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There have been, and yet are, persons in the Church of Christ who boast of sinless perfection. But they are awfully deluded. In order to maintain their favourite system, they reduce exceedingly the requirements of God's law; they deny many things to be sin, which most assuredly are sin ; and, after all, they shut their eyes against many things which they know to be sinful in their own hearts and lives, but which they will not acknowledge to be sinful, lest they should overturn the system which they are anxious to defend. But it is a certain truth, that no man is sinless in this world. And this appears, 1. From express declarations of Holy Writ
[Both the Old Testament and the New concur to establish this truth. Solomon, at his dedication of the temple, expressly asserted, that “ there was no man that lived and sinned not a." and more strongly does he elsewhere affirm, that “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth notb." To this agree also the testimonies of the inspired Apostles : St. John says, that "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in uso:" and St. James says, that “ in many things we offend alla.” The whole Scripture uniformly attests this awful truth.] 2. From such instances as are undeniable
[Among the most distinguished of God's people, were Abraham, and Moses, and Hezekiah, and Paul: yet all of these, even when they had arrived at the summit of human excellence, fell into sin. Abraham, purely through fear, twice denied his own wife, and thereby subjected her and others to temptations, which might have issued in the everlasting destruction of their souls. Moses, the meekest man upon the face of the earth, gave way to wrath, whereby he provoked God to exclude him from the earthly Canaan. Hezekiah, than whom no man upon the whole ever more honoured God, yet yielded to pride and creature-confidence, when he shewed all his treasures to the ambassadors of the king of Babylon. And Paul, after he had preached for twenty years, and attained an eminence in the divine life, not inferior to that of any of the children of men, was so carried away by his own spirit under a sudden trial and temptation, that he reviled God's High Priest, which he himself acknowledged to be a violation of an express command. Who then, after viewing these, will “say, that he is pure from sin ?"] a 1 Kings viii. 46.
b Eccl. vi. 20. c i John i. 8-10.
d Jam. iij. 2.
3. From the confessions of God's most eminent saints
[Job, previous to his trials, was pronounced by God “a perfect man;" yet, after his trials, confessed, “Behold, I am vile!” Paul occupies a whole chapter in his epistle to the Romans in describing the internal conflicts of his mind; sin and grace mutually striving to overpower each other, and disabling him from fully vanquishing the one, or carrying into effect the dictates of the other.“ In his flesh,” he says, " dwelt no good thing:" but there was, notwithstanding all the attainments of his renewed mind, "a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which was in his members. Will
any other then of the children of men say, “I am pure from all sin?”
From the dominion of sin
affirm that he is freed; yea, and from the wilful and allowed indulgence of any. David justly appeals to God respecting his perfect freedom from sin, as to any intention and purpose to commit ito; as Job also does respecting the extinction of its reigning power: “Thou knowest, that I am not wicked?.” But, if any man should go farther, and say, that sin was not still living within him, and operating occasionally to the polluting of his soul, he must stand selfconvicted, and self-condemned; just as Job has said, “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse."]
Such being the state of our fallen nature, it becomes us to consider, II. The improvement we should make of it
This truth should never be lost sight of for one moment: it should regulate every feeling of the heart: it should never cease to call forth and to augment, 1. Our humiliation
(We are sinful creatures at the best; and are in the situation of wretched captives, who, having a dead body fastened to them, were compelled to drag it about, till they themselves were destroyed by its pestilential vapours - This, it must be acknowledged, is a most humiliating truth, and not unfitly expressed in the general Confession of our Liturgy, “ There is no health in us." Hence, when we are taught to “lothe ourselves for our iniquities and our abominations," we must remember that it is not for the actions only that are long
e Ps. xvii. 3.
f Job x. 7. 8 Job ix. 20, 30, 31. h See what is said of Mezentius in Virgil ; Æn. lib. viii. 1. 485— 488.
since past, but for the taint also which they have left behind them, that this self-abasement is necessary. So Job thought', and so Isaiah, and so Paul': and, if we know ourselves aright, we shall find no terms more suited to express our real state, than those in which the prophet Isaiah described the Jews of his day; “ The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint: from the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in us, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores m."] 2. Our watchfulness
[A magazine wherein there was a large store of combustible matter that might produce extensive injury by an explosion, would be guarded with all possible care: and can any care be too great, when we consider how many thousand things there are on every side ready to kindle a destructive flame in our hearts, and how incessantly our great adversary is striving to make use of them for our destruction? We know not what a day or an hour may bring forth. We may be as far from thinking of evil as at any moment of our lives, and yet evil may arise from some unexpected quarter, and produce upon us the most painful
consequences. We are never safe for one moment, but whilst we are upheld in the arms of our Almighty Friend. We should therefore be continually crying to him, “ Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not!" at the same time that we should be striving continually to “put off the old man, and to put on the new.” This is the advice given us by our Lord himself; “ Watch, and pray, that ye enter not into temptation :” for however "willing the spirit be” to approve itself to God, “the flesh is weak.”] 3. Our gratitude
[What a miracle of mercy is it, that, with so much corruption about us, we are preserved in any measure from dishonouring our holy profession! The wonder is not that any fall, but that any are “ kept from falling.” And to whom is it owing that
of us are enabled to maintain our steadfastness in the divine life? is it to ourselves? No: Peter shews us, what we should soon be, if left to ourselves: Satan would soon “sift us all as wheat," if our blessed Saviour did not intercede for us, and give us fresh supplies of grace and strength". Let us then be sensible of our great and unbounded obligations to Him, who has said, that " he keepeth the feet of his saints." Let us bear in mind to whom it is owing, that, notwithstanding the bush is ever burning, it is yet unconsumed: and let us give all the glory of our stability to God, saying with David, "My foot standeth in an even place; in the congregations will I bless the Lord." i Job xlii. 6. k Isai. vi. 5.
1 Rom. vii. 24. m Isai. i. 5, 6.
n Luke xxii. 31, 32. o Ps. xxvi. 12.
4. Our love to Christ
[Notwithstanding in ourselves we are so corrupt, in Christ we are accepted, and beloved of the Lord. Washed in his blood, and clothed in his righteousness, we are presented unto the Father “ without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; yea, holy, and without blemish.” O! how “ precious" ought this Saviour to be to all our souls! How continually should we go to him, and plunge beneath “ the fountain of his blood, which was opened for sin and for uncleanness,” and which is able to “cleanse us from all sin!” How should we delight ourselves in him, and “cleave to him," and "glory in him," and devote ourselves to him! Yes, Brethren, this is the tribute which we owe to our blessed Lord. We must not continue in sin, that grace may abound," but turn from sin because grace has abounded; and, “because He has bought us with the inestimable price of his own blood, we should strive to glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his P."]
p 1 Cor. vi. 20.
DESIRE IS NOTHING WITHOUT LABOUR.
Prov. xxi. 25. The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his
hands refuse to labour. IT is the duty of a minister to “comfort the Lord's people," and on no account to “make the heart of the righteous sad.” Our blessed Lord “brake not the bruised reed, nor quenched the smoking flax:" and in this respect all who minister in his name must follow his example, never “despising the day of small things,” but “carrying the lambs in their bosom, and gently leading them that are with young." But there are occasions whereon they “must change their voice, especially when they stand in doubt of any,” or judge it necessary to give a salutary warning to their flocks. Now there is an error against which I would wish affectionately to guard you, and that is, the laying of an undue stress upon good desires without pressing forward for the attainment of the object desired. To this line of instruction I am led by the passage before us ; from which I will take occasion, I. To shew you the influence of good desires.
It is plain that, in Solomon's opinion, good desires, which when duly cherished and improved, will be productive of the happiest effects, may through sloth and indolence issue in self-deception and ruin. That we may have a just view of this important subject, I will mark the influence of good desires,
1. In the bosoms of the diligent
[This, though not expressly mentioned, is evidently implied, since it is in the slotħful only that good desires can have a fatal issue.
Now we need only see how desire operates in diligent men, whatever their vocation be, whether in trade, or agriculture, or science; and that will shew us how it will operate in reference to religion: it will stimulate men to such exertions as are necessary to the acquisition of the object desired ----- For the attainment of heaven, we must exert ourselves in a way
of “ repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ:” and, if our desires after heaven be sincere, they will render us earnest and laborious in the pursuit of these, and never suffer us to pause till we have actually attained them — Thus accompanied with diligence, they will bring us to the enjoyment of peace and holiness and glory – -] 2. In the bosoms of the slothful
[In them good desires may justly be said to occasion death. They do so indirectly, because they are not productive of suitable exertions. It is said, " The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting b.” And this is precisely the case with those whose conduct we are considering: They have, in consequence of their good desires, pursued and obtained the knowledge of religious truth; but in consequence of their sloth they have neglected to follow their advantages, and to improve their attainments for the benefit of their souls. Hence " their vineyard is overgrown with thorns, and the stone wall thereof is fallen down; yea, and poverty comes upon
them (gradually) like one that travelleth, and want (irresistibly) like an armed man:" so true is that declaration of Solomon, “ He that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great wasterd.”
But this is by no means the full sense of our text. It is not in an indirect way only that in the slothful man good desires operate to the production of death: no; they have a direct influence towards the destruction of his soul. The man in whose bosom good desires arise, is conscious of them; and
a Point out this in reference to the fore-mentioned pursuits. b Prov. xü. 27. c Prov. xxiv. 30–34. d Prov. xviii. 9.