« PreviousContinue »
hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.16
As an illustration of this truth, it may be observed, that we are as much at liberty to use, or to neglect the spiritual strength imparted to the soul, as we are free to exercise, or not, the natural strength of the body. In either case God is the giver: the improvement of the gift rests with ourselves; although it be not effected solely by ourselves. In this view of the subject we have abundant grounds of mingled confidence and fear of confidence, that we shall not fail, in our endeavours to obtain a saving knowledge of religious truth, for want of spiritual assistance: of fear, lest we should neglect the gift that is in us, and impute our ignorance and failings to the want of sufficient strength, when in fact they are owing to our inobservance and disregard of a divine principle within us. Work out your salvation, says St. Paul to the Philippians, with fear and trembling; for God worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure;" tremble therefore, and fear, lest your own exertions, your own improvement of the
16 Matt. xiii. 12.
17 Phil. ii. 12, 13. See Bishop Sherlock's Discourse on this text, Vol. II. p. 63.
will and power which he has already given you, should be so inadequate and imperfect, as to occasion him to withdraw his preventing and assisting grace, and to take from you even that which you have.
These explanations will fully open to us the meaning of our Saviour's declaration in the text, He that is of God heareth God's words. He who has received from God that preventing grace, which he bestows upon all whom he desires to be saved; who knows and remembers that he has received it, and the purposes for which it was given; who feels the beginnings of a religious sentiment and disposition, but feels also the power of sin, and the weakness of his own nature, and the necessity of further supplies of an enlightening and invigorating principle from the source of all light and strength; who seeks, by earnest prayer and groanings that cannot be uttered, for a nearer and more undoubted familiarity with the Spirit of sanctification; and has recourse to the word of that Spirit for information respecting the things which concern his peace--such an one heareth God's words; hears them with his heart; receives and embraces them with implicit belief, and follows them with a spirit of cheerful and devoted obedience.
As a hearty desire to make the best improvement we can of the knowledge and strength which God has given us, will secure to us a larger and more effectual measure of the influences of his Holy Spirit, enabling us more clearly and satisfactorily to discern spiritual things, and opening the eyes of our understanding to the glories and comforts of the Gospel; so a careless, unimproving state of mind, and still more a habit of sensual indulgence, disincline a man from inquiring after the great truths of religion, and disqualify him from judging rightly of its evidences. He who has thus laid himself under a moral inaptitude and incapacity, has forfeited all claim to the interference of that Holy Spirit, who leads the earnest and sincere inquirer gently by the hand into the precincts of divine truth; and acts as an assessor and informer of the reason, a paraclete or advocate of the soul, when it is required to judge of the authority, and to submit to the obligations of the Gospel.
He, therefore, who denies the truth of that Gospel, without having obtained these qualifications of serious intention, humility of spirit, and purity of heart, is no competent judge of the tion. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness
unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.18 Without the aid of the Spirit he is not qualified to understand, or appreciate them; for many of those things are above and beyond his natural reason, and many more are opposed to his natural inclinations: every one that doeth evil, hateth the light; neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds be reproved. The unbelief and opposition of profane, or sensual, or worldly men, is no argument against the truth of the Gospel; but rather, it may be thought, a presumption in its favour; for that, which is too strict and holy to be embraced by a carnal or a careless mind, carries upon it, at least, the stamp of resemblance to the attributes of Him, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.
Watch the unbeliever in his life: see whether his practices be consistent with those principles of action, which even natural religion suggests: observe, whether a regard for the honour of his Maker, and a desire to do his will, characterize every part of his conduct; whether he labour to purify himself even as God is pure, and to do good unto all men, even as God has been gracious and merciful towards
him. If not; if, on the contrary, his habits of speech and action be as opposite to the most abstract and universal principles of religion, as they are to the express commands and peculiar revelations of the Gospel; if selfishness, or sensuality, or vanity, or self-conceit and uncharitableness; if a disregard of social and domestic duties, and a contemptuous, or indecent mode of treating all religious questions, be almost universally characteristic of the unbeliever; then may you safely disregard his judgment, and set him aside, as one who has quenched the Spirit within him; and appeal to the opinion of the more serious, modest, and humble of mankind.
But the most important inference, which follows from the words of our Saviour in the text, still remains to be enforced. What are the signs and marks of those who hear the words of God? who so hear them, as to apply them to the ends of their own salvation? The very same signs and marks, which denote them to be children of God; the symptoms which indicate a love of God as their father; an earnest striving to come unto him; the reaching forth of the spirit to meet his Spirit, and to be drawn by it to a nearer, and more convincing, and more practical