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thing, and we nothing at all ; for then the act would not be in any sense ours, or however not ours in such a sense as to render it virtue in us, or to make us capable of what is properly called reward. The Spirit does excite, he does not compel: he instructs and assists, he inclines and moves ; but by soft calls and gentle whispers, such as may be resisted, and often are resisted; otherwise, how come we to hear of “grieving the Holy Spirit of “ Gods," and of “ quenching the Spirit t?” And if the Spirit were to do all, and man himself nothing, how comes it that St. Paul exhorts Timothy to “stir up the gift of God which is in him u ?" An eloquent Father of the ancient Church illustrates the whole case by an apt and familiar comparison: “As fire must have “ fuel laid on, from time to time, that it may have something to « work upon, and may not go out; so the
of God must “ find submission and compliance, alacrity and readiness of “ mind on our part, for it to thrive upon, and to keep up the
holy flame of the Spirit.” To sum up this matter in few words: this is certain, that in the works of grace, the Holy Spirit bears a principal part, and man a subordinate one, and both concur to the same good act; so that while the act is ours,
the glory of it is entirely God's. But it is not for us to determine precisely the exact boundaries of the Divine operations, so as to be able to say, so much and no more is the Spirit's share in the act, and so much ours. It is sufficient, that all our good works are some way or other, in some proportion or other, the result of grace and of free will together: and if any man falls from that grace, and so falls into sin, the true account of it is, that while the Spirit does all that Divine wisdom saw proper in that case, the man was wanting with respect to his part, refusing to be led, or taking no care to watch and pray with that fervour and diligence which was reasonably expected of him. Thus the children of God may, by their own sloth and supineness, cease to be such, for the time being, till they repent and recover ; or for ever, if they repent not at all : but in the mean while St. John's doctrine stands firm and unshaken; that God's children, as such, or so abiding, do not commit sins of a grievous kind : it is a contradiction to the very principle which they are supposed to be governed by, to say that they do. They may lose that principle, and thereupon lose their sonship also: but while they keep it
alive and awake, they can no more act against it, than a man can act in any other case against his prevailing or predominant principle, whatsoever it be. If you could suppose him to act against it, it could not then be called, in that instance, his prevailing or ruling principle : for if it were, it must have prevailed and ruled.
III. Having now done with my first two heads, intended to state and clear St. John's doctrine in the text, it remains now only to point out the practical use and improvement of it, in some few pertinent considerations built upon it.
From hence we may competently perceive, upon what terms we stand with Almighty God, and what title we have to be upon the list of his domestic servants, his real and faithful children. True faith and obedience are the tenure by which we must hold; and there is no other ground whereon we can safely stand. Many expedients have been thought on whereby to shift off duty, and to secure, if it were possible, the reward. The prize of our high calling is great, noble, and infinitely desirable : but the burden of duty, the restraints of obedience, are found to bear hard upon flesh and blood : and how have men's wits been at work, now for seventeen hundred years together, to find out some one expedient or other, for the reconciling a bad life with true peace of mind, and with expectations of heaven! It would be tedious, perhaps impossible, to recount the several ways that have been made use of for that purpose. I shall content myself with naming one or two, such as whole sects have taken into, passing by innumerable others which private persons have contrived for themselves. A naked faith was an old device: it is particularly confuted by St. James; and more need not be said of it. Some have pleased themselves with the thoughts of being among the elect, and thereupon secure of salvation : but their misfortune is, that they can never be certain of their being in the number of the elect, in their sense of the word, but by living a good life, and persevering in it all their days. St. Paul understood perfectly how this matter is ; and he says, “ We are “ made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our “ confidence steadfast unto the end." “ If we hold fast the “ confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end y." Some perhaps may presume to say, we can hold fast our confidence, our strong assurance of our own salvation to the end. But St. Paul did not mean vain confidence, or groundless assurance, but a rational and well-grounded hope, built upon the merits of Christ, and the consciousness of living an holy life. Therefore, in another chapter lower down, he varies his phrase, and says, “ We desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence
x Heb. iii. 14.
y Heb. ii. 6.
to the full assurance of hope unto the end : that ye be not " slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience “ inherit the promises 2.” Confidence will not answer, without something very solid and substantial to build such confidence upon.
Many have flattered themselves, that they have had the revealing evidence of the Spirit, the voice of the Spirit of God, bearing inward testimony to their spirits: for, St. Paul says, “ the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are “ the children of Goda.” But St. Paul also says, in the same chapter, that “there is no condemnation to them—who walk “after the Spirit,” and who are “ led by the Spirit of God b.” So that, at length, this testimony of the Spirit resolves entirely into the certainty we have of our bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit. Strong assurance will signify little, for that may be groundless: fulness of joy will avail as little, because it may be a false joy, or a golden dream. Besides that, when St. Paul told the Philippians, that " it was God that worked in them both to “ will and to do of his good pleasure,” he did not therefore bid them be confident of their salvation, or full of assurance on that score: but he bade them“ work out their own salvation with “ fear and trembling.” As much as if he had said, God is your helper, therefore do not despond : but then again, because God is your helper, and works with you, therefore behave as becomes you before the tremendous Majesty, with humble reverence, with anxious care and dread, with the utmost diligence and ready compliance, lest, if you should work under such a guide, in a negligent and careless manner, altogether unworthy of so Divine a Master, he should at length desert you, and leave you to go on by yourselves.
Indeed, Divine wisdom knows human frame too well to give any of us infallible assurances of our reward, before we have · Heb. vi. 11, 12.
a Rom. viii. 16.
b Rom. viii. 1, 14. Philip. ii. 12, 13.
done our work ; lest those very assurances should make us secure and negligent, and render us altogether uncapable of being received into those pure and bright mansions above. God has told us plainly upon what terms he will accept us, through the merits of Christ; and he leaves us to discover the rest, as far as we reasonably and honestly may, by comparing our own lives with those Gospel terms. This is all, and this is sufficient for a state of probation : only, the further to check vain presumption, whatever present advances we may have made, we are still left in the dark as to our future behaviour, and all depends upon our persevering unto the end. St. Paul, as I have before hinted, above twenty years after his conversion, still spake so humbly of himself, as almost to fear, lest he might“ become a castaway." Five years after that, he began to discover some degrees of assurance, but still supposing himself not very far from his end. At the very last, which was five years later, when he had fought his “ good fight, kept the faith,” and “finished his course," and was preparing to die a martyr, then, and not till then, he thought it became him (and he had the revelation of God to warrant him) to express the strongest assurances of his high reward in heaven. Let Christians of a much lower class learn from thence to think and speak modestly of their own case. If they wait for their full and complete assurance till they are on the other side the grave; they will, probably, be the surer to find it there, for their speaking and thinking so humbly and modestly of themselves here. Comfortable hopes, along with a life suitable, are sufficient encouragement for a good Christian to proceed with: more than that might be hurtful to us, as rather obstructing than furthering the great work of salvation : not but that God may sometimes, in cases extraordinary, fill pious minds, especially if very near their departure, and when such indulgence can do no harm, with joyous raptures and superabundant assurances : but I speak of what may ordinarily be expected in our Christian warfare. To conclude: as our acceptance hereafter depends entirely upon our careful and conscientious conduct here; so let every man take care to walk warily and circumspectly, and to rise in assurance in proportion to his so doing, growing in grace, and increasing in all virtuous and godly living, and so at length making his calling and elec
The Scripture Doctrine of the Unprofitableness of Man's
best Performances, an Argument against spiritual Pride; yet no Excuse for Slackness in good Works and Christian Obedience.
LUKE viii. 10.
So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are
commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants : we have
done that which was our duty to do. THE 'HESE words are the conclusion of a parable, a kind of moral
subjoined to it, to signify the use and application of it. Our blessed Lord had put the case of a labouring servant coming home from the field, to wait upon his master at the table, performing that additional service after his other labours of the day ; providing a supper for his master, in the first place, and attending him patiently all the time, and after that, content to provide for himself. After our Lord had thus represented the case, he makes his reflections upon it in these words : "Doth “he" (that is, the master) “ thank that servant, because he did “the things that were commanded him? I trow not :” I suppose not. “So likewise ye,” with regard to your heavenly Master, “ when ye shall have done all those things which are command“ed you,” it will become, it will behove you to “say, We are
unprofitable servants; we have” only “ done that which” it was our” bounden“ duty to do.” Therefore we deserve no