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and the bewildering mazes of sophistry. But they go further, and not only admit the truth, but cheerfully acknowledge the primary and essential doctrines of Christianity. Their creed is sound and scriptural. They have clear, distinct, comprehensive, and connected views of revealed religion. The fallen and guilty state of man ; the utter emptiness and insufficiency of all his efforts to work out a righteousness that will justify him before God; the freeness of pardon and salvation, through the atonement and merits of Christ; the necessity of repentance, and faith in the promises of the gospel ; the close and intimate connexion which subsists between personal holiness and real happiness, between the accomplishment of the divine purposes, and the use of appointed means, receive their ready and full assent. But while these, and other articles of an orthodox creed, are embraced and avowed, we behold no signs of spirituality and devotion. And are not many of you in this state ? From the days of childhood you have been taught the great doctrines of Christianity. Yes, and you understand, and can clearly state them; you regard them as important, and would, probably, defend them against opposers ; and yet these principles rather float in the head, than find a place, and exert a vital power in the heart. You hold, indeed, the truth, but continue to hold it in unrighteous
There is a sense in which you are not ignorant, but well taught, and yet the light that is in you is darkness. The intellectual powers have been exercised and informed, but the affections remain untouched, unsubdued, unsanctified.
2. They are not far from the kingdom, but do not belong to that kingdom, who are the subjects of frequent and powerful convictions, yet have never been converted to God.
Let it be remembered, that genuine personal piety commences in a thorough and effectual change of heart. These were the solemn words of the great Teacher, “ Verily, verily I say unto you, except a man be converted, and become as a little child, he shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of God.” Attend to the testimony of the inspired apostle : “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new!" The change which these passages so forcibly describe is not partial and temporary, but entire and permanent. It is possible to make approaches, if I may so speak, towards the turning point, and yet fall short of it. A man may be convinced of the truth of religion by argument, and of the importance and value of religion by his own experience of vanity and vexation in the best possessions and pleasures the world has to bestow ; and he may be convinced of the evil of sin by the testimonies of the divine word, and by the stings of remorse
driven into the conscience; and he may be convinced of the egregious folly of sacrificing the sober dictates of his judgment to the passions, and of surrendering his deliberate resolutions to the uncertainties of a future day, that, perhaps, will never shine upon him: but these convictions, returning at intervals with more or less frequency and force, leave him still at the outer verge of the kingdom. He has not taken one step within its sacred precincts, nor been in real good earnest striving to enter the strait gate, and the narrow way. And, I ask, do not some of you admit, that this is a just view of your character and condition? When
feel the pressure of guilt, and fear the torments of hell; when you reflect, in silence and solitude, on the vast interests of the immortal soul; or when you hear, in public, a faithful preacher reasoning of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come ; how often do you tremble, and yet, like Felix, defer the serious and settled consideration of these weighty concerns to a future season. Nay, religious convictions may be so vivid and powerful as to restrain you from many paths of vice, but not draw you to the practice of true virtue, or the pursuit of Christian holiness.
3. They are not far from the kingdom, but do not belong to it, who cultivate amiable tempers and agreeable manners, and yet are strangers to the influence and grace of the Divine Spirit.
Some persons whose views of scripture doctrine are clear and correct, and whose convictions of its importance are strong and lively, discover an asperity in the habitual frame of their mind, and a moroseness in the general course of their conduct, peculiarly repulsive. But an opposite cast of character is not uncommon among us. There are men who never closely study the principles of religion, or appear to feel any strong excitement connected with eternal realities, yet while they profess to believe and revere the holy Scriptures, are placid and mild in their dispositions, just and generous in their dealings, gentle and engaging in their deportment. Such an assemblage of lovely qualities may well command respect, and secure esteem. But do not these persons resemble the interesting young man who approached the Saviour with profound deference, and submitted to him a most important inquiry; yet, amidst all that he had which was pleasing and commendable, there was one thing essentially needful lacking, and, therefore, he refused to follow Christ.
Let us recollect, that moral virtues, in the ordinary acceptation of the terms, are often the growth of mere nature, under the culture of a favourable education. When joined with an appearance of unassuming modesty and docility, and a regular attendance on religious ordinances, they may bring men near to the kingdom of God, but a barrier still separates them from it. Though the line be less palpable, it is as real as in cases of open profligacy. I would not say one word to derogate from the value of amiable tempers and good morals, but they must not be mistaken for the fruits of the Spirit.
II. Are there not some reasons to be assigned as causes why many of you continue so long to hover round the borders of the kingdom of God, yet never enter in ? Your conduct carries in it a multitude of strange contradictions and inconsistencies. You profess to believe there is a region of light and liberty, of love and concord, of hope and heavenly happiness; and we are sure the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, (exterior rites and ceremonies) but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. While you have remained halting and hesitating, others have found free access and a welcome admission to this sacred inclosure, this mystic empire, which is graced with the special presence and benediction of Jehovah. To you, also, invitation has been sent after invitation, with the most urgent importunity; and encouragement has been added to encouragement, with all the overflowing plenitude of sovereign love and mercy. Why then stand you without? Whatever you may have, there must be something still wanting. Let me exhort
to sift this matter to the bottom. 1. Your hovering still round the outer borders of the kingdom of God, must be ascribed to a want of firm decision of mind. This is what few like to acknowledge, and therefore it is kept out of sight, and disguised under specious pretexts. Many undertakings, even of a secular kind, are so arduous as to require both decision and energy. A feeble and fluctuating mind shrinks and recoils from them, and yet would fain think, and have it thought, that the failure is attributable to some other cause. But with how much greater force does this reasoning apply to engagements and efforts purely spiritual. Here difficulties of the most formidable kind present themselves at the very outset. Many persons under religious instruction in private, or the ministry of the word in public, continue to advance, till these difficulties open to their view, and then begin to halt and waver. When the apostle of the Gentiles had given a full statement of his own conversion, and of the leading principles of the gospel, Agrippa said unto him, “ Paul, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” This might, to many who heard it, seem a bold avowal, intimating that the king had approached the threshold of the temple of truth, and stood on the very verge of the kingdom
of God; but the last and best ingredient of magnanimity was still wanting: an idea which the apostle did not fail to convey, though in the conciliatory form of a generous and impassioned wish, when he replied, “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds."
That decision in this great concern is absolutely necessary, and that the mind is often held in suspense, by the influence which the passions exert in warping and perverting the judgment, may be inferred from a remarkable passage in our Lord's sermon on the mount. “ Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or what shall we drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothed ? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek, and your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” What is confessedly of prime importance and preeminent value, demands immediate and concentrated attention. Now this may be owned in words, and yet denied by deeds; and where it is so, the mind itself is really undecided. Some lingering partiality to carnal things, some under-current of passion or worldly preference, of which the individual is perhaps scarcely conscious, is the secret cause of all the hesitation, timidity, and temporising policy, which disguise themselves under fair names and plausible pleas. And another said, “Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go and bid them farewell, who are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Alas! what numbers promise fair, but fail on the performance; put their hands to the plough, but first look, and then turn back to the world. Like Agrippa, they are only almost, not altogether Christians.
2. Your hovering still round the outer borders of the kingdom of God, must be ascribed to a want of warm and loyal attachment to the blessed Immanuel, the Prince of life.
It is evident, that indecision, with reference to religious matters, may often be resolved into the absence of a deep-seated and devoted regard to the Saviour. Let us remember, that he is invested by the eternal Father with the highest dignities and honours; that he is anointed as the King of Zion, and shall reign till he has put all enemies under his feet; and that he combines in his person and character every possible perfection and excellency. Can you then wonder, that he should claim the first and chief place in the affections of all his servants ? Can you justly murmur, when he saith, “ Whosoever loveth father or mother, wife or children, house or lands,
more than me, is not worthy of me?”. Are you ready to cry out, “ this is a hard saying, who can bear it?” The first lesson in the school of Christ is self-denial; and every one of his disciples must learn and practise it.
You advance to the confines of the kingdom of God; and why do you not enter it ? Is not the true reason, because you cannot submit to take up the cross and follow Christ? You would evade the indispensable requisition of Immanuel ; but it is impossible to be evaded. He that will not bear the cross, shall never wear the crown. Jesus, who “is exalted as a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins," has surely a right to fix the terms on which he grants his free unmerited favours. His claims carry the stamp of supreme authority ; they supersede all others which may stand in competition with them. “ If ye love me, keep my commandments.” And which of his commands is unreasonable ? which of his laws is oppressive ? Pompey, the Roman general, boasted that his soldiers, from the ardour of their attachment to him, would cheerfully obey his orders, though required to face danger and death in the most terrific forms. And who can be compared to Christ, the Leader and Commander of his people, the great Captain of salvation, the glorious King of saints and angels ? And do you hesitate to obey his precepts ? Say not, the cross is too heavy to be sustained; the barrier that obstructs the entrance into the kingdom is too high to be surmounted. It is not the weight of the cross, nor the height of the barrier, but the want of loyal affection to the Lord Jesus that keeps you aloof. You are unwilling to rally under his standard, to take the solemn oath of allegiance, and render him the unreserved homage of the heart.
3. Your hovering still round the outer borders of the kingdom of God, must be ascribed to a want of true faith and humility. Indecision
may be resolved into lukewarmness, and lukewarmness into unbelief. Not that I would charge you with infidelity in the ordinary and gross sense of the term. No, you may cry, we give full credit to the blessed gospel. But is not your belief a sort of assent, which leaves the heart untouched ? Now, true faith is the only medium through which the light and glory of immortality beams upon us.
It is the vital moving spring of all spiritual desires and heavenly affections in the soul. faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And St. Peter, speaking to the saints concerning Christ, says, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Do such testimonies of the word as these seem almost
St. Paul says,