« PreviousContinue »
concern for our neighbour's happiness; it is an evidence that we are deceived, as to the true source of the comforts in question-deceived, either by the ignorance and pride of our own hearts, or by the subtilty of Satan. When the promises are employed by the Holy Spirit, as means of our happiness, and when they have their proper effect on our hearts, they sanctify as well as comfort. We may venture to assert, that our views of the benefit resulting from those declarations of grace are very partial, if we do not consider them as intended to refine our tempers, to spiritualize our affections, and to engage our hearts and lives in the service of God; as well as to assure us of the divine good-will toward us, and of the divine care over us. See 2 Cor. vii. 1. 2 Pet. i. 4. Yes, we should ever consider the promises as the great means of our sanctification, equally as of our comfort; and there is reason to think, that we do not use the promises aright, except both these ends be kept in view.
Nor ought we to assert, on the other hand, that a person who cannot recollect the time when he had a powerful application of some divine promise to his conscience, is an unbeliever. Supposing a sinner to be just awakened to a sense of his danger; just brought to see the suitableness, the beauty, and the excellence of Jesus Christ, and come to the Lord Most High with the language of the publican in his heart and in his mouth, God be merciful to me a sinner!-one who prostrates himself at Jehovah's feet; leaves himself in the hands of sovereign mercy, and relies on the dying Jesus for pardon, peace, and salvation; though, as yet, he has not experienced the application of any particular promise
to his mind;-now in this case (a case that is very frequent) what must we think? Must we consider such an one as an unbeliever, merely because he knows nothing of any particular promise being applied to his mind, as distinct from the declarations of grace in a general view? I think, nay, I am confident, we ought not. In regard to the general course of my own experience, I must confess, that my peace and comfort, respecting an interest in Christ, have not arisen so much from any particular promises; as from a more general view of the covenant of grace—of the gospel of peace of the design of our Lord's mediation of his all-sufficiency, suitableness, and freeness-of the assurances he gives that those who trust in him shall not be disappointed—of the consciousness I have that I do trust in him and from some other considerations which are more immediately adapted to prove that my faith is genuine. This, I presume, is the case with multitudes of real Christians. : I darè not make any particular degree of conscious terrors, or painful convictions of sin, under first awakenings, a certain evidence of believing on the Son of God. Many professors are much harrassed in their minds with doubts and fears about the reality of their faith in Christ, on account of their not having experienced such terrors of conscience as others have done. That there are painful and perplexing doubts, arising in the minds of professors from this consideration, I know by experience. But though it be an acknowledged truth and a certain fact, that the whole have no need of a physician, but those that are sick: and though it be equally certain, that no one ever did, or will, or can come to Christ, as a saviour, before he is convinced in his judgment and conscience that he is a condemned criminal and ready to perish; yet, in regard to the degree of terror, attending the first convictions of sin, and in respect of its continuance, the Great Sovereign deals very differently with different persons, who, on the whole, give equal evidence to others, and have equal reason to conclude in their own consciences, that they are believers, real believers, in Jesus Christ. For, as we read of Saul the persecutor being struck to the earth with astonishment and terror; as we read of the Philippian Jailor, and of the three thousand mentioned in the second of Acts, being stung with guilt and rent with anguish, by a keen conviction of their state and their danger; so we read of Zaccheus the Publican, of the Samaritan woman, and of many others, who, so far as we can learn from the New Testament, did not experience much terror of that kind. There is reason to think, that light to behold their danger, and grace to relieve their wants, shone into their souls almost at the same instant. I have known many who appeared to be deeply convinced of sin, and to be greatly oppressed by guilt on their consciences, for a considerable time, who afterwards professed to enjoy peace with God through Jesus Christ; and yet, after all, have given awful evidence that they never knew the grace of God in truth. On the contrary, I have known others who, for a course of years, have been harrassed with doubts and fears, because they have not been more distressed for their sins; who have, notwithstanding, to all human appearance, lived in the fellowship of the gospel, and died in the consolations of the Holy Spirit. -We should not, therefore, consider ourselves as believers, chiefly because we once had a great deal of terror, which has been succeeded by peace of conscience; nor ought we to consider the reality of our faith as doubtful, barely because we have never been so distressed and terrified about our sins.
Nor should we conclude, that every one who pretends to know, with certainty, the hour and the instrument of his conversion, is really a believer on the Son of God; or, on the other hand, assert, that a professor who is quite at a loss for the time and the particular mean of his effectual calling, is destitute of faith in Jesus Christ. In this, as in the preceding particular, the methods of divine proceeding are different, in regard to different Christians. Some, no doubt, have been very precise, in conversation with religious friends, and in the presence of a gospel church, in pointing out the day and the mean which they supposed grace employed in their illumination and conversion; who afterwards gave
sorrowful evidence, that they were never born from above. While others, who cannot pretend to mention the time, or the instrument of their conversion to Christ, have notwithstanding sufficient reason to infer, that they are indeed the children of God.
To conclude this Negative part of my subjectAs we ought not to consider any man living as being undoubtedly a partaker of that faith which is peculiar to God's elect, barely because of his extensive knowledge, or shining spiritual gifts; no, nor yet because of his great usefulness in the ministerial employ: so, neither, to pronounce any man an unbeliever, merely because he is ignorant of some great doctrinal truths; has wrong views of some divine institutions; can say but little in defence of what he does know; nor is endued with gifts for praying in public to the edification of others. That the most splendid and useful spiritual gifts are no certain proof that the possessor of them is a real saint, appears from the New Testament with superior evidence. Witness the apostolic office and powers conferred on Judas; the solemn caution given by our Lord to his disciples, Luke x. 20; the distinction which Paul makes between spiritual gifts and charity, in 1 Cor. xiii. and the rejected plea for admission into the kingdom of heaven, of which our Divine Teacher speaks, Matt. vii. 22, 23.
Nor should we conclude; that a person is unregenerate, merely because he is ignorant of some great evangelical truths; or of certain divine institutions; or of the constitution and order of a gospel church; or because he is destitute of spiritual gifts. The apostles themselves, before the ascension of Christ, were very ignorant in many respects: nor is it to be supposed that the three thousand, for instance, who were converted under the apostolic ministry, were at once freed from all their errors and prejudices relating to the doctrine of grace, and the ordinances of the New Testament. Nay, as to my readers, various of them, it is highly probable, can remember the time, when they had very different views of some doctrines and ordinances from those which they now have; and yet, perhaps, they cannot help thinking, that, if now converted, they were so then. Though a person may be quite destitute of spiritual gifts, and though his verbal profession of faith in Jesus Christ may be expressed