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so work them into the frame of the mind, so knit and weave them into the very substance of the heart and disposition, that they be no longer merely thoughts, or merely occasional; but they have a steady influence upon our behaviour, that they take hold of our conduct, that they be at hand to check and pluck us back when we would go about any wicked design, and that they be at hand also to remind us, and to put us forward when any good thing falls in our power to do.

This it is to become a Christian ; and this indeed is the difficulty of the work. The

passage

from thought to action, from religious sentiments to religious conduct, seems a difficult attainment. I said before, the very beginnings are blessings. Holy thoughts, though occasional, though sudden, though brought on, it

may be, by calamity and affliction, though roused in us we do not know how, are still the beginnings of grace.

Let no man, therefore, despise serious thoughts; let no man scorn or ridicule them in others : least of all the man who has none himself; for there is still a wide difference between him who thinks, though but occasionally, of his duty and of his salvation, and him who never permits himself to entertain such thoughts at all. One, it is true, may be far from having completed his work : the other has not begun his. Those very meditations which he despises in other men, because he sees that they have not the influence which they ought to have upon

their lives and conversation, are, nevertheless, what he himself must begin with, what he himself must come to, if ever he enter truly upon a Christian course. It is from good thoughts and good resolutions that the Christian character must set out; it is with these it must begin ; it is by these it must be formed. We

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cannot, however, always be thinking about religion. That is true : but the thing wanted of us, the thing necessary for us, the thing required in the text, is, not that religion be constantly in our thoughts, but that it have a constant influence upon our behaviour ; and that is a very intelligible distinction, and takes place in common life. Avarice and pecuniary gain shall have a constant influence upon a man's behaviour, that is, his actions shall constantly draw and tend to that point, and yet it may not be that his thoughts are always employed in calculating his profits or reckoning on his fortune. And that influence which a worldly principle often possesses, a religious principle may acquire. The making sure of heaven may be to one man as strong and steady a motive of action as the making a fortune is to another. Pleasing God by doing good to man, may be as fixed a point in the mind of a disciple of Jesus Christ, as the compassing some scheme of wealth or greatness is frequently to the children of this generation. The fear of offending our Maker may be as great and powerful a check upon a religious man's actions, as any consideration whatever can be in the pursuits of worldly prosperity. The matter, and what in a great measure forms the business, and the greatest difficulty of religion, is to bring our minds to this that devout thoughts draw from us not only words, but actions; not only make us call upon him, but do his will ; not only lift up our hearts to heaven in particular seasons of meditation, but that at all seasons they keep us back from sin.

This, then, is the sum of what we have delivered.Do we find ourselves visited with pious affections, with serious and awful apprehensions of futurity, with devout

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and holy thoughts of God, of Jesus Christ, and of our salvation, let us be thankful for them, as for the greatest of blessings.

But do we find these thoughts vanish, leaving no solid impression behind them; or do we find that they do not at all break off our course and habits of sinning, or interrupt us in the wicked practices into which we have fallen, or rouse us from the moral sloth and unprofitableness in which we are sunk,- let us bring to remembrance this solemn text—“ Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord ! shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of

my

Father.” By no means let us undervalue the good thoughts and good motions which we feel, or have felt, but it is necessary we should know that we are yet far short of the mark; that something is done, and that of great importance, but that more is still wanting: that we must earnestly and laboriously strive so to fasten these good intimations upon the heart, so to imprint them deeply upon the soul, as that they may convert our behaviour, beget in us amendment, strengthen our resistance of temptation, break off our evil habits, and at length conquer every obstacle, and every adversary both spiritual and fleshly, which would stop and turn us out of our way in our progress to a heavenly reward.

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VOL. VI.

Y

XXXIV.

HOW VIRTUE PRODUCES BELIEF, AND VICE UN

BELIEF.

JOHN VII. 17.

If any man will do His will, he shall know of the

doctrine, whether it be of God.

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It does not, I think, at first sight appear, why our behaviour should influence our belief, or how any particular course of action, good or bad, should affect our assent to any particular propositions which are offered to us : for truth or probability can never depend upon our conduct: the credibility or incredibility of religion is the same, whether we act well or ill, whether we obey its laws or disobey them. Nor is it very manifest, how even our perception of evidence or credibility should be affected by our virtues or vices : because conduct is immediately voluntary, belief is not : one is an act of the will, under the power of motives; the other is an act of the understanding, upon which motives do not, primarily at least, operate, nor ought to operate at all. Yet our Lord, in the text, affirms this to be the case, namely, that our behaviour does influence our belief; and to have been the case from the beginning, that is, even during his own ministry upon earth. “ If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” It becomes, therefore, a subject of serious and religious inquiry, how, why, and to what extent, the declaration of the text may be maintained.

Now the first and most striking observation is, that it

corresponds with experience. The fact, so far as can be observed, is as the text represents it to be. I speak of the general course of human conduct, which is the thing to be considered. Good men are generally believers : bad men are generally unbelievers. This is the general state of the case, not without exceptions ; for, on the one hand, there may be men of regular external morals, who are yet unbelievers, because though immorality be one cause of unbelief, it is not the only cause : and, on the other hand, there are undoubtedly many, who, although they believe and tremble, yet go on in their sins, because their faith doth not regulate their practice. But, having respect to the ordinary course and state of human conduct, what our Saviour hath declared is verified by experience. He that doeth the will of God, cometh to believe that Jesus Christ is of God, namely, a messenger from God. A process, somehow or other, takes place in the understanding, which brings the mind of him who acts rightly to this conclusion. A conviction is formed, and every day made stronger and stronger. No man ever comprehended the value of Christian precepts, but by conducting his life according to them. When, by so doing, he is brought to know their excellency, their perfection, I had almost said their divinity, he is necessarily also brought to think well of the religion itself. Hear St. Paul :-“ The night is far spent: the day is at hand: let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light; let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying ; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ; and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof;" Rom. xiii. 11. It is recorded of

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