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Matthew, xxii. 12. Friend, how earnest thou in hither not having a weddinggarment ? In the description of the last judgment, given in the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, there occurs a passage, whose lesson is nearly the same with that of the text. The wicked are represented as saying to Christ, "Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?" For the lesson of both these passages seems to be, that men stand greatly in need of self-knowledge ; that, from one cause or another, they think themselves better than they are : not feeling, on the one hand, their want of the wedding-garment of true righteousness : nor being aware, on the other, of the presence of much actual evil which is really
SERMO XXXI. 353 tainting their souls. Thus they deceive themselves while they are in God's church here : and would fain, if we may so far assume the literal truth of our Lord's description, enter into God's church in heaven with the same presumption. But then the glass of their true state is held up to them, and they feel, for the first time, that they are evil, and not good. " Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." " Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness ; for many are called, but
few are chosen." The lesson, then, contained in these passages of Scripture, may be expressed in the words of St. Paul : " If we would judge ourselves, we shall not be judged of the Lord." " If we would inquire, and see whether or no we have on us the weddinggarment of righteousness ; whether we are every day neglecting and despising Christ, or no ; then we should here by ourselves surely anticipate God's judgment of us ; and if our heart condemned us not, then might we justly have confidence towards God." And this self-examination, as it is most necessary to be practised, so also it ought to be practised wisely ; to be directed, that is, to the right points ; for if it be not, it may produce great disquiet, but no peaceable fruit of righteousness ; it may be a great means of harassing and distracting our minds, but none of improving them. VOL. III. A A
354 SERMO XXXI. ow we will consider the case of those whom we call good men ; what their need of self-examination is, and how they should conduct it. Let us take, therefore, any person who is certainly in earnest in his profession of the Gospel ; — it matters not whether he be old or young ; — a person who is what is commonly called serious, who is regular in the public worship of God, and at the communion ; whose language and whose practice seem generally to be according to the Spirit of God. Let such a person suppose that he has got on the wedding-garment ; let him imagine that he is treading his course heavenward ; let him look forward to the blessedness of being for ever with
Christ and all Christ's servants; let his habitual state of mind, therefore, be cheerful and happy. What shall we say to this? Shall we say, that here are the fruits of Christ's spirit ; that the man is enjoying the peace of God ; that in him is visibly fulfilled the assurance, that godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come ? I think we should suppose so in the case of another ; I think that it would be a breach of charity to think otherwise. But turn to the man himself, and let him consider whether he should think so also. Surely there is many a passage in God's word, not meant to frighten or confound, far less to turn God's promises into nothing ; but yet, which he may not pass by unheeded. What is it,
SERMO XXXI. 355 " Happy is the man that feareth always ?" What is it, that " that which is highly esteemed among men, is an abomination in the sight of God?" What is it, that " to be raised again with Christ, it is necessary first to have died with him?" What is it, that " we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God ?" What is it, that we " must take up our cross daily ? " These, and many other such Scriptures, have their meaning and their use for all of us ; for the good and happy servant of his Lord, not less than for the careless and disobedient. And let him not neglect to use them ; let him see how he stands ; let him consider whether, indeed, the heaven that he desires is really his ; whether his life is but a sure and gradual advance in the way of eternal glory. He may say that it is ; not, indeed, for his own merits, but for Christ's, that he has the true wedding-garment of righteousness; not his own imperfect works, which never could deserve the
name, but Christ's perfect righteousness imputed to him as one of Christ's members. And therefore he may say, here is the peace of the Spirit of Christ, dwelling in the hearts of those who, having cast off the righteousness which is of the law, have put their trust in the righteousness of God onlv. ow this language, which I think I have not in any degree misrepresented, shows what wary handling the Scripture calls for; how certainly aa2
356 SERMO XXXI. any single or partial view of it leads into serious error. I think that any good and sober Christian would feel that this application of what is certainly a scriptural truth, when properly applied, cannot be according to the mind of the Spirit ; that it cannot be right or agreeable to God's will, to make Christ the minister of carelessness. But yet he may be puzzled to know how a scriptural truth can be otherwise than according to the mind of the Spirit. O that we could all thoroughly and practically understand this seeming puzzle ! O that we would know and remember to search the Scriptures, not for truths, but for lessons ; not for doctrines to be used always and by all persons, as eternally and universally true ; but for medicines fitted to our own particular want, be it what it may ! That we would feel that there are many of God's words, containing the divinest truth for those who need them, which, if applied universally by thpse who do not need them, and at the time when they do not need them, become a savour of death unto death ! If we were so to read the Scriptures, how it would quicken our knowledge
of our own hearts on the one hand, and from how much superstition, and fanaticism, and uncharitableness of every kind, would it save us on the other ! Tt is manifest that that cannot be a right application of Scripture, which would encourage care-
SERMO XXXI. 357 lessness and presumption. A good man, therefore, such as I have described, would not do well to interpret the wedding-garment as meaning only Christ's imputed righteousness ; and, consequently, that believing he had this, he might glory in Christ safely and freely. By looking into himself, he would feel that he was cheerful and confident enough already ; that he did not stand in need of comfort or encouragement ; that his natural, or, at any rate, his actual tendency, was to comfort and encourage himself sufficiently. He might ask, " For whom is Christ's warning intended, if not for me ? Surely those who are cast down and fearful already, cannot need to be made more so ; if this one of God's medicines be laid up for the use of any living soul, it must be for me, and for such as I am. Therefore I may not reject it, because in the same ample store-house I find medicines of another kind, strengthening, exhilarating, manifestly intended for the benefit of those whose constitution or state of mind is just the opposite to mine. I have no need to shelter myself under the plea of Christ's imputed righteousness, till, by self-examination, by seeing whether I have the robe of any righteousness of my own, I may be shaken from my state of easy confidence, and, learning my danger, may then need and prize my deliverance."
This, I think, all would say was scriptural truth;
358 SERMO XXXI. but then it would be contended by some, that this is indeed the process by which a man must be brought to Christ in the first instance; but that being once his, and justified through faith, he is entitled, for the time to come, to enjoy Christ's freedom ; that he is living under grace, and, therefore, is dead to the law. And here, I think, we have traced to the head some of the great religious errors and disputes which so distract God's people. It seems to be taken for granted, that the various states of a Christian's course, and the particular scriptural remedies which he needs under them, occur in a man's life once for all ; that first, there comes the careless, or unregenerate period, during which he needs God's warnings and threatenings ; that then comes the period of repentance, of faith, of conversion ; after which follows, for the rest of his days, the period of sanctification, of peace with God, of thankful assurance of salvation. This seems to have been taken for granted ; and, therefore, those who have felt the practical evils produced by such a view, while they did not perceive the true point of error, were induced to lower away the sense of some passages of God's word which seemed most encouraging, because they truly felt that such passages in their obvious meaning could not be rightly applied to the common state of mind of the generality of Christians.
SERMO XXXI. 35D
But, my brethren, whatever we do, let us not abate one tittle of the freeness of Christ's promises, nor yet of the strictness of his warnings. Both are needed in all their force, both are the very truth of God, the very bread of life; but not for the same persons, nor for any one man at the same time, nor yet each for one portion of our lives only; so that when we have once needed the comfort, we may for ever give up the warning. We need them each in their turn a thousand times over, before our life is done. To-dav our souls may be almost in heaven ; convinced of their own sin, and of God's pardon; full of humility, full of faith ; justified, sanctified, saved. But will it certainly be so to-morrow? May not the very abundance of our joy have already lessened our humility and watchfulness ; have already made an opening for the tempter ; have already enabled him in some degree to build again the evil which we had destroved ? and, lo ! we are as;ain transgressors. Then comes again the spirit of warning, and the spirit of godly fear, and the spirit of penitence, and the sense of free forgiveness. But if we will violently stay this natural course ; if, when we need the spirit of warning, we choose to listen only to the spirit of comfort ; if, when sin is within us, we talk of the children of God being incapable of sin, of God's upholding grace, of the perseverance of his saints, of their full assurance of salvation ;
360 SERMO XXXI. what do we but believe a lie, and ruinously apply to ourselves, as general truths, passages of God's word which are indeed full of truth and benefit when used by persons in that particular state of mind which is the very opposite of ours ?
What then ? can we never have assurance ? never know peace ? never feel that we are Christ's, and that none can pluck us out of his hand? never say truly that the law is dead to us, because we are alive to God ? Yes, my brethren, we may have all these feelings, they are amongst God's gifts to his children ; it is as false to say that we can never have them, as to say that if we do have them at all, we must have them always. There is joy in this life, there is peace, there is a full assurance of faith ; but not perfect joy, not perfect peace, not an assurance of faith perpetual and abiding. For look at Him in whom was no sin of his own, yet who, bearing all our sins, as though they were his own, is thus, in his language and feelings, made a perfect pattern of our state, the sinless of the sinful. What fuller assurance could ever be expressed by mortal tongue than when he said : " ow is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world ; again I leave the world, and go to the Father ?" Yet after this, did ever mortal tongue utter deeper expressions of humiliation than his, when he cried, " My
SERMO XXXI. 361 God ! my God ! why hast thou forsaken me ?" And if this were so with Him, the Captain of our salvation, shall it not be the same with us also ? To-day, penitent, justified, and full of assurance ; to-morrow, it may be, sinful, cast down, and full of humiliation and godly fear. So it will be, and so it must be, till, having finished our course, and the work of the tempter being ended, and his power stopped for ever, we may find that there is
a peace to be no more disturbed, a rest to be no more broken, an assurance to be no more troubled with fear, But till then, while we are in the body, our spiritual medicine will be for ever varying ; and woe to us if, in our blindness, we take and apply that which, to our actual disorder, is a poison, and not a cure ! And, therefore, if we are cheerful and happy, called good by others, not without some testimony of our own conscience that they call us rightly, then let us not be high-minded, but fear ; then let us examine ourselves carefully, let us look to the height and to the breadth of God's law, and measure our own lives by it ; and so learn our many neglects of Christ, and offences against him, and that our robe of righteousness ill becomes his supper, that it will not bear his questioning. So shall our increased knowledge of ourselves waken anxiety, and shame, and penitence ; so shall penitence awaken faith ; so shall
362 SERMO XXXI. faith, while most earnestly shrouding us under the robe of Christ's righteousness, yet most carefully, for love's sake, repair the breaches in our own, that we may be changed into his image. So shall we grow in grace, and with our hope more and more assured, by the timely awakening of our fear. But in this wholesome and Christian examination of our hearts and lives, let us beware of a morbid and unwholesome scrutiny about the exact nature of our feelings. We are here treading on the verge either of presumptuous fanaticism or of madness. We do well to examine how we are
spending our time or our money ; whether we pray and read the Scriptures ; whether we are kind, temperate in all things, pure, and true. But we do not do well when we wish to scrutinize nicely the exact nature of our faith or our repentance; whether we were sorry enough for the offence which we had committed against God ; whether we really abhor our own righteousness entirely, and have no lurking trust in our hearts, in any thing that we do ; whether, finally, we love God truly for himself, or are most moved to do so by the hope of his rewards. These inquiries, vain and perplexing to all, are to some most fatal ; they turn our thoughts to that which none can safely or healthfully watch, the actual workings of our own minds and feelings ; they teach us to try to analyze
SERMO XXXI. 363 what defies analysis, the mingled nature of our desires, and hopes, and fears ; they make our spiritual state to depend upon our power of metaphysical observation. And the object of all this is to gain, what no sound mind can ever gain, an assurance of its own perpetual acceptance with God. All this unhealthy restlessness is to ascertain that we have had true faith, as if then the work was done, and all the rest of our lives might be peace and security. But be assured that this is not the self-examination which God's word, the pure and calm spirit of wisdom, encourages us to practise. It is easy to know generally whether we care for God or no, whether we believe in Christ, whether we are aware of the imperfection of our own goodness. But the more particular examination belongs to our actions ; and from looking at them we can best judge of our feelings. "He that loveth me," says Christ, " keepeth my com-
mandments ;" so far as we do not keep them, our love is deficient ; so far as we do not overcome the world, our faith is weak. Pray we that both may be increased more and more ; but let us not turn our cares and anxiety from this wholesome prayer to the fond inquiry whether our faith is of such a kind as may release us from all further anxiety about it.
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