« ÎnapoiContinuă »
to the causes which have been mentioned, then it is of great importance that preachers should give proper directions to inquiring sinners, and feeble minded christians. If inquiring sinners are properly taught, they will not commonly think they are converted before they are, nor build their hopes upon any other than scriptural grounds, after they are converted. If they are properly taught the nature of total depravity, which renders all their desires, distresses, seekings and strivings, in their unrenewed state, unholy and unacceptable to God, then they will easily understand ihe nature of regeneration, which removes their total depravity, by changing their hearts from selfishness to benevolence, from hatred of God to love to him, from opposition to submission, from unbelief to a cordial belief and approbation of the gospel; and these new, holy, benevolent affections will appear to be the only and sufficient grounds of a solid hope of salvation. When they look into the gospel, they find that their new views and exercises are just such as Christ required of all his true followers. As long as these views and exercises continue, they enjoy peace and comfort, and are not troubled with doubts, and fears, and darkness, unless they find these views and feelings declining and languishing.
And then their desires and prayers are, that their former views and feelings may be restored. They do not desire, nor expect, any other kind of evidence of their good estate, but that which arises from the scriptural marks of grace. But those who have been differently taught under awakenings and convictions, and have never been told that their hearts were totally depraved, but assured that their seekings and strivings were acceptable to God, and should they be converted, their conversion would consist in a joyful hope of salvation; are very liable to gain a false hope under such unscriptural instructions, and to form a false notion of regeneration, not only in respect to themselves, but in respect to others. And in case they are really regenerated, they will build their hope upon the weakest, and not the strongest evidence of conversion. It is, therefore, of great importance, that preachers of the gospel should give proper, scriptural directions to inquiring sinners, and desponding saints. And in order to do this, they must clearly delineate the true character of sinners, and the true character of saints, and the scriptural grounds of Christian hope. There are as many, and as great errors among those who are called experimental preachers, as among those who are called speculative, legal and superficial preachers. When people are taught the first and fundamental principles of the gospel, if they are awakened, they will be awakened in the view of truth; if they are convinced, they will be convinced in the view of truth; and if they are converted, they will be converted in the view of truth. Of course, they will not be feeble minded, but strong in the faith. Or if their first love should languish, and they should fall into declension, there is a rallying point to which they may be more easily brought, reformed and reconverted. För real saints often need to be brought to that point in Christianity, from which they first derived their hope.
5. If the feeble minded be such as have been described, then there is reason to apprehend that the great deceiver uses all his art and subtlety to make and keep them feeble minded. He can suggest false grounds of doubt, and throw them into darkness and perplexity; which he knows will weaken and obstruct them in their Christian course, if not cause them to stumble and fall. He knows that darkness and doubts will obstruct their enjoying religion, or professing religion, or promoting religion, or opposing irreligion. When such feeble mindedness creeps into a church, it has the most unhappy and deplorable effects. This was exemplified from time to time in the Jewish church, in the seven churches of Asia, and is still exemplified in many of the churches of Christ at this day. But the feeble minded love to be so, and will either reject_or abuse the proper means to strengthen and comfort them; which are the plain, important truths of the gospel. In the view and love of these, their doubts would vanish, and their hopes become strong and joyful. But the feeble minded are generally the most reluctant to hear and embrace the plain and heart searching doctrines, especially if their feebleness arises from forsaking God, and conforming to the world,
6. It appears from what has been said, that feeble minded christians are to be blamed, as well as pitied. They are certainly to be pitied, for they enjoy little, and suffer much, from their religion. The renovation of their hearts has 'rendered their consciences tender, spoiled them for the enjoyments of the world, and made them desire the spiritual comfort, which they at the same time refuse. They greatly injure themselves, and the cause of religion. For ihey lead the men of the world to think that religion is a gloomy, visionary and hateful thing, and never productive of that peace, serenity and joy which the scripture represents it to be. For this injurious effect they are responsible, because God has given them reason to rejoice, and required them to rejoice, and nothing but what is wrong in their hearts prevents them from rejoicing. But they are apt to pity, rather than blame themselves, and think that others ought to pity, rather than blame them. But whenever they get light, and enjoy peace, they will blame themselves.
THE MORAL IMPERFECTION OF CHRISTIANS THEIR
O, WRETCHED man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
ROMANS, vii, 24,
It has been a question among expositors, whether the apostle, in this chapter, is speaking of himself or of some other man; and, if speaking of himself, whether he is speaking of himself as in a state of nature or in a state of grace. Whoever will read through the chapter with attention, can hardly doubt whether he is not speaking of himself, and expressing his views and feelings both before and after he had experienced a saving change. From the sixth to the fourteenth verse, he is evidently speaking of the exercises of his heart, while in a state of nature; and from the fourteenth verse to the end of the chapter, he is evidently speaking of his alternate exercises of right and wrong affections. For he speaks of his own moral imperfection just as other good men speak of their moral imperfection. Job acknowledges before God, “ If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me; if I say I'am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse." Solomon asserts, that “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not.” It is very evident that the apostle, in the text, is speaking of himself as in a state of grace, and expresses the painful sense he had of his own moral imperfection. “O wretched man that
) I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Though he could sustain bis infirmities, and even rejoice in tribulation, yet he was sometimes ready to sink under the burden of sin. This naturally leads us to inquire, why sin was so extremely burdensome to the apostle Paul. Here it may be observed,
1. That sin was very burdensome to him, because he was a subject of special grace. He was sanctified in part. He was a partaker of the divine nature. He imbibed the spirit of Christ. He had a pure, disinterested, impartial and universal love to all beings and creatures, which were capable of enjoying happiness, or suffering pain. He was holy as God is holy. And holiness in any being creates a perfect hatred and aversion to every species of iniquity. It is because God is perfectly boly, that he perfectly hates sin, and cannot look upon it but with absolute abhorrence. It was because Christ loved righteousness, that he hated and abhorred iniquity. And so if any man be holy as God is holy, and have the spirit of Christ, he will feel towards sin as God and Christ feel towards it; he will hate it with a perfect hatred. Paul was created in righteousness and true holiness after the image of God, and the same mind was in him, that was in Christ Jesus; he had therefore a perfect hatred to all sin, and especially his own sin. While in the exercise of holiness, he saw the criminality and turpitude of all the evil affections which were so apt to rise in his imperfectly sanctified heart, and they were extremely loathsome and burdensome to him. He could not forbear exclaiming, “ O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?" or from this dead body; speaking, as it is supposed, in allusion to a custom among the Romans, who sometimes put a criminal to death by fastening him to a dead body, till he was suffocated by its pollution and stench. So odious
. and detestable did Paul's sinful exercises appear to his pure and holy exercises. It is a burden to see, and much more so to be connected, with any hateful objects. And among all hateful objects, the holy apostle viewed sin as the most hateful to see and feel. And so did David. He says, “ Mine iniquities are gone over my head; as a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. I am feeble and sore broken. I have roared by reason of the disquietude of my heart." Saints can bear any
other burden more easily than the burden of sin, because it is so hateful to their holy feelings.
2. Sin was exceedingly burdensome to the holy apostle, because he had an enlightened and tender conscience. He was not only alarmed before his conversion, but made the subject of strong and genuine convictions. His conscience was effectually awakened to condemn the depravity of his heart. He was made to feel the heavy burden of guilt which he had contracted, and what an evil and bitter thing it was to violate the dictates of his conscience. Those christians who have had powerful and pungent convictions of conscience before their
hearts were renewed, are generally apt to have a more enlightened and tender conscience than others, afterwards. They never forget how they have felt under a sense of their own ill desert, and of God's just displeasure. Paul's convictions were probably very powerful and overwhelming; for they laid him prostrate in the dust, and shook his whole corporeal frame, and created an insupportable conflict between his corrupt heart and enlightened conscience. He deeply regretted that he disregarded the solemn and dying discourse of Stephen, and the great truths which he delivered. He deeply regretted the contempt he had poured upon Christ, and the gospel he preached. He deeply regretted his enmity to his harmless followers, his cruelly persecuting them, and making havoc of the church. Though, while he was doing these things, he verily thought he was doing God service, yet as soon as he was struck under sudden and pungent convictions, his conscience accused and condemned him, as acting a most stupid, obstinate and criminal part; and all his self confidence and self righteousness forsook him, and lest him to feel the full weight of self condemnation. He felt the bitterness of spiritual death, and his giving up his hope was like giving up the ghost. Such clear and powerful convictions made an impression on his conscience, which he never could erase from his mind. His conscience, which had been so deeply wounded, was ever after extremely tender. Whenever he found his heart at variance with his conscience, it gave him a quick and painful sense of guilt. This rendered sin a continual and heavy burden. His conscience was not seared or hardened, but always alive and awake, to discern and condemn every unholy and sinful affection. He maintained an habitual spiritual warfare between his heart and conscience. Hence he said, “ Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men." His tender conscience continually admonished him to keep his heart with all diligence, knowing that out of the heart are the issues of life.” He was sensible that, if his heart were wrong, his actions proceeding from it would certainly be wrong; and whenever they were wrong, they were a burden to him, and created a self loathing and self condemnation, which was a spiritual conflict extremely heavy to bear.
3. His burden of sin and guilt was very great, because he made the divine law the rule of his duty. He did not mean to follow the false customs, and manners, and maxims of the men of the world, who lean to their own understandings, and trust in their own hearts, to direct them how to feel, and to act; but he made the law of God the infallible rule of his conduct. As soon as his carnal mind was slain by the divine law, he cor