« PoprzedniaDalej »
sensual ; unfeeling; vain of their attainments; uncharitable; particularly, if they are eagerly engaged in the pursuit of place, power, popularity, and fame; and more particularly still, if they refuse to give to the poor, or give leanly and grudgingly, or deny aid to others in other distresses ; there will be little reason left to believe them children of God. How can these persons expect Christ to say at the final judgment, I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat ; I was a stranger, and ye took me in ; naked, and ye clothed me; sick, and
visited me? How can he say, Ye did it unto the least of these, my brethren ? Were he on earth, and should tell them, as he told the young Ruler, Go, and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor ; would they not go away sorrowful? Would they not feel, that even to have treasure in heaven, upon these conditions, would be a hard bargain ?
There have been, there are still, multitudes of mankind; and it is to be feared, that in this land, and at the present time, the number is not small; of those, who intend to go to heaven with a cheap religion: a religion, in which the love of the world is made to harmonize with the love of the Father. This religion consists of feelings, views, discoveries, conversation about these and other religious subjects, and zeal in attending upon external religious duties. But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him; how dwelleth the love of God in him?
It is easy for any man, who thinks, that he is loved of God, to love Him in turn. But this is not that love of God, which he requires. The feelings, and views, which do not prompt us to virtuous conduct, are of no value. If we would prove ourselves to be Christians; we should, then, diligently ask ourselves whether we aim at being strictly just, sincere, and faithful; whether we actually show kindness to all men, whether friends or enemies, strangers or neighbours; whether we do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; whether we befriend, and promote, public, useful, and charitable designs; employing both our substance and efforts, as either may be needed; whether we love the souls of others, oppose their sins, and promote in them reformation and piety; and whether we are watchfully sober, chaste, temperate, diligent in our callings, and active in our opposition to every worldly lust.
Finally; concerning all these things we should carefully ask whether we take delight in such a life, as this; and that notwithstanding all the opposition, ridicule, and contempt of the world.
Among the different acts, or kinds, of obedience, also, particular attention is due to those which involve peculiar self-denial. When the avaricious man becomes generous and charitable; the ambitious man contented with his circumstances; the proud man humbled; the wrathful man meek; the revengeful man forgiving; and the sensualist sober, chaste, and temperate; in a word, when we drop our reigning sins, and assume the contrary virtues, of set and
cordial purpose: we are furnished with strong reason to believe, that we are Christians.
6thly. The Increase of all these things in the mind, and life, is, perhaps, the clearest of all the evidences of Personal Religion.
St. Paul informs us, that he did not count himself to have apprehended: that is, he did not consider himself as having attained that degree of excellence, which belonged to his Christian profession. But, saith he, this one thing I do: or perhaps, as the omission in the text is supplied by Doddridge, this one thing I can say : Forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth to those which are before, in the Greek, reaching out eagerly) I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. What was the conduct of Paul is the duty of all Christians; and is accordingly enjoined by him in the following verse. In greater or less degrees it is their conduct also. They are directed 80 to run, that they may obtain; and to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; to increase, and abound, in love one towards another, and towards all men.
As it is the duty of Christians to fulfil these precepts ; so it is the nature of Christianity to accord with them, by increasing, from time to time, their strength and vigour. The more the spirit of the Gospel is exercised, the more we love to exercise it. The more the pleasure found in it, is enjoyed, the more it is coveted. The more habitual its principles and practices become, the greater is the strength which they acquire. Indeed, nothing is vigorous and powerful, in man, beside that which is habitual.
Hence it is plain, that, in investigating our religious character, we should examine it with a particular reference to its growth. To grow is its proper nature. If it is not seen to grow, then, we either do not see it as it is; or it does not exist in us, in its genuine character; but is feeble, fading, sickly, clogged with incumbrances, and in a great measure hidden from view. Man is never for any length of time stationary. Either he is advancing or receding, in every thing which pertains to him; and in Religion, as truly, as in his natural endowments, or acquisitions. Declension in Religion, I need not say, furnishes a melancholy evidence, that we are not religious. It is no less obvious, that a regular progress in its various graces, and attainments, must, on the contrary, become a clear and delightful testimony of our Christian character. There is not only more of Religion to be seen in ourselves; but it is discerned with clearer conviction, and certainty, to be genuine; because it appears as real Religion naturally appears, in its own proper character of growth and improvement. He, who loves, fears, and serves God more and more; who is more and more just, sincere, and merciful, to his fellow-men; and who is more and more self-governed in all his appetites and passions, weaned from the world, and spiritually and heavenly minded ; cannot want the best reasons, furnished in our present state, to believe, that he is a child of God.
EVIDENCES OF REGENERATION.-DIFFICULTIES, ATTENDING THE
APPLICATION OF THESE EVIDENCES TO OURSELVES.
2 CORINTHIANS xii. 5.—Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith : prove your
own selves ; know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you except ye be reprobatés ?
In the last discourse but one, I proposed, from these words, to examine,
1. Some of the Imaginary evidences of Regeneration; II. Some of the Real evidences; and,
IH. Some of the Difficulties, which attend the Application of the real evidences to ourselves.
There has been much debate in the Christian world, concerning the Faith of Assurance ; or as it is in better language styled by St. Paul, the full Assurance of hope. The question debated has, however, not been, whether men felt assured, that they were Christians, but whether this assurance has been evangelical, or built on satisfactory and Scriptural evidence. That such a faith has existed I have no doubt; nor do I see how it can be rationally doubted. That the Apostles were evangelically assured of their own piety, and consequent salvation, must be admitted by all, who believe the Scriptures. I have fought a good fight, says St. Paul, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness. For me to live is Christ; to die is gain. We know, says St. John, that we have passed from death unto life.
From the accounts given us concerning the first Martyrs, I think we cannot hesitate to admit, that they also were the subjects of the same faith. Nor is the evidence concerning a number of those, who have lived and suffered, in modern times, less convincing to me. These men have, in various instances, lived in a manner eminently evangelical; have devoted themselves, through a long period, to the service of God, with so much humility, self-denial, uniformity, steadfastness, and evangelical zeal; have laboured for the good of their fellow-creatures with so much disinterestedness, charity, and constancy; have lived so much above the world, and with a conversation so heavenly; that, when they are declaring themselves possessed of this faith, and have died with peace, and exultation, which must be supposed to result from it, we cannot, unless by wilful rejection of evidence, hesitate to admit, that they were possessed of this enviable attainment. Indeed, I can hardly doubt, that any man, who reads their history with candour, will Vol. III.
readily admit the doctrine, so far as the men, to whom 1 refer, are concerned. But, if these things be admitted, it will probably be readily conceded, that there are, in every country, and in every age, where Christianity prevails, some persons, who enjoy the Faith, or Hope, of assurance.
At the same time, I am fully persuaded, that the number of these persons is not very great. If the Christians, and Ministers, with whom I have had opportunity to converse, many of whom have been eminently exemplary in their lives, may be allowed to stand as representatives of Christians in general; it must certainly be true, that the faith of assurance is not common.
Indeed, I am persuaded, that this blessing is much more frequently experienced in times, and places, of affliction and tion, than in seasons of peace and prosperity. Severe trials and sufferings furnish, of themselves, clearer proofs of the piety of those who are tried, than can ordinarily be furnished by circumstances of ease and quiet. The Faith, which will patiently submit, which will encounter, which will endure, which will overcome, in periods of great affliction, has, in this very process, both acquired, and exhibited, peculiar strength; and furnished evidence of its genuineness, which can hardly be derived from any other source.
At the same time, it is, I think, irresistibly inferred from the declarations, contained in the word of God, and from the history of his providence, recorded both within, and without the Scriptures, that God, in his infinite mercy, furnishes his children with peculiar support and consolation in times of peculiar trial; and that, as their day is, so he causes their strength to be. Among the means of consolation, enjoyed by Christians, none seems better adapted to furnish them with the necessary support, under severe distresses, than an assurance, that they are Children of God. Accordingly, this very consolation appears to have been given to the suffering Saints of the Old and New Testament, as a peculiar support to them in their peculiar trials. From analogy it might be concluded, and from the history of facts it may with the strongest probability, if not with absolute certainty, be determined, that the same blessing has been given, in times of eminent affliction, to Saints in every succeeding age of the Church.
Still there is no reason to think, that the Faith of assurance is generally attained among eminent Christians. This fact has sometimes been called in question; sometimes denied ; and oftener wondered at. “Why," it is inquired, “are not Christians oftener, nay, why are they not generally, assured of their gracious state? There certainly is a difference between sin and holiness, sufficiently broad to be seen, and marked. The Scriptures have actually marked this difference with such clearness, and exactness, as to give us ample information concerning both the nature, and the limits, of these great moral attributes. They have separated those who possess them, into two classes, not only entirely distinct, but directly opposite to each other: so opposite, that the one class is styled in them, the friends, and the other the enemies, of God. Further, they present to us various means of judging, by which we are directed, as well as encouraged and enabled, to try, and estimate, our own religious character. The subject is, also, so spoken of in the Scriptures, as naturally to lead us into the conclusion, that these different characters may be distinctly known; and that it is our duty so to act, as, upon the whole, to form satisfactory views concerning our moral condition. Finally; the Writers of the New Testament, and indeed of the Old also, speak of themselves, as knowing their own piety; and of others, as able to know theirs."
To these observations I answer, in the first place, that holiness and sin are, in themselves, thus clearly distinguishable. Angels cannot but know, that they are holy; and fiends that they are sinful.
Secondly; This difference is sufficiently marked in the Scriptures. If we saw holiness in ourselves, exactly as it is exhibited in the Scriptures; that is, unmixed; we should certainly know ourselves to be holy.
Thirdly; Holy and Sinful men, are just as different from each other, as they are represented in the Scriptures; but this does not enable us to determine which they are.
Fourthly; The means, furnished us, in the Scriptures, of judging concerning our religious character, are, undoubtedly, the best which the nature of our circumstances will admit; and such, as, if correctly applied to ourselves, and known to be thus applied, would undoubtedly decide this great point in a satisfactory manner. Still, this does not infer, that it usually will, or can, be thus decided.
Fifthly; We are undoubtedly required, in the Scriptures, to ex. amine ourselves; and the performance of this duty, while it is indispensable on our part, unquestionably may be, and is of great importance to us; although we may not, as a consequence of it, become possessed of the Faith of Assurance.
Sixthly; The Writers in the Old and New Testament did, in many instances, certainly know, that they were holy; but they were inspired. It will not therefore follow, that others, who are uninspired, will, of course, possess the same knowledge of their own state.
Seventhly; The Scriptural Writers very extensively use the words know, and knowledge, not in the sense of absolute science, but to denote, belief, persuasion, a strong hope, &c. : in the same manner, as these terms are used in common speech. We cannot, therefore, certainly conclude, from the use of these terms with respect to this subject, that the divine writers expected those, to whom they wrote, generally to possess the faith of Assurance.