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the world, in its pleasures and maxims, in its aims and spirit, we may gain its favour and applause ; but what will that profit us, if in so doing we displease God? We cannot both be lovers of pleasure and lovers of God. The combination is impossible, and the compromise is vain. When Christ calls us to follow Him, He plainly tells us that we must deny ourselves, and take up our cross daily. But then He makes the burden light to those who trust in His promised grace; and He tells us too, that the cross will soon be exchanged for the crown, and the sword of conflict for the palm of victory.
III. His PIETY AS A GENUINE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST.
This was the true secret of Paul's success as a preacher of Christ, and of his patience as a sufferer for Christ. His activity in labouring, and his patience in enduring, proceeded from his personal experience of an inward work of grace, without which his labours would soon have ceased, and his trials would have overwhelmed him. It is said of the insincere man, “Will he always call upon God?” . No! for his interest in spiritual things will decay, and his love will wax cold, and his zeal will evaporate, like the morning cloud when chased by the hurricane. But on the other hand, “the righteous shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall wax stronger and stronger."
Such was the apostle Paul; and all that he wrote, and did, shows that he was a deeply exercised Christian. In reading his epistles, we can read his inmost soul, and we can see that his religion was deeply rooted there, and that all the fair blossoms and rich fruit which his outer life exhibited grew out necessarily from the inner life that he had derived from his personal union to Christ. He knew full well that a man might preach eloquently to others, and yet be himself a castaway; and therefore he was careful to keep hisbody in subjection, and to mortify the flesh with all its affections and lusts. He knew that a man might have eminent gifts, splendid talents, and a fair outward profession, and yet be destitute of saving grace, and a stranger to the power of godliness; and therefore, in watching for the souls of others, he did not forget to watch for his own soul with scrupulous care, lest Satan should gain an advantage over him, and lest sin should resume its former ascendency over him. He knew that a man might point out to others the way to heaven, like a finger-post fixed on the roadside, while, like it, he never moves one step himself in that direction; and therefore he continually exercised himself to maintain “a conscience void of offence toward God and man,” that so, with an unencumbered step, and an unburdened conscience, he might go on, from strength to strength, in the way to Zion.
Those who know what Christian experience is, cannot fail to trace unmistakable evidence in Paul's epistles, that he was a deeply exercised Christian, and that the gushing streams of warm affection and generous action, which appeared in his outer life, welled forth from a living fountain within. Not only does he describe the experience of other Christians, but he describes his own, in language of great simplicity, but of deepest pathos and singular power. He knew what it was to be pressed down under the burden of conscious guilt and the load of indwelling sin. He knew what it was to realise and feel the inward conflict, between grace and nature, between the Spirit and the flesh, between the new man and the old. And he knew what it was to come as the chief of sinners to the loving Saviour, and to trust in His atoning blood for pardon, and to rely on His promised grace for sanctification. And then, how touchingly does he speak of his faith in the mercy of God and in the merits of Christ; and of his gratitude for the blessings of salvation; and of his love to Him who gave Himself for us; and of his intense desire for deliverance from sin, and for perfect conformity to God's will; and of his ever brightening hope of the coming glory. And yet, with all that bright array of Christian graces which adorned his character, how deep was his humility, how dissatisfied was he with all that he had yet attained, and how earnestly did he press forward to higher attainments and holier services. “Not” (he says) “as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Let all then, and especially let the young, seek to imitate Paul in his deep Christian experience. Though few can hope to emulate him, either as a powerful preacher, or as a patient sufferer, yet all may, and all must, imitate him as a devoted and deeply exercised Christian, otherwise their hopes of heaven can never be realised. Let us, like Paul, seek to have a quickened conscience, a simple faith in Christ, a sincere love to Him, and an earnest determination to walk in His holy footsteps. Let us always be on our guard against the evil that is within us, as well as against the temptations that are without. And while cherishing a growing sense of imperfection and shortcoming, let us also cherish a growing desire for clearer light, for warmer love, and more devoted obedience. And whatever attainments we may make in the divine life, and whatever services we may render to Christ, let us ever say, in all lowliness and meekness, “Not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
In the next chapter we shall endeavour to analyse the character of the apostle, and to point out in detail some of its leading features, and their remarkable combination. More especially we shall speak of these two, viz., his deep humility, combined with high moral dignity.