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THE EFFICACY OF FAITH AS ILLUSTRATED IN THE
CHARACTER AND LIFE OF THE APOSTLE PAUL.
BY REV. JOTHAM HORTON,
OF THE MAINE CONFERENCE.
I am crucified with Christ : nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved ine, and gave himself for me.'
GAL. II. 20.
The character of Christianity, considered as a system of religious truth, is peculiar to itself
. This appears by comparing it with all other systems of religion, of which we have any knowledge. Nor is this surprising, considering that it claims, and by evidence most abundant, demonstrates itself to be of divine origin. Its influence in the formation of character is alike peculiar. It is most admirably adapted to the condition of man, considered as a sinner; it describes his real character, marks his deplorable degradation, and points out his cure. It not only provides and promises, but, when brought to bear on the humble enquirer, effects whatever is desirable. It enlightens the understanding, removes the load of guilt from the conscience, subdues and subjects the unruly spirit to divine control ; purifies and spiritualizes the mind, and plants in the bosom a hope blooming with immortal life.
The process by which it effects its objects is peculiar. Unlike every other system of false religion, it begins by laying the whole superstructure of man's own righteousness, and all the hopes founded thereon in ruins. It deprives him of all expectation of obtaining salvation from and by himself, and assures him that if he be saved, it must be by the interposition of another: thus its influence upon the human heart is most humiliating ; but though it humbles, it exalts; though it kills, it makes alive.
In the passage before us, the Apostle shows, that by the deeds of the law, whether ceremonial or moral, no flesh can be justified.
But he leaves us not to despair of obtaining salvation by other means, much better adapted to our moral helplessness, and quite as consistent with all the perfections of Jehovah. In pursuing this subject, it is proper first to observe the character of the Christian's life, and secondly, the principles from which it proceeds.
I. We are to observe the character of the Christian's life. However important it is on most occasions, to exhibit the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the only proper standard of Christian excellence, yet, as he knew no sin nor imperfection of any kind, as in him were united the divine and human natures, as he was arrayed in all the attributes of Supreme Divinity, it would seem like presumption in us to attempt any comparison between him and any human being, or to hope to make attainments in moral excellence similar to those he manifested.
That the author of our text was eminently a Christian, is obvious to all acquainted with his history. In him were most remarkably exemplified the principles, the spirit, and the practice of his Divine Master. And, although, the circumstances under which he lived, the important work he was called to perform, the wonderful revelations which were made to him, and the fact that he acted under the direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost, may make some difference in his character from that of an ordinary Christian; yet in all its essential traits, they are the same. Perhaps, then, we cannot do better, than to look directly to the life of the Apostle for an exemplification of those excellencies, which should adorn the life of every follower of Jesus.
1. A view of the Apostles life, contrasfed with what it once was, will most strikingly serve our purpose.
"I was alive once without the law. As if he had said, I supposed myself alive to God in all that he required of me,—that in my tempers, words, and actions, there was a strict conformity to his holy law. I never once imagined myself to be a sinner, and of course indulged the hope of eternal life, purely on the ground of my own righteousness. The idea that I must be saved as a sinner, who deserved nothing but wrath and banishment from God to an eternal hell, was as revolting to all the feelings of my heart, as it was incompatible with all my fondly cherished views of my own goodness, and the expectations of eternal life I had founded thereon. Thus in his former life are most obviously apparent his spiritual ignorance, self-righteousness, and self-confidence. He was ignorant of the spirituality, purity, and extent of the divine law. He was alike ignorant of his own character, and by consequence, of the very nature of that righteousness which God requires. From this proceeded his self-righteousness. For no cause is more effectual, through grace, to remove this disposition, than a correct knowledge of our own hearts, contrasted with the purity and extent of the divine requirements. As he was not acquainted with these most essential points, he presumed on his own goodness,-fancied that his own righteousness was allsufficient to give him acceptance with God and admission to glory.
From hence proceeded also, his self-confidence. Observe how he proceeded in his career of persecution. He made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and hauling men and women, committed them to prison, confidently supposing at the same time that he was doing God service. But, contrasted with his life afterwards, how great the dissimilarity! By the influences of grace, he was awakened and made acquainted with himself. This discovery sapped the foundation of the whole superstructure which he had raised on his fancied goodness; and, instead of a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, we now have an humble contrite sinner, laying low in self-despair. Under those rays of divine light which darted into his mind, his.ignorance vanished, his self-righteousness was annihilated, his self-confidence was destroyed; and as a condemned criminal, conscious that he had forfeited all right to the divine favor, he was prepared to receive mercy as the free gift of God. Thus the old building was laid in ruins, that a new one composed of more precious materials might be reared to God; and he become an habitation of God through the spirit. In view of that amazing stoop of divine mercy thus manifested: in delivering him from a degradation so low, a sense of guilt so intolerable to be borne, a punishment so dreadful and so justly merited; his exulting soul, under the influence of the emotions of gratitude to God, and benevolence to men, rejoiced to proclaim to others this new and living way of life and salvation. And he was now prepared to enter,
2. Upon a life of self-denial. It was not enough, that, at the moment of his conversion, he should make an entire surrender of himself to God, to be henceforth consecrated to his holy service; but he became thoroughly convinced from those views he now entertained of the corruption of his heart, the perversity of his mind, and the temptations and trials to which he must inevitably be exposed during his probation on earth, that he must be a self-denying man to the close of his life. In reference to the same fact, he observes, “I am crucified with Christ,' the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world,' 'I die.daily. It was his constant effort to remain dead unto the world, that he might live unto God. He relinquished the pleasures, the honors, and all the emoluments of the world; nay more, whatever made his brother to offend, though it might be numbered with innocent enjoyments, was cheerfully sacrificed, that the cause, which had become as dear to him as existence, might not be impeded in its prosperity. It was in this spirit of self-renunciation he lived, and not a day passed, without providing an occasion for its exercise.
He had adopted the will of God as the rule of all his inward tempers,
and outward actions, and, as the whole current of his natural inclinations set in opposition to this will, it became indispensable that he should deny himself in all things; and, through the aid of divine grace, improved by constant effort, he acquired this gracious habit: he was thus enabled to bring all things into subjection to the mind of Christ. In this he was pre-eminently a follower of his divine Lord, who came not to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him. Having obtained this most valuable trait of character, he was prepared for all the reverses he might be called to experience during his earthly pilgrimage. By this means we can account for the equanimity he ever manifested. He rose superior to the smiles and frowns of an opposing world, the wiles of the devil, and the failures of falsehearted and apostatized brethren. With confidence unshaken in his God, he was enabled to stand averse against the world (singularly good.' The influence, which gave such strength to his character, came from above.
But few men ever had more self-command; none were ever more independent of all the outward circumstances of life.
3. His, was a life of benevolence. This heaven born principle, was shed abroad in his heart, at the moment when he obtained justifying mercy. It is indeed no more than the out-breathings of a renewed soul:—a soul brought into fellowship with God. It is one of those vital emotions, which is never separated from one truly born of God; and so necessary that no one can be a Christian without it. It was based upon the love of God and the love of man, which always exist in union in the believing soul.
This benevolence was ardent and sincere. It was very unlike that which
proceeds merely from the dictates of common prudence, and is called into being, and continued in exercise, by the principle of natural kindness and the dictates of honor. These, however well they may serve some of the common purposes of life, do not put themselves forth from motives so pure, nor with emotions so warm, as does that benevolence which is truly Christian. This takes its character from that displayed by the Son of God himself, in coming into the world to save sinners. It estimates the value of the object on which its regards are bestowed, by its amazing capacity for bliss or woe,
-by the astonishing efforts made to rescue it from infinite ruin. Thus it determines what should be the nature and extent of its own exertions in the behalf of an object so interesting. It acts with as much vigor amid the contumely and reproach of enemies, as when aided and encouraged by the smiles and co-operation of its friends. Moved by this divinely inspired principle, the Apostle proclaims the unsearchable riches of Christ with as much energy and joy, when surrounded by enemies about to drag him to prison, or to death, as when at Jerusalem or Antioch he is hailed by hundreds of happy disciples as the harbinger of mercy.
He saw, even in his persecutors, the image of God, though in ruins; and of every one of them, his philanthropic heart was wont to say, this is the purchase of our Redeemer's blood. His benevolence was extensive in its regards. It knew no limits, and in so far as his efforts in the behalf of man were concerned, it levelled all distinctions;—the Barbarian, the Scythian, the bond and the free, he considered as having alike claims upon his disinterested efforts. The extent of his commission made the world his parish, while his affectionate bosom cherished emotions of the purest sympathy for the woes of the whole sinning race. This was demonstrated by a long series of beneficent acts.
4. His was a life of labor, and of suffering. In common with his fellow Christians, he had to contend with the ills incident to a probationary state. Labors and sufferings distinguish our present mode of existence. These are the effects of the fall, and strikingly mark our moral degradation. It is a common but true saying, that the whole current of our moral nature, sets in direct opposition to grace. To stem this current, becomes the work of
Christian as soon as he enters upon his new and holy life. And this is the occasion of those peculiar labors and sufferings to which all the followers of Christ are subjected. None need indulge the hope to escape them; but all may reap the advantage of faithful, cheerful endurance under them.
Without speculating upon the process by which the virtues that now distinguish and adorn the Christian, are called into exercise and matured among holy beings; and how they would have been called into existence and matured in our first parents, in the garden of innocence, we may rest assured, that the evils and inconveniences which beset us at present, shall be overruled in behalf of the truly righteous, to the promotion of their present purity and happiness, and to augment their future glory. And thus is manifest, the wisdom of God, in making those very evils to which we have been subjected by the fall, contribute to our restoration.
The sufferings of the early Christians, have been proverbial, in all ages of the Church. The meekness and patience they manifested under them, alike show the power of divine grace to sustain an immortal spirit under the greatest pressure of bodily suffering; and affords an illustrious display of the excellence of that religion, of the truth of which, their lives were a living demonstration. These, in the nervous language of the Apostle, were those living epistles known and read of all men. But in his labors and sufferings as a minister of the Lord Jesus, the character of the Apostle receives its most striking illustration. To know these in their nature and ex