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Babylonians into captivity; nor at any subsequent period did they rule over them. But if we understand these words as looking forward to another redemption, then will they be easy; and their accomplishment will be seen, not only in the Church at large, but in every individual member of it. The grace of Christ triumphed over all its opponents in the apostolic age; and will, in a yet more extensive manner, in the millennial period. The peculiar way in which his grace triumphs, , is a subject worthy of our more particular attention : and the words of our text afford us a fit occasion for setting it before you. We shall, I. Trace a work of grace on the souls of men
Taking such a view of it as is suggested by our text, there are four distinct states in which the Christian will successively be found :-a state, 1. Of captivity,
[This is the state of every man, before the grace of God enters into his heart. The Jews in Babylon were not more enslaved than we are by nature. Our principles and actions are altogether in bondage to the world. Nothing appears so free as the mind : yet, in our natural state, we are so shackled with prejudice, that we cannot exercise it aright: we cannot apprehend truth, when it is proposed to us: " the things of the Spirit of God appear even foolishness to us; neither can we receive them," because our faculties are pre-occupied by the current sentiments of the world. Our ways too are under the same constraint. Custom has prescribed the paths in which we shall walk; and we dare not violate its arbitrary laws. Let us even see the light of a bright example set before us, we feel not ourselves at liberty to follow it. As far as fashion authorizes a holy life, we will go: we may perform a round of religious duties; but to cultivate real piety is contrary to our inclination, and beyond our power.
As the world by its maxims, so sin by its allurements, fetters and controuls us. So interwoven with all our faculties is sin, that we cannot resist its influence. Sooner might an Ethiopian change his complexion, or a leopard his spots, than the natural man break forth from the dominion of sin. Though he do not yield to it in a gross and shameless way, yet his thoughts and desires are altogether vitiated by it; nor is so much as one inclination or affection free from its malignant taint. A principle of evil resides within him, and dictates every imagination of his heart a.
a Gen. vi. 5.
We may observe also, that Satan maintains a tyrannic sway over the natural man, as over his rightful vassal. How he works upon our minds, we cannot exactly say: (for we know not how our own spirit operates upon our material body; and therefore we must not wonder if we cannot declare how that wicked spirit operates on our spirits:) but he certainly does “ work in all the children of disobedience," and "lead them captive at his will." And when the grace of God first comes into the soul, it finds us altogether under the power of “that strong man armed."] 2. Of conflict
[The first entrance of grace into the soul stirs it up immediately to break its bonds, and assert its liberty. The person who is once enlightened to see what masters he has served, and what will be his recompence, is filled with indignation against himself for so long submitting to such ignominious bondage. He first probably begins with efforts made in his own strength : but when he finds how unavailing they are, he will betake himself to prayer, and implore help from above. Now the sins to which he once addicted himself are resisted ; and the very inclinations to them are bitterly bewailed. Now he cannot be satisfied with taking his notions of sin and duty from the world, or with conforming himself to the standard which the world approves : he inquires what God's will is, and determines to renounce whatever is inconsistent with it. Difficulties he meets with, innumerable difficulties, in his new course : his indwelling corruptions, like a stream obstructed by a dam, threaten to bear down all before them : and Satan exerts himself, by various wiles and devices, to divert him from his purpose: and the world, Satan's best advocate and co-adjutor, labours, by menaces or allurements, to keep him under its dominion: but he gathers strength from opposition, and courage from defeat ; and resolves, that nothing but victory or death shall put an end to his warfare.] 3. Of victory
[No person will long continue to oppose his spiritual enemies, without reaping the fruit of his exertions in victory and triumph. After he has once learned to use the armour which God has prepared for him, he finds, to his unspeakable comfort, that none of his enemies can stand before him. The world, that was once so formidable, has lost its power: and neither sin nor Satan can deceive him, as they once did. The grace of Christ is now found sufficient for him: and though he still is violently assaulted with various temptations, he is enabled to repel them “ by the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit.” Sometimes indeed he is ready to exclaim, “ O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?" but soon he recollects himself, and adds, “ I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."] 4. Of dominion-
[This is that state of which the text particularly speaks : and doubtless it is a state to which many attain. That the warfare will ever cease in this world, we have no reason to expect; but that our progress will be more easy, and our victory more certain, in proportion as we become habituated to the contest, there can be no doubt. As there are babes, young men, and fathers in the family of Christ, so are there amongst his army some, who have not only gained the victory, but are dividing the spoil. The world is crucified to them; sin is mortified, and Satan bruised under their feet. They are filled with a peace that passeth all understanding, and a joy that is unspeakable and glorified. The prize is, by anticipation at least, already in their hands. They enjoy already the earnest of heaven in their souls; and they are looking forward with delight to the happy hour, when they shall cease from their warfare altogether, and rest for ever in the bosom of their Lord.]
Though doubtless many variations will be found in the duration or degree in which the different parts of this experience exist in different persons, yet this, on the whole, is the experience of every true believer, he emerges from his natural bondage, and comes forth into the liberty of God's children. Such, I say, is the work of divine grace in the soul; and we shall now proceed to, II. Make some observations upon it
We remark then that this work is, 1. A stupendous work
[None but God is equal to it. None but an Almighty Being could have created the universe out of nothing: nor can any other Being create anew the souls of men. Every good soldier of Jesus Christ must say, “ He that hath wrought us to self-same thing, is God." The power exercised in this work is compared, by St. Paul, with that which was put forth in the resurrection of Christ, and his establishment on his throne, above all the principalities of heaven or hellb. Let all then who have within themselves an evidence that they are the subjects of it, rejoice: let them magnify their God in the energetic language of the Psalmist and let them "go forth, and shew what great things the Lord has done for them."] 2. An effectual workb Eph. i. 19-21.
c Ps. xxxv. 10.
[We wish not to discourage those who find difficulties in their warfare: but yet we must say, that God does not do his work by halves (if we may so express it). If he begin a good work in any soul, he will not suffer Satan to defeat his purpose. “He will give more and more grace," till it prove effectual to the end for which it is given. Grace that is not sufficient, (I mean, that does not finally prevail,) is not true grace. We know, that if a judgment be formed from the actual attainments of the religious world, we shall be ready to think that piety and carnality, and victory and bondage, can consist together. But they cannot; and those who with a religious profession unite an habitual subjection to any one sin, will feel themselves grievously disappointed in the issue. “ They may dream of plaudits from their Judge; but he will say to them, “ I never knew you, ye workers of iniquity.” “ The weapons of our warfare are sufficiently powerful to cast down all the strong-holds of Satan," and to bring even “our thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ:" the soldier therefore that yields to any one of his spiritual enemies, betrays his Lord; and for submitting to the chains of sin, will be bound "in chains of everlasting darkness."] 3. A work of which none need despair
[A more desperate state than that described in the text, can scarcely be conceived: they were captives, and captives in a state of grievous oppression: yet they are not only delivered, but made to "rule over their very oppressors." Who then has any reason to despair? We may say perhaps, that our enemies are more powerful than those of others; that by our own consent they have acquired an indisputable right over us; and that therefore we cannot hope for deliverance. But God states, and answers, this very cased. And, not content with this, he makes his readiness to relieve such persons a prominent feature in his own character: as if he were especially to be known by ito. He makes his promises too to this very description of persons', as though he counted himself most glorified, when the weakness of his people has given the most scope for the exercise of his almighty power. To the weakest then, and to the most desponding, we would say with the prophet, that though “ without God the strongest of men should bow down under the prisoners, and fall under the slain "," yet “ with him you shall be able to do all thingsi:" even “ the lame shall take the preyk,” and “ the feet of the poor and of the needy shall tread down their mightiest enemies."]
d Isai. xlix. 24-26.
e Amos. v. 9. f Ps. lxxii. 4, 12, 13.
IMMUTABILITY OF GOD'S COUNSELS. Isai. xiv. 27. The Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall
disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?
IT is common with the Lord, when predicting distant events, to confirm men in the expectation of them by the accomplishment of something near at hand. Thus when God foretold the incarnation of his own Son by the Prophet Isaiah, he foretold also the speedy destruction of the ten tribes, that the fulfilment of the one might excite in their minds an expectation of the othera: and when to Hezekiah he promised an addition of fifteen years to his life, he caused the shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz to recede ten degrees, as a sign that his life should certainly be prolonged to the period that had been fixed". Thus, in the chapter from whence our text is taken, and in that which precedes it, a very full and minute prophecy of the destruction of Babylon, and of the consequent restoration of the Jews to their own land, is given two hundred years before it was to be accomplished. But there was another event of great importance speedily to take place, namely, the destruction of the Assyrian army before Jerusalem : this therefore is introduced, not merely as an independent prophecy, but as a near event, which would assure to them the accomplishment of those which were more remote. It is in reference to all these events that the immutability of God's purpose is so strongly declared in our text, but more especially to those events which constitute the main subject of the prophecy.
The immutability of God's decrees is confessedly a very deep and mysterious subject, which we would not enter upon but with fear and trembling. We do not approve of bringing it forward on every occasion, and making it, as some do, the great subject of our ministrations : but we do not feel at liberty to pass
a Isai. vii. 14–16.
b Isai. xxxviii. 7, 8,