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“ meekness and fear;” when he discourses rationally on other subjects, and behaves with increasing propriety and consistency in all his various relations and engagements ; the prejudices of observers gradually subside, and they begin to allow that his principles are not so intolerable as they once conceived them to be. Finding that, while he decidedly resolves“ to obey God rather than
man,” he also is ready to serve or oblige others, when he can do it with a good conscience; and that his conduct, when most exactly scrutinized, appears to the greatest advantage ; and feeling perhaps that their own interest and comfort have been materially advanced by the change: they are prepared to receive more favourably any hint he may drop concerning the salvation of Christ ; to read a book that he earnestly recommends, or to give the preachers of the gospel an occasional hearing. Thus many are led to an acquaintance with the truths of Christianity in the most attractive manner; their aversion and contempt are almost imperceptibly removed ; and one after another is brought to the knowledge of Christ, and faith in his blood. Then a new light is set up to shine before men, that others may see his good works also, and be won over to join in glorifying our God and Father.
The Lord alone, it is true, can open the understanding and change the heart : but he almost always uses means and instruments; and the pious example and zealous endeavours of Christians, as well as the preaching of the gospel, are blessed to the conversion of sinners. Every believer therefore should habitually design and endeavour to be useful in this manner, within his proper sphere ;
and propose it to himself as the grand object of his future life, to which all other pursuits ought to be subordinated, and if possible rendered subservient. He should watch over his tempers, words, and actions; and endeavour to regulate them in such a manner, that they may give the utmost energy to his attempts to recommend the gospel to his family and acquaintance. It should be his constant aim to strengthen the hands of faithful ministers; and to shew in his own conduct, the reality, excellency, and beauty of pure religion, and its tendency to render men happy and useful.
When this is carefully and generally attended to, the number of real Christians will commonly be multiplied; the light of life will be more widely diffused; and the grain of mustard seed will become a large plant.
We cannot reflect seriously on this subject, without lamenting that there are but few Christians even in nations professing Christianity.The man who hears an express command of Christ with contemptuous neglect, and habitually disobeys it, cannot reasonably expect to be thought his true disciple; yet who can deny that immense multitudes of professed Christians do thus treat the exhortation contained in the text?-Let none then be offended with us for distinguishing between true believers, and those who say to Christ, “Lord, Lord, but do not the things which he
says:" for, as he will shortly come, and make a complete and final separation, it is of the utmost consequence to every one, that he learn his real character and condition, before the door of mercy and hope be for ever shut against him.
Let each individual, therefore, seriously and impartially inquire, whether he have that inward evidence of having believed and obeyed the gos'pel, which arises from a fervent desire that God may be glorified in the conversion of sinners, and from an uniform endeavour to “ let his light shine “ before men,” for that purpose. If this be wholly wanting, the most exact creed and the strictest form of godliness will prove entirely unavailing. The Judge at his appearing will silence all such pleas, by saying with awful indignation, “ Depart “ from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” In proportion as we are doubtful whether this be indeed the ruling principle of our hearts, and the plan of our lives; we should question whether our faith be living, and our hope warranted. We are, however, invited to come to Christ as sinners for salvation : and if we really accept of this invitation,
giving diligence to make our calling and elec“tion sure,” the subsequent change will constitute
witness in ourselves” that we are partakers of Christ, and that his Spirit dwelleth in us.
Finally, my Christian brethren, we all need to be deeply humbled, that we have not “ let our “ light shine before men” in that measure, and to that effect, which our peculiar advantages and obligations rendered incumbent on us. Let us then confess and lament our unfruitfulness : and, while we humbly crave forgiveness of the past, let us earnestly beseech the Lord for a larger measure of his grace ; that we may henceforth“ walk more ' worthy of God, who hath called us to his king“ dom and glory.”
JAMES I. 22–25.
ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For, if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass : for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
The apostle James seems to have especially intended his epistle as an antidote to the delusion of those who abused the doctrines of grace; and who, expecting salvation by a dead faith, considered good works as altogether superfluous. This may account for the remarkable difference between his language and that of St. Paul, who was chiefly employed in contending against such as ran into the opposite extreme. Having therefore shewn that temptations and sins must not be ascribed to God, the unchangeable giver of every good and perfect gift; and observed that the word of truth is the grand means of regenerating sinners, and rendering them willing to consecrate themselves to God; he gives some directions concerning the manner in which men hear and receive
the divine message, that it may be “ in them an
engrafted word, able to save their souls." He then introduces the passage which I have chosen for the subject of our present meditation, and concludes with these remarkable words: “If “ among you seem to be religious, and bridleth “ not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart; “ this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and “ undefiled before God and the Father is this ; to «. visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, “ and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” The religion which God approves, when viewed apart from the principles whence it springs, and the ordinances through which it is produced and maintained, is chiefly manifested by self-denying kindness to men for the Lord's sake, and separation from all the pollutions of this evil world. says St. Paul, “ abideth faith, hope, and charity; “ but the greatest of these is charity.”
The text viewed in this connexion, may give us an opportunity of considering,
I. The peculiar intent of revelation, and the purposes which it was evidently intended to
II. The inefficacy of hearing without practising, to accomplish any of these purposes :
III. The nature and sources of that fatal selfdeception into which numbers are in this respect betrayed :
IV. The contrast betwixt the mere hearer and the practical student of scripture. - I. We consider the peculiar intent of revelation, and the purposes which it was evidently intended to answer.