« PreviousContinue »
to save? And, are the chief of sinners-sinners in similar circumstances with myself --encouraged by the gospel to put their trust in him? For, to rely on the Lord Redeemer, as able to save the very worst of sinners; as perfectly suitable to relieve the most pressing wants, and as free for the vilèst of our apostate race, is, I humbly conceive, the faith of God's elect. The converted sinner has reason, indeed, to infer his interest in Christ; but this is a secondary consideration; and the assurance he has, if it arise from its proper source, is rather a fruit of faith, than faith itself.
On the other hand, we should not imagine, that a mere desire of grace, is grace; or, that a simple desire to believe, is believing. This, far from being an axiom of divine truth, or an undoubted theological principle, must not be admitted without great limitations. If, indeed, there were no such thing as a sinner desiring grace, or desiring to believe in Christ, for any other than holy purposes, it might be allowed in its full extent: for whoever desires an interest in Jesus, to answer all those purposes which the divine Father intended should be answered by it, may, I think, be justly considered as interested in him : and whoever desires grace, or the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, that the great end of communicating those influences may be fully answered, is, doubtless, a subject of divine grace. But then it is equally manifest, that a sinner may desire grace, and an interest in Jesus Christ, not because he sees and approves the beauty of holiness, or the excellence and glory of the Lord Redeemer, but because he loves himself, and is desirous of escaping that misery of which he apprehends himself in danger. To desire Christ and grace, merely because we tremble at the apprehension of damnation, and know that we cannot be saved without the great atonement, and the regenerating energy of the Holy Spirit, has nothing spiritual in it. No; it is nothing more than an effort of natural conscience awakened, attended with some degree of knowledge in the system of divine truth. The case of the foolish virgins in the parable, requesting oil of their wiser companions, is, I conceive, a full proof of the point.
I have sometimes heard popular preachers ask their doubting hearers, Whether they are willing to part with Christ, or to give up their hope in him?" To which they generally suppose the persons addressed will answer, “No, not for the world !' On which the querists immediately infer, “Then you may assure yourselves that Christ is yours. But this way of talking seems to be an unscriptural method of relieving distressed consciences, and extremely fallacious. For what self-righteous person, what profligate in the world, that calls himself a Christian, is willing to give up his hope, or entirely to part with Jesus Christ ? No man is, no man can be willing to part with his hope, till he is convinced of its falsehood, and another foundation of hope that appears more eligible be presented to him. Nor can any man, without renouncing the christian character, hope for eternal happiness, independent of Jesus Christ and his mediation. Even Socinians, who deny the atonement, and almost all the capital truths of the gospel, will not say, 'We hope to be completely saved, without the Jeast assistance from the mediation of Jesus Christ.' As it must not be asserted, that high elevations of religious joy are a sure sign of believing in the Son of God; so we should be very cautious of concluding, that a person is an unbeliever, because he is, at present, unexperienced in these raptures. Too many, I fear, infer the important conclusion, Christ is mine, rather from such elevations, at certain times, than from any thing else; or, at least, this, with them, is a capital evidence of true faith. Having felt their passions fired in religious exercises, they take it for granted that Christ is theirs, and that they are Christians indeed.-Far be it from me to represent real Christianity as a gloomy thing; or, in the least, from discouraging true joy. There certainly is such a thing as religious joy; which, at some times, is unspeakable and full of glory. But yet we should be very careful of making either the frequency, or the heights, of our joy, the criterion of our faith in Jesus. Is it not very supposable, is it not morally certain, that many of the Jewish Pharisees, that many idolatrous devotees of the apostate Romish church, and that many deluded enthusiasts in every age, have been greatly elevated with joy in the performance of religious exercises ? It should be carefully observed, however, that I use the term religious, not the epithet spiritual; between which there is a perceivable and a wide difference.
On the other hand, we cannot safely conclude that every professor who has little or nothing that he can call joy, in devotional exercises, is absolutely an unbeliever. This, indeed, we may venture to say, that so far as the truth is known, so far as the gospel is enjoyed, it relieves the alarmed conscience, it inclines the will to God, and affects the heart with sacred pleasure. But though the truth received is calculated to make a person happy in the present state; yet, so many things should be taken into consideration, if we would form a conclusion on the case of one who is 'destitute of religious joy, that we should be very cautious of asserting; that he who has no joy, has no faith in the Lord Redeemer. The poor awakened sinner, for instance, whose fervent supplication is, God be merciful to me a sinner! who looks to the atonement of Christ for mercy; who centres all his hope of acceptance with God upon it; and who cleaves to it, as the shipwrecked mariner to the plank on which he is floating; though, for the present, harrassed with painful apprehensions respecting his final state, and a stranger to religious joy, should not be considered as entirely destitute of grace, or as in a state of unbelief.
As it cannot with safety be affirmed, that every one who deliberately considers himself to have had very remarkable and striking applications of divine promises to his mind, is a real believer on the Son of God; so we must not conclude that all who view themselves as inexperienced in such application, are certainly unbelievers. Let none imagine, that I militate against the work of the Holy Spirit, in applying the promises to the hearts of believers; or that my design is to explode the sentiment as unscriptural and enthusiastic. No; far be it, that I should attempt, or imagine any such thing! My intention is to guard against mistakes, and to caution the reader against dangerous delusions. There is, indeed, necessity for the greatest caution in matters of this kind, lest we attribute any thing to the Holy
Spirit which is unworthy of his wisdom, his purity, or his grace; and lest we should suppose ourselves to be under his direction, when, in reality, we are under the influence of our own vanity, or of Satan transformed into an angel of light.
That Satan has access to the human mind; that he can, by divine permission, excite thoughts, desires, and aversions in it; and that he can apply the threatenings of Scripture to the awakened consciences of sinners, in order to sink them in despair, is generally allowed. Is it less credible, then, Providence permitting, that he should apply the great and precious promises to the mind of a self-elated Pharisee, or a carnal professor, in order to render him quite satisfied in his state, and so to deceive, to puff up, and to ruin him? See Matt. iv. 6. Satan frequently works on the pleasing, as well as the painful passions, and that in different ways, as best suited to answer his end. I dare not, therefore, conclude, that I am a partaker of true faith, and one of God's peculiar people, barely because I have received remarkable refreshment from the divine promises, when under great discouragements and deep distress. We ought, indeed, to be very thankful to our gracious God, when he really brings the promises to our remembrance and seals them upon our hearts; but then we should be exceeding careful lest we imagine that the application of such or such gracious declarations is from the Holy Spirit, when we have no reason so to conclude. For if the consolation received from the promises be not attended with the fruits of holiness; if it do not - lead to humility and watchfulness, to an increasing affection for God, devotedness to him, and a cordial