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and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world a. In like manner also, the efficacy of it to promote the inward peace and comfort of the mind, might with the same force of argument be clearly shewn. While we look at the great realities of religion with the eyes of other men, if I may so express myself, the effect will be very inconsiderable in regard of the natural fears of the heart. But believing for ourselves, we shall be furnished with a cordial to refresh our spirits, amidst the many vicissitudes and troubles of human life to which we are ever liable.
Nor can we here overlook those important fruits of a real experience of religion, which stand directly opposed to the mischiefs that were mentioned under a former head, as resulting from authority. If implicit faith tends to make men thoughtless and indolent; the contrary must be the effect of believing upon evidence. Instead of shutting up every avenue to farther knowledge and conviction, it will burst the bands of ignorance and prejudice, and inspire the mind with a noble freedom and vigour in the pursuit of divine truth; so that, in the language of Scripture, it will follow on to know the Lord b. And as pride and confidence are ever inseparably connected with a servile and slothful subjection to human authority ; 80 humility and self-diffidence will ever be the ornament of a truly Christian faith. Nor yet will this ornament be used as a veil to conceal a sinful neutrality to the distinguishing glories of divine revelation; for as experience is fruitful of all lowliness and sobriety of mind, so it begets likewise a steady attachment to those truths which give life and vigour to it. And little need be added to shew the happy influence of it, to subdue all that malevolence which arises out of mere speculations in religion, and which, in the habit of pious zeal, too often insinuates itself into the hearts of men, and undermines those very principles it would seem most concerned to maintain and defend. This wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.c,
a Tit. ii. 12.
b Hos. vi. 3.
c James jii. 17.
3. Another commendation of this faith, which after what hath been said, cannot fail to set its importance in the strongest light is, that it will endure. What is held only upon the slender tenure of passion, speculation, and, which is still more uncertain and precarious, a reverence for the opinion of others, a man is ever in danger of being deprived of: nay a zeal that has no other principles than these to support it, however fair and promising its appearance may for a while be, will by and by offer violence to itself, and bury the imaginary faith whence it sprung
in its own ruins. But this is not likely to be the sad issue of a faith, which has laid hold upon the heart, has ünited the soul to God, and is become a principle of love and obedience. It is not every attack that is made upon it, either by the subtle arts of unfair reasoning on the one hand, or by the more terrifying threats of persecution on the other, that will succeed to its ruin. But, even though it were in some partieular instances to be so shaken by the sudden blasts of temptation as to endanger its entire extirpation ; yet the sincere Christian may assure himself, and that without being at liberty to draw thence any inference favourable to sloth and presumption, that it shall happily receive the support of a power superior to his own. For besides the many promises to this effect in the word of God, he hath sure ground there given him to believe, that the blessed Jesus, even in his exalted state, forgets not to use his interest with the Father in behalf of all his real disciples, that their faith may not fail a.
And now, the nature and use of experience in matters of religion having been considered, it is but reasonable,
IH. That we should be cautioned against the abuse of it.
Abused indeed it cannot be, by him who is really possessed of it, to any purposes materially hurtful and dangerous. Yet it is certain that men may substitute the reveries of their own distempered imaginations in the room of real religion, and upon that foundation build notions absurd in themselves and of a fatal tendency. But as this abuse of experience does by no means disprove the reality of what we have been contending for; so neither is it thence to be inferred, that experience
a Luke xxii. 32.-Rom. viii. 34.
is a precarious and delusive test of true faith. For a little reflection will enable a good man to perceive a substantial difference, between the whims and transports of an enthusiastic mind, and the sober exercises of genuine and spiritual religion. Nor is any one in danger of being led aside by such a deception, who makes a due use of that reason which God has given him. For even supposing the violent sallies of natural passion were in themselves scarcely distinguishable from the operations of divine grace on tlie heart; yet their tendencies, and the actual fruits they produce in the course of a person's life, would clearly discover what they really are. And after all, nothing that passes in my own mind will authenticate a doctrine I may build upon such a foundation, if that doctrine be manifestly repugnant to the word of God. While therefore experience is necessary for the confirmation of my faith in the great principles of religion, that experience cannot mislead me, if it really make my heart and life better, and if the principles which are confirmed by it, are evidently consonant with the sacred Scriptures.
But there are other ways in which this criterion or test of faith is capable of being perverted; though with less real mischief than in the former instance. Such is the case, when it is applied to certain points in religion, of which it is in its own nature an insufficient measure. This must be obvious to every considerate mind.
Some truths, though clearly laid down in the word of God, have not so intimate and immediate a connection with the feelings of the heart, as to be capable of being fully ascertained thereby. A man may, for instance, with good reason be confirmed in his faith of a future judgment, from a consciousness he feels in himself that he is an accountable creature; yet it would be great weakness in him thence to infer the several circumstances attending that solemn transaction, which are however particularly described in Scripture. The nature therefore of the doctrine is first to be considered, before we determine whether experience be capable of reflecting any light upon it. And then again, the use of this kind of evidence is greatly mistaken, when we expect it should have weight with other men to induce them to believe. Religion is a personal thing, an affair wherein none are concerned but God and ourselves. What therefore hath passed on the heart of one man can be no argument to convince another. To suppose it should, would be not only to reason very absurdly, but in effect to vacate the necessity of personal experience, and to establish human authority in the room of it, the great evil of which has, I hope, been satisfactorily shewn.
The sum of the whole then is this : Authority is of very rational and important use, to restrain the ignorant and thoughtless from an absolute denial and contemptuous treatment of religion ; to awaken men to a serious concern about it; and, upon reflection, to confirm the real Christian in his belief of it. But it is abused, when we make it the reason or ground of our profession : for a faith wholly built upon such a principle is most absurd and unscriptural, ineffectual to any valuable purposes, and fruitful of the most mischievous and dangerous consequences. Experience on the other hand, that is, a personal and practical acquaintance with religion, which is clearly distinguishable from enthusiasm and passion, furnishes a man himself with a sufficient and satisfactory evidence of the truth of it. So that a faith tried by this measure, and supported with this kind of proof, is most rational and scriptural, is effectual to the best and noblest purposes, and will certainly endure.
And now what remains, but that we attempt some brief improvement of these things ? Let me then,
1. Expostulate awhile with those who absolutely reject all authority in matters of religion, treating it even at the very . first view with ridicule and contempt. Is this, let me ask you, Sirs, a conduct to be vindicated even upon the common principles of reason, prudence and humanity ? Would you not have 'censured the Samaritans, had they thus behaved towards their neighbour, when with all appearance of sincerity and friendship, she came and told them what had happened to her without the city, intreating them to make serious inquiry into it? What excuse have you then to offer for acting so disingenuous a part yourselves ? Will you say that there is little or no importance in the things reported to you? The reverse of this appears upon the very face of the argument: and, hostever you may question their reality, yet considering the attention which has been paid to them, by some at least whose wisdom as well as probity is on all hands acknowledged, it can hardly be doubted that they are highly probable. What then if in the issue they should be found to be true? Will not your own consciences reproach you for your wilful contempt of them, amidst the many awakening calls given you to consideration? Will not those, who have charitably followed the example of this excellent woman, acquiesce in your condemnation? Yea, will not the Samaritans themselves be swift witnesses against you, in the great day of the Lord? But even admitting it a possible thing, that the Christian should in the end be mistaken ; yet methinks reflection and consideration are a debt you can hardly in common decency refuse to pay to their friendship, who by the many tears they shed over you, and the many intreaties they pour upon you, appear to have your real interest at heart. Be persuaded therefore to give them a hearing, who tell you they have been with Christ, and learned of him the way of salvation : nor let it be said that the Saviour has by his gospel come into your very neighbourhood, and that you have treated those who brought you the news of it with ingratitude and abuse. But,
2. Whatever be the regard you pay to authority, yet if your religion has no other foundation than this, it will prove a vain and useless speculation. To have enjoyed the instructions of wise and good men, and of pious and affectionate parents, is your mercy; and you do well to allow such influence all that weight with you which it justly deserves; but if your faith is to be traced to no higher origin—o no purer source than this, what satisfactory assurance have you, that the principles you thus profess to believe are not false and groundless ? Or, should they be true, yet will the feeble assent you yield to them make you either happier or better? Or admitting that this your assent, through your undue reverence for others, has acquired a degree of confidence; yet will it, think you, afford solid satisfaction to your minds, when on the verge of another world, , tliat you have believed for the saying of this or that person ;