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Before we enter into the spirit of our text, let us take a cursory view of the terms ; each deserves our attention. Ilear ye what the Lord saith. Hills, mountains, ye strong foundations of the earth, hear ye what the Lord saith. What lofriness in these terms ! This is to prepare the mind for great things. It is a bad maxim of orators to promise much to auditors. The imagination of the hearer often outflies that of the speaker. Arttul rhetoricians choose to surprize and amaze their hearers hy ideas new and unexpected, so that the subjects of their orations may appear sublime by being strange.
But hath the holy Spirit need of our rules of rhetoric, and is the everlasting gospel subject to our oratorical laws? There is no proportion between the human soul, to which the prophet addresseth himself, and the Spirit of that God, who animates the prophet. How great soever your expectation may be, your expectation will be always exceeded. Great objects will not be wanting to exercise your capacities, your capacities indeed may want ability to investigate them. The thoughts of God will always be higher than your thoughts, as the heavens will always be higher than the earth, Isa. lv. 8. A prophet frequently seems at first to present only one object to view : but on a nearer examination his one object includes many; he seems at first only to speak of a temporal deliverer : but he speaks of the Messiah ; at first the present life seems only intended: but at length we find eternity is contained in his subject. Our prophet had reason, therefore, to exclaim, Mountains, inills, ye strong foundations of the earth, hear ye.
Hear ye what the Lord saith, adds the prophet. . It is the Lord, who speaks by the mouths of his servants ; to them he commits his treasure, the ministry of reconciliation. These treasures, indeed, are in carthen vessels: but they are treasures of salvation, and whatever regards salvation interests you. Ministers are frail and feeble: but they are ministers of the Lord, and whoever comes from liim ought to be respected by you. When we censure a sinner, when we make our places of worship resound with Angthemas, Maranathas, instantly we excite murmuring and complaints. My brethren, if at any time we stretch these hands to seize the belin of the state, if we pretend to counteract your sound civil polity, if under pretence of pious purposes we endeavour officiously to intermeddle with your domestic affairs, mark us for suspicious and dangerous persons, and drive us back to our schools and studies: but when we are in this pulpit, when we preach nothing to you but what proceeds from the mouth of God himself, and no other laws than those, which come from his throne, be not surprized when we say to you, Hear us with respect, hear us with attention. We are Ambassadors for Christ. The Lord hath spoken. This is our commnission, these are our credentials.
Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye hills, hear ye mountains, hear ye strong foundations of the earth, hear ye what the Lord saith. When God speaks, all ought to attend to what he
says. He causes the most insensible creatures to hear his voice. The voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is full of majesty, the voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon, it maketh Sirion to skip like a young unicorn, it divideth the flames of fire, it shaketh the wilderness, it maketh the forests bare, Psal. xxix. 3. &c. The whole universe knows this voice, the whole universe submits to it. The voice of God does more than I have mentioned. It reigns in empty space, It calleth those things which be not as though they were. By it the heavens, and all their host, were made. God spake and it was done ; he commanded, and it stood fast, Rom. iv. 17.
There is but one being in nature deaf to the voice of God, that being is the sinner. He, more insensible than the earth, and harder than the rocks, he refuseth to lend an ear. The prophet is forced to address himself to inanimate creatures, to hills and mountains, and strong foundations of the earth. Hear ye hills, hear ye mountains, ye strong foundations of the earth, and put my people to the blush. The oč knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib : but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider, Isa. i. 3. Israel hath forgotten the God, that formed him, and is unmindful of the rock, that begat him, Deut. xxxii. 18.
Ala: ! how exactly does Israel now resemble Israel in the days of Micah! When we speak for God, we generally observe absent minds, wandering eyes and insensible hearts. In vain we say, The Lord hath spoken, hear what the Lord saith. It does not signify, the answer given us is, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? Each wants a gospel of his own. Each seizes the sacerdotal censor. A rigid morality is not suited to the taste of our auditors. Every sinner says of the preacher of it, as an impious king
once said of Micaiah, I hate him, for he doth not prophecy good concerning me, but evil, 1 Kings xxii. 8. Henceforth, then, we must address ourselves to these arches and pillars and walls, our auditory is insensible.
The Lord hath a controversy with his people. What a controversy, my bretlıren! Never was such a cause heard before any judges. Never was a court concerned in an affair of such importance. The controverting parties, the manner of pleading, and the matter in dispute, are all worthy of attention.
The parties, who are they? On the one part the Lord of universal nature, he before whom all nations are as a drop of a bucket; he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and considereth the inhabitants thereof as grassa hoppers; he that weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance, Isa. xl. 15. 23. 12. On the other part, man, Israel, the church. So that it is a husband pleading against his wife, a parent against his children, the Creator against his creature. Who ever heard of a controversy between parties more worthy of consideration !
The manner of pleading this cause is yet more remarkable, The Lord hath a controversy with his people. Who can coolly hear this language? At the sound of these words conscience takes fright, the sinner flees to the clefts of the rocks, and calls to the mountains to fall on him, and cover him from the wrath of Jehovah. Each exclaims with a prophet, Who among us can dwell with devouring fire ? IV ho among us can dwell with everlasting burnings ? Isan xxxiii. 14. Each cries with the ancient Israelites. Let not God speak with us, lest we die, Exod. xx. 19. and with Job, How should man be just with God? chap. ix. 2. But, peace
be your consciences! God doth not come to you today with the dreadful ensigns of his vengeance. If he intends to cast the sinner, it is not by angry reproaches: but by reproofs of his love. Hear him. my people, what have I done unto thee? wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me. He knows, you have nothing to allege: but he means to affect you by generous motives; he means to excite in you that repentance, which is not to be repented of, that godly sorrow, that broken and contrite heart, which is of inestimable value in his sight.
As for you, who have need of thunder and lightning, all you, who must have hell opened under your feet, all you, whose souls are insensible to motives of justice and equity, VOL. IV.
depart from this assembly. We are not preaching to you to-day. We speak to the people of God. The Lord hath a controversy with his people. The Lord will plead with - Israel. We address such of you as have hearts to feel these tender expressions, expressions so tender that nothing in uninspired poets and orators can equal them. O my people what have 1 done unto thee? and wherein have 1 wearied thee? testify against me.
In fine, the matter of this controversy is remarkable ; it is the whole conduct of man to God, and the whole conduct of God to man. God is willing to exercise his patience to hear the complaints of his people: but he requires in return, that his people should hear his against them.
This is a general view of our text: but are general observations sufficient on a subject, that merits the most profound meditation? We must go into the matter; we must go even to the bottom of this controversy; we must hear both parties, how disproportional soever they may be, and how improper soever it may seem to confront them; wę must examine whether the fault lie in God or man. Forgive, O God! if worms of the carth presume to agitate the rash question, and to plead thus in thy presence! Thy condescension will only display thy glory. Thou wilt be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest, Psal. li. 4.
Let us hear first what complaints man hath to bring against God, and what God hath to answer. Then let us see what complaints God hath to bring against man, and what inan can allege in his own defence. But, as we have already hinted, you will not be surprized, my brethren, if wie sometimes forget the prophet and the Jews, to whom he spoke, and consider the text as it regards christians in general, and this congregation in particular,
That a .creature should complain of his Creator should seem a paradox. Of him every creature holds his life, motion, and being. The air he breathes, the animation of his frame, the sun that gives him light, the earth that bears him up, are all emanations of the goodness of his Creator. Yet, strange as it may appear, it is certain, man complains of God. To set the Deity at nought, to trample his laws underfoot, to blaspheme his holy name, to harden under the tenderest marks of his love, as we do every day, is not this to murmur ? Is not this to complain?
Let us hear these complaints. You have your wish, my brethren, and are all of you to-day in the condition, in which Job desired to be, when, in an excess of grief, he uttered these emphatical words, O that I know where I might find God! I would go even to his seat.
I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know the words which he would answer me, and understand what he would say unto me, chap. xiii. 3-5. Order this cause, mortals, prepare these arguments, God is ready to hear you. When we enter into our own heartš, we find we are apt to complain of God on three accounts; his law seems too severe ; his temporal favours too small; and his judgments too rigorous. Let us follow man in these three articles.
The lanes of God seem 'too severe. My people, what have I done unto thee? To this concupiscence answers ; I choose to domineer in the world : but God would have me be humble, wash the feet of his disciples, esteem others better than myself, Phil. ii. 3. and place myself, so to speak, in the meanest post in the world. I like to amass riches: but God requires my conversation to be without covetousness, Heb. xiii. 5. and he would have me learn of lillies and sparrows to confide in his providence. I love to live well, and to fare sumptuously every day : but God requires me to be sober, to keep under my body, and bring it unto subjection, 1 Cor. ix. 27. and instead of living to myself, to take from voluptuousness, and expend what I take in charity to others. I love to divulge the vices of a neighbour, and to erect my reputation on the ruin of his : but God threatens to exclude slanderers from his kingdom. In a word, the law of God controuls every passion of my heart. Ah! why did God give me laws so opposite to my inclinations, or why did he give me inclinations so opposite to his laws?
I understand you, sinners, you wish God had formed religion, not on the eternal rules of righteousness and judgment, which are the bases of his throne, Psal. xcvii. 2. but on the suggestions of soch passions as animate you. Religion, intended by its wisdom to free the world 'from the vices, that disfigure it, should have revealed, in your opinion, more ample methods of committing these very vices, and provided for the hardening of such consciences as the justice of God means to terrify. You wish, that the sovereign God, by a condescension incompatible with the purity,