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meekness, (not an insensibility to injuries, but a serene quiet of soul under them) have, like beautiful twin sisters, entered the mind, and made it their permanent habitation.
He, who finds this his own state, possesses desirable evidence, that he is a Christian.
4thly. Without a prevailing spirit of gentleness towards others, we cannot have sound and Scriptural evidence of our Christianity.
This is a kindred subject to the last. The natural character of man is rough, revengeful, and unforgiving ; disposed to overbear, to carry his measures by force and violence, to listen little to the wishes and reasons of others, and to arrogate to himself and his concerns, an importance, which, all impartial persons see, does not belong to them.
To this spirit, also, the Gospel is directly, and equally opposed. It enjoins, every where, a spirit of gentleness, moderation, and forgiveness, towards all meni. Its author was wonderfully distinguished by softness and sweetness of disposition. intruded on the rights of others. He used no force, nor even wrought a single miracle, to vindicate his own. He neither cried, nor lifted up, nor caused his voice to be heard in the streets. In the garden he healed the ear of Malchus ; and on the cross he prayed for his murderers. At the same time he required all his followers to possess, and exhibit, the same gentle and forgiving disposition, on pain of not being otherwise themselves forgiven. Nay, he has forbidden them to ask forgiveness of God upon any other condition. The servant of the Lord, saith St. Paul, must not strive, but be gentle towards all men.
The existence, and influence, of this part of the Christian character, are especially seen in cases where we have been injured, and towards those who have injured us. If, beside quietly receiving injuries, we exercise a benevolent spirit towards those who have done them; if we can lay aside all thoughts of retaliation; if we can show them kindness; if we can rejoice in their prosperity; if we can feel and relieve their distresses; if we can heartily pray for their well-being; we have good reason to conclude, that the same mind, which was in Christ, is also in us. *: 5thly. A willingness to perform, accompanied by the actual performance of the duties, required by the Gospel, is an indispensable evidence of Christianity.
There are multitudes of persons in the Christian world, who appear to place Religion greatly, if not wholly, in such feelings of the mind, as are rarely, or never, followed by any of those overt acts of obedience, which are commonly called Christian duties. Their love, contrary to the injunction given by St. John, appears to exist önly in word, and in tongue ; not in deed, and, therefore, we have reason to fear, not in truth. We find persons of this character willing to converse much on religious subjects ; to dwell on the nature of religious affections; to canvass abundantly the doctrines
of the Gospel; to explain minutely the nature of its précepts; to expose such tenets of others, as they esteem erroneous; to defend strenuously such, as they think true; and often to mix with all these things not a little censure of those, who differ from them in opinion and character. I will not say, that these persons are destitute of Religion; but I will say, that, so far, they furnish little reason, why others should believe them religious.
Real Religion is ever active; and always inclined to do, as well as to say. The end, for which man was made, and for which he was redeemed, was, that he might do good, and actively glorify his Creator. To this end all the instructions and precepts of the Gospel were given; all the blessings of Providence; and all the influences of the Spirit of God. All these, therefore, are frustrated, and are without efficacy, where men do not thus act. The business of a Christian is not to say to others, Be ye warmed, and be ye filled; depart in peace; but to feed and clothe them. This, I acknowledge, may be done by such as are not Christians; but he, who does it not, cannot, so far as I see, be a Christian. Active obedience is the only visible fruit, by which our religious character is discovered to others; and the fruit, by which, in a manner peculiarly happy, it is known to ourselves.
To render this evidence of our sanctification satisfactory, it should, in the first place, be uniform.
By this I intend, that our active obedience should proceed in a manner, generally regular, through life. I intend, that it should not exist by fits and starts; be cold to-day, and warm to-morrow; now zealous, now indifferent; at one time, animated by a strong sense of heavenly things, at another, absorbed in those of earth; at one time, charitable, perhaps even to excess, at another, withholding more than is meet: and all this, according to the rise, and prevalence, of different natural feelings. The spirit of Christianity is one in its nature, and therefore uniform in its operations. These, indeed, are diversified, as the objects, which they respect, vary. Thus the same disposition sorrows for sin, which rejoices in the Holy Ghost; and is at peace with itself, while it contends with its spiritual enemies. Still
, a single character runs through them all; differing indeed in degree, but not in kind. Under its influence, the life will wear one general aspect. By ourselves, therefore, if we examine, and by others, who are attentive to our conduct, it will be seen to be of the same nature, and to produce the same effects, throughout the progress of life. I do not mean, that we shall not backslide; or that we shall not have lukewarm, uncomfortable, unprofitable, and unexemplary seasons. These, unhappily, recur but too often. A field of wheat may grow, with different vigour; may, at times, be checked by cold, and stinted by drought; and may, at other times, and under the influence of refreshing showers, and kindly seasons, flourish with strength, verdure, and beauty. Still it will always be a field of wheat, and not of tares and darnel.
Secondly. This obedience must, for the same end, be Universal.
By this I intend, that it must extend alike to all those duties, which immediately respect God, our fellow-creatures, and ourselves. Real virtue, or the religion of the Gospel, never exists by halves. There is no such thing, as being pious, and not benevolent; or being benevolent, and not pious; or being both, and not self-governed. Religion, in this sense, is a spirit of obedience to God; and regards all his commands alike.
If, then, we would derive from our obedience that satisfactory evidence of our Christianity, which it is capable of furnishing ; we should examine ourselves concerning our whole conduct, and inquire how far it wears this universal character. We should inquire diligently whether we regularly, and steadily, employ ourselves, at all proper seasons, in the worship of God; in reading the Scriptures; in communion with Christians; in communion with our own hearts; in watching, striving, and praying, against our lusts within, and our enemies without; in overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil; in resisting, especially, the sins, which most easily beset us ; in raising our thoughts and affections to heavenly objects; and in endeavouring, effectually, to make in the present life preparation for eternity. Universally, we should inquire whether we live alway in the fear, love, and service of God; with a spirit of dependence, confidence, submission, contentment, and gratitude.
Among the duties to which we are summoned by the Gospel, those, which we owe immediately to our fellow-creatures, and to ourselves, are there exhibited as being of very high and indispensable importance. They are every where insisted on in the plainest, strongest, and most affecting manner ; are commended, urged, enjoined, and promised a reward, from the beginning to the end of the Bible. At the same time, the neglect, and the violation, of them, are condemned in the severest terms; and threatened, under the most glowing images, with the severest punishment. Who, says the Psalmist, shall abide in thy tabernacle; who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He, that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart ; that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour ; in whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them, that fear the Lord : He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not : He, that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh a reward against the innocent. He, that docth these things, shall never be moved. If ye forgive men their trespasses, said our Saviour to his disciples, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you: But, if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses.
The servant, who owed ten thousand talents to his Lord,
had his debt readily forgiven. But, when he oppressed his fellowservant, his Lord delivered him over to the tormentors, till he should pay the debt. If any man will not work, neither let him eat. If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house ; he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Be not deceived, says St. Paul, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. Blessed, says David, is he, that considereth the poor ; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. And, what may serve instead of a volume upon this subject, Christ, seated on the throne of final judgment, will, as he declares, say to them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat ; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink ; I was a stranger, and ye took me in ; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye ministered unto me : and, inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, my brethren ; ye did it unto
To them on the left hand, he will also say, Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. For í was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye
visited me not : and, inasmuch as ye did it not to the least of these, my brethren; ye did it not to me.
From these passages of Scripture it will be seen irresistibly, that the duties of these two classes are, in the eye of God, of incalculable importance, and are indispensable to the Christian character and to the attainment of salvation.
Let it not be supposed for a moment, however, that I intend to prefer these duties to those, which immediately respect God. Piety, certainly, holds the first place in a virtuous character : but no man loves God, who does not love his fellow-men, and control his own passions and appetites. As the body without the spirit is dead; so faith without good works is dead also. He, that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
There is one point of view, in which these duties more effectually evince the Christian character, and prove the reality of our Religion, than most of those, which are classed under the name of Piety. It is this : They ordinarily demand a greater degree of self-denial. A man may ordinarily practise the visible duties of piety, without any serious sacrifice of his worldly inclinations. He
may read the Scriptures, and teach them to his children. He may attend the worship of God in his family, and in the sanctuary. He may be present in private religious assemblies. He
may converse much, and often, on religious subjects. He may be very zealous about all these duties. He may commune at the table of Christ. He may preach the Gospel. Yet, instead of crossing his inclinations, or denying himself, he may feel, that he is purchasing a Christian character at a cheap rate; that he is securing to himself the best friends; that he is opening an easy way to distinetion, to influence, and in the end, to wealth ; and that he is, upon the whole, making in this manner, a very gainful bargain. Nay, he may, in this manner, more easily than in any other, quiet his own conscience; persuade himself, that he is a Christian ; feel satisfied, that he has a title to eternal life; and thus, while he thinks he is performing his duty, be only seeking for the pleasure, found in these things ; pleasure, which, though derived from sacred objects, is merely natural; and differs in nothing important from that, which is furnished by pleasant food, fine weather, or a beautiful landscape.
But when a man is called to resist his passions and appetites ; when he is required to be humble, meek, patient, forgiving, just, sincere, merciful, sober, chaste, and temperate ; when he is required to communicate his property liberally to the poor, the stranger, and the public; and practically to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give, than to receive : he is required, of course, to sacrifice the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. He is required to give up his pride, vanity, ambition, anger, avarice, and sensuality. These darling inclinations, which constitute what is called in the Scriptures the love of the world, together with all the objects, on which they are pampered, he is obliged to yield up to the love of God.
Nothing more strongly evinces the sincerity of any professions, than the fact, that they are followed by serious self-denial. Accordingly, the Scriptures have placed peculiar stress upon selfdenial, as evidential of the genuineness of a Christian profession. If any man will be my disciple, said our Saviour, Let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. If any man will save his life, he shall lose it; and, if any man will lose his life for my sake, he shall find it. Go, and sell all that thou hast, said he to the young Ruler, and give to the poor, and come, and follow me; and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. Love not the world, says St. John, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
When, therefore, we find the love of the world actually prevailing, and clearly manifested in the life and conversation of persons who make a profession of religion; the evidence of their piety, of whatever nature it may be, must be exceedingly diminished in the eye of sober charity. Whatever zeal they may discover in at. tending upon public or private worship ; however well they may converse upon religious subjects; whatever feelings they may discover in such conversation; and whatever bright discoveries they may seem to enjoy concerning the mercy or glory of God, or the love and excellence of Christ; if, still, they are greedy of gain; absorbed in the world ; peevish; discontented; wrathful; slothful;