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There is no delusion more prevalent, or more difficult to dissipate from the minds of men, than the imagined power which this world possesses, to confer solid good or substantial enjoyment on its votaries. Their life is one unceasing struggle for some object which lies at a distance from them. Their path upon earth is an attempted progress towards some attainment, which they conceive to be placed at an onward point in the line of their futurity. They are fighting their way to an arduous eminence of wealth or of distinction, or running with eager desire after some station of fancied delight, fancied repose, on this side of death. And it is the part of religious wisdom, to mark the contrast which obtains between the activity of the pursuit in the ways of human business or human ambition, and the
. utter vanity of the termination—to compute the many chances of disappointment—and, even when the success has been most triumphant, to compare the vehemence of the longing expectation with the heartlessness of the dull and empty acquirement to observe how, in the career of restless and aspir
ing man, he is ever experiencing that to be tasteless, on which, while beyond his reach, he had lavished his fondest and most devoted energies. When we thus see that the life of man in the world is spent in vanity, and goes out in darkness, we may say of all the wayward children of humanity, that they run as uncertainly, and fight as one who beateth the air ; or, to quote another Bible declaration, “ Surely man walketh in a vain show, surely he vexeth hiinself in vain.”
But these animadversions on that waste of strength and of exertion, which is incurred by the mere votaries of this world, are not applicable merely to the pursuits of general humanity, they are frequently no less applicable to our pursuits as Christians; and even with eternity as an object, there is a way of so running, and of so contending for it, as to make no advances towards it. A man may be walking actively with this view, and yet not be walking surely. A mau may have entered into a strenuous combat for the rewards of immortality, and yet not obtain either the triumphs or the fruits of victory. There may be a great expense of movement, and of effort, and of diligence, and all for the good of his soul; and yet the expense be utterly unproductive of that for which his soul is anxiously putting forth the energies which belong to it. He may be walking on a way of toilsome exertion, and yet not be going on in his way rejoicing. · A haunting sense of the vanity of all his labour, may darken and paralyze every footstep of his attempted progress towards heaven, and make him utterly the reverse of that Christian who is steadfast, and immoveable,
and always, abounding. That man can never be satisfied with his own movements, who is not making sensible progress towards some assigned object of desire; and should that be a blissful eternity, there will adhere to him all the discomfort of running uncertainly, so long as he is not getting perceptibly nearer to the fulfilment of his wishes. It were lifting off the weight of a mountain from the heart of many a labouring inquirer, could he be set on a sure place, and a clear and ever- brightening object be placed before him in the march of his practical Christianity-could such a distinct aim and bearing be assigned to him, as, with a full knowledge of the purpose of all his doings, and a hope of the purpose being accomplished, he might, in whatever he did, do it with cheerfulness and vigourcould he be made to understand whither his labours are tending, and for this end something precişe, and definite, and intelligible, were at length to evolve itself out of the mists and the mazes of human controversy—could all the wranglings of disputation be hushed, and, amid the din of conflicting opinions about faith, and works, and the agency of man, and the sovereignty of God, an authoritative voice were heard to lift the overbearing utterance of, “This is the way, walk ye in it”—could he be rescued from the indecisions of those who are ever learning, and never able to arrive at the knowledge of the truth,—then, like Paul, might he both be strong in orthodoxy, and strong in the confidence and consistency of his practical determinations. He would not be, what we fear many professing Christians are, at a loss how to turn themselves, and in
the dire perplexity of those who labour without an object and without an end.
There are three different states of activity in the prosecution of our religious interests, to which we shall advert, all of which are exemplified in human experience; and we shall attempt to point out what is right and what is wrong in each of them.
The first state of activity is exemplified by those who seek to establish a righteousness of their own; the second by those who seek to be justified by faith; and the third by those who seek under Christ, as the accepted Mediator, to attain that holiness without which no man can see God to reach that character, without which there is no congeniality with the joys or the exercises of heaven.
I. In the New Testament, the Jews are charged with a prevailing disposition to establish a righteousness of their own, but this formed no local or national peculiarity on the part of the Jewish people. It is the universal disposition of nature, and is as plainly and prominently exemplified among professing Christians of the day, as it ever was by the most zealous adherents of the Mosaic ritual. It is true, that out of the multitude of its ceremonial observations, a goodly frame-work could be reared of outward and apparent conformities to the will of God; and nothing more natural than for man to enter into that which is the work of his own hands, and then to feel himself as if placed in a tabernacle of security. But there are other materials besides those of Judaism, which men can employ for raising a fabric of self-righteousness. Some of them as formal in their character as the Sabbaths and the Sacraments of Christianity.com