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"God with all thy heart, thy mind, thy soul, and
thy strength; and thou shalt love thy neighbour "as thyself." These are the two great commandments, in which the whole law is briefly comprehended. But who can fully explain such extensive precepts, or speak of them in terms of commendation equal to their excellency? There can be no part of our conduct, or desire of our hearts; no thought, word, or action whatever; which does not either agree or disagree with these two grand branches of that "holiness, without which "no man shall see the Lord." With these the believer, as far as he acts in character, compares himself continually; and thus determines, whether he hath acted right or wrong in the various circumstances and relations of life. By this rule he learns to decide in doubtful cases; and he keeps it in constant view, while he considers how he should spend his time, use his substance, or employ his talents; what connexions he should form; whether he should contract or extend his acquaintance; what business or situation he should prefer ; or how he should regulate his methods and habits of living. In short, he endeavours to conform himself to the law of God, as the man of fashion or of business does to the rules of the circle with which he is connected.
But, when we have seriously considered the comprehensive, spiritual, and holy requirements of this perfect standard, we shall proportionably be convinced of numberless transgressions, and of immense deficiencies even in our best services: "for by the law is the knowledge of sin." We shall judge very differently of our own characters,
than other men do; or than we ourselves did, before we began to weigh them in this balance of the sanctuary. When each successive hour, and all that passes in our thoughts and conduct, is tried by the law of loving God with all our minds, and our neighbour as ourselves, the boasted goodness of our hearts, the imagined innocency of our lives, the compensating efficacy of our meritorious actions, and the whole fabric of our self-complacency, vanish " as a dream when one awaketh." Then we readily understand that " by the works "of the law no flesh shall be justified in the sight "of God;" and there no longer appears to be any thing absurd, or peculiarly difficult, in this part of the apostolical doctrine. That question becomes important to us, which perhaps we once deemed insignificant or speculative, "How shall man be "just before God?" We inquire with increasing solicitude, "What must we do to be saved?" and we are prepared to welcome information, on the method in which the perfect justice and holiness of God can consist with his abundant mercy, in pardoning and saving transgressors; without excepting even those who have committed the most numerous and heinous offences. Thus the peculiar doctrines of the blessed gospel of God our Saviour come regularly under consideration; and open to our view, in their nature, glory, and value, in proportion as we judge ourselves by the holy commandment, and anxiously seek deliverance from the wrath to come.
It is very affecting to the serious mind to reflect on the supercilious disdain, with which men in general treat such inquiries, and those who are
engaged in them. The natural philosopher, with an air of self-importance, considers his experiments on the properties of material substances, as an employment of superior excellency; and, after having spent many months in most exact and minute investigations, he will smile, with mingled pity and contempt, at the folly of his neighbour, who has occupied a few weeks in studying the way of eternal salvation! Metaphysicians frequently deride all those, as discarding the use of their reason, who decide such questions according to the sure testimony of God! Cold formalists obviate all inquiry by saying that a good life is every thing in ' religion:' and even men of business and pleasure suspend their eager pursuits to join in ridiculing those humble penitents who seriously attend to. this important concern! Yet surely it is most reasonable for a condemned criminal to inquire in the first place, how he may obtain a pardon: and who can doubt, that that person will be most secure from the danger of a fatal mistake, who learns way of approach and success from the Sovereign himself?
These subjects directly make way for the right understanding of evangelical truth: the man, whose views have been described, will perceive that the gospel exactly suits his case, and is worthy of his most cordial reception. He will not object to the truths of Christianity, because mysterious; nor despise them, under pretence of attending exclusively to practice; nor abuse the mercy of God, as an encouragement to sin: he will perceive the connexion and harmony of evangelical doctrines with the whole system of revelation; and will seek
the promised blessings in the appointed way: repentance and works meet for repentance will connect with the life of faith in the Son of God; while his faith will work by love, and love sweetly constrain him to live to the glory of " him, who died "for him, and rose again." These truths will be the nutriment of his faith and hope; he will meditate on them from day to day; thence he will derive all his strength, motives, and encouragement for obedience: nor would his knowledge of the rule of duty suffice even for practical purposes, were he not influenced by the principles of the gospel.
These are some of the most important subjects to which we may suppose that the exhortation of the text calls our peculiar attention. We proceed therefore,
II. To explain and illustrate the exhortation itself, and suggest the most effectual methods of reducing it to practice.
These things must be "in our own hearts," before we can to any good purpose teach them to others, or make them the subject of our frequent conversation. We should therefore apply ourselves, with persevering assiduity, to obtain a comprehensive and familiar acquaintance with the doctrines of revelation, in all respects. Our memories should be stored with the precepts, examples, warnings, and promises of the Bible. "Let the word of Christ "dwell in you richly." This cannot be done, unless we carefully attend to our Lord's exhortation, "Search the scriptures, for in them
have eternal life." "The hand of the diligent maketh rich :" and he, whose delight is in "the law of the Lord, and who meditates in his
"law day and night, shall be like a tree planted by "the rivers of waters, that bringeth forth his fruit " in his season; his leaf also shall not wither, and "whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." This man shall be blessed, and shall be a blessing to others.
Labour then, my brethren, to get thoroughly acquainted with the oracles of God: let your judgment be formed according to them: proportion your approbation of characters and actions by this divine standard. In this manner judge of your acquaintance, connexions, and friends; and, above all, judge thus of yourselves. Try by this rule every pursuit, attainment, or distinction among men: let your fears, hopes, desires, joys, and sorrows, be regulated according to it; that all the affections of your souls may be influenced by the pure and animating principles of our holy religion. Thus, when fatigued with business or disgusted with the world, you will have a never-failing source of refreshment, and a most salutary relaxation, to invigorate your weary powers, and recruit your exhausted spirits.
When the word of God is thus treasured up and engrafted in our hearts, we shall be disposed and qualified to teach his truths and precepts to our relations, to speak of them among our friends, and to diffuse the knowledge of them in the circle of our acquaintance. This is strenuously enforced by the exhortation of our text: "Thou shalt teach "them diligently to thy children; and thou shalt "talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and " when thou walkest by the way, and when thou "liest down, and when thou risest up." In reducing these rules to practice, much depends on