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they have labored with the greatest care and frequency. The most distinct and abiding conceptions of religion which are obtained without the teaching of the Holy Ghost, are obtained in the nursery, before the family altar, under the ministry of pious parents; instilling with untiring assiduity the great truths of the Gospel into the minds of their offspring, while yet tender and susceptible; bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and ever fortifying precept by example. They who have enjoyed, in addition to formal instruction, the example of pious parents carrying the principles of religion in all their power and beauty into acts, and shedding its benign influence over every action and attitude of existence, every sphere of life and love; they on whom this example has shone from earliest infancy, so that it is interwoven with the first and most imperishable associations and teachings of lisping childhood—these have a solid conception, a living image of the nature of religion ever present to their minds, such as men, books, and preaching of themselves never can convey.
« But in thy life thy law appears,
Universal experience proves that an individual, or community, well-educated and indoctrinated in religion, is far more likely than an ignorant one, not only to make solid and durable advances in piety when wrought upon by a religious awakening, but also to discriminate true religion from false, and guard against those counterfeit hopes which end in the confirmed apathy or apostacy of their subject, and the dishonor of religion.
3. The same result is promoted by superficial and delusive instructions to those who are awakened and solicitous for their souls. In this matter we may say with pre-eminent justice, like priest, like people. Whoever, in Divine Providence, is called to the work of counselling and guiding inquiring souls in the way of life, is burdened with the most awful responsibility ever laid upon a worm of the dust. And here the temptation is most urgent to keep back what is most profitable to the soul to know, and shun to declare the whole counsel of God. The benevolence of the pious heart prompts it to hope and desire that as many as possible may be plucked as brands from the burning; and the desire grows intense, in proportion to the natural ties and endearments subsisting in the case.
How natural, then, to seek the gratification of such desires, by taking any plausible measures to induce them to hope, and be pleased with the things of religion, and thus assure their own hearts and ours that they have indeed passed from death unto life? How natural to array religion in meretricious attractions, for a carnal and selfish spirit; instead of showing its divine beauties, that they may know whether they love or hate them, and holding out in bold relief those scriptural tests, which show what manner of spirit we are of, and try the spirits, whether they be of God! How strongly will they incline to construe any change from distress to joy as a true conversion, and to estimate its genuineness rather by the degree of ecstasy produced, than by its conformity to the word of God! How many motives will urge him to keep out of view the self-denial, humiliation, crossbearing, separateness from the world—the free and complete dedication to the will, command, service, and glory of God, which enter into the very nature and being of Gospel piety? May not the temptation be powerful to touch gently upon the indispensable necessity of a new birth by the Spirit of God, which shall not merely amend, correct, or develope old principles, but shall implant new ones-laying the axe at the root of the tree, and making him a new creature in Christ Jesus ? May there not be a reluctance to expose the corruptions of the heart, the guilt and wickedness of innate moral affections, and the indispensable necessity of subjugating and mortifying them ? May there not be a faintness in preaching the law, so as to convince the sinner of his guilt, condemnation, and helplessness, -slay his selfish hopes, demolish all excuses, evince his dependence on the unmerited and sovereign grace of God, and test his hope by showing in uncompromising terms the nature of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord ? May there not be a neglect to show the insufficiency of all affections which spring from no higher source than self-love, and do not fix on the intrinsic excellence and beauty of divine things? But why pursue such questions any further? Who does not see that nothing short of the most imperious convictions of duty to God and Christ, and perishing souls, can with
stand the temptations to touch these subjects lightly, and refrain from marring the peace of any who are confident they are in the kingdom, while they are yet aliens and strangers to it? And what is this but to infuse peace by administering an opiate, instead of the medicines which, though painful to the carnal mind, alone can cure the disease! Alas for those who daub with intemperate mortar, and heal slightly the hurt of the soul, crying peace, peace, when there is no peace. Too often, indeed, the great Physician is summoned before the sword of the Spirit has made any wound, or discovered any hurt to be cured. Conviction of sin is discarded as needless or unimportant; and the remedy is as light as the disease. For how shall they repent who are unconvinced of any sin to be repented of? Clearly delusive as are such views, the purest and soundest ministers and christians are tempted in some measure to defer to them, unless they exercise the utmost care to keep the fear of God and the good of souls ever before their eyes. Unless they take heed to themselves, and the doctrine that in so doing they may save their own souls, and the souls of those that hear them, they will almost inevitably yield to that demand of the unsanctified heart to speak smooth things, and prophecy deceits. And what less can be expected than that the seed should fall on stony ground, and barely reach the surface of the soul, when the sower does not even seek to dislodge the heart of stone beneath ? How can the seed root itself downward, when not even the fallow ground is broken by the ploughshare of Divine truth to give it entrance ?
4. All extraneous influences other than Divine truth, presented to the mind, and applied by the Spirit, which are the cause of an interest in religion, tend, unless guarded against, to render that interest spurious. I refer now to sympathy, animal excitement, admiration of the eloquence and tact of the preacher, rather than the truths he enforces-addressing to einners any considerations but those of a moral nature and bearing upon the soul, God, and eternity ;-moving him by any force or influence but the truths of the Bible. For to these we must be conformed, if converted at all. And conversion, in view of any thing else, is not turning to God. All other influences are worse than vain, except as they serve to bring the mind in nearer contact, and under the fuller power and effulgence of Gospel truth. But when they intercept the soul's view of truth, they are fraught with danger; and it is ever our duty to frustrate any such tendency with the most vigilant precautions. It is not in the fire, tempest, and whirlwind of human commotion, or human machinery, that the Spirit speaks in his errand of Divine benignity, but in the still small voice, summoning the soul to obey the message of his word.
But, without expatiating further on this branch of the subject, I dismiss it by observing that we see abundant agencies which the great adversary of souls can employ to multiply converts of that superficial stamp, that will never endure a trial of their faith by temptation, because they have never endured the searching trials of God's word.
The grand defect in their experience, as the event ever proves, is, that their affections had no higher origin than selfishness. Their delight in religion arose simply from the imagination that they should be saved, instead of their hoping that they were in Christ, and heirs of his salvation; because they delighted in divine things on account of their intrinsic excellence and loveliness. Hence, because they had no pleasure in holiness and holy objects on their own account, their attachment ceases as soon as it costs any self-denial to adhere to them, and their selfishness can find some more inviting channel of gratification. Because they have no root in them in time of temptation, they fall away. When tribulation or persecution ariseth they are offended, because of the word.
1. The subject teaches us that mere joy and delight on the subject of religion is no sufficient proof of a genuine conversion. The same principle which moves devils to tremble in view of their doom, would fill them with ecstasies if assured that they would be shielded from that destiny. Indeed, spurious conversions are perhaps most likely of all to incite frantic and boisterous rejoicings. So it is made the distinguishing characteristic of these stony-ground hearers, that with joy they heard the word. Indeed, the joy of a selfish and unhumbled spirit will naturally be more tumultuous and forward than that which is ravished with the infinite majesty, purity, justice, and grace of God. The latter is humble, placid, deep, and tranquil; and though often clouded and trembling, is still unspeakable and full of glory. And hence the religious meetings of those whose whole policy it is to inspire selfish and sudden hopes, are distinguished for their tumult and disorder.
We must not only ask whether there is joy, but what kind of joy it is. Is it humble ?-self-distrustful ? Is it a delight in God and Christ, the law and Gospel ; and in a life devoted to the culture of holiness? or is it inspired merely by a vain imagination that we shall be saved ?
2. How solemn and overwhelming is the responsibility of all who are stationed to watch for souls, as those that must give account, or who in Divine Providence are called in any manner to guide them in the way of salvation! When we reflect that the ministry is a savor of life unto life, or of death, shall we not say, indeed, who is sufficient for these things? Would not an angel, unsustained by communications of Divine wisdom and grace, be crushed by the burthen! Oh! what will be the embittered reflections in another world, of those who hear the shrieks and moanings of lost spirits chiding them with having cried peace, peace, when there is no peace; and thus lulled by them down to the fiery and returnless abyss ! On the other hand, there is danger of breaking the bruised reed, and quenching the smoking flax-of pushing on the wounded spirit to the madness and stupidity of desperation, instead of healing by the balm of that grace, which, where sin abounds, doth much more abound; and of thus becoming a minister of death, and not of life. A rude and vain novice, who is unskilful in the word of righteousness, will be liable to err on either hand, either to heal slightly the hurt, or to hurt only to administer poison and death, instead of healing. Oh! how much of that wisdom which cometh from above, and is profitable to direct, is needed by ministers, in order that they may rightly divide the word of truth, or that they may be sons of thunder to the perverse and presumptuous, and sons of consolation to all contrite spirits; and so by words fitly spoken, feed souls with the bread of life? To this end, how greatly do they need the prayers of their people ; and how awful the position of crude novices, who, ignorant of Divine truth, are set as shepherds over the flock of God; but know