« AnteriorContinuar »
sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or one tittle of that, which is promised, shall fail. 2dly. From these observations we learn, that the promises of the Gospel are absolutely necessary for the hope, and support, of Christians. Christians, in their very best estate, possess such a character, as to say the most, furnishes a very feeble and distant hope of their perseverance in holiness, and their final success in obtaining salvation. In better language, if left to themselves, there is no rational hope, that they would ever arrive at the kingdom of heaven. If God did not preserve them, they would fall daily, certainly, and finally. Without the promises of God, prone as Christians are to backslide, they would feel no confidence in their own success; but would sink into despondency and despair. To preserve them from this despondency, and the ruin which would result from it, God has filled his Word with promises, which yield solid and sufficient support, consolation, hope, and joy. On these they rest safely, o cannot be moved. 3dly. We here learn, that the Christian life is a life far removed jrom gloom. Many persons hearing often of the self-denial, repentance, and mortification of sin, connected with Christianity, have supposed a life of Religion to be only gloomy and discouraging; and have thus dreaded it, as destitute of all present enjoyment. In this opinion they have been confirmed by the sad countenances, demure behaviour, and cheerless lives, of some who have professed themselves Christians. All this, however, is remote from the true character of Religion. Real Christianity furnishes the fairest and most abundant enjoyment. It is delightful in itself; and, when not the immediate object of persecution, finds every where comforts, friends, and blessings. In God the Christian finds a sure, an everpresent, an everlasting friend; in Christ, a Saviour from sin and sorrow ; in the divine promises, an indefeasible inheritance of unceasing and eternal good. Let none, therefore, particularly let not those who are young, and who are easily deterred from approaching that, which wears a forbidding aspect, be hindered from becoming religious by any apprehended gloominess in Religion, or any sorrowful deportment of those, who profess to be Christians. Christianity is but another name for joy. It can spread a smile even over this melancholy world, id find delightful consolation to suffering and to sorrow. All its dictates, all its emotions, all its views, are cheerful, serene, and supporting. Here it is safe; hereafter it will triumph. Sin only is misery. Sinners, in this world, have a thousand sufferings, of which the good man is ignorant; and, in the world to come, will lie down in eternal sorrow.
SERMON LXXXVIII. EVIDENCES OF REGENERATION.—WHAT ARE NOT EW iDENCES.”
2 Coninthiass siii. 5–Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selres; know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you except ye be reprobates?
HAVING, in a long series of discourses, considered the doctrine of Regeneration, its Antecedents, Attendants, and Conseuents; I shall now proceed to another interesting subject of theology; viz. the Evidences of Regeneration. In the text, the Apostle commands the Corinthian Christians to examine, and prove themselves; and states the purpose of this examination to be to determine whether they were in the faith. He then inquires of them, Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you except ye be reprobates ? in the original, except ye be adoxual, unapproved; unable to endure the trial of such an examination. From this passage of Scripture it is plain, that it was the duty of the Corinthians to eramine themselves concerning their Christian character; and that this examination was to be pursued by them so thoroughly, as to prove, so far as might be, whether the were, or were not, in the faith; whether Christ did, or did not, i. in them by his Holy Spirit. That, which was the duty of the Corinthians, is the duty of all other Christians. That, which is the duty of all Christians, it is the duty of every Minister to aid them in performing. To unfold the Evidences of Religion in the heart is, therefore, at times, the duty of every Minister; and, to learn them, that of every Christian. In attempting to perform this duty at the present time, I shall endeavour to point out, I. Some of the Imaginary Evidences of Religion; II. Some of its Real Evidences; and III. Some of the Difficulties, which attend the application of the Real Evidences of Religion to ourselves. I. I shall endeavour to point out some of the Imaginary Evidences of Religion. By Imaginary Evidences I intend those, which are sometimes supposed to be proofs of its eristence, but have this character through mistake only ; evidences, which may be, and often are, found in the hearts, and lives, both of the saint and the sinner: things, on which it is dangerous to rely, because they do not evince, in any degree, either a holy or an unholy character. . It will not be expected, that I should enter into a minute, and detailed, account of a subject, which has occupied formal treatises, and filled volumes. Considerations of particular imo can alone find a place in such a system of discourses. To them, therefore, I shall confine myself; and even these I must necessarily discuss in a summary manner. With these preliminary remarks, I observe, 1st. That nothing in the Time, Place, JManner, or other circumstances of a supposed conversion, furnishes, ordinarily, any solid evidence, that it is, or is not, real. It is not uncommon for persons, and for Christians among others, to dwell, both in their thoughts and conversation, on these subjects; and to believe, that they furnish them with comforting proofs of their piety. Some persons rest not a little on their consciousness of the time, at which they believe themselves to have turned to God. So confident are they with regard to this subject, that they boldly appeal to it in their conversation with others, as evidence of their regeneration. “So many years since,” one of them will say, “my heart closed with Christ. Christ was discovered to my soul. The arm of Mercy laid hold on me. I was stopped in the career of iniquity. I received totally new views of divine things.” Much other language, of a similar nature, is used by them; all of which rests, ultimately, on their knowledge of the time, at which they suppose themselves to have become the subjects of the renewing grace of God. There is reason to believe, derived however from other sources, that these apprehensions may sometimes be founded in truth; in other instances, there is abundant proof, that they are founded in falsehood. But that, which may easily be either false or true, as in the present case it plainly may, can never safely be made the ofof reliance; especially in a concern of such moment. Other persons appeal with the same confidence to the manner, and circumstances, of their supposed conversion, as evidences of its reality. Thus, one recites with much reliance the strong convictions of sin, under which he was distressed for a length of time; the deep sense, which he had of deserving the anger and punish. ment of God; his disposition readily to o: the justice of the divine law in condemning him, and of the divine government in punishing him; his full belief, that he was among the worst of sinners; and the state of despair, to which he was brought under the apprehensions of his guilt. Of all these things it may be observed, that, although convictions of sin, generally of the nature here referred to, always precede regeneration; yet, in whatever form or degree they exist, they are not regeneration. They cannot, therefore, be proofs of regeneration. He, who has them, in whatever manner he has them, will, if he proceed no farther 2 be still in the gall of bitterness. 2 But the same person, perhaps, goes on farther; and d that, while he was in this situation of distress, when he wa to give himself up for lost, God discovered himself to hi
reconciled God; and filled his mind with new, sudden, and unspeakable joy; that he had a strong and delightful sense of the . mercy in Jesus Christ, of the wonderful compassion of Christ, in consenting to die for sinners, in being willing to accept of sinners, and particularly in being willing to acce "f SO great a sinner as himself: that he found his heart going forth in love to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, to the word and ordinances of God, and to the Church of Christ: and that this state of mind was new to him; being constituted of emotions, which he never felt before. On these things, therefore, he reposes, as supporting evidences, that he is a Christian.
All this is, in my own view, a just account of what really takes place in the conversion of multitudes; and, did it exist in no other case, would undoubtedly furnish the very evidence, here relied on without any sufficient warrant. The defect in this scheme lies in the fact, that these very emotions are experienced by multitudes, who are not Christians. That a person, who has been the subject of extreme distress under convictions of sin, and the fear of perdition, should, whenever he begins to hope, that his sins are forgiven, and his soul secured from destruction, experience lively emotions of joy, is to be expected, as a thing of course: and that, whether his hopes are Evangelical, or false. All men must rejoice in their deliverance from destruction, whether truly, or erroneously, believed by them; and all men, who have had a distressing sense of their guilt and danger, will, under a sense of such a deliverance, experience intense emotions of joy. All men also, who really believe, that God is become their #d, will love him. All will love the word of God, who consider it as speaking peace and salvation to themselves. This joy, and this love, it is evident, are merely natural; and are felt, of course, by every mistaking professor of Religion. Love to God, and to divine things, is a delight in the nature of these objects, independently of any personal benefit, to which we feel entitled from them.
Another person places confidence in the greatness of the effects, which his sense of sin, and his hope of forgiveness, produced both on his body and mind. . He will inform you, with plain consolation to himself, that his distressing apprehensions of his guilt sunk him in the dust, and caused him to cry out involuntarily; deprived him of his strength, and for a time perhaps of the clear exercise of his Reason; caused him to swoon; and almost terminated his life. Much the same effects, he will also observe, were produced in him by his consequent discoveries of the divine mercy. These overo him with transport; as his convictions did with agony. The extraordinary nature, and especially the extraordinary degree, of these emotions, furnishes this man with the most consola. "y proof, that he is a child of God.
ol. III. s
Few persons have been more exact in this respect, than the ancient Pharisees. Yet Christ has testified of them, that they were a generation of vipers. Under the Christian dispensation, great multitudes of the Ron Catholics, notoriously profigate in many parts of their conduct, have, in various periods of Popery, been remarkably punctilious in the performance of these duties. That, which was no evidence of Christianity in them, cannot be evidence of Christianity in ourselves. Many persons are exact in this conduct from the influence of education, and example; many, from habit; many, from the desire of religious distinction; many, because they think this conduct a É. of their piety, and are uneasy without such proof; many, ecause they think themselves, in this way only, in the safe path to salvation; and many, from other selfish reasons. In all these things, considered by themselves, there is no religion. Of course, the conduct, to which they give birth, cannot be evidential of religion. 4thly. Mo Exactness in performing those, which are frequently called Moral duties, furnishes any evidence of this nature. Multitudes of Mankind place great confidence in their careful p. of these external duties, as being evidential of their vangelical character; just as other multitudes do in those menj under the preceding head; and with no better foundation. Justice, truth, and kindness, in their various branches, and operations, are so important, and useful, to mankind, that we all readily agree in giving them high distinction in the scale of moral characteristics. Those, who practise them uniformly, and extensively, are universally considered as benefactors to the world, and as invested with peculiar amiableness, and worth. Those, who violate them, on the other hand, are, from the mischiefs which they produce, regarded as enemies, and nuisances, to the human race. At the same time, a high degree of importance is given to these duties in the Scriptures. They are greatly insisted on in the Gospel; inculcated in many forms of instruction; commended in the most forcible lano. and encouraged by most interesting promises. The viotion of them is condemned, and threatened, in the most pungent terms, and under the most . images. H \t cannot be surprising, that, influenced by these considerations, parents should make these duties a prime part of their instructions, and precepts, to their children. But when we remember, that the practite of them has in all ages, and in all civilized countries, been considered as equally, and as indispensably, necessary to a fair reputation, and to success in the common business of life; we shall readily suppose, that these must be among the first things imbibed by the early mind, from parental superintendence, and must hold a peculiar importance in o the future thoughts of the man. Thus taught, and thus imbibed, we should naturally expect to see them practised, during the progress of life, as extensively as can consist with the ... character of human beings. When thus