Page images
PDF
EPUB

where else, due readiness to be persuaded of what makes in favour of persons; as we are told of charity, in that description of it, which I just now mentioned, that it believeth all things, hopeth all things.

The only remaining virtue is temperance, or selfcommand. For the original word is by no means so confined, as that, by which we translate it, is in common use: but extends to the governing, and preserving within its proper bounds, every movement of our hearts, not only towards pleasure, but wealth, honours, resentment, any thing indeed, which can either entice or provoke us to act injuriously. Now in this general sense it most fitly concludes and completes the list. For, whatever good inclinations we may have, we shall fail greatly of being such as we ought in the community of mankind, if we indulge any mischievous ones along with them. And those, which are called the gay vices, produce as great, perhaps greater and acuter misery in the world, than downright malice: nay, the irregularites, by which men are said to hurt no one, but themselves, always hurt many besides. Or could these things be otherwise, which they cannot: the design of religion is to prevent all hurt, to ourselves, as well as others : to make us happy, as well as harmless; happy in the next life, as well as the present. And we shall never be either, but by the practice of those virtues, which the Apostle here tells us, are the fruits of the spirit. I shall now proceed,

II. To shew you in what sense, and how far, they are such.

As, in several places of the New Testament, the word flesh, denotes the law of Moses, a great part of which stood only in carnal ordinances *; so the spirit likewise often denotes the purer and sublimer dispensation of the Gospel *: which is also said, more than once, to yield or bring forth fruit f ; and undoubtedly the same fruit with that in the text. But, in this chapter, the word flesh, hath plainly, as I have observed to you, a very bad sense: and cannot possibly signify the law ; nor the works of the flesh, the works of the law: nor consequently can the spirit, which is the opposite term, signify here the doctrines or precepts of Christianity. Some therefore, understanding rightly by the flesh a sinful disposition, have understood by the spirit, merely a Christian one; and by the fruits of the spirit, the effects of that disposition. But indeed the good qualities, which you have heard explained, are the several parts, not the effects, of a Christian temper: and to call them the fruit which it bears, when they are indeed the ingredients of which it is composed, would surely be an improper manner of speaking. Others again, by the spirit understand only the rational principle within us. And by that name indeed the Scripture often calls it. But then the Scripture never ascribes Christian virtues and graces to human reason alone, as the productive cause of them. So that, after all, the common interpretation is much the best. The spirit meant is the Spirit of God; our bad qualities are from ourselves; our good ones from above. Our Şaviour hath told us, that as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine : no more can we, except we abide in him I. And as our union to him, and entrance into the kingdom of God, or Gospel state, is first made by being born of water and of the the Spirits ; elsewhere called the washing of regene* Gal. iii. 3.

* Heb. ix. 10.

+ Mark iv. 8. Col. i. 6. John xv. 4.

§ John iï. 5.

ration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost * : so it is, through the same Spirit, dwelling in us, that we must ever after mortify the deeds of the body t, and be strengthened with might in the inner man 1. Every Christian virtue therefore proceeds from the fellowship or communion of the Holy Ghost ş; the communication and partaking of his influences. For if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his ||. And as we ought to pray for the Holy Spirit, which our heavenly Father will give to them that ask him [. we must also be duly thankful for the gift; and ascribe the good actions, that we are able to do, not to ourselves, but to the grace of God which is with us ** We are not sufficient to think any thing, as of ourselves : but our sufficiency is of God tt.

We have indeed originally more or less of right disposition, either remaining in us notwithstanding the fall, or restored to mankind after it, which prompts us to many imperfect instances of right behaviour; whence the Apostle speaks of the Gentiles, as doing by nature the things contained in the law ft. But then we must remember, first, that this and all our powers are the gift of God; and secondly, that the best of our natural powers do not enable us to fulfil duly the law of Christ, without the inward motions of the Holy Spirit : as on the other hand, his motions may prove ineffectual too, if we resist SR or quench |||| them; if we neglect to work out our own salvation with the strength which he gives us, instead of being encouraged to it, as we certainly ought, by his working in us both to will and to do II.

[blocks in formation]

# Eph. iii. 16. I Luke xi. 13. If Rom. iii. 14.

1 Cor. xv. 10. ++ 2 Cor. iii. 5. $Acts vü. 51. \ 1 Thess. x. 19.

Phil, ii. 12, 13.

Our own endeavours then being still necessary; and, if used in humble dependence on God, certain of success; there can be no objection from reason against this doctrine. Nor is it any real one from experience, that we have seldom, if at all, an immediate and distinct perception of these influences. For our fellow-creatures influence us often very strongly, without our perceiving it: much more then may the Almighty. And that the operations of his power in the works of grace should be secret and silent, and commonly gradual, is by no means improbable, since they are so in the works of nature. This gives occasion in each for the thoughtless to forget God; but for the considerate to admire him the more: who by a slow and imperceptible progress, for the most part, brings to perfection the fruits of the spirit, as he doth those of the earth; and the former, if due cultivation be not wanting, with infallible success; filling the heart of the Christian always, as well as of the husbandman usually, with food and gladness *. How very great cause for gladness a sense of being filled with these fruits of righteousness affords men, will appear from proceeding,

III. To lay before you the meaning and importance of that expression in the text, that against such there is no law.

Of these words it is a very true sense, that the practisers of the Gospel virtues have generally speaking nothing to fear from human laws : and a very material sense, considering what severe punishments are frequently incurred by the contrary vices : on which account St. Peter justly asks, Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good+? But this, though a right meaning in itself, Acts xiv, 17.

+ 1 Pet, iii. 13.

[ocr errors]

comes far short of the Apostle's meaning: which is, that whereas the law of nature requires obedience, without giving any certainty of pardon and acceptance on whatever terms, after disobeying; and the law of Moses being added because of transgressions * that is, partly to convince men of their transgressions, partly to restrain them from transgressing, increased both the number of duties and the fear of punishment, but afforded only obscure hopes, either of assistance or forgiveness : the Gospel of Christ was revealed, in God's due time, to relieve mankind, on most equitable conditions, from the rigour of the other two: supplying the promise of mercy after failures, taking off the heavy yoke of ritual obseryances, producing in men the good dispositions required; and expressly assuring them that a perfect obedience would not be expected, but a faithful and sincere one be sufficient, in order to obtain eternal happiness. Against such, therefore, as thus possess and exercise the several Christian graces, there is no law. For them there is a law, to direct and reward them; against them there is none, to sentence and punish them. The strict demand of the covenant of works is relaxed : the burthen of the Mosaic ordinances is removed: and the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made them free from the law of sin and death t. Still indeed they are subject to the law, which

gave them this freedom : they are created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that they should walk in them I. But this the Apostle considers as a privilege, not a servitude; a privilege, however, necessary to be used: and therefore he expresses very distinctly the nature of it. There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ

* Gal, iii. 19.

+ Rom. viii. 2.

# Eph, ii. 10.

« PreviousContinue »