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A SER MON
ON THE INCOMPARABLE EXCELLENCY OF RELI
GION IN THE LIFE OF MAN.
SAMUEL AUSTIN, D. D.
Pastor of a Congregational Church in Worcester-Massachusetts.
DEUT. xxxii. 47.
* For it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life.'
THESE are among the last words spoken by Moses the great lawgiver of Israel. They are a part of his valadictory address to them, which is through. out solemn and impressive. He had, in the foregoing passages of this address, given a short account of the marvelous interpositions of God in their behalf; mentioned several judgments which had overtaken them for their rebellions; recapitulated the most material laws which had been ordained for them to observe; pressed upon them obedience to those laws, and assured them of reaping a rich harvest of blessings in case they should walk dutifully with God, and of suffering the most dreadful effects of his displeasure if they should refuse to do so. In the verse before the text he brings his exhortation to a serious close..... • And he said unto them, set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe, to do all the words of this law."
A very powerful motive he subjoins in the text..... • For it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life.' Let us apply this, my hearers, to ourselves..... Beyond all doubt it will apply to us with as strict propriety, and to as great an extent as it did to the peo, . ple of Israel. What Moses had enjoined was a strict and punctuat observance of all the divine require. ments. This is religion. Religion consists in obedi. ence to God. The first great law, which is the rule of obedience to all intelligent creatures, is this. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.' This law is comprehensive of all our duty as it respects our Creator. Love is the essence and the sum of it. He who loves God with all his heart will certainly worship him in the several ways, social and secret, in which he has directed us to approach him. He will reverence him deeply, be afraid of offending him, have the most sacred respect to his authority, teachably receive all his instructions, be cheerfully resigned to the disposals.of his providence, unconditionally commit himself into his hands, and endeavour to employ all his faculties, and fill up all his time in serving him.
But this general law of love, as it extends to ereatures in our circumstances, involves some particular duties. It binds us to repentance, faith, and gratitude for that immensely rich salvation which the gospel sets before us. These duties binding on us as simners, are most evidently comprehended in the general law, which requires us to acknowledge Jehovah as our God and to love him with all our hearts. If we possess this love to God we shall certainly feel self loathing for all our past undutiful treatment of him. We shall return from our apostacy, and take his part against ourselves. We shall cordially approve of the law which condemns us, and adore the justice which is illustrated in
the execution of that law. We shall embrace with joy an offended Saviour. For in proportion as this love reigns within us, Jesus and his work must be precious in our eyes. We shall bear without murmuring every afflction of life, as infinitely less than we deserve, and as necessary to fill up that which is behind in the sufferings of Christ. Our gratitude for so inestimable a favour as the salvation of which he is the author and finishter, will mingle itself with all our worship, and form the most elevated part of it.
In speaking of obedience to the requirements of God, as the sum of religion, we must not forget the second table of the law. This summarily requires that we love our neighbour as ourselves; i. e. that we regard his existence, improvement, and everlasting happiness, with the same friendly concern which we should feel for our own. This law is also obligatory upon all intelligent creatures. As it respects the condition of man, in a state of moral estrangement from God, it involves peculiar duties. It binds us to withdraw from all participation in the sins of wicked men, as a necessary expedient to bring them to repentance. It binds us to do all that we can, and to intercede in incessant humble prayer for their salvation. It binds us to rejoice in the conversion of those whom God is graciously pleased to bring out of darkness into his marvelous light; to take them to our bosoms as christian brethren, and to seek their edification in holiness as preparatory to the bliss of heaven. It binds us to forbearance, and forgivness, and to all those condescending offices which benevolence dictates towards those whom we cannot recover to God and duty. This is a general view of religion. To this the text has respect; not to the mere profession or form of it, not to any mere party interest, the frippery of ceremonies, or unhallowed zeal, formed in ignorance and bigotry, which may assume the name of religion. It has ever been the propensity of mankind to pass by the essence of
religion, and to substitute in its stead observances which are the fruit of their own invention. It is
pure and undefiled religion, extending its empire over the heart and over the faculties and actions of the man, free from all spurious intermixtures, which we are to have in view. Many people imagine that even this is a vain thing. They consider it as not worth any serious concern.
But the Jewish lawgiver, speaking from experience, from the dictates of an enlightened understanding, and which is much more, from the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, has told us that it is not a vain thing. He has gone much farther, and asserted that it is even our life. I will now endeavour to illustrate and confirm to you the justness of this assertion. Life is the greatest temporal good enjoyed by man. The termination of it is ordinarily considered as the greatest evil. All worldly possessions take their departure with the extinction of life. The malicious destrustion of it is estimated
the greatest crime, and the taking it away in the execution of law is deemed the highest kind of punishment. The term, life, as used in the text has certainly not a confined respect to things merely temporal. It reaches to all the concerns of man, and must be considered as comprehending whatever is, or ought to be valuable to him here and hereafter. To illustrate the justness of the assertion in its proper and extensive sense, I would observe
1st. That without religion our natural life, with all its attendant enjoyments, is forfeited; and so forfeited that we have no right to calculate upon its continuance, and that it cannot indeed be continued, but as the result of mere long suffering in God..... All creatures, who hold their existence in a state of favor and happiness, have it continued to them either on the ground of their personal obedience, or by a dispensation of grace. There are but these two ways. No other is possible. The infinitely good God, can
pot but approve the characters, and delight in the persons of all obedient creatures. He will certainly secure their happiness in union with himself so long as they remain obedient. The language of God's government with respect to the obedient, is ' he that doth them, shall live in them. No evil can befall a crea. ture so long as he remains friendly to his Creator. Sin is a revolt from him. It places the creature in a state of rebellion, and under the curse of the law. For the unalterable language of the law, is · The soul that sinneth shall die.' Life is forfeited by sin. And when life is forfeited, all its attendant privileges, and enjoyments are forfeited.
The other principle on which creatures may hold a happy existence in union with God, is grace. These are properly two distinct covenants. He who has bro. ken the covenant of merè law, or works, may become interested in a new covenant, called the covenant of grace. Such a covenant God has revealed and proposed to man
It is in the hand of Christ as its mediator or executor, and is sealed by his blood. It constitutes the substance of that revelation with which God has been pleased to enrich us. But the sinner cannot be interested in the new covenant while utterly destitute of religion. The covenant takes effect by the consent of the sinner only. This consent must comprehend repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. He who does not repent remains a rebel. He continues in arms against his lawful sovereign. He spurns every persuasion which invites him to be reconciled, and tramples upon the provisions of grace.
He has then no title to his ratu. ral life, or to any of its enjoyments, by his personal obedience or by grace.
His life is continued on the same principle that the life of a murderer is continued in the proceedings of a civil government, after he has been tried, convicted, and the sentence of death has been pronounced against him. It is continued in