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of sanctity. The christian is more concerned to be good, than to appear fo. His religion is commonly attended with diffidence and self suspicion ; he hides his feelings, and makes many anxious inquiries before he can venture to say, “ come unto me, all ye that « fear God, and I will tell you what he hath done for
my foul." Baxter, speaking of Lord Chief Justice Hale, tells us he had once entertained fears left he had been too little for the experimental part of religion, such as prayer, and meditation, and spiritual warfare, because he had seldom mentioned such subjects in relation to his own feelings; but he found afterwards that this reluctance arose from his averseness to hypocrisy, of which in his day he had seen so many instances.
It is our duty to make a profession of religion, and unite ourselves with some body of christians, to walk in the faith and order of the gospel. But we should do wrong to condemn all those who decline it. Many are held back for a considerable time by painful apprehensions. Jealous over their own hearts, and concerned lest they should be found deceivers, they dare not come forward, and venture on so serious an act, as by a public surrender to join themselves to the church of the living God; and it is to be lamented, that in many cases this timidity is increased by the severe, unscriptural methods of admitting people to the table of communion. In the great day when the fecrets of all hearts are made manifest, we shall see many a secret, silent, unobserved follower of Christ exalted at the right hand; while many a noisy professor of religion will be thrust down to hell, for want of that
truth and sincerity which are essentially necessary to the christian character, and to gospel worship.
To this we may add another fear. We see it exemplified in Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night for fear of the Jews. Had many seen him at the commencement of his religious course, they would have condemned him; nevertheless he gave at last the clearest proof of his attachment, by coming forward when his own disciples forsook him, and acknowledging a suffering Redeemer; and there may be many in similar circumstances repressed and con cealed for a time by their situations and connections. I do not praise them in this. It is their duty unquestionably to “go forth to him without the camp bearGing his reproach.” I only state a fact which has an influence on our subject.
III. THE MANNER in which some of the people of God are CALLED BY DIVINE GRACE, renders them less observable. I hope I need not prove, that in order to the existence of genuine religion in the soul, there is absolutely necessary a change which will embody the various representations given of it in the scriptures, “Except ye be converted, and become as little chil“dren, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of “heaven." “ Ye must be born again.” “ man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things “ are passed away, and behold all things are become 16
new." In such awful and decisive terms do the sacred penmen speak of the renovation of our natures, as essential to our happiness and our hope ; and this change in all the subjects of divine grace is equally
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real, but not equally perceptible, either to themselves or others. When a man is suddenly stopped in his mad career, and turned from a notorious and profligate course of life; when the drunkard becomes sober, the swearer learns to fear an oath, and the sabbath breaker goes with the multitude to keep holy day; all must take knowledge of him; the effect is striking, the world wonders, and the church exclaims, “ who “hath begotten me these! these, where had they “ been !" But the work is not always so distinguishable. When the subject of it is moral ; blessed with a pious education ; trained up under the means of grace ;
the change is much less visible. He avoids the same vices as before; performs the same duties as before, only from other principles and motives, with other views and dispositions ; but these fall not under our observation.
Many are too prone to look for a conversion, always uniform, not only in its effects, but in its operation, and too much bordering on the miraculous. The soul must be exceedingly terrified with fear; then overwhelmed with anguish; then plunged into despair ; then suddenly filled with hope, and peace, and joy; and the person must be able to determine the day on which, and the sermon, or the providence by which the change was wrought. But this is by no means necessarily, or generally the case. There is a variety in the temperaments and habits of men, and in the meth. ods employed to bring them to repentance. And we should remember that these are " differences of ad. “ ministration, but the same Lord;" that often he prefers to the earthquake, the wind and the fire ; the
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small still voice; that he can draw by the cords of love, and the bands of a man ; that he can work as effectually by slow, as by an instantaneous exertion; and that he can change the soul in a manner so gradual and mild, as to be scarcely discernible to any, but the glorious Au. thor. And here, my brethren, we are furnished with evidence from analogy. In nature, some of God's works insensibly issue in others; and it is impossible for us to draw the line of distinction. “ The path of " the just is as the shining light, which shincth more “ and more unto the perfect day.” But who can ascer. tain which ray begins, or which ends the dawn? If you are unable to trace the process of the divine life, judge by the result. When you perceive the effects of conversion, never question the cause. plexed by a number of circumstantial inquiries, bb satisfied if you are able to say, “one thing I know, " that whereas I was once blind now I see."
IV. THE DIFFERENCE OF OPINION which prevails among christians, has frequently occasioned a diminution of their number. Indeed the readiest way in the world to thin heaven and replenish the regions of hell, is to call in the spirit of bigotry. This will immediately arraign, and condemn, and execute all that do not bow down and worship the image of our idolatry. Possess ing exclusive prerogative, it rejects every other claim; “stand by, I am 'sounder' than thou.” “The temple “of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of “the Lord are we!” How many of the dead has this intolerance sentenced to eternal misery, who will shine forever as stars in the kingdom of our Father ? How
many living characters does it reprobate as enemies to the cross of Christ, who are placing in it all their glory. No wonder if under the influence of this consuming zeal, we form lessening views of the number of the saved. “I only am left.” Yes, they are few indeed, if none belong to them that do not belong to your party; that do not see with your eyes; that do not believe election with you, or universal redemption with you; that do not worship under a steeple with you, or in a meeting with you ; that are not dipped with you, or sprinkled with you.
But hereafter we shall find that the righteous were not so circumscribed, when we shall see, “ many coming from the east, and from the west, “ from the north, and from the south, to sit down " with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of "heaven."
Do I plead for an excessive candour? The candour which regards all sentiments alike, and considers no error as destructive, is no virtue. It is the offspring of ignorance, of insensibility, and of cold indifference. The blind do not perceive the difference of colours; the dead never dispute ; ice, as it congeals, aggregates all bodies within its reach, however heterogeneous their quality. Every virtue has certain bounds, and when it exceeds them, it becomes a vice ; for the last : tepof a virtue, and the first step of a vice, are contiguous.
But surely it is no wildness of candour, that leads us to give the liberty we take; that suffers a man to think for himself unawed; and that concludes he may be a follower of God, though he follow not with us. Why should we hesitate to consider a man a christian, when we see him abhorring and forsaking sin ; hungering