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with the decay of piety, nor imagine we can want the aids necessary to prevent the latter, unless we have forfeited them by presumption, negligence, and sloth. Whenever Christians sensibly decline in religion, they ought to charge themselves with the guilt of having grieved the Spirit; they should take the alarm, “repent and do their first works;" they are suffering under the rebukes of that paternal justice which God exercises in his own family. Such a measure of gracious assistance in the use of means, being by the tenour of the new covenant ascertained to real Christians, as is requisite for their comfortable walk with God, to find it withheld should engage them in deep searchings of heart; and make them fear lest “a proinise being left them of entering into rest, they should come short of it.” But this leads us to observe, in the last place, that
4. If we wish to enjoy the light of the Spirit, we must take care to maintain a deportment suited to the character of that divine Agent. When the apostle exhorts us not to “ grieve the Spirit of God, by which we are sealed to the day of redemption," it is forcibly implied that he is susceptible of offence, and that to offend him involves heinous ingratitude and folly : ingratitude, for what a requital is this for being sealed to the day of redemption I and folly, inasmuch as we may fitly say on this, as Paul did on a different occasion, “ Who is he that maketh us glad, but the same that is made sorry by us?” Have we any other comforter when he is withdrawn? Is there a single ray of light can visit us in his absence, or can we be safe for a moment without his guidance and support? If the immense and infinite Spirit, by a mysterious condescension, deigns to undertake the conduct of a worm, ought it not to yield the most implicit submission ? The appropriate duty owing to a faithful and experienced guide is a ready compliance with his dictates; and how much more may this be expected, when the disparity betwixt the parties in question is no less than infinite ? The language of the Holy Ghost, in describing the manners of the ancient Israelites, is awfully monitory to professors of religion in every age; “they rebelled and vexed his Holy Spirit, therefore he turned to be their enemy, and fought against them.” As we wish to avoid whatever is more curious than useful, we shall not stay to inquire precisely on what occasions, or to what extent, the Spirit is capable of being resisted: it may be sufficient to observe, it is evident from melancholy experience, that it is very possible to neglect what is the obvious tendency of his motions, which is invariably to produce universal holiness. “ The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, meekness, gentleness, temperance, faith :” whatever is contrary to these involves an opposition to the Spirit, and is directly calculated to quench his sacred influence.
From his descending on Christ in the form of a dove, as well as from many express declarations of Scripture, we may with certainty conclude the indulgence of all the irascible and malignant passions to be peculiarly repugnant to his nature; and it is remarkable, that the injunction of not grieving the Holy Spirit is immediately followed by a particular caution against cherishing such dispositions : “ let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be
put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Have you not found by experience, that the indulgence of the former has destroyed that self-recollection and composure which are so essential to devotion ? . Vindictive passions surround the soul with a sort of turbulent atınosphere, than which nothing can be conceived more opposite to that calm and holy light in which the blessed Spirit loves to dwell. The indulgence of sensual lusts, or of whatever enslaves the soul to the appetites of the body, in violation of the rules of sobriety and chastity, it seems almost unnecessary to add, must have a direct tendency to quench his sacred influences; wherever such desires prevail they war against the soul, immerse it in carnality, and utterly indispose it to every thing spiritual and heavenly. “ That which is born of the Spirit is spirit ;” it bears a resemblance to its Author in being a spiritual production, which requires to be nourished by divine meditation, by pure and holy thoughts.
If you wish to live in the fellowship of the Spirit, you must guard with no less care against the encroachments of worldly-mindedness ; recollecting we are Christians just as far as our treasures and our hearts are placed in heaven, and no farther. A heart overcharged with the cares of this world, is as disqualified for converse with God, and for walking in the Spirit, as by surfeiting and drunkenness; to which, by their tendency to intoxicate and stupify, they bear a great resemblance.
How many, by an immoderate attachment to wealth, and by being determined at all events to become rich, “ have fallen into divers foolish and hurtful lusts, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows !” and where the result has not been so signally disastrous, a visible languor in religion has ensued, the friendship of serious Christians been shunned, and the public ordinances of religion attended with little fruit or advantage. As it is the design of the Spirit, in his sacred visitations, to form us for an habitual converse with spiritual and eternal objects, nothing can tend more directly to contract it than to bury our souls in earth; it is as impossible for the eye of the mind, as for that of the body, to look opposite ways at once; nor can we aim at the things which are seen and temporal, but by losing sight of those which are unseen and eternal.
But though a general attention to the duties of piety and virtue. and careful avoidance of the sins opposed to these, is certainly included in a becoming deportment to the Holy Spirit, perhaps it is not all that is included. The children of God are characterized in Scripture by their being led by the Spirit : led, evidently not impelled, not driven forward in a headlong course, without choice or design ; but being, by the constitution of their nature, rational and intelligent, and, by the influence of grace, rendered spiritual, they are disposed to obey at a touch, and to comply with the gentler insinuations of divine grace ; they are ready to take that precise impression which corresponds with the mind and purpose of the Spirit. You are aware of what consequence it is in worldly concerns to embrace opportunities, and to improve critical seasons; and thus, in the things of the Spirit, there are times peculiarly favourable, moments of happy visitation, where much more may be done towards the advancement of our spiritual interest than usual. These are gales of the Spirit, unexpected influences of light and of power, which it is a great point of wisdom to improve. If the husbandman is attentive to the vicissitudes of weather, and the face of the sky, that he may be prepared to take the full benefit of every gleam of sunshine, and every falling shower, how much more alert and attentive should we be in watching for those influences from above which are necessary to ripen and mature a far more precious crop ! As the natural consequence of being long under the guidance of another is a quick perception of his meaning, so that we can meet his wishes before they are verbally expressed, something of this ready discernment, accompanied with instant compliance, may reasonably be expected from those who profess to be habitually led by the Spirit.
The design of his operation is in one view invariably the same, the production of holiness; but the branches of which that consists, and the exercise of mind which are rendered subservient to it, are various ; and he who is intent on walking in the Spirit will be careful to fall in with that train of thought, and cherish that cast of reflection, to which he is especially invited. For want of more docility in this respect it is probable we have often sustained loss. Permit us here to suggest two or three heads of inquiry. You have sometimes felt a peculiar seriousness of mind; the delusive glare of worldly objects has faded away, or become dim before your eyes, and death and eternity appearing at the door, have filled the whole field of vision. Have you improved such seasons for fixing those maxims, and establishing those practical conclusions, which may produce an habitual sobriety of mind, when things appear under a different aspect? You have sometimes found, instead of a reluctance to pray, a powerful impulse to that exercise, so that you felt as if you could do nothing else. Have you always complied with these motions, and suffered nothing but the claims of absolute necessity to divert you from pouring out your hearts at the throne of grace? The Spirit is said to make inter. cession for saints, with groanings which cannot be uttered. When you have felt those ineffable longings after God, have you indulged them to the utmost? Have you stretched every sail, launched forth into the deep of the divine perfections and promises, and possessed yourselves as much as possible of the fulness of God? There are moments when the conscience of a good man is more tender, has a a nicer and more discriminating touch than usual; the evil of sin in general, and of his own in particular, appears in a more pure and piercing light. Have you availed yourselves of such seasons as these for searching into the chambers of imagery, and, while you detected greater and greater abominations, been at pains to bring them out, and slay them before the Lord ? Have such visitations effected some. thing towards the mortification of sin ; or have they been suffered to expire in mere ineffectual resolutions ? The fruits which godly sorrow produced in the Corinthians were thus beautifully portrayed; “ What carefulness it wrought in you, yea what clearing of yourselves, yea what indignation, yea what fear, yea what vehement desire, yea what revenge."
There is a holy skill in turning the several parts of Christian experience to account, analogous to what the votaries of the world dis. play in the improvement of every conjuncture from which it is possible to derive any emolument; and though the end they propose is mean and contemptible, the steadiness with which they pursue it, and their dexterity in the choice of means, deserve imitation. In these respects " they are wiser in their generation than the children of light.”
Do not allow yourselves to indulge in religious sloth, or to give way to the solicitations of the tempter, from a confidence in the safety of your state, or in your spiritual immunities as Christians. The habitual prevalence of such a disposition will afford a much stronger proof of insincerity than any arguments which can be adduced for the contrary; and admitting your pretensions to piety to be ever so valid, a little reflection may convince you that a careless and negligent course will lay you open to the severest rebukes. You only have I known (says the Lord by the Prophet), among all the families of the earth, therefore will I visit you for all your iniquities.
Remember we profess a peculiar relation to God as his children, his witnesses, his people, his temple: the character of that glorious Being, and of his religion, will be contemplated by the world, chiefly through the medium of our spirit and conduct, which ought to display, as in a mirror, the virtues of Him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light. It is strictly appropriate to the subject of our present meditations, to remind you that you are temples. For ye, says the apostle, are the temple of the living God, as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. What purity, sanctity, and dignity may be expected in persons who bear such a character ! A Christian should look upon himself as something sacred and devoted, so that what involves but an ordinary degree of criminality in others, in him partakes of the nature of sacrilege; what is a breach of trust in others, is in him the profanation of a temple. Let us, dear brethren, watch and pray, that nothing may be allowed a place in our hearts, that is not suitable to the residence of the holy and blessed God. Having such great and precious promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse our. selves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.
We have thus endeavoured to lay before you the most likely methods of obtaining the communications of the Spirit, as well as to show the great importance of this gift, we are now desirous of guarding you against a dangerous mistake. The mistake to which we refer, is that of taking conviction for conversion, certain impressions of the guilt and danger of sin made upon the conscience, for the saving operations of the Spirit. These convictions are important: it is highly desirable and necessary to have a settled persuasion of the established connexion betwixt sin and punishment, and as a natural consequence to feel un. easiness and alarm, in proportion as we have reason to believe our sins are yet unpardoned. Until we see ourselves lost, we shall never truly come to Christ for salvation. Until we feel our malady, and dread its consequences, we shall never have recourse to the Physician, or be willing to comply with his prescription. We adjure you, there.
fore, as you value your eternal interests, not to trifle with convictions, or endeavour to wear off religious concern and uneasiness, by the vanities of life, and the stupifactions of pleasure. Regard and cherish them as the sacred visitations of heaven ; look upon them as mercifully designed to arouse and awaken you from a fatal stupor. They are often the harbingers of mercy.
Conviction is produced in thousands who still remain destitute of saving grace. That influence of the Spirit by which a change of heart is effected, is essentially different from the distress and alarm which may be resolved into the exercise of mere natural conscience. For a man to be convinced that he is a sinner, and to tremble at the apprehension of wrath to come, is certainly something very distinct from becoming a new creature. Real Christians have not only perceived their danger, but have fled for refuge; have not only been less or more troubled with a sense of guilt, but, in consequence of coming to Christ, have found rest for their souls. On a review of your past life, you perceive innumerable transgressions, it may be, and are perfectly convinced that you have been walking according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.' So far it is well: your apprehensions are just, and well founded ; and your situa. tion more replete with danger than you have ever conceived it to be. Do not however rest here. Let them engage you to a more diligent use of the means of grace; and, above all, let them lead you to fix your hope and trust on the Redeemer, whose blood alone can cleanse you from all sin, and whose intercession is able to save “ to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.” Heb. vii. 25. Apply to him with humble faith and ardent prayer, and though you may be tempted to cherish doubts of the extent of his power and grace, say with him of old, “ Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” Lay aside, as far as possible, every other concern; postpone your attention to every other object, till you have reason to believe you have obtained mercy, and are renewed in the spirit of your mind. Address the throne of grace with increasing importunity, remembering who hath said, “ Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find.” “ Him that cometh unto ine, I will in no wise cast out.” In all your addresses to God, make use of the name and intercession of Christ ; plead the efficacy of his blood, and the encouragement he hath afforded sinners in his Gospel to return to God. Keep a continual watch over your words, thoughts, and actions: keep your heart with all diligence. Guard, with the utmost care, against levity and sloth, two of the most dangerous snares that can entangle the souls of men.
If you ask how you may know whether you are partakers of the saving grace of God? - we reply, This will be best ascertained by its fruits. When you feel a fixed hatred of sin, an intense thirst after holiness and perfection, and a delight in the word and ways of God; when you are habitually disposed to dwell on the thoughts of Christ and heaven ; when the Saviour appears unspeakably precious, as the pearl of great price, and you are habitually ready to part with every thing for his sake, you may be certain that you are born of God. These are the fruits of the Spirit, which sufficiently demonstrate the