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with the Christian condition. It might do te a les then, but it was the reverse of every thing taat is Christian.
The turn of thought which I am recommending or rather, which I find it necessary to insist upon, an essential part of the Christian character, is strong! seen in one particular passage of Saint Paul's writings; namely, in the third chapter to the Philippians. “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” These were points which, at that time of day, were thought to be grounds of confidence and exultation. But this train of thought no sooner rises in his mind, than the apostle checks it, and turns from it to an anxious view of his own deficiencies. “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” These are the words of an anxious man. “ Not,” then he proceeds, “not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do ; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” In this passage, you see, that, withdrawing his mind from all notions of perfection, attainment, accomplishment, security, he fixes it upon his deficiencies. Then he tells you, that forgetting, that is, expressly putting out of his mind and his thought, the progress and advance which he had already made, he casts his eyes and attention upon those qualities in which he was short and deficient, upon what remained for him yet to do. And this I take to be the true Christian way of proceeding Forget those things that are behind ;" put out of your thoughts the attainments and progress you have already made, in order to see fully your defects and imperfections.
In another passage, found in a chapter with which all are acquainted, [the fifteenth of the first epistle to the Corinthians] our apostle, having occasion to compare his situation with that of the other apostles, is led to
“ I laboured more abundantly than they all.” Saint Paul's labours in the Gospel, labours which consumed his whole life, were surely what he might reflect upon with complacency and satisfaction. If such reflections were proper in any case, they were proper in his. Yet observe how they are checked and qualified. The moment he had said, “I laboured more abundantly than they all,” he added, as it were, correcting himself for the expression, “ Yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me.” He magnifies not himself, but the grace of God, which was with him. In the next place, you will observe, that, though the consciousness of his labours, painful, indefatigable labours, and meritorious labours, if ever man's were so-I say, that, , though the consciousness of these was present to his mind at the time, yet it did not hinder him from feeling, with the deepest abasement and self-degradation, his former offences against Christ, though they were offences which sprang from error. “ I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God; but, by the grace of God, I am what I am.” The faults of his life were uppermost in his mind. Yo mention, no recollection of his services, even when he did happen to recollect them, shut out, even for a single moment, the deep memory of his offences, or covered or concealed them from his view.
In another place, the same apostle, looking back upon the history of his singular and eventful life, exhibits himself to his converts, as how? not as bringing forward his merit, pleading his services, or claiming his reward: but as nothing other, nothing more, than a monument and example of God Almighty's mercy. Sinners need not despair of mercy, when so great a sinner as himself obtained it. Hear his own words: “For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” 1 Timothy, i. 16. What could be more humble or self-depressing than this acknowledgement ? yet this was Saint Paul's.
The eleventh chapter of the second epistle to the Corinthians, and also the twelfth, ought to be read by you on this occasion. They are very remarkable chapters, and very much to our present purpose. It had so happened, that some hostile, and, as it should seem, some false teachers, had acquired a considerable influ. ence and ascendancy in the church which Saint Paul had planted.
To counteract which influence it became necessary for him to assert his character, to state his pretensions to credit and authority amongst them at least, and in comparison with those who were leading them astray. He complies with the occasion; and he does accordingly set forth and enumerate his pretensions. But I entreat you to observe, with how many apologies, with what reluctance, and under what
strong protestations, he does it; showing, most manifestly, how contrary it was to his habit, his judgement, and to the inclination of his mind to do so. pressions are such as these : “ Would to God
could bear with me a little in my folly; and, indeed, bear with me.” What was his folly ? the recital, he was about to give, of his services and pretensions. Though compelled by the reason you have heard, to give it, yet he calls it folly to do so. He is interrupted as he proceeds, by the same sentiment; “ That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but, as it were, foolishly in this confidence of boasting.” And again, referring to the necessity, which drew from him this sort of language; “ I am become,” says he, “ a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me.”
But what forms, perhaps, the strongest part of the example is, that the apostle considers this tendency to boast and glory, though it was in his gifts, rather than his services, as one of his dangers, one of his temptations, one of the propensities which he had both to guard and struggle against, and, lastly, an inclination, for which he found an antidote and remedy in the dispensations of Providence towards him. Of his gifts, he says, considering himself as nothing, as entirely passive in the hands of God, “ of such a one,” of a person to whom such gifts and revelations as these have been imparted, “ I will glory; yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.” Then he goes on : “ Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.”
After what you have heard, you will not wonder, that this same Saint Paul should pronounce himself to be
“ the chief of sinners.”—“ Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.” i Tim. i. 15. His sins were uppermost in his thoughts. Other thoughts occasionally visited his mind: but the im. pression which these had made was constant, deep,' fixed, and indelible.
If, therefore, you would imitate Saint Paul in his turn and train of religious thought; if you would adopt his disposition, his frame, his habit of mind, in this important exercise ; you must meditate more upon your sins, and less upon your virtues.
Again ; and which is another strong scriptural reason for the advice I am giving, the habit of viewing and contemplating our own virtues has a tendency in opposition to a fundamental duty of our religion, the entertaining of a due and grateful sense of the mercy of God in the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. The custom of thought, which we dissuade, is sure to generate in us notions of merit; and that, not only in comparison with other men, which is by no means good, or likely to produce any good effect upon our disposition, but also in relation to God himself; whereas the whole of that sentiment, which springs up in the mind, when we regard our characters in comparison with those of other men, if tolerated at all, ought to sink into the lowest self-abasement, when we advance our thoughts to God, and the relation in which we stand to him. Then is all boasting, either in spirit or by words, to be done away. The highest act of faith and obedience, recorded in Scripture, was Abraham's consent to sacri. fice his son, when he believed that God required it. It was the severest trial that human nature could be put upon; and, therefore, if any man, who ever lived, were authorized to boast of his obedience, it was Abraham