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Feelings similar to those of the Psalmist arise in the bosom of every one who is a true member of the new testament-church, in a greater or less degree of energy according to the degree of knowledge and of faith which he has obtained. He perceives it to be his privilege to cultivate holiness and to practise good works; and he is earnestly desirous of a conformity to all the will of God. But he is aware of his own impotency, and the frailty of his own resolutions when assailed by temptation. He has frequently found by mournful experience, that they resemble a singed thread which the slightest touch will snap asunder. And he knows that his future vows must prove equally futile, by their infraction involve him in new guilt, and leave him disappointed of his desired scope, unless he derives continual help from God. The language of our collect for this day is therefore adapted to the sensibilities of his heart; and he concurs earnestly with the congregation in crying, “ Lord, we pray “ thee, that thy grace may always prevent and “ follow us; and make us continually to be given “ to all good works, through Jesus Christ our 66 Lord.”
In this collect we implore three important blessings—That the grace of God may always prevent us—That it may always follow usAnd that, hereby, it may make us continually to be given to all good works.
We pray that Divine grace may always prevent us--that it may precede us as our guide, making our way easy ; that it may anticipate both our wants and God's commandments, by supplying the former, and furnishing us with a love to the latter and power to fulfil them; that it may preoccupy our affections so as to leave no room for
the world, the flesh, and the devil; and that it may hinder, obviate, and obstruct us in every deviation from the path of rectitude, the way of peace. Now the grace of God must prevail, or go before us, for the all important purposes of justifying our persons,—And of sanctifying our hearts,
It must precede all acceptable service on our parts by the justification of our persons in the sight of God. For until we are brought into a justified state, or constituted righteous before God, nothing which we do can be acceptable to Him or obtain His approbation. And justification is purely an act of Divine grace, anticipating all obedience on the part of the recipient; for we are “ justified freely by His grace through “ the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. I am “the vine," saith our blessed Lord, “ye are the < branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, “ the same bringeth forth much fruit; for with“out me," previous to union with me by faith,
ye can do nothing,” nothing that can further your salvation or recommend you to God. The Apostle therefore has asserted, (Rom. viii. 8) that “they who are in the flesh," as contradistinguished from those “who are in Christ Jesus," to whom “there is no condemnation," (ver. 1) “ cannot please God.” For “ without faith" in Christ, which is the sole instrument of justification, “it is impossible to please Him." (Heb. xi. 6.) With this scriptural statement the articles of our church clearly and fully accord. For the twelfth article declares that “good works are the “ fruits of faith, and follow after justification;" and the thirteenth informs us, that “works done “ before the grace of Christ, and the inspiration of “ His Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch
as they spring not of faith in Jesu Christ, “ neither do they make men meet to receive
grace, or deserve grace of congruity; yea, ra“ ther, for that they are not done as God hath so willed and commanded them to be done, we « doubt not but they have the nature of sin.” The first acts then of Divine grace on the heart of a sinner must be a conviction of sin, wrenching him from the covenant of works and his perverse adherence to it for acceptance with God; and the communication of power to believe in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ for pardon and life. And this faith brings the previously condemned sinner into a state of justification, qualifies him for the performance of good works, and is itself the principle of all subsequent obedience. The acts of an outlaw are invalid. The attempts of a capital convict at self-justification are preposterous.
It appears from these remarks, that our first concern in the great business of salvation respects the acceptance of our persons before God; and that this acceptance must be the result of Divine grace, through faith on our part; which faith is to be considered independently of all good wrought in us or done by us. Reader, is this our first concern? Have we determined the important point, or are we endeavouring to determine it, whether we are accepted by God or not? Are we conscious of those sensibilities which always accompany justification, namely, intire self-renunciation, and an exclusive reliance on the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?
This grace must “always prevent us. In every act and moment of our lives it must go before us. For the sin of our nature, and the sins of our hearts and lives, continually incur renewed guilt, and would bring us afresh into
condemnation, did not Divine grace continually pardon and accept us. We cannot on our first acceptance say, “Lord, pardon the past, and “ I will offend no more." But the
..” But the prayer which self-knowledge dictates is this, “ Lord, pardon “ past and present guilt, as an earnest of fu“ ture forgiveness and of final acceptance in the « Beloved."
But Divine grace must, moreover, prevent us for the purpose of sanctifying our hearts. The performance of good works, and the attainment of future happiness, require previous sanctification ; for, by nature, we are utterly disqualified both for the former and the latter. Now in the work of sanctification Divine grace must prevent us, both generally and particularly; with respect both to a radical renewal of our nature, and the production of every holy fruit, the ability to perform every specific act of duty. For the “ condition of man, after the fall of Adam, is “ such that he cannot turn and prepare himself,
by his own natural strength and good works, “ to faith, and calling upon God. Wherefore “ we have no power to do good works, pleasant “ and acceptable to God, without the grace of “ God by Christ preventing us that we may “ have a good will, and working with us when “we have that good will.” We are by nature ignorant, perverse, rebellious; yea, "the carnal “mind is enmity against God; it is not subject 'to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Now regeneration, in consequence of which the carnal mind is superceded by a holy temper and disposition, is exclusively the work of God. And even after that regenerating grace has been conferred on us, preventing grace must always precede us for the purpose of exciting to action
the inherent spark of life which hath been communicated. There is life in the seed which is sown; but the influence of the sun and rain is necessary to produce vegetation.
Let us inquire whether we are partakers of preventing grace in the general acceptation of the term. Are we regenerate persons ? And are we conscious of a further need of preventing grace to enable us for a due performance of every holy duty ? The answer to the latter question will decide the former.
We proceed to consider the second branch of our prayer,--that the “grace of God may always follow us."
Were it only to justify us from the guilt of past offences, and to sanctify us only so far as to restore us to an equipoise between sin and holiness, placing us where Adam stood at his creation, our destruction would be as certain as if nothing at all had been done for us. For if Adam fell, when the world and the things of it were in a state far less productive of danger than they now are, and when the old serpent was an inexperienced tempter, what reason have we to think that we should be able to stand ? Divine grace must accompany us throughout the whole period of our preparation for heaven, and continually exert its influence upon us.
This the awakened sinner feels, and therefore cordially unites with the church in the second petition of her collect.
But for what purpose is the grace of God im, plored in this second petition? We ask that it may be our companion through life, that it may never forsake us, but persevere in its influence on us till its aim is attained. It must “ follow “us” for the purpose of pardoning the imperfection which is attached to every act in which