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cannot raise himself to life again ; it must be by an energy from without; by the help and power of some other than himself, that life is recovered, if it be recovered at all. In like manner, the voluntary powers, without being aided and strengthened by the holy influence of God's spirit, may be entirely unable to restore a dead conscience to its office in the human breast.
What is intimated by the language and manner of speaking on the subject in scripture, is confirmed by our own consciousness, and by our experience. Nothing is so hard to be accomplished as reformation ; nothing so difficult as to change the heart; nothing in this world so arduous as to rouse a dead and sleeping conscience, to bring back lost principles, to rectify depraved affections, to break vicious habits; more especially, vicious habits of mind and thought. Vicious habits of action, though difficult, are more easy to be managed than vicious habits of mind and thought. In proportion to the difficulty is the necessity for help. In proportion to the difficulty, must we have recourse to His all powerful help, with whom all things are possible, all things are easy. Who then shall be saved ?' was the apostle's question. With God all things are possible,' was our Lord's answer.
What then is the practical use of these reflections? What are the fit sentiments to entertain, the fit conduct to pursue ?
We know that conscience may be silent and dead. Is it silent and dead in us? We know that it may be so weak and feeble, that in point of fact, it does not govern our lives at all. Is this our case? If it be, we have a great work to go through, before we can be in a state to form any reasonable hopes of salvation ; namely, the restoring conscience to its office and its energy The first thing to be done towards it, is to sue earnestly for the help of God Almighty's spirit; that is the first thing. Our prayers obtaining, and our endeavours sincerely cooperating with that help, will carry us through the work; nothing else will.
Secondly, when we find the whisperings of conscience renewed; when we find sensations of religion, after a long absence and forgetfulness, returning; when we find spiritual emotions, unfound and unfelt before, or, if formerly felt, long disused; when we find the quickening and stirring of good principles and good thoughts within us, then may we be assured that the work is begun. We
then take comfort; we have much cause for rejoicing; we are in the hands of God; we experience the first sign, at least, of a renewed, regenerated soul. It is our business to rejoice in it, to cherish it most carefully.
The first sign, I said; but it must still depend upon ourselves. From what we perceive, we have good reason to hope that power is given us from above, if we will use it. Whilst we were without all thought, all concern, all fear, all anxiety about our religious state, we were in the worst of all possible conditions; we were in the condition which the scripture calls being dead in sin. That is not our condition now. We trust that we are quickened, that we are raised again to a spiritual life by the operation of God's spirit.
But what is the duty belonging to this situation, supposing us to be right in our judgment? Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do. This is the text for us to meditate deeply upon ; this text describes our duty. St Paul, who wrote it, so far from thinking that any promise, any assurance, any perception of the assistance of God's spirit
, was a reason for negligence, remissness, want of firmness, and care and perseverance on our part, makes it the very ground of his exhortation to exert ourselves to the uttermost. We are not only to work, but to work out, that is, to persist to the end in working, our salvation; and why? why particularly? Even because it is God that worketh in us. For this is the argument; spare no efforts, no endeavours on your part, that you may not lose, that you may not forfeit, that you may not miss of the incalculable benefit of that spiritual succor which God in his mercy is now vouchsafing unto you; of that regeneration which is now beginning.
OUR DEAREST INTERESTS TO BE PARTED WITH
RATHER THAN ENDANGER OUR DUTY.
MATTHEW V. 29.
If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee; for it is profita
ble for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
I shall first set about to explain these words, which may seem a little difficult to understand; then consider the advice they contain ; and lastly, the reason that is given for it.
Now the word offend,' in this expression, “If thy right eye offend thee,' signifies corrupt, seduce, tempt to sin. If thy right eye tempt thee to sin, pluck it out ; otherwise what has the eye to do with being cast into hell, or how should the plucking it out save the whole body from being cast into hell? I suppose likewise, that the right eye in this verse, and the right hand in the verse following, is said of any thing we set our hearts upon, or take delight in. The right eye and the right hand are mentioned as being most dear to us, most precious for their use and strength, and so properly represent to us some of our pleasures, habits, or gains, which become almost as dear to us, and as difficult to part with. The body being cast into hell, signifies our being condemned at the day of judgment to the punishment of hell; so that our Saviour's admonition is this; that whatever in any manner draws us into vice, however unwilling we be to part with it, must nevertheless be given up and quitted, rather than suffer it to endanger our salvation; a rule perfectly reasonable in itself, as any man can see and own upon the bare mention of it; a rule it is of great consequence to be observed, and yet in fact and in practice very little, if at all, regarded; for where shall you find a man sacrificing an advantage or pleasure, any profit or amusement he is engaged in, to his virtue ? Men have a different way of satisfying themselves. Provided a pleasure, situation, or profession, be not in itself, strictly speaking, criminal, whatever crimes it may lead to, or tempt them to, they venture upon it; they see no reason for avoiding it, and when they are engaged in it, they find the comfort in vice so strong, that there is no power in them to withstand it; they soon begin to hope that God, who knoweth whereof we are made, will make allowance for their frailties and infirmities, and will not require more purity and exactness than such a man in such a situation is capable of.
Now our Lord's rule would have taught them another doctrine, and a different train of arguing. It does not suppose that what we are required to give up is of itself sinful; but provided it draw or lead us into temptation or into sin, the text tells us that is reason enough for avoiding or resigning it; nay, insists in effect upon our parting with it; for without so doing, we shall not find the strength or violence of the temptation it brings, an excuse for the vice it tempts us into. The right eye and the right hand are of their own nature to be retained ; are what God has given us, and must be supposed to mean what is in its own nature allowable and innocent; yet when this right hand and eye offend, that is, seduce, corrupt, tempt us to sin, they are nevertheless to be cut off and plucked out, otherwise the whole body will be cast into hell. It will not serve us to plead that we were led away by that which was most dear and natural to us, and, in other respects, most beneficial and advantageous. We were bound, our Saviour tells us, to part with it, whatever it cost us. So that on all occasions, before we urge or expect to avail ourselves of this plea, of this strength of temptation, it behoves us to weigh well, whether there be no way of avoiding it, if we cannot resist it. If there be any such way, we are thus to avoid it, cost it what it will, be it ever so inconvenient or mortifying so to do. This is what our Saviour in the text commands us.
This much may serve to explain our Saviour's direction. As to the application of it, every one must apply it for himself, to his own particular case; and there are few that have not, one way or other, a case to apply it to. By way of making what has been said more plain, let one or two examples be taken to show the force and use of the precept
before us. Suppose now in our calling, or business, or profession, there be some underhand, unlawful gains or practices, about which we cannot satisfy ourselves, but which we have ever been accustomed to, and which, moreover, are so common in our way of life and occupation, that we cannot carry it on to any tolerable advantage without them. What is to be done? If we will believe our Saviour, and go by his rule, the advantage we gain by these practices, be it ever so considerable, and the calling too, if it be not worth the following without these advantages,
Here is a right eye to be plucked out, and
must be given up.
a right hand to be cut off, and it matters not what we lose, or how loath we are to lose it. The way of life may not be unlawful in itself, nor reckoned so; yet if it have certain temptations to dishonesty, and if we, from habit, education, or any other reason, cannot withstand them, nothing remains but to get free from them, and betake ourselves to a course of life, if not so beneficial, more innocent and safe.
Or, secondly, it may happen that the situation we are placed in exposes us too much to the vices of drunkenness or debauchery; that is, affords temptations and opportunities, more than, with our propensities to those vices, we can withstand, or actually do withstand. The same rule obtains in this case as in the last ; that is, we must not attempt to set up these temptations, or the violence of them, as an excuse for our compliance, so long as we had it in our power to get out of the way of such temptations. It is to be feared that many, instead of avoiding or abandoning a situation for the reasons mentioned, on the contrary seek and court such on this very account, in order to find the gratification which their vices and follies present to them; so opposite is the practice of mankind and their duty.
Another thing, which it is oftentimes necessary to give up on this ground, and what is given up with more pain and unwillingness than almost any thing, is company, and sometimes friendships. We do not choose our companions or friends always for their virtues ; nor, to say the truth, are men always agreeable in proportion to their virtues ; so that it shall happen, that a very licentious unprincipled person may have found such means to delight and entertain us, to insinuate himself into our affections, that we may perceive very great pleasure in his society. Now admitting it possible, that a man may preserve his own virtue uncorrupted by a course of intimacy with a profligate companion, it is but barely possible. This is what we remember St Paul says, “Evil communications corrupt good manners. Be not deceived.' Let friends, or gay associates, cry aloud, Eat and drink while we have life, for tomorrow we die ; make use then of the time; for after we are dead, there is no more room for enjoyment, we become as we had never been born.' Yet, says the apostle, • Be not deceived.' So here, whatever resolutions we may make, there are many unguarded seasons in a course of intimacy, when your friend will of course endeavour to bring you into some way of thinking and acting with himself; and you will find your horror and fear of vice decline and wear off by de