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souls could imitate him in this. But what we do in this way, ought not to be done at random. We should beforehand fix upon some orderly method. Prayer should be accompanied with the reading of select portions of the Bible, and other books suited to the occasion. Owen On indwelling Sin, or On the 130th Psalm, Polhill's Precious Faith, or Romaine's Life of Faith will furnish you with much that is very suitable and excellent. I mention these, not to the exclusion of other valuable treatises, but because they are in most people's hands. An intermixture of reading and prayer, in such a manner as your prudence may suggest, will be likely to render these seasons useful and pleasant.
Lastly, Though, in the use of these means, you will probably meet with your moments of discouragement, and find in yourself much to contend with; yet do not cast away your confidence, but wait and hope for, and expect the Divine blessing. The Lord whom you seek, does not despise the day of small things. He may see it fit to try, for a time, your faith and your patience. But if you forsake him, to whom will you go? Where can you
obtain that which your soul desires? Remember that though Jesus Christ at first rebuked the woman of Canaan, who cried after him; yet afterwards he granted her all she asked.* Remember also the parable of the unjust judge and the importunate widow.t Jesus has a compassionate heart. You have no reason to doubt his willingness to help you. In so doing, you dishonor him, and distress yourself. Therefore wait on the Lord: Be of good courage and he shall strengthen thine heart: Wait, I Lord.
SQy, on the
* Matt. xv. 21, &c.
| Luke xviii. 1, &c.
ON APOSTASY. THERE is reason to believe that the gospel is making considerable progress in this country, and that the number of professors and of church members has been increasing for several years, and still continues to increase We rejoice at it; yet we rejoice with trembling, for we are apprehensive that many build their religion on a very slight and sandy foundation. We are the more confirmed in this suspicion by the frequent backsliding's and apostasies of persons who promised fair, and ran well for a time. It is true, the Church can produce distinguished Christians, who may vie with the saints of the first ages; yet we cannot help suspecting the piety of numbers, notwithstanding all their talk about Christ and his gospel, because we cannot discover that spirituality of mind and beautiful consistency of conduct which, we think the gospel requires, and the grace of the Holy Spirit invariably produces.
The final perseverance of the saints is unequivocally declared in Scripture; we therefore conclude, that an apostate was never truly converted to God. Amidst all his, perhaps splendid, attainments and acquisitions, "the one thing needful" was wanting,
I suspect that the radical defect and error of the apostate lies here; he never perceived the intrinsic excellency of holiness, nor the native deformity of sin. He may believe in the divinity, messiahship, and atonement of Christ, and in the necessity of the work of the Spirit, and
yet be blind to that, wherein the work of the Spirit eminently consists; viz. The conforming a sinner to the moral image of the Lord Jesus; which is in fact, the grand design of the gospel.
VOL. III. 18
The practice of sin may be, in a great measure, suspended for some time; yet the power of it remains unbroken, and gradually recovers its activity: by degrees he returns to his old courses, and lives in known and habitual sin. Sin, sooner or later, brings guilt on the conscience; guilt on the conscience strips him of his confidence, deprives him of the enjoyment of his supposed privileges, and excites fearful apprehensions of Divine vengeance. The power of sin becomes more absolute and unlimited than ever, and the unhappy backslider is filled with his own ways. Satan furiously assaults him with horrid suggestions and temptations; and nothing of Christianity remains but the name and form of doctrine, which can hardly be preserved long under these disadvantages.
In this situation he will wish that the gospel was different from what it is. Some parts of it would afford him hope, if other parts were altered. A moderate acquaintance with human nature will convince us of the prodigious influence which interest has over opinion. He first wishes, then hopes, and at last persuades himself that it is so; and he now fancies himself a wiser and happier man than ever.
He selects the doctrines of election and final perseverance, and abuses them to purposes for which they were never designed. They are calculated to comfort the penitent, strengthen the weak, and encourage the fearful believer; not to embolden the presumptuous, and harden him in his daring crimes. He shelters himself behind such unscriptural hopes as these, I know the gospel; I am one of God's elect; he has de
ereed to save me; and sin, though I live in it, shall not destroy me." .
He rejects the law as a rule of life, and boasts that he is brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God; that is, he enjoys the glorious liberty of sinning without restraint or fear. Unawed by fear, unaffected by the love of Christ, the reins are thrown loose on the neck of every vile appetite and lust, and he shamelessly commits sins at which honest heathens might blush. The devil that was cast out of him returns, accompanied by seven spirits more wicked than himself; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
He perhaps pleads that his faith will keep him from sinning, though he rejects all the precepts and commandments of God's most holy word. This is too flimsy a covering to hide the wickedness of his heart from others, or long to conceal it from himself! How is faith to ascertain the will of God, unless by the commandments? Faith must be grounded on the revealed will of God, otherwise it is not faith, but presumption. In fact, he follows the unholy dictates of his unholy heart, impiously sanctioning them with the venerable name of Jehovah, and prostituting faith to be the patron and minister of sin.
A bolder method soon becomes necessary, a stronger opiate is required: the following passage of Scripture is selected, and infamously perverted, “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” When a Christian goes to the house of God, desiring and striving to hear, pray, praise, &c. yet, in spite of himself, his thoughts wander and his heart is hard, it may be propcrly ascribed to sin dwelling in him. But when a man
gets drunk, breaks the Sabbath, &c.; when he commits sin knowingly and intentionally, it requires the impudence and effrontery of Satan himself to say, “It is not I, but sin that dwelleth in me.'
They become quite critical and captious hearers of the gospel. They sit in judgment upon sermons, to try the talents and orthodoxy of the preacher, not to be artaigned and reproved as criminals themselves. They dislike searching preaching, for it disturbs their consciences; and they only want to be soothed. represent man as detestable as we please, provided we do not endeavor to shake their confidence of their own security; and a sneering and censorious sermon never fails to please them.
They revile and ridicule a holy humble Christian, whose life continually reproves, and, I suspect, fre. quently renders them uneasy. Whoever regards the commandments is despised, as being in bondage to the law. They are strangers to the benevolent disposition of the gospel; and charity and humility are not articles of their creed.
As the transition from one extreme to the other is natural and easy, they frequently turn infidels, and take shelter in the gloomy shades of Atheism: the very profession of Religion is cast off, and the existence of that God denied, whose holiness had been so long insulted.
Sometimes despair seizes on their souls before they are separated from their bodies. They are given up to a reprobate mind, and feel the forebodings of Hell in their conscience. Their hearts are hard and impenitent; they cannot pray, they cannot repent, they cannot