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things that are behind;" put out of your thoughts the attainments and progress you have already made, in order to see fully your defects and imperfections.
In another passage, found in a chapter with which all are acquainted, the fifteenth of the Corinthians,' our apostle, having occasion to compare his situation with that of the other apostles, is led to say : “I laboured more abundantly than they all.” Saint Paul's labours in the Gospel, labours which consumed his whole life, were surely what he might reflect upon with complacency and satisfaction. If such reflections were proper in any case, they were proper in his. Yet observe how they are checked and qualified. The moment he had said, “I laboured more abundantly
, than they all,” he added, as it were correcting himself for the expression,
“ Yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me.” He magnifies not himself, but the grace of God, which was with him. In the next place you will observe, that, though the consciousness of his labours, painful, indefatigable labours, and meritorious labours, if ever man's were
say, that though the consciousness of these was present to his mind at the time, yet it did not hinder him from feeling, with the deepest abasement and selfdegradation, his former offences against Christ, though they were offences which sprang from error. the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God : but, by the grace of God, I am what I am.” The faults of his life were uppermost in his mind. No mention, no recollection, of his services, even when he did happen to recollet them, shut out, even for a single moment, the deep memory of his offences, or covered or concealed it from his view.
In another place, the same apostle, looking back upon the history of his singular and eventful life, ex
" I am
hibits himself to his converts, as how? not as bringing forward his merit, pleading his services, or claiming his reward : but as nothing other, nothing more, than a monument and example of God Almighty's mercy. Sinners need not despair of mercy, when so great a sinner as himself obtained it. Hear his own words. “ For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” (1 Timothy, i. 16.) What could be more humble or self-depressing than this acknowledgment? yet this was Saint Paul's.
The eleventh chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, and also the twelfth, ought to be read by you on this occasion. They are very remarkable chapters, and very much to our present
much to our present purpose. It had so happened, that some hostile, and, as it should seem, some false, teachers had acquired a considerable influence and ascendency in the church which Saint Paul had planted. To counteract which influence it became necessary for him to assert his character, to state his pretensions to credit and authority, amongst them at least, and in comparison with those who were leading them astray. He complies with the occasion; and he does, accordingly, set forth and enumerate his pretensions. But I entreat you to observe, with how many apologies, with what reluctance, and under what strong protestations, he does it; showing, most manifestly, how contrary it was to his habit, his judgment, and to the inclination of his mind, to do so. His expressions are such as these : “ Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly; and, indeed, bear with me.” What was his folly ? the recital he was about to give of his services and pretensions. Though compelled, by the reason you have heard, to give it, yet he calls it folly to do
He is interrupted, as he proceeds, by the same sentiment : “ That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but, as it were, foolishly in this confidence of boasting." And, again, referring to the necessity which drew from him this sort of language: “I am become,” says
says he, “a fool in glorying ; ye have compelled me.”
But what forms perhaps the strongest part of the example is, that the apostle considers this tendency to boast and glory, though it was in his gifts, rather than his services, as one of his dangers, one of his temptations, one of the propensities which he had both to guard and struggle against, and, lastly, an inclination, for which he found an antidote and remedy in the dispensation of Providence towards him.-Of his gifts, he says, considering himself as nothing, as entirely passive in the hands of God, “ of such a one, of a person to whom such gifts and revelations as these have been imparted, I will glory; yet of myself I will not glory, “ but in mine infirmities.'
.” Then he goes on;
“ lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.”
After what you have heard, you will not wonder that this same Saint Paul should pronounce himself to be “ the chief of sinners.” “ Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.” (1 Timothy, i. 15.) His sins were uppermost in his thoughts. Other thoughts occasionally visited his mind : but the impression which these had made was constant, deep, fixed, and indelible.
If, therefore, you would imitate Saint Paul in his turn and train of religious thought; if adopt his disposition, his frame, bis habit of mind, in
this important exercise, you must meditate more upon your sins, and less upon your virtues.
Again, and which is another strong scriptural reason for the advice I am giving, the habit of viewing and contemplating our own virtues has a tendency in opposition to a fundamental duty of our religion, the entertaining of a due and grateful sense of the mercy of God in the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. The custom of thought, which we dissuade, is sure to generate in us notions of merit; and that not only in comparison with other men, which is by no means good, or likely to produce any good effect upon our disposition, but also in relation to God himself; whereas the whole of that sentiment, which springs up in the mind, when we regard our characters in comparison with those of other men, if tolerated at all, ought to sink into the lowest self-abasement, when we advance our thoughts to God, and the relation in which we stand to him. Then is all boasting, either in spirit or by words, to be done away. The highest act of faith and obedience, recorded in Scripture, was Abraham's consent to sacrifice his son, when he believed that God required it. It was the severest trial that human nature could be put upon; and, therefore, if any man, who ever lived, were authorized to boast of his obedience, it was Abraham after this experiment. Yet what says Saint Paul ? “ If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” No man's pretensions to glory were greater, yet, before God, they were nothing.
By grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. ii. 8, 9.) Here you perceive distinctly, that, speaking of salvation, with reference to its cause, it is by grace ; it is an act of pure favour; it is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; it is not of works. And that this representation was given, lest any man should boast, that is, expressly for the purpose of beating down and humbling all sentiments of merit or desert in what we do, lest they induce us, as they will induce us, to think less gratefully, or less piously, of God's exceeding love and kindness towards us.
There is no proportion between even our best services, and that reward which God hath in reserve for them that love him. Why then are such services to be so rewarded ? It is the grace of God; it is the riches of his grace; in other words, his abounding kindness and favour ; it is his love: it is his mercy. In this manner the subject is constantly represented in Scripture : and it is an article of the Christian religion. And to possess our minds with a sense, an adequate sense, so far as it is possible to be so, of this truth, is a duty of the religion. But to be ruminating and meditating upon our virtues, is not the way to acquire that sense. Such meditations breed opinions of merit and desert ; of presumption, of pride, of superciliousness, of self-complacency, of tempers of mind, in a word, not only in compatible with humility, but also incompatible with that sense of divine love and mercy towards us, which lies at the root of all true religion, is the source and fountain of all true piety.
You have probably heard of the term self-righteousness : you find it much in the writings and discourses of a particular class of Christians; and always accompanied with strong and severe expressions of censure and reprobation. If the term mean the habit of contemplating our virtues, and not our vices; or a strong leaning and inclination thereto, I agree with
I those Christians in thinking that it is a disposition, a turn of mind, to be strongly resisted and restrained and repressed. If the term mean any other way of viewing our own character, so as to diminish or lower