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which God himself hath commanded us to set our affection, cannot be supposed to have any bad effect.
And no doubt this will be the case, when we shall be perfectly freed from all remainders of corruption. But we learn, from what follows, that in our present state of weakness and depravity, even a view of beaven might prove a snare to our souls. Holy Paul, as we read (verse 7.) was in danger of being “exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations; for which cause “ there was given to him a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him.” What this particular exercise was is not material for us to know. The words plainly import, that it was both violent and painful; and the effects it produced as evidently show, that it was appointed in mercy, and wisely calculated for his spiritual advantage. This eminent saint, who but a little before was caught up into paradise, now humbles himself as low as the dust. He falls down upon his knees, and earnestly implores deliverance from this trial. Once and again he repeats his supplication, but gets no answer. This could not fail to heighten bis.dis. tress. A messenger of Satan is sent to buffet him; and God, by his silence, seems deaf to his intreaties. But still this is made to work for his good: He becomes more and more sensible of his own weakness; he draws nearer to a throne of grace, and renews his suit with increasing fervour and importunity. “ For this thing,” says he, (verse 8.) “I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” At length the answer comes in the words of my text: And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee.
You will observe, that, after all his intreaties, the Lord did not grant him the precise thing he had asked; but he gave bim what was better, and more suited to his
condition. Paul needed an antidote against spiritual pride; and as the thorn in the flesh was necessary for that end, it would have been no act of kindness to have taken it away: and therefore our Lord, who knew his servant better than he knew himself, prolongs the trial, but at the same time assures him of grace to support him under it. This messenger of Satan must not be sent away, lest thou shouldst forget thy dependance upon me; but I will stand by thee, and strengthen thee to bear his assaults and buffettings; that, feeling thine own weak. ness, and the power of my grace, thy soul may be kept at an equal distance from presumption on the one hand, and from distrust on the other; both which extremes are utterly inconsistent with the duties of my service, and the happiness of my people.
According to this view of the words, I propose, in dependance upon divine aid,
1. To guard you against pride and self-confidence, by giving you a true representation of that weak and impotent state into which we are fallen by our apostacy from God; and,
II. For your encouragement, I shall lead your thoughts to that all-sufficient grace which is treasured up in Christ, whereby the weakest of his people are enabled to endure the buffettings of Satan, and shall finally prevail against all their spiritual enemies.
I. That I may guard you against pride and selfconfidence, I shall lay before you a plain and scriptural account of that weak and impotent state into which we are fallen by our apostacy from God.
It were easy to quote a variety of passages which ex. pressly assert the corruption of human nature, and man's utter inability to do any thing that can be effectual for his own recovery: but I need only appeal to every man
who reads the sacred oracles with seriousness and im. partiality, whether this doth not appear to be a Scriptural doctrine from the very face of the revelation, and the uniform strain of the word of God.
Doth not the method of salvation by Jesus Christ necessarily suppose the whole human race to be in a state of guilt, pollution, and weakpess? Do not the promises of taking away the heart of stone, and giving a heart of flesh, plainly imply, that these works are peculiar to God, and that man is unable to do such great things for himself? Would God command us to pray to him for these inestimable blessings, if we were able to procure them by our own wisdom and strength ? pay, would it not be a mocking of God to apply to him for that which we are already possessed of, or may acquire when we choose, without bis interposition or aid ? Besides, are we not told, that every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights ?” Is not our sanctification every where attributed to the Spirit of God? and are not the saints denominated “ God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that they should walk in them?” Are not love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” expressly said to be “the fruits of the Spirit?" nay, are we not told, that it is God who worketh in us “to will and to do of his good pleasure?" Surely, my brethren, if we judge of the Scriptures by the same rules that we judge of any other books; nay, unless we suppose that they were artfully contrived to mislead us; we must be sensible, that the absolute necessity of supernatural grace, is not only clearly asserted in Scripture, but that this doctrine is so intimately connected with all the other parts of divine revelation, that the whole must stand or fall with it.
This is further confirmed by the concurring testimony of all the saints of whose experiences, in the spiritual life, we have any accounts recorded in Scripture. They all join in the most bumiliating acknowledgments of their guilt, pollution, and weakness; disclaiming the praise of any good thing that was in them, and ascribing the undivided glory of all that they possessed, or hoped to enjoy, to the free unmerited grace of God. How pathetically did David bewail the corruption of his nature, (Psal. li. 5.) “ Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And what a deep sense did he express of his inability to cleanse or purify himself, when he addressed God in such terms as these, (verse 10.) “ Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." But lest any should be so injurious as to suspect that David might have spoken after this manner, to apologize for his criminal conduct in the matter of Uriah, which gave occasion to that psalm; let us hear what the apostle Paul saith of bimself, whose character is not liable to any such objection, (Rom. vii. 18. et seq.) “ I knew, that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me; but bow to perform that which is good, I find not.-I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God, after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my mem: bers." U pon which he cries out, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!” Here then is one who was not behind the very chief apos- . tles; who, before his conversion, lived a Pharisee, and af. terwards could say at the bar of the Jewish Sanhedrim,
I have lived in all good conscience before God unto this day;" who, conscious of the grace he had received, expressed bimself thus in the presence of Agrippa, “ I would to God, that not only thou, but all that hear me this day, were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.” Yet this chosen vessel ingenuously confesseth his natural depravity, mourns over the remainders of a body of sin, and ascribes those eminent gifts and graces with which his soul was so remarkably enriched, to God, and to him alone, saying, (1 Cor. xv. 10.) “ By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me, was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all : yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Now what should have induced Paul to speak after this manner if it had not been true? Surely this was not the way to make a figure in the world. Had that been his aim, it would have answered his purpose far better to have represented his high attainments as the fruit of his own la. bour and diligence, rather than a mere alms to wbich he had no previous title. Surely nothing but a regard to truth could have drawn from him such humble, repeated acknowledgments; and therefore his testimony is altogether beyond exception. And when I add, that he wrote under the immediate direction and influence of the Spirit of God, we are furnished with the most con. vincing evidence of the absolute necessity of divine grace, for beginning and carrying forward a work of sanctification in the soul of an apostate creature.
They whose religion lies wholly in speculation, who have acquired a refined system of opinions, but never tried in good earnest to reduce them to practice, may dispute against this doctrine, and flatter themselves into a vain conceit of the vigour and sufficiency of the natural powers they possess. But all who are exercised to