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the misery and danger to which it has exposed him. Now such expérience serves as a demonstration to his own mind, of the truth of what Scripture so fully declares; that the whole world is become guilty before God; that there is the deepest turpitude in sin; that the contagion hath spread itself through all our nature; that it necessarily exposes us to the displeasure of a holy God; and that no man can himself expiate the guilt of it a.' And how much does this kind of evidence differ from that of one, who takes up his notion of himself as a sinner, from a superficial observation of his own conduct, and from the general opinion which prevails, that all mankind have some way offended God!
So again, as to his restoration to the favour of God by the obedience and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. The knowledge of this most interesting truth, does not indeed arise out of any principle in nature, or any notices which reason could give. It is a scheme entirely of divine contrivance, and to Scripture we are wholly indebted for the discovery of it. But this provision of the grace of God being seasonably applied to the desponding and depraved heart, and so becoming on the one hand, an effectual source of divine consolation, and on the other, a powerful motive to cheerful obedience; there naturally arises out of such experience, thus exactly falling in with the Scripture account of it, a kind of attestation to the truth of this grand doctrine of revealed religion, that puts it with the good man himself beyond all doubt. It is now no longer with him a matter of mere speculation or general report, that the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God cleanses from all sin b: he knows it, he is sensible of it, and he gives God the glory of it. With the Samaritans he says, feeling somewhat of the joy and gratitude that inspired them, Now I believe, not because of the saying of this or the other person; I have heard myself, and know that this is the Christ, and that he is able to save them unto the uttermost that come unto God by him c. And you easily see how very different the faith which results from this experience must be, from that of
a Psal. cxxx. 3.-Rom. iii. 9-23. v. 12-ult. vii. 13.-Jer. ii. 19,
him who has no other reason to give why he believes Christ to be the Saviour of sinners, than that it is the opinion and profession of his friends and acquaintance. The difficulties this latter person hath to struggle with, when his faith comes to be attacked by artful and designing men, are easily, and it may be added rationally, surmounted by the former. But we will go on, and apply the same reasoning to the
2. Second point just now mentioned, the depravity of the human heart, and its renovation by the influence of the Holy Spirit. So numerous, and so striking are the proofs of the general corruption of mankind, that one would wonder any person should dispute the fact. Some however there are who set down the most, if not all the serious Christian laments, to the account of human frailty, or a kind of natural imperfection, which is in no wise to be accounted criminal, and which necessarily attends that rank of beings we are placed in. And others there are who, while they feebly acknowledge this universal defection from God, are but little if at all affected with it. Now the man who is thoroughly acquainted with himself, receives this sad truth not merely upon the opinion of others, or even upon the testimony of Scripture itself, but upon the loud and faithful report of his own conscience. His religion hath led him into the secret chambers of his heart, and fixed his attention to an infinite variety of transactions there, which formerly passed wholly unnoticed by him. And while he has justly stood amazed, not only at the apostacy of his will in general, but at the innumerable evil passions which he hath found obtruding themselves upon almost all his thoughts; how naturally and with what unaffected humility has he fallen into the language of the patriarch Job, Lord, I am vile, "what shall I answer thee a? experience here is the counterpart of Scripture. And as he cannot doubt of what he hath so sensibly felt, and which has been the occasion of such deep humiliation before God; so he cannot avoid yielding an entire assent to what Scripture conformably to this his experience has so amply declared; that whereas man was made upright, he is become otherwise by his own inventions; that sin dwelleth in him, yea
a Job xl. 4.
that in his flesh there is no good thing; and that thus all men have corrupted their way, and there is none good, no not one a.' Nor can we fail of being struck at first view with the difference, between an assent given upon such evidence, and the feeble acknowledgment of one who is an utter stranger to himself.
In like manner, the Scripture doctrine of the influence and grace of the blessed Spirit challenges the faith of a Christian, in much the same way. A doctrine indeed it is, the discovery of which must have come from heaven, whence the blessing itself is immediately derived: for nothing is there in nature that could assure us of so extraordinary a benefit at the hand of God. But admitting the happy fruits of a divine operation on the heart to have been in any degree felt and enjoyed, it is easy to imagine how this point, which before was only matter of speculation, should to such a person become an article of firm belief. To argue, I acknowledge, from the effects to a supposed cause, where the manner of its operation, like that of the wind, is not capable of a clear and adequate description, may be thought at first view not so perfectly conclusive. But if the Christian has felt such dispositions and affections excited in his breast towards God, as are of a most pure and cheerful tendency, and which at the same time a firm persuasion of the degeneracy of his own heart forbids him to ascribe to himself; surely he is justified, upon the soundest principles of reason, in tracing these streams up to that divine origin whither his Bible leads him: nor is it to be wondered that he is fully satisfied of what he is there so largely assured, “that religion is the wisdom from above; that that which is spiritual is born of the Spirit; and that those whom God hath formed for himself are the temples in which the Holy Ghost condescends to dwell b.' The prevalence therefore of vital godliness, though it will not enable a man to discuss all the questions, which may have arisen upon this sublime and glorious doctrine; will nevertheless fix an infinitely livelier impression of the truth of it upon the heart, than the most clear and positive decisions of the wisest and best of men.
a Eccl. vii. 29.-Rom. vii. 17, 18. iii. 10-12.
Having thus illustrated what we mean by experience, and shewn how it operates in becoming a test of divine truths, we
II. Consider, a little more particularly, wherein the faith that arises out of this sort of evidence, differs from that which is built alone on authority; whence will be clearly seen both the utility and importance of it. And
1. As that was found to be most absurd, unsafe, and groundless; so this will appear upon reflection to be most rational, scriptural, and satisfactory. The faith, if it deserve that name, which owes its origin merely to the opinion and judgment of others, is as we have seen, weak and inconclusive; since it is not evidence, properly speaking, which in that case determines the man, but passion and prejudice. For he does not believe because, from the nature of the thing, or from the divine testimony concerning it, it appears clearly to him to be so; but because another person, of whom he happens to have a good opinion, roundly asserts it. So that his belief is suspended entirely upon the credit of this other person: a kind of evidence this, which is by no means adapted to the nature of what is believed. Facts indeed may, and oftentimes can only, be proved by testimony. But surely the great things of religion do many of them require a different kind of proof. It is not a wise or good man's telling me that salvation is to be obtained alone through the mediation of Christ, that is a sufficient ground for my believing it. The doctrine is to be tried by other measures, before it can be firmly and properly assented to. And I ask any reasonable person, what measures of trial can be devised more just and natural, than those of which we have been discoursing? If a truth approves itself to my understanding and judgment, and at the same time so touches the inmost springs of my heart, as to become a source of solid consolation, and a motive to cheerful obedience; do I not upon the most rational grounds receive and embrace it? Nor is this faith less scriptural than it is reasonable. For as the apostles in their discourses to Christians themselves, do every where appeal for the truth of the doctrine they taught, to the effects it had produced on their hearts and lives; so one of
them expressly declares, that he who believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself a, that is, be hath such a witness arising out of the influence of the Christian doctrine on his heart, as abundantly warrants and confirms his faith. This sort of evidence must also be perfectly satisfactory to a man's own mind; since it is the result of arguments the most plain and simple, and which require not a long train of deductions, to set it in a clear and convincing light. Perplexed reasoning, though just, often leaves the mind in doubt: but the force of this reasoning appears at first view, and is level to the meanest capacities. The wayfaring man though a fool cannot err here b. And as the simplicity of this kind of evidence adds weight to it, and increases its reasonableness; so it shews that the most plain and illiterate Christian does not take things upon trust, but has a sufficient reason or ground for the hope that is in him. Again,
2. A faith warranted by such evidence as this will be effectual to the best and most important purposes. That which is taught by the precept of men can never be acceptable to God: for as it is wholly destitute of any regard to him, so it is likewise absolutely repugnant to his word, which in the strongest terms forbids our calling any man master on earth c. But that firm assent of the mind to the truth of religion which is the result of an experimental acquaintance with it, is highly pleasing to God; as it owes its origin to the influence and grace of his Spirit, and tends to unite the affections to him. He who thus believes, believes with all the heart d; a phrase which very happily expresses the intimate connection there is between faith and experience. And of what use it is to the Christian himself, in respect of the great ends of religion, appears upon the very face of the argument. For it would be little better than a contradiction in terms, to suppose a man to be confirmed in his belief of the gospel of Christ from the pure and spiritual tendency of it, while his faith, assisted by this evidence, has a quite different effect. If therefore it be genuine, it cannot fail of persuading him to deny ungodliness
a 1 John v. 10.
c Matt. xxiii. 9, 10.
b Isa. xxxv. 8.
d Acts viii. 37.—Rom. x. 10.