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Chapter V.

Showing That The Evidence Of True Christianity Does Not Consist In The Knowledge And The Hearing Of God's Word, But That He Is A Christian, In Whose Life God's Word Is Manifested, And Who Beseeches God In Sincerity That This Word, As A Divine Seed, May Be Quickened In Him, And Bear Fruit.

The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.Rom. 1:16.

The way by which we are to arrive at true and substantial wisdom, and become friends of God, is to submit ourselves to the discipline of repentance, and to lead a life conformable to the Word of God. Such a life as this cannot fail to be attended with true illumination of the mind, 178 and an increase of all divine graces; nay, with so close an alliance with God himself, as to make us “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” 2 Peter 1:4. An example of this we have in Enoch, who having “walked with God, was not, for God took him” to himself. Gen. 5:24. To such a holy life as this David aspired with the utmost fervor of spirit, proposing two means by which to obtain it: the first, fervent prayer; and the second, a diligent practice of the word of God. “I cried,” says he, “with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord: I will keep thy statutes. I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies.” Ps. 119:145, 146.

2. These words set forth the difficulties which he encounters who seeks to be a true Christian, and to keep the word of God in holiness of life. For flesh and blood naturally strive against the word of God, and that holiness of life which it requires: and are, besides, inconstant and weak, and prone to yield to the enticements of the world. The devil on all occasions hinders our progress, and opposes our endeavors on every side. This is followed by a multitude of evil examples, and the persecutions which wicked men raise in opposition to those souls that enter upon another course of life. Against obstinate evils, such as these, all the strength of the soul is to be opposed. This we learn from the example of David, who cried unto the Lord with his whole heart, in order that he might better digest the Word, and by leading such a life as that Word requires, continue in the favor of God. This ought also to be our main concern; the favor of God being infinitely preferable to all that the world affords. Whoever pleases God, and is His friend, most effectually secures himself thereby from the malice of all his enemies. Hence serious and fervent prayer is, as I said before, the first step to a holy life. The second means to obtain a holy life, is expressed in the following words of the same Psalm: “I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word. Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.” Ps. 119:147, 148. Here the Psalmist declares the earnest study, love, and affection, which are due to the word of God; as also the time best suited for meditating in it, namely, the morning. The faculties of the mind are then more strong and vigorous than at other times; and are best disposed for searching into divine subjects. The truth of this is at that season most feelingly perceived, when the soul, afflicted by sadness and deep spiritual temptations, “watches for the morning” (Ps. 130:6), and with “waking eyes” (Ps. 77:4), expects help from the Lord. She is then “as a sparrow alone upon the house top,” as a lonely owl in the desert (Ps. 102:6, 7); and “so weary with groaning” (Ps. 6:6), as to be almost ready to expire.

3. This is that exercise of the cross, or school of affliction, in which all saints are most effectually trained for a happy eternity. Whoever is not inured to this sort of trials, can know but little of God and of his word. In this exercise, all the natural powers of soul and life consume away, that God alone may become our strength and support. By such inward trials as these, the carnal life is likewise more and more weakened, and the quickening power of God and of his word, perceived with the greater effect and experience. And truly, all 179 our efforts ought to centre in this, that the external hearing and reading of the divine word be practically applied to the mind, and improved into Christian experience.

4. This doctrine, therefore, I would have firmly rooted in thy mind, namely, that not the reading or hearing, but the doing and practising of the word, demonstrates the true Christian. James 1:22. Without this practical improvement, hearing and reading will be of no great advantage. For the word was not committed to us, that it might be read and known only, but that it might be reduced to practice. As a medicine gives no relief to the patient who hears of, or looks upon it, but at the same time refuses to take it; so the word, though a remedy for our diseased nature, can yet cure no man, or restore him from death to life, whilst he refuses to take what the word prescribes. Therefore, in order to this, fervent and constant prayer (according to the example set us by David), will be requisite in order to enable us to conform our life and actions to the divine word. What advantage is it to an artist that he knows an art, if he never practises it? Will not his supine and careless neglect reduce him at length to poverty? And what will it avail us to know the word of God, and not do it? “That servant,” says our Saviour, “which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” Luke 12:47. And St. Peter affirms, that “it had been better for such not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” 2 Peter 2:21. As a father does not own him for a son, who in everything acts in a manner contrary to his will, so not words, but the life and actions, are marks and indications of a child of God, according to that saying of our Saviour: “If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me,—this did not Abraham.—Ye are of your father the devil.” John 8:39, 40, 44. Why should a barren and fruitless tree take up any room in the garden, when it only incumbers the ground on which it grows? It is surely fit for nothing, but to be cast into the fire, as is represented in the parable of the barren fig-tree. Luke 13:6, 7. As it would be foolish to give to a raven the name of a swan, to which it has no resemblance; so if the men of this world should be called by the name of true Christians, whilst so little of a Christian temper appears in their life and manners, I think it would be justly counted egregious folly. It is not by words, but by deeds and actions, that we are to judge of a Christian's state, according to that saying of St. Paul: “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” 1 Cor. 4:20. Such is the condition of most men at this day, that those who make the strongest pretences to the Christian name, do nothing but that which is contrary to the Christian spirit. They are like the people at Rome, concerning whom Laurentius Valla exclaimed when reading these words of our Lord, “Blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers,” etc. (Matt. 5:7-9), “Surely either these words are not true, or we are no Christians.” Man is corrupted to such a degree, that even not a few brute creatures visibly surpass him in some good quality. The dove excels him in harmlessness (Matt. 10:16); the ant in industry (Prov. 6:6); the stork in 180 a careful provision for her young; the dog in love and fidelity; the ox and the ass in knowledge of their master (Isa. 1:3); the sheep in meekness (Isa. 53:7); the lion in generosity and clemency towards weak animals; the cock in watchfulness; and the serpent in wisdom. On the contrary, man in his natural state exceeds all the beasts in mischief. He is more fierce than a wolf; more crafty than a fox; more vain than a peacock; more voracious than a swine; more pestilent than a viper; fiercer than a bear. Indeed, the Lord Jesus himself terms Herod a fox (Luke 13:32); John the Baptist applies the name of vipers to the Pharisees (Matt. 3:7); and St. Paul that of lion to Nero. 2 Tim. 4:17. Truly, those vices and mischiefs, which go single and unaccompanied in brutes, are oftentimes crowded together in one natural man. So that the human body is very significantly called by the apostle, “the body of sin” (Rom. 6:6), as being full of sins, and infected with all manner of defilements. Not to mention, that there is no creature so bad and pernicious, but that it may be still of some use to men. The foxes and wolves, for instance, with their skins, secure men from the injuries of a rigorous season. But, alas! what good is there to be found in a man abandoned to the conduct of an unregenerate nature? “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5; 8:21); as is more than once expressed in Scripture. He exercises his reason to practise fraud; he wastes his body with pride and lewdness; and is both inwardly and outwardly corrupted, so that all his members are justly called the “instruments” or weapons “of unrighteousness.” Rom. 6:13. Hence it is, that the Sacred Scriptures represent our nature in colors so dark and odious, as may strike terror into every man that reads them. “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace have they not known; there is no fear of God before their eyes.” Rom. 3:10-18; Ps. 14.

5. Behold here the deplorable image of the natural man! Behold the abomination that is common to us all! And now tell me how a man can see the kingdom of God, unless he be born again from above, or, as St. Paul expresses it, “unless he be renewed in the spirit of his mind: putting on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness?” Eph. 4:23; Col. 3:10. And the same apostle says, “But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.” Eph. 4:20, 21. Yea, he says, “They that are Christ's, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Gal. 5:24. Alas! if those belong not to Christ, who do not mortify the members of unrighteousness, but live in the pollutions of sin, then they surely must belong to the devil, and cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven, since they do not crucify the flesh. For whosoever desires to please God, must become “a new creature” in Christ 181 (2 Cor. 5:17); “in whom neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” Gal. 6:15. Now, since these are the terms on which our eternal welfare depends, let it be our main concern, that we more and more vanquish sin in our mortal bodies, and that we be members, not of Satan, but of Jesus Christ. Let us earnestly endeavor, that the divine Word may gain ground, and bear fruit in our souls. Let us strive to render our lives acceptable to God, so that, being preserved by his grace to the end, we may continue “vessels of mercy, and not of wrath.” Rom. 9:22, 23.

6. It is for this reason that David so heartily wishes to lead a holy life, conformably to the word of God: “I cried,” says he, “with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord; I will keep thy statutes” (Ps. 119:145): for since our conversion is entirely from above, it follows, that a holy life must be obtained by continual prayer and supplication. “Heal me, O Lord,” says the prophet, “and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.” Jer. 17:14; 31:18. And David says again, “I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies.” Ps. 119:146. Sin and the kingdom of Satan are, indeed, so strong and powerful in man, that it is in vain to attempt their conquest without the divine aid and assistance.

7. Let us therefore shake off all sloth and negligence, and let us acquit ourselves diligently, in a matter of so great importance. David himself further adds, “I prevented (that is, I came before) the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word. Mine eyes prevent (or, anticipate) the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.” Ps. 119:147, 148. And very appropriate are the words of the prophet on this account: “He wakeneth me morning by morning: he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.” Isa. 50:4. With which those of Solomon agree: “I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh.” Song 5:2.

8. In these and the like sentences of Scripture, we may view the fatherly care, and condescending love of our merciful God; since his delight is to be conversant with the sons of men, to speak with them and to instruct them. Hence he appointed his Son to be our heavenly Teacher and Master; of which the Lord Jesus himself gave a visible image when he was found in the temple in the midst of the doctors, and astonished the hearers with “his understanding and answers.” Luke 2:47. This was done by our Saviour, not merely on account of the Jewish temple, which is now destroyed; but rather on account of the Christian Church itself, which is the true and heavenly Jerusalem, taught and instructed by his Word and Spirit. It was also done with reference to the temple of our heart, in which he will teach, comfort, enlighten, and sanctify us. Here he will pray, ask questions, and answer them; and speak in holy thoughts, and devout meditations. And in this the prophetical office of Christ consists. Hence also he replied to his mother in these words: “How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my father's business?” (Luke 2:49), meaning that office which was conferred upon him by his Father. This office he now performs at the right hand of God, as our true and only High priest; and upon earth he discharges it by his word; by means of which he also inwardly preaches in our hearts by his 182 Holy Spirit and gracious illumination. Without this, the outward preaching must prove barren and unfruitful, according to the words of the apostle: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” 1 Cor. 3:6, 7.

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