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which they had known before, and which carry internal evidence of their divinity and importance. They know the gospel is divine, by the divine effects it has produced in their hearts. This was the primary and solid ground upon which the disciples of Christ built their hopes of eternal life. When some of his nominal disciples went back and walked no more with him, he said to the twelve, “ Will ye also go away?” Then Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe, and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the son of the living God." Unlearned christians may exercise as strong a faith in the gospel, and build as firm a hope of salvation upon it, as the most learned christians. They are able, therefore, to give a good reason of the hope that is them, and to tell why they are not atheists, nor deists, nor mere nominal, but real christians. There have been a vast many more unlearned than learned christians who have sealed their faith with their blood, and laid down their lives in testimony of the truth and divinity of the gospel; which is the highest evidence they could give of their well grounded hope of eternal life.
5. 'If christians know that they are christians, by the spirit which they have received from God, then sinners may know that they are sinners, by the spirit of the world, which reigns within them, and governs all their conduct. They are more constantly and entirely under the dominion of a selfish spirit, than christians are under a benevolent spirit. They have clear, constant and full evidence, that they are sinners, and that every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts, is evil and only evil continually. But though they always act from selfishness, and invariably seek their own good solely and supremely, yet their selfishness, which is desperately wicked, is at the same time deceitful above all things. The selfishness of Satan sometimes disposes him to put on the appearance of an angel of light; and so the selfishness of sinners sometimes leads them to put on the appearance of the children of light, and to do the same things that christians do. By this they often deceive themselves as well as others, and really doubt whether they are sinners, or whether there is any essential difference between them and real christians. But if they would only form their opinion of themselves by internal motives, instead of their external conduct, they would find no ground to doubt of their having the spirit of the world, and always acting from entirely selfish and sinful motives, which are directly contrary to the spirit of benevolence, which is of God, and which governs the hearts and conduct of real christians. There are probably many more doubting sinners, than doubting christians;
but neither have any good reason for doubting, for they both might know what manner of spirit they are of, and in what path they are walking. Doubting sinners are in a most dangerous and deplorable condition. They are in doubt whether they are walking in the strait and narrow path to eternal life, or whether they are walking in the broad road to ruin. They are in darkness, and see no light, and know not at what they stumble. No human means can remove their darkness and ignorance, and give them that light and knowledge, which arises from the spirit which is of God. No truths which can be exhibited before their eyes, no addresses that can be made to their understandings, and no convictions that can be produced in their consciences, by the common influences of the divine Spirit, can remove their ignorance, and give them that peculiar knowledge which comes from God, and can make them wise unto salvation. They are in a morally helpless and hopeless condition, and nothing can prevent their lying down in everlasting darkness and despair, but the sovereign and unpromised mercy of God.
6. If christians have received the spirit which is of God, and which gives them a peculiar knowledge of spiritual and divine things, then the world have no reason to think it strange that they treat them according to their enlightened views and feelings. They have no reason to think it strange that christians, whose hearts are purified, and whose understandings are enlightened, hate their selfish spirit, which God hates; condemn their vain and sinful ways, which God condemns; avoid their company, which God requires them to avoid ; and use every proper method to restrain, reform, and convert them from the error of their ways, which God has commanded them to use. They possess a spirit that is in direct contrariety to the spirit of the world ; and they cannot act consistently, unless they manifest their spirit, and condemn and oppose that which the men of the world highly esteem, but which is an abomination in the sight of God. Though sinners often complain of christians for their strictness, they have no reason to complain, but ought to be thankful for their admonitions and restraints.
THE TRUE CHARACTER OF GOOD MEN DELINEATED.
For to will is present with me ; but how to perform that which is good I find
not. - ROMANS, vii. 18.
It is a question among expositors whether the apostle is here expressing the pious feelings of his own heart, or whether he is describing the feelings of a person destitute of grace. To determine this point, it seems necessary to examine the context, which is the best way to discover his true meaning. From the seventh to the ninth verse he describes the exercises of his own mind, before he was awakened from his carnal ease and stupidity. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Nay, I had not known sin but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin taking occasion by the commandment wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once.” This exactly agrees with another description which he gives of himself, while in the state of nature. “ If any man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more. Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, as touching the law a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." Such was his character and his opinion of himself, before he knew the grace of God in truth. But after his conversion, his views and feelings were totally altered. And this change he described, from the ninth to the eleventh verse. “ But when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.” What follows in this chapter is a description of himself as a real, though im-v perfect saint. “ Wherefore the law is holy; and the commandment holy and just and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do, I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not." Who can doubt either that the apostle is here speaking of himself, or that he is speaking of himself as a real christian? He says, he does not allow of any evil in himself, but sincerely wishes to avoid all sin. This is more than any unrenewed sinner can sincerely say, after he has been awakened to see his own heart. The apostle, therefore, must be speaking of his own gracious exercises in these verses. And if this be true, it is easy to understand what he means in the words which have been selected as the foundation of the ensuing discourse. “To will is pres
6 . ent with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not.”
This is the language of every christian who can sincerely say, I desire to be perfectly holy; but I find by daily experience, that I fall short of such a desirable attainment. Agreeably, therefore, to the spirit of the text, I shall show, 1. That saints desire to be perfectly holy. II. That they are not perfect in holiness. III. Wherein their imperfection in holiness consists. I. I am to show that saints desire to be perfectly holy.
Holiness is desirable in its own nature, and none can possess the least degree of it without desiring to possess it in perfection. The truth of this will appear from two things, which are essential to all real saints. One is, that they sincerely love the divine law. The apostle says, “ I delight in the law of God after the inward man." David frequently makes the same declaration. “I delight to do thy will
, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.” “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.” “I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.” And he says of every good man, “ His delight is in the law of the Lord ; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” This is the law of perfection, or at least it includes it, which saith to every person, “ Thou shalt love the
Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; and thy neighbor as thyself.” No man can love this law, without desiring that perfect holiness which it absolutely enjoins. Those, therefore, who sincerely desire to obey the law of God in its full extent, must necessarily desire to be entirely conformed to the divine will; which is the perfection of holiness.
Besides, saints not only love the law of perfection, but heartily hate every transgression of it. The apostle expressly declares, that sin is the object of his perfect abhorrence. “For that
6 which I do, I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.— Now it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." This is also the language of the pious
", Psalmist. “I hate vain thoughts." “ I hate and abhor lying." "I hate every false way.” Such are the feelings of all those who have been renewed in the temper of their minds, and have put off the old man with his deeds. They hate sin in every form, and abhor it in themselves as much as in others. Thus it appears, from the love which good men have to the divine law, and from the hatred which they have to every transgression of it, that they do sincerely desire to be perfectly holy. But yet,
II. They are imperfect in holiness.
The scripture represents the most eminent saints, as falling short of perfection in this life. Solomon says, “ There is no man that sinneth not.” Again he says, “ There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not." And he scruples not to ask this serious question, "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from sin?” The apostle John asserts, “ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." These divine declarations concerning the imperfection of good men, entirely harmonize with their own declarations concerning themselves. Job says unto God, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth." “ I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” David bitterly bewails his remaining corruption of heart.“ Mine iniquities are gone over mine head; as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink, and are corrupt, because of my foolishness. I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long.” When Isaiah had a clear view of the divine purity and majesty, he cried out, “ Wo is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts." Though Paul once thought he was blameless, yet after he became an eminent christian, and was better