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knowledge to be holy persons, were I to name them, who, nevertheless, read nothing in the world but their Bible and hymn book, and daily wipe their eyes for joy, that they are so rich with these two books, and think that in these they possess a library which, in their whole life, they will never be able to exhaust, and that they can find nothing so beautiful
where as in the Bible! Who can blame them? Now, there
persons in the world, who are very little known. Moreover, we are apt to make the number of the faithful smaller than it is, by defining too arbitrarily and narrowly the characteristics of a state of grace. We, for instance, lay down a certain process as always observed in the Holy Spirit's work of conversion; whereas He is free as the wind that bloweth where it listeth. Infinite wisdom is seen in an endless variety of processes in the visible creation; and, as uniformity is not its rule in the kingdom of nature, so neither is it in the kingdom of grace; but the same object is attained here also by variety. A gracious change of mind may be as truly wrought by one process as by another.
If you have had long to sigh and groan in spirit before your sins were forgiven you, still grudge not at him whose way hath been made to prosper more rapidly, and to whom the Lord has earlier shown his loving-kindness. “It is the Lord ; let him do what seemeth him good.” Or, if it be given you to gain spiritual strength more easily, while another is day and night troubled with “ a thorn in the flesh," and cast down again and again—is he, on that account, no child of God? If it be given you to have much knowledge and experience, must it necessarily be given to another also ; and can there be no retired and reserved children of God? And if you are active and zealous in awakening others, efficient in preaching, exhortation, &c. while others are not so, nor are able to be so, are you therefore to question the genuineness of their piety? We must never measure others by ourselves. If we seek more after the chief and essential matter, namely, the contrite spirit and the genuine love of Christ and of the brethren, we shall perhaps be led to number many as belonging to the flock of Christ, whom at present we are apt to overlook.
Elijah, as we find, received an express revelation concerning the faithful in Israel, and their number. The Lord unveiled to him the hidden church, and it may
be supposed how great was the astonishment of this man of God, at learning, that amongst the very people he had so severely accused, there were so many as seven thousand, who had not bowed the knee unto Baal. He had regarded himself as the only light in the darkness of
Samaria ; and now behold ! a whole firmament of chosen souls is disclosed to his view.
We have to be thankful that even still the church is sometimes refreshed by such pleasing discoveries. Often, on the
very spot where we expected to find only thorns and briers, we find a cultivation like the garden of the Lord, and sweeter flowers than are wont to bloom in the more frequented parts of christendom. Thus lately, in a village in France, in the cottage of a notorious fortune-teller, was discovered a goodly group of the lambs of Christ's flock, transformed into that character from its very opposite. So likewise there was very recently found, in one of the most dissipated cities in the world, a spiritual plantation of Divine grace, which we should never have looked for in such a moral desert; and yet it had secretly flourished there for several
years, known only to the heavenly Husbandman, who planted and kept it. In another quarter, with which you yourselves are acquainted, where the voice of preaching had long been entirely silent, there was found a considerable company of thriving children of grace, secretly sprung up without any apparently efficient means, of whom the church might be ready to say, “Whence came they ? and who hath begotten me these ?” And, in another place, we unexpectedly beheld, through the intervention of a pious emperor, three hundred saints, of whom almost no one knew any thing, lately coming forth from the prisons of malefactors—three hundred, who had not bowed the knee to Baal, and who, for that very reason, had lain in irons without the emperor's knowledge. God sometimes shows us (it was a happiness I frequently enjoyed in my former parish) some old mariner in the midst of a rude and ungovernable crew, who has grown grey in the midst of the most brutal associates; but behold, he is steering toward Jerusalem, and his guiding star is the star of Bethlehem ; or some rough barge-man or sailor, who has grown up in the seat of the scorners; but lo! through his rude exterior glistens the pure brightness of a genuine christian character, and beneath his rough leathern doublet beats a heart moored by that anchor, which entereth into that which is within the veil. And again, as has frequently happened to us, we enter a house to preach repentance to some whom we suppose to be spiritually dead, and we are sweetly surprised by the greeting christian smile of one or more in the family, betraying a secret acquaintance with the peace of God, and perhaps more deep experience in Christ than we ourselves possess. Such discoveries serve to shame our timidity, to strengthen our faith, and enlarge our hearts; they also teach us to be more prudent and gentle in judging of others, and to take a brighter and more hopeful survey of the world at large. Since I found among yourselves such retired blossoms. of faith, my whole parish has appeared to me in another light; and when I am walking through it
, I feel like one who is passing through the shaft of a mine, where one stroke of the mattock to the right or the left, may possibly discover to him a new vein of precious metal.
Yes, however low may be the present state of the church, we have reason to conclude that it is not so poor and destitute of persons
influenced by Divine grace as we are ready to imagine. I believe, that if it pleased God to lift the veil, we might be surprised with the discovery of such numbers as would seem like a resurrection scene. We doubt not but the Prince of the host has still many an ambush of reserve in this world, and that he needs only to sound the trumpet, as he will do, in due time, according to Zech. x. 8, and then we shall be surprised at beholding troops of christians about us, as Elisha's servant was surprised at beholding troops of angels covering the mount of Dothan, 2 Kings vi. 17. How often has it happened, that in a church where, for many years, the word of God had been seldom heard, and of which it was a matter of doubt whether such a church contained in it one real believer, a single occasional discourse, delivered from its pulpit by a stranger, has proved the signal for calling forth, all at once, numbers of timid sheep from their state of concealment! And may not such occurrences give us reason to hope that there are yet many more of the Lord's “hidden ones,” with whom we are unacquainted ?
How surprised shall we be in eternity, when the veil shall be removed, to find there, from quarters where we least looked for
the multitude whom no man can number, standing before the throne, many who were never known as the Lord's people in this world; whom circumstances, or local situation, or their outward defects and infirmities, or their retiring humility and modesty, had concealed from our view! And not only in eternity, but also in this world, such a joyfully surprising disclosure of the hidden church awaits us—and who knows how near its time may be—that the prophetic language, in Cant. vi. 10, will resound as then fulfilled, “Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners ?”
II. If we look in the day time towards heaven, we cannot see the stars of God. They are there fixed in the firmament, but the eye cannot perceive them. Wait until evening. The night invites their rays from concealment, and in the dark you
behold again their gentle lustre. Thus it is with the church. In the sunshine of worldly prosperity they are scarcely perceptible, and the difference between them and the better sort of the children of this world is sometimes hardly discernible. But in this case, also, have patience until evening, and their glory will light up before you. As doubtless, at the time when Hazael the syrian broke in
upon the land with fire and sword, these seven thousand in Israel were made manifest; so also, on the day of the mighty sifting, which awaits the christian world, we shall be better able rightly to measure the Lord's temple upon earth..
Those days of purification are hastening on with rapid flight. There is no want of signs of the most diversified kind, which, like the petrel before the hurricane, announce to us the nearness of that period in which the Lord will manifest that his fan is in his hand, and will thoroughly purge his floor. Predictions hasten to their fulfilment; and the days are approaching, in whose wild perplexity even the elect, were it possible, might be deceived. Then, if a time should come, when the mark of the beast shall be obtruded on our foreheads at the point of the sword or bayonet, when nothing can save us from torture or a bloody death, but a renunciation of Christ and his gospel, the gold will be separated from the dross in the church, and it will be made apparent where the substance of godliness existed, and where appearance
and tinsel of it. Alas, how many a star, respecting which we have at present no such presentiment, will then fall from the firmament of the church; and what clouds of chaff shall we then see borne away on the wind, even from places where our eyes at present perceive nothing but rich floors of wheat! For every thing that is not from the Spirit of the Lord, will not survive the ordeal of that day; and every thing which now assumes to itself the ornaments of the sanctuary, but is not clothed with them by the Lord's hand, will be seen in the shame of its own nakedness.
At the very same period, when trees “ without fruit” shall fall, when multitudes of false brethren shall be severed and distinguished from the true; thousands, of whom at present we know nothing, shall then throw aside the veil, and with cries of “ Hosannah I” shall range under the banner of martyrs. When no other choice will be left but between Christ and Belial, then will those who heretofore have been reserved and timid declare themselves openly for Christ and his cause. Thousands, who in the days of comparative quiet seemed to hang down their heads,
will rise like young eagles in the beclouded heavens ; and the most weak and bashful in the church will be as David. Thus, one joyful phenomenon after another will surprise us in those days. The deeper the night becomes, the more richly studded and brilliant will be the firmament. The elect shall be gathered from the four winds, and come forth like a new and blooming creation; and we shall seem like unto them that dream, when the Lord shall thus turn again the captivity of Zion," Psa. cxxvi. 1, 2, and when we shall hear hosannahs resounding ten thousand thousandfold from all the ends of the earth, Isaiah lii. 10.
But what will most joyfully surprise us at that time, if we live to see it, is, that it will be given even to us poor timid sheep, who are now so weak in faith, to descend cheerfully, if need be, into any tribulation, for Jesus' sake, and glorify God even in the fires. What the Lord says of the seven thousand in our text, will then have reference to us; “I have reserved them to
and no one who belongs to the Lord will have to fear. Children of God are preserved, into whatever trials they may fall. Satan may sorely harass them; but they shall come off more than conquerors. The world may oppose and distress them, but this is all it can do. They are “reserved,” and “ preserved for ever." “ In the world ye shall have tribulation : but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” saith the Lord, John xvi. 33. Thus, however weak in themselves, they survive, when the overflowing scourge shall pass through the earth, and in the last times of temptation, when the fan is purging Jehovah's floor. Be of good cheer, therefore, whoever of you are sincerely following Christ. Whatever may happen, the seed of Jacob shall be delivered, for the Almighty himself is their rock; and his church stands so firm, that the gates of hell: shall not prevail against it! Let the clouds then gather and forebode the storm-let Hazael and Jehu gird on their weapons ! “ Yet,” saith the Lord, “ have I left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him."
Let us then, my brethren, open our hearts to the consoling hope, that not only we ourselves shall certainly be preserved, though thousands
may fall at our right hand, and ten thousands at our left, but that in the great tribulation which shall come upon the whole earth, a church shall discover itself around us, of which as yet, we, in the weakness of our faith, have scarcely dreamed. For thus saith the Lord, Zech. x. 9, “I will sow them among the people: and they shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children, and turn again."