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III. In that he consults supremely those interests,
which the Scriptures declare to be alone worthy of his attention
[What can the whole world offer to a man, that is worthy to be put in competition with his soul ? The concerns of the soul are declared by our blessed Lord to be “the one thing needful.” Let the most learned man upon the face of the earth neglect these concerns, and the most unlettered man make them the great objects of his undivided attention; shall we hesitate say
which of the two is the wiser man? He who is wise for time only, is a fool : but he who is wise for eternity, is truly wise. " The fear of the Lord is the very beginning of wisdom;" and he who possesses it not, has not ever yet passed the threshold of Wisdom's porch: but“ a good understanding have all they who cultivate the fear of the Lord; and the praise of their conduct shall endure for ever."] Let me, in conclusion, give you, 1. A word of caution
Take not occasion, from these words of David, to think lightly of self-complacency and self-applause. David was no boaster: on the contrary, no one was ever lower in his own estimation than he: and you will find humility the most prominent feature of all the Scripture saints. “Less than the least of all saints” was the character which Paul assumed; and, “if he gloried at any time, it was of his infirmities alone,” that his Lord and Saviour might be the more glorified in him?: so likewise I would recommend to you to“ take the lowest place,” and, instead of exalting yourselves above others, to "prefer others in honour before yourselves," and “to esteem others better than yourselves :" " for not he that commendeth himself shall be approved, but he whom the Lord commendeth".") 2. A word of advice
[“ Love the word of God." Verily, it is deserving of all your love
should “ esteem it more than your necessary food.” Next, “ meditate upon it all the day.” Many read the Scriptures without profit, because they do not ruminate upon them, and digest them in their souls.
Let some short portion of God's word be selected for your meditation every day; and you cannot fail to profit by it, especially if your meditations be turned into prayer. Lastly, take it as the only rule of your life. This is essential to the Christian character. A speculative knowledge, however extensive and accurate, will avail you nothing : it is the practical and experimental knowledge alone that can benefit the soul. The very use of the Scriptures is, to “perfect the man of God, and thoroughly to furnish him unto all good works.” This it is which will make you truly wise, or, rather, that will prove you to be so: for then will the Scripture“ have had its perfect work," and you
f 2 Cor. xii. 9. & Rom. xii. 10. Phil. ii. 3. h 2 Cor. x. 18,
will be “wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus."]
THE TRUE TEST OF RELIGION IN THE SOUL. Ps. cxix. 128. I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things
to be right; and I hate every false way. RELIGION is the same in every age. The doctrines of it, though they have been more fully and clearly revealed under the Christian dispensation, have never varied in substance; nor has the practice of it ever changed, except in the observance of rites and ceremonies. To love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves, was the essence of true religion in the days of Abraham and of Moses; and so it is at this day. Doubtless there can be no true religion where the Gospel is set at nought and despised : but the Gospel may be highly approved as a system, whilst the heart is far from being right with God. It is not by their profession of any principles that we are to judge of men's states, but by the practical effects of those principles on their hearts and lives. Our blessed Lord has established this as the only true criterion, the only adequate test; “By their fruits ye shall know them."
Now the genuine fruit of piety is as clearly exhibited in the words before us, as in any part of the Inspired Volume: and the passage is peculiarly worthy of notice, because in the writer of it were combined the fullest conviction of the understanding, together with the strongest affections of the heart: in his judgment," he esteemed God's precepts to be right;" and in his heart, “ he hated" every thing that was opposed to them.
May God of his infinite mercy inspire us with the same heavenly sentiments, whilst we consider these two things,—The Christian character as here delineated, and The light which it reflects upon the Gospel of Christ! I. The Christian character as here delineated
In the text is drawn a broad line of distinction between the child of God, and every other person under heaven.
Christians are either nominal or real. Each class has gradations, from the highest to the lowest ; but between the two classes there is an immense gulph, that separates them as far as the east is from the west. To ascertain to which of the two we belong, is of infinite importance; but self-love blinds our eyes, and renders the discovery of it extremely difficult. This Scripture however holds up, as it were, a mirror before us; and, if we will look steadfastly into it, we may discern with great precision what manner of persons we are.
The difference between the two classes is this : the nominal Christian, however eminent he may in appearance be, is partial in his regard for God's preceptsa : but the true Christian approves and loves them all without exception'.
The nominal Christian, we say, is partial in his regard for God's precepts. He may esteem those which countenance his own particular party. The Papist, for instance, and the Protestant, will severally glory in those passages of Holy Writ which seem to justify their adherence to their respective modes of worship, and to afford them ground for believing that theirs is the more Scriptural and Apostolic Church. The various classes of Protestants also will manifest an ardent zeal for the support of their respective tenets, and be almost ready to anathematize each other, as not giving sufficient weight to those particular passages, on which they severally found their respective differences. They not only esteem their own grounds of faith “ to be right,” but they “ hate” the sentiments opposed to them “as erroneous and false.” a Mal. ii. 9.
b Ps. cxix. 6.
The nominal Christian may also love those precepts which do not materially condemn him. The man who is sober, chaste, honest, just, temperate, benevolent, may take a real pleasure in such passages of Scripture as inculcate the virtues in which he supposes himself to have excelled; and may feel an indignation against the ways, by which those precepts are grossly violated.
He may yet further delight in such precepts as, according to his interpretation of them, afford him ground for rejecting the Gospel. No passages in all the word of God are more delightful to him than such as these : “Be not righteous overmuch ;” and “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” He has no fear lest he should not be righteous enough; nor is he very anxious to inquire what is implied in walking humbly with God: it is sufficient for him that these passages are, in his eyes, opposed to what he calls enthusiasm ; setting aside the necessity of faith in the Lord Jesus, and of a life of entire devotedness to his service: and his hatred of all passages that bear an opposite aspect, is in exact proportion to his zeal for these.
But, whilst such parts of Scripture are approved by him, does he love all that the Inspired Volume contains ? Does he love those precepts which are most sublime and spiritual ? No; it is no pleasure to him to hear of “setting his affections on things above,” or of having “his conversation in heaven :" nor does it afford him any gratification to be told, that the measure of holiness which he must aspire after, is that which was exhibited in the Lord Jesus, whose example he is to follow in the whole of his spirit and temper, his conversation and conduct, “walking in all things as he walked.”
Nor does he particularly affect those precepts which require much self-denial. “To crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts,” and to root out from his soul every evil, though it be dear to him “as a right eye,” or necessary to him as “a right hand,” and to have a compliance with these precepts as his only alternative between that and the taking his portion in “hell-fire,” is no pleasing sound in his ears, notwithstanding it proceeds from the meek and lowly Jesus
Least of all is he gratified with precepts that strike at his besetting sin. The proud man does not delight to hear the workings of pride delineated; nor the covetous man the evils of covetousness depicted; nor the gay and dissipated the folly of their ways exposed; nor the self-righteous man the delusive nature of his hopes declared. No, they are all ready to deride the statements that condemn their ways, just as the Pharisees derided our Lord, when he had unveiled their covetous and hypocritical devices; “ The Pharisees were covetous (it is said), and they derided him.” The hearts of these people rise against all such doctrines; and with no little bitterness they exclaim, “In so saying, thou reproachest us.”
The true Christian, on the contrary, approves and loves all the commands of God; both those which are evangelical, and those which are moral.
He loves those which are evangelical. It is no grief to him to be told, that he must renounce all dependence on his own righteousness, and rely entirely on the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is rather with the most heartfelt delight that he hears those gracious commands, “ Look unto me, and be ye saved;” “Come unto me, and I will give you rest;" “ Believe on me, and have everlasting life.” “He esteems these precepts to be right;" he feels them to be exactly suited to his necessities : he knows, and is assured, that his own righteousness is only as “filthy rags;" and that in any other garment than the robe of Christ's righteousness, it is impossible for him to stand in the presence of a holy God. He sees also that this mode of justification before God is the only one which can consist with the honour of God's justice, and with the demands of his law. Hence whatever opposes this way of salvation, “ he hates;” yea, he shudders at the very thought of
c Mark ix. 42-448.
d Luke xi. 45.