« AnteriorContinua »
whole will to God. If man has not a will, why is he desired to pray that his will may be turned or inclined to God? why is he taught this needful petition, Not my will, but thine, be done? We must therefore serve him earnestly, that is, with all our strength, with every power and means that can contribute to his glory. And here, again, good works are the test of going on to perfection; for the young man in the Gospel (Matt. xix. 21) having answered wisely as to the first part of our blessed Lord's instruction, is told, that, having proceeded so far, it remained only to go on to prove his progress in godliness: If thou wilt be perfect (meaning, doubtless, as far as it is possible for a mortal to be), sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. In other words, nothing is to be put in competition with the love of Christ. And it exactly agrees with the sense of St. Matthew (v. 48), If ye would be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect, you must strive after perfection HERE; you must go as far as you can, and as the measure of grace which God is pleased to allow you, will enable you to do, towards perfection. Though it is never positively to be obtained here, yet there are degrees of excellence, that may and must be sought after to prepare and qualify you for heaven. And this the Apostle illustrates (2 Cor. vii. 10, 11), in regard to re
pentance; for godly sorrow (saith he) worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of, but the sorrow of the world worketh death. By the latter is meant, the concern or sorrow that arises from merely worldly considerations that are too apt to affect us. They often hasten our end here, and, by preventing the proper use of our trials, even endanger eternal death. And the Apostle St. Peter, in his 1 Ep. v. 10, speaks to the same purpose: By the grace of God (saith he), is the whole work begun, continued, and FINISHED in the soul. God, who hath called us to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after ye have suffered a little while (a very short space compared with eternity), shall himself make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you that is, ye have only to watch and resist the devil, the rest God will perform; for, as to discharging a perfect, I mean an unsinning obedience to God's commandments, an obedience quite free of imperfection, this neither can we, nor did ever any man, but He who was God as well as man. For in many things we offend all, saith St. James; and the like declaration of St. John assures us, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.-By being made perfect, we are to understand, that no gross or wilful defect shall remain; God will so establish us, that, though we may be shaken, we
shall not be overthrown. He will so strengthen us, as to conquer the temptation of the great enemy, provided we do what we can to resist him, being steadfast in the faith, as the Apostle advises in the 8th and 9th verses of the above chapter; we must be sober and vigilant. The true sense of an unsinning obedience may be sufficiently collected from our blessed Saviour's own directions before mentioned, as to what we must do, and what we must not do. But, for fear of mistakes, we cannot be too full and clear in the distinctions to be made on this point: therefore, when it is said we cannot perform an unsinning obedience, it is by no means understood of a divided obedience, that God will be satisfied with; that is, that we shall obey in what is most easy and agreeable to us to perform, but leave undone what clashes with any favourite vice or passion. It does not mean, that, because by nature we are weak, such a conduct cannot be avoided; for such a dangerous opinion as this is overthrown by the words of this ONE text, Whosoever shall keep the WHOLE LAW, and yet offend in ONE point, he is guilty of ALL. (James, ii. 10.) In fact, it is not obedience, while we are guilty of any heinous known sin; and, therefore, though most truly nothing we do is without sin, yet here lies the difference: the imperfection of the Christian obedience which is performed by those not wholly void
of sin, is owing to this stain of original sin, which more or less will even defile" (and destroy the idea of unsinning obedience)," till we put on incorruption. For this Christ has satisfied; but for actual sin, unrepented of, and unreformed, he hath not atoned. That will arise against men, and condemn them at the last day; for, by their works they shall be judged, and for their works they shall be rewarded.
Again; lest we should appear to attribute too much to ourselves, we affirm, that the fulfilling of the conditions of the covenant by our personal endeavours doth by no means undervalue the blessing and the necessity of divine grace, i. e. the assistance of the Holy Spirit, by which we are sanctified; for we are commanded to work out our own salvation with
fear and trembling, i. e. with the utmost diligence and watchfulness. And though we act an instrumental part in crucifying our lusts, and resigning ourselves to the divine will; yet, inasmuch as we ascribe all the glory, all the good we do, to that assisting grace, and take to ourselves the shame of whatsoever is evil or wanting in us, we clearly magnify the mighty power of God, by which alone we are renewed in the Spirit, and thereby enabled to please him.
The obedience, then, that God requires of us, in order to salvation, is the obedience of an
honest, humble, sincere heart, such as leads us, in the first place, to see the necessity of an universal observance of God's commandments, and, consequently, to apply for power to keep them: secondly, such as determines us to strive, to the best of the powers we have, to come up to as perfect a discharge of our duty according to its particular nature, as our present condition will admit of. FURTHER we cannot go, nor is more required of us: we shall never be judged for the want of a power we have never received. And, lastly, this obedience must not be sometimes regular, and at other times neglected; but we must show, that it is an obedience flowing from sure and solid principles, by constancy and perseverance in it, to our life's end; that it is conviction, through grace, of the necessity of the work, and power by the same Spirit to perform the work. And, lastly, as faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God; we must never slacken in pursuing every means of procuring this grace which is held out to all who seek and employ the means, as our holy Church directs; and the following authorities confirm us in the safety of this doctrine (Heb. x. 38.) For the just shall live by faith (saith the Apostle), that is, by trusting that God will help them; but if any man draw back (that is, does not use the means), my soul shall have no pleasure in