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now they actually make; and perhaps finally to fall away. As the case now is, their fears serve to quicken them. no less than their hopes; and by the influence of both they continue to advance in holiness to the end of life.
(4.) The fact is, unquestionably, as I have stated it; and it cannot be rationally denied to be a part of the spiritual providence of God.
1. From these observations, we learn the necessity of performing daily and carefully the duty of self-examination. If such difficulties attend this duty, we are bound to exercise proportionally greater care and exactness in performing it.
2. We are taught to rest our hopes on the general tenour of our dispositions and conduct, and not on particular views, affections, or actions. These may be counterfeited; but to counterfeit the whole tenour of a life seems impossible.
3. We perceive the necessity of inquiring particularly, whether we increase in holiness. Evangelical holiness increases by its own nature, though irregularly. False religious affections by their nature decline at no very late periods.
4. We learn the necessity of searching the Scriptures continually for that evidence which alone is genuine, and on which alone we can safely rest. In the Scriptures only is this evidence to be found.
5. How conspicuous are the wisdom and goodness of God, in causing the backslidings and other defects of good men to be recorded for the instruction and consolation of Christians in all succeeding ages! These evils, and the distresses and doubts which they occasion, attended them. Still they were truly pious. They may attend us therefore, while we may nevertheless be also subjects of piety.
6. The same wisdom and goodness are still more conspicuous in the manner, in which the Psalms are written. The
Psalms are chiefly an account of the experimental religion of inspired men. In this account we find that many of them, particularly David the principal writer, experienced all the doubts, difficulties, and sorrows which are now suffered by good men. It is highly probable that vast multitudes of Christians have by these two means been preserved from final despondence.
7. This subject, in its nature, furnishes strong, though indirect, consolation to Christians. When they find doubts, and consequent distress, concerning their religious character multiplied, they here see that they may be thus multiplied, in perfect consistency with the fact that they themselves are Christians; and are thus prevented from sinking into despair.
8. We learn the absolute necessity of betaking ourselves to God in daily prayer, for his unerring guidance in this difficult path of duty. If so many embarrassments attend this important employment, the assistance of the Divine Spirit is plainly indispensable to our safety and success. If this assistance be faithfully sought, we know that it will be certainly granted.
9. We here discern the goodness manifested in that indispensable and glorious promise; I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.' For creatures, struggling with so many difficulties, to be left at all, would be inconceivably dangerous; to be forsaken would be fatal. But the divine presence, in the midst of all these, and even much greater dangers, furnishes complete and final safety to every child of God.
THE LAW OF GO D.
THE LAW PERFECT.
THE LAW OF THE LORD IS PERFECT.
PSALM XIX. 7.
In the whole preceding series of Discourses I have examined with attention the principal DOCTRINES contained in the Scriptures. Particularly, I have exhibited the existence and perfections of God, and his works of creation and providence; the character and circumstances of man, both before and after his apostasy, and the impossibility of his justification by his personal obedience. I have considered at length the character and mediation of Christ, and the nature of evangelical justification through his righteousness; the character and agency of the Holy Ghost; the necessity and nature of regeneration; its antecedents, attendants, consequences, and evidences. All these united constitute the body of those peculiarly important truths, to which the Scriptures have required us to render our religious faith.
The second great division of subjects in such a system is formed of the scriptural PRECEPTS, requiring of us those internal and external acts, commonly termed the duty or duties of mankind. We are not, however, to suppose that faith in the doctrines of the Scriptures is not itself a prime duty of The contrary has, I trust, been amply proved. Nor are we to suppose that any one of these doctrines has not naturally an important practical influence on mankind. The
contrary to this also has, it is presumed, been extensively shown. Finally: We are not to suppose that faith in Christ, and repentance towards God, are duties of fallen beings, less real, less necessary, less essential, or less acceptable, than any other duties whatever. The conformity of the understanding and the heart to every doctrine of the Scriptures is, by the authority of God, made equally a duty with obedience to every precept. All that can with propriety be said of this nature is, that those which are customarily called the doctrines of the Scriptures, are usually presented to us rather in the form of truths which we are to believe, than of commands which we are to obey; and that the precepts are commonly given to us in their own proper form, requiring our obedience directly.
At the same time, it is to he observed, that a conformity of our hearts and lives to the doctrines of the Gospel is often expressly enjoined by the Scriptures. To repent of our sins, and to believe in Christ, are the immediate objects of the great precepts of the Gospel. It is farther to be observed, that every precept becomes, by a slight alteration in the phraseology, a doctrine. For example; Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,' is easily altered into a mere truth, only by changing the phraseology into " It is right, or it is thy duty, to love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart." A cordial faith in this declaration is here, as with respect to every other precept, the spirit whence is derived all genuine obedience.
Truth is commonly divided into that which is practical, and that which is speculative. But moral truth cannot, in the strict sense, be justly divided in this manner. Every moral truth is of a practical nature. Its influence, I acknowledge, is in some cases indirect; while in others it is direct. But it can never be truly denied in any case that its influence is really of this nature.
The observations, which I intend to make on the several subjects, included in the second great division of the System of Theology, I propose to preface with a general account of the divine law. The doctrine which I mean to discuss in this account is that which the text expresses in the very best terms which can be chosen; viz.
THE LAW OF JEHOVAH IS PERFECT.
In proof of this truth I allege the following considerations. 1. The law of God is the result of his infinite wisdom and goodness.
It cannot be supposed, that infinite wisdom and goodness would form a rule, for the government of moral beings, which did not possess such attributes as must render it a perfect directory of their moral conduct. It may easily be believed that God may make moral beings, of many different classes; some of superior, and some of inferior capacities; but it cannot be imagined that he would not require of all such beings a character and conduct the best of which they were naturally capable. Inferior wisdom and goodness might be unable to devise, or uninclined to require, the best conduct and character in moral creatures; or to point out the means by which this character could be most easily and perfectly formed, or the conduct in which it would most advantageously operate. But none of these things are attributable to infinite wisdom and goodness thus employed. They of course must require the best character and conduct, must point out the best means of forming it, and the best modes in which it can operate. To suppose a law which is the result of these attributes not to be perfect, is to suppose, either that God did not know what would be the best character in his moral creatures, or did not choose to require it of them. Both parts of this alternative are too obviously absurd to need a refutation.
Further: A law is always the expression of the will of the lawgiver; and is of course an expression of his own character. This is pre-eminently applicable to the law of God. In forming it, he was under no necessity, and could have no motive beside what is involved in his own pleasure, to induce him to form it in any given manner. The things which it requires are the things which he approves, and is seen to approve; the things in which he delights, and is seen to delight; the things therefore which entirely show his real character. But the things actually required include all which are due from his moral creatures to him, to each other, and to themselves; or, in other words, all their internal and external moral conduct.