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Hebrews xii. 1, 2.
Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with
, so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin, which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race, that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith!
ALTHOUGH the life of a christian, which has now been described to you with some degree of minuteness, is a most reasonable life, although the more the future predominates over the present, eternity over time, Heaven over Earth, God over the creature in the affections and judgment, the more just and sober is our estimate both of interest and duty,
although the more ready we are to sacrifice all things else for Christ, the more perfectly we act in the spirit of Christ, who sacrificed himself for us, the line of conduct I have thus delineated, whenever fairly put in practice, has always had to encounter in the world the charge of extravagance and enthusiasm.
I admit, indeed, that there is such a thing as culpable enthusiasm in religion. When men comfort themselves by dwelling on the doctrines of the gospel without reference to their practical operation, it is enthusiasm. When they are carried on even by a sincere zeal for what they consider, as the truth, to do acts, which are forbidden by the plain letter and direction of the bible, it is enthusiasm. When they substitute either a correct creed, a particular interpretation of prophecy, or adherence to a particular establishment or party, for actual faith in Christ, actual mortification of sin, and actual advancement in holiness, it is enthusiasm. But yet of all enthusiasm in matters of religion I know of none more dangerous, more irrational, or more common than that of neglecting the privileges of the gospel, living in the spirit of the world around us, and thus satisfying ourselves with a routine of service and an empty profession of christianity, and yet hoping, that, notwithstanding this contemptuous disregard of the greatest of mercies, all will be well with us at the last. On the contrary, and in opposition to all these diversified modifications of enthusiasm and self-delusion, to live a life of the most ardent devotion, of the most entire separation from every thing, that is sinful, of the most decided resistance to the spirit of a world, which is sunk in wickedness and unbelief, and of the most entire concentration of all our energies in the pursuit of one pure and holy object, conformity to the mind of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us, is so far removed from fanaticism and folly, that it is to estimate objects according to the true measure of their value and importance. It is to speak forth the words, and to body forth the form and image, of truth and soberness.
However, that these sentiments may not rest on assertion alone, or even on naked argument, let us now in the last place call forth that great cloud of witnesses, who have proyed the strength of these principles in their lives and deaths, and who have left on record under circumstances, which preclude all suspicion, their experience of the truths, which I can only demonstrate!
The particular truth, to which we require their attestation, is, that faith in the promises of God, or a stedfast reliance on his faithfulness to confer that perfect salvation, which his grace has promised to us, and his atonement purchased, is able under circumstances, the most trying to nature and the most discouraging to hope, to procure for the penitent believer all the blessings of the new covenant, even those of the life, that now is, and of that, which is to come.
To this truth a cloud of witnesses is specifically adduced in the eleventh chapter of the epistle, from which the text is taken, But I pass them by. They are all familiar to you, or may easily become so, if you will only turn to the passages in the old testament, which are referred to in the margin.
One exception indeed I must make. It is
in the case of persons who are represented in the thirty-fifth verse, as having been tortured, and not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. The fact, to which allusion is made, is recorded in the second book of the Maccabees. A narrative is there given of the cruel persecution of the Jews under Antiochus, many of whom, when required to disobey the law of Moses under the severest penalties, cheerfully embraced death with torments in preference to a single act of disobedience to God: and the motive of their conduct is assigned by the apostle, that they might obtain a better resurrection. This is a remarkable testimony to the power of faith in the divine promises at a time, when the doctrine of resurrection and immortality had not been brought to light with that clearness, in which the gospel has since revealed it. That doctrine indeed, independently of the direct assertion of it by Daniel, had been the traditional expectation of the church, handed down from the patriarchal ages, and associated in the minds of true Israelites with all the promises, relating