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others of them with the claim of being more substantial in their character, as the relative duties and proprieties of life, but all of them proceeding on the same presumption, that man can, by his own powers, work out a meritorious title to acceptance with God, and that he can so equalize his doings with the demands of the law, as to make it incumbent on the lawgiver to confer on him the rewards and the favour which are due to obedience.
Now it is worthy of remark, that though few are
A sense of his own sufficiency lurks in the bosom of man, long after, by his lips, he has denied it; and it is a very possible thing to be most steadfast in the arguments, and most strenuous in the asseverations of orthodoxy, and
yet practically to be so undisciplined by its lessons, as that the habit of the whole man shall be in a state of real and effective resistance to them.
And thus it is, that, among the men of all creeds, and of all professions in Christianity, do we meet with the attempt of establishing a righteousness of their own. i The question of our interest with God is no-sooner entertained by the human mind, than it appears to be one of the readiest and most natural of its movements to do something for the object of working out such a righteousness. The question of, How shall I, from being personally-a condemned
sinner, become personally an approved and accepted servant of God? no'sooner enters the mind, than it is followed up by the suggestion of such a personal change in babit or in character, as it is competent for man, by his own turning and his own striving, to accomplish. The
The power of which I am conscious— the command with which I feel myself invested over both my thoughts and my doings--the authoritative voice which the 'mind can issue from the place of fancied sovereignty where it sits, and from which it exacts both of the outer and the inner man an obedience to all its inclinations,--these are what I constantly and familiarly press into my service; and I find that, in point of fact, they are able to conduct me to many a practical attainment. Nor is it to be wondered at, that when the attainment in question is such a righteousness before God as may empower me to lift a plea of desert in his hearing, the presumption should still adhere to me, that this also I can achieve by my own strength-this also I shall win, as the fruit of my own energies, and my own aspirations.
Now, what stamps an utter hopelessness upon such an enterprise as this, is both the actual deficiency of every man's conduct from the requirements of God's law, throughout that part of his history which is past, and the deficiency, no less obvious, of every man's powers from a full and equal obedience to the same requirements, during that part of his history which is to come. Without entering into the abstract question of justice, whether the rigour of a man's future conformities should make
for the offence of his bygone disobedience, and deciding this question by the light of nature or of conscience, certain it is, that no man, under the revelation of the Gospel, can feel himself, even though he were on a most prosperous career of advancing virtue, to be in a state of ease in the sense of the guilt that has already been incurred, and of the transgressions which have already been committed by him. On this subject, there are certain texts of the Bible, which look hard upon him-certain solemn announcements about the immutability of the law, which cannot fail to disturb, and, it may be, to paralyze him--certain damnatory clauses about the very least act of iniquity, on which he, conscious of great and repeated acts of iniquity, may well conclude himself to be a lost and irrecoverable sinner-certain mighty asseverations, on the part of God's own Son, about the difficulty of annulling the sanctions of his Father's government, and that it were easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for these to pass away, which may well fill the heart of every conscious offender with the assurance, that his condemnation is as unfailing as the truth of God, and greatly more unfailing than are the present ordinances of creation. These both tell the enlightened sinner that his case is beyond the remedy even of his most powerful exertions; and they also make exertions which, in the spirit of hope and of confidence, might have been powerful, weak as childhood, by the overwhelming influence of despair. The man feels that the sentence which is already past, lays the weight of an immoveable interdict upon all his energies. His interest with God looks to be irrecoverable, and any attempt to recover it is like the frantic exertions of a captive: raving in despair around the impracticable walls of the dungeon which holds him. While the handwriting of ordinances is still against him, and not taken out of the way, it looks to him like the flaming sword at the gate of Paradise, forbidding his every attempt to force the barrier of that blissful habitation. The man is in a state of spiritual imprisonment, and he feels himself to be so. The menacing urgencies of the law may put him into a kind of convulsive activity, while the uorelenting severity of the law ieaves him not one particle of hope to gladden or to inspire it.
Thus he runs without an object, and struggles without even the anticipation of success.
The thing which makes the remembrance of the past shed a blight so withering and so destructive over the attempted obedience of the future, is, that we cannot admit the truth of the matter into our understanding, without admitting, at the same time, into our hearts, an apprehension which instantly stifles, or puts to flight the alone principle of all acceptable obedience. The truth of the matter is, that the promulgations of the law cannot be surrendered, without a surrender of the attributes of God, and thus it is, that with every man who thinks truly, the consciousness of being a sinner, brings along with it the fear of God as an avenger. And it is impossible for sentient nature to love the Being whom it so fears. It is impossible, at one and the same time, to have a dread of God, and a delight in God. There may be love up to the height of seraphic extacy, where there is the fear of reverence, but there is no love in any one of its modifications,
where there is the fear of terror.
Let God appear before the eye of our imagination, in the light of a strong man, armed to destroy us, and if the only obedience which our heart can render be love, then is our heart put, by such an exhibition of the Deity, into a state of rebellion. There may be physical, but there is no moral obedience. The feet may be made to run, and the hands to move, and the tongue to speak, or to be silent, and the whole organization of the body may be squared into a rigorous adjustment, with a set of outward and literal conformities, and yet the soul which animates that organization, be all in a fester with its known delinquencies against the law, and its dark suspicious antipathies against the lawgiver. And thus it is, that let the present moment be the point of our purposed reformation, not only may God charge us with the unexpiated guilt of all that goes before it, but, if we have a just and enlightened retrospect of what we were, and an equally just and enlightened conception of him with whom we have to do, there will be a taint of substantial worthlessness in all that comes after it. That which stands so strong a bar in the way
of reconciliation, will just stand equally strong as a bar in the
The sense of God's hostility to us, will so provoke our fear and our hostility towards him, as to haunt, and utterly to vitiate the whole character of our proposed and attempted obedience.
When the body, worn out by the drudgery of its painful and reluctant observations, shall resign its ascending spirit to him who sitteth on the throne, he will not recognize upon it, one lineament of that generous and confiding affec