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it is said, Jesus loved Mary and her sister, and Lazarus, three in one house; when, perhaps, the whole place hardly afforded a fourth; and more in a single village than were to be found in many larger cities taken together. This circumstance more strongly marked the discrimination of his grace, in making the means effectual where, and to whom, he pleased. Such has been the usual event of his Gospel since, It is proclaimed to all, but accepted by few; and of these several are often found in one family, while their next-door neighbours account it a burden and offence. It flourishes here and thereh in a few places, while those of the adjacent country are buried in more than Egyptian darkness, and resist the endeavours of those who would invite them to partake of the same benefits. Thus the Lord is pleased to display his own sovereignty, in raising and sending forth his ministers when and where he sees fit, and in determining the subjects and measure of their success. If others dispute and cavil against this procedure, those who believe have cause to adore
á Amos, iv. 7.
i See Rom. xi. 23. There are but few who dispute upon the subject of the Divine Decrees with that reverence and caution St. Paul expresses. In chap.ix., when an objection was started, he cuts it short with, “ But who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?" And here he breaks off abruptly, with, “O the depth !" He seems to have followed the narrow winding streams of human reasoning, till hệ finds himself, unawares, upon the brink of an ocean that has neither bounds nor bottom. And every word expresses the reverence and astonishment with which his mind was filled. The wisdom of the divine counsels in their first plan; the knowledge of their extensive consequences in this world, in all worlds, in time, and in eternity; the riches of that wisdom and knowledge; the depth of those riches; his cour. sels inaccessible; his proceedings untraceable; all is, wonderful in St. Paul's view. How different this from the trifting arrogant spirit of too many upon this topic!
his goodness to themselves; and a day is at hand, when every mouth shall be stopped that would contend with the just Judge of all the earth. The impenitent and unbelieving will not then dare to charge him with injustice, for dealing with them according to their own counsels and desires, inasmuch as when the light of truth was ready to break upon them, they chose darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Secondly, in the calling of our Lord's disciples, and the manner in which they were brought to know and serve him, we may discover the same variety as, at this day, appears in the conversion of sinners by the preaching of the Gospel.
Some, from a religious education, and early acquaintance with the Scriptures, and the secret influence of the Spirit of God upon their hearts, are gradually prepared for the reception of the truth. They read, and strive, and pray; they feel an uneasiness and a want, which they know not how to remedy. They are sincerely desirous to know and do the will of God; and yet, through misapprehension, and the influence of popular prejudice, they are for a season withheld from the means that would relieve them. But, at length, the preaching of the Gospel explains to them the meaning of their former exercises, exactly answers to the state of their minds, and thereby brings its own evidence. Similar to this was the case of Nathanael : when our Lord referred him to what had passed under the fig-tree, where he had thought himself alone and unobserved, his doubts and scruples vanished in an instant. There is little doubt but Nathanael had been praying under the fig-tree, and probably desiring a further knowledge of the prophecies, and their accomplishment in the Messiah. He had heard of Jesus, but could not fully clear up the objections made against him ; but now he was convinced and satisfied in a moment.
The attention of some is drawn by what they see and hear around them. They form a favourable opinion of the Gospel from the remarkable effects it produces; but their first inquiries are damped by difficulties which they cannot get over, and they are ready to say, “How can these things be?” Their interests and connexions in life are a farther hinderance; the fear of man, which bringeth a snare, is a great restraint upon their inquiries; but now and then, when they can venture without being noticed, they seek farther instruction. Now, though this hesitating spirit, which pays so much deference to worldly regards in the search of truth, is highly blameable; yet the Lord, who is rich in mercy, is often pleased to produce a happy and abiding change from such imperfect beginnings. As they increase in knowledge they gain more courage, and, in time, arrive to a comfortable experience and open profession of the truth. Thus it was with Nicodemus; he was at first ignorant and fearful; but his interview with Jesus, by night, had a good effect. · He afterwards ventured to speak more publiclyk in his favour, though still he did not join himself to the disciples. But the circumstances of Christ's death freed him from all fear, and inspired him to attempt the most obnoxious service, when the apostles themselves were afraid to be seen.
Others are first prompted to hear the Gospel from no higher motive than curiosity; but going as mere spectators, they find themselves retained as parties unawares. The word of God, powerful and penetrating as a two-edged sword, discovers the thoughts and intents of their hearts, presses upon their consciences, and seems addressed to themselves alone. The sentiments they carry away with them are far different from those they brought; and a change in their whole deportment immediately takes place. Such was the case of Zaccheus: m he had heard much of Jesus, and desired to see him; for this end he ran before, and climbed a tree, from whence he proposed to behold him unobserved. But how great must his surprise and emotion have been, when Jesus, whom he had considered as a stranger, looked up, called him by his name, and invited himself to his house.
k John, vii. 50.
| John, xix, 3).
Some are drawn by the report of others freely declaring what the Lord has done for their souls. The relation awakens in them desires after him which are not disappointed, for he is rich enough to satisfy all who seek to him. So the Samaritans, whose expectations were first raised by the woman's declaration, n6 Come and see a man which “ told me all things that ever I did; is not this 66 the Christ ?” had soon a more convincing testimony, and could say, 66 Now we believe, “ not because of thy word, but we have heard “him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the “ Christ, the Saviour of the world."
To a few, the first impulses of divine grace come suddenly and unthought of, when their hearts and hands are engaged quite another way: as Saul, who was seeking his father's asses, received the unexpected news of a kingdom. A ray of truth pierces their minds like lightning, and disposes them to leave their schemes unfinished, to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness only. Thus our Lord passed by
the sons of Zebedee when mending their nets, and P Matthew while busied at the receipt of custom. He only said, “ Follow me;" he used no arguments, he proposed no rewards ; but he spoke to their hearts, and, by the constraining power of his love, engaged them to a cheerful and immediate obedience.
Afflictions likewise are now, no less than formerly, a happy means to bring many to Jesus. He prepares them for heavenly blessings by imbittering or removing their creature-comforts. Had they continued in prosperity, they would not have thought on him ; but the loss of health, or friends, or substance, disappointments in life, or a near prospect of death, constrain them in good earnest to seek for one able to deliver them. In the time of their distress they say, Arise and save us. Not that afflictions in themselves can produce this turn of thought. Too many in such circumstances toss like a wild bull in a net; but when he sends afflictions for this purpose, they accomplish that which he pleases. Thus, when he was upon earth, many who came or were brought to him for the relief of bodily disorders, experienced a double cure. "He healed their diseases, and pardoned their sins. At the same time that he restored the blind to sight, he opened the eyes of their minds. He sometimes made the afflictions of one, the means to bring a whole family to the knowledge of his grace. A considerable part of his followers were such as these, whom he had graciously relieved from distresses incurable by any hand but his. Some had been long and grievously tormented, had essayed every means, but found themselves worse and
p Mark, ii. 14.
9 Mark, ii. 9.
John, iv. 53.