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serious, we are, we shall fall short; but towards which all these qualities greatly contribute : and what that is, the Apostle plainly signifies to us, where he saith, The Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it *. And the faith, that we must have, to make it profit us, is not a mere historical persuasion of the truth of the Gospel, though with this we are to begin; but a deep sense of our need of God's mercy promised in it; a thankful acceptance of the terms, on which that mercy is offered ; an humble reliance on a crucified Saviour for pardon, grace and strength; with a firm dependance on having these blessings conveyed to us, through a right use of the means, which he hath ordained for that end ; his word, and sacraments, and prayer. Such faith indeed must come by hearing at first, as the Apostle hath observed t. But this is no objection against the necessity of exercising it afterwards, in order to hear as we ought: and exercising. duly our present lower degree of it, is the only way to obtain a higher. Every one therefore, who desires benefit from religious instruction, must attend on it with humility of heart, as a fallen, sinful undeserving creature ; to whom it makes known a method of recovery, which of himself he could never have found out or imagined. He must receive it, when delivered conformably to Scripture, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God f, must labour to strengthen his conviction of these things. He must apply earnestly to Him whose gift faith is, for that faith in his Gospel, which worketh by loveş. For when once we come to love our Maker, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier, we shall hear the very hardest parts * Heb. iv. 2.
+ Rom. x. 17. 1 Thess. ïi. 13.
§ Gal. v. 6.
of our duty with willing minds, and perform the whole with a cheerful and persevering zeal : till which time, all remains imperfect and ineffectual. Every attainment that comes short of uniform universal obedience, however specious it be, leaves us in effect very nearly, if not quite where we were. St. James's comparison is perfectly just. Be ye doers of the Word : and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the Word, and not a doer: he is like unto a man, beholding his natural face in a glass. For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way: and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was *. Yet this too plainly appears to be the common method. A great part, even of those, who come to hear from a principle of conscience, such as it is, mind exceedingly little at the time, reflect less afterwards, and continue just the same men they were before. They wonder indeed, that their neighbours take no more notice of what is said; and can even wrest passages in sermons to meanings, which they were never intended to have, and are scarce, if at all capable of, in order to point them against the faults of others; while they think not in the least of correcting their own, be they ever so plainly described : as if religion were made for every one else to practise, but themselves. It would really seem quite impossible, if daily experience did not shew it, that men could be told so plainly, and warned so frequently of transgressions and follies, which they cannot deny to be such, by which often they not only do great harm, but suffer great uneasi-, ness, in this world, and which they are sensible must bring on them, if not forsaken, the heaviest
James i. 29, 23, 24.
vengeance of God in the next; yet sit all the while as unconcerned, as if the discourse were about some perfectly indifferent matter; and go away at last, without so much as a single thought of ever changing their conduct. Or if they do think of reforming, it is at some distant time ; like Felix, when they have a convenient season *; and this they look on as a very pious intention : whereas indeed it is only determining to live on wickedly for the present, and leave off they know not when. Or they resolve from henceforward to perform some parts of their duty, the more easy, or profitable, or fashionable, perhaps : but neglect the rest, as much as ever. Or they go farther, and will break loose from all their sins : but they will not avoid those temptations, that must in all likelihood bring them back soon into their former bondage; nor make use of those means, that would preserve them from it. Thus one way or other, they contrive to hear the Word and not to do it: and all they get by this artful management, as St. James, in the passage abovementioned, hath excellently observed, is deceiving their own selves. For God we can never deceive ; men we very seldom do; nay even ourselves, for the most part, we are able to cheat but poorly; and could we succeed in it as completely, as we wish, we should be only the more irretrievably ruined.
Take heed therefore, how ye hear : and begin your care with considering so seriously, and improving so faithfully, what hath been delivered to you for that purpose now, that you may reap the truest and utmost advantage you can, from whatever shall be any where taught you hereafter. Laying aside all malice, and all guile and hypocrisy, as new born
Acts xxiv. 25.
babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby * : grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ : to him be glory, both now and for ever.
Amen t. * 1 Pet. ii. 1, 2.
+ 2 Pet. iii. 18.
PHIL. IV. 8.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, what
soever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
As the excellent characters of the first believers and teachers of Christianity are in general a strong recommendation of it to mankind; so that of St. Paul in particular shines with distinguished lustre through his whole history; but especially his Epistles, the faithful pictures of his soul. Even in this short one to the Philippians, it is surprising to observe, how great a variety of most exalted and engaging virtues he shews. The authority of the Apostle is so perfectly tempered with the condescension of the fellowChristian: the expressions of his tenderness for those to whom he writes are so endearing and instructive at the same time: his acknowledgments of their kindnesses to him, so equally full of dignity, humility and disinterestedness: his mention of his past persecutions is so mild ; and of his present danger, (for he wrote from a prison) so cheerful: his attention to the supporting of their courage is so affecting ; and his confidence, that both he and they should persevere and conquer, is so noble and yet so modest: his deliberation, whether life or death be eligible, is so