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our selfish hearts, that it seems an impracticable task to attempt to extinguish animosity towards our foes, yet by the Holy Ghost there is given to every true believer in Christ, " a spirit of love, and of power, and of a sound mind;" so that, through Christ strengthening him, he can do all things.*
VII. By continuing in the faith of Christ, and growing in his grace, you will at length obtain true Humility, preferring every one before yourself. This indeed is the crowning attainment of a real Christian. An attainment not barely surpassing what the world thinks requisite to form a complete character, but even appearing to the proud, big with absurdity and contradiction. I shall shew therefore in what sense, and on what account, you will prefer every one before yourself, if you are advanced in Christian holiness. You will do this, not because you regard yourself as living in the commission of sin as much as others; for irresistible evidence shews you the contrary. Neither does this preference which you give to every one before yourself, imply any denial of the real change wrought in your soul by the grace of God: much less does it suppose that you might as well have continued, like the world at large, 'in servitude to sin. Where it is so understood, I should allow the objections made against this part of the Christian temper, by men of superficial virtue and predominant self-conceit. Then indeed it might justly be said, “Is it possible to be so blind as not to perceive the vast difference there is in the characters of men? And if I am allowed to see it in regard of others, how can it be wrong to acknowledge as much with regard to myself? What violence should I offer to my reason, to attempt to persuade myself that I am not
* What gratitude is due to God for his word which teaches, and for his grace which enables all who receive it to copy his example in that most arduous work of overcoming evil with good! The highest degree of forgiveness at which Plato, the wise and renowned, thought it possible to arrive, was to efface the very idea of his enemy out of Lis mind: thus taking, by such annihilating scorn, a secret but a proud revenge. How nobly superior the Christian! he shows the most generous compassion to his bitterest foes: their injuries he forgets, whilst he remembers their persons with good-will, and is glad to shew them he does so, when occasion offers.
better than the children of disobedience;-1, who pay regard to God and to all his commandments ?”
But let the case be properly stated, and then I trust there will appear very sufficient grounds for this humble valuation of yourself beneath all others.
It is certain then, if you are much advanced in the knowledge and practice of the religion of Jesus (which is the case supposed) that you are sensible of much corruption in your heart; for to imagine otherwise, is the effect of pride reigning and blinding the eyes of the mind. It is certain also, that you are conscious of many instances of unfaithfulness to the grace you have received; that you have many known omissions, and many negligences in the service of God, to bewail before him; and much defectiveness in those holy tempers which ought to have been improved to a much higher degree than you find they are in your own soul. At the same time you clearly perceive what excellent advantages and mercies you have enjoyed, demanding suitable returns of faith, love, and obedience. You remember the alarming calls, the affectionate warnings, which have made strong impressions on your heart; the answers which have been given to your prayers; the troubles, the dangers, the enemies from which you have been delivered; together with the peace, the comfort, and joy you have so often experienced in communion with your God. In a word, you are fully convinced that much, very much indeed, has been done for you, sufficient to have made you a shining pattern of holiness. In this view therefore every thing betraying insensibility to God; every secret sinful disorder of your affections,—which, with many who account themselves religious, passes for nothing, — will necessarily wear quite a different aspect in your eye; it will afflict and abase you.
Things being thus circumstanced with the humbled and advanced Christian; I would now ask, Where is the palpable absurdity, where the fancied impossibility, that each person of this character should judge himself, all things considered, inferior to other men? or that he should be. lieve there is no other person who, had he been blessed with equal helps and advantages, would not have so adorned his Christian profession as to surpass his attainments ?
The whole difficulty of conceiving that this temper can actually subsist in the heart, arises from the self-conceit so general and abounding, which is puffed up with the least shadow of supposed pre-eminence above others. This hateful disposition it is, which makes men so apt to prefer themselves to others on account of their own goodness, without considering how much more favoured they have been, and without comparing the progress they have made with the means put into their hands.
The advanced Christian is of a more humble and reasonable mind: he blushes at his manifold and great defects; he is ashamed for his faults, in the remembrance of the rich grace of God bestowed upon him, and the consideration of the excellency of his Majesty. He is too candid to think that others have been guilty in the same degree; the transition then is easy to prefer every one before himself.
Besides this inward testimony, which will lead you, if you are much advanced in the religion of Jesus, to this humble estimation of yourself, the command is positive; “ In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves,” Philip. ii. 3. A command expressly enjoined, as the only effectual prevention of “ vain glory.' And that this admonition is not to be interpreted as relating to those only who walk worthy of their Christian profession, appears evidently from a parable, which our Saviour spoke on purpose to expose the sin of self-preference. He sets before our eyes. a Pharisee and a Publican. The former is a man honest, strictly conscientious, and very devout. These his virtues he acknowledges to be the free gifts of God; and he only prefers himself on their account to the wicked and abandoned. One of them he mentions in his prayer, without any personal aversion, merely because he saw him in the temple,* and thanks his
Observe there could be nothing wrong in the Pharisee's making mention of the Publican's name, but as there was injustice in his preferring himself to him; since nothing is more plain, than that he may be allowed to say the thing in his prayers, which he was allowed to say and to think at all other times. But this he was allowed to do, if he might esteem himself above the Publican.
God that he was not so wicked and base as this Publican. You know the judgment of God in this case. The Pharisee was left in his sins, highly offensive in the eyes of his Maker, because he exalted himself above the Publican, “ Because,” says our Lord, “ he trusted in himself that he was righteous, and despised others," that is, in comparison of himself.
A fuller proof you cannot desire of the necessity of entertaining the lowest esteem of yourself. This example therefore will lead you, O Christian, to understand, that all who prefer themselves to others, adopt in fact the sentiments of the Pharisee, tread in his steps, and must have done just as he did, had the same thing occurred to them. It will teach you, that as there were none in common repute more wicked than the Publicans : so there are none so wicked, as to justify your placing yourself above them. Hence you will learn to be constantly on your guard against self-complacency as a dangerous though subtle enemy to your soul. You will repel its vile insinuations, to which you will find yourself exposed, whenever you hear of the faults or see the wickedness of others. You will be jealous lest pride should grow out of the consciousness of what God has done for you; and be afraid of nothing more than the vanity of your own mind: remembering that Truth itself has thrice proclaimed, “ He that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
From this true representation of the tempers of a Christian towards his fellow-creatures, it is evident that he must prove an inestimable blessing to all in connection with him. For what a delightful union is found in his heart, of useful and excellent qualities! Who would not rejoice to have that man for his superior or relation, his neighbour or acquaintance, in whom sincerity and justice, mercy and meekness, candour and universal benevolence, shine with continued lustre? Who must not admire a man habitually exercising all these virtues, yet taking himself the lowest place; not soothing the vanity of his mind by the applause he receives, or by any comparison of himself with others; but doing this one thing, pressing forward, ashamed of his small progress. Such is not the idle picture of what a Christian should be, but the practice of thousands who are living by faith in the Son of God, as their atoning sacrifice and the Lord their righteous
In fact, every one who has a Scripture title to the character of a Christian, will thus walk in this world, and be thus zealous of good works.*
ON THE DUTY OF A CHRISTIAN IN A MARRIED STATE.
In the last chapter we took a view of the real Christian exercising sincerity, justice and mercy, meekness, candour, love, and humility towards all his fellow-creatures. We now come to consider him discharging those peculiar duties which are incumbent upon him in the married state.
The mutual duties of Christian husbands and wives is fidelity and love; the separate duties, support and government, on the husband's part; on the wife's, assistance and obedience.
Fidelity to the marriage-bed is equally enjoined by the matrimonial covenant, on both parties ; because in virtue of this union they become each other's property. So that it is not possible for either to violate the nuptial vow, without a crime punishable in every well-ordered society: without disannulling the covenant of marriage; without justifying a divorce; without incurring the wrath of the righteous God, who hath said, “Whoremongers and adulterers he will judge."
In the eyes of all therefore, who form their sentiments by the Scriptures of God, adultery is abhorred as the blackest villany. And so far must Christian husbands and wives be from injuring each other by defiling the marriage-bed, that they must be free from every thing in their air, dress, or discourse, which would encourage wanton desires. Whatever has this tendency, however polite and fashionable, they must shun as a hateful violation of the spirit of their marriage-contract. In their judgment, it must be no sufficient observation of conjugal
* See Prayer the 10th.