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we must look unto Him, through the appointed and appropriate mediums of faith—the word, the ordinances, and the throne of grace. Apart from these, neither God nor the Lamb will look upon us in mercy, however we may look or long for mercy and comfort. For all these things, God will be inquired of, in order to do them. This, too, is a settled point.
It does not, however, set aside all other, nor any other rational means of profiting by the means of grace. Indeed, it both admits and demands the use of whatever is most conducive and favourable to reading or hearing the word of God aright, to praying and meditating aright, and to believing aright. And nothing is more conducive to all this, than the spirit of sympathy and benevolence towards the poor and the perishing. He will search the Scriptures with most seriousness and success, who considers the case of a family without a Bible, and tries to furnish them with one. He will hear the Gospeł with most relish and profit, who tries to bring some wanderer under its joyful sound. He will pray in his closet with most freedom and hope, who tries to pray by the bedside of an afflicted or dying neighbour. He will best understand the spirit in which God offers, and sinners should receive the bread and water of life, and the robe of righteousness, who tries what he can do to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. These are not things which get between the eye and the Saviour, or divert attention from the cross : they all tend to make the “ eye" single and clear-sighted, and thus to make "the whole body full of light.”
Those, indeed, who are ignorant or but ill-informed of the way of salvation, may err by this process for a time, but we cannot be misled by it. It cannot make us selfrighteous, now that we are penetrated through all our soul with the persuasion that salvation is not of works, but of grace. Indeed, such efforts can only confirm this persuasion.
Accordingly, we see all the disciples, who are the
most profitable servants to man, the readiest and meekest to say unto God, after they have done all,“ we are unprofitable servants." And their acknowledgment of this is neither affectation nor a form of sound words—they both mean and feel what they say, because they see, with other eyes than the idle, how much is left undone, and what imperfection marks all that is done. It is the inan who does least good, that attaches most importance to his gifts; and for an obvious reason : he measures them by his own love of money, and judges of them at such a distance from all the scenes of want and wo, that he cannot see their utter disproportion to the imperative demand; whereas, that considereth the poor,” and looketh unto the spiritual wants of his neighbourhood, and weigheth the claims of a perishing world, is so ashamed of the disproportion between all he can do and all they require, that he is glad, after having done most, to hide himself in the cloud of the Saviour's meritorious incense.
But it is " a small thing," merely to prove, that doing good does not tend to self-righteousness, nor to self-complacency. It is one of the best ways of getting good from all the means of grace : because it produces a healthy state of mind and spirit. Nothing is more unfavourable (except, indeed, indulged sin) to the right use of the Gospel, than seclusion from the active duties of godliness. There must be both retirement and meditation, if we would become wise unto salvation : but, to do nothing but muse and ponder over abstract questions or variable feelings, is to unman the mind, and enervate the body, until they prey on each other. We were not made for such work. Work it is mental drudgery, which weakens and wears out the best powers of the mind, by drawing away their vitality, to feed morbid fears and moody fancies.
We do not like to be told this, when we are absorbed in “great searchings of heart.” We are even unwilling to believe that any thing but pondering can be of any use in
We think that inward difficulties, cannot be remedied by outward duties. Yea; we are inclined to suspect, that any active step in the public service of God, would rather aggravate than alleviate our sears. Thus we just argue against doing good by personal exertion, as nervous invalids do against taking air and exercise. They, judging from their sensitive feelings, are quite sure that a change of air, or of scene, can do them no good. It would upset them entirely, they say ; and they appeal in proof of this, to the agitation, which the bare idea of going from home throws them into. But in their case, we know well, that this change of air and scene is the very thing they want, and the only thing that can remove mere nervous weakness. We ourselves have found benefit, when low and languid, by escaping for a time from the tear and wear of our ordinary pursuits. We require a little relaxation in the course of the year; and it is not lost time, nor mispent money, to take it. We return to our place, with a new tone of body and spirits.
Well; the varied air and scenery of nature are not more intended and adapted to renew bodily health, than are the varied spheres of benevolence to promote mental health. They cannot, of course, give peace to the conscience, nor hope to the soul, nor can they implant holiness or grace in the heart; but they can put us in the best way and spirit for judging wisely, of the divine sources from which these spiritual blessings are obtained. The direct and natural influence of seeing want or wo; of sympathizing with them; of trying to alleviate them, is, to soften the heart—to make the judgment sound—to induce reflection, and by it to awaken gratitude. On coming home from such a walk or visit of usefulness, we shall have something else and better to think about, than the fluctuations of our own personal misgivings of heart; and shall sit down to our Bible, or kneel down to our closet, with thoughts and feelings which the Gospel is adapted to meet and gratisy, and which God can sympathize with, and the Holy Spirit work by. Whereas, when we abandon ourselves to mere brooding or pondering, until we forget all cares but our own, and all sorrows but our own, we unfit ourselves for the comforts of God.
O, remember it: the Gospel is the provision of mercy, to meet great questions, for eternity ; to relieve real wants, for eternity ; to clear up solemn difficulties, for eternity. It is “a covenant ordered in all things and sure, for actual, not for imaginary, wants or woes.” It proclaims blood that cleanseth from “ all sin ;” and, therefore, the Holy Spirit is both grieved and vexed, when we fix upon some wayward or wicked feeling, and set it up as our exclusion from the atonement. But He is “the Spirit of truth," and will not countenance this trifling: for it is trifling, with both truth and grace, whatever we may intend, when we are afraid, because of certain bad feelings or vain thoughts, to trust in a Saviour whose blood can cleanse from “all manner of sin and blasphemy." I am not palliating bad feelings nor vain thoughts. God forbid! I do not think lightly of either the hardiness or the deadness of heart, we so often sink into. They may well humble us before God, and lay us very low in our own esteem. I will not, however, add to these bad feelings, the worse principle of distrusting the word of God and the blood of the Lamb. I will not set up a certain, but occasional, frame of mind, as being unpardonable, or as excluding from hope, whilst any and every actual sin may be forgiven. It is neither humble nor modest to do so. Indeed, we should hardly ever dream of such doubting, if we kept our minds in a healthy state, by trying to do some good to others. Taking an interest in the welfare of the Sunday School, simple as that sphere of usefulness is, would soon put an end to such sickly imaginings, and set conscience to deal with weightier matters than hair-splitting questions, or strange feelings. Yes ; even a weekly sight of all that grace has to do and bear with children, before they can be taught the first principles of the oracles of God, would cure you of " limiting the Holy One of Israel." Not, of course, by lessening your sense of your own unworthiness, nor by giving you a better opinion of yourself: but by enlarging your views of the fulness and freeness of the great salvation.
In a word; have something good to live for, beyond yourself, if you would live happy, or surmount your sears. You cannot ponder nor pray yourself out of all your difficulties, now that the World cries out for help; and Time, for enterprise ; and Eternity, for action. The times of mere musing, like the ancient times of ignorance, “ God winked at: but now He commands all men every where to repent" of living unto themselves ; and to bring forth fruits meet for that repentance, by living to His glory. And every man and woman may now do something " for Christ's sake.” Pence can do what pounds could not accomplish in the days of our forefathers; and the widow's mite cast into the treasury of God, in her spirit, will become useful from its value, as well as pleasing from its principle.
ON DOUBTS ABOUT PRAY ER.
“What profit should we have, if we pray unto God ?” Whilst this question is usually put in a bad spirit, and for a base purpose, by those who dislike prayer, it is not, in its abstract form, an improper question. It may
be warrantably put by the most prayerful, when the object of it is, to ascertain whether we derive all the “ profit,” or exactly the kind of “profit," from prayer, which God has promised to “them that diligently seek Him.”
Now, there are two things we can readily say, in answer to the general question. First, That the act and habit of