« السابقةمتابعة »
Too much is left for him to supply, which, I meekness, long-suffering,' are recommended, perhaps, implicitly leaning on his guide, he will because the converts are the elect of God.' not supply, or which, from want of knowledge, Every inhibition of every wrong practice has its reference to Christ, every act of goodness its legitimate principle. Contentions are forbidden, forgiveness is enjoined, on the same high ground-the example of 'Him in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.This is practical preaching-This is evangelical preaching.
Far be it from our intention, however, in thus venturing with real diffidence to compare the faulty extremes in both cases, to assimilate at all their nature or their tendency :-the extreme of adherence to doctrine frequently springing from the deepest sense of the infinite importance of that doctrine, and accompanied with a pious willingness to spend and be spent, in its propaga tion. The extreme of adherence to what is called mere morality, is too often the lamentable effect of ignorance of doctrine, and of an interest neither felt, nor possessed, nor desired in doctrinal blessings.
Thoughts respectfully suggested to good sort of people.
IN perusing the foregoing chapter, it may be, as it has been, with unweared repetition, objected, that it is equally preposterous and unjust, to hold out a standard of religion and morals so high, as to defeat, in the reader, all hope of attaining it. It may be urged, that it would be more prudent, as well as more useful, to propose a more moderate standard, and to suggest a more temperate measure, which would not, as in the present case, by discouraging, render attainment hopeless. For an answer, we must send them to the Redeemer's own mouth, to the excision of the right hand, the plucking out the
With this guard distinctly kept in view, we venture, with all humility, to repeat, that there is an extreme on both sides: the one may be abstractedly considered as all propositions, the other as all conclusions. The one fails of effect by not depending on just premises; in the other, well established premises produce inferior good, because the conclusions are not sufficiently brought to bear on the actual demands of life. The one, while he powerfully shows the reader that he is a sinner, limits both his proof and his instruction to one or two prominent doctrines; he names, indeed, with unwearied iteration, that only name by which we can be saved, faithfully dwells on the efficacy of the divine remedy, but without clearly pointing out its ap-right eye. This it will be justly insisted, is not plication to practical purposes. The other presumes his readers to be so wise, as to be able to supply their own deficiencies, or so good, as to stand in little need of supernatural assistance. Is it not mocking human helplessness, to tell men they must be holy, good, and just, without directing them to the principle from whence all holy thoughts, all good counsels, and all just works, do proceed'-to direct the stream of action, and keep out of sight the spring from which it must flow-to expect they will renounce sin if they do not renounce self-to send them vagrant in search of some stray vir. tue, without showing them where to apply for direction to find it?
The combination of the opposite but indispensable requisites is most happily exemplified in all our best divines, living and dead; and, blessed be God, very numerous in the catalogue in both instances. They have, with a large and liberal construction, followed that most perfect exemplification of this union, which is so generally exhibited in Scripture, more particularly in that express model, the third chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians. There, every thing that is excellent in practice is made to proceed from Him in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.' There, every act has its inspiring motive, every virtue its radical principal; falsehood is not only prohibited to the converts, but the prohibition is accounted for, because ye have put on the new man.' The obedience of wives, the affection of husbands, the submission of children, all is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.'Servants are enjoined to fidelity as fearing God.' 'Mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind,
a command, but a metaphor. Granted.-We know we are not commanded to lop off our limbs, but our corruptions. But, would He who is not only true, but THE TRUTH, adopt a stong metaphor to express a feeble obligation? Is any tone, then, may we not ask, too high, if not higher than that uniformly employed in the Bible? What do we mean, when we say, that we receive the Gospel as a rule of faith and practice, if, having made the declaration, we instantly go, and, without scruple, lower the rule, and depress the practice?
High and low are indefinite terms: their just use depends on the greatness or littleness of the objects to which they refer. When we sider, that the object in question is eternal life, should the standard which God has made the measure of our attaining to it, be so depressed as to prevent that attainment? Do not the Apostles and their Master, the Saints and the King of Saints, every where suggest a rule, not only of excellence, but perfection; a rule to the adop tion of which no hopelessness of attainment is to prevent our stretching forward?
Scripture does, indeed, every where represent us as incompetent without divine assistance. But does it not every where point out where our strength lies; where it is to be sought; how it is to be obtained? It not only shows where our wants may be supplied, but our failures pardoned. Does any one doctrine, any one precept, of the Gospel, deal in emollients, prescribe palliatives, suggest petty reliefs, point out inferior remedies, speak of any medicine, but such as is proportioned to the depth of the disease?
Yet it is not uncommon for those whose views have been low, and whose practice, con
sequently, has not been high, to combine with this mediocrity of character the most exalted expectation of future recompence: to couple a comparatively low faith and conduct with those lofty promises which the New Testament holds out to the most exalted Christian. Many in the day of health and activity would have consider. ed taking up the cross,' living to him who died for them,' &c. &c. as figurative expressions, lively images, not exacting much practical obedience; nay, would have considered the proposal of bringing them into action as downright enthusiasm; yet who has not heard these persons, in a dangerous sickness, repeat with entire self-application the glorious and hard-earned exultation of him, who, after unrivalled suffer. ings and unparalleled services, after having been ' in deaths oft,' after having been even favoured with a glimpse of heaven, exclaims, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course,' and then go on with the most delusive complacency, to apply to themselves the sublime apostrophe with which this fine exclamation is wound up henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of glory,' &c. &c.: and it has passed into an accredited phrase, when one of this sort of Christians speaks of the death of another in the same class, to observe, with an air of triumph, that he is gone to his reward. We must confess, that when we hear this assurance so applied, we charitably incline to hope it is not so bad with them as the expression implies; because, if heaven is thus assigned as a payment of work done, one cannot help trembling at a reward apportioned to such worth. For these contractors for heaven, who bring their merit as their purchase-money, and intend to be saved at their own expense, do not always take care to be provided with a very exorbitant_sum, though they expect so large a return in exchange for it; while those who, placing no dependence on their works, never dare to draw upon heaven for the payment, will often be found to have a much larger stock upon hand, ready to produce as an evidence, though they renounce them as a claim. In both cases, is it not better to transfer them and ourselves from merit to mercy, as a more humble and less hazardous ground of dependance?
Far be from me the uncharitable presumption, that these sanguine persons are destitute of principle, or void of right intentions. Doubtless, in many instances, they persevere in error for no reason, but because they believe it to be truth. There is even much that is right in them; but are they not too easily satisfied with a low measure of that right, without examining accurately the quality of the practice, merely because it is not disreputable?
what he finds there with the unerring law of God. The facts he might deduce, and the experiments he might make from the study of both in conjunction, would teach him either to confirm or correct his theory; his experience, if it did not establish, would overturn his speculations, and he would begin to build on new ground.
May we not be allowed with all tenderness and respect, not with the arrogance of any superiority, but such as is the inevitable fruit of long observation, to suggest a few of the many remedies against the evils we have been regretting? The true preliminary to vital religion is to feel and acknowledge our lapsed humanity. There is no entrance into the temple of Christianity but through this lowly vestibule. All the dissertations of the most profound philosophers on the reasonableness and beauty of our religion, on its excellence and superiority, are but a fruitless exercise of ingenuity and eloquence, if they exclude this fundamental truth. The ablest writer, if he does not feel this conviction in his own heart, will never carry it to yours. But if you have once got over this hard and humbling introduction, the same divine guide who has given this initiatory opening, will, to the patient and persevering inquirer, perfect the work he has so happily begun.-While he who turns over the page of his own virtues, and ransacks the catalogue of his good actions, will find that, under the pretence of seeking consolation, he is evading instruction; he is only heaping up materials for building confidence in himself by that sin fell the angels'-and may be in little less danger than the flagitious offender. Our Lord has decided on this momentous question, by his preference of the self-abasing penitent who had nothing to ask but mercy, to him who had nothing to request but praise; of the lowly confessor of his offences to the pompous recounter of his virtues; whose prayer, if self-panegyric deserves that name, plainly declares that he already possessed so much, that there was nothing left for him to ask. Our Saviour took this occasion to let us see, that he is better pleased when we show him our wants, than our merits.
As you do not live in the practice or the allowance of vices, which make it your interest to wish that Christianity may be false, and as you believe its external evidences, endeavour to gain also an internal conviction that it is true. Examine also into the principle of your best actions. Even some who have made a more considerable proficiency, are too apt to defer examining into the motive, till they have concluded the act which the motive should have determined; they then, as it were, make up the motive to the act, and bring about the accordance in a way to quiet their own minds. Perhaps interest is acting on an opinion which we fancied that wisdom had suggested. If it succeed, we compliment ourselves on the event; if it fail, we applaud our. selves on the assigned, because we are not quite sure of the real motive.
Our knowledge of religion and sound morals must inevitably arise, in a good measure, from the knowledge of ourselves. Now, the kind of reading of which we have complained, is so far from improving that knowledge, that it keeps it out of our sight, by representing us to ourselves as other creatures than we really are. The most The way to make a progress in piety and ingenious abstract reasoning on man will not peace, is not to be too tender of our present feelshow him what sort of being he is, if he be notings; is nobly to make some sacrifice of immetaught to know it within himself. He must seek diate ease, for the sake of acquiring future hapit in the depths of his own mind, and compare | piness. Desire not opiates, seek not anodynes,
when your internal constitution requires stimu- | vere in the perusal of works which do not flatter lants. Cease to conceive of religion as a sta- his security; nay, to persevere the more earnest. tionary thing; be assured, that to be available, ly, because the perusal discovers his own chait must be progressive. Read the Scriptures, racter to himself. When once he is brought to not as a form, but as God's great appointed endure these salutary probings, he will soon be means, of infusing into your heart that life-giving brought to court the hand that probes. He will principle which is the spring of all right prac- begin to disrelish the vapid civility with which tice. Cultivate every virtue, but rest not in any. the superficial examiner treats human nature. Do every thing to deserve the esteem of men, Nay, he may now safely meditate on the dignity but make not that esteem your governing prin- of man, which, in his former state, so far misled ciple. Value not most those qualities which are him. He will find that, in another sense, the the most popular. Correct your worldly wisdom doctrine is true. Man was indeed originally a with the wisdom which is from above.' Bear dignified creature, for he was made in the image in your recollection, that to minds of a soft and of the perfect God. Even now, though his will yielding cast, the world is a more formidable is depraved, yet he has noble intellectual faculenemy than those two other rival tempters which ties which give some notion of what he was. the New Testament commonly associates with His heart is alienated, but his understanding it, and which would not, generally, have made a approves the rectitude which his will rejects. third in such corrupt company, if its dangers He has still recoverable powers; he is still cahad not borne some proportion to theirs. It is pable, when divine truth shall have made its full the more necessary to press this point, as the impression on his soul, of that renovation which mischiefs of the world are felt without being shall restore him to the dignity he has lost, resuspected. The other two spiritual enemies instate him in the favour he has forfeited, and seize on the more corrupt; but the better dis- raise him infinitely higher than the elevation posed are the unconscious victims of the world, from which he has fallen. which frequently betrays its votary into the hands of its two confederates. People are inclined to be pleased with themselves when the world flatters them; they make the world their supreme arbiter; they are unwilling to appeal from so lenient a judge; and being satisfied with themselves, when its verdict is in their favour, the applause of others too often, by confirming their own, supercedes an inquiry into
their real state.
The unconfirmed Christian should attend to his conduct just in those points which, though dishonest, are not dishonourable; points in which, though religion will be against him, the approbation of the world will bear him out. He would not do a disreputable thing, but should a tempta. tion arise where his reputation is safe, there his trial commences, there he must guard himself with augmented vigilance.
The more enlightened the conscience becomes, the more we shall discover the unspeakable holiness of God. But our perceptions being cleared, and our spiritual discernment rendered more acute, this must not lead us to fancy that we are worse than when we thought so well of ourselves. We are not worse, because the growing light of divine truth reveals faults unobserved before to our view, or enlarges those we thought insignificant. Light does not create impurities, it only discloses them. Moreover, this efficient spirit does not illuminate without correcting; it is not only given for reproof, but amendment; not only for amendment, but consolation. Our unhappiness does not consist in that contrition which grows out of our new acquaintance with our own hearts. The true misery consisted in the blindness, presumption, and self-sufficiency, which our ignorance of ourselves generated. Our true felicity begins in our being brought, however severe be the means, to renounce our self-confidence, and cast ourselves entirely upon
To those who attempt to relieve his temporary distress, by directing his eyes to his own virtues, and to the approbation those virtues are certain to obtain from heaven, he will reply with the illustrious sufferer of old, Miserable comforters are ye all! Slight remedies will no longer satisfy him. The more deep his views become, the less he will be disposed to claim his share in the compliments lavished on the natural human
But, oh! what unspeakable consolation will the humble believer derive from the appellation by which the divine Spirit is designated-The COMFORTER. There is something sublimely merciful in a dispensation of which the term is so delightfully expressive of the thing. We read in the Scriptures of grieving the Holy Spirit; but when we consider him under this most soothing character, is there not something of peculiar and heinous ingratitude in grieving the Comforter.
To endeavour to obtain a more lively belief in the existence, and earnestly to implore the aid of this quickening Spirit, would be a great means of improving the character. That the doctrine of spiritual influence is a practical doctrine, is clearly deducible from the command, arising out of the conviction, that the truth was already received-' If ye live in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit.' Observe that we press you only on your own principles: we recommend you only to act upon the creed you avow. If we suggest to your adoption any thing further than the Bible enjoins, we are guilty of fanaticism, and you should be on your guard against it. We venture not to say what name is due to those who would depress your views greatly below either.
In perusing the Scriptures, might you not commune with your own heart in something like the following language: The book is not a work of fancy. I do not, therefore, read it for It will be a good test of the improving state amusement, but instruction; but am I seriously of a person of the above description, when he can proposing to read it like one who has a deep inpatiently, though not at first pleasantly, perse.terest in its contents? Is it my sincere inten
tion to convert the knowledge I am about to acquire into any practical application to my own case? Is it my earnest wish to improve the state of my own heart by comparing it with what I allow to be the only perfect rule of faith and practice? Do I only read to get over my morning's task, the omission of which would make me uneasy, merely to fasten a series of facts on my memory? or do I really desire to make the great truths of the incarnation of the Son of God, of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the necessity of a living faith, a sound repentance, an entire conviction that, of myself I can do nothing; not merely a speculative system to be recognized at church, but to be transfused into the life? Do I adopt religion as an hereditary, national profession, necessary to my credit, or as a thing in which I have a momentous personal interest? Do I propose to apply what I read to the pulling down those high imaginations, and that false security of which my Bible shows me the danger, and which its doctrines are calculated to subdue? Do I labour after the attainment of those heavenly dispositions, the exhibition of which I have been admiring? Have these vivid declarations of the unsatisfactoriness of the world at all cooled my ardour for its enjoyments? Shall I read here this holy contempt for the littleness of its pursuits, this display of its fallacies and deceits, and yet return this very evening to the participation of diversions, the exposure of whose emptiness I have been approving? Shall I extol the writer who strips off its painted mask from the world, and yet acts as if the morning lecture had brought no such discovery? Nay, perhaps, it may be one of my subjects of conversation to recommend a book, of whose little efficacy in my own case I am giving a practical example.
Do I not periodically pray, Make me to be numbered with thy saints in glory everlasting,' and yet am I not as shy of the society of those who are distinguished for more than common sanctity, as if it carried contamination with it? And does not the very term convey to my mind a discreditable idea, compounded of fanaticism and hypocrisy ?
After all, I may have been wrong. If respect. ability were security, the young ruler in the Gospel had been in no danger, for his attainments were above the ordinary standard, and his credit was probably high. It is time to come to something like certainty; to inquire, whether I do cordially believe what I should be ashamed not to profess; whether my religion lives in my memory or my heart, on my lips or in my life, in my profession or my practice? It is time to examine, whether I have much more distinct evidences of divine truth than those who do not acknowledge the Gospel to be a revelation from heaven; to inquire, why, if my understanding be somewhat more enlightened, such illumination is not more perceptible on my heart? Why the fruits of the Spirit,' so far from abounding' in me, scarcely appear, if those fruits are indeed love, peace, and joy in believing?'
Let not the fear of labour, or the dread of pain, prevent you from endeavouring to obtain a clear view of your state. Let not a pusillanimous apprehension of reproach or ridicule pre- I
vent your following up your convictions. There is not any thing that is unreasonable, much less any thing that is impossible, required: no degree of zeal, or measure of earnestness, but what you see every day exerted in a worse cause. Take your measure from the world, not in what you shall pursue, but in the energy with which you shall urge the pursuit. Only devote to religion as much time as the worldly devote to dissipation; only set your affections on Heaven as intensely as theirs are set upon earth, and all will be well: or take your measure from your former self; take at least as much pains to secure your eternal interests as you have formerly taken to acquire a language or an art. Read the word of inspiration with the same assiduity with which you have studied a favourite classic; strive with as much energy to acquire a thorough insight into the corruptions of your heart, and the remedy proposed for their cure, as you have exerted in studying the principles of your profession, or the mysteries of your calling. Inspect your consciences as accurately as your expences, be as frugal of your time as of your fortune, and as careful of your soul as of your credit. Be neither terrified by terms, nor governed by them.
In reading those heart-searching writers, whose principles are drawn from the source of all truth, and who are only to be trusted as they are analagous to it, be not offended with some strong expressions. They expressed forcibly what they felt powerfully. The revolting term of sinner, which has, perhaps, made you throw aside the book, as thinking it addressed only to the perpetrators of great crimes, as fitter language for the prisons and the hulks, than for the polished and the pleasing, is addressed to every one, however profound his knowledge, however decent his life, however amiable his manners, who lives without habitual reference to God. Be more than honest, be courageous; boldly ap. ply it to yourself. Though your character is unstained with any disgraceful vice, though you regularly fulfil many relative duties, yet if you are destitute of the prime duty, the love of God in Christ Jesus, you stand in need of such a forcible address as we have been supposing. The discovery will be no dishonour. The dishonour consists in not feeling your state, in not strug. gling against it; in not applying with humble fervour for assistance to the Fountain of grace and mercy.
Take comfort that you have great advantages over many others. You have few bad habits to retract; you have no scandalous vices to combat; you have already with certain persons acquired a degree of influence by your good quali ties; with others, you have acquired it by your very defects, and, as you are not suspected of enthusiasm, your usefulness will not be impeded by having that suspicion to repel. You will continue to do, in many respects the same things which you did before. The exterior of your life may be in many points nearly the same. But, even the same actions will be done in another spirit and to another end. Religion will not convert you into misanthropes, insensi ble to all the dear affections which make life pleasant. It does not wish to send you with the
ther we shall improve it by a vigorous exertion in a right bent, or whether we shall turn it against our Maker, and direct the course of our conduct to the offending, instead of pleasing God.
hermits of old to the deserts of Thebais, it only wishes you to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in your own families, and among your own connexions. Not one of the proper forms and harmless habits of polished society will be impaired, they will be rather improved by this mutation of the mind. Christian humility will be aiding all the best purposes of good breeding, while it will furnish a higher principle for its exercise. You may express this change in your character by what name you please, so that the change be but effected. It is not what you are called, but what you are, which will make the specific distinction between the character you adopt, and that which you have quitted. You read the Bible now, but between reading it mechanically and spiritually, there is as much difference as between pouring a fluid on the ground and distilling it. The one 'can-tributes to promote happiness no less than virnot be gathered up, afterwards; from the other, we extract drop by drop, a precious and powerful essence.
Search, then, diligently, the word of eternal life, enriched and ennobled as it is with the chain and the accomplishment of its prophecies, with the splendor of its miracles; with the attestation of its martyrs, the consistency of its doctrines; the importance of its facts; the plenitude of its precepts; the treasury of its promises; the irradiations of the Spirit; the abundance of its consolations; the peace it bestows; the blessedness it announces; the proportion of its parts; the symmetry of the whole,-altogether presenting such a fund of instruction to the mind, of light to the path, of document to the conduct, of satisfaction to the heart, as demonstrably prove it to be the instrument of God for the salvation of man.
HABITS are those powers of the mind which arise from a collection or rather a successive course of ordinary actions. As they are formed by a concatenation of those actions, so they may be weakened by frequent and allowed interruptions; and if many contiguous links are wilfully broken, the habits themselves are in danger of being totally demolished.
Habits are not so frequently formed by vehement incidental efforts on a few great occasions, as by a calm and steady perseverance in the ordinary course of duty. If this were uniformly followed up, we should be spared that occasional violence to our feelings, that agitating resist ance, which, by wasting the spirits, leads more feeble minds to dread the recurrence, of the same necessity which induces a painful feeling, the consequence of negligence, even where there is real rectitude of heart; while the regular adoption of right habits, indented by repetition, establishes such a tranquillity of spirit, as con
tue. The mind, like the body, gains robustness and activity by the habitual exercise of its powers. Occasional right actions may be caprice, may be vanity, may be impulse, but hardly deserve the name of virtue, till they proceed from a principle which habit has moulded into a frame; then the right principle which first set them at work continues to keep them at it, and finally becomes so prevalent, that there is a kind of spontaneity in the act, which keeps up the energy, without constant sensible reference to the spring which first set it in motion. Good habits and good dispositions ripened by repeti.. tion into virtue, and sanctified by prayer into holiness. If we allow that vicious habits persisted in, lay us more and more open to the dominion of our spiritual adversary, can we doubt that virtuous habits acquire proportional strength from the superinduced aid of the Spirit of God?
The more uniform is our conformity to the rules of virtue and purity, the less we may re quire to be reminded of the particular influence of the motive. We need not, nor indeed can we, recur every moment to the exact source of the action; its flowing from an habitual sense of duty will generally explain the ground on which it is performed. If the heart is kept awake and alive in a cheerful obedience to God, the immediate motive of the immediate act is not likely to be a bad one. Many actions, indeed, require to be deliberated on, and whatever requires deliberation before we do it, demands scrutiny why we do it. This will lead to such an inquest into our motive as, if there be any want of sincerity
If we may be allowed to change the meta-in it, will tend to its detection. phor, we would observe that good habits pro- Notwithstanding what has been urged above duce a sound healthy constitution of mind; they as to the exercise of constant assiduity in preare tonics which gradually, but infallibly, in- ference to mere occasional exertion, we would vigorate the intellectual man.-A silent course be understood to offer this counsel rather to the of habits is a part of our character or rather proficient than to the novice. As the beginnings conduct, which in a great measure depends on are always difficult, especially to ardent spirits, industry and application; on self denial and such spirits would do well, particularly at their watchfulness, on diligence in establishing right entrance on a more correct course, to select for pursuits, and vigilance in checking such as are themselves some single task of painful exertion, pernicious. Habit being an engine put into our which, by bringing their mental vigour into full hands for the noblest and most beneficial pur-play, shall afford them so sensible an evidence poses; and being one, which, having the free of the conquest they have obtained, as will more command of our own faculties, we have a power than repay the labour of the conflict. A friend, to use and direct-a power, indeed, derived of the Author was so fully aware of the importfrom God as all our other possessions are-yet ance of thus taming an impatient temper, that having this power, it rests with ourselves whe-she imposed upon herself the habit of beginning