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Yet sometimes religious considerations will coincide and co-ope⭑ rate with prudential in producing the same actions. But, in such cases, the test of our sincerity is very defective; and it is in no small degree difficult to determine, whether the love of God, or the love of the world, was the prevailing principle; or whether a regard to duty, or to the will and honour of our God and Redeemer, would have prompted us to the same behaviour in opposition to motives of interest. It is only in this latter part of the alternative, that we can have a clear and decided proof of our sincerity. Again, if our religion is sincere, we are as careful to preserve a good conscience, as to save appearances; and we act with the same integrity in secret, where God is the sole spectator of our purposes and actions, as when they lie open to the view and observation of the world. We will also pay an equal regard to all the prescriptions of Christ. No mistake in religion is more common than the substitution of some part for the whole of his law, and the expectation of compensating for the neglect of some disagreeable duties, by a regular attention to others more suited to our taste and inclination. There can be no plainer indication of insincerity than this. The reverse is a good symptom of the predominancy of a truly religious principle. Again, if our religion is sincere, we will resist, and not resist only, but overcome, temptations. To serve God in those instances where we are not tempted to disobey, may be a real expression of real goodness. It is nevertheless to us a very defective test of our integrity. The most decisive proof is, when we are faithful to our duty in opposition to seducements, and when we reject every solicitation which offers to corrupt us. I will only add on this head, (for the compass of a letter will not permit me to expatiate on particulars as I would wish) that where we are doubtful of the obligation or lawfulness of an action, we will always, if we are sincere, incline to that which appears most conformable to duty, which will best answer the ends of piety, and be most conducive to the interests of religion, and the honour of our Redeemer: that is, in short, we will make it our first care to ensure our integrity, and to avoid even doubtful, and suspected, as well as apparent guilt.
The other general characteristic which I had in view is: A habitually prevailing desire and tendency towards perfection. The christian system does not indeed require absolute perfection, as a term of our acceptance, or as constitutive of the truth and reality of a principle of piety. It nevertheless requires, what is properly enough called, christian perfection: that is, such reformation of the heart and life as implies a fixed disposition, predominantly in
clining us to an exact and entire conformity to every requisition of the gospel. In judging accordingly of our real character in a religious view, and in connexion herewith, of our interest in Christ, it is proper that we impartially inquire, whether it be the habitually prevailing desire of our hearts, and tendency of our efforts, to be "perfect in every good work to do his will.”
Every principle of the human mind naturally tends to perfection in its way. It is so with the principle of sin. Every sinful affection, how much soever it may conceal its nature and design, does invariably aim at entire possession of, and gratification in, its object. Much rather should it be so with affections that are good, and whose objects are supremely excellent and desirable. This tendency seems to be necessary to their very constitution. Without it, no aim or operation can be expected to be carried into its proper and requisite effect. He who, in any art or design means not to excel, may not presume that he shall ever arrive at mediocrity. So he who habitually means not an entire accommodation to the spirit and precepts of Jesus Christ, may not arrogate the appellation of a disciple, much less may he presume that he has the spirit of Christ, or any special interest in his favour.
I have mentioned this characteristic, partly on account of its obviously intimate connexion with the former, and partly because, where it prevails, it can hardly fail of presenting itself, at least in some comfortable measure, to the reflection of the most jealous inquirer. I have said, at least in some comfortable measure, for, in truth, my dear sir, let us with ever so much diligence and accuracy trace the characters of grace in our hearts and conduct, still if we are honest, we shall consider ourselves as greatly liable to deception; still we shall suspect, that through the partiality of our hearts, and the deceitfulness of sin, we may have been deceived. He only, whose knowledge is infinite, can know the deceitful heart of man. He only can penetrate, dissect, and probe it to the bottom. Independently therefore of his superior intervention, we never can, nor ever ought we, to depend on any favourable conclusions we may form of our christian cha racter and state, even after the most assiduous, critical, and, as we may think, impartial investigation. For this reason, amongst others, it is, that in the system of grace by Jesus Christ, the illuminating offices of the Holy Spirit are provided and appointed; and that, in pursuance of this appointment, we are told by the apostle, that "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God." In this passage there seems to be an allusion to judicial proceedings in civil courts, to the state and
and occurrence of things which there sometimes takes place. The court being open, the person concerned lays in his claim, produces his evidences, and pleads them. On the other side, his opponents endeavour, as much as in them lies, to invalidate his evidences, to vacate his plea, and cast him in his claim; and so plausible are their remonstrances, that he himself begins at length, in much doubt, to dread an adverse decision. But, and perhaps at this critical juncture, a person of known integrity comes forward, gives testimony directly and fully in his favour; at once stops the mouth of every gainsayer, and fills the man with joy and satisfaction. So, in the present case, the interested christian, by the power of his own conscience, is cited, as it were, before the divine tribunal: there he puts in his humble plea, that he is a child of God; and in support of it produces all the evidences with which he is furnished.. In these, however, many flaws are found. Sin, Satan, and the holy law appear all against him. And so powerful is their counterplea, that the truth of all, even his best testimonies, at length become extremely doubtful in his view; and as to the issue, the poor soul now hangs in the most awful suspense; and is on the very point, perhaps, of giving up all his former favourable suggestions as illgrounded and vain. What shall he do? shall he at once renounce all his hope? But in this there may possibly yet be a mistake; and his precipitancy may prove him ungrateful. And though he can find little or no consolation by researching the testimonies which his consciousness has heretofore produced, he will yet leave them under the eye of his judge, and refer himself to the provision of his grace held forth in the gospel for the chief of sinners. At this interesting crisis, it may be, the comforter comes in; and by a dispensation of some word of heavenly light and grace, at once bears down all objection, and overpowers the heart with the cheering conviction that his plea is good, and that he is indeed a child of God. With what emotions of gratitude, love, and joy, is he now transported! To look up to God with that affectionate, childlike disposition, which in the scriptures is expressed by "crying abba, father," and with assurance founded in the light of infallible truth, to be able to say, "My beloved is mine, and I am his:" Oh how desirable! and how, in the perception and sense of such a soul, must the world, with all its interests, enjoyments, and glories, now shrink into nothing, or even less than nothing and vanity!
From what I have written, in which I cannot well say whether I have indulged to too much latitude, or have too much confined myself, you will at least rightly understand, that though self-examNn
nation, and that frequent, into the frame of our hearts, the nature of our affections, and the principle of our actions, be a christian duty; yet that examination, however frequent, scrupulous, distinguishing, and interesting, will not avail to the comfortable discovery in view without the gracious interposition of that blessed Spirit, whose office it is to lead believers into all necessary truth. This special aid we indispensably need in all our religious exercises, and for the right performance of every duty; but more especially in the duty of self-inquisition, and the resolution of the question, whether we be in Christ or not. There are indeed children of God by regeneration and real adoption, who, in the sovereignty of God, have never been favoured with other than, I may say, glimmering light on this subject. Perhaps, say rather most probably, in this case, there has always been some error in sentiment or practice which has been too little guarded against; or there has been too little anxiety to attain to a decisive knowledge of their religious state; or, it may be, too remiss an attention to the means of religion in general. Where that knowledge has been obtained, it has generally been the result of a uniformly determined and persevering attention to spiritual things, and to the most acceptable manner of performing the several duties of a christian. And although, in this case, the discovery may not occur in that particular and overpowering way, I have in reference to the quoted passage described, it may nevertheless be gradually, in the course of the christian life and duty, dispensed, as "the light of the righteous which shineth brighter and brighter to the perfect day." To some distressed souls, however, it is imparted, and that in a very comfortable measure, in the first instance of the surrender of themselves to Jesus Christ, as their free and sufficient Saviour. So clear and impressive are their views, at the time, of his mediatory character and powers, and so constrained are they, in consequence, to give themselves up entirely to him, as to be fully conscious of the reality and sincerity of the act, and at the same time fully persuaded of his gracious acceptance of them, or of their title, on the score of the gospel covenant, to all the benefits of his redemption. Happy they, who thus, at the very commencement of the life of christian faith and piety, can say with the apostles, "We believe and are sure," are sure, not only of the truth and divinity of the gospel, but of the special love of their glorious Master! But, greatly comfortable as is this early manifestation, it is not secure from temporary diminution, or even loss. God gives his Spirit to those who humbly seek him; but not so as infallibly to prevent their quenching the light and emotions he produces. This
they too often do by presumption, by negligent attention to his gracious inspirations, by gradual remissness in the performance of duty in general, or too feeble opposition to the temptations of Satan and the world.
I have written you a very long letter; and yet I cannot conclude without a remark or two more. The first is, that whether you wish to attain to, or, when attained to, preserve, a well-grounded persuasion of your interest in Christ, your surest and only expedient is, to live at all times near to God: to be diligently and interestedly attentive to all the means of grace; particularly to be much in prayer, meditation, reading the scriptures, and selfexamination; to attend to all these duties in a spiritual manner, with the spirit, earnestly seeking his necessary aid and influence in all; and at all times to be watchful and guarded against every seducement and every known crime, whether secret or more ostensible, whether against your fellow-men, or more immediately against your God. The second is; that however desirable the persuasion of your special interest in Christ may be, it is neither essential to the being of true religion in your heart, nor is it of the greatest consequence to your eternal well-being. It is certainly of more importance to be really religious, than to know that we are so. If in the grace and wisdom of God it shall appear, on the whole, to be needful to your spiritual interest, and growth in grace, to your greater usefulness here, or felicity hereafter, I doubt not, that, in due season, it will be imparted unto you; but this, remember, may be expected, only in answer to your sincere, fervent, and believing prayers.
That it may please God to bless you more and more with the light of his reconciled countenance; and to make you a blessing in your day and generation, is the daily prayer of your affectionate and much comforted father.
A Sermon preached before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church in the United States of America, by appointment of their Standing Committee of Missions, May 19, 1806. Published at their request. By Eliphalet Nott, D. D. President of Union College in the state of New-York.
THIS is the fourth missionary sermon preached before the General Assembly. Viewed as a whole, it deserves very high encomiums. The author begins with an animated introduction taken