Page images

prehended interests of one's family, the spirit of a sect or party, and the pride of self-consistency. The man also has hitherto known very imperfectly the pleasure which springs from the exercise of benevolence, and therefore very imperfectly realizes the pleasure which he may find in exercising it again. His former passions and habits still retain much of their ancient hold upon him, and still influence not a little of his conduct. Hence, his benevolence is in many instances greatly impeded, and in many others prevented perhaps from operating at all.

From all these disadvantages the Christian, in his progress through life, gradually escapes, and acquires gradually the contrary advantages. His love to his fellow-men becomes by degrees a habit more and more fixed, uniform, and ever ready to operate. With every exercise it gains strength. The pleasure' which it yields is more uniformly found, and exists in a higher degree. Hence it is more regularly exercised, and in all its exercises is more efficacious.

The same things are equally true of the Christian's opposition to sin. By the superior knowledge which he acquires of the nature of this evil and bitter thing,' and by his experience of the pain and sorrow which are its regular consequences, he learns to regard it with habitual hatred and fear. His eye therefore is watchfully open to mark the approach of temptation, and the appearance of evil.'

In a similar manner also increases the Christian's attachment to his duty. Attachment to our duty necessarily bears a direct proportion to our hatred of sin ; for every voluntary or negligent omission of known duty is itself a sin. All our duty also is obedience to God ; and a love to it increases of course with our love to God. • This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.' The pleasure also of performing our duty, and the strength of habit generated by it, will lend their whole force to increase this attachment. But the time forbids me to expatiate on this part of the subject.

3. Christians improve also in purity, and amiableness of life.

If the things which have been observed under the former heads be admitted, this will be perceived to follow of course. He whose affections become better will, in a sense necessarily, live a better life. Wherever love to God prevails in greater degrees, devotion, public, private and secret, will regularly be performed in a manner more regular, more sincere, more pure, and more acceptable. Wherever love to man increases in strength, truth will be more exactly spoken, justice more uniformly done, beneficence more widely diffused, and the forgiveness of enemies more cheerfully yielded. In persons of whom this is the character, the pain of self-denial will in a great measure' vanish ; and to communicate to others our property and our services will be attended with little or none of that reluctance but too commonly visible even in good men. In a word, the Christian is taught by his own experience, as he had before been taught by his Saviour, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.'

It is however carefully to be remembered, that all these desirable things are wrought in the Christian's mind and life by the power of the Holy Spirit. We 'work' out our salvation with fear and trembling,' when God works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure. Without the influence of this divine agent, nothing comparatively would be done; but with it, the Christian will himself labour both vigorously and successfully. For his encouragement let him remember, that whenever he is himself willing to lay strong hold on his duty, and will seek for the assistance of this glorious agent, he has the best reasons to believe that it will not be denied.

It ought also to be added in this place, that realizing views of the approach of death, judgment, and eternity will have a powerful influence to quicken the efforts which the Christian makes for his advancement in holiness.

In conformity to these observations, we see Christians actually growing better and better as they advance through life. We see them more pious, more benevolent, more self-denying, more humble, more weaned from the world, more spiritually minded, and universally possessed in higher degrees of the disposition which fits them to become inhabitants of heaven. It obviously costs them less to be meek under provocations and patient under injuries, to part with their property or employ their labour for charitable purposes. The smaller troubles of life sit lighter upon them, and the greater they endure with more resignation and fortitude. Universally, they are more solicitous concerning their duty, and less studious of their own convenience. There is therefore more to be approved and less to be blamed in the conduct of their lives.

It is not intended here that this is the regular and uniform tenour of the Christian life. The improvement of the Christian character is unquestionably, to a greater or less degree, irregular and interrupted ; in some Christians indeed less, and in others more. Some backslide in a melancholy and shameful manner, and for periods comparatively long ; while others appear to advance with a steady and regular approximation towards the measure of the perfect man.

Neither is it intended, that cold, careless, lazy Christians will find the blessings which have been mentioned in this Discourse. The diligent hand maketh rich' in spiritual as well as in temporal good. He who wishes to secure these blessings must on the one hand watch and pray, and on the other, do whatsoever he findeth to do with his might.'

Among the attainments made by such as have been Christians for a length of time, I will mention one; and will then conclude the Discourse. This is, that they are almost universally more catholic than those who are young. By catholic here, I do not mean what in modern times is frequently meant by the word. This honourable term, like many others, has been purloined by men without worth, to denote and to ornament a part of their own unworthy character. It has been employed to designate a shameful indifference to truth and error, to virtue and sin. This is a direct contrast to the spirit of the men of whom I have been speaking. These men are more attached to truth, and more opposed to error; more ardent in their love to virtue and their hatred of sin. But they are possessed of more gentleness and more charitableness in their thoughts, more candour in their judgments, more sweetness in their dispositions, and more evangelical tenderness and moderation in their conduct. They are less ready to censure, and more pleased to commend. Truth they prize more for its own sake, and are less solicitous to ask from whom it comes.

Error they oppose in all men, especially in themselves and their friends. Little things they value less, and great ones more. On the names so numerously found in the Christian world, and so highly valued by many who inhabit it, they place little importance. On the parties and sects which disgrace that world they look only with disapprobation and regret. To real and evangelical worth they attach high consideration. Over the feuds and janglings which have so extensively prevailed among the professed followers of Christ, and often about subjects of little moment, they cast an eye of compassion; and lament that those whom Christ has loved, for whom he died, who will finally be placed at the right hand of the Judge, and who will be united for ever in the friendship of heaven, should be kept asunder, alienated, engaged in contention, and at times even embarked in hostilities, for reasons which they will blush to recite before the last tribunal, and which will awaken shame, if shame can be awakened, in heaven itself.

These men furnish one illustrious practical proof; that the holiness of Christians increases through life.







In the preceding Discourse I observed, that the text naturally teaches us the following doctrines :

I. That the holiness of the Christian is a beautiful object;
II. That it increases as he advances in life ;
III. That it continues to the end.

The two first of these doctrines I have already examined. I will now proceed to a consideration of the third.

As this doctrine has been and still is vigorously disputed, it will be necessary to make it the subject of a particular examination. In doing this I shall first adduce several arguments as a direct proof of the doctrine; and shall then answer the principal objections.

1. It is irrational to suppose that God would leave a work, towards which so much has been done, unaccomplished

To effectuate the salvation of such as believe in Christ, God has sent him to become incarnate, to live a life of humiliation

« PreviousContinue »