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PRACTICAL RELIGION ENFORCED.
John xiii. 17. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do
SO little was the virtue of humility understood among the heathen, that neither the Greeks nor Romans had a word whereby to express the idea. The lowliness of mind and poverty of spirit which we admire as the summit of Christian excellence, they would have accounted meanness and pusillanimity. But our blessed Lord has instructed us in a far clearer manner than the philosophers of old could do, and has illustrated every one of his instructions by his own example. The act of condescension that is recorded in the chapter before us, very strongly exemplifies the virtue of which we are speaking: though Jesus was the Lord both of heaven and earth, and his Disciples were no higher than poor fishermen, he made himself their servant, and performed for them the meanest office, even that of washing their feet and then told them that such was the spirit which he would have them cultivate, and such the conduct he would have them pursue towards all their fellow-disciples. He declared, moreover, that such views of Christian excellence, attended with a corresponding practice, would prove to them a source of the richest happiness.
We shall not however confine our views to this particular virtue; but shall take occasion from the words of our text to point out, in a more general manner, the connexion between "knowing and doing" the will of God. We shall shew,
I. Their worthlessness when separate
As for doing, without knowing, the will of God, that is impossible; since knowledge is, and must be, the foundation of all practice. No act can be a religious act, unless it be done with a direct reference to the will of God ordering and directing it to be
done. But knowledge may exist without practice: and when it does so, it is altogether worthless.
1. It has no intrinsic excellence
[The devils have knowledge in common with us, and probably to a far greater extent: but do they possess any thing that is truly good? Virtue is good, even though it reside only in the mind, and have no scope for exercise; but knowledge, when considered without reference to practice, is as empty and worthless as ignorance itself.]
2. It is productive of no good
[The science of astronomy, and the knowledge of the magnet, are among the most useful of human attainments: but of what use would they be, if not applied to practical purposes? In the same manner, the knowledge of medicine would never benefit any one, if it were not improved for the healing or preventing of disorders. Thus it is also with respect to divine knowledge. We may be able to delineate all the perfections of God, to trace all the ways of his providence, and to open all the wonders of redemption; we may be able to descant upon virtue, in all its bearings and relations; yea, as the Apostle says, we may "understand all mysteries and all knowledge;" and what are we the better for it all, or what good do we effect by it, if it float only upon the mind, and never operate upon our life and conversation? We are only "as sounding brass or as tinkling cymbals. If it be said, that, by communicating our knowledge, we may influence others; this only amounts to what we are insisting on, that knowledge is of use only in reference to practice; and that it then only does good, when it stirs men up to a suitable improvement of it.]
3. It only aggravates our condemnation—
[We are assured, that " to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin"." Exactly as much good therefore as "sin" does us, so much does unimproved knowledge. Knowledge is a talent, of which we are to give an account: and "to whom much is given, of him will the more be required." The man who knew his Lord's will, and did it not, was beaten with many stripes; while the ignorant offender was beaten with comparatively few. Thus shall we find it in the day of judgment. If, on the one hand, unavoidable ignorance will be considered as an extenuation of our guilt, so, on the other hand, will unsanctified knowledge prove a fearful aggravation of it.]
a 1 Cor. xiii. 1, 2.
Jam. iv. 17.
e Luke xii. 47, 48.
We would not, however, depreciate either knowledge or practice; but rather point out,
II. Their excellence when combined
When connected with each other as the root and the fruit, they have an efficacy,
1. To please God
[The fruits of righteousness that spring from an enlightened mind, are truly acceptable to God. They answer the end for which he originally gave us to his Son, and for which his Son laid down his life. There is not any one act that can flow from just views of ourselves and of Christ, which God will not behold with complacency and accept with joy.]
2. To bring comfort into the soul
[Works of piety are like the incense which, when offered by the priest, not only honoured God, but also regaled the offerer. It is truly said (though many who admire the expression, have very inadequate notions of its import), that religion's "ways are ways of pleasantness and peace," and that "in keeping God's commandments there is great reward." Who ever set himself to serve and honour God, without finding that "the work of righteousness was peace, and the effect of righteousness was quietness and assurance for ever?" It cannot fail but that those who abound in the exercise of virtue, must have the testimony of their own consciences respecting it; and wherever that is, there must be a never-failing source of joy and peaceh.]
3. To embolden us in reference to the day of judgment
[That there is no merit in our works is certain; and if we were to found our hopes of acceptance with God upon them as meritorious, we should delude ourselves to our eternal ruin. Nevertheless we are authorized to expect that God will deal with us according to our works: and, if we have the testimony of our own consciences that it is our endeavour to "walk worthy of God unto all pleasing," we may 66 assure our hearts before him," and "have confidence towards him" in reference to his future judgment. Knowing in our own souls that we have fought a good fight and kept the faith, we may say without doubt or fear, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a
crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me."]
4. To augment our everlasting happiness
[Who need be told, that men will be rewarded in proportion to their improvement of their talents1? This is so plain a truth, that it cannot be denied; and so encouraging a truth, that it ought not to be concealed. A life of holiness is even now recompensed by the richest consolations: but its full value will be known only in heaven.]
From this SUBJECT we shall take occasion to,
1. Condole with the ignorant—
[We have before observed, that knowledge is the parent of all acceptable obedience. What then must be your state while you are ignorant of those great things which belong unto your peace? God himself has told you, that you will find "no favour" at his handsm, but will inevitably and eternally perish". Do but reflect on the condition of a soul that finds "no favour" at the hands of an angry God: surely "better were it for that person that he had never been born."]
2. Counsel the enlightened—
[Value not yourselves upon your knowledge, if you have not a practice suitable to it: for, it is "not the hearer of the law that is just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." You may say, "Lord, Lord," and profess to have known and served him in many things; but you can never enter into the kingdom of heaven, if you have not cheerfully and unreservedly performed his will. Take care therefore that you "be not hearers only of his word, deceiving your own selves; but be doers of it also; for then only shall ye be blessed in your deeda."]
3. Congratulate the practical Christian
["Happy are ye," God himself being witness. Every prominent feature of your character has been mentioned by our Lord as a distinct and certain ground of blessedness'. You are fitly" compared to a wise man who built his house upon a rocks." Compare the difference between such a man, and a foolish man that builds his house upon the sand: and you will then see your own happiness in a just point of view. Hold on then in this good way; and as you have learned how to walk and to please God, see that ye abound more and more."]
k 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8. m Isai. xxvii. 11. P Matt. vii. 21, 23. s Matt. vii. 24-27.
John xiii. 18. That the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me, hath lifted up his heel against me. THERE was scarcely any circumstance relating to the death of our blessed Lord which was not the subject of prophecy. That to which my text refers, was the betraying of our blessed Lord by one of his own Disciples. This event was shadowed forth by the treachery of Ahithophel at the time of Absalom's rebellion. He was the intimate friend and counsellor of David: yet, in the hour of David's extremity, he forsook him, and by his counsel laboured to effect his destruction. Of this David complains, saying, "Mine own familiar friend, whom I trusted, who did eat of my bread, hath lift up his heel against me." But, under these circumstances, David was a type of Christ, as Ahithophel was of Judas: and the complaint which, in its primary sense, was a mere historical record, in its secondary and subordinate sense was a prophecy relating to the manner in which our blessed Lord should be delivered into the hands of his enemies.
In considering this prophecy, I shall shew, I. In whom it may be said to be fulfilled—
We need not confine our attention to Judas: we may well extend it generally to all who partake of God's mercies, and requite them only with ingratitude. It may be considered, then, as fulfilled in,
1. The Atheist
[God, in the works of creation, has loaded us with benefits; so that, whether we survey the heavens or the earth, we cannot but acknowledge, that his mercies have greatly abounded towards us But what is the return which many make? They endeavour to shut him out, as it were, from the universe, saying, "Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.' They deny that he takes any cog ́nizance of the affairs of men; saying, "He seeth us not; the thick clouds are a covering to him: He regardeth us not;" "nor will he do to us either good or evil." They even go
a Ps. xli. 9.