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But what is the real worth and value of this apology for the neglect of so sacred and useful an ordinance? It comes, when you consider it, to neither more nor less than this: that they cannot or will not govern their own thoughts, and turn them more earnestly than usual towards eternal things, in order that they may be the readier to keep Good Friday and Easter as they ought to be kept. For the reason why fasting and abstinence is good at this season, is no merit or goodness in the fasting and abstinence themselves, but because they are useful helps to us in diverting our thoughts from vain cares and pleasures, and fixing them on eternal things. That is what the Church wants; that is the use of Lent, for which we shall be called to account at the last day and if we be too sick or too poor to change our usual diet and mode of living, still we are not the less bound, at this holy season, to do that for the sake of which others are called to mortify their bodies. The poorest man is just as much bounden as the richest, to use Lent for his help, in repenting truly of his former sins. He may turn his thoughts that way more earnestly than he has been used to do; may spend a little more time in his prayers, and strive more incessantly to keep up his attention while he is praying. Surely no one can imagine that such discipline and self-denial as this, carefully persisted in all through the forty days of Lent, would be of no use in making a man a truer penitent, and a worthier communicant at Easter.
He who desires thus to improve himself, cannot begin better, than by deeply meditating on the weighty and overpowering call to repentance contained in the words of the text. "We," (i. e. the ministers of JESUS CHRIST) "as workers together with HIM, beseech you also, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain." The words are awful enough in themselves, and calculated to go deep into every heart which has any sense of God, any natural piety within it. Consider: we stand in the presence of the great and unspeakable GoD, who fills Heaven and earth; and not only do we, in common with all his creatures, stand in His presence, but we are likewise objects of His especial care; His eye is upon us for our good; we have received favour and grace from HIM; we know He means our happiness. Can anything be more startling than the thought, that, after all this, we may fail and be miserable? And yet such we see is the case. Nay,
OF NOT RECEIVING GOD'S GRACE IN VAIN.
not only is the thing possible, but it will surely take place if we are left to ourselves. We have need of exhortation; we want an Apostle to come and beseech us that we receive not the favour of the ALMIGHTY in vain.
All this surely ought to make a serious impression upon us, though we knew nothing of the way in which God's favour had been reached out to us. A Gentile might feel it on recollecting His natural mercies, His ways of Providence and preservation; the rain He gives us from Heaven and the fruitful seasons, His filling our hearts with food and gladness. A Jew might feel it, when reflecting on the peculiar kindness shown to the family of Israel; he might reasonably say to himself, "What if I, who am one of God's favoured people, should lose His favour and miscarry at last by my own fault? will it not be ten times worse with me than it will be with the worst of heathens?"
But if a Jew or a Gentile might talk thus with himself, much more those to whom St. Paul is speaking in the text; much more we Christians. If we would know what infinite reason we have to be very full of anxiety for our own souls, we must look and see what that Grace of GoD is, which we are here said to have received, and for which, if received in vain, we shall one day find ourselves answerable. We must look back a few sentences in the Apostle's letter, and read as follows: HE died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto HIM which died for them and rose again." "GOD was in CHRIST reconciling the world unto Himself." "He hath made HIM to be sin for us, Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of GOD in HIM. We then, as workers together with HIM-we also beseech you that ye receive not the favour of God in vain;" the unutterable favour of God in giving His Son to die for you, in reconciling the world unto Himself, in making HIM to be sin for us, who knew no sin, and in making us, in HIM, the Righteousness of GoD: that is, joining us to HIM by His SPIRIT. This favour, even the Gift of eternal life through JESUS CHRIST, is received by every Christian: but it may be received in vain; in vain, that is, as to the salvation of the particular person receiving it; for doubtless there may be other purposes, unknown to us, which Almighty GoD accomplishes by making His word known to those who refuse to obey
it. But those are secrets of GOD, with which we have nothing to do; what concerns us at present, is to reflect, with all possible attention and seriousness, upon our own awful and dangerous condition. For we have received this grace of GOD. His SON has died for us, and we know it. His SPIRIT has entered into our hearts and made us members of CHRIST. He has poured out for our sake all the treasures of His mercy; daily and hourly HE offers to bestow upon us more and more of His HOLY SPIRIT : and if all this prove at last in vain, what can we think or expect? what can we think of ourselves, or what expect from GOD?
Surely those who have any spark of consideration left, must be roused and animated by such thoughts as these, to examine whether they are not, at this moment, receiving the grace of GoD in vain. For it is certain, that every instance of outward communion in Christian ordinances-every time we read a chapter, or say a prayer, or go to Church, and, most of all, every time we receive the Holy Communion without being really the better for it, is an instance of our receiving the Grace of God in vain. And if we pass our lives in such a course, how can we expect to be the better for that Grace when we come to die?
I do not mean that every time we go to Church we must expect to feel better than we had done before: but I mean, that if, upon fairly examining our own conduct, we do not find, that by degrees we are growing better, the warning of the Apostle comes very near us; and we have great reason to fear for our own present and eternal condition,
When any person is pointed out to us, who never comes near the Church, never opens a good book, never even professes to turn his mind to meditation and prayer, we fancy we know at once what to think of that man. We have no scruple in setting him down for one of those to whom the Grace of God, which was meant for salvation, will bring no salvation at last, unless a complete change take place in all his principles and ways. And, in passing censures of this kind, we are too apt to draw silent comparisons with ourselves, as if, because they are wrong, we are sure to be right.
But, perhaps, though we are regular at Divine Service, we feel no real concern, no serious interest in it. Perhaps we are glad when it is over, and pleased to be at liberty to run wild again
after the bustle and business of an irreligious world. Perhaps we make no steady effort to keep our thoughts and our words together when we are saying our prayers to God. If such be our case, it is high time for us to leave off censuring others, and take the beam out of our own eyes.
I will make one allowance more. I will suppose that we really do pay something like regular and serious attention to the ordinances in which we draw near to God. I will suppose, that for the time we really wish to please HIM, and that it would make us truly unhappy and uncomfortable to suppose ourselves out of His favour. Yet the great proof of our sincerity remains to be given; i. e. the amendment of our lives; and that, especially in the following particulars, in which men, endowed with a certain degree of right feeling in religion, are, I think, most apt to go wrong.
First, In the government of our thoughts and imaginations. Men are apt sometimes to fancy, that if they do right, they may think as they please. But this is surely an inexcusable mistake; for it is supposing God to take no account of their thoughts; of which, as much as of any thing else, we may be sure HE takes the strictest account; for the order and government of our thoughts proves what we really are more distinctly than any thing else. In thinking, we are alone with God, and the ordering of our thoughts aright is neither more nor less than behaving rightly towards HIM.
Consider, then, whether your improvement in this respect has been answerable to the means of grace which Almighty God has mercifully afforded you. Consider whether, when left to yourself, you naturally begin meditating on heavenly things, the presence of GOD, the mercies of CHRIST, the hopes and fears of Eternity; or whether you start aside (like a broken bow, as the Psalmist says,) to the vanities and amusements which happen to lie most in your way. To be sure, what we think of most, that. in our hearts we must love best; and we ought not to be satis.fied with our own devotion of heart, till we find our thoughts returning of their own accord towards Heaven, whenever they have been interrupted by any worldly call or anxiety.
Secondly, To know whether we are quite sincere in receiving the grace of God, we must consider whether we are the better for
it in our daily discourse and conversation with other men. Not that we are to be always talking of religious subjects; but since one of the most necessary truths for a Christian to believe is the corruption of the heart and tongue, it is impossible but one, who has a true and an increasing sense of it, must be more and more on his guard that he offend not in words. He must be more afraid every day of lying and dissimulation, of violent and reproachful language, of filthiness and foolish talking, of inconsiderate slander and calumny. This will perhaps be the very surest sign and mark by which a sincere man may satisfy his own conscience, that he is really the better for the inestimable love of God in making and keeping him a Christian.
I say, he will be particularly on his guard against slander and calumny in words; and for this reason, among others, he will watch and stop the entrance of his heart against slanderous and calumnious thoughts. He will always endeavour to believe and hope the best that he possibly can of his neighbour's conduct; for if he once give way to uncharitable suspicions within, hardly any caution will enable him to keep himself from doing harm to his neighbour's character, when he comes to speak of him. His real opinion will betray itself, unkind hearers will make the worst of it, and thus our brother's fair fame may suffer more than we can ever repay him, for want of a little seasonable charity in our own deceitful hearts. Therefore, as I said before, one of the best signs of our not receiving God's grace in vain will be this: that we have become more mild and charitable in the construction we put on our neighbour's conduct, and always hope the best till we are forced to believe the worst.
Many indeed would reply, that this is out of their power; that they wish indeed to believe the best, but they have been so often disappointed, have met with so much wickedness, that they cannot help growing more suspicious as they grow older. But it is worth their while to ask themselves, whether they have not quite as often found themselves deceived by judging too unfavourably of others as by thinking too well of them? Whether they have not, in very many instances, accounted this or that man wicked and unprincipled, when in fact he was only weak and wavering? If they would examine themselves fairly on this point, no doubt their consciences would teach them, as clearly as their Bibles, that