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2. In character
[There is in the natural constitution of men a great difference. Infants at their mother's breast display an astonishing variety of character; some being mild, gentle, placid; others, on the contrary, being filled with the most violent and hateful dispositions. Education, too, will operate very forcibly on men, and lead them to habits widely different from each other. One who is brought up in the unrestrained indulgence of every vicious appetite, cannot be supposed to resemble one who has been well instructed in all virtuous principles, and subjected to all salutary restraints. Still less can the godly and the ungodly be supposed to agree. Divine grace puts men far asunder, and induces sentiments and conduct widely different from any that are found in unconverted men. In comparing these different persons, a due respect must be had to their several characters; or else our judgment concerning them will be extremely erroneous.]
3. In condition
[What community of sentiment, generally speaking, can there be between a prince and a peasant? or what between an unlettered countryman and a sage philosopher? Take a man under the pressure of disease, poverty, disgrace; and what will you expect to find in him that accords with the feelings of one who is living in the fullest enjoyment of ease, and opulence, and honour? Look at even the same person, when, either in a way of elevation or depression, he is changed from the one condition to the other; and you will find in him, for the most part, a corresponding change of views and habits.
I say then, that, to apprehend our text aright, we must consider it as declaring, not that all persons, whatever their circumstances may be, are alike; but that all persons under the same circumstances, due allowance being made for any difference existing from constitution, age, education, habit and grace, will be found to bear a very strong resemblance to each other.]
Taking the assertion of Solomon in this qualified sense, I proceed to,
II. Confirm it
The reflection of a countenance from water will bear a strict resemblance to him whose countenance it is. And a similar correspondence will be found between the hearts of men, who, according to the foregoing limitations, are fit objects of comparison. It will be found in all,
1. Whilst in an unenlightened state
[All unenlightened men agree in this; they affect supremely the things of time and sense. In this also they agree; they disaffect things spiritual and eternal. Here we may range through all the gradations of men, from the prince to the peasant; and through all their ages, from infancy to old age; yea, and through all the different periods of time, from the beginning of the world to the present hour; and we shall not find so much as one differing from the rest, unless indeed a very few, who have been sanctified from the womb. The testimony of Almighty God is this: "They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; and they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be." Here both of these points are asserted, with equal clearness, and with unquestionable authority. If the point be doubted, look for a person who, from his youth up, has shewn a superiority to the pleasures, honours, interests of this world, and sought his happiness in communion with God, and in the exercises of prayer and praise. Alas! not one such person will you find: the hearts of all have been in perfect agreement with each other, even as the face that is reflected, with the face that inspects the mirror.]
2. When awakened to a sense of their perishing condition-
[Let but the eyes of any one be opened to see his real state, and he will begin immediately to tremble before God. No sense of earthly dignity will uphold a man at that hour. Felix on the throne of judgment, and Belshazzar in his drunken carousals, become weak as other men; and betray the convictions of their mind, that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Not the most obdurate sinners in the universe can any longer defy the arm of justice: the very instant they see themselves obnoxious to its stroke, their spirits sink within them. Even the murderers of our blessed Lord, whilst yet their hands were reeking with his blood, cry out in agony of mind, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
In another thing, too, they all agree: they all, without exception, seek, in the first instance, to conciliate God's favour by some works of their own. They will repent; they will reform their lives; they will perform the duties which they have hitherto neglected; they will exercise benevolence to the utmost of their power: they will do any thing, if by any means they may recommend themselves to God as objects of his mercy. Those amongst them who have been somewhat better instructed will allow to Jesus Christ the honour of saving them; but still they must do something to entitle them to come to him, and to b Acts ii. 37.
a Rom. viii. 5, 7.
warrant their hope in him. None, in the first instance, see, nor, if they were instructed, would they approve, the Gospel method of salvation, simply by faith in Christ. To renounce every kind and degree of hope in themselves is, to their proud hearts, an act of humiliation, to which they cannot submit. They think, so entirely to set aside good works, is to disparage them, and to countenance a neglect of them; and therefore they cannot cast themselves wholly and entirely on the merits of a crucified Redeemer. This reluctance to glorify Christ is, indeed, overcome sooner in some than in others: and in this respect the publicans and harlots for the most part enter into the kingdom sooner than the Scribes and Pharisees," because they are sooner convinced that they have nothing of their own to rely upon: but in all is there the same tendency to establish a righteousness of their own, and a difficulty in being brought to "submit to the righteousness of Christ"."]
3. When truly converted to the faith of Christ—
[To every one, without exception, "is Christ precious," even preciousness itself. Find one to whom he is not "fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely f." You might as well look for one in heaven itself, as on earth. It is not possible to have "tasted how gracious He is," and not love him, and serve him, and glory in him. Equally characteristic also of the believer is the love of holiness. Sin is no longer that pleasant morsel which they would roll under their tongue: it is hateful and abominable in their eyes; and they would gladly have it crucified within them. The divine image is that which they now affect; and after which they pant, as the hart after the water-brooks. In all, indeed, these marks are not alike visible, because all are not alike gracious; but in all, according to their measure of the gift of Christ, is this grace found: and if there be a professor of religion in whom it is not found, I hesitate not to say, that he belongs not to the class of whom I am speaking, but must take both his name and portion with the hypocrites. Of course, when I speak of the love of holiness, I comprehend it in all its parts, and consider it as extending equally to both the tables of the Law. The man who has a scriptural hope in the Lord Jesus Christ will not fail to "purify himself, even as Christ is pure "."]
Now this subject is not one of curious speculation; but of real use, of most important Use,
1. For our humiliation
[See the portrait of human nature as chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.
drawn in the first
See it as again and x. 1-3.
8 1 John iii. 3.
exhibited in the third chapter: "There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way; they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good; no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes." But it may be asked, What can these passages have to do with the more moral part of the community? I answer, that "whatsoever things the Law saith, it saith to them who are under the Law; (as every child of man is;) that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God." Take this glass then, Brethren, and behold your own faces in it; and say, whether you have any reason for self-admiration and self-complacency? The true character of your hearts is this: "They are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked 1:" and, if there be any superiority in the conduct of any, you owe it, not to the superior quality of your hearts, but to the preventing and assisting grace of God. And the best amongst you may look upon the vilest of the human race and say, 'Such an one might I have been, but for the grace of God!']
2. For our consolation-
[When under peculiar temptations, we are ready to think that there is no one like us, and that no one was ever tempted as we are. But "there has no temptation taken any one of us, but what is common to man." And when we know this, it is a rich source of consolation to us. Not that the trials of others can do us any good: every man must bear his own burthen, whether it be greater or less: but, when a man supposes that he alone is subjected to any peculiar trouble, he is ready to imagine that he is an outcast from the Lord, and that there is no hope for him in God. The removal of this painful apprehension, however, raises him from his dejection, and emboldens him to maintain the conflict with all the enemies of his salvation. He will then chide himself, and say, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God."]
3. For our encouragement
[If in the Scriptures we see what human nature is, we see also what divine grace is, and what it can effect in the heart of
man. After a most horrible description given by the Apostle, of persons who were to be excluded from the kingdom of heaven, he says to the Corinthians, "And such were some of you but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." And the change wrought, on the day of Pentecost, on the murderers of our Lord, abundantly shews what may be expected by all who believe on him. The same holy joy shall animate their souls; and the same Almighty power renovate them after the divine image. It was to Christians scattered throughout the world that Peter said, "Through believing in Christ, they rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory; receiving even now the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls"." What, then, may not we also expect, if we truly believe in Christ? Verily, as in water face answereth to face, so shall our hearts respond to the hearts of the primitive saints, in all that is good and great. Our victories shall be the same as theirs, as shall also be our triumphs and our joys. Let this encourage us to go forward in our heavenly way, expecting assuredly that we in due time shall "see the good of God's chosen, and rejoice in the gladness of his nation, and glory with his inheritance "."]
m 1 Cor. vi. 10, 11. n 1 Pet. i. 8, 9.
o Ps. cvi. 5.
THE EFFECTS OF PIETY AND IMPIETY IN THE WORLD.
Prov. xxviii. 4. They that forsake the Law, praise the wicked; but such as keep the Law, contend with them.
MAN, as a social being, has an influence on those around him and his actions should be considered, not merely as they affect himself, but, in their social aspect, as tending to make an impression upon the minds of others. In this point of view, a great measure of responsibility attaches to us, far beyond what, at first sight, we should be ready to imagine. Our good or evil conduct operates as an example, and countenances a similar conduct in others: so that, in our daily actions, we, though unconscious of it, are doing good or evil to an unknown extent. This is proclaimed in the words before us: They that forsake the Law, praise the wicked; but such as keep the Law, contend with them.”