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you should be pressing towards the mark for the prize of your high calling
I mention this, because it is a very common fault, and one but little regarded. What can be pleaded in extenuation of such spiritual sluggishness, I cannot conceive.
The holy Apostle, who, next to his Lord, is the brightest example which is set before us, counted all his past attainments as nothing, so long as any interval remained between him and the perfections which are in Christ Jesus. Hence he compares himself to one struggling in a race, reaching forth, and pressing towards the prize which was set before him. What a beautiful figure,-reaching forth, pressing towards : mark the expressions. If you
had ever seen an Olympic race, where there were numerous competitors; if you had ever witnessed their earnestness, as they approached the goal,-every muscle strained to the utmost, and the hand reached forward to seize the crown,-you would have a more impressive idea of this beautiful metaphor. May you, by happy experience, know its import. But, my young friend, I must confess, that there are few, very few, of these Olympic strugglers in the Christian race. Too many are satisfied to look on as spectators, while only a few run and win the prize. Too many loiter in the course, or turn off into the by-paths of iniquity. They rest their confidence on past experience. They seem to have settled the point once for all. They will perhaps admit, that, as to present evidence of Christian character, they have not much to offer ; but they refer you to the time when their evidence was clear and unequivocal, - There was a period,” say they, “ when we experienced conversion. A great change took place in our feelings, affections, and conduct.
no more doubt that it was the work of God, than that our bodies are a part of his creation. Others saw and acknowledged the change. It is true, we do not feel now as we did then; but we were told that this abatement of feeling was to be expected ; that the ardour of the youthful convert could not last for ever.” Ask such vain-confident persons, for the evidence
dated hope. They are at no pains to inquire for the present evidences of their being in a state of salvation. The business was settled years ago. Others, who will not go quite to this length, will secretly feed their hopes too much upon the past, instead of inquiring into present marks of grace. It is a sad proof, that they are either deccived with false appearances, or declining from God and from duty.
I do not mean, by these remarks, to imply, that we are never to recur to past experience for hope and consolation. I believe we are permitted, by the word of God, and the examples of his saints, so to do. David, in a time of deep trouble, said, “I will remember thee, from the land of Jordan, from the Hermonites, and from the hill Mizar.”
But what I wish to guard you against, my young friend, is placing too much confidence in the past, and suffering it to operate as an opiate to present vigilance and activity. Past experience is one of the devil's lures to vain confidence ; one of the veriest subterfuges of hypocrisy; one of the inost common and fatal grounds of self-deception. Even St. Paul would not trust to the past, although he had been struck blind by a beatific vision of his Master, and introduced into His kingdom under circumstances so striking and peculiar. No, forgetting all that is past, towards the mark for the prize of his high calling in Christ Jesus.”
These old hopes, this former experience, you cannot depend upon. As well might you think of crossing the ocean in a worm-eaten vessel. While the weather was mild, and the sea calm, you might float in apparent security; but should the heavens grow dark, and the billows begin to beat upon the vessel, you would fall a speedy prey to the all-devouring wave. The Christian who has no better basis than past experience to rest upon may live on, amid the sunshine of life, in apparent ease and comfort ; but in that hour when God taketh away the soul, he will long for something more substantial to cling to, than a doubtful and antedated hope.
“ he presses
glide onward undisturbed, and the soul is rocked asleep on the pillow of past experience. Conscience may be so far stupified, as not even to arouse at the call of death. They may knock at heaven's gate ; but they may also hear the dread voice within, “I know you not : depart from me, ye workers of iniquity.”
Such self-deceivers will not acknowledge the duty of daily self-examination. It is impossible to rouse them to the performance of it. They are cased in an impervious mail. They have, in this past experience, an antidote to every fear, and an apology for every delinquency. O be thou not of their number. Look for daily evidence of salvation. It is present evidences that are called for; and such cannot be given, without a daily, habitual self-examination. In all your past experience, there is, to say the least, a possibility of your having been deceived; it is therefore not a sufficient ground of trust. You must be ready now “to give to him that asketh, the reason of the hope that is within you.” If you pursue the course which I have marked out, you
shall never need to bring forward an old and antedated hope, as the only evidence of your faith ; but in every look, and word, and action, you shall make it certain to all, that you are in deed and in truth a Christian.
There is difficulty, I admit, in the work of self-examination. Even the righteous are scarcely saved,-saved in many instances as by fire. The heart is so deceitful, and the enemy of our soul so full of evil machinations, that we are liable to draw too favourable conclusions of our being in a state of salvation. There are times, too, when we seem afraid to uncover our bosoms to the piercing glance of God. Like merchants who are on the borders of insolvency, we shrink from making a thorough investigation of our accounts. We tremble at the thought of finding ourselves spiritual bankrupts, and are almost willing, if I may be allowed the comparison, to forge evidences in our favour, and to our own
This is especially the character of one who is not habitually and daily engaged in the work of self-examination. There is an uncertainty and confusion about his hopes, which make him afraid to enter too deeply into the state of his circumstances. He does not open the Bible, and appeal to its searching truths. He fears that the scrutiny would sweep down his cherished expectations. He is, therefore tempted to hunt out only those portions of Scripture which appear to favour his case; and to blind his vision to those which would shake his confidence, or eradicate his hopes. When he would examine himself respecting the love or the renunciation of sin, he is far from being a thorough and impartial censor. He can yield up some of the least-loved sinful habits, and can give full credit to himself for the self-denial; but the “right hand” and the "right eye” are not parted with. Some worldly project is in view which militates against too severe a standard of religious character, and which would be found to be inconsistent, by too close an application to Bible ethics. Accordingly, instead of making the world yield to the claims of Christianity, he must narrow down Christianity to accommodate the world.
Business, pleasure, and reputation, when they get the ascendency, make self-examination an irksome and unpleasant duty. When a Christian professor is too eager in pursuit of them, he always feels a conviction of delinquency, depriving him of that free and noble air which is ever the concomitant of an approving conscience; and filling his mind with feeble apologies for himself, or with unjust censures against his superiors in piety.
Now, can such a person come fearlessly up to the work of self-examination? Can he take the Bible in his hand, and appeal to the heart-searching God? Can he be a faithful inquisitor of the internal man? Will he not gloss over his sin ? Will he not hunt for evidence to neutralize his guilt?
Such a character is satisfied with just enough of religion to make him respectable here, and afford a vague hope of He is viewed as hypocritical and insincere by many of his fellow-men; and there is great reason to apprehend that when God cometh to “make up his jewels,” he will be found, not among them, but with unbelievers in the regions of despair.
It is' by exhibiting to your view, my young friend, this superficial and flimsy Christianity, that I would warn you against it, and rouse you to diligence in aiming at an elevated standard of piety. Whilst there are difficulties connected with the performance of Christian duties, difficulties of no common magnitude, they are still not insurmountable. The timid and the hesitating shrink and despond; but the true child of God knows that he has enlisted in a warfare that cannot end but with life. When he puts his hand to God's covenant, when he gives his name to the Captain of his salvation, it is a deliberate and well-considered act. He . has counted the cost. He has surveyed the enemy; and whilst he acknowledges his own feebleness, he confides in that pledged assistance and protection, which will render him invincible and triumphant.
I hope that you have thus considered the subject, and determined to make a thorough disciple. I trust that with you religion shall be all in all. It must be the business of every day; it must be the business of life.
It is a grand mistake, to suppose that the superficial Christian can possess spiritual enjoyments. They are not for him. They are for the laborious, the self-denying, the pains-taking Christian. It is the soldier who sleeps in his armour, springs to his post at a word, rushes into the thickest of the fight, and deals his well-directed blows upon the enemy-it is he, and he alone, upon whom his admiring Commander bestows the meed of honour, and the trophies of victory.
Be it yours to imitate him in the spiritual conflict; and it shall be yours to share, like him, in the rewards of conquest: and even far before him shall you be honoured, for you shall sit at the King's table, and partake of the rich provisions of his temple. Every thing urges you to diligence