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but the vigour of life, and the bloom of health and beauty, the piercing eye of the Eternal, penetrating into the secret recesses of the soul, may discover, as to all that is spiritual, nothing but the offensiveness of corruption, and the stillness of death.
And how will the preacher of righteousness feel, and how will he proceed, when he cannot but be sensible that, in multitudes around him, the signs of spiritual life are wanting? He feels like Ezekiel in the midst of the valley of dry bones. With mixed feelings of despondency and of hope he thinks of the question, "Son of man, can these dry bones live?"— and of the answer, "O Lord God, thou knowest." In obedience to the divine command he now begins to prophesy over the dry bones, saying, "Hear the word of the Lord.” God himself calls to the dead, and so must the preacher. "Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind, that ye may see.' "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." And how ought those who have experienced the power of the gospel to feel, when they think of those who are lying dead in sin? These are the most pitiable of all objects, these are the wretched indeed. "O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people." But exhortations and tears will never, of themselves, prevail to recall the dead to life. This is the prerogative of Him by whom life was at first conferred. Yes, there is something wanting which we cannot give, and that is the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit -the accompanying energy of the mighty power of God. To him we betake ourselves in earnest prayer, saying, "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live."
But, we have here, on the other hand, a fine description of the state into which those who return to God, or repent, and believe the gospel, are brought by grace-they are made "alive again." It has just been noticed that this change is by the agency of the Holy Spirit. Let it now be added, that it is by means of the word of the Gospel, in which Christ is received by faith: according to the language of the Psalmist, "I will never forget thy precepts, for with them thou hast quickened me;" and of Christ himself "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." Hence, this life comes along with pardon; thus, the apostle, having said to the Colossians,* "You * Col. ii. 13.
being dead in your sins, and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with Christ," immediately adds, "having forgiven you all trespasses." It is proper, also, to observe, that, as spiritual death does not signify the destruction of the mental faculties, but their perversion, or, their disrelish for spiritual objects; so, spiritual life is not strictly a creation of mental faculties, but a rectifying of them, though it is so complete a change, that those who undergo it are said to be "created again in Christ Jesus unto good works." A fair and honest interpretation of this figure, too, as well as of other figures used on the subject, most certainly leads to this conclusion, that the outward reformation of conduct which the Gospel enjoins and produces, is not properly the saving change, but the consequence of it, not, strictly speaking, the principle of spiritual life itself, but the effect of that principle. Hence appears the necessity, not only of exhorting men to avoid certain sins, and to discharge certain duties, but of searching closely into the general state of the soul, in order to secure both its safety and its sanctification. Here, too, we see one leading distinction between the legal and evangelical system; for, the former, if it contemplate spiritual life at all, directs sinners to seek it by their doings, saying, "This do, and thou shalt live;" while the latter aims first at the implantation of spiritual life, in order that men may do. As it is self-evident that whatever has a beginning at all must begin at some particular time, so, instead of its being irrational to hold that this principle is instantaneous at its commencement, it is impossible that it can be otherwise. In most cases, however, the exact period cannot be ascertained. Sometimes the principle is communicated in very early life, at other times at an advanced age. From the cases of those the workings of whose thoughts have been observed, it appears, that the mind is generally prepared for receiving this principle, or for its sensible development, by a previous process. This process is various, requiring sometimes a long period, and sometimes a very short one; and it consists, chiefly, in various external means bringing the Word of God to bear on the conscience. Deep thoughtfulness, self-examination, conviction of sin and of danger, some view of the way of mercy through Christ, and earnest cries for life and salvation, are generally found in those who are about to return to the Lord. Then God is pleased to visit them with the Spirit of life, to give a holy bias to their minds, and decidedly
to begin that good work which he will carry forward to perfection. The degrees of vigour of the spiritual life are very different. As it is with the faculties of the mind, in the ordinary progress of an individual from childhood to maturity, so it is with these faculties, after they have received a spiritual direction. There are "babes in Christ;" and there are also "strong men." Still, all who have any spiritual life have a real delight in God and Christ, and a prevailing religious bent of thought and pursuit. There is within them the seed of all that is holy and happy, and a principle which will ripen into life that never ends. Whereever, then, this life is possessed, there is cause for joy-joy in heaven, and joy on earth. "It is meet," says our compassionate Father, "that we should make merry and be glad; for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again."
Let all of you who feel any thing of this life within you, very thankful. Prize it, cherish it, improve it, to the glory of the Giver. "Reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace."
LUKE XV. 11-32.
THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON-CONCLUDED.
We now come to consider the fourth and last part of the parable of the prodigal son, namely, the character and conduct of the elder brother. This part, as exhausting the subject, includes, not only what is said strictly of the elder brother himself, but also, that part of his father's conduct to which his unworthy demeanour gave rise.
While the younger son was kindly received, and the feasting and rejoicing, on his account, were going on, the "elder son was" abroad "in the field." When he returned, and approached the house," he heard music and dancing." In almost all ages and countries these have been practised, and considered chiefly expressive of joy. As to music, it is mentioned at a very early period of the world's history. We read that Jubal, who lived before the flood, "was the father of all such as handle the harp and the organ." Laban complained that his son-in-law Jacob left him secretly, and did not give him an opportunity of "sending him away with mirth, and with songs, with tabret, and with harp." The ancient Hebrews were very fond of music, both vocal and instrumental, and employed it in religious worship, in their public and private rejoicings, at their feasts,* and even at their mournings; for, it is adapted to excite and express the feelings, whether joyful or plaintive. The lawfulness of its application to common as well as to sacred subjects, cannot, I think, be reasonably called in question, any more than that of the other fine arts. Doubtless, however, the
*The feasts of the Greeks, and of the ancients in general, were usually accompanied with music, both vocal and instrumental-with singing to the harp
Μολπη και φορμιγγι
Τα γαρ τ' ἀναθήματα δαιτος.
Odyss. xvii. 358, et xxi. ad finem.
chief end of music, as of every thing else, should be to promote the glory of God. Its direct application, in this way, is its best application on earth; and in this one point shall it (like every other sanctified gift of God) wholly centre at last in heaven. As for its prostitution to the encouragement of intemperance, and irreligion, that be far from Christians. Far be from them the ways of those who have "the harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe, and wine, in their feasts, but regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operations of his hands." Sad abuse! fit preparation for the place where the sound of music and the voice of rejoicing shall be heard no more at all!
But, the elder brother heard, also, the sound of dancing* in the house. This circumstance is employed, by some pious persons, as an argument in support of the lawfulness of dancing; for they say, that, though this is but a parable, yet our Lord would never have used language borrowed from a practice which was in itself sinful, to describe the joy of the Church on the conversion of a sinner. They observe, too, that Solomon says, "There is a time to mourn, and a time to dance." They, therefore, cannot look on the practice as, in all cases, proscribed. Yet, they are quite aware of the dangers which in most cases attend it. improprieties, in respect of time, and company, and character, and stage of life, and vanity, and display, not to speak of any thing worse, are so many as to confine its safety within very narrow limits. As to religious dancing, or "dancing before the Lord," as practised by Miriam and the Hebrew women, and by David,t that is altogether foreign to our modern views and habits.
But whatever may be thought of these things in other respects, it must be allowed that they would be natural in such a case as is here supposed; and also, that they are apt emblems of the spiritual joy which should be felt and expressed, both by converts themselves, and by the household of God on their account.
The elder son, hearing the sound of all this rejoicing in the house, could not conceive what was the cause of it; and calling one of the servants, inquired of him what was the meaning of these things. The servant told him that his brother had returned, and that his father was much de
* Kogay. Le Clerc thinks this word here means, not dancing, but a choir of singers, or musicians.
+ Exod. xv. 20; 2 Sam. vi. 14.