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years elapse, and we come into contact with them again, but still no progress can be perceived-till at length the sight of them reminds us of a piece of wood-work carved in the form of a tree, rather than a living production of nature, for there are no fresh shoots nor any new foliage to be seen; on the contrary, the very same modes of speech, the same views and sentiments upon every point, and the same limited sphere of spiritual conception-no enlarged expansion of the inward horizon, not a single addition to the treasury of christian knowledge. "But," say you, "what need we know more than we do know?" Ah, there it is! You have completed the circle of your knowledge; and in this respect, as you suppose, you are already perfect, and have already attained. But this is an indication of spiritual sickness. For if your souls were in health, and prospering, you would say with Paul, "Not that I have already attained;" you would be sensible of the imperfection of your knowledge; you would believe that thousands of precious things still lay hidden from you in the Scriptures; you would investigate the holy writings with increasing interest; you would continually find new glories whilst perusing the Testament of your Mediator; and when we see you from time to time, we should hear you exclaim, "Oh what precious things I have afresh discovered in my Bible! what a new and valuable light has been given to me upon this or that subject! what new and delightful views have I obtained of the glory and excellency of my blessed Redeemer!" And the more you thus grow in the grace and knowledge of our
Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the more valuable will the Scriptures become to you, the more sensibly will you be convinced that you might continue to search in this mine all your life, without exhausting it of the half of its treasures; and the more decidedly will you say with Paul, "Not that I have already attained;" and so much the more diligence will you give to search further and further into the inexhaustible riches of Christ.
But worse still than self-satisfaction in christian knowledge, is that stagnation of spiritual life which some betray by saying, "My sins were forgiven me; at such and such a time I received the assurance of it; and I know that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance!" The individual leads henceforth what is called a christian life, performs his daily devotions, and supposes that every thing is done, and that he has reached his aim. But was not Paul fully assured of his forgiveness and election? And yet he says, "Not as though I had already attained." We cannot too carefully remember, that
wherever spiritual health is enjoyed, the inward life is in continual progress. The child of heaven, the new creature, endeavours after the stature of a man, after "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." There is, then, no end to its improvement. The life of faith in Christ is an increasing abiding in him as its element. Hence there is less narrowness of mind, more love, more humility, more circumspection, more uniform zeal.
One word more upon our "not having yet attained." For St. Paul says, I count all things but loss and dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him; not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is by the faith of Christ, even the righteousness which is of God by faith." Here then we perceive, that the righteousness of faith ought to be continually the aim and prize to which as believers we are to "reach forth;" I say, continually, and not merely at the commencement of our christian course. And why are we to reach forth to it? Surely in order to enjoy it, to appropriate it, and to be invigorated by the belief of it to active love for Christ and for our brethren; and consequently to walk as He walked, and in perpetually doing good to men, both temporally and spiritually. And this requires perpetual self-denial and exertion on our part. It requires what the apostle calls "reaching forth unto the things which are before." For surely we cannot be ignorant that there are many hinderances to our attainment of this vigorous state of personal christianity. To name only that single hinderance, our natural reluctance to rely simply on the merits and strength of our Divine Surety is not this enough to awaken a holy jealousy against ourselves, and a vigilant spirit of prayer and diligence? We are prone so to forget the freeness of the grace of justification before God through the merits of the Redeemer, as to fall back in some degree upon the covenant of works. We are apt to imagine that some particular degree of holiness must first be attained, before we can presume to rejoice in the free forgiveness of all our sins, and our reinstatement in the Divine favour; whereas, it is entirely through our Lord Jesus Christ that God justifieth the ungodly. Forasmuch, then, as our whole peace, comfort, and strength depend primarily on our heartfelt belief of what we are and have in Christ Jesus, surely we have need to be constantly directing our endeavours after a full apprehension and heartfelt experience of the inestimable worth of Christ to our souls. For this is the only way to obtain complete victory over indwelling sin, and it is the main motive to adorn the doctrine of God our
Saviour in all things. Faith in the word of God concerning Christ our Saviour, is the healthful element in which a christian spirit thrives. And how good is it always to remember, that while we are endeavouring to apprehend the word of God, we are thus giving a proof that "we are apprehended of Christ Jesus," as St. Paul speaks. What a blessing is it always to feel that every desire after him is owing to his own previous love toward us, and to his gracious interposition on our behalf: and that each christian should speak and think of him for himself, as the Saviour who loved me, and gave himself for me!
Ever then let the wish and prayer of Moses, more and more, be ours: "I beseech thee, show me thy glory!" St. Paul being thus apprehended of Christ, follows after," that he may apprehend that for which also he is apprehended" of him. And what is this which he so desires, but that, with every increasing experience that in the Lord Jesus he has all righteousness and strength, he may become more and more like him, by keeping his words, and conforming to his precepts and example; by entering more feelingly every day into the spirit and meaning of all his gracious will and intentions. For his sake this holy apostle had thrown every thing overboard which he once had counted gain. All such things he had learnt to account as loss for Christ, regarding them but as dross, "that he might win Christ, and be found in him." He therefore forgets himself with respect to all that he is by nature and by birth, and all that he has acquired by his own efforts. He has nailed to the cross the image of his whole former man, and cast away his specious advantages as an offscouring from his sight. He is willing to be nothing in his own eyes-nothing but a poor needy sinner; for he is not afraid to behold his own natural condition, because he knows that grace excels and repairs it a thousand times. He is much more afraid of the insinuating fancies of his own virtues and good works, because he is, once for all, resolved never more to admit any other consolation into his heart than that Divine one, that he is justified and complete in Christ. Nay, he goes still further in forgetting self. For even that which he had already enjoyed and acquired, in his intercourse with the Lord, he regards among "the things that are
Many have been tempted to spiritual pride, or else to spiritual depression, by the thoughts of their past experience in a life of grace. Some are very apt to indulge in melancholy recollections of a past and better state than that which they now enjoy. They laud the golden days of their espousals, the blessedness they
knew when first they tasted that the Lord was gracious; and thus they stand like superannuated old men, who have left the fairest periods of their life behind them, and having no definite hopes for the future, only occasionally begin again to warm a little, when the past presents itself to their minds, and sends some sunny rays into their present winterly existence. Oh, how different does St. Paul appear in this respect! Still brighter attainments of the confidence and joy of faith are the objects he keeps perpetually in view. He presses forward towards the mark for the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus. He cannot be satisfied with beholding only a few glimmering rays of the Divine glory; nor with any thing short of being "changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord," 2 Cor. iii. 18. He saw the fairest days of his spiritual life lying not behind him, but before him. Compared with what was yet to come, all the past was to him only as a foretaste; 66 an earnest of the inheritance," Eph. i. 14.
Behold, brethren, such was the mind of the great apostle. And is not this a pattern for us that may well awaken our desire to grow in grace? What remains, then, but that we be found living and walking in the same spirit and in the same steps, that we may realize the same blessing, the same enjoyments? May He, who saith, "I am the Lord, thy Physician," have mercy upon us, and having forgiven us our iniquities, may he also heal all our diseases. May He put away from ourselves whatever hinders the free and joyful development of spiritual life within us. May He deliver us from the bonds of false and hurtful notions, and grant, that the love of Christ may be the main stem, and faith in Christ the root of all we do. Yea, may the God of peace and of all grace transplant every one of us from the sterile soil of a false legality and self-righteousness, into the fruitful and well-watered soil of his own gospel; and under the breathing of his life-giving Spirit, cause us to flourish, that we may be perfect in love, and "grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ!
XXVIII.—THE WRITING WHICH CAME TO JEHORAM FROM ELIJAH.
AN awful shipwreck of a royal vessel is recalled to our notice by the portion of Scripture selected for our present meditation. Let the wreck here presented to us be a warning against heart idolatry, that great evil of the present day. Let the affectionate words of the last surviving and aged apostle be now more heeded than ever: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." Amen.
2 CHRON. XXI. 12-15.
"And there came a writing to him (Jehoram) from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus saith the Lord God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but hast walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and hast made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to go a whoring, like to the whoredoms of the house of Ahab, and also hast slain thy brethren of thy father's house, which were better than thyself: behold, with a great plague will the Lord smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods: and thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day.'
I. ELIJAH rests from his labours. At the time of his departure to heaven, king Jehoram, the son of Ahab, sat on the throne of the kingdom of Israel. Jehoshaphat reigned in Judah, and continued to do so until the eighth year after the removal of our prophet. He also had now been gathered to his fathers, and his first-born, Ahab's son-in-law, the degenerate Jehoram, of the same name with his brother-in-law, the king of Israel, had ascended the throne. To this Jehoram a writing comes, the contents of which were far from agreeable. The writing came from "Elijah the Tishbite," who had departed in the chariot of fire to heaven at least six years before.
It is said by St. Paul, that Abel, in a figurative sense, ing dead, yet speaketh." The quiet and godly character of this pious shepherd; his accepted sacrifice offered unto God in faith; his unnatural death, prefiguring to future ages what the children of God had to expect in this world; his blood, which cried to