« IndietroContinua »
If then any of these comforts are dear to you; if you would enjoy them in a sound state, or would have a clear and lively impression of them, let me beseech you to comply with the Apostle's exhortation, and to “prove your own works.” So shall ye have your rejoicing in yourselves, and never be ashamed. Amen.
JAMES iv. 17.
Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not,
to him it is sin.
The unfruitful lives of professing Christians is a very general and a just complaint. But few of those who retail this complaints are heartily inclined to remove the cause of it. We are melancholy examples of that which we pretend to lament; and we cease not to strengthen the interests of a party which we condemn. David, when he was treating with Araunah, the Jebusite, for the purchase of his threshing-floor, in order to rear an altar to God, refused to accept of it without a price, because he would not offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord his God, of that which cost him nothing." But, alas ! our general contest seems rather to be, who shall be most penuri. ous in his offerings to God, and who shall purchase heaven with the easiest service. Many have unhappily deceived themselves into an opinion, that nothing but positive acts of rebellion will subject them to punishment. They place much confidence in what is called a harmless inoffensive life, as if it were virtue enough not to be abandoned to vice. They seem to aim at nothing higher, than that of which the Pharisee made his boast, when he gave thanks to God, that he was not as other men, nor even as the humble publican. But, in the passage which I have now read to you, the Apostle directs us to a much safer test of our conduct; a test which leaves us no rooni for mistake. The question is not, what vices have you forborne, but what virtues have you practised? You say that you are not idolaters.—Well : but do you reverence and love the true God? You are not adulterers, but do you study temperance and sobriety in all things ? You are not slanderers, but are you as tender of your neighbour's good name as of your own ? If ye are strangers to these positive virtues, then all the advantage ye can pretend to is this: ye are sinners of a lower order, than if ye had added positive transgressions to your neglect of doing good; but still you are sinners, for, according to the Apostle, not to do good is sin.
This text evidently contains the two following propositions.
1st, That men sin, not only when they positively transgress the law of God; but also, when they do not fulfil the duties which the law requires, to the utmost of their power. And,
2dly, That our guilt is more highly aggravated, when we negleet the duties which are known to us, or when we decline opportunities of doing good, though we know that it is our duty to embrace them.
These propositions I will endeavour to illustrate and confirm, and will then conclude with a practical improve ment of the subject.
First, I begin with shewing you that men sin, not only when they positively transgress the law of God; but also, when they do not fulfil the duties which the law requires, to the utmost of their power.
Were we to look upon God as an austere and selfish Being, who employed his laws only as a fence about his own private interests, then indeed, not to violate them might be considered as sufficient to comply with their design. The kings of this earth, are forced to inclose their little allotment of honour, and to use their authority as a flaming sword, to ward off insults from their prerogatives. But it is not so 'with God. The Creator of heaven and of earth can have no dependence on the workmanship of his own hands. His prerogatives cannot suffer, nor can his glory be impaired by the feeble and impotent attempts of his creatures. His laws therefore could never be intended for his own security, but for our benefit. They are expressions of his goodness, rather than of his sovereignty; and his great view in enacting them seems to have been, to bind us by his authority to consult our present interest, and to render ourselves capable of everlasting felicity. Judge then whether a law, which hath in view this kind and generous object, doth not challenge our most cordial acceptance, and entire subjection; and whether gratitude, as well as duty, should not prompt us to fulfil every part of it to the utmost of our power.
Indeed, if we consider God as a severe task-master, as I am afraid too many of us do, in that case, whatever he enjoins will appear to be an hardship or a burden. But if we view him in his true character, as a wise and good parent, who in every thing consults the real advantage of his children, then his yoke will appear to be easy indeed, and his burden to be light. The cords of love will draw us on to obedience; and gratitude, which is ever ingenious in finding out ways to express itself, will constantly prompt us to the most dutiful observance of his will.
Shew me the man whose ingenuous mind not only expects a future reward, but feels a present joy in the ser-, vice of his God, and to that man I will address the words of unfeigned salutation. I will say to him, “Hail thou favoured of the Lord,” thine is the true “ spirit of adoption," which deviscth liberal things; thine is that soul which is born from on high, and which doth not cominit sin; thine is that love which fulfilleth the law, and which perfecteth the saints.
But show me the man whose servile soul is moved only
by tlie fear of punishment, to yield a grudging and penurious service to his Maker, and to that man I must be sparing of consolation. 1 must remind him, that it is the heart which God requires ; that God hath respect to the offering of a liberal giver; but that he hath no regard to the churl, or to his offering.
Thus far I might argue upon general principles, that we ought not only to abstain from what the law of God prohibits, but also to fulfil to the utmost of our power, what the spirit or intention of the law requires. But as I speak to Christians, I will now resort to an authority which they must acknowledge to be valid, and sufficient to decide the question.
The proposition which I have laid down then, is not deduced by remote inference, neither does it depend upon a single testimony, but is both supported and illustrated by a multitude of clear and express declarations of Scripture.
We are commanded, not only to “ depart from evil,” but “ to do good;” not only “ to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” but also, “ to perfect holiness in the fear of God.” Christ is proposed to us as our example; and what was his character? “ He went about doing good," and persisted, till “ he had finished the work which was given him to do.” Nay,, he saith himself, John ix. 4. “I must work the works of him that sent me.” And if he, who voluntarily came under the law, was bound to this active and extensive service, shall we, who are its necessary subjects, plead an exemption from it? Paul, in his epistle to Titus, chap. ii. 11. informs us, that “the grace of God, which hath appeared to all men, bringing salvation, teacheth us not only to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, but to live soberly, and righteously, and godly in the world ;" *and that Christ gave himself for us, for this end, “ that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar peo* ple, zealous of good works."