« IndietroContinua »
peculiarly applies. On such an occasion, therefore, it will be sought with struggles and strong contention of mind, if we be serious in these matters. So sought, it will be obtained.
Again : is it not always a fit subject of prayer, that the Holy Spirit would inform, animate, warm, and support our devotions ? Saint Paul speaks of the co-operation of the Spirit with us in this very article.
article. “ Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered." The specific help here described is to supply our ignorance. But the words speak also generally of helping our infirmities; meaning, as the passage leads us to suppose, the infirmities which attend our devotion. Now these infirmities are not only ignorance, but coldness, wanderings, absence; for all which a remedy is to be sought in the aid and help of the Spirit.
Next in order of time to praying for the Spirit of God, but still superior to it in importance, is listening and yielding ourselves to his suggestions. This is the thing in which we fail. Now, it being confessed that we cannot ordinarily distinguish at the time the suggestions of the Spirit from the operations of our minds, it may be asked, how are we to listen to them? The answer is, by attending universally to the admonitions within us. Men do not listen to their consciences. It is through the whisperings of conscience that the Spirit speaks. If men then are wilfully deaf to their consciences, they cannot hear the Spirit. If hearing-if being compelled to hear, the remonstrances of conscience, they nevertheless decide, and resolve, and determine to go against them; then they grieve, then they defy,—then they do despite, to the Spirit of God. In both cases, (that is, both of neglecting to consult, and of defying,) when they cannot help feeling the admonitions which rise up within them, they have this judgement hanging over their heads : “ He that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” He that misuses or abuses the portion and measure of spiritual assistance which is afforded him, shall lose even that.
The efficacy of the Spirit is to be judged of by its fruits. Its immediate effects are upon the disposition. A visible outward conduct will ensue; but the true seat of grace and of spiritual energy is in the heart and inward disposition. Whenever
therefore we find religious carelessness succeeded within us by religious seriousness ;-conscience, which was silent or unheard, now powerfully speaking and obeyed;--sensuality and selfishness, the two grand enemies of salvation, the two great powers of darkness, which rule the natural man,—when we find even these giving way to the inward accusing voice of conscience ;when we find the thoughts of the mind drawing or drawn more and more towards heavenly things;- the value and interest of these expectations plainer to our view, a great deal more frequent than heretofore in our meditations, and more fully discerned ;-the care and safety of our souls rising gradually above concerns and anxieties about worldly affairs;--when we find the force of temptation and of evil propensities, not extinct, but retreating before a sense of duty ;-self-government maintained ;-the interruptions of it immediately perceived, bitterly deplored, and soon recovered ;- sin rejected and repelled ;-and this not so much with increase of confidence in our strength, as of reliance upon the assisting grace of God;—when we find ourselves touched with the love of our Maker, taking satisfaction in his worship and service;-when we feel a growing taste and relish for religious subjects and religious exercises ;-above all, when we begin to rejoice in the comfort of the Holy Ghost; in the prospect of reaching heaven ;- in the powerful aids and helps which are given us in accomplishing this great end, and the strength, and firmness, and resolution, which, so helped and aided, we experience in our progress ;-when we feel these things, then may we, without either enthusiasm or superstition, humbly believe that the Spirit of God hath been at work within
External virtues, good actions will follow, as occasions may draw them forth: but it is within that we must look for the change which the inspiration of God's Spirit produces.
With respect to positive external good actions, we have said that they must depend in some measure upon occasions, and abilities, and opportunities, and that they must wait for opportunities; but, observe, it is not so with the breaking off of our sins, be they what they will. That work must wait for nothing. Until that be effected, no change is made. No man, going on in a known sin, has any right to say, that the Spirit of God has done its office within him. Either it has not been given to him, or, being given, it has been resisted, despised, or, at least,
neglected. Such a person has either yet to obtain it by prayer, or, when obtained, to avail himself duly of its assistance. Let him understand this to be his condition.
The next duty, or rather disposition, which flows from the doctrine of spiritual influence, is humility. There never was a truer saying, than that pride is the adversary of religion, lowliness and humility the tempers for it. Now religious humility consists in the habit of referring every thing to God. From one end of the New Testament to the other, God is set forth and magnified in his agency and his operations. In the greatest of all businesses, the business of salvation, He is operating, and we co-operating with him. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” and why? "for it is God that worketh in us to will and to do, according to his good pleasure.” He is not superseding our endeavours, (the very contrary is implied by commanding us to exert them,) but still nothing is done without him. If we have moral strength, we are strong in the inward might of the Holy Ghost: consequently all boasting, all vanity, all self-sufficiency, all despising of others, on the score of moral and religious inferiority, are excluded. Without the grace of God, we might have been as the worst of them. There is, in the nature of things, one train of sentiment belonging to him who has achieved a work by his own might, and power, and prowess; and another to him who had been fain to beg for succour and assistance, and by that assistance alone has been carried through difficulties, which were too great for his own strength and faculties. This last is the true sentiment for us. It is not for a man, whose life has been saved in a shipwreck by the compassionate help of others; it is not for a man, so saved, to boast of his own alertness and vigour; though it be true, that unless he had exerted what power and strength he was possessed of, he would not have been saved at all.
Lastly, this doctrine shuts the door against a most general, a most specious, and a most deceiving excuse for our sins; which excuse is, that we have striven against them, but are overpowered by our evil nature, by that nature which the Scriptures themselves represent as evil: in a word, that we have done what we could. Now until, by supplication and prayer, we have called for the promised assistance of God's Spirit, and with an earnestness, devotion, perseverance, and importunity, proportioned to the magnitude of the concern ;-until we have
rendered ourselves objects of that influence, and yielded ourselves to it, it is not true “that we have done all that we can.” We must not rely upon that excuse; for it is not true in fact. If, experiencing the depravity and imbecility of our nature, we see in this corruption and weakness an excuse for our sins, and taking up with this excuse, we surrender ourselves to them ;-if we give up, or relax in, our opposition to them, and struggles against them, at last consenting to our sins, and falling down with the stream, which we have found so hard to resist ;--if things take this turn with us, then are we in a state to be utterly, finally, and fatally undone. We have it in our power to shut our eyes against the danger; we naturally shall endeavour to make ourselves as easy and contented in our situation as we can: but the truth, nevertheless, is, that we are hastening to certain perdition. If, on the contrary, perceiving the feebleness of our nature, we be driven by the perception, as Saint Paul was driven, to fly for deliverance from our sins to the aid and influence and power of God's Spirit, to seek for divine help and succour, as a sinking mariner calls out for help and succour, not formally, we may be sure, or coldly, but with cries and tears and supplications, as for life itself; if we be prepared to cooperate with this help, with the holy working of God's grace within us ;-then may we trust, both that it will be given to us; (yet in such manner as to God shall seem fit, and which cannot be limited by us ;) and also that, the portion of help which is given being duly used and improved, (not despised, neglected, put away,) more and more will be continually added, for the ultimate accomplishment of our great end and object, the deliverance of our souls from the captivity and the consequences of
ROMANS VII. 24. “O wretched man that I am ; who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?
BEFORE we can explain what is the precise subject of this heavy lamentation, and what the precise meaning of the solemn ques
tion here asked, we must endeavour to understand what is intended by the expression, “ the body of this death,” or as some render it," this body of death."
Now let it be remembered, that death, in Saint Paul's epistles, hardly ever signifies a natural death, to which all men of all kinds are equally subjected; but it means a spiritual death, or that perdition and destruction to which sin brings men in a future state. “The wages of sin is death ;” not the death which we must all undergo in this world, for that is the fate of righteousness as well as sin; but the state, whatever it be, to which sin and sinners will be consigned in the world to come. Not many verses after our text, Saint Paul
says, carnal-mindedness is death :-“ to be carnally minded is death,” leads, that is, inevitably to that future destruction which awaits the sinful indulgence of carnal propensities, and which destruction is, as it were, death to the soul. The book of Revelation, alluding to this distinction, speaks expressly of a second death, in terms very fit to be called to mind in the consideration of our present text. “ I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life ; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written, according to their works : and the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell (which last word denotes here simply the place of the dead, not the place of punishment) delivered up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works : and death and hell were cast into the lake of fire ;” (that is, natural death, and the receptacle of those who died, were thenceforth superseded). This is the second death. “And whatsoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” This description, which is exceedingly awful, is given in the last three verses of the 20th chapter. In reference to the same event, this book of Revelation had before told us, viz. in the 2d chapter and 11th verse, that he who overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death ; and in like manner in the abovequoted 20th chapter: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in this resurrection; on such the second death hath no power.” Our Lord himself refers to this death in those never to be forgotten words which he uttered, “ He that liveth, and believeth in me, shall not die eternally.” Die he must, but not eternally; die the first death, but not the second. It is undoubtedly, there