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No man who duly considers these things can doubt the practical nature and tendency of the gospel. Christ is our sole foundation : but no one builds on that foundation, except he “ hears “ his sayings and does them.” The practical hearer's faith is living; he is a wise man: and this will appear to all the world, when the folly of those who build upon the sand by a dead faith, by hearing and not doing, will be exposed to universal contempt. Alas, my brethren, how numerous are such nominal Christians; “ who call “ Christ, Lord, yet do not the things that he says!" But, unless the design of the gospel be answered in our hearts and lives, the gospel itself will increase our condemnation.
Are any of you then sensible that your hearing has hitherto failed to influence your practice? Let me conjure you, by the love you bear to your own happiness, not to put off the alarming conviction, by saying, “ Go thy way, at this time, “ when I have a convenient opportunity I will call “ for thee.” It is not yet too late : “ Now is the
accepted time, now is the day of salvation :” but you
know not how soon the master of the
“shut too the door;" and then it will be too late to begin to say, “ Lord, Lord, open to “ us ;" for he will silence every plea, and bid you
depart as workers of iniquity."
But have you, my brethren, begun seriously to practise what you know, and to inquire the will of God that you may do it? Blessed be the Lord, for his grace bestowed on you! Go on in this way, my beloved brethren ; and even the most humiliating discoveries you make of yourselves will
serve to endear the gospel of salvation to you. “ Then shall you know, if
follow on tu know “ the Lord :” “For the path of the just shineth
more and more to the perfect day.” The practice of duty will prepare your hearts for the reception of truth ; by removing those prejudices with which the prevalence of carnal affections closes the understandings of the disobedient: and every accession of spiritual knowledge will have a sanctifying and comforting effect upon your hearts.
Finally, were we as desirous of having our souls adorned with holiness, as most persons are of decorating the poor dying body; we should certainly make continual discoveries of our remaining uncomeliness, and be thankful for assistance in such researches: and we should make daily progress in sanctification ; by “putting off the old “man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful
lusts, and putting on the new man, which after “God is created in righteousness and true holi« ness."
1 CORINTHIANS XIII. 13.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three ;
but the greatest of these is charity.
The apostle, in this remarkable chapter, shews the Corinthians, that the most splendid and useful of those miraculous powers, which they emulously coveted and ostentatiously displayed, were far inferior in value to sanctifying grace : yea, that when united with the deepest knowledge of divine mysteries, the most self-denying liberality, and the most vehement zeal, they were nothing without charity; and did not so much as prove the possessor to be a real Christian of the lowest order. He then describes charity as a man would define gold, by its distinguishing properties, which are the same in a grain as in a ton; but the more a man possesses, and the less alloy is found in the mass, the richer he is.—And, having shewn that charity “ would never fail,” whereas miraculous powers would cease, and knowledge itself would be swallowed up and lost in the perfect light of heaven, he adds, “ And now abideth faith, hope,
charity, these three; but the greatest of these is
charity.”—It is evident that he meant to sum up, in these three radical graces, the grand essentials of vital Christianity, to which all other holy affections may be referred. But, as the word
charity is now used for one peculiar expression of love, which is equivocal, and may be counterfeit ; it will render our discussion more perspicuous to substitute love in the place of it; it being well known that the original word is generally thus translated. I shall endeavour, therefore,
I. To consider separately the peculiar nature, exercise, and use of faith, hope, and love:
II. To shew in what respects love is the greatest of the three ; and how this agrees with the doctrines of salvation by grace, and justification by faith alone.
The subject before us, my brethren, is of the greatest importance, and often fatally misunderstood. Let me then beg a peculiar measure of your attention; and let us lift up our hearts to God, beseeching him to “ open our understand“ings, that we may understand the scriptures," and be guided into the knowledge of his holy truth.
I. Let us consider separately the peculiar nature, exercise, and use of faith, hope, and love.
We begin with faith. That peculiar act of the understanding by which we avail ourselves of information, in those things which fall not under our own observation, and which do not admit of proof in a way of reasoning, is called faith or believing. If we credit testimony without sufficient grounds, we are unreasonably credulous : if we refuse to believe testimony which has sufficient grounds of credibility, we are unreasonably incredulous. It is therefore extremely absurd to oppose reason and faith, as if contrary to each other; when, in fact, faith is the use of reason in a certain way, and in cases which confine us to that peculiar exercise of our rational powers. Believing may be distinguished from reasoning, and in some cases opposed to it: but, in opposing faith and reason, the friends of Christianity have given its enemies an advantage to which they are by no means entitled.
It is evident to all observing men, that the complicated machine of human society is moved, almost exclusively, by that very principle which numbers oppose
and deride in speaking on religion. Testimony, received and credited, directs the determinations of princes and councils, of senates and military commanders, of tribunals and commercial companies, in their most important deliberations : and, did they refuse to act without self-evidence, demonstration, or personal knowledge, all their grand affairs must stagnate. But human testimony, though often fallacious, is deemed credible: they believe, decide, and carry their decisions into execution. In the common concerns of life too, we believe a guide, a physician, a lawyer, and even those who provide our food; and the incredulous sceptic in such cases must be ruined, or starved, or perish by disease.
But, “ if the testimony of man. be great, the tes
timony of God is greater.” The scripture is the “sure testimony of God; making wise the sim
ple.”! It relates facts which God has attested; states docrines which he has immediately revealed ; promises and assurances concerning the future, which he has engaged to accomplish ; and com
1 2 Tim. iii. 15--17.