« VorigeDoorgaan »
be pleased with no service offered by his rational creatures, but that of a conformity to his moral attributes, as far as is compatible with created, and now, in regard to man, degenerate existence. Every other service both degrades human nature, and is derogatory from the divine perfections. That worship which is solely expressive of reverence for the Supreme Being, unconnected with the cultivation of virtuous habits in the worshippers, and not regarded as the means of their progressive advancement in moral excellence, is rather a species of adulation offered to God, and rests on the tacit admission of his resemblance to human sovereigns, who are delighted with such external marks of respect. The true notion of Christian worship is, that, while it constitutes in itself the exercise of pious and virtuous affections, it is also the means of confirming and enlarging these, of communicating them, by the power of sympathy, to others, and of binding, men to the practice of every
incumbent duty; and that, on those united accounts solely, it is acceptable to God. No
person who has the slightest knowledge, not merely of Christianity, but of natural religion itself, can entertain the most distant idea that his goodness can extend to God, or that to him “a man can be profitable, as he that is wise may be pro
a Psalm xvi. 2,
fitable unto himself;”a that our praises can gratify his love of applause, our thanksgivings afford him delight, as testimonies of our dependence on his bounty, and therefore as motives to him to continue it, in order to receive fresh acknowledgments; or our prayers induce him, by importunity, to change the determined purposes of his wise and gracious administration. No; all these acts of divine worship are effectual, by the blessing of God, for improving mankind in holiness and rectitude, and are the appointed means of rendering them fit objects of grace, mercy, and favour.
But the great doctrine of sanctification by the operation of the holy Spirit, evinces, in the most conspicuous manner, the general and uniform tendency of Christianity to the moral improvement of human nature here. Not only did sin render man obnoxious to punishment, and deprive him of all claim to the divine favour, and indeed render him incapable of receiving it; it also disabled him for returning to the path of duty, for discharging his incumbent obligations through all their extent, and acquiring those habits which fit him for communion with God, and render him susceptible of those joys which conscious rectitude only can inspire. A remedy for this incapacity was indispensably requisite,
a Job xxii. 2.
and it is provided by the gospel. The assistance of the holy Spirit has been promised, and is insured to all sincere Christians. He '“ guides them into all truth ;” and “ his fruits are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." These constitute the distinguishing ingredients of the Christian character, and its qualifications for the joys of heaven. Only with such aids could human infirmity attain to these graces; for, without them, “ the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary, one to the other;" so that men in their natural state cannot do the things that they would. That is, the animal and inferior part of our nature is continually opposing the rational and moral principle, and this again is always ineffectually remonstrating against this rebellion, and groaning under the yoke which it endures. But, as the apostle observes in the context to the passage just now quoted, “ if we walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." The assurance of this divine aid both emboldens to begin the noblest contest in which a human being can be engaged—that against his own depraved passions and degenerate habits, which degrade his exalted nature-and insures to him the most glo
a John xvi. 13. c Gal. v. 17.
b Gal. v. 22, 23. d Gal. v. 16.
rious of victories ; a victory which “ delivers him from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” “ He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city.” It is this purifying and exalting energy that has exhibited all the illustrious and magnificent displays of the Christian character during the successive periods of the church, has enabled the followers of Jesus to maintain his cause with combined prudence and fortitude, and fortified them against bonds, torture, and death in its most aggravated forms. It is this which has equally strengthened them against the fascinations of worldly pleasure, splendour, and power, and induced them to “ count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord." It is this, in fine, which, amidst every vicissitude of human life, has shed on their souls serenity and happiness, as far as either is compatible with this state of trial, and bestowed on them those qualifications which prepare them for the enjoyment of it, in its real and immutable form, in an eternal existence.
The doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and its purification from all that gross matter which is the cause of a great part of that mental pollution by which the nobler part of man is degraded, and so often subdued, is intimately con.
a Rom. viii. 21.
b Prov. xvi. 32.
c Phil. iii. 8.
nected with moral renovation, and directly leads to pursue such a tenor of conduct as may qualify us for this perfection of corporeal existence. Some of the ancient philosophers, and particularly Plato and his followers, referred all immorality, or obliquity of the will, to man's connexion with matter ; and I believe that in this opinion they were not far from the truth. That the whole class of sins, comprehended under the general term sensuality, is referrible to this origin, cannot be questioned. But with these is connected a secondary class of vices, those, namely, which consist in the immoderate pursuit of objects which are the means of sensual gratification, such as wealth, and every species of worldly possession. But to the same source may also be referred whatever strikes the external senses by external display, such as pomp, and splendour, and gaudy decoration. I entertain little doubt that that mad and ridiculous love of power, by
which men are so often infatuated, is to be as: cribed to the desire of ostentatious preeminence, and of all the idle distinction which attends it.
Thus, all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, as it is not of the Father, but is of the world,”a is also closely connected with that gross corporeal frame with which our souls are now invested.
a 1 John ii. 16.