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it was all “ vanity,” but also "vexation of spirit.” Yet think not, that in dissuading you from these lying vanities, we would deprive you of all happiness: we wish only that you should exchange that which is empty and delusive, for that which will afford you present and eternal satisfaction P. Even your past experience may suffice to shew you, that " in the fulness of your sufficiency you have been in straits?;" try now what the service and enjoyment of God can do for you; and you shall find that religion's "ways are indeed ways of pleasantness and peace."] 2. Those who profess godliness
[In avoiding carnal mirth, you must be careful not to give occasion to the world to represent religion as sour and morose. There is a cheerfulness which recommends religion, and which it is both your duty and privilege to maintain. Yet, on the other hand, beware of levity. Live nigh to God, and you will easily find the proper medium. “God has certainly given you all things richly to enjoy":" yet it is in himself alone, and in the light of his countenance, that you must seek your happiness. There you are sure to find its; and while you find it in him, you will shine as lights in a dark world, and recommend the Gospel to all around you.]
P Isai. lv. 2. 9 Job xx. 22. 1 Tim. vi. 17. Ps. iv. 6, 7.
THE DANGER OF BACKSLIDING. Prov. xiv. 14. The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways : and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.
THOUGH God does not select those as objects of his mercy, who are most diligent in external duties, yet he increases his favours to those whom he has chosen, in proportion as they themselves are earnest in improving what he has already bestowed upon them. In the dispensations of his providence it is generally found, that “ the diligent hand maketh rich :” but in the dispensations of his grace, this seems to be an unalterable rule of his procedure: “ his ways with respect to these things are equal;” “ whatsoever a man sows, that he may assuredly expect to reap;”. “ to him that hath, shall be given, and he shall have abundance.” To this effect are the declarations before us; in which we may observe,
I. The danger of backsliding
Open apostasy is confessedly a certain road to destruction : but we may also perish by indulging the more specious and equally dangerous habit of secret declension. Not that every variation in our frame constitutes us backsliders in heart; (for who then could be saved ?) but,
We come under this description, 1. When we are habitually remiss in secret duties,
[It is possible we may once have run well, and enjoyed much blessedness in the service of our God; and yet have been so hindered in our course, as to have relapsed into a state of coldness and formalitya. The word, which was once precious, may have lost its savour; and prayer, which was once delightful, may have become an irksome task. Both public and private ordinances may have degenerated into an empty form, in which God is not enjoyed, nor is any blessing received. Where this is the case the person must surely be denominated a “ backslider in heart."] 2. When we habitually indulge any secret lusts—
[Whatever attainments a man may have made in religion, if his heart be not whole with God, he will sooner or later decline; and that which was his besetting sin in his state of ignorance, will regain its ascendency, and (as far at least as relates to its inward workings) recover its dominion over him. He may still, for his profession sake, restrain sin, in a measure, as to its outward exercise, while yet its inward power is unsubdued. Was he naturally addicted to pride, envy, malice, covetousness, lewdness, or any other sin? If he allow it to return upon him after he has been once purged from it, if he be averse to have the evil of it pointed out to him, if he justify it, or cover his fault with excuses, instead of endeavouring earnestly to amend it, he certainly is a backslider in heart-]
In either of these states we are exposed to the most imminent danger
[There are a variety of ways in which God will punish sin, but none so terrible as that specified in the words before us. If God were to fill the backslider with acute and long-continued pain, or visit him with some other temporal affliction, it might work for good, and bring him to consideration and repentance: but if he give him up to his own heart's lusts, and leave him to be “ filled with his own ways," nothing but a certain and aggravated condemnation can ensue. Was he far from God? he will be further still : was he addicted to any sin ? he will be more and more enslaved by it: nor can there be a doubt, but that God will give us up to this judgment, if we “ leave off to behave ourselves wisely," and return to the indulgence of wilful neglects and secret sins---]
a Gal. i. 6. and v. 7. and iv. 15.
b 2 l'et, i, 9. and ii. 20. Gal. iv. 16. VOL. VII.
But we shall see a strong additional motive to persevere, if we consider, II. The benefit of maintaining steadfastness in reli
gionThe “ good man” is here put in contrast with the backslider
[As every occasional declension does not denominate a man a wilful backslider, so neither does every transient inclination to virtue denominate a man good. To be truly good, he must set out well, and “ hold on his way,” causing his "light to shine more and more unto the perfect daya."]
Such an one shall find much satisfaction both in and from his way:
He shall have the comfort of seeing that he is advancing in religion
[The testimony of a good conscience is one of the richest comforts we can enjoy e Hezekiah pleaded it before God in a dying hour, not indeed as a ground of justification before him, but as a ground whereon he might hope for some favourable indulgence with respect to the continuance of this present life? And Paul, in the near prospect of the eternal world, found it a source of unutterable joys. Now this satisfaction every upright soul shall enjoy. If he cannot distinctly see the progressive steps of his advancement from day to day, he shall have a testimony in his own conscience that he is on the whole advancing: he shall feel himself more and more fixed in his “ purpose to cleave unto the Lord,” and increasingly desirous of approving himself faithful to his God and Saviour.]
He shall also enjoy more abundant manifestations of God's love
[God will not leave his people without witness that he is pleased with their endeavours to serve and honour him. “He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” If he behold any persons striving to please him, “ he will love them and come unto them, and sup with them, and manifest himself to
c Ps. lxxxi. 11, 12. Deut. xxxi. 15, 18, 19, 20. Prov. i. 30, 31. d Prov. iv. 18.
e 2 Cor. i. 12. 1 2 Kings xx. 2, 3.
8 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.
them as he does not unto the world h :" and the more diligent he sees them in doing his will, the more richly will he impart to them the tokens of his love, and the more abundantly communicate to them the blessings of grace and peace'.]
His prospects, moreover, of the eternal world shall be more bright and glorious
[To many does God vouchsafe, as to Moses from Mount Pisgah, delightful prospects of the heavenly Canaan. He draws aside the veil, and suffers them to enter into the holy of holies, that they may behold his glory, and receive a foretaste of the blessedness which they shall one day enjoy in his presence. But on whom are these special favours bestowed ? on the slothful, the careless, the inconstant? No. It is “the faithful man that shall abound with these blessings;" it is “him that rejoiceth in working righteousness, that the Lord will meet" in this intimate and endearing manners.] INFER
1. How much more ready is God to shew mercy than to execute his judgments!
(Had God been extreme to mark what is done amiss, who is there amongst us, whom he would not often have abandoned in an hour of secret declension? But he is full of compassion; and “ judgment is his strange work,” to which he is greatly averse. At this very moment does he follow the backslider with the most earnest invitations, and most gracious promises, saying, “ Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings, and love you freely?." Let us thankfully acknowledge his long-suffering and forbearance; and seek that happiness in the service of our God, which we shall in vain look for in any deviations from the path of duty.]
2. What need have we to watch over our own hearts !
(We are bidden to “ keep our hearts with all diligence, because out of them are the issues of life and deathm:" and indeed we have need to guard them well, because they are so “ bent to backslide from God.” It will be rarely, if ever, found, that the watchful Christian is left to fall into any gross sin. Men decline from God in secret, before he withdraws from them his restraining grace: they have chosen some evil “ way of their own,” and deliberately followed it in their hearts, before God leaves them to be “ filled with it." If then we would not be swept away with a deluge of iniquity, let us be careful to h John xiv. 21-23. Rev. iii. 20.
i Isai. xxxii. 17. k Prov. xxviii. 20. Isai. xxxiii. 14–17. and lxiv. 5. i Jer. iii. 22. Hos. xiv. 4.
m Prov. iv. 23.
stop the breach at first; for, if left a little time, it will widen, till it defies our utmost exertions. The present satisfaction, as well as the future salvation, of our souls depends on a steadfast walk with God. Let us then “ hold fast the profession of our faith, and the practice of our duty, without wavering :" and “ let us look to ourselves that we lose not the things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward "."
n 2 John, ver. 8.
THE FEAR OF THE LORD A SOURCE OF MUCH GOOD. Prov. xiv. 26. In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence; and
his children shall have a place of refuge. IN the Holy Scriptures there is often much contained in a small space. Hence we read them frequently without discerning one half of their beauty and importance --- In the passage before us, we have in a concentrated form the benefits arising from the fear of God. They are two: I. Confidence
Before we speak of the benefit itself, we must endeavour to attain accurate views of that from which it flows. By “ the fear of the Lord," I understand such a fear as brings us to his footstool; and such a fear as stimulates us to an unreserved surrender of ourselves to him. It is clear that it must comprehend these, and cannot possibly exist without thema
--- Now, wherever this is found, there is “ a strong confidence” of acceptance with God; a confidence founded, 1. On the general character of God
[There is, in the mind of every one who has the least knowledge of God, a persuasion that “ he delights in mercy;" and though this of itself is not sufficient to warrant a confidence of our acceptance with him, it is a strong confirmation of our confidence, when we have really come to him with a humble believing, and obediential fear ---]
2. On the Scripture account of him, as revealed to us in Christ Jesus
a Ps. cxii. 1.