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with the dictates both of common sense and of sound Divinity, while we give precedence to the thought of our hearts in a prayer for sanctifying grace. For if the tree be made good, the fruit will of consequence be good also. If the fountain be first cleansed, the stream will, of necessity, be pure. ! |
Before we proceed, let us inquire whether this petition of our collect express the genuine desire of our hearts. Do we indeed earnestly wish to have every thought and act sanctified? Let the reader mark the word “ always" as it occurs in our collect, and take it into the account before he answers the question proposed to his conscience. The genuine member of the church of England would not have a single thought arise in his bosom which is contrary to the Divine will, and much less would he do any thing that would displease his heavenly Father.
Do we discern the necessity of this request ? Have we perceived, in consequence of a careful observation of our thoughts, the impossibility of governing them by our own power?
As well might we endeavour to controul the foaming waves which in swift succession beat on the rocky shore during a violent storm. Let the reader register in his memory a few (for a complete enumeration would be impracticable) of the thoughts which arise within his bosom during a single day; and then consider whether there be not a necessity for deep humiliation and earnest prayer both for pardoning and sanctify. ing grace.
But it may be asked, Can we reasonably expect to have our thoughts and doings made “ always rightful” during the present state of imperfection ? No, the time will never arrive
on this side the grave, in which if we say that we have no sin we shall not deceive ourselves. But the believer may expect, in answer to fervent prayer, a growing purity both of heart and life; and every genuine Christian is desirous of having all his thoughts and actions consecrated to God. For this he labours, and looks forward with pleasure to that happy moment when he shall “stand
perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
The end for which we implore sanctifying grace is, “that we, who cannot do any thing * that is good without God, may by Him be ena“ bled to live according to His will, through Jesus « Christ our Lord.”
The declaration of the end proposed in our petition, is preceded by a confession of our natural impotence. On a conviction of personal inability all honest supplication is founded. What we are able to do for ourselves we need not ask another to do for us. Doing here includes the principle of action as well as the action itself. It comprehends both the branches of the preceding petition. We are as unable to think aright as we are to act aright. Now the truth of our confession must be evident to every enlightened person both from Scripture and frequent experiment. If any doubt remain on the reader's mind, let him now make the experiment. Let him attempt to elevate his thoughts to a due pitch of devotion, and to keep them uniformly fixed on God for a single hour; and the trial will justify the humiliating language which our church teaches us to use.
If our confession be sincere, Oh! how precious will the doctrine of gratuitous justification through faith in Christ prove to our souls ! How sweet will the promise of sanctifying grace be to our hearts ! Surely if our minds do not dwell
with delight on the rich mercy of God, and the stupendous display thereof which is made in the gospel; if our bosoms be not dilated with pleasure in the contemplation of a crucified Redeemer, and of a free salvation through His name; we cannot feel our personal inability “to do any "thing that is good.” For, admitting that we are believers in a future state of rewards and punishment, we must either suppose ourselves to be capable of recommending ourselves to God, and of standing at the tribunal of God in our own righteousness; or we should joyfully welcome the glad tidings of pardon and acceptance through Christ Jesus. And if we do not also feel the need of Divine influence to conform our hearts and lives to the will of God; we must either be utterly indifferent about the attainment of holiness, or altogether ignorant of its nature, and hypocrites in the recital of our present collect.
The end which is proposed in our petition for “the Spirit to think and do always such
things as be rightful,” is “ that we may be "enabled by God to live according to His will." This is the grand object of pursuit to every genuine believer in the gospel of Christ. He wishes not to gratify the corruptions of his own heart, nor to make a fair show in the flesh, but to live according to the Divine will. As a drop of water falling into the ocean is so incorporated with it and lost in it that it is thenceforth inseparable from it; in like manner the Christian wants to have his will identified with the Divine will, and swallowed up in it. He would have no interest separate or distinct from the glory of God, and no inclination which does not harmonise with His word. He prays to have his heart and life like a well-tuned instrument from whicle no discordant note arises.
That there is no impropriety in praying for perfect holiness, though we know the impossibility of attaining it on this side the grave, is evident from “ St. Paul's prayer for the church “ of Corinth that they might not do any evil;" although he knew that no man liveth who sinneth not-although he knew that in this life we always must pray, “ Forgive us our sins.” It is our frailty that in many things we all do amiss; but a virtue that we would do amiss in nothing; and a testimony of that virtue, when we pray that what occasion of sin soever do offer itself we may be strengthened from above to withstand it. They pray in vain to have sin pardoned, which seek not also to prevent sin by prayer; even every particular sin, by prayer against all sins; except men can name some transgression, wherewith we ought to have truce. For in every deed, although, we cannot be free from all sin collectively, in such sort that no part thereof be found inherent in us; yet distributively, at the least all great and grievous actual offences, as they offer themselves one by one, both may, and ought to be, by all means avoided; so that, in this sense, to be preserved from all sin is not impossible.*
If it should be asked, Why do believers so ardently desire conformity to the will of God? Many substantial reasons for their solicitude may be assigned. They consider holy dispositions and good works as the natural fruit and necessary effect of that faith which justifies ; as the only satisfactory evidence of a justified state; as commanded of God and pleasing and acceptable to Him in Christ; as what we are bound unto
# Hooker's Works, vol. ii. p. 190.
by the most pressing obligations of gratitude ; as absolutely requisite in order to our meetness for God's service and heaven; and as what will fix the degree of our blessedness in eternity.” And “ are there, can there be, any more powerful motives to obedience than those which have been mentioned! What principles can bind the consciences, interest the feelings, and influence the conduct, of Christ's professed disciples, if considerations like these do not ?"*
* Overton's True Churchmen Ascertained. p. 293 and 296.