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SEEKING THE LORD.
ISAIAH, lv. 6,7. Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him, while he is near:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
These words partake of a character which belongs to the Scriptures at large; they are addressed both to the hopes and to the fears of man; for while they express a most consoling truth, they at the same time imply a most alarming one. On the one hand it is declared that there is with God mercy, and abundant pardon for the penitent sinner; on the other, it is signified that
there may be a time when the Lord will no longer be found of them that seek him, and will no longer be near to them that call upon Him; a time when, instead of receiving the prodigal with open arms to his paternal love, he will indignantly repel him with those dreadful words, “Depart from me,
you not;” a time, when the wretched man who has wilfully resigned his Christian “birth-right" for the trifling pleasures of the world, will, with Esau, be rejected if he afterward desire “to inherit the blessing," and “find no place for repentance, though he seek it carefully with tears.”
The minister of the Gospel should never lose sight of this two-fold character of the word of God. “It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful;” he must be faithful alike in dispensing the treasures of his master's love, and in setting forth the threatenings of his anger; and while he delights in the execution of that pleasing part of his duty, which consists in inviting all that “labour and are heavy laden ” to accept the gracious offers of spiritual rest and happiness, while he joyfully undertakes the office of a “Comforter of God's people,” while it is his greatest happiness to be appointed as the bearer of “good tidings,” to declare that “with the Lord is mercy, and with him is plenteous
redemption,” to proclaim with Isaiah, “Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,” and to be able to say with David, “I have not kept back thy loving-mercy and truth from the great congregation,” still he must not shrink from the more painful, but equally important task which his commission imposes on him, of endeavouring to alarm and disturb the secure and careless sinner, by a solemn representation of the danger he is in of falling under the severity of God's justice, if he wilfully “neglect so great salvation." “Knowing the terrors of the Lord,” he should earnestly labour to "persuade men,' by the most awakening appeals to their fears, that they “make haste to escape” from the impending ruin, and “flee” with all their speed “from the wrath to come.”
And it is an unhappy fact, that it is this, the most painful part (as I have said) of his commission, which requires his most frequent, and most zealous exertion ; and that the circumstances of his hearers generally render it necessary, that he should be almost studiously cautious in his mode of exhibiting that very doctrine, which, if they were duly qualified to receive it, it would be his greatest joy to publish. I would not be needlessly severe; but I put it to your candid consideration, whether the greater
part of men are in such a state of mind, as to want for their comfort any lively and forcible representation of the mercy of God? Has the sense of their unworthiness and sin, reduced them to that humble, fearful, and anxious frame, which calls for powerful arguments of consolation and encouragement ? are their “souls so athirst after God," that nothing will satisfy them, but to be conducted to the “ fountain of living waters?” Have their 66 sins taken such hold upon them,” that “their heart hath failed them," and they dare not so much as lift their eyes unto heaven,” but require to have their drooping spirits supported by the assurance, that “ though their sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool? Is this, I ask, the state of mind most prevalent among those whom the minister has to address? Is the general character of his audience such, that his discourses ought for the most part to be so framed as to meet the case of the trembling penitent? Is it required that he should propose it as the principle object of his endeavours, “to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones?”
I fear that if, in our preaching, we take chiefly into consideration the circumstances of the majority of those who hear us, and consult principally (as we ought) their instruction and advantage, we shall more usually adopt a line of argument suited to quite an opposite class. I fear it will appear to be more incumbent upon us, that we use our efforts to awaken and alarm, than to soothe and console ; more necessary, that we should tell them of their danger, than of their safety; of an offended God, than of a loving Father ; of a severe Judge, than of a merciful Redeemer ; of a “grieved ” Spirit, who may be provoked to desert them, than of a willing Comforter, who will always abide with, and sustain them ; of the condemnation due to sin, than of the forgiveness purchased for it; of the awfulness of death, rather than of the consolation with which it may be supported; of the terrors of the Day of Judgment, rather than of the triumphs, and the crown of glory to be then enjoyed.
For it is a comparatively rare case to meet with an humble and dejected penitent, who needs the comforts of the Gospel. It is rare in the days of youth and of health; and it is
rare, (I speak from experience,) even on the death bed of those, who may have spent a long life unaffected by any serious thoughts about religion. The more ordinary state of mind is that of carelessness, security, confidence, presump