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sake. If he desires to possess the attributes, and perform the actions, of a Christian, because the character seems delightful to his taste, he actually possesses the character, although he does not discern the fact. But this is not what is intended in the case before us. The candidate is here supposed to desire this character, only because of the blessings annexed to it. In other words, be desires to escape future punishment, and to obtain immortal life. But who does not desire these things ? Who would not willingly be saved from perdition, and admitted to the blessings of heaven? If all were to be admitted to a profession of religion, who could make such a profession as this, the Church would literally include the whole race of Adam; and the profession would be summed up in this short sentence, “I wish to be saved.” Happily, both these schemes have nearly vanished out of this State ; and appear to be retiring fast from our country.
In the covenant, into which we enter when we make a profession of Christianity, we solemnly avouch, that is, publicly declare, Jehovah to be our God, our Father, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier. To make this declaration true, it is indispensable, that we really believe ourselves to have chosen God as our God; as our Sovereign, whom we sincerely intend to obey; as the object of our supreme love, reverence, and confidence; as our chief good, in whom, and from whom, we expect to find our present and eternal happiness. At the same time we declare our reliance on Christ for redemption, and on the Spirit of grace for sanctification, We also declare, that it is our sincere wish, and design, to live now, through the grace of God, and our real resolution, and engagement, to live hereafter, soberly, righteously, and godly, so long as we are in the world. I say, we declare these things, because, so far as I am informed, they are the substance of that profession of religion, which is generally required, and generally made, by the great body of Christians, with whom we are in communion, throughout our land. Now it is evident, that, if we do not believe any such wish, any such design, to exist in our minds ; if we do not suppose ourselves to have formed such resolutions, and to enter into such engagements; we cannot honestly make these declarations ; and have not that truth in the inward parts, which God certainly requires. If we have not chosen God as our God;
as our Father, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier; we cannot, with truth, avouch him to be our God. Of course, we cannot declare ourselves to be his children. In other words, we cannot make a good profession of the religion of the Gospel.
Let any candidate for admission into the church carefully read the covenant, in use throughout the great body of the churches, of our communion, in this country, and solemnly consider its import. If I am not deceived, he will then see, that, in order to mean in his profession of religion what the words of this covenant obviously signify, it is indispensably necessary for him to possess the views and affections of a Christian.
II. I shall now inquire, what is that state of mind, in which a profession may be made.
On this subject I observe,
1st. It is evident, that, if we knew with certainty whether we were Christians or not, we could not conscientiously, or lawfully, make a profession of religion, unless we were Christians, in the Evangelical sense.
In this case it would be perfectly known to us whether we could make the declarations, involved in a good profession, with sincerity, and according to their real meaning ; or not. There could, therefore, be no doubt concerning our duty, and our qualifications, or our want of them, for performing it. Every man would then know, that he could, or that he could not, make a good profession; and by this knowledge his duty would be exactly pointed out.
But, as such knowledge is not in the possession of the candi. date, nor, in my view, attainable by him, some further rule becomes absolutely necessary to direct us in this important concern. I observe, therefore,
2dly. That the state of mind, in which a profession of religion may be lawfully, and Scripturally made, is a preponderating persuasion in our own minds, after a diligent and fuithful examination of ourselves, that we can make this profession with the sincerity, which has been already described.
God has required all men to make a profession of religion. The command is absolute; and the duty of making it, indispensable. At the same time he has required, that this profession
should be made with Christian sincerity. In neglecting to make this profession, in this manner, we are continually guilty of disobedience to a known command. It will be remembered, that the profession itself, and the manner of making it, are things equally obligatory.
As has been observed, Certainty, or Knowledge, concerning our ability to make this profession with the sincerity of Christians, is not attainable by us, when we become candidates for admission into the Church. But in every case of duty, where certainty is not attainable, we are bound to govern ourselves by the commanding Probability. Cases of this nature are innumerable; and constitute almost all those, in which we are concerned. There would never be a Minister of the Gospel, if all candidates for the Ministry were to defer their entrance into this office, until they knew with certainty, that they were qualified for the duties, which it involves. There would never be a communicant in the Christian Church, if all candidates for admission were to wait, until they knew with certainty their fitness to become members. Or if this language should be thought not precisely correct, it will be sufficient to say that very few persons would be found either in the church, or the ministry. But this most clearly does not at all accord with the intentions of God concerning the formation, and continuance, of the Church, and the Ministry, as expressed in the Scriptures; nor with the practice of Christ, and his Apostles, with respect to this subject. A single instance will be sufficient to elucidate this practice. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, (2 Corinthians xiii. 5.) “ Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith. be in the faith. Prove your own selves. Know
ye not your own selves ? how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates ?" 66 How that Jesus Christ is among you, except ye be unapproved ?" These Corinthians were admitted into the Church by the Apostle himself; and had all apparently given what St. Peter calls the answer of a good conscience, at their baptism. Yet St. Paul teaches us irresistibly, that, in their own view, they were only probably Christians; and might by a faithful examination find themselves unapproved. As St. Paul, under the influence of inspiration, admitted such persons into the Church; it is unquestionably right, that every Minister should do
As such persons then made a profession of religion, under the direction of inspired men; it is certainly right, that the same persons should make the same profession now.
In this case, then, as in alınost all others, we are to be governed by the commanding probability.
This I have styled a preponderating persuasion, that we can make our profession with Christian sincerity. But a mere preponderating persuasion is not enough to determine this point, of
It is to be a preponderating persuasion in our own minds, obtained by a diligent, and faithful examination. It will then be properly asked, What is a diligent, and faithful examination.
To this question I answer,
In the first place, That it consists in diligently searching the Scriptures for that information, concerning this subject, which they communicate.
All the information, which mankind possess, or can possess, of experimental religion, is derived originally, and solely, from the Bible. To this fountain of instruction, therefore, every man must resort, who would learn, satisfactorily, how to answer the great question, whether he is a subject of religion, or not. What the Scriptures do not contain; what conclusions they do not warrant ; stand, in this case, for nothing. To them, therefore, every inquirer must betake himself often, earnestly, and faithfully; that he may be able to decide, so far as it can be decided, this momentous question.
Secondly. In examining with similar diligence other books, professedly wrillen on experimental religion.
Wise and good men have, in a variety of instances, collected with great industry, care, and faithfulness, the passages of Scripture, which especially relate to this subject; arranged them in such a manner, as to exhibit their connection with peculiar advantage ; commented on them with skill,
and shown their real import with a felicity, unattainable by most other men, without the aid of their labours. To read these books is to read the Scriptures with an advantage, which we could not otherwise possess; and with a degree of intelligence, which we could not otherwise acquire. Here the subject is presented by itself; and without that connection with other Scriptural doctrines, which we so generally meet on the pages of the Bible; and therefore is seen more clearly, and more comprehensively, than it otherwise could be, by such minds as ours.
Thirdly. It consists, also, in such frequent and careful conversation with wise and good men, as our circumstances may permit.
Christians, who have had the benefit of extensive experience in practical religion, learn from that experience many truths of great importance, which can never be derived from mere speculation. These, for want of experience, must chiefly be unknown to the candidate; and even those, which he knows, will often appear to him in a dim and doubtful light, because they are novelties ; about which his judgment is either not formed, or not settled. Not a little of the evidence, which he will find, of his own Christianity, and not a little of the comfort, which will flow from it, must be derived from the fact, that his views, affections, and purposes, and the conduct to which they prompt, are similar to those of other Christians. From this analogy, if it exist, he will gain instruction, comfort, hope, and peace, not easily attainable from any other source. At the same time these desirable Counsellors will discover to him his mistakes ; lessen his false hopes, and false fears; and enable him in difficult cases to distinguish between natural and evangelical affections, between enthusiasm
Such counsellors are, to the inquirer, living, practical Conmentalors on the Scriptures; and will point out to him passages, of high importance to his case, which would otherwise escape his attention, and the meaning of such as, otherwise, he might have continued to misconstrue, perhaps through life. They will also learn from him the particulars of his own case; hear, and answer, the very questions, which he wishes to propose; consider, and remove, his peculiar difficulties; and enable him the better to judge of the whole subject, not in the abstract only, as he must find it in books, but as it is immediately applicable to himself. This is a most interesting benefit, which he cannot obtain from any other source.
Among these counsellors, Ministers of the Gospel, from their extensive intercourse with persons in these circumstances, and the