« AnteriorContinuar »
or conceive. They are also animated by the example of many who have overcome in this combat; and especially by the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has been tried, as we now are; and who has power to grant to “ them who overcome, to sit with him in his throne, even as he also overcame, and is set down with his Father, in his throne,” Rev. iii. 21.
Moreover, all success in this exercise, every act of selfdenial, every instance of steadiness amidst temptations, and in opposition to the adversaries of our virtue, when reflected on, casts light and joy on the mind, cheers and refreshes, and inspires with renewed ardour, and strengthens for farther difficulties. As the apostle says: “ For which cause we faint not; but though the outward man perish, the inward man is renewed day by day : -whilst we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things seen are temporal; but the things not seen are eternal," 2 Cor. iv, 16, 18.
III. It remains only, that I conclude, as at first proposed, with some inferences, by the way of a practical application. They will be these two.
1. We are here reminded, that a life of religion and virtue has, in this world, its difficulties.
It is no very easy thing to be steady in the profession of truth, and the practice of virtue. They who expect to find every thing smooth and easy in this way, and look for no opposition or discouragement, will be disappointed. For the life of a christian, as we have seen, is compared in scripture to a warfare, a race, a combat. It is a contention, an exercise that requires a good deal of resolution, and will try all our strength and skill. 2. Nevertheless there is encouragement to hold on therein.
For it is a good exercise. It is innocent and honourable, and will have a great reward hereafter, and has at present its joys and supports; which are not small, but very exhilarating and strengthening.
It is not a little pleasing to hear it called a good exercise by those who have made trial of it. St. Paul, who was so great a master therein, who knew all its difficulties, who had met with good report and ill report, who had been in perils of every kind, who had been as laborious and diligent as any in the service of the gospel ; in a word, he who knew by experience, how much it might cost men, calls it a good exercise. He recommends it to others as such. And near the period of his life he says with exultation and triumph: “ I have exercised a good exercise: I have finished my
race: I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up
. for me a crown of righteousness,” 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8. This is very encouraging to all who are well disposed.
Ånd let us consider what the apostle adds in this exhortation to Timothy; that he had made a good profession; which may be also said of most of us. We have been taught, and we have acknowledged the principles of the christian religion; and we have engaged to fulfil its obligations. Let not expected good fruits be lost for want of perseverance. How great is the reward set before us! How great will be the honour and the joy to receive a crown of righteousness from the righteous Judge! How sad, how afflictive beyond all expression, to lose his reward! It is proposed to us. We may obtain it; but we must now work the works of righteousness, and persevere therein. Whenever sloth and indolence, weariness and fainting of mind, are ready to prevail and gain ground on us, let us recollect this, or some other like quickening admonition of holy scripture: “ Exercise the good exercise of faith. Lay hold on eternal life.” And, “ Let us not be weary in well doing : for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not,” Gal. vi. 9.
THE POWER AND EFFICACY OF CHRIST'S DOCTRINE.
For without me ye can do nothing. John xv. 5. OUR Lord in this context compares himself to a vine, and bis followers to branches. Some think that these words were spoken upon occasion of things recorded in the other gospels, after eating the paschal supper, and Christ's instituting a memorial of himself, to be observed among his people; where he speaks of “the fruit of the vine,” Matt. xxvi. 29; Mark xiv. 25. Others think that our Lord was now retired with the disciples to the mount of Olives, which is said to have abounded with vines. Whether either of those conjectures be right or not, unquestionably the affecting discourses recorded here, and in the adjoining chapters, are such as our blessed Lord had with his disciples at the pascbal supper, and after it, the night in which he was befrayed, and a little before he was taken from them. Those
discourses had made deep and lasting impressions upon the minds of the apostles. We may suppose, that St. John had often repeated them in his public preaching, and in conversation, in the history he had given of his Lord and Master by word of mouth. And now that he was induced to publish a written gospel, in which he designed to insert some particulars omitted by the former evangelists, he determined to record those discourses somewhat at length; being persuaded that they would be of signal use to all that would seriously attend to them.
Ver. 1, “ I am the true vine:" a right and generous vine. Or, as the phrase is in one of the prophets, “ a noble vine,” Jer. ii. 21. In this gospel of St. John, our Lord, at several places, styles himself the true light, the true bread, the good shepherd.” He is all these by way of excellence. He is himself faithful; his words are most true and sure: and his doctrine is most excellent and powerful ; suited to cherish the spiritual life, and to afford genuine fruits of righteousness and true holiness.
“ And my Father is the husbandman,” or the proprietor, who cultivates it in the best manner.
Ver. 2, " Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth” or pruneth " it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” All who make a profession of faith in me, are disciples by name, and visible members of my church. But there are methods of providence, that will show who are true and sincere. In time of temptation, when any extraordinary • offers of worldly good, or dangers of evil, are presented, some will fall away, whilst others will be purified and improved by the same events.'
Ver. 3, “ Now ye are clean, through the word, which I have spoken' unto you.” " As it is meet for ine to encourage, as well as to warn and admonish you; I readily own, that you have received my word, and have shown a great regard to it. And it has good effects upon you.”
Ver. 4, “ Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine: no more can ye, except ye abide in me.": • And I recommend • it to you as what will answer the best purposes to retain ' your present esteem and affection for me, and regard to
Ver. 5, “ I am the vine: ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit. For without me ye can do nothing:
· Let me in. • culcate this upon you under the similitude which I have
mentioned. You will find the case to resemble that of a * vine and its branches. If you are my disciples indeed, and throughout; if you always maintain your respect for me, and consider my words as true and divine, the rule • of your conduct, and the ground and measure of your • hopes, you will abound in the practice of all virtue, and ! will be stedfast and unmoved. But if you neglect me, and ' my words, you will not any longer bear that good fruit, but • will be like a branch, cut off and separated from the root,'
“ Without me:" is the same as separated from me. In the margin of some of our Bibles the phrase is rendered * severed from me.” Which is the meaning of the expression; though the literal rendering may be, “ without me,”
out of me.” Ver, 6, “ If a man abide not in me, he is cast out as a branch, and is withered ; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” If you cast off your regard for me, and for the truth and simplicity of my doctrine, you will resemble a branch separated from
the root, which soon withers, and becomes fit for nothing, • . but to be burned. So you, not bringing forth fruits of true holiness, or bearing nothing to perfection, will be worthless and contemptible.'
Which is agreeable to what is said in another gospel, under a different similitude. “ Ye are the salt of the earth. But if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted ? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men,” Matt. v. 13.
«He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth fruit. For without me ye can do nothing."
The general meaning is: Whereas by a close adherence * to me, and my words, you may excel in virtue, and per! severe therein; if you should forsake me, or abate in your * respect for me and my doctrine, you will do nothing considerable, and may become destitute of all true worth.'
I shall now endeavour further to illustrate this text in some propositions; and then add two or three remarks by way of application. way
Prop. 1. Our Lord does not here intend to say, that without the knowledge of him and his religion, no man can ever do any thing that is good, or right, or virtuous, and acceptable in the sight of God.
Indeed it is hard to think, that rational and intelligent beings should be destitute of all power to do that which is good. It is not reasonable to suppose, that God should
form any intelligent beings destitute of such a power; or that he should suffer them to fall into such incapacity, whilst they are in a state of trial, and their everlasting interests are depending. And there are many things in scripture, either said occasionally, or on set purpose, from which we can conclude men to have this power.
Says St. Paul to the Romans : “ For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law; these, having not the law, are a law unto them selves. Which show the work of the law written in their hearts; their conscience also bearing witness either accusing, or else excusing them,” Rom. ii. 14, 15. They discerned some things to be good and right, others wrong and evil. When they did the one, they were well satisfied with themselves; when the other, their conscience accused them of evil. That text seems manifestly to teach, that heathens had knowledge of things praise-worthy, and otherwise; and that they had power to choose the one, and decline the other.
It is true, the apostle says in the same epistle, that “all the world was become guilty before God," ch. iii. 19. The meaning of which appears to be, that there was a great degeneracy in the world, both amongst Jews and Gentiles ; that there was great need of the gospel, to reclaim and reform men; and that there are none perfectly righteous, and free from all sin; wherefore all stand in need of the pardoning mercy of God. But he does not say, I apprehend, of every individual among Jews and Gentiles, who had not the knowledge of Christ and his gospel, that there were none sincerely good and virtuous; none, who had that righteousness and integrity, which a good, and gracious, and holy God will accept and reward.
There are in the gospels instances of persons, not within the pale of the Jewish church, who gave proofs of a good disposition, and were commended, and accepted by the Lord Jesus. In like manner, it is not impossible, but that still some, not acquainted with the christian religion, may do what is good and virtuous.
A Roman centurion, quartered in one of the cities of Galilee, sent to Jesus, saying, “ Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented,” Matt. viii. 6. But when Jesus was coming toward him, recollecting that it had not been usual for Jews to converse with him, and persuaded of the great power of Christ, he sends him a second message, saying, “ Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof. Speak the word only, and