Sermon 3 (Posthumous Works)
The Troubled Heart Comforted
This sermon was an early one preached at Cavers, probably, and long before he knew that peace of mind that can only come from full knowledge of the completed saving work of Christ. He still rests on "works" and fails to understand, as yet, that Christ has done it all for us, and we need no qualifications to come to Him. The quoted "works" come after this!
It is still a good example of his early work, however, and shows how his devout mind could still "kneel and adore".
SERMON III. JOHN XIV. 1.
"Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God, believe also in me.
It is remarkable that all the images employed to represent human life are significant of weakness, instability, and suffering - a pilgrimage, a dark and toilsome journey, a wilderness of tears, a scene of vanity, a tale of which the remembrance vanishes, a flower which every blast of heaven can wither into decay. From the helplessness of infancy to the decrepitude of age the life of man is an endless scene of care and of anxiety - at one time agitated by the sufferings of a disappointed ambition, at another labouring under the infirmity of disease, at another depressed by the hardships of society, at another humbled under the frown of pride and insolence, at another afflicted by the awful desolations which death makes among friends and among families. The grave is said to be a refuge from the pains and sufferings of mortality; but without the light of the gospel how cold and how dreary are its consolations - what a dread uncertainty is the region which lies beyond it! The body is laid in the churchyard; but where is the departed spirit? The hones are mingling with the dust of the ground; but can the life and sensibility of the mind be extinguished? The flesh is a prey to worms; but will you say that intelligence can die, or that the soul of man can wither into nothing? Good heavens! is there some distant land to which the ghosts of our fathers repair? Do they lift the voice of joy, or weep in gloomy remembrance over the days that are past? Does felicity reign in the abode of spirits, or do they mourn that immortality which condemns them to never-ending years of pain and of solitude? Is the continuation of life on the other side of the grave a continuation of that wretchedness which distresses the present existence of mortals? These are momentous questions, but who is there to satisfy our anxiety? No visitation of light or knowledge from the tomb - no midnight whisper of departed friend to tell us the secret of our path; all is doubt and apprehension and impenetrable silence. Our hearts are troubled within us, and seek for a comforter - and a Comforter hath come; the day-spring from on high hath visited us; the secrets of futurity have been laid open; a celestial splendour now sits on the habitations of darkness; a great deliverer hath appeared, who is the healing of the nations, and the salvation of all the ends of the earth. He comes with tidings of comfort: "In my Fathers' house are many mansions. Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me."
In the prosecution of the following discourse I shall attempt to prove that there is no trouble to which the heart of man is exposed that a belief in the doctrines of the gospel is not calculated to purify or to alleviate. But in preaching the consolations of religion there is one caution that cannot be too frequently impressed upon the minds of Christians. These consolations can only be addressed to the sincere - to him who can appeal for the honesty of his principles to something more substantial than the words of holiness that drop from his tongue, or to the tears of penitential sorrow that flow from his eyes - to him who can appeal to the purity of his life, to the integrity of his bargains, to his deeds of active and disinterested beneficence, to the fair and open generosity of his proceedings, to that unspotted innocence of character which no breath of suspicion can defile, no calumny can impeach. It is only to a character like this that we can address the consolations of the gospel, and these consolations are the most exalted privilege of humanity. They are the great remedy against its sufferings. They give triumph and elevation to the wretched, strength to the infirm, and comfort to the bed of agony and disease. This is a world of tears; but the gospel tells us that he who soweth in tears shall reap in joy. It points out to us the peace of a blessed eternity, and supports the spirit of the afflicted by the triumphant anticipation of better days. Many are the evils which darken and distress the pilgrimage of the virtuous. But it is a pilgrimage which leads them to heaven, to those mansions of felicity where they shall rest from their labours, and all their sorrows be forgotten. The consolations of the gospel sustain the heart of the unfortunate; they enlighten the last days of the old man who mourns in all the helplessness of age; they tell him that the eye of his Redeemer is upon him, and that He will soon translate him to an inheritance of unfading joy. The gospel is a dispensation of comfort. It is the good mans' anchor. It bids him rejoice even in the gloomiest hours of affliction. It chases despair from his bosom, and though surrounded with all the dreary vicissitudes of this world, he can rise to the throne of mercy in songs of praise and of gratitude. Such are the triumphs of our Redeemers' love - such the debt of gratitude that man owes to his Saviour - to Him who has opened the path to immortality, and given the inheritance of angels to the frail children of guilt and disobedience - to Him who has cheered the awful desolation of the grave, and revealed to us the triumphs of that eternal day which lies beyond it - to Him who came down to earth with the tidings of salvation, and taught His disciples to believe in the resurrection of the upright. Our Saviour felt the sufferings of humanity, and He therefore knew what consolations to apply. He felt the vanity of this worlds' pleasures, and He secures to us a treasure in heaven. He felt the cruelty of this worlds' hatred, and He has propitiated for us the friendship of that mighty and unseen Being whose eye is continually upon us, and whose benevolence will never desert us. He felt the painful severity of this worlds' injustice, and lie has revealed to us a day of triumph and of deliverance, when He will come to exalt the upright, and to vindicate the wrongs of suffering innocence.
When our Saviour addressed His disciples in the words of the text, their prospects were dreary and disconsolate. They saw enemies multiply on every side - the storm of persecution gathering; they saw the bigotry of a deluded people in arms to oppose them; they saw their numbers weakened every hour by the desertion of the people; they saw themselves withering rapidly away into a feeble and unprotected remnant; they saw the rulers of the country in fury against them, and brooding ever their awful purposes of vengeance. Such were the last days of the meek and patient Jesus - deserted by all but a chosen few who still persevered in the fidelity of their attachment, and rallied round to support Him amid the storm of persecuting violence. Yes! the disciples of our Saviour have left us a noble example of friendship and independence. theirs was the pure and generous intrepidity of the upright. It was the sacred elevation of principle. It was the manly and commanding attitude of virtue. It was what I would call the sublime of human character; the serenity of conscious rectitude; a mind enthroned on the firm and immovable basis of integrity, and that can maintain its tranquillity while tempests rage, and the blackness of despair gathers around it. What an interesting picture ! - our Saviour surrounded with the little band of disciples that still remained to Him among the wreck of His adherents, sustaining the fortitude of their spirits in the hour of terror. 0 religion! how sublime thy triumphs - how glorious thy victories! What a sacred independence dost thou inspire! What a noble superiority over the passions and weaknesses of mortality! What intrepidity in the day of trial and of danger! What calm and inward elevation even amid the terrors of martyrdom ! We do not now live under these terrors; but there is no generation in the history of man that is exempted from affliction. There is a sorrow in the heart of man which nothing but religion can alleviate; a trouble that can find no refuge but in the consolations of piety; a disquietude that can only rest in the hope of heaven; a darkness which can find no relief but in the faith of the gospel and in the light of our Redeemers' countenance.
Let me confine myself to a few of the more striking examples from the catalogue of human afflictions. There is the infirmity of disease - a sickness which all the administration of earthly medicine cannot alleviate; a disorder that bears down upon its unhappy victim, and carries him through years of pain and of languishing to the grave of silence. There are some into whose gloomy chambers the light of day never enters; who moan out a dreary existence in the agony of distress; on whom the hand of Providence lies heavy, and whom disease in the severity of her visitations has numbered among the children of the wretched. What an aggravation to the miseries of such a state when it is embittered by the hardships of poverty; when the man of sickness can meet with no cordial to sustain him, and no attendance to administer to his necessities; when he has nothing to trust to but the reluctant charity of a neighbour whom decency has compelled to come forward with the offering of his services; when he lies stretched on a bed of restlessness with no child to weep over him - no friend to support him in the last hours of his pilgrim age - surely you will say such a man is born to an inheritance of melancholy and despair. But there is no melancholy which the religion of Jesus cannot enlighten: no despair which His consolatory voice cannot revive into confidence and joy. Christianity is ever present to soothe the agonies of the wretched; and in the last struggles of the dying man you may see the picture of its triumph. He sees death approach him with an untroubled heart. He believes in God, and he believes in Jesus His messenger. The grave is to him a refuge from suffering, and the passport to a triumphant immortality. To him the silence of the tomb is welcome. He lies down in quietness, but he will again awaken to the light of an everlasting day.
Another example of trouble and distress in the history of man is the treachery and injustice of neighbours. In preaching the consolations of religion it is a most unprofitable display of eloquence to dwell upon scenes of romantic and imaginary distress. Such pictures as those are the mere amusements of a poetical fancy, and can serve no substantial purpose of comfort or instruction. If we wish religion to be useful, we must dwell on its application to actual and everyday occurrences. We must descend to all the realities of human life. We must accompaily our hearers into their houses, their families, and their business. We must make them feel that religion is something more than the dream of fanaticism, or the idle abstraction of a visionary. We must make them feel its weight and its importance, and shrink from no familiarity however unwarranted by the example of our great patterns and directors in pulpit eloquence, or however offensive to the pride of a morbid and fastidious delicacy. Any other views of religion are vain unprofitable. They only serve to disguise the human and to throw a false and delusive colouring over the walks of life. They resemble those works of fiction which may entertainment to the fancy or amuse the splendours the reader by the splendours of ornamental eloquence, while they leave no lesson behind them, and can be transferred to no purpose of substantial improvement. It is under these impressions that I bring forward the injustice of neighbours as standing high in the catalogue of human afflictions.
We have all felt it to be of real and frequent occurrence, and it is certainly one of the most painful feelings to which you can expose a mind of pure and delicate integrity. I know nothing more calculated to provoke the indignation of an honest mind than to see the simplicity of an upright character surrounded by the low arts of knavery and imposition - trampled upon by the villany of those whom gratitude ought to have secured to his interest - laughed at and insulted because he has too little suspicion to guard against the tricks of a sneaking duplicity, and too much generosity to distrust that man who comes to him under the disguise of smooth words and an open countenance. The loss which the injured man sustains from the injustice of his neighbour forms but a small part of his vexation. When a loss is the mere effect of accident or misfortune, it may not deprive us of a moments' sleep, or cost us a moments' uneasiness. But when the same or an inferior loss is the effect of injustice, it comes home to the feelings with a severity which to some minds is most painfully tormenting. The loss is of little importance; but who can bear to have the generosity of an open and unsuspecting confidence insulted - who can bear to be surrounded with falsehood, artifice, and intrigue - who can bear that most grievous of all disappointments, the treachery of one who has practised on our simplicity, and on whose integrity we placed a fond and implicit reliance-who can bear to be placed in a theatre where malignity and injustice are in arms against us, where we can meet with no affection to enlighten the solitude of our bosom, no friendship in which to repose the defence of our reputation and interest. To a man whose heart rises in all the warmth of affectionate sincerity the treachery of violated friendship is insupportable. He feels himself placed in a wilderness where all is dark, and cheerless, and solitary. He resigns himself to all the horrors of a disordered melancholy, and his spirit sinks within him under the reflection of this worlds' injustice. But let not his heart be troubled, he has a friend in heaven. The Eternal Son of God will never desert him. The angels of mercy smile upon his footsteps, and hail his approach to their peaceful mansions. There charity never ends. There he will celebrate in songs of triumph the joys of truth and of righteousness. He will inherit the affection of the good, and join in those eternal prayers which rise to the throne of mercy from one blessed and united family.
Another example of trouble and distress in the history of man is that anxiety which every parent must feel under the embarrassment of a numerous and unprovided offspring. He has much to care for. This is a world of vice, and disease, and misfortune. The death of a child may bring affliction, but what is worse, the corruption of a child may bring infamy and disgrace upon his family. The love of parents never leaves their children. From the cry of feeble infancy to the strength and the independence of manhood, it follows after them, and shares in all their joys and in all their anxieties. They go abroad into the world, and the hearts of their parents go abroad along with them. The warmth of a mothers' affection can never desert them: she hears the howling of the midnight storm, and prays that Heaven would watch over the safety of her children.
Happy the day of their return, when the old man gets his sons and his daughters around him. They are his staff in the years of his infirmity. Sweet to his soul is the hour of family devotion - when he rises in gratitude to heaven for giving peace to his last days - when he prays God that He would take care of his children, that they may live to carry him to the burial-place of his fathers, and that they may all rise again to rejoice for ever in our Redeemer's kingdom.
"Then kneeling down to heavens' eternal King -
The Saint, the Father, and the husband prays;
Hope springs exulting on triumphant wing,
That thus they all shall meet in better days."
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