« AnteriorContinuar »
master; we must have one master, even Christ. Our own reason is also another word for our own creed; and we are as much in danger of being ruined by our own creed, as by tbat of another man. It matters not by what name we call it, our reason or our creed; if the infallible dictates of the Holy Spirit are- to give way to this, adieu to all religion. Where such presumption begins, it may truly be said, religion ends.
In reading the preceptive part of scripture, it will be of but little use to us unless we read it with an attention and determination, through divine assistance, to form our conduct by it. To rearl for instruction in righteousness, is the same thing as searching to know what is the good, perfect, and acceptable will of God, with a design to do it, let it grate ever so much with our carnal inclinations. It answers but a poor end to read a chapter once or twice a day in the family, merely for the sake of decency, without so much as an intention of complying with what shall be found to be the mind of God. .
If our judgment or conduct is formed by dreams, visions, or supposed immediate revelations from heaven; and not by the plain meaning of the word of God as it stands in our Bibles, then do we slight the word of God, and God may justly give us up to our own delusions. It is no just plea in behalf of these supposed revelations, that they often come in the words of scripture. If we infer anything from certain words of scripture being impressed upon our mind, either in favour of ourselves, or for the guiding of our conduct, which cannot be proved to have been the meaning of scripture independent of that impression, it is no other than real enthusiasm; and will in the great day be found to be a disregard and perversion of the scripture itself.
Thirdly: By forming a low opinion of the importance of the truths contained m it. It seems to be very much the spirit and opinion of the present age, that it matters not how polluted the fountain is, if the streams are but pure: but the question is, whether the streams can be pure, if the fountain is polluted. Actions materially good, and beneficial to society, may flow from a heart at essential variance with the doctrines of revelation; but it wants proof that any action can be truly good, and acceptable in the sight of God, unless it originate in evangelical principle. On the contrary, the scripture is express, that without faith it is impossible to please God.
Some good people have contracted a strange prejudice against the doctrines of the gospel, accounting them dry and uninteresting matters. They like experimental religion the best, they tell us. But I do not understand the distinction of religion into doctrinal and experimental after this sort. I would ask such a person, What is experimental religion? Is it any other than the influence of truth upon the mind, by the agency of the Holy Spirit? You love to feel godly sorrow for sin; so do I: but what is godly sorrow for sin but the influence of truth upon your heart? Is it not the consideration of the great evil of sin, its contrariety to what ought to be, its being committed against light, love, &c. that dissolves your heart in grief? Were you not to realize these truths, it would be impossible for you to weep over your sin. But you love to feel joy and pence in believing; so do I: but must you not have an object to believe in? Take away the great doctrine of the atonement, and all your faith, joy, and peace are annihilated. Much the same might be said of other gospel doctrines : instead «f being opposed to experimental religion, they are essential to its existence. Th?t some doctrinal sermons have been dry and uninteresting, is granted; but that must have been the fault of either the preacher or the hearer. If scripture doctrines were delivered in their native simplicity, and heard with a heart suitable to their importance, they could not be dry: they must be like the doctrine of Moses, which dropped as the rain upon the grass, and as the dew upon the tender herb.
There is another prejudice against the doctrines of the gospel, in the minds of many'people. They imagine them to be unfriendly to practical religion. That practical religion may be neglected through an excessive attachment to favourite opinions, is allowed: but if we imbibe and inculcate the truths of the gospel according to the lovely proportion in which they stand in the Bible, and adhere to them, not because we have once imbibed them, but because God hath revealed them ; such a reception of the truth, .and adherence to it, instead of enervating practical godliness, will he found to be the life of it. Doctrinal, experimental, and practical religion, are all necessarily connected together: they can hare no existence separate from each other. The influence of truth upon the mind is the source of all our spiritual feelings, and those feelings are the springs of every good word and action.
The above are some of the different ways in which we are liable to be wanting in our regard to the word of God; and in proportion as these prevail, it is natural to suppose we shall be wanting in spirituality and communion with God: instead of growing in grace, we shall dwindle like the unwatered plant in the drought of summer. This may be expected on two accounts. First: As an awful chastisement for our sin, in such disregard. God's word is indited by his Holy Spirit: a want of proper regard to that word must therefore be one of those evil things by which the Spirit of God is grieved; and where that is the case, it is natural to suppose he will withdraw his reviving, fructifying influences, the consequence of which will ever be, a discernible want of spirituality. I call this an awful chastisement ; and such it is, because of a spiritual kind. As the Holy Spirit is the sum of spiritual good, so his withdrawment is the completion of every spiritual evil. When David was threatened with the loss of all that was dear to him, he deprecated this more than any thing beside : Take not thy Holy Spirit from me .' Woe unto them, saith the Lord, if I depart from them. Secondly: As a natural consequence of it. God's word is that to those who meditate in it by day and by night, which the rivers of waters are to a tree planted by their side. It is that by means of which they bring forth fruit in their season. From the want of a spiritual and experimental acquaintance with God's word, proceeds a want of religious principle; and this seems to be the case of multitudes of professors in the present age. From want of religious principle, proceeds a more than ordinary liability to errors in judgment : the house that was empty, though swept and garnished, was ready for the reception of unclean spirits. From errors in judgment, proceed errors in spirit and conduct: if once the truths of God sink into disesteem, his precepts, in the spirituality of them, will not continue to be regarded. Little sins, as they are accounted, will be indulged, and. the most difficult and self-denying duties neglected. And then, if things come to this, that we give way a little, we shall soon go farther: want of universal obedience will soon lead to a universal want of obedience ; and thus if infinite mercy prevent not, we shall wax worse and worse. This is no other than the high road to apostasy, towards which it is to be feared great numbers of professors are verging, and in which great numbers are already walking! Happy should I be, if any one by these hints might be led to reflection, and recover himself out of the snare of the devil, by whom he is led captive at his will!
I have only one thought more to add. If a regard to the word of God is of such great importance to Christians, what must it be to Ministers? A defection in a private character nearly terminates in himself; but a defection in a minister may affect many thousands. If as ministers we sink into a disregard for divine truth, to say the least, we shall not preach it with that ardour which is necessary, if at all. It becomes us to tremble, and to inquire whether the defections among our people be not owing in part to the wholesome truths of God being withheld from them, or delivered in a languid and careless manner; and if so, it becomes us farther to consider, how we shall endure that cutting rebuke, My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge : because thou hast rejected knowledge, 1 will also reject thee, that thou shall be no priest to me: seeing thou hastforgotten the law of thy Gorf, / will also forget thy children!
In the last paper, it was supposed that one cause to which declensions in religion might be imputed, was, a disregard to the word of God: in this, I shall attempt to prove that another cause is, the manner in which we attend to the duty of Prayer. Prayer is the ascending of the heart to God. It is one of the ordinary means of our communion with God. A great part of the religious life consists in the exercise of it, either in public or in private, either vocal or mental. It may be supposed, that our spiritual prosperity will bear some proportion to the degree of fervour and
constancy with which this duty is attended to. AH our spiritual life is derived from Christ, as that of the branch is from the vine; and prayer is that by which we receive of his fulness, grace for grace. If this duty is either restrained before God, or performed in a careless, carnal manner, our souls must of course dwindle away, and lose their fruitfulness.
But as the persons, to whose consideration these papers are humbly recommended, are such as profess godliness, 1 shall take jt for granted that they make a point of prayer, and shall say nothing of its being omitted, but confine my remarks to the manner in which it is performed.
It is a fact, to which I suppose many can subscribe, that it is very common for us to pray to the Lord, and yet for our prayers to remain unanswered. We pray, for instance, that the kingdom of Christ may increase in the world, and yet we see but little of that kind taking place: that our sins may be forgiven, and yet sin remains upon our consciences from time to time ; and we lose it, not so much by its being blotted out by God's pardoning mercy, as worn out by our own forgetfnlness: that our graces may be lively and active, yet we remain wretchedly insensible and formal: in a word, that we may enjoy communion with God, and conformity to him; and yet the degree that we possess of either is so small, that we have reason to be greatly ashamed, and to tremble lest it should be said of us at last, Cut it down, why cumberelh it the ground?
But how is it that our prayers should be thus unanswered? Is the Lord's arm shortened, that it cannot save; or his ear heavy, that it cannot hear? Or is he slack concerning his promise of hearing and answering the prayers of his people ? None of all these; he himself hath told us the reason: Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss. If I regard iniquity in my heart, said the Psalmist, the Lord will not hear me. Let the following questions be seriously considered.
First: When we pray, do we really and earnestly desire what we pray for? It is awful to think of approaching the Searcher of hearts without meaning as we speak ; and yet it is to be feared that a spice of this solemn mockery runs through many of our pe