Scriptures are a cunningly-devised fable ? It is to him we plainly apply the exclamation, “ ( man, great is thy faith." We indeed believe difficulties ; but he believes absurdities : we believe mysteries ; but he swallows absolute impossibilities. O Christian, your faith does not stand in the wisdom of man, but in the word of God: yet the wisdom of man has always been on your side Down to this very hour infidelity has not pro
duced one first-rate scholar or genius. What are the names to be found in the lists of our adversaries, to weigh against your Newtons, your Boyles, your Bacons, your Lockes, your Miltons, your Joneses, and numbers more? You Christians can appeal to prophecies, many of which have been accomplished, and many of which are now fulfilling. You can appeal to miracles, numerous, performed in public, and in the presence of those who would have detected the imposture, if there had been any. You can appeal to the character of the penmen. And here you may say to the Deist,“ Were these penmen good men or bad men? You can take your choice of the alternatives, for either one will equally support our argument. If you say they were good men, how came good men to tell lies, and profess that they had received a commission which they never had received, and to declare · Thus saith the Lord,' when the Lord had not spoken? If you assert them to be bad men, how came bad men to enforce all holy tempers and conversations, and to censure and condemn themselves for ever in every line they wrote ?"
Take up the Bible now, and examine it internally—is it not worthy of God? Upon the same principle that when I survey the works of creation I exclaim, “ This is the finger of God;" so when I peruse the Scriptures, I feel the impress of the divine agency: I am perfectly sure, that whoever was the author of the Book, he was a holy being, he was a wise being, he was a benepolent being : I am sure he knew me perfectly, and was concerned for my welfare. The argument arising from the establishment and spread of the Gospel in the world, often engages your attention, and we have recently referred to it with the concession—that success alone does not constitute a proof of the divinity of a cause. For then where should we be with regard to Mahometanism and Popery? But here, we contend, such is the nature of the case, and the inadequacy of the means employed, that we must have recourse to a divine interposition. Who were the agents engaged? A number of fishermen, without power to compel, without riches to bribe, without philosophy to perplex, without eloquence to persuade. And what had they to overcome? The decrees of emperors, the persecutions of magistrates, the subtlety of philosophers, the craftiness and covetousness of priests, the profligacy of the common multitude. And what had they to enforce the success of those things which they had to declare? Doctrines that seemed incredible human reason; and they were believed. They enforced duties which were repulsive to every natural disposition; and they were obeyed. They acknowledged that sufferings and death would immediately attend the adoption of their sentiments; and they were instantly adopted : and not by a few, but by men of all descriptions ; men who were distinguished by every kind of moral excellence, who were examples of all good works.
It cannot be expected that we should be able to do full justice to the evidences, external or internal, of the Gospel, in a branch of a single sermon; on the other hand, I hope none of you will consider what we have advanced as unnecessary, when you consider to what our youth, the hope of our churches and our country, are continually exposed now; and when you reflect that the subject can only impress us according to our impressions of the nature of its claims. If we receive the Gospel as human, we shall naturally regard it humanly: if we receive it as divine, we shall regard it divinely. It was thus the Thessalonians received it; and the Apostle acknowledges the consequence. “ Ye received," says he, “ the word of us, not as the word of man, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe."
Let us notice, secondly, ITS PRECIOUSNE88.
• Precious" means valuable; cost.y; something of great worth and importance.
Yuu will observe the preciousness of a thing is very distinguishable from the truth of it, in the former argument. Nothing can indeed be valuable and important that is not true; but a thing may be true without being valuable and important. But here both these are conjoined—the veracity and the excellency-according to the word of the Apostle, “ This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." This may be inferred, not only from the Author, but the design. What is the design now of the word of God, but the restoration of man from all the effects of moral evil, and placing him in a condition superior to that in which he was originally created ? " These things are written," says the Apostle, “ that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; and that believing ye inight have life through his name." Here the mighty questions are answered,
6 What must I do to be saved ?" “ Hów shall I come before the Lord, and bow before the High God ?" The most precious book in the world to me ought to be that which contains “ the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord :" and this volume does contain it. We are commanded to search the Scriptures, for in them we think we have eternal life, and they are they that testify of him. The heathens knew something of the fall; they must have felt the effects of it, in the troubles of life, in the uneasiness of conscience, in the disorder of their passions, in the dread of futurity, and in what the Apostle calls, their “subjection all their life to bondage through fear of death." We know that they did try to obtain relief; but they knew nothing of the balm in Gilead, and the Physician there : they were without Christ, and therefore they were without hope and without God with them in the world.
But, “ to us is the word of this salvation sent." Now observe how David eulogizes it : “ Thou hast magnified," says he, “thy word above all thy name." That is, above all other modes of manifesting himself: for God has displayed himself in various other ways. He has shown much of his power and his wisdom in the constitution of nature, and in the dispensations of his providence; yea, and much of his goodness too. Some contend, too, that he has shewn enough of his goodness there to answer all the purposes of religion ; but very unjustly: for the display of his goodness there, you will observe, is intermingled with other effects, that more than neutralize it. You thus witness, not only zephyrs, but hurricanes; not only health, but sickness ; not only ease, but cholera ; not only life, but death. Where are you now? These awful appearances will always produce more fear in the guilty (and erery mind is conscious of guilt) than the pleasing appearances will ever have power to produce hope.
We see that this accords with the history of idolatry and superstition in every age of the world; it has not only been absurd and foolish, but also cruel and bloody: and the character altogether upon which man must return to God as a sinner, to obtain pardon and peace, the only view we can have of God that will give us confidence, and bring us to himself-namely, as the Father of mercies, and God of all grace, as ready to forgive, as engaged to renew and sanctify us
--this is only to be seen in the face of Jesus Christ. I have never met with one of our missionaries who has been abroad, without asking whether, while he was among the heathen, he ever perceived any thing in any of them like confidence in, or attachment to, the idols they adore ? He has immediately replied, “ Never ; they only worship them om fear; and therefore they dislike to think of death. And this was an advantage in their conversion ; for as soon as ever they were persuaded that they were safe from their anger, they would instantly tumble them into the sea, or cast them to the moles and bats, or burn them in the fire."
O how precious is one declaration of this book! Read the testimony of John : “ We have known and believed the love he hath to us; God is love: and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." How precious is it to have a standard of doctrine with regard to our belief; so that if we feel perplexities—and perplexities there needs will be on such a subject—we may call in the judgment of God the Father himself. How satisfactory is it to have a rule of duty with regard to conduct. How wretched we must feel if we had been left to conjecture what God would have us to do, and how he would have us to walk. But this is not our case ; he hath shewn us what is good; he has told us what he requires of us; he has furnished us with information, and this information is in proportion to the importance of the thing. As to matters of moment, here every thing is so legibly inscribed, that he may run that reads it. Where information is necessary to us, there the light of day is thrown upon the subject: where additional information would only amuse us, and draw us off from the one thing needful, there the Scripture becomes silent as death, and dark as the grave. And is not this an excellency? Thus the Bible teaches us by what it conceals, as well as by what it reveals: just as Lord Bacon observes, “ The shade of the sun on the sun-dial, serves to show the hour as well as the sunshine." And how advantageous is it to have, also, a manual of piety, a vade mecum of devotion, with every thing comprised in it that is necessary to life, and in so small a compass that we can carry it conveniently along with us.
Solomon, take this book ; bind it about thy neck; write it upon the tablet of thy heart: that where thou goest it may lead thee, and when thou sleepest it may keep thee, and when thou walkest it may talk with thee.”
We must not, before we dismiss this part of our subject, overlook its influence a:id efficacy. We do not mean now with regard to the illumination of the mind, or the relief of the pardoned conscience, or the setting of the man's poor heart at rest, so that he shall no longer run up and down this wide world, crying, “ Who will shew us any good ?" but we refer now to his moral transformation. “ If any man be in Christ he is a new creature." And our Saviour, therefore, said unto the Jews, “ The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." Ye sball know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." We see that it did this on its original promulgation. We see that, though Plato complained that he could not prevail upon the inhabitants of a single village to walk according to his maxims and rules, the Fishermen of Galilee never complained so. Did not Corinth refuse? No. Did not Rome? No. Did not Thessalonica? No. Did not Ephesus ? No. Did not all these places ? No. The kingdom of God was not in word, but in power. They received the word; they became free from sin, and became the servants of God, had their fruit unto
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