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quired, consisting only in outward penances, or in a retreat from the world into deserts or convents, or in idle singularities;--but self-denial, with respect to those affections and passions which lead to sin; the suppression of all intemperance, impurity, covetousness, pride, on their first risings in the mind; a mortification of the love of human applause and of the excessive fear of human censure; the studious avoiding of all temptations: nay, caution and jealousy, even in the use of lawful things, lest we should abuse them to sinful purposes. In a word, it must be the main object of every real Christian to watch over, and subdue all those corrupt propensities which
oppose the will and commandments of God. But above all, with such a nature, and amidst so many temptations, how necessary is it, that we should earnestly implore the Giver of all good, to give us a new heart, and to renew a right spirit within us, to put his fear within our hearts, and to write his laws upon them!
ON THE INABILITY OF MAN
John xv. 5.
Without me ye can do nothing.
THAT we can do nothing really excellent without Divine assistance, is a doctrine which is held by different persons for very different purposes. While the real Christian is led by it to implore with earnestness the Divine aid, and to depend upon the grace of God in Christ, the sinner, who is acting against the conviction of his own conscience, has recourse to the same doctrine to justify his continuance in sin. "I feel,” he says, "the power of a corrupt nature; I acknowledge my guilt and my wretchedness; I desire to be in a better state; but I can do nothing of myself. If I attempt to break my fetters, I find it impossible: if I strive to repent, I perceive I cannot; if I endeavour to reform myself, I too soon relapse again into sin. I resolve: but it is only to break my resolutions: and all my efforts serve only to give me a clearer conviction of my own inability. It is my desire that God would give me his grace: but till he is pleased to do this, I find that I can no more reform myself, than the Ethiopian cani change his skin, or the leopard his spots.
The conclusion to which such reasoning leads, is not a determination to use a greater degree of constancy and earnestness in imploring the help of God, but rather an acquiescence in a state of sin, a continuance in it upon principle, a tacit justification of ourselves, and an indirect imputation of our guilt to our Creator, either for his having formed us in a state of such weakness, or for his neglecting to grant us the grace we need.
But it is not only the open sinner who reasons in this manner. There are some who possess better aims and desires, who argue in a more refined way to nearly the same effect; and who, if they do not abandon all exertion, at least submit without resistance to the dominion of sin. Conscious of the helplessness of man, and fearing to invade the province of God, who alone can give salvation, they look upon their endeavours to become partakers of the grace of God with a jealous eye, and are almost afraid to employ the very means of grace which God has provided, and required us to use, jest they should derogate from his grace, or appear to be fitting themselves for it.
To obviate these most dangerous perversions, it may be laid down as a maxim in divinity—That it is necessary not only to hold the doctrines of the Bible, but also to view those doctrines in the same light in which the inspired writers viewed them, and to make only the same inferences from them which they did. For there is scarcely any truth which may not be held in a partial manner, or seen through a distorting medium: so that we then only believe as the Apostles did, when we receive their tenets in the same full and comprehensive manner in which they delivered them, dwell upon them in the same proportion to other truths, and draw the same conclusions from them. Let us, therefore, examine by this rule what the sacred writers have said concerning the inability of man. Let us inquire, whether they use it in order to discourage our attempts and prevent our exertions: or, on the contrary, with the very opposite intention, that of encouraging us to persevere in a Christian course.
To begin with the discourse of our Saviour, of which my text makes a part—"As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me." "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.' Here the inability of man, and the necessity of the Divine agency of Christ, are set forth in very strong terms: but what is the inference which our Saviour himself deduces from it? It is this: "Abide in me, and l" will abide "in you." That is, Let the knowledge of your own weakness shew you the necessity of obtaining strength from me, and therefore receive my words, cleave closely to me by prayer and faith; and I will hear your prayer, and will be with you to strengthen you: or, as it is expressed in the 7th verse, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
In the Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul declares, that it is “God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Here it is asserted, that God not only strengthens us in action, but that it is He who must give even the will to do any thing acceptable to himself. What then, is the Apostle's inference? That we are to sit down and wait with patience, till God more fully inclines our wills and works upon our hearts? No. Therefore, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," lest, by neglecting it, you should slight and grieve that Divine Spirit who carries on the work of grace in the soul.
In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, we meet with this expression, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think any thing as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.” The Apostle is speaking of the success of his ministry amongst the people whom he was then addressing—“Ye," says he, sare manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us,