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The disease resisted the power of medicine, and baffled the skill of the physician; he grew worse and worse. His alarm became excessive. He sent for his minister and his parents, confessed and bewailed his fickleness. What tears he shed! What sighs he uttered! What vows he made!“ Oh if God would but spare me this once; if he would but grant me one more trial ; if he would but indulge me with one more opportunity of salvation, how would I improve it to his glory, and my soul's eternal interest." His prayers were answered: he recovered. What became of his vows, resolutions, and promises? The degree of his piety was regulated by the degree of his malady. Devotion rose and fell with his pulse. His zeal kept pace with his fever; as one decreased, the other died away, and the recovery of his health was the resurrection of his sins. Inconstans is at this moment, what he always was, a melancholy specimen of the nature of mere transient religion.
What is wanting in this religion? You will of course reply, “Continuance.'
This is true, But why did it not continue? I answer, there was no real change of the heart. The passions were moved, the feelings were excited, but the disposition remained unaltered. In the affairs of this life, men are often led by the operation of strong causes, to act in opposition to their real character. The cruel tyrant, by some sudden and most affecting appeal to his clemency, may have the spark of pity smitten from his flinty heart: but the flint remaining, the wretch returns again to his practices of blood. The covetous man might, by a vivid description of is pro
want and misery, be for a season melted to liberality; but like the surface thawed for an hour by the sun, and frozen again immediately after the source of heat has retired, his benevolence is immediately chilled by the prevailing frost of his nature. In these cases, as in that of religion, there is a suspension of the natural disposition, not a renewal of it. All religion must be transient, by whatever cause duced, and with whatever ardour it should for a season be practised, that does not spring from a regenerated mind. It may, like the grass upon the house-top, or the grain that is scattered in unprepared soil, spring up and flourish for a season, but for want of root it will speedily wither away. Do not then, my dear children, be satisfied with a mere excitement of the feelings, however strong it might happen to prove; but seek to have the general bias of the mind renewed.
You cannot suppose, if you consider only for a moment, that these fugitive impressions will answer the ends of religion, either in this world or in that which is to come. They will not honour God, they will not sanctify the heart, they will not comfort the mind, they will not save the soul,--they will not raise you to heaven, they will not save you from hell. Instead of preparing you at some future time to receive the gospel, such a state of mind, if persisted in, has a most direct and dangerous tendency to barden the heart. What God in his sovereign grace may be pleased to effects is not for me to say; but as to natural influence, nothing can be more clear than that this fitful
piety is gradually putting the soul farther and farther from true religion. Iron, by being frequently heated, is hardened into steel ; water that has been boiled becomes the colder for its previous warmth; soil that has been moistened with the showers of heaven, becomes, when hardened by the sun, less susceptible of impression than before; and that heart which is frequently impressed by religion, without being renewed by it, becomes more and more insensible to its sacred influence. They who have trembled at the terrors of the Lord without being subdued by them, who have outlived their fears without being sanctified by them, will soon come to that degree of insensibility, which will enable them to hear, without being appalled, the most awful denunciations of divine wrath. They who have been melted from time to time by the exhibitions of divine love, but have not been converted by it, will come at length to hear of it with the coldest indifference. It is a dreadful state of mind to be given up to a spirit of slumber, and a callous heart; and nothing is more likely to accelerate the process, than occasional yet ineffectual religious impressions. Can we conceive of any thing more likely to induce Jehovah to give us up to judicial blindness and insensibility, than this tampering with conviction, this trifling with devotional impression? These pious emotions which are occasionally excited, are kind and gentle admonitions that He has come near to the soul, with all the energies of his Spirit: they are the work of mercy knocking at the door of our hearts, and saying, “ Open to me that I may enter with salvation in my train.” If they are from time
to time neglected, what can be looked for but that the celestial visitor should withdraw, and pronounce, as he retires, the fearful sentence,
Wo unto you when my Spirit departeth from
There is something inexpressibly wicked in remaining in this state of mind. Such persons are in some respects more sinful than they whose minds have never been in any degree enlightened; whose fears have never been in any degree excited; who have paid no attention whatever to religion, but whose minds are sealed up in ignorance and insensibility. When persons who have taken some steps in religion return again ; when they who have come near the kingdom of God, recede from it; and they who have sipped, as it were, of the cup of salvation, withdraw their lips from the water of life, the interpretation of their conduct is this, 6 We have tried the influence of religion, and do not find it so worthy of our cordial reception as we expected; we have seen something of its glory, and are disappointed; we have tasted something if its sweetness, and, upon the whole, we prefer to remain without it.". Thus they are like the spies who brought a false report of the land of promise, and discouraged the people. They defame the character of true piety, and prejudice men's minds against it. They libel the bible, and persuade others to have nothing to do with religion. My children can you endure the thought of this?
Transient devotions have a great tendency to strengthen the principle of unbelief in our nature. It is not only very possible, but very common for men to sin themselves into a state of despair of God's mercy; and none are so likely to do this, as those who have repeatedly gone back to the world after a season of religious impression, In our intercourse with society, if we have greatly offended and insulted a man after professions of decided friendship and warm attachment, we can hardly persuade ourselves to approach him again, or be persuaded to think he will admit us again to the number of his friends. And, as we are prone to argue from ourselves to God, if we have frequently repented, and as frequently returned again to sin, we shall be in great danger of coming to the conclusion that we have sinned past forgiveness, and abandon ourselves to guilt and despair. I have read of a gentleman who lived without any regard to religion till he was taken alarmingly ill, when his conscience was roused from its slumber and he saw the wickedness of his conduct. A minister was sent for, to whom he acknowledged his guilt, and begged an interest in his prayers, at the same time vowing that if God would spare his life, he would alter the course of his behaviour. He was restored to health, and for a while was as good as his word. He set up family worship, maintained private prayer, and frequented the house of God; in short, appeared to be a new man in Christ Jesus. At length he began to relax, and step by step went back to his former state of careless indiffer