« הקודםהמשך »
the blessed communications of his Holy Spirit, obtained through the sacrificial expiation of his dear Son. By this we are made his peculiar people; our corruptions are mortified, and our souls disposed to his service. By this we are encouraged to look for the promises of eternal life. By this we are acknowledged to be children of the regeneration, and “if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” But we are to bear in mind, however, that by our negligence of the divine law our “circumcision may
be made uncircumcision." Having now briefly ascertained the general purport and application of the text, the following inferences will naturally arise from it. First, that mere external religion is no evidence of internal sanctification. Secondly, that the corruptions of the heart must be subdued and the passions mortified, or there can exist within it no vital religion. Thirdly, that our obedience to the divine precepts must be, not simply according to the letter, but according to the spirit of God's holy law.
With respect to the first inference, it is to be observed that though true holiness pre-supposes an external worship as necessary to its existence, since it is natural to us to indicate what we feel by some outward sign; still that this is only secondary and accessory to those internal aspirations of piety without which“ vain is our preach
your faith also is vain." Religious forms are indeed excellent helps to devotion, but they by no means constitute its essence; though it is to be feared that the mere auxiliary is too frequently mistaken for the principle, and many imagine that, because they occasionally cry “ Lord, Lord,” they cannot fail of the kingdom of heaven. “ But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead ?" And let it be remembered that such only are of “the circumcision made without hands,” and therefore approved of God," who worship Him in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh.”
The truth is that we are too apt to admit religion as a duty imposed upon us, and which we are morally bound to obey, rather than to look
upon it as a sublime principle of our rational nature, as a noble exercise of an intelligent and immortal soul, as the transcendant privilege of a lapsed creature reclaimed from the bondage of sin and death. It is not with us so much the voluntary effusion of a heart, grateful for divine mercies beyond what we can enumerate or express, as the mechanical recognition of a fealty which we are bound to pay, or hazard our own eternal security in a future world. We offer rather a federal homage than a gratuitous service. We act more as tributaries under God's law than as beneficiaries of his mercy. In fact,
we lay too much stress upon the moral necessity, and too little upon the moral obligation of Religion. We too often merely submit to the commands of a merciful Providence, when we ought, on the contrary, to feel a delight in performing them; when we ought to be roused into an active anxiety to do the will of him who renounced for a while the glories of his ineffable character, and took upon himself the likeness of our sinful flesh, in order to confirm to all good men the inheritance of his blessings in heaven. It is moreover incumbent upon us to do this from a higher principle than that which originates solely in the terror of what we shall suffer in case we fail to fulfil the conditions of God's righteous law. In short, we ought to ascend higher for the motives of our religious affiance in an all-bountiful Providence than to our own exclusive interests either in this world or the next; since, if we are only righteous for ourselves, it is to be feared that suchi motives can never justify the expectations of acceptance with him who demands, as a condition of his favour, that we “love him with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our souls, and with all our strength;" and this we never assuredly can do where a love of ourselves predominates within us.
And we learn moreover, from the Apostle, that neither “ circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.”
To place our whole confidence in external piety will be to“ trust on the staff of a bruised reed, whereon if a man lean it will go into his hand and pierce it." And yet are there not many who satisfy themselves with simply performing the act of worship, without scarcely admitting God into their thoughts during the whole period which they profess to dedicate to Him? Obvious as it is to reason that something beyond the mere form of religion is necessary to salvation, still how many are there who appear ignorant of this,-if we may judge from the indifference with which its most solemn offices are frequently performed ? How many, too, abstain altogether from that service which contributes so much to save the soul alive. How few in the great mass of professing Christians regard their Saviour's welcome invitation, and come to the feast which he has provided for them at his holy altar ? Or even if they do sometimes come, how often still do they hear the invitation given, and decline it from motives unworthy of their Christian profession, and consequently offensive to God?
It is, in truth, no uncommon thing to witness the utmost indifference even in the Lord's temple. But can any one seriously think that to sit silently in this holy sanctuary, during its sublime and solemn services, without the least exercise of internal piety, will prove of any
efficacy in procuring the favour of heaven ? Can he imagine that salvation is a matter of course, a debt due to him from the Father of mercies, and that his Saviour will bestow it
upon any terms! And will it not be evident to common sense that what we gravely assume to be devotion, if in reality it be not so, must positively be worse than the neglect of devotion altogether ; since, to an absolute neglect of God, it superadds the sins of falsehood and hypocrisy, of falsehood in belieing our true characters ; of hypocrisy in pretending to do what in effect we do not; and this too in God's holy tabernacle, where we meet to offer him our thanksgivings for past blessings, to implore his present and future mercies, and to supplicate his pardon for past offences ? " When once the master of the house is risen and bath shut to the door, and such begin to stand without and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; then shall he answer and say unto them, I know you not whence ye are.”
Is it only because the Almighty has threatened us with the punishment of his wrath, in case we fail in performing our duties to him—is this, suffer me to ask, the only motive that brings us to his sanctuary? If so, then it is no wonder that the exercises of religion are so frequently irksome. Whilst they continue to be considered rather a compulsory obligation than a