ordinances of God,—and to the Lord Jesus Christ, which possesses not one grain of true godliness. And there are high and confident hopes of eternal life, which shall issue in disappointment, shame, and This, therefore, proves a source of numerous difficulties, in judging our religious state; and of difficulties which delude many formalists, and discourage many saints. Those who have nothing more but the profession, and the semblance, of godliness, are thus frequently induced to conclude that they are certainly the children of God. And these, who are truly possessed of gracious principles, often are deeply distressed with the dread, that they are deceiving themselves with the counterfeit, instead of the genuine. To assist persons of both classes, in distinguishing the former from the latter, is the design of Chapter Fourth.

3. The partiality of self-love naturally inclines all men to judge too favourably of themselves.-Selflove is that instinctive principle which impels every man to value, and to endeavour to promote, his own happiness. For wise purposes God has so inwrought it with our natures, that in almost every action, secular or religious, it operates as a powerful incentive. And much as it is ignorantly decried by some, as if its existence were inconsistent with genuine piety; under proper regulations its exercise is not only lawful, but highly necessary and commendable.

But in fallen and depraved creatures, such as we are, this principle has a natural tendency to lead us to partial views of our own conduct, and conse

quently to self-deception. Under its predominating influence no man can form an impartial estimate of his own actions and character. He extenuates his faults and transgressions into harmless frailties; or, at least, regards them stamped with much less guilt than they really are. And what he accounts good and praiseworthy, he magnifies greatly beyond the truth. Forbidden indulgences he views as unavoidable imperfections; and habits of vice as if they were only occasional acts, and rare and casual slips. And the performance of any religious duty, seldom though it may occur, is complacently contemplated as if it were a fixed and habitual feature of practice.

It is from this principle that mankind generally are so prone to extenuate, or excuse, the vices of their particular station; while they fondly congratulate themselves on their freedom from other vices, which they are under no temptation to commit. They feel the influence of these temptations to which they themselves are exposed, and how difficult it is to resist them; and, therefore, when they yield to them, conceive that they have peculiar apologies for their deviations from firm and unbending uprightness, which every one must perceive as clearly as they themselves do, and ought to be equally ready to sustain. But ignorant as they are of the inducements which draw those aside from the straight line of duty, who occupy a different sphere, and are engaged in other pursuits, they can make no allowance for their errors. On the contrary, they appear to them deeply aggravated and inexcusable. They re

flect not, that had they been placed in the circumstances of their neighbour, and surrounded with his temptations, they might have gone much farther astray than he has done; and that though they are exempted from his faults, it is because they are under no allurements to their commission. "They behold the mote that is in their brother's eye, but consider not the beam which is in their own eye." Consequently, they are much pleased with themselves, because their own offences appear so very excusable, and because they are free from those of others, which, in their reckoning, are so enormously great.

Nothing can effectually hinder the undue influence of this principle, when men sit in judgment on their own character, except the illuminating and soul-humbling operation of divine grace. And even this, in the present imperfect state, does not always sufficiently counteract its self-flattering tendency. The best of men are sometimes disposed by it, to decide too favourably in their own cause. In every instance, therefore, in which we engage in this important work, there is much need to guard against this source of deception; and to endeavour to pass sentence on ourselves with all possible impartiality. Rather, however, let us exercise such a holy jealousy over our deceitful hearts, as will incline us to the side of severity against ourselves, than lean to the opposite side of self-favouring. Let us look as much at our faults, as we do at what is commendable.*

* See Chapter III., part second, section 4.

4. Good men frequently run into the opposite extreme, and, from timorous and humble diffidence, refuse to apply to themselves, what is truly characteristic of their state. Though persons of this description are not completely freed from the undue workings of self-love, and sometimes are too partial to themselves; yet this is far from being the case with any of them habitually. On the contrary, most commonly they go into the opposite extreme, and are too backward to claim that comfort to which they are graciously entitled. This arises from these self-humbling views of themselves, which they have received under the efficacious teaching of the word and Spirit of God. The supernatural illumination thus poured into their minds, discovers to them so clearly and affectingly the corruptions of their heart, and the enormity and aggravations of their sins of practice, that they possess a lowly and self-condemning estimate of all they are, and of all they have done. Like the patriarch Job, each of them says of himself," Behold, I am vile!-If I wash myself with snow-water, and make my hands ever so clean; yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.-I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

Filled thus with self-abasing views of themselves, they can scarcely think it possible that sinners such as they are, may claim the exalted title, and glorious immunities, of sons of God. Though there is nothing which they more highly value, and to secure which they would be willing to make greater sacrifices; yet,

so humbled and distressed are they with an abiding sense of their guilt and defilement, that they can hardly persuade themselves that they are really in a gracious state. When plain marks and evidences of this attainment are propounded to their consideration, which are truly characteristic of their own principles and practice; they regard them as descriptive of others, but are afraid to apply them to themselves. Some objection or other is urged by them, as a reason why they cannot, or ought not, to consider such unspeakably important attainments assuredly their own. They dread the idea of presumption, and selfdeception; and to avoid them, run to the opposite extreme, by rejecting what belongs to them, and consequently deprive themselves of "joy and peace in believing." Thus, the weakness of their faith, and the strength of their doubts and fears, prove a hinderance to just views of their character, and subject them to much disquietude.

This is an amiable feature of character,-a feature which God himself beholds with approbation. "Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place; but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word."* And yet, lovely as it is, sometimes it is carried to a hurtful extreme. Those whom it characterises ought to guard against dishonouring the Spirit of God, by denying his work in their soul; and by rejecting that comfort which he has pro

Isa. lxvi. 1, 2.

« VorigeDoorgaan »