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WORDS. They stumble at the stumbling-stone being disobedient.
Crisp. Have not all men their prejudices? the good as well as the wicked?
Gai. As all men are the subjects of sin, undoubtedly they have. But as it does not follow, that because a good man is the subject of sin, he may live in the practice of all manner of abominations, neither does it follow that, because he is the subject of criminal error, he may err in the great concerns of eternal salvation. Good men have not only their gold, silver, and precious stones, but also their wood, hay, and stubble,* which will be consumed while they themselves are saved; nevertheless all are represented as building upon a right foundation. He that errs with respect to the foundation laid in Zion, will, if God gives him not repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, err to his eternal overthrow.
Crisp. Does not this last species of error seem nearly related to unbelief?
Gai. I conceive it to be so nearly related, as to be its immediate effect. The heart leans to a system of falsehood, wishing it to be true, and what it wishes to be true, it is easily persuaded to think so.
The first step in this progress describes the spirit of unbelief; the last, that of error. The one grows out of the other. Such a progress was exemplified in those persons described in the Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians: They received not the love of the truth, believed not the truth, but had pleasure in
Is pot Gaius incorrect in applying this text to the errors and prejudices of believers by hay, wood, and stubble the apostle means unregenerate men built up into a Church state, by even a true Minister of the Gospel.
EDITOR VOL. III.
unrighteousness; therefore God gave them up to a reprabate mind, that they might believe a lie, and be damned!
Crisp. I confess I am more deeply convinced than ever, that the manner in which the word of God is heard and received, ought to be a subject of very serious consideration.
Gai. True: And I may add, the manner in which it is preached too. Wo unto them who teach any other doctrine than that which God hath revealed! Wo unto ministers, if they preach not the Gospel of Christ! If even an angel from heaven preach any other gospel, let him be accursed.
Crisp. I thank you, my dear friend, for your instructive observations. As night is drawing on apace, I must take my leave. But I hope we shall soon have an opportunity of meeting again.
Gai. I hope so too. Farewell!
DIALOGUE THIRD, BETWEEN CRISPUS AND GAIUS.
ON THE CONNEXION BETWEEN DOCTRINAL, EXPERI
MENTAL, AND PRACTICAL RELIGION.
In our last interview we discoursed on the influence of truth as it respected our eternal salvation; will now inquire, if you please, into its influence on the holiness and happiness of Christians in the present state; or, in other words, into the connexion between doctrinal, experimental, and practical religion.
Gai. Such an inquiry may convince us of the importance of each, and prevent our extolling one branch of religion at the expense of another.
Crisp. What do you mean by experimental religion?
Gai. Experimental religion may be considered generally and particularly. In general, we mean by it, the exercise of spiritual or holy affections; such as hope, fear, joy, sorrow,
and the like. Crisp. And what relation do these things bear to Divine truth?
Gai. Under the agency of the Holy Spirit, they are its immediate effect. To render this matter evident, we need only inquire what have been the best seasons of our life, and our own remembrance will convince us that Divine truth has been at the bottom of all those enjoyments which were truly solid and valuable.
Crisp.. Some of the best times in my life have been those in which I have mourned over my sin with godly
Gai. Very well. This holy mourning arose from a sense of your own depravity, a truth plentifully taught in the Bible.
Crisp. I can remember also many joyful seasons when I have been in the lively exercise of faith and hope.
Gai. Very good; but faith has truth for its object, and hope lays hold of a blessed immortality. Take away the doctrine of the cross, and the promise of eternal life, and your faith, and hope, and joy, would be annihilated.
Crisp. I have heard some persons exclaim against doctrinal preaching, as being dry and uninteresting. Give me, say they, something spiritual and experimental.
Gai. Doctrines, it is allowed, may be so represented as to become dry and uninteresting, but scripture truth is not so in its own nature. The doctrines of the gospel are expressly called “spiritual things,” which are spiritually discerned.
Crisp. Does not the term experience, convey the idea proof of or trial?
Gai. It does; and this was what I had in my mind, when I said the subject might be considered particularly. Though we use the term to express the exercise of spiritual affections in general, yet it is more accurate to apply it to that proof or trial which we make of Divine things, while passing through the vicissitudes of life.
Crisp. Experimental knowledge, we commonly say in other things, is knowledge obtained by trial.
Gai. Very well; it is the same in religion. There are many truths taught us in the Divine word, and which we may be said to know by reading; but we do not know them experimentally till we have proved them true by having made the trial.
Crisp. Mention a few examples.
Gai. We read in the Scriptures the doctrine of human impotency, and we think we understand it; but we never know this truth properly till we have had proof of it in our own experience. Farther: We read of the corruption of the human heart, and think in our early years that we believe it; but it is not till we have passed through a variety of changes, and had experience of its deceitful operations, that we perceive this truth as we ought. Again: We read much of the goodness and faithfulness of God, and we subscribe to each; but we never realize these truths till, having passed through those circumstances in which we have occasion for them they become imprinted upon our hearts. It is then that we feel their force, and taste their sweetness; hence it is that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience. It was, no doubt, a cheering truth, at all times, that God was the portion of his people; but never did they realize that truth so fully as when they were stripped of their earthly all, and carried into captivity. It was then that they sang, as taught by the prophet, “The Lord is my portion, therefore will I hope in him.”
Crisp. All experimental religion seems then to bear some relation to truth. If taken generally for the exercise of spiritual affections, truth is here the cause, and these exercises are its immediate effects. If taken more particularly for that proof or trial which we have of Divine things, as we pass through the vicissitudes of life, truth seems here to be the object of which we have experience.
Gai. True; and the more we have of experimental religion, the more we shall feel ourselves attached to the great doctrines of the gospel, as the bread and water of life, from whence arises all our salvation, and all our desire.
Crisp. Will not the connexion between doctrinal and experimental religion account for the ignorance which is attributed to carnal men with respect to Divine things, as that they do not receive them, and cannot know them?