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THAT man is a sinful creature, that his heart is wholly corrupt, and that, without regenerating-grace, he is continually groping further and further into the darkness of guilt, are acknowledged truths with all who make the bible their rule of faith, or who have any correct acquaintance with the human character. With this weight of conviction on their minds, with the picture of guilt and wretchedness to which mankind is heir before them, many seem to forget that creatures so vile can ever be any other than rebels against God, can ever cherish any thing but iniquity in their hearts, and can ever, while incarcerated in flesh, become so regenerated as to resemble holy, rather than sinful beings. They seem to forget that, to man thus sunk in crime and misery, opposed, as he naturally is, to holiness, there is presented a pattern of perfect purity; and presented to him too, with the most solemn command that he should imitate it, that he should copy the example in his conduct and conversation, and earnestly endeavor to render his whole life as pure, and spotless, as the original. Many there are, and Christians too by profession, who show by their actions that they have not this pattern before them, that they are making no serious efforts to cleanse their hearts from all sin, and to render themselves holy as Christ is holy. They seem to have lowered the standard of Christian excellence to such a degree, that little more than a decent, moral and respectable character, is necessary to satisfy them that they walk worthy their profession. They appear to cherish the dangerous sentiment, that it is not their imperious duty " to come out from the world,” and “ to touch not the unclean thing," that Christ has ransomed them, that his righteousness will cover their sins even if ther go on increasing their number and their turpitude; and in his blood they shall at last be made white, though iniquity is now in their hearts. They are willing to confess their sins, yet do not forsake them, lulling themselves into a fatal repose by believing that confidence in the Saviour ensures their safety, even while they remain in the enemy's territory. Thus, becoming careless, and indifferent, they never think of assimilating their character to that of Christ, believing it almost indispensable to continue vile and sinful while on earth, and hoping to be pure only when they arrive at heaven. But where have they learned these principles ? where have they learned that they may sin with impunity, because they trust in Christ for salvation ? that while in the flesh they cannot be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, but that sinners they must be, as they have been, until they enter the portals of the New-Jerusalem ? Surely they never learned this in the school of Christ and his disciples. The gospel proclaims no such message as this to sinful men. It holds out no hope to those, who, though they believe in the Saviour, are yet disobedient to his commands. They must first put off the garment of unrighteousness, before they can put on that of Christ. Repent. ance is necessary to salvation; but what repentance of sin is that along with which sin itself is cherished ? Supreme love to the Saviour is enjoined; but what love does he exercise towards his Saviour who himself becomes the very opposite to divine excellence ? What gratitude can he render for being freed from the dangerous consequences of sin, while he voluntarily involves himself again in all its guilt and wretchedness ? It is inconsistent and absurd to suppose that one has any just ground of hope, who can be reconciled to any degree of sinfulness in himself. He cannot walk in the light unless he has put away entirely the works of darkness. He cannot be a follower of Jesus without treading in his steps, without aiming at that perfection of christian character, which he exhibited to the world, and which he has commanded his followers to imitate. Hence we see that those are not unmeaning words in which Christ says to his disciples, “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect ;" but are an express command on all Christians to aim at the same perfection.
Nothing then short of holiness of heart should satisfy the christian. Ile should never rest until every sinful propensity, every remaining corruption is subdued in his bosom. He is bound to consecrate himself as the temple of the Lord, into which nothing that is sinful should ever enter. And this he can do ; for Christ has commanded nothing which he will not enable his followers to accomplish. By thus aiming at perfection he cannot walk unworthy his high vocation ; his light must shine upon the darkness around him, and he will glorify his Saviour, by showing to a gazing world the efficacy of his religion, in overcoming the corruptions of fallen nature, and in enstamping anew on man the image of his Creator. But, if he is willing to stop short of perfection, if he can quietly rest with a little sinfulness about him, if he thinks he can still safely be allied. to corruption, if he believes that plants of righteousness cannot grow so far from heaven as he is, his situation is indeed dangerous. He will almost inevitably become less and less vigilant, less and less holy, until finally he will give over his contest with the enemy, and consider 'hinıself as necessarily sinful. Between sin and holiness' there is no definite point which one can make the object of his aim. If he falls below the former he can attain to nothing but the latter. If the least shade of sinfulness is not viewed as a blot on christian character, that shade may grow darker and darker, and still no blot be perceptible. If the sentiment is admitted, that christians may remain sinful, the only barrier between the kingdoms of light and darkness is thrown down. There is no longer a distinction between saints and sinners. The followers of Christ and the followers of Belial are placed in the same path.
How important then is it that christians should always have before them the example of Christ, his perfect obedience to the law, his devotedness to the business of his Father, his universal benevolence, and his compassion and love for his most inveterate enemies. Here they see an assemblage of excellencies which no where else can be seen, an assemblage, which a world should not only admire but imitate. With this ever in view, and feeling, as they ought, the strongest obligations to make their own characters conformable to it, they cannot but be active and faithful and prayerful. Mensuring themselves by such a pattern, they see their own deficiencies, and alarmed that these are so numerous and great, they put forth renewed efforts to come nearer to the divine excellence. Closely do they inspect their hearts, and sit in the most impartial judgment on their thoughts, words and actions, Every sin, as soon as discovered, is repented of and forsaken, and one victory after another is obtained over remaining corruptions, until at length they so com‘pletely vanquish their spiritual foes, that their sonls enjoy the peace
of heaven even before they are admitted “ to walk its golden streets.” This is the perfection which Christ required of his followers, and to which all are bound to attain. The wintry storms of earth are indeed unfavorable to the growth of christian character, and without the utmost caution, the tender bud will wither and droop, never blooming in fragrance nor ripening with fruit. But care and watchfulness can secure it from injury, and nurture its growth, until it is transplanted to the soil of heaven. It is indeed pleasant both to saints and angels, to see sinners entering on the christian race; to see them forsaking all their sins, and with eyes steadfastly fixed on the Captain of their salvation, carefully following in the path of holiness in which he walked through the world up to his heavenly mansions. And doubly pleasant would it be, to see them persevering in this path, never lowering their eyes from the Saviour, never yielding to aught that is sinful, and anxious only to render themselves objects of complacence in the view of an Holy God. But alas ! the hopes, which perhaps angels cherished, that they would go forward in holiness, too often end in disappointment. Too often does the young convert, after walking carefully for a time, and keeping his garments clean, grow remiss in his exertions,
lose sight of the holy object of his emulation, and, becoming defiled · with the filthiness of earth, is no longer an ornament to the christian religion ; for there is not seen in his life its original purity.
Young christians, beware of such a fatal relapse into coldness and sin! Never forget that you are bound most solemnly to aim at nothing short of perfection ; that you are commanded to imitate your Saviour in all his purity and heavenly mindedness, and meekness and love. Let it be your constant endeavour to attain to this, and you will never have occasion to mourn over your stupidity and sloth ; you will never dishonor your profession, but will be continually increasing your usefulness and enjoyment while remaining here below, and at last will hear the loud plaudit pronounced upon you: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Aged christians, you, who have grown gray in your Master's vineyard, who have made it the object of your life to be conformed to the pattern of divine excellence that Christ has left you, can you not cordially assent to these truths ? Is there any thing you so much desire as a complete perfection of that character which you have always been endeavouring to improve, and which · you have borne so near to heaven that it now reflects the image of
divine purity ? Have not your happiness and usefulness, as far as you are allowed to judge, been in exact proportion to the degree of heavenly temper you possessed ? Encourage then the young to make perfection their only standard of christian character, and never to relax their efforts until the object is attained. And warn, as if from the confines of eternity, the negligent and careless of their danger and of their guilt; for you well know that they are away from the path of obedience and holiness, the only path of safety and peace.
OF LITTLE FAITH.
TO preserve, at all times, a proper ardour of devotion, a watchful guard over the thoughts and actions, and an unwavering trust in the promises and word of God, requires the christian's continual care and exertion. There are moments, when the mind of a reflecting believer, is more or less inclined to scepticism ; when vague and groundless doubts are started by the grand enemy-and feelings arise, upon which he reflects with horror, when awakened from his reverie. Often, when the mind of the christian is broken down, weakened and depressed by sickness, and sorrow, the baseness and worthlessness of the world, and the neglect of friends, operating'upon him thus enervated, half incline him to believe that he is regarded by no one, not even (impious thought!) by the God who preserves him! At such times, Satan and his emissaries are most busy.Every avenue to the heart is assailed, every doubt magnified, every impious thought suggested and cherished, until the bewildered mortal distrusts his own reason, fears to pray, and unless some ray of divine benevolence, flashing on his mind, discover to him the way of escape, he is lost in the labyrinths of scepticism and infidelity.
The following statement I have often heard from a much respected and venerable friend, whose good sense and information preserve him from every tincture of superstition, and whose practical virtues in public and domestic life, afford a satisfactory criterion of the goodness of his heart.
“In the autumn of 1811, God was pleased to visit me with severe judgments. Two of my brothers, my dearest earthly friends, in the prime of life, sunk into the silent tomb. Misfortunes crowded upon me, and borne down by their weight, I gave way to a melancholy dejection, which veiled with gloom the face of all nature. An alarming epidemic prevailed in the vicinity, and as I could not consistently avoid the danger, I was seized, and laid low by the hand of disease.—My body was emaciated and my powers of mind weakened. My confidence in God, did not, however, forsake me, and He kindly relieved my pain and raised me from a bed of sickness,