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Had we come merely in the course of business, or in search of a livelihood, we should have acknowledged a special and gracious Providence in our coming, the moment we had learnt that the blood of Jesus Christ “cleanseth from all sin.” And, is it not a greater and a better providence, to have been born upon that spot of the footstool of the Throne of Grace, where the light of salvation shines brightest ? Judge righteous and sober judgment! If it had been left to our choice, to select the place, where we could most readily and easily believe that God meant well towards our souls, should we not have fixed on the land where He has both cast and fixed our lot? O! His momentary appearance to Abraham, in Mesopotamia, however glorious, was not a greater blessing, in reality, than free access to all the means of His
Mistake me not here. I readily grant, that such an appearance of the God of Glory would be more striking. I see at a glance, that if it did not startle us too much, we should lay greater stress on it as token for good;" but the real question is, ought we to judge thus?
I will endeavour to answer this question when I come to explain that vision. In the meantime, the direct personality of the preaching of the gospel to Abraham, is of more immediate importance to us. We are ready to say, “ Abraham might well believe the promise for himself, seeing it was made to himself; but we hear only the general proclamation of the gospel. Thus, although we hear all, if not more than he did, about the Saviour, we do not hear it as he did, from a personal appeal.” Now the very readiness with which we say this, should lead us to suspect the rashness of the objection. We really forget ourselves; and, , without intending it, become ungrateful when we reason thus. What! would we wish the gospel to be less open or less free to others, than it is? Do you not see, that to encourage us, by a more personal offer than the general proclamation of mercy, would be to discourage the whole world ? It may be very natural, under all our fears and
anxieties, to feel a strong craving for peculiar encouragement; but, only think! what would be the effect on others ? All who cared any thing about their souls, would require as much as we wish for; and, perhaps, some would insist on having both more and different encouragements. Thus there would be no end to the demands; and, of course, no rule in the procedure. Even what we feel tempted to wish for, for it is a temptation, would dethrone the Bible as the word of eternal life, however it might maintain its authority as the rule of a holy life. And, were each of the DoubtING to insist on such a personal warrant, as would satisfy himself, the confusion would be unspeakable.
Besides, why should God be dictated to ? It is dictation to ask for any thing beyond the universal and unqualified call of the gospel. Dissatisfaction with that, is more ungrateful and insolent than we intend or suspect, when we give way to it. Neither you nor I would dare to tell God in so many words, “that He ought to meet all our wishes, on the point of a personal warrant to hope, before we could feel bound or safe to believe the gospel.” And yet what is our craving for more than His general and generous invitation, but a practical utterance of this proud sentiment? True ; we do not intend to show pride or presumption towards God. It is really from a fear of presuming, that we are afraid to believe. But, let us remember! there are two kinds of presumption. It is as much high presumption to make our own terms, before believing, as it would be to make our own terms before obeying. He presumes, who would alter the rule of faith, as well as he who would alter the object of faith. Why do we not instinctively feel this? We are instinctively shocked, when we see the Socinian presumer, sweeping away all the mysteries of the gospel, before he will consent to believe its historical facts; and also when we see the Antinomian presumer, turning the grace of God into licentiousness : but we ought also to be shocked at ourselves, when we presume to ask or wish for more encouragement, than a free invitation to the gospel-feast.
Oh! were we really as humble as we imagine and intend, when we think of our own unworthiness, we should welcome, with adoring wonder and gratitude, the slightest hint about the possibility of our salvation, instead of doubting its free offer. Abraham evinced a deeper and meeker humility, when he "staggered not at the promise of God, through unbelief."
But you are still reverting to the supposed advantage, which Abraham had from being alone, when God showed him “His salvation.” Do you, then, really think that this was an advantage? I readily grant, that, at first sight, it looks like one, even a great one.
But, when I ask myself—“would the gospel have been at all less worthy of his personal confidence, if it had been proclaimed to him in the presence of all his kindred and countrymen ?” I see, at a glance, that their presence would have been a help, instead of a hinderance, to believing: for, of course, the more the number is, to whom salvation is offered, the greater is the proof of its value and veracity. Indeed, the chief reason why Abraham so readily and cordially believed the gospel for himself, was, because the promise embraced his own family, and was eventually to bless "all families of the earth.” And, as the prospect of that was one of the grand magnets which won his faith ; most certainly, the presence of any of these families would not have increased the difficulty of believing. Oh! we
may well rejoice, that the gospel is not a solitary appeal, as it was in the time of Abraham. In the present state of the world, that would be far more difficult to believe, than the general proclamation is. Indeed, nothing could be a better proof of God's sincerity in inviting us to trust in Christ, than our being placed by his providence, where the trumpets of His salvation sound sweetest, oftenest, and farthest.
THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF
It is true, however strange, that the most serious and circumspect are often the “most slow of heart,” to believe the promises for themselves, or to regard the gospel as “ glad tidings" intended for them. They can include any one in the promise or the purpose of God, sooner than themselves. Both the way and the welcome of the very worst, to the cross and the mercy-seat, are quite plain to us, even when we can see no hope for ourselves. Indeed, in the case of others, who are really concerned about their own salvation, we wonder that they should have any fear; and feel sure, that their doubts are unfounded and unnecessary. We could even prove that there was enough in the free
grace of the gospel, to suit their case: yea, we could defy them to disprove their own warrant or welcome to hope in Christ.
Did it ever occur to you, that this is just the view they take of our case? Yes; they are equally sure that our doubts and fears are unnecessary; and that there is enough in the gospel to remove them all. Even the greatest doubters judge thus of each other. When the prisoners in Doubting Castle are most numerous, every one of them thinks himself the only one who ought to be there. Each would engage to prove to all the rest, (if they would only listen to reason !) that they had no real occasion to remain another night in prison. Accordingly, we never saw any awakened sinner or weeping backslider, whose case we thought hopeless. We durst not mend the pen to any despairing penitent, who was "writing bitter things against himself.” We should at once direct him to what God had written for the encouragement of “the weary and heavy laden."
Now, thus exactly, would such a man direct us: and not all the pain or pressure of his own terrors could prevent him from wondering—were we to tell him, that we could take no comfort from the gospel to ourselves. He would hardly believe us, if we said so: or if he did he would tell us plainly, that, were he in our place, he would not be afraid to hope. Now, what answer could we give to his appeal? The only thing we could say is—“Ah, you do not know our case: there are peculiarities about it peculiar to itself: we could believe in Christ for our own salvation, were we in your place, but, as our case stands, we are afraid even to hope ; you do not know us, as we know ourselves!” This is all we could say to him. And, what is it all? Just the repetition or echo of what he says of his own case. Thus it is, that peculiarities are pleaded on both sides, as the reason for not venturing to believe the promises of God; and each side thinks the peculiarities of the other side, any thing but reasons for not believing. In a word; no Doubter doubts the welcome of other Doubters.
What we fear, when we “stand in doubt” of the final salvation of any man, is, not whether he could find salvation, but whether he will ever seek it. It is then peculiarities, in our own case, which discourage
This does not look well! There is fault or a fallacy here, however unintentionable it may be. “ What! could I get over all my fears, were I only free from the peculiarities which render (as I think) my case singular ? Does that, in which I resemble other sinners, sit so light on my conscience, that I could hope and believe too, easily, if I had nothing else to answer for ? I have, in common with others, a depraved nature, a wicked heart, a guilty and treacherous conscience, towards God :-and, is that in which I differ from others, worse than all this mass of evil in which I am like others ? I surely must have too slight a sense of my general condition as a sinner, if my peculiarities as a sinner lie heaviest on my conscience ; for, what is one bad feeling, however bad; or one great sin, however great, when compared with a fallen nature, and a life of