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world, led me as a willing captive to the obedience of his cross.In these words, as thus briefly explained, one or two considerations, of a very useful character, unfold themselves to your view.
And 1. You perceive, my beloved brethren, in these timorous expressions of St. Paul, in regard to the momentous subject of his own eternal salvation, the spirit of all the real servants of Christ.-Let us advert, for a moment, to the precise character and circumstances of the great Apostle of the Gentiles. He had been brought, through the power of divine grace, to a clear and experimental knowledge of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: he had devoted all the faculties of his mind and body to the Redeemer's service: and had now nearly reached the conclusion of his happy, holy, and strikingly useful career. Yet what, amidst all this, is the pervading feeling of his bosom? The words before us sufficiently disclose it. He does not, it is true, despond, nor evince any terrors in regard to the nature of his eternal destiny: for this would have been strange, after a conversion so peculiar in its character, and a life so signally distinguished. But there is here, nevertheless, no expression of bold confidence; nothing indicative of ease and security; not the least degree of that spirit which seems to say-The struggle is over; I have gained the prize; and heaven, with all its fulness of joys and glories, is my assured inheritance. My Christian brethren, may we not take a lesson from the example before us; and learn from it, that they who have advanced to farthest attainments in the school of Christ, are, invariably, the most distinguished by a timid estimate in regard to their safety in the world to come, and a glorious termination of their labors?
The principle, from which this disposition of the Lord's spiritual servants proceeds, is easy of explanation. It is the most experienced believer, who knows best the weakness of his own heart. He feels within himself the daily struggle between the spirit and the flesh: temptations teach him, that “ the righteous scarcely are saved:"* and, accordingly, so long as he continues in the body, and is fighting the fight of faith, he cannot permit himself to look, with triumphant certainty, to that "rest" which "remaineth for the people of God." It may, therefore, be generally taken as a certain truth, that, wherever there are found high pretensions to holiness, and a tone of confidence in respect to the possession of God's kingdom hereafter, there, likewise, shall we discover little knowledge of the deceitfulness of man's nature, and very shallow experience of the divine life within the soul. The believer, like St. Paul, exults in the delightful anticipation of a resurrection unto glory. But his rapture is chastened by fear: he labors after that reward, which he feels conscious that he does not yet possess: and his heart continually cries, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help;" "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe;"§ "O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles."
2. There is another part of the Apostle's words to which I would invite your attention, and which possesses much interest: namely, the gratitude with which he recognizes that kind interposition of Providence, whereby he had been brought to a saving knowledge of the truth. Turn your eyes again to the language he uses: "If that I may appre
*I. Pet. iv. 18. † Heb. iv. 9. Ps. cxxi. 1. § Ps. cxix. 117. Ps. xliii. 3.
hend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." His words are an allusion to the idea of some person, who, having wandered from the correct road into a dreary and perilous wilderness, is suddenly arrested by a friendly arm, and restored to the path of safety. In like manner was it with St. Paul himself. He was straying an outcast from his Father's house, and in ignorance of the way of life: but that Lord whose compassions fail not met him on his journey, and conducted him, by the power of his illuminating grace, to the peace and happiness of the gospel. So beneficent an act of the divine Redeemer in his behalf, he takes occasion, in the verse before us, to commemorate; and breaks forth into a passing expression of love for the Being, who had thus gathered him out of the world's howling waste into the fold of his crucified Master.
My brethren, there are some among you, who, like the great Apostle, have experienced the efficacy of God's converting Spirit; and does not the example of St. Paul's adoring acknowledgment speak a lesson of thankfulness to yourselves? The truth is, that that visitation of divine Providence by which a sinner is convicted of his transgressions, and humbled into a reception of the Lord Jesus Christ as his only refuge, is so unspeakable a blessing, that it ought never to be absent from the memory. It should be answered with a daily return of praise: it should be the theme of your songs in the night: it should bring you into that frame of soul, which the Apostle describes to the Colossians, when he says, "Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated
us into the kingdom of his dear Son."* Let me ask you, then, my Christian friends, to carry your remembrance to the history of past years; and, whatever has been the precise method in which the Lord has brought you to the knowledge of himself, to make it the subject of your devoutest ascriptions to the Author of your mercies. Was it in the midst of profligacy and vice, that the kind Shepherd touched you with his hand? Adore the mercy, which, notwithstanding a career so calculated to harden the heart, and prevent the entrance of every serious impression, led you to reflection; and opened your eyes to the misery of him, who is living without Christ and without hope in the world. Did the Lord God Almighty visit you with this divine renewal of the affections, while immersed in the pleasures of the worldly? Acknowledge, in this case, the arm that took you into the path of life; and, for delights which pass quickly away, and leave a sting behind, gave you that faith which sees a Saviour at hand, and that peace which passeth all understanding. Or do you find yourself unable to point to any particular moment, in your pilgrimage of life, in which the transforming grace of the Redeemer operated upon your heart; but rather trace back through long years a course of faith and love, which kept ever increasing in strength and brightness as your days advanced? Oh, forget not to pay your tribute to Him, who, through this path of pious education, has made you his spiritual servant ; give him the honor that is due; "praise the Lord while you live," and, as long as you "have any being, sing praises unto your God." My dear hearers, if there be any thing glorious in the happiness of heaven, or awful in the condemnation of + Ps. cxlvi. 2.
*Col. i. 12. 13.
hell, thus thank the Author of your conversion to the knowledge of the truth; and turn upward an eye of humble adoration to that Lord, "who hath blessed you with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ."*
The verses with which the portion before us concludes, are but a repetition, in another form, of the declaration made by the Apostle, in that by which they are preceded. "Brethren,” he exclaims, as if enforcing what he had said, "I count not myself to have apprehended;" that is, I do not consider myself as having, like the successful runner, already reached my reward: "but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus:" in other words, Instead of resting with satisfaction upon my past attainments in faith, and supposing the crown to be mine, I bear in mind that life is a continual struggle; I watch and strive; I tremble, lest, after all that I have done, I should at last make shipwreck of my hopes, and be a castaway from the Father's love. It is in these strong and decided terms, that the Apostle repeats his anxiety for the result: but his words, while they express this cautious diffidence, set forth to you, my brethren, in a manner the most forcible and impressive, the activity, zeal, and devotedness, which distinguish those, who are truly advancing to a heavenly country, and contending for the eternal salvation of the gospel. In the view of that altar,† around which you are about to proclaim, before men and angels, that the world is a shadow, and Christ is all in your esteem, permit me to hold up the spirit of St. Paul as the mind that should
* Eph. i. 3.
† Communion Sunday.