THE JOYFUL SOUND.
PSALM lxxxix. 15. "Blessed is the people that know the
THE joyful sound here mentioned. primarily refers to the blowing of the silver trumpets, on certain festivals, by the sons of Aaron - an institution which God appointed for the purpose of reminding the Israelites of their being under the continued care and protection of him, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage. Considering the hardships, and dangers, and sufferings they had to encounter in the wilderness, this ceremony was calculated to give them consolation and encouragement during their pilgrimage towards' ,the promised land. And even, after they were fully established in the privileges for which they were destined in the counsels of Heaven, it had the effect of reviving and strengthening the impression that they were safe under the guardianship of that Being who had originally delivered them, by whom they had been hitherto guided and defended, and whose promise of unfailing regard was as faithful as his mercy was abundant, and his power omnipotent.
The Mosaic economy is at an end : its peculiar ceremonies are abrogated: of its symbols of a present and superintending Divinity, not one is left; and the sound of the silver trumpets is heard no more. But as ancient Israel is commonly accounted and held out in Scripture as typical of true believers under the new dispensation, particular appointments in the former may, without any violation of propriety, and with manifest. advantage as to instruction and illustration, be considered as. representing those features in the latter with which they are found to correspond. And, when we think of what the gospel is, and of the circumstance in which it finds us, and of the benefits which we derive from it,. we are not putting a forced interpretation upon our text, when we take the joyful sound to mean the message of the gospel, and the declaration of.the Psalmist to refer to the happiness of all those by whom that message is known, according to its own import and purpose, and according to the will and intention of its gracious Author.
It is in this view that we propose to make the declaration contained in these words, Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound, the subject of our remarks and meditations.
We need not occupy your time at present in shewing that blessedness is essentially connected with the gospel. The gospel is intended to make us blessed, because He, in whose will it has originated, is full of compassion,. and announces that.here his compassion has had its richest and most determinate exercise. It is fitted to make us blessed; for the same God, whose compassion prompted it, has also contrived all its arrangements and operations, and the infinite wisdom which belongs to him must have so adapted the means to the end, as effectually to secure whatsoever it designs. It is sure to make us blessed; its..machinery being moved, and its effects being produced, by the power to which all opposition is feeble, and before which all difficulties vanish away. And it is known to make us blessed; for we have only to appeal to the experience of the church in every successive age, and in every variety of its features, in proof of the fact, that the gospel has done for its disciples what nothing else has been able to accomplish - has put a joy into their hearts, and shed a brightness over their prospects, beyond all that worldly minds have experienced or conceived. And, with respect to such of you now hearing me, as have been made glad by deliverance from the evils and the fears of a sin, and by restoration to divine favour and to heavenly hope, were I to ask you, to what source you trace all this happiness, there is not one of you who would not instantanous1y lay his hand upon the gospel, and say, It is this, and this alone, which has made me what I am - which has converted my troubles into peace, and, in the midst of all my calamities, has taught me to rejoice with a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory.
But let us consider what is implied in knowing the sound or message of the gospel, as connected with the blessedness which it imparts. The discussion may be salutary both to those who enjoy that blessedness, and to those who are still strangers to it. And may the Spirit of all grace render it effectual for edification and for comfort!
1. In the first place, to know the joyful sound, implies that the gospel is communicated to us. When we say that the gospel must be communicated to those whom it. renders blessed, we state a proposition which stands opposed to the opinion of many. These persons do not pretend to think the gospel useless - but still they do not think the knowledge of it absolutely necessary. This knowledge of it they admit to be beneficial in several respects - but they do not admit it to be essential to salvation. So far otherwise, that they deem those from whom it has been withheld, as safe in their eternal interests as those are to whom it has been conveyed.
Such doctrine we hold to be altogether erroneous. The gospel proposes to redeem sinners from the burden of certain evils, and to restore them to the enjoyment of certain blessings. And it is represented as the only method by which it has pleased God that these ends should be accomplished. At least, we do not learn from revelation, nor is it taught any where else, that there is another method, possessed of divine authority, or of sufficient virtue for working out the same great and important purposes. It follows, accordingly, that if we would obtain the deliverance and the happiness which are designed for us by the gospel, we are shut up to that system, . and must not assume the privilege of looking beyond its confines. Every thing which overleaps its bounds, or supersedes its provisions, is fancy, speculation, presumption, impiety. Not only is the gospel able to save us, but, according to the divine decree, the gospel alone can save us.
Now, what is the gospel as the scheme of human salvation? It is not an absolute and unconditional arrangement for taking away mens guilt, and reinstating them in their original privileges, without any relation to what they are or to what they do upon earth, and limited wholly to their judicial condition in the sight of God, and to their ultimate admission into heaven. Were that the case, a written communication on the subject would have been unnecessary; or, a large proportion of the written communication actually given might have been spared. When we look into its pages, we do not find it stated, or insinuated, or even allowed to be inferred, that the gospel is nothing to us or to our fellow.men, except in so far as it contains the fact that divine mercy has interposed in behalf of our apostate race, and effected for them a redemption which leaves us no reason to doubt of their ultimate felicity There is no countenance given in any one part of its record to such an idea. On the contrary, it everywhere proceeds on the supposition, that the fact must be announced to those whom it concerns, in order that it may become practically available for their well-being.
And why is this annunciation requisite? Because the plan of saving mercy which it unfolds, clearly embraces the character, as well as the condition, of the sinner: it implies - it establishes - it intimates a connexion between the two; and this connexion. is so close, and of such a nature, that the condition of the sinner cannot become what his safety requires it to be, unless the character of the sinner is made to undergo a corresponding change. And this change cannot take place without the concurrence of his will, and that movement among all the affections and principles of his moral frame which pre-supposes him to be acquainted with what the gospel demands of. him, as well as with what the gospel has, effected for him. For indeed, it is the word of the truth of the gospel, which, according to the divine appointment, is to be the instrument of his conversion and his sanctification.; and it is inconceivable how the word should have any influence either on. his understanding or of his heart, unless it be first submitted to his attention, and brought within the sphere of his observation. It is the divinely instituted means of renewing and purifying the sinner, of giving him that interest in the merit of the Saviour as the object of belief, without which there is no pardon for him here, and of producing in him that spiritual renovation, without which there is no heaven for him hereafter. And to say that without the use of those means, these ends may yet be attained, is to say that God will set aside the plan which he has not only devised, but even proclaimed to those for whose guidance it is intended, and by a miraculous operation more wonderful than any which he has ever used, will contradict and nullify that method of redemption which he employed numberless miracles to constitute, to reveal, and to attest for the benefit of mankind.
On this single and obvious ground, then, it is impossible for those to whom the gospel is unknown, to become partakers of the specific salvation which the gospel provides and promises. This salvation can become the portion of such only as have the faith and the purity which the gospel prescribes; the faith which unites us to Christ, who is the only source of spiritual blessings; and the purity which, while it is itself one of these blessings, is essential to our fruition of the greatest of them, - eternal life. And, as no man can exercise a faith, and cultivate a purity, of whose object and obligations and extent he is entirely ignorant, so his ignorance of the gospel, in which alone these things are made known, must clearly debar him from all share in the benefits of that salvation, which either involves, or is exclusively annexed to, the faith and the purity that are enjoined. The heavenly Canaan has been purchased for sinful men; but they cannot reach it under all circumstances and by all ways. There is a certain path which leads to it. . If.they do not walk in that path it must ever remain to them a strange and foreigh land. . And how can they walk in that path, unless they receive direction from him, whose province it is at once to assure them of its reality, and to guide them to its blessedness? And, as the Israelites, if the sound of the silver trumpets had not reached their ears, could not possibly have profited by that ordinance - so the gospel cannot prove either the means of salvation, or a source of joy, to any of the children of men to whom its message is not sent, or upon whom its light has not arisen. Hence it is that we read of man perishing for lack of knowledge, - a fact which could have no occurrence the history of the world, and no place in the book of God, if the notion were true against which I am contending. And hence, when the apostle Paul says, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, he adds, How shall they call, upon him in whom they have not believed and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard ? -an addition to the apostles declaration which could have no meaning, if men might be saved who had never heard, and therefore never believed. And hence the peremptory command of our Saviour to his disciples, to go and preach the gospel to every creature - christianizing all nations and teaching all nations, - a command which was quite superfluous, if the grand object of Christs mission could have been attained, and guilty men made heirs of life, and immortality, without being taught his religion, and without being made his disciples.
And hence the ardent and devoted zeal with which those whom he ordained to the ministry of the gospel executed that high commission; the diligence with which they laboured to bring both Jews and Geittiles to an acquaintance with the truth; the compassionate earnestness with which they besought them to accept the message, and to obey it; the sacrifices which they cheerfully made, that they might promulgate those glad tidings with which their divine Master had entrusted them, - a course of conduct which on their part was altogether unaccountable and unnecessary, unless they considered the eternal well-being of those for whom they felt and did and suffered. so much, to be inseparably connected with their possession of the gospel message.
The argument admits of a copious illustration; but we need not pursue it any farther .for the purpose of being convinced that we cannot be. blessed, unless we are permitted to hear the sound of the gospel. And this view of the subject is far from being unimportant or useless; for it teaches us to set a higher value on the privilege than we could ever imagine to belong to it, if we had thought that the gospel could have achieved all its saving work upon us, though we had never been made aware of its existence till we had experienced the fruit of that work in heaven; and, of course, cleave more fondly to it, to feel a deeper interest in it, and to cherish more suitable and influent sentiments respecting it, than we could possibly have done on any other supposition. And, thus while it is thus beneficial to ourselves, it leads at the same time, to take a livelier and more sympathetic concern in the spiritual welfare of our brethren - of those among ourselves who, though dwelling within the precincts of Christendom, have scarcely had their ears saluted with the tidings salvation - and of the multitudes in heathen lands whose minds are as blank and uninstructed, on the all-important theme, as if there were no mercy in the heavens, or as if no Redeemer had ever come into the world. It leads us to take a more serious and more active concern in those outcast fellow creatures, who are living in the midst of thick darkness, and dying under the burden of unpardoned guilt; and to put forth all our energies and to improve all our opportunities, that there may be conveyed to them that joyful sound, which tells them of the doings of Gods pity towards his fallen offspring, and of the blessedness which he has provided for the lowest, and most desolate, of them who will return to him by the way of his appointment.
My Christian friends, let your souls rise in thanksgivings to that merciful Father, who has extended to you the blessing which, in his unsearchable providence, He has denied to myriads beside. Let your gratitude grow warmer still, when you meditate on your own unworthiness of such a high distinction - such an invaluable token of Gods sovereign bounty - and muse on the utter hopelessness of your condition and of your prospects, if it had not been graciously vouchsafed to you.. And then, looking beyond your own personal interests, and embracing in your sympathies the wretched victims of ignorance and guilt that people so large a portion of our globe, let your prayers ascend in their behalf to the Father of mercies, who has been so compassionate to you; and ask for them the gift of that revelation of grace in which you have been enabled to rejoice; and be it your resolution and your purpose that you will be more zealous, more liberal, more devoted than ever, in your endeavours to rescue sinners everywhere from the miseries of their apostacy, and to impart to them the means and the elements of true blessedness, by sending them the gospel, and causing them to hear its joyful sound.
2. In the second place, to know the joyful sound, implies that we attend to the gospel, and understand it.
If those are wrong who think that men may be blessed to whom the gospel is not made known at all, those also are wrong who think that the mere circumstance of this privilege being possessed by them is altogether sufficient. That there are not a few who deceive themselves with this idea, is too manifest to be doubted. All that they rest upon is the simple fact, that God has declared himself to be merciful to sinners, and has contrived a plan by which He may consistently extend his mercy to them, and by which be has pledged and bound himself to do so. Being sure of this, they go farther in their inquiries; they have recourse to other ground of satisfaction and security; they give themselves no more anxiety about the matter; and go on to live as if they were now quite safe, and must at last be quite happy.
Unquestionably, however, the blessedness which they feel or anticipate, is not the blessedness predicated in the text of those who know the joyful sound ; and if that sound has put any comfort into their hearts, their comfort being without warrant must prove vain and delusive. For, it cannot be thought that God has devised a scheme, and carried it into execution, and given it to the world in a written form, and afforded such statements an illustrations of it as we find in the inspired volume without intending that those for whom it has been constructed, and to whom it has been transmitted shall be careful to make themselves conversant not only with its general design, but also with its particular import, and with its various departments and its various bearings. His intention is clearly evinced by these things, even though there has been no express call upon us to take heed to which He has made such sacrifices to accomplish and has been go kind and condescending as to communicate. To be content, therefore, with the bare existence of the gospel scheme, and to pay no regard to the meaning of the gospel revelation, is an act of contempt or ingratitude toward God - the slightest indications of whose will are deserving of profound attention, and who, in the exercise both of grace and authority, has made a full disclosure of what He has compassionately done for our guilty race. And what sort of blessedness can it be that stands connected with conduct so unworthy, and that is derived, as it were, from the very dispensation with respect to which the unworthy conduct is exhibited? Or how can any one rationally expect to participate in that peculiar blessedness, in this world on in the next, which it is the very object of the gospel to confer, when he thus treats its divine record with indifference and disdain, and sets at nought the evident appointments of its great and merciful Author?
And moreover, we must repeat the statement, that the blessedness flowing from the gospel is to be received and enjoyed, not by chance or according to human fancy and caprice, but in a certain instituted way. It is not bestowed upon all indiscriminately, whatever be their dispositions, their principles or their conduct, and in whatever manner, or to whatever extent, or on whatever terms they are willing to accept it. We cannot separate it from that spiritual instrumentality, of which it is the natural or the destined result. The two things are indissolubly united; and the result cannot obtained unless the instrumentality is made to work according to the will of him who formed it. The is a Plan by which this blessedness is secured for the sinner, so far as to be brought within his realm and there is a plan by which it is made over him as an actual and personal attainment. And it could have had no reality, if the former plan h not been executed and fulfilled, so it can have practical application, and cannot become a matter of experience, unless the latter plan be acquiesced in, and adhered to. Besides, if this plan be studied and comprehended, how can any individual so betake himself to it, and so make use of its provisions, and so submit to its direction and influence as that he may reasonably expect to derive the benefits by which it will contribute effectually to safety and his happiness? In this case, it is impossible for him to do and to become that which is as an economy of grace, requires him to do and become; and therefore, it is equally impossible for him to receive, or to enjoy, what it promises to bestow on such only as yield themselves to its requisitions. All that it proposes to effect in his nature and character - all that it prescribes as to himself, and regeneration, and prayer and obedience necessarily remains a dead letter, for he neither knows nor understands it: and, consequently, it is no less idle than it is presumptuous in him to lay flattering, unction to his soul, and to be gladdenem by the gospel sound. The Israelites would neither see nor have been comforted nor animated by the sound of the silver trumpets, if they had not been previously made acquainted with its precise meaning and intent; and if they had not also considered it as connected with that system of divine management and guidance under which the Almighty had placed them.
No more can any one rightly appropriate to himself the peace, and the felicity, which the gospel message announces, unless he perceive the drift, of that message, and its exact bearing on what he is, and on what he is to do, and its relation to his substantial interests, as well as to his essential character. So long as he is not aware of these things, the message of the gospel. is not, warrantably, a joyful sound to him; and it cannot make him truly blessed, with whatever frequency, and with whatever seriousness, he may hear it.
The same view is to be taken, and the same judgment formed, of those, who, though they study the gospel, study it on wrong principles - who are conversant with the scriptures which unfold it, but have embraced, unsound and partial notions of its leading truths - who can declaim eloquently, and reason ingeniously, on many parts of it, but who have so misapprehended, and so perverted these, as to render them inadequate to the purpose which the Author of salvation intended them to subserve. We do not, by any means, assert that every erroneous conception ofthe gospel message is thus fatal to the joy of him who entertains it. Many mistakes may be committed, without affecting our interest in the salvation which it proclaims, or our share in the blessedness which it parts And when these mistakes are committed in spite of sincere, and strenuous and prayerful efforts to acquire a spiritual discernment of it, we should be sorry were we obliged to affix to them any severe or rigorous penalty. But while none of them is to be palliated or thought lightly of in any circumstances, and while they are all to be condemned if they be the consequences of wilful opposition, or contemptuous indifference to what God has been pleased to declare for the instruction of those whom he addresses - there are certain errors which, being, attached to the very vitals of Christianity as a system of redemption, cannot be maintained and acted upon, without cutting up our hope and our happiness by the very roots; and which. force on us the conviction that these deadly effects must only be the surer, by their flowing from a total carelessness about understanding what it is of such vast importance rightly and thoroughly to comprehend. Numerous examples of this may be adduced.
By not sufficiently studying the gospel message you may have been brought to shrink from the idea of Christ's divinity, and to reduce him to the level of a mere creature. But, if this be your view, of the Saviour, and if you act upon it, you cannot be blessed; for not only do you thus allow the suggestions of proud and carnal reason to lord it over the lessons and the dictates of revelation, but you give your homage and your trust to one who, while he is a redeemer of your own creation, has no power to sustain the burden of your guilt, or to lead you a single step onward to glory.
Again, by not sufficiently studying the gospel, you have come, perhaps, to: the .concluion that, to be justified and reconciled to, God, you must de.. pend upon your own righteousness. Holding this doctrine, then, and acting upon it, you cannot be blessed; for the real and saving truth is, -that "by the deeds of the law, no flesh living can be justified," - that the blotting out of sin is exclusively an achievement of the cross - and that peace with God is attained only through faith in the atonement and obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, by not sufficiently studying the gospel message, you have, it may be, formed an opinion that Christ is not only your righteousness, -but your sanctification, in such a sense as to supersede the necessity of a personal conformity to the divine will. And holding. such a tenet, and acting upon it, you cannot be blessed; for the authentic and unchangeable truth is, that a renewal of the moral nature is indispensable that nothing can cancel our obligations to serve God with the whole heart - and that without holiness no man can see the Lord.
Once more, though. satisfied .that both Christ's ghteousness, and your own personal righteousness are necessary, each of them in its own proper place, and for its own proper end, yet,. by not sufficiently studying the gospel message, you may be hold the sentiment that to aim at a participation in the one, and to labour for the cultivation of the other in virtue of your own independent strength, is sufficent for ensuring your success in both objects. And if this be your view, and, if you act upon it, you cannot be blessed; for it is a fundamental principle, of the gospel, that of yourselves you can do nothing - that faith is the gift of God - and that it the agency of his spirit which creates the clean heart, and gives its issues in a holy life.
It is clear then, that to know the sound, of the gospel, so that men may be made joyful and blessed by it, they must have a right and adequate understanding of what it is - of what it presents to them - of what it exacts from them - and of what it promises to bestow upon them.
To you, my Christian friends, to whom the gospel is precious, and who have been made blessed by it; listening to its joyful sound, the illustrations now given may be unnecessary, but they are unnecessary to you, only because your experience has long since convinced you of their conclusiveness, and their truth. You can bear your testimony to it, that so long as you were ignorant of the gospel scheme, you were strangers to the comfort, and peace, and joy, with which its message is fraught - that these never entered your minds, till you saw its wise and compassionate bearing on your spiritual condition - and that they have been relished and augmented in proportion as you have, from a deeper, and more accurate, and more lengthened inquiry into its nature and properties, seen ground for admitting its wonderful adaptation to your circumstances, and learned from it those lessons, by which it is so perfectly fitted to regulate both your faith and your practice. And I am confident that - not merely out of reverence for its adorable Author, but also from a conviction that your blessedness must be continued and enhanced, by preserving and by adding to the knowledge of it which you have already acquired - it will be your business to seek after a still clearer, and still profounder, insight into its mysteries; and to find, in that growing acquaintance with the unspotted and inexhaustible excellence by which it is pervaded, more abundant reason to rejoice in it, as the covenant of your peace, as the gospel of your salvation, as the charter of your happiness.
And understanding the gospel message for yourselves, you will be anxious to convey it to others; and to convey it to them, not as the theme of a vague speculation, or as the object of a general and indiscriminating belief, but in its real and distinctive characters, and as containing those instructive and lifegiving truths which constitute its power of sending forth a joyful sound, and of contributing to the spiritual blessedness of its votaries. Far from being contented with sending to them Christianity, and with seeing them embrace it, in any shape whatever, as if its mere name were sufficient to charm away sin and secure salvation, you will be anxious that they should receive it in all its doctrinal purity, and entertain the most correct conceptions of everything within it, and concerning it, on which God has been pleased to disclose his will. An especially, will you be desirous of representing it to them, and enforcing it upon them as a system suitable in all respects to their condition, as the guilty and depraved and helpless subjects of God's moral government - a system, in which they may behold man's moral distemper as a sinner, cared for and remedied by a Physician of unerring skill and almighty power - a system, wherein they may belie the justice of God, which their trespasses had greatly offended, reconciled with the mercy of God which their misery so absolutely needed - a system in which they may behold such a sacrifice offered as a ransom paid, such a work accomplished, make it consistent with all the attributes of Deity; to rescue transgressors from death, and conduct them to glory; a system, in which they may behold a foundation for all the hopes that they need to build upon it, and which, the longer that they survey its dimensions, and the more narrowly that they examine its materials and its structure, will approve itself the more to their judgment and their taste, as entitled to their highest admiration and their unlimited confidence.
Alas! how many are there among us, and in the world around us, whom the sound of the gospel preached, and by whom the profession of the gospel is publicly made; but who are either indifferent to what creed respecting it they adopt, or strong in their attachment to doctrines which are equally contradictory to its announcements, and dangerous to man's salvation! Let the persons be partakers of your spiritual sympathy and comiseration. Never regard their errors with apathy, or treat them with unconcern. Let your pity for their souls, and your jealousy for the truth as it is in Jesus, lead you to take an interest in their case, one of serious moment to themselves, and to the church, and to the world. Strive by your testimony, your counsel, your prayers, your employment and application of all competent means, to enlighten and reclaim them. And think not that your duty is performed, or your benevolence exhausted, so long as you can do any thing by which they may be brought to a more perfect understanding of the gospel, and made to enter more intelligently, more feelingly, and more thoroughly into the spirit of the declaration which says, Blessed is the people that knov the joyful sound.
3. In the third and last place, to know the joyful sound, implies that we welcome, believe, and obey the gospel.
It is very possible to hear the message of the gospel, and to understand its meaning, and yet to be destitute of the blessedness, which it is designed by its Author, and calculated in its own nature, to impart. In that case, it is the hearing of the external ear, and nothing else; or it is the understanding of mere intellect, and nothing else: and if sense and speculation, and nothing else, be concerned in the regards which are paid to the gospel, or in the, effects which it produces on those to whom it addressed I know of no authority in its own record, and of no warrant in the reason and propriety of the thing itself, for feeling, or for cherishing, any emotions of gladness. On the contrary, that privilege is directly discouraged - it is expressly denied - with respect to those who merely listen to what the gospel says to them, or merely take a transient and distant survey of its plan, or merely possess the faculty of talking and, arguing and conjecturing about the doctrines and statements which it contains.
If we rest satisfied with such naked and superficial regards as these; if we go no deeper into the subject; if we come into no closer contact,, with it; if we take no livelier nor more personal interest in it; then we treat the gospel as of no substantial value; we disallow its most obvious and peremptory claims; we neglect its most important character; we act towards it as if it were a system of mere human wisdom, or the creation of mere human fancy; and thus refusing whatever is due to its divine excellence, and to its no less divine authority, we forego, by just and necessary consequence, whatever it proffers to us of rest and happiness. What! my friends, can you really feel the blessedness derived from the gospel, when yet you account its message of so little moment, though it, tells you of a great salvation wrought out for you by the Son of God, that you will give it no welcome into your hearts, and no cherished residence there? Can the sound of the gospel be verily joyful to you, when you will not meet its announcements with a humble and cordial belief, although these are the announcements of eternal truth - faithful sayings, and therefore worthy of all acceptation?" And can the gospel fill your mind with gladness, or visit you with one happy emotion, when you withhold, at once so undutifully, and so ungratefully, that obedience which it not only positively commands and affectionately entreats, but also most explicitly and inseparably conjoins with all the good which it promises to bestow? To those who, in this manner, put the gospel away from them, or who use it as a mere exercise for their reason, or as the mere plaything of their imagination, it can speak no joy; upon them it will confer no blessedness.
Oh what numbers are there, by whom it is thus dishonourably treated, or practically despised; and who yet seem to flatter themselves that all is well with their souls, who speak of their state before God with ease and satisfaction, and rejoice confidently in the anticipations of a better world! Alas! - how blinded are they by the ignorance that is in them to the realities of their spiritual condition! Would they but study the constitution, and give heed to the language, of the gospel; would they but attend to the stress which it lays upon the connexion that subsists between character and privilege, between faith and peace, between holiness and happiness, between immortality and meetness for it; would they but give credit to what it declare concerning the demerit, and the danger, and the ultimate fate of such as they are - how would all their joyfulness vanish away as a dream of the night, and give place to fear and anguish and tribulation! And how would that sound which has played about their ear as the sound of blessedness be converted into the voice of indignation and terror - uttered, too, by the God of all grace, whose grace, as manifested and embodied in the gospel, has been lightly esteemed, or sadly abused and who therefore speaks in the awful accents of insulted justice and neglected mercy! Let sinners who are thus at ease in Sion, who are assured an happy in the midst of peril, who are rejoicing in salvation which they have not yet appreviated and which is not yet theirs, - let them consider these things, and no longer remain in the delusion with which they are now encompassed, and which must finally prove their ruin and their misery.
Yes, my Christian brethren, these men are indeed deluded; they are not the people that know the joyful sound, and are blessed. If they are so, then the gospel is a fable, salvation is a shadow and truth has forsaken the word of God. Nay, but they are deluded - we know they are deluded - grossly, grievously, fatally deluded. May the Lord himself deliver, and restore, and save them.
And be you humble, and be you thankful, tha instead of having our lot with them, you are, in very deed, of those that are blessed by having known the joyful sound. Be humble, when you recollect and meditate on your utter unworthiness of such a distinguished privilege. And be thankful to Him, by whose undeserved mercy you have been called to the participation and enjoyment of it. To you it has been given to know the joyful sound - to give a cordial reception to the message which it brings, because it is fraught with innumerable and surpassing benefits - to exercise a strong and lively faith in it, because it rests upon the testimony of the true and faithful God - and to render to it a profound and practical submission, as sanctioned by an authority which the universe obeys, and enforced by the manifestation of a love whose height and depth and breadth and length exceed all our powers of measurement. Thus have you been enabled by the power, and teaching of the Spirit to listen to the sound of the gospel, and therefore to you it is a joyful sound, it is not only calculated and intended to make you joyful, but it has actually made you joyful; as your consciousness and experience abundantly testify. And therefore are you blessed - not merely visited with gleams of passing pleasure, or with raptures which have their moment and die away, but inhabited by the peace which nothing can disturb, animated by the joy which nothing can take away, settled on the hope which already makes heaven and immortality your own.
It is a blessed thing for a man to have all his sins forgiven, and thus to be rescued from the curse of a broken law, and the apprehension of future wrath - and that blessedness is yours. It is blessed thing for an apostate alienated creature to be reconciled to the great Creator, and in this spirit of adoption to look up to him as his Father, to whose favour he has been graciously restored and from whom he shall be estranged no more and that blessedness is yours. It is a blessed thing to be delivered from the tyranny of unholy passions, and from the dominion of an ungodly world; and to come into the glorious liberty of the moral nature wherewith Christ makes his people free - and that blessedness is yours. It is a blessed thing to look abroad upon the face of nature, and after gazing with a delighted eye on the beauties that adorn the earth, and on the magnificence that covers the heavens, to rejoice in them as the works of Him who has called you back to the work and the privileges of his children, and to say with the glow of filial affection, my Father made them all - and that blessedness is yours. It is a blessed thing, amidst the trials, and difficulties, and distresses with which humanity has to struggle in this weary world, to be upheld by divine power, to be guided by infinite wisdom, to be cheered by heavenly consolations, and to gather righteousness and joy even from the scene of tribulation in which you dwell - and that blessedness is yours. It is a blessed thing to be able to contemplate death without being subject to the bondage of fear, to anticipate the grave as a resting-place from sin and sorrow, to lie down in its peaceful bosom with the prospect of a resurrection to life and - immortality and that blessedness is yours. It is a blessed thing when one looks forward to the judgment and to eternity which await us all, to realize in him who is to pronounce our doom, the Saviour to whom we haye committed the keeping of our souls, and in whose blood we are already washed from our sins, and to cherish the hope founded on his own faithful promise, that the portion assigned us is everlasting life - and that blessedness is yours.
And, if in this state of darkness and imperfection, where our views are too often clouded, and our faith too often grows feeble, and the heart too often forgets the rock on which it has placed its confidence for eternity - if in these circumstances, it is a blessed thing to have access to those ordinances which have been appointed for refreshing our decayed spirits, for casting a clearer light upon the path of our pilgrimage, for bringing us nearer to the fountain, of grace and comfort, and for reviving and strengthening the things that are ready to die - that blessedness also is yours.
Happy people! - thus saved by the Lord - to whom the joyful sound of the gospel has come, fraught with a meaning, and a power, and a consolation, infinitely richer and more efficient than all that the sound of the silver trumpets conveyed to the children of Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness - and who have not only in this agitated and sorrowful world, the peace that passeth understanding, and the joy that is unspeakable, but are soon to enter on that state of felicity, of which you have here only a pledge and a foretaste,, in which purity untainted, and bliss unalloyed shall cleave to you in endless fellowship, and in which the fulness of your joy shall be equall only by the eternity of its duration.
And, surely, my Christian friends, you cannot but desire, and you cannot but endeavour, to make your fellow-men partakers of that blessedness with which you are so richly favoured, by making them experimentally acquainted with that message from which alone such blessedness can proceed. I doubt not you are, more or less, engaged in advancing the spread of the gospel. But let me urge it upon you not to rest satisfied with those efforts which: seem to have no higher object, and can have no other effect, than that of gaining nominal proselytes, and teaching men to conclude that they have a right to the salvation of the gospel, merely because they profess Christianity, and are acquainted with its letter, and conform to its general requisitions, though, all the while, they are destitute of it quickening spirit, and rebellious against its governing authority. You know, from your own personal history, that this is a vital and ruinous deception, and that the gospel must be received,, and confided in, and submitted to, in a far different way, before men can be truly safe, and truly happy. And, therefore, as you would be wise and consistent, as well as compassionate, in your exertions to bring them into that blessed state, see that you employ those methods which will not only make the sound of the gospel reach their ears and inform their understandings, but penetrate and subdue and pervade their hearts, and manifest itself there as a message of love, and as a message from God, in demonstration of the spirit and of power. Keep this continually in your view; pursue it with steady and unceasing aim; let it give a tone and the direction to all that you may do for evangelising the world. And, whether you propose to send the gospel where it is altogether unknown; or whether you present it to those who have hitherto rejected the offer of it; or whether you labour for its prosperity with such as are satisfied with its outward forms, and its legal establishment; or whether you study to promote its interests among individuals, or among communities, that have perverted its principles, and allowed its vitality to evaporate: let your great and leading purpose be, to secure its entrance into the sinners inmost soul, to win for it a triumph over the whole man, to bring all upon whom it is made to bear, to the saving belief, and willing obedience, and unspeakable enjoyment, of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.
This, my friends, is characteristic of the Institution in whose behalf I now address you. Our object is to increase the number of the people that are blessed, because they know the joyful sound of the a gospel And the scene in which we carry on our work of faith, and labour of love, is, as you may learn from our distinctive appellation, the Continent of Europe. We are not indifferent to the ignorance and the error, and the sinfulness, that prevail in our native land: we regard these evils with sorrow and compassion - we rejoice in the exertions that are zealously put forth to mitigate or remove them and we should deem ourselves wanting in Christian love, did we not individually help forward these exertions by our co-operation and our aid. Neither are we deaf to the cry for help that comes to us from every quarter of the heathen world: the associated efforts that are everywhere making for rendering the name of Christ honourable, and his salvation precious among the Gentiles, fill us with unfeigned satisfaction; and far be it from any of us to refuse to that cause what our opportunities enable us to do, or what our circumstances, enable us to bestow. But the population, to whose spiritual wants we are united and pledged to minister is too interesting, and too necessitous, to be neglected amidst the multiplied manifestations of Christian and British philanthropy. What multitudes are lying prostrate before the man of sin - the slaves of domineering priesthood - shut out, upon system: from the fountain of divine truth - taught to build, their confidence upon a foundation which cannot stand in the judgment - and involved in all the darkness, and fooleries, and impieties, and abominations of a church, which God has given over to judicial blindness, and consigned to terrible destruction. And even of those who have come out from the mystic Babylon, and taken a protest against her doctrines and her dominion, what a vast proportion have forsaken all the truth and glory of the Reformation - embraced a creed - from which everything is banished that makes the gospel dear to a sinners heart, or honourable to a redeeming God - or sunk into a spiritual lethargy, in which, with a name to live, men are sleeping the sleep of death - or avow an infidelity, which tramples on all the sacredness of the Bible, and, under the pretext of doing homage to its Author, gives its sublimest and most precious discoveries to the scorn of the profane, and to the laughter of the fool!
It is for the benefit of such degenerates, and such outcasts, and such enemies of Christianity as these, that our Society has been formed, and that we crave the public support. We send forth missionaries, fitted by their talents, their zeal, and their character, to preach the gospel of the grace of God - to lift up a testimony for the deity and the cross of Christ- to recall attention to all that is peculiar to the gospel of salvation - to assert the authority of those scriptures which have been given by divine inspiration - and to teach the victims of spiritual despotism, and the votaries of a false philosophy, and the crowd of deluded sinners that know not what they do, to return to the God whom they have forsaken, through the Saviour whom they have despised, and to hear, and believe, and obey the message of that gospel which alone can make them free. And though we cannot boast of any flattering measure of success, and bring before you an array of converts to the truth, and speak of extensive awakenings, and mighty inroads on the territory of sin and Satan ; yet you will remember that we labour in a region where the darkness may be felt, and cultivate a soil that is hard as adamant and contend with foes that struggle for error as they struggle for life; and that, in spite of all these difficulties and disadvantages, we can appeal to such a progress in the work of evangelization, as might encourage hearts less sanguine than ours, and prospects of increasing good, which might animate the most apathetic and desponding of those who are engaged in illuminating a benighted world.
My Christian friends, we solicit your countenance. Instead of regarding our enterprise with indifference as if it were of a trifling character, or frowning upon it, as if it were injurious, or turning away from it as if it were hopeless, we beseech you to recollect that it concerns the souls of immortal beings - that it applies to them the means of salvation which God himself has sanctioned - and that we have reason anticipate fruit that shall be for the divine glory and for the happiness of men. Recollecting these things, we entreat you to permit us to share in the patronage, which you so liberally bestow on the schemes and the efforts of Christian benevolence.
Preached in St. George's Church, Edinburgh, on the evening of Sabbath, lth May 1830, for the Edinburgh Continental Society.
Home | Links | Writings | Biography