« ElőzőTovább »
ship; and formality takes away the immediate consciousness of what we are doing; which consciousness is the very life of devotion; all that we do without it being a dead ceremony. No man reviews bis services towards God, his religious services, but he perceives in them much to be forgiven, much to be excused : great unworthiness as respecting the object of all worship; much deficiency and imperfection to be passed over, before our service can be deemed in its nature an acceptable service. That such services, therefore, should, in fact, be allowed and accepted, and that to no less an end and purpose than the attainment of heaven, is an act of abounding grace and goodness in Him who accepts them; and we are taught in Scripture that this so much wanted grace and goodness abounds towards us through Jesus Christ, and particularly through his sufferings and his death.
But, to pass from our acts of worship, which form a particular part only of our duty to God; to pass from these to our general duty; what, let us ask, is that duty ? What is our duty towards God? No other, our Saviour himself tells us, than “ to love him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind.” (Luke x. 27.) Are we conscious of such love, to such a degree? If we are not, then, in a most fundamental duty we fail of being what we ought to be. Here, then, as before, is a call for pardoning mercy on the part of God; which mercy is extended to us by the intervention of Jesus Christ : at least, so the Scriptures represent it.
In our duties towards one another, it may be said that our performances are more adequate to our obli. gation than in our duties to God: that the subjects of them lie more level with our capacity; and there may be truth in this observation. But still I am afraid that, both in principle and execution, our performances are not only defective, but defective in a degree which we are not sufficiently aware of. The rule laid down for us is this, “ to love our neighbour as ourselves.” Which rule, in fact, enjoins that our benevolence be as strong as our self-interest ; that we be as anxious to do good, as quick to discover, as eager to embrace, every opportunity of doing it, and as active and resolute and persevering in our endeavours to do it, as we are anxious for ourselves, and active in the pursuit of our own interest. Now, is this the case with us? Wherein it is not we fall below our rule. In the apostles of Jesus Christ, to whom this rule was given from his own mouth, you may read how it operated : and their example proves, what some deny, the possibility of the thing; namely, of benevolence being as strong a motive as self-interest. They firmly believed that to bring men to the knowledge of Christ's religion was the greatest possible good that could be done unto them ; was the highest act of benevolence they could exercise. And, accordingly, they set about this work, and carried it on with as much energy, as much order, as much perseverance, through as great toils and labours, as many sufferings and difficulties, as any person ever pursued a scheme for their own interest, or for the making of a fortune. They could not possibly have done more for their own sakes than what they did for the sake of others: they literally loved their neighbours as themselves. Some have followed their example in this; and some have, in zeal and energy, followed their example in other methods of doing good. For I do not mean to say that the particular method of usefulness which the office of the apostles cast upon them is the only method, or that it is a method even competent to many. Doing good, without any selfish worldly motive for doing it, is the grand thing: the mode must be regu
lated by opportunity and occasion; to which may be added, that, in those whose power of doing good, according to any mode, is small, the principle of benevolence will at least restrain them from doing harm. If the principle be subsisting in their hearts, it will have this operation at least. I ask therefore again, as I asked before, are we as solicitous to seize opportunities, to look out for and embrace occasions, of doing good, as we are certainly solicitous to lay hold of opportunities of making advantage to ourselves, and to embrace all occasions of profit and self-interest ? Nay, is benevolence strong enough to hold our hand, when stretched out for mischief ? is it always sufficient to make us consider what misery we are producing whilst we are compassing a selfish end, or gratifying a lawless passion of our own ? Do the two principles of benevolence and self-interest possess any degree of parallelism and equality in our hearts, and in our conduct? If they do, then, so far we come up to our rule. Wherein they do not, as I said before, we fall
. below it. When not only the generality of mankind, but even those who are endeavouring to do their duty, apply this standard to themselves, they are made to learn the humiliating lesson of their own deficiency. That such our deficiency should be overlooked, so as not to become the loss to us of happiness after death; that our poor, weak, humble endeavours to comply with our Saviour's rule should be received and not rejected : I say, if we hope for this, we must hope for it, not on the ground of congruity or desert, which it will not bear; but from the extreme benignity of a merciful God, and the availing mediation of a Redeemer. You will observe that I am still, and have been all along, speaking of sincere men, of those who are in earnest in their duty and in religion : and I say, upon the strength of what has been alleged, that
even these persons, when they read in Scripture of the riches of the goodness of God, of the powerful efficacy of the death of Christ, of his mediation and continual intercession, know and feel in their hearts that they stand in need of them all.
In that remaining class of duties, which are called duties to ourselves, the observation we have made upon the deficiency of our endeavours applies with equal or with greater force. More is here wanted than the mere command of our actions. The heart itself is to be regulated; the hardest thing in this world to manage. The affections and passions are to be kept in order ; constant evil propensities are to be constantly opposed. I apprehend that every sincere man is conscious how unable he is to fulfil this part of his duty, even to his own satisfaction: and if our conscience accuse us, “ God is greater than our conscience, and knoweth all things.” If we see our sad failings, He must. God forbid that anything I say, either upon this, or the other branches of our duty, should damp our endeavours. Let them be as vigorous and as steadfast as they can. They will be so, if we are sincere ; and, without sincerity, there is no hope : none whatever. But there will always be left
. enough, infinitely more than enough, to humble selfsufficiency.
Contemplate, then, what is placed before us—heaven. Understand what heaven is : a state of happiness after death, exceeding what, without experience, it is possible for us to conceive, and unlimited in duration. This is a reward infinitely beyond anything we can pretend to, as of right, as merited, as due. If some distinction between us and others, between the comparatively good and the bad, might be expected on these grounds, not such a reward as this, even were our services, I mean the services of sincere men,
perfect. But such services as ours, in truth, are (such services as, in fact, we perform) so poor, so deficient, so broken, so mixed with alloy, so imperfect both in principle and execution; what have they to look for upon
their own foundation ? When, therefore, the Scriptures speak to us of a Redeemer, a Mediator, an Intercessor for us; when they display and magnify
. the exceeding great mercies of God, as set forth in the salvation of man, according to any mode whatever which he might be pleased to appoint, and therefore in that mode which the Gospel holds forth ; they teach us no other doctrine than that to which the actual deficiencies of our duty, and a just consciousness and acknowledgment of these deficiencies, must naturally carry our own minds. What we feel in ourselves corresponds with what we read in Scripture.