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distance, that we cannot enjoy their counsels, reproofs, consolations, or example. We are prevented from uniting with them in the public or private ordinances of the Gospel, and are deprived of the peculiar blessings of intimate Christian communion.
At times also we are peculiarly unfaithful to ourselves and to God; are less watchful, less prayerful, less strenuous in our opposition to temptation, and in the performance of our duty. The world lays stronger hold on our affections. We venture on forbidden ground, draw near to the objects of seduction, become fascinated with charms before undiscovered, and overpowered by combinations of harmony, fragrance, beauty, and splendour, of sprightliness, gaiety, and joy; or alarmed by an assemblage of enemies, dangers, and terrors, of contempt, shame, and ridicule; so as to be enticed to sin on the one hand, and terrified into it on the other.
At other periods most of these things are reversed. Time at these seasons rolls on to us with brighter mornings, with more unclouded days, with more serene evenings, and nights with more undisturbed tranquillity and peaceful repose. At such seasons our views of all divine subjects are clearer and more just. Our affections are more alive; our aims more noble, unmixed, and heavenly; our resolution more vigorous and uniform; our conduct more approved in its progress, and followed in review by purer peace and self-approbation. God also, for reasons wholly unknown to us, or imperfectly comprehended by us, sometimes withdraws the light of his countenance, and the blessings of his Spirit; sometimes communicates these and other blessings more uniformly and abundantly; and generally regulates his providence towards us in such a manner, that we are greatly improved and prospered in some instances, and in others are afflicted, brought to a stand, or suffered to decline.
But with all these inequalities in the course of the Christian, his holiness, like the house of David, waxes stronger and stronger;' and his corruption, like the house of Saul, becomes weaker and weaker.'
3. The process of sanctification is universal.
By this I intend, that it affects the whole man: his views, affections, purposes, and conduct, and those of every kind. It extends alike to his duties of every kind; towards himself,
his fellow creatures, and his Maker. It affects and improves, indiscriminately, all the virtues of the Christian character: Love to God and to mankind; faith, repentance, justice, truth, kindness, humility, forgiveness, charity, generosity, public spirit, meekness, patience, fortitude, temperance, moderation, candour, and charitableness of judgment. It influences ruling passions and appetites; habits of thought and affection, of language and practice. It prompts to all the acts of piety: to prayer, praise, attendance upon the sanctuary and its ordinances, our sanctification of the sabbath, Christian communion, and Christian discipline.
Generally: It affects every part of the Christian's character and life, and all it affects with continual advantage. Yet, as has been already remarked, the operation is not uniform. All the Christian virtues increase, yet they do not all increase alike; nor does any one of them increase in the same manner at all times. In the Scriptures the improvement of the mind in the Christian character is, with great beauty and correctness, compared to the growth of children. Children grow from their birth, and may be truly said to be always growing; yet the increase is not always alike, nor always visible. They grow also in every part of their frame, increasing upon the whole both in size and stature throughout all the members. Yet at some times, and in some of the members, they cannot be seen to grow at all; while at other times, and in other members, the increase is rapid, and easily discernible. The means of growth also are very various, and variously operative. From day to day, from week to week, and sometimes from year to year, the progress cannot be perceived. And, in some instances, one part is found to increase, another to be at a stand, or even to diminish; and thus the symmetry, proportion, and beauty of the frame to be sensibly injured. In all these particulars, the parallel between the growth of Christians and the growth of children is exact.
4. The progress of sanctification is conspicuous in the life. From the commencement of Christianity in the soul, the Christian course is that of a general reformation. The religion, that brings not forth fruit meet for repentance,' is not the religion of the Scriptures. It is not the beginning of spiritual life. It is not the beginning of immortal life. The virtue of the Gospel is a living principle, producing every good fruit;
rendering the man wiser, and his life and conversation better, unto the end. The natural passions and appetites of some Christians are indeed strong, and their evil habits, antecedently to regeneration, have become powerful. The temptations of others are peculiarly great, and they labour under peculiar disadvantages for resisting them, as well as for making progress in the Christian life.
As the work of sanctification itself proceeds, according to the exhibition which I have made of this subject, in irregular and very various gradations; so the external fruits of it, seen in the life of the Christian, are subject to the same gradations. • The wind bloweth,' not only where,' but in what manner, ' it listeth ;' and no particular description can be satisfactorily given of its progress.
The varieties of this work, which I have all along referred to the life of a single person, become far more numerous and diversified when referred to Christians in general. Here, both the original and incidental differences are multiplied almost without end, and it is impossible to mention even a small part of them in the compass of a single Discourse. Still the same general doctrines are applicable and useful to all Christians; because all have a common nature, and a common interest.
1. The considerations suggested concerning this important religious subject, furnish every professing Christian with an interesting rule for the examination of his own character.
It has been here exhibited, as the true process of sanctification, that this work is carried on through the whole of human life; as the continual, though not uniform, state of the Christian character, to be advanced, under the influence of the divine Spirit, towards the stature of the perfect man.' With this scheme in view, it becomes every professor of religion faithfully to inquire, whether he perceives in his own mind such a progress. It will readily be seen, that Christians, who have lately become such, must have fewer and more imperfect means of making this inquiry, and determining the point satisfactorily, than those who are farther advanced. The
longer children have been growing, the more perceivable will be the change of their stature. The longer Christians have been Christians, the greater advances in religion will they have had opportunity to make. The child may have grown in reality, through a short period; while yet his growth is incapable of being perceived. The young Christian may, in like manner, find less proof of his advancement, or doubtful proof, or even no proof at all, and yet have no sufficient reason for discouragement. Still he ought to make the inquiry, and to make it with persevering diligence. If he be faithful in this duty, he will, in all probability, and at no great distance of time, find comforting evidence of his growth in grace; and usually the sooner, the more faithful he is in pursuing this examination.
The professor, who has longer declared his devotion to God, is bound still more earnestly to make this inquiry. One, at least, of the best proofs which can be furnished of the existence of grace in the soul, is evidence of its growth; and one of which we ought never to lose sight even for a day. If we go on from month to month, and from year to year, without any improvement in the Christian life, our case must be dark and distressing indeed. Much more distressing must it be, if, instead of advancing, we sensibly decline. Christians may and will fall into temptation and sin, and sometimes into sins which are great and peculiarly dreadful. Thus did David, thus did Solomon, thus did Peter. These are fearful grounds of humiliation and sorrow; but even these, when followed by contrition and amendment, are far less discouraging and hopeless than that slow, regular decline, that chilled, perishing state, which admits of no intervenings of warmth, no returns of health and vigour. The pleurisy or the gout may kill, and often greatly alarm and endanger; but they frequently, nay most usually, terminate their violence speedily, and give place to returning strength. The consumption, on the other hand, although its attacks are gentle, gradual, and scarcely perceivable, insinuates itself with a fatal progress into the constitution, and, if not exterminated in season, regularly ends in death. I will not say that a hectic in religion is hopeless; but it must be allowed on all hands to be terrible. Let it be observed in this place, however, that Christians sometimes are really advancing when they do not perceive it; and when their pro
gress, although hidden from themselves, is visible to those around them. This, together with other mysteries, God will unfold hereafter; and will show them that the dispensation has been the means of his glory, and of their own final good. All Christians ought to learn from this fact, to consult their fellow-christians, as well as themselves, on this great subject, and not to depend entirely on their own investigation.
If, on the other hand, professors of religion find themselves advancing in faith, repentance, and holiness; if God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, is more and more an object of delightful contemplation to their minds; if they take more and more delight in prayer and praise, in the Sabbath, the sanctuary, and their ordinances; if the word of God seems more and more preferable to the most fine gold;' if they love more and more to do good unto all men; if they find an increasing delight in the character, company, conversation, and prosperity of their fellow-christians: then they may, indeed, 'sing of mercy;' and enjoy a lively hope that they are fast overcoming the world, and preparing for the glories of the heavenly kingdom.
2. The same considerations furnish abundant encouragement to the Christian.
Think how much God has done to accomplish this work, and you can find no room for despondency. I well know, I readily confess, how prone all men are to yield to temptations; to love the world, to indulge appetite and passion, to embrace error, to cherish self-justification, to find ways of sinning which in their own eyes are safe and blameless, to reconcile and unite virtues to their counterfeit vices, and thus, in a great variety of modes, to backslide, and sin, and fall. How hopeless, with these things in our view, would seem final, persevering holiness, and a safe arrival in the heavenly kingdom!
But the agency of the Spirit of God in our sanctification puts all these terrible evils to flight; and assures us, that he, who hath begun a good work in us, will perform it unto the day of Christ.' He is everywhere present to every Christian, knows every want, and danger, and is ever ready to do all that is necessary and useful for the followers of Christ. No evil can escape his eye, no enemy resist or elude his power. With infinite benignity and tenderness he dwells within and