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ST. JOHN XV. 5.
For without me, ye can do nothing.
Our Saviour, in the former part of the verse, having told his disciples,—That he was the vine, and that they were only branches ;-intimating in what a degree their good fruits, as well as the success of all their endeavours, were to depend upon his communications with them,--he closes the illustration with the inference from it, in the words of the text,
" For without ine, ye can do nothing.”--In the 11th chapter to the Romans, where the manner is explained in which a Christian stands by faith there is a like illustration made use of, and probably with an eye to this--where St. Paul instructs us-that a good man stands as the branch of a wild olive does when it is grafted into a good olive-tree ;--and that is,--it flourishes not through its own virtue, but in virtue of the root, and such a root as is naturally not its own.
It is very remarkable in that passage, that the apostle calls a bad man a wild olive-tree ;-not barely a branch (as in the other case) but a tree which, having a root of its own, supports itself, and stands in its own strength, and brings forth its own fruit. And so does every bad man, in respect of the wild
and sour fruit of a vitious and corrupt heart.---According to the resemblance,-if the apostle intended it-he is a tree-has a root of his own, and fruitfulness, such as it is, with a power to bring it forth without help. But in respect of religion, and the moral improvements of virtue and goodness-the apostle calls us, and reason tells us, we are no more than a branch ; and all our fruitfulness, and all our support,-depend so much upon the influence and communications of God, that without him we can do nothing, as our Saviour declares in the text.There is scarce any point in our religion wherein men have run into such violent extremes as in the senses given to this, and such like declarations in scripture,--of our sufficiency being of God ;-some understanding them so, as to leave no meaning at all in them ;-others, too much :—the one interpreting the gifts and influences of the Spirit, so as to destroy the truth of all such promises and declarations in the gospel ;-the other carrying their notions of them so high, as to destroy the reason of the gospel itself,—and render the christian religion, which consists of sober and consistent doctrines, the most intoxicated,--the most wild and unintelligi. ble institution that ever was in the world.
This being premised, I know not how I can more seasonably engage your attention this day, than by a short examination of each of these errors ;-in doing which, as I shall take some pains to reduce both the extremes of them to reason,-it will necessarily lead me, at the same time, to mark the safe and true doctrine of our church, concerning the promised influences and operations of the spirit of God upon our hearts;-- which, however depreciated through the first mistake-or boasted of beyond measure through the second-must nevertheless be so limited and understoodas, on one hand, to make the gospel of Christ consistent with itself; and, on the other, to make it consistent with reason and com
If we consider the many express declarations, wherein our Saviour tells his followers, before his crucifixion,—That God would send his Spirit the Comforter amongst them, to supply his place in their hearts ;-and, as in the text,- That without him, they could “ do nothing :"_if we conceive them as spoken to his disciples, with an immediate view to the emergencies they were under, from their natural incapacities of finishing the great work he had left them, and building upon that large foundation he had laid,—without some extraordinary help and guidance to carry them through, no one can dispute that evidence and confirmation which was afterwards given of its truth ;-as our Lord's disciples were illiterate men, consequently unskilled in the arts and acquired ways of persuasion.-Unless this want had been supplied,—the first obstacle to their labours must have discouraged and put an end to them forever. As they had no language but their own, without the gift of tongues, they could not have preached the gospel, except in Judea ;-and as they had no authority of their own-without the supernatural one of signs and worders--they could not vouch for the truth of it beyond the limits where it was first transacted. In this work, doubtless, all their sufficiency and power of acting was immediately from God;-his Holy Spirit, as he had promised them, so it gave them a mouth and wisdom which all their adversaries were not able to gainsay or resist;--so that without him without these extraor. dinary gifts, in the most literal sense of the words, they could do nothing.--But besides this application of the text to those particular persons and times, when God's spirit was poured down in that signal manner, held sacred to this day, there is something in them to be extended further, which christians of all ages-and, I hope, of all denominations, have still a claim and trust in,-and that is, the ordinary assistance and influences of the spirit of God in our hearts, for moral and virtuous improvements; these, both in their natures as well as intentions, being allogether different from the others abovementioned, conferred upon the disciples of our Lord.The one were miraculous gifts-in which the endowed person contributed nothing which advanced human nature above itself, and raised all its projectile springs above their fountains ; enabling them to speak and act such things, and in such manner, as was impossible for men not inspired and preternaturally upheld. In the other case, the helps spoken of were the influence of God's spirit, which upheld us from falling below the dignity of our nature : that divine assistance which graciously kept us from falling, and enabled us to perform the holy profes. sions of our religion.--Though these are equally called spiritual gifts, they are not, as in the first case, the entire works of the Spirit, but the calm co-operations of it with our own endeavours; and are ordinarily what every sincere and well-disposed christian has reason to pray for and expect from the same fountain of strength, who has promised to give his Holy Spirit to them that asked it.
*From this point, which is the true doctrine of our church, the two parties begin to divide both from it and each other ;-each of them equally misapplying these passages of scripture, and wresting them to extremes equally pernicious.
To begin with the first ;-Of whom should you inquire the explanation and meaning of this or of other texts,—wherein the assistance of God's grace and Holy Spirit is implied as necessary to sanctify our nature, and enable us to serve and please God ?
- They will answer,--That no doubt all our parts and abilities are the gifts of God ;-who is the original author of our nature,--and, of consequence, of all thai belongs thereto.---That as by " him we live, 6 and move, and have our being,"We must in course depend upon him for all our actions whatsoever,—since we must depend upon him even for our life, and for every moment of its continuance. That from this view of our state and natural dependence, it is certain, they will say, We can do nothing without his help. But then they will add, That it concerns us no farther as christians than as we are men; -the sanctity of our lives, the religious habits and improvements of our hearts, in no other sense depending upon God than the most indifferent of our actions, or the natural exercise of any of the other powers he has given us.--Agreeably with this, that the spiritual gifts spoken of in scripture, are to be understood by way of accommodation, to signify the natural or acquired gifts of a man's mind,--such as memory, fancy, wit, and eloquence ; which, in a strict and philosophical sense, may be called spiritual;because they transcend the mechanical pow