Images de page
PDF
ePub

from the faith or practice of Christianity, is nothing less than a departure from God himself, even from him who is the only source of life and happiness-We cannot therefore be too much on our guard against any secret declensions, which are so dishonourable to him whom we profess to love, and so destructive of our present and eternal welfare-]

2. Against that unbelief from whence all declensions arise

As faith is that which brings us to God, and keeps us stedfast in our adherence to him, so unbelief separates us from him, and, in proportion as it is harboured, invariable alienates us from the life of God Whatever be the more immediate object of that unbelief, whether we attempt to lower the strictness of God's precepts, or question the varacity of his promises or threatenings, it proceeds equally from “ an evil heart," and brings with it the same pernicious consequences: it is a root of bitterness, which, if it be permitted to spring up, will cause every devout affection to wither and decay We must therefore labour to eradicate it, if we would not eat for ever its bitter fruits]

That his caution may have its due effect, the apostle prescribes II. The means of improving it Sin is of a deceitful and hardening nature

[When“ a backslider in heart" commits a sin, many thoughts will arise in his mind to palliate the evil, and to make him think that it will not be attended with any important consequences-Soon he begins to doubt whether the thing be evil at all; and, ere long, to justify it from the peculiarity of his circumstances-At first he felt some remorse; but presently his conscience becomes less tender, till at last it is altogether seared and callous; so that, notwithstanding he be miserably çleparted from God, he is regardless of his loss, and insensible of his danger-Who that has ever noticed the workings of his own heart, has not found what a bewitching and besotting thing sin is? yea, who has not often seen reason to bewail its deceitful, hardening effects!-]

To guard effectually against it we should watch over each other

[Sin, from the foregoing qualities, naturally hides itself from our view, and renders us inattentive to the means of prevention—But ignorant as we often are of our own spirit, we see clearly enough the defects of others; yea, perhaps we condemn with severity in others the very things which we allow in ourselves--To watch over each other therefore, and

of our

“ daily"

to warn each other of those declensions which we either see or apprehend, is a most valuable service; and, if performed with discretion and love, it can scarcely fail of producing the happiest effects-This is a duty to which God has solemnly called us in his word;' and it is to be a part work-Our time for it will be very short: either we or our brother may be speedily removed; and our opportunity of benefiting his soul may be lust for ever-We should exhort one another therefore « daily, while it is called to-day;” and, though it is often an unpleasant office, we should use all fidelity in the execution of it-By this means we may restore a brother before he has relapsed too far, and preserve him from that departure from God, which would otherwise terminate in his destruction-]

Still further to enforce the caution given us, the apostle adds III. A motive to regard it

Our final participation of Christ's benefits depends on our stedfastness in the pursuit of them

(Without entering into the question, whether God have decreed the final perseverance of the saints, we may be fully assured, that none can obtain salvation but by persevering in the way of holiness to the end of life: the scriptures continually speak this language, “ He that endureth unto the end, the same shall be saved:” “but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him”—It is true that believers are already in a measure “partakers of Christ:" but the complete enjoyment of his benefits is reserved for the future life: and we must not only have a scriptural and well-founded confidence at first, but must keep it stedfast even to the end, in order to attain that full possession of our inheritance-]

If any thing can stimulate us to caution, surely this must

[Eternity is at stake, and depends on our present conduct: according as we approve ourselves to the heart-searching God, will our state be fixed for ever-Is it not madness to be remiss and careless under such circumstances? Would any one, who should have reason to think his house were on fire, sit still without endeavouring to find out the latent grounds of his alarm? And shall we know our proneness to unbelief, and not guard against its operation, lest it lead us to apostasy? Shall we acknowledge the deceitful, hardening nature of sin, and not exhort each other to mortify and subdue it!--Surely if we have the smallest concern for our souls, we shall not only

c Matt. xxiv. 13. Heb. x. 33.

• Lev. xix. 17!

VOL. IV.

Qq

regard the caution given us in the text, but labour to improve it in the way prescribed-] ADDRESS 1. Those who have never come to God at all

[The foregoing subject is in itself applicable to those only who profess religion; but it may be accommodated to those also who make no such profession: for, if they who have come to God are in danger of departing from him, and they who have enjoyed a scriptural confidence, may lose it; if they, who have believed, may “ make shipwreck of their faith," and they, who have “begun in the Spirit, may end in the flesh;” if they, who have “begun to run well, may be hindered," and they who have “escaped the pollutions of the world, may again be entangled therein and overcome;" apd, lastly, if they who “have been enlightened, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, may so fall away as never to be renewed unto repentance;" What must become of those who have never experienced any of these things? Can they be safe? Can they have any scriptural hope of heaven? If the strongest have so much need of caution, and the most circumspect such reason to fear the deceitful, hardening effects of sin, surely the careless have need to tremble, lest they “ die in their sins,” and “be driven away in their wickedness”-If all, except two, of those who came out of Egypt, perished in the wilderness, can they hope to enter into the land of Canaan, who have never once come forth from their spiritual bondage!—The point is clear; may God enable us to lay it to heart, and to consider it with the attention it deserves!-]

2. Those who are conflicting with their spiritual ene. mies

[Much has already been spoken to you both in a way of caution and direction: we beg leave to add a word of encouragement-The thing, against which you are chiefly guarded, is unbelief; because that is the true source of all apostasyWe now would say, Be strong in faith giving glory to God“ Paith is the shield wherewith you are to quench the fiery darts” of your enemies—Only believe; and Omnipotence will come to your support-Only believe; and you shall experience the mighty working of his power, who raised Christ from the dead”-Commit yourself to him “who is able to keep you from falling; and he will present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy”-)

CCCCXVIII. A GOOD AND EVIL COnscience.

1 John. iii. 20, 21. If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Brethren, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.

IN the description given us of the day of judgment, we are informed that the Judge will be seated on his throne; that certain books will be opened; and that sentence will be passed on every one according to what was recorded in them. Such a tribunal there is, already erected in the bosoms of men. Conscience is seated there as supreme Judge: it keeps an account of every day's transactions: it summons men to its bar: it exhibits the record before their eyes; and, in perfect correspondence with their actions, it passes on them its authoritative sentence. Thus it anticipates the future judg.. ment, and forces men to read in its decisions their final doom. To this effect the apostle speaks in the passage before us; in elucidating which, we shall shew I. How far the testimonies of our conscience may be de.

pended on The testimonies of conscience are not always just

[With many there is a sleepy conscience, which suffers men to go on in their own ways without shame, and without remorse. So inactive and so callous is this faculty within them, that it is justly represented as “seared with an hot iron.” Indeed, if it were not thus with them, how could they go on so cheerfully as they do, in an open course of sin, or in a wil. ful neglect of God?

With many also there is a partial conscience. They discern what is wrong in others, but not in themselves: or they notice some evils, but not others. Herod would not violate his oath; but he would murder a prophet. And the Pharisees would not put into the treasury the money that was the price of blood; but they would persist in persecuting the innocent Jesus even unto death.d. And such a conscience have many amongst ourselves: it would be clamorous if they were to commit some flagrant enormity; while it bears no testimony at all against secret lusts, or against any evils which are sanctioned by an ungodly world.

a Rev. xx. 12.
• Matt. xiv.9.

bi Tim. iv...
d Matt. xxvi. 3-6, 20.

[ocr errors]

With some also there is an erroneous conscience. St. Paul “ thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus,"c and would have stood condemned in his own mind, if he had not laboured to the uttermost to extirpate the Christian name. And our Lord has told us that many would “think they did God service by killing.” his faithful followers.' Doubiless there are many who, both in civil and religious actions, are instigated by (what we may call) a good principle, while yet a clearer view of their duty would represent those actions in a very different light.

There is also with many a scrupulous conscience. They both do, and forbear many things from a sense of duty, when the things themselves are altogether indifferent in the sight of God. Thus it was with those who were afraid to eat meats that had been offered to idols, or who observed the times and seasons that had been prescribed in the Mosaic law.8 Superstition indeed is less common in this age: yet wherever the mind is tinctured with it, there will arise many occasions of condemnation or acquittal in a man's own mind, when the sentence passed is altogether founded in an ignorance of Chris'tian liberty, or Christian duty.

Hence it is evident that conscience may condemn when it ought to acquit, and acquit when it ought to condemn.]

Its sentence, however, is always just, when it accords with the holy scriptures

[The scriptures are an infallible standard, to which every thing may be referred, and by which its quality may be determined. In order therefore to ascertain whether the testimonies of conscience be just, we should try them by this touchstone. We should learn from the sacred volume what are the leading features of conversion; what is essential to the Christian character; and what, though wrong in itself, will consist with real integrity. When we have thus attained an adequate knowledge of the rule of duty, and our conscience judges by that rule in estimating our conduct, then may we safely acquiesce in its determinations, and conclude it to be right, whether it acquit or con«lumn.

There is, however, and ever must be, more credit due to its sentence when it condemns, than when it acquits, because, in condemning, it may have respect to any single act, and found its sentence on that, without the smallest danger of mistake: but, in acquitting, it must comprehend the whole circle of a Christian's duty, and testify that, on the whole, there is no allowed deviation from it. Here therefore is great scope for error; insomuch that St. Paul himself, though he knew of no ailowed evil in himself, would not be too confident respecting

c Acts xxvi. 9.

f John xvi. 2.

6 Rom. xiv, 2, 3, 5, 6.

« PrécédentContinuer »