« PreviousContinue »
good conscience; which some (that is, some teachers,) having cast away, concerning the faith, (Thy Flotiv, that is, the doctrines of the Gospel,) have made shipwreck.”
Generally, it may be observed, that the doctrine against which I contend is not supported in a single unequivocal declaration of the Scriptures. I know of none in which it is asserted in terms so favourable to it as those which I have considered. Whatever is said concerning the apostasy of any Christian professors is decisively explained by St. John. “They went out from us, but they were not of us : for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.'
1. The faithfulness of God is highly conspicuous in the truths which have been now discussed.
Christians provoke God daily, and awaken his anger against themselves more and more continually. By every sin they persuade him, if I may be ailowed the expression, to desert them, and to give them up to themselves. Still he preserves them from destruction.
He has promised them life. He has established his covenant with them for an everlasting covenant; and it shall never be forgotten. On his immutability their safety stands immoveable. In this manner is it exhibited by himself. ' For I, (saith he,) am Jehovah: I change not: therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.' This attribute is the seal, the certainty of every promise: and sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or one tittle of that which is promised shall fail.'
2. From these observations we learn, that the promises of the Gospel are absolutely necessary for the hope and support of Christians.
Christians in their very best estate possess such a character as, to say the most, furnishes a very feeble and distant hope of their perseverance in holiness, and their final success in obtaining salvation. In better language, if left to themselves, there is no rational hope that they would ever arrive at the kingdom of heaven. If God did not preserve them, they would fall daily, certainly, and finally. Without the promises
of God, prone as Christians are to backslide, they would feel no confidence in their own success; but would sink into despondency and despair. To preserve them from this despondency, and the ruin which would result from it, God has filled his ord with promises, which yield solid and sufficient support, consolation, hope, and joy. On these they rest sately, and cannot be moved.
3. We here learn, that the Christian life is a life far removed from gloom.
Many persons, hearing often of the self-denial, repentance, and mortification of sin, connected with Christianity, have supposed a life of religion to be only gloomy and discouraging ; and have thus dreaded it, as destitute of all present enjoyment. In this opinion they have been confirmed by the sad countenances, demure behaviour, and cheerless lives of some who have professed - themselves Christians. All this, however, is remote from the true character of religion. Real Christianity furnishes the fairest and most abundant enjoyment. It is delightful in itself; and, when not the immediate object of persecution, finds everywhere comforts, friends, and blessings. In God the Christian finds a sure, an ever-present, an everlasting friend ; in Christ, a Saviour from sin and sorrow; in the divine promises, an indefeasible inheritance of unceasing and eternal good.
Let none, therefore, particularly let not those who are young, and who are easily deterred from approaching that which wears a forbidding aspect, be hindered from becoming religious by any apprehended gloominess in religion, or any sorrowful deportment of those who profess to be Christians. Christianity is but another name for joy. It can spread a smile even over this melancholy world, and lend delightful consolation to suffering and to sorrow.
All its dictates, all its emotions, all its views, are cheerful, serene, and supporting. Here it is safe ; hereafter it will triumph. Sin only is misery. Sinners in this world have a thousand sufferings of which the good man is ignorant; and in the world to come will lie down in eternal sorrow.
WHAT ARE NOT EVIDENCES.
EXAMINE YOURSELves WHETHER YE BE IN THE FAITH : PROVE YOUR
OWN SELVES; KNOW YE NOT YOUR OWN SELVES, HOW THAT JESUS CHRIST IS IN YOU, Except ye Be REPROBATES?
2 CORINTHIANS XIII, 5.
HAVING in a long series of Discourses considered the doctrine of regeneration, its antecedents, attendants, and consequents ; I shall now proceed to another interesting subject of theology; viz. the evidences of regeneration.
In the text, the apostle commands the Corinthian Christians to examine and prove themselves ;' and states the purpose of this examination to be to determine ' whether they were in the faith.' He then inquires of them, 'Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?' In the original, except ye be adoxipos, unapproved ; unable to endure the trial of such an examination. From this passage of Scripture it is plain, that it was the duty of the Corinthians to examine themselves concerning their Christian character; and that this examination was to be pursued by them so thoroughly, as to prove, so far as might be, whether they were, or were not, in the faith ; whether Christ did or did not dwell in thein by his Holy Spirit.
That which was the duty of the Corinthians is the duty of all other Christians. That which is the duty of all Christians, it is the duty of every minister to aid them in performing. To unfold the evidences of religion in the heart is therefore, at times, the duty of every minister; and to learn them, that of every Christian.
In attempting to perform this duty at the present time, I shall endeavour to point out,
I. Some of the imaginary evidences of religion.
III. Some of the difficulties which attend the application of the real evidences of religion to ourselves.
I. I shall endeavour to point out some of the imaginary evidences of religion.
By imaginary evidences, I intend those which are sometimes supposed to be proofs of its existence, but have this character through mistake only ; evidences which may be, and often are, found in the hearts and lives both of the saint and the sinner; things on which it is dangerous to rely, because they do not evince in any degree either a holy or an unholy character. It will not be expected that I should enter into a minute and detailed account of a subject which has occupied formal treatises, and filled volumes. Considerations of particular importance can alone find a place in such a system of Discourses. To them therefore I shall confine myself; and even these I must necessarily discuss in a summary manucr. With these preliminary remarks, I observe, .: 1. That nothing in the time, place, manner, or other circumstances, of a supposed conversion, furnishes ordinarily any solid evidence that it is, or is not, real.
It is not uncommon for persons, and for Christians among others, to dwell, both in their thoughts and conversations, on these subjects; and to believe that they furnish them with comforting proofs of their piety. Some persons rest not a little on their consciousness of the time at which they believe themselves to have turned to God. So confident are they with regard to this subject, that they boldly appeal to it in their conversation with others, as evidence of their regeneration. “ So many years since,” one of them will say, “my heart closed with Christ. Christ was discovered to my soul. The arm of mercy laid hold on me. I was stopped in the career of iniquity. I received totally new views of divine things." Much other language, of a similar nature, is used by them; all of which rests ultimately on their knowledge of the time at which they suppose themselves to have become the subjects of the renewing grace of God.
There is reason to believe, derived however from other sources, that these apprehensions may sometimes be founded in truth ; in other instances there is abundant proof that they are founded in falsehood. But that wbich may easily be either false or true, as in the present case it plainly may, can never safely be made the ground of reliance; especially in a concern of such moment.
Other persons appeal with the same confidence to the manner and circumstances of their supposed conversion, as evidences of its reality. Thus one recites, with much reliance, the strong convictions of sin under which he was distressed for a length of time; the deep sense which he had. of deserving the anger and punishment of God; his disposition readily to acknowledge the justice of the divine law in condemning him, and of the divine government in punishing him ; his full belief that he was among the worst of sinners ; and the state of despair to which he was brought under the apprehension of his guilt. Of all these things it may be observed, that, although convictions of sin generally, of the nature here referred to, always precede regeneration ; yet, in whatever form or degree they exist, they are not regeneration. They cannot therefore be proofs of regeneration. He who has them, in whatever manner he has them, will, if he proceed no farther, be still in the gall of bitterness.'
But the same person, perhaps, goes on farther; and declares, that while he was in this situation of distress, when he was ready to give himself up for lost, God discovered himself to him as a reconciled God; and filled his mind with new, sudden, and unspeakable joy; that he had a strong and delightful sense of the divine mercy in Jesus Christ, of the wonderful compassion of Christ in consenting to die for sinners, in being willing to accept of sinners, and particularly in being willing to accept of so great a sinner as himself; that he found his heart going forth in love to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, to the word and ordinances of God, and to