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part so much against my fellow creatures, I could never expect a favorable admission into their presence; yet I dare ask so great a favor of thee, for thou art God, and not man: thy power and thy grace are all divine, such as become a God. I therefore dare to hope for that from thy hands, which I might despair of from all the universe of beings besides."
Or finally, the passage may be looked upon as a plea drawn from the sinner's external relation to God, as a member of his visible church, and as dedicated to him. “ Turn me, and I will turn to thee, whose name I bear, and to whom I have been early devoted. I would now of my own choice acknowledge the God of my fathers, and return to the guide of my youth. And, since thou hast honored me with a place in thy visible church, I humbly hope thou wilt not reject me now, when I would sincerely consecrate myself to thee, and become thy servant in reality, as well as in appearance.” In this sense the plea might be used with peculiar propriety by the Jews, who had been nationally adopted as the peculiar people of God.
In whatever sense we understand the words, they convey to us this important truth, that the awakened sinner is obliged to take all his encouragement from God, and not from himself. All his trust is in the divine mercy, and he is brought to a happy self-despair.
Having viewed Ephraim under the preparatory work of legal conviction, and the dawn of evangelical repentance, let us view him,
II. As reflecting upon the surprising efficacy of grace he had sought, and which was bestowed upon him in answer to his
prayer. We left him just now crying, Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; here we find him actually turned. Surely after that I was turned, I repented. When the Lord exerts his power to subdue the stubbornness of the sinner, and sweetly to allure him to himself, then the sinner repents; then his heart dissolves in ingenuous disinterested re lentings. His sorrow and concern before conversion are forced and mercenary; they are occasioned only by a selfish fear of punishment, and he would willingly get rid of them, but now his grief is free and spontaneous; it flows from his heart as freely as streams from a foun
tain ; and he takes pleasure in tender relentings before the Lord for his sin; he delights to be humble, and to feel his heart dissolve within him. A heart of flesh, soft and susceptive of impression, is his choice, and a stony insensible heart a great burden ; the more penitent the more happy, and the more senseless, the more miserable he finds himself. Now also his heart is actuated with generous concern for the glory of God; and he sees the horrid evil of sin as contrary to the holiness of God, and an ungrateful requital of his uninterrupted beneficence.
We learn from this passage, that the true penitent is sensible of a mighty turn in his temper and inclinations. Surely after that I was turned, I repented. His whole soul is turned from what he formerly delighted in, and turned to what he had no relish for before. Particularly his thoughts, his will, and affections are turned to God; there is a heavenly bias communicated to them which draws them to holiness, like the law of gravitation in the material world. There is indeed a new turn given to his outward practice; the world may in some measure see that he is a new man; but this is not all; the first spring that turns all the wheels of the soul and actions of life is the heart, and this is first set right. The change within is as evident as that without, could our eyes penetrate the heart. In short, If any man be in Christ, he is throughout a new creature ; old things are passed away. and behold, all things are become new.
Apply this touchstone to your hearts, my brethren, and see if they will stand the test.
The penitent proceeds, After that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh. The same grace that turns him does also instruct him ; nay, it is by discovering to him the beauty of holiness, and the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, that it draws him. He is brought out of darkness into marvellous and astonishing light, that surprises him with new discoveries of things : he is instructed particularly, as to the necessity of turning to God, as to the horrid ingratitude, vileness, and deformity of sin, and as to his folly and wickedness in continuing so long alienated from God. By the way, have you ever been let into these secrets, my
hearers ? And when instructed in these,
“He smites upon his thigh." This gesture denotes
consternation and amazement; and nature directs us thus to express these passions. Ezekiel is enjoined to use this gesture as a prophetic action, signifying the horror and astonishment of his mind. Ezekiel xxi. 12. This action, therefore, of the penitent, intimates what consternation and amazement he is cast into, when these new discoveries flash upon his soul. He stands amazed at himself. He is struck with horror to think what an ungrateful, ignorant, stupid wretch he has been all his Jife till this happy moment.
Alas! what have I been doing? abusing all my days in ruining my own soul, and dishonoring the God of all my mercies! contentedly estranged from him, and not seeking to return! Where were iny eyes, that I never before saw the horrid evil of my conduct and the shocking deformity of sin, which now opens to me in all its hideous colors ! Amazing ! that divine vengeance has not broken out upon me before now? Can it be that I am yet alive! in the land of hope too! yea, alive, an humble pardoned penitent! Let heaven and earth wonder at this, for surely the sun never shone upon a wretch so undeserving! so great a monument of mercy!"
The pardoned penitent proceeds- I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. We are ashamed when we are caught in a mean, base and scandalous action; we blush, and are confounded, and know not where to look, or what to say. Thus the penitent is heartily ashamed of himself, when he reflects upon the sordid dispositions he has indulged, and the base and scandalous actions he has committed. He blushes at his own inspection ; he is confounded at his own tribunal. He appears to himself, a mean, base, contemptible wretch ; and, though the world may honor him, he loaths himself, as viler than the earth he treads on; and is secretly ashamed to see the face of man. And how then shall he appear before God ? how shall he hold
his face in the presence of his injured Father ? He comes to him ashamed, and covering his head. He knows not what to say to him ; he knows not how to look him in the face, but he falls down abashed and confounded at his feet. Thus was penitent Ezra ashamed before God. He sell upon his knees, and lifted up his hands (his eyes, like the publican, he durst not lift up)
unto the heavens, and he says, O my God, I am ashamed,
o and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God! for our iniquities are increased over our heads, and our trespasses are grown up unto the heavens.—And now, 0 our God, what shall we say after this? for we have broken thy commandments. Ezra ix. 5-10. Thus it was foretold concerning the repenting Jews. Then thou shalt remember thy evil ways and be ashamed.
Thou shalt be confounded and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame. Ezek. xvi. 61-63. There is good reason for this conscious shame, and therefore it is enjoined as a duty: Not for your sakes do I this unto you, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you : be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, 0 house of Israel. Ezek. xxxvi. 32.
And what is the cause of this shame in the mourning penitent? O, says he, it is because I bear the reproach of my youth. “I carry upon me (as the original word sig. nifies) the brand of infamy. My youth, alas ! was spent in a thoughtless neglect of God and the duties I owed him; my vigorous days were wasted in sensual extravagances, and gratifying my criminal inclinations. My prime of life, which should have been sacred to the author of my existence, was spent in rebellion against him. Alas! my first thoughts, my virgin love, did not aspire to him ; nor did my young desires, as soon as fledged, wing their flight to heaven. In short, the temper of my heart, and my course of my life, from the first exercises of reason to this happy hour of my conversion, were a disgrace to my rational nature; I have degraded myself beneath the beasts that perish.” Behold, I am vile; I loath and abhor myself for all my filthiness and abominations. Ezek. xxxvi. 31. “ And how amazing the grace of God to honor so base a wretch with a place among the children of his love !"
Thus I have delineated the heart of penitent Ephraim; and let me ask you, my brethren, is this your picture? Have you ever felt such ingenuous relentings, such just consternation, such holy shame and confusion ? There can be no transition from nature to grace, without previous concern, &c. You all bear the reproach of that youth, you have all spent some unhappy days in the scandalous ways of sin, and your consciences still bear the brand of infamy. And have you ever been made deeply sensible of it? Has God ever heard you bemoaning vourselves thus in some mournful solitude, “Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.” Is there any such mourner here this day ? then listen to the gracious voice of your heavenly Father, while,
III. I am illustrating the last, the sweetest part of the text, which expresses the tender compassion of God towards mourning penitents.
While they are bemoaning their case, and conscious that they do not deserve one look of love from God, he is represented as attentively listening to catch the first penitential groan that breaks from their hearts. Ephraim, in the depth of his despondency, probably did hardly hope that God took any notice of his secret sorrows, which he suppressed as much as possible from the public view: but God heard him, God was watching to hear the first mournful cry; and he repeats all his complaints, to let him know (after the manner of men) what particular notice he had taken of them. I have surely heard, or hearing I have heard :" that is, “I have attentively heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus."
What strong consolation may this give to desponding mourners, who think themselves neglected by that God to whom they are pouring out their weeping supplications! He hears your secret groans, he courts your sighs, and puts your tears into his bottle. His eyes penetrate all the secrets of your heart, and he observes all their feeble struggles to turn to himself; and he beholds you not as an unconcerned spectator, but with all the tender emotions of fatherly compassion: for,
While he is listening to Ephraim's mournful complaints, he abruptly breaks in upon him, and sweetly surprises him with the warmest declarations of pity and grace. “ Is this Ephraim, my dear son, whose mourning voice I hear; Is this my pleasant child, or (as it might be rendered) the child of my delights, who thus wounds my ear with his heart-rending groans ?” What strange language this to an ungrateful, unyielding rebel, that continued obstinate till he was wearied out; that would not turn till dawn ; that deserved to fall a victim to justice! This is the language of compassion all divine, of Grace that becomes a God.