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of mind which the world cannot give. In view of this, Seneca, a heathen philosopher, was very sensible of the importance of prayer. "Ask,” says he," at the hand of God a good mind; and first of all pray unto him for the health of thy spirit; and next for the health of thy body.” When the blood is either accelerated or retarded in its motion, or when the bones are either broken or dislocated, the body is unfitted for every duty and enjoyment. But a disordered mind is much more intolerable, than a disordered body. The spirit of a man may sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear? When the affections are interrupted, and thrown into tumult and convulsion, saints are unfitted for thinking, reading, praying, or the performing of any other duty. They are exposed to every temptation from within and from without. They can enjoy no peace nor satisfaction until their affections are rectified, and their souls return unto God, their only proper rest. Their moral imperfection, therefore, arising from the inconstancy of their holy exercises, perpetually impels them to call upon God, for either preventing, or preserving, or restoring mercy. It was a realizing sense of the inconstancy and deceitfulness of their own hearts, which led the ancient saints to give themselves unto prayer for divine instruction, guidance, and influence. This appears from the peculiar modes of expression which they used in their addresses to God. David prays in a strain very singular and striking. “Who can understand his errors ? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins, let them not have dominion over me; then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, Ó Lord, my strength, and my Redeemer.”
O “ Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit." heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.” “ Order my steps in thy word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me." “ Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men that work iniquity.” In most of these passages, David is to be considered as speaking the general language of the Old Testament church; which language is exactly agreeable to that daily petition which Christ taught his disciples. “ Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Though a hypocrite will not always call upon God, yet every sincere christian, who realizes the inconstancy and deceitfulness
66 Incline my
of his own heart, will feel the propriety and necessity of complying with that divine precept, “ Pray without ceasing."
9. If the imperfection of saints consists in the inconstancy of their holy exercises, then they are, notwithstanding their imperfection, essentially different from sinners. The present imperfection of saints has led some very ingenious men to imagine that the comparative difference between saints and sinners is extremely small; and that they will not be treated so very differently in a future state, as is generally supposed. This is the opinion of Mr. Paley, a very ingenious and perspicuous writer. He cannot admit that the lowest saint will be perfectly blessed, while the best sinner will be perfectly miserable, in a future and eternal state. He has conjectured, therefore, that there will be but very little difference between the future and eternal condition of the lowest saint, and that of the most moral and amiable sinner. But if the imperfection of saints in this life entirely consists in the inconstancy of their holy exercises, then their moral character is essentially different from the moral character of sinners. They have some perfectly holy and benevolent affections, of which all sinners are totally destitute. They need nothing but constancy in their gracious exercises, in order to render them as perfect as Gabriel, or even as their Father who is in heaven. There is, therefore, not merely a gradual, but an essential difference between the saint who has but one spark of saving grace, and the best sinner on earth, who has nothing but selfish and sinful affections. Upon this ground, the inspired writers distinguish gracious and graceless persons by the most opposite appellations; such as the godly and ungodly, the holy and unholy, the righteous and unrighteous, the friends and the enemies of God. But Christ sets the essential difference between saints and sinners in the most plain and intelligible light. He brings the matter to a point, and decides it in the most unequivocal terms.
For he absolutely declares, “ He that is not with me is against me; and he
; that gathereth not with me, scattereih abroad.” And again, “ He that is not against us is on our part.” “ For whosoever
" shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, Verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward." This decision of the supreme and final Judge puts it beyond doubt that there is an essential difference between every saint and every sinner; and that every saint will be finally and eternally rewarded, while every sinner will be finally and eternally punished.
10. Since all saints are imperfect in this life, the world ought not to question their sincerity, on account of their inconstancy. Many are ready to call in question the sincerity of saints, because they are not constant and uniform in fulfilling their own engagements, and in obeying the divine commands. But if they are imperfect, it is to be expected that they will manifest the inconstancy of their right affections, and discover some wrong feelings towards God and their fellow men. This has always been the case, with respect to the best saints whose characters are recorded in scripture. They were not constant and uniform in their obedience to God, but sometimes felt and acted like sinners. The same thing is still to be expected of those who are now the real but inconstant friends of God. Though they are inconstant, yet they are sincere; though they have some perfectly wrong, yet they have some perfectly right affections. They really love and obey. God, though they fall far short of that perfection in holiness, which they ought to have now, and which they will most certainly attain hereafter. It is, therefore, no less unreasonahle, than dangerous, for sinners to "eat up the sins of God's people,” and build their hopes, as well as form their excuses, upon the criminal defects and imperfections of the excellent of the earth.
11. Since all saints are imperfect in the present state, they have abundant reason for humiliation and self abasement. They have been extremely inconstant, inconsistent and criminal, in their views and feelings. Though they have had some right affections and sincere desires to glorify God, yet they have been as unstable as water in their good purposes, resolutions and designs. Their imperfections have attended them every day and every where, in all their secular employments, and religious duties. How many worldly affections have crept into their hearts, while they have been necessarily engaged in worldly concerns! How much have they been conformed to the manners and spirit of the world, while they have been called to mix and converse with the men of the world! How often have their remaining corruptions disturbed their thoughts and affections, in the devotions of the closet, of the family, and of the house of God! Could the contrariety and inconsistency of their feelings and conduct be painted to their own view, as they have actually appeared to the Searcher of hearts, they would blush and be ashamed not only of their hours of labor and amusement, but of their more solemn seasons of retirement, meditation and prayer. Their sins are not only great and numerous, but exceedingly aggravated. They have broken the most sacred and solemn obligations, and greatly injured those whom they ought to have treated with a peculiar affection and regard. Such criminal imperfections call for deep humiliation and self abasement. They ought to loathe and abhor themselves, when they reflect how much they have offended God,
how much they have wounded Christ in the house of his friends, how much they have resisted and grieved the Holy Spirit, how much they have weakened the hands and discouraged the hearts of their fellow christians, and how much they have robbed themselves of the most solid peace and self enjoyment. They ought to walk humbly and softly before God every day. They ought to keep their hearts with all diligence, and guard against the assaults of Satan and the snares of the world. They ought to grow in grace; and, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, to press toward the mark of sinless perfection.
MEN HAVE NO RIGHT TO MISTAKE THE NATURE
OF THEIR MORAL EXERCISES.
But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit
ye are of. — Luka, ix. 55.
All men are naturally disposed to think that their hearts are better than they are, and to mistake the nature of their moral exercises. To rectify this dangerous error, our Saviour took a great deal of pains, in his preaching and private discourses. In his sermon on the Mount, he exposed the self deception of the Scribes and Pharisees, who mistook their selfish feelings for true benevolence. Nor was he less plain and pointed upon this subject, in his more private discourses with his disciples. Whenever he perceived them to be blind to their own hearts and unacquainted with the real motives of their own conduct, he never failed to reprove them for their criminal ignorance. Many instances of this kind might be mentioned, but that to which our text refers is the most remarkable.
“ It came to pass when the time was come that Jesus should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem; and sent messengers before his face; and they went and entered into a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” Though the disciples sometimes loved Christ with a pure, disinterested affection, yet they sometimes