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ligion, properly understood, implies unfeigned belief in Almighty God, as revealed to us in the Bible ; reverence for. His perfections, with an ardent desire to imitate them; implicit reliance upon His promises, with an unceasing endeavour to deserve them. Religion also implies faith in the Son of God, with a grateful sense of all we owe to Him, in that He descended from the bosom of His Father, quitted the glories of heaven, and took upon Him our flesh, to save us from the dreadful effects of sin, even from everlasting death. It implies a disavowal of all claim from our own merit to the happiness of eternity, but a profession of dependence on the effectual atonement of the Saviour ; it implies also a hearty reliance upon the proffered aid of God's Holy Spirit, to strengthen our feeble resolutions, to elevate our devout affections, to guide us to every good word and work. If these notions of religion be duly planted in our minds and deeply rooted in our hearts, they cannot fail to bring forth the goodly fruits of a pious and temperate, an industrious and charitable, life. “ If these things be in you and abound,” said St. Peter to those of his own time, 'they make you that ye shall neither be barren, nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “ Wherefore”, he rightly concludes his exhortation, “ the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure : for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall : for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
a 2 Pet. i. 8, etc.
Let then the weighty advice, conveyed through the text, sink deep into the minds of all, who hear me this day. Let all, who now hear me, seriously lay to heart the words of the holy Apostle. “ All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of
grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever.” « Every thing but the word of the Lord is short-lived, and therefore comparatively insignificant. That alone is of inestimable value. Other possessions are unstable and precarious. That is durable and certain. Some gratifications may be convenient and becoming. That is indispensably necessary. Many objects connected with life appear no doubt desirable. One thing, even that, which regards our eternal welfare, can be pronounced “needful.” This alone can give you relief under the troubles of the world, compensation amidst its disappointments, resolution amidst its temptations, security amidst its dangers, patience amidst its vexations, and solace, effectual solace, under its manifold afflictions. This alone can supply you with peace within, when the storm rages from without: this alone can suggest hope in futurity, when the dawn of the life that now is shall be overcast.
Your wisdom will thus be clearly shewn in the selection of an object, where pursuit will not weary, and possession never cloy; and your happiness, even your everlasting happiness, will be completely secured by the deliberate choice of “ that good part which”, our blessed Saviour assures you, “ shall never be taken away."
a ] Pet. i, 24, 5.
The language of Holy Scripture, especially in the prophetical books, is not only full of expressive imagery, but displays the wildness as well as brilliancy of a most poetical fancy. It is also varied occasionally by the introduction of those powerful and picturesque phrases, which from their pertinence as well as strength seize the mind of a hearer, dwell upon his recollection, induce him to repeat them, and at length assume the name and currency of a proverb. It is therefore very evident that language, such as this, cannot be tied down to ordinary rules of interpretation; nor, in the endeavour to ascertain its real meaning, are we to consider what each separate term imports according to our own usage, but what meaning similar diction is supposed to convey in those writers and those countries, who bear the greatest resemblance to the modes of speech, which the Holy Spirit has vouchsafed to employ as the medium of Divine communication to man.
The language of the text for instance is both figurative and proverbial; and evidently will not admit a strictly literal interpretation. For then would the dreadful doctrine be laid down, that sin continued for any time could never be espiated; that by no process whatsoever either of mental illumination, or of moral purification, can the defilement of evil be obliterated. This however is so much at variance with the attributes of God, and so destructive of the well-being of man; it is so contradictory to the express declarations even of the Old Testament, but still more to the means of grace revealed in the New, that it plainly cannot be the intention of the Prophet to describe the forsaking of sin, however long it may have been practised, as a physical impossibility.--He means certainly to describe it as a matter of serious, though not insuperable, difficulty. -And of this no doubt ample proof will be found in the stubbornness of the natural man, which hardens itself against the operations of Divine grace; in the melancholy attestation which sinners themselves have borne to the painful weariness of their situation, while they deplore their inability to make the necessary efforts in order to relieve themselves from it; but, above all, in the powerful and pernicious effects of habit to strengthen that tendency to evil, which has descended upon all the children of Adam.
In endeavouring to pursue the train of ideas, which are suggested by the words of the text, for your edification, I shall, in the first place, enlarge upon the danger of contracting bad habits :
In the next place, I shall point out some of the
most effectual correctives, so far as any correctives can be effectual, in such dangerous cases ;
And lastly, advert to some cases in which the remedy for long-continued sin has been presumed to be more easy than either our experience of human nature, or the authority of Holy writ, will justify uş in expecting
First then, I propose to enlarge upon the danger of contracting bad habits.
This danger we find represented by the Prophet in his high-coloured language to be so great, as to be absolutely insurmountable. He declares that a wish to produce any change from a course of sin into the practice of virtue is as utterly impracticable, as an attempt to whiten the dusky hue of the Ethiopian, or to erase those spots from the skin of the leopard, which the all-powerful hand of the Creator has imprinted from the beginning of things. 6 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ?. then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.”
Now such a change, although, as I have observed to you, not actually impossible, yet is so extremely difficult, as in some degree to justify the strong expressions of the Prophet. For we are so much the creatures of habit, that we cannot disengage ourselves, without the most vigorous and painful efforts, from any course of action, which we have been accustomed long to pursue. — This is not only the case with matters that are at first indifferent in themselves, and which scarcely produce any pleasure, beyond the repetition of an accustomed action; but in