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written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart.” 'The Apostles had thus written upon these tables of the heart the characters of Christ. But as it would have been arrogating too much to attribute this work to their own agency, St. Paul adds, that, "the power was of God.” Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, by any power of our own persuasion or reasoning, without the help of God, to convert you; but our sufficiency is of God only. The efficacy of the Apostles' preaching was therefore ascribed by them exclusively to the Divine power. But what line of conduct did they pursue in consequence of their conviction of this truth? Did they relax in their endeavours, in the hope that God would act without their agency? No; they acted as if all the interest of Christ depended * upon their exertions: they went about every where preaching the Word. They were “instant in season and out of season;" being defamed, they entreated; being reviled they blessed; being persecuted, they suffered it; they hungered and thirsted, and were buffeted; and they became all things to all men, if by any means they might save some. Their conviction of the power of God did not for an instant, suspend their endeavours or labours.
In these passages, therefore, and I think in every other part of Scripture in which the inability of man is stated, the obvious intention is to animate, and not to discourage our exertions; to teach us our own weakness, that we may be led to implore the aid which is freely offered to all who ask it in the name of Christ. If the necessity of Divine help would preclude our prayers and our exertions, it would also, for the same reason, supersede the necessity of preaching or the interpretation of the word of God; the endeavour to procure our food, and all the necessary labours of life. If the opposite inferences could be justly derived from this doctrine, we should be compelled by similar reasoning, to adopt conclusions evidently absurd.
Let us therefore consider this great truth in an encouraging light. The language of God, when he speaks on this subject, is that of a tender Father, who, seeing his children endeavouring to accomplish a labour too arduous for their infant strength, offers them his assistance, and reminds them of their weakness, only that they may have recourse to that help which pride and self ignorance would induce them to refuse. Let us, then, more exactly consider, first, what is the Scripture doctrine respecting the inability of man; and, secondly, the grounds we have to hope that the strength of Christ will be made perfect in our weakness.
1. Without Christ, then, we can do nothing; that is, nothing effectual to the salvation of our souls.—We may use a prayer, we may attend the ordinances of Divine grace; but without him we can do nothing, proceeding from right motives, and continued with steady perseverance; nothing to the effective mortification of the body of sin; nothing to the cleansing our souls from the guilt of our transgressions. The language of our Saviour does not suppose that we are unable to use any endeavours, that we are unable to do any thing effectual to our salvation, without the help and grace of Christ. Let us enter more minutely into the consideration of the several particulars of which this general view of my subject is composed.
We cannot, then, without Christ, obtain forgiveness of the sins which we have committed. It is the whole tendency of the Gospel to point out Christ as the Sayiour of the world, the great sacrifice for our offences, through the shedding of whose most precious blood alone, we can obtain remission of sins. * Now, in order to be partakers of the benefits of his death, we must “be found in him;" that is, we must be united to him by faith; for none but those who truly believe in him, are interested in his meditation. Without him, therefore, we can do nothing to satisfy the justice of a holy and justly incensed God; nothing to cancel the guilt of our many transgressions of the Divine Law; nothing effectual to render ourselves acceptable in the eyes of the righteous Governor of the world, who is pleased to dispense mercy only to those who, hearing the Gospel of Christ, make application to Hiin, and through Him draw nigh to the Father.
2. Without him we can do nothing effectual to the purification of our corrupt natures.- What, though we sometimes resolve to serve God? How soon are our resolutions broken! How slight a temptation has power to efface them from our remembrance! What, though we sometimes pray? Yet, how imperfect are our prayers, how unworthy in themselves to be offered up to the pure and holy majesty of God! What, though we sometimes endeavour to flee from the wrath to come? Yet this fear of punishment may be consistent with the love of sin, may be wholly a selfish passion, without any mixture of the love of God. What, though we attempt to obey God? Do we not perceive how desultory, how defective, how corrupted our obedience is? Are we not convinced, from our own experience, that we need a better principle, that we want the aid of superior power to enable us to offer up our bodies and souls as a spiritual sacrifice holy and acceptable to God? Are we not persuaded that we are poor and frail creatures, who can do nothing effectually, but as we are quickened and enlivened by the Spirit of God? Should
you still question this important truth, let me appeal to the principles which seem to be natural to man, which appear in his earliest infancy, and are congenial to his very frame; principles which from youth to manhood are continually acquiring additional strength-which the customs of the world tend to rivet upon the mind—which become the general springs of action, the sources of all the business, hurry, spendour, and pleasure of the world. Examine well your hearts, and observe how much they are governed by the desire of praise, or the love of money, or the gratification of pride and vanity, the desire of ease, or fleshly indul
gence. Not to know the power of these passions is not to know yourself. But if you have learnt the influence of a corrupt nature, fortified by inveterate habits and supported by the customs of the world, you will need no other knowledge to convince you, that the assistance of God is necessary, to enable you to engage with activity in his service. And is not this a difficult work? Does it not appear to be alınost impossible? By what principles will you accomplish it? Those which you possess will not be sufficient; and those which would avail, you have yet to obtain. A gradual alteration may, I grant, be made in the outward system of our lives, from experience of past inconveniences or misfortunes: but this is only a different direction given to the same principles. Selfishness has assumed a different shape, which although perhaps less distant from true righteousness, is still very remote from it. The fear of God, and the love of God, can only be implanted in the heart by God himself.
But are you still unconvinced? What say you then, to the levity and fickleness of your heart? Are you not alarmed to perceive how soon, how very soon, you have forgotten the strongest resolutions, and lost the, liveliest emotions of love to God? Do you not find in yourself, a constant proneness to relapse into insensibility and sin, while, on the other hand the return to God is difficult, is forced, is extraordinary-I had almost said, is unnatural? With such dispositions to impede your progress, consider also how much you must attain. To be a real Christian is to resemble Christ. It is to act from pure motives, to walk in holiness of heart and life, to renounce the world with all its pomps and vanities, and the flesh with all its sinful affections. It is to be heavenly minded, to possess holy affections, to be an heir of God through Christ Jesus.
Consider, then, the difficulties you have to encounter. You have enemies whom you see not. Besides the custom of the world, which like a mighty tide bears every thing before it, you will be assaulted by foes whose
attacks you cannot foresee. You have to wrestle “not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” How then shall you be able to prevail against such powers? Where are your resources? Look within, and you discover only a weak and wavering resolution, a corrupt nature, and a treacherous heart. How then will you fight such a battle, and persevere in it to the end?,
In fact, the trial has been sufficiently made. We are not now to learn what the powers of nature could do, and what would be the effect of the arguments which reason could adduce. Philosophy lony opposed her barrier to the passions of men. She pointed out the inconveniences of vice to ourselves and to society. She made eulogiums upon the excellence of reason, and in many respects well explained the folly of transgression. But after all her efforts, twelve illiterate men were able, through the power of Christ, to promote the reformation of the world, in a far higher degree than all the various sects of philosophers, with all their united labours. What instantaneous effects did the preaching of the Apostles produce! With what power was the heart arrested by it! Nature and habits were changed at once: the debauched and sensual became pure and holy, and devoted their whole lives to the service of God. What an index is this; pointing out to us the unseen power of the Spirit of God, imparting his strength to the weak and his holiness to the impure!
II. Without me ye can do nothing. This expression intimates, that with Christ we may be able to do all things necessary to salvation: and, taken in connexion with the discourse of which it is a part, it shews us the power of our gracious Redeemer employed in helping and saving those who come to him by faith.
Jesus Christ is the “Alpha and Omega” of the Christian religion. Herein it is essentially distinguished