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It is easy for any man who thinks that he is loved by God, to love him in turn. But this is not that love of God which he requires. The feelings and views which do not prompt us to virtuous conduct are of no value. If we would prove ourselves to be Christians, we should then diligently ask ourselves whether we aim at being strictly just, sincere, and faithful; whether we actually show kindness to all men, whether friends or enemies, strangers or neighbours; whether we do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again;' whether we befriend and promote public, useful, and charitable designs; employing both our substance and efforts as either may be needed; whether we love the souls of others, oppose their sins, and promote in them reformation and piety; and whether we are watchfully sober, chaste, temperate, diligent in our callings, and active in our opposition to every worldly lust.
Finally: Concerning all these things we should carefully ask whether we take delight in such a life as this; and that, notwithstanding all the opposition, ridicule, and contempt of the world.
Among the different acts or kinds of obedience also, particular attention is due to those which involve peculiar selfdenial. When the avaricious man becomes generous and charitable, the ambitious man contented with his circumstances, the proud man humbled, the wrathful man meek, the revengeful man forgiving, and the sensualist sober, chaste, and temperate; in a word, when we drop our reigning sins, and assume the contrary virtues, of set and córdial purpose; we are furnished with strong reason to believe that we are Christians.
6. The increase of all these things in the mind and life is, perhaps, the clearest of all the evidences of personal religion.
St. Paul informs us that he did not count himself to have apprehended; that is, he did not consider himself as having attained that degree of excellence which belonged to his Christian profession. But (saith he) this one thing I do :' or, perhaps, as the omission in the text is supplied by Doddridge, 'this one thing I can say: Forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forth to those which are before,' (in the Greek, reaching out eagerly) I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.' What was the conduct of Paul is the duty of all Christians;
and is accordingly enjoined by him in the following verse. In greater or less degree it is their conduct also. They are directed so to run, that they may obtain;' and to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ;' to increase, and abound, in love one towards another, and towards all men.'
As it is the duty of Christians to fulfil these precepts, so it is the nature of Christianity to accord with them, by increasing from time to time their strength and vigour. The more the spirit of the Gospel is exercised, the more we love to exercise it. The more the pleasure found in it is enjoyed, the more it is coveted. The more habitual its principles and practices become, the greater is the strength which they acquire. Indeed nothing is vigorous and powerful in man, beside that which is habitual.
Hence it is plain that in investigating our religious character we should examine it with particular reference to its growth. To grow is its proper nature. If it is not seen to grow, then we do not either see it as it is, or it does not exist in us in its genuine character; but is feeble, fading, sickly, clogged with incumbrances, and in a great measure hidden from view. Man is never for any length of time stationary. Either he is advancing or receding in every thing which pertains to him; and in religion as truly as in his natural endowments or acquisitions. Declension in religion, I need not say, furnishes a melancholy evidence that we are not religious. It is no less obvious that a regular progress in its various graces and attainments must, on the contrary, become a clear and delightful testimony of our Christian character. There is not only more of religion to be seen in ourselves, but it is discerned with clearer conviction and certainty to be genuine; because it appears, as real religion naturally appears, in its own proper character of growth and improvement. He who loves, fears, and serves God more and more, who is more and more just, sincere, and merciful to his fellow-men, and who is more and more self-governed in all his appetites and passions, weaned from the world, and spiritually and heavenly minded, cannot want the best reasons furnished in our present state to believe that he is a child of God.
DIFFICULTIES ATTENDING THE APPLICATION OF THESE
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.
In the last Discourse but one I proposed from these words to examine,
I. Some of the imaginary evidences of regeneration.
III. Some of the difficulties which attend the application of the real evidences to ourselves.
There has been much debate in the Christian world concerning the faith of assurance; or, as it is in better language styled by St. Paul,' the full assurance of hope.' The question debated has, however, not been whether men felt assured that they were Christians, but whether this assurance has been evangelical, or built on satisfactory and scriptural evidence. That such a faith has existed I have no doubt; nor do I see how it can be rationally doubted. That the apostles were evangelically assured of their own piety, and consequent salvation, must be admitted by all who believe
the Scriptures. I have fought a good fight,' says St. Paul, 'I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness. For me to live is Christ; to die is gain. We know,' says St. John, that we have passed from death unto life.' From the accounts given us concerning the first Martyrs, I think we cannot hesitate to admit that they also were the subjects of the same faith. Nor is the evidence concerning a number of those who have lived and suffered in modern times less convincing to me. These men have in various instances lived in a manner eminently evangelical, have devoted themselves through a long period to the service of God, with so much humility, self-denial, uniformity, stedfastness, and evangelical zeal, have laboured for the good of their fellow creatures with so much disinterestedness, charity, and constancy, have lived so much above the world, and with a conversation so heavenly, that when they are declaring themselves possessed of this faith, and have died with peace and exultation, which must be supposed to result from it, we cannot, unless by wilful rejection of evidence, hesitate to admit that they were possessed of this enviable attainment. Indeed, I can hardly doubt, that any man who reads their history with candour, will readily admit the doctrine, so far as the men to whom I refer are concerned. But, if these things be admitted, it will probably be readily conceded, that there are in every country and in every age where Christianity prevails, some persons who enjoy the Faith or Hope of as
At the same time, I am fully persuaded that the number of these persons is not very great. If the Christians and ministers with whom I have had opportunity to converse, many of whom have been eminently exemplary in their lives, may be allowed to stand as representatives of Christians in general, it must certainly be true, that the faith of assurance is not
Indeed, I am persuaded, that this blessing is much more frequently experienced in times and places of affliction and persecution, than in seasons of peace and prosperity. Severe trials and sufferings furnish of themselves clearer proofs of the piety of those who are tried, than can ordinarily be furnished by circumstances of ease and quiet. The faith which will patiently submit, which will encounter, which will endure,
which will overcome, in periods of great affliction, has in this very process both acquired and exhibited peculiar strength, and furnished evidence of its genuineness which can hardly be derived from any other source.
At the same time it is, I think, irresistibly inferred from the declarations contained in the word of God, and from the history of his providence recorded both within and without the Scriptures, that God, in his infinite mercy, furnishes his children with peculiar support and consolation in times of peculiar trial; and that, as their day is,' so he causes their 'strength to be.' Among the means of consolation enjoyed by Christians, none seems better adapted to furnish them with the necessary support under severe distresses, than an assurance that they are children of God. Accordingly, this very consolation appears to have been given to the suffering saints of the Old and New Testaments, as a peculiar support to them in their peculiar trials. From analogy it might be concluded, and from the history of facts it may with the strongest probability, if not with absolute certainty, be determined, that the same blessing has been given in times of eminent affliction to saints in every succeeding age of the church.
Still there is no reason to think that the faith of assurance is generally attained among eminent Christians. This fact has sometimes been called in question, sometimes denied, and oftener wondered at. "Why," it is inquired, 66 are not Christians oftener, nay, why are they not generally, assured of their gracious state? There certainly is a difference between sin and holiness sufficiently broad to be seen and marked. The Scriptures have actually marked this difference with such clearness and exactness, as to give us ample information concerning both the nature and the limits of these great moral attributes. They have separated those who possess them into two classes, not only entirely distinct, but directly opposite to each other: so opposite, that the one class is styled in them, the friends, and the other, the enemies, of God. Further, they present to us various means of judging, by which we are directed, as well as encouraged and enabled, to try and estimate our own religious character. The subject is also so spoken of in the Scriptures, as naturally to lead us into the conclusion, that these different characters may be distinctly known; and that it is our duty so to act, as upon the whole to