« PreviousContinue »
and destroy those who cordially embrace them. For these and all other false schemes of religion are agreeable to the natural heart, which is enmity against God. All men wish to be happy in a future state, and have no aversion to any scheme of religion which they think will save them, while they withhold their hearts from God and love themselves supremely.
5. If it be reasonable for men to give their hearts to God, then it is extremely unreasonable in those who have once given their hearts to God, to withdraw them from him. Those who have once given their hearts to God, know what it is to love him supremely, and what great and peculiar happiness is to be found in the love and enjoyment of him. And when they first give their hearts to God, they are apt to imagine that they shall always keep themselves in the love of God, and never forget nor forsake him. But many have been sadly disappointed in their early hopes and resolutions. The hearts of christians are like a deceitful bow, bent to backsliding, and are not to be trusted, but are to be kept with all diligence. God represents himself as disappointed, when those who have professed to be his dutiful children, withdraw their filial affection from him and falsify their profession. For he has said, "Surely they are my people, children that will not lie." If we examine the feelings and conduct of God towards those who have lost their first love, we shall find that he has manifested his peculiar displeasure towards them, and often corrected them more severely than his real and open enemies. Saints are of all men the most unreasonable and inexcusable for murmuring and complaining, like Job, Jonah and Elijah, and acting like Aaron, Moses and Peter. Nothing but directly opposite affections can interrupt that supreme love to God which is essential to the christian character. When christians do not love, they hate; when they do not believe, they disbelieve; when they do not obey, they disobey; and when they do not act for God, they act against him. And for them to hate him whom they have loved supremely, or to disbelieve him in whom they have perfectly confided, or to disobey him whom they have delightfully obeyed, or to act against him for whom they have cordially and sincerely acted, must be peculiarly inconsistent, unreasonable and criminal. The best of men, therefore, have abundant reason, and sometimes realize that they have abundant reason to feel as Job did, when he said to God, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
6. If it be reasonable for men to give their hearts to God, then they may reasonably expect to meet his approbation and acceptance whenever they love him sincerely and supremely.
It is not reasonable that he should love them before they love him; but after they love him sincerely and supremely, they are truly amiable and worthy of his complacency and approbation. And they may assure themselves that they are actually interested in his favor, and entitled to share in the blessings of his kingdom. For he has promised to return to them who return to him, and to love them that love him, and cause all things to work together for their good. Many are very anxious to know whether they belong to the household of faith, and are the children of God, and heirs with Christ to an heavenly inheritance; and for this reason, are often inquiring what are evidences of grace; and sometimes they ask, what is the best evidence of grace. To this serious and important question, the whole tenor of this discourse replies: Supreme love to God. It is only for men to look into their own hearts, to know whether they are the children of God and heirs of eternal life. If they are conscious of loving God supremely, they need not doubt whether they are the children of God, and subjects of his special grace. But nothing short of this can give them evidence that their hearts are really renewed; for self love can put on every appearance of supreme love to God, though essentially different from it. Here lies the greatest danger of men's deceiving themselves. But still it may be inquired, how shall men know whether they do really give their supreme affections to God? I answer, by this infallible effect. Those who give their hearts to God, or love him supremely, always give themselves to God with all their interests, for time and eternity. And this is what no self love will do. It is only to apply this criterion to the heart, and it will confirm or destroy the hope of any person. Let all then be entreated for their own sake, to apply this criterion to what they are conscious has passed, and habitually passes in their minds; that they may determine whether they are friends or enemies of God, they themselves being judges. And certainly it belongs to all, as reasonable creatures, to act this reasonable part toward themselves.
THE PECULIAR SPIRIT OF CHRISTIANS.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. -1 CORINTHIANS, ii. 12.
Ir seems to be generally supposed that experimental religion is something very mysterious and unintelligible. There was a sect of christians in the third century who called themselves Mystics. They maintained that the Bible is a mystical book, and ought to be understood and explained in a mystical, and not in a literal sense. This opinion has never since been entirely exploded. The serious and devout William Law, who wrote excellently on christian perfection, and several other subjects, finally died a Mystic. There is something of a mystical nature to be discovered in many of the old divines, who wrote upon experimental religion under the title of the mystery of godliness, and the mystery of sanctification. Even now we often meet with the phrases, the mysteries of the gospel, the mysteries of religion, and the mysteries of our holy religion. The phrases sound so scripturally that they are generally well received, though seldom understood. And it must be allowed that the sacred writers use so many figures, metaphors, similitudes and parables, that it does seem at first view as though the doctrines and spirit of the gospel were in some measure mystical. At least, this idea seems to be suggested by the apostle's mode of speaking in the text: "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." The plain import of these words is,