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it is their own wickedness, not that of others, which makes them so very keen and acute in putting evil interpretations upon doubtful conduct.
I proceed now to another mark—the last I shall now mention -by which we may try ourselves whether the grace of God, which we are daily receiving, is thrown away upon us or no. Are we daily becoming more industrious, and readier to deny ourselves, for the help and comfort of our neighbour? The more we know of the Gospel, the more we know of God's love to us; how dear it cost Him, how far it reaches, how unceasing and unwearied it is : the more pressing, therefore, is the call upon us, to think nothing too good for our brethren, no sacrifice too costly to be offered for the sake of ensuring their eternal welfare. Every time we draw near to the Holy Communion, we see by faith the Cross of Christ, His Body broken, and His Blood poured out to redeem us from eternal death. How then can we avoid reflecting, with the beloved disciple, St. John, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” “To lay down our lives,” says the Apostle; for he lived in constant danger of that extreme trial of his virtue : he knew not how soon he might be called to martyrdom, to confirm the faith of his fellow-Christians. We, by God's mercy, are not likely to have to struggle with such overwhelming temptations, but it is not the less our duty to spend our lives in our brethren's service. In whatever way we are engaged with them, we ought to think much, and patiently, how we may do them most good. I am afraid most of us may find, when our time comes, that we have a more fearful account than we expected to give of our neglect of opportunities of this kind. Commonly we think no more of those with whom we are concerned in the ordinary transactions of life, than how we may deal kindly and honestly by them : but if we had St. Paul's mind, to spend and be spent for them, or the mind of our Blessed Saviour, who went about doing good, we should consider their case more deeply than this; we should contrive beforehand how we might order all our intercourse with them, so as to give them most encouragement in the way of duty, or to check them most effectually in sin. I do not say that we should tell them, or any one else, that we are doing thus; but surely we ought to do so :
wherever we are, and whoever is with us, we ought to keep God's watch for the good of our neighbour's soul; and the more regularly and the more quietly we perform this duty, the more reason we have to hope that we are not receiving the grace of God in vain.
This, I say, is a plain duty, and so are all the other tempers and habits which I have now set down as marks of Christian improvement; the right ordering of our thoughts and words, especially what we say and think of our neighbour's conduct. And yet these are points, in which hourly experience shows that it is very possible and very easy to fall short, in the midst of great attention to religious ordinances, and a sincere desire, so far as that goes, of pleasing God.
But none of these marks of real improvement are hard to understand, or hard to try one's self by. Consider then, I beseech you, whether it is not exceeding sinful and dangerous to rest contented in careless doubt about these things, and take for granted that you are going on as well as other men, while it is in your power, by constant watching yourself, to make your eternal salvation sure.
Baptized into the Holy Catholic Church, we cannot deny that we have received the grace of God. “ Greater is HE that is in us, than he that is in the world :" and whatever temptations we may be thrown amongst, if we die without sincere and timely repentance and amendment, we shall find ourselves answerable for having received His Grace in vain.
OF ABOUNDING MORE AND MORE.
1 Thess. iv, 1.
“We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the LORD Jesus, that as ye
have received of us how ye ought to walk, and to please God, so ye would abound more and more."
If any one wishes to see, what it is to begin well in Christian faith and practice, and, at the same time, what care should be taken not to depend too much upon mere beginnings, however praiseworthy, he cannot do better than examine carefully these two Epistles of St. Paul to the Christians of Thessalonica.
The Apostle seems hardly to know how to say enough of their faith and charity, or of the noble and self-denying way in which they had received the Gospel, They had received it, he says, in much affliction, (being persecuted by Jews, and Gentiles too, the moment they were seen to favour it,) yet with joy of the Holy Ghost; joy, that is, poured into their hearts by the Holy SPIRIT of God, and thus they became ensamples and patterns to all the Christians of those countries ; and having so received it, they continued in it, not failing at all either in their faith towards GOD, or in their affection to St. Paul himself. This was such a delight to him, as can only be expressed in his own affectionate words. Brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: for now we live, if ye stand fast in the LORD. For what thanks can we render to God again
you, for all the joy, wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; night and day praying exceedingly that we might see
your face ?"
There could not well be more promising converts ; and yet the very next words show how anxious he was that they might not trust in their first promising conversion, “ Praying exceedingly, that we might see your face :” to what purpose ? not for his own pleasure, but “to perfect that which was lacking in their faith.” The same feeling runs through the whole of the letter ; his joy in what they had done, is everywhere tempered by a real and serious anxiety, lest they should stop short, and begin to think they had done enough. Both are shown together, in the verse which begins the Epistle for this day : “We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk, and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.” “ As ye have received of us how ye ought to walk ;"—that is an acknowledgment of their having begun well : “ we beseech and exhort you by the LORD Jesus, that ye would abound more and more ;"—that is a call, as serious as the heart of man could imagine, not to stand still, not to suppose they had done enough. And with reason is the verse chosen by the Church for one of her Epistles proper for Lent; since one indispensable mark of true repentance is a daily, unwearied endeavour to improve. This I shall first endeavour to show, and then add some remarks on the sinfulness of neglecting such endeavours, the danger we are in of doing so, and the most effectual way of guarding both ourselves and others against that danger.
Now, with regard to the absolute necessity of continual improvement, it appears, in the first place, from this circumstance, that if we rightly value the first good beginning, we must, from the very nature of the case, go on from one degree of holiness to another. Men may very well do something which looks like repentance upon poor imperfect worldly reasons, and may deceive themselves and others into a notion that they are true Christian penitents; as, for example, intemperance may be left off for health or character's sake, or a quarrel may be made up with a view to our worldly interest, or the fear of approaching death may drive men against their will to long-neglected ordi
nances of religion; and it is no wonder if such a repentance as this very soon begin to stand still : if, having reached such and such a point, the man imagine himself good enough, and take no more pains to be better : but this is quite contrary to the nature of true repentance upon Christian principles.
By Christian principles, I mean first a deep sense of the continual presence of Almighty God, and of the care He takes for the welfare of our souls. Consider this peculiar presence deli. berately and seriously, and let it prevail with you to change your ways in earnest, and begin to turn from the sin, whatever it be, to which you feel yourself most inclined. When you have done so, you will still perceive in your heart exactly the same reason,
should go on and repent yet more perfectly, and serve and obey your all-seeing God, yet more affectionately and sincerely: and so on from day to day, through every degree of repentance and obedience, remember only in earnest that God is watching you, and you can never, surely, be quite satisfied with yourself; you can never think you have thought, said, and done, virtuously enough, to be fit and worthy to stand in His sight.
This, I say, would be the natural consequence of considering God's presence in a Christian manner. I say, “ in a Christian manner,” because, if we considered it apart from what the Gospel teaches, it might naturally (though not reasonably) lead many of us to despair, instead of endeavouring to improve.
Men might say to themselves, “ When we have done our best, there is no standing before this Just and Holy God; therefore we may as well give it up, and enjoy ourselves while we can.” Such was the impiety of many, before the Gospel was made known: let us hope that there are none among us, who are even now guilty of the like blasphemous thoughts; for indeed they are most blasphemous and inexcusable in every one who knows what Christ has done and suffered for us, and what grace and assistance His Holy Spirit is always waiting to bestow upon us. sure now, how feeble soever we may find ourselves, that whatever we do sincerely, in the way of goodness, is sure to tell; we dare not therefore despond, and we have no excuse whatever, if we do not carry on our first good beginnings, and repent better and better every day of our lives.
This is yet more absolutely necessary, because, if men do not