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entertaining these ideas, from turning to them, as a supply of consolation under all circumstances? What is it but our sins ? Depend upon it, that it is sin, and nothing else, which spoils our religious comfort. Cleanse your heart from sin, and religion will enter in, with all her train of hopes and consolation. For proof of this, we may, as before, refer to the examples of Scripture Christians. They rejoiced in the Lord continually. “ The joy of faith,” Phil. i. 25. “ Joy in the Holy Ghost,” Rom. xiv. 17, was the word in their mouths, the sentiment of their hearts. They spake of their religion as of a strong consolation, as of the refuge to which they had fled, as of the hope of which they had laid hold, of an anchor of the soul sure and steadfast. Heb. vi. 18, 19. The promise from the Lord Jesus Christ was, “your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” John, xvii. 22. Was this promise fulfilled to them? Read Acts, xii. 52. " They were filled with joy and the Holy Ghost.”
“ The kingdom of God,” saith Saint Paul, “is joy in the Holy Ghost.” Rom. xvi. 17. So that Saint Paul, you hear, takes his very description and definition of Christianity from the joy which is diffused over the heart: and Saint Paul, I am very confident, described nothing but what he felt. Yet Saint Paul did not meditate upon his virtues : nay, he expressly renounced that sort of meditation. His meditations, on the contrary, were fixed upon his own unworthiness, and upon the exceeding, stupendous mercy of God towards him, through Jesus Christ his Saviour: at least, we have his own authority for saying, that, in his Christian progress, he never looked back ; he forgot that which was behind, whatever it might be which he had already attained; he refused to remember it, he put it out of his thoughts. Yet, upon this topic of religious joy, hear him again: “We
joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ ;" Rom. v. 11: and, once more, “ The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.” Gal. v. 22.
Gal. v. 22. These last are three memorable words, and they describe, not the effects of ruminating upon a man's own virtues, but the fruit of the Spirit.
But it is not in one apostle in whom we find this temper of mind, it is in them all. Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, Saint Peter thus addresses his converts, “whom, having not seen ye love, in whom, though now ye see not, yet believing ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” 1 Peter, i. 8. This joy covered even their persecutions and sufferings : “wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now, for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations,” i Peter, i. 6, meaning persecutions. In like manner Saint James saith, “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, that is, persecutions ;" and why? “knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” James, i. 4.
James, i. 4. Let no one, after these quotations, say that it is necessary to fix our attention upon the virtues of our character, in order to taste the comforts of religion. No persons enjoyed these comforts in so great perfection as the Christians whom we read of in Scripture, yet no persons thought so little of their own virtues. What they continually thought upon was, the abounding love of Christ towards them, “in that, whilst they were yet sinners, he died for them," and the tender and exceeding mercies of God in the pardon of their sins through Christ. From this they drew their consolation j but the ground and origin of this train of thought was, not the contemplation of virtue, but the conviction of sin.
But again, the custom of viewing our virtues has a strong tendency to fill us with fallacious notions of our
own state and condition. One, almost constant, deception is this, viz. that in whatever quality we have pretensions, or believe that we have pretensions, to excel, that quality we place at the head of all other virtues. If we be charitable, then “charity covereth a multitude of sins.” If we be strictly honest, then strict honesty is no less than the bond which keeps society together; and, consequently, is that, without which other virtues would have no worth, or rather no existence. · If we be temperate and chaste, then self-government, being the hardest of all duties, is the surest test of obedience. Now every one of these propositions is true ; but the misfortune is, that only one of them is thought of at the time, and that the one which favours our own particular case and character. The comparison of different virtues, as to their price and value, may give occasion to many nice questions ; and some rules might be laid down upon the subject; but I contend that the practice itself is useless, and not only useless, but delusive. Let us leave, as I have already said, our virtues to themselves, not engaging our minds in appreciating either their intrinsic or comparative value; being assured that they will be weighed in unerring scales. Our business is with
Again, the habit of contemplating our spiritual acquirements, our religious, or moral excellences, has, very usually, and, I think, almost unavoidably, an unfavourable effect upon our disposition towards other men. A man who is continually computing his riches, almost in spite of himself, grows proud of his wealth. A man who accustoms himself to read and inquire and think a great deal about his family, becomes vain of his extraction. He can hardly help becoming so. A man who has his titles sounding in his ears, or his state much before his eyes, is lifted up by his rank. These are effects which every one observes; and no inconsiderable degree of the same effect springs from the habit of meditating upon our virtues. Now humble-mindedness is a Christian duty, if there be one. It is more than a duty; it is a principle, it is a principle of the religion ; and its influence is exceedingly great, not only upon our religious, but our social character. They, who are truly humble-minded, have no quarrels, give no offence, contend with no one in wrath and bitterness : still more impossible is it for them to insult any man, under any circumstances. But the way to be humble-minded is the way I am pointing out, viz. to think less of our virtues and more of our sins. In reading the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, if we could suppose them to be real characters, I should say of them, that the one had just come from ruminating upon his virtues, the other from meditating upon his sins. And mark the difference; first, in their behaviour; next, in their acceptance with God. The Pharisee is all loftiness
. and contemptuousness and recital and comparison ; full of ideas of merit; views the poor Publican, although withdrawn to a distance from him, with eyes of scorn. The Publican, on the contrary, enters not into competition with the Pharisee, or with any one. So far from looking round, he durst not so much as
but casts himself, hardly indeed presumes to cast himself, not upon the justice, but wholly and solely upon the mercies of his Maker ; “God be merciful to me a sinner.” We know the judgment which our Lord himself pronounced upon the case, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other,” Luke, xviii. 14. The more therefore we are like the Publican, and the less we are like the Pharisee, the more we come up to the genuine temper of Christ's religion.
Think then less of your virtues; more of Do I hear any one answer, I have no sins to think upon; I have no crimes which lie upon my conscience? I reply, that this may be true with respect to some, nay, with respect to many persons, according to the idea wecommonly annex to the words, sins and crimes; meaning thereby, acts of gross and external wickedness. But think farther : enlarge your views. Is your
obedience to the law of God what it ought to be, or what it might be ? The first commandment of that law is, “Thou shalt
“ love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” Is there, upon the subject of this commandment, no matter for thought, no room for amendment? The second commandment is, “ Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Is all with us as it should be, here ? Again, there is a spirituality in the commands of Christ's religion, which will cause the man, who obeys them truly, not only to govern his actions, but his words; not only his words, but his inclinations and his dispositions, his internal habits, as well as external life. “ Ye have heard that it hath been said of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery : but I say unto you, He that looketh on a woman to lust after her;" that is, he who voluntarily indulges and entertains in his mind an unlawful desire, “hath committed adultery with her already in his heart,” is, by the very entertainment of such ideas, instead of striving honestly and resolutely to banish them from his mind, or to take his mind off from them, a sinner in the sight of God. Much the same kind of exposition belongs to the other commandments; not only is murder forbidden, but all unreasonable, intemperate, anger and passion ; not only stealing, but all hard and unfair conduct, either in transacting business with those who are upon a level with us, or, where it is more to be feared, to