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that is, by being too much afraid of deceiving themselves. In their dark and gloomy frames, they have an awful apprehension of the danger of self-deception, which leads them to ponder on the dark side of things, and to search after all possible evidence against themselves, in order to know the very worst of their case. And while they are doing this, they either overlook, or reject all evidence in their favour, because they feel bound in duty to give up their hope. Hence, like David, they refuse to be comforted, by calling in question not only the sincerity of their present feelings, but also the sincerity of all their past exercises of love, faith, repentance, submission, joy, and peace, which they once thought were of the right kind, and which afforded them great satisfaction and enjoyment. Under such gloomy circumstances, many real, and some eminent christians, have mistaken grace for nature, and ascribed all their pious affections to selfish motives, which has given them a great deal of needless, and worse than needless anxiety and distress.
Besides these two, there is a third way in which some good men may mistake the nature of their religious exercise, and conclude that they have never experienced a saving change. It is, by comparing themselves with themselves, or with others whom they esteem better than themselves. Though they know by experience, that they have actually exercised love, faith, repentance, godly sorrow, humility, submission, and self-denial; yet they find that they have not been uniform, consistent, and persevering in these exercises, but have often had very different and contradictory views and feelings. And this want of uniformity and consistency in their religious exercises, they consider as a conclusive evidence of their ipsincerity and graceless state, though it is in reality only an evidence of that imperfection in holiness, which the Scripture represents as common to all christians in this life. They may likewise run into the same error respecting their spiritual state, by comparing themselves with others, whom they view as eminently pious. When they hear such persons relate what light they have had in reading the Scriptures, what peace and comfort and freedom they have enjoyed in secret devotions, and how little they have been troubled with darkness, doubts, or fears, they are ready to conclude, that they themselves are strangers to true religion, because they have never experienced the same high and lively exercises of
grace, But no real christians have a right, in this or any other way, to mistake their real character and condition. They ought to be very thankful for the least spark of saving grace.
2. If men are apt to mistake the nature of their moral exercises; then good men are very liable to think they have more grace, than they really possess. This was the case of the disciples, whom Christ rebuked for esteeming themselves better than they were in his impartial eye. They supposed they felt a pure and holy zeal for his honour, while they were indulging a false and selfish zeal for their own reputation. All good men are equally liable to the same species of selfdeception. Their natural affections often run in the same channel, and towards the same objects, with their gracious exercises; and when this happens, they are apt to think, that they have more love, more faith, more self-denial, and more holy joy and gratitude, than they really feel or express. Their good exercises predominate, and give an amiable complexion to all the selfish feelings of their hearts. And though they might distinguish their wrong affections from their right ones; yet their self-love leads them to think more
highly of themselves, than they ought to think, which is the essence of spiritual pride. This is a secret sin, which most insensibly besets good men. How often did God reprove his ancient people for their high and unreasonable opinion of their goodness? How often did Christ rebuke the Scribes and Pharisees for their spiritual pride and self-conceit? Yea, how often did he rebuke his own disciples for the same sin? He reproved Peter for his pride and self-confidence. He reproved the sons of Zebedee for their ambitious views and claims. And he visited Paul with a thorn in the flesh, to make him think soberly and as he ought to think of himself. Were men perfectly good, they would never be proud of their goodness; but while they remain imperfect, they are as liable to overrate their goodness, as any other personal quality or excellence. There is reason to fear, that not only pious, but eminently pious men, do often entertain a too high opinion of their piety, by mistaking many of their selfish feelings for pure and disinterested benevolence, And if they would only scrutinize their religious ex. ercises with impartiality, and compare them with the law of love and the spirit of Christ, they would find abundant reason to humble themselves, like Hezekiah, for the pride of their hearts.
3. If men are prone to mistake their selfish feelings for benevolent affections; then we may easily see why they so generally disbelieve the doctrine of total de. pravity, which is plainly taught in the word of God, None pretend to deny, that mankind are sinners, and very far from being so good as they ought to be. But few, however, are disposed to believe, that any of the human race are totally depraved, and entirely destitute of every right exercise of heart. Most men imagine, that the worst of sinners have some sparks of
goodness, and, in their sober intervals, form some good resolutions, and perform some good actions. They form this favourable opinion of human nature, from their own experience. They are conscious, that they were never so stupid, so hardened, or so wholly inclined to evil, as to have no desires, nor endeavours to feel and act right; but, on the other hand, they have often pitied the afflicted, relieved the distressed, and done a great many things on purpose to promote the good of their fellow creatures. A consciousness of such feelings and conduct, naturally leads them to conclude, that there is no such thing as total depravity in any human heart. But if selfishness may put on the appearance of benevolence, it is easy to discover the fallacy of this mode of reasoning. Those who argue in this manner, mistake selfish feelings for benevolent affections. And they will continue to make this mistake, until the divine law is set home upon their conscience. Paul had no apprehension of his total depravity, until the commandment came, and convinced him that there was no good thing in his heart. He thought he was blameless, while he was under the entire dominion of sin; and he thought so. from his own experience. And it is very difficult to make any sinners think otherwise of themselves, until their conscience is awakened to distinguish nature from grace, or their selfish feelings from benevolent affections.
4. If men have no right to mistake the nature of any of their moral exercises; then real christians have no right to doubt of their good estate. They have gracious affections, which are diametrically opposite to selfish feelings; and those gracious affections would afford them a satisfying evidence of a saving change, if they would only distinguish them from their unholy exercises. Their holy affections are an infallible
evidence of their being born of God, and having passed from death unto life, notwithstanding any contrary feelings. Their remaining corruptions do, indeed, prove that they are imperfect in holiness, but do not prove that they are in a state of nature, and wholly destitute of grace. There is no man that liveth and sinneth not. The best of men in this world are more or less burdened with sin and guilt. The apostle Paul himself groaned under this burden. He said, “O wretched man that I ain! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But notwithstanding this, he could say, “I delight in the law of God after the
, inward man.” His unholy exercises were no counter evidence to his holy ones, and therefore were no just cause of doubting of his good estate. His consciousness of sincerely loving the divine law, was an infallible evidence of the renovation of his heart, and of his reconciliation to God and title to pardoning mercy. All true christians do as really love God and his holy law, as the apostle did, and they may be as conscious of their holy affections as he was, and of course may know, as he did, that they are in a state of grace and favour with God. It is upon this ground, that real christians are required to make their calling and election sure.
This they all are capable of doing, and if they neglect to do it, they are guilty of refusing to be comforted, and of withholding from God that gratitude and praise, which his distinguishing grace demands. As they have experienced the grace of God in truth; so they ought to renounce their unreasonable doubts and fears, and to rejoice in a well grounded hope of eternal life.
Finally, this subject calls upon all to inquire what manner of spirit they are of. The great propensity of mankind to mistake the nature of their moral exercises,