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est and best. “I sin,” says Bishop Beveridge ; " I repent of my sins, and sin in my repentance. I pray for forgiveness, and sin in my prayers. I resolve against my future sin, and sin in forming my resolutions. So that I may say, My whole life is almost å continued course of sin.” This is the language of one of the best men that ever lived. A still better man has said, The good, that I would, that I do not ; but the evil, that I would not, that I do.
; I find, then, a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. After the inward man, I delight in the law of God. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members. O wretched man, that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
Now, the whole life, not of such men as these, but of men, who though generally of a similar character, are greatly inferior to these in religious excellence, is almost always the real object of a Christian's examination. This, also, is to be continually examined: the worst, and the best, parts alike. But it is plain, that the comfortable evidence of our piety, furnished by the prevalence of holiness in the best seasons, will be always impaired by contrary evidence, in periods of declension ; will sometimes be rendered obscure, and at others overbalanced. It is further evident, that, as our whole judgment will, and ought to be, usually made
up, partly of the evidence furnished by our present state, and partly of our past judgments, and the evidence on which they were founded; evidence, contradicting, impairing, and obscuring each other: a degree of confusion, and uncertainty, in the views of the mind concerning its religious character, will almost necessarily result, in many instances, from this complicated and perplexed state of things.
6thly. No small difficulties are often thrown in our way by the Backslidings of Others.
Many persons, who are really Christians, decline, at times, from holiness of life so greatly, and so long, as to excite not only the sneers and contempt, but the just censures also, of those who are not Christians; and the extreme regret, and the Christian discipline, of those who are. Other men, in cases of this nature, frequently question, or deny, the very existence of Religion. Christians do not, indeed, go this unwarrantable length; but they cannot avoid recollecting, that, frequently, the persons, who have thus declined, were, in their view, better than themselves; and feeling the hopes, which they have entertained of their own piety, greatly lessened. They are compelled to doubt of the religion of these men; and almost irresistibly question the reality of their own.
There are other persons, who strongly believe themselves to be religious; and who, at the same time, live in such a manner, as to persuade others, that they are eminent Christians; who afterwards Vol. III.
prove by their conduct, that they are not Christians. Judas, Hymenæus, Philetus, and others, were of this character; and multitudes more, in every succeeding age. When these persons fall; all the evidence, which convinced either themselves, or others, of their piety, is plainly proved to be unsolid; and we are naturally led to ask whether the evidence, on which we have relied, as the foundation of our own hope, be not the very same; or, if it is known to be different, whether we have reason to think it at all better. In this way, we naturally come to suspect the grounds, on which the belief of our piety has rested; and to doubt whether we are not equally deceived with them.
7thly. I am of opinion, that God, for wise and good reasons, administers his Spiritual Providence in such a manner, as to leave his children destitute of the Faith of Assurance, for their own Good.
This opinion, I am well aware, will most probably be doubted; although I entertain not a doubt of it, myself. It is proper therefore, that I should mention some reasons, which induce me to adopt it.
First. It is perfectly plain, that the evidence, enjoyed by Christians concerning their piety, is in no regular manner, or degree, proportioned to their real excellence of character. The proof of this position is complete, both from our own observation, and from the history of experimental and practical religion, given us in the lives of great multitudes of eminently good men. Such men, after having enjoyed, for a long time, the most consoling evidence of their good estate, have, through periods also long, been distressed with doubts and darkness, and sometimes with deep despondence; and have nevertheless afterwards obtained the same consolations throughout their remaining lives. To such seasons the Psalmist plainly alludes in many declarations, descriptions, and prayers. These are the seasons, in which he speaks of God as hiding his face from him ; and of himself, as disquieted, troubled, sorrowful, mourning; as almost gone ; as having his feet in the miry pit; and as overwhelmed by the billows of affliction.Such seasons are, also, familiarly spoken of by Christians, as times of darkness and sorrow, in which the light of God's countenance is hidden from them.
Secondly. There is not, I believe, a single promise in the Gospel, to Christians, as such, of the Faith of Assurance; nor any direct intimation, that they shall possess evidence of their piety, proportioned to the degree, in which it exists. All the promises of this nature seem to be indefinite; and to indicate, that Christians shall enjoy some evidence of this nature, rather than to point out the degree, in which it shall be enjoyed. The Spirit testifies with their spi
, rits, in a degree and manner accordant with his pleasure, that they are children of God. It is indeed said, that if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God. But the word know, in this case, plainly means no other, than that he shall
have a strong and satisfying persuasion: for it cannot be said, that knowledge, in the proper sense, is ever attainable with regard to this subject. And this strong persuasion, that the Bible is the word of God, may exist without any satisfactory evidence that we are his children.
Thirdly. There seems to be a plain and important reason, why most Christians should be left in some degree of uncertainty, concerning this subject. In all the earlier ages of their piety, and in all other cases in which it is not eminently vigorous, they would be prone, if they possessed high consolatory evidence, especially if they possessed full assurance, of their renovation, imperfect as they then always are, to be at ease; to settle quietly down in that imperfect state; and in this manner to come far short of those religious attainments, which, now, they actually make; and perhaps finally to fall away. As the case now is, their fears serve to quicken them no less than their hopes: and by the influence of both they continue to advance in holiness to the end of life.
Fourthly. The fact is, unquestionably, as I have stated it; and it cannot be rationally denied to be a part of the Spiritual Providence of God.
REMARKS. ist. From these observations we learn the necessity of performing daily, and carefully, the duty of Self-examination.
If such difficulties attend this duty; we are bound to exercise proportionally greater care, and exactness, in performing it.
2dly. We are taught to rest our hopes on the general tenour of our dispositions and conduct, and not on particular views, affections, or actions. These may be counterfeited; but to counterfeit the whole tenour of a life, seems impossible.
3dly. We perceive the necessity of inquiring, particularly, whether we increase in holiness. Evangelical holiness increases by its own nature, though irregularly. False religious affections by their nature decline at no very late periods.
4thly. We learn the necessity of searching the Scriptures, continually, for that evidence, which alone is genuine, and on which alone we can safely rest. In the Scriptures only, is this Evidence to be found.
5thly. How conspicuous are the Wisdom and Goodness of God in causing the backslidings, and other defects of good men, to be recorded, for the instruction and consolation of Christians in all succeeding ages. These evils, and the distresses and doubts which they occasion, attended them. Still they were truly pious. They may attend us therefore ; while we may, nevertheless, be also subjects of piety.
6thly. The same wisdom and goodness are still more conspicuous in the manner, in which the Psalms are written. The Psalms are, chiefly, an account of the experimental religion of inspired men.
In this account, we find that many of them, particularly David, the principal writer, experienced all the doubts, difficulties, and sorrows, which are now suffered by good men. It is highly probable, that vast numbers of Christians have by these two means been preserved from final despondence.
7thly. The subject, in its nature, furnishes strong, though indirect Consolation to Christians. When they find doubts, and consequent distress, concerning their religious character, multiplied; they here see, that they may be thus multiplied, in perfect consistency with the fact, that they themselves are Christians; and are thus prevented from sinking into despair.
8thly. We here learn the absolute necessity of betaking ourselves to God, in daily prayer, for his unerring guidance in this difficult path of duty. If so many embarrassments attend this important employment; the assistance of the divine Spirit is plainly indis
; pensable to our safety, and success. If this assistance be faithfully sought; we know, that it will be certainly granted.
9thly. We here discern the goodness, manifested in that indispensable and glorious promise; I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. For creatures, struggling with so many difficulties to be left at all, would be inconceivably dangerous : to be forsaken would be fatal. But the divine presence, in the midst of all these, and even much greater dangers, furnishes complete and final safety to every Child of God.
In the whole preceding series of discourses, I have examined with attention the principal Doctrines, contained in the Scriptures. Particularly, I have exhibited the Existence and Perfections of God, and his works of Creation and Providence ; the Character and Circumstances of Man, both before and after his apostacy; and the Impossibility of his justification by his personal obedience. I have considered, at length, the Character and Mediation of Christ, and the Nature of Evangelical Justification through his righteousness; the Character and Agency of the Holy Ghost; the Necessity and Nature of Regeneration ; it3 Antecedents, Attendants, Consequents, and Evidences. All these, united, constitute the body of those peculiarly important Truths, to which the Scriptures have required us to render our religious Faith.
The second great division of subjects, in such a system, is formed of the Scriptural Precepts, requiring of us those internal, and external, acts, commonly termed the Duty, or Duties, of mankind. We are not, however, to suppose, that Faith in the doctrines of the Scriptures is not itself a prime duty of man. The contrary has, I trust, been amply proved. Nor are we to suppose that any one of these doctrines has not, naturally, an important, practical influence on mankind. The contrary to this, also, has, it is presumed, been extensively shown. Finally, we are not to suppose, that Faith in Christ, and Repentance towards God, are duties of fallen beings, less real, less necessary, less essential, or less acceptable, than any other duties whatever. The conformity of the understanding and the heart to every doctrine of the Scriptures is, by the authority of God, made equally a duty with obedience to every precept. All that can with propriety be said of this nature is, that those, which are customarily called the doctrines of the Scriptures, are usually presented to us rather in the form of Truths which we are to believe, than of Commands which we are to obey; and that the precepts are commonly given to us in their own proper form, requiring our obedience directly.
At the same time, it is to be observed, that a conformity of our hearts, and lives, to the doctrines of the Gospel, is often expressly enjoined by the Scriptures. To repent of our sins, and to believe in Christ, are the immediate objects of the great precepts of the Gospel. It is further to be observed, that every Precept becomes,