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Proverbs iv. 18.
The path of the just is as a shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
TJUMAN life has been often compared to a journey, -*--*- for this as well as for other reasons, that we are always making progress in our way. In whatever path we set out, there is no standing still. Evil men wax worse and worse: the corruptions of their nature gather strength: the vices which they have contracted grow into habit: the evil principle is for ever on the increase, till having attained the ascendant over the whole man, it subjects him entirely to his own power, the willing and obedient servant of sin. Good men on the other hand, make advances in the paths of righteousness. The grace of God, which is given unto them, lies not dormant. The better mind, with which they are endowed, incites them to virtue: the new nature which they have put on, pants after perfection. They give all diligence to add to their faith virtue, and to virtue temperance, and to temperance brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity, until having abounded in every good work, they perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord. Such a life is here called " the path of the just." By the just in Scripture, are not meant those who merely abstain from doing unjust and injurious things to their neighbours. The just man is he who possesses that sincerity of heart and that integrity of the whole life which God requires of man.
The life of such a man is here compared to the light of the morning. Nothing in nature is more lovely than the light. When the Spirit began to move upon the face uf the deep, light was the first effect of his creating power; and when the six days work was finished, light collected, and centred in the sun, continued to be the grandest and most beautiful work of nature; so grand and beautiful,
that among many of the heathen nations it was worshipped as the visible divinity of the world. What ligh't is to the face of external nature, the beauty of holiness is to the soul. It is the brightest ornament of an immortal spirit; it throws a glory over all the faculties of man; and forms that robe of beauty with which they shine, who walk in white before the throne of God.
But it is chiefly on account of its progressive nature, that the path of the just is here compared to the shining light. In order to illustrate this, I shall, in the first place, shew you how we shall know if we have made progress in the paths of righteousness: Secondly, give you some directions how to make further progress: Thirdly, exhort you to a life of progressive virtue.
I. I am to shew you how we shall know if we have made progress in the paths of righteousness.
In the first place, Let me ask you, are you sensible of your faults and imperfections? The first indication of wisdom is to confess our ignorance, and the first step to virtue is to be sensible of our own imperfections. The novice in science is puffed up with his early discoveries; when the first ray of wisdom is let in upon his mind, he thinks that by it he can see and know all things: deeper views and maturer reflection convince him how little he knows. In like manner, he knows little of religion, and has been but a Short time in the school of Christ, who is blind to his own imperfections. Our fall from innocence was by pride, and we must rise by humility. "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted," is the doctrine which our Lord delivered upon all occasions. Till we feel our own weakness, we can never be strong in the Lord; we can never rise in trie Divine sight, till we sink in our own estimation. We often meet with persons in life, who talk very strangely upon this subject. They tell us that they are as good as ever they expect to be: that in looking back upon their past life, they see nothing done which they would wish undone; and that if they were to begin life anew, they would act precisely as they have acted. Concerning such persons, we may safely pronounce that they have made but little progress in the path of the just. They are strangers to their own hearts, and have not proper ideas of the Divine law. They measure the law of God by the laws of men, and think that if their external conduct is. blameless, they
have acted their part well: not considering that the law of God extends to the heart, and punishes for the omission of duty as well as for the commission of sin. Such errors the Pharisees taught of old; and such notions of dutj Paul had imbibed before his conversion to Christianity. "After the strictest sect of our religion," says he, "I lived a Pharisee; touching the law, blameless." I was alive without the law once. That is, when I did dot know the law in its true sense, I thought myself alive and a saint. The Pharisaical doctrines, in which he had been educated, taught him that God required no more than a conformity of the external behaviour to the letter of the law. But when he discovered that the Divine law extended to the heart; when thus in its power, the commandment came; "sin revived and I died;" then I saw myself to be a sinner, and died to the self-conceit which I formerly entertained.
Secondly, Let me ask you what is the strength of your attachment to the cause of righteousness? As you are sensible of your faults, and have seen the deformity of sin, are you enamoured with the beauty of holiness? Do you desire nothing more earnestly than to put on the graces of the Gospel, and be conformed to the image of God? Men will never imitate what they do not love; if then you are not lovers of goodness and virtue, you will never be good and virtuous. So long us they keep to generals, men may easily deceive themselves. Let us then come to particulars, and let roe ask you with what regard and estimation Vou view those patterns of piety which you see exhibited in life. Are the good and the righteous to you the excellent ones of the earth? The wise do not proportion their respect to men according to the rank they hold, or the name they bear in the world. It is the character of the just man, as drawn in Scripture, that he scorneth the vile, however exalted, and honoureth them that fear the Lord, however depressed. Do you then scorn the vile man, with all his attributes of rank and wealth and power? Do you despise the rich, the noble, the right honourable villain, andchooseforyourtcompanion therighteous man, although be has not where to lay his bead? Could you sit down with virtue in her cell, contented with ber homely fare, with ber poor abode, and look down with a generous contempt npon the splendid roof, where luxury and guilt lead on the festive hours? When you behold the wicked great in power, andjflourishing like a green bay tree, does your heart revolt from giving him that homage which the favours of Mammon never fail to extort from the venal multitude, and can you say, in the sincerity of your heart, "I would not exchange the peace of my own mind for the wealth of the world? Whatever thou art pleased to give. Father Almighty, may I possess it with honour: The world approaches to thine altar, and bends before thy throne for temporal blessings; the prayer of my heart is, Lord, lift upon me the light of thy countenance."
Thirdly, Let me ask you, are your resolutions as firm, and your application as vigorous now as when you first set out in the spiritual life? There are times in which all men are serious; in which the most obdurate minds feel impressions of religion, and in which persons of the most abandoned character form resolutions of amendment. "With ah the zeal of new converts, they set about a thorough reformation. They wonder how they have been so long blind to their true interest; they mourn over the time that they have lost in vain or in sinful pursuits, and now seem fully determined to follow religion as the one thing needful. With many, this course continues not long; the first new object engages their attention, and turns them aside from the path of the just. But true religion, ray friends, does not consist in such fits and starts of devotion; in random resolutions made in the fervour of i;eal; in the wavering, desultory, and inconsistent conduct which marks the character of multitudes in the world. He alone is a good man who perseveres in goodness. When the vernal year begins, and the shower of summer descends, all nature bursts into vegetable life; the noxious weeds rival the trees among which they grow; but these 'sodden growths as suddenly disappear; while favoured by the influences of heaven, the trees arise to their full stature, and bring forth their fruit in season. Are you then as much in earnest now, as when your first love to God began to bring fordi the fruits of righteousness? Without this undiminished ardour; without these unremitting efforts, you never will run the race set before you, so as to finish your course with joy. At the same time, I must take notice, that as you advance in years, all the passions will gradually cool. When, therefore, the fervour of youth has subsided, and mature age bath given a sober cast to the temper, you will not feel that degree of ardour in your devotions which yoa experienced in yoor early * cars Many serious persons hare been alarmed at this
appearance, not itti ■!■)_ that it was the efiec of their
constitetioa, and aot a mark of apostacy firoai God. Bat ▼obt deration will i, unii—i as sincere, though not so inflamed, as betbre, and religion will be as effectual as ever in the regulation of your life; baa a mighty rirer, betbre it terminates its coarse in the ocean, it roils with greater calmness, bat at the same time with a greater strength, than vben it arose from its source.
Fourthly, Another mark of inrnaiJTg grace, is when Too obey the Divine commandments from affectum and love. Tbey who, from the tear of bell, put on a form of religion for a time, find it to be a bard and a painful service. Tbey are oat of their place, when they strike into the path of the jost; they toaiider religion M* a heavy burden, which they would not bear but from necessity, and loek upon the duties of the Christian lite, as so many task* which they have to perform. Whoever entertains such notions ct religion, will not rise to high attainments in righteousness. The passions and affections are the po»ertul springs of action in the soal; and unless these are put in motion, the machine will move heavily along. He alone will make progress in the path of the jost, who is drawn by the cords of love. Pleasant are the labours of love; aod sweet is the precept when the duty pleases. The yoke is easy, and the burthen light, when the heart goes along. The Christian is not a slave who obeys front compulsion, or a servant wbo works for hire: be is a son who acts from filial affection, and is happiest when be obeys. The love of Christ alone constraineth him. Tbe beauty of holmess allureth him: though rewards and punishments were set aside, he would follow reunion and virthc tor their own sake, and do his duty, because therein he found his happiness. Do yon then, my friends, ;cel this affection, this passion for righteousness: Can you -ay with the Psalmist, *' How do f love thy law*, O Lord f They are my meditation all the day. More to be desired they are than gold, than much fine gold; sweeter than honey from the honeycomb-"
11. 1 now come to give you some directions how to make lurther progress m the path ot the just.
In the first place, then, in order to this, make a serious business of a holy life. There are many persons in the