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ACTS XV. 9. COMPARED WITH GAL. V. 6.
Purifying their hearts by faith—faith which
worketh by love.
The church of Christ, chosen out of the world to bear his cross and to partake of his holiness, has, from the very nature of her vocation, many obstacles to surmount, and many foes to vanquish. A warfare, on the issue of which are staked her privileges, her consolations, her everlasting hope, opens an ample field for exertion, and ought to concentrate her strength and wisdom. Unhappily, however, controversies about things which do not involve her substantial interests, have at all times interrupted her peace, and marred her beauty. Weakness, prejudice, and passion found their way into the little family of the Master himself; and, even after the descent of the Spirit of truth, invaded and violated his sanctuary. Disputes concerning the Mosaic ritual had arisen among Christians to so great a height. and were conducted with so much ardor and so little love, that the power of godliness was in danger of being stifled in a contest about the form, and the Head of the church deemed it necessary to interpose his rebuke. “Whether ye are called Jews or Gentiles, whether ye observe or neglect some formulas of the typical law, are not questions which should kindle your animosities, and exhaust your vigors. A more awful subject claims your inquiries. While you are occupied in vain jangling, the winged moments are hurrying your souls to their eternal state. Are you ready to depart? Is your title to the kingdom clear? Pause, listen, examine. In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor Uncircumcision ; but a new creature ; but a faith. of the operation of God; but a faith which pro rifies the heart, and works by love."
To us, my brethren, not less than to those early professors of the cross, is the heavenly oracle addressed. We, too, have our weaknesses, our prejudices, our passions, which often embark us in foolish and frivolous litigation. We, too, have immortal souls of which the whole world cannot repay the loss, and which are bastening to the bar of God's righteousness. Come, then, let us endeavor to col
lect our wandering thoughts, to shut out the illusions of external habit, to put a negative on the importunities of sense, and try whether our religion will endure the ordeal of God's word. If our faith is genuine, it purifies tlie heart, and works by love. Precious faith, therefore, in its effects upon spiritual character ; that faith which draws the line of immutable distinction between a believer and an unbeliever, and without which no man has a right to call himself a Christian, is the subject of our present consideration. And while the treasure is in an earthern vessel, may the excellency of the power be of God!
Before we attempt to analyze the operations of faith, we must obtain correct views of its nature.
Some imagine it to be a general profession, of Christianity, and a decent compliance with its ceremonial. They accordingly compliment each other's religion, and are astonished and displeased if we demur at conceding that all are good Christians who have not ranged themselves under the banners of open infidelity.
Others, advancing a step farther, suppose that faith is an assent to the truth of the gospel founded on the investigation of its rational evidence. Without asking what proportion of
the multitudes who profess Christianity have either leisure, or means, or talents, for such an investigation, let us test this dogma by plain fact. Among those legions of accursed spirits whom God has delivered into chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment, and their miserable associates of the human race who have already perished from his presence, there is not one who doubts the truth of revelation. Men may be sceptics in this world, but they carry no scepticism with them into the bottomless pit. They have there rational evidence which it is impossible to resist; evidence, shining in the blaze of everlasting burnings, that every word of God is pure. That faith, then, by which we are saved, must be altogether different from a conviction, however rational, which is yet compatible with a state of perdition. If any incline to set light by this representation, as taking the advantage of our ignorance, and retreating into obscurity which we cannot explore, let him open his eyes on the common occurrences of life. He may see, for there is not even the shadow of concealment, he may see both these good Christians of fashion, and these good Christians of argument, without God in the world—He may see them betraying those very tempers, and pursuing those very courses, by which the Bible describes the workers of ini