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ON HEARING THE WORI).
“Whether a person, who profits more from occasional
hearing than by the preaching of his own pastor, may not attend constantly the ministrations of one whose sentiments, in some respects, differ from his own?” TO this question I would offer the following answer:
1. THERE are some differences of sentiment which do not form sufficient ground for the formation of sep: arate churches. If the particular sentiments of your inquirer be of this kind, they, of course, oppose no obstacle to his removal into another church, with which he may agree in the grand, essential points; though there may be other reasons, which may make such removal highly proper.
2. If I be allowed to address the inquirer, as face to face, I must ask, have you adopted right views and motives in hearing the word? Ought not the Divine glory to be the polar star by which you are guided in hearing the gospel, as in the whole of your religion and existence? “Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Your profiting should be considered not as a final end, to be pursued for its own sake, which would be seeking your own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's—but as a mean for accomplishing a farther end,—to glorify God. Have you, in attending upon the ministry of the Gospel, acted upon these pure, evangelical principles? Upon this the propriety of your present state of mind, and the lawfulness of the future steps which you may take, will very much depend.
3. Still, as your profiting under the Divine word is of great importance, in order to your "glorifying God in body and spirit, which are his," have you formed a right estimate of a profitable ministry? Do you judge that to be the most profitable, which is most searching and humbling? Do you value that ministry as most profitable, which gives you an insight into the genuine mind of the Spirit in the Scriptures? or do you love a pretty conceit, which discovers something new and wonderful in Scripture, no matter whether true and solid or not? Do you think yourself most profited by a grave, serious sermon, which sends you home silent and secretly praying? or do you prefer one that is noisy, dazzling, and droll? Are
you best pleased when you return full of the preacher, exclaiming, what a fine man! or when you can think of nothing else but your own salvation, and the glory of Him who died for sinners? Are you of the mind of him, who said to his friend, “You do not know what you lost in not hearing my preacher to-day; if you had, you would never have relished another?' or would you, like the wiser friend, have replied, Then I am determined I never will hear him; for give me the preacher who will teach me to relish the gospel wherever I hear it in truth?'
4. Then when you have formed right sentiments of profitable hearing ask whether the profit you seem ed to derive from occasional hearing did not arise from its novelty, as a new dish on your table might seem nicer than any thing you ever ate before, but if it were repeated every day, you might soon find it inferior to the old. Examine whether those who constantly hear the preacher, under whom you seemed to profit, be
more intelligent, consistent, holy, and zealous Christians, than those with whom you are in communion. Be assured, that mere preference to person, manner, or voice, would not have been thought, in the apostles's days, sufficient cause for shifting from one church to another. After all, I would intreat you to consult personally and impartially the wisest and most holy Christians you know. Lay the whole case before them, which is more than you can do in a Magazine. And why not consult your own minister himself in a serious, humble, and affectionate manner. Above all, consult the “Wonderful Counsellor;" and be assured, that if you commit your way sincerely to him, he will perform the promise, “I will instruct thee, and teach thee in the way which thou shouldest go, and will guide thee with mine eye."
CAUSES OF SPIRITUAL DARKNESS.
1 What are the particular causes of that great spiritudl
darkness which some eminent Christians labor under; and whai are the special ends to be answered by it?"
Answer. The question implies, that it is a fact that some eminent Christians labor under great spiritual darkness; and if the fact be admitted, as I think it must, our present business is to inquire into the causes of it, and to shew what special ends are answered by it.
Respecting the first, we all acknowledge that God is a Sovereign in the dispensation of his favors; and that there are many instances in which, though without doubt he has a reason for what he does, yet we cannot perceive it. There was much of this sovereign wis. dom in his dealings with Job. Great and good men in all ages have experienced their seasons of darkness under which their only remedy has been to wait upon the Lord, who had hid his face from them, and to look for him. But though there are cases in which we can only say that it pleaseth God, from reasons unknown to us, to suspend his favors, yet there are others in which the want of spiritual enjoyment may be accounted for.
I say nothing on the case of a person who shall indulge himself in any known sin, or live in the neglect of any known duty, as the question respects those characters only who are considered as “eminent Christians." Concerning these, the following particulars are submitted to consideration.
First, Such darkness of mind may be owing to the want of clearer light into the glorious gospel of God our Savior. The gospel is a scheme of sovereign grace, intended to display the glory of the Divine character in the salvation of sinners through Jesus Christ. Now if a good man's views of the gospel be partial, or confused, or attended with obscurity, his faith in its leading truths must be proportionally weak, and attended with many interruptions in its exercise. But if our faith in those truths, which exhibit the great blessings of salvation, be weak and wavering, the evidences of an interest in them will be faint and low; and of course, if we be not lost in insensibility, we shall experience much of a dark and discouraged state of mind.
Secondly, Such a state of mind may arise from mistaken views of the Christian character. If we attribute that to a Christian, at all times, which is true of him only on certain occasions, we shall paint him in a light in
which truth will not bear us out. And if we proceed to judge of the reality of our religion not by the nature, but the degree of it; and conclude, that because we do not, in the general course of our lives possess that heavenly-mindedness which has been possessed by other Christians on special occasions, therefore our religion is vain, we shall plunge ourselves into the depths of despondency.
It is true, that in describing that loveliness of character after which every Christian must aspire, we do not, and ought not, as ministers, to introduce any thing but pure Christianity. It would be unbecoming in us to hold up the faults and defects of good men as objects of imitation; yea, it would be disloyal to God, o employ ourselves in deciding upon the degrees of sinful imperfection, which might possibly accompany true religion. It would resemble the conduct of an unprincipled lawyer, who should be employed in teaching his countrymen how far they might proceed in evading the laws, without being exposed to punishment. But though the highest degrees of grace and heavenly-mindedness must be the object of our pursuit, yet the attainment of those degrees is not a criterion of sincerity. The bruised reed was not broken, nor the smoking flax quenched, by our compassionate Redeemer.
Thirdly, In some Christians, who are eminent for their humility, piety, and close walking with God in duty, this state of mind may be supposed to arise from a natural gloominess of temper and constitution. It is reasonable to suppose, that our natural temper will mix itself with our religious affections; and make a deep impression upon our spirit and general deportment, either in
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