rss

CMF eZine


The online magazine of the Christian Military Fellowship.

Specify Alternate Text

A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 3 Bookmark

Chapter III

Chief Defects of the Religious system of the Bulk of Professed Christians, in what Regards our lord jesus christ, and the Holy Spirit—With a Dissertation, concerning the use of the Passions in Religion

sect. i

Inadequate Conceptions concerning our Savior and the Holy Spirit

Leading Doctrines concerning Christ and the Holy Spirit, as stated in Scripture

THAT “God so loved the world, as of his tender mercy to give his only Son Jesus Christ for our redemption:”

That our blessed Lord willingly left the glory of the Father, and was made man:

That “he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:”

That “he was wounded for our transgressions; that he was wounded for our iniquities:”

That “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all:”

That at length “he humbled himself even to the death of the Cross, for us miserable sinners; to the end that all who with hearty repentance and true faith should come to him, might not perish, but have everlasting life:”

That he “is now at the right hand of God, making intercession” for his people:

That “being reconciled to God by the death of his Son, we may come boldly unto the throne of grace, to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need:”

That our heavenly Father “will surely give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him:”

That “the Spirit of God must dwell in us;” and that “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his:”

That by this divine influence “we are to be renewed in knowledge after the image of him who created us,” and “to be filled with the fruits of righteousness, to the praise of the glory of his grace;”—that “being thus made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light,” we shall sleep in the Lord; and that when the last trumpet shall sound, this corruption shall put on incorruption—and that being at length perfected after his likeness, we shall be admitted into his heavenly kingdom.

These are the leading doctrines concerning our Savior, and the Holy Spirit, which are taught in the Holy Scriptures, and held by the Church of England. The truth of them, agreeably to our general plan, will be taken for granted. Few of those, who have been used to join in the established form of worship, can have been, it is hoped, so inattentive, as to be ignorant of these grand truths, which are to be found everywhere dispersed throughout our excellent Liturgy. Would to God it could be presumed, with equal confidence, that all who assent to them in terms, discern in the understanding their force and excellency, and feel their power in the affections, and their transforming influence in the heart. What lively emotions are they calculated to excite in us, of deep self-abasement, and abhorrence of our sins; together with humble hope, and firm faith, and heavenly joy, and ardent love, and active unceasing gratitude!

Popular Notions

But here, it is to be feared, will be found a grand defect in the religion of the bulk of professed Christians; a defect like the palsy at the heart, which, while in its first attack, it changes but little the exterior appearance of the body, extinguishes the internal principle of heat and motion, and soon extends its benumbing influence to the remotest fibers of the frame. This defect is closely connected with that which was the chief subject of the last chapter: “they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Had we duly felt the burthen of our sins, accompanied with a deep conviction that the weight of them must finally sink us into perdition, our hearts would have danced at the sound of the gracious invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”* But in those who have scarcely felt their sins as any encumbrance, it would be mere affectation to pretend to very exalted conceptions of the value and acceptableness of the proffered deliverance. This pretense accordingly, is seldom now kept up; and the most superficial observer, comparing the sentiments and views of the bulk of the Christian world, with the articles still retained in their creed, and with the strong language of Scripture, must be struck with the amazing disproportion.

To pass over the throng from whose minds Religion is altogether excluded by the business or the vanities of life, how is it with the more decent and moral? To what criterion shall we appeal? Are their hearts really filled with these things, and warmed by the love which they are adapted to inspire? Then surely their minds are apt to stray to them almost unseasonably; or at least to hasten back to them with eagerness, when escaped from the estrangement imposed by the necessary cares and business of life. He was a masterly describer of human nature, who thus portrayed the characters of an undissembled affection;

“Unstaid and fickle in all other things,

Save in the constant image of the object,

That is beloved.”       Shakspeare

“And how,” it may be perhaps replied, “do you know, but that the minds of these people are thus occupied? Can you look into the bosoms of men?” Let us appeal to a test to which we resorted in a former instance. “Out of the abundance of the heart,” it has been pronounced, “the mouth speaketh.” Take these persons then in some well selected hour, and lead the conversation to the subject of Religion. The utmost which can be effected is, to bring them to talk of things in the gross. They appear lost in generalities; there is nothing precise and determinate, nothing which implies a mind used to the contemplation of its object. In vain you strive to bring them to speak on that topic, which one might expect to be ever uppermost in the hearts of redeemed sinners. They elude all your endeavors; and if you make mention of it yourself, it is received with no very cordial welcome at least, if not with unequivocal disgust; it is at the best a forced and formal discussion. The excellence of our Savior’s moral precepts, the kindness and simplicity, the self-denial and unblemished purity of his life, his patience and meekness in the hour of death, cannot indeed be spoken of but with admiration, when spoken of at all, as they have often extorted unwilling praise from the most willing and malignant infidels. But are not these mentioned as qualities in the abstract, rather than as the perfections and lineaments of our patron and benefactor and friend, “who loved us, and gave himself for us;” of Him “who died for our offences, and rose again for our justification;” “who is even now at the right hand of God, making intercession for us?” Who would think that the kindness and humanity, and self-denial, and patience in suffering, which we so drily commend, had been exerted towards ourselves, in acts of more than finite benevolence, of which we were to derive the benefit; in condescensions and labors submitted to for our sakes; in pain and ignominy endured for our deliverance?

But these grand truths are not suffered to vanish altogether from our remembrance. Thanks to the compilers of our Liturgy, more than to too many of the occupiers of our pulpits, they are forced upon our notice in their just bearings and connections, as often as we attend the Service of the church. Yet is it too much to affirm, that, though there entertained with decorum, as what belong to the day and place, and occupation, they are yet too generally heard of with little interest; like the legendary tales of some venerable historian, or like other transactions of great antiquity, if not of doubtful credit; which, though important to our ancestors, relate to times and circumstances so different from our own, that we cannot be expected to take any great concern in them? We hear them therefore with apparent indifference; we repeat them almost as it were by rote, assuming by turns the language of the deepest humiliation and of the warmest thankfulness, with a calm unaltered composure; and when the service of the day is ended, they are dismissed altogether from our thoughts, till on the return of another Sunday, a fresh attendance on public worship gives occasion for the renewed expressions of our periodical humility and gratitude. In noticing such lukewarmness as this, surely the writer were to be pardoned, if he were to be betrayed into some warmth of condemnation. The Unitarian and Socinian indeed, who deny, or explain away the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel, may be allowed to feel these grand truths, and to talk of them with little emotion. But in those who profess a sincere belief in them, this coldness is insupportable. The greatest possible services of man to man must appear contemptible, when compared with “the unspeakable mercies of Christ:” mercies so dearly bought, so freely bestowed—a deliverance from eternal misery—the gift of a “crown of glory that fadeth not away.” Yet, what judgment should we form of such conduct, as is here censured, in the case of any one, who had received some signal services from a fellow creature? True love is an ardent and an active principle; a cold, a dormant, a phlegmatic gratitude, are contradictions in terms. When these generous affections really exist in us in vigor, are we not ever fond of dwelling on the value, and enumerating the merits, of our benefactor? How are we moved when any thing is asserted to his disparagement! How do we delight to tell of his kindness! With what pious care do we preserve any memorial of him, which we may happen to possess! How gladly do we seize any opportunity of rendering to him, or to those who are dear to him, any little good offices, which though in themselves of small intrinsic worth, may testify the sincerity of our thankfulness! The very mention of his name will cheer the heart, and light up the countenance!—And if he be now no more, and if he had made it his dying request, that, in a way of his own appointment, we would occasionally meet to keep the memory of his person, and of his services, in lively exercise; how should we resent the idea of failing in the performance of so sacred an obligation!

Such are the genuine characters, such the natural workings, of a lively gratitude. And can we believe, without doing violence to the most established principles of human nature, that where the effects are so different, the internal principle is in truth the same?

If the love of Christ be thus languid in the bulk of nominal Christians, their joy and trust in him cannot be expected to be very vigorous. Here again we find reason to remark, that there is nothing distinct, nothing specific, nothing which implies a mind acquainted with the nature of the Christian’s privileges, and familiarized with their use; habitually Solacing itself with the hopes held out by the Gospel, and animated by the sense of its high endowments, and its glorious reversion.

Holy Spirit’s Operations

The doctrine of the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit, appears to have met with still worse treatment. It would be to convey a very inadequate idea of the scantiness of the conceptions on this head, of the bulk of the Christian world, to affirm merely, that they are too little conscious of the inefficacy of their own unassisted endeavors after holiness of heart and life, and that they are not daily employed in humbly and diligently using the appointed means for the reception and cultivation of the divine assistance. We should hardly go beyond the truth in asserting, that for the most part their notions on this subject are so confused and faint, that they can scarcely be said in any fair sense to believe the doctrine at all.

Language of one who abjects against the religious affections towards our Savior

The writer of these sheets is by no means unapprised of the objections which he may expect from those whose opinions he has been so freely condemning. He is prepared to hear it urged, “that often, where there have been the strongest pretenses to the religious affections, there has been little or nothing of the reality of them; and that, even omitting the instances, which however have been but too frequent, of studied hypocrisy, those affections which have assumed to themselves the name of religious, have been merely the flights of a lively imagination, or the working of a heated brain; in particular, that this love of our Savior, which has been so warmly recommended, is no better than a vain fervor, which dwells only in the disordered mind of the enthusiast: that Religion is of a more steady nature; of a more sober and manly quality; and that she rejects with scorn, the support of a mere feeling, so volatile and indeterminate, so trivial and useless, as that with which we would associate her; a feeling varying in different men, and even in the same man at different times, according to the accidental flow of the animal spirits; a feeling, of which it may perhaps be said, we are from our very nature, hardly susceptible towards an invisible Being.”

And against the Operations of the Holy Spirit

“As to the Operations of the Holy Spirit,” it may probably be further urged, “it is perhaps scarcely worthwhile to spend much time in inquiring into the theory, when, in practice at least, it is manifest, that there is no sure criterion whereby any one can ascertain the reality of them, even in his own case, much less in that of another. All we know is, that pretenders to these extraordinary assistances, have never been wanting to abuse the credulity of the vulgar, and to try the patience of the wise. From the canting hypocrites and wild fanatics of the last century, to their less dangerous, chiefly because less successful, descendants of the present day, we hear the same unwarranted claims, the same idle tales, the same low cant; and we may discern not seldom the same mean artifices and mercenary ends. The doctrine, to say the best of it, can only serve to favor the indolence of man; while professing to furnish him with a compendious method of becoming wise and good, it supersedes the necessity of his own personal labors. Quitting therefore all such slothful and chimerical speculations, it is true wisdom to attach ourselves to what is more solid and practical; to the work, which you will not deny to be sufficiently difficult to find us of itself full employment, the work of rectifying the disorders of the passions, and of implanting and cultivating the virtues of the moral character.”—“It is the service of the understanding which God requires of us, which you would degrade into a mere matter of bodily temperament, and imaginary impulses. You are contending for that, which, not only is altogether unworthy of our Divine Master, but which, with considerate men, has ever brought his religion into suspicion and disrepute, and, under a show of honoring him, serves only to injure and discredit his cause.” Our Objector, warming as he proceeds, will perhaps assume a more impatient tone. “Have not these doctrines,” he may exclaim, “been ever perverted to purposes the most disgraceful to the Religion of Jesus? If you want an instance, look to the standard of the Inquisition, and behold the pious Dominicans torturing their miserable victims for the love of Christ.* Or would you rather see the effects of your principles on a larger scale, and by wholesale, if the phrase may be pardoned; cast your eyes across the Atlantic, and let your zeal be edified by the holy activity of Cortez and Pizarro, and their apostles of the western hemisphere. To what else have been owing the extensive ravages of national persecutions, and religious wars and crusades; whereby rapacity, and pride, and cruelty sheltering themselves under the mask of this specious principle, have so often afflicted the world? The Prince of Peace has been made to assume the port of a ferocious conqueror, and, forgetting the message of good-will to men, has issued forth, like a second Scourge of the Earth, to plague and desolate the human species.”

Reply to the above Allegations

That the sacred name of Religion has been too often prostituted to the most detestable purposes; that furious bigots and bloody persecutors, and self-interested hypocrites of all qualities and dimensions, from the rapacious leader of an army to the canting oracle of a congregation, have falsely called themselves Christians, are melancholy and humiliating truths, which (as none so deeply lament them) none will more readily admit than they, who best understand the nature of Christianity, and are most concerned for her honor. We are ready to acknowledge also without dispute, that the religious affections, and the doctrine of divine assistance, have at all times been more or less disgraced by the false pretenses and extravagant conduct of wild fanatics and brain-sick enthusiasts. All this, however, is only as it happens in other instances, wherein the depravity of man perverts the bounty of God. Why is it here only to be made an argument that there is danger of abuse? So is there also in the case of every operative principle, whether in the natural or moral world. Take for an instance the powers and properties of matter. These were doubtless designed by Providence for our comfort and well-being; yet they are often misapplied to trifling purposes, and still more frequently turned into so many agents of misery and death. On this fact indeed is founded the well-known maxim, not more trite than just, that “the best things when corrupted become the worst;” a maxim which is peculiarly just in the instance of Religion. For in this case it is not merely, as in some others, that a great power, when mischievously applied, must be hurtful in proportion to its strength; but that the very principle, on which in general we depend for restraining and retarding the progress of evil, not only ceases to interpose any kindly check, but is powerfully active in the opposite direction. But will you therefore discard Religion altogether? It is upon this very ground, that the Infidels of a neighboring country have lately made war against Christianity; with what effects the world has not now to learn. But suppose Religion were discarded, then Liberty remains to plague the world; a power, which though, when well employed, the dispenser of light and happiness, has been often proved, eminently proved, in the instance of a neighboring country, to be capable, when abused, of becoming infinitely mischievous. Well, then, extinguish Liberty. Then what more abused by false pretenders, than Patriotism? Well, extinguish Patriotism. But then the wicked career to which we have adverted, must have been checked but for Courage. Blot out Courage—and so might you proceed to extinguish one by one, Reason, and Speech, and Memory, and all the discriminating prerogatives of man. But perhaps more than enough has been already urged in reply to an objection, which is built on ground so indefensible, as that which would equally warrant our condemning any physical or moral faculty altogether, on account of its being occasionally abused.

As to the position of our Opponent, that there is no way whereby the validity of any pretensions to the religious affections may be ascertained; it must partly be admitted. Doubtless we are not able always to read the hearts of men, and to discover their real characters; and hence it is, that we in some measure lie open to the false and hypocritical pretenses which are brought forward against us so triumphantly. But then these pretenses no more prove all similar claims to be founded in falsehood and hypocrisy, than there having been many false and interested pretenders to wisdom and honesty, would prove that there can be no such thing as a wise or an honest man. We do not argue thus but where our reason is under a corrupt bias. Why should we be so much surprised and scandalized, when these impostors are detected in the church of Christ? It is no more than our blessed Master himself taught us to expect; and when the old difficulty is stated, “Didst thou not sow good seed in thy field, whence then hath it tares?” his own answer furnishes the best solution—“an enemy hath done this.”—Hypocrisy is indeed detestable, and enthusiasm sufficiently mischievous to justify our guarding against its approaches with jealous care. Yet it may not be improper to take this occasion for observing that we are now and then apt to draw too unfavorable conclusions from unpleasant appearances, which may perhaps be chiefly or altogether owing to gross or confused conceptions, or to a disgusting formality of demeanor, or to indeterminate, low, or improperly familiar expressions. The mode and language, in which a vulgar man will express himself on the subject of Religion, will probably be vulgar, and it is difficult for people of literature and refinement not to be unreasonably shocked by such vulgarities. But we should at least endeavor to correct the rash judgments which we may be disposed to form on these occasions, and should learn to recognize and to prize a sound texture and just configuration, though disguised beneath a homely or uncouth drapery. It was an Apostle who declared that he had come to the learned and accomplished Grecians, “not with excellency of speech, or the wisdom of words.” From these he had studiously abstained, lest he should have seemed to owe his success rather to the graces of oratory, than to the efficacy of his doctrines, and to the divine power with which they were accompanied. Even in our own times, when the extraordinary operations and miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit having ceased, the necessity of study and preparation, and of attention to manner as well as matter, in order to qualify men to become teachers of religion, are no longer superseded, it is no more than an act of justice explicitly to remark, that a body of Christians, which from the peculiarly offensive grossnesses of language in use among them, had, not without reason, excited suspicions of the very worst nature, have since reclaimed their character, (b) and have perhaps excelled all mankind in solid and unequivocal proofs of the love of Christ, and of the most ardent, and active, and patient zeal in his service. It is a zeal tempered with prudence, softened with meekness, soberly aiming at great ends by the gradual operation of well-adapted means, supported by a courage which no danger can intimidate, and a quiet constancy which no hardships can exhaust.

sect. ii

On the Admission of the Passions into Religion

THE objection of our Opponent, that by insisting on the obligation of making our blessed Savior the object of our affections, we are degrading our religious services, and are substituting a set of mere feelings in place of the worship of the understanding, is an objection which deserves our most serious consideration. If it be just, it is decisive; for ours must be unquestionably “a reasonable service.”* The Objector must mean, either, that these affections are unreasonable in themselves, or that they are misplaced in Religion. He can scarcely, however, intend that the affections are in their own nature unreasonable. To suppose him to maintain this position, were to suppose him ignorant of what every school-boy knows of the mechanism of the human mind. We shall therefore take it for granted, that this cannot be his meaning, and proceed to examine the latter part of the alternative. Here also it may either be intended, that the affections are misplaced in Religion generally, or that our blessed Savior is not the proper object of them.

This notion of the affections being out of place in Religion, is indeed an opinion which appears to be generally prevalent. The affections are regarded as the strong holds of enthusiasm. It is therefore judged most expedient to act, as prudent generals are used to do, when they raze the fortress, or spike the cannon, which are likely to fall into the hands of an enemy. Mankind are apt to be the dupes of misapplied terms; and the progress of the persuasion now in question, has been considerably aided by an abuse of language not sufficiently checked in its first advances, whereby that species of Religion which is opposite to the warm and affectionate kind, has been suffered almost without disturbance, to usurp to itself the epithet of rational. But let not this claim be too hastily admitted. Let the position in question be thoroughly and impartially discussed, and it will appear, if I mistake not, to be a gross and pernicious error. If amputation be indeed indispensable, we must submit to it; but we may surely expect to be heard with patience, or rather with favor and indulgence, while we proceed to show, that there is no need to have recourse to so desperate a remedy. The discussion will necessarily draw us into length. But our prolixity will not be greater than may well be claimed by the importance of the subject, especially as it scarcely seems to have hitherto sufficiently engaged the attention of writers on the subject of Religion.

It cannot methinks but afford a considerable presumption against the doctrine which we are about to combat, that it proposes to exclude at once from the service of Religion so grand a part of the composition of man; that in this our noblest employment it condemns as worse than useless, all the most active principles of our nature. One cannot but suppose, that like the organs of the body, so the elementary qualities and original passions of the mind were all given us for valuable purposes by our all-wise Creator. It is indeed one of the sad evidences of our fallen condition, that they are now perpetually rebelling against the powers of reason and conscience, to which they should be subject. But even if Revelation had been silent, natural reason might have in some degree presumed, that it would be the effect of a Religion which should come from God, completely to repair the consequences of our superinduced depravity. The schemes of mere human wisdom had indeed tacitly confessed, that this was a task beyond their strength. Of the two most celebrated systems of philosophy, the one expressly confirmed the usurpation of the passions; while the other, despairing of being able to regulate them, saw nothing left but their extinction. The former acted like a weak government, which gives independence to a rebellious province, which it cannot reduce. The latter formed its boasted scheme merely upon the plan of that barbarous policy, which composes the troubles of a turbulent land by the extermination of its inhabitants. This is the calm, not of order, but of inaction; it is not tranquility, but the stillness of death;

Trucidare falso nomine imperium, & ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.—Tacit.

Christianity, we might hope, would not be driven to any such wretched expedients: nor in fact does she condescend to them. They only thus undervalue her strength, who mistake her character, and are ignorant of her powers. It is her peculiar glory, and her special office, to bring all the faculties of our nature into their just subordination and dependence; that so the whole man, complete in all his functions, may be restored to the true ends of his being, and be devoted, entire and harmonious, to the service and glory of God. “My son, give me thine heart”—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart:”—Such are the direct and comprehensive claims which are made on us in the holy Scriptures. We can scarcely indeed look into any part of the sacred volume without meeting abundant proofs that it is the religion of the Affections which God particularly requires. Love, Zeal, Gratitude, Joy, Hope, Trust, are each of them specified; and are not allowed to us as weaknesses, but enjoined on us as our bounden duty, and commended to us as our acceptable worship. Where passages are so numerous, there would be no end of particular citations. Let it be sufficient, therefore, to refer the reader to the word of God. There let him observe, too, that as the lively exercise of the passions towards their legitimate object is always spoken of with praise, so a cold, hard, unfeeling heart is represented as highly criminal. Lukewarmness is stated to be the object of God’s disgust and aversion; zeal and love, of his favor and delight; and the taking away of the heart of stone and the implanting of a warmer and more tender nature in its stead, are specifically promised as the effects of his returning favor, and the work of his renewing grace. It is the prayer of an inspired teacher, in behalf of those for whom he was most interested, “that their love,” already acknowledged to be great, “might abound yet more and more:”* Those modes of worship are prescribed, which are best calculated to excite the dormant affections, and to maintain them in lively exercise; and the aids of music and singing are expressly superadded to increase their effect. If we look to the most eminent of the Scripture Characters, we shall find them warm, zealous, and affectionate. When engaged in their favorite work of celebrating the goodness of their Supreme Benefactor, their souls appear to burn within them, their hearts kindle into rapture; the powers of language are inadequate to the expression of their transports; and they call on all nature to swell the chorus, and to unite with them in hallelujahs of gratitude, and joy, and praise. The man after God’s own heart most of all abounds in these glowing effusions; and his compositions appear to have been given us in order to set the tone, as it were, to all succeeding generations. Accordingly, to quote the words of a late excellent prelate, who was himself warmed with the same heavenly flame, “in the language of this divine book, the praises of the church have been offered up to the Throne of Grace from age to age.” When God was pleased to check the future Apostle of the Gentiles in his wild career, and to make him a monument of transforming grace; was the force of his affections diminished, or was it not that their direction only was changed? He brought his affections entire and unabated into the service of his blessed Master. His zeal now burned even with an increase of brightness; and no intenseness, no continuance, of sufferings could allay its ardor, or damp the fervors of his triumphant exultations. Finally—The worship and service of the glorified spirits in Heaven, is not represented to us as a cold intellectual investigation, but as the worship and service of gratitude and love. And surely it will not be disputed, that it should be even here the humble endeavor of those who are promised while on earth “to be made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,” to bring their hearts into a capacity for joining in those everlasting praises.

True Test and Measure of the religious Affections

But it may not be unadvisable for the writer here to guard against a mistaken supposition from which the mind of our Objector by no means appears exempt; that the force of the religious affections is to be chiefly estimated by the degree of mere animal fervor, by ardors and transports, and raptures, of which, from constitutional temperament, a person may be easily susceptible; or into which daily experience must convince us, that people of strong imaginations and of warm passions may work themselves without much difficulty, where their hearts are by no means truly or deeply interested. Every tolerable actor can attest the truth of this remark. These high degrees of the passions bad men may experience, good men may want. They may be affected; they may be genuine; but whether genuine or affected, they form not the true standard by which the real nature or strength of the religious affections is to be determined. To ascertain these points, we must examine whether they appear to be grounded in knowledge, to have their root in strong and just conceptions of the great and manifold excellencies of their object, or to be ignorant, unmeaning, or vague; whether they are natural and easy, or constrained and forced; wakeful, and apt to fix on their great objects, and delighting in the exercises of prayer, and praise, and religious contemplation, which may be called their proper nutriment; or voluntarily omitting suitable occasions of receiving it, looking forward to such opportunities with little expectation, looking back on them with little complacency, and being disappointed of them with little regret; we must observe whether these religious affections are merely occasional visitants, or the abiding inmates of the soul: whether they have got the mastery over the vicious passions and propensities, with which, in their origin, and nature, and tendency, they are at open variance; or whether, if the victory be not yet complete, the war is at least constant, and the breach irreconcilable: whether they moderate and regulate all the inferior appetites and desires which are culpable only in their excess, thus striving to reign in the bosom with a settled undisputed predominance: And we must examine whether, above all, they manifest themselves by prompting to the active discharge of the duties of life, the personal, the domestic, the professional, the social, and civil duties. Here the wideness of their range and the universality of their influence, will generally serve to distinguish them from those partial efforts of diligence and self-denial, to which mankind are prompted by subordinate motives. All proofs other than this deduced from conduct, are in some degree ambiguous. This, this only, whether we argue from Reason or from Scripture, is a sure, infallible criterion. From the daily incidents of conjugal and domestic life, we learn, that a heat of affection occasionally vehement, but superficial and transitory, may consist too well with a course of conduct, exhibiting incontestable proofs of neglect and unkindness. But the passion, which alone the holy Scriptures dignify with the name of Love, is a deep, not a superficial feeling; a fixed and permanent, not an occasional emotion. It proves the validity of its title, by actions corresponding with its nature, by practical endeavors to gratify the wishes, and to promote the interests, of the object of affection. “If a man love me, he will keep my sayings.” “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” This therefore is the best standard by which to try the quality, or, the quality being ascertained, to estimate the strength of the religious affections. Without suffering ourselves to derive too much complacency from transient fervors of devotion, we should carefully and frequently prove ourselves by this less doubtful test; impartially examining our daily conduct; and often comparing our actual, with our possible services; the fair amount of our exertions, with our natural or acquired means and opportunities of usefulness.

After this large explanation, the prolixity of which will, we trust, be pardoned on account of the importance of the subject, and the danger of mistakes both on the right hand and on the left, we are perfectly ready to concede to the objector, that the religious affections must be expected to be more or less lively in different men, and in the same man at different times, in proportion to natural tempers, ages, situations, and habits of life. But, to found an objection on this ground, would be as unreasonable, as it would be altogether to deny the obligation of the precepts, which command us to relieve the necessities of the indigent, because the infinitely varying circumstances of mankind must render it impossible to specify beforehand the sum which each individual ought on the whole to allot to this purpose, or to fix, in every particular instance, on any determinate measure and mode of contribution. To the one case no less than to the other, we may apply the maxim of an eminent writer, “An honest heart is the best casuist.” He who everywhere but in Religion is warm and animated, there only phlegmatic and cold, can hardly expect, especially if this coldness be not the subject of unfeigned humiliation and sorrow, that his plea on the ground of natural temper should be admitted; any more than that of a person who should urge his poverty as a justification of his not relieving the wants of the necessitous, at the very time of his lanching out into expense without restraint, on occasions in which he was really prompted by his inclinations. In both cases, “it is the willing mind which is required.” Where that is found, every “man will be judged according to what he hath, and not according to what he hath not.”*

The Affections not merely allowable in Religion, but highly necessary

After the decisive proofs already adduced from the word of God, of the unreasonableness of the objection to admitting the passions into religion, all further arguments may appear superfluous to any one who is disposed to bow to scriptural authority. Yet the point is of so much importance, and, it is to be feared, so little regarded, that it may not be amiss to continue the discussion. The best conclusions of reason will be shown to fall in with what clearly appears to be the authoritative language of revelation; and to call in the aid of the affections to the service of religion, will prove to be, not only what sober Reason may permit as in some sort allowable, but what she clearly and strongly dictates to our deliberate judgments as indispensably requisite for us, in the circumstances wherein we are placed. We have every one of us a work to accomplish, wherein our eternal interests are at stake; a work to which we are naturally indisposed. We live in a world abounding with objects which distract our attention and divert our endeavors; and a deadly enemy is ever at hand to seduce and beguile us. If we persevere indeed, success is certain; but our efforts must know no remission. There is a call on us for vigorous and continual resolution, self-denial, and activity. Now, man is not a being of mere intellect.

Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor,

is a complaint which, alas! we all of us might daily utter. The slightest solicitation of appetite is often able to draw us to act in opposition to our clearest judgment, our highest interests, and most resolute determinations. Sickness, poverty, disgrace, and even eternal misery itself, sometimes in vain solicit our notice; they are all excluded from our view, and thrust as it were beyond the sphere of vision, by some poor unsubstantial transient object, so minute and contemptible as almost to escape the notice of the eye of reason.

These observations are more strikingly confirmed in our religious concerns than in any other; because in them the interests at stake are of transcendent importance: but they hold equally in every instance, according to its measure, wherein there is a call for laborious, painful, and continued exertions, from which we are likely to be deterred by obstacles, or seduced by the solicitations of pleasure. What, then, is to be done in the case of any such arduous and necessary undertaking? The answer is obvious—You should endeavor not only to convince the understanding, but also to affect the heart; and for this end, you must secure the reinforcement of the passions. This is indeed the course which would be naturally followed by every man of common understanding, who should know that some one, for whom he was deeply interested, a child, for instance, or a brother, were about to enter on a long, difficult, perilous, and critical adventure, wherein success was to be honor and affluence; defeat was to be contempt and ruin. And still more, if the parent were convinced that his child possessed faculties which, strenuously and unremittingly exerted, would prove equal to all the exigencies of the enterprise; but knew him also to be volatile and inconstant; and had reason to doubt his resolution and his vigilance; how would the friendly monitor’s endeavor be redoubled, so to possess his pupil’s mind with the worth and dignity of the undertaking, that there should be no opening for the entrance of any inferior consideration!—“Weigh well (he would say) the value of the object for which you are about to contend, and contemplate and study its various excellencies, till your whole soul be on fire for its acquisition. Consider too, that if you fail, misery and infamy are united in the alternative which awaits you. Let not the mistaken notion of its being a safe and easy service, for a moment beguile you into the discontinuance or remission of your efforts. Be aware of your imminent danger, and at the same time know your true security. It is a service of labor and peril; but one wherein the powers which you possess, strenuously and perseveringly exerted, cannot but crown you with victory. Accustom yourself to look first to the dreadful consequences of failure; then fix your eye on the glorious prize which is before you; and when your strength begins to fail, and your spirits are well nigh exhausted, let the animating view rekindle your resolution, and call forth in renewed vigor the fainting energies of your soul.”

It was the remark of an unerring observer, “The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” And it is indisputably true, that in religion we have to argue and plead with men for principles of action, the wisdom and expediency of which are universally acknowledged in matters of worldly concern. So it is in the instance before us. The case which has been just described is an exact, but a faint representation of our condition in this life. Frail and “infirm of purpose,” we have a business to execute of supreme and indispensable necessity. Solicitations to neglect it everywhere abound: the difficulties and dangers are numerous and urgent; and the night of death cometh, how soon we know not, “when no man can work.” All this is granted. It seems to be a state of things wherein one should look out with solicitude for some powerful stimulants. Mere knowledge is confessedly too weak. The affections alone remain to supply the deficiency. They precisely meet the occasion, and suit the purposes intended. Yet when we propose to fit ourselves for our great undertaking, by calling them in to our help, we are to be told that we are acting contrary to reason. Is this reasonable, to strip us first of our armor of proof, and then to send us to the sharpest of encounters? To summon us to the severest labors, but first to rob us of the precious cordials which should brace our sinews and recruit our strength?

Let these pretended advocates for reason at length then confess their folly, and do justice to the superior wisdom as well as goodness of our heavenly Instructor, who, better understanding our true condition, and knowing our frowardness and inadvertency, has most reasonably as well as kindly pointed out and enjoined on us the use of those aids which may counteract our infirmities; who, commanding the effect, has commanded also the means whereby it may be accomplished.

Christ the just object of our warm affections

And now, if the use of the affections in religion, in general, be at length shown to be conformable to reason, it will not require many words to prove that our blessed Savior is the proper object of them. We know that love, gratitude, joy, hope, trust, have all their appropriate objects. Now it must be at once conceded, that if these appropriate objects be not exhibited, it is perfectly unreasonable to expect that the correspondent passions should be excited. If we ask for love, in the case of an object which has no excellence or desirableness; for gratitude, where no obligation has been conferred; for joy, where there is no just cause of self-congratulation; for hope, where nothing is expected; for trust, where there exists no ground of reliance; then, indeed, we must kiss the rod, and patiently submit to correction. This would be indeed Egyptian bondage, to demand the effects without the means of producing them. Is the case then so? Are we ready to adopt the language of the avowed enemies of our adorable Savior; and again to say of him “in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,” that “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him?”* Is it no obligation, that he who “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” should yet for our sakes “make himself of no reputation, and take upon him the form of a servant, and be made in the likeness of men; and humble himself, and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross?” Is it no cause of “joy, that to us is born a Savior,” by whom we may “be delivered from the power of darkness; and be made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light?”§ Can there be a “hope comparable to that of our calling”||—“which is Christ in us, the hope of glory.” Can there be a trust to be preferred to the reliance on “Christ Jesus; who is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever?”** Surely, if our Opponent be not dead to every generous emotion, he cannot look his own objection in the face, without a blush of shame and indignation.

The Affections denied to be possible towards an invisible Being

But forced at last to retreat from his favorite position, and compelled to acknowledge that the religious affections towards our blessed Savior are not unreasonable; the Objector still maintains the combat, suggesting that by the very constitution of our nature, we are not susceptible of them towards an invisible Being; with regard to whom, it is added, we are shut out from all those means of communication and intercourse, which knit and cement the union between man and man.

The above Position discussed, and answered

We mean not to deny that there is something in this objection. It might even seem to plead the authority of Scripture in its favor—“Mine eye affecteth mine heart;”* and still more—“He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love “God whom he hath not seen?” It was indeed no new remark in Horace’s days,

Segnius irritant animos demissa per aures,

Quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus.

We receive impressions more readily from visible objects, we feel them more strongly, we retain them more durably. But though it must be granted that this circumstance makes it a more difficult task to preserve the affections in question in a healthful and vigorous state; is it thereby rendered impossible? This were indeed a most precipitate conclusion; and anyone who should be disposed to admit the truth of it, might be at least induced to hesitate, when he should reflect that the argument applies equally against the possibility of the love of God, a duty of which the most cursory reader of Scripture, if he admit its divine authority, cannot but acknowledge the indispensable obligation. But we need only look back to the Scripture proofs which have been already adduced, to be convinced that the religious affections are therein inculcated on us as a matter of high and serious obligation. Hence we may be assured that the impossibility stated by our Opponent does not exist.

Let us scrutinize this matter, however, a little more minutely, and we shall be compelled to acknowledge, that the objection vanishes when we fairly and accurately investigate the circumstances of the case. With this view, let us look a little into the nature of the affections of the human mind, and endeavor to ascertain whence it is that they derive their nutriment, and are found from experience to increase in strength.

The state of man is such, that his feelings are not the obedient servants of his reason, prompt at once to follow its dictates, as to their direction and their measure. Excellence is the just object of love: good in expectancy, of hope; evil to be apprehended, of fear; the misfortunes and sufferings of our fellow-creatures, constitute the just objects of pity. Each of these passions, it might be thought, would be excited, in proportion to what our reason should inform us were the magnitude and consequent claims of its corresponding object. But this is by no means the case. Take first for a proof the instance of pity. We read of slaughtered thousands with less emotion than we hear the particulars of a shocking accident which has happened in the next street; the distresses of a novel, which at the same time we know to be fictitious, affect us more than the dry narrative of a battle. We become so much interested by these incidents of the imagination, that we cannot speedily banish them from our thoughts, nor recover the tone of our minds; and often, we scarcely bring ourselves to lay down our book at the call of real misfortune, of which perhaps we go to the relief, on a principal of duty, but with little sense of interest, or emotion of tenderness. It were easy to show that it is much the same in the case of the other affections. Whatever be the cause of this disproportion, which, as metaphysics fall not within our province, we shall not stop to examine, the fact is undeniable. There appears naturally to be a certain strangeness between the passion and its object, which familiarity and the power of habit must gradually overcome. You must contrive to bring them into close contact; they must be jointed and glued together by the particularities of little incidents. Thus in the production of heat in the physical world, the flint and the steel produce not the effect without collision; the rudest Barbarian will tell us the necessity of attrition, and the chemist of mixture. Now, an object, it is admitted, is brought into closer contact with its corresponding passion by being seen and conversed with. This we grant is one way; but does it follow that there is no other? To assert this, would be something like maintaining, in contradiction to universal experience, that objects of vision alone are capable of attracting our regard. But nothing can be more unfounded than such a supposition. It might seem too near an approach to the ludicrous to suggest as an example to the contrary, the metaphysician’s attachment to his unsubstantial speculations, or the zeal displayed in the pursuit,

Extra flammantia mœnia mundi

of abstract sciences, where there is no idea of bringing them “within the visible diurnal sphere;” to the vulgarity of practical application. The instance of novel reading proves that we may be extremely affected by what we know to be merely ideal incidents and beings. By much thinking or talking of anyone; by using our minds to dwell on his excellencies; by placing him in imaginary situations which interest and affect us; we find ourselves becoming insensibly more and more attached to him: whereas it is the surest expedient for extinguishing an attachment which already exists, to engage in such occupations or society, as may cause our casual thoughts and more fixed meditations to be diverted from the object of it. Ask a mother who has been long separated from her child, especially if he has been in circumstances of honor, or of danger, to draw her attention to him, and to keep it in wakefulness and exercise, and she will tell you, that so far from becoming less dear, he appears to have grown more the object of her affections. She seems to herself to love him even better than the child who has been living under her roof, and has been daily in her view. How does she rejoice in his good fortune, and weep over his distresses! With what impatience does she anticipate the time of his return!

We find therefore that sight and personal intercourse do not seem necessary to the production or increase of attachment, where the means of close contact have been afforded; but on the other hand, if an object has been prevented from coming into close contact, sight and personal intercourse are not sufficient to give it the power of exciting the affections in proportion to its real magnitude. Suppose the case of a person whom we have often seen, and may have occasionally conversed with, and of whom we have been told in the general, that he possesses extraordinary merits. We assent to the assertion. But if we have no knowledge of particulars, no close acquaintance with him, nothing in short which brings his merits home to us, they interest us less than a far inferior degree of the very same qualities in one of our common associates. A parent has several children, all constantly under his eye, and equally dear to him. Yet if any one of them be taken ill, it is brought into so much closer contact than before, that it seems to absorb and engross the parent’s whole affection. Thus then, though it will not be denied that an object by being visible may thereby excite its corresponding affection with more facility; yet this is manifestly far from being the prime consideration. And so far are we from being the slaves of the sense of vision, that a familiar acquaintance with the intrinsic excellencies of an object, aided, it must be admitted, by the power of habit, will render us almost insensible to the impressions which its outward form conveys, and able entirely to lose the consciousness of an unsightly exterior.

We may be permitted to remark, that the foregoing going observations furnish an explanation, less discreditable than that which has been sometimes given, of an undoubted phenomenon in the human mind, that the greatest public misfortunes, however the understanding may lecture, are apt really to affect our feelings less than the most trivial disaster which happens to ourselves. An eminent writer (a) scarcely overstated the point when he observed, “that it would occasion a man of humanity more real disturbance to know that he was the next morning to lose his little finger, than to hear that the great empire of China had been suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake. The thoughts of the former would keep him awake all night; in the latter case, after making many melancholy reflections on the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labors of man which could be thus annihilated in a moment; after a little speculation too perhaps on the causes of the disaster, and its effects in the political and commercial world; he would pursue his business or his a pleasure with the same ease and tranquility as if no such accident had happened; and snore at night with the most profound serenity over the ruin of a hundred millions of his fellow-creatures. Selfishness is not the cause of this, for the most unfeeling brute on earth would surely think nothing of the loss of a finger, if he could thereby prevent so dreadful a calamity.” This doctrine of contact which has been opened above, affords a satisfactory solution; and, from all that has been said, the circumstances, by which the affections of the mind towards any particular object are generated and strengthened, may be easily collected. The chief of these appear to be, whatever tends to give a distinct and lively impression of the object, by setting before us its minute parts, and by often drawing towards it the thoughts and affections, so as to invest it by degrees with a confirmed ascendency; whatever tends to excite and to keep in exercise, a lively interest in its behalf; in other words, full knowledge, distinct and frequent mental entertainment, and pathetic contemplations. Supposing these means to have been used in any given degree, it may be expected that they be will more or less efficacious, in proportion as the intrinsic qualities of the object afford greater or less scope for their operation, and more or fewer materials with which to work. Can it then be conceived, that they will be of no avail when steadily practiced in the case of our Redeemer! If the principles of love and gratitude and joy, and hope, and trust, are not utterly extinct within us, they cannot but be called forth by the various corresponding objects which that blessed contemplation would gradually bring forth to our view. Well might the language of the apostle be addressed to Christians, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”*

Special grounds for the religious Affections towards our Savior

But in the present instance fresh considerations pour in, still more to invalidate the plea of its being impossible to love an invisible being. Our blessed Savior, if we may be permitted so to say, is not removed far from us; and the various relations in which we stand towards him, seem purposely made known to us, in order to furnish so many different bonds of connection with him, so many consequent occasions of continual intercourse. He exhibits not himself to us “dark with excessive brightness,” but is let down as it were to the possibilities of human converse. We may not think that he is incapable of entering into our little concerns, and of sympathizing with them; for we are graciously assured that he is not one “who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, having been in all points tempted like as we are.”* The figures under which he is represented, are such as convey ideas of the utmost tenderness. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”—“They shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor sun smite them; for he that hath mercy on them, shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.” “I will not leave you orphans” (a) was one of his last consolatory declarations.§ The children of Christ are here separated indeed from the personal view of him; but not from his paternal affection and paternal care. Meanwhile let them quicken their regards by the animating anticipation of that blessed day, when he “who is gone to prepare a place for them, will come again to receive them unto himself.” Then shall they be admitted to his more immediate presence: “Now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as I am known.”||

Surely more than enough has been now said to prove that this particular case, from its very nature, furnishes the most abundant and powerful considerations and means for exciting the feelings; and it might be contended, without fear of refutation, that by the diligent and habitual use of those considerations and means, we might with confident expectation of success engage in the work of raising our affections towards our blessed Savior to a state of due force and activity. But, blessed be God, we have a still better reliance; for the grand circumstance of all yet remains behind, which the writer has been led to defer, from his wish to contend with his opponents on their own ground. This circumstance is, that here, no less than in other particulars, the Christian’s hope is founded, not on the speculations or the strength of man, but on the declaration of Him who cannot lie, on the power of Omnipotence.

Unreasonable conduct of our Objectors in the present instance

We learn from the Scriptures that it is one main part of the operations of the Holy Spirit, to implant those heavenly principles in the human mind, and to cherish their growth. We are encouraged to believe, that in answer to our prayers, this aid from above will give efficacy to our earnest endeavors, if used in humble dependence on divine grace. We may therefore with confidence take the means which have been suggested. But let us, in our turn be permitted to ask our opponents, have they humbly and perseveringly applied for this divine strength? or disclaiming that assistance, perhaps as tempting them to indolence, have they been so much the more strenuous and unwearied in the use of their own unaided endeavors; or rather have they not been equally negligent of both? Renouncing the one, they have wholly omitted the other. But this is far from being all. They even reverse all the methods which we have recommended as being calculated to increase regard; and exactly follow that course which would be pursued by any one who should wish to reduce an excessive affection. Yet thus leaving untried all the means, which, whether from Reason or Scripture, we maintain to be necessary to the production of the end, nay using such as are of a directly opposite nature, these men presume to talk to us of impossibilities! We may rather contend that they furnish a fresh proof of the soundness of our reasonings. We lay it down as a fundamental position, that speculative knowledge alone, mere superficial cursory considerations, will be of no avail, that nothing is to be done without the diligent continued use of the appointed method. They themselves afford an instance of the truth of our assertions: and while they supply no argument against the efficacy of the mode prescribed, they acknowledge at least that they are wholly ignorant of any other.

Appeal to fact in proof of our former positions

But let us now turn our eyes to Christians of a higher order, to those who have actually proved the truth of our reasonings; who have not only assumed the name, but who have possessed the substance, and felt the power, of Christianity; who, though often foiled by their remaining corruptions, and shamed and cast down under a sense of their many imperfections, have known in their better seasons, what it was to experience its firm hope, its dignified joy, its unshaken trust, its more than human consolations. In their hearts, love also towards their Redeemer has glowed; a love not superficial and unmeaning, but constant and rational, resulting from a strong impression of the worth of its object, and heightened by an abiding sense of great, unmerited and continually accumulating obligations; ever manifesting itself in acts of diligent obedience, or of patient suffering. Such was the religion of the holy Martyrs of the sixteenth century, the illustrious ornaments of the English church. They realized the theory which we have now been faintly tracing. Look to their writings, and you will find that their thoughts and affections had been much exercised in habitual views of the blessed Jesus. Thus they used the required means. What were the effects? Persecution and distress, degradation and contempt in vain assailed them—all these evils served but to bring their affections into closer contact with their object; and not only did their love feel no diminution or abatement, but it rose to all the exigencies of the occasion, and burned with an increase of ardor; even when brought forth at last to a cruel and ignominious death, they repined not at their fate; but rather rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. The writer might refer to still more recent times, to prove the reality of this divine principle. But lest his authorities should be disputed, let us go to the Apostles of our Lord; and while on a cursory perusal of their writings, we must acknowledge that they commend and even prescribe to us the love of Christ as one of the chief of the Christian graces; so on a more attentive inspection of those writings, we shall discover abundant proofs, that they were themselves bright examples of their own precept; that our blessed Savior was really the object of their warmest affection, and what he had done and suffered for them, the continual subject of their grateful remembrance.

sect. iii

Inadequate Conceptions concerning the Holy Spirit’s Operations

THE disposition so prevalent in the bulk of nominal Christians, to form a religious system for themselves, instead of taking it from the word of God, is strikingly observable in their scarcely admitting, except in the most vague and general sense, the doctrine of the influence of the Holy Spirit. If we look into the Scriptures for information on this particular, we learn a very different lesson. We are in them distinctly taught, that “of ourselves we can do nothing;” that “we are by nature children of wrath,” and under the power of the evil spirit, our understandings being naturally dark, and our hearts averse from spiritual things; and we are directed to pray for the influence of the Holy Spirit to enlighten our understandings, to dissipate our prejudices, to purify our corrupt minds, and to renew us after the image of our heavenly Father. It is this influence which is represented as originally awakening us from slumber, as enlightening us in darkness, as “quickening us when dead,”* as “delivering us from the power of the devil,” as drawing us to God, as “translating us into the kingdom of his dear Son,” as “creating us anew in Christ Jesus,” as “dwelling in us, and walking in us;”* so that “putting off the old man with his deeds,” we are to consider ourselves as “having put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him;” and as those who are to be “an habitation of God through the Spirit.” It is by this Divine assistance only that we can grow in Grace, and improve in all Holiness. So expressly, particularly, and repeatedly, does the word of God inculcate these lessons, that one would think there was scarcely room for any difference of opinion among those who admit its authority. Sometimes (a) the whole of a Christian’s repentance and faith, and consequent holiness, are ascribed generally to the Divine influence; sometimes these are spoken of separately, and ascribed to the same Almighty power. Sometimes different particular graces of the Christian character, those which respect our duties and tempers towards our fellow-creatures, no less than those which have reference to the Supreme Being, are particularly traced to this source. Sometimes they are all referred collectively to this common root, being comprehended under the compendious denomination of “the Fruits of the Spirit.” In exact correspondence with these representations, this aid from above is promised in other parts of Scripture for the production of those effects; and the withholding or withdrawing of it is occasionally threatened as a punishment for the sins of men, and as one of the most fatal consequences of the Divine displeasure.

The Liturgy of the Church of England strictly agrees with the representation, which has been here given of the instructions of the word of God.

sect. iv

Mistaken Conceptions entertained by nominal Christians of the Terms of Acceptance with God

IF it be true then, that, in contradiction to the plainest dictates of Scripture, and to the ritual of our established Church, the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit (the first fruits of our reconciliation to God, the purchase of our Redeemer’s death, and his best gift to his true disciples,) are too generally undervalued and slighted; if it be also true, that our thoughts of the blessed Savior are confused and faint, our affections towards him languid and lukewarm; little proportioned to what they, who at such a price have been rescued from ruin, and endowed with a title to eternal glory, might be justly expected to feel towards the author of that deliverance; little proportioned to what has been felt by others, ransomed from the same ruin, and partakers of the same inheritance: if this, let it be repeated, be indeed so, let us not shut our eyes against the perception of our real state; but rather endeavor to trace the evil to its source. We are loudly called on to examine well our foundations. If anything be there unsound and hollow, the superstructure could not be safe, though its exterior were less suspicious. Let the question then be asked, and let the answer be returned with all the consideration and solemnity which a question so important may justly demand, whether, in the grand concern of all, the means of a sinner’s acceptance with God, there be not reason to apprehend, that the nominal Christians whom we have been addressing, too generally entertain very superficial and confused, if not highly dangerous notions? Is there not cause to fear, that with little more than an indistinct and nominal reference to Him who “bore our sins in his own body on the tree,” they really rest their eternal hopes on a vague, general persuasion of the unqualified mercy of the Supreme Being; or that, still more erroneously, they rely in the main, on their own negative or positive merits? “They can look upon their lives with an impartial eye, and congratulate themselves on their inoffensiveness in society; on their having been exempt, at least, from any gross vice, or if sometimes accidentally betrayed into it, on its never having been indulged habitually; or, if not even so,” (for there are but few who can say this, if the term vice be explained according to the strict requisitions of the Scriptures) “yet on the balance being in their favor, or on the whole not much against them, when their good and bad actions are fairly weighed, and due allowance is made for human frailty.” These considerations are sufficient for the most part to compose their apprehensions; these are the cordials which they find most at hand in the moments of serious thought, or of occasional dejection; and sometimes perhaps in seasons of less than ordinary self-complacency, they call in also to their aid the general persuasion of the unbounded mercy and pity of God. Yet persons of this description by no means disclaim a Savior, or avowedly relinquish their title to a share in the benefits of his death. They close their petitions with the name of Christ; but if not chiefly from the effect of habit, or out of decent conformity to the established faith, yet surely with something of the same ambiguity of principle, which influenced the expiring philosopher, when he ordered the customary mark of homage to be paid to the god of medicine.

Others go farther than this; for there are many shades of difference between those who flatly renounce, and those who cordially embrace the doctrine of Redemption by Christ. This class has a sort of general, indeterminate, and ill understood dependence on our blessed Savior. But their hopes, so far as they can be distinctly made out, appear ultimately to rest on the persuasion that they are now, through Christ, become members of a new dispensation, wherein they will be tried by a more lenient rule than that to which they must have been otherwise subject. “God will not now be extreme to mark what is done amiss; but will dispense with the rigorous exactions of his law, too strict indeed for such frail creatures as we are, to hope that we can fulfil it. Christianity has moderated the requisitions of Divine Justice; and all that is now required of us, is thankfully to trust to the merits of Christ for the pardon of our sins, and the acceptance of our sincere though imperfect obedience. The frailties and infirmities to which our nature is liable, or to which our situation in life exposes us, will not be severely judged; and as it is practice that really determines the character, we may rest satisfied, that if, on the whole, our lives be tolerably good, we shall escape with little or no punishment, and through Jesus Christ our Lord, shall be finally partakers of heavenly felicity.”

Prevailing fundamental misconception of the scheme and essential principle of the Gospel

We cannot dive into the human heart, and therefore should always speak with caution and diffidence, when, from external appearances or declarations we are affirming the existence of any internal principles and feelings; especially as we are liable to be misled by the ambiguities of language, or by the inaccuracy with which others may express themselves. But it is sometimes not difficult to anyone who is accustomed, if the phrase may be allowed, to the anatomy of the human mind, to discern, that generally speaking, the persons who use the above language, rely not so much on the merits of Christ, and on the agency of Divine Grace, as on their own power of fulfilling the moderated requisitions of Divine Justice. He will hence therefore discover in them a disposition, rather to extenuate the malignity of their disease, than to magnify the excellence of the proffered remedy. He will find them apt to palliate in themselves what they cannot fully justify to enhance the merit of what they believe to be their good qualities and commendable actions, to set, as it were in an account, the good against the bad; and if the result be not very unfavorable, they conceive that they shall be entitled to claim the benefits of our Savior’s sufferings as a thing of course. They have little idea, so little, that it might almost be affirmed that they have no idea at all, of the importance or difficulty of the duty of what the Scripture calls “submitting ourselves to the righteousness of God;” or of our proneness rather to justify ourselves in his sight, than, in the language of imploring penitents, to acknowledge ourselves guilty and helpless sinners. They have never summoned themselves to this entire and unqualified renunciation of their own merits, and their own strength; and therefore they remain strangers to the natural loftiness of the human heart, which such a call would have awakened into action, and roused to resistance. All these their several errors naturally result from the mistaken conception entertained of the fundamental principles of christianity. They consider not that Christianity is a scheme for “justifying the ungodly,”* by Christ’s dying for them, “when yet sinners (a): a scheme for reconciling us to God—“when enemies:” and for making the fruits of holiness the effects, not the cause, of our being justified and reconciled: that in short, it opens freely the door of mercy, to the greatest and worst of penitent sinners; who obeying the blessed impulse of the grace of God, whereby they had been awakened from the sleep of death, and moved to seek for pardon, may enter in, and, through the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, be enabled to bring forth the fruits of Righteousness. But they rather conceive of Christianity as opening the door of mercy, that those, who on the ground of their own merits could not have hoped to justify themselves before God, may yet be admitted for Christ’s sake, on condition of their having previously satisfied the moderated requisitions of Divine Justice. In speaking to others also of the Gospel scheme, they are apt to talk too much of terms and performances on our part, on which we become entitled to an interest in the sufferings of Christ; instead of stating the benefits of Christ’s satisfaction as extended to us freely, “without money and without price.”

Some practical consequences of the fundamental error above pointed out

The practical consequences of these errors are such as might be expected. They tend to prevent that sense which we ought to entertain of our own natural misery and helplessness; and that deep feeling of gratitude for the merits and intercession of Christ, to which we are wholly indebted for our reconciliation to God, and for the will and the power, from first to last, to work out our own salvation. They consider it too much in the light of a contract between two parties, wherein each, independently of the other, has his own distinct condition to perform; man—to do his duty; God—to justify and accept for Christ’s sake: If they fail not in the discharge of their condition, assuredly the condition on God’s part will be faithfully fulfilled. Accordingly, we find in fact, that they who represent the Gospel scheme in the manner above described, give evidence of the subject with which their hearts are most filled, by their proneness to run into merely moral disquisitions, either not mentioning at all, or at least but cursorily touching on, the sufferings and love of their Redeemer; and are little apt to kindle at their Savior’s name, or, like the apostles, to be betrayed by their fervor into what may be almost an untimely descant on the riches of his unutterable mercy. In addressing others also whom they conceive to be living, in habits of sin, and under the wrath of God, they rather advise them to amend their ways as a preparation for their coming to Christ, than exhort them to throw themselves with deep prostration of soul at the foot of the cross, there to obtain pardon, and find grace to help in time of need.

The great importance of the subject in question will justify the writer in having been thus particular. It has arisen from a wish that on a matter of such magnitude, it should be impossible to mistake his meaning. But after all that has been said, let it also be remembered, that, except so far as the instruction of others is concerned, the point of importance is the internal disposition of the mind; and it is to be hoped, that a dependence for pardon and holiness may be placed where it ought to be, notwithstanding the vague manner in which men express themselves. Let us also hope, that He who searches the heart, sees the right dispositions in many who use the mistaken and dangerous language to which we have objected.

If the preceding statement of the error so generally prevalent concerning the nature of the Gospel offer be in any considerable degree just, it will then explain that languor in the affections towards our blessed Savior, together with that inadequate impression of the necessity and value of the assistance of the Divine Spirit, which so generally prevail. According to the soundest principles of reasoning, it may be also adduced as an additional proof of the correctness of our present statement, that it so exactly falls in with those phænomena, and so naturally accounts for them. For even admitting that the persons above mentioned, particularly the last class, do at the bottom rely on the atonement of Christ; yet, on their scheme, it must necessarily happen, that the object to which they are most accustomed to look, with which their thoughts are chiefly conversant, and from which they most habitually derive complacency, is rather their own qualified merit and services, though confessed to be inadequate, than the sufferings and atoning death of a crucified Savior. The affections towards our blessed Lord therefore (according to the theory of the passions formerly laid down) cannot be expected to flourish, because they receive not that which was shown to be necessary to their nutriment and growth. If we would love him as affectionately, and rejoice in him as triumphantly, as the first Christians did; we must learn like them to repose our entire trust in him, and to adopt the language of the apostle, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”*—“Who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”

Condemnation of those who abuse the doctrine of free Grace

Doubtless there have been too many, who, to their eternal ruin, have abused the doctrine of Salvation by Grace; and have vainly trusted in Christ for pardon and acceptance, when by their vicious lives they have plainly proved the groundlessness of their pretensions. The tree is to be known by its fruits: and there is too much reason to fear that there is no principle of faith, when it does not decidedly evince itself by the fruits of holiness. Dreadful indeed will be the doom, above that of all others, of those loose professors of Christianity, to whom at the last day our blessed Savior will address those words, “I never knew you; depart from me, all ye that work iniquity.” But the danger of error on this side ought not to render us insensible to the opposite error: an error against which in these days it seems particularly necessary to guard. It is far from the intention of the writer of this Work to enter into the niceties of controversy. But surely without danger of being thought to violate this design, he may be permitted to contend, that they who in the main believe the doctrines of the Church of England, are bound to allow, that our dependence on our blessed Savior, as alone the meritorious cause of our acceptance with God, and as the means of all its blessed fruits and glorious consequences, must be not merely formal and nominal, but real and substantial; not vague, qualified, and partial, but direct, cordial, and entire.

Believing in Christ, what it really implies

“Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ,” was the sum of the apostolical instructions. It is not an occasional invocation of the name of Christ, or a transient recognition of his authority, that fills up the measure of the terms, believing in Jesus. This we shall find no such easy task: and, if we trust that we do believe, we should all perhaps do well to cry out in the words of an imploring suppliant, (he supplicated not in vain) “Lord, help thou our unbelief.” We must be deeply conscious of our guilt and misery, heartily repenting of our sins, and firmly resolving to forsake them: and thus penitently “fleeing for refuge to the hope set before us,” we must found altogether on the merit of the crucified Redeemer our hopes of escape from their deserved punishment, and of deliverance from their enslaving power. This must be our first, our last, our only plea. We are to surrender ourselves up to him to “be washed in his blood,”* to be sanctified by his Spirit, resolving to receive him for our Lord and Master, to learn in his School, to obey all his commandments.

Answer to the Objection, that we insist on metaphysical niceties

It may perhaps be not unnecessary, after having treated so largely on this important topic, to add a few words in order to obviate a charge which may be urged against us, that we are insisting on nice and abstruse distinctions in what is a matter of general concern: and this too in a system which on its original promulgation was declared to be peculiarly intended for the simple and poor. It will be abundantly evident, however, on a little reflection, and experience fully proves the position, that what has been required is not the perception of a subtle distinction, but a state and condition of heart. To the former, the poor and the ignorant must be indeed confessed unequal; but they are far less indisposed than the great and the learned, to bow down to that “preaching of the cross, which is to them that perish foolishness, but unto them that are saved the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” The poor are not liable to be puffed up by the intoxicating fumes of ambition and worldly grandeur. They are less likely to be kept from entering into the straight and narrow way, and, when they have entered, to be drawn back again, or to be retarded in their progress, by the cares or pleasures of life. They may express themselves ill: but their views may be simple, and their hearts humble, penitent, and sincere. It is, as in other cases; the vulgar are the subjects of phænomena, the learned explain them: the former know nothing of the theory of vision or of sentiment; but this ignorance hinders them not from seeing and thinking; and though unable to discourse elaborately on the passions, they can feel warmly for their children, their friends, their country.

The atonement and grace of Christ farther pressed as the subject of our habitual regard

After this digression, if that be indeed a digression which, by removing a formidable objection, renders the truth of the positions we wish to establish more clear and less questionable, we may now resume the thread of our argument. Still entreating therefore the attention of those, who have not been used to think much of the necessity of this undivided, and, if it may be so termed, unadulterated reliance, for which we have been contending: we would still more particularly address ourselves to others who are disposed to believe that though, in some obscure and vague sense, the death of Christ as the satisfaction for our sins, and for the purchase of our future happiness, and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, are to be admitted as fundamental articles of our creed, yet that these are doctrines so much above us, that they are not objects suited to our capacities; and that turning our eyes therefore from these difficult speculations, we should fix them on the practical and moral precepts of the Gospel. “These it most concerns us to know; these therefore let us study. Such is the frailty of our nature, such the strength and number of our temptations to evil, that, in reducing the Gospel morality to practice, we shall find full employment: and by attending to these moral precepts, rather than to those high mysterious doctrines which you are pressing on us, we shall best prepare to appear before God on that tremendous day, when ‘He shall judge every man according to his works.’ ”

“Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy!”

It will at once destroy this flimsy web, to reply in the words of our blessed Savior, and of his beloved Disciple—“This is the work of God, that ye believe “in him whom he hath sent.”* “This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” In truth, if we consider but for a moment the opinions of men who argue thus, we must be conscious of their absurdity. Let the modern Unitarians reduce the Gospel to a mere system of ethics, but surely it is in the highest degree unreasonable to admit into our scheme all the grand peculiarities of Christianity, and having admitted, to neglect and think no more of them! “Wherefore” (might the Socinian say) “Wherefore all this costly and complicated machinery? It is like the Tychonic astronomy, encumbered and self-convicted by its own complicated relations and useless perplexities. It is so little like the simplicity of nature, it is so unworthy of the divine hand, that it even offends against those rules of propriety which we require to be observed in the imperfect compositions of the human intellect.” (a)

Well may the Socinian assume this lofty tone, with those whom we are now addressing. If these be indeed the doctrines of Revelation, common sense suggests to us that from their nature and their magnitude, they deserve our most serious regard. It is the very theology of Epicurus to allow the existence of these “heavenly things,” but to deny their connection with human concerns, and their influence on human actions. Besides the unreasonableness of this conduct, we might strongly urge also in this connection the profaneness of thus treating as matters of subordinate consideration those parts of the system of Christianity, which are so strongly impressed on our reverence by the dignity of the person to whom they relate. This very argument is indeed repeatedly and pointedly pressed by the sacred writers.*

Nor is the profane irreverence of this conduct more striking than its ingratitude. When from reading that our Savior was “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, upholding all things by the word of his power,” we go on to consider the purpose for which he came on earth, and all that he did and suffered for us; surely, if we have a spark of ingenuousness left within us, we shall condemn ourselves as guilty of the blackest ingratitude, in rarely noticing, or coldly turning away, on whatever shallow pretenses, from the contemplation of these miracles of mercy. For those baser minds, however, on which fear alone can operate, that motive is superadded; and we are plainly forewarned, both directly and indirectly, by the example of the Jewish nation, that God will not hold them guiltless who are thus unmindful of his most signal acts of condescension and kindness. But as this is a question of pure Revelation, reasonings from probability may not be deemed decisive. To Revelation therefore we must appeal; and without entering into a labored discussion of the subject, which might be to trespass on the reader’s patience, I would refer him to the sacred Writings themselves for complete satisfaction. We would earnestly recommend it to him to weigh with the utmost seriousness those passages of Scripture wherein the peculiar doctrines of Christianity are expressly mentioned; and farther, to attend, with due regard, to the illustration and confirmation, which the conclusions resulting from those passages incidentally receive from other parts of the word of God. They who maintain the opinion which we are combating, will thereby become convinced that theirs is indeed an unscriptural Religion; and will learn, instead of turning off their eyes from the grand peculiarities of Christianity, to keep these ever in view, as the pregnant principles whence all the rest must derive their origin, and receive their best support.*

Conclusion

Let us then each for himself solemnly ask ourselves, whether we, have fled for refuge to the appointed hope? And whether we are habitually looking to it, as to the only source of consolation? “Other foundation can no man lay:” there is no other ground for dependence, no other plea for pardon; but here there is hope, even to the uttermost. Let us labor then to affect our hearts with a deep conviction of our need of a Redeemer, and of the value of his offered mediation. Let us fall down humbly before the throne of God, imploring pity and pardon in the name of the Son of his love. Let us beseech him to give us a true spirit of repentance, and of hearty undivided faith in the Lord Jesus. Let us not be satisfied till the cordiality of our belief be confirmed to us by that character with which we are furnished by an inspired writer, “that to as many as believe, Christ is precious;” and let us strive to increase daily in love towards our blessed Savior; and pray earnestly, that “we may be filled with Joy and Peace in believing, that we may abound in Hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.” Let us diligently put in practice the directions already given for cherishing and cultivating the principle of the Love of Christ. With this view let us labor assiduously to increase in knowledge, that our affection to the Lord who bought us, may be deeply rooted and rational. By frequent meditation on the incidents of our Savior’s life, and still more on the astonishing circumstances of his death; by often calling to mind the state from which he proposes to rescue us, and the glories of his heavenly kingdom; by continual intercourse with him of prayer and praise, of dependence and confidence in dangers, of hope and joy in our brighter hours, let us endeavor to keep him constantly present to our minds, and to render all our conceptions of him more distinct, lively, and intelligent. The title of Christian is a reproach to us, if we estrange ourselves from him after whom we are denominated. The name of Jesus is not to be to us like the Allah of the Mahometans, a talisman or an amulet, to be worn on the arm, merely as an external badge and symbol of our profession, and to preserve us from evil by some mysterious and unintelligible potency; but it is to be engraven deeply on the heart, there written by the finger of God himself in everlasting characters. It is our sure and undoubted title to present peace and future glory. The assurance which this title conveys of a bright reversion, will lighten the burdens, and alleviate the sorrows of life; and in some happier moments, it will impart to us somewhat of that fullness of joy which is at God’s right hand, enabling us to join even here in the heavenly Hosannah: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”*—“Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”[1]

 

 

Title of Attila a king of the Huns, whose desolating ravages are well known.

b Vide the Testimony of West India merchants to the Moravians, in the Report of the Privy Council on the Slave Trade.

Dr. Horne.

Phil. 2:6, 7, 8.

Luke 2:10, 11.

John 4:20.

a Dr. Adam Smith, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Isaiah 40:11.

Ib. 49:10.

a The word comfortless is rendered in the margin, Orphans.

Col. 1:13.

Ephes. 2:10.

Col. 3:9, 10.

Ephes. 2:22.

a Vide Dr. Doddridge’s eight Sermons on Regeneration, a most valuable compilation; and M’Laurin’s Essay on Divine Grace.

Ibid. 5:6–8.

a The Writer trusts he cannot be misunderstood to mean that any, continuing sinners and ungodly, can, by believing, be accepted, or finally saved. The following chapter, particularly the latter part of it, (Sect. 6.) would abundantly vindicate him from any such misconstruction. Meanwhile he will only remark, that true faith (in which repentance is considered as involved) is in Scripture regarded as the radical principle of holiness. If the root exists, the proper fruits will be brought forth. An attention to this consideration would have easily explained and reconciled those passages of St. Paul’s and St. James’s Epistles, which have furnished so much matter of argument and criticism. St. James, it may be observed, all along speaks not of a man, who has faith, but who says that he hath faith. He contrasts pretended, imperfect, dead faith, with real, complete, living faith. This surely must appear decisively clear to those who observe that the conclusion which he deduces from his whole reasoning in verses 23 & 26, respects faith—Abraham believed God, &c. Faith without works, &c. It is his great object to assert and establish the right kind of faith, and only to deny the utility or value of that which falsely usurps the name.—Vide James 2:14, &c. &c.

Vide Ch. 4. sect. 6.

1 Cor. 1:30.

1 John, 3:23.

a Nec Deus intersit, &c.

* Any one who wishes to investigate this subject, will do well to study attentively M‘Laurin’s Essay on Prejudices against the Gospel.—It may not be amiss here to direct the reader’s attention to a few leading arguments, many of them those of the work just recommended. Let him maturely estimate the force of those terms, whereby the Apostle in the following passages designates and characterizes the whole of the Christian system. “We preach Christ crucified.”—“We determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The value of this argument will be acknowledged by all who consider, that a system is never designated by an immaterial or an inferior part of it, but by that which constitutes its prime consideration and essential distinction. The conclusion suggested by this remark is confirmed by the Lord’s Supper being the rite by which our Savior himself commanded his Disciples to keep him in remembrance; and indeed a similar lesson is taught by the Sacrament of Baptism, which shadows out our souls being washed and purified by the blood of Christ. Observe next the frequency with which our Savior’s death and sufferings are introduced, and how often they are urged as practical motives.

“The minds of the Apostles seem full of this subject. Every thing puts them in mind of it, they did not allow themselves to have it long out of their view, nor did any other branch of spiritual instruction make them lose sight of it.” Consider next that part of the Epistle to the Romans, wherein St. Paul speaks of some who went about to establish their own righteousness, and had not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. May not this charge be in some degree urged, and even more strongly than in the case of the Jews, against those who satisfy themselves with vague, general, occasional thoughts of our Savior’s mediation; and the source of whose habitual complacency, as we explained above, is rather their being tolerably well satisfied with their own characters and conduct? Yet St. Paul declares concerning those of whom he speaks, as concerning persons whose sad situation could not be too much lamented, that he had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart, adding still more emphatical expressions of deep and bitter regret.

Let the Epistle to the Galatians be also carefully examined and considered; and let it be fairly asked, what was the particular in which the Judaizing Christians were defective, and the want of which is spoken of in such strong terms as these; that it frustrates the grace of God, and must debar from all the benefits of the death of Jesus? The Judaizing converts were not immoral. They seem to have admitted the chief tenets concerning our Savior. But they appear to have been disposed to trust not wholly, be it observed also, but only in part, for their acceptance with God, to the Mosaic institutions, instead of reposing entirely on the merits of Christ. Here let it be remembered, that when a compliance with these institutions was not regarded as conveying this inference, the Apostle showed by his own conduct, that he did not deem it criminal; whence, no less than from the words of the Epistle, it is clear that the offence of the Judaizing Christians whom he condemned, was what we have stated; that their crime did not consist in their obstinately continuing to adhere to a dispensation the ceremonial of which Christianity had abrogated, nor yet that it arose out of the sacrifices of the Levitical law, being from their very nature without efficacy for the blotting out of sin.—Vide Hebrews, 10:4, &c.—It was not that the foundation on which they built was of a sandy nature, but that they built on any other foundation than that which God had laid in the Gospel; it was not that they fixed their confidence on a false or a defective object, but that they did not direct it exclusively to the only true object of Hope held forth to us by the Gospel.

Ib. 13.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 40–89). London: T. Cadell.  (Public domain)

Chapter III

Chief Defects of the Religious system of the Bulk of Professed Christians, in what Regards our lord jesus christ, and the Holy Spirit—With a Dissertation, concerning the use of the Passions in Religion

sect. i

Inadequate Conceptions concerning our Savior and the Holy Spirit

Leading Doctrines concerning Christ and the Holy Spirit, as stated in Scripture

THAT “God so loved the world, as of his tender mercy to give his only Son Jesus Christ for our redemption:”

That our blessed Lord willingly left the glory of the Father, and was made man:

That “he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:”

That “he was wounded for our transgressions; that he was wounded for our iniquities:”

That “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all:”

That at length “he humbled himself even to the death of the Cross, for us miserable sinners; to the end that all who with hearty repentance and true faith should come to him, might not perish, but have everlasting life:”

That he “is now at the right hand of God, making intercession” for his people:

That “being reconciled to God by the death of his Son, we may come boldly unto the throne of grace, to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need:”

That our heavenly Father “will surely give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him:”

That “the Spirit of God must dwell in us;” and that “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his:”

That by this divine influence “we are to be renewed in knowledge after the image of him who created us,” and “to be filled with the fruits of righteousness, to the praise of the glory of his grace;”—that “being thus made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light,” we shall sleep in the Lord; and that when the last trumpet shall sound, this corruption shall put on incorruption—and that being at length perfected after his likeness, we shall be admitted into his heavenly kingdom.

These are the leading doctrines concerning our Savior, and the Holy Spirit, which are taught in the Holy Scriptures, and held by the Church of England. The truth of them, agreeably to our general plan, will be taken for granted. Few of those, who have been used to join in the established form of worship, can have been, it is hoped, so inattentive, as to be ignorant of these grand truths, which are to be found everywhere dispersed throughout our excellent Liturgy. Would to God it could be presumed, with equal confidence, that all who assent to them in terms, discern in the understanding their force and excellency, and feel their power in the affections, and their transforming influence in the heart. What lively emotions are they calculated to excite in us, of deep self-abasement, and abhorrence of our sins; together with humble hope, and firm faith, and heavenly joy, and ardent love, and active unceasing gratitude!

Popular Notions

But here, it is to be feared, will be found a grand defect in the religion of the bulk of professed Christians; a defect like the palsy at the heart, which, while in its first attack, it changes but little the exterior appearance of the body, extinguishes the internal principle of heat and motion, and soon extends its benumbing influence to the remotest fibers of the frame. This defect is closely connected with that which was the chief subject of the last chapter: “they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Had we duly felt the burthen of our sins, accompanied with a deep conviction that the weight of them must finally sink us into perdition, our hearts would have danced at the sound of the gracious invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”* But in those who have scarcely felt their sins as any encumbrance, it would be mere affectation to pretend to very exalted conceptions of the value and acceptableness of the proffered deliverance. This pretense accordingly, is seldom now kept up; and the most superficial observer, comparing the sentiments and views of the bulk of the Christian world, with the articles still retained in their creed, and with the strong language of Scripture, must be struck with the amazing disproportion.

To pass over the throng from whose minds Religion is altogether excluded by the business or the vanities of life, how is it with the more decent and moral? To what criterion shall we appeal? Are their hearts really filled with these things, and warmed by the love which they are adapted to inspire? Then surely their minds are apt to stray to them almost unseasonably; or at least to hasten back to them with eagerness, when escaped from the estrangement imposed by the necessary cares and business of life. He was a masterly describer of human nature, who thus portrayed the characters of an undissembled affection;

“Unstaid and fickle in all other things,

Save in the constant image of the object,

That is beloved.”       Shakspeare

“And how,” it may be perhaps replied, “do you know, but that the minds of these people are thus occupied? Can you look into the bosoms of men?” Let us appeal to a test to which we resorted in a former instance. “Out of the abundance of the heart,” it has been pronounced, “the mouth speaketh.” Take these persons then in some well selected hour, and lead the conversation to the subject of Religion. The utmost which can be effected is, to bring them to talk of things in the gross. They appear lost in generalities; there is nothing precise and determinate, nothing which implies a mind used to the contemplation of its object. In vain you strive to bring them to speak on that topic, which one might expect to be ever uppermost in the hearts of redeemed sinners. They elude all your endeavors; and if you make mention of it yourself, it is received with no very cordial welcome at least, if not with unequivocal disgust; it is at the best a forced and formal discussion. The excellence of our Savior’s moral precepts, the kindness and simplicity, the self-denial and unblemished purity of his life, his patience and meekness in the hour of death, cannot indeed be spoken of but with admiration, when spoken of at all, as they have often extorted unwilling praise from the most willing and malignant infidels. But are not these mentioned as qualities in the abstract, rather than as the perfections and lineaments of our patron and benefactor and friend, “who loved us, and gave himself for us;” of Him “who died for our offences, and rose again for our justification;” “who is even now at the right hand of God, making intercession for us?” Who would think that the kindness and humanity, and self-denial, and patience in suffering, which we so drily commend, had been exerted towards ourselves, in acts of more than finite benevolence, of which we were to derive the benefit; in condescensions and labors submitted to for our sakes; in pain and ignominy endured for our deliverance?

But these grand truths are not suffered to vanish altogether from our remembrance. Thanks to the compilers of our Liturgy, more than to too many of the occupiers of our pulpits, they are forced upon our notice in their just bearings and connections, as often as we attend the Service of the church. Yet is it too much to affirm, that, though there entertained with decorum, as what belong to the day and place, and occupation, they are yet too generally heard of with little interest; like the legendary tales of some venerable historian, or like other transactions of great antiquity, if not of doubtful credit; which, though important to our ancestors, relate to times and circumstances so different from our own, that we cannot be expected to take any great concern in them? We hear them therefore with apparent indifference; we repeat them almost as it were by rote, assuming by turns the language of the deepest humiliation and of the warmest thankfulness, with a calm unaltered composure; and when the service of the day is ended, they are dismissed altogether from our thoughts, till on the return of another Sunday, a fresh attendance on public worship gives occasion for the renewed expressions of our periodical humility and gratitude. In noticing such lukewarmness as this, surely the writer were to be pardoned, if he were to be betrayed into some warmth of condemnation. The Unitarian and Socinian indeed, who deny, or explain away the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel, may be allowed to feel these grand truths, and to talk of them with little emotion. But in those who profess a sincere belief in them, this coldness is insupportable. The greatest possible services of man to man must appear contemptible, when compared with “the unspeakable mercies of Christ:” mercies so dearly bought, so freely bestowed—a deliverance from eternal misery—the gift of a “crown of glory that fadeth not away.” Yet, what judgment should we form of such conduct, as is here censured, in the case of any one, who had received some signal services from a fellow creature? True love is an ardent and an active principle; a cold, a dormant, a phlegmatic gratitude, are contradictions in terms. When these generous affections really exist in us in vigor, are we not ever fond of dwelling on the value, and enumerating the merits, of our benefactor? How are we moved when any thing is asserted to his disparagement! How do we delight to tell of his kindness! With what pious care do we preserve any memorial of him, which we may happen to possess! How gladly do we seize any opportunity of rendering to him, or to those who are dear to him, any little good offices, which though in themselves of small intrinsic worth, may testify the sincerity of our thankfulness! The very mention of his name will cheer the heart, and light up the countenance!—And if he be now no more, and if he had made it his dying request, that, in a way of his own appointment, we would occasionally meet to keep the memory of his person, and of his services, in lively exercise; how should we resent the idea of failing in the performance of so sacred an obligation!

Such are the genuine characters, such the natural workings, of a lively gratitude. And can we believe, without doing violence to the most established principles of human nature, that where the effects are so different, the internal principle is in truth the same?

If the love of Christ be thus languid in the bulk of nominal Christians, their joy and trust in him cannot be expected to be very vigorous. Here again we find reason to remark, that there is nothing distinct, nothing specific, nothing which implies a mind acquainted with the nature of the Christian’s privileges, and familiarized with their use; habitually Solacing itself with the hopes held out by the Gospel, and animated by the sense of its high endowments, and its glorious reversion.

Holy Spirit’s Operations

The doctrine of the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit, appears to have met with still worse treatment. It would be to convey a very inadequate idea of the scantiness of the conceptions on this head, of the bulk of the Christian world, to affirm merely, that they are too little conscious of the inefficacy of their own unassisted endeavors after holiness of heart and life, and that they are not daily employed in humbly and diligently using the appointed means for the reception and cultivation of the divine assistance. We should hardly go beyond the truth in asserting, that for the most part their notions on this subject are so confused and faint, that they can scarcely be said in any fair sense to believe the doctrine at all.

Language of one who abjects against the religious affections towards our Savior

The writer of these sheets is by no means unapprised of the objections which he may expect from those whose opinions he has been so freely condemning. He is prepared to hear it urged, “that often, where there have been the strongest pretenses to the religious affections, there has been little or nothing of the reality of them; and that, even omitting the instances, which however have been but too frequent, of studied hypocrisy, those affections which have assumed to themselves the name of religious, have been merely the flights of a lively imagination, or the working of a heated brain; in particular, that this love of our Savior, which has been so warmly recommended, is no better than a vain fervor, which dwells only in the disordered mind of the enthusiast: that Religion is of a more steady nature; of a more sober and manly quality; and that she rejects with scorn, the support of a mere feeling, so volatile and indeterminate, so trivial and useless, as that with which we would associate her; a feeling varying in different men, and even in the same man at different times, according to the accidental flow of the animal spirits; a feeling, of which it may perhaps be said, we are from our very nature, hardly susceptible towards an invisible Being.”

And against the Operations of the Holy Spirit

“As to the Operations of the Holy Spirit,” it may probably be further urged, “it is perhaps scarcely worthwhile to spend much time in inquiring into the theory, when, in practice at least, it is manifest, that there is no sure criterion whereby any one can ascertain the reality of them, even in his own case, much less in that of another. All we know is, that pretenders to these extraordinary assistances, have never been wanting to abuse the credulity of the vulgar, and to try the patience of the wise. From the canting hypocrites and wild fanatics of the last century, to their less dangerous, chiefly because less successful, descendants of the present day, we hear the same unwarranted claims, the same idle tales, the same low cant; and we may discern not seldom the same mean artifices and mercenary ends. The doctrine, to say the best of it, can only serve to favor the indolence of man; while professing to furnish him with a compendious method of becoming wise and good, it supersedes the necessity of his own personal labors. Quitting therefore all such slothful and chimerical speculations, it is true wisdom to attach ourselves to what is more solid and practical; to the work, which you will not deny to be sufficiently difficult to find us of itself full employment, the work of rectifying the disorders of the passions, and of implanting and cultivating the virtues of the moral character.”—“It is the service of the understanding which God requires of us, which you would degrade into a mere matter of bodily temperament, and imaginary impulses. You are contending for that, which, not only is altogether unworthy of our Divine Master, but which, with considerate men, has ever brought his religion into suspicion and disrepute, and, under a show of honoring him, serves only to injure and discredit his cause.” Our Objector, warming as he proceeds, will perhaps assume a more impatient tone. “Have not these doctrines,” he may exclaim, “been ever perverted to purposes the most disgraceful to the Religion of Jesus? If you want an instance, look to the standard of the Inquisition, and behold the pious Dominicans torturing their miserable victims for the love of Christ.* Or would you rather see the effects of your principles on a larger scale, and by wholesale, if the phrase may be pardoned; cast your eyes across the Atlantic, and let your zeal be edified by the holy activity of Cortez and Pizarro, and their apostles of the western hemisphere. To what else have been owing the extensive ravages of national persecutions, and religious wars and crusades; whereby rapacity, and pride, and cruelty sheltering themselves under the mask of this specious principle, have so often afflicted the world? The Prince of Peace has been made to assume the port of a ferocious conqueror, and, forgetting the message of good-will to men, has issued forth, like a second Scourge of the Earth, to plague and desolate the human species.”

Reply to the above Allegations

That the sacred name of Religion has been too often prostituted to the most detestable purposes; that furious bigots and bloody persecutors, and self-interested hypocrites of all qualities and dimensions, from the rapacious leader of an army to the canting oracle of a congregation, have falsely called themselves Christians, are melancholy and humiliating truths, which (as none so deeply lament them) none will more readily admit than they, who best understand the nature of Christianity, and are most concerned for her honor. We are ready to acknowledge also without dispute, that the religious affections, and the doctrine of divine assistance, have at all times been more or less disgraced by the false pretenses and extravagant conduct of wild fanatics and brain-sick enthusiasts. All this, however, is only as it happens in other instances, wherein the depravity of man perverts the bounty of God. Why is it here only to be made an argument that there is danger of abuse? So is there also in the case of every operative principle, whether in the natural or moral world. Take for an instance the powers and properties of matter. These were doubtless designed by Providence for our comfort and well-being; yet they are often misapplied to trifling purposes, and still more frequently turned into so many agents of misery and death. On this fact indeed is founded the well-known maxim, not more trite than just, that “the best things when corrupted become the worst;” a maxim which is peculiarly just in the instance of Religion. For in this case it is not merely, as in some others, that a great power, when mischievously applied, must be hurtful in proportion to its strength; but that the very principle, on which in general we depend for restraining and retarding the progress of evil, not only ceases to interpose any kindly check, but is powerfully active in the opposite direction. But will you therefore discard Religion altogether? It is upon this very ground, that the Infidels of a neighboring country have lately made war against Christianity; with what effects the world has not now to learn. But suppose Religion were discarded, then Liberty remains to plague the world; a power, which though, when well employed, the dispenser of light and happiness, has been often proved, eminently proved, in the instance of a neighboring country, to be capable, when abused, of becoming infinitely mischievous. Well, then, extinguish Liberty. Then what more abused by false pretenders, than Patriotism? Well, extinguish Patriotism. But then the wicked career to which we have adverted, must have been checked but for Courage. Blot out Courage—and so might you proceed to extinguish one by one, Reason, and Speech, and Memory, and all the discriminating prerogatives of man. But perhaps more than enough has been already urged in reply to an objection, which is built on ground so indefensible, as that which would equally warrant our condemning any physical or moral faculty altogether, on account of its being occasionally abused.

As to the position of our Opponent, that there is no way whereby the validity of any pretensions to the religious affections may be ascertained; it must partly be admitted. Doubtless we are not able always to read the hearts of men, and to discover their real characters; and hence it is, that we in some measure lie open to the false and hypocritical pretenses which are brought forward against us so triumphantly. But then these pretenses no more prove all similar claims to be founded in falsehood and hypocrisy, than there having been many false and interested pretenders to wisdom and honesty, would prove that there can be no such thing as a wise or an honest man. We do not argue thus but where our reason is under a corrupt bias. Why should we be so much surprised and scandalized, when these impostors are detected in the church of Christ? It is no more than our blessed Master himself taught us to expect; and when the old difficulty is stated, “Didst thou not sow good seed in thy field, whence then hath it tares?” his own answer furnishes the best solution—“an enemy hath done this.”—Hypocrisy is indeed detestable, and enthusiasm sufficiently mischievous to justify our guarding against its approaches with jealous care. Yet it may not be improper to take this occasion for observing that we are now and then apt to draw too unfavorable conclusions from unpleasant appearances, which may perhaps be chiefly or altogether owing to gross or confused conceptions, or to a disgusting formality of demeanor, or to indeterminate, low, or improperly familiar expressions. The mode and language, in which a vulgar man will express himself on the subject of Religion, will probably be vulgar, and it is difficult for people of literature and refinement not to be unreasonably shocked by such vulgarities. But we should at least endeavor to correct the rash judgments which we may be disposed to form on these occasions, and should learn to recognize and to prize a sound texture and just configuration, though disguised beneath a homely or uncouth drapery. It was an Apostle who declared that he had come to the learned and accomplished Grecians, “not with excellency of speech, or the wisdom of words.” From these he had studiously abstained, lest he should have seemed to owe his success rather to the graces of oratory, than to the efficacy of his doctrines, and to the divine power with which they were accompanied. Even in our own times, when the extraordinary operations and miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit having ceased, the necessity of study and preparation, and of attention to manner as well as matter, in order to qualify men to become teachers of religion, are no longer superseded, it is no more than an act of justice explicitly to remark, that a body of Christians, which from the peculiarly offensive grossnesses of language in use among them, had, not without reason, excited suspicions of the very worst nature, have since reclaimed their character, (b) and have perhaps excelled all mankind in solid and unequivocal proofs of the love of Christ, and of the most ardent, and active, and patient zeal in his service. It is a zeal tempered with prudence, softened with meekness, soberly aiming at great ends by the gradual operation of well-adapted means, supported by a courage which no danger can intimidate, and a quiet constancy which no hardships can exhaust.

sect. ii

On the Admission of the Passions into Religion

THE objection of our Opponent, that by insisting on the obligation of making our blessed Savior the object of our affections, we are degrading our religious services, and are substituting a set of mere feelings in place of the worship of the understanding, is an objection which deserves our most serious consideration. If it be just, it is decisive; for ours must be unquestionably “a reasonable service.”* The Objector must mean, either, that these affections are unreasonable in themselves, or that they are misplaced in Religion. He can scarcely, however, intend that the affections are in their own nature unreasonable. To suppose him to maintain this position, were to suppose him ignorant of what every school-boy knows of the mechanism of the human mind. We shall therefore take it for granted, that this cannot be his meaning, and proceed to examine the latter part of the alternative. Here also it may either be intended, that the affections are misplaced in Religion generally, or that our blessed Savior is not the proper object of them.

This notion of the affections being out of place in Religion, is indeed an opinion which appears to be generally prevalent. The affections are regarded as the strong holds of enthusiasm. It is therefore judged most expedient to act, as prudent generals are used to do, when they raze the fortress, or spike the cannon, which are likely to fall into the hands of an enemy. Mankind are apt to be the dupes of misapplied terms; and the progress of the persuasion now in question, has been considerably aided by an abuse of language not sufficiently checked in its first advances, whereby that species of Religion which is opposite to the warm and affectionate kind, has been suffered almost without disturbance, to usurp to itself the epithet of rational. But let not this claim be too hastily admitted. Let the position in question be thoroughly and impartially discussed, and it will appear, if I mistake not, to be a gross and pernicious error. If amputation be indeed indispensable, we must submit to it; but we may surely expect to be heard with patience, or rather with favor and indulgence, while we proceed to show, that there is no need to have recourse to so desperate a remedy. The discussion will necessarily draw us into length. But our prolixity will not be greater than may well be claimed by the importance of the subject, especially as it scarcely seems to have hitherto sufficiently engaged the attention of writers on the subject of Religion.

It cannot methinks but afford a considerable presumption against the doctrine which we are about to combat, that it proposes to exclude at once from the service of Religion so grand a part of the composition of man; that in this our noblest employment it condemns as worse than useless, all the most active principles of our nature. One cannot but suppose, that like the organs of the body, so the elementary qualities and original passions of the mind were all given us for valuable purposes by our all-wise Creator. It is indeed one of the sad evidences of our fallen condition, that they are now perpetually rebelling against the powers of reason and conscience, to which they should be subject. But even if Revelation had been silent, natural reason might have in some degree presumed, that it would be the effect of a Religion which should come from God, completely to repair the consequences of our superinduced depravity. The schemes of mere human wisdom had indeed tacitly confessed, that this was a task beyond their strength. Of the two most celebrated systems of philosophy, the one expressly confirmed the usurpation of the passions; while the other, despairing of being able to regulate them, saw nothing left but their extinction. The former acted like a weak government, which gives independence to a rebellious province, which it cannot reduce. The latter formed its boasted scheme merely upon the plan of that barbarous policy, which composes the troubles of a turbulent land by the extermination of its inhabitants. This is the calm, not of order, but of inaction; it is not tranquility, but the stillness of death;

Trucidare falso nomine imperium, & ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.—Tacit.

Christianity, we might hope, would not be driven to any such wretched expedients: nor in fact does she condescend to them. They only thus undervalue her strength, who mistake her character, and are ignorant of her powers. It is her peculiar glory, and her special office, to bring all the faculties of our nature into their just subordination and dependence; that so the whole man, complete in all his functions, may be restored to the true ends of his being, and be devoted, entire and harmonious, to the service and glory of God. “My son, give me thine heart”—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart:”—Such are the direct and comprehensive claims which are made on us in the holy Scriptures. We can scarcely indeed look into any part of the sacred volume without meeting abundant proofs that it is the religion of the Affections which God particularly requires. Love, Zeal, Gratitude, Joy, Hope, Trust, are each of them specified; and are not allowed to us as weaknesses, but enjoined on us as our bounden duty, and commended to us as our acceptable worship. Where passages are so numerous, there would be no end of particular citations. Let it be sufficient, therefore, to refer the reader to the word of God. There let him observe, too, that as the lively exercise of the passions towards their legitimate object is always spoken of with praise, so a cold, hard, unfeeling heart is represented as highly criminal. Lukewarmness is stated to be the object of God’s disgust and aversion; zeal and love, of his favor and delight; and the taking away of the heart of stone and the implanting of a warmer and more tender nature in its stead, are specifically promised as the effects of his returning favor, and the work of his renewing grace. It is the prayer of an inspired teacher, in behalf of those for whom he was most interested, “that their love,” already acknowledged to be great, “might abound yet more and more:”* Those modes of worship are prescribed, which are best calculated to excite the dormant affections, and to maintain them in lively exercise; and the aids of music and singing are expressly superadded to increase their effect. If we look to the most eminent of the Scripture Characters, we shall find them warm, zealous, and affectionate. When engaged in their favorite work of celebrating the goodness of their Supreme Benefactor, their souls appear to burn within them, their hearts kindle into rapture; the powers of language are inadequate to the expression of their transports; and they call on all nature to swell the chorus, and to unite with them in hallelujahs of gratitude, and joy, and praise. The man after God’s own heart most of all abounds in these glowing effusions; and his compositions appear to have been given us in order to set the tone, as it were, to all succeeding generations. Accordingly, to quote the words of a late excellent prelate, who was himself warmed with the same heavenly flame, “in the language of this divine book, the praises of the church have been offered up to the Throne of Grace from age to age.” When God was pleased to check the future Apostle of the Gentiles in his wild career, and to make him a monument of transforming grace; was the force of his affections diminished, or was it not that their direction only was changed? He brought his affections entire and unabated into the service of his blessed Master. His zeal now burned even with an increase of brightness; and no intenseness, no continuance, of sufferings could allay its ardor, or damp the fervors of his triumphant exultations. Finally—The worship and service of the glorified spirits in Heaven, is not represented to us as a cold intellectual investigation, but as the worship and service of gratitude and love. And surely it will not be disputed, that it should be even here the humble endeavor of those who are promised while on earth “to be made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,” to bring their hearts into a capacity for joining in those everlasting praises.

True Test and Measure of the religious Affections

But it may not be unadvisable for the writer here to guard against a mistaken supposition from which the mind of our Objector by no means appears exempt; that the force of the religious affections is to be chiefly estimated by the degree of mere animal fervor, by ardors and transports, and raptures, of which, from constitutional temperament, a person may be easily susceptible; or into which daily experience must convince us, that people of strong imaginations and of warm passions may work themselves without much difficulty, where their hearts are by no means truly or deeply interested. Every tolerable actor can attest the truth of this remark. These high degrees of the passions bad men may experience, good men may want. They may be affected; they may be genuine; but whether genuine or affected, they form not the true standard by which the real nature or strength of the religious affections is to be determined. To ascertain these points, we must examine whether they appear to be grounded in knowledge, to have their root in strong and just conceptions of the great and manifold excellencies of their object, or to be ignorant, unmeaning, or vague; whether they are natural and easy, or constrained and forced; wakeful, and apt to fix on their great objects, and delighting in the exercises of prayer, and praise, and religious contemplation, which may be called their proper nutriment; or voluntarily omitting suitable occasions of receiving it, looking forward to such opportunities with little expectation, looking back on them with little complacency, and being disappointed of them with little regret; we must observe whether these religious affections are merely occasional visitants, or the abiding inmates of the soul: whether they have got the mastery over the vicious passions and propensities, with which, in their origin, and nature, and tendency, they are at open variance; or whether, if the victory be not yet complete, the war is at least constant, and the breach irreconcilable: whether they moderate and regulate all the inferior appetites and desires which are culpable only in their excess, thus striving to reign in the bosom with a settled undisputed predominance: And we must examine whether, above all, they manifest themselves by prompting to the active discharge of the duties of life, the personal, the domestic, the professional, the social, and civil duties. Here the wideness of their range and the universality of their influence, will generally serve to distinguish them from those partial efforts of diligence and self-denial, to which mankind are prompted by subordinate motives. All proofs other than this deduced from conduct, are in some degree ambiguous. This, this only, whether we argue from Reason or from Scripture, is a sure, infallible criterion. From the daily incidents of conjugal and domestic life, we learn, that a heat of affection occasionally vehement, but superficial and transitory, may consist too well with a course of conduct, exhibiting incontestable proofs of neglect and unkindness. But the passion, which alone the holy Scriptures dignify with the name of Love, is a deep, not a superficial feeling; a fixed and permanent, not an occasional emotion. It proves the validity of its title, by actions corresponding with its nature, by practical endeavors to gratify the wishes, and to promote the interests, of the object of affection. “If a man love me, he will keep my sayings.” “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” This therefore is the best standard by which to try the quality, or, the quality being ascertained, to estimate the strength of the religious affections. Without suffering ourselves to derive too much complacency from transient fervors of devotion, we should carefully and frequently prove ourselves by this less doubtful test; impartially examining our daily conduct; and often comparing our actual, with our possible services; the fair amount of our exertions, with our natural or acquired means and opportunities of usefulness.

After this large explanation, the prolixity of which will, we trust, be pardoned on account of the importance of the subject, and the danger of mistakes both on the right hand and on the left, we are perfectly ready to concede to the objector, that the religious affections must be expected to be more or less lively in different men, and in the same man at different times, in proportion to natural tempers, ages, situations, and habits of life. But, to found an objection on this ground, would be as unreasonable, as it would be altogether to deny the obligation of the precepts, which command us to relieve the necessities of the indigent, because the infinitely varying circumstances of mankind must render it impossible to specify beforehand the sum which each individual ought on the whole to allot to this purpose, or to fix, in every particular instance, on any determinate measure and mode of contribution. To the one case no less than to the other, we may apply the maxim of an eminent writer, “An honest heart is the best casuist.” He who everywhere but in Religion is warm and animated, there only phlegmatic and cold, can hardly expect, especially if this coldness be not the subject of unfeigned humiliation and sorrow, that his plea on the ground of natural temper should be admitted; any more than that of a person who should urge his poverty as a justification of his not relieving the wants of the necessitous, at the very time of his lanching out into expense without restraint, on occasions in which he was really prompted by his inclinations. In both cases, “it is the willing mind which is required.” Where that is found, every “man will be judged according to what he hath, and not according to what he hath not.”*

The Affections not merely allowable in Religion, but highly necessary

After the decisive proofs already adduced from the word of God, of the unreasonableness of the objection to admitting the passions into religion, all further arguments may appear superfluous to any one who is disposed to bow to scriptural authority. Yet the point is of so much importance, and, it is to be feared, so little regarded, that it may not be amiss to continue the discussion. The best conclusions of reason will be shown to fall in with what clearly appears to be the authoritative language of revelation; and to call in the aid of the affections to the service of religion, will prove to be, not only what sober Reason may permit as in some sort allowable, but what she clearly and strongly dictates to our deliberate judgments as indispensably requisite for us, in the circumstances wherein we are placed. We have every one of us a work to accomplish, wherein our eternal interests are at stake; a work to which we are naturally indisposed. We live in a world abounding with objects which distract our attention and divert our endeavors; and a deadly enemy is ever at hand to seduce and beguile us. If we persevere indeed, success is certain; but our efforts must know no remission. There is a call on us for vigorous and continual resolution, self-denial, and activity. Now, man is not a being of mere intellect.

Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor,

is a complaint which, alas! we all of us might daily utter. The slightest solicitation of appetite is often able to draw us to act in opposition to our clearest judgment, our highest interests, and most resolute determinations. Sickness, poverty, disgrace, and even eternal misery itself, sometimes in vain solicit our notice; they are all excluded from our view, and thrust as it were beyond the sphere of vision, by some poor unsubstantial transient object, so minute and contemptible as almost to escape the notice of the eye of reason.

These observations are more strikingly confirmed in our religious concerns than in any other; because in them the interests at stake are of transcendent importance: but they hold equally in every instance, according to its measure, wherein there is a call for laborious, painful, and continued exertions, from which we are likely to be deterred by obstacles, or seduced by the solicitations of pleasure. What, then, is to be done in the case of any such arduous and necessary undertaking? The answer is obvious—You should endeavor not only to convince the understanding, but also to affect the heart; and for this end, you must secure the reinforcement of the passions. This is indeed the course which would be naturally followed by every man of common understanding, who should know that some one, for whom he was deeply interested, a child, for instance, or a brother, were about to enter on a long, difficult, perilous, and critical adventure, wherein success was to be honor and affluence; defeat was to be contempt and ruin. And still more, if the parent were convinced that his child possessed faculties which, strenuously and unremittingly exerted, would prove equal to all the exigencies of the enterprise; but knew him also to be volatile and inconstant; and had reason to doubt his resolution and his vigilance; how would the friendly monitor’s endeavor be redoubled, so to possess his pupil’s mind with the worth and dignity of the undertaking, that there should be no opening for the entrance of any inferior consideration!—“Weigh well (he would say) the value of the object for which you are about to contend, and contemplate and study its various excellencies, till your whole soul be on fire for its acquisition. Consider too, that if you fail, misery and infamy are united in the alternative which awaits you. Let not the mistaken notion of its being a safe and easy service, for a moment beguile you into the discontinuance or remission of your efforts. Be aware of your imminent danger, and at the same time know your true security. It is a service of labor and peril; but one wherein the powers which you possess, strenuously and perseveringly exerted, cannot but crown you with victory. Accustom yourself to look first to the dreadful consequences of failure; then fix your eye on the glorious prize which is before you; and when your strength begins to fail, and your spirits are well nigh exhausted, let the animating view rekindle your resolution, and call forth in renewed vigor the fainting energies of your soul.”

It was the remark of an unerring observer, “The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” And it is indisputably true, that in religion we have to argue and plead with men for principles of action, the wisdom and expediency of which are universally acknowledged in matters of worldly concern. So it is in the instance before us. The case which has been just described is an exact, but a faint representation of our condition in this life. Frail and “infirm of purpose,” we have a business to execute of supreme and indispensable necessity. Solicitations to neglect it everywhere abound: the difficulties and dangers are numerous and urgent; and the night of death cometh, how soon we know not, “when no man can work.” All this is granted. It seems to be a state of things wherein one should look out with solicitude for some powerful stimulants. Mere knowledge is confessedly too weak. The affections alone remain to supply the deficiency. They precisely meet the occasion, and suit the purposes intended. Yet when we propose to fit ourselves for our great undertaking, by calling them in to our help, we are to be told that we are acting contrary to reason. Is this reasonable, to strip us first of our armor of proof, and then to send us to the sharpest of encounters? To summon us to the severest labors, but first to rob us of the precious cordials which should brace our sinews and recruit our strength?

Let these pretended advocates for reason at length then confess their folly, and do justice to the superior wisdom as well as goodness of our heavenly Instructor, who, better understanding our true condition, and knowing our frowardness and inadvertency, has most reasonably as well as kindly pointed out and enjoined on us the use of those aids which may counteract our infirmities; who, commanding the effect, has commanded also the means whereby it may be accomplished.

Christ the just object of our warm affections

And now, if the use of the affections in religion, in general, be at length shown to be conformable to reason, it will not require many words to prove that our blessed Savior is the proper object of them. We know that love, gratitude, joy, hope, trust, have all their appropriate objects. Now it must be at once conceded, that if these appropriate objects be not exhibited, it is perfectly unreasonable to expect that the correspondent passions should be excited. If we ask for love, in the case of an object which has no excellence or desirableness; for gratitude, where no obligation has been conferred; for joy, where there is no just cause of self-congratulation; for hope, where nothing is expected; for trust, where there exists no ground of reliance; then, indeed, we must kiss the rod, and patiently submit to correction. This would be indeed Egyptian bondage, to demand the effects without the means of producing them. Is the case then so? Are we ready to adopt the language of the avowed enemies of our adorable Savior; and again to say of him “in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,” that “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him?”* Is it no obligation, that he who “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” should yet for our sakes “make himself of no reputation, and take upon him the form of a servant, and be made in the likeness of men; and humble himself, and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross?” Is it no cause of “joy, that to us is born a Savior,” by whom we may “be delivered from the power of darkness; and be made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light?”§ Can there be a “hope comparable to that of our calling”||—“which is Christ in us, the hope of glory.” Can there be a trust to be preferred to the reliance on “Christ Jesus; who is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever?”** Surely, if our Opponent be not dead to every generous emotion, he cannot look his own objection in the face, without a blush of shame and indignation.

The Affections denied to be possible towards an invisible Being

But forced at last to retreat from his favorite position, and compelled to acknowledge that the religious affections towards our blessed Savior are not unreasonable; the Objector still maintains the combat, suggesting that by the very constitution of our nature, we are not susceptible of them towards an invisible Being; with regard to whom, it is added, we are shut out from all those means of communication and intercourse, which knit and cement the union between man and man.

The above Position discussed, and answered

We mean not to deny that there is something in this objection. It might even seem to plead the authority of Scripture in its favor—“Mine eye affecteth mine heart;”* and still more—“He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love “God whom he hath not seen?” It was indeed no new remark in Horace’s days,

Segnius irritant animos demissa per aures,

Quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus.

We receive impressions more readily from visible objects, we feel them more strongly, we retain them more durably. But though it must be granted that this circumstance makes it a more difficult task to preserve the affections in question in a healthful and vigorous state; is it thereby rendered impossible? This were indeed a most precipitate conclusion; and anyone who should be disposed to admit the truth of it, might be at least induced to hesitate, when he should reflect that the argument applies equally against the possibility of the love of God, a duty of which the most cursory reader of Scripture, if he admit its divine authority, cannot but acknowledge the indispensable obligation. But we need only look back to the Scripture proofs which have been already adduced, to be convinced that the religious affections are therein inculcated on us as a matter of high and serious obligation. Hence we may be assured that the impossibility stated by our Opponent does not exist.

Let us scrutinize this matter, however, a little more minutely, and we shall be compelled to acknowledge, that the objection vanishes when we fairly and accurately investigate the circumstances of the case. With this view, let us look a little into the nature of the affections of the human mind, and endeavor to ascertain whence it is that they derive their nutriment, and are found from experience to increase in strength.

The state of man is such, that his feelings are not the obedient servants of his reason, prompt at once to follow its dictates, as to their direction and their measure. Excellence is the just object of love: good in expectancy, of hope; evil to be apprehended, of fear; the misfortunes and sufferings of our fellow-creatures, constitute the just objects of pity. Each of these passions, it might be thought, would be excited, in proportion to what our reason should inform us were the magnitude and consequent claims of its corresponding object. But this is by no means the case. Take first for a proof the instance of pity. We read of slaughtered thousands with less emotion than we hear the particulars of a shocking accident which has happened in the next street; the distresses of a novel, which at the same time we know to be fictitious, affect us more than the dry narrative of a battle. We become so much interested by these incidents of the imagination, that we cannot speedily banish them from our thoughts, nor recover the tone of our minds; and often, we scarcely bring ourselves to lay down our book at the call of real misfortune, of which perhaps we go to the relief, on a principal of duty, but with little sense of interest, or emotion of tenderness. It were easy to show that it is much the same in the case of the other affections. Whatever be the cause of this disproportion, which, as metaphysics fall not within our province, we shall not stop to examine, the fact is undeniable. There appears naturally to be a certain strangeness between the passion and its object, which familiarity and the power of habit must gradually overcome. You must contrive to bring them into close contact; they must be jointed and glued together by the particularities of little incidents. Thus in the production of heat in the physical world, the flint and the steel produce not the effect without collision; the rudest Barbarian will tell us the necessity of attrition, and the chemist of mixture. Now, an object, it is admitted, is brought into closer contact with its corresponding passion by being seen and conversed with. This we grant is one way; but does it follow that there is no other? To assert this, would be something like maintaining, in contradiction to universal experience, that objects of vision alone are capable of attracting our regard. But nothing can be more unfounded than such a supposition. It might seem too near an approach to the ludicrous to suggest as an example to the contrary, the metaphysician’s attachment to his unsubstantial speculations, or the zeal displayed in the pursuit,

Extra flammantia mœnia mundi

of abstract sciences, where there is no idea of bringing them “within the visible diurnal sphere;” to the vulgarity of practical application. The instance of novel reading proves that we may be extremely affected by what we know to be merely ideal incidents and beings. By much thinking or talking of anyone; by using our minds to dwell on his excellencies; by placing him in imaginary situations which interest and affect us; we find ourselves becoming insensibly more and more attached to him: whereas it is the surest expedient for extinguishing an attachment which already exists, to engage in such occupations or society, as may cause our casual thoughts and more fixed meditations to be diverted from the object of it. Ask a mother who has been long separated from her child, especially if he has been in circumstances of honor, or of danger, to draw her attention to him, and to keep it in wakefulness and exercise, and she will tell you, that so far from becoming less dear, he appears to have grown more the object of her affections. She seems to herself to love him even better than the child who has been living under her roof, and has been daily in her view. How does she rejoice in his good fortune, and weep over his distresses! With what impatience does she anticipate the time of his return!

We find therefore that sight and personal intercourse do not seem necessary to the production or increase of attachment, where the means of close contact have been afforded; but on the other hand, if an object has been prevented from coming into close contact, sight and personal intercourse are not sufficient to give it the power of exciting the affections in proportion to its real magnitude. Suppose the case of a person whom we have often seen, and may have occasionally conversed with, and of whom we have been told in the general, that he possesses extraordinary merits. We assent to the assertion. But if we have no knowledge of particulars, no close acquaintance with him, nothing in short which brings his merits home to us, they interest us less than a far inferior degree of the very same qualities in one of our common associates. A parent has several children, all constantly under his eye, and equally dear to him. Yet if any one of them be taken ill, it is brought into so much closer contact than before, that it seems to absorb and engross the parent’s whole affection. Thus then, though it will not be denied that an object by being visible may thereby excite its corresponding affection with more facility; yet this is manifestly far from being the prime consideration. And so far are we from being the slaves of the sense of vision, that a familiar acquaintance with the intrinsic excellencies of an object, aided, it must be admitted, by the power of habit, will render us almost insensible to the impressions which its outward form conveys, and able entirely to lose the consciousness of an unsightly exterior.

We may be permitted to remark, that the foregoing going observations furnish an explanation, less discreditable than that which has been sometimes given, of an undoubted phenomenon in the human mind, that the greatest public misfortunes, however the understanding may lecture, are apt really to affect our feelings less than the most trivial disaster which happens to ourselves. An eminent writer (a) scarcely overstated the point when he observed, “that it would occasion a man of humanity more real disturbance to know that he was the next morning to lose his little finger, than to hear that the great empire of China had been suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake. The thoughts of the former would keep him awake all night; in the latter case, after making many melancholy reflections on the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labors of man which could be thus annihilated in a moment; after a little speculation too perhaps on the causes of the disaster, and its effects in the political and commercial world; he would pursue his business or his a pleasure with the same ease and tranquility as if no such accident had happened; and snore at night with the most profound serenity over the ruin of a hundred millions of his fellow-creatures. Selfishness is not the cause of this, for the most unfeeling brute on earth would surely think nothing of the loss of a finger, if he could thereby prevent so dreadful a calamity.” This doctrine of contact which has been opened above, affords a satisfactory solution; and, from all that has been said, the circumstances, by which the affections of the mind towards any particular object are generated and strengthened, may be easily collected. The chief of these appear to be, whatever tends to give a distinct and lively impression of the object, by setting before us its minute parts, and by often drawing towards it the thoughts and affections, so as to invest it by degrees with a confirmed ascendency; whatever tends to excite and to keep in exercise, a lively interest in its behalf; in other words, full knowledge, distinct and frequent mental entertainment, and pathetic contemplations. Supposing these means to have been used in any given degree, it may be expected that they be will more or less efficacious, in proportion as the intrinsic qualities of the object afford greater or less scope for their operation, and more or fewer materials with which to work. Can it then be conceived, that they will be of no avail when steadily practiced in the case of our Redeemer! If the principles of love and gratitude and joy, and hope, and trust, are not utterly extinct within us, they cannot but be called forth by the various corresponding objects which that blessed contemplation would gradually bring forth to our view. Well might the language of the apostle be addressed to Christians, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”*

Special grounds for the religious Affections towards our Savior

But in the present instance fresh considerations pour in, still more to invalidate the plea of its being impossible to love an invisible being. Our blessed Savior, if we may be permitted so to say, is not removed far from us; and the various relations in which we stand towards him, seem purposely made known to us, in order to furnish so many different bonds of connection with him, so many consequent occasions of continual intercourse. He exhibits not himself to us “dark with excessive brightness,” but is let down as it were to the possibilities of human converse. We may not think that he is incapable of entering into our little concerns, and of sympathizing with them; for we are graciously assured that he is not one “who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, having been in all points tempted like as we are.”* The figures under which he is represented, are such as convey ideas of the utmost tenderness. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”—“They shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor sun smite them; for he that hath mercy on them, shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.” “I will not leave you orphans” (a) was one of his last consolatory declarations.§ The children of Christ are here separated indeed from the personal view of him; but not from his paternal affection and paternal care. Meanwhile let them quicken their regards by the animating anticipation of that blessed day, when he “who is gone to prepare a place for them, will come again to receive them unto himself.” Then shall they be admitted to his more immediate presence: “Now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as I am known.”||

Surely more than enough has been now said to prove that this particular case, from its very nature, furnishes the most abundant and powerful considerations and means for exciting the feelings; and it might be contended, without fear of refutation, that by the diligent and habitual use of those considerations and means, we might with confident expectation of success engage in the work of raising our affections towards our blessed Savior to a state of due force and activity. But, blessed be God, we have a still better reliance; for the grand circumstance of all yet remains behind, which the writer has been led to defer, from his wish to contend with his opponents on their own ground. This circumstance is, that here, no less than in other particulars, the Christian’s hope is founded, not on the speculations or the strength of man, but on the declaration of Him who cannot lie, on the power of Omnipotence.

Unreasonable conduct of our Objectors in the present instance

We learn from the Scriptures that it is one main part of the operations of the Holy Spirit, to implant those heavenly principles in the human mind, and to cherish their growth. We are encouraged to believe, that in answer to our prayers, this aid from above will give efficacy to our earnest endeavors, if used in humble dependence on divine grace. We may therefore with confidence take the means which have been suggested. But let us, in our turn be permitted to ask our opponents, have they humbly and perseveringly applied for this divine strength? or disclaiming that assistance, perhaps as tempting them to indolence, have they been so much the more strenuous and unwearied in the use of their own unaided endeavors; or rather have they not been equally negligent of both? Renouncing the one, they have wholly omitted the other. But this is far from being all. They even reverse all the methods which we have recommended as being calculated to increase regard; and exactly follow that course which would be pursued by any one who should wish to reduce an excessive affection. Yet thus leaving untried all the means, which, whether from Reason or Scripture, we maintain to be necessary to the production of the end, nay using such as are of a directly opposite nature, these men presume to talk to us of impossibilities! We may rather contend that they furnish a fresh proof of the soundness of our reasonings. We lay it down as a fundamental position, that speculative knowledge alone, mere superficial cursory considerations, will be of no avail, that nothing is to be done without the diligent continued use of the appointed method. They themselves afford an instance of the truth of our assertions: and while they supply no argument against the efficacy of the mode prescribed, they acknowledge at least that they are wholly ignorant of any other.

Appeal to fact in proof of our former positions

But let us now turn our eyes to Christians of a higher order, to those who have actually proved the truth of our reasonings; who have not only assumed the name, but who have possessed the substance, and felt the power, of Christianity; who, though often foiled by their remaining corruptions, and shamed and cast down under a sense of their many imperfections, have known in their better seasons, what it was to experience its firm hope, its dignified joy, its unshaken trust, its more than human consolations. In their hearts, love also towards their Redeemer has glowed; a love not superficial and unmeaning, but constant and rational, resulting from a strong impression of the worth of its object, and heightened by an abiding sense of great, unmerited and continually accumulating obligations; ever manifesting itself in acts of diligent obedience, or of patient suffering. Such was the religion of the holy Martyrs of the sixteenth century, the illustrious ornaments of the English church. They realized the theory which we have now been faintly tracing. Look to their writings, and you will find that their thoughts and affections had been much exercised in habitual views of the blessed Jesus. Thus they used the required means. What were the effects? Persecution and distress, degradation and contempt in vain assailed them—all these evils served but to bring their affections into closer contact with their object; and not only did their love feel no diminution or abatement, but it rose to all the exigencies of the occasion, and burned with an increase of ardor; even when brought forth at last to a cruel and ignominious death, they repined not at their fate; but rather rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. The writer might refer to still more recent times, to prove the reality of this divine principle. But lest his authorities should be disputed, let us go to the Apostles of our Lord; and while on a cursory perusal of their writings, we must acknowledge that they commend and even prescribe to us the love of Christ as one of the chief of the Christian graces; so on a more attentive inspection of those writings, we shall discover abundant proofs, that they were themselves bright examples of their own precept; that our blessed Savior was really the object of their warmest affection, and what he had done and suffered for them, the continual subject of their grateful remembrance.

sect. iii

Inadequate Conceptions concerning the Holy Spirit’s Operations

THE disposition so prevalent in the bulk of nominal Christians, to form a religious system for themselves, instead of taking it from the word of God, is strikingly observable in their scarcely admitting, except in the most vague and general sense, the doctrine of the influence of the Holy Spirit. If we look into the Scriptures for information on this particular, we learn a very different lesson. We are in them distinctly taught, that “of ourselves we can do nothing;” that “we are by nature children of wrath,” and under the power of the evil spirit, our understandings being naturally dark, and our hearts averse from spiritual things; and we are directed to pray for the influence of the Holy Spirit to enlighten our understandings, to dissipate our prejudices, to purify our corrupt minds, and to renew us after the image of our heavenly Father. It is this influence which is represented as originally awakening us from slumber, as enlightening us in darkness, as “quickening us when dead,”* as “delivering us from the power of the devil,” as drawing us to God, as “translating us into the kingdom of his dear Son,” as “creating us anew in Christ Jesus,” as “dwelling in us, and walking in us;”* so that “putting off the old man with his deeds,” we are to consider ourselves as “having put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him;” and as those who are to be “an habitation of God through the Spirit.” It is by this Divine assistance only that we can grow in Grace, and improve in all Holiness. So expressly, particularly, and repeatedly, does the word of God inculcate these lessons, that one would think there was scarcely room for any difference of opinion among those who admit its authority. Sometimes (a) the whole of a Christian’s repentance and faith, and consequent holiness, are ascribed generally to the Divine influence; sometimes these are spoken of separately, and ascribed to the same Almighty power. Sometimes different particular graces of the Christian character, those which respect our duties and tempers towards our fellow-creatures, no less than those which have reference to the Supreme Being, are particularly traced to this source. Sometimes they are all referred collectively to this common root, being comprehended under the compendious denomination of “the Fruits of the Spirit.” In exact correspondence with these representations, this aid from above is promised in other parts of Scripture for the production of those effects; and the withholding or withdrawing of it is occasionally threatened as a punishment for the sins of men, and as one of the most fatal consequences of the Divine displeasure.

The Liturgy of the Church of England strictly agrees with the representation, which has been here given of the instructions of the word of God.

sect. iv

Mistaken Conceptions entertained by nominal Christians of the Terms of Acceptance with God

IF it be true then, that, in contradiction to the plainest dictates of Scripture, and to the ritual of our established Church, the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit (the first fruits of our reconciliation to God, the purchase of our Redeemer’s death, and his best gift to his true disciples,) are too generally undervalued and slighted; if it be also true, that our thoughts of the blessed Savior are confused and faint, our affections towards him languid and lukewarm; little proportioned to what they, who at such a price have been rescued from ruin, and endowed with a title to eternal glory, might be justly expected to feel towards the author of that deliverance; little proportioned to what has been felt by others, ransomed from the same ruin, and partakers of the same inheritance: if this, let it be repeated, be indeed so, let us not shut our eyes against the perception of our real state; but rather endeavor to trace the evil to its source. We are loudly called on to examine well our foundations. If anything be there unsound and hollow, the superstructure could not be safe, though its exterior were less suspicious. Let the question then be asked, and let the answer be returned with all the consideration and solemnity which a question so important may justly demand, whether, in the grand concern of all, the means of a sinner’s acceptance with God, there be not reason to apprehend, that the nominal Christians whom we have been addressing, too generally entertain very superficial and confused, if not highly dangerous notions? Is there not cause to fear, that with little more than an indistinct and nominal reference to Him who “bore our sins in his own body on the tree,” they really rest their eternal hopes on a vague, general persuasion of the unqualified mercy of the Supreme Being; or that, still more erroneously, they rely in the main, on their own negative or positive merits? “They can look upon their lives with an impartial eye, and congratulate themselves on their inoffensiveness in society; on their having been exempt, at least, from any gross vice, or if sometimes accidentally betrayed into it, on its never having been indulged habitually; or, if not even so,” (for there are but few who can say this, if the term vice be explained according to the strict requisitions of the Scriptures) “yet on the balance being in their favor, or on the whole not much against them, when their good and bad actions are fairly weighed, and due allowance is made for human frailty.” These considerations are sufficient for the most part to compose their apprehensions; these are the cordials which they find most at hand in the moments of serious thought, or of occasional dejection; and sometimes perhaps in seasons of less than ordinary self-complacency, they call in also to their aid the general persuasion of the unbounded mercy and pity of God. Yet persons of this description by no means disclaim a Savior, or avowedly relinquish their title to a share in the benefits of his death. They close their petitions with the name of Christ; but if not chiefly from the effect of habit, or out of decent conformity to the established faith, yet surely with something of the same ambiguity of principle, which influenced the expiring philosopher, when he ordered the customary mark of homage to be paid to the god of medicine.

Others go farther than this; for there are many shades of difference between those who flatly renounce, and those who cordially embrace the doctrine of Redemption by Christ. This class has a sort of general, indeterminate, and ill understood dependence on our blessed Savior. But their hopes, so far as they can be distinctly made out, appear ultimately to rest on the persuasion that they are now, through Christ, become members of a new dispensation, wherein they will be tried by a more lenient rule than that to which they must have been otherwise subject. “God will not now be extreme to mark what is done amiss; but will dispense with the rigorous exactions of his law, too strict indeed for such frail creatures as we are, to hope that we can fulfil it. Christianity has moderated the requisitions of Divine Justice; and all that is now required of us, is thankfully to trust to the merits of Christ for the pardon of our sins, and the acceptance of our sincere though imperfect obedience. The frailties and infirmities to which our nature is liable, or to which our situation in life exposes us, will not be severely judged; and as it is practice that really determines the character, we may rest satisfied, that if, on the whole, our lives be tolerably good, we shall escape with little or no punishment, and through Jesus Christ our Lord, shall be finally partakers of heavenly felicity.”

Prevailing fundamental misconception of the scheme and essential principle of the Gospel

We cannot dive into the human heart, and therefore should always speak with caution and diffidence, when, from external appearances or declarations we are affirming the existence of any internal principles and feelings; especially as we are liable to be misled by the ambiguities of language, or by the inaccuracy with which others may express themselves. But it is sometimes not difficult to anyone who is accustomed, if the phrase may be allowed, to the anatomy of the human mind, to discern, that generally speaking, the persons who use the above language, rely not so much on the merits of Christ, and on the agency of Divine Grace, as on their own power of fulfilling the moderated requisitions of Divine Justice. He will hence therefore discover in them a disposition, rather to extenuate the malignity of their disease, than to magnify the excellence of the proffered remedy. He will find them apt to palliate in themselves what they cannot fully justify to enhance the merit of what they believe to be their good qualities and commendable actions, to set, as it were in an account, the good against the bad; and if the result be not very unfavorable, they conceive that they shall be entitled to claim the benefits of our Savior’s sufferings as a thing of course. They have little idea, so little, that it might almost be affirmed that they have no idea at all, of the importance or difficulty of the duty of what the Scripture calls “submitting ourselves to the righteousness of God;” or of our proneness rather to justify ourselves in his sight, than, in the language of imploring penitents, to acknowledge ourselves guilty and helpless sinners. They have never summoned themselves to this entire and unqualified renunciation of their own merits, and their own strength; and therefore they remain strangers to the natural loftiness of the human heart, which such a call would have awakened into action, and roused to resistance. All these their several errors naturally result from the mistaken conception entertained of the fundamental principles of christianity. They consider not that Christianity is a scheme for “justifying the ungodly,”* by Christ’s dying for them, “when yet sinners (a): a scheme for reconciling us to God—“when enemies:” and for making the fruits of holiness the effects, not the cause, of our being justified and reconciled: that in short, it opens freely the door of mercy, to the greatest and worst of penitent sinners; who obeying the blessed impulse of the grace of God, whereby they had been awakened from the sleep of death, and moved to seek for pardon, may enter in, and, through the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, be enabled to bring forth the fruits of Righteousness. But they rather conceive of Christianity as opening the door of mercy, that those, who on the ground of their own merits could not have hoped to justify themselves before God, may yet be admitted for Christ’s sake, on condition of their having previously satisfied the moderated requisitions of Divine Justice. In speaking to others also of the Gospel scheme, they are apt to talk too much of terms and performances on our part, on which we become entitled to an interest in the sufferings of Christ; instead of stating the benefits of Christ’s satisfaction as extended to us freely, “without money and without price.”

Some practical consequences of the fundamental error above pointed out

The practical consequences of these errors are such as might be expected. They tend to prevent that sense which we ought to entertain of our own natural misery and helplessness; and that deep feeling of gratitude for the merits and intercession of Christ, to which we are wholly indebted for our reconciliation to God, and for the will and the power, from first to last, to work out our own salvation. They consider it too much in the light of a contract between two parties, wherein each, independently of the other, has his own distinct condition to perform; man—to do his duty; God—to justify and accept for Christ’s sake: If they fail not in the discharge of their condition, assuredly the condition on God’s part will be faithfully fulfilled. Accordingly, we find in fact, that they who represent the Gospel scheme in the manner above described, give evidence of the subject with which their hearts are most filled, by their proneness to run into merely moral disquisitions, either not mentioning at all, or at least but cursorily touching on, the sufferings and love of their Redeemer; and are little apt to kindle at their Savior’s name, or, like the apostles, to be betrayed by their fervor into what may be almost an untimely descant on the riches of his unutterable mercy. In addressing others also whom they conceive to be living, in habits of sin, and under the wrath of God, they rather advise them to amend their ways as a preparation for their coming to Christ, than exhort them to throw themselves with deep prostration of soul at the foot of the cross, there to obtain pardon, and find grace to help in time of need.

The great importance of the subject in question will justify the writer in having been thus particular. It has arisen from a wish that on a matter of such magnitude, it should be impossible to mistake his meaning. But after all that has been said, let it also be remembered, that, except so far as the instruction of others is concerned, the point of importance is the internal disposition of the mind; and it is to be hoped, that a dependence for pardon and holiness may be placed where it ought to be, notwithstanding the vague manner in which men express themselves. Let us also hope, that He who searches the heart, sees the right dispositions in many who use the mistaken and dangerous language to which we have objected.

If the preceding statement of the error so generally prevalent concerning the nature of the Gospel offer be in any considerable degree just, it will then explain that languor in the affections towards our blessed Savior, together with that inadequate impression of the necessity and value of the assistance of the Divine Spirit, which so generally prevail. According to the soundest principles of reasoning, it may be also adduced as an additional proof of the correctness of our present statement, that it so exactly falls in with those phænomena, and so naturally accounts for them. For even admitting that the persons above mentioned, particularly the last class, do at the bottom rely on the atonement of Christ; yet, on their scheme, it must necessarily happen, that the object to which they are most accustomed to look, with which their thoughts are chiefly conversant, and from which they most habitually derive complacency, is rather their own qualified merit and services, though confessed to be inadequate, than the sufferings and atoning death of a crucified Savior. The affections towards our blessed Lord therefore (according to the theory of the passions formerly laid down) cannot be expected to flourish, because they receive not that which was shown to be necessary to their nutriment and growth. If we would love him as affectionately, and rejoice in him as triumphantly, as the first Christians did; we must learn like them to repose our entire trust in him, and to adopt the language of the apostle, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”*—“Who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”

Condemnation of those who abuse the doctrine of free Grace

Doubtless there have been too many, who, to their eternal ruin, have abused the doctrine of Salvation by Grace; and have vainly trusted in Christ for pardon and acceptance, when by their vicious lives they have plainly proved the groundlessness of their pretensions. The tree is to be known by its fruits: and there is too much reason to fear that there is no principle of faith, when it does not decidedly evince itself by the fruits of holiness. Dreadful indeed will be the doom, above that of all others, of those loose professors of Christianity, to whom at the last day our blessed Savior will address those words, “I never knew you; depart from me, all ye that work iniquity.” But the danger of error on this side ought not to render us insensible to the opposite error: an error against which in these days it seems particularly necessary to guard. It is far from the intention of the writer of this Work to enter into the niceties of controversy. But surely without danger of being thought to violate this design, he may be permitted to contend, that they who in the main believe the doctrines of the Church of England, are bound to allow, that our dependence on our blessed Savior, as alone the meritorious cause of our acceptance with God, and as the means of all its blessed fruits and glorious consequences, must be not merely formal and nominal, but real and substantial; not vague, qualified, and partial, but direct, cordial, and entire.

Believing in Christ, what it really implies

“Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ,” was the sum of the apostolical instructions. It is not an occasional invocation of the name of Christ, or a transient recognition of his authority, that fills up the measure of the terms, believing in Jesus. This we shall find no such easy task: and, if we trust that we do believe, we should all perhaps do well to cry out in the words of an imploring suppliant, (he supplicated not in vain) “Lord, help thou our unbelief.” We must be deeply conscious of our guilt and misery, heartily repenting of our sins, and firmly resolving to forsake them: and thus penitently “fleeing for refuge to the hope set before us,” we must found altogether on the merit of the crucified Redeemer our hopes of escape from their deserved punishment, and of deliverance from their enslaving power. This must be our first, our last, our only plea. We are to surrender ourselves up to him to “be washed in his blood,”* to be sanctified by his Spirit, resolving to receive him for our Lord and Master, to learn in his School, to obey all his commandments.

Answer to the Objection, that we insist on metaphysical niceties

It may perhaps be not unnecessary, after having treated so largely on this important topic, to add a few words in order to obviate a charge which may be urged against us, that we are insisting on nice and abstruse distinctions in what is a matter of general concern: and this too in a system which on its original promulgation was declared to be peculiarly intended for the simple and poor. It will be abundantly evident, however, on a little reflection, and experience fully proves the position, that what has been required is not the perception of a subtle distinction, but a state and condition of heart. To the former, the poor and the ignorant must be indeed confessed unequal; but they are far less indisposed than the great and the learned, to bow down to that “preaching of the cross, which is to them that perish foolishness, but unto them that are saved the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” The poor are not liable to be puffed up by the intoxicating fumes of ambition and worldly grandeur. They are less likely to be kept from entering into the straight and narrow way, and, when they have entered, to be drawn back again, or to be retarded in their progress, by the cares or pleasures of life. They may express themselves ill: but their views may be simple, and their hearts humble, penitent, and sincere. It is, as in other cases; the vulgar are the subjects of phænomena, the learned explain them: the former know nothing of the theory of vision or of sentiment; but this ignorance hinders them not from seeing and thinking; and though unable to discourse elaborately on the passions, they can feel warmly for their children, their friends, their country.

The atonement and grace of Christ farther pressed as the subject of our habitual regard

After this digression, if that be indeed a digression which, by removing a formidable objection, renders the truth of the positions we wish to establish more clear and less questionable, we may now resume the thread of our argument. Still entreating therefore the attention of those, who have not been used to think much of the necessity of this undivided, and, if it may be so termed, unadulterated reliance, for which we have been contending: we would still more particularly address ourselves to others who are disposed to believe that though, in some obscure and vague sense, the death of Christ as the satisfaction for our sins, and for the purchase of our future happiness, and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, are to be admitted as fundamental articles of our creed, yet that these are doctrines so much above us, that they are not objects suited to our capacities; and that turning our eyes therefore from these difficult speculations, we should fix them on the practical and moral precepts of the Gospel. “These it most concerns us to know; these therefore let us study. Such is the frailty of our nature, such the strength and number of our temptations to evil, that, in reducing the Gospel morality to practice, we shall find full employment: and by attending to these moral precepts, rather than to those high mysterious doctrines which you are pressing on us, we shall best prepare to appear before God on that tremendous day, when ‘He shall judge every man according to his works.’ ”

“Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy!”

It will at once destroy this flimsy web, to reply in the words of our blessed Savior, and of his beloved Disciple—“This is the work of God, that ye believe “in him whom he hath sent.”* “This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” In truth, if we consider but for a moment the opinions of men who argue thus, we must be conscious of their absurdity. Let the modern Unitarians reduce the Gospel to a mere system of ethics, but surely it is in the highest degree unreasonable to admit into our scheme all the grand peculiarities of Christianity, and having admitted, to neglect and think no more of them! “Wherefore” (might the Socinian say) “Wherefore all this costly and complicated machinery? It is like the Tychonic astronomy, encumbered and self-convicted by its own complicated relations and useless perplexities. It is so little like the simplicity of nature, it is so unworthy of the divine hand, that it even offends against those rules of propriety which we require to be observed in the imperfect compositions of the human intellect.” (a)

Well may the Socinian assume this lofty tone, with those whom we are now addressing. If these be indeed the doctrines of Revelation, common sense suggests to us that from their nature and their magnitude, they deserve our most serious regard. It is the very theology of Epicurus to allow the existence of these “heavenly things,” but to deny their connection with human concerns, and their influence on human actions. Besides the unreasonableness of this conduct, we might strongly urge also in this connection the profaneness of thus treating as matters of subordinate consideration those parts of the system of Christianity, which are so strongly impressed on our reverence by the dignity of the person to whom they relate. This very argument is indeed repeatedly and pointedly pressed by the sacred writers.*

Nor is the profane irreverence of this conduct more striking than its ingratitude. When from reading that our Savior was “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, upholding all things by the word of his power,” we go on to consider the purpose for which he came on earth, and all that he did and suffered for us; surely, if we have a spark of ingenuousness left within us, we shall condemn ourselves as guilty of the blackest ingratitude, in rarely noticing, or coldly turning away, on whatever shallow pretenses, from the contemplation of these miracles of mercy. For those baser minds, however, on which fear alone can operate, that motive is superadded; and we are plainly forewarned, both directly and indirectly, by the example of the Jewish nation, that God will not hold them guiltless who are thus unmindful of his most signal acts of condescension and kindness. But as this is a question of pure Revelation, reasonings from probability may not be deemed decisive. To Revelation therefore we must appeal; and without entering into a labored discussion of the subject, which might be to trespass on the reader’s patience, I would refer him to the sacred Writings themselves for complete satisfaction. We would earnestly recommend it to him to weigh with the utmost seriousness those passages of Scripture wherein the peculiar doctrines of Christianity are expressly mentioned; and farther, to attend, with due regard, to the illustration and confirmation, which the conclusions resulting from those passages incidentally receive from other parts of the word of God. They who maintain the opinion which we are combating, will thereby become convinced that theirs is indeed an unscriptural Religion; and will learn, instead of turning off their eyes from the grand peculiarities of Christianity, to keep these ever in view, as the pregnant principles whence all the rest must derive their origin, and receive their best support.*

Conclusion

Let us then each for himself solemnly ask ourselves, whether we, have fled for refuge to the appointed hope? And whether we are habitually looking to it, as to the only source of consolation? “Other foundation can no man lay:” there is no other ground for dependence, no other plea for pardon; but here there is hope, even to the uttermost. Let us labor then to affect our hearts with a deep conviction of our need of a Redeemer, and of the value of his offered mediation. Let us fall down humbly before the throne of God, imploring pity and pardon in the name of the Son of his love. Let us beseech him to give us a true spirit of repentance, and of hearty undivided faith in the Lord Jesus. Let us not be satisfied till the cordiality of our belief be confirmed to us by that character with which we are furnished by an inspired writer, “that to as many as believe, Christ is precious;” and let us strive to increase daily in love towards our blessed Savior; and pray earnestly, that “we may be filled with Joy and Peace in believing, that we may abound in Hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.” Let us diligently put in practice the directions already given for cherishing and cultivating the principle of the Love of Christ. With this view let us labor assiduously to increase in knowledge, that our affection to the Lord who bought us, may be deeply rooted and rational. By frequent meditation on the incidents of our Savior’s life, and still more on the astonishing circumstances of his death; by often calling to mind the state from which he proposes to rescue us, and the glories of his heavenly kingdom; by continual intercourse with him of prayer and praise, of dependence and confidence in dangers, of hope and joy in our brighter hours, let us endeavor to keep him constantly present to our minds, and to render all our conceptions of him more distinct, lively, and intelligent. The title of Christian is a reproach to us, if we estrange ourselves from him after whom we are denominated. The name of Jesus is not to be to us like the Allah of the Mahometans, a talisman or an amulet, to be worn on the arm, merely as an external badge and symbol of our profession, and to preserve us from evil by some mysterious and unintelligible potency; but it is to be engraven deeply on the heart, there written by the finger of God himself in everlasting characters. It is our sure and undoubted title to present peace and future glory. The assurance which this title conveys of a bright reversion, will lighten the burdens, and alleviate the sorrows of life; and in some happier moments, it will impart to us somewhat of that fullness of joy which is at God’s right hand, enabling us to join even here in the heavenly Hosannah: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”*—“Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”[1]

 

 

Title of Attila a king of the Huns, whose desolating ravages are well known.

b Vide the Testimony of West India merchants to the Moravians, in the Report of the Privy Council on the Slave Trade.

Dr. Horne.

Phil. 2:6, 7, 8.

Luke 2:10, 11.

John 4:20.

a Dr. Adam Smith, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Isaiah 40:11.

Ib. 49:10.

a The word comfortless is rendered in the margin, Orphans.

Col. 1:13.

Ephes. 2:10.

Col. 3:9, 10.

Ephes. 2:22.

a Vide Dr. Doddridge’s eight Sermons on Regeneration, a most valuable compilation; and M’Laurin’s Essay on Divine Grace.

Ibid. 5:6–8.

a The Writer trusts he cannot be misunderstood to mean that any, continuing sinners and ungodly, can, by believing, be accepted, or finally saved. The following chapter, particularly the latter part of it, (Sect. 6.) would abundantly vindicate him from any such misconstruction. Meanwhile he will only remark, that true faith (in which repentance is considered as involved) is in Scripture regarded as the radical principle of holiness. If the root exists, the proper fruits will be brought forth. An attention to this consideration would have easily explained and reconciled those passages of St. Paul’s and St. James’s Epistles, which have furnished so much matter of argument and criticism. St. James, it may be observed, all along speaks not of a man, who has faith, but who says that he hath faith. He contrasts pretended, imperfect, dead faith, with real, complete, living faith. This surely must appear decisively clear to those who observe that the conclusion which he deduces from his whole reasoning in verses 23 & 26, respects faith—Abraham believed God, &c. Faith without works, &c. It is his great object to assert and establish the right kind of faith, and only to deny the utility or value of that which falsely usurps the name.—Vide James 2:14, &c. &c.

Vide Ch. 4. sect. 6.

1 Cor. 1:30.

1 John, 3:23.

a Nec Deus intersit, &c.

* Any one who wishes to investigate this subject, will do well to study attentively M‘Laurin’s Essay on Prejudices against the Gospel.—It may not be amiss here to direct the reader’s attention to a few leading arguments, many of them those of the work just recommended. Let him maturely estimate the force of those terms, whereby the Apostle in the following passages designates and characterizes the whole of the Christian system. “We preach Christ crucified.”—“We determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The value of this argument will be acknowledged by all who consider, that a system is never designated by an immaterial or an inferior part of it, but by that which constitutes its prime consideration and essential distinction. The conclusion suggested by this remark is confirmed by the Lord’s Supper being the rite by which our Savior himself commanded his Disciples to keep him in remembrance; and indeed a similar lesson is taught by the Sacrament of Baptism, which shadows out our souls being washed and purified by the blood of Christ. Observe next the frequency with which our Savior’s death and sufferings are introduced, and how often they are urged as practical motives.

“The minds of the Apostles seem full of this subject. Every thing puts them in mind of it, they did not allow themselves to have it long out of their view, nor did any other branch of spiritual instruction make them lose sight of it.” Consider next that part of the Epistle to the Romans, wherein St. Paul speaks of some who went about to establish their own righteousness, and had not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. May not this charge be in some degree urged, and even more strongly than in the case of the Jews, against those who satisfy themselves with vague, general, occasional thoughts of our Savior’s mediation; and the source of whose habitual complacency, as we explained above, is rather their being tolerably well satisfied with their own characters and conduct? Yet St. Paul declares concerning those of whom he speaks, as concerning persons whose sad situation could not be too much lamented, that he had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart, adding still more emphatical expressions of deep and bitter regret.

Let the Epistle to the Galatians be also carefully examined and considered; and let it be fairly asked, what was the particular in which the Judaizing Christians were defective, and the want of which is spoken of in such strong terms as these; that it frustrates the grace of God, and must debar from all the benefits of the death of Jesus? The Judaizing converts were not immoral. They seem to have admitted the chief tenets concerning our Savior. But they appear to have been disposed to trust not wholly, be it observed also, but only in part, for their acceptance with God, to the Mosaic institutions, instead of reposing entirely on the merits of Christ. Here let it be remembered, that when a compliance with these institutions was not regarded as conveying this inference, the Apostle showed by his own conduct, that he did not deem it criminal; whence, no less than from the words of the Epistle, it is clear that the offence of the Judaizing Christians whom he condemned, was what we have stated; that their crime did not consist in their obstinately continuing to adhere to a dispensation the ceremonial of which Christianity had abrogated, nor yet that it arose out of the sacrifices of the Levitical law, being from their very nature without efficacy for the blotting out of sin.—Vide Hebrews, 10:4, &c.—It was not that the foundation on which they built was of a sandy nature, but that they built on any other foundation than that which God had laid in the Gospel; it was not that they fixed their confidence on a false or a defective object, but that they did not direct it exclusively to the only true object of Hope held forth to us by the Gospel.

Ib. 13.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 40–89). London: T. Cadell.  (Public domain)



Comments are closed.

Christian Military Fellowship

An Indigenous Ministry • Discipleship • Prayer • Community • Support
Encouraging Men and Women in the United States Armed Forces, and their families, to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

Contact Us

  • Address:
    PO Box 1207, Englewood, CO 80150-1207

  • Phone: (800) 798-7875

  • Email: Office@cmfhq.org

Webmaster

Book Offers