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manner of conducting the inquiry to which the exhortation relates; and then to point out to you the practical improvement of the subject. I begin with the exhorta. tion itself, “Let every man prove his own work."
There is a particular emphasis in these words, which must not be overlooked. It is his own work that a man must prove. We are sufficiently ready to examine, and to pass sentence upon the works of others. We are often abroad, but are seldom at home, where our chief business lies. Like some travellers, who are well ac. quainted with foreign countries, but shamefully igno. rant of their own, we know more of others than we are willing to know of ourselves, and persuade ourselves, that the study of our own hearts is a dull and melancho. ly business, which may incite within us many uneasy thoughts, and can give us no pleasure at all.
Alas! how low are we sook by our apostacy from God! and with what little and false consolations may a degenerate mind be soothed! Instead of looking inwards for positive evidence of our favour with God, we learn to regulate our judgment of ourselves by what we per. ceive in the characters of other men. If the image of the devil is more visibly formed on others than on ourselves, we have little anxiety to discover the image of God upon our own hearts. The bulk of men think it enough to know that some of their brethren are worse than they are, as if their characters would rise in proportion as the characters of others are debased. We must relinquish this false rule of judging, if we would either enter into the spirit of the exhortation in the text, or would not be fatally disappointed at last. We must learn to rejoice in ourselves and not in others; and we must call in our thoughts from the state of other men, and “ prove every man his own werk.”—“ Every man,” saith the Apos
tle, “ shall bear bis own burden." Each of us shall give an account of his own conduct to God, and shall be judged according to his own personal behaviour, without regard to any comparative goodness or attain. ments which may belong to him.
But here, perhaps, some may ask the question, To what works do you refer? If they are works of a doubt. ful nature, we acknowledge that they ought to be tried, and that those are highly to blame who neglect to try them. But are there not other works, so eminently good and excellent in themselves, that the person who doth them may conclude, without hesitation, that they are cer. tainly pleasing and acceptable to God? This, my brethren, is a rock upon which thousands have made shipwreck. It would make one sad to tbink what multitudes will be surprised with the everlasting burnings, who, in consequence of this very opinion, flatter themselves, while they live, with the hopes of heaven. You must therefore allow me to retort the question, and to ask, What are those works which are so eminently good and excellent, that there is no need to prove them? or rather, Are there any duties of an external nature, which an hypocrite cannot perform as well as you? Do you frequent the church, and attend upon the preaching of the word? So did the impenitent Jews in the days of the prophet Ezekiel, with as much decency, perhaps, and apparent devotion, as are seen in you. For thus said the Lord unto that prophet, “ They come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness." Are you strict observers of the Sabbath? We read of some who persecuted our Saviour for working a miracle of mercy on the sabbathday: and surely you pretend not to a greater degree of strictness than this. Do you pray? So did the Phari. sees; they made long prayers, and they prayed with a loud voice. Do you fast before the observation of the Lord's Supper? The Pharisees did more: They fasted twice in the week. Do you partake of that holy sacrament? Many think that Judas did so too: we know at least that he was present at the passover, which was also a solemn rite of religion: And therefore no certain conclusion can be drawn from the outward exercises of religious worship.
Where then shall we go next? Will we judge with more certainty from the duties of the second table of the law of God.
Here, my brethren, the matter may be brought to a very short issue. We read of a young man who professed, in the presence of our Lord, that he bad kept all these commandments from his youth : and yet we learn from the sequel of his story, that he preferred the possessions of this earth to the enjoyment of God; for he refused to sell his lands for the relief of the poor, al. though our Saviour had assured him of treasure in hea. ven. But you have perhaps to say for yourselves, that you are charitable and kind to the poor ; and ask if this is not a duty applauded in Scripture ? I confess it is much applauded. But were not the proud and bypocritical Pharisees also charitable? They gave alms; and more liberal alms than most of us; otherwise, I suppose, they would have sounded the trumpet as little as we do. We may therefore conclude, that none of all these outward deeds are sufficient, by themselves, to distinguisbus from the hypocrite: But the question will return, May we not join all these works together? and in that case, may we not draw from them a certain conclusion ?
My brethren, if I were now speaking of the judgment which others ought to form of your characters, from what they see in your actions, I would certainly say, that those favourable appearances ought to persuade them that you are real Christians. But as I speak of the estimate which you are to make of yourselves, I must tell you, that all this fair show may certainly consist with a heart that is not sound in God's statutes." For Amaziah the king of Judah was not far short of this, of whom we read (2 Chron. xxv. 2.) that he “ did that wbich was right in the sight of the Lord;" but (observe what follows, he did it) “ not with a perfect heart." What a promising appearance was here blasted! Ama. ziah
gave God every thing but his heart; the very thing which God valued, and without which all that he could give besides was insignificant. Does not this shake the foundation of your confidence, and make you, like one newly awakened out of a flattering dream, summon up all your attention to see whether you are in the unhappy situation of Amaziah, or are really in the circumstances in which your own fancy hath represented you? This, my brethren, is the very thing which I have been aiming at. I forsee the day, when many who were something in their own eyes, and trusted in themselves that they were righteous, will present their specious roll of outward duties to the heart-searching Judge, saying, Lo! this is the life which we spent in the flesh; who will not be able to add, This life was “ by the faith of the Son of God." Methinks I hear the Judge say to them, These are indeed the duties which I enjoined; but where is the spirit which should have animated them? These are the sacrifices which I appointed; but the strange fire with which you offered them can find no acceptance liere. Ye have not served me, but yourselves. “I never knew you." And therefore ye can receive no reward.
What hath been said may be sufficient to explain the Apostle's exhortation; and to show both the reasonableness and the necessity of proving even our best works.' I proceed now,
Secondly, To give you some directions with regard to the manner of conducting this important inquiry.
Now, before a man can be qualified for proving his own works, two things are indispensably necessary. The
1st is, That he should be well acquainted with the boly Scriptures; for it is by the Scriptures alone that we know with certainty what is good and acceptable to God. “Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way p» said David. The answer is, “ By taking heed thereto according to thy word.” Scripture is that unerring rule which points out to us the road of duty, and which discovers to us the straightness or the crookedness of our own paths. A considerable degree of acquaintance with it, is therefore absolutely necessary to enable us “ to prove” and to judge of our own works. But,
2dly. It is also requisite that we should be constant and diligent observers of what passeth in our own hearts; for 6 out of the heart are the issues of life." The heart is the fountain from which all our actions flow, and from which alone they can be truly denominated either or bad. I observed formerly, that there is no outward duty which a hypocrite may not counterfeit: And we have a remarkable example (2 Kings x.) of the same action being good in one man and bad in another, from the different dispositions with which it was performed. We find two men riding in the same chariot, and both of them engaged in the same expedition, Jehu and Jo.