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we believe every man honest, till we have evidence to the contrary: but they exempt no man from their suspicions, till a full experience of his integrity has constrained them to revere his character. But between the extremes of blind confidence and uncharitable suspicion, there is a medium, a cautious reserve, which prudence dictates, and religion approves. Such a reserve seems naturally, and as it were necessarily, to result from the observation in our text; an observation humiliating indeed to our proud nature, but justified by the actual state of mankind in all ages; and fitly calculated to guard us against an undue confidence either in ourselves or others.
This observation we shall confirm, by shewing, I. That a profession of goodness is common
The virtues of truth, honour, integrity, benevolence, friendship, liberality, are claimed by every one as the inherent and characteristic qualities of his heart: and even piety itself is, if men's opinions of themselves be true, an inmate of every bosom. “Goodness” is not only approved by all, but claimed as the property of all : 1. Of the profane
[They do not indeed boast of their goodness; they will say, as hypocrites do, that they are as good as their neighbours. It is true, they are not always quite so correct in their conduct as they might be; yea, they are sometimes betrayed into follies which they cannot justify; but they mean no harm; they injure nobody ; they have good intentions, good dispositions, good hearts' – The fruit is bad, they acknowledge: but they will have it, that the tree is good.] 2. Of the moral
[These have some more pretensions to goodness, it may be thought: but their estimate of their own character is scarcely less erroneous than the judgment of the profane. They are observant of many duties; and oftentimes are really eminent for honour and integrity in their dealings. But they omit from their catalogue of duties all that pertains to the spiritual life, and content themselves with a system of heathen ethics. Humility and contrition, faith and love, heavenly-mindedness, and communion with God, are scarcely considered by them as forming any part of true goodness : on the contrary, they allow
themselves in self-esteem, self-preference, self-righteousness, and self-dependence; and, when full of these hateful dispositions, they will be “thanking God (with the Pharisee) that they are not as other mena,” and will, in the habit of their minds at least, say to a repenting publican, “Stand off; come not near to me; I am holier than thoub." Of these St. Paul
that “they have the form of godliness, but deny the power thereof."] 3. Of the unsound professor
[No one stands higher in his own conceit, than the person who has learned to talk about the Gospel, but not to practise its precepts. Because he has a zeal for some religious tenets, or for his own particular party in the Church, he is ready to conclude himself a true, perhaps an eminent, Christian; though his religion is seated altogether in his head, and has never descended to his heart. He never stops to inquire into his spirit and conduct, or to examine whether his tempers and dispositions accord with those of Christ. It is highly probable that he is guilty of very shameful neglect in many of his social and domestic duties : as a master he is proud and imperious ; as a servant, inattentive and impatient of rebuke; as a parent, remiss in the instruction of his family; as a child, wilful and disobedient to his parents; in conversation, censorious ; in dealings, unfaithful; and in the whole of his demeanor, conceited, forward, petulant, morose. Yet behold, this man, because he can talk about religion, arrogates to himself the title of good. Truly this man, whatever he may think of himself, belongs to “ the generation that are pure in their own eyes, but are not washed from their filthiness d.
professes to know God; but in works denies him."]
But however common a profession of goodness may be, it must be confessed, II. That a life suited to this profession is very rare
We have seen what opinion we should form of the world, if we implicitly received men’s record of themselves. But, if we apply to those who have been most conversant with the world, what shall we think of it then ? Will they not tell us, that scarce any man is at all to be trusted, where his own interests are at stake : that it is scarcely possible to have dealings in any branch of commerce without meeting with numberless frauds and impositions: and that, if you rely on men's professions of disinterestedness
a Luke xviii. 11. b Isai. lxv. 5. c 2 Tim. ii, 5. d Prov. xxx. 12. e Tit. i. 16.
and friendship, you will, as soon as you come into any great trouble, find yourself in the predicament of one, “who has a broken tooth, or a foot out of joint';” being not only deceived in your expectations of succour, but deriving great pain from vours to obtain it?
Even in reference to these virtues to which all lay claim, and to be destitute of which they would account it the greatest disgrace, we may apply that humiliating question, “A faithful man who can find ?” We must not indeed understand this question as importing that no such person can be found; but only, that there are very few. But we must not limit the question to mere heathen virtues: we must extend it to all the obligations, which, as Christians, we acknowledge. Who then is faithful, 1. To his principles ?
[As Christians, we profess to lie low before God, to live by faith on his dear Son, to devote ourselves unreservedly to his service, and to seek our happiness in communion with God. But where are they whose lives correspond with these professions? Are they not so few, that they are even
signs and wonders upon earth ?" - As for the generality, they will commend departed saints, but revile and persecute the living ones: they will applaud goodness in general, but decry and discourage it in its most exalted particulars.] 2. To his promises ?
[In our baptism we all promised to "renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh.” When we were confirmed, we renewed these promises, and confirmed, by our own personal consent, the engagements that had been before made in our behalf. If we have attended at the Lord's Supper, we there also solemnly dedicated unto God ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice to him; to be employed in his service, and, if he see fit, to be consumed for his glory. And how have we fulfilled these promises? Has the world been under our feet? Have all the desires of the flesh been mortified? Have the service and enjoyment of God been the one business of our lives? ---] 3. To his convictions ?
[There is no one so thoughtless or obdurate, but he has at some times a conviction arising in his mind, that he ought to repent, and turn to God, and to stand ready for death and judgment. Even the most advanced Christians feel many secret reproofs in their consciences, and are constrained to acknowledge, that they should be more meek and humble, more earnest and vigilant, more pure and spiritual. But who is faithful to his convictions? Who makes the advances that he ought, or the advances that he might? --] Let us LEARN then from this subject, 1. To be jealous over ourselves—
f Prov. xxv. 19.
[If there be so much self-deceit in the world, who are we, that we should be altogether free from it? Have not we a great measure of self-love within us, as well as others ? Are not we liable to be biassed in our judgment by passion and interest ? and is not our heart, no less than the hearts of others, “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked?" Surely we have need to tremble, when we hear God saying to us, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, and the end thereof are the ways of death 8" and again, " That which is highly esteemed among men, is an abomination in the sight of Godh." Let us then be on our guard against the overweening conceit of our own goodness : let us bring ourselves to the touchstone of God's word: and let us beg of God to “ search and try us, to see if there be any wicked way in us; and to lead us in the way everlasting!." “ Not he that commendeth himself is approved, but he whom the Lord commendethk."] 2. To seek the influences of God's grace
[It is no easy matter to be a Christian indeed," an Israelite without guile." We may be free from gross sin, and yet far enough from that state in which we ought to be. Our own efforts (so to speak) may suffice to " keep the outside clean;" but who, except God, can cleanse the heart? None, but he who formed the universe at first, can create our souls anew: nor unless “chosen and called by him,” shall we ever be found “faithful" in the last day! Let us, under a full conviction of our own insufficiency, cry mightily unto him; that he would "put a new spirit within us, and cause us to keep his statutes and his commandments, to do them m.” It is "he who must work all our works in us;" it is he alone that can make us“ sincere and without offence until the day of Christ !”]
3. To value and trust in the righteousness of Christ
[Who amongst us would dare to found his hopes of salvation on his own faithfulness? Who is not sensible that he
& Prov. xiv. 12.
h Luke xvi. 15.
i Ps. cxxxix. 23, 24. m Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27
has, in instances without number, been unfaithful to his principles, his promises, and his convictions? If we presumed to stand on that ground, God would say, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.” But, if we were not conscious of any unfaithfulness, we still could not venture to make that the foundation of our hopes; because we are so ignorant of ourselves, and so prone to self-deceit
. We could even then only say with the Apostle, “I know nothing by myself, yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord :" yes, we must then cast ourselves altogether on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Let this then be done by every one of us: and, instead of proclaiming every one his own goodness, let us all humble ourselves before God in dust and ashes, and say with the Church of old, “In the Lord alone have I righteousness and strength"."]
n Isai. xlv. 24.
NO ABSOLUTE PERFECTION HERE BELOW.
Prov. xx. 9. Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am
pure from my sin ? THE great characteristic of the Proverbs is wisdom; as that of the Psalms is piety. They were the result of much thought and observation : and the instructions contained in them were such as a father might be supposed to give to his children. Occasionally, however, according as his mind had been occupied, the tenour of his observations was varied; and they assumed, what may be rather called, a vein of piety. We suppose, that, when he penned the passage before us, he had been led into some unexpected discovery of the corruptions of his own heart; and from thence had been drawn to contemplate in a more extended view the general depravity of human nature, not merely as evinced by the ungodly, but as manifested by the remains of sin in the most eminent saints. However this may be, his observation is deep, and of singular importance. It is a challenge to the whole world, to find, if they can, a perfect
Let us consider, I. The truth that is here intimated