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religion, and make them appear like converted persons; and, so long as these causes continue to operate, the
of religion is maintained; but, when they cease, declension and apostacy take place.
The children of pious parents are frequently (and ought always to be) instructeil in the doctrines of grace from their infancy; and restrained from bad company and sinful practices : but when the parents die, or the children, being grown up, become their own masters and mistresses, they forsake religion; and we discover, that the pleasant appearances in their childhood and youth, were the effects merely of parental authority, — not of divine grace. Men are frequently placed in situations in which they have no tenptation to apostatize; but the reverse. Presently, however, the world offers something more flattering to their pride, or more tempting to their interest; and then they follow Demas. - Affliction occasions many to profess religion. Severe affliction, especially if it meets with an affectionate temper, and is accompanied with convictions of sin, renders the conversation and ainusements of the world tasteless and insipid. Sinners are poor comforters. They find the hearts of Christians tender and sympathizing, - their conversations soothing and comfortable : they chuse, therefore, Christians for their companions, and diligently attend upon the means of grace. But when Tiine has taken off the edge of their grief, the sympathy of Christians becomes less needful, and their conversation less agreeable ; the amusements of the world acquire a new relish ; and presently the reins are thrown loose on the neck of Gaiety and Dissipation.
The subject will afford us two or three useful remarks:
1st, The apostacy of professors ought not to shake our faith in the gospel. It should make us jealous of ourselves, and stimulate us to dirigent self-examination ; it should teach us our own weakness, and the absolute need we have of divine. grace to keep us ; - but it should not lower our opinion of the excellency of religion, or of the faithfulness of God to his promises. We should judge of the gospel by what it is in it. self, and by the noble effects it produces in true believers; and not disesteem it because pretenders to religion act like the rest of the world.
ed, It presses upon us the necessity of self-examination. The heart is the seat of religion; and in cases either of partial and temporary backsliding, or of total and final apostavy, the affections of the heart cool, and its dispositions alter, before an alteration is perceiveable in the conduct. Diligent selfexamination is attended with great advantages to all: - the sinner discovers more clearly bis need of converting grace, and the Christian his need of preserving grace; and the first departure of the heart from God is observed, which is sinall in its beginning, but rapid in its progress, and ofien fatal in its consequences
3d, It teaches us the necessity of being entirely and unre; servedly given up to God. “My son, give me thine beart!" The smallest reserve will prove fatal. Many have given up every thing for God, one sin only excepted; and that perhaps a secret sin; - a sin of the mind, a disposition or affection contrary to the gospel. Yet this has maintained the life and power of sin in their soul, and led to a gradual but total apostacy, “ He who does not seek to be universally holy, is not sincerely holy;" and without godly sincerity there can be no perseverance in religion.
THE CONSOLATIONS OF RELIGION
IN SEASONS OF DANGER AND DISTRESS.
This world presents a scene of intermingled joys and woes. At one time, the serene sky, the unclouded sun, the pleasing calm which surrounds us, soothe the mind, and tempt us to consider this state as our rest : but soon the thick dark' cloud appears, the Heavens gather blackness, the winds arise, the rains descend, the floods come, and our fears are alarmed : we then drop the tear over departed joys, and sink into despair. Even while all things arcund us wear a pleasing aspect, we often feel a secret anxiety lest the scene should soon change, and our joys take to themselves wings, and fly away. Man, endowed with a soul of capacious powers, and of exquisite sensibility, cannot but experience a variety of reflections in such varying scenes. This world is a barren soil, and too fickle a climate to produce real and perfect felicity. In Heaven it blooms in full perfection ; for there will be no clouded sun, no chilling blasts of winter, no painful vicissitude ; but sacred, high, eternal noon, and an everlasting calm. But while we remain inbabitants of Earth, it is not so. Therefore, it is the grand design of Religion to impart consolation to the soul in the midst of these distressing scenes, and fortitude under the severest trials; and thousands have experienced the consola. tions of the gospel to be neither few nor small. They have adopted the language of David, and felt its full emphasis :“ In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul.” They have cheerfully acknowledged, that the consolations derived from the religion of Jesus, are the only support in the awful hour of adversity'.
Seasons of danger and distress must be experienced. Since the admission of sin into the world, they are unavoidable. All the ransomed millions above, once travelled through the same wilderness :
“ They wrestled hard, as we do now,
The wicked also meet with the same storms; but with this grand distinction : they have no refuge, no covert from the tempest, no comforts to delight their souls! Be it then our employ,
1. To enumerate a few of those painful thoughts which frequently distress the pious soul; and, 2d, To shew how admirably calculated the comforts of God are to remove them, and to impart delight.
As soon as we enter on the subject, and attempt to enumerate those painful exercises of the soul, the mind recalls to remembrance those dark days and gloomy thoughts which are experienced by every afflicted soul.
Behold, one steps forward and says, “ Despairing thoughts often distress my soul! When I reflect on the number and the aggravation of my crimes; when I think on the infinite and unmerired goodness, and the astonishing patience of my God toward me, and, at the same time, my base and ungrateful returns, yea, my horrible abuse of mercy, so infinite and so undeserved, - I treinble! - I was educated in the knowledge of God. My pious parents and friends ofien prayed for me, and wept over me. Oiten did they admonish and beseech me to return unto the Lord; but I as often turned the deaf ear to their solicitations, and “ would none of their reproofs." And can such a vile sioner as I am encourage hope? Will the great, the holy, the dread and mighty Jehovah receive me? Alas, I am undone! I have been led to the foot of Sinai's burning mount; its awful language I have heard, its thunders and lightnings have terrified my soul, and I have a multitude of despairing thoughts. Men and Brethren, what shall I do?"
Another, who has advanced one step further in the Christian life, and has experienced some faint glimmerings of hope, who has tied to Jesus for retuge, for life and salvation, - also comes forward; and, in the inultitude of his thoughts, the following often perplex him: --" Through distinguishing mercy I have been led from Sinai's awful scene. My dear Redeemer has led me like a sliepherd to the green pasture, beside the rivers of still waters. I have tasted his love in some small degree; and I long to experience it still more. But ah, how transient are those joys! how soon do I lose all my relish for spiritual enjoyments? I soon, sink back into a state of carnal security; and then all my bopes vanish. When I look forward, through the several siages of the Christian life ; when I reflect on the countless dangers, the shares and temptations, which attend the steps of the pious traveller in his journey to the celestial Canaan, - I tremble and fear, lest I should be numbered among the multitudes whose hearts are discouraged, and who perish in the way!"
Another says, "I have, for many years, been planted in the house of the Lord ; and, for a long season, enjoyed the sacred
beams of the Sun of Righteousness, the sacred droppings of the sanctuary, and the reviving dews of gospel ordinances: but, alas! I am still but a slender shrub! liitle or no fruit havel produced to the honour of the great Lord of the vineyard! ,1 daily fear the awful consequences: my soul is filled with a multitude of terrible apprehensions; and I fear that awful sentence wbich my conduct has often merited, “ Cut it down! - why cumberetb it the ground ?"
Again. The more advanced Christian often feels repining thoughts arise in bis mind :- Many afflictions have I borne; many a rude storın has overtaken ine; many a dark and mysterious providence has visited my bouse, providences which have astonished all iny friends, and plunged me into complicated and almost unheard-of distress: one billow has suceceded another so rapidly, that I had weli nigh dwelt in si
my flesh and my heart have failed, and my spirits fainted within me. In these fiery trials my faith bas languished, my hope trembled; my coul, overwhelmed with an guish, has complained, yea, murmured,“ Surely, no corrow is like to my sorrow! - no one is exercised with such trials as I am!" I look around me, and long 10 exchange situations with many, whose souls dwelt at ease, whose habitations are not so visited as mine. “ Their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them;" • but I am made to possess months of vanity; and wearisome nights are appointed to me. My soul refused to be comforted : I remembered God, and was troubled. My heart murmured, and all my soul rose against him that smote me: I complainer, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Will the Lord cast me off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? The arrows of the Almighty are within ; tbe poison whereof drinketh up my spirit. The terrors of the Lord do set themselves in array against ine. O that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for, — even that it would please God to destroy me! That he would let loose bis hand and cut me off; for all these things are against me, and I do well to be angry,-even unto death!”
Another pious person complains of vain and wandering thoughts: “When engaged in the most serious and solemin exercises of devotion; when in private retiremests, or in the house of prayer, - I have attempted to divest inyself of the cares and the joys of the world, and endeavoured to draw near unto the Lord, then do I feel my thoughts wandering like the fool's eye, even unto the ends of the earth; yea, such is the state of my mind, that frequently I feel a greater degree of dissipation, more wandering of beart, than at other tines; so that I am tempted to think that all my religion is imagination, and the result of education, custoin, or I know por what. When in iny secret chainber, or when engaged in gospel-ordinances, 1 have, or at least thought I have, experienced that the Lord has been gracious ; — when my heart has burned within me, and I have felt the sacred, the indescribable glow of divine affection, and thus been indulged with the prelibations of Heaven,
“ My heart presumes, I cannot lose
The relish all my days;
The flatı'ring world employs
And to pollute my joys." Again: The timorous believer complains of terrifying thoughts of death and judgment:-“ My faith is so weak, my grace so small, my imperfections so many, - that all my lifetime I am subject to bondage, through fear of death : I tremble to think in what manner I shall meet this King of Terrors. The prospect of dissolution terrifies me, when these eyes shall be closed until the resurrection day, when these active limbs shall be mouldering in the dust.
“The pains, and groans, and dying strife,
Fright my approaching soul away ;
Fond of my prison and my clay ;" especially when I look beyond the grave, and lift my eyes to the judgment-seat; when I realize ihe tremendous scenes of the final consummation, - I shudder at the idea of standing at the judgment-seat of Christ. How shall such a guilty, weak, and helpless worm stand, when the Heavens and the earth shall fly away from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne !"
I might go on to personate the fearful Christian, and yon might listen to the language of Doubt and Despair, which arises from the multitude of his thoughts within hin, but I forbear; and cheerfully proceed,
2d, To shew you how admirably calculated the comforts of God are to remove those fears, and to impart delight.
By the comforts of God, we understand the promises of God, and the expressions of the love of God to the soul, by the witness of the Spirit. In a word, those inconceivable communications out of the unsearchable riches of Christ, which the humble soul sometimes has experienced. Now, these comfons of God delight the soul for the following reasons:
j. They are peculiarly adapted to the exigencies of the distressed soul. 'We have been attending to the plaintive language of Christians of different descriptions ; let us then see if The word will not yield comforts sutricient to delight the soul of the most distressed. The young person, under his first awakenings, is mourning under despairing thoughts, on account of the number and ihe aggravation of his crimes Then read