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“ not." His language was respectful, his promise was fair, and he walked forth towards the vineyard, till he apprehended himself out of sight; then he turned aside, loitered away his time, joined evil company, set off to a revel, in a little time “spent all his sub: “stance in riotous living," died in wretchedness, and as he expired was heard to groan, “O' that I had « hearkened to a father's counsel !"
Ah! how many in a few years have'we seen, whose .pretensions were equally strong, whose promises were equally flattering, whose declensions have been equally grievous, whose end has been equally fatal!
We have seen children trained up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to whose tender minds religion was presented by maternal care in all its loveliness ; who'lisped the language of prayer and of praise as soon as they began to speak. They promised well.
We have seen young men ingenuous, teachable, despising the bondage of corruption, hating even the garment spotted with the flesh. They promised well.
We have seen hearers under the preaching of the Word alarmed, melted, almost persuaded to be christians. They promised fair.
We have seen men reclaimed from various vices becoming regular in their lives, and attentive to moral and relative duties. They promised fair.
We have seen characters coming forward eager to join in Christian communion, and laying themselves under an obligation to walk “ in all the command“ments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." These promised fair. And nothing would have been
66 erb ;
more uncandid and suspicious, than to have questioned their present sincerity, or their future perseverence. And where are they now? See the tears of their connections ; hear the sighs of their ministers ; listen to the triumph of the enemy. They are turned aside to vain jangling; they are so bewitched that they cannot obey the truth; they are walking in the council of the ungodly, standing in the way of sinners, and sitting in the seat of the scornful; “ for it has “ happened unto them according to the true prov
the dog is turned to his own vomit again, “ and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the 66 mire."
Let us conclude by deriving an inference from the subject, and by addressing ourselves to persons of two classes. The Parable fully authorizes us to observe, that religious effects are often very unanswerable to expectation; and that the most specious characters are not always the most likely to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The subject is delicate. We know we tread on dangerous ground, nor would we advance without caution. God forbid that we should ever plead for wickedness, or intimate that immorali. ty is preferable to morality. Our Lord intended to establish no sạch principle by these examples. He does not view these things as they are in their own nature, but as they are frequently found in their accidental relations and consequences.
And is it not undeniable that persons possessed of distinguishing privileges and moral endowments are too often filled with pride, wrapped up in self-righteousness, lulled to sleep by carnal security, deeming themselves safe from comparisons with those who are profligate ? Are they not too often offended when told, that they must be indebted for salvation to Grace perfectly free and unmerited ; that they must be accepted upon the same terms as the moft vile ; and that however excellent these things, may be in themselves, they afford them no ground of dependence, yield them no claims whereof they may glory before God ? An attempt to couch the eyes of those who say they see; an offer of pardon to the innocent ; a communication of alms to the wealthy would only exasperate and disgust. But would this be the case with the blind, the guilty, and the poor? It is comparatively easy to convince the more criminal; how can they deny the charge ? to alarm them; how can they deny the danger ? Having no armour of defence, they can sooner receive a wound which will make them cry for mercy. Conscious that they have no righteousness of their own, they more readily admit that if saved at all, it must be by grace. Having no shelter in which to hide, when they see the storm approaching, they willingly fee for refuge to the hope set before them in the Gospel. Nor are such trophies of divine grace unusual.
-We can appeal to the page of history ; and we can refer to our own age. We have seen the most unlikely materials subdued by divine agency to holy purposes ; and sinners called from courses the most ungodly, whose conversion has awakened not only the joy but the astonishment of their pious friends.
Let this encourage our hope ; let us consider none of our fellow.creatures as desperate, and dropping our endeavours and our prayers abandon them. Reformer !
let it animate thee. “ Be not weary in well doing. “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening " withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not wheth. “er shall prosper this or that, or whether they both shall “ be alike good. . Brethren, if any of you do err from " the truth, and one convert him; let him know that
l 6 he who converteth a sinner from the error of his
way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a \ multitude of sins.” Ministers! let it encourage thee. “ Can these dry 'bones live? Prophesy upon “ these bones; and say, Come from the four winds, “O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they “ may live.” “Is any thing too hard for the Lord ?” Parent ! let it animate thee, though means have hitherto proved ineffectual, and instructions and tears have been in vain ; “I say unto you, that God is “able of these stones to raise up children unto Abra“ ham!”
Men and Brethren, let me ask you, Which of these two sons did the will of his Father? You
you say justly, Both of them were culpable; the one was rude, and the other false. But which on comparison do you prefer? You say, and you say truly, The first. On what principle ? Because his actions were better than his words, and his latter end fairer than his beginning. Yes; better is a late penitent than an old formalist.
s; more desirable is the condition of this returning sinner, trembling at God's word, broken-hearted with a review of unprofitable years, and resolving to redeem the time by future zeal, than the state of yonder professor who has sat under the word till he is past feeling, honouring God with his lip while
his heart is far from him, having a name to live while he is dead, saying perpetually by appearances I go, but never actually taking one step in the ways of godliness.
But I have another question; Which of these two sons do you at this time resemble? It is undeniable that you have had calls from God. Your duty, and the consequences of inattention have been plainly set before you. He has spoken by his creatures. He has addressed you by his providence. Aflictions have had a voice. Fire has rushed out of the brambles to which you repaired for shelter. The gourd, 'whose shade refreshed you has withered away. It was a broken reed upon which you leaned; it disappointed your hope, and pierced you through with many sorrows. Sickness told you that you were mortal. The death of others reminded you of your own; and loud spake the silent grave. Many a remonstrance, many a warning you have had from conscience. From sabbath to sabbath you have heard the Gospel. Ministers, some in harsher accents, and some in milder language, have laboured to persuade you. No, you cannot plead ignorance; you do not want motive and encouragement. Suffer me then to ask, you, Which of these sons de scribes you?
Are you saying with the first—“I will not?” What irreverence!“ A son heareth his father, and a servant “ his master : If then I be a father where is my hon“our? and if I be a master where is my fear? saith “ the Lord of Hosts.” What ingratitude ! “Hear, “O) ye heavens, and give ear, earth: for the Lord “ hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up chil“ dren, and they have rebelled against me."