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our sense of God Almighty's goodness and mercy towards us, in making us the tender of a heavenly reward, then also I agree with them in condemning it both as erroneous in its principle, and highly dangerous in its effects. If the term mean something more than, or different from, what is here stated, and what has been enlarged upon in this discourse, then I profess myself not to understand its meaning.
TO THINK LESS OF OUR VIRTUES AND MORE OF OUR
Psalm li. 3.
My sin is ever before me. To think well is the way to act rightly; because thought is the source and spring of action. When the course and habit of thinking is wrong, the root is corrupt; "and a corrupt tree bringeth not forth good fruit :" do what you will, if the root be corrupt, the fruit will be corrupt also. It is not only true, that different actions will proceed from different trains of thought; but it is also true, that the same actions, the same external conduct, may be very different in the sight of God, according as it proceeds from a right or a wrong, a more or less proper, principle and motive, a more or less proper disposition ; such importance is attached to the disposition: of such great consequence is it that our disposition in religious matters be what it should be. By disposition is meant the bent or tendency of our inclinations; and by disposition is
; also meant the train and habit of our thoughts, two things which are always nearly connected. It is the better sense, however, in which I use the word ; and the particular lesson which I am inculcating for the conduct of our thoughts, is to think more of our sins and less of our virtues. In a former discourse I showed that there are strong and positive Scripture precepts, a due regard to which accords with the
state of mind of him who fixes his attention upon his sins and defects, and by no means with his state of mind who hath fixed his attention chiefly upon his virtues. Secondly, That Scripture examples, that of Saint Paul most particularly, teach us to renounce the thoughts of our virtues, and to entertain deeply and constantly the thoughts of our sins. Thirdly, That the habit here reproved is inconsistent with a due sense of the love of God in the redemption of the world. I am now to offer such farther reasons as appear to support the rule I have laid down.
And, first, there is no occasion whatever to meditate upon our virtues and good qualities. We may leave them to themselves. We need not fear that they will either be forgotten or undervalued.
God is not unrighteous to forget your works and labour of love.” (Hebrews, vi. 10.) He will remember them, we need not : they are set down in his book; not a particle will be lost. Blessed are they who have much there, but we need not count them up in our recollection : for, whatever our virtues are or were, we cannot make them better by thinking of them afterward. may
make them better in future by thinking of their imperfections, and by endeavouring to encounter, to lessen, or remove those imperfections hereafter : but then this is to think, not upon our virtues, but upon our imperfections. Thinking upon our virtues, as such, has no tendency to make them better, be they what they will. But it is not the same with our sins. Thinking upon these afterward may make a very great alteration in them, because it may lead to an effectual repentance. As to the act itself, what is past cannot be recalled; what is done cannot be undone ; the mischief may possibly be irrevocable and irreparable. But as to the sin, it is different. Deep, true, sincere penitence, may, through the mercies of God in Christ
Jesus, do away that. And much penitence may be the fruit of meditation upon our sins; cannot possibly come without it. Nay, the act itself may be altered. It is not always that an injury is irreparable. Wrong indeed has been received at our hands : but restitution or compensation may be in our power. When they are so, they are the surest proofs of penitence. No penitence is sincere without them, if they be practicable. This benefit, to those whom we have injured, and an infinitely greater benefit to ourselves than to them, may be the effect of seeing our sins in their true light, which that man ever does, who thinks only, or chiefly, or habitually, upon his virtues. Can a better reason be given for meditating more upon our sins, and less upon our virtues, than this; that one train of thought may be profitable to salvation, the other is profitable for nothing ?
It is an exceedingly good observation, that we may safely leave our virtues and good qualities to themselves. And besides the use we have made of it in showing the superfluity, as well as the danger of giving in to the contemplation of our virtues, it is also a quieting and consoling reflection for a different, and in some degree an opposite, description of character, that is to say, for tender and timorous consciences. Such are sometimes troubled with doubts and scruples about even their good actions. Virtue was too easy for them, or too difficult; too easy and pleasant to have any merit in it: or difficult by reason of fleshly, selfish, or depraved propensities, still existing unsubdued, still struggling in their unregenerated hearts. These are natural, and, as I have sometimes known them, very distressing scruples. I think that observations might be offered to remove the ground of them altogether, but what I have at present to suggest is, that the very act of reflection which leads
to them is unnecessary, provided you will proceed by our rule, viz. to leave your virtues, such as they are, to themselves; and to bend the whole force of your thought towards your sins, towards the conquest of these.
But it will be said, are we not to taste the comforts of religion ? Are we not to be permitted, or rather ought we not to be encouraged, to relish, to indulge, to enjoy, these comforts ? And can this be done without meditating upon our good actions ?
I answer, that this can be done without meditating upon our good actions. We need not seek the comforts of religion in this way. Much we need not seek them at all; they will visit us of their own accord, if we be serious and hearty in our religion. A wellspent life will impart its support to the spirits, without any endeavour, on our part, to call up our merits to our view, or even allowing the idea of merit to take possession of our minds. There will in this respect always be as much difference as there ought to be, between the righteous man and the sinner (or, to speak more properly, between sinners of different degrees); without taking pains to draw forth in our recollection instances of our virtue, or to institute a comparison between ourselves and others, or certain others of our acquaintance. These are habits, which I hold to be unchristian and wrong; and that the true way of finding and feeling the consolations of religion is by progressively conquering our sins. Think of these; contend with these : and, if you contend with sincerity and with effect, which is the proof indeed of sincerity, I will answer for the comforts of religion being your portion. What is it that disturbs our religious tranquility? What is it that imbitters or impairs our religious comfort, damps and checks our religious hopes, hinders us from relishing and