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we say, reference to these must be assumed. But, thus assuming them, we say, that as God requires not what is impracticable, when we can, with facility and comfort, do what he requires, we are strong: when we cannot, we are weak. And of this weakness there may be many degrees, descending downwards, till all traces of acting power disappear, and weakness becomes spiritual impotency.
Spiritual strength is our duty. “ Thy God hath commanded thy strength.” A few consecutive remarks will sufficiently illustrate the subject, to enable the reader to apply it to his own practical purposes.
1. It is rendered necessary by the plain requirements of the spiritual life. That man, in his natural life, is made for activity, is so obvious as scarcely to require more than a passing reference. We have only to look at his condition. By muscular energy he is enabled to exercise certain powers over himself and surrounding circumstances. Possessing life in its healthy condition, of these exercises he is actually capable. And such is his state, in all the present characteristics of our common humanity, that he is required to exert these energies, and in various ways to perform these exercises. As we have said before, he is made for doing and bearing, for resisting and sustaining. Now, when we come to the spiritual life, the analogy is so exact and striking, that in very many instances, the terms which describe the exercises of the spiritual life are adapted to them by derivation from those of the natural life. We are thus required to “ work out our own salvation," -to“ labour for the meat that endureth to everlasting life,”-to “resist our adversary the devil steadfast in the faith,”-to “bear one another's burdens,”-to “endure temptations,”-to “ war a good warfare,”-to “run the race set before us,”'_to “ break up the fallow ground, to sow in righteousness, to reap in mercy.” Activity and exercise run through the whole ; or if passive endurance be set before us, it is an endurance implying only modification in the form of exertion, not the total absence of energy. It is
« In doing and bearing the will of our Lord,
That we still are preparing to meet our reward." And in speaking of the exercises of the spiritual life, we shall not be misunderstood, as if we only referred to one class of exercises, supposed to occupy a portion of our time and energy, as we might speak of the exercises of the natural, and of those of the intellectual, life of man. We take the phrase, spiritual life, in its scriptural compass, as denoting the direction of the whole man to spiritual objects, and to the attainment of the great end of his existence. He is to glorify God, not as the old heathens understood religion, by doing some religious acts, and doing all other acts without any religious considerations; but by governing himself in all things, so as to secure this. “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
Now, as for the exercises of the natural life, natural strength is necessary, so for the exercises of the spiritual life is spiritual strength necessary. And as these exercises, thus imperatively requiring strength, are positively required, not less is it required that we possess the strength which is necessary for them. He who is devoid of natural strength must either perish, or be dependent on the care and bounty of others. He cannot supply his own wants. They must be supplied by others. But though this may be done in the natural life, in the spiritual life it is inadmissible. A man cannot have his soul saved for him, as it were, by the bounty of others. Religion, followed by the possession and enjoyment of personal felicity in
heaven, implies the personal exercises of grace on earth. By others we may be instructed and admonished, encouraged and warned; but in the direct exercises of the spiritual life there is nothing substitutional. Of course we speak not now of the work of redemption, but only of obligation; and in every way is this personal. What God requires us to do, or to suffer, we must do and suffer ourselves, and do and suffer “in this present world.” The command is as plain as it is positive,-“Work out your own salvation."
2. It is true that man, in his natural condition, is described emphatically as being “ without strength :" it is therefore said, that “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” But, on the other hand, in the provisions and promises of the corenant of redemption, spiritual life is secured to the belierer, and therefore spiritual strength. For the removal of guilt there is the great sacrifice of atonement; and he who seeks to realize its blessings by faith, obtains the forgiveness of sins. Thus justified by faith, he is become a child of God, and a partaker of all covenant blessings. Among these is the immediate result, and thus the great concomitant, of justification, that gift of the Holy Ghost, Lord and Life-giver, who, by shedding the love of God abroad in the heart, and awakening thus that love towards God which is henceforth dominant in the soul, regenerates and sanctifies. God saves us “by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He,”--the language plainly shows that the reference is to the baptism of the Spirit,-" which He sheds on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” The “dead in trespasses and sins” are thus “ quickened ;” and are enjoined to “reckon themselves to be alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And this injunction is not a merely descriptive reference to a state and condition. It is part of a practical agreement, of which the substance is, “ Because ye are alive unto God, therefore let not sin reign in your mortal bodies.” Great as is the strength of sin, evinced by the enslaving tyranny it has heretofore exercised, greater is the power of that spiritual life of which ye are now partakers. Your former impotence was that of death : with spiritual life is the energy of grace. You are able to work out your own salvation, because God worketh in you to will and to do. Once more we quote that comprehensive passage in Isaiah, which, in its connexion, anticipates all of the Gospel but its distinguishing facts. Men, as sinners are there exhorted, “ Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth ;” and He to whom they are to look and come for salvation is that one true God who is “a just God, and a Saviour.” And to show what is the salvation which he bestows, as well as the full consciousness with which it is possessed, it is added : “Surely, shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” And, though the language has a different form, to the same effect is the declaration of the father of the Baptist, on the subject of salvation through the remission of sins,” in his inspired hymn of praise,-“That we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” Such complete deliverance is here represented as flowing from the covenanted mercy of God to all who obtain salvation by the remission of their sins, that they who possess it, and while they possess it, have the ability to serve God acceptably all their days, without fear. He that is born of God “overcometh the world;" “ he keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not :” and so triumphantly powerful is the gracious principle implanted in the soul in regeneration, that St. John says, “ Whosoever is born of God doth not com
mit sin ; for his seed remaineth in him : and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” And thus is connected with spiritual life, the vigour which wins the victory over our triple foe, the world, the devil, and the flesh.
But perhaps the clearest and most impressive illustration of this is found in connexion with St. Paul's declaration,—“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Somewhat unhappily, this sentence, enunciated by itself, makes a sense apparently so complete, as well as so important, that its full meaning, though without design, is not unfrequently, if not obscured, yet restricted, by its severance from the entire paragraph. St. Paul (Phil. iv. 11-13) speaks of the various conditions through which he was providentially led,-conditions each of which required a peculiar modification of the great principle of Christian submission : and he declares himself possessed of ability for each and all. Just here it is that many are found to be deficient. Some can “be full,” who yet know not how to “be hungry;” others can “be abased,” who yet are not able “to abound :" whereas, devoted love only looks at the condition to ascertain the particular duty which it requires, and seeks to glorify God “in whatsoever state” it may be. And it is to this that the Apostle refers. It is as if he had said, “ Various as are the conditions in which I am from time to time placed, and various as may be the modifications of duty consequently required, I have ability for all through the power with which Christ endues me.” * “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Never let the fact be overlooked, that he who says this is St. Paul. Never man was freer from boasting. Besides, he speaks thus by the Holy Ghost. And he scruples not to assert his universal sufficiency for duty through Christ. This, therefore, is the true condition of the spiritual believer. When necessary, he can expatiate on the facts, that this strength is not his own, that it is derived from Christ, and that it is possessed in virtue of union with Christ. But it is no part of humility to speak of it as not existing, or as not possessed. United to Christ, he was alive from the dead ; and with that divine life was connected divine strength, divine sufficiency for duty. This, then, is the second proof of our position, that the possession of spiritual strength is a duty. It is necessary for all that is required in the operations in the life of the new man. It is implied in that inward life of the justified, regenerated, and sanctified believer; and, inasmuch as these terms relate to blessings which are connected with obligation as well as privilege, in saying that it is our duty to possess and maintain them, we in effect say, that it is our duty to possess and maintain the strength which they imply.
3. It is so, because of the means which are established for its preservation and increase. Here again we may perceive the remarkable and instructive analogy subsisting between the natural life of man and the spiritual life of the believer. That which is inorganic and unliving, may be said to possess, at least so long as it is not exposed to some external influence, an inherent permanency. The stone is always the same ; so is the bar of iron. Not so with organism and life. Action occasions waste, and waste calls for supply. The very plants require their proper aliment. Animals require it. So does man. He must have food, or he gradually loses strength, and eventually, the organism becoming unable to support life, he dies. Hence the abundant provision which is made, and in which we know not whether most to admire the wisdom or the bountiful goodness of the Provider, for the supply of the wants of his vast living family. Everything that has
life needs food : and the Psalmist, in the spirit of devotion, refers the unfailing supply to its proper source, - the universal Parent, God. “ He bringeth forth food out of the earth.” “ The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.” “In this great and wide sea are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.” “ These all wait upon thee; that thou mayest give them meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.” Al living creatures have to fulfil, in constant activity, the purposes of their being; and so are they constructed, that for the renewal of their strength, they need the regular supply of food. And their ever-provident Maker has so ordered his marvellous works, that that supply is secured to them.
Thus does regenerate man need food for the support of his new life, and for him, too, is the necessary provision made. This, in the general statement of the fact, is plainly declared by Isaiah. Merely natural advantages he describes as altogether insufficient : “ The youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall.” Still, “ He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength ;" for, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength ;" and this, according to the explicit declaration of the Apostle, (so exact is the doctrinal agreement between the language of the Old and the New Testament,) shall be fully adequate to all the demands of various duty ; for, “They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary ; they shall walk, and not faint.”
In saving man, it pleases his great Creator and Redeemer to deal with him as a creature capable of the spiritual life, and therefore requiring divine influence,-grace; and of what may be termed the intellectual, the truly rational life, and therefore requiring to be instructed in what really is,truth : and “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." They, therefore, who would be strong to resist and overcome all the seductions of error, and to receive saving benefit from the Scriptures, instead of wresting them to their destruction, must “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Here, then, is the great provision for the maintenance of the life of grace. First, there is “the supply of the Spirit of Christ Jesus." And this must be sought by using what have so long, and with such propriety, been termed in the church, “ the means of grace." Especially prayer. In the apostolic epistles, we see continual reference to the work of God in the maintenance, increase, and establishment of the divine life ; and these are always sought by prayer. We quote but a single instance. “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight.” Closely connected with this, designed to instruct as well as animate both our faith and our prayers,—we may observe, secondly,—are the “ exceeding great and precious promises which are given unto us,”— and for this very purpose, that we might “ be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." And, lastly, there is the word of God, that food of the soul, by which, in the exercise of meditating-might we say, digesting ?—faith, the “new creature” may be nourished to everlasting life. Very clearly are the objects of the great principles and affections of Christian sanctification, « faith, hope, and charity," there described ; and it is impossible to place them habitually before the mind, without strengthening the principles
themselves. That which is external and objective in religion becomes thus the very aliment of the subjective. When we look exclusively at the things which are seen, by the things which are seen are we exclusively influenced; but when we look also at the things which are not seen, placing them in their proper position, and maintaining the due subordination of all else, by them are we influenced according to their nature, and we become increasingly spiritual. By the faithful study of holy Scripture, therefore, we become more vigorous in the exercise of every spiritual faculty, more energetic and decided in every species of spiritual action, Desiring the sincere milk of the word, and partaking of this divine nourishment, we grow thereby; the inner man is strengthened.
Sufficient means being thus provided for the maintenance and increase of spiritual strength, to be thus “ strong in the Lord” is not only our privilege, but our bounden duty.
4. It may be observed, lastly, that, on impartial and strict examination, its diminution, but especially its absence, will always be found to be occasioned by something positively wrong. We are weak when we should be strong, either because we have omitted what we ought to have done, or have done what we ought to have left undone.
And let us not be misunderstood. We speak not now of bodily weakness, nor of the mental weakness which physical disorder may occasion, nor even of the loss of the more active operations of spiritual power. There are occasions in which it is the Christian duty, in order to the fulfilment of the divine purposes, it may be in labours and toils, to be “ strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus;” but there are others in which it is “our strength to sit still,” enduring with resignation and meekness whatever may be laid upon us, that in our weakness divine strength may be made perfect. Our great English poet has well described this by referring to Sovereigns, some of whose servants have to engage actively in doing their bidding ; while of others he pointedly, and with solemn significance, observes : “ They also serve who only stand and wait.” This is not physical weakness, though the envious tempter, to disturb our soul, may suggest that it is so. We may be laid aside from the labour that we love, and in which, hitherto, we have been successfully employed. Our place may be supplied by others. A forgetful world, easily overlooking those who are not placed prominently in view, may dismiss us even from memory. We may sit forgotten in our solitude and inactivity. This is not weakness. It is the will of God. We are now called to “rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” Provided his work be done, it is not for us to complain that we are not the instruments. And though no eye sees us, he says, “ Thou shalt not be forgotten of me ;” and the strength he gives us, is now to be exercised in submission and repose. We are speaking of the weakness which can neither do the divine will, nor submit to it. And it is of this weakness we say that it may always be traced to something wrong, to have avoided which was our duty.
And here again we may usefully employ the guidance of the analogy between the natural and the spiritual life, to which we have previously adverted. We may thus be weak and declining,
(1.) For want of proper excercise, through slothful inactivity. We all know that as strength depends on health, so health depends largely on exercise. Relaxation is the effect of indolence. And this is not only the case as to constitutional strength generally ; it equally holds good as to particular muscles. Mechanical skill shows the power of continual exercise. Certain