« PreviousContinue »
all, who repel and reject it, gradually withdrawn. If therefore persons, in some measure well-meaning, too often feel, and consequently believe, scarce any thing of the good fruits of the Spirit; the reason is plain : either they neglect themselves, in one part or another of their conduct; or they trust to themselves, and neglect God : of both which errors he will convince them. But if, by joining earnest prayer with diligent watchfulness, we draw nigh unto him, he will soon draw nigh unto us *, and pour out his Spirit upon us f. Indeed the very
different effects, that we shall find, both in ourselves and others, from acting in confidence of mere human strength, and relying on the power of the divine grace, is proof sufficient from experience, that the cause, which produces that difference, is a most real and most efficacious one. Let us therefore now proceed,
IV. To the inferences from, and uses of, this doctrine; which are, that we be thankful for so great a blessing, and careful to improve by it.
1. That we be thankful. Indeed the natural powers, which we have, are all of them the gracious gifts of a good God. But when these were so weakened and perverted, as they are by the fall of Adam and our own transgressions, then to provide for supplying their defects and rectifying their disorders, by daily offers of such light and strength, as we daily want, instead of leaving us to ourselves, as we deserved; this is more abundant grace : and makes our situation in some respects better, than that, from whence our first parents fell. Consciousness of great strength is very apt to lead all persons, as probably it led them, into unforeseen dangers : * James iv. 8.
† Prov. i. 23.
which the more we despise, the more easily they overcome us. At least, it seldom fails to give us an esteem of and confidence in ourselves, very unsuitable to the condition of a creature. Even in our present state, we are strangely inclined to think too highly of our good qualities; and to forget, that whatever we have, we have received *. How much more then should we do it, if our native poverty were not so evident in itself, and so clearly taught in God's word !
But farther: the doctrine of grace is as powerful a guard against despair, as against pride. Had our natural abilities been much greater than they are, and fully sufficient to resist every ordinary temptation : yet had these been our whole ground of hope; when any trial of uncommon difficulty befel us, they could not have increased in proportion to it, but must have sunk under it. Whereas now we are sure, that as our danger is, so shall our strength be: that God is faithful, who will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able ; but will, with the temptation, make a way to escape f.
Most gladly therefore, with St. Paul, may we glory in our infirmities, since his grace is sufficient for us, and his strength is made perfect in our weakness : and most cheerfully may we set ourselves to work out our own salvation; since it is he that works in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure . Let us often consider then, what thankfulness it deserves, that God's holy Spirit is thus active for our benefit: and at the same time let us always remember, by whom this blessing is procured for us : I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter. The intercession of our blessed Lord, founded on his sacrifice of himself to divine justice in our stead, that is the channel, through which grace is derived from the fountain of all good; and a lively faith in him is the only way of opening our hearts to receive the salutary streams of it. But then, as faith without works is dead *, we must be sure, carefully to improve this invaluable gift. It was an ancient and useful precept of philosophy, that men should learn to reverence themselves, and their own consciences. If this were not sufficient to keep wrong inclinations in awe; it was farther directed, that they should imagine they were acting in the presence of some venerable person, whom they would be ashamed to have seen their wickedness and their folly. Such as had perfecter notions of things, went yet further; and taught men, that in all, which they thought and did, they were under the eye of an infinitely just and holy Being, the Maker, Lord and Judge of all. It may seem, that this consideration is the very weightiest, that possibly can be. And yet it will strike us with an additional awe, if we reflect moreover, that in committing sin, we act not only against his known will before his face, but against his counsel and command at that very time given us : that he is not only a witness of the good thoughts and suggestions that we reject, but himself the author of them: that when our hearts tell us we are doing ill; it is not their voice merely, but that of the Almighty speaking to us inwardly, that we disregard. Seldom do we fail in any great instance of our duty, but something within at the instant reproaches us with doing wrong. Were this nothing but our own judgment, we should be highly blamable for contradicting it. But what conviction
1 Cor. iv. 7. * 2 Cor. xii. 9.
+ 1 Cor. x. 13.
must we feel, when we know it is indeed the Spirit of God; and reflect, how often, how wilfully, how contemptuously, we have disobeyed such a monitor! The Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts them: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares * Much stronger is the argument, why we should admit and embrace every pious and virtuous impulse and suggestion : for this is receiving into our souls a greater than angels, the Holy Ghost himself. Let us therefore humbly invite this divine guest to dwell with us, and ever open our hearts to his heavenly inspirations : which, as they will never prompt us to any thing, but what reason or Scripture plainly dictates; and, by that one mark, are easily distinguished from every false pretence to the Spirit; so they will effectually enable us, and they alone can, to persevere in our duty against all temptations; they will fill us with comfort under all afflictions; daily improve us in all virtue and godliness of living, and make us at length completely meet for the blessed inheritance of the saints in light t.
* Heb. xiii. 2.
+ Col. i. 12.
GAL. V. 22, 23.
But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long
suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance : against such there is no law.
THESE words, even at the first reading of them, present to us a very engaging description of the good effects of the Spirit of God on the hearts of Christians : and consequently set before us a subject extremely proper for our attention at this time; when we celebrate the effusion, not only of his miraculous gifts, but of his saying graces: the former of which were no more than the means of spreading the Gospel; the latter, one of the great ends attained by it: the one, temporary; the other, perpetual.
And to apprehend the design of St. Paul in this passage more completely, it will be requisite to bear in our minds his principal intention throughout the Epistle : which was to prove, that believers in Christ were not bound to observe the law of Moses; nor allowed, if they did observe it, to consider that as the ground of their acceptence with God. These indeed are points, concerning which we at present are fully satisfied : and therefore may possibly wonder at his taking so much pains to clear them up. But men were then very generally, and somewhat naturally, inclined to the contrary doctrine: that law being