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DUTY AND IMPORTANCE OF KNOWING OUR RELIGIOUS CHARACTER.
Introductory observations,-ignorance of their spiritual state common among professing Christians,-neglect of self-examination one of the great causes of this,-this duty enforced, 1. God has commanded it.-2. God has furnished means suited to its performance.-3. God has promised the assistance of his Spirit.-4. Ignorance of our state therefore dishonouring and offensive to God.-5. All other knowledge of little importance compared with this.-6. Of vast importance to those who are not genuine Christians.7. Necessary to the peace and comfort of true believers.-8. Without it none can aright improve the means of grace.-9. The longer this duty is delayed it becomes the more difficult.-10. Opportunities for it will soon be at an end.-11. We must soon be tried and judged by God.
If it be true that we are creatures destined for eternal happiness or misery, and that after the lapse of a short and very uncertain period, we must enter on one or other of these states; it must be of vast importance to know which of them, we have just cause to conclude, shall be our lot. To be ignorant of this, notwithstanding that God has furnished us with the means of ascertaining it, and plainly enjoined it as our duty, is not only foolish and impious, but utterly incompatible with all present rational happiness; and to be living under mistaken notions respecting it, is eminently dangerous, and may prove fatal to our
What true enjoyment can we
experience, while we are uncertain whether heaven or hell shall be our portion; and whether every hour which arrives may not be that which shall terminate our connection with this world, hurry us into the presence of our omniscient and almighty Judge, and fix our doom beyond the possibility of change? And, should we, like too many, be deceiving ourselves respecting our character and prospects, fondly dreaming that all is well, till this great and final change discover to us our error, our ruin must be awful and irretrievable.
Did the present life comprehend the whole of our existence, the case would be widely altered. Then we might securely adopt the creed of the sensualist, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” But of the truth of this gloomy anticipation, it is impossible that any man can obtain assurance; whilst the doctrine of a future state is established on the best evidence which can be given. We know on the highest authority that we are not sent into this world, and furnished with so many advantages for religious improvement, simply that we may gratify our appetites,-alternately labour and take repose,-flutter amid the gay scenes of fashionable amusement, or toil in daily drudgery; and, after a few years thus spent, sink into everlasting forgetfulness. The design of our being is infinitely more worthy the wisdom of our Creator, and intended to serve infinitely nobler purposes. We are sent into this world for that which is beyond the grave; and
we are assured that our time of preparation for it, is bounded by this mortal state.
Nothing, therefore, can be of equal magnitude and importance to us with the business of our salvation, -the securing of our personal interest in the Lord Jesus Christ; and nothing can be equally conducive to our present happiness, as to know, on good evidence, that we are the regenerated children of God, and that we are growing in meetness for the kingdom of glory. Compared with a title to eternal life every thing else is trivial and insignificant. The most deeply interesting concerns of this world, are but as the drop of the bucket compared with the waters of the ocean, or the small dust of the balance compared with the ponderous mountains. As eternity infinitely outmeasures time, so a title to everlasting life infinitely transcends all earthly pursuits and acquisitions. "What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?" And compared with the knowledge that we ourselves are among the saved of the Lord, all other knowledge is little worth. They who have reached this attainment, though untutored in the learning of this world, and unpossessed of its riches, honours, and pleasures, enjoy a source of the richest consolation, -consolation which animates the heart amid the most trying calamities of life, and in the solemn hour of death. Whereas those who are destitute of this, though deeply skilled in literature and science, and highly exalted in rank and wealth, are exposed to
bear the evils of this mortal state without inward support, and to meet dissolution in its most heartappalling and terrific form.
Ready as professing Christians are to admit all this in speculation, too many of them treat it practically with neglect. They neither attend to the salvation of their souls, as the principal business of life; nor do they know the ground on which they stand, in the prospect of death and eternity. It is a painful truth, that few of them comparatively,-very few indeed, possess a clear and scriptural knowledge of their spiritual state and character before God. When closely interrogated respecting the foundation of their hopes for eternity, and their claims to genuine godliness, by far the greater proportion are unable to specify any thing which is distinctive and satisfactory. Common as it is to hear them affirm, that they are not without some hopes that they are real Christians; yet when urged to mention what these hopes are, and on what ground they are built, multitudes of them can fix on nothing,—or at least nothing which is scriptural and decisive. Their hopes, as they call them, are rather the fond longings of a natural desire of immortal felicity, than the result of any thing like evidence that they are really the children of God. Strictly speaking, they are rather wishes than hopes, though thus commonly named,vague wishes of everlasting happiness, without any foundation to expect its attainment, except it be their Christian profession, and a few formal religious ob
Every professing Christian knows, or ought to know, that all who assume the name of disciples of Christ, and observe the outward forms of duty, are not genuine saints. Many have a name to live, who are spiritually dead. Many have the form of godliness, who are destitute of its spirit and power. Christ himself affirms, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven;" and tells us that to many such he will say in the great day of judgment, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” * These hopes, therefore, which are built simply on the assumption of the Christian name, and the external observance of a few forms of worship, are so obviously and utterly fallacious, that they ought not for a moment to be a ground of confidence to any man who can read his Bible. And yet this constitutes the amount of the religion of multitudes, who flatter themselves with hopes of heaven.
There are others who approximate much nearer to the Christian character, but who are equally destitute of vital godliness. In addition to their religious profession, and a becoming attention to the external duties of morality and piety, they conceive that they have some experience of the internal workings of holiness. They specify their painful convictions, their sorrow for sin, their love to the people of God, their love to Christ, their delight in his ordinances, &c.; and consequently believe that they are not far from the kingdom of God. And yet, after careful
Mat. vii. 21, 23.