« PrécédentContinuer »
“ I lived a Pharisee ; touching the law, blameless." I was alive without the law once :” that is, when I did not know the law in its true sense, I thought myself alive, and a faint. The Pharifaical doctrines in which he had been educated, taught him that God required no more than a conformity of the external behaviour to the letter of the law. But when he discovered that the Divine law extended to the heart ; when thus in its power, the commandment came ; “ sin revived and I died ;" then I saw myfelf to be a finner, and died to the self-conceit which I formerly entertained.
Secondly, Let me ask you what is the strength of your attachment to the cause of righteousnets ? As you are sensible of your faults, and have seen the deformity of fin, are you enamoured with the beauty of holiness? Do you desire nothing more earnestly than to put on the graces of the Gospel, and be conformed to the image of God ? Men will never imitate what they do not love ; if then you are not lovers of goodness and virtue, you never will be good and virtuous. So long as they keep to generals, men may easily deceive themselves. Let us then come to particulars, and let me ask you with what regard and estimation you view those patterns of piety which you see exhibited in life. Are the good and the righteous, to you the excellent ones of the earth ? The wife do not proportion their respect to men according to the rank they hold, or the name they bear in the world. It is the character of the just man, as drawn in Scripture, that he scorneth the vile, however exalted, and honoreth them that fear the Lord, however depressed. Do you then fcori the vile man, with all his attributes of rank and wealth and power ? Do you despise the rich, the noble, the right honorable villain, and choose for your companion the righteous man, although he has not where to lay his head ? Could you sit down with virtue in her cell, contented with her homely fare, with her poor abode, and look down with a generous contempt upon the fplendid roof, where luxury and guilt lead on the festive hours ? When you
be. hold the wicked great in power, and flourishing like a green bay-tree, does your heart revolt from giving him that homage which the favours of mammon never fail to extort from the venal multitude, and can you say, in the fincerity of your heart, “ I would not exchange the peace
my own mind for the 6 wealth of the world ? Whatever thou art pleased to s give, Father Almighty, may I possess it with honor: “ the world approaches to thine altar, and bends be“ fore thy throne for temporal blessings ; the prayer “ of my heart is, Lord lift up on me the light of thy a countenance."
Thirdly, Let me ask you, are your resolutions as firm, and your application as vigorous now as when you first set out in the spiritual life ? There are times in which all men are serious ; in which the most oba durate minds feel impressions of religion, and in which persons of the most abandoned character form resolutions of amendment. With all the zeal of new converts, they fet about a thorough reformation. They wonder how they have been so long blind to their true interest ; they mourn over the time that they have lost in vain, or in finful pursuits, and now seem fully determined to follow religion as the one
thing needful. With many, this course continues not long; the first new object engages their attention, and turns them aside from the path of the juste But true religion, my friends, does not consist in such fits and starts of devotion; in random resolutions made in the fervour of zeal; in the wavering, desultory and inconsistent conduct which marks the character of multitudes in the world. He alone is an good man who perseveres in goodness. When the vernal year begins, and the shower of summer des scends, all nature bursts into vegetable life; the noxious weeds rival the trees among which they grow ; but these sudden growths as suddenly disappear : while favoured by the influences of heaven, the trees arise to their full ftature, and bring forth their fruit in feason. Are you then as much in earnest now, as when your
first love to God began to bring forth the fruits of righteousness ? Without this undiminished ardour ; without these unremitting efforts, you never will run the race set before you, so as to finish your course with joy. At the same time, I must take notice, that as you advance in years, all the palsions will gradually cool. When therefore the fervour of youth has subsided, and mature age hath giva en a fober cast to the temper, you will not feel that degree of ardour in your devotions which you expe. rienced in your early years. Many serious persons have been alarmed at this appearance, not considering that it was the effect of their constitution, and not a mark of apostacy from God. But
devetion will continue as sincere, though not so inflamed, as before, and religion will be as effe&ual as ever in the regulation of your life ; like a mighty river, before it terminates its course in the ocean, it rolls with greater calmness, but at the same time with a greater strength, than when it arose from its fource.
Fourthly, Another mark of increasing grace is when you obey the Divine commandments from affection and love. They who, from the fear of hell, put ca a form of religion for a time, find it to be a hard and a painful service. They are out of their place when they strike into the path of the just ; they consider religion as a heavy burden, which they would not bear but from necessity, and look upon the duties of the christian life as fo many tasks which they have to perform. Whoever entertains such notions of religion, will not rise to high attainments in righteoufness. The passions and affections are the powerful springs of action in the soul ; and unless these are put in motion, the machine will move heavily along. He alone will make progress in the path of the just, who is drawn by the cords of love. Pleasant are the labours of love ; and sweet is the precept when the duty pleases. The yoke is easy, and the burden light, when the heart goes along. The christian is not a slave who obeys from compulsion, or a servant who works for hire : he is a fon who acts from filial affection, and is happiest when he obeys. The love of Christ alone constraineth him. The beauty of holiness allureth him. Though rewards and punishments were set aside, he would follow religion and virtue for their own fake, and do his duty, because therein he found his happiness. Do
Do you then, my friends, feel this affection, this passion for righteousness? Can you say with the Psalmist,“ How do “ I love thy laws, O Lord ? They are my meditation
"all the day. More to be desired they are than “ gold, than much fine gold ; sweeter than honey " from the honeycomb.”
I now come to the second thing proposed, To give you some directions how to make further progress in the path of the just.
In the first place, then, in order to this, make a serious business of a holy life. There are many perfons in the world who give a sanction to piety by their example, but who feel very little of its power. They think religion an exceedingly decent thing ; they see it patronised by all wise men, and they know it to be necessary for the purposes of society. For these reasons they follow the faith, and conform to the usages of their fathers ; they pay a proper respect to the institutions of the church ; and they attend upon the ordinances of Divine worship with all the marks of external reverence. So far their conduct is not only decent, but laudable. But if they go no further than this ; if they confine their sanctity to these walls ; if they think that they have done their duty, when they have complied with the external ceremonies of the church, and have adopted this as the easiest and most compendious method of being religious ; the religion of such persons is rather a kind of good manners, than real devotion. The true christian will not be deficient in his attention to the externals of religion ; but he will not rest there ; he will attend upon the ordinances of public worship, not because it is the custom of the country, but because it is his duty to God ; and he will observe the institutions of christianity; not from complaisance to established usages, but from a sincere defire of ma