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of the heart, the mouth will speak;” and by that great moving spring will all the members be actuated-Doubtless there may be a freedom from gross immorality, and a conduct in many respects amiable and praiseworthy, while yet the heart is unrenewed: but fruit that is really good can no more proceed from an unregenerate soul, than “figs and grapes from a thorn or bramble-bush”-On the other hand, where the treasure of the heart is good, the life will certainly be good also-An holy practice must of necessity flow from holy principles and heavenly affections-We say not indeed but that there may be found some faults even in the holiest of men, even as blighted or unsound fruit may be found upon the choicest tree-But the good can no more practise iniquity, so as to continue in it, than the bad can bring forth habitually the fruits of righteousness-St. John assigns the same reason as is suggested in the text, “ He cannot sin, because the seed of God remaineth in him,"d and, as an operative principle, regulates his life~]
This truth being established, the other follows as a necessary consequence, viz. II. By the life we must judge of the heart
Though we are not to scrutinize too nicely the motives by which others are actuated, so as to form an uncharitable judgment respecting them, yet we may, and must in some cases, judge of men by their actions-Our Lord uttered the very parable before us on one occasion expressly with a view to guard us against the influence of false teachers and false brethrene_But it is of our own hearts that we are principally called to judge; and assuredly
The man whose life is good may know his heart also to be good
[If“ every tree is known by its own fruit,” (and no man hesitates to call a vine, or a bramble, by its proper name when he sees the fruit) we need be in no fear of concluding that our hearts are good, when our dispositions and actions accord with the word of God No man indeed is perfectly good, because we still carry about with us a “ body of sin and death:” but he, who discovers the renovation of his heart by the holiness of his life, is certainly possessed of a “ good treasure, and may justly be called “ a good man”-]
The man also whose life is evil may conclude with equal certainty that his heart is evil
[Many, when they cannot deny the sinfulness of their
di John iii. 9.
e Matt. vii. 15, 16.
conduct, will yet affirm that their hearts are good-But what is this but to affirm, in spite of the most indubitable evidence to the contrary, that a bramble is a vine or fig-tree!-Let any man put the question to his own conscience, Can a man, who lives in a neglect of God and his own soul, have a good heart? -Can the proud, the passionate, the revengeful, the lewd, the intemperate, the covetous, have good hearts-Then may a bramble be a fig-tree, notwithstanding it never bears any thing but thorns and briers-] ADDRESS · 1. Those whose fruits are evil
[It is not the openly profane, or the grossly sensual alone, but all, who are not really bringing forth the fruits of righteousness and true holiness, that we now address-And what must we say! Shall we flatter you? we dare not: the scripture speaks plainly; and it would be at the peril of our souls to conceal the truth: St. John expressly calls you children of the devil;f and our Lord declares that everlasting fire must be your portions—Shall it seem unreasonable that such should be the doom of the ungodly, while the righteous are admitted into heaven? Are you at a loss to assign a reason why so great a difference should be put between persons, who, to outward appearance, do not differ very widely from each other?-Know that, if you trace the stream to its source, and examine their hearts, there will be found as great a difference between them, as between the portions that they shall hereafter receive-The one has nothing but a treasure of evil principles and evil affections within him; the other is a “ partaker of the divine nature,” and is “ transformed into the very image of his God”-Seek then to have “ a new heart and a right spirit renewed within you"-"YE MUST BE BORN AGAIN;" and that too for this plain reason, because what you have by nature is altogether carnal; and you must receive a spiritual nature to qualify you for the enjoyment of a spiritual kingdom"-Ye must become “ new creatures:” “ instead of the thorn must come up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier must come up the myrtle-tree,” if ever you would be monuments of God's saving mercy.-] 2. Those whose fruits are good
[Doubtless you wish to have your evidences of conversion more and more clear-With this view it will be well to mark all your words and actions, and to trace them to their motives and principles But do not forget that though your own works are the evidences of your conversion, they are not the.
f 1 John iii. 8. 10.
g Matt: vii. 19. and xii. 35-37.
grounds of your acceptance with God-It is Christ's obedience unto death that must be the one foundation of your hope However holy your life be, your eyes must never be turned from Christ-HE is your only, and your all-sufficient Saviour -In him you are to hope, as well when your evidences are obscured, as when they are bright-Nevertheless you should endeavour to abound more and more in all the fruits of righteousness, that you may have the comfort of an assured hope, and God may be glorified in your deportmentą]
CCXXVI. THE WISE BUILDER.
Luke vi. 47–49. Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my
sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like. He is like a man who built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the food arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it; for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth, against which the stream did beat vchemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.
IT is of great importance in preaching the gospel, to discriminate between the different characters to whom we deliver our message, and to separate the precious from the vile. If this be neglected, the wicked will hold fast their delusions, and the righteous continue in bondage to their fears: but if we be faithful in the discharge of this part of our duty, those among whom we minister, will be led to a knowledge of their own proper character and condition. Our blessed Lord, at the conclusion of his Sermon on the mount,shews us how we should apply our subjects to the hearts and consciences of our hearers. In the words before us he describes 1. The character and condition of the godly
Their character is drawn in simple but comprehensive terms
[“ They come to Christ:” this is absolutely necessary to their entrance on the divine life: till they have come to Christ under a sense of their own guilt and helplessness, they have no pretensions to godliness; they are obnoxious to the curse of the law, and the wrath of God.a
a John iii. 18. 36. and v. 40.
After they have come to Christ, “ they hear his saying;” they sit at his feet, like Mary, desiring to be fully instructed in his mind and will. With this view they study the holy scriptures, and “ meditate in them day and night:" with this view also they attend the ordinances, and “ receive the word, not as the word of man, but as it is in truth, the word of God.”
They do not, however, rest in hearing his sayings; but they go forth to “ do them.” They desire to know his will in order that they may do it. They love the most searching discourses, because by them they discover the evil of their own hearts, and are led to aspire after a fuller conformity to the divine image: nor would they rest, till they feel every “ thought and desire captivated to the obedience of Christ.”]
Their condition is exhibited in an apt similitude
[A man who builds his house upon a rock, shews that, however temperate the weather may be at the time he is building, he expects tempests to arise: and when the storms do come, he feels himself secure, from a consciousness that his house is so constructed as to withstand their violence.
Now a godly man resembles him in foresight, and in security. He knows that, though he may at present be able to live in some tolerable comfort without religion, it will not be always so: he feels that, when misfortunes, troubles, sickness, and death shall come; he will be miserable without a wellfounded hope of immortality. Hence he will not be satisfied with any religion that will not stand the test of scriptural examination; for he knows that no other will prove sufficient in the hour of trial.
When the storms blow, and the tempest beat upon him, then he finds the benefit of having “ digged deep,” and laid his foundation well. Then he stands immoveably secure: the promise and oath of Jehovah are his firm support: Omnipotence itself upholds him. In vain do troubles from without, or temptations from within, assault him: even in the immediate prospect of death itself he retains his confidence, “knowing in whom he has believed,!d and assured that Jesus will save him to the uttermost.)
In a perfect contrast to this our Lord exhibits II. The character and condition of the ungodly
Their character is the very reverse of that already drawn
[It is worthy of observation, that nothing is said of their coming unto Christ. Here is their radical defect: had they ever come as perishing sinners to him, they should have
wanted nothing for the perfecting of their salvation: but they are too proud to stoop to such an humiliating method of obtaining mercy: they do not feel their desert of God's wrath, or their need of a mediator: and therefore, though they will compliment Jesus with the name of Saviour, they will not flee to him for refuge as those who know, that without him they must for ever perish.
They will indeed “ hear his sayings; but they will not do them.” They. may take a pleasure in hearing the gospel preached; and, like Ezekiel's hearers, attend the ministration of the word with as much delight, as others listen to a musical performance. They may even shew an extraordinary zeal about the ordinances of religion, and may alter their conduct, like Herod, in many things:& but there is some darling lust with which they will not part. When their besetting sin comes to be exposed, they draw back, unwilling to have their wounds probed, and their lusts mortified. When they are required to “ pluck out their right eye, and to cut off their right hand,” they turn away, exclaiming, “ This is an hard saying; who can hear it?"h:
This stamps their character as ungodly. It is not the commission of any gross sin that constitutes men ungodly; but it is the retaining of some bosom lust, the rendering of only a partial obedience to the law, the “not having the heart right with God."7
The similitude also reversed exactly describes their condition
[A person who, because the weather is fair, builds his house without any proper foundation, will, as soon as storms and tempests arise, find reason for regret. The house, for want of a foundation, will be undermined, and fall. He will then lose all the labour and money that he has bestowed upon it, and perhaps, with all his family, be overwhelmed in its ruins.
The ungodly man “is like to him” in folly, and in danger. His religion must come to the test at last: if it bear him through his trials in life, and uphold him with some degree of comfort in death, still it can never bear the scrutiny of the judgment day: then every man's work will be tried as by fire; and that which does not endure the fire will be burnt up. How will the folly of trusting to vain delusions appear in that day! What regret and sorrow will arise in the mind of him who has laboured so much for nought! And how “great will be his ruin,” when he shall have no shelter from the wrath of God, and when the goodly fabric that he built shall crush him to atoms!
e Ezek. xxxiii. 31, 32.
John vi. 60.
f Isai. lviii. 2.
& Mark vi. 20.