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this melancholy truth. It becomes us therefore to enquire, not only what notions we entertain, but what effects they produce on our hearts and lives? Are we “ doing the will of God?” Are we doing it cheerfully, uniformly, progressively? Do we walk with God, setting him constantly before us, endeavouring to approve ourselves to him in all we do, and worshipping him statedly in the church, the family, and the closet? Do we act towards our neighbour, as we, in a change of circumstances, should expect him to act towards us? Do we pay a strict regard to truth and honesty in all our dealings? Do we exercise candour in judging, patience in forbearing, kindness in pardoring, generosity in relieving? In short, Is love the principle, that regulates all our conduct? And are we conscientiously discharging all our relative duties, as husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, magistrates and subjects? Are we, moreover, duly attentive to the workings of our own hearts, in order to suppress the motions of pride, envy, malice, covetousness, impurity, or whatever else may defile the soul? Are we studious to mortify sin in the thought and desire no less than in its outward actings? Now such is the true way to judge of our state: for only in proportion as we are enabled to practise these duties, have we any scriptural evidence of our acceptance with God. We do not mean that the performance of these duties constitutes the whole of religion: but that our faith in Christ is of no farther value than as it manifests itself by these fruits. If we have not oil in our lamps, whereby we are enabled to make our light shine before inen, we shall, like the foolish virgins, be excluded, however confidently we may knock at the gate of heaven in expectation of admittance.] II. To those who neither practise religion nor profess it
[The text, though not so directly applicable to persons of this description, may yet suggest to them abundant matter for most serious reflection. While some deceive themselves by a mere profession of religion, there are others who are satisfied with declaiming against hypocrites; who, because they do not pretend to any serious religion, imagine themselves absolved from all obligations to it. But if our Lord does not approve of those who externally honour him, because their lives do not correspond with their professions, can we suppose that he approves of those who openly dishonour, and despise him? If ihey be excluded from his kingdom, shall not these also? If they be disappointed in their expectations, must not the hope of these also be as a spider's web? If they who can appeal to
a Acts viii. 13, 23. John vi. 70, 71. For further instances of false confidence see Ps. Ixxviii. 35, 36. Jer. vii. 4. John viii. 39, 41, 44.
• Matt. xxv. 1], 12. Luke xiji. 25–27.
the judge himself that they have done much for him, be bidden to depart, shall those, who have never done any thing for him, find a favourable acceptance? Let such persons then learn, that to hate hypocrisy in others is to little purpose, unless they hate it also in themselves. The same rule of judgment is established for all. We shall all receive according to what we have done, whether it be good or evil. There shall be one doom for those who abused the gospel, and for those who rejected it. If to the former it shall be said, “ Depart, I never knew you," of the latter it will be said, “Bring hither those that would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me.”] III. To those, who both profess religion, and adorn it
by a suitable conversation [Our Lord expressly declares, that they, who do the will of his father, shall enter into his kingdom: and his testimony is confirmed by numberless other passages of holy writ. Persons of this description are extremely different from the self-deceiving professors, not only in their practice, but also in their spirit and temper. Instead of making an ostentatious parade of their religion, they are intent rather on cultivating the inward principle: instead of hastily entertaining an assured confidence, they are jealous over themselves with a godly jealousy: and instead of being forward to boast of what they have done for Christ, they are ashamed of their best services, and ready rather to dread his displeasure for what they have omitted, than to claim his favour for any thing they have done. They still have indeed many infirmities: and it is their view of these that keeps them low, and perhaps sometimes fills them with doubts and fears. But God will easily distinguish between the allowed sins of the most specious hypocrite, and the lamented infirmities of the weakest of his children: and while he says to one, Depart accursed, he will address the other in terms of approbation and complacency. Though neither leavened or blemished offerings could be presented in sacrifice to God, yet, if presented as free-will offerings, they were accepted. Thus shall the imperfect services of his people, if offered with a willing mind, come up with acceptance before him, and be recorded at the day of judgment as evidences of their faith and love. Let the believer then go on in a course of uniform and unreserved obedience: and let him not be discouraged because he does not possess talents that attract the admiration of men: but rather let him study to approve himself to God; and he who seeth in secret, will ere long reward him openly.]
e Ps. xv. 1, 2. and xxiv, 3, 4. Heb. v. 9. Compare Lev. ii. 11. with vii. 13. and xxii. 21-23.
CCCLXXX. BRINGING FORTH FRUIT TO OUR
Hos. X. 1. Israel is an empty vine; he bringeth forth fruit
IN order to judge aright of our actions, we must examine the principles from whence they proceed. Igno. rant as we are of men's real motives, we invariably endeavour to discover them even in courts of judicature; and pass sentence, not so much upon their actions, as on their intentions. Nor does any one disapprove of this method of estimating men's conduct, provided only there be sufficient ground for discovering the real sentiments and wishes of their hearts. Now, if this be a proper mode of judging with respect to each other, we should certainly try our own actions by the same rule; since they will most assuredly be estimated according to this rule in the day when we shall stand before the tribunal of God.
In the words before us, God passes sentence, as it were, on the Israelites, not so much for the form and matter of their services, as for the dispositions they exercise in the performance of them. And as he does the same with respect to us, it is of importance to ascertain I. When we may be said to bring forth fruit to ourselves
By the law of our creation we should regard nothing but the glory and authority of God. But, through the corruption of our nature, we have cast off God; and es. alted self into his throne. We manifest that we do this.
1. When self is the principle of our actions
[It is but too evident that unregenerate men act in an entire conformity to their own will, without ever considering the will of God. If in any thing they seem to oppose their own will, they do so, not from a regard to his authority, but from some selfish principle of carnal hope or fear. If we would persuade them to any course of conduct, we find that the simple declaration of God's mind and will has no effect on them whatever; and that we must have recourse to carnal and temporal considerations, if we would succeed with them. Moreover they wish that others also should consult their will, rather than the will of God: and thus they shew not only that they are a god unto themselves, but that they would gladly be a god also to their fellow-creatures; and have their will more respected than the will of God. What can be a proof of bringing forth fruit to themselves, if this be not?a] 2. When self is the measure of our actions
[Many are willing to be almost Christians; but few wish to be altogether so. Herod would part with many things; but not with his Herodias. The young man would follow Christ at all events, as he thought; but could not be prevailed upon to sell his estate, and give it to the poor. Thus, if the attending at the house and table of the Lord, if the abstaining from gross sins, and the exercising of benevolence to the poor will suffice, many will be content to pay the price: but, the renouncing of all sin, and the walking in the narrow path of holiness and self-denial, are too irksome a task: and if they cannot maintain an interest in Christ on lower terms, they determine to part with him. Now what is this, but to make their own ease the measure of their obedience, when they ought to have no other measure than the word of God? whereas the true Christian wishes to “ stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”] 3. When self is the end of our actions
(God's command is, that " whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God.” But what if we be studying how to advance our own reputation or interest in the world? What if, like Jehu, we be actuated by pride, when we profess to be doing the Lord's work?d What if, even in religious duties also, we be seeking to establish our own righteousness, or to gratify only some selfish principle?e In all these cases we are justly involved in that censure, “ All men seek their own, and not the things that are Jesus Christ's.”]
To shew the evil of such conduct, we shall proceed to point out II. In what respects, they who do so, resemble an empty
vine The similes of scripture, if strained and perverted, are made disgusting; but, if soberly and judiciously illustrated, they are replete with useful instruction. Now, without fear of straining this simile, we may observe, that they, who bring forth fruit to themselves, resemble an empty vine
a Col. ii. 23. b Matt. xix. 21, 22.
ci Cor. x. 31.
1. In its nature
[A vine is a proper emblem of fruitfulness: but an empty vine, in a country so famous for its vineyards as Palestine, gives one a very strong idea of barrenness. Hence, when God was complaining of his people's unfruitfulness, he compared them to a vineyard, which, after the greatest pains and cost bestowed on its culture,brought forth nothing but wild grapes. In this view, an empty vine marks the depraved nature of those, who, notwithstanding all the labour with which they have been cultivated, remain “barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord:” who, instead of being “ filled with the fruits of righteousness to God's praise and glory," can rise no higher than self, nor do one single act that is pleasing and acceptable to God.) 2. In its use
[A barren vine is the most worthless of all things: other trees may be made useful in some way; but neither root nor branch, nor even the trunk, of a barren vine is good for any thing.h Such worthless creatures are they who bring forth no fruit to God. They may indeed be good members of the community; but, as to all the great ends of their creation, they are of no use whatever: they bring no glory to God; they advance not the spiritual welfare of those around them; they attain not to any measure of the divine image. There is not any thing in the whole creation that does not answer the ends of its formation better than they. Well does our Lord compare them to “salt, which, when it has lost its savour, is unfit even for the dunghill.”''] 3. In its end
[Our Lord has told us what will be the end of a barren vine. And shall not such also be the end of those who live to themselves rather than to God? Let our Lord determine this point also:' and let “the unprofitable servant” not think himself secure on account of his freedom from gross sins; but remember that the best actions are to no purpose, if not wrought from a principle of love to God.m] ADDRESS 1. Those who resemble an empty vine
[The culture bestowed on you is worse than in vain, since it greatly aggravates your guilt. Guard then against self-deceit; and devote yourselves in body, soul, and spirit unto God. Above all, seek to be united unto Christ by faith: for it is only by virtue derived from Christ, that you can ever bring forth fruit unto God."]
& Isaiah v. 4.
h Ezek. xy. 3-5. k John xv. 6.
I Matt. xxv. 30, o Rom. vii. 4. John xy. 4.
i Luke xiv, 35. m I Cor. xiii. l.