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Hebrews z. 31. It 1s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, Some perhaps, when they hear these words, may be reminded of the somewhat different feeling expressed by David, when he was told to make his choice between three different sorts of judgment proposed to him. His expression was, < Let me now fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great ; and let me not fall into the hands of men.' Yet here again these sentiments, seemingly so opposite, do but make up together a great and most wholesome truth. ^ Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great; that we may not fall into the hands of the Lord, when he shall come to judge his people.' ^ Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great ; and let me not fall into the hands of men.' Let us experience God's judgments, and not men's. Strictly speaking, indeed, everything that befalls us is God's judgment, whether it comes upon us through the instrumentality of nature or of man. And again, on the other hand, it is very possible that nothing, whether it come from nature or from man, may seem to us to be Gtxl's judgment ; we may see in it nothing beyond the instrument, and not
254 THB nTDGME TS OF GOD.
look op to its Author. But still, undoubtedly, we are more apt to see Ghxl's hand in what we call natiual visitations
than in those brought on us by man, and therefore they are &r more apt to do us good. And the reason of this ia evident. In evils brought on us by the hand of man, the injustioe, or cruelty, or dishonesty of the instrimient, — that is to say of the man, — hinders us from looking any further ; and as injustice and cruelty excite our anger, we are rather disposed to be angry with another than with ourselves ; we think not of our own sin, but of our enemy's wickedness. And this is a great aggravation of his wickedness, and is indeed one of the worst parts of all injustice, that it is likely to do not a worldly injury only, but a spiritual one berides ; by exciting in the mind of him to whom it is offered such feelings as lead him away from his great business, the business of watching his own heart and conduct. We may reasonably pray then to £ei11 into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men. We may pray to be visited rather with sickness or with poverty, produced by no fault but simply by misfortune, or with the loss of friends by death, than to meet with ill-usage, with neglect, injustice, cruelty, unkindness, than to lose our friends through their fault or folly. But the reason why we may thus pray, is, that by falling into the hands of God, and by feeling that we are doing so, we shall escape falling into His hands hereafter. For now His mercies are great, but then His judgments will be intolerable. If we have attended to the lesson read this afternoon from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we may have observed how, amidst the fullest dwelling on the mercy of Christ's sacrifice, it also contains some of the most solemn language of warning that is to be met with anywhere in Scripture. It warns us of the infinite danger of falling back, if we have begim to do well ; of neglecting that great salvation
THE JUDGME TS OF GOD. 255
offered us, if we have never begun to be in earnest at all. It declares that a worse judgment shall overtake those who are disobedient now, than ever fell on those who broke the law of Moses. Thus there is, even in our dispensation of mercy, a place left for heavier judgment than existed even in what is called the dispensation of death. This is, of all the revelations of Scripture, the one which men can least bear. They would fain find something of hope, something of mitigation, even in the heaviest sentence of God's anger. They would fain believe that all shall be well at the last. Most natural is it for flesh and blood so to wish ; most natural that the strong wish should labour to become belief. And in this matter, where the temptation to deceive ourselves with a false belief is so great, — where the truth, however unwelcome, is yet one which bears on it so much of practical importance, — where, in short, it is God's declaration on the one hand opposed by all the suggestions of our evil nature on the other, — what security for our faith has God provided,— on what authority is the truth made known to us, — with what plainness and fulness is it expressed ? It is worth while to observe this, whilst so many are again endeavouring to revive the old arch falsehood of the enemy of our souls, and pretend that the Scriptures are not enough for us, that they are not plain enough or full enough, that their view requires to be adjusted and interpreted according to the standard of man's tradition. How is it with the great matter of wliich I have been speaking, our condition hereafter ? Are we left to pick this out from obscure or ambiguous passages, on which the interpretations and traditions of the Church can alone throw a clear and decisive light ? Are we told to go to some writer who lived so near the Apostles' time that he could not have mistaken their doctrine ; although it be notorious that they themselves, till the Holy Spirit came upon them to lead them into all truth, did often mistake
S66 THE TODamasrrs of god.
the doctrine of their Lord, even while they were oontiniiallj hearing Him ? ot so, my brethren. Ood has not willed tiiat we should rest on that rotten staff, which His word earnestly exhorts ns to oast away. The declaration of His truth is in His own Scriptures, dear and full ; no man can mistake, no man can dispute its meaning. one was ever 80 foolish as to try to strengthen it by the testimonies of Councils or Fathers ; for we have it in the words of Clhrist H?yw«Mlfj who knew with the knowledge of divinity, the oertaiDty of the things which He uttered. He said of Judas, that it were good for him if he had never been bom. He said that His own sentence on the wicked at the last day should be, * Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.' Can that be inconsistent with Ghxi's mercy, which is declared by Him who laid down His life for us ? Are we more wise than Christ? are we more full of love than He is, that our measure of what is true and just and good should be one that we may dare to prefer to His ? Observe, again, that where authority is really needed for the human mind to lean upon, there it is provided for us ; and of such a kind that we may safely rest on it. We cannot possibly understand the reasons of God's judgments: the whole system of His government must be infinitely beyond our grasp. Whoi might fully explain to us the grounds of His dealings with us, is absolutely beyond our present knowledge ; yet the fact that He will deal so and so with us, is one of the utmost importance for us to know and believe. ow here is the Scripture notion of &ith when it relates to the understanding, and is required to struggle against difficulties of the intellect, as well as temptations of the senses and corrupt affections. It is not that God sets before us some proposition which we cannot fully understand, and which after all has no tendency to make us wiser and better ; still less does He require us to
THE JUDGME TS OF GOD. 257 believe a thing thus unintelligible and unprofitable on the authority of men no wiser than ourselves. But He declares to us a statement perfectly intelligible and most deeply practical, namely, that those who are condemned at His judgment are condemned without hope for even We can understand fully what this means, but we cannot perceive the reasons for it ; we fancy that we see reasons against it ; we are tempted, therefore, to doubt its truth* Here, therefore, is the place for authority on the one hand, and for faith on the other. God Himself gives us no less authority than His own. Christ says to us in eflfect : * I have, shown you that in Me there is the fulness of wisdom and power and love. I tell you, that this thing which seems to you so shocking and so incredible will yet come to pass, and that I myself will do it. The reasons for it you cannot now understand, nor can they therefore be revealed to you. But I tell you that so it will be, and that so it is right that it should be. Believe it for the sake of My word, if you have known that man cannot do wiser or better than to trust in God, his Maker and his Saviour.' Then whosoever loves and has known Christ, will believe His word ; and those who have not known and loved Him will not believe Him. But to those who do know Him, faith in His word is their highest reason; they know that they might a thousand times better doubt themselves and their own wisdom and goodness, than doubt the wisdom and goodness of Christ. Such is the faith which Christ will bless, or rather, which is in itself the greatest blessing of all that His Spirit, the Giver of all good gifts, can bestow upon us. It is a blessing so t6 know and so to love Him, that entire faith in Him becomes the first dictate of our enlightened Christian reason. It is a blessing to believe all His words, for nothing has ever come fix)m Him which does not help to make us wise unto salvation ; His words are spirit and
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258 THE JUDGME TS OF GOD, life. Here is nothing of idolatry, nothing of folly and superstition. Here is no worshipping day by day in an idol's temple, tiU our corrupted mind transfers to its idol the glory of the living Gtxi, and bestows upon it that faith, which, as it had folly or wickednass for its foundation, so it has one or both for its fruit* And when we have thus bestowed our faith upon our idol, and stand ready to believe and do its bidding, then comes the second curse of this wretched state, — that whereas Christ's words are spirit and life, and to do them is life everlasting, so the idol's words are some folly or ungodliness, which to hearken to and obey is death. Then what in Christ's service is devotion, in the idol's is fanaticism : what in the service of the Allwise and All-righteous and All-merciful, is a wise, a holy, but still a most charitable zeal, becomes naturally in the service of the evil idol, a mad, a dishonest, and a bitter bigotry, calling evil good, and good evil ; and putting the sign of its idol, whatever it may be, in the place of the sign of God's Spirit, — the departing from all iniciuity. This is that evil one which, according to St. Paul's prophecy, has thrust himself into the temple of God, has exalted liimself above all that is called God or that is worshipped ; and claiming that faith and olK^dience which are due to Christ alone, has so shown himself to be as God. But the real Christian faith in Christ's promises and Christ's threatenings, and which is in danger of being supplanted by a false and idolatrous faith in man's superstitions, is indeed what we all require daily. Where is the man of us, however earnestly he may love Christ's words, who can pretend that he believes them with the same imdoubting faith that he would do if he knew and loved Christ better ? If Christ is in some degree manifest to us,
yet is it so far as to fulfil His promise, that He and His Father would come to us, and make their abode with us ?
THE JUDGME TS OF GOD. 259 Conceive, if that were the casej how entire would be our confidence in all God's words ; how steadily should we look beyond the grave and see the river's farther shore. For what makes death clear or dark to us, is exactly our greater or less knowledge of God : I do not mean a pretended knowledge of His nature, but a knowledge of His goodness to us, and of His holiness ; that if we are with Him, whether it be in life or in death, we shall be safe and happy. And it is a knowledge also of His terrors, that it is indeed a fearful thing to find ourselves in His hands for the first time, when He comes to judgment. For then will be fulfilled in us that Scripture, ' We shall look on Him whom we pierced.' Here we knew Him not, and therefore carelessly ofiFended Him ; but then we must know Him, and shall find that the evil done or the good not done to one of the least of our brethren, was a wrong or a neglect to Him. And one way of learning to know Him here, is that recommended to us in the same chapter from which my text is taken, where it says, * Let us consider one another, to provoke unto love and to good works ; ' and of what kind of * considering ' he is speaking, and that our love should look beyond our neighbour's bodily good, is plain from the verse following : * ot forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, but exhorting one another,' — not serving and loving God alone by ourselves, but striving to sympathise with others and to get others to sympathise with us, that we may love each other the better from all loving Him. This is the very bond of our Christian communion ; this is the meaning of our receiving it together. As far as it is a communion with Christ alone, we might receive it each by ourselves, but the Church wisely orders
it otherwise, because Christ is not alone nor are we alone ; He is the head of His body the Church, and we are 82
960 THB JUDGME TS OF GOD. memben one of another, and we cannot oome to Him alone* that we might feel this more and more, and all draw one another towards Him I Then we should be indeed one with Him and He would be one with us ; and being thus with Him in this life, we should be with Him for ever in happiness, and not fell into His hands as a God of judgment.
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