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LUKE XV. 9. Were one of the happy spirits, who now bows before the throne of God, and drinks in felicity at the fountain^ to be introduced among men, to become for a season an inhabitant of the earth, and to be made familiar with human dangers and wants, where, think ye, would he spend most of his time, and in what kind of service would he be the most deeply interested ? Would you expect to find him moving in circles, where devotion breathed forth its confiding spirit to God; where there were hearts filled with heavenly love, and minds employed on heavenly themes ? There he would find sympathy ; a spirit in unison with his own ; immortal beings, whg were to be his companions in the bright world above. There he might communicate the treasures of his own mind to those who would gladly receive information of that world, whither they were travelling, in which they had already began to lay up treasures, and where their highest hopes were fixed. There indeed you might expect, that he would delight to witness the progress of truth, the developement of pure affections, successful struggles to overcome moral dangers^ the brightening of intellect, the advancement of holy love»
64 JOY I HEAVE and a growing preparation for the world of perfect light, purity and joy. But though in such circles, he might find most to accord with his own taste, you would not see him there most frequently. Would he then, in a world saddened by frequent calamities, where pleasures only bloom to die, be seen gathering in the gay throng the fleeting pleasures of this life, mingling in their thoughtless sports,
and in present amusements endeavoring to forget the very condition of existence which was common to the beings with whom he was for a season holding intercourse ? In such circles indeed he might be found, but not mingling in their thoughtless, guilty, heartless pleasures. You would find him making himself familiar with every form of human misery. eeding not himself the poor aid of human sympathy, fearing not the moral contagion which rages among men, he would go to the neglected, to the miserable, to those over whom vice had exerted great power, and whom he saw to be in danger not only of passing a miserable existence on earth, but of losing heaven and of going into eternity to taste there the wretchedness of guilt* These unhappy beings would employ the thoughts and call forth the labors of the heavenly visitant ; for these he would perceive to be in danger of everlasting ruin* They would excite the tenderest interest ; for they might yet be redeemed by his influence, and, if left to pursue the course on which they had entered, they must perish everlastingly. It was for such that Jesus manifested the greatest solicitude ; with such he was frequently found ; and to such he administered with unwearied kindness the lessons of heavenly wisdom. For this benevolent solicitude for the happiness of the guilty, he was reproached by the self-righteous Pharisees, and stigmatized as the friend of publicans and sinners. He vindicated his conduct, showed the danger of those whom he would save, and assured those who censured him, that he had the sympathy of the pure spirits above, with whatever feelings man might regard
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his efforts. He would apply himself to the wants of wretched sinners ; for there was joy in the presence of the angels of God over every penitent sinner. Who then are sinners ; what is repentance ; and why should the pure spirits above take so deep an interest in
the bringinj^ of sinners to repentance ? These questions, growing out of our text, it will be the principal purpose of the present discourse to answer. 1. Who is a sinner in the sense in which the word is used by our Saviour in the text ? Doubtless, he, you will answer, who for a pretence made long prayers, and at the same time oppressed the widow and the orphan. The proud Pharisee, who, with his forms and ceremonies, with his greetings in the market places, and his fasts and penances, with his lengthened visage, and boasted piety, united a proud heart and an unholy temper ; who made his professions the cloak with which to cover over injustice, fraud and violence ; who could not endure the simple purity and piety of Jesus, but followed him with reproaches wherever he went, and was ever ready to imbrue his hands in his innocent blood : he was a sinner. Yes, he was a sinner ; and so were thousands more, who made no pretences to piety, and who were strangers to the love of God, and to the holy pleasures of benevolence, of purity and devotion. But who now are to be ranked in the same guilty class of men ? The fraudulent, the intemperate, the cruel, the profane, the revilers of God and religion, the disturbers of domestic and public tranquillity, thieves and murderers : these are sinners. Yes, they are ; and, would to God, that they were the only sinners. But it is not so. All are of this class, who have not seriously determined to honor and serve God in every affection of their hearts, and in every action of their lives. o matter how amiable they may be in the view of the world, no matter with what honors they may be crowned by human society ; if they are destitute of the love of God, if the religious principle be not the 9
66 JOY I U£AV£ governing principle of their \iYee, they are sinnens. They
are guilty in the sight of Heaven. They are living only for time, and they must perish with the objects of their affections. The class of sinners then must be thickly crowded. It may embrace many who are speaking peace to their souls, and many whom the world consents to honor. 2. What is that repentance, which calls forth joy in the presence of the angels of God ? It is not the mere excitement of fear, the mere spasm of passion. It is deep sorrow for sin, excited by just views of its character and tendency. It is founded on the truth of God, and has reference to the approbation of God. It is followed by a hatred of moral evil, and by a love of virtue. It issues in the practical graces of the gospel, exhibited in the temper and the conduct. It works a moral change in the affections and in the life. It puts him, who, like the prodigal, had in his love of guilty pleasures pursued them to his own ruiU) had abandoned his fathei^s dwelling, disgusted with the images of virtue and happiness which there met his eye, again within his father's arms, filled with new affections, and open to the joys of a parent's love. It brings the child of God to loathe the husks on which he had fed, to mourn the depravity of his tastes, and to turn his affections to a Father in heaven. It tames the unholy passions of his heart, and opens his mind to, the light, and his heart to the love of God. It puts him on the path which leads to heaven, and prepares him to be cheered in his earthly pilgrimage by the joys of a pure moral taste, and by the hope of endless progress and happiness. It is a thorough moral revolution, turning his steps from the path which leads to death, into that which leads to life and endless bliss. 3. Why should the pure spirits, who surround the throne of God take such a deep interest in the sinner's repentance ? Why should they rejoice in that, which to many on the earth is a subject of the most perfect indiffer-
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ence ? Why should they, when man seems happy in guilt, when like a maniac he rejoices in his chains, why should they feel a deep concern for him, who feels none for himself? Why rather should they not rejoice in their own happiness, and, unmoTod, let the sinner pursue his own chosen way ? Had I an angel's mind, and an angel's pure affections, I might answer these inquiries in a manner, which would move those feelings which ought now to be excited. But as the answer must come from an earthly tongue, it will be low and unworthy. God grant that it may not be entirely worthless and inefficient. There is then, we may suppose, joy in heaven at the sinner's conversion, because an immortal mind is saved from sin and indescribable wretchedness. How must the sinner's character affect the mind of one of those pure intelligences, who has for unnumbered ages bowed by the throne of God, and drunk in the pure joys of unpolluted virtue. There he sees a mind of the same original constitution with his his own; a mind indeed of feebler powers, but yet a spark emanating from the great source of all intelligence ; a mind destined too for immortality, capable of expanding till it shall become a fixed light in the firmament of heaven. This mind has turned away its powers from God. It is employed at best in the mere pursuit of treasures, which are fleeting as the dew«drops of the morning. It has no regard to the religious culture of its high faculties ; makes no attempt to borrow light from above to increase its powers, none to give permanency to its possessions by connecting all its treasures and hopes with God. He sees too a being, whose affections are capable of embracing not only the interests of virtue on earth, but of embracing God and eternity. These affections are crippled, bound down to the earth, seeking all their excitement, all their gratification, firom earthly objects. Here is the fairest picture, which the sinner's character can present. It may be blackened
68 JOY I HEAVE by no wild excesses of vice, by no foul crimes, which can draw down upon it the indignation of an injured and insulted community. But yet here is a mind, which devotes not its powers to God, which acknowledges not his constant influence, and courts not his favor. Here is a heart, which is bowed down in its affections to the earth, which feels not the purifying and sustaining influence of heavenly motives, which has no hope, to anchor it amid the agitations of this troubled scene. With what sentiments would one of the pure spirits of heaven regard such a man ! If tears can fall from the eyes of a celestial being, would they not flow at such a sight ? He looks upon this guilty man, and beholds him passing through the bufietings of a stormy world, now mourning the withering of this earthly hope, now anxiously pursuing that fleeting bubble, now casting from him in disgust that which he had obtained through many an effort, now shrinking before the fear of death, and now writhing under the lashes of an accusing conscience. Can a benevolent spirit regard this mighty waste of an immortal mind, and not grieve at the view ? Then he must rejoice if that mind is roused to virtuous efforts, if that heart is touched by a heavenly influence, if that soul is brought back to its God, and made to enjoy the bright visions of endless progress and of endless happiness. We have purposely drawn this picture in the most favorable colors ; for we wish to bring our subject home to the bosoms of those, who are boasting their freedom from the grosser forms of sin, yet are living without God, and without Christian affections. But the picture may be darkened, and ought to be darkened ; for the progress of sin exhibits both the blackest guilt and the deepest misery. What then, if this heavenly visitant should see the sinner, the slave of his appetites, ground down to the earth by the
most galling of bondage ? What if he should see sin tearing away from the heart not only the fear of God, but all
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the domestic affections, turning the parent upon his family to make the domestic circle the abode of poverty and vice, to infuse into his children the very passions of hell, and tarn them loose to prey upon the virtue and the peace of society ? What if he should follow the man of crimes through all the windings of his guilt ; witness the sufferings to which he exposed himself, and the strife of contending passions, which prey like furies upon his soul ; and see him at last expiating his crimes by suffering the penalties which human justice has sanctioned, penalties which are to the torture within, as the insect's hum is to the wild fury of the war of elements ; what 4hen would be his views of sin, and his feelings toward the guilty ? But the present life cannot limit the view of those, who stand before God. They look onward to the future world. They know, that, however the soul of man is polluted, it must exist hereafter, and that the sufferings of guilt in this world are but a foretaste of what is to await the guilty soul beyond the grave. O what then must be the emotions of a pure, angelic mind, in view of the sinner's character and doom ! Can such a being fail to be moved by the tenderest compassion ? Must there not be joy in heaven at the sinner's conversion ? But the happy change, which causes joy to run through the hosts of heaven, is not occasioned by the mere drying up of the .sources of human wretchedness. It is the introduction of happiness to the human heart. Penitence gives to the affections their proper objects ; imparts to the soul that sustaining power, which bears it up amid all the sad changes of earth. It brings love and purity, faith and hope, to dwell in the human bosom, to exalt its joys, and
to brighten its prospects. It lets in upon the soul those holy influences, which connect every affection with God, and prepare every affection to join in his service. It makes all peace within the human heart. It enlists a servant for the infinite Jehovah; connects with him the bright
70 JOY I HEAVE hopes of virtae ; sends him into the fiunily circle to breathe the spirit of purity and kindness, and into society to eiert his whole inflaence in the caase of piety. It introdaces upon earth the reign of righteousness, peace and joy. It prepares an immortal mind to pursue a bright career in eternity, to mingle its light and its joys with the full radiance and perfect bliss, which fill the dwelling-place of the most high God. An angel's mind, though it may not be able to grasp the perfect idea of the happiness even of the humblest man, who is devoted to God, yet may be able to trace the influence of Christian truth upon his character and the progress of his happiness to a much greater extent, than the human imagination can conceive. Here then in the sinner's repentance is not seen only the drying up of a source of evil influence and of misery ; but the operation of heavenly principles, the introduction of happiness to an immortal mind; There must then be joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner, that repenteth. To save sinners has called forth the highest expressions of God's love. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Over them he poured out his tears ; for them he endured anguish ; for them he brought down fix>m heaven the light of God's truth ; for them he poured forth not only his warm afiections, but his precious blood. Still he bears in his heart a compassionate regard to sinners. He is still exerting an influence for their salvation in the truth which he is causing to pour its light upon the human mind, and to exert a powerful influence over the sluggish affections of the human heart. He is still their advocate before the
throne of God. What then must be the dangers of sin ! Do you realize these dangers ? Do you feel them, as they are perceived by the pure minds above ? Then your hearts are warmed with love to God. Then you have already caused joy in heaven. You are opening your minds and hearts to the full power of religious truth. You are panting and struggling for the adoption of the sons of God ;
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for that immortality, which Jesus reveals ; for the fulness of joy, which is to be obtained, when you shall completely escape from this land of conflict and of shadows. Your bosoms glow with h6ly gratitude, and with ardent desires to see the triumphs of the Saviour, the full glories of his reign on the earth. You deem no sacrifices, no efforts painful, by which sinners may be brought to repentance, and their souls saved. Is* this the state of each one, whom I address ? O no ; we cannot flatter ourselves with this soul inspiring belief. o ; there are those, here listening to the words which fall from my lips, yet estranged from God ; yet guilty of giving all their affections to the world ; yet themselves in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity ; strangers to the malignity of. the disease which is preying upon them, and extending by their influence its fatal contagion, it may be, to the dearest friends of their bosoms. Pause then, I earnestly entreat you. Repent. Open your bosoms to the influence of the Saviour's love. Send up your warm affections in devout prayer, in humble penitence, to him who hath no pleasure in the sinner's death. Court the influence of the spirit of God. There may be hope, there may be salvation for you. Delay not ; for this hope may be withered by the hand of death. If there be celestial spirits attending upon us, the humble children and worshippers of the living God, may they bear with them this night to the courts of heaven the joyful tidings, not that
one sinner, but that many sinners have repented ! God grant this infinite favor, that there may be joy on earth and in heaven !
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