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profane ridicule and reproach, and overwhelmed the friends of truth with grief and discouragement.

Our path through life is interspersed with stumbling-blocks, which Satan hath placed there, by means of infidels, hypocrites, apostates, deceivers, and inconsistent Christians. It behoves us, therefore, “ to watch and be sober ;" yet, unless the Lord keep us, we shall watch in vain : so that, while we“ walk circumspectly” and cautiously, we should pray without ceasing, "Hold thou me up, “ and I shall be safe ;” and, while we carefully avoid all occasions of stumbling, we ought to use every precaution, not to throw any stumblingblocks in the way of our brethren.

of our brethren. For this must be the consequence, if we imbibe, countenance, or propagate, erroneous opinions ; if we be drawn into any glaring indiscretion or inconsistency; if we yield to temptation in an unguarded hour; and even if we do not carefully “ avoid every appearance of evil.”

Nothing surely can be more desirable to an heir of salvation, than to "

the time of his sojourn“ing here in humble fear” and circumspection : that he may bring no reproach on the gospel while he lives, and leave a testimony to the excellency of his character in the consciences of his survivors. Thus a man finally ratifies every thing which he has said and done to recommend the cause of Christ, during the whole course of his profession : “ by “ well-doing he puts to silence the ignorance of “ foolish men :" “ being dead he yet speaketh :” and the recollection of his holy conversation perpetuates, and stamps a value on, his principles, when he can no longer endeavour to disseminate them. In

pass

trary, when

proportion to the degree of our genuine love to the Lord and his cause, the desire of thus living and dying must gain strength; and the consistent Christian, in his deliberate judgment, would prefer death with credit, to the most prosperous life connected with his becoming a disgrace to the gospel. This habitual disposition will render him more vigilant and circumspect, and especially more fervent in prayer, that he may be preserved “without “ offence until the day of Christ.”—On the con

any “who seem to be religious "deem it a mark of proficiency, that they are freed from all concern about these things; when they really grow more lax in their conduct, and regardless what impressions it may make on others ; it is evident that they are declining in grace, if not wholly destitute of divine life, whatever opinion they may form of themselves.

The primitive churches were troubled with persons of this description, who counted it a proof of their knowledge, and a part of their liberty, to disregard expediency, or propriety, in using their privileges; and to “ please themselves,” whatever might be the consequence. Thus they became an offence to their weak brethren,“ not walking charitably” towards them. The apostle therefore exhorted them to “ follow those things which make for peace, and by ' which one may edify another :” he declared, that, “ if meat made his brother to offend, he would eat

no flesh while the world stood, lest he should “ make his brother to offend :" and he added, “ Be “ ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ."*

Rom. xiv. 13--23. xv. 1-3. 1 Cor. viii. x. 31--33. xi, 1.

1

But who can doubt, that Paul was more advanced in grace than the Christians to whom he wrote? He was far more conformed to “ the mind that was in “ Christ,” delivered from carnal self-love, inspired with zeal for the glory of God, filled with love to his brethren, and desirous of the salvation of sinners, than they were. Hence we may indisputably conclude, that “growth in grace” consists greatly in an increasing circumspection respecting our conduct, that we may avoid every cause of offence laid in our way, and not prove an occasion of stumbling to others. And, as our Lord has declared that “it is better for a man, that a millstone “should be hanged about his neck, and that he “ should be drowned in the depths of the sea, than “ that he should offend one of the little ones who “ believe in him," how greatly ought we to dread such misconduct as may prejudice numbers against the truth, and prove an occasion of their eternal ruin! It is to be feared, that few of us are wholly guiltless in this respect ; and probably we shall find, on accurate self-examination, more cause for deep humiliation than we at first sight are apt to suspect.

But it would exceed the bounds assigned to this treatise, should the subject of offences be enlarged on, in a manner suitable to its importance :

may

be proper to call the reader's attention to that source of scandals, which our Lord hath especially selected, namely, discords and contentions among his disciples.* Bitter controversies among professors of the gospel; mutual accu

yet, it

Matt. xviii, 1–18 Luke xvii. 1-5.

sations, if not invectives and slanders ; appeals to the world, in print, of one party against another ; and many other effects of pride, selfishness, and resentment, too common at this day, are not only deviations from the rules which our Lord has prescribed in this case, but, diametrically opposite to them; and constitute offences of the most pernicious and lamentable kind. But “

growth in grace" proportionably destroys the root of this bitterness; and renders men cautious not to disgrace the common cause by an eagerness to vindicate their own characters, to promote the predominance of their own party, to secure their own interests, or to expose the crimes of their opponents. It renders them averse to controversy when it can be avoided ; and when constrained to contend for the truth, it dictates candour, meekness, modesty, and benevolence; mortifies the desire of victory and applause ; inspires zeal for the honour of God and the salvation of souls ; and renders men incapable of adducing, as proofs of any controverted point, arguments, however specious, which they know to be inconclusive; or, as facts, what they are aware has been repeatedly contradicted and disproved. It is, therefore, evident, that this is one most important part of

growth in grace ;” though it is seldom duly valued and inculcated.

6. The apostle concludes with these words: “ That ye may be filled with the fruits of righte

ousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the “ glory and praise of God:” and this clause evidently comprises another particular of great importance in the inquiry. The care, expense, and

labour of planting, grafting, pruning, and tending the tree, have reference to the fruit expected from it; without which no man would be satisfied with its stately growth, redundant foliage, or beautiful blossoms. The whole plan of redemption, the humiliation and sufferings of the divine Saviour, the inspiration of the holy scriptures, the preaching of the gospel, and the instituted ordinances, are entirely designed to render men“ fruitful in good “ works ;” and if this end be not answered, in those who profess the truth, the whole, as to them, has hitherto been ineffectual. “ What could I “ have done more to my vineyard that I have not “ done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it “ should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild

grapes ?”*

Even the work of the Holy Spirit, in regenerating, illuminating, convincing, and comforting the soul, is entirely subservient to the Lord's design of rendering it holy and fruitful: nor is any knowledge, experience, faith, joy, or confidence, genuine, which is not connected with fruitfulness, or productive of it. “Every tree, that bringeth “ not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into “ the fire.”+

Whatever part of a believer's conduct tends to make known the glorious perfections and works of God, and to promote the credit and honour of the gospel, the conversion of sinners, and the peace or purity of the church ; whatever

may

diminish the sum total of ignorance, error, vice, and

• Isa. v. 4,5.

† Matt. iii. 10. vij. 19, 20. X

VOL. I.

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