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and at others, it may be advisable to use no words at all, but a gesture, a sigh, or a look, particularly when the person you would reprove is greatly your superior. And frequently, this kind of reproof will be attended by the power of God; and, consequently, have a far better effect than a long and laboured discourse.
10. Once more: remember the remark of Solomon, "A word spoken in season, how good is it!" It is true, if you are providentially called to reprove any one, whom you are not likely to see any more, you are to snatch the present opportunity, and to "speak in season,' or "out of season;" but with them whom you have frequent opportunities of seeing, you may wait for a fair occasion. Here the advice of the poet has place. You may speak
Si validus, si lætus erit, si denique poscit: When he is in a good humour, or when he asks it you. Here you may Mollia tempora fandi,
time when his mind is in a soft, mild frame: and then God will both teach you how to speak, and give a blessing to what is spoken.
11. But here let me guard against one mistake. It passes for an indisputable maxim, "Never attempt to reprove a man when he is intoxicated with drink." Reproof, it is said, is then thrown away, and can have no good effect. I dare not say so. I have seen not a few clear instances of the contrary. Take one: Many years ago, passing by a man in Moorfields, who was so drunk he could hardly stand, I put a paper into his hand. He looked at it, and said, “A word-a word to a Drunkard, that is me,-sir, sir! I am wrong,-I know I am wrong, -pray let me talk a little with you." He held me by the hand a full half hour and I believe he got drunk no more.
12. I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, do not despise poor drunkards! Have compassion on them! Be instant with them in season and out of season! Let not shame, or fear of men, prevent your pulling these brands out of the burning: many of them are self condemned:
"Nor do they not discern the evil plight
but they despair; they have no hope of escaping out of it; and they sink into it still deeper, because none else has any hope for them!" Sinners of every other sort," said a venerable old clergyman, “ have I frequently known converted to God. But an habitual drunkard have I never known converted." But I have known five hundred, perhaps five thousand. Ho! Art thou one who readest these words? Then hear thou the words of the Lord! I have a message from God unto thee, oh sinner! Thus saith the Lord, Cast not away thy hope. I have not forgotten thee. He that tells thee, "There is no help," is a liar from the beginning! Look up! Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world! This day is salvation come to thy soul: only see that thou despise not him that speaketh! Just now he saith unto thee, "Son, be of good cheer! Thy sins are forgiven thee!"
13. Lastly: you that are diligent in this labour of love, see that you be not discouraged; although, after you have used your best endeavours, you should see no present fruit. You have need of patience, and then, "after ye have done the will of God" herein, the harvest will come.
Never be "weary of well doing: in due time ye shall reap if ye faint not." Copy after Abraham, who "against hope, still believed in hope." "Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days."
14. I have now only a few words to add unto you, my brethren, who are vulgarly called Methodists. I never heard or read of any considerable revival of religion, which was not attended with a spirit of reproving. I believe it cannot be otherwise; for what is faith, unless it worketh by love? Thus it was in every part of England, when the present revival of religion began, about fifty years ago: all the subjects of that revival, all the Methodists, so called, in every place, were reprovers of outward sin. And indeed so are all that, "being justified by faith, have peace with God through Jesus Christ." Such they are at first; and if they use that precious gift, it will never be taken away. Come, brethren, in the name of God, let us egin again! Rich or poor, let us all arise as one man! And in any wise, let every man rebuke his neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him!" Then shall all Great Britain and Ireland know, that we do not "go a warfare at our own cost:" yea, " God shall bless us, and all the ends of the world shall fear him."
SERMON LXXI.-The Signs of the Times.
"Ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?" Matt. xvi, 3.
1. THE entire passage runs thus: "The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering. Oh ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?"
2. "The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came:" In general, these were quite opposite to each other: but it is no uncommon thing for the children of the world to lay aside their opposition to each other, (at least for a season,) and cordially to unite in opposing the children of God. "And tempting;" that is, making a trial whether he was indeed sent of God; "desired him that he would show them a sign from heaven;" which they believed no false prophet was able to do. It is not improbable, they imagined, this would convince them, that he was really sent from God. "He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering." Probably there were more certain signs of fair and foul weather in their climate, than there are in ours. "Oh ye hypocrites;" making profession of love, while you have enmity in your hearts; "ye can discern the face of the sky," and judge thereby what the weather will be; "but can ye not discern the signs of the times," when God brings his first begotten Son into the world?
3. Let us more particularly inquire, first, What were the times, whereof our Lord here speaks; and what were the signs, whereby those times were to be distinguished from all others? We may then inquire, second
ly, What are the times which we have reason to believe are now at hand; and how is it, that all who are called Christians, do not discern the signs of these times ?
I. 1. Let us, in the first place, inquire, What times were those concerning which our Lord is here speaking? It is easy to answer; the times of the Messiah; the times ordained before the foundation of the world, wherein it pleased God to give his only begotten Son, to take our nature upon him, to be "found in fashion as a man," to live a life of sorrow and pain, and, at length, to be "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," to the end that "whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life." This was the important time, the signs whereof the Pharisees and Sadducees could not discern. Clear as they were in themselves, yet so thick a veil was upon the heart of these men, that they did not discern the tokens of his coming, though foretold so long before.
2. But what were those signs of the coming of that Just One, which had been so long and so clearly foretold, and whereby they might easily have discerned those times, had not the veil been on their heart? They are many in number; but it may suffice to mention a few of them. One of the first is that pointed out in the solemn words, spoken by Jacob a little before his death: Gen. xlix, 10, "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come." All, both ancient and modern Jews, agree, that by Shiloh we are to understand the Messiah; who was therefore to come, according to the prophecy, "before the sceptre," that is, the sovereignty, "departed from Judah." But it did, without controversy, depart from Judah, at this very time;- —an infallible sign, that at this very time Shiloh, that is, the Messiah, came.
3. A second eminent sign of those times, the times of the coming of the Messiah, is given us in the third chapter of the prophecy of Malachi; "Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare my way before me and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple," verse 1. How manifestly was this fulfilled, first, by the coming of John the Baptist; and then by our blessed Lord himself, "coming suddenly to his temple!" And what sign could be clearer to those that impartially considered the words of the prophet Isaiah, chap. xl, ver. 3, "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight!"
4. But yet clearer signs than these, (if any could be clearer,) were the mighty works that he wrought. Accordingly, he himself declares, "The works which I do, they testify of me." And to these he explicitly appeals in his answer to the question of John the Baptist; (not proposed, as some have strangely imagined, from any doubt which he had himself; but from a desire of confirming his disciples, who might possibly waver, when their Master was taken from their head: "Art thou he that should come," the Messiah? "Or look we for another ?" No bare verbal answer could have been so convincing, as what they saw with their own eyes. Jesus therefore referred them to this testimony: "He answered and said unto them, Go, and show John the things which ye hear and see; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached unto them," Matt. xi, 4, 5.
5. But how then came it to pass, that those who were so sharp-sighted in other things, who could "discern the face of the sky," were not able to discern those signs which indicated the coming of the Messiah? They could not discern them, not for want of evidence,—this was full and clear, but for want of integrity in themselves; because they were a "wicked and adulterous generation;" because the perverseness of their hearts spread a cloud over their understanding. Therefore, although the Sun of Righteousness shone bright, yet they were insensible of it. They were not willing to be convinced therefore they remained in ignorance. The light was sufficient; but they shut their eyes, that they might not see it: so that they were without excuse, till vengeance came upon them to the uttermost.
II. 1. We are in the second place to consider, What are the times which we have reason to believe are now at hand? And how is it that all who are called Christians, do not discern the signs of these times?
The times which we have reason to believe are at hand, (if they are not already begun,) are what many pious men have termed, the time of "the latter day glory;"-meaning, the time wherein God would gloriously display his power and love, in the fulfilment of his gracious promise that "the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea.'
2. "But are there in England, or in any part of the world, any signs of such a time approaching?" It is not many years since, that a person of considerable learning, as well as eminence in the church, (then bishop of London,) in his pastoral letter, made this observation: "I cannot imagine what persons mean, by talking of a great work of God at this time. I do not see any work of God now, more than has been at any other time." I believe it: I believe that great man did not see any extraordinary work of God. Neither he, nor the generality of Christians, so called, saw any signs of the glorious day that is approaching. But how is this to be accounted for? How is it that those who can now "discern the face of the sky," who are not only great philosophers, but great divines, as eminent as ever the Sadducees, yea, or the Pharisees were, do not discern the signs of those glorious times, which, if not begun, are nigh even at the door?
3. We allow, indeed, that in every age of the church, "the kingdom of God came not with observation;" not with splendour and pomp, or with any of those outward circumstances which usually attend the kingdoms of this world. We allow this "kingdom of God is within us," and that, consequently, when it begins, either in an individual or in a nation, it "is like a grain of mustard seed," which at first "is the least of all seeds," but, nevertheless, gradually increases, till "it becomes a great tree." Or, to use the other comparison of our Lord, it is like “a little leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened."
4. But may it not be asked, "Are there now any signs that the day of God's power is approaching?" I appeal to every candid, unprejudiced person, whether we may not, at this day, discern all those signs, (understanding 'the words in a spiritual sense,) to which our Lord referred John's disciples? "The blind receive their sight:" those who were blind from their birth, unable to see their own deplorable state, and much more to see God, and the remedy he has prepared for them
in the Son of his love, now see themselves, yea, and "the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The eyes of their understanding being now opened, they see all things clearly." The deaf hear:" those that were before utterly deaf, to all the outward ́and inward calls of God, now hear, not only his providential calls, but also the whispers of his grace.- -"The lame walk :" those who never before arose from the earth, or moved one step towards heaven, are now walking in all the ways of God; yea, "running the race that is set before them.". -"The lepers are cleansed :" the deadly leprosy of sin, which they brought with them into the world, and which no art of man could ever cure, is now clean departed from them. And surely never in any age or nation, since the apostles, have those words been so eminently fulfilled, "The poor have the gospel preached unto them," as it is at this day. At this day the gospel leaven, faith working by love,-inward and outward holiness,-or, (to use the terms of St. Paul,) "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost,"-hath so spread in various parts of Europe, particularly in England, Scotland, Ireland, in the islands, in the north and south, from Georgia to New-England, and Newfoundland, that sinners have been truly converted to God, thoroughly changed both in heart and in life; not by tens, or by hundreds only, but by thousands, yea, by myriads! The fact cannot be denied: we can point out the persons, with their names and places of abode. And yet the wise men of the world, the men of eminence, the men of learning and renown, "cannot imagine what we mean by talking of any extraordinary work of God!" They cannot discern the signs of these times! They can see no sign at all of God's arising to maintain his own cause, and set up his kingdom over the earth!
5. But how may this be accounted for? How is it, that they cannot discern the signs of these times? We may account for their want of discernment on the same principle we accounted for that of the Pharisees and Sadducees; namely, that they likewise are, what those were, an "adulterous and sinful generation.' If their eye was single, their whole body would be full of light: but suppose their eye be evil, their whole body must be full of darkness. Every evil temper darkens the soul; every evil passion clouds the understanding. How then can we expect, that those should be able to discern the signs of the times, who are full of all disorderly passions, and slaves to every evil temper? But this is really the case. They are full of pride: they think of themselves far more highly than they ought to think. They are vain: they" seek honour one of another, and not the honour that cometh of God only." They cherish hatred and malice in their hearts: they give place to anger, to envy, to revenge: they return evil for evil, and railing for railing. Instead of overcoming evil with good, they make no scruple of demanding an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. They savour not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men." They set their affections, not on things above, but on the things that are of the earth. They "love the creature more than the Creator;" they are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God." How then should they discern the signs of the times? The god of this world, whom they serve, has blinded their hearts, and covered their minds with a veil of thick darkness. Alas! what have these "souls of flesh and blood," (as one speaks) to do with God, or the things of God?