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THE INVITATION OF CHRIST.
REV. M. O'SULLIVAN, A.M.
ST. MARK'S CHURCH, PENTONVILLE, FEBRUARY 14, 1836.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
MATTHEW, xi. 28.
Our blessed Saviour, in these words, addresses an invitation as comprehensive as is the extent of mankind : and yet, in every congregation where men assemble together, there shall be found some who do not believe as if the invitation were addressed to them. There are some before whom the paths of pleasure are yet green: expectation within their heart has not yet learned to doubt, or affection to distrust: and as they look forward from a circle of kind friends to a world with whose good things Providence has blessed them, the hopes and feelings of youth fling a light upon it, which relieves the gloom of all its darker rays, and sheds over its more engaging features a halo of magic attraction.
Were we to follow the wisdom of experience-were we to draw from the words of unquestionable authority, and tell them that man is made to mourn ; that, however high their hopes may be, disappointment will overtake them; we should appear to such hearers as uttering the dictates of a distempered imagination, and giving vent to the gloomy suggestions of a splenetic mind. And yet it is too true, that even they, however high their expectation may be, shall soon become acquainted with the great truth, that they are not exempt from the ordinary lot of mortality ; that they, whatever their hopes may be, whatever their condition may be, must expect that sorrow shall visit them. We know that the time shall come, and comes to all, when all are made sensible of this condition; when darkness has fallen upon the vision of youth, when its hopes have fled, and its kindliest feelings are extinguished. To such a state all must come; and for such a state, the gradual abatement of youthful ardour seems to be preparing all. But many a time calamity anticipates the office of age; and even while youth remains with all this keen intensity of feeling, the day of suffering has commenced, and the young heart has been compelled to mourn over the friends, over the hopes, over the enjoyments, that constituted the rich charm of existence. And many a time, too, while much remains to be enjoyed in life, some one sorrow has taken up its residence within the heart; and although the world may look fair around, it cannot soothe that heart which knoweth its own bitterness; it pines like a cankered rose whose freshness withers, and whose beauty dies, even while it is yet bathed in heaven's dews, and blessed with heaven's sunshine.
But you may say to me, that it is quite unnecessary to give proofs that man is made to mourn. You may tell me, this is all idle declamation, that you cannot reflect upon the years of your past life that you cannot run over in memory the lives, and fortunes, and disappointments of your friends ; that you cannot go forth into any crowded way of public resort, and read the countenance of those who pass you by without bringing home to your hearts and to your reflections the conviction, that man is made to mourn.
You cannot think upon the conditions of life-upon the young, conflicting with passions, and temptations, and difficulties—upon the aged, bowed down under an accumulated load of sorrow, which nature puts upon them, or which memory has hoarded-upon the wealthy, mourning over the ruin of ambitious expectations—upon the poor, pining amid the sorrows of indigence-without feeling within your
heart the echo of the wise man's declaration, that man is born to affliction as the sparks fly upward.
And why is this? How comes it, that in a world created and sustained and governed by an almighty Ruler, there shall be many whose days are numbered out in affliction, and none whose lives are not chequered by sorrow? Where shall we seek the cause of evil so extensive? Is it that the great Being who made us is indifferent to our afflictions, or derives a gratification from our sorrows? Or shall we not rather look into our own hearts, and discover there tastes so depraved, inclinations so evil, as instruct us that they do naturally call down chastisement from Him who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to die for it? Yes, it is in our hearts we discover the explanation of our sorrows; and instead of mourning and repining that affliction has been visited upon us, we should rather mourn over that sad perversion of our nature which has rendered affliction necessary. If you saw a parent, whose benevolence had been unquestioned, inflicting heavy chastisement upon a favoured child, would your first emotion be to censure the parent's severity? or would you not rather grieve that the child's perverseness had forced him to do violence to the tenderness of his parental emotion? That great Being who made us has been graciously pleased to declare himself our Father : and where is earthly parent whose benevolence and long-suffering can ever teach us faintly to understand the mercy of our Father who is in heaven? What then are we to think of the condition of our nature and estate when they call down chastisement from this merciful and long-suffering Father? Yes, brethren; sorrow itself teaches us that we have gone out of the right way, and that although man had wandered from the path, and had fallen away from the estate in which he was originally made—even in his very wanderings he was not forsaken by the great Creator. Many were the warnings, many the invitations, sent to him. Prophets were raised up; miracles were wrought; and at the last, when the fulness of time was come, our blessed Lord himself came into the world, became of no reputation, took our form (the form of a servant) upon him, and came to preach to all that were afflicted in Zion, “to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified."
And in what form did he come, and in what condition did he come? He might, if it had so pleased him, have wrought the redemption of mankind, and never endured a pang save that which he suffered upon Calvary. He might, if it had so pleased him, have passed along gorgeously and gloriously upon the earth, from
the cradle to the cross; and have terminated a bright and glorious career in that death upon Calvary; and have put from him in the mean time all the suffering that flesh is heir to. But he has taught us that he is “a faithful high-priest :” he has taught us that there is not an affliction, sin only excepted, which man is heir to, wh the Lord Jesus did not endure. He did not come as a conqueror or as a king: no desolating fury marked the method of his arrangements; no prosperous land acknowledged the blessings of his sway. He did not go forth with kings and the great ones of this earth crowding at his chariot wheels: he did not sit on his throne, and give directions to monarchs, who bent submissively before him: and why? Because he would have his life speak to the sorrowful and the contrite heart: because while he was on earth it was to the humble, to the poor, to the afflicted, that his words went forth with most power, and that his invitations were most mightily addressed. Had he taken a station high in the world's dignities, who would have been around him? The ambitious, the worldly, the time-serving; those who desire to follow his steps, and to seek the heavenly promises in the next world, if the way to it led along the dignities of this world : and they would have kept aloof the humble, the broken-hearted: those whom the Lord wished especially to call to him would have been put aside. Therefore he came as a man of sorrows; therefore he came enduring every affliction : and while he stayed in the world, the meanest of the world's inhabitants was not spurned from him. Then he called around him the poor, and they came. There was no suffering which we can experience, sin only excepted, that he did not endure. A bosom friend was his betrayer : those whom he came to save rejected him; and Barabbas, a robber, was preferred to the Lord Jesus: and when the robber was loosed from his prison, the Lord was nailed on his cross to die. And yet for all this his thoughts were for men, and his prayer for men; and his expiring breath was the prayer, “Father, forgive them.” And He who, when upon the earth, in the midst of all these sorrows, teaching us thus that he knew what sorrow is, teaching us that he by actual perception of it understood what sorrow is; He who when on earth gave the counsel, the precept, and the invitation to man to come unto him in his sorrows he gives it still from heaven : he has written it down in that blessed book which he caused to be written for our learning : and now, as then, he invites all that labour and are heavy laden to come to him for their rest.
Brethren, is it not mournfully instructive, when we consider who it is that gives this invitation-what it is that it promises—and the multitudes, extensive as is the extent of mankind, to whom it is addressed-is it not mournfully instructive that this should be the invitation which is least of all regarded? I am quite confident if there could be spoken from heaven now, a voice which said that any earthly dignity, or any relief from earthly suffering, could be bestowed upon men, that all the ambitious of the earth, and all the afflicted of the earth would crowd, eagerly crowd, to obtain that advancement or that deliverance. We know that while our blessed Lord was here on earth, his words and his works were not without their effect: “His fame went throughout all Syria : and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them." And we know too, we know perfectly well, that if mortal infirmities were now to
be considered, and that ease were to be sought for, we would hear the invitation with equal eagerness, we would watch for the manifestation of power with equal anxiety, and we would not be among the last to come with our own sorrows, and to bring our friends with us, and to untile the house if we could not get at him for the press. And shall men be less regardful of their spiritual afflictions ? Shall we not go out to him, with our sense of spiritual wretchedness and want, and supplicate for relief? Will any man say that the eye
which does not look upon the works of this inferior creation is in a more afflicted state of blindness than the heart which is unvisited by “the day-spring from on high ?" Will any man say that it is a more painful thing to be precluded by the want of power to hear, from enjoying the communications which men may make, than to have a heart which is dead to the whispers of divine love? Is it more distressing to have no voice which can share in the communications of men, than to have a heart which will send forth no petition to the Saviour ? Is it more afflicting to be motionless among those who have the palsy, than it is to have every good resolution palsied by the influence of sin? Is demoniacal possession more fatal in its consequences, more afflicting in its nature, than the melancholy despotism of one bad passion ? And yet we know that while multitudes crowded around our blessed Saviour's steps wherever he went, while their mortal infirmities needed to be healed; thousands, day after day, read his gracious invitations, and feel no fluttering of the heart, no earnest desire of the mind, no yearning of the understanding, to pursue that gracious invitation, or the thoughts which it suggests, and pray that God may make them profitable.
You cannot say that man is altered since the Gospel was first promulgatedso altered as that he would now attend to what he then disregarded-or that he would now neglect what he was then eager to solicit. You know perfectly well, that now, as in the old time, men would be earnest to seek every aid by which their bodily affliction could be relieved. You know perfectly well what men will endure, what they will hazard, what they will renounce, in order to obtain the hope of being released from any bodily infirmity. Am I not right when I say that you have every day proofs before your eyes that men will renounce their country, friends, home-all those appliances that render life easy or desirable ; that they will go into far foreign lands, that they will go where they can have none of the soothing intercourse in which they had rejoiced ; that they will renounce whatever made life dear to them; that they will submit to observances which render it painful ; and that they will do this
-for what? Is it in an assured hope that they may again become young and lusty, as the eagle, that their strength, their hopes, their enjoyments, may all be renewed again? No; they will do all this with no higher expectation than that they shall thus be enabled to preserve from crumbling to decay a few years longer the ruins of a cheerless existence. And yet the men, who, to make a miserable life linger heavily for these few years, will thus exert themselves, will not address themselves with the earnestness with which they are called to exert themselves to ask the pardon which the Lord offers, to embrace the invitation which he addresses to all. We know that the body which is in a few years to be laid in the grave, in the midst of death, which in a few years must be the prey of the worm, is the object of their anxiety; and they are comparatively thoughtless of that immortal part which knows no death, upon which time has no power, which must endure for ever, and for ever retain its keen sensibility to the delight of living in God's presence, or the misery of being excluded from it.
What is it makes men regardless of this invitation? Will you ask yourselves what it is? Ire you too happy to give your minds to the invitation which Christ has spoken? Will you say that your days pass along in so unclouded a delight, and that pleasures ever new so constantly solicit you, that your thoughts are distracted, and your attention turned from what belongs to the other world? This would, indeed, be a mournful reason: it would be to say God has been so bountiful to you that you cannot spare time to thank him ; that he has given you friends, fortune, favour in the sight of men, strength, and all prosperity, and that these good gifts are bringing a curse upon you; that these good gifts interpose to turn your thoughts from God, and eclipse the light of that hope which Christ has lighted up for you, and that they chain down the soul here amid the temporary pleasures of time; that God gave you his gifts which you should employ in his service—that if you have wisdom, if you have strength, if you have wealth, if you have favour in the sight of men, you might use all those gifts to his glory in the salvation of human souls; and that you have used them to make you forgetful of him, and convert them into snares by which your soul is entangled hopelessly amidst the evils of this world.
But it is not so: no man who reflects for a moment will ever pronounce to his own heart, without receiving from his own heart a stern rebuke, that he cannot think of God, or thank God, because God has been bountiful to him. That the gifts which God has given have had the effect of extinguishing the flame of thankfulness in his heart towards the Great Giver—no man can utter this to his heart without being rebuked and confounded. But it is a truth, which it is humiliating to man to speak to man, and yet that man has perpetually occasion to be reminded of—it is a truth, that there are multitudes who feel themselves separated from God even by the very sorrows which ought to have separated them from this world's captivations. It is certainly a strange thing, a very strange thing, and we cannot but wonder at the strangeness of it, that the enemy of souls shall frequently succeed in securing his victims for the next world, by rendering them in this world miserable ; that by throwing darkness and clouds and sorrow around them here by frowning a darker horror upon the gloom of the dungeon in which the soul is imprisoned, he shall render that soul regardless of the light which shines and would draw it from the earth, and shall fix that soul as his victim for the blackness of darkness for ever. And yet there is no man who has known sorrow who has not also known that one aspect, and the dreariest aspect of sorrow, is that in which it forbids man to come to God. It is a fearful thing, that frequently man will say, “ My afflictions are so heavy that I cannot lift up my soul to God." It is a fearful thing to hear man say, “ I have suffered so, I am so encumbered, I am so distressed, that I cannot give my mind to God; and I cannot even enter into the house of prayer to tell out my sins and my sorrows before him.” And yet, however mournful and mortifying this is, we know, and all who are acquainted with man's nature know, that it is a mournful truth; and that in sorrow there is nothing so grievous as the temptation which accompanies it, and by which men are allured to seek some forgetfulness of their grief in things that render