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And we acknowledge His bountifulness, we commemorate His providence, we enter upon His gifts, by abstaining from them. As the Israelites brought the first fruits of their land in a basket and left it in the priest's hand before the altar of the Lord their God, so do we in another way, but in the same spirit, begin our thankful use of God's blessings by a prudent delay and a lowly prayer. We deprecate wrath, we entreat mercy; as Job sacrificed for his sons, so we for ourselves. We remind ourselves that though “every creature of God is good,” we ourselves, God's creatures, are the one exception to that rule; that though His gifts are holy and innocent, our hearts are frail and wayward; that they are good in the sending, yet dangerous in the taking-good in the use, but harmful in the enjoyment. As before meat, day by day, we say a grace and then begin, so now do we ask a blessing on the whole year by pausing ere we enter upon it.
This is to feed ourselves with fear. Thus let us proceed in the use of all our privileges, and all will be benefits. Let us not keep festivals without keeping vigils; let us not keep Eastertide without observing Lent; let us not approach the Sunday feast without keeping the Friday abstinence; let us not adorn churches without studying personal simplicity and austereness; let us not cultivate the accomplishments of taste and literature without the corrective of personal discomfort; let us not attempt to advance the power of the Church, to enthrone her rulers, to rear her palaces, and to ennoble her name, without recollecting that she
1 Deut. xxvi. 1-11.
must be mortified within while she is in honour in the world, and must wear the Baptist's hair-shirt and leathern girdle under the purple ephod and the jewelled breastplate.
And lastly, let us beware, on the other hand, of dishonouring and rudely rejecting God's gifts, out of gloominess or sternness; let us beware of fearing without feasting. “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.” Let us beware, though it must be a sad perversion of mind which admits of it,let us beware of afflicting ourselves for sin, without first coming to the Gospel for strength to do so. And let us not so plunge ourselves in the sense of our offences, as not withal to take delight in the contemplation of our privileges. Let us rejoice while we mourn. look
to our Lord and Saviour the more we shrink from the sight of ourselves; let us have the more faith and love the more we exercise repentance. Let us, in our penitence, not substitute the Law for the Gospel, but add the Law to the Gospel. Those who do despite to baptismal grace fall under the Law; but they do not fall from the Gospel, if they are repentant; they fall under the Law without the Gospel, if they continue in sin; they receive the Law with the Gospel, if they return. The Law which once introduced the Gospel, in such cases becomes its instrument. They fall indeed under bondage, but they have the power of Christ's grace to enable them to bear it.
And in like manner, as they must not defraud themselves of Christian privileges, neither need they give up God's temporal blessings. All the beauty of nature, the
kind influences of the seasons, the gifts of sun and moon, and the fruits of the earth, the advantages of civilized life, and the presence of friends and intimates; all these good things are but one extended and wonderful type of God's benefits in the Gospel. Those who aim at perfection will not reject the gift, but add a corrective; they will add the bitter herbs to the fatted calf and the music and dancing; they will not refuse the flowers of earth, but they will toil in plucking up the weeds. Or if they refrain from one temporal blessing, it will be to reserve another; for this is one great mercy of God, that while He allows us a discretionary use of His temporal gifts, He allows a discretionary abstinence also; and He almost enjoins upon us the use of some, lest we should forget that this earth is His creation, and not of the evil one. I am not denying that there are certain individuals raised up from time to time to a still more self-denying life, and who have a corresponding measure of divine consolations. As some men are Apostles, others Confessors and Martyrs, as Missionaries in heathen countries may be called to give up all for Christ; so there are doubtless those, living in peaceable times and among their brethren, who acknowledge a call to give up every thing whatever for the sake of the Gospel, and in order to be perfect; and to become as homeless and as shelterless, and as resourceless and as solitary, as the holy Baptist in the wilderness: but extraordinary cases are not for our imitation, and it is as great a fault to act without a call as to refuse to act upon one.
May God give us grace to walk thus humbly, thus
soberly, thus without censoriousness in this day of confusion; enjoying His blessings, yet taking them with fear and trembling; and disciplining ourselves without gloom, yet not judging or slandering those who are more rigid or less secular than ourselves !
Connerion between Personal and Public
“ The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the water.
cover the sea.”—ISA. xi. 9.
become a flood to destroy all flesh;” that “the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth ® ;" and yet a flood there was to be, a mighty flood of waters, all-compassing, all-absorbing, in God's good time, and in His merciful foreknowledge, when He spake the former word; but not to destroy all flesh, but to save it. And in its season, as on this day, this second, and more wonderful and more gracious deluge came to pass; the rain of grace descended; "the heavens dropped down from above, and the skies poured down righteousness *;" " the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew ;" “the sea made a noise, and all that therein is;
1 Preached during a very wet season.
8 Isa, xiv. 8.