SELF - EXAMINATION.
You will recollect, my young friend, that I proposed to direct you to the attainment of an elevated standard of piety. In the course of my remarks, you must ever bear in mind that I am suggesting only the important means and methods of such attainment. Ever recollect, that without the Spirits influence, the Christian can no more advance in holiness, than the shiner repent and believe; and yet the former will be guilty for not advancing,. and the latter for not complying with the demands of the Gospel.
The three grand helps towards the point at which you aim, are prayer, self examination, and a close and diligent perusal of the Scriptures. The first topic has been already discussed. Imperfectly as it has been set forth, I trust you are deeply convinced of its importance; and I shall, therefore, briefly attend to the second, namely, SELF-EXAMINATION.
This is a duty as difficult as it is important. Every Christian acknowledges it to be so. The object of self examination is to obtain a correct knowledge of our moral character. Before conversion, man is generally a stranger to himself As he Comes forth from the nursery, he enters upon the
reckless career of boyhood. His eye and ear are all attention, as one object after another crowds upon his view, he is full of interrogatories concerning the phenomena both of art and of nature. He courts every trifle; and when obtained, throws it away in pursuit of another. But he watches not the operations of his own mind. He is indeed, all attention to the busy world without; but all inattention to the busy world within. And such will he continue to be when boyhood shall give place to maturity, unless the Holy Spirit turn his eye inward on the soul. A philosopher, he may range through nature, and collect and classify her productions, and yet never sit one solitary hour in severe judgment on himself. Such a man is, in one sense a wise man, but in another a fool. That he is a man of knowledge, no one acquainted with his attainments can deny; but, in my opinion, he is far from being a man of wisdom, in the highest and noblest use of that term.
"Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one,
Have ofitintes no connection. Knowledge dwells
In heads replete with thoughts of other men;
Wisdom ira minds attentive to their own.
Knowledge is proud that lie has learned so much
Wisdom is humble that ho knows no more."
It is surprising how few persons are in the habit of attending to the operations of their own minds The generality of mankind are so absorbed in the various pursuits of life, that no opportunity is allowed for serious introspection. They live in a whirlpool of cares; and to them, the deeper and more boisterous the vortex, the better. They are all hurry and bustle; business and pleasure swallow up every thought and thus life’s important hours, like successive couriers, chase each other into eternity. Hence, you will often find these gay dreamers, when brought to a death-bed taking, for the first time, a direct and dreadful look
at themselves. Life has been frittered, away, and eternity now stares them into a consciousness of their ruin.
The Christian who is taught of the spirit, is the only man who can be said to be acquainted with himself. Not that he can notice every hue of moral feeling; nor can he comprehend the "mystery of iniquity" that pervades the heart: for it is "deceitful above all things; who can know it ?" But he is so much in the habit of noticing his moral exercises; he so frequently communes with his own heart, that he comes at length to an acquaintance with himself, and can pronounce, with humble confidence, on his present state and his future destiny. Such a character is venerable and immovable. Changes may occur; prosperity or adversity may come; but he walks in too high a region to be unduly elated by the former or sinfully depressed by the latter. What a calm, delightful, enviable summit. It is like the mountain covered with verdure, upon whose top rest
the mild beams of glory; whilst, in the figurative language of Goldsmith, the "midway storm" thunders and rages beneath.
We are expressly enjoined by the apostle to "examine ourselves"—to "know our own selves," for by so doing we come to the knowledge of our true characters. If we are Christians, we may, and we must endeavor to know it. Such knowledge will remove our fears, and add greatly to our comfort. Some, I am well aware, walk in darkness and in doubt to the end of their journey. They see no light until heaven’s glory breaks in upon the soul. Such, no doubt, was the case of the amiable and pious Cowper; but his case was a peculiar one.
In general, the knowledge of his personal salvation is attainable by the Christian. None should ever think of resting until such assurance is attained. It may not be the will of God to give it, but it is his will that we should strive for it. If you aim at an elevated standard of piety, this will be your mark.
Some persons are satisfied with just enough of religion to ease the conscience and give encouragement for a feeble hope. They never rise above this grade, nor ever manifest more than a sort of negative character. Self-examination they utterly neglect; or, if they pretend to practise it, they perform the duty so seldom and superficially, as to depress, rather than elevate, their own low and diminutive standard.
Be thou not of their number. Employ every means to become thoroughly acquainted with your true character. Make religion your grand business. Let the soul be the all-absorbing subject of interest how dreadful would it be to pass into eternity with false hopes and mistaken views. Determine to know the worst as well as the best of your case. Come to a personal investigation with the spirit of an inflexible inquisitor. Go into the secret chambers of the soul, and carry thither the touchstone of salvation, the torch of truth.
In my next I hope to enter a little more minutely into this subject. In the mean time I commend you to the grace of Him who is able to build you up— to enable you to go from strength to strength—to fire your flagging zeal—rouse the animating hope—and put within you the spirit of a self-denying, a devoted Christian.
SELF-EXAMINATION, STATED AND OCCASIONAL.
The duty of self-examination, like that of prayer, is both stated and occasional. The conscientious Christian should not suffer a single day to pass, without an investigation of his moral character. At the close of the day, and when about to commit the keeping of his soul to Him "who never slumbereth nor sleepeth," he should take a deliberate and serious retrospect of the past. His conduct, and the motives which prompted it, should pass under investigation.
I cannot, my young friend, too strongly recommend to you this practice. The most eminent saints have been distinguished for it, and I must press upon you a similar course, if you would aim at an elevated standard of piety.
There is less difficulty attending this diurnal investigation, than many professors imagine. Were long intervals to occur between the periods of self examination, we should indeed experience much inconvenience and perplexity in performing the duty. We should then resemble the unskillful and heedless merchant, who, yielding to habitual negligence and hurry, defers posting his books until he is overwhelmed with their intricacy and magnitude. But let the duty be daily and thoroughly performed, and we rise to the standard of the skilful and prudent merchant, who duly records every item of business; who never closes his counting-house, until his balance-sheet is made up; and who, by a single reference, can tell the true state of his accounts, and form a correct estimate of his commercial standing.
You will find yourself aided in this work by a secret journal or diary, which must be excluded from the inspection of all but God and yourself.
If you are in the habit of thus daily inquiring into your motives and conduct, you will find it an excellent preparation for approaching a throne of grace. You will perceive so many failures in duty, and such frequent commission of sin, that your soul must necessarily be humbled before God. You will also perceive whether you make any advances in knowledge and holiness, and thus discover a source of encouragement, or a stimulus to greater diligence. Your conscience will be rendered tender and faithful; and you will thus be on the alert, that you be not tempted, or drawn aside from your duty. You will walk softly amid the thorny path, nor feel the bleeding wounds which, are inflicted on so many careless and worldly-minded professors.
Besides this daily process which I am recommending, there is one special season of self-examination which you should by no means omit. The apostle enjoins on every Christian, to examine himself before be partakes of the Lord’s supper. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup." This is indispensable to a profitable attendance on this interesting and significant ordinance. If you are in the habit of daily self-examination, you will find the observance of this special season by no means difficult or laborious. You will have acquired, by your daily introspection, so much self-knowledge—such a tact, if I may be allowed the expression, at seizing upon evidence, and analyzing feelings and motives, that instead of proving an unwelcome task, it will constitute a satisfactory, comforting, and delightful duty.
The reason why so many complain of the difficulty of a proper discharge of this duty, is obvious. I shall, in a subsequent letter, disclose it more fully.
Be assured, my young friend, that if ever you arrive at an elevated standard of piety, you will attribute it as much to a. strict and persevering self-examination, as to any other means which it is, under God, your privilege to use. It is through a neglect of this, that Christianity makes, in most of us, such a dwarfish appearance. It is for the want of this, that hypocrisy vaunts itself in the habiliments of piety. It is for the want of this, that doubts, and fears, and disquietude, and backslidings, are so prevalent I entreat you, therefore, as you value your peace and your improvement, to persevere in the faithful discharge of this duty. You will be abundantly rewarded. Faith will walk arm in arm with the promises; hope, instead of a flickering light, will become a steady radiation from an unclouded sun; love will grow to a flame that "many waters cannot quench;" and zeal, founded in truth, and directed by knowledge, will hold on, until death, its vigorous and untiring career.
I say not that you will at once arrive at this lofty elevation. Ah, no; you may have many a thorny path to tread, many a rugged way to traverse, many a difficult hill to climb. Nights of weeping, and days of darkness and of tempest may intervene. But God will interpose in your behalf; he will "temper the wind to the shorn lamb."
Recollect, for your encouragement, that the farther you proceed, the easier and the more delightful will be the passage. As it approximates heaven, it partakes of celestial beauty. Like the fine, free avenue to a noble metropolis, the proximity of this road to the heavenly Jerusalem opens wider, and shows clearer, and almost admits the eager eye to catch the spires of glory as they glitter in the light of heaven. Take up your cross, dear youth, and march forward. While you may encounter difficulties, you may also partake of many pleasures—pleasures which are as much superior to the sickly joys of earth, as the river of life is purer than the green waters of an offensive and stagnant pool.
"The hiJl of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweets,
Before we reach the heavenly fields,
Or walk the golden streets."
To me it has ever appeared strange, that when so much depends on the duty of self-examination, it should be so generally neglected.
We do not thus act us our temporal affairs. If the claim to an estate be attended with any degree of doubt or embarrassment, we spare no pains to give it a thorough investigation. If the body be disordered, we are alive to every symptom, and we watch every new aspect of the disease. But in respect to the soul, we are at little pains to substantiate its hope by actual examination. We live along as if the matter were settled—as if we had a guarantee for our heavenly inheritance; when, in fact, all is doubt and embarrassment—when perhaps we may have only "a name to live, whilst we are dead."
Let this duty, my young friend, be viewed by you as altogether indispensable. Set about it with diligence. Should your enemy, knowing its usefulness and importance, attempt to discourage you, listen not to the voice of the tempter. Renew your labor; call upon God to fix your thoughts, and to give you success. Persevere, even unto death, in a duty so necessary to your safety, and essential to your comfort.
IT was intimated in my last, that I should pursue my remarks a little farther upon self-examination. My reasons for so doing are, the importance of the subject, and the general neglect of it with which many Christians are chargeable.
Since the duty is so intimately connected with your hope of salvation, your advancement in holiness, and your general elevation of character, you will bear with me a little longer, even though the subject should appear to be destitute of those incidental attractions which are peculiar to the ordinary accomplishments of life. You must first lay the solid column; the Corinthian capital may then be super-added. My conscience would condemn me, were I to speak first of external conduct, when the piety of the soul is paramount, and demands the first and deepest consideration. Let this be obtained, and, I doubt not, your manners and deportment will take that elevated and noble character which will secure to you the love of the virtuous, and the respect and admiration of all.
Fixing the attention on manners and deportment before the heart is rectified, is like profusely adorning the exterior of a building when it is all unfinished and comfortless within. You are allured by the imposing aspect which it presents; but upon entering, how great is your disappointment to find, not only no correspondence in the interior, but every thing cheerless and forbidding. It is certainly more pleasing, to view even a homely exterior, an outside that promises but little, and to perceive within, beauty, symmetry, and elegance. Happy will you be, if, gifted as you are with at least an agreeable person, you can so irradiate your mind with knowledge and holiness as to throw around you an additional attraction, and make your soul approximate to the comeliness of an unfallen spirit. But I have digressed, and must return.
The difficulty of arriving at a knowledge of our true character, does not arise from any deficiency or obscurity in evidence, as recorded in the word of God, but from the manner of applying that evidence to ourselves. The liability to deception lies here. We cannot say that we have the evidence, because we may have spurious and hypocritical feelings, which our self-love may mistake for genuine Christian emotions. The word of God is full, clear, and explicit. It marks out the true disciple of Christ with unerring exactness. The evidence is direct and indirect, positive and negative, in example or embodied principle.
The direct evidence, is that which consists in a record of the feelings which every Christian must possess. The Bible is full of this. The indirect, is that which may be inferred from precepts and principles. The positive, is exhibited in all those commands which relate to doing the will of God. The negative, from example or embodied principle, is that which is derived from the conduct of the patriarchal and primitive saints.
Thus, you see the Bible is full of evidence relating to the character of the genuine follower of Christ That evidence is clear and explicit, presented under various forms, and couched in the simplest phraseology. Where, then, lies the difficulty of correctly ascertaining, at once, our true character? I will tell you. It lies in the depravity of the human heart. That heart, as I have already observed, is "deceitful above all things;" and this is the true reason why we cannot appropriate this evidence, with the certainty of its application.
But I will enter into a few particulars, for your farther satisfaction, to show you that self examination is as difficult as it is important; and that nothing but a long course of painful, persevering effort, wilt bring you to a confidence, unshaken by doubt, of your being a child of God, and a joint heir with Jesus Christ. You do not wish to have a name to live, and still be dead. You do not desire to go into eternity with a profession only. No; you wish not to be deceived in so momentous an affair; for the world, you would not be deceived. You have counted the cost; you have surveyed the cross; and you are determined to follow your Lord. You will not then be discouraged, when I inform you, that to deal with your own heart, in close examination, difficult work. But the difficulty, as I before observed, will diminish with diligence.
One great reason why so little satisfaction is obtained in the work, is. that our investigation is not complete. We do not come to it with a determination to be thorough in its performance. Although we acknowledge that there is no duty so difficult, nor any more important; yet there is none, perhaps, more superficially performed. Although our hopes, our peace of mind, our growth in grace, are intimately connected with close self-examination; yet, how easily are we discouraged by obstacles which the enemies of our souls may interpose; and how hastily do we run through the duty, deriving no satisfaction, but only enveloping the mind in still deeper gloom. After one or two such superficial trials, some will give up the duty as impracticable, and live along as doubt, and die, perhaps, in distressing uncertainty.
We are less thorough in this spiritual investigation than we should be in almost any other subject. No wonder, then, that we make such slow advances in self-knowledge; no wonder, that it is generally viewed as impracticable, when so superficially performed When you, my young friend, enter upon this duty, make, I entreat you, sure work with your soul; explore the secret motives, and, analyze the evanescent feelings. If it cost years of persevering labor, ascertain, if possible, whether you have an inheritance on high. May God, by his Spirit, assist you, and make
I observed, in my last, that we were in danger of being superficial in the work of self-examination. There will be a strong temptation to this, from our natural indolence, as well as the difficulties to be overcome. Hence, you will find few Christians who make this duty a serious and indispensable business. A little hasty catechizing, just before they celebrate the Lord’s supper, is all that is deemed necessary. Two or three months may intervene, during which the soul and its momentous affairs are comparatively neglected. When again summoned to renew their vows over the melting memorials of a Saviour’s love, they begin to think of some preparation; but one moment steals upon the heels of another, and the business is deferred until the hour when the inviting bell is calling them to the feast. Then, all is agitation and hurry, when all should be calm, collected, and contemplative. They leave to themselves, perhaps, a few moments, to extricate the soul from a tumult of cares; and after an ineffectual and superficial attempt at self-examination, they go tremblingly in doubt, or fearlessly in cold-hearted presumption.
Such is the character of many who profess to by aiming at the crown of glory. They do not sit in judgment on the internal man, as did David, when he threw open the chambers of his secret soul, and exclaimed, " Search me, 0 God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." It is mere half-way work with them. Conscience prejudges and condemns. To silence her clamors, it is necessary that they make at least a show of self-examination. But when they take up the sacred record, they find so little there which can be honestly appropriated in their favor, that they are obliged, if they would glean any thing for their encouragement, to misinterpret and misapply its meaning. When they meet with such a sweeping declaration as this, "If any man love the world, and the things that are in the world, the love of the Father is not in him;" when their eyes glance at so discriminating a text, they employ a ready sophistry, to modify its severity, or avert its application.
There is, recollect, a strong temptation to be partial in this important work. Self-love prompts us to look more eagerly for the favorable, than the unfavorable evidence; and gives us a greater readiness in applying the former than the latter. It is an object with our spiritual enemies, to flatter us into a belief of our good estate, that we may omit our watch, and indulge our vain-confident expectations. Thousands are, by this means, led blindfolded down to ruin.
The superficial Christian seizes the most equivocal evidence. It will not take much to persuade him that all is safe, if a vast amount of Scripture is against him, and he can yet find but here and there a single text, whose aspect in his case is, to say the least, doubtful, how eagerly will he grasp it, and cast it into the favorable scale. It is, with him, a principle, to be satisfied with the least possible testimony. He will make one text, which he supposes to be in his favor, neutralize a hundred others which are most unequivocally against him. Hence, you will sometimes hear professing Christians declare, that were it not for this one text, " We’ know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren," they should be driven to despair.
This may, indeed, be the language of a sincere disciple; of one who walks in darkness, but who goes mourning over his personal deficiency. Far be it from me to discourage such. This precious text was recorded by the compassionate Spirit for him; and often, when the billows were high, and the prospect all darkness, it has beamed like a star of hope upon his trembling soul, and saved it from despair and death. But when I hear it quoted by a thoughtless worldly-minded professor, I account it a sad mark against him. Is this the only text to which he can cling? Let him recollect, that the same apostle also said, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments."
The superficial professor seems determined, if possible, to make the Bible speak in his favor. He comes not to that infallible touchstone with a. sincere desire to probe his heart, to examine the reason of his hope, and to scrutinize the foundation of his confidence. He comes not with a resolution to make thorough and impartial work, but to make the word of God, like the fabled oracles of heathenism, speak a language ambiguous and equivocal.
Now, my young friend, be thou of a different spirit. Go into this investigation with a resolution that you will be thorough and impartial, Say to your Bible, I will consult thee faithfully, thou infallible book. I will let thy light into the darkest chambers of my heart. The sword of the Spirit shall search the system, and probe my wounded nature in the tenderest part. I will not shrink from the inquisition, but will enter upon it sincerely, and persevere in it through life.
DANGER OF DECEIVING OURSELVES.
The character of the superficial professor I must carry along with me, in order to show you the
importance and the happiness of aiming at a high standard of attainment. It is a miserable self-
deceiver who imagines that any advantage is gained by persuading himself, contrary to
evidence, that he is a Christian. And yet there are thousands of this character. Why do they not
reflect on God’s omniscience? Why do they not consider, that their own good opinion of
themselves will not alter their their character. God looketh upon the heart. He strips the outward
man, and carries his judicial sentence borne upon the soul. He can tear from the heart its most
artful disguises, and look with an eye of infallible decision on its emotions. With his "fan in his
hand," he will pass through the visible church, "and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will
burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
He who attends to self-examination superficially, places too much confidence in the judgment of others. Every person knows, that if another’s opinion he coincident with our own, we are flattered by it. This is especially the case when it respects our religious character. Some, who are fearful of deception, will I am well aware, never admit the opinion of others to have any weight. This is certainly the safest extreme. Such are generally mourning Christians, who are much more prone to form an unfavorable, than a flattering opinion of their condition. But others are disposed to place undue reliance on the judgment of those who have expressed the belief that they are Christians. This satisfies them; especially if it be the judgment of those whom they greatly respect, and whose perspicacity as to moral character, they have been in the habit of considering as well nigh infallible. Perhaps it is merely the wish of a beloved friend, or the expression of parental hope, rather than a deliberate and formal decision upon ascertained evidence; still, it is often enough to undermine the duty of close self-examination, and induce a carelessness, and a confidence, awfully prophetic of deep delinquency, and melancholy back sliding.
It will be evident to you, my young friend, that confidence, if it have no better foundation, is nothing else than presumption; and that it may, ere long, lead to great doubt and perplexity, if not to absolute despair.
The hope of eternal life is not to be taken up on slight grounds. It is a subject to be settled between God and your own soul. I would not despise the advice, nor respect entirely the opinion of others; but I would be careful not to trust too much to such advice and opinion. Since you are to stand or fall by the word of God, it is to that, and to that alone, you must look for testimony in your case. The advice and the opinion of ministers, and private Christians, you will seek and respect; but you will not regard them as infallible, nor place your reliance upon them. Let them neither sink you to despair, nor elevate you to a vain confidence.
You know full well, that no finite being can pronounce with certainty on your spiritual condition. Even the holy apostles, who were under the immediate inspiration of God, were not endued with this prerogative. Were they not deceived respecting the characters of Simon the sorcerer, of Demas, and of others? How, then, can we trust our souls to the opinion of fallible man? What reliance can we place on any thing short of God, and his unerring oracles?
I dwell the longer on this topic, because I have not seen the point brought out fully in any of the experimental treatises which have fallen under my observation; and because there is, in most persons a strong tendency to lean upon the judgment of others, rather than to be at the pains of a severe and strict investigation for themselves. You cannot be ignorant that such a course must be unsafe and unsatisfactory. How much better to go at once to the Bible. If we there find our character to be that of the saints who have gone before us, what joy and assurance will it give. We know that we are standing on a rock—we feel that it is stable as eternity. But if we lean to human opinion, we shall ever find our evidences equivocal, and our hope neither sure nor steadfast.
Remember, too, my young friend, that those who love us, and who wish us to become Christians, are very liable to be satisfied with the shadow of evidence. They grasp at the first hopeful appearances, and pronounce often a favorable decision when there are not sufficient grounds to warrant it. When you recollect this, you will receive their opinion with the greater hesitancy, and feel more deeply the importance of settling the question over your Bible; between God and your own soul. Man can look only at the outside; his limited vision cannot penetrate within. But God looketh on the heart—on that wandering, wayward heart, the seat of so many joys and sorrows, the abode of so much deceitfulness and impurity, he knows its character. He analyzes its emotions.
To him, therefore, carry your soul, and with David invoke his scrutiny. Then will you be able to give to him that asketh you, "a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." Then you shall have "the peace of God which passeth all understanding" Your title to a heavenly inheritance shall bear the royal signet—a seal which none on earth dare question; and which, when the gates of death shall be unbarred, shall give you free access to the royal presence, and to the temple of God on high. Rest satisfied with nothing short of this seal—and may the Lord enable you to persevere in seeking it.
IN prosecuting the ‘work of self-examination, there is another danger to which you will be liable, and against which I would guard you—a reliance upon past experience. If you suffer this to have a practical influence upon you, it will palsy every effort, and make you to sit down in indolence, satisfied with present attainments, when you should be pressing towards the mark, for the prize of your high calling.
I mention this, because it is a very common fault, and one but little regarded. What can be pleaded in extenuation of such spiritual sluggishness, I cannot conceive.
The holy apostle who, next to his Lord, is the brightest example which is set before us, counted all his past attainments as nothing, so long as any interval remained between him and the perfection which is in Christ Jesus. Hence, he compares himself to one struggling in a race, reaching forth, and pressing towards the prize which ‘was set before him. What a beautiful figure—reaching forth, pressing towards— mark the expressions.
If you had ever seen an Olympic race, where there were numerous competitors; if you had ever withessed their earnestness, as they approached the goal—every muscle strained to the utmost, and the hand reaching forward to seize the crown—you would have a more impressive idea of this beautiful metaphor. May you, by happy experience, know its import. But, my young friend, I fear that there are few, very few of these Olympic strugglers in the Christian race. Too many are satisfied to look on as spectators, while a few only, run and win the prize. Too many loiter in the course, or turn off into the by-paths of iniquity. They base their confidence on past experience. They seem to have settled the point once for all. They will perhaps admit that, as to present evidence of Christian character, they have not much to offer; but they refer you to the time when their evidence was clear and unequivocal. "There was a period," say they, "when we experienced conversion. A great change took place in our feelings, affections, and conduct. We can no more doubt that it was the work of God, than that our bodies are a part of his creation. Others saw and acknowledged the change. ‘Tis true, we do not feel now as we did then; but we were told that this abatement of feeling was to be expected—that the ardor of the youthful convert could not last forever." Ask such vain-confident persons for the evidence of their faith, and they refer you immediately to this antedated hope. They are at no pains to inquire forhessed their earnestness, as they approached the goal—every muscle strained to the utmost, and the hand reaching forward to seize the crown—you would have a more impressive idea of this beautiful metaphor. May you, by happy experience, know its import. But, my young friend, I fear that there are few, very few of these Olympic strugglers in the Christian race. Too many are satisfied to look on as spectators, while a few only, run and win the prize. Too many loiter in the course, or turn off into the by-paths of iniquity. They base their confidence on past experience. They seem to have set-tied the point once for all. They will perhaps admit that, as to present evidence of Christian character, they have not much to offer; but they refer you to the time when their evidence was clear and unequivocal. "There was a period," say they, "when we experienced conversion. A great change took place in our feelings, affections, and conduct. We can no more doubt that it was the work of God, than that our bodies are a part of his creation. Others saw and acknowledged the change. ‘Tis true, we do not feel now as we did then; but we were told that this abatement of feeling was to be expected—that the ardor of the youthful convert could not last forever." Ask such vain-confident persons for the evidence of their faith, and they refer you immediately to this antedated hope. They are at no pains to inquire forthe present evidences of their being in a state of salvation. The business was settled years ago. Others, who will net go quite to this length, will secretly feed their hopes too much upon the past, instead of inquiring into present marks of grace. It is a sad proof that they are either deceived with false appearances, or declining from God and from duty.
I do not mean by these remarks to imply that we are. never to recur to past experience for hope and consolation. I believe we are permitted, by the word of God, and the examples of his saints, so to do. David, in a time of deep trouble, said, "I will remember thee, from the land of Jordan, from the Hermonites, and from the hill Mizar."
But what I wish to guard you against, my young friend, is placing too much confidence in the past, and suffering it to operate as an opiate to present vigilance and activity. Past experience is one of the devil’s lures to vain confidence; one of the veriest subterfuges of hypocrisy; one of the most common and fatal grounds of self-deception. Even Paul would not trust to the past, although he had been struck blind by a beatific vision of his Master, and introduced into his kingdom under circumstances so striking and peculiar. No; forgetting all that is past, "he presses towards the mark for the prize of his high calling in Christ Jesus."
These old hopes, this former experience, you cannot depend upon. As well might you think of crossing the ocean in a worm-eaten vessel. While the weather was mild, and the sea calm, you might float in apparent security; but should the heavens grow dark, and the billows begin to beat upon the vessel, you would fall a speedy prey to the all-devouring wave. The Christian who has no better basis than by-gone experience to rest upon, may live on, amid the sunshine of life, in apparent ease and comfort; but in that hour when God taketh away the soul, he will long for something more substantial to cling to than a doubtful and antedated hope.
Many are thus fatally deceived. To them life seems to glide onward undisturbed, and the soul is rocked asleep on the pillow of past experience. Conscience may be so far stupefied as not even to arouse at the call of death. They may knock at heaven’s gate, but they may also hear the dread voice within, "I know you not; depart from me, ye workers of iniquity."
Such self-deceivers will not acknowledge the duty of daily self-examination. It is impossible to rouse them to the performance of it. They are cased in an impervious mail, They have, in this past experience, an antidote to every fear, and an apology for every delinquency. 0, be thou not of their number. Look for daily evidence of salvation. It is present evidences that are called for, and such cannot be given without a daily, habitual self-examination. In a all your past experience, there is, to say the least, a possibility of your having been deceived; it is therefore not a sufficient ground of trust. You must be ready now, "to give to him that asketh, the reason of the hope that is within you." If you pursue the course which I have marked out, you shall never need to bring forward an old and antedated hope as the only evidence of your faith, but in every look, and word, and action, you shall make it certain to all, that you are, in deed and in truth, a Christian.
Assurances of salvation, or even a well-grounded, uniform, and scriptural hope, is a blessing which is not attained by a superficial and infrequent self-examination. It is not generally enjoyed until after a series of persevering and well-applied exertions. Sometimes, where there is a desire to be thorough and diligent, it is not enjoyed. It appears to be the will of God, that some should go weeping after it, even to the grave. But generally, if Christians are faithful, they will arrive at a confirmed and satisfactory hope of eternal life.
There is difficulty, I admit, in the work of self-examination. "Even the righteous are scarcely saved—saved, in many instances, as by fire." The heart is so deceitful, and the enemies of our soul so full of evil machinations, that we are liable to draw too favorable conclusions of our being in a state of salvation. There are times, too, when we seem afraid to uncover our bosoms to the piercing glance of God. Like merchants who are on the borders of insolvency, we shrink from making a thorough investigation of our accounts. We tremble at the thought of finding ourselves spiritual bankrupts, and are most willing, if I may be allowed the comparison, to forge evidences in our favor, and to our own deception.
This is especially the character of one who is not habitually and daily engaged in the work of self-examination. There is an uncertainty and confusion about his hopes, which make him afraid to enter too deeply into the state of his circumstances. He does not open the Bible, and appeal to its searching truths. He fears that the scrutiny would sweep down his cherished expectations. He is, therefore, tempted to hunt out only those portions of Scripture which appear to favor his case, and to blind his vision to those which would shake his confidence, or eradicate his hopes. When he would examine himself respecting the love or the renunciation of sin, he is far from being a thorough and impartial censor. He can yield up some of the least-loved sinful habits, and can give full credit to himself for the self denial; but the "right hand" and the "right eye" are not parted with. Some worldly project is in view, which militates against too severe a standard of religious character, and which would be found to be inconsistent by too close an application to Bible ethics. Accordingly, instead of making the world yield to the claims of Christianity, he must narrow down Christianity to accommodate the world.
Business, pleasure, and love of reputation, when they get the ascendency, make self-examination an irksome and unpleasant duty. When a Christian professor is too eager in pursuit of them, he always feels a conviction of delinquency, depriving him of that free and noble air which is ever the concomitant of an approving conscience, and filling his mind with feeble apologies for himself, or with unjust censures against his superiors in piety.
Now, can such a person come fearlessly up to the work of self examination? Can he take the Bible in his hand, and appeal to the heart-searching God? Can he be a faithful inquisitor of the internal man? Will he not gloss over his sin? Will he not hunt for evidence to neutralize his guilt?
Such a character is satisfied with just enough of religion to make him respectable hero, and afford a vague hope of happiness hereafter. But, alas, he is disappointed in both. He is viewed as hypocritical and insincere by many of his fellow-men; and there is great reason to apprehend, that when God cometh to "make up his jewels," he will be found, not among them, but with unbelievers, in the regions of despair.
It is by exhibiting to your view, my young friend, this superficial and flimsy Christianity, that I would warn you against it, and rouse you to diligence in aiming at an elevated standard of piety. Whilst there are difficulties connected with the performance of Christian duties, difficulties of no common magnitude, they are still not insurmountable. The timid and the hesitating shrink and despond; but the true child of God knows that he has enlisted in a warfare that cannot end but with life. When he puts his hand to God’s covenant, when he gives his name to the Captain of his salvation, it is a deliberate and well-considered act. He has counted the cost. He has surveyed the enemy; and whilst he acknowledges his own feebleness, he confides in that pledged assistance and protection which will render him invincible and triumphant.
I hope that you have thus considered the subject, and determined to make a thorough and well-disciplined disciple. I trust, that with you, religion shall be all in all. It must be the business of every day; it must be the business of life.
It is a grand mistake to suppose that the superficial Christian can possess spiritual enjoyments. They are not for him. They are for the laborious, the self denied, the pains-taking Christian. It is the soldier who sleeps in his armor, springs to his post at a word, rushes into the thickest of the fight, and deals his well-directed blows upon the enemy—it is he, and he alone, upon whom his admiring commander bestows the need of honor, and the trophies of victory.
Be it yours to imitate him in the spiritual conflict, and it shall be yours to share, like him, in the rewards of conquest: and even far before him shall you be honored, for you shall sit at the King’s table, and partake of the rich provisions of his temple. Every thing urges you to diligence and to duty; your honor and your happiness, your safety and your reward. 0 then, forgetting the things which are behind, reach forth, press onward, and the prize, the glorious prize, shall be soon and for ever yours.
SELF - EXAMINATION—CONTINUED.
SELF-EXAMINATION respects both feeling and conduct. A difficulty occurs in ascertaining whether the former is according to the spirit, and the latter correspondent with the precepts of the Bible. I am persuaded that you are already impressed with the importance of the duty, and are resolved that it shall occupy a prominent place in the daily exercises of the closet.
But methinks I hear you inquire in what way you are to proceed; how you are to know that you pursue the duty to advantage; and whether you are not, after all, liable to deception. I have already forewarned you of difficulties which will appear formidable, and which, at the very threshold of your Christian course, will be thrown in your way, to arrest your progress, and frighten you from the discharge of duty. But be not discouraged nor intimidated. Repeated efforts in prayer to God, will enable you to breast the opposition; and that which at first appeared fraught with difficulties, will be found, after a few incipient discouragements, easy and delightful.
Satan will exert his utmost power to hinder you from this all-important duty. He knows how much your hopes, and your advancement in holiness, depend upon the faithful discharge of it. Having in so many other cases succeeded in hindering its performance, he will hope in yours to succeed. May the grace of God enable you to disappoint him. May you persevere even amid discouragements, until the duty shall become to you a most precious privilege.
When you enter upon this work, you will first look upward to heaven, in a few short petitions, that God would grant you his Holy Spirit; that he would fix your attention on the immediate duty before you; that he would keep you from a superficial investigation, and enable you to deal closely and thoroughly with your heart.
We are very liable, in our retirement, to wandering thoughts; and I doubt not, that hours have been wasted in the closet in a vain attempt to fix the mind, while it eluded the effort, and sported itself in fanciful and foolish visions.
It is important, therefore, that we at once counteract this desultory state of mind, by fervent prayer to God. We should then, in a measure, anticipate Satan, who is always most busy with the children of God when they are the nearest to duty, and are about to receive some great spiritual benefit.
Our self examination, I have already said, respects our state of feelings, and our external conduct. Has the former partaken of the spirit of Christ? Has the latter corresponded with his precepts? It is no very difficult matter for a conscientious and reflecting individual to retrace the occurrences of a single day. But if the business be deferred for weeks and months, his sins will be multiplied and forgotten amid the fluctuating scenes of life. Conscious that there has been much, in both heart and life, to condemn, but forgetting the particulars, he is obliged to repent in the gross.
But he who daily calls himself to an account, will, after a few trials, find the employment both easy and edifying. With what feelings, he will ask, did I awake? Did my gratitude for nocturnal repose and protection rise with the rising light to Him who is the Watchman of Israel, and who never slumbereth nor sleepeth? Or was I, like the brute, indifferent to the kindness of my heavenly Guardian? Did I arise with the breath of praise on my lips, and the spirit of devotion in my heart? Or were my thoughts scattered and desultory? In my morning devotions, can I say that I enjoyed a near access to God, so that I communed with him even as it were from the mercy-seat? Did I wrestle? Did I agonize? Was this the spirit, or were my prayers formal and forced? Was my frame of mind sluggish and cold? Were my petitions hurried and insincere? Did I really desire the blessings I sought; or did I only mention them as a necessary part of prayer? Had I a deep sense of my unworthiness, and a full conviction of the necessity of my Mediator’s blood arid merits? In my petitions, was my soul drawn forth in solicitude for others; or did I confine them to myself?
Having left my closet, did I watch unto prayer? I besought God to keep me from sin; but has my conduct this day been in unison with my prayers? I prayed for sanctification; but have I detected and suppressed the first risings of secret iniquity? I entreated God for more light and knowledge; but have I meditated on his works, arid studied his word? I deprecated my easily besetting sin; but have I endeavored to avoid it? I prayed for Zion, and for the salvation of the impenitent; but have I spoken a word of warning or exhortation to any person this day? Have I watched the leadings of Providence? Have I advanced in the knowledge of God? Have I made any new discoveries of his glory? Have I learned more of the machinations of Satan, or seen deeper into the deceitfulness of my own heart?
These are a few general questions, which may serve as a guide to one who wishes an outline of daily self-examination.
IN my last communication, I instituted some inquiries, which, as I supposed, would be profitably connected with a retrospect of the day. I am aware, my young friend, that one person cannot lay down rules on this subject which shall apply precisely to the feelings and circumstances of others. I give you, therefore, only a sketch, by which your inexperience may possibly be benefited.
The questions which one would wish to propose, in taking a retrospect of the day, must of course vary according to circumstances.
I, who am a minister, and who have the care of souls, must inquire more particularly into my fidelity. Have I wrestled this day for the souls of my dear people? Have I improved every opportunity to do them good? Have I preached the truth as it is in Jesus? etc.
But you, in inquiring into your conduct, must adapt those inquiries to the circumstances by which you are surrounded. You have personal and relative duties, which are peculiar. Parental esteem and obedience are obligatory. How, you should inquire, have I conducted towards my dear parents this day? Have I alleviated any of their cares? Have I been obedient and affectionate? I have sisters; have I done my duty towards them, instructing them, and exhibiting an example which they might with safety follow? I am surrounded by companions, some of whom profess the same hopes as myself, but others are yet in "the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity;" have I, so far as opportunity would permit, encouraged the former, and warned the latter? What studies have I pursued, or what books perused? What benefit have I derived from either? Have I done any thing this day for the glory of God? These are some of the questions which I should suppose would occur to one in your circumstances.
If upon such a daily review, you find that you have advanced in holiness; that you have gained an advantage over your spiritual enemies; that you have profited by the means which a kind Providence has given for your improvement it will afford matter for praise and thanksgiving, it will kindle up a lively gratitude in your soul, and give a zest to your devotions. If you discover much to condemn, many sins and failures, as you undoubtedly will, it will afford subject fur humiliation, and prostrate the soul in penitential confession before God. Thus, while you advance in the knowledge of your own heart, you will have all the ingredients of acceptable worship. Your prayer will be full of praise, and full of contrition.Your mercies will call forth the on, and your transgressions prompt the other. Prayer with you will then be, not a cold formality, but a deep spiritual intercourse with God and your own heart.
This nocturnal ordeal will bring into view and make precious the merits and intercession of Jesus, your High-priest and Saviour. A review, even of a single day, must, if it be close and careful, ever cover you with confusion of face. The sins committed, even in that short period, will appear numerous The soul would sink under their heavy load, were it not for the encouraging promise, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." As sins appear numerous and aggravated, Jesus must ever appear proportionably precious. You will cast yourself all guilty in his arms, and find that "though sin has abounded, grace doth much more abound." After such a review as I have recommended, will a new application be made, and new pardon supplicated from the hand of the Saviour. He will thus be brought constantly in view, and made increasingly dear and delightful.
You see then, how many and great are the advantages connected with frequent and close self-examination. Can you then live without it a single day? Are you not resolved that, under all ordinary circumstances, it shall be entered upon and performed with as much punctuality as prayer and the reading of the word of God? I am persuaded, that after what has been said, you will by no means omit it. I think you must perceive, too, that the difficulties, though great, may, by the plan which I propose, be all surmounted. They arise, as I have before observed, from neglect. Days, weeks, and months roll away, and the soul, immersed in the busy cares of life, contracts a defilement, and collects a rubbish, which a momentary and hurried examination may render visible, but can never remove.
The soul of the delinquent is neglected—shamefully neglected. He deserves to have his hope obscured, his faith weakened, his doubts increased. He may be left amid these perplexities, until he is suddenly called to a death-bed, and compelled to take a direct look at his ease. It is then a fearful scene. Clouds and darkness curtain his dying pillow; anguish insupportable heaves his dubious bosom. There is no clear sunshine upon his soul; but he lies on the fluctuating wave, uncertain whether he shall outride the beating storm.
Would you avoid such a scene? 0 yes, I know you would. Then know yourself, ere it arrive. Be faithfully and intimately acquainted with your own heart. Then shall your life be happy and useful, and your death serene, perhaps gloriously triumphant. May you live the life, and die the death of the righteous.
SEASONS OF SELF-EXAMINATION.
As an important auxiliary means of advancing in holiness, I would recommend, in addition to this daily self-examination, an attention to the same duty at stated and peculiar seasons; such, for example, as the commencement of a new year, the recurrence of your birthday, or when about to enter upon some important change in life. By perusing the biography of those saints who have been most distinguished for exalted piety, you will find that they never permitted such periods to pass by unobserved or unimproved.
There is something in the periodical revolution of the seasons which cannot fail to strike with seriousness a reflecting mind. A single day is of vast importance. When passed, it can never be recalled. With all its cares, its pleasures, and its pains, it has sunk into eternity. It has gone to give tidings of moral conduct, which will be faithfully recorded against the great day of account. Who, then, but the most infatuated, will dare to murder its hours amidst festivity and mirth, when those hours are so fleeting, and so pregnant with eternal results? If a day is so important, a week, a month, or a year. proportionably increases in value, and forms a period in which much may be done, either to grieve the Spirit of Cod and effect the ruin of the soul, or to promote the cause of our Redeemer, and secure to ourselves an inheritance in the kingdom of glory.
I trust you will, at least annually, review your diary. As one year rolls away, and another succeeds, look back upon the past, and forward to the future. If you have been daily in the habit of self-examination, this will be not a difficult, but an easy task, replete with spiritual benefit. As you retrace the events of the year, the blessings which you have received will inspire you with affectionate confidence and adoring gratitude; and the evils of heart and of life which have marked that period, will fill your soul with penitential sorrow; and like David, prostrate in the dust of humiliation, you will be constrained to sing both of mercy and of judgment.
What have I done, during the past year, to advance the glory of my Redeemer’s kingdom? have I done all that my means and circumstances would allow? What victories have I obtained over myself? Is my easily besetting sin laid aside, or does it too often master my strongest resolutions? Have I a deeper and more intimate communion with God than when the year commenced? Are my desires for holiness stronger? Have I made any apparent advances towards that elevation at which I profess to aim? Are my devotions colder and more infrequent?
Do my sins oftener prevail, and is the world gaining on my esteem and my attention?
These, my young friend, are some of the questions which the observance of such a season would prompt. Let them be seriously met, and sincerely answered. Let a day, if practicable, be specially appropriated to the duty, and let it be accompanied by fasting and prayer.
The time would fail me to enumerate all the advantages, and exhibit the full importance of such periodical investigations. Enter upon them with diligence, and prosecute them with fidelity, and you will find by your own happy experience, that self-examination is not only an important, but a delightful duty.
Your experience and your careful observance of the past, will enable you to calculate for the future. Against the temptations which have proved most successful, you can place a double guard. The circumstances in which you have found yourself peculiarly exposed, you can avoid. The means which have proved most efficacious for your good, and the individuals whose counsels have stimulated you to duty, will be noted; and in future the former will be oftener resorted to, and the latter drawn into more constant and intimate communion.
Your birthday ought also to be improved. I know that many spend that day in festivity and merriment. They deem it an occasion for mirth and hilarity.
Herod made a royal banquet, and assembling all the wealth and beauty of the kingdom, celebrated his birthday with music and dancing. Many, with more circumscribed means, and on a smaller scale, imitate his example. But is there any thing in our birthday to demand such a parade of folly? Is it a matter of mirth and rejoicing, that another year of our short lives has forever gone? Should we celebrate our own speedy career to God’s judgment-bar with music and the dance? And especially, if the soul be un-reconciled to God, should we chant a jubilee over its approximation to hell?
If any have reason to rejoice, it is the Christian He is one year nearer his eternal and happy home. But he views himself as so deficient, and his work on earth as so momentous, that he is far from wishing to spend his birthday in festivity. With him it should be a day of serious examination and humiliation. It should be consecrated to God, and the prosperity of the soul.
I hope that you will observe it in this manner, and then it will be a sort of spiritual landmark, to which you can recur amid the tumultuous sea of life; and when your days are numbered on earth, you will he found to have spent them in "wisdom’s ways, which are ways of pleasantness;" and you will look back upon life, though with deep humility, yet without any heart-rending regret.
PREPARATION FOR THE LORD’S
THERE are so many excellent works on the preparation of the heart necessary to an acceptable approach to the Lord’s supper, that I shall do little more than to refer you to them. The only objection which I have ever felt to the use of such treatises is, that by their prolixity, and by the numerous items which they have recommended, I have been confused, and sometimes discouraged, in the work of self examination. If some of them were greatly abridged, and were disencumbered of a multitude of particulars, which it is impossible to carry in the memory, they would, in my opinion, be far more useful. Still, my young friend, I would habitually consult them. They are written, generally, by men of the deepest and most fervent piety, who have not taken those superficial views of church communion, which, among many, are so prevalent. Where they are derived directly from the clear testimony of Scripture, they will save you much trouble in collating the passages which apply more immediately to the subject in hand.
After all, the word of God is the only true standard; and to one who is familiar with the sacred volume, it will not be an irksome task to select the passages which he deems applicable to the work of self-examination. For my own part, I have ever found it attended with the greatest satisfaction to go directly to the fountainhead. Take the Bible in your hand, and pore over it with an intention to sift your evidences of Christian character. Accompany that perusal with fervent applications to God for light and knowledge; and you will experience a degree of satisfaction which no other mode can afford.
Esteem the sacramental season as one of your most precious privileges. It is then that you are invited to sup at the royal banquet. You have a place at the King’s table, and it becomes you to array the soul in the beauties of holiness. Were you invited to the table of some earthly monarch, how eagerly would you anticipate the honor, and what solicitude would you feel, that your apparel might be appropriate, and your conduct correct. But what is this honor, compared with that of sitting at the table of your Lord? See, then, that you are adorned with the wedding-garment. Anticipate an audience with your King, and rush not into his presence with the carelessness of one who goes only to an ordinary meal.
I would not array that sacred table with terrors to your mind. I am convinced that many throw around the hallowed elements a dread solemnity, which makes the timid and faltering believer feel, that if he, if one so vile as he should touch them, he would eat and drink damnation to himself; and seal for ever his hopelessness and his ruin. It was never the intention of our Lord to hold up such fearful views of this feast of love. There is every thing about it that is inviting. It is a most pathetic appeal to the fearful and troubled soul. It woos in silent, but eloquent terms, the weary and heavy laden to come and find rest. It is not Sinai, but Calvary. It is not the smoke, or the lightning, or the thunder—no, weak and mourning believer, it is the uplifted cross, and the expiring victim, whose blood speaks peace from every vein. Look on those significant, simple memorials—is there any terror in this scene? Is it not all peace, and love, and mercy to the penitent?
The ordinance of the supper is a memorial of the love and compassion of Christ, a lively emblem of his sufferings for sin. It is a public acknowledgment of our attachment to his cause. Having seriously and sincerely examined ourselves, and finding that we can humbly claim the characteristics of the true disciple, we may come to this feast of love, and communion with our Lord, and with one another, in a composed and humble frame of mind. If our greatest burden is sin, and our only ground of confidence is the Saviour, we have nothing to fear, but every thing to hope from this delightful and affecting ordinance. Much of the profit of partaking of this ordinance, you will recollect, depends on your fidelity in the work of self-examination. If that be neglected you have no reason to look for a blessing. If it be performed in a hurried and superficial manner you need not expect much enjoyment in the ordinance. God will be glorified in them that make so near an approach to the mercy-seat.
When you approach the table, I would recommend it to you to simplify your views as much as possible. By endeavoring to think of many things, the mind becomes confused. Having lifted your soul to God for light and feeling, look on the elements, and endeavor to view them as the appropriate memorials of your bleeding Lord. What do you see in that broken bread? Is it not the emblem of the mangled body of the Lamb of God? What meaneth that flowing wine? Is it not the emblem of his blood, which was shed for the remission of sins? And wherefore was that body broken, and that blood poured forth? 0, my soul, let thy guilt and transgressions answer. Without the shedding of that blood, there had been no remission. What, then, can I render to my Lord, for all this dying love? I am speechless in gratitude. Here, blessed Saviour, I give thee all I have—this broken, contrite heart. Take it, 0 take it as thine own, wash it in thy blood, and seal it for thyself.
ON the subject of prayer and habitual self-examination, I shall add no more. You recollect that I connected with these, as of equal importance, a close and diligent PERUSAL OF THE SCRIPTURES. I shall therefore occupy your attention, for a short time, on this last mentioned topic.
The importance of making the word of God a devotional study, is evident both from the testimony of that word, and the experience of all eminent saints who have ever lived. The more I study the sacred volume, the more deeply am I impressed with its intrinsic grandeur, and its high importance to me as an accountable creature. Were I banished to a more lonely rock than that inhabited by the Corsican exile, with my Bible I should never want food for the soul, nor a stimulant to the understanding. I am astonished that men of literature, of mere worldly wisdom, do not more frequently drink at this celestial fountain. Were they once to sip at this clear, pure stream, they could not but relish it. The desire to drink, and the relish, however, the Spirit alone can give.
It has charms, as a mere literary production, which the veriest infidels have been constrained to acknowledge. Prejudice, not long since, had shut out these heavenly stores from many highly cultivated minds. The Bible was so common a book, and was so frequently found in the hands of the poor and the illiterate, that those who claimed to be learned and philosophic, took the liberty to despise it, and thus excluded themselves from the noblest source of mental and moral refinement. A young man of irreligious character, who was a member of a respectable college, on hearing one of the professors allude to the beautiful comparison of our Saviour, when enjoining confidence in the providence of God, " Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these," turned to a fellow-student, and inquired where that striking and elegant language was found. On learning that it was found in the Bible, he was astonished. Have you never read your Bible? was the inquiry of his companion. "My Shakespeare," said he, "is all the Bible I ever read." This I acknowledge, is an extreme case, but there are many analogous to it.
Dr. Franklin, it is said, was once in the company of several ladies of the English nobility, when the conversation turned on pastoral poetry, in which the ladies took a conspicuous part. After hearing their criticisms on various authors, he proposed to read the translation of a pastoral, for their amusement. He read, with a few verbal alterations, the book of Ruth. They were enraptured with the pastoral, and pronounced it the finest they had ever seen in any language. The doctor then gravely told them that he had read it from the Bible. Whether these ladies were professed infidels, or had considered the Scriptures beneath their notice, I am unable to say. I cannot even vouch for the truth of the anecdote. I am persuaded, however, that an occurrence of that nature might have happened daily, at a time when infidelity was in vogue, and the Bible ridiculed and despised. Even in our day, how little attention do the sacred oracles command.
While the shelf groans with elegant literature, and the mind revels amid the flowery fields of Johnson, Addison, and Shakespeare, or the later and more fascinating groves of Sir Walter Scott—the sublimities of the pentateuch and the prophecies; the tender, touching, simple narrations of. Christ; the sublime devotional strains of "Israel’s king ;" the wisdom of the wisest man who ever lived; are regarded as dry and uninteresting. I cannot allow that roan or woman to possess even a cultivated or discriminating taste, who thus judges. I have read Homer and Milton; but when I compare their poetry to the lofty strains of David, Habakkuk, and Isaiah, it is the flickering light of a taper to the corruscations of a thunder-cloud, or to the full-orbed splendors of a noonday sun. I have read the pathetic story of Sterne on the incarcerated criminal, and the melting appeal which Sir Walter puts into the mouth of a favorite heroine, when pleading in the royal presence for the life of her sister; but they are tame when compared with the struggling emotions of a Joseph, and the short but heart-rending plea of his brother Judah.
But this comparison might be extended to the various departments of Bible literature. Its moral precepts, how concise, and yet how comprehensive. Its narrations seize on the most prominent and striking circumstances, without including any extraneous or unnecessary matter; and throughout, from Genesis to Revelation, there is an unearthly something which stamps it as intelligence from the skies. Its analysis of character is wonderful. There is no other book on earth in which there is so accurate, and full, and clear an exhibition of human nature.
But why am I lauding the Bible as a literary composition, to one who views this as its least attractive feature? Why have I digressed from the great point of urging to an elevated standard of piety? Let us return, and view it as the great means of sanctification. "Sanctify them through thy truth," said our blessed Lord ; "thy word is truth." This is the charm which so much attracts the pious heart. That heart is not insensible to the elegance of scriptural style, nor indifferent to its bold and beautiful imagery; but these are not the principal attractions. It is the word of God. It convinces of sin. It stimulates to duty. It rouses from sluggishness. It warns against danger. It unfolds the character of God. It reveals the way of salvation. It delineates the providence of God. lit presents the Lamb of God slain for our transgressions. It communicates sweet strains of spiritual devotion. It brings into view a bright and eternal reward. It discloses the wounds of our nature, and offers the healing balm. In short, it embodies all that a Christian in this pilgrimage can need. It is his only chart through this tempestuous life. In trouble, it is his consolation; in prosperity, his monitor; in difficulty, his guide. Amid the darkness of death, and while descending into the shadowy valley, it is the day-star that illuminates his path, makes his dying eye bright with hope, and cheers his soul with the prospect of immortal glory.
Is this the book that vain and foolish minds undervalue and despise? From their
folly, my young friend, learn thou a lesson of wisdom. Let your language be,
"May this blest volume ever lie,
Close to my heart, and near mine eye.
Till life’s last hour my soul engage,
And be my chosen heritage."
I wish you never to forget that the attainment of an elevated standard of piety is intimately connected with an assiduous and diligent perusal of the Scriptures. It is customary to recommend
to the young Christian various authors on practical piety. Such authors I cordially unite in
recommending: but I fear that the youthful Christian, by too great an attention to desultory
reading, has sometimes given less attention to the Bible than its paramount importance
Christians, in recommending such books, have taken it for granted that the Bible is diligently and closely studied; but they have taken too much for granted. A taste for religious novelties has been excited, and the precious word has at length become comparatively uninteresting. If any book of mere human composition, be it ever so instructive, is to command more of our interest and attention than the Bible, we should, like Martyn, throw it aside, and reperuse the sacred volume, until we give it, in our hearts, its legitimate prominence and superiority.
When young Christians become devoted to this religious literature, the Bible is very apt to be neglected. They acquire a flippancy in discussing the superficial parts of Christianity; but I insist upon it, that they do not, by such reading, form a sound, consistent, and deeply spiritual character. Far be it from me to undervalue such reading. But I wish to impress upon your mind the superiority of God’s word. Other books of a religious character should be considered as subordinate to the Bible. When they throw light upon the sacred volume; when they drive you back to this great fountain of truth; when they quicken your diligence in studying it, and serve rather as hand-maids than as rivals, they may be perused with propriety and with profit. But if you find that they draw away your interest from the word of God, and excite a taste for novelties, you must suspect them as rivals, and immediately give again your highest affections to that precious book to which they legitimately belong.
This caution is the more needful, because the press at the present day teems with periodicals and works of fiction, which, bearing a slightly religious aspect, are considered as good substitutes for similar but irreligious books, and are therefore recommended to those whose consciences might revolt at the latter cast of productions. This furnishes a strong temptation to young Christians. I warn them against it. I would not circumscribe their reading entirely to the word of God. I would be far from proscribing any merely innocent or instructive book. Let them drink at the waters of Helicon and Parnassus. Let them be acquainted with poetry, history, and the various excellent works of taste; but I would guard against making this reading paramount to the Bible.
I believe there never can be an exalted Christian character, where the Bible is not made the first, and the best, and the most interesting of hooks. That person who cannot lay aside any volume, however interesting, for the Bible, and who cannot find in the latter a greater relish than in the former, has never attained to an elevated standard of piety.
It has been said, that every thing in a minister’s studies should have a reference to the word of God. Through whatever fields of science or literature he may rove, he should come back with superior relish to the Bible. The same advice should be given to the young Christian. In the varied regions of philosophy and taste he is permitted to rove, but the Bible should be his richest banquet. Make it a rule always to prefer it. If at the hours of devotion you are strongly drawn towards some new and interesting religious publication; if you are tempted to omit for this the regular study of the Scriptures, regard it as a temptation, and resist it accordingly. You recollect the resolution of the pious Martyn, to which I have alluded. He never would allow himself to peruse a book one moment after he felt it gaining a preference to his Bible. As long as he could turn to his Bible with a superior relish, so long he would continue reading, and no longer. Go thou and do likewise. If you commence with this resolution, you will find the advantages of it in your daily experience. The word of God will grow constantly in your estimation, and you will be ready to exclaim with David, "0 how I love thy law; it is sweeter to my taste than honey and the honey-comb."
My own-experience convinces me, that the oftener and the more diligently you peruse the Scriptures, the more beautiful will they appear, and the less relish will you have for light and superficial reading. There is, in an intimate acquaintance, in a daily conversation with the Scriptures, something sanctifying, something ennobling. A satisfaction is felt in perusing them, which no human composition can excite. You feel as if you were conversing with God and angels. You breathe a heavenly atmosphere. The soul is bathed in celestial waters. It imbibes a sweetness and a composure which shed over it unearthly attractions.
To this fountain of light and life let us then daily resort. Here is the healing influence. Here is the pool of Bethesda. Here abounds consolation for the afflicted. Here hope dwells to cheer and to guide. "Bind this precious volume about your neck; write it on the tablets of your heart." It will prove your shield in conflict, your guide in perplexity, your solace in adversity. When "death shall be swallowed up in victory," if it have been faithfully studied in this life, it will afford themes for heavenly contemplation through eternity.
STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
IT is a common practice with young Christians to confine their attention to certain parts of the Scriptures, to the almost entire neglect of the rest. They select, generally, the devotional and preceptive portions, such as the evangelists, the Psalms, and some of the epistles. This circumstance, while it favors the evidence of their being Christians, is also best calculated, perhaps, to advance their growth in grace. In this early stage of their progress, they cannot be expected to take a comprehensive view of scriptural truth, and exhibit a maturity of knowledge on doctrinal theology. But there is danger that this practice will be too long continued. If so, they will ever be children. They cannot grow in knowledge. They will be feeding on milk when they ought to receive the more substantial aliment.
Permit me, therefore, my young friend, to caution you against undervaluing any part of the inspired volume. While I would rejoice in the fact of your having at first preferred those scriptures which are more particularly devotional, I must exhort you to go on to perfection. "All Scripture is given by in inspiration of God," and all is, therefore, profitable for the attainment of that perfect standard at which you aim.
In these remarks I speak from personal experience. My attention, for a long time, was confined almost exclusively to the Psalms, the evangelists, and a few of the plainest of the epistles. These I perused and reperused, until much of them was committed to memory, and all were very familiar. I do not, nor shall I ever regret this. But my mistake was, in supposing that the historical and prophetical, and some of the doctrinal parts of the Bible, were inapplicable to my circumstances, and therefore had little claim on my attention. I fear that others have fallen into this mistake. I have since learned that those very scriptures, to which I confined my attention, were greatly elucidated and beautifully explained by other parts of the Bible, which I had thought too deep and too inapplicable for my reading.
The word of God is one magnificent whole. There is a symmetry in all its proportions, and a harmonious admeasurement in all its parts. It is like a beautiful edifice, constructed on the finest principles of architecture. The young Christian may be compared to a superficial observer, who is enraptured with a glance of the finely turned arches, and the highly finished columns of this temple. He dwells upon these as the principal attractions. The more advanced saint has not only entered the vestibule, but has also penetrated the interior court. He has examined carefully the foundation, and admired its admantine structure. Ho has surveyed its halls and its galleries, and has been struck with the beauty of their proportions. He has threaded every labyrinth, and ascertained its direction and its utility. He has found no part defective; no portion superfluous. As his mind sweeps in the noble pile at one glance, he exclaims, How magnificent, how grand, how worthy of the architect!
While, therefore, my young friend, 1 would encourage you in perusing closely those parts of the Bible which appear most adapted to your character and circumstances, I would at the same time caution you not to neglect other important parts of sacred Scripture. As I before observed, by reading the Bible as a whole, you will perceive much more clearly the beauty of your favorite passages. The true method of interpreting Scripture is by comparing one part with another. Had I received and attended to this hint, my knowledge of scriptural truth would, I am persuaded, have been much more extensive than it is at present. I have learned from happy, though late experience, that the historical books of the Old Testament not only throw light on all the subsequent inspired writings, but are replete with most exalted, and devotional, and soul-transporting sentiments. Since I began to study the Scriptures in course, I have lingered on the Pentateuch as on enchanted ground. The types and shadows have been full of meaning. In all of them, Christ and him crucified appears conspicuous.
I am convinced of the utility of studying the Bible in course; and I can assure you, that my former desultory practice, of opening and reading where the eye chanced. to fall, was far from affording equal satisfaction. I note for your benefit the circumstances which prevented my improvement in the knowledge of God’s word, and I hope that you will carefully avoid them. You will find a solid satisfaction in studying the Scriptures according to the mode I recommend. Consider it as the labor of life; for be assured, that should you live to the age of fourscore years, you will not have attained perfection in this study. But why should I call it a labor, when it is so delightful a privilege? It is indeed a labor to that being who loves not the character, and who yields not obedience to the law of God. But is it a labor to that mind which is attuned, by the Spirit’s influence, to the beauties of celestial truth? Will not the soul expand under the developments of God, arid of heavenly things?
As we learn more and more of the wisdom, the goodness, and the mercy of God, we shall the more ardently desire a conformity to these divine attributes. It is thus we shall grow in grace, and in the knowledge of God, and of our Saviour. In the visible creation, every thing is full of glory. Every thing speaks of the wisdom and the power of God, and invite the soul to ascend to its all-glorious Creator. But in the written word, we have God speaking to us with out a medium, and speaking to us as to his children.
Go, then, my young friend, and diligently listen to the holy oracles. Search the Scriptures. Peruse them systematically. Make them your daily and nightly companions. And may their celestial influence be so infused into your soul, that you shall progressively lose the image of the earthly, and assume the image of the heavenly inhabitants.
STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES
You recollect, my young friend, that when speaking on the subject of prayer, I warned you against a hurried and superficial manner. I would repeat the, same caution in respect to reading the word of God. There is a careless, superficial attention to the Bible, which is neither acceptable to God, nor profitable to the soul.
We should ever approach that sacred book with reverence. Though written by men, remember that those men "spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." The medium through which it was communicated, detracts not from the divinity of the matter. When we open the sacred volume, we listen to the voice of God. It is the same voice, though unaccompanied by those terrific circumstances, which issued from that awful cloud which curtained the summit of Sinai. It is the same voice that was heard in such piteous lamentations from Calvary, when our Immanuel trode for us the wine-press of the wrath of God. Should we not, therefore, give a reverential attention when Jehovah speaks? Should not our posture be that of the deepest humility and awe?
When you take the Scriptures in hand, it is well to let such a reflection pass your mind. It is profit able to pause a moment, and say within yourself, What a privilege do I enjoy in the perusal of this sacred page. Millions of my fellow-beings are shut out from it. They have nothing but the dim and flickering light of nature. They are, therefore, degraded and besotted by ignorance and sensuality. Whereas I am favored with the clear light of revelation. I hold in my hand the mind and will of God concerning me. Are not my obligations, therefore, proportionably great? What account can I give at the judgment-day, if I neglect or undervalue this precious volume? "0 Lord, open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." Unstop mine ear, that I may listen, and dispose my heart to receive and obey. Spirit of light, Inspirer of this heavenly book, be present to dissipate my darkness, and shed over my soul the beams of celestial glory. Let me not fall under the condemnation of that wicked servant, who knew his master’s will, but refused to perform it; but having, by thy illumminating influence, a perfect understanding of the word, may I, through thy sanctifying grace, be moulded by it into the likeness and image of God.
I take it for granted, that the study of the Bible is to form a part of your daily devotions; and it is upon such a supposition that 1 make these remarks. Beware, I entreat you, of the habit of glancing over different parts of the Bible, instead of perusing it in course, and with close and diligent attention. The latter mode, accompanied with the blessing of God, will form an elevated Christian character. The former is characteristic of the worldly minded and superficial professor. Depend upon it, the closer attention you give to the word, the more precious and interesting will it become, and the more rapidly will you grow in knowledge and holiness. The pious David declared that his love for the word of God was so ardent, that it was his meditation day and night. I meditate, says he, on all thy precepts. I muse on the work of thy hands. It is this meditative spirit which I would recommend, when you are perusing the Scriptures.
The celebrated Dr. Scott, as we learn from his memoirs, was in the habit of reading the Bible on his knees. Whenever a difficult part of divine truth came under consideration, he would lift his soul to God for the illuminating influence of the Spirit. It was by prayer over the word of God, that this eminent saint formed a character that will stand as a bright example to all succeeding Christians. It was in this way, also, that he arrived at such a profound knowledge of the Scriptures, and was enabled to write his celebrated commentary. As you will need some helps in studying the Bible, permit me, without claiming that any human author is free from error, to recommend this invaluable work as among the best commentaries extant.
I cannot do this better, than by copying a brief notice from the pen of a clerical friend. "I have never met with a commentator so admirably adapted to ordinary use as Dr. Scott. As an interpreter, he is clear, sober, and judicious. He never so dwells upon one doctrine as to keep others out of view—the grand defect of many expositors—but gives to each truth that proportion of notice which its relative importance seems to demand. The great doctrine of justification by faith alone, the very hinge on which the whole Gospel turns, and its all-pervading principle, Dr. Scott very clearly and fully unfolds, where it is specially treated of in holy writ. He never loses sight of it upon any occasion, and uniformly so handles it, as to beat down the pride of the Pharisee on the one hand, and expose the rottenness of the antinomian on the other. But his commentary is not simply doctrinal; he shows all the varied bearings of the truth upon the inner and the outer man. In a word, he is highly experimental and practical throughout. And for this part of his work, he appears peculiarly competent. Never, perhaps, were displayed in any uninspired composition, such a deep insight into the natural workings of the human heart, and so accurate a knowledge of the exercises of a mind renewed by divine grace, combined with such an enlarged, and at the same time minute acquaintance with human life, under every variety of circumstance. To write this work, demanded such observation of the world, united to such studious habits, as could very rarely indeed be found in the same individual. And the Lord seems to have led this wonderful man through just the path that would qualify him to compose such a book."
I can, add my testimony to the above. Although I had frequently heard Dr. Scott undervalued, as not sufficiently critical, I am now convinced that he has been wise in not encumbering his work with useless criticism, which, while it might have pleased the few, would have been a great disadvantage to the many. It will be found, I believe, that his opinion on all the great practical truths and doctrines of the Bible, is the correct one. I must conclude, therefore, by advising you to commence his work with a determination, by the blessing of God, to finish it. Prospectively, it may appear a herculean task; but be assured, it is not. As you advance, you will find each succeeding page more and more delightful.
STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
I HOPE, my young friend, that you will acquire a thorough acquaintance with the historical scriptures. They are intimately connected with the prophetical, the doctrinal, and the preceptive parts of the Bible. I have at times been made to blush for my ignorance of some fact which has been alluded to as a part of Bible history, and especially as quoted by the New Testament writers; not because I neglected the Bible, but because I confined my reading to a very limited portion of it.
It is impossible to understand the prophecies, without a knowledge of the sacred history. It is equally impossible, without this knowledge, to comprehend the beauty and force of the gospels and the epistles. The more thoroughly you study the Old, the more easily will you comprehend the meaning and beauty of the New Testament. If you will become intimately acquainted with the book of Leviticus, the epistle to the Hebrews will possess charms which you had never attributed toit. If you have discriminated between the covenant which God made with Abraham, and that which he formed with the people of Israel at Sinai, you will be prepared to estimate the force of the apostle’s reasoning in the epistle to the Galatians. There is scarcely any part of the New Testament which has not some connection with the Old. In the historical books, you have also an exhibition of the providence of God, and many bright examples of patriarchal Christianity You cannot fail, therefore, of being amply rewarded by a diligent perusal of the sacred history.
In studying the doctrinal parts of the Bible, you will require much patience and perseverance, mingled with constant prayer for heavenly illumination. There is reason to apprehend that many young Christians have vague and superficial notions of the doctrines, whilst they exhibit much of the true temper of the Gospel. If, however, they neglect to investigate and understand the doctrines of Scripture, they will be in danger of being led astray by the seducing influence of heresy. Be well grounded, therefore, in the fundamental doctrines of the Bible. In making up your opinion with respect to any doctrine, avoid a rash and hasty conclusion. Be deliberate, and you will escape the imputation of being carried about "with every wind of doctrine." When a truth which you have thus deliberately embraced is called in question, be not induced by the apparent candor, or the plausible arguments of your opponent, to yield your opinion, until you have given it a thorough investigation. You may still be right, and your opponent wrong. Be not rash in giving up your opinion and accepting his. This caution is perhaps necessary to young Christians, who cannot at their age be supposed to be thoroughly indoctrinated.
The great truths of evangelical religion you have received from education. I would advise you to reexamine them by the word of God, and if they correspond therewith, to hold them fast, as the most precious legacy which your pious parents have bequeathed. It will be insinuated, perhaps, that such opinions are the result of education, and are destitute of any other foundation. Be cautious in admitting this. Search the Scriptures, and if you find them there, hold them fast, as a "form of sound words". If they were opposed to the Bible, you ought to abandon them, however dear, or sanctified by parental affection. But in yielding such opinions, I would still say, be not rash. Investigate closely and candidly, ere you let them go. There is a tenderness of conscience in young Christians, which Satan sometimes pushes to a painful and distressing embarrassment. This is as much the case in respect to belief, as to external conduct.
As an illustration of these remarks, there occurs to my recollection the case of a youth, who, on making a public profession of religion, joined, as a matter of course, the church to which his parents belonged. For a short time all went happily with him, he enjoyed the communion of the saints, and the ordinances of the Gospel. The scene, however, was soon changed. His mind was thrown into great distress by the insinuations of one, who, by his bold and dogmatical mode of reasoning, led him into doubts on a particular point of doctrine. He was deeply perplexed as to the path of duty. At one time, the adversary would suggest the guilt of remaining a day longer in his present connection. At another, he would insinuate that he had made a false profession and therefore had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. In this hour of anguish, he prayed most earnestly for direction. The thought occurred to him, that he need not be rash in altering his views. As he was comparatively a child, and had much to learn, God would not be displeased if he took time for investigation. This thought gave him consolation, and he set about a diligent and prayerful examination of his Bible. The result was, a conviction of the truth as he had held it, and a perfectly settled state of mind on that point, even to the present time.
I hope, therefore, my young friend, that in making up your doctrinal opinions, you will study the word of God closely and prayerfully. Be careful not to rush into hasty conclusions from isolated passages; but take a comprehensive view of the connection. Look at the Bible in all its grand and magnificent proportions. Be thoroughly indoctrinated, and you will become a growing and stable Christian. There will be a solidity in your character, which, like a foundation that is well adjusted to the superstructure, will be at once the evidence both of permanency and of beauty.
STUDY OF THE SCRIPTURES.
I WOULD not, my young friend, have you study the Bible as a critic, but as a Christian. You should endeavor to derive some spiritual nourishment from every part of Scripture. In this, Dr. Scott’s commentary is admirably calculated to assist you. In studying the historical Scriptures; you can occasionally pause and meditate. You can inquire whether your mind distinctly comprehended the facts recorded, and their practical bearing. In this way, your memory will be strengthened, and your heart, I trust often affected.
Before I leave this subject, permit me to say a word or two on the spirit with which you should peruse the sacred volume. It is a spirit of implicit faith, and childlike docility. There are many parts of Scriptures which, after the most diligent and careful investigation, will still appear, to short-sighted man1 almost inexplicable. There are many doctrines too profound for human comprehension—many mysterious truths relating to God, to angels, and to heaven. God has given to man a revelation which embodies the august truths of his eternity, and of his infinite attributes; which brings into view a spiritual world, and throws down upon us the light of the inconceivable glory; and such a revelation must necessarily contain things to us mysterious and incomprehensible. It necessarily presents certain truths to be received on the simple testimony of God; and this is faith. Shall I, therefore, in perusing the Bible, reject one of its doctrines, because it is less intelligible than another? Am I not bound to receive even incomprehensible truths, if I find them there recorded? Having settled the fact that the Bible is inspired, I must come to it as to an infallible oracle. I must feel, with the apostle, that although there arc many things which, in consequence of my infirmity, I can only view as through a glass darkly; yet, if I am a Christian, the time is near when I shall see them as clearly as I can behold a friend face to face. Although I must confess that there are many deep truths which now I know but in part, yet there is a day coming when I shall know them as fully as I myself am known. Even the venerable apostle ranks himself but as a child in the knowledge of divine things. He is content to wait until that knowledge shall be expanded among the bright intelligences of heaven.
Were your father, whom you so much love, an astronomer, conversant with the motions of the heavenly bodies—were he to take you, while a child, to his observatory, point you to those revolving orbs, and tell you that he had measured their distances, and calculated their motions, would you believe him? 0 yes; he is your father, who would not deceive you, and you are his confiding child. You could not comprehend the fact, but you would believe your father; you would have no doubt of his veracity. Were he again to tell you, that should your life be continued, you also would, in a few years, be able to make these sublime calculations, your astonishment would be increased. Had not your father said it, you could not have believed it. But still you would confide in your beloved parent.
This is precisely the spirit which you must possess in studying the Scriptures. It is your Father who speaks. Sometimes he speaks of high and mysterious things; but remember, that you are bound to confide in his word. When scepticism would harass your mind, flee to the word of God, and subject your understanding implicitly to its dictates. When troubles assail, betake yourself instantly to this fountain of consolation. When doubts of your acceptance come over your mind like a dark and portentous cloud, here, in this blessed volume, is the Sun of righteousness to chase away the cloud, and restore you to calmness and tranquillity.
Whilst there is a spirit abroad that would undervalue the plain testimony of revelation, and make it, like the heathen oracles of old, speak an ambiguous and time-serving language, be it your resolution to cling to the precious Bible, and to love even its most self-denying and soul-humbling doctrines. Be not ashamed of those views of truth which, in the estimation of vain and proud man, arc peculiar only to vulgar minds. The Bible, you will recollect, was written equally for the vulgar and the refined. The poor claim it as their most precious legacy. What though there be in it some mysterious and inexplicable doctrines is it not the part of faith to sit meekly at the Saviour’s feet, and receive implicitly the words which drop from his lips?
Compassed about as we are with infirmities, dependent as we are for the least ray of heavenly comfort—with intellectual pride on the one hand, and deep-rooted and sinful prejudices on the other—now wandering from God and duty, and now returning disappointed and dejected—let us sink into the deepest self-abasement. Let us bow, with the spirit of children, to the simple truth as it is in Jesus ; let us implore the divine Spirit to guide us through this benighted desert; and let us look forward by faith to the period when we shall emerge from our darkness into unclouded and eternal day.
RELIGION THE BUSINESS OF LIFE.
By this time, my young friend, you perceive that religion is the business of life—a momentous work, which will task every faculty to the utmost. To make a profession in the visible church is one thing; but to evince, by a progressive improvement in knowledge and holiness, our connection with the church invisible, is another. When I look around and behold so many youth gathered within the church by the sanctifying influence of the numerous and powerful revivals of religion, my soul exults in the prospective glories of our Zion. These, me-thinks, are the generations who are to urge forward the cause of Christ, and who may be permitted to chant the jubilee of millennial glory.
I am anxious that the rising generation, of Christians should assume a more elevated standard of piety and action than that which has characterized their predecessors; and that primitive holiness, and magnanimity, and self-denial, should once more appear, as the earnest and pledge of that glorious consummation when holiness shall be inscribed even on the bells of the horses. I confess, however, that I have my misgivings. I have seen some who lately gave auspicious promise of this high and noble character, sinking down to the dead level of ordinary professors, taking the hue and character of those around them, and appearing contented with just so much religion as will render them agreeable to all, without incurring the censure of any. How unworthy of a great and noble character! I would never name the name of Christ, or I would give him my heart—my full, free, undivided heart.
The gospel of Christ admits of no compromise. It demands our all. If it required less, it would be unworthy of its great author and finisher. I rejoice that it requires all. This is its glory. When we are brought to yield to its claims, and give up all, then, and not till then, will it throw around us its arms of mercy. And what is our all? What do we give when we give our all? A polluted soul, that might justly be cast into hell; a body, the miserable companion of that soul, and groaning under the dire effects of disobedience and guilt. Our all consisting, at last, in nothing more than a polluted and guilty nature.
What a wonder is it that God will accept such an offering. What a miracle of mercy, that raises us up from our pollution, bathes us in the layer of regeneration, and clothes us in the white linen of the saints. And do we talk about self-denial? Do we say, how hard to give up all? I am ashamed to use such language; ashamed to hear it used. What did Christ give up for us? Let that question blot out "self-denial" from the Christian’s vocabulary. When you think the Gospel makes severe requisitions by requiring all, go up to Mount Calvary and weep over such suggestions. See the blood of your Immanuel so freely gushing from a heart that never exercised towards you any emotion but love; love unspeakable—love unsought—and love for the guilty. Go hide your head in shame and penitence at such a thought. It is a glorious privilege, my young friend, to give up all to Christ. The soul that feels the constraining influence of his love, asks not how little may be given consistently with obtaining the heavenly reward—asks not for the lowest standard of discipleship; it bums with an ardent desire to devote all, and to aim at perfect "conformity to his death."
It is melancholy to behold so many satisfied with a name in the church, and a seat at the sacramental board. This appears to make up the sum of their religion. Others go one step farther, and observe some decent regard to what may be termed the experimental part of religion, but aim not at that elevated standard which it is their privilege to attain. They live in doubt, and they often die in darkness. They enjoy neither religious consolations nor the peace which the world giveth. All this is in consequence of that miserable, half-way, compromising spirit, which, seeks to perform the service, and enjoy the approbation of two masters.
Let me entreat you to make a noble surrender in this cause. The world has hitherto been the master, and you must acknowledge that you have rendered a full and faithful service; but shall you yield a less free and faithful devotion to Christ? Which is the more worthy of your regard? Which has the greater claims on your affections? Which offers the fullest reward.? Determine, by the grace of God, that you will forsake all, and follow Christ: do not, like Peter, follow him afar off, but, like Mary, sit at his feet— like the beloved disciple, rest upon his bosom.
You will perceive from my communications thus far, that there is work enough to do; that there is some struggling for the prize ; that the kingdom of heaven is to be taken by violence; that you are not to sit down and idly imagine, that now you have joined the church, there remaineth no more for you to do; that you are to be carried along, as it were, by a sort of invisible influence to heaven, without any extraordinary exertions of your own. Determine, that if others act on the principles of the spiritual sluggard, you will leave them, and march forward towards the elevation of Christian character which the Bible plainly marks out as your duty and your privilege. Onward, is the daily watchword of the faithful soldier of the cross. He sleeps not at
His post. He hears the first note of alarm, and prepares for the conflict. He loves his King, and obedience is a pleasure rather than a duty. Many a bright example still shines in your view. A Brainerd, a Martyn, a Graham, a Judson, and a Newell have left the light of their glorious career still lingering on earth. Plant your feet in their tracks and if you cannot equal, at least make a near approximation to them. Dread the thought of being any thing less than they were; and remember, that it is possible even to surpass them.
O may you aim high, in contending for the prize of your high calling. May you go from strength to strength, from victory to victory, from one attainment to another, until you shall stand a glorious example on earth—until you shall inherit the highest rewards of the blessed in heaven.
I CANNOT believe, my young friend, that the serious cautions, solemn warnings, and earnest appeals which I have made, are to be entirely lost. I flatter myself, that when the hand which penned, and the heart which prompted them, are resting in the grave, she, for whose instruction they were given, will exhibit all that maturity of knowledge, all that purity of character, all that holy elevation of purpose and of action, which together constitute the fulness of Christian perfection. But if, after all, you should make a compromise with the world, and be willing to settle down upon that low and unworthy standard too common among our churches—if a few years should find you foremost in pleasure and in fashion, and undistinguished from the noisy, vain, and trifling crowd, methinks your conscience will have been rapidly seared, and your heart quickly steeled to a sense of your duty.
But I am persuaded better things of you, though I thus speak. Still, I know more than you can at present of the deceitfulness of the heart, the subtle insinuations of Satan, and the powerful attractions which the world presents to a warm, youthful imagination. Secluded as you now are, you can form but a faint conception of the power of worldly seductions. Perhaps you are ready to conclude, that your heart is impregnable to all their assaults. This, be assured, is a great mistake. Think not that your mountain stands strong. If you indulge this thought, you will most assuredly fall; you will be obliged to weep over the disgrace which you will have brought upon religion; you will, perhaps, be constrained to bewail the ruin of some soul, who may have been emboldened in sin through your carelessness or inadvertency. You have a dangerous road to travel. You cannot be too vigilant; you cannot offer too runny prayers for guidance and protection. Your armor cannot be too bright, nor your eye too circumspect.
Remember what I have already said, that declension begins at the closet. Watch there for its first appearance. There be ready to discover and to correct it. Prayer is your stronghold. In every encounter with your adversaries, draw upon the strength of heaven. In every dark, distressful hour, cast an eye upward to God. When the world displays its fascinations, and woos you away to its arms, God, and God alone, is the "strength of your heart." When afflictions come, and the soul is made sad and desolate, where then shall you look, but to him who heareth the mourner’s cry ? Prayer has ever been powerful and efficient. It has wiped away the tear from the penitent, and lighted up the gleam of hope. It has broken the stout sinews of rebellion, and transformed the lion to the lamb.
In the work of self-examination, be close and thorough-be habitual and persevering. Let a nice discrimination run through your investigations, remember your aim. It is high; it is the elevated character. Deal faithfully, then, with your own soul. Arraign it at a diurnal tribunal, and judge it, severely judge it, from the law of God. Anticipate the great and final account. It will then not burst upon you unprepared. You will go calmly forward to the bar of God, and unhesitatingly open your bosom, conscious of forgiveness, to his keen inspection.
Let the word of God dwell in your heart. Study its sacred pages with prayerful diligence, and bow to its doctrines with implicit faith. Be it the man of your counsel; the guide of your belief; the foundation of your hope.
In short, take to yourself the whole armor of God: the shield of faith, by which you may quench the fiery darts of Satan; the helmet of salvation, to adorn and defend your head; the breastplate of righteousness, to cover your bosom from the shafts of calumny or of envy; the sword of the Spirit, whose keen edge will make you resolute and fearless in the attack, powerful and irresistible in the defence. Thus arrayed, look upward, and press onward. God is your strength, and when he nerves the arm, though it be the arm of the weakest believer, that arm is irresistible. Lay not aside your weapons, while one foe within is unsubdued, or one enemy without unconquered. But life is short. The time is at hand when you shall have a full and free discharge. The crown of glory glitters in prospect. After a few more days of fidelity to your King, that crown shall be placed upon your brow.
When death comes, he will prove your last enemy. As he falls beneath your triumphant struggle, you shall hear the notes of victory, bursting from ten thousand angels, on your dying ear. Then your work is done. Then your warfare is over. On yonder heavenly plains, you shall receive a golden harp, and learn celestial music. You shall sound that name by which you conquered; and in your eternal song, chant the praise of him who sitteth upon the throne, and of the Lamb for ever. The trials of life will be remembered no more; or if remembered, will serve as new themes of praise and thanksgiving.
What a consummation Who would not struggle a few short days, to inherit so rich a reward—to wear forever so bright a diadem?