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desire and full purpose, to walk perfectly with God, his Lord, his Saviour, and his All, he will have no difficulty in finding the way that may only be pointed out to him, and, guided by the specimens with which he may be furnished, collecting all the principles and rules which are necessary.
(1.) We must be attentive to those duties which, because of their relations to persons and circumstances, are often termed “ relative duties.” In the Scriptures not only are the principles of these repeatedly laid down, but the chief examples are enumerated, and that with such precision and impressiveness, that it is scarcely possible—perhaps, we should say, it is not possible at all—to conceive a position in which the honest believer shall not be able to perceive his duty, however complicated, and even strange, his circumstances may be. Are we rich, have we to labour with our hands; have we to bear rule, are we under authority ; are we aged or youthful, men or women; are we husbands, or wives, or parents, or children, or masters, or servants? Duties arise out of each particular relation ; and attention to it is solemnly enjoined. Each of these is a channel in which the issues of life will flow; and if our life be that regenerate one which is hid with Christ in God, the flowing streams will be holy as surely as the living source is so. Neglect of particular duty cannot consist with general holiness. It is a vain religion, and our profession false, when there is decided omission here. Our duty is, carefully to search out what that is which our own situation specifically requires. He who seeks thus to be perfect, must ask, “What is required of me in my actual, particular circumstances ? This is my situation, ordered by the providence of God: how am I to serve him in it?” The duty may be, in human estimation, high or low ; it may attract notice, and bring the temptation to pride ; it may lead in an obscure path, where no human eye thinks it worth while to follow us. Man looks only at the human relations of action. Not so is it with God: He, in this, as in other respects, looks at the heart. Some duties may have wider relations and consequences than others. With God this is as nothing. It is at the performance of duty, as duty, and for His sake, that He looks. We are not to notice, when asking about duty, these social results. God knows them. We can never fully perceive them. To simple duty, therefore, and to that alone, we are to look. Apparently, he who manages the vessel in the storm, or in a place of intricate navigation, performs a visibly important duty. But here is the workman building the vessel. It is possible that carelessness in driving a single nail may, by leaving some plank unsafe, occasion a leak which no effort can stop, and the apparently slight neglect shall sink the ship and cargo and crew. Scores of lives may be lost, widows and children thrown into deep distress, the loss of property may ruin the owner, and, through him, many others. O no! we are not to talk of small duties. The action may be small, but the obligation is great ; and wherever there is the intention to please God, all that God requires, be it in appearance small or great, will be rendered. And of this simplicity and purity of intention, he who would walk perfectly with God, must acquire the very habit. Self, to whatever object it may refer, must be denied. We must set the Lord always before us ; by his fear we must be restrained; by his love we must be prompted and animated. Not for the body must the soul labour, but the body be governed by the soul. Born for God and eternity, for God and eternity we must live. Not only may not lower motives govern us, but lower motives must be themselves subordinated to higher. At this we must aim, that at this we may arrive,-to be able to say, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."
« This one thing I do, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Whether I live, therefore, or die, I am the Lord's."
(2.) In seeking to be perfect, we are to aim at maturity; at what may be termed fulness and confirmed habit. At first, in the very commencement of our religious course, the strength of our convictions and feelings will produce decision. But even then we shall be conscious that we are walking in what is a path hitherto untrodden by us. The inclination to renounced habits, whether of thought or practice, will be subdued ; but a sort of unconscious tendency towards them will sometimes be felt. General correctness will sometimes cover deficiency in minuter details; or in that which is new, and which was heretofore neglected, there may be too great eagerness, and a proneness to insist upon what is comparatively trivial. There may be a stiffness of manner where modest freedom would be far more lovely and attractive. The seriousness produced by a recently awakened sense of eternal things, may wear a rugged, and thus a repulsive, aspect; and a degree of formality may prevent the full manifestation of spirituality. The fruits of righteousness may be present, and yet comparatively unripe. The want of a larger knowledge in divine things may occasion a sort of narrowness of conception, which, when combined with a newly kindled zeal, may have unpleasant effects in our intercourse with others, and greatly limit our usefulness. We are at first very prone to judge all things by our own standard, and to look at that so intently, as to overlook the fact that, in perfect consistency with one great plan of unvarying procedure, the Great Author and Preserver of spiritual life has diversity of operations. This is all natural, but its continuance would become natural in another sense : it would show that nature was indulged where grace ought to be obeyed and cherished. "Grow in grace,” is a command whose language is as explicit as that of the declaration, “ Ye must be born again." Great beyond comparison is the work of a true conversion; but we must not even seem to think that, because it is great, it is the whole. Along with that which is thoroughly right in substance, it seldom is otherwise but that there is connected something, perhaps much, that is incorrect in manner. Increasing light is therefore indispensable. And what is that but the reception of larger and more accurate views of holy truth, in a soul possessing spiritual life, and the light of life, even the sacred illuminations of the Holy Spirit? The prayerful, devout attention of the inner man to divinely-inspired Scripture, is so absolutely necessary, and so powerfully operative, that it might almost be termed growth of itself. The living child receives healthful aliment, and grows; but the growth is unconscious, and yet it is constant. So is it with the living tree, in the kindly atmosphere and soil. Who can mark its hourly growth? But the buds expand into foliage, the blossoms open into full-blooming flowers, and then drop their no-longer-needed leaves, and are succeeded by the fruit, which goes on till fully ripe. This is the very figure-instructive as beautiful analogy, we should rather say--which the Holy Ghost employs to describe the growth of the regenerate soul. Faithful to the laws of the new and divine life, it loves the law of the Lord, -God's gift, God's voice,-and “therein meditates day and night,”—reads it, not as a formal task, but as a pleasant duty, for the satisfaction of the hunger and thirst by which the new life seeks for sustenance that it may work and grow ; thinks on it, seeks to understand it, and therein “ the will of God.” It is added, “Therefore shall he be like a tree planted by the rivers of waters.” As
VOL. III.FOURTA SERJES.
the water to the roots of the living tree, on which the sun shines, and among whose leaves the moving air breathes, so is the word of God to the new-born soul. God's truth is the soul's food. We refer not to the chaff which encloses the grain, the merely outward form of Scripture, which may satisfy the literary student in his critical inquiries; but to the grain itself, “the finest of the wheat," the very mind of God,—“the word of Christ,” which is to “ dwell in us richly.” “ If so be that ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious,” then, “as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.”
This is most absolutely necessary. Of course, it is implied that there be spiritual life; that it has been received, and that its Giver still dwells within us. The dead roots imbibe no water. The dead stomach, though filled with food, sends no blood into the system. But the living trée must have water. The living body must have food. The Giver of life only causes growth by the instrumentality of its proper aliment,—divine truth contained in the word. To growth, therefore, three things are necessary. The Scriptures must be read. A faithful, that is, a truth-speaking, ministry must be attended. And there must be prayerful, devotional meditation. In the tree, and in the human body, supposing health, digestion is involuntary. But here the comparison fails. What the digestive process is in the stomach, meditation is in the soul. We read; we hear. This is right. We thus receive the food. But now comes that which is man’s voluntary act, and therefore his duty,-meditation, by which he sends the received truth to do its work in the circulating system of the inner man. On this his advance to maturity depends. If neglected altogether, life languishes, disease ensues, death may follow. Much depends, too, on the manner of its performance. There are not the same limitations as to time as, for instance, in the tree. One man may grow more in grace in a week, than another in years. If you would walk perfectly before God, aim at growth and maturity ; and for this, read and hear the word of God. Mark it, learn it, inwardly digest it. Be actively faithful in spiritual ineditation on divinely revealed truth, and growth must follow. It will not follow without. Mere stimulants, however important in their place, do not contain the elements of nutrition. The more richly the word of Christ, which is the very mind of Christ, dwells in us, the more Christ-like will be our whole character, both before God and man.
(3.) In seeking to walk perfectly with God, we must aim at completeness. It should be remembered that there are two words in the New Testament which are both translated by the same expression,—perfect : the one denoting that which is finished and mature; the other, that which is complete, having all its parts, all in their right places, all duly proportioned and balanced. Now, not only is the latter phrase often used, but a variety of directions are given, showing particularly how its more general meaning is to be applied. A few instances of this shall first be furnished, and then two or three specific rules are to be founded on them.
The great duty of the human soul is love. But the command is twofold and discriminative. God is to be loved, and man. But the Infinitely Perfect and Good is to be loved according to the excellence of his nature, with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength. Man is our equal : we are to love him as ourselves. Vain is our profession of a love which regards not both. He who loves truly, loves, thus particularly, God, and his neighbour.
The same discrimination is shown in reference to that state of mind
which opposes and rejects. We are to deny the ungodliness which forgets man's great Author and End : we are also to deny worldly lusts, the proneness of human nature to seek its gratification in various forms of earthliness and sensuality. Unless the denial be applied to each, its actuating principle is wrong. We may seem to avoid all outward symptoms of irreligion, and in our way be very devout, while yet our spirits may be earthly and sensual. We may, too, seem to have conquered the flesh and the world by a rigid abstemiousness, while our heart has no love for God, perhaps the very idea is refused admission to our soul. And the same text is equally discriminating as to the mode of living, -soberly, righteously, godly, in the present world, looking for a future state, and the coming of Christ to satisfy all the hopes of our spirit.
We only quote one more illustration : the reader cannot avoid remembering others, such as the passages, Gal. v. 22, 23; 2 Peter i. 5—7, and all the texts which so particularly direct our attention to the class of relative duties,
-duties relating to persons, as parents, children, &c.; and duties relating to circumstances, as youth, age, abundance, need, &c. No careful reader of the Scriptures can have overlooked these. But we quote Phil. iv. 8. Let its clauses be read slowly, thoughtfully, making each the subject of accurate investigation :-“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report ;”—nay, content not yourselves with even this enumeration ; look about you ; your aim is to walk perfectly with God, that you may “stand perfect and complete in all his will ;” therefore, “ if there be any virtue” not particularly named, “any praise,” any spiritual or moral excellence necessary to completeness of character, “think on these things :” so investigate the subject as to have a clear idea of each particular which personal religion should comprise; so meditate on them, as to implant them as governing principles in the very depths of your heart, constituting the fountains whence all the streams of life shall issue.
Most important it is to our establishment, and to the honour of religion, that we be thus carefully attentive to these minute details. Much evil proceeds from the absence of this. Too often has it been found that, in some of these particular instances, the character of many professors has been seriously defective. To suppose this deficiency to be known and wilful, would be to suppose a degree of malignity utterly inconsistent with all sincerity, and involving a fearful amount of guilt. It has arisen from inattentiveness and ignorance. In such cases, we pronounce no sweeping sentence of condemnation, but their existence is greatly to be deplored. They must be left to God, the merciful, but righteous, Judge, who alone can decide where deficiency is truly consistent with innocence. But no one who desires to walk perfectly with God, will carelessly allow their existence in himself. He will seek to detect, that he may avoid, them, and be in all respects what God requires him to be.
(i.) We must be on our guard against constitutional tendencies and deficiencies. A warm and fearless temperament may easily be mistaken for religious zeal ; and this may be, as it were, so large as to hide very serious defects from our view. Our warmth may easily be, in some directions, anger, intolerance, and an overbearing forgetfulness of what is due to others. Or we may be naturally indolent, and thus, yielding, and deficient in firmness; which may be easily mistaken for the true amiableness which results from the gracious affection of divine love. Or, again, our constitution may be cold, strongly inclining to a selfishness that may look like Christian firmness and prudence; while the sympathy which feels for others, and with them, and is moved with joy or grief as they are moved, is absent. We are not to be content with what we may term, the sanctification of what we are by nature : we are to see that all is present which issues from grace.
(ii.) Nor must we be less on our guard against excess, and undue prominence. Intellectually, great differences will often exist, and may be advantageously encouraged. One may have a strong memory, another powers of acute penetration, or accurate reasoning, and another a rich and lofty imagination. In that which is properly religion, no grace is to be cultivated to the neglect of another. Harmony and proportion of character must be studied that it may be beautiful and attractive. Unbalanced generosity may become profusion : unbalanced prudence, a stingy and repulsive avarice. Epaphras saw this, who desired so ardently that the Philippians might be a complete in all the will of God.”
(iii.) Eccentricity must be avoided, and especially the imitation of it. Seldom does eccentricity spring from what is essentially right. Some persons are, let the expression be allowed, queer, from an almost unconscious desire of attracting notice : vanity often insinuates itself where its operation is unsuspected. But imitated eccentricity is worst of all. Often does it happen that some great and good man has a weakness which, because of his excellencies, is overlooked ; and too frequently this is the very point seized on for imitation, as being most easily imitated. A Chinese gunsmith, being requested to make a new gun for one that had been broken, copied his European model even in the defect which rendered it useless. Allow of nothing that might even seem to justify others in representing religion as ridiculous. In itself it is lovely and noble. So let it shine in you.
These are only suggestive instances. A heart right with God will so desire perfection, in its evangelical sense, as to seek to understand all that it comprises, in order that all may be transferred to ourselves. Our earnest prayer, our enlightened and diligent aim, will be this,—that we may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing ; the children of God, blameless, harmless, and without rebuke.
III. In thus resolving, thus aiming, mighty and constant effort will be required. You cannot prevent yourself from seeing, if you look carefully on others, that great deficiency does actually exist. But you are to look at the command of God. Judge not others. Make no comparisons to excite pride, or feed vanity. But still, look at the divine requirement. That is your rule. And whatever it may cost you, resolve to fulfil it. Make religion your grand business. Let duty, in its highest view, be your delight. It will require continual inspection and exertion ; self-denial, sacrifice, rigid self-control. To the indolent and worldly, the way may seem full of discouragement. But listen to the voice that addresses you: I am God Almighty! Even to Moses he said not so much. To Israel he was about to give his law, and to appear, at first, chiefly as Lawgiver. He therefore only said what disclosed at once the fulness of obligation: I am that I am! I am essential Being. All existence is derived from me. I am absolute Proprietor and Lord. Fitting was all this as the introduction to the awful promulgation from Sinai : “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have none other gods before me.” But to Abraham, opening the covenant of redeeming love, whose obligation is privilege, and duty pleasure,—to Abraham, introducing the command which requires the devotion of our