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tions as good, which are excited by means that are good. When they are sensibly and seriously affected by reading the Bible, by religious conversation, by the preaching of the gospel, hy the common influences of the Spirit, by publick calamities, or by personal afflictions and bereavements, they are very ready to consider their love, joy, sorrow, hope, fear, submission, or ardent desires, as right affections, merely because they arise from what are commonly called the means of grace, and are often productive of that effect. The Israelites at mount Sinai were deeply affected by what they saw and heard on that solemn occasion, and hence they supposed, that their religious awe, and fear, and reverence were truly holy affections, and this emboldened them to promise, that all the Lord their God had said they would do and be obedient; though they were really destitute of every holy exercise. Christ deeply impressed the minds of multitudes by his preaching and miracles, who mistook their selfish joy and admiration, excited by such means, for gracious affections. And men are no less disposed now, than they were in Christ's day, to believe that all their tender feelings, which are excited by solemn scenes, solemn objects, and solemni motives, are truly virtuous. They think, if they love, or fear, or submit, or rejoice, or hope, or resolve, while the means of grace are used with them, these exercises of the heart cannot be wrong, because they are produced by means which are good. And though Christ has told thein, that a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, nor an evil heart bring forth gracious affections, yet they will believe, that their selfish feelings, under religious means, are the essence of true religion. It is often said, and still oftener thought, that the preaching of the gospel, the providence of God, and the common influence of the Spirit, cannot be the
means of producing selfish and sinfui affections. It is true, indeed, such religious manurings and cultivations may produce gracious effects; but it is equally true, that they may produce the most selfish and criminal affections. Hence men have no just ground to conclude, that their religious views and feelings are of the right kind, merely because they can tell what text, or what sermon, or what affliction deeply impressed their minds, and turned their attention is God and divine objecte, But there is reason to fear, that both saints and sinners do, in this and in many other cases, mistake their selfish feelings for benevolent affections.
And this leads me to show,
II. That men have no right to make this mistake in any case whatsoever. For,
1. There is a wide and essential difference between holy and unholy affections. Darkness is not more opposite to light, nor cold to heat, than selfishness is to true benevolence. The nature of the one is to promote private, and the nature of the other is, to promote public good. All selfish affections are interested, and terminate' in the good of the person who feels them; but benevolent affections are disinterested, and seek a more noble and disinterested object. This contrariety bez tiveen holy and unholy affections lays a foundation for every person, in all cases, to know what manner of spirit he is of. God has given all men a moral sense, which enables them to distinguish the nature of all their moral exercises, and to know whether they are of a selfish or benevolent kind. If they will only consult conscience and allow it to do its office, they may in all cases infallibly determine whether they are seeking a selfish or benevolent good. And they have no right to judge of the nature of any of their affections, without consulting conscience, nor to form an opinion in opposition to its infallible dictates. There is no affection of the heart but what may be brought before this tribunal, and have its nature and tendency clearly and justly ascertained. It must be owing to some blameable negligence, inattention, or partiality, therefore, if either saints or sinners, in any case, mistake the nature of their moral exercises, and imagine that their affections are holy when they are really sinful. As they are always capable of forming a true judgment of their own hearts, so they have no right, under any circumstances, to think them better, or worse than they are in reality
2. God has given them all proper and necessary means to assist them in knowing their own hearts. He has laid down in his word a great variety of marks of true and false love, by which they may compare and judge of their moral exercises. He has plainly told them how selfishness and benevolence will operate and oppose each other. And he has set before them a great many striking examples of holy and unholy men, which illustrate the nature of holiness and unholiness, in the most plain and instructive manner. In the conduct of Abel and Cain, of Moses and Pharaoh, of Elijah and Ahab, of John and Judas, and of many more mentioned in Scripture, the opposite natures of holiness and sin, or benevolence and selfishness are visibly delineated. Indeed, it is next to impossible, that any should read the history which God has given of mankind, and not perceive the essential difference between right and wrong, holy and unholy affections. The Bible history is a glass, in which all men may clearly discover their own moral features, and easily determine what manner of persons they are.
Under 60 many means of knowing himself, no man has a
right to think himself something when he is nothing, or to mistake his selfishnessfor benevolence.
3. God has expressly forbidden men to mistake the nature of their religious affections, and to deceive themselves in respect to their spiritual state. He says repeatedly, “Be not deceived.” And again he says, "Let no man deceive himself.” Christ demanded of sinners, “Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?” And when his disciples mistook the nature of their zeal, he condemned them for their self-deception. “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” After God has given men the power and the means of distinguishing the essential difference between nature and grace, he may very justly forbid them to mistake their natural affections for gracious exercises. The divine prohibitions in regard to selfdeception are as just and binding as any other prohibitions against any other moral evil; and men have no more right to deceive themselves concerning their own hearts, than they have to practise any other deception or hypocrisy. Besides,
4. They cannot mistake the nature of their moral exercises, unless they are under the influence of some selfish and sinful motive, which they have no right to comply with
True benevolence will naturally lead persons to judge righteous judgment respecting the nature of all their religious exercises and external con-, duct. It is only while men are under the reigning power of selfishness, that they desire to think too favourably of their own hearts, and mistake sinful for holy exercises. Were they to judge of their views and feelings, only while in the exercise of grace, they would judge impartially, and clearly distinguish their wrong from right exercises. It must, therefore, always be wrong for men to mistake their selfish feelings for benevolent affections, because they can never make this dangerous mistake, unless they are under the blinding influence of that selfishness, which they have no right in any case to indulge.
IMPROVEMENT. 1. If men may mistake their selfish feelings for benevolent affections; then they may likewise mistake their benevolent affections for selfish feelings. Though they are more liable to mistake nature for grace, than grace for nature; yet there are various ways in which they may run into this less common and less danger
The best of christians are often too inattentive to the exercises of their own minds, by which they are liable to mistake their holy for unholy affections. They are so sensible of the corruption of their hearts, and so often discover wrong motives of conduct, that they are ready to suspect the nature of their good exercises, which are mixed with so many that they know to be evil. Or they may become so dull and stupid, and have so little grace, that they cannot discover it, without mɔre than common attention, which they are indisposed to give. So that when they are awakened to realize their spiritual leanness and languishment, they are surprized, and ready to give up all their past hopes, and to sink down in deep despondency. This is the natural and painful consequence of their mistaking the few holy exercises they have for selfish feelings. And whenever they suffer themselves to depart from God and grow cold and formal in the duties of devotion, they may justly expect, that their sinful declension will be followed with darkness, doubts, and distressing sears.
There is another way in which gloomy christians may mistake the nature of their pious affections, and