Imatges de pàgina
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which lays low the vigour of youth and the ripened strength of manhood. Bidding defiance to the grave, which sinks into corruption life and all its joys, the principle of love in the Christian, divine in its origin, almighty in its power, bears him in triumph through all difficulties and temptations, leads him to the perfection of Christian virtue, and finally conducts him to that exalted felicity which in heaven rewards the exertions and toils of the Christian life. Divine love, then, is with propriety ranked as the principle which sways the Christian, the exalted grace which is to guide and animate him.

The apostle prays for the increase of this holy grace in his Christian converts-that it may "abound more and more." As the Christian turns with more vigorous affection from worldly objects to the contemplation of his God and Saviour-as his love for the divine law, its sacred spirit, its righteous precepts, becomes strengthened in his heart as his earnest desire to obtain that holiness which, by conforming him to the image, will qualify him for the enjoyment of God, increases in sincerity and fervour, will be his progress in the attainment of all the graces of the Christian character, his alacrity and zeal in the ways of God's commandments, his qualifications for the bliss of the kingdom of heaven.

This love, so essential to the existence, to the spirit, to the perfection of the Christian life, the apostle prays may be guided and regulated by proper principles; he prays that it "may abound in all knowledge and in all judgment."

When not guided by knowledge, the ardent and active sentiment of divine love is in danger of run

ning into extravagant excesses: its bright flame and pure fervours will be smothered by the rubbish of superstition or enthusiasm. Knowledge alone can direct and restrain its fervour; and by presenting a lively view of the glorious objects on which it should be exercised, preserve it bright, vigorous, and constant.

He prays that this love may "abound more and more in judgment, or in a lively perception of the holy power and of the exalted value of this divine principle, in purifying the heart, in raising its affections above the world, and in filling the soul with all joy and peace in believing, with that peace which passeth all understanding, which the world can neither give nor take away.

Brethren, let then this prayer of the apostle be the standard by which to examine and ascertain your spiritual condition. Be excited to pray to God, and to vigorous and frequent prayer to unite your earnest and persevering exertions that your "love may abound yet more and more in all knowledge and in all judgment;" that the sacred principle of love for your God and Saviour may be guided and quickened by views, more and more enlightened, of their glorious attributes, of their exalted character and offices-by perceptions, more and more lively, of the elevated joys which their service bestows. Be assured that, unless your love thus abound more and more, you are in danger of going back in your Christian course; the flame of divine love in your souls is in danger of being extinguished by the rude blasts of temptation; and its lustre will become dim and feeble, instead of shining more and more unto the perfect day.

The prayer of the apostle for his Philippian converts embraces, next, "their approving things that are excellent."

This has reference to that Gospel in which they believed, and contains the supplication, that by an enlightened view of the truths, precepts, promises, and hopes of this Gospel, they may discern its excellence above other systems of religion, and thus be led from the heart to approve and delight in it. The Christian should, indeed, often engage in a serious consideration of the divine excellence of that religion which he will find the power of God unto salvation-an anchor of the soul, keeping it safe amidst the changes and tempests of the world. It is the Gospel of the Son of God alone which reveals the exalted truths so essential to the virtue and happiness of man, and yet so far transcending the discoveries of human reason, that God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself; that, by his blessed Spirit of truth and grace, he is shedding divine light on our blind and corrupt understandings, healing our spiritual maladies, and strengthening our infirmities. This Gospel alone reveals a system of duty and morals pure in its spirit, universal in its extent, awful in its obligations, eternal in its sanctions. This Gospel alone brings forth from the long night of clouds and darkness, that immortality which cheers the bosom of the wretched, and animates with unconquerable ardour the heart of man in the pursuit of those things which belong to his peace. These are the divine and glorious truths on which the Christian should meditate, thèse the "excellent things" which he should "approve."

The apostle continues his fervent prayer for his Christian brethren, that "they may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ."

It is his prayer that they may be " sincere" in all their principles, in all their motives, and in all their actions. It is sincerity only which stamps valuethat value which will stand the test of the last scrutiny, that value which will not diminish through the ages of eternity-on the virtues of the Christian. If this essential characteristic be wanting, the lustre of virtues most dazzling in appearance is fallacious -they will not stand the first shock of temptationthey will be driven away before the first rude wind of worldly solicitation. But the sincerity which thus stamps a divine and eternal value on the virtues of the Christian, is not that careless, indolent, undistinguishing principle, which as easily admits error as truth, and almost confounds virtue and vice: it is an enlightened, discriminating, holy sincerity, which never rejects any known truth, nor indolently nor wilfully neglects the means within its power of inquiry and conviction. Holding fast to his integrity, as to an anchor sure and steadfast, the Christian may defy the taunts of his enemies, and, like that rock which rests on everlasting foundations, may quell at his feet the angry billows of persecution. For, while he is sincere in the service of his God, while his conscience bears him witness that he would pluck out his right eye, that he would cut off his right hand, that he would go with his Saviour to prison and to death, rather than offend this best of Masters, this dearest of Friends, who loved him even to the death, he is secure in that promise" I will never leave you nor forsake you. I am your God." Though the waves of trouble

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may rage around him, yet that Lord who sitteth on high is mightier: "God is his strength and refuge; a very present help in time of trouble."

And while the Christian holds fast his sincerity as his sure hope and refuge, it is incumbent upon him also to "be without offence."

It is not sufficient that, confiding and firm in the sincerity of his motives, in the purity of his intentions, he disregards and defies the harsh censures and uncharitable judgments of the world: it is his sacred duty, his constant and earnest desire, not only to "avoid evil," but "the appearance of it;" not only to "hold fast his integrity," but to maintain it with such mildness and forbearance, with such meek wisdom and discretion, as may, if possible, disarm ignorance of every pretext for misjudging his motives, or misconstruing his actions.

Powerful are the motives to cherish sincerity, and to preserve himself without offence, in the awful prospect which the apostle holds forth of that "day of Christ," when not only the secret springs of human conduct shall be disclosed, but actions traced to their effects, not merely on the individual himself, but on the welfare of others. Then they shall receive praise of God, who, in the sincerity of their souls, have sought to love and to serve him, and who have preserved themselves blameless and without offence in the midst of an evil and corrupting world.

The next qualification of the Christian, and which the apostle implores for his brethren at Philippi, is that they should be filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God."

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