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I have sometimes known them, very distressing scruples. . I think that observations might be offered to remove the ground of them altogether : but what I have at present to suggest is, that the very act of reflection, which leads to them, is unnecessary, provided you will proceed by our rule, viz. to leave your virtues, such as they are, to themselves; and to bend the whole force of your thought towards your sins, towards the conquest of these.
But it will be said, are we not to taste the comforts of religion? Are we not to be permitted, or rather ought we not to be encouraged, to relish, to indulge, to enjoy these comforts ? And can this be done without meditating upon our good actions?
I answer, that this can be done without meditating upon our good actions. We need not seek the comforts of religion in this way. Much we need not seek them at all; they will visit us of their own accord, if we be serious and hearty in our religion. A well-spent life will impart its support to the spirits without any endeavour, on our part, to call up our merits to our view, or even allowing the idea of merit to take possession of our minds. There will, in this respect, always be as much difference as there ought to be between the righteous man and the sinner (or, to speak more properly, between sinners of different degrees), without taking pains to draw forth in our recollection instances of our virtue, or to institute a comparison between ourselves and others, or certain others of our acquaintance. These are habits, which I hold to be unchristian and wrong ; and that the true way of finding and feeling the conplations of religion is by progressively conquering our
Think of these; contend with these ; and, if is contend with sincerity, and with effect, which is
the proof indeed of sincerity, I will answer for the comforts of religion being your portion. What is it that disturbs our religious tranquillity ? What is it that embitters or impairs our religious comfort, damps and checks our religious hopes, hinders us from relishing and entertaining these ideas, from turning to them, as a supply of consolation under all circumstances ? What is it but our sins ? Depend upon it, that it is sin, and nothing else, which spoils our religious comfort. Cleanse
your heart from sin, and religion will enter in, with all her train of hopes and consolations. For proof of this, we may, as before, refer to the examples of Scripture Christians. They rejoiced in the Lord continually. “ The joy of faith,” Phil. i. 25. the Holy Ghost,” Rom. xiv. 17, was the word in their mouths, the sentiment of their hearts. They spake of their religion, as of a strong consolation, as of the
refuge, to which they had fled, as of the hope of which they had laid hold, of an anchor of the soul sure and steadfast:" Heb. vi. 18, 19. Their promise from the Lord Jesus Christ was, “ Your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you :” John xvi. 22. Was this promise fulfilled to them ? read Acts, xiii. 52.
They were filled with joy and the Holy Ghost.” “ The kingdom of God," saith Saint Paul, “ is joy in the Holy Ghost :” Rom. xiv. 17. So that Saint Paul, you hear, takes his very description and definition of Christianity from the joy which is diffused over the heart; and Saint Paul, I am very confident, described nothing but what he felt. Yet Saint Paul did not meditate upon his virtues: nay, expressly renounced that sort of meditation. His meditations, on the contrary, were fixed upon his own unworthiness, and upon the exceeding, stupendous mercy of God towards him,
through Jesus Christ his Saviour: at least, we have his own authority for saying, that, in his Christian progress, he never looked back ; he forgot that which was behind, whatever it might be, which he had already attained ; he refused to remember it, he put it out of his thoughts. Yet, upon this topie of religious jos, hear him again ; " we jov in God through our Lord Jesus Christ ;" Rom. v. 11, and once more, “ the fruit of the Spirit is love, jov, peace:" Gal. v. 22. These last are three memorible words, and they describe, not the effects of ruminating upon a man's own virtues, but the fruit of the Spirit.
But it is not one apostle in whom we find this temper of mind; it is in them all. Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, Saint Peter thus addresses his converts, “whom, having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:" i Peter, i. 8. This joy covered even their persecutions and sufferings : “ wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now, for a season, if need be, ve are in heaviness through manifold temptations," 1 Peter, i, o, meaning persecutions. In like manner Sunt James saith, “count it all joy when ye fall into divers teruptations, that is, persecutions ;” and why? "kuowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience : " James, i. t. Let no one, after these quotations say, that it is necessary to fix our attention upon the virtues of our character, in order to taste the comfores of religion. No persons enjoyed these comforts int op gerüt perfection as the Christians whom we read w in Scripture', yet no persons thought so little of their A e virtues What they continually thought upon was Bedeunding love of Christ towards them, “in that,
Ask they were yet sinners, he died for them,” and the
tender and exceeding mercies of God in pardon of their sins, through Christ. From this they drew their consolation ; but the ground and origin of this train of thought was, not the contemplation of virtue, but the conviction of sin.
But again ; the custom of viewing our virtues has a strong tendency to fill us with fallacious notions of our own state and condition. One almost constant deception is this, viz. that in whatever quality we have pretensions, or believe that we have pretensions, to excel, that quality we place at the head of all other virtues. If we be charitable, then “charity covereth a multitude of sins." If we be strictly honest, then strict honesty is no less than the bond which keeps society together ; and, consequently, is that without which other virtues would have no worth, or rather no existence. If we be temperate and chaste, then self-government being the hardest of all duties, is the surest test of obedience. Now every one of these propositions is true ; but the misfortune is, that only one of them is thought of at the time, and that the one which favours our own particular case and character. The comparison of different virtues, as to their price and value, may give occasion to many nice questions; and some rules might be laid down upon the subject; but I contend, that the practice itself is useless, and not only useless, but delusive. Let us leave, as I have already said, our virtues to themselves, not engaging our minds in appreciating either their intrinsic or comparative value ; being assured that they will be weighed in unerring scales. Our business is with our sins.
Again ; the habit of contemplating our spiritual acquirements, our religious or moral excellencies, has, very usually, and, I think, almost unavoidably, an un