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Christm. Seek then to become living branches of the living vine: seek an union with the Lord Jesus Christ by faith : so shall you be enabled to bring forth fruit to his glory, and be approved by the Great Husbandman in the day that he shall come to inspect his vineyard" ---] 2. Those who by faith are united to him
[Happy, happy are ye: for, as “those who are separate from him can do nothing," you, on the contrary, by virtue of your union with him can do every thing; as St. Paul has said, “ I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me." In order to this however you must “abide in him," just as the branch abideth in the vine. You must be continually “receiving out of his fulness the grace" which your necessities require P. This life of faith is your wisdom, your happiness, your security 9: and the more entire is your affiance in him, the more will
“ be filled with all the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God."]
m Rom. xi. 24. n ver. 1, 2, 6, 8. o Phil. iv. 13. P John i. 16. 9 Gal. ii. 20.
FRUITFULNESS IN GOOD WORKS.
John xv. 8. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much
fruit; so shall ye be my Disciples. IT is not uncommon to hear those who preach or profess the Gospel spoken of as depreciating and disregarding good works. But this is nothing more than what the Gospel itself teaches us to expect : and, if we be not spoken of in a greater or less degree as undervaluing good works, there is reason to fear that we have not yet fully embraced that Gospel which Paul preached. We see it was the objection raised against him, when he proclaimed salvation by faith in Christ; and therefore he took frequent occasion to obviate it, and to shew that it had no real foundation. He abhorred the idea of such a consequence being deduced from the doctrines of grace, and therefore shuddered at the very mention of it: “ Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! how shall we, who are dead to sin, live any longer therein ?” Yea, he affirms, that however salvation by faith alone may appear to ignorant or prejudiced minds to supersede the necessity of good works, it has directly the opposite tendency: “ Do we then make void the law through faith ?” says he; “ yea, we establish the law.” If the objectors understood aright the nature and office of faith, they would see that nothing but that would secure the performance of good works; since it is by that only that we are united to Christ; and it is only in virtue of that union that we can perform any good work whatever. But, in various other respects, also, is faith favourable to good works. To go no further than the text, we see in these few words two of the strongest inducements to Christian practice that can possibly be imagined ; namely, that it conduces most eminently to the glory of God, and evidences most decisively the sincerity of our own souls.
Let fruitfulness in good works be considered then by us in both these points of view: 1. As glorifying God
We are not to imagine that any act of ours can really add any thing to the Divine glory: for “ goodness, however it may benefit our fellow-creatures, can never extend to him.” But, as God is pleased frequently to speak of our conduct as reflecting glory upon him, we also may with propriety adopt that language, and say, tha
that our fruitfulness in good works glorifies him; in that it shews, 1. The proper scope of his Gospel
[His Gospel was never revealed for the mere purpose of informing our understandings in relation to mysteries which we could never otherwise have known: nor was it revealed for the mere purpose of saving man from perdition. It had a higher and nobler end in view: namely, the destroying of sin, and the restoring of sinners to the Divine image ; " The grace of God, which bringeth salvation," was revealed to “teach us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live righteously, soberly, and godly, in this present world b.” The gift of Christ as a Saviour was "to save us
a Ps. xvi. 2, 3.
b Tit. ii. 11, 12.
from our sinso;" delivering us from the present evil world ; and purifying unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” The gift of the Holy Spirit, also, was to convince us of the evil and bitterness of sino;" and to "sanctify us throughout, in body, soul, and spiritf.”. There is not a promise belonging to it which had not this direct aim in view, that, by laying hold of it, we might“ cleanse ourselves from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God 8."
It is clear, therefore, that the Gospel, as being altogether designed to restore men to the Divine image, does and must reflect the highest glory on Him from whom it proceeds.] 2. The efficacy of his grace
[Whatever we had been, even though we had been as perfect as when we first came out of our Creator's hands, the practice of universal holiness would have been honourable to Him from whom our powers had proceeded; but, considering what creatures we really are, how corrupt and sinful in all our parts, the change wrought in us displays the marvellous efficacy of God's grace. If a husbandman take good scions, and they all prove fruitful, his skill is displayed and honoured in the estimation of all who behold it. But, suppose he were to take none but dry and withered sticks, and to make all of them fruitful, his honour would be the more exalted, in that he should be able to educe fruits from dead sticks, which in themselves were incapable of producing any. Such honour is the Lord's when we dead and barren creatures are enabled to bring forth any fruit unto our God. Such “ trees of righteousness of the Lord's planting" do indeed reflect the highest glory upon him”.] 3. The blessedness of his salvation-
(Let any one behold wilderness made to blossom as the rose, and a desert to become, like Eden, the garden of the Lord;" then he will have some little idea of what is wrought upon the soul by the grace of Christ. See, on the day of Pentecost, the change wrought by a single discourse upon three thousand murderers, whose hands were yet reeking with the Saviour's blood: Was God not glorified in that? Or let us look amongst ourselves : Are there none of us, who, previous to our reception of the Gospel, were left to shew what was in our hearts, and to manifest that we were altogether “ led captive by the devil at his will ?” Compare those persons now with their former state of folly and wickedness; and
c Matt. i. 21.
d Tit. ii. 14.
e John xvi. 8.
will any one say that the change, though still very imperfect, reflects no glory on the Lord? Let the persons themselves judge: Are ye not happier now than in the days of your unregeneracy? Would ye willingly go back to your former state? Does not every day evince to you the blessedness of the change that has taken place? and can you forbear to honour Him who, by the mighty working of his power, has wrought it in you?]
But let us contemplate fruitfulness in that other view; namely, II. As an evidence of our own sincerity
Our blessed Lord told his Disciples, that “if they should continue in his word, then they should be his Disciples indeed'. In truth, fruitfulness in good works is that test of sincerity which is,
1. Exclusively admissible
[All professions without this are vain : "Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?" Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” But if a person manifest a great zeal for divine ordinances, will not that suffice? No: God, speaking by the Prophet Isaiah, says of many of his professing people, “ They seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinances of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledgek?" Yet these people he proves to have been immersed in the vilest wickedness. By the Prophet Ezekiel, also, he describes the same kind of professors in very striking terms: “Son of man, the children of thy people speak one to another, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument : for they hear thy words, but they do them not?." Take the favourable part of this description, and you would suppose them all to be very eminent saints: but see the dark part of
i John viii. 31.
k Isai. lviii. 2, 3.
1 Ezek. xxxiii. 30-32.
their character, and they are most detestable hypocrites. In the parable of the sower we have the same truth yet more fully delineated; for persons may bring forth fruit for a season, and prove apostates at last; yea, they may continue to bring forth fruit to the very end of life, and be found at last to have brought forth no such fruit as God will approve; the briers and thorns having so choked the corn, that "it brought forth no fruit to perfection m."
Hence it is clear, that nothing short of “a patient continuance in well-doing" can ever prove us to be truly upright before God. If we would be acknowledged by Christ as his, we must be “ Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile."] 2. Universally sufficient
[Shew me a fruitful Christian, and I inquire not to what Church he belongs, or what be the subordinate tenets of his creed. I know full well that nothing but an union with the Lord Jesus Christ can ever render a man fruitful in good works. Philosophy never could accomplish this; no, nor could the law of Moses, with all its precepts, and promises, and threatenings, effect it. An outward form of religion was all that the law could give: the Gospel alone could supply the Hence St. Paul says,
“ What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin [did ; that is, he condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit "." “ The law made nothing perfect; but the bringing in of a better hope dido." Yes, the Gospel sanctifies us throughout, in body, soul and spirit, and transforms us altogether into the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness : and that image, enstamped upon the soul, proves to demonstration whose we are. To ourselves it is “ an evidence that we have passed from death unto life:” and “ by it all others, also, know us to be Christ's Disciples."] You will now be anxious to ASK,
1. What are those particular fruits, by which we are to judge of our state before God ?
[It is not by any particular class of fruits, but by fruits of every kind, that we should judge of our state. There must be “no partiality" in God's law; “nor any hypocrisy," in preferring one part of it before another. In all that relates to God, we must be upright; humbling ourselves before him, embracing the salvation he has offered us in Christ Jesus, and devoting ourselves unreservedly to his service -- In all
m Matt. xiii. 20-22.
n Rom. viii. 3, 4.
o Heb. vii. 11.