« السابقةمتابعة »
dience, includes the forms of religion, without feeling the necessity of a renovation of heart. He differs from the moralist in this; that, with the same ultimate end of action, he adds to his good works the services of religion. The Pharisee of the scriptures, is an exact illustration of the character in question. There is much religion, or apparent godli. ness, in the good works of a Pharisee. He has a Sabbath and a syna. gogue;
he prays, yea, makes long prayers; and fasts as well as prays. He pays tithes to the Lord's treasury of all that he possesses ; and is so zealous in propagating his religion, that he will compass sea and land to make proselytes to it. And yet we are assured by Christ himself, that except our righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees, we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matt. v. 20. From what was said by Christ and his apostles concerning the religion of the Pharisees, it is easy to discover the material points wherein con. sisted its deficiency. Their religion was all of it of an unregenerate character. It had no higher source than unrenewed nature, and was therefore nothing better than perfect selfishness. Luke xi. 39. John iii. 9, 10. Their religion was not only selfish, but also self-righteous ; as it led them to depend on the meritoriousness of their own perform. ances. All their works they did to be seen of men, or to be seen of God, from motives equally selfish : for we ought to understand that vain ambition and self-righteousness both proceed from one corrupt fountain. Matt. xxiii. 5. Luke xviii. 11, 12. Even in externals, (on which they made their whole dependence,) their religion was quite maimed. They tithed mint, anise, and cummin, but omitted the weight. ier matters of the law. They made long prayers, but devoured wid. ows' houses. Matt. xxiii. 14, 23.
Between such a character, in all its various shades, and the true Chris. tian, there is a radical difference. The Christian, as well as the Phari. see, keeps holy the Sabbath, attends on the sanctuary, prays, and some. times adds fasting to his prayers. He, too, tithes his mint, anise, and cumınin; or, in other words, he is precise in comparatively small things, which he knows ought not to be left undon- ; but he does not make this a pretext for omitting the weightier matters of the law. The child of God sometimes makes long prayers, especially when he gets alone in his closet; but he does not do it for a pretense, to enable him with more ease to devour widows' houses. On the contrary, his religion prompts him to visit the fatherless and widows in their af. fiction, and to impart to them not only instructions for their minds, but also needed refreshments for their bodies. Jam. i. 27. The zeal. ous Christian will compass sea and land, or give his money to bear the expenses of those missionaries who are able and willing to do it, that the gospel may be preached to every creature. And this he does, not for the sake of building up a party, but to enlarge the empire of Christ, and save from sin and misery the souls of his fellow men. In observing the tradition of the elders and other uncommanded ceremo. nies, Pharisees, no doubt, surpass the disciples of Christ in zeal and apparent self-denial; but in keeping all the commandments of God, whether in relation to the duties of the first or second table of the law, Christians will be more punctiliously exact than they. And yet with all this superiority over them in external obedience, they would not
dare to hope for acceptance, unless they could discover evidence that God had taken away the stony heart out of their flesh, and given them a heart of flesh. Nor is this all the difference ; for while Pharisaic formalists depend on a maimed external obedience as their justifying righteousness, Christians, in this respect, renounce their obedience, both that which is external and internal, and throw themselves as ill. deserving creatures on the mercy of God, which is manifested through the death of his Son.
(3.) The good works of the true convert, differ essentially from those of the false convert. Though the false convert has a shade of character different from the moralist and the formalist, yet it is not the character of him who is born from above. The moralist depends on unregenerate morality, and the Pharisee on unregenerate religion ; but the false convert, discarding the schemes of both, professes to build all his hopes of heaven on the renewal of his heart, and justifi. cation through the atonement of Christ. He trusts that he has experi. enced this change, and that he has been accepted in the Beloved. But the fact is, that he has experienced no fundamental change ; for self has not been dethroned. In his very reformation he brings forth fruit unto himself. He talks of Christ and free grace; but he has not been divorced from the law and united to the Savior. His inward experi. ences are converted into self-righteousness, as much as the morality of the moralist, or the religious services of the formalist.
Even the external obedience of the true Christian, is commonly dis. tinguishable from that of false converts. One mark of distinction is this; it is more universal, extending to every duty which we owe to God and man-every duty to society at large, every relative, and every personal duty. It is more persevering. The love and obedience of many false converts, wax cold and come to nothing. They appear to run well for a while, and then are hindered, and stop before the race is finished. They make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. It is concerning the false convert that the inquiry is made, “ Will he always call upon God ?" But the obedience of the true believer will endure to the end. “ The righteous shall hold on his way." His way is the way of holiness; and he can not hold on in this way, with. out persevering in a life of obedience. The external obedience of such as are upright in heart, is more uniform than that of false converts. In the religion of the latter, there are apt to be great breaks. In some, the greater part of the intervals between seasons of special revival in the place where they live, there will be an interruption in their religion. During these intervals, nothing will appear to distinguish them from such as make no pretension to an acquaintance with Christ and his salvation. Such great interruptions, and especially when repeated, do not characterize the religion of the men of grace. They are compared to a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither—and to a tree that in the year of drought does not cease from yielding fruit. Ps. i. 3. Jer. xvii. 8.
Another thing wherein true believers visibly excel false converts, is this: their character, as it respects obedience to the laws of Christ, is continually improving. False converts are apt to have the most en.
gagedness in religion at the very outset ; but with true converts it is directly the reverse. The religion of the former resembles the close of the day, when the light is constantly decreasing, till it ends in the darkness of night ; but the religion of the latter is well illustrated by the dawn of the morning, when the light gains upon the darkness, till it terminates in the perfect day. Prov. iv. 18. And is it not mani. fest to every observer, that in the visible family of Christ, both these characters are to be found? We are not, however, to consider all those to be true Christians, whose religion holds out to the end of their life. As the religion of the Pharisee may endure to the end, so it may be with that of some false converts. One way that the religion of true believers is to be distinguished from that of false converts, is by its humility. They walk humbly with God. They do not think very highly of their good works. It is graceless professors who imagine themselves to be rich and increased in goods, and in need of nothing. Revel. iii. 17. It is those who are running, and that with speed, the race set before them, who are most sensible they have not yet reached the mark. It is those who pray the most, who will be the most ashamed that they pray so little. They who feel and do most for the salvation of the souls of men, will wonder, more than others, why they feel and do so little. But when the hearts of men are under the do. minion of pride, the more they do, the more highly will they be apt to think of themselves. Such will seem to say, as one of their number did, “ Come, see my zeal for the Lord.”
It is not difficult to discover the reason, why there should be a dif. ference between the good works of the regenerated, and those of all other men. In the sight of God, who looketh not on the outward appearance, but on the heart, we can see that no works but theirs can be considered as good ; for none others are done from a good motive. Nor is it difficult to see why a true work of grace in the heart, should issue in a different course of external conduct from that which is ef. fected by any other means. That outward obedience, whether it consist in morals or religion, which is not the effect of a real change of heart, is in a sense mechanical. It is made at will, with different ob. jects in view; and therefore among a variety of persons, this obedi. ence and these good works may consist of different things ; since some will comprehend a greater, and some a less number of particulars in their practical system. Such a system is without any proper symme. try in its different parts. But that outward obedience which is the fruit of an inward cleansing or renovation of nature will be universal, extending to all the commands of God; and must therefore be the same in all who experience it. When the tree is made good, the fruit must be good. When a clean heart is created and a right spirit put within us, the reformation which ensues is not mechanical, but natural. As the transparent lamps with which the streets of a city are filled, emit the light in every direction, so it is with the men into whose hearts God hath shined to give them the light of life.
Secondly. The obedience of the saints on earth, is different from that of the inhabitants of heaven.
The inhabitants of heaven are either angels who never sinned, or the spirits of just men made perfect. The religion of the saints on earth, is perfect in its nature. Like the religion of heaven, it is of a disinterested character. Their love is without dissimulation, and it is operative. The glory of God is sought, and the manifestations of it are the source of enjoyment. Their religion is also perfect in its parts : and in these there is a manifest proportion. They love God, and they also love their fellow creatures. They worship God, and they do good to men. Their good-will and their good works extend to all men, and their fellowship extends to all beings that are possessed of a holy character, whether in heaven or earth. There is no part of the divine law to which they refuse subjection. They are also per. fect, as it respects their holding out in obedience to the end of life. The law of their God is in their heart, and none of their steps shall slide. They go from strength to strength, and will every one of them appear before God in the Zion above. For such reasons as these, even the saints on earth are denominated perfect men. Perfect is used sy. nonymously with upright in this passage :
“ Mark ihe perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.” Ps. xxxvii. 37.
But the perfection of the best man on earth, differs widely from the perfection of heaven. His perfection is deficient in degree, being counteracted by indwelling sin. He is holy, and yet he is sinful : he is spiritual, and yet he confesses, “I am carnal, solu under sin.” The spirit lusteth against the flesh, and the flesh also lusteth against the spirit. Sometimes he runs in the way of God's commandments, and at other times he backslides. His obedience is not undeviating; and at his best state he is ashamed of his sinful imperfection. This mixed character, made up of the moral opposites, holiness and sin, is peculiar to the saints on earth. There are no other creatures in the universe who are in this situation. In hell, and among the unregenerate on earth, depravity is entire ; and in heaven, among the angels of God and the spirits of just men, holiness is entire. The character of the saints on earth does, therefore, as really differ from that of the inhabitants of heaven, as from that of wicked men and devils.
But even while on earth, the external conduct of the regenerate is so regulated by the precepts of the Bible, as commonly to present a kind of uniform obedience; so that it may be proper to say of them, and of some of their number in a more emphatic sense, They are blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom they shine as lights in the world. Phil. ii. 15. Their external deportinent has sometimes been such, that their watchful foes could find no evil thing to say of them. Dan. vi. 4. But if they should all be enabled to live as irre. proachable lives as Daniel, they would discover faults in themselves, and would make daily confession, not only of the sin of their fellow men, but also of their own. Dan. ix. 20. The distance between the saints on earth and the saints in glory, as it respects perfection of character, is still great ; but, praised be God, the distance is constantly di. minishing.
It has been shown that the obedience of the saints on earth is humble, and not self-righteous. In this it differs from the obedience of all their fellow men ; yet it must be acknowledged that, through remain.
ing depravity, there is much of a spirit of pride and self-righteousness mingled with their good works. But in heaven there is nothing of this; not even among those who once inhabited the earth. On leav. ing the earth, they cast away the garment of self-righteousness, nor will they ever clothe themselves with it again. Though now their ob ence will rise to perfection, it will produce no feeling of selfsufficiency. Their deliverance from sin and ruin, and their estab. lishment in holiness and blessedness, they will ascribe to the blood of the Lamb. When they stand on the mount Zion above, their feet will still remain on that foundation of the sinner's hope, which was laid in the Zion below. The angels are under a different covenant, and therefore do not rest on the same foundation; and yet are at the greatest remove from Pharisaic self-righteousness. Though justified by the works of the law, they do not glory before God, since they feel that, in rendering perfect obedience to the divine law, they have done only what was their duty to do. Rom. iv. 2. Luke xvii. 10. Nor is this all-they also feel that they are laid under everlasting obliga. tion to give thanks to their Creator, for imparting to them and pre. serving in them, a holy character, and thus qualifying them to enjoy those manifestations of his glory which will be made through the ages of eternity.
IV. At the close of this Division of our work, it may be useful to present a brief sketch of the life of Christ, as illustrating, to perfec. tion, that holy practice which the scriptures enjoin upon us.
The life of Christ was intended as an example for his people; who are therefore called the followers of the Lamb. In regard to the spirit with which he endured his sufferings, he is said to have left us an ex. ample, that we should follow in his steps. 1 Pet. ii. 21. When he humbled himself to wash the feet of his disciples, he says to them, “ I have given you an example ;" that is, an example of humility, and a readiness to perform every kind office which benevolence should dic. tate. There are other examples of holy living given us in the scrip. tures ; but there is none except that of our Savior, which is perfect. We are required to take the prophets for an example of suffering af. fliction, and of patience. Jam. v. 12. Paul proposes himself as an example, but with this restriction, that they should follow him as far as he did Christ. 1 Cor. xi. 1. All other examples must be brought to this as the standard, the only infallible standard. They who do not copy after Christ as their example, are not Christians. “ If any man,” said Christ, “ will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” Matt. xvi. 24. “ His sheep follow him.” John X. 4. “ He that saitḥ he abideth in him, ought himself so to walk, even as he walked.” 1 John, ii. 6. None of the followers of Christ have come up to their Master; but they all agree in fixing their eye on him as their pattern. Nor will they ever rest contented, until their imitation of him shall become perfect.
Some may think it presumptive, and almost blasphemous, to attempt a perfect imitation of our Redeemer, who is God supreme. It would indeed be arrogant, for us worms of the dust to think of imitating God in the infinitude of his attributes; and yet in the goodness of our char. acter, as 10 the nature and completeness of it, we are commanded to