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The apostle exhorts christians to fear, lest a promise being left them of entering into the heavenly rest, they should finally come short. This fear must not arise from a distrust of God, but from a distrust of themselves--not from a doubt whether God's promises are sure; but from a doubt whether their own hearts are right. Therefore they are directed to examine themselves whether they be in the faith, and to prove their own works, that they may have rejoicing in themselves. From hence it follows,
1. That a full and satisfactory hope is not to be attained suddenly. New converts cannot have had opportunity to prove their sincerity. There must be time to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, before we can feel any thing like an assurance, that our repentance is sincere. They who lay aside all fear-all self-distrust, immediately on their supposed conversion, discover more of the presumption of the hypocrite, than of the humility of the christian. It requires much labor, self-denial and vigilance, a good knowledge of religion and of the heart, and a steady, uniform practice of piety, in order to our making our election sure. All this cannot be the work and experience of a day. They who come by their assurance suddenly and easily-without taking much time, or employing much attention, may well suspect, that it stands on sandy ground, not on a firm foundation. It follows,
2. That such an assurance as banishes all fear and self-distrust, is not an ordinary attainment.
We pretend not to say, what God may do for some chosen vessels on special and extraordinary occasions—for some eminent servants in season of persecution-for some christians of high experience near the close of life. But we speak of ordinary christian attainments.
As our hopes ought to bear some proportion to our improvements in holiness; and as holiness, in the best christians, is imperfect in the present state, it must be expected, that hope, as well as other graces, will be imperfect. Few christians can, on solid ground, rise above what the apostle calls “a good hope through grace.” If they trust, generally, that their hearts are right with God, yet there are times, when a view of their imperfections in duty, the dulness of their heavenly affections, and the remaining. inward corruptions, awaken anxious suspicions. They apply to themselves the directions given to christians in general. Let him who thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall. If ye call on the Father, who, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.
It follows further,
3. That growth in holiness is one of the safest grounds on which this hope can rest.
The more eminent is our holiness, and the greater proficiency we make in the religious life, the clearer will be our evidence, that our hearts are sincere in the sight of God. If our heart condemn us not, then we may have confidence of our acceptance with him. St. John says, We know that when the Lord shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope purifieth himself as he is pure.
We may also infer,
4. That whenever a person finds, that his assurance, or his hope encourages him to remit his diligence in religion, he bas. just reason to call in question the sincerity of his heart.
God has wisely ordered, that in this imperfect state, the way to maintain christian hope should be the habitual exercise of a christian temper. If we have gained a satisfactory hope, and in consequence have become careless of our temper, and neglectful of our duty, imagining, that as our state is safe, our concern and diligence may be laid aside, it is an undoubted truth, that we have deceived ourselves, and seemed to be religious, when all our religion is vain. The religion which makes men vain, proud, fearless of sin, and regardless of duty, is a false religion. It is worse than none.
It follows once more, that the assurance of hope, as it is an important, so it is a difficult attainment. We are therefore to make it an object not only of desire, but of diligence. We are not to rest satisfied with any moderate attainments in goodness, but we must press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let as many as have come nearest to perfection, be thus minded. Paul kept under his body to bring it into subjection, lest by any means he should be a castaway.
In order to gain a good hope of glory, wenyfej proceed in the following manner.
1. It is necessary that we obtain a good acquaintance with religion--that we not only be persuaded of the truth of religion in general, but also that we understand the way of salvation and the terms and conditions on which it is promised. In these points we may gain full satisfaction ' by looking into that gospel, which God has put into our hands. Here we are taught, that the happiness of eternal life is procured for us by Jesus Christ the Son of God who has suffered for our sins, that he might redeemn us from the wrath to come, and bring us to God's presence-that this happiness consists in the enjoyment of God, whose favor is life-that our qualification for admission into his glorious presence is an assimilation to his character in purity, righteousness and benevolence-and that this holy temper is effected in us by Divine opéeration on our hearts, in concurrence with our faithful attendance on the means of knowledge and holiness, which God has appointed.
2. In order to a good hope of glory, we must renounce all known sin both in heart and life. Repentance is not only a conviction of, and sorrow for sin, but an actual forsaking of it with full purpose of heart to walk in the way of God's commands. This repentance is not an act once for all, but an habitual temper, to be carried into the religious life, and to be renewed in its exercises as often as we are conscious that we have transgressed. We must often think on our ways. And when we find that we have erred, we must without delay, turn our feet into God's testimonies.
Repentance must be followed with the real love and steady practice of righteousness, without the allowed neglect of known duty, or habitual toleration of known corruption in heart, or iniquity in life. If we would know whether our obedience be sincere and acceptable, we must enquire, whether it be regular and constant-whether it be impartial and unreserved—whether it proceed from the love of God as its principle-whether it be directed to the glory of God as its end-whether it aim at the favor of God as its object. But as there will be many imperfections discernible by us, both in our temper and life; therefore,
3. Religious *** trovements are necessary to a good hope. Hence we are directed to grow in grace—to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit-to go on to perfection. Though we should find much deficiency in our religious character, yet if by comparing the present with the past time, we really find that we are on the gaining hand--that we make some advances--that we rise more above known imperfections that we keep our passions in better subjection—that our pious affections are more ardent-our faith more strong-—our benevolence more active-our government of ourselves more steady and uniform, we have then good evidence of the existence of real religion in our hearts.
We have only to add,
IV. That this assurance of hope is the best support under the troubles of this mortal state. The apostle says, “For this cause we faint not; for we know, that if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, a house eternal in the heavens." • The apostle here supposes the worst which can befall us in the world, that our affliction should issue in a dissolution of our frame; and yet he says, We faint not, because we hope for a building of God. If this hope will support us under the last distress of nature, much rather will it sustain us under the common burdens of life. In this view of his case, the christian sees, that all the afflictions which can attend him in his weak tabernacle and during his short pilgrimage, will be but light and transient; but that the happiness to be enjoyed in the world above will be full and lasting. He therefore reckons that all the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed, knowing that his present light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
The shortness of his abode here, and the nearness of his departure hence, give his hope great advantage in viewing the glory which awaits him. Hope reaches forward after its object with longing desire. The nearer the object is to actual possession, the more it rejoices in the opening and brightening prospect. It looks beyond present pains to that world of eternal felicity, which is soon to be enjoyed.
The christian thinks it a small matter how he fares here, as long as his future interest is secure, and as long as he is under the protection of God's promise, that all things shall work for his good—and that whether life or death-things present or things to come, all are his.
His heart is in heaven, because his God, his Saviour, his home, all his interest is there. Fully persuaded that the great object of his desire, his eternal salvation, is safely kept in reserve for him, he is willing, in this wilderness through which he is travelling to his eternal home, to submit to any inconveniences, which may put him in mind of home, keep him in the way thither, quicken his pace to it, and render it more delightful when he arrives.
Do we wish to escape the afflictions of the present state ? This we cannot do, for we are mortal-our friends are mortal—the world in which we live is mutable and uncertain. But we may do that which is better-we may obtain that good hope, which will prepare us for, and sustain us under the afflictions of the world, and will anticipate the happy issue of all our afflictions in the glories of the heavenly state. Blessed are they who can say with the apostle, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith ; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord will give me in that day.