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ture authority, that, whatever improvement we make in ourselves, we are thereby sure to meliorate our future condition, receiving at the hand of God a proportionable reward for our efforts, our sacrifices, our perseverance, so that our labour is never lost, is never, as Saint Paul expressly assures us, in vain in the Lord ; though this, I say, be a firm and established ground to go upon, yet it is not the ground upon which I, at present, place the necessity of a constant progressive improvement in virtue. I rather wish to lay down upon the subject this proposition ; namely, that continual improvement is essential in the Christian character, as an evidence of its sincerity; that, if what we have hitherto done in religion has been done from truly religious motives, we shall necessarily go on ; that, if our religion be real, it cannot stop. There is no standing still : it is not compatible with the nature of the subject : if the principles which actuated us be principles of godliness, they must continue to actuate us; and, under this continued stimulus and influence, we must necessarily grow better and better. If this effect do not take place, the conclusion is, that our principles are weak, or hollow, or unsound. Unless we find our. selves grow better, we are not right. For example, if onr transgressions do not become fewer and fewer, it is to be feared, that we have left off striving against sin, and then we are not sincere.
I apprehend, moreover, that with no man living can there be a ground for stopping, as though there was nothing more left for him to be done. If any man had this reason for stopping, it was the apostle Paul. Yet did he stop ? or did he so judge? Hear his own account; “ This I do, forgetting those things that are behind (those things whereunto I have already attained),
and looking forward to those things that are before (to still further improvement), I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” This was not stopping ; it was pressing on. The truth is, in the way of Christian improvement, there is business for the best : there is enough to be done for all,
First ; in this stage of the Christian life it is fit to suppose, that there are no enormous crimes, such as mankind universally condemn and cry out against, at present committed by us; yet less faults, still clearly faults, are not unfrequent with us, are too easily excused, too soon repeated. This must be altered.
Secondly; we may not avowedly be engaged in any course or habit of known sin, being at the time conscious of such sin ; but we may continue in some practices which our consciences cannot, and would not, upon examination, approve, and in which we have allowed the wrongness of the practice to be screened from our sight by general usage, or by the example of persons of whom we think well. This is not a course to be proceeded in longer. Conscience, our own conscience, is to be our guide in all things.
Thirdly; we may not absolutely omit any duty to our own families, our station, our neighbourhood, or the public, with which we are acquainted; but might not these duties be more effectively performed, if they were gone about with more diligence than we have hitherto used ? and might not further means and opportunities of doing good be found out, if we took sufficient pains to inquire and to consider ?
Fourthly, again ; even where less is to be blamed in our lives, much may remain to be set right in our hearts,
our tempers, and dispositions. Let our affections grow more and more pure and holy, our hearts more and more lifted up to God, and loosened from this present world ; not from its duties, but from its passions, its temptations, its over anxieties, and great selfishness; our souls cleansed from the dross and corruption which they have contracted in their passage through it.
Fifthly; it is no slight work to bring our tempers to what they should be ; gentle, patient, placable, compassionate ; slow to be offended, soon to be appeased; free from envy, which, though a necessary, is a difficult, attainment ; free from bursts of anger; from aversions to particular persons, which is hatred; able heartily to rejoice with them that do rejoice ; and, from true tenderness of mind, weeping, even when we can do no more, with them that weep; in a word, to put on charity with all those qualities with which Saint Paul hath clothed it, 1 Cor. xiii. which read for this pur pose.
Sixthly; whilst any good can be done by us, we shall not fail to do it ; but even when our powers of active usefulness fail, which not seldom happens, there still remains that last, that highest, that most difficult, and, perhaps, most acceptable, duty, to our Creator, resignation to his blessed will in the privations, and pains, and afflictions, with which we are visited ; thankfulness
; to him for all that is spared to us, amidst much that is gone; for any mitigation of our sufferings, any degree of ease, and comfort, and support, and assistance, which we experience. Every advanced life, every life of sickness or misfortune, affords materials for virtuous feelings. In a word, I am persuaded, that there is no state whatever of Christian trial, varied and various as
it is, in which there will not be found both matter and room for improvement ; in which a true Christian will not be incessantly striving, month by month, and year by year, to grow sensibly better and better; and in which his endeavours, if sincere, and assisted, (as, if sincere, they may hope to be assisted) by God's grace, will not be rewarded with success.
Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to
put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
The salvation of mankind, and most particularly in so far as the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are concerned in it, and whereby he comes to be called our Saviour and our Redeemer, ever has been, and ever must be, a most interesting subject to all serious minds.
Now there is one thing in which there is no division or difference of opinion at all ; which is, that the death of Jesus Christ is spoken of, in reference to human salvation, in terms and in a manner, in which the death of no person whatever is spoken of besides. Others have died martyrs, as well as our Lord. Others have suffered in a righteous cause as well as he; but that is
; said of him, and of his death and sufferings, which is not said of any one else. An efficacy and a concern are ascribed to them, in the business of human salvation, which are not ascribed to any other. What may be called the first Gospel declaration
upon this subject, is the exclamation of John the Baptist, when he saw Jesus coming unto him : “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the