« Prev Chapter IV. Next »
172

Chapter IV.

Showing That Saving Faith In The True Christian Produces Manifold Fruits Of Righteousness, And That These Must Proceed From The Depth Of The Heart; Also, That The Character Of Our Outward Works, Depends, In The Judgment Of God, Upon The State Of The Heart.

And this I pray, that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ: being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.Phil. 1:9-11.

The true Christian is not only justified by faith in Christ, but is also made a temple and habitation of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. To this end the good Spirit of God purifies his heart by faith: and it is fit that Christ should live in his temple, together with his love, humility and meekness. 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 3:17; Acts 15:9. To this end also thy Redeemer has bestowed upon thee his Holy Spirit, that he might create in thee a new heart, and endue thee with so cheerful and ready a mind, as to do the will of God freely, without any unwillingness or compulsion. Jer. 31:32, 33; Heb. 10:16. This new and holy obedience proceeds not from the law, or any legal commandment; but from a lively faith. Hence, “the law is not made for a righteous man” (1 Tim. 1:9), to compel him to do good; though it is in other respects an excellent rule by which to regulate a Christian's life and manners. For a true and living faith does everything freely and of its own accord: it renews the man, it purifies the heart, it produces fervent love to our neighbor, it hopes and considers such things as are not yet seen. Faith prays, praises, fears, and confesses God. It is also patient, humble, merciful, loving, meek, easy to be reconciled, compassionate, and peaceful. Faith readily forgives offences; hungers and thirsts after righteousness; embraces God with all his grace, and Christ with all his merit; and obtains a complete remission of all sins. Now if any one does not perceive in his heart these fruits of the Spirit, and the indwelling of Christ by faith, let him humbly entreat the Lord, and that with tears and groans, that he may obtain them. I would not be understood, however, as saying that a Christian in this life could attain to perfect and absolute holiness; for even the greatest saints are still sensible of their infirmities; of which the book of Psalms and the Lord's Prayer fully convince us. God therefore requires that our righteousness, by which we are to please him, should be entirely apprehended by faith; and lest we should act the hypocrite he wills that his righteousness should be stamped on our very heart, and on the inmost centre of our souls; and likewise that all the fruits of faith and righteousness should proceed from a living and sound principle seated within the mind. According to this inward and leading principle, 173 God judges all our works, whether they be true and genuine, or false and hypocritical.

2. Here again, we do not assert that perfection can be found in this present world, but only require that a Christian should walk in newness of life, and approve himself by such works as are cleared from guile and hypocrisy. For it is by no means possible that the fruits of the Spirit enumerated by St. Paul, in Gal. 5:22, 23, should not be found in that man in whom the Spirit of God himself dwells (Gal. 5:22); or that a good tree should not be known by its fruits, though they may not be altogether so perfect and angelic as could be wished, but be stained and often obscured by various frailties and imperfections. Nevertheless, all hypocrisy and insincerity, are utterly to be banished from a regenerate state; nor are the fruits of a Christian to proceed from an empty profession, or a lifeless appearance of things, but possess truth and reality. I do not deny, on the one hand, that the Christian Church may be fitly compared to a hospital crowded with all manner of sick; or to a house inhabited by sinners as well as by saints. I believe also that many, like feeble children, have not yet attained to the ability of walking alone; but that they gradually learn to walk steadily. Hence it is necessary to “bear one another's burdens” (Gal. 6:2), and never rashly to judge or condemn those who by reason of their weakness halt behind. Rom. 14:1. We ought rather to restore in the spirit of meekness those that stumble, and with great tenderness to rectify what is amiss in them. Thus we learn to read our own imperfections in the infirmities of our brother. But on the other hand, Christians ought to labor to make continual advances in the spiritual life. They ought not to continue always in a state of infancy and weakness, how difficult soever it be to conquer the carnal mind that obstructs our growth. They ought to be fervent in the practice of “charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Tim. 1:5); and bear this in perpetual remembrance, that all outward performances are valued by God according to the inward disposition of the heart. If the heart be good, thou mayest then be assured, that whatever thou doest is also good before God: but if the heart be evil, corrupt, and envious, then all thy works are evil and hateful. Such as thou art inwardly, and in thy heart, such art thou accounted to be before God; and such are thy prayers, thy public worship, thy giving of alms, thy receiving the Sacrament, and all thy other performances.

3. Whosoever therefore is willing to try his own faith and inward condition, should set before his eyes the Ten Commandments (as by Christ himself interpreted) (Matt. 5 and 6), and learn to judge of his actions by his heart. By such an impartial trial, he will clearly perceive whether what he does be acceptable or unacceptable to God, and whether he bring forth the genuine fruits of that inward righteousness which is by faith. Phil. 1:11. For example, thou considerest that thou dost not defile thyself with any external idolatry. Now, in keeping from idols thou doest surely well; but I would have thee farther inquire, whether thou also abhorrest all manner of internal idolatry? Or whether thou hast set up an inward idol in some secret corner of the heart, to which thou payest thy vows? Ezek. 174 14:3, 4. Examine thyself whether thou art within, what thou professest to be without? See whether thy heart be not set upon the world, upon avarice, and pride? If so, then thou art assuredly guilty of most dangerous idolatry; for the creature has engrossed those noble affections which should be entirely surrendered to the Creator, and dedicated to him alone. Thou assurest us that thou art punctual in saying thy prayers, and in praising God; and that thou dost not neglect to offer up thy thanks for benefits received at his hands; but didst thou ever consider, whether thou cursest in thy heart, whilst thou prayest with thy lips? Whether thou contradictest by thy actions what thou expressest in thy words? If so, thy prayer will prove but a worthless performance, and all thy thanks and praises will be trifling and vain. Thou tellest us how strictly thou keepest the sabbath-day. In this truly thou doest well; but look on the inward frame of thy soul. Dost thou celebrate the true sabbath in thy heart? Dost thou rest from evil thoughts and wicked desires? Is thy heart devoted to God, and freed from noise and clamor, that God himself may work in it? Thou attendest divine service at church; it is well done; but see that thou carry not with thee to church the canker-worm of pride and vanity. This would convert thy service into mere formality, and all thy performances into an empty show. Thou yieldest external obedience to God and to thy superiors; but does that which passes within thy soul agree with this exterior conduct? Is everything done with an upright and willing mind? Dost thou act from a principle of love, or of fear only? If it be fear that constrains thee to an external compliance, then know assuredly that thy obedience is no more than hypocrisy. Thou defilest not thy hands with blood and slaughter, and thinkest thyself free from the crime of murder. But take a view of thy heart: for when the heart burns with wrath and anger, and when this, as a flame, flashes out upon thy face; when thy inward wrath breaks out into reproaches and curses, saying to thy brother, Raca, and Thou fool; then surely thou art become guilty of the judgment, of the council, and of everlasting fire. Matt. 5:22. What therefore will it avail thee that thy hand is unpolluted with blood, whilst thy heart accuses thee of hatred and murder? 1 John 3:15. For within, in the heart, the murderer, the adulterer, the thief, and the liar, are harbored. Here it is that thou must look for the beast, the evil lust, and the root of all malice and mischief: which, if it be not destroyed by serious repentance, by true contrition and conversion, by faith and the blood of Christ, it is impossible that thou shouldest do so much as one work acceptable to God; who judges of all thy actions by the inward temper and disposition of the heart.

4. Of this Christ himself gives us an example from the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” saying, “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother.” Matt. 5:21-26. That is, it will not at all avail thee to pray, to sacrifice, to worship God, and to take the Sacrament; yea, all thy actions will be converted into so many sins, because God regards the heart only, and not the outward performance. Hence St. Paul commands us to “lift up holy 175 hands without wrath and doubting.” 1 Tim. 2:8. And St. Peter enjoins married persons to beware of anger, and to dwell together in love and harmony, as heirs together of the grace of life, “that their prayers be not hindered.” 1 Peter 3:7. Nay, the Lord Jesus himself strongly exhorts us to brotherly reconciliation, by the three following arguments. Matt. 5:25, 26.

(a) The first is, “Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him;” that is, whilst thou art on this side of eternity: for our life indeed is nothing else but a perpetual motion towards death and the grave. If in this life thou art not freed from the bonds of wrath, thou shalt remain a captive to them, yea, to the devil himself, throughout all eternity.

(b) The second argument is, “lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge.” It is an awful thing to be summoned to the tribunal of God, and before so tremendous a judgment-seat, to plead our cause against an accusing adversary. Whereas, whatever is pardoned, settled, and forgiven in this life, the same will also be forgiven and eternally pardoned in the next. Whence we may gather how much God regards the love of our neighbor, since he will have it by no means separated from the love of himself; and therefore refuses to admit of our love to him, unless it be linked to that of our neighbor. And why? Because God is Love itself, and loveth man as his own soul.

(c) The third argument is, “lest thou be cast into prison, whence thou canst not come out till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” It is agreeable to the divine justice, so to deal with us there, as we have dealt with our neighbor here; and “with that measure we have meted withal, to measure to us again.” Luke 6:38. Wherefore if thou refusest to forgive any brother his faults, the judgment of God is this: That in like manner no sin shall be remitted to thee. This will prove a burden heavy indeed. For the man that dies in this bitter, irreconcilable temper, must, in hell, continue a debtor to all eternity, and this without any hope or prospect of ever lessening the debts which he has here contracted.

5. Thus the Son of God, has by this example, taught us that we must judge of the worth of our outward works, nay, of all our religion, by the inward disposition or principle that sways the heart. But perhaps thou still continuest to flatter thyself, and to say, “I am baptized into Christ; I have the pure word of God; I hear it; I receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; I also believe and confess all the articles of the Christian faith: wherefore it cannot be, but that my life and actions must be pleasing to God; I am a Christian in truth, and in the right way to be saved.” This, alas! is the general, but false reasoning of many in these days, who regard their outward performances as constituting true righteousness. It might do well enough, if the heart did but agree with their profession: for without this, all is mere trifling, and a dead, hypocritical show. Look therefore into this, and learn to judge of thyself by the inward frame of thy soul. Thou boastest indeed, that thou art a Christian; and an excellent name it is; but dost thou consider, whether thy heart and thy actions agree with a name so sacred? Hast thou received the unction from above, and art thou possessed of the fruits of the Spirit, that demonstrate a Christian? 1 John 2:27. 176 If these be wanting, thou wilt prove in the end but a false and spurious Christian. Thou assertest, further, that thou art baptized; and so indeed thou art! But search the state of thy heart, and inquire whether thou livest in the new birth, in daily repentance, and an unwearied mortification of the old man. See whether thou bringest forth fruit answerable to the baptismal covenant, in which thou art engaged? Thou sayest that thou hast the oracles of God committed to thee, and that thou hearest and readest them: but inspect thy heart, and consider whether the Word be converted into thy life and spirit, as bodily food passes into thy flesh and blood? Whether thou hast lived up to its direction, and expressed the effect of it in thy conduct? If thou contentest thyself with the bare hearing thereof, thou must know that this will never yield eternal salvation, and that thou deceivest thyself in a matter of infinite importance. For this reason has the Lord compared the kingdom of Heaven to leaven, which gradually spreads itself through the whole lump, and converts every part into its own nature; thereby to set forth that powerful influence which the Word ought to have upon our will and affections. Truly, “not every one that saith, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of the Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 7:21. Thou thinkest that thou dost a service when with zeal thou defendest the purity of the doctrine: and truly therein thou doest well. Nevertheless, I would have thee inquire, whether by the purity of the doctrine, and thy defence of it, thou hast also attained a true purity of the heart. Do we not find many rigid defenders of the pure doctrine, who in their lives are the most unclean of men, full of pride, bitterness, and covetousness? Alas, the name of God itself, is made a common shelter for all manner of vices, which screen themselves under the same, with impunity. Thou affirmest that thou often receivest the Lord's Supper. This is right; but search thine own heart. Thou hast often received the flesh and blood of Christ in this Sacrament: why then do the flesh and blood of Adam live and reign in thee? Should not the life of Christ shine forth in thy whole conduct? Should not his love, his humility, and meekness, diffuse themselves through all thy manners? Where is the advantage, if thou receivest Christ in the Sacrament, and deniest him in thy life and actions? Thou sayest, that thou believest and confessest all the articles of the Christian faith. It is well! but have recourse to the touchstone of the heart. That is only a true faith, which unites man with God, and God with man; by which God dwells, lives, and operates in man. If these effects be wanting in thee, thy faith is false, and so far from uniting thee with God, it sets thee at a greater distance from him. This, however, is not to be understood of the faith of weak and feeble Christians, which is often so clouded, as to render it hard to perceive its life and motion. For even a weak faith, though it be like smoking flax, has in it the properties of a strong faith, though it cannot exert itself with equal strength and energy. It heartily cleaves to God, and brings forth fruit amidst all those infirmities with which it struggles. But I would have it understood of faith in general, and of the trial and fruits of it, that, if thou believest in Christ, then Christ must certainly live in thee by faith, or 177 thine will prove but an empty, naked profession. If thou believest that Christ suffered death for thy sins, thou must also die with him to the same (Gal. 2:20), and renounce the world, with all its pride and avarice. Rom. 6:2. If this effect do not follow, then truly thou believest not in Christ. If thou believest that Christ was crucified for the sins of the world, thou must with him be crucified to the same. If thou refusest to comply with this, thou canst not be a living member of Christ, nor be united with him by faith. If thou believest that Christ is risen from the dead, it is thy duty to rise spiritually with him, and firmly adhere to him, thy Head and Saviour. In a word, the birth, cross, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, must, after a spiritual manner, be transacted in thee. And this is the blessed effect of faith, and the influence it has on believing souls. Wherever this effect is wanting, there is nothing but a lifeless image of faith, with which men miserably deceive themselves. So if thou believest in the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit in whom thou believest, must of necessity dwell and reign in thy heart, and enlighten and sanctify it. For, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Rom. 8:14.

6. Therefore, dear Christian! let not your religion be confined to bare externals, but see that it proceed from the more inward recesses of a heart endued with a true, living, and active faith, and with an unfeigned, inward, and daily repentance. If you put away from you this inward life, this faith, and this repentance, you strip your religion of all essential goodness, and, instead of a living principle, which ought to be established in the mind, you carry about an empty, insignificant name, which will avail you nothing in that day, wherein God will judge all things according to the inward frame of the heart. But if you are truly affected with a sense of your inward wants and impurities, then flee without delay to the healing fountain of grace! Draw and drink, pray and knock, seek and cry, “Lord, have mercy upon me!” Then your heart shall be cured, your sin covered, and your transgression cancelled.

« Prev Chapter IV. Next »





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |