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and heart is there declared to be such as He requires in order to admission to his favour, then it is of the last importance, that we should comply with this condition. There is no object on earth to be compared in value for a moment with this 6 pearl of great price.”
But though this statement of the importance of the christian character will hardly be objected to in theory, it is not always practically felt, as it ought to be, by those who take the name of christians, and enter on the obligations of a religious life. There are many who content themselves with very slight and superficial notions on this subject. They are christians, because they have a general belief that christianity is of divine origin, and a prevailing impression that it is creditable, desirable, and safe, to be numbered among believers. While therefore the gospel interferes not much with their favourite pursuits, they continue sufficiently steady in its outward profession. But they feel very imperfectly its controlling and sanctifying power. It occupies only a subordinate place in their thoughts. Their hearts' best and warmest affections are given to other objects. Instead of seeking first and chiefly the kingdom of God and his righteousness, they desire to be first rich, then holy; first learned, then good; first great and elevated, then
en pure ar
and devout; they would first exhaust the world, and then they will be ready to turn their affections supremely on heaven. With so divided an empire, or ra
ther with so subordinate a rule in the breast, it is evident that what influence religion possesses must always be insecure. When it comes in competition with the riches, pleasure, or power, which they pursue as the first and chief ends of life, it is found unequal to the contest. If one or the other must be given up, it is their character and hopes as christians, which they feel they can best sparé. If we look over the melancholy list of
. those, who have sacrificed the religion which they once embraced, we shall find that their apostacy is to be traced, more than to any other cause, to a want of a profound and practical conviction of its supreme importance.
II. Another cause of infirm and transient religious resolutions, is an imperfect knowledge of the nature of the Christian character. We do not study the requirements of the gospel in their full extent; the labour and vigilance which its duties require ; the difficulties and discouragements which it may
call us to encounter. It too often happens that the Christian profession is entered on without counting its cost, without weighing its consequences. The fabric that is raised is tottering and insecure, because the foundation on which it stands is not laid broad and deep. I speak of the case of those who begin a religious course under some temporary excitement, and not from a full and solemn and well-meditated conviction. The truth, beauty, and value of religion, have sometimes, perhaps,
struck their minds with a peculiar force. They are interested in some discourse which they have heard, or some book which they have read; and some salutary compunctions, some good resolutions, enter their minds. Or it may be that affliction has made their hearts tender, and retirement has collected their thoughts and given birth to good meditations. They open their subdued and softened spirits to the gracious promises of the gospel; and they feel for the time that the vanities of life are worthless, and that God and holiness are their supreme good. They resolve to change what is wrong in their course of life. They will think habitually of their destination. They will devote themselves to the gospel, and adorn the profession of their faith. Alas, that so fair a prospect should ever be clouded. Sad indeed if these shoots of piety so green and vigorous should ever languish and fade, and leave nothing to be seen, but the withered remains of too hasty good intentions ! But so it is; when we act only under a momentary excitement, when we have only indistinct and unsatisfactory notions of religion, when there has been no faithful examination of the nature and extent of its duties, our christian resolutions must always be insecure. We may find the work of reformation harder than we thought; the denial of our appetites, the control of our passions, the discipline of our affections, the regulation of our thoughts, feelings and habits, may be found unexpectedly arduous; and our resolutions if taken without any foresight of these difficulties, may falter and give way. They, who had expected to find no obstacles in their path, are checked and shaken by the first impediments. The first flame of persecution scorches them; indifference chills them; ridicule abashes, temptation seduces them and the sacrifices which conscience calls on them to make, they find to be greater than they can afford.
III. A third cause of infirmity of christian purpose, is a want of a proper knowledge of ourselves. We may have thought of the importance, and may be acquainted with the duties of the christian profession, without having sufficiently considered our own preparation for them. We set out in the christian race with too much confidence; with an over-estimate of our strength. We have not thought of the deceitfulness of our hearts, the extent of our corruptions, the power of our passions and lusts, the number and strength of our tendencies to sin, and our need of perpetual humility and vigilance. This is a danger to which the young are peculiarly exposed. They may engage in a religious course with this false opinion of their own strength, and set out with alacrity and zeal, and for a while press forward with vigour and success. But as they advance with little caution and self examination, they find that the germs
of passion, concealed in their minds, are quickened in
to life and strength. They find the allurements of guilty pleasure more powerful than they dreamed they could be. Fashion makes them her slave. Dissipation swallows up their affections. Their sense of religion is insensibly diminished; its duties
grow irksome and distasteful ; they become lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. Or if they escape the dangers of youthful lusts, they may be overpowered by the “ masterless passions” of riper years. The cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, the fondness for show, and the passion for honour, all spring up in the mind to choke the word, and render it fruitless. They are not armed against these dangers, because they had presumptuously believed that they were proof against their power. Their resolution melts, when
. they discover the hardness which a good soldier of Christ is called to endure, in his conflict with his internal foes. Their diligence gradually relaxes. They fall away—and religion weeps over her weak and degenerate children, while sin, with smiles of triumph, spreads out her hundred arms, to embrace again the returning slaves of her tyranny.
IV. Another, and the last cause of infirm and transient resolutions which I shall at present mention, is the false security into which
christians are apt to fall. The folly of desisting too soon from successful labours, and the haste of enjoying advantages before they are secured, are as often fatal in religion as they are in the common pursuits of life.