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The thing is not merely possible-but we no practical hardihood whatever for the exsee in it a stamp of likelihood to all that ercise of labouring in the prescribed way experience tells us of the nature or the after the meat that endureth? Surely, surehabitudes of man. Is there no such thing as ly, this is all very possible—and it is just as his having a taste for the beauties of land- possible, and many we believe to be the inscape, and, at the same time, turning with stances we have of it in real life, when an disgust from what he calls the methodism eloquent description of heaven is exquisitely of peculiar Christianity? Might not he be felt, and wakens in the bosom the raptures an admirer of poetry, and at the same time, of the sincerest admiration, among those nauseate with his whole heart, the doctrine who feel an utter repugnancy to the heaven and the language of the New Testament? of the Bible-and are not moving a single Might not he have a fancy that can be re-inch through the narrowness of the path galed by some fair and well-formed vision which leads to it. of immortality-and, at the same time, have
On the Universality of spiritual Blindness.
Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee; and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed. And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.”—Isaiah xxix. 9—12.
WHAT is affirmed in these verses of a must now therefore strike a higher mark of vision and prophecy, holds so strikingly distinction---and, in reference to the Bible, true of God's general revelation to the such a mark can be specified. This book is world, that we deem the lesson contained often made the subject of a much higher in them to be not of partial, but permanent exercise of scholarship than the mere readapplication--and we therefore proceed im- ing of it. It may be read in its original lanmediately, to the task of addressing this les-guages. It may be the theme of many a son, both to the learned and unlearned of laborious commentary. The light of conthe present day. temporaneous history may be made to shine upon it, by the diligence of an exploring antiquarian. Those powers and habits of criticism, which are of so much avail towards the successful elucidation of the mind and meaning of other authors, may all be transferred to that volume of which God is the author---and what, after all this, it may be asked, is the se or the obstacle which stands in the way of learned men of our present generation? How is it that any of them can now join in the complaint of their predecessors, in the days of Isaiah-and say, I cannot read this book because it is sealed? Or, is there any remaining hindrance still, in virtue of which, the critics, and the grammarians, and the accomplished theologians of our age, are unable to reach the real and effective understanding of the words of this prophecy?
Let me, in the first place, dwell for a little on the complaints which are uttered by these two classes respecting the hidden and impenetrable character of the book of God's communication--and, in the second place, try to explain the nature of that sleep which is upon both, and in virtue of which both are alike in a state of practical blindness to the realities of the divine word---and, in the third place, raise a short application upon the whole argument.
I. There is a complaint uttered in these verses, first by the learned--and, secondly, by the unlearned---and we shall consider each of them in order.
1st. If a book be closed down by a material seal, then, till that seal be broken, there lies a material obstacle even in the way of him who is able to read the contents of it. And we have no doubt, that the possession of the art of reading would form the most visible and prominent distinction, between the learned and the unlearned in the days of Isaiah. But it no longer, at least in our country, forms the distinction between these two classes. Many a man who can barely read in these days, will still say, and say with truth, that he is not learned. We
Yes, my brethren, there is such an obstruction as you now inquire after-and it is wonderful to tell, how little the mere erudition of Scripture helps the real discernment of Scripture-how it may be said, of many of its most classical expounders, that though having eyes, they see not, and though having ears, they hear not-how doctrine, which if actually perceived and
ready to begin that great renewing process whereby there is made a commencement of holiness upon earth, and a consummation both of holiness and happiness in heaven--were these, which we all know to be the truths of Christianity, actually believed, the power of them upon our hearts would come, and come immediately, in the train of the perception of them by our understandings. If we remain unquickened by the utterance of them, it is because, in the true sense of the term, we remain unconvinced by them. The utterance of them may be heard as a very pleasant song--and the representation of them be viewed as a very lovely picture
credited, would bring the realities of an eternal world to bear with effect upon their conduct, is, operatively speaking, just as weak as if they did not apprehend it even in its literal significancy-how the mere verbiage of the matter is all in which they appear to be conversant, without any actual hold of sight, or of conviction, on the substance of the matter-how dexterously they can play at logic with the terms of the communication, and how dimly and deficiently they apprehend the truths of it-how, after having exhausted the uttermost resources of scholarship on the attempt of forcing an entrance into the region of spiritual manifestation, they only find themselves labour----but the force of a felt and present reality ing at a threshold of height and of difficulty, is wanting to the whole demonstration. And which they cannot scale-how, as if struck all that reason can do is to adjust the steps with blindness, like the men of Sodom, they of the demonstration---and all that eloquence weary themselves in vain to find the door- can do, is to pour forth the utterance---and and after having reared their stately argu- all that conception can do is to furnish its mentation about the message of peace, they forms and its colouring to the picture. And have no faith; about the doctrine of godli- after learning has thus lavished on the task ness, they have no godliness. the whole copiousness of its manifold ingredients, may we behold in the person of its proudest votary, that his Christianity to him is nothing better than an aerial phantom--that it is of as little operation in disposting sense, and nature, and ungodliness from his heart, as if it were but a nonentity, or a name-that to his eye a visionary dimness hangs over the whole subject matter of the testimony of the Bible---and still untranslated into the life, and the substance, and the reality of these things, he may join in the complaint of the text, as if they lay sealed in deepest obscurity from his contemplation.
And it is not enough to say, that all this is not due to the want of discernment, but to the want of power-for the power lies in the truth-and the truth has only to be seen or believed, that it may have the power. The reflection may never have occurred to you-but it is not the less just on that account, how little of actual faith there is in the world. Many call it a mere want of impression. We call it a want of belief. Did we really believe, that there was a God in existence-did we really believe, that with the eye of a deeply interested judge, he was now scrutinizing all the propensities of our heart, and appreciating, with a view to future retribution, all the actions of our history-did we really believe, that sin was to him that hateful enemy with which he could keep no terms, and to which he could give no quarter; and that with every individual who had fallen into it, either in its guilt it must be expiated, and in its presence be finally done away, or the burden of a righteous vengeance would rest upon his person through eternity---did we really believe, that in these circumstances of deepest urgency, a way of redemption has been devised, and that to all whom the tidings of it had reached the offer of deliverance, both from sin in its condemnation, and from sin in its power, was made, through the atoning blood and sanctifying spirit of a complete and omnipotent Saviour---did we really be-der a want of an impression of the reality lieve, that such an offer was lying at the of this whole matter, as the unlearned-and door of every individual, and that his reli- if this be true of those among them, who, ance upon its honesty constituted his ac- with learning and nothing more, have acceptance of the offer---did we really believe, tually tried to decipher the meaning of that throughout the fugitive period of our God's communication-if this be true of abode in this world, which was so soon to many a priest and many a theologian, with pass away, God in Christ was beseeching whom Christianity is a science, and the every one of us to reconciliation; and even study of the Bible is the labour and the now, as if at the place of breaking forth, was business of their profession-what can we
Make what you like in the way of argument, of so many simple conceptions, if the conceptions themselves do not carry the impress of vividness and reality along with them--the reasoning, of which they form the materials, may be altogether faultless--and the doctrine in which it terminates, be held forth as altogether impregnable---yet will it share in all the obscurity which attaches to the primary elements of its formation--and while nature can manage the logical process which leads from the first simple ideas, to the ultimate and made-out conclusion, she cannot rid herself of the dimness in which, to her unrenewed eye, the former stand invested; and she must, therefore, leave the latter in equal dimness. The learned just labour as helplessly un
expect of those among the learned, who, in | complaint that I am not learned. They the pursuits of a secular philosophy, never cannot, for example, estimate the criticism enter into contact with the Bible, either in its of many an expounder. They have not doctrine or in its language, except when it time to traverse the weary extent of many a is obtruded on them? Little do they know ponderous and elaborate commentary. And of our men of general literature, who have those who have had much of Christian innot observed the utter listlessness, if not tercourse with the poor, must have rethe strong and active contempt wherewith marked the effect which their sense of this many of them hear the doctrine of the book inferiority has upon many an imagination of God's counsel uttered in the phraseology---how it is felt by not a few of them, that they labour under a hopeless disadvantage, because they want the opportunities of a higher and a more artificial scholarship, and that if they could only get nearer to their teachers in respect of literary attainment, they would be nearer that wisdom which is
of that book-how, in truth, their secret impression of the whole matter is, that it is a piece of impenetrable mysticism-how, in their eyes, there is a cast of obscurity over all the peculiarities of the Gospel--and if asked to give their attention thereto, they promptly repel the imposition under the unto salvation, and that though they can feeling of a hopeless and insuperable dark-read the book in the plainest sense of the ness, which sits in obsolete characters over term, they cannot read it with any saving the entire face of the evangelical record. or salutary effect, just because, in the lanThere may be bright and cheering exam-guage of my text, they say that they are ples to the contrary, of men in the highest not learned. And thus it is, that the man of our literary walks, who, under a peculiar who has the literary accomplishments after teaching, have learned what they never which they sigh, meets with two distinct learned from all the lessons of the academy. exhibitions to instruct and to humble him. But apart from this peculiar influence, be The first is, when the poor look up to him assured that learning is of little avail. The as to one who, because he has the scholarsacred page may wear as hieroglyphical an ship of Christianity, must have the saving aspect to the lettered, as to the unlettered. knowledge of it also, when he intimately It lies not with any of the powers or pro- feels that the luminary of science may cesses of ordinary education to dissipate shine full upon him, while not one ray to that blindness, wherewith the god of this cheer or to enlighten, may pass into his world hath blinded the mind of him who heart from the luminary of the Gospel. believes not. To make wisdom of the The second is, when he observes among New Testament his wisdom, and its spirit the poor, those who live, and who rejoice his spirit, and its language his best-loved under the power of a revelation, to which and best-understood language, there must himself is a stranger, those who can disbe a higher influence upon the mind, than cern a beauty and an evidence in the docwhat lies in human art, or in human expla-trine of Christ, which have never beamed nation. And till this is brought to pass, the with full radiance upon his own underdoctrine of the atonement, and the doctrine standing-those whose feelings and whose of regeneration, and the doctrine of fellow-experience move in a consonancy with the ship with the Father and the Son, and the truths of the New Testament, which, in his doctrine of a believer's progressive holiness, own experience, he never felt-those whose under the moral and spiritual power of the daily path bespeaks the guidance of a wis truth as it is in Jesus, will, as to his own dom which never yet shone upon his own personal experience of its meaning, remain way, and who are blest with a peace and a so many empty sounds, or so many deep joy in believing, which have never found and hidden mysteries---and just as effectu- entrance into his own desolate bosom. ally, as if the book were held together by an iron clasp, which he has not strength to unclose, may he say of the same book lying open and legible before him, that he cannot read it, because it is sealed.
2. So much for the complaint of the learned; and as for the complaint of the unlearned, it happily, in the literal sense of it, is not applicable to the great majority of our immediate countrymen, even in the very humblest walks of society. They can put together its letters, and pronounce its words, and make a daily exercise, if they choose, of one or more of its chapters. They have learning enough to carry them thus far, but not so far as to keep them from joining the unlearned of my text in the
This gives us a new sight of the peculiarity which lies in the Bible-and by which it stands distinguished from all other compositions. There may remain a seal upon its meaning to him, who, in the ordinary sense of the term, is learned, while the seal may be removed, and the meaning lie open as the light of day to him, who in the same sense is unlearned. It may come with all the force of a felt and perceived reality upon the one, while the reality is not perceived, and therefore not felt by the other. To the man of literary accomplishment, the report of eternal things may reach no other influence than that of a sound upon his ear, or of a shadowy representation upon the eye of his fancy. To the unlettered work
man, it may reach an influence as substan | that on this account, they must a so spend tial and as practical, as the report of to-mor- it in a state of desolation, as to the whole row's work, or to-morrow's wages. The light and learning of the Gospel. They latter may be led to shape his actual mea- are apt to look upon it, not as their fault, sures by the terms of the message of reve- but as their doom, that they are strangers lation. The former may lavish all the to the doctrine of peace and of righteouspowers of science, and subtlety, and specu-ness; and often regard it to be as effectual lation upon the terms-and yet be as un- a plea for justifying their ignorance of ouched in his personal habits by all the in- what is sacred, as of what is profane and formation which it lays before him, as if secular, that they are not learned. the message were untrue. It is not learning that has made the difference; for the veil may be upon the eyes of him who is rich in this acquirement, while it is taken away from him who, in respect of scholarship, is poor, and blind, and destitute. There is not a single weapon in the whole armoury of human learning, by which the proudest of its votaries can force his entrance into a region of spiritual manifestation. The wise and prudent cannot, on the strength of any of their own peculiar resources, they cannot, with all their putting forth of desire and energy, attain unto those things which are revealed unto babes. There is a barrier here against which all the machinery of the schools may be made to play without effect. And it would look as if argument might as soon remove the film from the eye of him who labours under a natural blindness, as dissipate that thick and impalpable obscurity which lies in the way of all spiritual discernment.
Now we refuse this apology altogether; and we should like to warn you in time, that it will stand you in no stead, nor be of any avail to you in the day of reckoning. The word of the Lord is in your hands, and you can at least read it. The candle of the Lord may be lighted in your hearts, and you can at least pray for it. The Gospel is preached unto you as well as unto others; and you can at least attend to it. There will no incurable darkness settle upon your minds, unless you love the darkness. There will no fixed and obstinate unbelief adhere to your understandings, unless your deeds are evil. This will be your condemnation, if you are found to be without knowledge and without faith. But be assured, that all the aids and promises of Christianity are unto you as well as unto others; and if you grieve not the spirit by your wilful resistance--if you put not at a distance from you that Holy Ghost which is given to those who obey him, by your disobedience-if you despise not the grace of God by your daily and habitual neglect of those mercies-in the use of which alone, God undertakes to meet you with its influences
There are two immediate uses to which all this may be rendered subservient. The first, to rebuke the poor for an apology which they are sometimes heard to make, when convicted of blindness and ignorance then be assured, that all the comforts of in regard to the essential truths of Chris- the Gospel, and all its high and heavenly tianity. The second, while we do not sus-anticipations, will descend more richly tain the apology, to encourage them with upon you, than upon the noble and wealthy the assurance, that it is just as competent of our land; and let your work through the for them to be wise unto salvation, as for week be what it may, there is not an hour those in the higher and more cultivated of it which may not be sweetened by a walks of human society. blessing from above, which may not be regaled and heightened into rapture by the smile of a present Deity.
It is not merely to blame you, that we thus speak. It is further to encourage you, my friends, and that, by an assurance which we cast abroad among you, and that, too, with all the confidence of one who has the warrant of inspiration. The knowledge which is life everlasting, is just as accessible to the poor, as it is to the rich, who have time to prosecute, and money to purchase education. Whatever the barrier may be, which rises as a wall of separation between Nature and the Gospel, it is just as impenetrable to the learned as it is to the unlearned
In pressing home the truths and overtures of Christianity on the poor, we often meet with the very answer of the text, "I am not learned." This answer is not copied by them from the text. But the text, true as the Bible strikingly and universally is, in all its descriptions of Nature, copied it from them. It is in truth a very frequent conception among them, that had they the advantages of a higher scholarship than what they actually possess, they would be nearer the wisdom which is unto salvation. This ministers a kind of false security to their hearts, under the consciousness of a lack of knowledge, and that too of vital necessity to their immortal well-being. They-and however the opening through that think that there is an ignorance which ne- barrier is made, it is made as often and cessity attaches to their condition; and that oftener, for the purpose of sending a beam this should alleviate the burden of their of spiritual light into the heart of the latter, condemnation, in that they know not God. than into the heart of the former. The GosThey spend the day in drudgery, and think, pel may as effectually be preached unto the
poor as unto the wealthy. Simply grant to | fancy, with its ever-floating and aerial picthe one the capacity of reading, and the op- tures, may have the effect of more strongly portunity of hearing, and he is, at the very detaining the mind from the call which I least, in as fair circumstances for becoming vainly lift, for the purpose of arousing them. one of the children of light as the other. In And as the visionary scenes, whether of respect to human science, there is a distinc-bliss, or of anxiety, or of sadness, or of eager tion between them. In respect of the gos- pursuit, or of bright or of fearful anticipation, pel, that distinction is utterly levelled and pass successively before them, the reality done away. Whatever the incapacity of of my waking address may fall unheeded Nature be for the lessons and the light of upon each; and though the one be learned, revelation, it is not learning, commonly so and the other be unlearned, it, in respect of called, which resolves the incapacity; and their listening to me, and their understanduntil that peculiar instrument be actually ing of me, totally annuls this difference beput forth which can alone resolve it, the tween them, that their eyes are firmly book of revelation may pass and repass closed, and a deep sleep is poured upon among them; the one complaining that he them both. cannot read it, because he is not learned; the other equally complaining that he cannot read it, because it is sealed.
Such, it is possible to conceive, may be the profoundness of this lethargy, as to be unmoved by the most loud and terrifying II. Let us now proceed, in the second intimations. I may lift this note of alarm, place, to explain a circumstance which that a fire has broken out in the premises, stands associated in our text, with the in- and is on the eve of bursting into their capacity both of learned and unlearned, to apartment-and yet such may be the deathdiscover the meaning of God's communica-like sleep of both, that both may lie motiontions; and that is the spirit of a deep sleep less and unconscious on the very confines which had closed the eyes of the people, of their approaching dissolution. Or, what and buried in darkness and insensibility the would be more affecting still, both, in the prophets, and the rulers, and the seers, as airy chase of their own imagination, may well as the humblest and most ignorant of be fully engrossed among the pictures and the land. the agitations of a dream, and be inwardly laughing, or crying, or striving, or pursuing, or rejoicing; and that, while the flame is at their door, which in a few minutes is to seize upon and to destroy them.
The connexion between the one circumstance and the other is quite palpable. If a peasant and a philosopher, for example, were both literally asleep before me, and that so profoundly, as that no voice of mine When a man is asleep and dreaming, he could awaken them; then they are just in is alive only to his own fancies, and dead to the same circumstances, with regard to any all the realities of the visible world around demonstration which I address to their un- him. Awaken him, and he becomes intelderstandings. The powers and acquire-ligent and alive to these realities, but there ments of the latter would be of no avail to may still be other realities to which he is him in such a case. They are in a state of not yet awakened. There may remain a dormancy, and that is just as firm an ob- torpor upon his faculties, in virtue of which, stacle in the way of my reasoning, or of he may have as little sense and as little my information, as if they were in a state feeling of certain near and impending realiof non-existence. Neither would it at all ties, as the man who is wrapt in the insensi help the conveyance of my meaning to bility of his midnight repose has of earth their mind, that while dead to all percep- and of all its concerns. The report of an tion of the argument which issued from my angry God, and a coming eternity, may as lips, or even of the sound which is its vehi- little disturb him as the report of a conflacle, the minds of both of them were most gration in the premises, disturbs the sleepbusily alive and active amongst the ima- ing inmate before he is awakened. It is not gery of a dream; the one dreaming too, learned argument which works out, in the perhaps, in the style of some high intellec- one case, the escape of him who is in dantual pursuit; and the other dreaming in the ger. Could we only awaken him, we would style of some common and illiterate occu- need no argument. Neither is it learned pation. Such, indeed, may be the intoxica- argument which works out, in the other tion of their fancy, that in respect of mental case, the escape of him who is in danger. It delirium, they may be said to be drunken, is the cry of, “Awake, O sinner," lifted with but not with wine, and to stagger, but not power enough to arouse him out of his spiwith strong drink. Still, though in the lan- ritual lethargies. It is the shaking of the guage of the text, I should cry out, and cry, soul out of those heavy slumbers, under it may be just as difficult to awaken them which it is weighed down to deep and strong to a sense of what I am saying, out of a insensibility, about the awful urgencies of reverie of imagination, as it is to awaken guilt, and danger, and death, by which it them out of a simple and unconscious slum- is encompassed. When the house which ber. Nay, the very engagement of their covers a sleeping peasant and a sleeping