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the constitutional bent, it usually finds people more work for care and watchfulness all their days than it does to others. If we turn our view the other way, there is early visible in some an easiness and gentleness of disposition, an inclination to humanity and tenderness, or the like engaging turn of mind.
Now in this sense, it would be the wisdom of every man to know what spirit he is of, to study his own temper, which way that most naturally and readily carries him. For according to the tendencies of our constitution, if we carefully observe them, we may discover, what temptations in the ordinary course of life need most to be provided against, and in what way we are most likely to be useful. Those sins most easily beset men, and are hardest to be overcome, which have constitution strongly on their side : a man may justly esteem them to be eminently his own iniquity. And as every sort of natural temper has its particular disadvantages and dangers ; so no sort is without some advantages, which, if carefully attended to and improved, may contribute to our serviceableness in life. Those of a sanguine make, are more exposed to the temptations of levity and sensuality, and therefore have most occasion to be there on their guard ; but then they are better prepared for a cheerful activity in doing good, if they be right set.
The heavy and phlegmatic, as they are more prone to indulge sloth and idleness, so, if they get over this temptation, they can with greater ease bear close and long application, than those of more quick and active spirits. The dark and the melancholy temper lays men open to unreasonable fears and despondencies, to malice and censoriousness; if the devil and a corrupt heart have the government of it; but under the direction of grace, it gives men a peculiar advantage for seriousness. and gentle disposition, as it exposes to more hazard from the impressions of ill company and seducing sinners ; so it gives a truly good man no small advantage, above his neighbours, for recommending religion to those with whom he converses: such a man is well heard by every body.' The knowledge then of our own spirits in this respect
, as to the predominant natural temper, to which the body disposes, is well worth our cultivating.
2. What particular principles and ends govern us, in the particular motions of our spirits and actions of life: whether we act from a good or a bad principle, and whether the ends we propose to ourselves be right. The moral nature of actions in
the sight of God principally depends upon this. An unlawful action indeed will not be justified by a man's having a good end in it, as long as he hath sufficient opportunity to know that it is forbidden; for we must not do evil that good may come, Rom. iii. 8.
Yet an action, ever so good, for the matter of it, loses all its value in God's account, who searches the heart and tries the reins, if it proceed from a bad principle, er is intended to serve a sinful or unworthy purpose. The same outward act may proceed from very different and contrary springs; of which the case in the text is an instance. A seeming expression of love to Christ, of zeal for the true religion, may be animated by no better principle than unchristian resentment, and animosity, and revenge, or at least there may be such a mixture of this bad principle with a better, 'as spoils the performance. Christ intimates, that men may fast and pray, and give alms, and all upon so low a view, as merely to be seen of men ; but then plainly tells us, that they will lose their reward from God, Matt. vi. 2, 5, 16. And the apostle intimates it to be possible for a man to bestow all his goods to feed the poor, (the greatest instance in outward appearance of love to men) and to give his body to be burned, that is, as a martyr, the highest proof, one would think of love to God; and yet to have no charity, to be animated to such glaring actions by no true principle, either of love to God or man, 1 Cor. xi. 3. Solomon tells us, Prov, xxi. 27. “The sacrifice of the wicked is aa abomination, that is, God will not accept the sacrifices, the appearances of religious regard to him, that are offered up by a man who resolvedly goes on in a sinful course; he adds, “How much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?” How much more abominable must his sacrifice be, when that itself is profaned and poisoned by a vicious intention ? when the all-seeing God, suppose, knows that a man offers it, either only to quiet conscience in other evil practices, or to enable him the more easily to impose upon his neighbour, by wearing the mask of religion ? it is therefore a matter of the utmost consequence, that we take heed to our spirit in every action we perform, Mal. ii. 16. That we ** keep our heart with all diligence,” Prov. iv. 23. That we be well assured that the several deliberate steps we take, be agreeable to the dictates of a good spirit ; and that that which
is indisputably good in itself be done upon right principles, and for right ends; and so we may know what spirit we are of.
3. What is the prevailing and predominant disposition of our souls ; whether the Christian temper, or that which is opposite to it. The last inquiry is necessary to our passing a due judgment upon particular actions, and this to determine our state. The best natural temper is still but depraved nature, and the worst, if rectified by grace is in the way of cure, and that cure will be more and more advanced, till it arrive at the perfection of the spirits of just men above. Every man, then, is most highly concerned to know, what that spirit is which makes his character ; whether a holy and a heavenly temper has the ascendant in him, or a sinful and earthly mind; or in other words, whether he is led by the Holy Spirit of God, as true Christians are, Rom. viii. 9, 14. or “by the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience,” Eph. ii. 2. These amount to the same thing; for wherever there is a holy bent and turn of soul, the scripture teaches us to ascribe it to the gracious agency of the Spirit of God; and on the other hand, all who are under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, have their own spirits prevailingly recovered to the Christian temper. We are therefore concerned carefully to search the word of God, for the description given there of the Christian temper, and of that which is opposite to it; and then diligently to prove our own selves as the apostle directs, 2 Cor. xii. 5. that we may discern which of these spirits we are of. The scripture sometimes represents these different dispositions by way of summary.
We have a very comprehensive one in Gal. v. 19—23. “ The works of the flesh are manifest ; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." And what follows, ver. 24. “crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts.” So St Peter gives us a specimen what it is to be partakers of a divine nature ; namely, to partake of “ Faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity,” in which therefore he presses Christians to improve, 2 Pet. i. 4—7. But as these summaries are not designed to reckon up all the branches ; so we must consider the several graces mentioned in various parts of
scripture, as going to make up the Christian spirit. I intend to assist you in this view, by a distinct consideration of the des. criptions of a good spirit given in scripture, either in its general nature or particular branches. It will lie upon you to prove your ownselves as we go along, that you may behold
your true face in the glass of the gospel. At present I go on to shew,
II. The usefulness and necessity of knowing what spirit we
1. As we are reasonable creatures, the knowledge of ourselves is the most near and immediate concern we have. Nosce teipsum, Know thyself, was the celebrated oracle of old among the heathens ; and know ye not your ownselves ? is a very strong expostulation of the apostle with Christians, 2 Cor. xiii. 5. No other part of knowledge for certain can be of such moment to us, as that which relates to ourselves ; the most careful inquiries about other things if this be neglected, are no better than a busy idleness; or an application to that which though it may find our minds full employment, yet is nothing to our purpose. A man who can readily tell you the situation of places ; and the state of things in distant lands, while he is a stranger to the nature, the history and the interests of his native country, would justly be thought to have ill employed his pains ; or he who busies himself in the affairs of other men, and at the same time neglects his own.
He is guilty of equal folly who takes pains to come at the knowledge of things foreign to him, but contentedly remains ignorant of himself. And no part of the knowledge of ourselves is so necessary as the knowledge of our spirits, which are the principal part of ourselves. The power of reflection is laid in our natures for this very purpose, that we should look into ourselves; and it should immediately, in the use of it, turn upon ourselves; for without self acquaintance, it is given us in vain.
2. As we are professed Christians, nothing deserves to have so much stress laid
it. It is represented as the very design of the gospel, beyond the former legal dispensation, to lead men to “serve God in newness of the spirit,” or with a new spirit, Rom. vii. 6. Our great master began his public ministration, when he entered
his prophetical office, with pronouncing blessedness principally to a new and holy temper of soul. So the strain of his beatitudes runs in Mat. v. to the poor in spirit ; to them that mourn ; to the meek; to such as hunger and thirst after righteousness; to the pure in 'heart : plainly signifying at his setting out, the genius of his religion, to reach the spirits of men, and in that respect to make his disciples more excellent than their neighbours.
3. As we aim at the favour of God, this is the thing principally to be regarded by us, because it is principally regarded by God. Men cannot reach ihe hearts of their fellow-creatures ; but must judge only according to outward appearance. But God sees deeper ; and therefore the fairest outside, without a right temper of soul, cannot possibly meet with the divine acceptance.
“ He desires truth in the inward parts," Psal. li. 6. The hidden man of the heart, when that is godlike, is in the sight of God of great price, 1 Pet. iii. 4.
And if our heart be removed far from him, though we should “ draw near to him with our mouth, and with our lips honour him ;” this will be of little account with God, Isa. xxix. 13. The apostle speaking directly to the Jews, who boasted of a peculiar relation to God, declares the same thing in language suited to them, but equally fit for our admonition, Rom. ii. 28, 29. “ He is not a Jew (not entitled to the special favour of God, as the Jews thought themselves to be) who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision (such as shall avail to men's partaking of the righteousness which is by faith) that is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; (who is in his inward temper, what one of the peculiar people of God should be) and circumcision (that which will turn to a saving account) is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter ; whose praise is not of men but of God.
4. As we are obliged to a holy life, it is necessary there should be a care of the inward temper, which is the principle of the other. Keep the heart; for out of it are the issues of life," or, of the life, Prov. iv. 23. As the heart is, so the life is like to be. To this purpose our Saviour speaks, Matth. xii. 33
35. “ Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt; for the tree is kuown by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things ? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth spreaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the licart bringeth forth good things; and an evil man out of the