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cerning his assisting grace, so as, without authority, to exclude such an object from it.
From the doctrine, which has been thus concisely proposed, various important rules and reflections arise.
First; let not men, involved in sinful courses, wonder at the difficulties which they meet with in religion. It is an effect of sin, which is almost sure to follow. Sin never fails, both to magnify real difficulties, and to suggest imaginary ones. It rests and dwells upon objections, because they help the sinner, in some measure, to excuse his conduct to himself. They cause him to come to a conclusion, which permits the gratification of his passions, or the compassing of his
purpose. Deep and various is the deceitfulness of sin, of licentious sins most particularly : for they cloud the understanding ; they disqualify men for serious meditation of any kind ; above all, for the meditation of religion.
Secondly; let them, who ask for more light, first take care to act up to the light which they have. Scripture and experience join their testimony to this point, namely, that they, who faithfully practise what they do know, and live agreeably to the belief which they have, and to the just and rational consequences of that belief, seldom fail to proceed further, and to acquire more and more confidence in the truth of religion ; whereas, if they live in opposition to the degree of belief which they have, be it what it may, even it will gradually grow weaker and weaker, and, at length, die away in the soul.
Thirdly; let them, who are anxious to arrive at just sentiments of religion, keep their minds in a capable state ; that is, free from the bias of former decisions made, or of former doubts conceived, at a time when the power and influence of sinful temptation was upon them; suggested, in fact, lest they should find themselves obliged to give up some gratification upon which they had set their hearts; and which decisions, nevertheless, and doubts, have the same operation upon their judgements, as if they had been the result of the most pure and impartial reasoning. It is not peculiar to religion ; it is true of all subjects, that the mind is sure almost to be misled, which lies under a load of prejudice contracted from circumstances, in which it is next to impossible to weigh arguments justly, or to see clearly Fourthly; let them, let all, especially those who find
T themselves in a dissatisfied state of mind, fly to prayer. Let them pray earnestly and incessantly for God's assisting grace and influence; assisting, if it be his good pleasure, as well our minds and understandings in searching after truth, as our hearts and affections in obeying it.
I say again, let us pray unceasingly for grace and help from the Spirit of God. When we pray for any worldly object, we may pray mistakenly. We may be ignorant of our own good; we may err egregiously concerning it. But when we pray for spiritual aid and grace, we are sure that we pray for what we want ; for what, if granted, will be the greatest of all blessings. And we pray with hope, because we have this gracious assurance given us by the Lord himself of grace and mercy: If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him ?” Matt. vii. 11.
JAMES 1. 27.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father
is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
NOTHING can be more useful than summary views of our duty, if they be well drawn and rightly understood. It is a great advantage to have our business laid before us altogether; to see at one comprehensive glance, as it were, what we are to do, and what we are not to do. It would be a great ease and satisfaction to both, if it were possible, for a master to give his servant directions for his conduct in a single sentence, which he, the servant, had only to apply and draw out into practice, as occasions offered themselves, in order to discharge every thing which was required or expected from him. This, which is not practicable in civil life, is in a good degree so in a religious life ; because a religious life proceeds more upon principle, leaving the exercise and manifestation of that principle more to the judgement of the individual, than it can be left where, from the nature of the case, one man is to act precisely
HE " in's direction.
1, it is essentially necessary, thai
well drawn up, and rightly
understood ; because if they profess to state the whole of men's duty, yet, in fact, state it partially and imperfectly, all who read them are misled, and dangerously misled. In religion, as in other things, we are too apt of ourselves to substitute a part for the whole. Substituting a part for the whole is a grand tendency of human corruption, in matters both of morality and religion ; which propensity, therefore, will be encouraged, when that, which professes to exhibit the whole of religion, does not, in truth, exhibit the whole. What is there omitted, we shall omit; glad of the occasion and excuse. What is not set down as our duty, we shall not think ourselves obliged to perform, not caring to increase the weight of our own burthen. This is the case whenever we use summaries of religion, which, in truth, are imperfect or ill drawn. But there is another case more common, and productive of the same effect, and that is, when we misconstrue these summary accounts of our duty: principally when we conceive of them as intending to express more than they were really intended to express.
For then it comes to pass, that, although they be right and perfect as to what they were intended for, yet they are wrong and imperfect as to what we construe and conceive them for. This observation is particularly applicable to the text. Saint James is here describing religion not in its principle, but in its effects; and these effects are truly and justly and fully displayed. They are by the Apostle made to consist of two large articles; in succouring the distress of others, and maintaining our own innocency. And these two articles do comprehend the whole of the effects of true religion ; which were exactly what the Apostle meant to describe. Had Saint James intended to have set worth the motives and principles of religion, as they ought to subsist in the heart of a Christian, I doubt not but he would have mentioned love to God, and faith in Jesus Christ; for from these must spring every thing good and acceptable in our actions. In natural objects it is one thing to describe the root of a plant, and another its fruits and flowers; and if we think a writer is describing the roots and fibres, when, in truth, he is describing the fruit or flowers, we shall mistake his meaning, and our mistake must produce great confusion. So in spiritual affairs, it is one thing to set before us the principle of religion, and another the effects of it. These are not to be confounded. And if we apply a description to one which was intended for the other, we deal unfairly by the writer of the description, and erroneously by ourselves. Therefore, first, let no one suppose the love of God, the thinking of him, the being grateful to him, the fearing to disobey him, not to be necessary parts of true religion, because they are not mentioned in Saint James's account of true religion. The answer is, that these compose the principles of true religion ; Saint James's account relates to the effects. In like manner concerning faith in Jesus Christ. Saint James has recorded his opinion upon that subject. His doctrine is, that the tree which bears no fruit cannot be sound at the root; that the faith which is unproductive is not the right faith : but then this is allowing (and not denying), that a right faith is the source and spring of true virtue : and had our apostle been asked to state the principle of religion, I am persuaded he would have referred us to a true faith. But that was not the inquiry : on the contrary, having marked strongly the futility of a faith which produced no good effects upon life and action, he proceeds in the text to tell us what