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into this heavenly state, cannot be effected without the co-operation of their free-wills; neither can it be effected suddenly, or by two or three operations on the mind, but is a work that must be carried on to the end of a man's life; for when there is no longer any evil remaining in the will, or when there are none left but such as cannot be removed, then there is reason to believe he is taken away from this world.
That regeneration is a progressive work can only be denied by such as are destitute of definite ideas of its true nature, and are in ignorance respecting the constitution of man as a spiritual being When it is known that the life of man is his love, that his will is the essential principle of his life, it will be seen to be impossible, when all his natural inclinations are evil, to have them all at once exchanged for such as are good. If those affections which now constitnte his life are taken away, his life is taken away. They must, therefore, be successively removed one after another, so that good affections, by being gradually admitted in the use of his freewill
, may ultimately become, instead of the evil ones, which will have been as gradually removed, the constituents of his life. When some one of the evils which he loves, is seen by his understanding to be evil, he can choose its removal, can apply himself to the work of combating with it, can set a guard upon his thoughts and actions in reference to it, can exercise confidence in God for strength to endure the trial, can make up his mind to forego the delight of indulging in it, can shun it as a sin against God, and thus become prepared to receive its opposite affection of goodness from the Lord in its place; when this is accomplished then that evil thing is not only shunned, but is hated, and no longer appears delightful, but disagreeable or detestable. All this a man can do by divine help in reference to one evil, or a few at a time; but it would be impossible thus to act in regard to the whole mass of his natural inclinations at once. A man may persuade himself to believe, as a doctrine, that he is altogether evil and corrupt, and may confirm his belief by the testimony of the Word, which declares it to be the fact; but this is not seeing and knowing his evils. He must look at and examine them distinctly and individually ; must first know them to be his own by a consciousness of some delight accompanying the indulgence of them, either in the heart or the life; must then, by the exercise of his understanding, see that they are contrary to the divine commands, and in what manner they are so, and then proceed to shun them in his wishes and in his practice. Possibly they may have formed or characterised many of the habits
of bis life; these habits he will have to break off or rectify. This cannot be accomplished in secret, in the closet, in public acts of piety, or in seasons of retired devotion : we may at such times receive instruction and strength to aid us in the work, but it is in the performance of the several duties of our stations, in our intercourse with those with whom we are connected in any way, or with whom we may come in contact, that our evils can be effectually shunned, and our hearts and lives become purified. General confessions and acknowledgments will do us no good, unless they are followed with the practical shunning of the evils themselves as sins against God. True repentance is not merely to feel sorrow on account of our sins when we are worshiping the Lord, or meditating on religion, but it consists in really forsaking them, and turning our hearts unto the Lord. It is not therefore for us to attempt to explore the whole of our hearts at once; our duty is, as soon as we discover any thing which is contrary to the commandments to have a place amongst our practices, or to affect us with delight, immediately to shun it, to strive against its power, and to open our hearts to the reception of its opposite good; or if we discover that our manner of performing any duty is not according to the requireinents of God's Word or the laws of charity, to strive to correct it by the sacred rule. Doing this continually, we shall fird that the providence of the Lord will bring us to the gradual discovery of our evils; that they will be shewn to us by little and by little, as we fight against and overcome them. We need not, therefore, be disheartened if evil feelings and suggestions, of which we have had no idea, should be continually putting themselves forth in our hearts; for the temptations which are necessary to be endured for the sake of our purification, are suffered to assault us only in a way and degree adapted to the ability of overcoming, with which the Lord at the same time endows us. By the assumption of the humanity, and the victory therein achieved over the infernal hosts, the whole of the spirits of darkness are under his immediate controul. They are allowed by their insinuations to awaken in our minds the evil inclinations of our nature, because without their being so excited within us, we should not be aware of their existence, and, consequently, could not combat with nor overcome them. The mercy of the Lord is ever striving, through the medium of good spirits, to supply us with the impulses of goodness, and the indications of truth; while, on the other hand, evil spirits find their way into the natural affections of our minds and the false persuasions entertained, and strive to lead us captive at their will. Thus the Lord sets before us life and death, blessing and cursing, it is for us to choose which we will have, not at this moment or some other, but every moment of our lives. According to the progress made in good or evil will be our advancement to heavenly bliss, or our degradation to infernal misery. If the influences from heaven are fully submitted to and received, they will be within the principles from which we shall become formed; we shall grow up into the likeness of heaven, and heaven is an image and likeness of God. Thus our regeneration shall be accomplished; the beginning may be small, but, like the grain of mustard seed, or the leaven bid in three measures of meal, its increase shall be great, and its effects shall be a growing in goodness and in knowledge, even to eternity. A regeneration of the heart and life is that which can alone prepare us for entering the kingdom of heaven. The temptations necessary for its accomplishment, are regulated by the providence of the Lord, who, as the apostle says, “knows how to succour them that are tempted, having himself been tempted in all points, even as we are;" for the process of glorification which he passed through, and which was effected by temptations, the last of which was endured upon the cross, is the pattern of our regeneration, and also the means for affording us the power to conquer our spiritual foes; for unto him, as the Lord Jesus Christ, the glorified humanity in which dwells all the fulness of the Godhead, is given all power in heaven and on earth.
Let us, then, with humble confidence, look unto the Lord our Redeemer and Saviour, for all those influences of goodness and wisdom by which we may perpetually shun all evils as sins against him, and be enabled to regulate our lives by the divine commandments, while we diligently strive thus to become regenerated, and so be increasingly prepared to enter the kingdom of heaven.
LOVE OF GOD AND THE NEIGHBOUR,
Matt. xxii. 37–40. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with
all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second (is) like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On
these two commandments hung all the law and the prophets.” It is very observable, that the greatest phenomena of the natural world obtain little notice because they are common,-because their manifestation is uniform and regular. Such is also the case in regard to the moral and intellectual world. What can be a greater phenomenon than the diversity of sentiments which prevail on the subject of Religion? What can so strikingly illustrate the state of the human mind? Mankind, generally speaking, seem to depend on external circumstances to determine their perceptions of truth ; and, consequently, such perceptions are almost as various as the circumstances in which individuals are placed. Yet this moral phenomenon has become so familiar to mankind that it barely extorts an occasional expression of wonder; and any inquiry into its cause is seldom thought of. On matters of mere opinion, a diversity in different minds cannot be surprising. It accords with that great variety which our benevolent Creator has established throughout all his works, and which is a continual source of delight to his creatures. But a diversity—nay, a positive contrariety, in regard to the essentials of religion, seems to suggest the inquiry,— Is there, then, no settled principle of faithno positive rule of human action? Alas! in regard to a large portion of the human race, we might answer in the negative. In many parts of the world, the people have been long sunk in the grossest darkness, and in the practice of the most abominable idolatry. They have lost the light of Divine Revelation intrusted to their forefathers, and have substituted the mad suggestions of their depraved and corrupt nature. But, happily, this is not the case
with Christians. With them are deposited the records of Eternal Truth; and there can be no want of a certain and determined principle of action among those who profess to believe the Scriptures. Yet, how opposite the sentiments which prevail, and how different the ideas entertained, as to what the Word of God teaches ! Could we suppose a man of an unbiassed mind first made acquainted with this fact, how unaccountable must it seem to him; and how must his wonder be increased on reading the portion of the Holy Word selected for our present text! for here are two commandments cited as the principal ones, accompanied with an express declaration, that “on them hang all the law and the prophets.”
By the law and the prophets are obviously meant the whole of the Sacred Scriptures. They form at least the two grand divisions which comprise the Old Testament; and although the New Testament had not been delivered to mankind at the time these words were spoken by Jesus Christ, that is of the same character and tendency,—nay, from the tenour of its language, it is even more directly calculated to promote the same end-to promote the fulfilment of these two commandments on the part of man.
Thus, whatever construction may be given to the commandments themselves, it is plain that all parts of the Holy Scriptures have a bearing upon them. The volume of Divine Wisdom must necessarily contain various and innumerable truths; but however varied in their forms,-however varied in their apparent objects, - and however different in their appearance, to be suited to the different states of man,--they have all the same end; for “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
Here, then, is a positive rule of human action, the foundation of a religious life,—those general and comprehensive laws of God in which are involved all the numerous particulars that constitute a Divine Revelation.
Is it difficult, then, to understand these two commandınents ? No; but in the present state of human nature it is difficult to obey them; and therefore man will not understand them. He feels in himself a tendency, not to love God, not to love his neighbour, but to love himself; and this love, engrossing all his powers and blinding his understanding, he cannot or will not perceive the nature of true religion. Instead of considering it a living principle, governing the affections, determining every action, and regulating the conduct, mankind are too apt to look upon it as only a series of external forms, or at best the observance of certain rules