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just as numbers can form no idea of civil liberty, unless they be allowed to indulge their selfish passions without restraint. When therefore we exhort them to submit to the easy yoke of Christ, and to serve him in holy obedience; they exclaim that this is legal, and leads them into bondage: and they choose such teachers as “ promise them liberty, while they themselves " are the slaves of corruption.”—These are a few of the innumerable ways, in which men deceive themselves, by hearing the word of truth without reducing it to practice.
But whence arises this fatal propensity to self-deception, in a matter of infinite importance? Our Lord answered this question, when he said “ Every one that “ doeth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh to the
light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” The human heart is prone to idolize the world, and to seek happiness in the enjoyment of it; and is averse to a life of practical godliness. But when a man is at all acquainted with the doctrines of the bible, his conscience becomes an unquiet inmate, unless some way be taken to silence its remonstrances. Various methods have therefore been adopted of reconciling a worldly life with the hope of future happiness: and self-flattery, which palliates a man's vices, and enhances the value of his supposed virtues, is a powerful coadjutor in this attempt.---But among these plans perhaps no one is so cheap and convenient, as hearing and assenting to the gospel: if a man be able to per.
a suade himself, that such a faith will save him. This requires less trouble and self-denial, than any other system: while it helps him to ascribe that decency of conduct, which secular motives impose, to religious opinions; and to consider all his omissions and transgressions as defects which are common to believers. A superficial hearer of the word may thus easily suppose, that he is in the way of salvation, while he lives in habitual disobedience to the known commandments of God: and when the faithful address of a minister shakes this vain confidence; the man may be seduced to charge the blame on the doctrine, and to shrink from conviction by going to those places, where smoother and more comfortable things are spoken. Could we therefore witness all that passes in the retirement, the family, and the dealings of those, who after a time forsake our ministry; we should perhaps not be at all surprised at losing them, though we must grieve to discover such awful self-deception.
These are the sources of this evil, which will certainly terminate in everlasting ruin, unless it be previously discovered and remedied.
IV. Then we consider the contrast here stated between the mere hearer, and the practical student of scripture.
The word of God, that perfect law of liberty through which the believer is freed from bondage and condemnation, is compared by the apostle to a mirrour; in which a man beholds the reflection of his person, and by which he may adjust every thing in his appearance after the most becoming manner. The mere hearer resembles one, who gives a transient look in this mirrour; but taking little notice of his appearance, and bestowing no pains to alter any thing in his attire, “ he goes his way, and straightway forgetteth
“ what manner of man he was.”—Thus many give à slight attention to the truth, and get a transient glimpse of their own state and character: but they dislike the mortifying discovery, are uneasy under the fleeting conviction, and have no inclination for that repentance and conversion, to which the scripture calls them. They therefore try to believe, that approbation and assent may suffice, and that the gospel does not require practice. They go
They go and plunge themselves into busi. ness or pleasure, and soon forget their convictions: and thus remain ignorant of their accumulated guilt and urgent danger, and strangers to regeneration, reconciliation to God, the life of faith, the sweet obedience of love, and all those “things that accompany « salvation."
On the other hand, the man, who stedfastly looks into the scriptures, comparing all his conduct, past and present, and even his thoughts, affections, tempers, motives, and words, with the holy law, who thus learns his whole duty to God and his neighbour, according to all his various relations and obligations; and who continues daily considering his ways, and contemplating himself in this faithful mirrour; will soon become acquainted with his own heart and character, and perceive his need of the mercy and grace proposed in the gospel. By persevering in this course of selfexamination, without being offended by the discoveries he makes; he will speedily understand that he ought to humble himself before God, for sins more numerous than the hairs of his head: and experience will convince him, that he can neither atone for the least of his former transgressions, nor answer the righteous demands of the divine law; nay, that he cannot truly repent, except by the promised assistance of the Holy Spirit. His daily efforts will bring him more and more acquainted with his sins of omission and commission, the defilements of his duties, the hidden evils of his heart, the strength of his depraved propensities, and the power of habits and temptations. These things will render him weary of attempting to “ establish his own righteousness,” or to change his own nature. He will now be capable of understanding the words of the apostle; “By the works of the " law shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God, “ for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” The publican's prayer, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” he will now most cordially adopt; and the nature, glory, and preciousness of the free salvation revealed in the gospel will be more and more unfolded to his view. Thus he will learn with increasing simplicity to plead the name of Christ in genuine faith; to come to the Father by him, and to rely solely on his righteousness, redemption, and mediation, for acceptance and eternal life.
In this manner the practical student of scripture, being justified by faith, and having peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, will make still further progress in the divine life. The convincing and enlightening influences of the Holy Spirit, through the instruction of the written word, will continually discover to him defects and defilements in his heart and conduct, which he had not before observed. Thus while he presses forward, and aspires after nearer and nearer conforinity to his perfect rule; repentVol.1,
ance, faith, watchfulness, and fervent prayer, will be. come more and more habitual, and as it were natural to him. His heart will grow more humble, and his conscience more tender, bis dependence on Christ more simple, and his gratitude for redeeming love more abundant, in proportion to the degree of his sanctification. These things will render him likewise more compassionate, tender, forbearing, and forgiving; more patient and self-denying; and more ready to encounter dangers and difficulties, in promoting the cause of Christ among his fellow-sinners. And as no absolute perfection can be attained on earth; and as he deems all faulty and deformed, which does not come up to the requirement of the holy law, and the spotless example of the Saviour; so no limits can be assigned to his discoveries and progress, during his continuance in this world.
This is the character described by the apostle, “he “is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the word; and “ he shall be blessed in his doing.” He is made wise unto salvation, and shall “ abound in hope by the
power of the Holy Ghost;" he shall find liberty and pleasure in the ways of God; be made useful to society, and a blessing to his connexions; and he shal} “have an entrance administered unto him abundantly “ into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Sa. * viour Jesus Christ."
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