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The nominal Christian may also love those precepts which do not materially condemn him. The man who is sober, chaste, honest, just, temperate, benevolent, may take a real pleasure in such passages of Scripture as inculcate the virtues in which he supposes himself to have excelled ; and may feel an indignation against the ways, by which those precepts are grossly violated.
He may yet further delight in such precepts as, according to his interpretation of them, afford him ground for rejecting the Gospel. No passages in all the word of God are more delightful to him than such as these : “ Be not righteous overmuch ;” and " What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” He has no fear lest he should not be righteous enough; nor is he very anxious to inquire what is implied in walking humbly with God: it is sufficient for him that these passages are, in his eyes, opposed to what he calls enthusiasm ; setting aside the necessity of faith in the Lord Jesus, and of a life of entire devotedness to his service: and his hatred of all passages that bear an opposite aspect, is in exact proportion to his zeal for these.
But, whilst such parts of Scripture are approved by him, does he love all that the Inspired Volume contains ? Does he love those precepts which are most sublime and spiritual? No ; it is no pleasure to him to hear of “setting his affections on things above,” or of having “his conversation in heaven :" nor does it afford him any gratification to be told, that the measure of holiness which he must aspire after, is that which was exhibited in the Lord Jesus, whose example he is to follow in the whole of his spirit and temper, his conversation and conduct, “walking in all things as he walked.”
Nor does he particularly affect those precepts which require much self-denial. “To crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts,” and to root out from his soul every evil, though it be dear to him “as a right eye,” or necessary to him as “a right hand,” and to have a compliance with these precepts as his
a life ofe necessity of
* which was follow in the conduct,
only alternative between that and the taking his portion in “ hell-fire,” is no pleasing sound in his ears, notwithstanding it proceeds from the meek and lowly Jesus.
Least of all is he gratified with precepts that strike at his besetting sin. The proud man does not delight to hear the workings of pride delineated ; nor the covetous man the evils of covetousness depicted; nor the gay and dissipated the folly of their ways exposed; nor the self-righteous man the delusive nature of his hopes declared. No, they are all ready to deride the statements that condemn their ways, just as the Pharisees derided our Lord, when he had unveiled their covetous and hypocritical devices; “ The Pharisees were covetous (it is said), and they derided him.” The hearts of these people rise against all such doctrines; and with no little bitterness they exclaim, “In so saying, thou reproachest usd.”
The true Christian, on the contrary, approves and loves all the commands of God; both those which are evangelical, and those which are moral.
He loves those which are evangelical. It is no grief to him to be told, that he must renounce all dependence on his own righteousness, and rely entirely on the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is rather with the most heartfelt delight that he hears those gracious commands, “ Look unto me, and be ye saved ;" “ Come unto me, and I will give you rest;" “ Believe on me, and have everlasting life.” “He esteems these precepts to be right;" he feels them to be exactly suited to his necessities : he knows, and is assured, that his own righteousness is only as “ filthy rags ;” and that in any other garment than the robe of Christ's righteousness, it is impossible for him to stand in the presence of a holy God. He sees also that this mode of justification before God is the only one which can consist with the honour of God's justice, and with the demands of his law. Hence whatever opposes this way of salvation, “ he hates;" yea, he shudders at the very thought of
c Mark ix. 42—48. d Luke xi. 45. VOL. VI.
claiming any thing on the ground of his own worthiness, saying, “ God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He thankfully traces all his mercies to the covenant made from all eternity between the Father and the Son; and to that covenant he looks, as “ordered in all things, and sure;" and from his inmost soul he says of it, “ This is all my salvation, and all my desire.”
Moreover, as the duty of coming to Christ, so the duty of “living altogether by faith in Christ,” the duty of abiding in him as branches of the living vine, of receiving from his fulness continual supplies of grace and strength, and of “growing up into him in all things, as our living Head;" the duty, I say, of making him “our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption," our All, and of glorying in him, and in him alone; all this is heard by the true Christian with ineffable delight: he would that Christ should have all the glory : he sees it to be “right,” that He who came down from heaven, and died upon the cross to save him, and ascended up on high, and has all fulness treasured up in him for the use of his Church and people, and who dwells in them “as their very life;" I say, he sees it “ right," that this adorable Saviour should “be exalted, and extolled, and be very high ;" yea, that he should be on earth, as he is in heaven, the one object of our adoration, and the continual theme of our praise. And, whilst a blind and ignorant world are ready to blame his zeal for the Redeemer's glory as carried to excess, his constant grief is, that he cannot love him more, and serve him better.
Nor is the true Christian less delighted with the moral precepts, not one of which would he desire to have relaxed or moderated in the smallest degree. Instead of wishing them to be lowered to the standard of his attainments, or regarding them as grievous on account of their purity, he loves them for their purity, and would esteem it his highest privilege to be conformed to them. He is well persuaded, that they are all “ holy, and just, and good :” and he loves them as perfective of his nature, and conducive to his happiness.
e Ps. cxix. 140.
He loves them, I say, as perfective of his nature. For what is holiness, but a conformity to the Divine image, as sin is to the image of the devil ? It was by transgression that man lost that resemblance to the Deity which was stamped upon him at his first creation; and it is by the new-creating influence of the Spirit quickening him to a course of holy obedience, that this resemblance is gradually restored. Conscious of this, he pants after holiness, desiring to“ be changed into his Redeemer's image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Nor does he love them less as conducive to his happiness: for sin and misery are inseparable, as holiness also and true happiness are. What is the language of every precept in the Decalogue? It is this : ‘Be holy, and be happy. Of this he is convinced; and he finds, by daily experience, that “in keeping God's commandments there is great reward,” and that “Wisdom's ways are indeed ways of pleasantness and peace.”
At the same time, “he hates every false way;" every deviation from the perfect rule of righteousness is painful to him: he “ hates it;" and hates himself on account of it. As a touch, which would scarcely be felt in any other part of the body, will occasion the severest anguish to the eye, so those thoughts or feelings which would be altogether unnoticed by other men, inflict a wound on his conscience, and cause him to go mournfully before the Lord of Hosts. Ask him on such an occasion, What it is that has caused him thus to mourn and weep? Is it that his God has required so much ? No: but that he himself has attained so little. He wants to “be sanctified wholly to the Lord, in body, soul, and spirit;" and, could'he accomplish the desire of his heart, he would “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.” This is the object of his highest ambition ; and, when he finds, that, notwithstanding all his efforts, he still falls short of it, he groans inwardly, and says with the Apostle, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death ?”
Behold, then, the Christian's character as here delineated. To a superficial observer he may not appear to differ much from others; but to those who have had opportunities of discovering the real desires of his soul, he is a perfect contrast with the whole ungodly world. The very best of nominal Christians are content with low attainments, and plead for indulgences in those things which are agreeable to their corrupt nature. The more sublime and spiritual precepts they soften down to the standard of their own practice; and rather applaud themselves for their excellencies, than lothe themselves for their defects. The true Christian, on the contrary, will admit of no standard but that of absolute perfection : and, whereinsoever he falls short of it, as he does in his very best services, he lothes and “ abhors himself in dust and ashes;" nor has he any hope of acceptance with God, but in the view of that atonement which was once offered for him on the cross, and of that blood which the Lord Jesus Christ once shed on Calvary to cleanse him from his sins. We mean not to say, that these defects are subversive of all the Christian's peace; for, if that were the case, who could possess any peace at all? The Christian, notwithstanding his imperfections, has “ comfort in the testimony of a good conscience,” and in an assurance, that his God will “not be extreme to mark what is done amiss ;" but he does not on this account allow himself in any sin whatever. The use he makes of his own corruptions is, to cleave the more steadfastly to Christ as his only hope, and to watch and pray the more diligently, that he may be preserved from evil, and be enabled by Divine grace to endure unto the end.
Now this description of the Christian's character leads me to shew, II. The light it reflects on the Gospel of Christ