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must be owing to some misapprehension of themselves, or ignorance of their own hearts. Though they believe they are sinful creatures, and naturally inclined to forget and forsake God, and disobey his holy commands; yet they do not believe they are altogether sinful, and wholly destitute of all good desires and intentions. Though they know that their hearts are deceitful; yet they do not know that they are desperately wicked, and absolutely unconquerable by their own exertions. They suppose that their desires to serve God are really good, though not so good as they ought to be, because they are too low and languid. This deficiency they often hope and expect that they shall some time or other make up, by more strong and vigorous desires and exertions. Accordingly, when they seriously set about seeking salvation, they become more and more ardent in their seekings and strivings for divine mercy. They do not know that the plague of their own hearts lies in their total selfishness, and entire regard to their own personal safety and happiness. And consequently they do not know, that the higher their desires, hopes, and fears rise, the more they become displeasing in the sight of God, who looks entirely on the heart, and abhors all selfish feelings. If they only knew the nature of their desires, intentions, resolutions, and exertions, they would no longer think that they could yield God a sincere and acceptable service. They would despair of conquering their depravity, by continually increasing it. But all secure and merely awakened sinners, are really ignorant of the nature of their moral depravity, and while they are ignorant of this, they verily think that they can and do serve God in some measure. They consider their good desires and actual attempts to serve God as acceptable in his sight. Thus the Israelites in Joshua's day, verily thought that they had served God, and would continue to serve him as long as they lived. And sinners at the present day, who are ignorant of their own hearts, entertain the same opinion of themselves. Like Paul in his state of ignorance and moral blindness, they flatter themselves, that it is an easy thing to serve God, while their hearts are far from him, and full of perfect selfishness. It now remains to show,
III. Why sinners cannot serve God. Joshua assigned the true reason to the Israelites. 6 And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord; for he is a holy God.” Holiness is the essence of God's moral character. He is pure and
perfect love, which is pure and perfect holiness. All his moral perfections are comprised in love. He loves himself and all created beings according to their real worth and importance.
He is holy in all his ways, and righteous in all his works. He is the righteous Lord, who loves righteousness, and hates all unrighteousness in his unholy and sinful creatures. He is of purer eyes than to behold sin or iniquity in any form whatever. And for this reason he requires all men to be like himself, in all their views and feelings. He said to his people of old, “ Be ye holy; for I am holy.” And this precept the apostle tells us, is still binding upon all mankind. So that without holiness none can see, nor serve, nor enjoy God. This leads me to observe,
1. That sinners cannot serve God, because they cannot love him. God is perfectly holy, but they are perfectly unholy, God is perfectly benevolent, but they are perfectly sinful. God seeks the highest good of the universe supremely, but they seek their own good supremely. Their hearts are diametrically opposite to his heart, their desires to his desires, and their exertions to his exertions. And so long as this contrariety in their hearts exists, it is utterly impossible that they should love God for what he is in himself. They may love him for his favors, but this is only loving themselves. God's first and great command to every sinner is, “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” While sinners are destitute of love to God, it is impossible that they should perform any acceptable service to him. Their carnal minds are enmity against God, and more opposed to him, than to any other being or object in the universe. So far as they discern, they perfectly hate his holiness. And he knows it. Therefore he abhors and condemns all their external services. The sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination in his sight, and he expressly forbids them to bring any more such vain oblations. Though sinners often imagine that they mean to serve God, and not themselves, yet God who knows their hearts perfectly, knows that they really seek their own good, and not his glory, and that they never can serve him, so long as their hearts are in perfect contrariety to his.
2. Sinners cannot serve God, because his laws are perfectly holy, like himself. The apostle says, “ The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” God
gave mands from a holy motive, and he requires nothing but holiness in them. They are in all respects holy. And for this reason,
, unholy creatures cannot obey them. The apostle declares, that “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” No external obedience of totally depraved creatures, to a holy law, can be pleasing in his
sight. Hence says Solomon, " He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” It is morally impossible, that sinners should obey the divine laws, which they perfectly hate, both in their precepts and penalties. Christ obeyed his Father's commands out of love to them. He said, “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea,
0 thy law is within my heart.” And Paul said, “ I delight in the law of God, after the inward man.” So long as sinners do not love God, nor his laws, they cannot serve him. Besides,
3. Sinners cannot serve God, because they do not love his service. There is no part of his service that they love. They do not love to labor for him, nor to pray to him, nor to promote his interest. They love to labor for themselves, and to promote their own interests. They have a different object from that which God has, and which he requires them to have, in all they do. And whatever attempt they make to serve God, their ultimate design in it all, is, not to serve God, but to serve themselves. It is impossible, therefore, while they feel thus, that they should serve God, or do anything but what he abhors.
1. "If sinners think that they can serve the Lord, then it is easy to see why so many live so easy and secure while they neglect to serve him Mankind commonly neglect to pursue what they suppose they can obtain just when they please. It is wholly owing to their confidence in their own power to serve God whenever they think it is necessary, that they neglect it, and live so easy in their neglect. For whenever they imagine that they shall want time, or opportunity, or disposition, to serve God, they are in distress. No one can look upon
him. self as in immediate danger of perdition, without being affected by it. Hence sickness often throws sinners into distress, and they cry out in great agony of mind, lest they should now die in their sins and lose their souls. Hence conviction of the plague of their own hearts fills them with distress, and they tremble with fearful apprehensions of the wrath of God. They do not find it so easy to serve the Lord as they expected ; and they fear that the time of their serving him will soon be past, and they shall be his enemies, and have him for their enemy forever.
2. If sinners are mistaken in thinking that they can serve God, then it is very important that their mistake should be removed, and that they should be made to see and feel that they cannot serve God, and to know that the reason is because he is a holy God, to whom their whole hearts are opposed. If sinners think they can serve God, because they are ignorant of their own hearts, then it is of great importance that the nature of their total depravity should be clearly and fully laid open before them, though they are ever so averse to seeing it. Sinners can struggle a great while with a sense of their sinfulness and exposedness to divine wrath, if they be not thoroughly convinced of their total moral impotency to break the cords of their iniquity, and flee from the wrath to come. It is one of the last things of which sinners are convinced, that all the strug. gles and strivings of the carnal mind are utterly in vain, and that while they are in the flesh, they cannot please God, and appease his wrath. But of this the Spirit of God convinces sinners before he changes their hearts.
3. If the inability of sinners to serve God arises from the contrariety of their hearts to the heart of God, then it is altogether sinful and inexcusable. They ought to love God and serve him, because he is holy and worthy to be loved and served. But this is the reason why they cannot, and the only
Their inability therefore is their sin; and the more unable they are to love God for his holiness, the more inexcusable and sinful they are; because all their inability arises from the utter aversion of their hearts to that which is good.
HOLINESS, INTRINSICALLY AND SUPREMELY EXCEL
LENT AND VALUABLE.
"FOR wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired
are not to be compared to it.”—Prov. viii. 11.
If we may
Every one who has read the book of Proverbs with any attention, must have observed, that Solomon means by wisdom holiness, and by folly sin; by a wise man a saint, and by a fool a sinner. This may be sufficiently illustrated by two or three instances. In the last verse of the third chapter, he says,
The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.” Who can doubt, whether by the wise he means saints, or by fools sinners? In the ninth chapter, and tenth verse, he says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ;" by which he means to assert, that true wisdom is true piety, or real holiness. He says again, (Prov. xxvi. 11,) “ As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.” By the folly of a fool, he here means the sin of a sinner. understand Solomon according to his peculiar and uniform phraseology, we may safely conclude that by wisdom in the text, he means moral goodness, or true holiness. This gives us a right to drop the metaphor, and read the text in this form, Holiness is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it. It is hard to conceive how the intrinsic worth and excellence of holiness could be painted in brighter colors than by comparing it to rubies, the richest and most beautiful objects in nature. Solomon knew the essential difference between natural and moral excellence, and therefore meant to represent holiness, which is, in its own nature, morally excellent, as far superior to rubies, or any natural object, which has no moral quality or intrinsic value. evidently intended to express in the strongest terms this important truth,