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ever was conferred upon mankind; that it is worthy of all acceptation, and intended by its great Author to be offered to the acceptance of all; that what it has proved to themselves, when God opened their hearts to receive it, it will also prove to others who are at present, as they formerly were, in the region and shadow of death ; and that, therefore, it is their bounden duty to do what they can to enlighten the path of the ignorant, and of them that are out of the way, and to turn men from darkness to light, and from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God's dear Son. But what if we should call all this enthusiasm, and shut up our bowels of compassion against those that are perishing for the bread of life, and that are calling to us, as the man of Macedonia did to Paul in vision, Come over and help us ? What if we should hold up to ridicule and contempt every effort that is made to save the souls of our fellow-creatures that are perishing for lack of knowledge ? What if we should hold up all this to the ridicule of an ungodly world, too willing to scoff at every indication of Christian zeal ? And what if we should strengthen their hands, who endeavour to paralyse every effort that is made for the diffusion of the gospel and its attendant blessings, and doom, as far as in us lies, our fellow-creatures to that idolatry and superstition, that sin and misery, from which the gospel was revealed to rescue them ? Very different from this was the conduct of the Philippians, whose liberality for the furtherance of the gospel Paul
speaks of as an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.
Nor was this the only proof which the Philippians gave of their love to Christ. Their behaviour in other respects adorned his doctrine; and as Paul knew how great joy it would afford them to hear of the triumphs of the cross of Christ, he visited them often as he passed to and from Greece; and he now informs them by letter, that he had preached with great success at Rome, and that his imprisonment, instead of obstructing, had been overruled for the furtherance of the gospel, by making it known even in the palace itself. With respect to his converts at Philippi he thus expresses himself, in the words of the text: Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
I intend from these words to discourse to you on the doctrine of perseverance, which I conceive to be a very suitable and a very animating subject, after you have this day entered into, or renewed, your engagements to live no longer unto yourselves, but unto Him who gave himself for you an offering and a sacrifice to God. If you have been sincere in your engagements, it will prove no inconsiderable incentive to diligent and patient continuance in well-doing, to be assured that your labour will not be in vain in the Lord, but that you may be confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
In order to prosecute this important subject with advantage, it will be proper,
1. To give a short exposition of the text; by which means you will be able to form a correct idea of the character of those who are truly religious, or in whom, as the apostle expresses it, a good work is begun.
II. To point out certain distinctions which are carefully to be attended to, in order to discriminate the Christian character from counterfeits, which are too often mistaken for it.--And,
III. To shew, both from the nature of the thing and from the general tenour of scripture, that the man who is once possessed of this character may confidently say with the apostle, He who hath begun the good work will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
I. We are to give a short exposition of the text.
The materials which constitute the character of a real Christian are,
1. A work of God in the soul, produced by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
Hence the gospel is called the ministration of the Spirit. Others, indeed, are labourers together with God in raising this spiritual building from the ruins of fallen human nature; nay, those who grow up unto an holy temple in the Lord, and become an habitation of God through the Spirit, are themselves commanded to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling; but still it is God that worketh in them, both to will and to do of his good pleasure. It is he who puts his fear within them, opens the eyes of their understanding, renews a right spirit within them, and creates them in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that they should walk in them. In short, the gift of the Holy Spirit, to begin and carry on a work of real and vital religion in the hearts of men, is the first and most essential characteristic of the gospel covenant. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house, of Judah ; and I will put my law in their inward parts; and I will be their God, and they shall be
my people. As this is a work which none but God can perform, so none will, I think, deny that it is a work worthy of the majesty of God. If there be any work fit to employ the exertion of his infinite power, it is that which baffles all energy short of omnipotence; it is that which changes the guilty and the vile into the glorious image of his own immaculate purity. Hence the restoration of our nature from the ruins of the fall, and the building of it up as an habitation of God through the Spirit, is denominated,
2. A good work : a work which is productive of the greatest conceivable good.
Were it possible to arrive at heaven by any other path than that of holy obedience, we might disregard the promise of the Spirit: but let it once be perceived, that unless our righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Phari sees, (that is, unless it rise to a higher point of elevation than
man, unaided by the grace of God, and uninflu-
is still adequate to our wants; so that every real believer may confidently say, with the