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our apostacy from God we sunk into a pit, where indeed “ there is no water:” — There we sit“ in darkness, and in the shadow of death,” destitute of every thing that can afford real peace and joy to the soul. But though this pit doth not yield any water, yet water may be brought into it. The dew of divine grace may descend upon the prisoners, and “the day-spring from on high” may visit their dark abode, and guide them out of it into the peace and safety. Hence unconverted sinners, though prisoners, may properly be called prisoners of hope, so long as their life is continued upon earth. It is true, that if death surprise them in that state, they shall then sink lower into another pit; of which it may be said, with an awful emphasis, that there there is no water;"—it yields none;-it admits of none;--not one drop can be brought into it to cool the tongue. But so long as they live, their case, though bad, is by no means hopeless; there is virtue enough in the blood of the covenant" to save them; and though they are advanced to the last stage of impiety, yet even there Almighty grace can reach them, and snatch them like brands out of the burning. So that under this general denomination of prisoners of hope, every man or woman living upon earth is spoken to in my text. And indeed the gospelcall is addressed to sinners indefinitely: “Unto O men, I call,” says the Saviour, “and my voice is to the sons of men." -“ Look unto me, and be saved, all ye ends of the earth.” None are excluded from the offers of mercy; he invites all to come unto him; and him who cometh he will in nowise cast out."
But, more particularly, the description seems to point at those who feel their misery, and earnestly look and long for deliverance. Many, alas! are lying in the pit of an unconverted state, without any sense or feeling of
their wo; the darkness is so thick around them, that they see not the fetters by which they are bound.
Now, such must necessarily put away from them. selves every offer of liberty, saying, in the scornful language of the Pharisees, “ We be Abrabam's seed, and were never in bondage to any man; how sayest thou then, Ye shall be made free?" I therefore reckon, that sensible sinners, humble, convinced souls, are spoken to for their encouragement under this designation of prisoners of hope, not only to distinguish them from those who are gone to the pit where there is no hope, but even from others, who, though they still dwell in the land of hope, yet, in some respects, may be reputed in a hopeless condition; because their pride and insensibility put them out of the way of help and deliverance. Whereas they who have got an affecting view of their guilt and misery, lie, as it were, in the very road of mercy; nay, the more painful their feelings are, the greater likeli. hood there is of a gracious and speedy relief: He whose office it is to bind up the broken-hearted, and to pro
66 claim liberty to the captives,” will neither deny them his aid, nor defer their relief one moment beyond the time he knows to be best for them. And therefore sinners of this sort may, with peculiar propriety, be called prisoners of hope ; because, whatever their own appre. hensions are, Christ certainly looks upon them as his proper charge, and invites them to cast all their burdens upon himself, in these sweet, condescending words, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
By prisoners of hope, then, we may understand, more generally, all sinners, without exception, who are within the reach of divine mercy; and more especially those who are suing for mercy, under the felt burden of sin and misery.
But I add further, that even they who have obtained mercy, seem likewise to be included in the description of my text. The connexion of this with the preceding verse leads me to this remark, and, I apprehend, lays a solid foundation for it; for the persons who are spoken to in this verse, are evidently the same who are spoken of in the preceding one; and yet here they are denominated prisoners of hope, though just before it was said of them, “ that by the blood of the covenant they were sent forth out of the pit wherein is no water;" that is, cleansed from their guilt, and delivered from the darkness and misery of an unconverted state.
I need not observe to you, that the present condition of believers upon earth, is neither a state of perfect li. berty, nor of uninterrupted peace. These are the blessed ingredients which constitute the happiness of the Zi. on above; but whilst they sojourn in this strange land, they are liable to various and painful distresses. Even after they have received “the Spirit of adoption,” they may feel such returns of “the Spirit of bondage,” as shall oblige them to cry out with David, “My spirit is overwhelmed within me;-Attend unto my cry, O God, for I am brought very low :--Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name.”
The remembrance of past guilt, the present feeling of indwelling corruption, the bidings of God's face, and the assaults and buffetings of their spiritual enemies, are all so many different prisons, in which the dearest of God's children may be shut up for a season. And we
a find some of them recorded in holy writ, who, during the time of this spiritual confinement, have felt such exquisite agony, that with difficulty they have been kept from razing the foundation, and quitting all hope. Such was the case of Asaph when he thus expressed himself in the 77th Psalm, “I remembered God, and was troubled—I am so troubled that I cannot speak.- Will the Lord cast off for ever? will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious ? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?” And how distressing must we suppose the case of Heman to have been, when it drew from him such mournful complaints as these : “ My soul is full of trouble, and my life draweth nigh unto the grave: Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps: Lord, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me? I am afflicted, and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors, I am distracted; thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.”
These strong examples are sufficient to prove, that there are other prisons besides the pit of an unconverted state: Prisons where those who are near and dear to God, may, for wise and holy reasons, suffer a temporary confinement; on account of which they may be justly denominated prisoners of hope.
And if so, then my text speaks directly to every soul in this assembly; and the advice it gives to each of you is this:
Turn ye to the strong hold ye prisoners of hope. And this is the
Second branch of the subject, which I am now to consider.
By the strong hold to which we are exhorted to turn, is undoubtedly meant “ the blood of the covenant,” spoken of in the preceding verse; or rather the new covenant itself, ratified and sealed by the blood of Christ.
This indeed is a strong hold, an impregnable defence to all who flee to it for refuge: It is “an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.” Here an ef
" fectual supply is to be found for all the singer's wants and necessities; an infinite sacrifice to expiate his guilt; all.conquering grace to subdue his corruptions; unerring wisdom to guide him; irresistible power to protect him; unbounded goodness to relieve his present needs, and to crown hin with glory and happiness hereafter. In short, “ the whole fulness of the Godhead" is treasured up in the Mediator of this covenant; and “he is made of God," unto all who believe on him, 6 wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.”
But instead of enlarging upon the description of this strong hold, 1 reckon it of greater importance to explain the advice here given to the prisoners of hope, which is the proper work and duty of the day: Turn ye to the strong hold. But how are we to do this?
1st. We must turn our back upon every thing else, and abandon all other means of deliverance as refuges of lies, which will miserably disappoint those who expect relief from them. Particularly we must renounce our own righteousness, and plead guilty in the presence of a holy God, acknowledging, that we must stand justly condemned by the tenor of the first covenant, and are neither able of ourselves to give any satisfaction for past offences, nor to yield an acceptable obedience for the future. “ They that be whole,” said our blessed Saviour,“ need no physician, but they that are sick.” The natural pride of our hearts opposeth our seeking aid from any thing withont ourselves; nay, such is our disaffection to the great God, that even when aid appears pecessary, we would rather be indebted for it to any other than to him. I believe I may venture to affirm, that