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“they hate the light, and will not come fairly to it, lest their deeds should be reproved." This is very observable in the conduct of the Apostles, when our Lord touched upon their mutual contentions about worldly preference and distinction: they instantly shifted off the blame, by turning the discourse to another subject. A true picture this of the generality of men, not excepting those of whom better things might be hoped !]
3. They use all possible artifices to obtain a favourable testimony from their own conscience
[Many are not ashamed to justify what yet they know in their consciences to be wrong: “It was expedient: it was even necessary under existing circumstances: they were constrained to it, and could not do otherwise." It was in this way
that Saul justified his impious intrusion into the priestly office. He cast the blame on Samuel, for not coming so early as he had expected; and affirmed, that, however contrary to the divine law his conduct had been, it was expedient, and necessary, and good; since the Philistines would otherwise have come upon him, before he had sought by proper offerings the protection of Heavend. But notwithstanding all his specious arguments, Samuel told him plainly, that he had “ done foolishly," and grievously provoked the Lord to angero.
If they proceed not in their self-vindication to this extent, yet they will excuse what they cannot justify. True, it was not altogether right; but they were compelled to do it; and the fault was rather in others than in them. It was done in haste, and without due consideration. It was a mistake; or was done to prevent a greater evil; or to answer some valuable end.' Here again we may see in the same unhappy monarch the evil we are speaking of. He had spared Agag, and the best of the flocks and herds, which he should have utterly destroyed: yet, when he saw Samuel, he boasted that “ he had fulfilled the commandment of the Lord.” But, on Samuel's inquiry into the reasons of the flocks and herds being spared, he excused himself by saying, that he had reserved them for sacrifices: and, when further reproved, he cast the blame on the people, asserting, that they had taken of the spoil without his consent or privity.
When their conduct is too plainly reprehensible to admit of such replies, they will then palliate what they cannot excuse. Satan will never leave them at a loss for something whereby to extenuate their faults, and to silence the reproaches of a guilty conscience. It was not so bad as is represented: the intention was good : it was done only once, and that under circumstances that might well account for it. But there is no end to the
c Luke ix. 464-49. d 1 Sam. xiii. 8-12. e 1 Sam. xiii. 13, 14. f1 Sam. xv. 13-21.
suggestions of self-love. There is not a man under heaven, except the broken-hearted penitent, that will acknowledge his faults in all their real malignity, and with all their attendant aggravations. All will cast some veil over their ways, to hide their deformity, and to make them appear “clean;" and will put such a colour even on their basest actions, as to leave in them scarcely any criminality at all.]
But, whilst we thus varnish over our own ways, so as to make them clean in our own eyes, it is of infinite importance for us to know, II. How God will form his estimate of them
Certainly he will not judge as we do: he will scrutinize our actions more narrowly, and will weigh as in a balance every thing that pertains to them. He will weigh, 1. Our actions themselves.
[Every thing we do is put, as it were, into a balance, even “ the balance of the sanctuary.” God will examine with infallible accuracy what the motives were, and the principles by which we were actuated; for by these, and not by the mere external appearance, must the quality of our actions be determined. He will examine how much there was of love to his name : how much of gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ; how much of humility, of self-denial, of love to our fellow-creatures; and how much of zeal for the honour and glory of our God. Precisely according to the measure of these things will be his estimate of our actions : all else will be only as dross that is blended with the gold, and which the fire will consume.] 2. Our excuses
[These, for the most part, when put into his scales are found lighter than the dust upon the balance. By means of them we impose upon ourselves, and upon our fellow-creatures; but we cannot impose on him ; “ he cannot be deceived :" and the very excuses which we urge with such confidence, will be rejected by him with scorn. See how strongly he has cautioned us on this head. He supposes us to have made some rash vow, and then to excuse ourselves from performing it, by saying that we were under a mistake: “Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error : wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands 8?" It is on this account that we so often meet with this warning; “Let no man deceive you with vain words;" "Be not deceived ; God is not mocked." In
& Eccl. v, 6.
truth, so far are we from satisfying him by our vain pleas, that the more confident we are of the validity of our own excuses, the more we provoke his wrath and indignation : “Thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me: behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinnedh.'] 3. The disposition and habit of our minds—
[It is not so much the transient act that determines our character, as the rooted habit of the mind. This we are apt to overlook: and if we see not any glaring faults in our conduct, we think that all is well with us. But God views us as creatures, who by the very law of our creation are bound not to live to ourselves, but unto him. He views us too as redeemed creatures, who, having been bought with the precious blood of his dear Son, are bound by this further tie to
glorify him with our bodies and our spirits which are his.” By this test will he try us: and according to the result of this scrutiny will he determine our eternal state. In particular, he will mark, What degree of candour there is in us whilst examining our own ways; and, Which is our predominant feeling, a partial desire to think our “ways clean," or an impartial desire to find out every atom of uncleanness that adheres to them. He will further notice what means we are using to ascertain the truth, and to escape from all kinds of self-delusion; whether we candidly consult others who are more impartial than we can be supposed to be; and whether we are crying mightily to Him to search and try us. Both these are necessary; because, whilst, on the one hand, we may too easily rest in the favourable opinion of friends, we may, on the other hand, be determinately holding fast our confidence against the judgment of friends, even whilst we are pretending to ask counsel of our God. Truly “ the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;" and one of the principal dispositions that God will expect to see in us is, a holy jealousy over ourselves, and a willingness rather to die than be left under a mistaken confidence of our own purity. Where this is wanting, there is a radical defect in the character; a defect which, if not rectified, will exclude us from the number of true Israelites, whose character is, that "they are without guile."] ADDRESS 1. The careless worldling
[You will not believe that you are wrong. But consult the Scriptures, and see. Find, if you can, one single word that sanctions a life of carelessness and indifference. To what purpose is it to be saying, “ Peace, peace! when there is no
h Jer. ii. 35.
peace?” Did you never hear what God replies to those who say, " I shall have peace, though I walk after the imaginations of my
heart?” “ The Lord, it is said, will not spare that man; but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against him; and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him ; and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaveni." Go
if you are determined so to do; but know, that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap: he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; and he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting k."] 2. The self-righteous moralist
[Solomon justly observes, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, but are not washed from their filthiness?." And such is the character of those whom we are now addressing. They are ready to say, "I have kept all the commandments from my youth up: and what lack 1 yet?" But, like that deluded Youth, they lack the one thing needful, namely, "to forsake all, and follow Christ.” This they do not: this they will not do: they hold fast their own righteousness, and will not renounce it for an interest in his. Such was Paul in his unconverted state: but when his eyes were opened to see the plan of Salvation revealed in the Gospel, then "he counted all things but dung and dross that he might win Christ, and be found in him, not having his own righteousness, but Christ's." Know then, Brethren, that, if you trust in the law, you shall be tried by the law, and suffer all its penalties for your infractions of it: but if you will embrace the Gospel, and seek for acceptance solely through the Lord Jesus Christ, you shall find that“ in him you shall be justified, and in him shall you glory."] 3. The professed believer
[Much blindness yet remains within us after we have believed in Christ : and the most eminent believer still needs to maintain a godly jealousy over his own deceitful heart. The Apostles themselves at one time “knew not what manner of spirit they were of.” But where shall we find any amongst ourselves that suspect this to be their own case? Alas! we all are more or less blinded by self-love: and, when most confident of our own integrity, we still need to say with Paul, “ I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lordm." We entreat you to guard with all possible care against the delusions of your own hearts; for they will assuredly, if persisted in, betray you to your everlasting ruin. The express declaration of God on this subject is, “ If thou sayest, (in reference to any duty neglected, or sin
i Deut. xxix. 19, 20, | Prov. xxx. 12.
k Gal. vi. 7, 8. m 1 Cor. iv. 4.
committed,) Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it ? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works" ?" Yes: His estimate will not be regulated by your opinion of yourselves, but by his perfect knowledge of your real character. May God enable us so to lay these things to heart, and so to act upon them, that “ we may be found of him in that day without spot and blameless!")
n Prov. xxiv. 11, 12.
TRUSTING IN GOD. Prov. xvi. 3. Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts
shall be established. WE all believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, and in a general way acknowledge his agency in the government of the world: but his particular care of us individually we find it extremely difficult to imagine. This, however, is most clearly revealed in the Holy Scriptures; and our duty is so to realize it, as, under all circumstances of trial and of difficulty, to look to him for his gracious interposition, and to expect from his hands whatever shall most conduce to our real benefit.
In the words before us we see, 1. A state supposed
[It is here supposed that we may be in a state of great perplexity, so as not to know what to do for the best. This is often the case with nations, especially when menaced by a potent enemy - Nor is there scarcely an individual to be found, who does not, at some time or other, experience an oppression of mind, arising out of difficulties with which he has to contend, and troubles which he knows not how to avert
Even in relation to men's spiritual concerns, the same trials are felt. Many, in a season of deep conviction, have poured out their complaints like Israel of old--- And many, under grievous temptation, have been reduced to the desponding frame of David -- At such times their thoughts are altogether distracted; and they are, like the persons so beautifully described in the 107th Psalm, brought, as it were, " to their wit's end.")
a Isai. vii. 2. and Joel ü. 6, 10.
c Ps. lxxvii, 6-9,