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This is that best robe, which the father of mercy commanded his servants to bring forth, and put upon his returning prodigal. It is given to us in our baptism; it is preserved to us by a faithful participation of the Lord's supper; and it must be our care to keep it without spot.
When Peter had complied with the instructions of the Angel, he was bid to follow him; and when we are thus far prepared, it remains that we follow our deliverer, who is also our guide, in life and in death, and will conduct us from this place of our confinement to the city of the heavenly Jerusalem. In all our steps, we are to look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who though he is gone before us, is still with us, to keep us in the way, and defend us from all the dangers of it.
Such is the deliverance, and so great is the mercy of God to every truly awakened sinner. He is brought from prison and from judgment; and who is able to declare the wonders of this his regeneration? The shadow and image of this great deliverance (for that of St. Peter was no more) confounded and dazzled the mind of the Apostle, so that he was insensible of the reality of that which had happened to himHe went out and followed him, and wist not that it was true which was done by the Angel,
but thought he saw a vision. And if we look upon the wonders of our redemption, and upon the character of our redeemer who is the glorious instrument of it, it seems incredible; the sense of mortal man is overpowered with the thought. When the Lord thus turneth again the captivity of Sion, then are we like unto them that dream. Some think the matter too wonderful to be true, and never recover of their doubts all the days of their life; but the believer, however transported for a time, will be assured of the reality of his deliverance, when other circumstances fall in to confirm it and shew him the truth of it. It is not probable, that the same transport of mind which befell St. Peter, shall for a while oppress our senses, when the light of the last day shall shine upon us, and the Angel of the Lord shall take us by the hand to lead us forth from the confinement of the grave, to join the congregation of the faithful?
We come now to the concluding circumstances of this instructive miracle. "When they "were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth "unto the city, which opened to them of its "own accord; and they went out and passed "on through one street, and forthwith the Angel departed from him." This part of the
example is also to be fulfilled in us; the converted sinner must pass by the keepers of the prison. There is a first and a second ward, the world and the flesh, each of whom will think it their interest to interrupt him in his progress; but if he keeps close to his guide, who has overcome the world, and suffered in the flesh, he will be able to perfect his escape, till he comes at last to the iron gate of death and the grave, that leadeth to the city of the new Jerusalem, which is the mother of us all, and passes through it to a joyful resurrection. When our heavenly guide presents himself, it opens of its own accord, and leaves the way clear for him to bring out his prisoners of hope. When he had overcome the sharpness of death, he opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers; and the gates of hell have no longer any power to confine them Here then is the consolation we are to draw from this scripture; that a sure and certain hope is given to us, that though we are to walk through the valley and the shadow of death, we need fear no evil: the Angel of the Lord is with us as a guide, and his power is present to perfect the deliverance he hath now began in us. The whole work of the Gospel is here represented to us under a figure, as an opening
opening of the prison to them that are bound; and our commission, like that of our Lord himself, is to preach liberty to the captives, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord; that æra of grace, pardon, and deliverance, which began with the nativity of Christ, and will last till the consummation.
My brethren, it is of God's infinite mercy, that when I stand here, I have such glad tidings to deliver to you. What will be said for you, if you do not hear them, and make your advantage of them? If the light should shine upon you, and your darkness should not comprehend it? If you should wear your chains, and be contented with them, when you may enjoy the glorious liberty of the sons of God? If the iron gate should be shut upon you, and barred for ever against you, when the Angel of the Lord has offered to let you out, that you may escape, and flee from the wrath to come? As it would have gratified the malice of the Jews, to have seen the blessed Apostle dragging his chains, and led out to execution; so will the evil spirits rejoice against you, when you are carried forth to punishment in the day of vengeance: they will mock at that indolence, that fatal drowsiness and stupidity, which lost for ever the opportunity of salvation.
The practical duty which we are to infer from all that has been said, is that kind of charity, which exercises itself in delivering others, either from sin or from sorrow. The question will be put to us, whether we have visited those that were in bondage, as the day spring from on high hath visited us? He who has no compassion upon his poor brother, that is bound, either by sickness, poverty, debt, sorrow, or sin, is insensible of the blessings of his own redemption: into his prison the light hath not yet shined, but he is in darkness even until now. To enlighten the ignorant, to raise up the afflicted, to restore the guilty to pardon, to awaken the imprisoned soul, and strike it with a sense of its own misery, and of God's mercy; these are the proper works of the children of light. If we do these things to others, then we shew all men that we believe God has done the same for us; and this is the best security we can find in the great day of inquisition and retribution. And why doth God require these things of us? Not for his sake, but our own: not that we may repay him for what he has done, but that we may qualify ourselves for the hearing of that blessed sentence, worth ten thousand worlds-Well done-enter thou into the joy