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chosen; wise; children of God; followers of Christ; born of the Spirit; the precious Sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold; children of light; heirs of God; and brethren of Christ. In all these appellations, the moral beauty, the loveliness of mind, possessed by Christians, as it appears to the eye of God, is strongly conspicuous; and its inestimable value is exhibited in the most forcible terms, of which language is capable.
When we consider this subject in its own proper nature, and as viewed by human Reason, we cannot but acknowledge the justice of the Scriptural representations. The Spirit, infused into man at his renovation, has been heretofore exhibited as the only voluntary source of happiness. This being admitted, as by unbiassed reason it must be; no words can adequately describe either the excellence, the beauty, or the loveliness, of this disposition. Its value is of course proportioned to the good, of which it is the spring; and to this no limits can be affixed. In whatever degree it exists, and however humble it may be, it still partakes of the common nature. The gold may exist in particles of dust : still it is gold; and superior, both in value and lustre, to all the dross in the universe. He, who consecrates his faculties, however small they may be, to the glory of God, and the good of the Intelligent creation, possesses the angelic character; and is not an angel, only be cause his powers are inferior, and his disposition mixed, and hitherto imperfect.
But there is something, still, to be added to the beauty of the Christian character. The Christian, as has been uniformly taught in these discourses, is, in this world, imperfectly holy. From his remaining sin arise to him many circumstances, incompatible with a state of perfection. Many temptations, many difficulties, and many sorrows, spring up in his progress towards heaven, which a glorified spirit cannot know. In his struggles with these ; in the resolution with which he meets, and encounters, his spiritual enemies; in his contentions with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; in his steady dependence on God; in his faithful prayers for Divine aid; in his patience, submission, and fortitude, under sufferings; in his firm faith in the Divine promises, and in his cheerful resignation of himself into the hands of God; there is often manifested a beauty and amiableness of character, which is probably seen in no other world beside this; but which must be approved, and admired, in every world, where wisdom is allowed to decide.
In all the meek and lowly virtues of the Christian character there is something pre-eminently delightful, and endearing. I know not whether there is any character, more strikingly beautiful and lovely, than that of a penitent. Children, it seems to me, never interest us so deeply by any amiableness, and are never regarded with such peculiar endearment, as when they come to us with an ingenuous, cordial sorrow for their faults; a cheerful con
fession; and unfeigned designs of amendment. Such in a peculiar
; degree is the charming aspect of Christian Penitence. On it the High and Lofty One, who inhabiteth Eternity, has declared himself pleased to look ; and over it the joy of heaven is exquisitely enhanced.
II. The holiness of the Christian increases as he advances in life.
The very nature of the subject leads us, in a sense irresistibly, to the adoption of this doctrine. The regeneration of the Christian is his moral infancy. If we suppose him to live through even a moderate period after he is renewed; it is incredible, that his holiness should not increase in strength. The evangelical powers, (if I may call them such) as certainly increase by the progress of time, and by successive exercise, as the natural powers. Indeed, the increase of the natural powers is, of course, an increase of those which are evangelical. Every illumination of the mind, every new degree of capacity, which it acquires by thinking, for more just and comprehensive thought, renders the intellect more vigorous for every future exertion. The Word of God is to the Chris. tian the chief object of intellectual investigation. The truths, which it reveals, are those, on which he especially loves to dwell, and about which his mind is peculiarly enlightened by successive inquiry. It is here, that his capacity is enlarged, and his intellectual strength increased.
In a manner equally natural, his Affections, also, improve in their energy. Parents love their children more intensely because they have loved them long. In the same manner friendship is continually strengthened by time; and in the same manner all our other affections. What is true of these is equally true of evangelical affections. They, also, in their own nature become more firm, more vigorous, more operative, from the mere fact, that they are often exercised. So far as Experience teaches us, or Reason is able to divine, all the powers of intelligent beings, by a common law, increase in their strength, whenever they are regularly exercised.
With these dictates of Reason those of the Scriptures perfectly harmonize. Were this not the fact, however plain the conclusions of Reason might seem, they would probably fall short of satisfying a solicitous inquirer into this subject. By the Scriptures every question concerning Religion is to be decided; and happily the decision in the present case is complete. There we are taught, that the good seed, the Word of God, when sown in good ground, springs up, and bears fruit, thirty, sixty, and an hundred fold. There we are informed, that Christians abound more and more in the various graces of the Gospel: that the faith of the Thessalonians grew exceedingly; that the love of every one of them abounded towards their fellow-saints ; and that the faith of the Romans increased in such a manner, as to be spoken of throughout all the world.
The Prayers of St. Paul, also, for his fellow-christians; prayers, dictated, as you will remember, by the Spirit of God; perfectly coincide with this scheme. The Lord, said he to the Thessalonians, make you to increase, and to abound, in love one toward another, and toward all men. To the Colossians he says, We do not cease to pray for you, that ye may be filled with the knowledge of his will, in all wisdom, and spiritual understanding ; that ye may walk worthy of the Lord, unto all well-pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God. Of the same tenour are his petitions for Christians of other Churches.
With these Declarations, and Prayers, the Commands, given us in the Scriptures concerning this subject, entirely agree. Giving all diligence, says the Apostle Peter, add to your faith, dirtue ; and to virtue, knowledge ; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness ; and to brotherly kindness, charity. And again; Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. This one thing I do, says St. Paul to the Philippians, forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth unlo those ihings which are before, I press towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ. Brethren, be followers together of me. Generally it may be observed, that the precepts, and exhortations, given by St. Paul to the several Churches, are of the same nature : the great object of them being to promote the advancement of Christians in holiness.
Finally. Of this advancement, thus made the subject of declarations, prayers, and precepts, the Christian is amply assured by Promises, abundantly found in the Scriptures. If he faithfully endeavours to improve himself in the Divine life ; if he humbly and fervently ask the blessing of God upon his labours ; he knows, that on the one hand the grace of God will be sufficient for him ; and, on the other, that this Almighty friend will never leave him, nor forsake him. That holy and good Spirit, the immediate Author of all his spiritual blessings, will dwell in him; will lead him; will help his infirmities; and finally and safely conduct him to the possession of his heavenly inheritance. Thus, while he faithfully waits on the Lord, he will renew his strength; will run, and not be weary; will walk, and not faint.
The truth of the doctrine under consideration may now be considered as removed beyond every doubt; if, indeed, any doubt can be supposed to have arisen concerning the subject. Still, it is of no small importance, that we not only receive the general proposition, but understand, also, the particulars, of which it is constituted; the things of which this improvement of the Christian character consists. I observe, therefore,
1st. That the Christian increases in Divine Knowledge. Particularly, he will improve in the knowledge of God.
By this I do not intend, that he will advance in the philosophical knowledge of this great and glorious Being. In this knowledge he indeed may, and usually will, increase; and so may multitudes of those who are not Christians. The knowledge, here intended, is especially of a spiritual nature; that which is called by Solomon the knowledge of the holy; the knowledge, which our Saviour declares to be eternal life; the knowledge, which is possessed only by those who love God, and is essentially derived from their affection to him. As the Christian reads the Bible, which will ever be one of his favourite employments, he will find God, the great subject of it, every where exhibited to his view; and exhibited continually in lights, ever varying from each other. In the succession, and in the comparison, of an endless multitude of passages, all of them diverse, and all of them instructive, he will continually gain new apprehensions of the greatness and wisdom, the goodness, mercy, and truth, of the Being, from whom he derived his own existence, and from whom he receives all his blessings.
These apprehensions will be enlarged, and improved, by his attention to the works of Creation and Providence. The works of God are always full of instruction to those who read, and love, his
Every person, who peruses the Psalms with attention, must have observed how much instruction, and what elevated affections and purposes, David acquired from this source. Here, like David, every devout mind will see clearly elucidated the truth, reasonableness, and wisdom, of very many Scriptural doctrines; the propriety, and excellence, of very many precepts; the cogency of very many motives to his duty; and the fulfilment of very many predictions, and promises. These, in innumerable instances, although unregarded by men of this world, will force themselves hourly, and irresistibly, on the eye of the Christian : for they are all congenial with his wishes, hopes, and designs; and to dwell upon them will be his peculiar delight.
The dispensations of God to himself, his family, his friends, and his country, will in a peculiar manner cast a new light over all these interesting subjects. Whatever immediately concerns ourselves, and ours, becomes of course an object of our minute attention. As it is more thoroughly studied, so it is necessarily better understood, than the same things contained in dispensations to others. In our own blessings, and afflictions, many exhibitions are made to us of the character of God; and many proofs of his wisdom, goodness, and truth, are realized, which will hardly be derived from any other source. Here our Maker is seen in a thousand lights of providential care and kindness, as our Preserver and Benefactor; as the proper object of ultimate hope, and confidence; of which we should have known little or nothing from any other source. At the same time, this knowledge is deeply endeared to us, or solemnly impressed, by the events which disclose it; and is therefore deeply felt, and long remembered. Hence it becomes a part of
our current thoughts; and is ready to be applied on every proper occasion to every useful purpose. In this manner the mind becomes enriched with a train of the most useful views, solid arguments, and important doctrines; which raise it from its former level to a nobler elevation on the scale of Intelligent being; and furnish it for a higher enjoyment, and more extensive usefulness, in the kingdom of its Maker.
In a similar manner Christians improve in the knowledge of their duty. All the duty of the Christian is originally learned from the Scriptures. As his acquaintance with this Sacred Volume enlarges, the precepts, which comprise the whole of his duty, are more and more known, remembered, compared, and made to elucidate each other. These from time to time he applies to his own practical concerns; and thus, as they pass under his eye from day to day, he learns more accurately the nature, extent, and spirituality, of the precepts themselves, and the safest and best modes of applying to them the conduct of his life. In this manner the Scriptural precepts may be said to be always at hand; always ready for use; so as to guide him safely, and happily, in many cases, where others would be compelled to struggle with doubt and perplexity.
It ought to be added, that the knowledge of the Christian, acquired immediately from Scripture, and from his own experience, is greatly increased by the conversation of his fellow-Christians, and by the valuable books, written by wise and good men concerning the subjects of Religion.
Finally : Christians greatly improve in the knowledge of themselves.
The importance of self-knowledge is so obvious, that the ancient heathen considered the precept, which enjoins it, as having descended from heaven. They were not deceived: for the Scriptures directly require us to examine ourselves, to prove ourselves, and to know ourselves. A part of this knowledge, and that indispensable, is conveyed to us in the Sacred Canon; and this the Christian makes more and more his own by continually searching for it in that invaluable book. But indispensable as this knowledge is, it is comparatively of little importance to the Christian, until he has learned its proper import by applying it to his own spiritual condition ; to the discovery of his true character; to the detection of his sins; to the investigation of his duty; to the excitement of his fears; to the establishment of his hopes; the alleviation of his sorrows, and the increase of his joys. This knowledge the Christian can gain only by Self-examination; by looking daily into his heart; by scrutinizing his life; and by comparing all that he thinks, and feels, and says, and does, with the rules of his duty, prescribed in the Word of God.
In this manner the best of men will learn, that they are, in many respects, widely different beings from what an ordinary and gross attention to this part of their duty would induce them to believe. Vol. II.