« AnteriorContinuar »
ins, in which the honour of God, and the edification of our
require us to make known even those parts of our conduct, in general be concealed. Thus Daniel opened his windows, hree times a day, as a protest against the impious decree of the primitive Christians publicly sold their estates, to provide
And thus martyrs in prison, or at the stake, prayed singly in the mivou open manner, though at other times accustomed to retire into a closet.
The object which we are instructed to propose to ourselves, in making our “ light shine before men,” is this, “ that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven :" and our conduct may be regue lated in most cases, by carefully examining how that end may be most effectually attained. But so far from our good works conducing in any degree to our justification before God, even the gracious recompence, promised to the fruits of the Spirit in the hearts and lives of believers, is not so much as mentioned in the passage before us. Higher and nobler motives are exclusively proposed, motives in which self-love is allowed no gratification, except we can find pleasure in glorifying God and doing good to men.
The people of the world have in general yery unfavourable opinion of evangelical doctrines. “ The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; and the plan of redemption seems to many of them irrational, inconsistent, calculated to level all distinctions of character and capacity, and to militate against the interests of morality and science. They therefore commonly entertain a contempt for a man's understanding, when they discover that he has zealously embraced this religious system : and the disa gusting conduct, or extravagant notions of too many professors confirm these fatal prejudices, and furnish them with anecdotes and objections, with which to oppose the truth. But when a man soberly avows his belief of the gospel; and " is ready to give a reason of the hope that is in him, with meekness and fear :" when he discourses rationally on other subjects, and behaves with increasing propriety and consistency in all his various relations and engagements ; the prejudices of observers gradually subside, and they begin to allow that his principles are not so intolerable as they once conceived them to be. Finding, that, while he decidedly resolves “to obey God rather than man,” he also is ready to serve or oblige others when he can do it with a good conscience; and that his conduct when most exactly scrutinized, appears to the greatest advantage; and feeling perhaps that their own interest and comfort have been materially advanced by the change; they are prepared to receive more favourably any hint he may drop concerning the salvation of Christ; to read a book that he earnestly recommends, or to give the preachers of the gospel an occasional hearing. Thus many are led to an acquaintance with the truths of Christianity in the most attractive manner : their aversion and contempt are almost imperceptibly removed ; and one after another is brought to the knowledge of Christ, and faith in his blood. Then a new light is set up to shine before men, that others may see his good works also, and be won over to join in glorifying our God and Father.
The Lord alone, it is true, can open the understanding and change the heart: but he almost always uses means and instruments; and the pious example and zealous endeavours of Christians are blessed to the conversion of sinners, as well as the preaching of the gospel. Every believer therefore should habitually design and endeavour to be useful in this manner, within his proper sphere; and propose it to himself as the grand object of his future life, to which all other pursuits ought to be subordinated, and if possible rendered subservient. He should watch over his tempers, words, and actions; and endeavour to regulate them in such a manner, that they may give the utmost energy to his attempts, to recommend the gospel to his family and acquaintance. it should be his constant aim, to strengthen the hands of faithful ministers; and to shew in his own conduct, the reality, excellency, and beauty of pure religion, and its tendency to render men happy and useful.
When this is carefully and generally attended to, the number of real Christians will commonly be multiplied, the light of life will be more widely diffused ; and the grain of mustard-seed will become a large plant.
We cannot reflect seriously on this subject, without lamenting that there are but few Christians, even in nations professing Christianity.—The man who habitually hears an express command of Christ with contemptuous neglect, cannot reasonably expect to be thought his true disciple ; yet who can deny that immense multitudes of professed Christians do thus treat the exhortation contained in the text?—Let none then be offended with us, for distinguishing between true believers, and those who say to Christ, Lord, Lord, but do not the things which he commands: for as he will shortly come, and make a complete and final separation, it is of the utmost consequence to every one, that he learn his real character and condition, before the door of mercy and hope be for ever shut against him.
Let each individual, therefore, seriously and impartially inquire, whether he hath that inward evidence of having believed and obeyed the gospel, which arises from a fervent desire that God may be glorified in the conversion of sinners, and from an uniform endeavour to “ let his light shine before men,” for that purpose. If this be wholly wanting, the most exact creed, and the strictest form of godliness will prove entirely unavailing. The Judge, at his appearance, will silence all such pleas, by saying with awful indignation, “ Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” In proportion as we are doubtful, whether this be indeed the ruling principle of our hearts, and the plan of our lives, we should question whether our faith be living, and our hope warranted. We are, however, invited to come to Christ, as sinners for salvation, whatever our state and character may have hitherto been: and if we really accept of this invitation, “ giving diligence to make our calling and election sure ;" the subsequent change will constitute a “ witness in ourselves,” that we are partakers of Christ, and that his Spirit dwelleth in us.
Finally, my Christian brethren, we all need to be deeply humbled, that we have not “ let our light shine before men,” in that measure, and to that effect, which our peculiar advantages and obligations rendered incumbent
Let us then confess and lament our unfruitfulness: and while we humbly crave forgiveness of the past, let us earnestly beseech the Lord for a larger measure of his grace; that we may henceforth “ walk more worthy of God, who hath called us to his kingdom and glory."
INEFFICACY OF HEARING WITHOUT PRACTISING
JAMES, I. 22–25.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For
if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass. For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
The apostle James seems to have especially intended his epistle, as an antidote to the delusion of those who abused the doctrines of grace; and, erpecting salvation by a dead or notional faith, considered good works as altogether superfluous. This may account for the remarkable difference which there is between his language and that of St. Paul; who was 'chiefly employed in contending against those that were prone to the opposite extreme. Having therefore shown that temptations and sins must not be ascribed to God, the unchangeable giver of every good and perfect gift; and observed that the word of truth is especially made use of, in regenerating sinners, and rendering them willing to consecrate themselves unto God: he gives some directions concerning the dispositions and manner, in which men should hear and receive the divine message, that it may be “in them an engrafted word, able to save their souls." He then introduces the passage, which I have chosen for the subject of our present meditation, and concludes with these remarkable words; “ If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart : this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this ; to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” The religion which God approves, when viewed apart from the principles whence it springs, and the ordinances through which it is produced and maintained, is principally expressed by self-denyo ing acts of kindness to men for the Lord's sake, and separation from all the pollutions of this evil world. “ Now," says Paul, “ abideth faith, hope, and charity; but the greatest of these is charity.”.
The text viewed in this connection, may give us an opportunity of considering,
1. The peculiar intent of revelation, and the purposes which it was evidently designed to answer.
II. The inefficacy of hearing without practising, to accomplish any of these purposes.
IÍI. The nature, and sources of that fatal self-deception, into which numbers are in this respect betrayed.
IV. The contrast here stated betwixt the mere hearer, and the practical student of Scripture.
I. We consider the peculiar intent of revelation, and the purposes which it was evidently intended to answer.
« The Lord made all things for himself,” that in different ways they might manifest his glory. The inanimate creation, in every part, proclaims, as it were his wisdom, power, and goodness, and demonstrates his being and perfections.-" The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork." Each of the animal tribes answers the end of its creation, and enjoys all the felicity of which it is capable, except as involved in the consequences of our sins. But rational creatures should glorify their Maker in a higher manner; being formed capable of understanding the display he hath given of himself in his works, and of rendering him the reasonable service of adoration and obedience: in which, as connected with the ineffable enjoyment of his love, their genuine felicity consists. Yet, without at all considering the difference observable in men's character, it is undeniable, that all “ have forsaken the fountain of living waters; and have hewn out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water." This is the universal apostacy and idolatry of the human race: they are all « alienated from the life of God.” None seek their happiness in knowing, loving, obeying, and worshipping him; but all, if left to themselves, idolize the creatures, and expect felicity from the possession and enjoyment of them. It might easily be shewn that this is the prolific source of all the vices and miseries of mankind, however varied and multiplied. The idolized objects of their several pursuits are unsuitable and insufficient for their happiness ; moderate possession and use give not the expected satisfaction; and hence spring intemperance and licentiousness, with all their dire effects. The devotees of riches, power, fame, or pleasure, become rivals, and interfere with each other : thus their malignant passions are excited, and they are tempted to most destructive and atrocious crimes. The departure from God makes way likewise for rebellion, enmity to his perfections and government, and direct opposition to his commands and cause: and hence spring impiety, infidelity, atheism, superstition, every species of false religion, and every form of virulent persecution.
Thus man hath forfeited his felicity in the favour of God, incurred his awful displeasure, lost his own capacity of enjoying a happiness adequate to his desires, and rendered himself the slave of the vilest affections. And as happiness is in its own nature one and unchangeable ; he could by no means have avoided the most dreadful miseries, during the whole of his existence, had not his offended God brought life, as well as immortality, to light by the gospel.
It is therefore the especial intent of revelation, to make the one living and true God known to his apostate creatures, in the mysteries and perfections of his nature, as far as necessary; in the righteousness of his law and government; and in his readiness to show mercy and confer happiness even on rebellious man. It was evidently the design of the Lord to bring us back to himself; to provide for the pardon of our sins, and to give us a title to eternal life, in a way honourable to his perfections; to reduce us to a proper disposition of mind, that we might apply for these blessings in a suitable manner, and make due returns for them: to effect a cordial reconciliation between himself, the great and glorious Creator, and us rebellious creatures ; and to teach us to love, reverence, worship and obey him, that, being renewed to his holy image, we might enjoy true happiness for evermore in his favour and service.
Revelation was also intended to train up a people, who might be the instruments of God in promoting his cause among men; in alleviating and counteracting the miseries and mischiefs of the world, and in doing good to one another, till their removal to a state of perfect holiness and felicity. Finally, it was designed to bring fallen men to that blessed state: that being made equal with the angels, they might for ever unite with them in the most sublime worship and delightful service of their infinitely glorious Benefactor.
Now if these are the special ends and purposes of revelation, as every impartial and diligent inquirer must be convinced they are; we may readily see,
II. The inefficacy of hearing without practising to accomplish any one of them.
But the importance of the subject is inexpressible, and demands a more particular investigation. The apostle supposes in the text, that the persons he addressed did hear the word of truth, and not any species of false doctrine; for the more deeply men are impressed by erroneous sentiments, and the more entirely these become practical principles, the greater mischief is done; as such deluded persons are inflated with pride, buoyed up in selfconfidence, and encouraged in gratifying their corrupt passions as a part of their religion. These are the produce of the tares, which the enemy sows in the field while the servants sleep: but the self-deceivers, that abound ́ even where the good seed is sown, are such hearers as receive the doctrine of truth into a carnal mind by a dead faith, and distort or pervert it through the artifice of Satan and the deceitfulness of their own hearts.-Our present business therefore lies with those, who statedly, or occasionally attend on the real gospel of Christ.
It may here be proper to make a digression, in order to mention some descriptions of hearers only, and not doers; that we may hold the mirror to every individual, and help him to discover what manner of man he is. Many persons form a part of our congregations, who come from habit or constraint. Children or domestics, belonging to religious families, and many others in different situations, are accustomed to attend divine service, where the word of truth is preached. They know this is expected from them: and they submit to it as a stated tax on their inclinations, which they pay for the sake of coincident advantages. Such persons commonly forget that they are addressed by the preacher, and concerned in his instructions. They come and go, as it were, mechanically; but scarcely think of complying with the exhortations which are most earnestly enforced. They receive the seed by the way-side, and "the devil takes it away, lest they should believe and be saved." If this observation should reach the ears of any persons who answer the above description: let them remember, that for once at least they were particularly addressed; that the subject comes home to their case; and that not only the preacher, but the apostle speaks to them, as by name, saying, "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves."
There are likewise speculating hearers, who study religion, as other men do mathematics; either to gratify curiosity and love of discovery; or because they hope to render it subservient to worldly interest and reputation ; or vainly imagine that a sound creed is the one thing needful, the sure and the only passport to heaven. These men are often very severe on blind Pharisees, who think to be saved by a form of godliness: but they cannot see that a form of knowledge is equally worthless, and far more dangerous; because it produces a more desperate kind of pride and self-preference,"knowledge puffeth up." They consider hearing, speculating, disputing, and criticising preachers and doctrines, as the whole of religion. Their notions abide inactive in their minds, and produce no change of disposition; even the apparent morality or piety, which are sometimes connected with them, result from other principles; while the spirit and conduct, in many respects, are diametrically opposite to the real tendency of the doctrines for which they contend. Such persons, however, seldom persevere in stated attendance, where the whole truth is preached, and as the completion of their system is the main object with them; they often grow weary of hearing even that partial statement, which they approve, and which they have fully understood.
Another description of hearers mistake the means of becoming religious for religion. They hear several sermons every week, from their favourite