ON THE SYMPATHY THAT IS FELT FOR MAN
IN THE DISTANT PLACES OF CREATION.
"I say unto you, That likewise joy shall be in heaven over
one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine persons, which need
no repentance. - LUKE xv. 7.
WE have already attempted at full length to ertablish the position, that the infidel argument of astronomers goes to expunge a natural perfection from the character of God, even that wondrous property of His, by which He, at the same instant of time, can bend a close and a careful attention on a countless diversity of objects, and diffuse the intimacy of His power and of His presence, from the greatest to the minutest and most insignificant of them all. We also adverted shortly to this other circumstance, that it went to impair a moral attribute of the Deity. It goes to impair the benevolence of His nature. It is saying much for the benevolence of God, to say, that a single world, or a single system, is not enough for it - that it must have the spread of a mightier region, on which it may pour forth a tide of exuberancy throughout all its provinces that as far as our vision can carry us, it has strewed immensity with the floating receptacles of life, and has stretched over each of them the garniture of such a sky as mantles our own habjtationand that even from distances which are far beyond the reach of human eye, the songs of gratitude and praise may now be arising to the one God, who sits surrounded by the regards of His one great and universal family.
Now it is saying much for the benevolence of God, to say, that it sends forth these wide and distant emanations over the surface of a territory so ample, that the world we inhabit, lying imbedded, as it does, amidst so much surrounding greatness, shrinks into a point that to the universal eye might appear to be almost imperceptible. But does it not add to the power and to the perfection of this universal eye, that at the very moment it is taking a comprehensive survey of the vast, it can fasten a steady and undistracted attention on each minute and separate portion of it; that at the very moment it is looking at all worlds, it can look most pointedly and most intelligently to each of them; that at the very moment it sweeps the field of immensity, it can settle all the earnestness of its regards upon every distinct handbreadth of that field; that at the very moment at which it embraces the totality of existence, it can send a most thorough and penetrating inspection into each of its details, and into every one of its endless diversities? We cannot fail to perceive how much this adds to the power of the all-seeing eye. Tell us then, if it do not add as much perfection to the benevolence of God, that while it is expatiating over the vast field of created things, there is not one portion of the field overlooked by it; that while it scatters blessings over the whole of an infinite range, it causes them to descend in a shower of plenty on every separate habitation; that while His arm is underneath and round about all worlds, He enters within the precincts of every one of them, and gives a care and a tenderness to each individual of their teeming population. Does not the God, who is said to be love, shed over this attribute of his its finest illustration - when, while He sits in the highest heaven, and pours out His fulness on the whole subordinate domain of nature and of providence, He bows a pitying regard on the very humblest of His children, and sends His reviving Spirit into every heart, and cheers by His presence every home, and provides for the wants of every family, and watches every sick-bed, and listens to the complaints of every sufferer; and while by his wondrous mind the weight of universal government is borne, is it not more wondrous and more excellent still, that He feels for every sorrow, and has an ear open to every prayer?
It doth not yet appear what we shall be, says the apostle John, but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. It is the present lot of the angels, that they behold the face of our Father in heaven, and it would seem as if the effect of this was to form and to perpetuate in them the moral likeness of Himself, and that they reflect back upon Him His own image, and that thus a diffused resemblance to the Godhead is kept up amongst all those adoring worshippers who live in the near and rejoicing contemplation of the Godhead. Mark then how that peculiar and endearing feature in the goodness of the Deity, which we have just now adverted to - mark how beauteously it is reflected downwards upon us in the revealed attitude of angels. From the high eminences of heaven, are they bending a wakeful regard over the men of this sinful world; and the repentance of every one of them spreads a joy and a high gratulation throughout all its dwelling-places. Put this trait of the angelic character into contrast with the dark and louring spirit of an Infidel. He is told of the multitude of other worlds, and he feels a kindling magnificence in the conception, and he is seduced by an elevation which he cannot carry, and from this airy summit does he look down on the insignificance of the world we occupy, and pronounces it to be unworthy of those visits and of those attentions which we read of in the New Testament. He is unable to wing his upward way along the scale, either of moral or of natural perfection; and when the wonderful extent of the field is made known to him, over which the wealth of the Divinity is lavished - there be stops, and wilders, and altogether misses this essential perception, that the power and perfection of the Divinity are not more displayed by the mere magnitude of the field, than they are by that minute and exquisite filling up, which leaves not its smallest portions neglected; but which imprints the fulness of the Godhead upon every one of them; and proves, by every flower of the pathless desert, as well as by every orb of immensity, how this unsearchable Being can care for all, and provide for all, and, throned in mystery too high for us, can, throughout every instant of time, keep His attentive eye on every separate thing that He has formed, and, by an act of His thoughtful and presiding intelligence, can constantly embrace all.
But God, compassed about as He is with light inaccessible, and full of glory, lies so hidden from the ken and conception of all our faculties, that the spirit of man sinks exhausted by its attempts to comprehend Him. Could the image of the Supreme be placed direct before the eye of the mind, that flood of splendour, which is ever issuing from Him on all who have the privilege of beholding, would not only dazzle, but overpower us. And therefore it is, that we bid you look to the reflection of that image, and thus to take a view of its mitigated glories, and to gather the linearnents of the Godhead in the face of those righteous angels, who have never thrown away from them the resemblance in which they were created; and, unable as you are to support the grace and the majesty of that countenance, before which the seers and the prophets of other days fell, and became as dead men, let us, before we bring this argument to a close, borrow one lesson of Him who sitteth on the throne from the aspect and the revealed doings of those who are surrounding it.
The Infidel, then, as he widens the field of his contemplations, would suffer its every separate object to die away into forgetfulness : these angels, expatiating as they do, over the range of a loftier universality, are represented as all awake to the history of each of its distinct and subordinate provinces. The Infidel with his mind afloat among suns and among systems, can find no place in his already occupied regards, for that humble planet which lodges and accommodates our species: the angels, standing on a loftier summit, and with a mightier prospect of creation before them, are yet represented as looking down on this single world, and attentively marking the every feeling and the every demand of all its families. The Infidel, by sinking us down to an unnoticeable minuteness; would lose sight of our dwelling-place altogether, and spread a darkening shroud of oblivion over the concerns and all the interests of men: but the. angels will not so abandon us; and undazzled by the, whole surpassing grandeur of that scenery which is around them, are they revealed as directing all the fulness of their regard to this our habitation, and casting a longing and a benignant eye on ourselves and on our children. The Infidel will tell us those worlds which roll afar, and the number of which outstrips the arithmetic of the human understanding and then, with the hardness of an unfeeling calculation, will he consign the one we occupy, with all its guilty generations, to despair. But He who counts the number of the stars, is set forth to us as looking at every inhabitant among the millions of our species, and by the word of the Gospel beckoning to him with the hand of invitation, and on the very first step of his return, as moving. towards him with all the eagerness of the prodigals father, to receive him back again into that presence. from which he had wandered. And as to this world, in favour of which the scowling Infidel will not permit one solitary movement, all heaven is represented as in a stir about its restoration; and there cannot a single son, or a single daughter, be recalled from sin unto righteousness, without an acclamation of joy amongst the hosts of Paradise. And we can say it of the humblest and the unworthiest of you all, that the eye of angels is upon him, and that his repentance would, at this moment, send forth a.wave of delighted sensibility throughout the mighty throng of their innumerable legions.
Now, the single question we have to ask, is, On which of the two sides of this contrast do we see most of the impress of heaven? Which of the two would be most glorifying to God? Which of them carries upon it most of that evidence which lies in its having a celestial character? For if it be the side of the Infidel, then must all our hopes expire with the ratifying of that fatal sentence, by which the world is doomed, through its insignificancy, to perpetual exclusion from the attentions of the Godhead. We have long been knocking at the door of your understanding, and have tried to find an admittance to it for many an argument. We now make our appeal to the sensibilities of your heart; and tell us to whom does the moral feeling within it yield its readiest testimony - to the Infidel, who, would make this world of ours vanish away into abandonrnent or to those angels, who ring throughout all their mansions the hosannas of joy, over every one individual of its repentant population?
And here we cannot omit to take advantage of that opening with which the Saviour has furnished us, by the parables of this chapter, and admits us into a familiar view of that principle on which the inhabitants of heaven are so awake to the deliverance and the restoration of our species. To illustrate the difference in the reach of knowledge and of affection, between a man and an angel, let us think of the difference of reach between one man and another. You may often witness a man, who feels neither tenderness nor care beyond the precincts of his own family; but who, on the strength of those instinctive fondnesses which nature has implanted in his bosom, may earn the character of an amiable father, or a kind husband, or a bright example of all that is soft and endearing in the relations of domestic society. Now conceive him, in addition to all this, to carry his affections abroad, without, at the same time, any abatement of their intensity towards the objects which are at home - that, stepping across the limits of the house he occupies, he takes an interest in the families which are near him - that he lends his services to the town or the district wherein he is placed, and gives up a portion of his time to the thoughtful labours of a humane and public-spirited citizen. By this enlargement in the sphere of his attention, he has extended his reach; and, provided he has not done so at the expense of that regard which is due to his family, a thing which, cramped and confined as we are, we are very apt, in the exercise of our humble faculties, to do - I put it to you, whether by extending the reach of his views and his affections, he has not extended his worth and his moral respectability along with it?
But we can conceive a still farther enlargement. We can figure to ourselves a man, whose wakeful sympathy overflows the field of his own immediate neighbourhood - to whom the name of country comes with all the omnipotence of a charm upon his heart, and with all the urgency of a most righteous and resistless claim upon his services - . who never hears the name of Britain sounded in his ears, but it stirs up all his enthusiasm in behalf of the worth and the welfare of its people - who gives himself up, with all the devotedness of a passion, to the best and the purest objects of patriotism - and who, spurning away from him the vulgarities of party ambition, separates his life and his labours to the fine pursuit of augmenting the science, or the virtue, or the substantial prosperity of his, nation. 0h! could such a man retain all the tenderness, and fulfil all the duties which home and which neighbourhood require of him, and at the same time, expatiate in the might of his untired faculties, on so wide a field of benevolent contemplation- would not this extension of reach place him still higher than before, on the scale both of moral and intellectual gradation, and give him a still brighter and more enduring name in the records of human excellence?
And, lastly, we can conceive a still loftier flight of humanity a man, the aspiring of whose heart for the good of man, knows no limitations whose longings and whose conceptions on this subject., overleap all the barriers of geography who, looking on himself as a brother of the species, links every spare energy which belongs to him, with the cause of its amelioration - who can embrace within the grasp of his ample desires, the whole family of mankind and who, in obedience to a heaven-born movement of principle within him, separates himself to some big and busy enterprise, which is to tell on the moral destinies of the world. Could such a man mix up the softenings of private virtue, with the habit of so sublime a comprehension - if, amid those magnificent darings of thought and of performance, the mildness of his benignant eye could still continue to cheer the retreat of his family, and to spread the charm and the sacredliess of piety among all its members - could he even mingle himself in all the gentleness of a soothed and a smiling heart, with the playfulness of his children - and also find strength to shed the blessings of his presence and his counsel over the vicinity around him; would not the combination of so much grace with so much loftiness, only serve the more to aggrandize him? Would not the one ingredient of a character so rare, go to illustrate and to magnify the other? And would not you pronounce him to be the fairest specimen of our nature, who could so call out all your tenderness, while he challenged and compelled all your veneration?
Nor can we proceed, at this point of our argument, without adverting to the way in which this last and this largest style of benevolence is exemplified in our own country - where the spirit of the Gospel has given to many of its enlightened disciples, the impulse of such a philanthropy, as carries abroad their wishes and their endeavours to the very outskirts of human population a philanthropy, of which, if you asked the extent or the boundary of its held, we should answer in the language of inspiration, that the field is the world philanthropy, which overlooks all the distinctions of cast and of colour, and spreads its ample regards over the whole brotherhood of the species - a philanthropy, which attaches itself to man in the general; to man throughout all his varieties; to man as the partaker of one common nature, and who, in whatever clime or latitude you may meet with him, is found to breathe the same sympathies, and to possess the same high capabilities both of bliss and of improvement.
It is true, that, upon this subject, there is often a loose and unsettled magnificence of thought, which is fruitful of nothing but empty speculation. But the men to whom we allude, have not imaged the enterprise in the form of a thing unknown. They have given it a local habitation. They have bodied it forth in deed and in accomplishment. They have turned the dream into a reality. In them, the power of a lofty generalization meets with its happiest attemperment, in the principle and perseverance, and all the chastening and subduing virtues of the New Testament. And, were we in search of that fine union of grace and of greatness which we have now been insisting on, and in virtue of which, the enlightened Christian can at once find room in his bosom for the concerns of universal humanity, and for the play of kindliness towards every individual he meets with - we could no where more readily,. expect to find it, than with the worthies of our own land- the Howard of a former generation, who paced over Europe in quest of the unseen wretchedness which abounds in it - or in such men of our present generation, as Wilberforce, who lifted his unwearied voice against the biggest outrage ever practised on our nature, till he wrought its exterinination - and Clarkson, who plied his assiduous task at rearing the materials of its impressive history, and, at length carried, for this righteous cause, the mind of Parliament - and Carey, from whose hand the generations of the East are now receiving the elements of their moral renovation - and, in fine, those holy and devoted men, who count not their lives dear unto them; but, going forth every year from the island of our habitation, carry the message of heaven over the face of the world; and, in the front of severest obloquy, are now labouring in remotest lands; and are reclaiming another and another portion from the wastes of dark and fallen humanity; and are widening the domains of gospel light and gospel principle amongst them; and are spreading a moral beauty around the every spot on which they pitched their lowly tabernacle; and are at length compelling even the eye and the testimony of gainsayers, by the success of their noble enterprise; and are forcing the exclamation of delighted surprise from the charmed and the arrested traveller, as he looks at the softening tints which they are now spreading over the wilderness, and as he hears the sound of the chapel bell, and as in those haunts where, at the distance of half a generation, savages would have scowled upon his path, he regales himself with the hum of missionary schools, and the lovely spectacle of peaceful and Christian villages.
Such, then, is the benevolence, at once so gentle and so lofty, of those men, who, sanctified by the faith that is in Jesus, have had their hearts visited from heaven by a beam of warmth and of sacredness. What, then, we should like to know, is the benevolence of the place from whence such an influence cometh? How wide is the compass of this virtue there, and how exquisite is the feeling of its tenderness, and how pure and how fervent are its aspirings among those unfallen beings who have no darkness, and no encumbering weight of corruption to strive against? Angels have a mightier reach of contemplation. Angels can look upon this world and all which it inherits, as the part of a larger family. Angels were in the full exercise of their powers even at the first infancy of our species, and shared in the gratulations of that period, when, at the birth of humanity, all intelligent nature felt a gladdening impulse, and the morning stars sang together for joy. They loved us even with the love which a family on earth bears to a younger sister; and the very childhood of our tinier faculties did only serve the more to endear us to them; and though born at a later hour in the history of creation, did they regard us as heirs of the same destiny with themselves, to rise along with them in the scale of moral elevation, to bow at the same footstool, and to partake in those high dispensations of a parents kindness and a parents care, which are ever emanating from the throne of the Eternal on all the members of a duteous and affectionate family.
Take the reach of an angels mind, but, at the same time, take the seraphic fervour of an angels benevolence along with it; how, from the eminence on which he stands, he may have an eye upon many worlds, and a remembrance upon the origin amid the successive concerns of every one of them; how he may feel the full force of a most affecting relationship with the habitants of each as the offspring of one common Father; and though it be both the effect and the evidence of our depravity, that we cannot sympathize with these pure and generous ardours of a celestial spirit; how it may consist with the lofty comprehension, and the ever-breathing love of an angel, that he can both shoot his benevolence abroad over a mighty expanse of planets and of systems, and lavish a flood of tenderness on each individual of their teeming population.
Keep all this in view, and you cannot fail to perceive how the principle, so finely and so copiously illustrated in this chapter, may be brought to meet the infidelity we have thus long been employed in combating. It was nature, and the experience of every bosom will affirm it - it was nature in the shepherd to leave the ninety and nine of his flock forgotten and alone in the wilderness, and betaking himself to the mountains, to give all his labour and all his concern to the pursuit of one solitary wanderer. It was nature - and we are told in the passage before us, that it is such a portion of nature as belongs not merely to men, but to angels when the woman, with her mind in a state of listlessness as to the nine pieces of silver that were in secure custody, turned the whole force of her anxiety to the one piece which she had lost, and for which she had to light a candle, and to sweep the house, and to search diligently until she found it. It was nature in her to rejoice more over that piece than over all the rest of them, and to tell it abroad among friends and neighbours, that they might rejoice along with her - and sadly effaced as humanity is, in all her original lineaments, this is a part of our nature, the very movements of which are experienced in heaven, where there is more joy over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance.
For any thing we know, every planet that rolls in the immensity around us may be a land of righteousness; and be a member of the household of God; and have her secure dwelling-place within that ample limit, which embraces His great and universal family. But we know at least of one wanderer; and how wofully she has strayed from peace and from purity; and bow, in dreary alienation from Him who made her, she has bewildered herself amongst those many devious tracks, which have carried her afar from the path of immortality; and bow sadly tarnished all those beauties and felicities are, which promised, on that morning of her existence when God looked on her, and saw that all was very good which promised so richly to bless and to adorn her; and how, in the eye of the whole unfallen creation, she has renounced all this goodliness, and is fast departing away from them into guilt, and wretchedness, and shame.
If there be any truth in this chapter, and any sweet or touching nature in the principle which runs throughout all its parables, let us cease to wonder, though they who surround the throne of love should be looking so intently towards us - or though, in the way by which they have singled us out, all the other orbs of space should, for one short season, on the scale of eternity, appear to be forgotten or though, for every step of her recovery, and for every individual who is rendered back again to the fold from which he was separated, another and another message of triumph should be made to circulate amongst the hosts of paradise or though, lost as we are, and sunk in depravity as we are, all the sympathies of heaven should now be awake on the enterprise of Him who has travailed, in the greatness of his strength, to seek and to save us.
And here we cannot but remark how fine a harmony there is between the law of sympathetic nature in heaven, and the most touching exhibitions of it on the face of our world. When one of a numerous household droops under the power of disease, is not that the one to whom all the tenderness is turned, and who, in a manner, monopolises the inquiries of his neighbourhood, and the care of his family?
When the sighing of the midnight storm sends a dismal foreboding into the mothers heart, to whom of all her offspring, we would ask, are her thoughts and her anxieties then wandering? Is it not to her sailor boy whom her fancy has placed amid the rude and angry surges of the ocean? Does not this, the hour of his apprehended danger, concentrate upon him the whole force of her wakeful meditations? And does not he engross, for a season, her every sensibility, and her every prayer? We sometimes bear, of shipwrecked passengers thrown upon a barbarous shore; and seized upon by its prowling inhabitants; and hurried away through the tracks of a dreary and unknown wilderness; and sold into captivity; and loaded with the fetters of irrecoverable bondage; and who, stripped of every other liberty but the liberty of thought, feel even this to be another ingredient of wretchedness, for what can they think of but home? and, as all its kind and tender imagery comes upon their remembrance, how can they think of it but in the bitterness of despair? Oh tell us, when the fame of all this disaster reaches his family, who is the member of it to whom is directed the full tide of its griefs and of its sympathies? Who is it that, for weeks and for months, usurps their every feeling, and calls out their largest sacrifices, and sets them to the busiest expedients for getting him back again? Who is it that makes them forgetful of themselves and of all around them? and tell us if you can assign a limit to the pains, and the exertions, and the surrenders which afflicted parents and weeping sisters would make to seek and to save him?
Now conceive, as we are warranted to do by the parables of this chapter, the principle of all these earthly exhibitions to be in full operation around the throne of God. Conceive the universe to be one secure and rejoicing family, and that this alienated world is the only strayed, or only captive member belonging to it; and we shall cease to wonder, that, from the first period of the captivity of our species, down to the consummation of their history in time, there should be such a movement in heaven; or that angels should so often have sped their commisioned way on the errand of our recovery; or that the Son of God should have bowed Himself down to the burden of our mysterious atonement; or that the Spirit of God should now, by the busy variety of His all-powerful influences, be carrying forward that dispensation of grace which is to make us meet for re-admittance into the mansions of the celestial. Only think of love as the reigning principle there; of love, as sending forth its energies and aspirations to the quarter where its object is most in danger of being for ever lost to it; of love, as called forth by this single circumstance to its uttermost exertion, and the most exquisite feeling of its tenderness; and then shall we come to a distinct and familiar explanation of this whole mystery: nor shall we resist, by our incredulity, the gospel message any longer, though it tells us, that throughout the whole of this worlds history, long in our eyes, but only a little month in the high periods of immortality, so much of the vigilance, and so much of the earnestness of heaven, should have been expended on the recovery of its guilty population.
There is another touching trait of nature, which goes finely to heighten this principle, and still more forcibly to demonstrate its application to our present argument. So long as the dying child of David was alive, he was kept on the stretch of anxiety and of suffering with regard to it. When it expired, he arose and comforted hiniseif. This narrative of King David is in harmony with all that we experience of our own movements and our own sensibilities. It is the power of uncertainty which gives them so active and so interesting a play in our bosoms; and which heightens all our regards to a tenfold pitch of feeling and of exercise; and which fixes down our watchfulness upon our infants dying bed; and which keeps us so painfully alive to every turn and to every symptom in the progress of its malady; and which draws out all our affections for it to a degree of intensity that is quite unutterable; and which urges us on to ply our every effort and our every expedient, till hope withdraw its lingering beam, or till death shut the eyes of our beloved in the slumber of its long and its last repose.
We know not who of you have your names written in the book of life - nor can we tell if this be known to the angels which are in heaven. While in the land of living men, you are under the power and application of a remedy, which, if taken as the Gospel prescribes, will renovate the soul, and altogether prepare it for the bloom and the vigour of immortality. Wonder not then, that with this principle of uncertainty in such full operation, ministers should feel for you; or angels should feel for you; or all the sensibilities of heaven should be awake upon the symptoms of your grace and reformation; or the eyes of those who stand upon the high eminences of the celestial world, should be so earnestly fixed on every footstep and new evolution of your moral history. Such a consideration as this should do something more than silence the infidel objection. it should give a practical effect to the calls of repentance. How will it go to aggravate the whole guilt of our impenitency, should we stand out against the power and the tenderness of these manifold applications - the voice of a beseeching God upon us - the word of salvation at our very door - the free offer of strength and of acceptance sounded in our hearing - the Spirit in readiness with His agency to meet our every desire and our every inquiry - angels beckoning us to their company - and the very first movements of our awakened conscience, drawing upon us all their regards and all their earnestness.
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