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Now from having so complete a knowledge of them, we are ready to imagine, that they were as far beyond all others in depravity as they were in their privileges. But, that we may do justice to the character of that generation, let us proceed to consider, II. The character of ours
The favours conferred on us are as superior to any bestowed on them as it is possible to conceive
[Their redemption was from oppressive task-masters; but ours is from sin and Satan, death and hell. Theirs was accomplished by power only; ours by a price surpassing all calculation, even the inestimably precious blood of God's onlybegotten Son. Theirs was for a time in the earthly Canaan; ours for eternity in heaven. Theirs was a mere shadow; ours is the substance ---] What then may not reasonably be expected of us?
[Suppose we could divest ourselves of all recollection that we were a party concerned in this matter, and were called upon to give our opinion, how any people, so favoured as we have been, might be expected to requite their heavenly Benefactor; what answer should we give? Should we not say, There will be no bounds to their gratitude: they will adore their God day and night: they will almost grudge a moment that is not spent in his praise : they will commit all their concerns to him with a confidence which nothing can shake; and devote themselves to him with an ardour which nothing can abate: they will be wholly his, in body, soul, and spirit; and will look for his presence and his blessing as the only portion of their souls ? - - -] And how is it with us ?
[How is it with the generality? Do they " set their heart aright" towards him ? Is there in their hearts any real determination to live to him, and for him, as their rightful Lord and Master? Is there any decided purpose to secure at all events an interest in that redemption which he has wrought out for them; and to live entirely on Him, who has lived and died for them?--- Let me rather ask, Is there any concern about their heart at all? Provided only they be moral in their lives, and regular in their attendance on ordinances, do they not think themselves at liberty to set their affections on things below, instead of reserving them exclusively for things above? See, in their converse with the world, how little they savour of heaven and heavenly things! See them even in their religious worship, (whether in the closet, or the family, or the public assembly,) how cold and formal all their services are; performed from a sense of duty, rather than from inclination; and with a view to satisfy their conscience, rather than to enjoy and glorify their God! In a word, instead of pointing like the needle to the pole, their heart rests indifferently in any other position than the right; and never, unless from some forcible impulse, and for a moment, points towards God as its rest at all.
And how is it with the greater part of those who profess godliness ? As the former " set not their heart aright," so these “ in their spirit are not steadfast with God.” What lamentable instability is found in many who embrace the Gospel as a system, and number themselves amongst the Israel of God! They “name the name of Christ; but depart not from iniquity:" they “profess to know him; but in works deny him :" they “ have a name to live; but are really dead:” or, if they “ run well, it is only for a season;" they are soon diverted from their course; they are drawn aside by temptation; and though they “ begin in the Spirit, they end in the flesh.”. Thus it was in the Apostle's days : and thus we are taught to expect it will be in every age, till that blessed period shall arrive, when “ all nations shall serve the Lord,” and “the Canaanite no more be found in the house of the Lord of hosts." The good-ground hearers are but few, in comparison of those whose unfruitfulness or instability disappoint the efforts of the labourer. Discontent with respect to what God has done, and distrust as to what he will do; a love of present gratifications, and a contempt of future good; a renunciation of God himself for base and worthless idols; are not evils peculiar to that generation: they exist and operate amongst ourselves with undiminished force; and in the conduct of the Israelites we have a mirror, wherein we may see our own faces, with the exception of a few who serve God in spirit and in truth. There is indeed, thanks be unto God! “ a generation of righteous” persons, who are truly “ upright," and truly “ blessed d.” But, for the most part, the present generation has little reason to boast against that which is mentioned in our text: yea rather, inasmuch as our privileges exceed theirs, and our obligations to holiness are greater, it may well be doubted whether we are not more criminal than they; and whether they in the day of judgment will not rise up against us and condemn us.] ADDRESS, 1. Those who are satisfied with themselves
We are told that “there is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, but are not washed from their filthinesse.” Yes, thousands are well satisfied with themselves on account of their outward morality, though they have no real spirituality
d Ps. xiv. 5. and cxii. 2. • Prov. xxx. 12.
of mind, no entire devotedness of heart to God. But let it be remembered, that “God looketh not at the outward appearance, but at the heart:" he “requireth truth in the inward parts." And to the heart must we also look: for “ as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." I mean not that we should take no notice of our actions; because if they be bad, our hearts must of necessity be bad also; since it is “out of the abundance of the heart that we both speak” and act. But actions, though good in appearance, will not suffice to prove our integrity before God. By the heart alone he judges : (acts are regarded only as proofs and evidences of our state :) and according as that is found upright or hypocritical before him, will our sentence at his tribunal be. Let us then look well to the truth of our profession, and to the stability of our ways. Let us see to it, that our “ heart is set aright” to glorify his name, and that our spirit is steadfast with him, whatever temptations or difficulties be put in our way. For then only “have we a good hope," when we are “ Israelites indeed, and without guile"."]
2. Those who are conscious of their departures from God
[To see that we have erred from his ways is the first step towards a return to him. If you see then a resemblance between yourselves and the Jews of old, be thankful that “God has not yet sworn in his wrath that you shall not enter into his rest." And without delay flee to the Saviour, " whose blood will cleanse you from all sin.” Yet be not content to have your sins forgiven. When you pray with David, “ Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean,” “ wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” forget not to add, “ Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!” “The old heart must be taken away, and a new heart be given you,” before you can enter into the kingdom of heaven. You must be born again, and become “new creatures in Christ Jesus." You must become the very reverse of what the world are, regarding God, as they regard the world ; and the world, as they regard their God. When they are in holy exercises, they are quite out of their element: but when engaged in worldly pursuits or company, they are quite at home. Be ye, on the contrary, strangers in the world, and at home with God. Let your whole life and conversation testify for you, whose you are, and whom you serve: and then will God acknowledge you as his in the eternal world.]
i John i. 47.
THE EVIL OF UNBELIEF. Ps. lxxviii. 19–22. They spake against God: they said, Can
God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed ; can he give bread also ? can he provide flesh for his people? Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth : so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation.
HUMAN nature is the same in all ages. On a comparison of ourselves with the ancient Jews, we are ready to suppose that we are better than they. But, if we were subjected to the same trials as they, and as faithful a record were kept of all the workings of our hearts, I doubt not but that our incorrigible perverseness would be found to equal theirs.
This murmuring of theirs will lead me to shew, 1. The evil of unbelief,
Unbelief often assumes the garb of humility. But the evil of it appears,
1. From the construction which God himself has put upon it
[He says, “ They spake against God,” when they questioned his power to give them flesh. And this is what we do, whensoever we call in question God's power to effect any thing which our necessities require. He has declared himself to be possessed of all power in heaven and in earth: “I am the Almighty Goda.” But when we limit his power, we represent him as unworthy of credit; or, as St. John strongly expresses it, “ We make him a liarb." We may not intend to cast this reflection upon him; but we do it; and, in fact, reduce him to a level with his creatures.
As for our acknowledgments of his past interpositions, these aggravate, rather than excuse, our doubts of his power; since they are standing witnesses for him: and our doubts are entertained in direct opposition to their testimony. Let us not, therefore, imagine that the giving of glory to God for past favours will at all palliate our refusal of credit to him for the future: for, on the contrary, he will rather say to us, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou calumniator of thy God."]
a Gen. xvii. 1. 0 1 John v. 10.
2. From the indignation which he manifested on account of it
[“When he heard these unbelieving doubts, he was wroth: and so a fire was kindled in Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel," and " he smote them with a very great and fatal plague." Now, it is true, we do not see the same displeasure exercised on us; but we can have no doubt but that our unbelief is as offensive to God as theirs was: indeed, it involves us in deeper guilt; because his mercies to us, in our redemption by Christ, infinitely exceed all which the Jews experienced in the wilderness. And, if we still harbour it in our hearts, it will bring down a proportionably heavier judgment than what theirs brought on them. They were excluded from the earthly Canaan for their unbelief: but we shall be excluded from heaven itself, and from the everlasting enjoyment of our Goda."]
Seeing, then, that unbelief is so offensive to him, let us inquire after, II. The disposition of mind which God approves
This is clearly intimated in our text: His anger was kindled against Israel, “ because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation.” Of all the images that human wisdom can suggest, no one can be devised so complete as that before us, for the purpose of illustrating a life of faith
[The people of Israel were brought out of Egypt; but they knew not one step of the way that they were to take : they were unprovided with any sustenance: they were incapable of protecting themselves against any enemy: they had to pass through a country infested with wild beasts, and full of obstacles apparently insurmountable: consequently, they had to trust to God for every thing from day to day; and, in dependence upon him, to expect a successful termination of their labours in a peaceful enjoyment of the Promised Land. A new-born infant was not more incapable of providing for itself than they: yet were they to prosecute their journey without fear, and without any apprehension respecting its final issue. Now this is precisely the frame of mind which God expects from us. We must feel our dependence on him as much as they did. We must look to him in every difficulty; and expect from him a supply of every want; and never move, but as guided and directed by him. If trials arise, they must drive us all to him, and lead us to expect from him the more