The Greatest Performances or Sufferings in Vain Without Charity
"Doubtless, if we examine ourselves, we may see much of hypocrisy. But is there any sincerity? God abominates the greatest things without sincerity, but he accepts of and delights in little things when they spring from sincere love to himself....And God accepts of even a little sincere love. Though there be a great deal of imperfection, yet, if there be any true sincerity in our love, that little shall not be rejected because there is some hypocrisy with it."Thankfully, as we move on to self-examination, Edwards begins with encouraging words. He would not have us focusing solely upon our hypocrisies, which are sometimes so glaring as to blind us to the seemingly small deeds and passions which evidence the true work of God's saving grace in our lives, lest we lose hope. For all of us who have been born again into the family of God, there will be an underlying passion for God and appreciation for His beauty which will incline us to want to know the joy of His smile upon us. Though lesser motives will compete for predominance, and occasionally gain a foothold, they will never successfully extinguish this spark of God's grace in our hearts. His Holy Spirit is the seal of our redemption and never fails to leave the imprint, faint as it sometimes seems, of His holy character on our lives. So, as we examine ourselves let us take comfort that God does see what is sincere in our faith and love, even when we can't. And beyond that, God delights in what He sees.
Edwards goes on to unpack what he means by "sincerity", holding up for us four of its prominent qualities.
Our behaviors are "free" when they are motivated by love for God and appreciation of the beauty of His holiness. As children delight to emulate an adored parent, and lovers delight to bring a smile to the face of their beloved, so are we when we when our words and deeds our borne out of love to our God."...it is an ingenuous, free obedience, and not legal, slavish, and forced, but that which is performed from love and with delight. God is chosen for his own sake; and holiness for its sake, and for God's sake. Christ is chosen and followed because he is loved, and religion [Christianity] because it is loved, and the soul rejoices in it, finding in its duties the highest happiness and delight."
Third... is Integrity.
The word "integrity" has come to have some added connotations to us that may detract from the sense in which Edwards used the word, which means, "The condition of having no part or element wanting; unbroken state; material wholeness, completeness, entirety" (Oxford Universal Dictionary). Or, to use Edwards' one word definition, it means "wholeness". As Edwards puts it, "God is sought, and religion is chosen and embraced with the whole heart, and adhered to with the whole soul....There is a proportion and fullness in the character. The whole man is renewed....The seeds of all holy dispositions are implanted in the soul, and they will more and more bear fruit in the performance of duty and for the glory of God." This love for God will affect every part of us. It will touch upon all our attitudes and extend to all our relationships. Not only will our words and deeds be affected, but our hopes, desires and delights.
Fourth thing that belongs to the nature of sincerity is Purity.
Edwards here refers to the absence of "defilement, and impurity, and uncleanness". Though his meaning is rather similar to that of integrity, it speaks less to extent, and more to depth, or quality. As integrity is the reaching into every corner of the soul. Purity is the clean-ness which must accompany it. And so, while I can more easily recognize the influence of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of my life, which speaks to integrity - I find the aspect of purity even more challenging. Every corner is touched, but, ever corner is not perfectly clean. Do you long for this purity?
2. ...to Convince those who are still in an unregenerate state, of their lost condition.
"Natural, unrenewed men would be glad to have something to make up for the want of sincere love and real grace in their hearts; and many do great things to make up for the want of it, while others are willing to suffer great things. But, alas! how little does it all signify! No matter what they may do or suffer, it does not change their character; and if they build their hopes upon it, they do but delude themselves, and feed upon the east wind."When Christ returns in judgment "doings or sufferings will not avail. They will not atone for your sins, or give you God's favor or save you from the overwhelming storms of his wrath. Rest, then on nothing that you have done or suffered, or that you can do or suffer; but rest on Christ. Let your heart be filled with sincere love to him; and then, at the last great day, he will own you as his follower and as his friend."
Do not reject God's plan and sacrifice for your soul. Do not imply with your striving and earning that what Christ has done is insufficient, or reject His perfect offering in order to offer up to God your imperfect one in its stead. Trust in Christ, and Christ alone for your salvation!
3. Exhorts all, earnestly to cherish sincere Christian love in their hearts.