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principles it maintains and contends for, are certain truths, built upon sure evidence. And they have no bad tendencies. The principles of the gospel inspire not men with any hurtful designs. The actions, which they recommend, are all reasonable and beneficial. Nor are they who exercise in this exercise moved by envy and ill-will to any; nor yet by an exorbitant love of gain; nor by pride, or ambition of worldly honour.
2. It is good, inasmuch as it is worthy and important, not mean and trifling.
The celebrated contentions to which the apostle alludes, though in so much repute, were trifling, in comparison of this exercise of faith. They consisted chiefly in the show of bodily strength, and some skill in matters of small moment. But they who exercise the exercise of faith are employed in matters of great value. The principles which they maintain, and resolutely refuse to deny, are truths of great importance. And they are engaged in designs and actions of much moment; governing the affections, with regard to all the sensible things of this life, and ordering the whole of the conversation, according to the rules of right reason. This is much more considerable than all the exploits of the Grecian combatants.
3. Consequently, the exercise of faith is a good exercise, as it is very honourable.
Though christians were then had in contempt, and their faith was ridiculed, the apostle calls the " exercise of faith,” that is, steadiness in the profession of truth, and the practice of virtue, a good exercise. It is a thing of more true honour than the combats so much applauded at that time in many parts of the world. It is a thing of vast difficulty. And it depends upon a very noble resolution and firmness of mind. The greatest offers which the world can make, and the worst evils which it can inflict, are oftentimes set before men, to induce them to desert the interest of known truth, and transgress the rules of virtue; and their compliance is solicited with long and tiresome importunity, and all the arts, most suited to gain the consent against the convictions of conscience; or to silence its dictates and remonstrances. To be fixed and immovable in the way of virtue upon such occasions is very honourable. Yea, not only for men thus to exert themselves on some special and extraordinary occasions, as the Olympic combatants did in the time of their solemnity, and the preparatory exercises, possibly, of some few months or years continuance; but to maintain and carry on this exercise of faith, a steady regard to the princi
ples and rules of the gospel throughout the whole life, in the various and trying occurrences of it, amidst allurements and discouragements. This is truly honourable and commendable.
4. The exercise of faith is a good exercise, with regard to its event, as it has a good reward annexed to it.
That reward is now distant, and out of sight. It is not bestowed here. But it is very sure; and it is great and transcendent. In allusion to the custom of the Grecian games, the apostle sometimes calls the reward of virtue a crown; but he gives it the preference greatly above the crowns, or garlands of the Olympic victors. And we ought to do the same; though we should take in other advantages annexed to it; some distinguished honours and privileges in the cities where they dwelt. "Now they do it," says he, "to obtain a corruptible crown; we, an incorruptible," 1 Cor. ix. 25. And St. Peter assures the elders who behave well, that "when the chief Shepherd shall appear, they shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away," 1 Pet. v. 4.
That is justly styled a good exercise, which has a good reward annexed to it.
5. It is a good exercise, as all who perform it are entitled to the reward of eternal life.
This is a singular advantage, peculiar to the exercise which has been instituted by the Lord of all; men, however willing and large-hearted, being obliged to limit the recompences, which they propose to such as they would encourage, according to the proportion of their small abilities. This circumstance is particularly taken notice of in a text before cited. "Know ye not, that they which run in a race, run all; but one receiveth the prize. So run, that ye may obtain;" that is, that ye may all obtain, 1 Cor. ix. 24.
In those Olympic exercises, whether of race or combat, one only in each received a prize, even the victor. But in the christian race and combat every one is victor who performs well. Every one that denies himself, and, notwithstanding the temptations of this world, is steady in the profession of truth, and the practice of virtue, is a conqueror, and shall receive a crown of righteousness from the righteous judge.
6. Once more, the exercise of faith is a good exercise, on account of the supports and encouragements afforded to those who undertake it.
They are encouraged by the greatness of the reward proposed to them by him who is able to do more than we think
or conceive. They are also animated by the example of many who have overcome in this combat; and especially by the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been tried, as we now are; and who has power to grant to" them who overcome, to sit with him in his throne, even as he also overcame, and is set down with his Father, in his throne," Rev. iii. 21.
Moreover, all success in this exercise, every act of selfdenial, every instance of steadiness amidst temptations, and in opposition to the adversaries of our virtue, when reflected on, casts light and joy on the mind, cheers and refreshes, and inspires with renewed ardour, and strengthens for farther difficulties. As the apostle says: "For which cause we faint not; but though the outward man perish, the inward man is renewed day by day :- whilst we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things seen are temporal; but the things not seen are eternal," 2 Cor. iv. 16, 18.
III. It remains only, that I conclude, as at first proposed, with some inferences, by the way of a practical application. They will be these two.
1. We are here reminded, that a life of religion and virtue has, in this world, its difficulties.
It is no very easy thing to be steady in the profession of truth, and the practice of virtue. They who expect to find every thing smooth and easy in this way, and look for no opposition or discouragement, will be disappointed. For the life of a christian, as we have seen, is compared in scripture to a warfare, a race, a combat. It is a contention, an exercise that requires a good deal of resolution, and will try all our strength and skill.
2. Nevertheless there is encouragement to hold on therein. For it is a good exercise. It is innocent and honourable, and will have a great reward hereafter, and has at present its joys and supports; which are not small, but very exhilarating and strengthening.
It is not a little pleasing to hear it called a good exercise by those who have made trial of it. St. Paul, who was so great a master therein, who knew all its difficulties, who had met with good report and ill report, who had been in perils of every kind, who had been as laborious and diligent as any in the service of the gospel; in a word, he who knew by experience, how much it might cost men, calls it a good exercise. He recommends it to others as such. And near the period of his life he says with exultation and triumph: "I have exercised a good exercise: I have finished my
race: I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness," 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8. This is very encouraging to all who are well disposed.
And let us consider what the apostle adds in this exhortation to Timothy; that he had made a good profession; which may be also said of most of us. We have been taught, and we have acknowledged the principles of the christian religion; and we have engaged to fulfil its obligations. Let not expected good fruits be lost for want of perseverance. How great is the reward set before us! How great will be the honour and the joy to receive a crown of righteousness from the righteous Judge! How sad, how afflictive beyond all expression, to lose his reward! It is proposed to us. We may obtain it; but we must now work the works of righteousness, and persevere therein. Whenever sloth and indolence, weariness and fainting of mind, are ready to prevail and gain ground on us, let us recollect this, or some other like quickening admonition of holy scripture: "Exercise the good exercise of faith. Lay hold on eternal life." And, "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not," Gal. vi. 9.
THE POWER AND EFFICACY OF CHRIST'S DOCTRINE.
For without me ye can do nothing. John xv. 5.
OUR Lord in this context compares himself to a vine, and his followers to branches. Some think that these words were spoken upon occasion of things recorded in the other gospels, after eating the paschal supper, and Christ's instituting a memorial of himself, to be observed among his people; where he speaks of " the fruit of the vine,” Matt. xxvi. 29; Mark xiv. 25. Others think that our Lord was now retired with the disciples to the mount of Olives, which is said to have abounded with vines. Whether either of those conjectures be right or not, unquestionably the affecting discourses recorded here, and in the adjoining chapters, are such as our blessed Lord had with his disciples at the paschal supper, and after it, the night in which he was betrayed, and a little before he was taken from them. Those
discourses had made deep and lasting impressions upon the minds of the apostles. We may suppose, that St. John had often repeated them in his public preaching, and in conversation, in the history he had given of his Lord and Master by word of mouth. And now that he was induced to publish a written gospel, in which he designed to insert some particulars omitted by the former evangelists, he determined to record those discourses somewhat at length; being persuaded that they would be of signal use to all that would seriously attend to them.
Ver. 1, "I am the true vine:" a right and generous vine. Or, as the phrase is in one of the prophets, " a noble vine," Jer. ii. 21. In this gospel of St. John, our Lord, at several places, styles himself "the true light, the true bread, the good shepherd." He is all these by way of excellence. He is himself faithful; his words are most true and sure: and his doctrine is most excellent and powerful; suited to cherish the spiritual life, and to afford genuine fruits of righteousness and true holiness.
"And my Father is the husbandman," or the proprietor, who cultivates it in the best manner.
Ver. 2, "Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth" or pruneth" it, that it may bring forth more fruit." All who make a profession of faith in me, are disciples by ⚫ name, and visible members of my church. But there are 'methods of providence, that will show who are true and sincere. In time of temptation, when any extraordinary ' offers of worldly good, or dangers of evil, are presented, 'some will fall away, whilst others will be purified and improved by the same events.'
Ver. 3, " Now ye are clean, through the word, which I have spoken unto you." As it is meet for ine to encourage, as well as to warn and admonish you; I readily own, that you have received my word, and have shown a 'great regard to it. And it has good effects upon you.'
Ver. 4," Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine: no more can ye, except ye abide in me." And I recommend
it to you as what will answer the best purposes to retain your present esteem and affection for me, and regard to my words.'
Ver. 5, "I am the vine: ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit. For without me ye can do nothing." Let me in'culcate this upon you under the similitude which I have