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Jesus: who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit*. For to be carnally minded is death: but to be spiritually minded is life and peace †.
Here then is the plain trial of our condition. If we are destitute of the fruits of the spirit, it is bad: if we find them in our hearts and lives, we have proof enough of its being good; and need never disquiet ourselves for want of any other. Being able to tell the very moment when we became pious and virtuous is not material, provided we are so now and happiest of all are they who remember not themselves ever to have been otherwise. A feeling of immediate and sensible assurances of God's favour, so impressed upon us, that we can certainly distinguish it to be of divine original from the manner in which it affects us, may be often vouchsafed, but is no where in Scripture made necessary: and all feelings are imaginary and deceitful, unless they be accompanied with that one, which the Apostle experienced and mentions: for our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have had our conversation in the world. Our Saviour's rule, of knowing every tree by its fruit §, is the only sure way to judge of ourselves, as well as others. And though perhaps we may be sometimes at a loss how to judge or inclined, and even strongly, to fear the worst yet, if this arise, not from presumptuous sins, or habitual negligence, but merely from excessive humility or weakness of spirits; a modest diffidence will never hinder our future happiness, nor will a bold positiveness ever forward it. Good men may be cast down, and bad men elevated, without any reason. The former may see much in themselves
* Rom. viii. 1.
2 Cor. i. 12.
+ Rom. viii. 6.
§ Luke vi. 44.
to dislike; and yet God may see enough of what he approves to accept them: they may experience but little joy in serving him; and yet walk more completely worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing*, for doing it without the encouragement of a present reward. The latter, on the other hand, may build upon groundless fancies of their own, mistaking them for divine communications: may be absolutely confident, wonderfully transported, yet find themselves at last fatally deceived. It is not therefore by their fears, or their hopes, or their raptures, that men are to judge of their spiritual condition. Hereby, saith St. John, we do know that we know God, if we keep his commandments t. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doth righteousness is righteous: he that committeth sin is of the devil.
But then we shall miserably cheat ourselves, if we take that for righteousness which is not, or one part of it for the whole. If we mistake a constitutional, or perhaps affected good nature, shewn, it may be, to extravagance on some occasions, and not at all on others, for Christian love, which comprehends every act of justice and mercy: if, with ever so extensive a benevolence to our fellow-creatures, we fail of governing ourselves by the rules of sobriety, temperance and chastity, or thinking of ourselves with due lowliness of mind §: if, with the practice of all these duties, we omit the worship of God our Maker, or perform it without inward reverence and affection, or live without an humble sense of our constant depen
dence upon him; nay, if we pay him all the honour which unassisted reason enjoins; but wilfully reject, or contemptuously slight the doctrines or precepts of
revelation, or any one of them; or if, professing to receive and observe them all, we are not careful to improve ourselves by them into a Christian frame of mind, with respect both to this world and the next : or if, lastly, with what diligence soever we may labour in every good work, we are not sensible that we can neither succeed without the assistance of God's Spirit, nor be accepted but for the merits of his Son: we must not imagine that he who hath prescribed every article of faith and duty, from knowing them all to be necessary in our case, will permit us to disregard such of them as we shall please, without pronouncing us unworthy of the salvation which he hath offered and inflicting on us the punishments which he hath threatened. Let every one therefore think, and think most seriously, whether he is indeed such as God requires, in all these particulars: and study to amend, not to flatter himself.
It is very true, the fruits of the spirit, mentioned in the text, seem to be wholly moral virtues, and almost wholly those of mutual kindness and humanity. Nor will any rightness of belief, or fervency of devotion, or strictness of life avail us, if we want social goodness and beneficence. But still these last, as the Scripture most evidently shews, are not the only fruits of the Spirit: and therefore we must learn to practise other virtues from other texts, as well as the benevolent virtues from this. It is indeed said, that against the observers of these there is no law. But then they are supposed to act consistently; to observe every thing else at the same time, that stands on the same foundation: else they observe not even these from the right principle; nor will they be able to observe them in a sufficient degree. Every virtue is connected with every other and all virtue with piety.
For without the love of God to excite us, and the fear of God to restrain us, and the word of God to direct us, and the grace of God to strengthen us, we shall neither behave to our fellow creatures, nor govern ourselves, in a proper manner. What therefore He hath joined together, let not us put asunder* : but giving all diligence, add to our faith virtue, or manly boldness in professing it: and to virtue knowledge of whatever may adorn and defend it; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness towards our fellow Christians; and to brotherly kindness, charity towards all men without exception t. For so an entrance shall be administered unto us abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: to which may God for his sake bring us all. Amen.
* Matth. xix. 6.
† 2 Pet. i, 5, 6, 7.
ROM. viii. 16.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.
WHOEVER believes religion to be true, and thinks with any seriousness concerning it, must needs be earnestly desirous to find out, whether the state of his mind, and the course of his life, be such as God expects and will reward, or forbids and will punish. Now this depends on two things: an acquaintance with ourselves, and with the dispositions of our Maker. The spirit of man, which is in him, knoweth the things of a man *: and may also clearly see, from the creation of the world, the invisible things of the Author of it, even his eternal power and Godhead † ; those attributes of his nature, by which his proceedings towards his creatures will be directed. But still the holy Scripture teaches, that the Spirit of God likewise bears a part, highly necessary, in the great work of discovering, what title we have to the mercy and favour of Heaven. It will therefore be requisite to consider this important subject, in the manner which St. Paul hath pointed out to us in the text: and for this end I shall endeavour to shew you,
I. What is implied in being the children of God. II. How far our own spirit is capable of bearing witness that we are such.
* 1 Cor. ii. 11.
† Rom. i. 20.