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" but in mine infirmities.” Then he goes on; “lest I should be exalted above measure through the abun-: dance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.”
After what you have heard, you will not wonder, that this same St. Paul should pronounce himself to be “ the chief of sinners.” « Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.” i Timothy, i. 15. His sins were uppermost in his thoughts. Other thoughts occasionally visited his mind: but the impression which these had made, was constant, deep, fixed, and indelible.
If, therefore, you would imitate St. Paul in his turn and train of religious thought; if you would adopt his disposition, his frame, his habit of mind, in this important exercise, you must meditate more upon your sins, and less upon your virtues.
Again, and which is another strong scriptural reason for the advice I am giving, the habit of viewing and contemplating our own virtues has a tendency in opposition to a fundamental duty of our religion, the entertaining of a due and grateful sense of the mercy of God in the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. The custom of thought, which we dissuade, is sure to generate in us notions of merit; and, that not only in comparison with other men, which is by no means good, or likely to produce any good effect upon our
disposition, but also in relation to God himself; whereas the whole of that sentiment, which springs up in the mind, when we regard our characters in comparison with those of other men, if tolerated at all, ought to sink into the lowest self-abasement, when we advance our thoughts to God, and the relation, in which we stand to him. Then is all boasting either in spirit, or by words to be done away. The highest act of faith and obedience, recorded in scripture, was Abraham's consent to sacrifice his son, when he believed that God required it. It was the severest trial that human nature could be put upon; and, therefore, if any man, who ever lived, were authorized to boast of his obedience, it was Abraham after this experiment. Yet what says St. Paul? “ If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God." No man's pretensions to glory were greater, yet, before God, they were nothing. “By grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, lest any man should boast.” Eph. ii. 8, 9. Here you perceive distinctly, that, speaking of salvation, with reference to its cause, it is by grace; it is an act of pure favour; it is not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; it is not of works. And that this representation was given, lest any man should boast, that is, expressly for the purpose of beating down and humbling all sentiments of merit or desert' in what we do, lest they induce us, as they will induće us, to think less gratefully, or less piously of God's exceeding love and kindness towards us. There is no proportion between even our best services and that reward, which God hath in reserve for them that
love him. Why then are such services to be so rewarded? It is the grace of God; it is the riches of his grace; in other words, his abounding kindness and favour; it is his love; it is his mercy. In this manner the subject is constantly represented in scripture: and it is an article of the christian religion. And to possess our minds with a sense, an adequate sense, so far as it is possible to be so, of this truth, is a duty of the religion. But to be ruminating and meditating upon our virtues is not the way to acquire that sense. Such meditations breed opinions of merit and desert; of presumption, of pride, of superciliousness, of selfcomplacency, of tempers of mind, in a word, not only incompatible with humility, but also incompatible with that sense of divine love and mercy towards us, which lies at the root of all true religion, is the source and fountain of all true piety. .
You have probably heard of the term self-righteousness: you find it much in the writings and discourses of a particular class of christians; and always accompanied with strong and severe expressions of censure and reprobation. If the term mean the habit of contemplating our virtues, and not our vices; or a strong leaning and inclination thereto, I agree with those christians in thinking, that it is a disposition, a turn of mind to be strongly resisted and restrained, and repressed. If the term mean any other way of viewing our own character, so as to diminish or lower our sense of God Almighty's goodness and mercy towards us, in making us the tender of a heavenly reward, then
also I agree with them in condemning it, both as erro. neous in its principle, and highly dangerous in its effects. If the term mean something more than, or different from, what is here stated, and what has been enlarged upon in this discourse, then I profess myself not to understand its meaning.
TO THINK LESS OF OUR VIRTUES, AND MORE OF
PSALM li. 3.
My sin is ever before me.”
To think well is the way to act rightly; because thought is the source and spring of action. When the course and habit of thinking is wrong, the root is corrupt; “ and a corrupt tree bringeth not forth good fruit:” do what you will, if the root be corrupt, the fruit will be corrupt also. It is not only true, that different actions will proceed from different trains of thought; but it is also true, that the same actions, the same external conduct, may be very different in the sight of God, according as it proceeds from a right, or a wrong, a more or less proper principle and motive, a more or less proper disposition; such importance is attached to the disposition: of such great consequence is it, that our disposition in religious matters be what it should be. By disposition is meant, the bent or