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occasion to complain of them; though they make no complaint against themselves. True Christians, whose peculiar character is humility, generally give no occasion to others to complain of them, though they feel the load of in-dwelling sin all their days
“We are all as an unclean thing." Are we humbled enough, brethren, by self-knowledge, to make this confession? An unclean person, by the law of Moses, could not enter the sanctuary. Nor was there any way of cleansing him but by sacrifices,—which prefigured the Lord Christ. We being all unclean, nothing that we do can make us otherwise in the sight of God. The stain and pollution of sinful nature infects all our actions. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean ? not one. He only, who came into the world, without this infection, in the lovely image of divine holiness ; That "holy thing” born of the Virgin, the Son of God, -He only is perfectly acceptable (I am speak- ing of his human nature) in all he does ; holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners. 'Tis by being taken into him, in a mysterious sense, out of a state of nature, and by deriving life out of his fulness, that we begin to live to God indeed. Still it is true, in this life, “when I would do good, evil is present with me,” even though “ I delight in the law of God after the inward man,” which certainly no unregenerate person does in any degree. So fully does St. Paul in Romans 7th agree with the Evangelical Prophet in the chapter before us. Indeed in that 7th chapter he so strongly describes the sense of his sinfulness, that many have quite mistaken him, and supposed that he was speaking of himself while he was persecuting the Church, or that he was personating an ungodly character; or, at least, that he was speaking of a person only beginning to seek God. The truth is, and the whole context shews it, he was speaking of himself at that very time of his writing. “With the mind,” says he, “ I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin."
When we begin to set forth these things to persons who have never known themselves, they are ready to ask, whether such feeling descriptions do not arise from a consciousness of having committed murder, or some other scandalous crime? For the natural man knows no great evil in any thing but certain acts of gross external wickedness; and I remember the Papists took advantage, from confessions of this sort which Luther left in writing, to accuse him of great outward wickedness, though no man's life was more irreproachable. But he was very eminent in this self-knowledge. The leprosy, brethren, lies deep within, and infects all, even the best things, we do. There is not that purity of intention, and perfect uprightness of heart; that genuine reverence and love of God; that unfeigned love of our fellow creatures, in our very best deeds, which there ought to be. And the want arises from the sour leaven of our evil nature, which, mixing with all things, prevents us from being just before God in any one thing. From first to last we need justification by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and to feel our need of this. And to prize our Lord Christ, and to love him as the Lord our Righteous
ness, and thence to be conducted into the paths of true holiness of heart and life, is the great use of the whole subject. If you are too proud to enter seriously into it, you will be in danger either of living in sin carelessly, or of taking up a self-righteous religion, instead of that of Jesus Christ.
“ And all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." After what has been said, we need not be surprized, that the prophet confesses our righteousnesses to be filthy rags. Rags, because they cover not our nakedness, and give us no garment to appear in before God; and Filthy rags, because of the sin that stains even the best actions. The same St. Paul explains this also in the 3d chapter to the Philippians. “ Those things which were gain to me, I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” He not only
” counted all things which he formerly did as loss for Christ; but he now counts' ALL THINGS but loss, even what he was doing at that present time. Separate from Christ even his best actions, in which he was led by the Spirit of God, are but filthy rags. They make no garment to cover his naked soul, no righteousness in which he may boast before God. The sin, which, cleaved to his best actions, if imputed, would condemn him with everlasting ruin. Such is the evil of sin. St. Paul knew how to thank God, that he had a justifying righteousness in which he could appear before God, but this was, as he says, the righteousness which is of God through the faith of Christ. The holiness wrought in him, and the holy acts, which he performed., were not
that righteousness. Compared with that they were filthy rags. Holiness, in truth, is divinely precious; but must be renounced as filthy rags in point of dependance. Righteousness is imputed to him that worketh not, but believeth *.
I would gladly remind you of these peculiarly Christian truths, Brethren. We all commend humility, charity, patience, heavenly-mindedness. Such fruits grow only under the influence of Christian truths. And yet these truths themselves are very much despised in the world, and too faintly seen and held by many who have some seriousness.
They must not be kept out of sight. They are ever found to be needful for the comfort of truly awakened consciences, and without them God becomes a mere name in the world. And I am persuaded, that every one, who knows himself and who has not been sophisticated by prejudices, will feel disposed to join with the Prophet, “all my righteousnesses are as filthy rags.
It is a confession which true humility is ever disposed to make; and he, who sees how short of his duty he is in all things, does make it. And the more holy men really are, the more they have of this humility. For, admitting that the mournful confession of the text suited more particularly the state of the Church, when sensible of great declining and backsliding, yetthere is in every real Christian's experience, at all times, such a sense of imperfection, that he can adopt the main of this confession as belonging to himself during the whole of his pilgrimage. In truth, this is one of the happy uses of godly sorrow,
* Rom. iv. 5.
that it reconciles the mind to the thoughts of death, and causes a Christian to long more earnestly for that state in which sin shall be no more.
“We all do fade as a leaf.” How is this felt by every
real child of God! How often is it so with him! The mind was full of divine love and wrapt in pleasing meditation, it may be, in the morning. How soon does the fervour of devotion wear off, and how insensibly do worldly things deaden the mind, in the course of the day! So that he may justly say,
“ I fade as a leaf." We all do so, says the Prophet, speaking of something that belongs to all, and for which there is a deep cause. The worm of an evil nature secretly devours all the strength that we have. But the Lord from time to time revives the souls of those who wait on him ; and it is in this way, that they go on from strength to strength till they arrive at the heavenly kingdom. If left to ourselves, even after sincere and holy attainments, we should lose ALL, both root and branch; because of the power of in-dwelling sin.
“ And our iniquities like the wind have taken us away.” You feel this at times particularly, when lust and passion inwardly rise and swell strongly. Although you resolve and strive, still the evil within will strive for dominion; and you see and feel, as
; many as know these things, that iniquity, like a strong wind, would carry you away, as it does men still unregenerate, were it not for the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
In the decline and deadness of our souls, we feel “ there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee.” Real