« AnteriorContinuar »
religion in the soul, the understanding, the will, the affections, the memory, the conscience, perform their respective offices, in subserviency to God, for the promotion of a man's spiritual and eternal good. The soul, pervading the whole body, acts with ease and regularity, and with so little ostentation, that its operations, though effectual, attract no notice: and so it is with religion in the soul: it brings into easy and harmonious use all its different faculties and powers, governing the whole man, and subjecting even the thoughts themselves to the obedience of Christ. In a word, it is, as my text has said, “ life to the soul.” If we were to understand by this expression, that it tends to lengthen out the existence of man on earth, it would be true, and an important truth: but we cannot so contract the sense, or comprehend less in these words than what we have expressed. Religion makes a man a new creature: “old things pass away, and all things become new."] 2. Gracefulness in the deportment
[Well is it said by the Apostle, that “a meek and quiet spirit is, in the sight of God himself, an ornament of great price.” Through the operation of divine grace upon the soul, all the tempers and dispositions will be kept in order; so that none shall prevail to the injury of other men, or to the dishonour of the man himself. The discipline of religion is not unlike that which prevails in reference to the body amongst the higher ranks of society. In persons untaught, there is an awkwardness, as it were, apparent in their whole gait; whilst those who have mixed in polished society have a comparative ease and elegance in all their motions. So, if you see a person uninstructed in religion engaged in religious exercises, he is not at home in any of them: his occupation sits not easy upon
him: and if he attempt to assume the posture of real piety, he betrays his want of true feeling by the very motions in which he attempts to express it. But let a contrite and devout soul draw nigh to God, and there is a correspondence between his looks and attitude, his words and professions. His every motion is such as befits the employment in which he is engaged : yea, there is a symmetry in every part of the spiritual man, so that his whole demeanour is simple, uniform, becoming. He exemplifies in his life that expression of the Psalmist," I will beautify the meek with salvation :" and he shews in his deportment what that inspired writer meant by that petition, “Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.'
The more of real piety any man possesses, the more of this image will be stamped upon him; and the more he communes with his God, the more will a divine glory surround his head, and beam forth from his countenance in the sight of all who behold him.]
3. Stability in the walk
[The man of sound wisdom takes heed to his ways: he desires to see his path clear before him : if he be in doubt, he will take “ the word of God as a light to his feet, and a lantern to his paths.” If his path be slippery, he will cry unto his God, “ Hold thou up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not!” And in answer to his prayer, “God will give his angels charge over him, to keep him in all his ways, that he dash not his foot against a stone. Of these advantages the unconverted man has no experience. He ventures into scenes of temptation, without being aware of his danger: nor has he any guidance or strength but his own. What wonder, then, if he fall? But the man who, with wisdom in his heart, and discretion in his life, “suffers not these" guardian angels, as it were, “to depart from his eyes,” will be kept amidst all the most trying scenes in which he can be engaged, and “ will be preserved blameless unto the kingdom of his God." “ The Law of God is in his heart, and therefore his footsteps do not slidea."] 4. Peace in the heart
" What man is he that feareth the Lord ? His soul," says the Psalmist, “shall dwell at ease. A man without religion may pass through the day with some degree of comfort, because of the variety of occupations that engage his thoughts. But when he comes to lie down at night, and he has time for reflection, some painful occurrence will dwell upon his mind, and agitate his spirits, and disturb his rest : and when he wakes in the morning, the same unpleasant feelings will haunt him, and destroy that serenity which sleep was calculated to convey. Or, if nothing particular have occurred to distress him, he lies down and rises up without any other feeling than that which
possesses in common with the beasts. But not so the truly religious man. He, when retiring to rest, calls to remembrance the mercies with which he has been encompassed during the day, and renders thanks for them to his heavenly Benefactor ; to whom also he commends himself for protection during the defenceless hours of the night. Shall I speak too strongly if I say, that he lies down, as it were, in the bosom of his God, saying, "I will lay me down in peace, and sleep; for thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety ?” In the morning, too, when he awakes, he finds that “his sleep has been sweet unto him ;” not to his body merely, but to his soul; for his soul, at the first resuming of its powers, finds God present with it, in a way which the merely natural man has no conception of: : so true is that expression of the Psalmist,“ When I awake, I am still with thee. So true, also, is that encouraging promise of Solomom," Bind the commandment upon thine heart, and tie it about thy neck: when thou goest, it shall lead thee;
a See Ps. xxxvii. 31. and Prov. iv. 11-13.
when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall walk with thee."] APPLICATION
1. Are there now any present, who are prejudiced against religion?
[Know what true religion is. It is not by any means that thing which prejudiced persons are ready to imagine.
“ It is wisdom, sound wisdom, and discretion." There are doubtless in the Gospel many things which surpass our comprehension. But so there are also in all the other works of God, whether of cre tion or providence. But if there are truths at which a proud man will stumble, there is not one which will not commend itself to an humble and childlike spirit. And as far as it operates upon the soul, it induces discretion in every part of a man's conduct, and assimilates him to the very image of his God. Who amongst us will say that the Saviour's example was not good? Yet his enemies condemned it, and accounted him worthy to be crucified as the vilest malefactor. there not be a measure of the same prejudice in you, a prejudice that blinds your eyes, and makes you to hate those whom you should love and honour? But, at all events, know this: whatever corresponds not with religion, as described in our text, we disclaim. If there be folly and indiscretion in any who profess the Gospel, let them bear the blame, and not religion. But if you will condemn the care of the soul as a needless preciseness, and a cleaving unto the Saviour as an enthusiastic and vain conceit, you shall bear the burthen; for, blame these things as ye may, know that “ Wisdom will be justified of all her children."] 2. Are there those here who profess to love religion?
[Beware, lest by any thing imprudent ye" cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of: yea, seek rather to the utmost of your power to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." On your conduct much depends. Men will not judge of religion so much by what we say, as by what we do. In vain shall Solomon himself describe it as forming such lovely characters, if you contradict his statements in your life and conversation. However we may expose the folly of so doing, men will identify religion with the conduct of its professors ; and will take occasion, from any thing that is unbecoming in you, to cast reflections upon religion for your sake. But, knowing this propensity in them, you should be doubly careful not to cast a stumbling-block in their way. See to it, then, that ye“ walk worthy of your high calling.” If ye be children of the light, let it be seen by the holiness of your conversation : and, wherever ye go, be ye epistles of Christ, known and read of all men; so that all who behold you may be constrained to say, “ We will go with you; for we see that God is with you of a truth."]
THE REWARDS OF WISDOM AND OF FOLLY. Prov. ii. 35. The wise shall inherit glory; but shame shall be
the promotion of fools. A DESIRE of distinction and a fear of shame are powerful incentives to the human mind, and produce, in every department of life, exertions far beyond those to which mere natural inclination would prompt us. The soldier on the field of battle finds those principles stronger than the fear of death : nor is the student insensible of their influence upon his mind: on the contrary, the nearer the time approaches for a judgment to be passed upon him, the greater are his anxieties respecting it. Now, these feelings being founded in nature itself, God is pleased to call them into action in reference to things of far higher moment than those which too generally engross them. Disgrace or honour are awarded to men, even in the present life, on moral and religious grounds, and much more will they in the life to come: and I wish that a due concern may be felt in reference to them, whilst I point out the influence of wisdom, I. On our present state-
Wisdom may fitly be described as a conformity to the mind of God; and folly, as any aberration from it. But it is the Gospel alone that places these in their true light. Let us, 1. Distinguish the two characters
[The Gospel is a proclamation of mercy to perishing sinners, through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ; nor is there any way of salvation for fallen man, except that which is there revealed. All who are not interested in that Saviour must perish under the guilt of their sins
a Preached a little previous to the Degree time at Cambridge ; a time of extreme anxiety to the young men preparing for the Examinations.
Him we may
Now, who is wise, but he who labours to secure that salvation? or who is a fool, but he who neglects it? Suppose that means of escape from a sinking vessel, or a house in flames, were offered to one in danger of instantaneous destruction ; would any person in the universe hesitate to assign the proper and distinctive epithets to him who availed himself of them, and to him who disregarded them? Yet would their conduct but very faintly shadow forth that which is exhibited under the Gospel dispensation; and the terms used to designate that conduct would very faintly describe its appropriate character. Let the two characters, then, be properly distinguished. Where is the man who, with all humility of mind and entire devotion of soul, seeks an interest in the Saviour? safely designate as “ wise.” Where, on the other hand, is the man who neglects the Saviour? Whatever excuses he may allege in vindication of his conduct, we need not hesitate to assign to him the humiliating appellation of a “fool.") 2. Declare their proper award
[“ The wise" shall even here “ inherit glory." one, whatever his own practice may be, has within his own bosom a witness in favour of those who are religious, provided their conduct be uniform and consistent. In outward profession, I grant, the world may brand religion with the name of folly: but their consciences in secret give a very different testimony: nor is there any man, however ungodly, so wicked, but that he reverences in his heart a pious character, and wishes, if it were possible, to be found in his place at the day of judgment. Herod, in the midst of all his impiety, “ feared John, because he knew him to be a just and holy man.” And so it is with the ungodly world; they venerate the very man whom for his piety they hate and persecute. On the other hand, vain and thoughtless as are the world at large, and interested in upholding each other in their various pursuits, there is not one among them, who, in his moments of reflection, does not see the emptiness and vanity of worldly things; and who would not regard it as an inconsistency in a religious character, if he should betray an eagerness m the prosecution of them. The truth of these observations will be manifest beyond either contradiction or doubt, if only we bear in mind the conduct of the Scribes and Pharisees of old, who, whilst persecuting our blessed Lord even unto death, “ built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous," whom their forefathers had put to death. Precisely thus we also at this time honour the memory of the Apostles, and of our own reformers too, (for who does not honour the names of Cranmer, and Latimer, and Ridley ?) whilst we hate, revile, and persecute the living saints, who walk
b Matt. xxiii. 29–31.