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all. The same things are equally true of every religious duty, and subject. We cannot perform any duty, however well disposed, unless it be known to us; nor be required to perform it, unless such knowledge be attainable.
Thus it is evident, that the Gospel is indispensable to the very existence of Christianity in the mind of man: and, as the Gospel cannot be of any possible use to man, unless known by him ; so the knowledge of the Gospel is indispensable to the existence of faith, repentance, and holiness.
It is indeed perfectly obvious, that God can, with infinite ease, reveal the fundamental truths, and all other truths, of the Gospel, to any man immediately, as he did to St. Paul. This, however, is not to be expected; as it is certainly no part of his ordinary providence. In the usual course of that providence, men are taught the Gospel by Preaching, Reading, and other modes of in. struction. These, or some of these, are therefore indispensable, in the usual course of things, to the existence of Christianity in the minds of men. Hence, in one respect, the Gospel is said to be the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth: and hence, in the same respect, it is said, that, when the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
In the same manner Religious Education, Meditation, Correspondence with religious men, and the Reading of religious Books, become, thus far, Means of Salvation to mankind. In all these ways the Word of God is made known to mankind : and all of them have, and were designed by God to have, their peculiar advantages.
Among the things, most necessary to be known by us in order to our salvation, our own hearts, or moral characters, hold a primary place. I know of no manner, in which he, who feels himself to be whole, can realize, that he needs a physician. To the existence even of a wish for deliverance, the sense of danger, or distress, is absolutely necessary. If we are now conscious of being holy, or of being safe ; we, certainly, can never desire renovation, forgiveness, or expiation ; nor seek for a deliverer to save us, While such a consciousness continues, no reason can be perceived by the man, who experiences it, why he should look for salvation from Christ, any more, than why an Angel, who has never fallen, should look for salvation from the same source. But sin, and the moral distress, and danger, occasioned by it, have their seat in the heart. If, then, the heart be unknown; these will also be unknown: and the mind will never seek, nor wish, for deliverance from them. Of course, it cannot, and will not, expect its salvation from the Redeemer.
The Knowledge of the heart is extensively communicated by the Scriptures : so extensively, that without them, mankind will never understand their true moral character in any such manner,
as to produce any Evangelical benefit. But all the Scriptural communications, of this nature, will be useless to us, unless we apply them to ourselves. This application can never be made to any purpose, unless we commune with our own hearts. Self-examination is the direct, and in many respects the only, mode, in which we apply the Scriptural accounts of our moral nature to ourselves. Without such examination we may, indeed, admit the Scriptural accounts concerning human nature, generally; and believe, that other men are sinners, in the manner, and degree, there exhibited. But we shall never realize, that these accounts, in their whole extent, are applicable also to ourselves. Particularly, we shall form no just apprehensions of our odiousness in the sight of God, of the extent of our condemnation by his law, or our exposure to final perdition. The necessity of such examination is therefore absolute.
Further, when we have in fact become convinced of our sin, and our danger, we are still equally unconvinced of our disposition to return to God, by Evangelical repentance and faith. All mankind appear originally to believe their conversion to God to be so absolutely in their power, as that, whenever they shall make serious and earnest attempts to accomplish it, they shall accomplish it of course, and without any peculiar divine assistance. Whatever opinions they may imagine themselves to form concerning this subject, they still believe, and, if they ever become penitents, will find themselves to have believed, that, whenever they shall resolve upon the exercise of faith and repentance, as necessary to their moral character, and true well-being, they shall certainly repent, and believe. In this way, they feel in a great measure secure of salvation. It is a secret, which probably no professed believer in the doctrines of free grace ever discovers, before he has made attempts of this nature, that, with all his apprehended orthodoxy, he still places his ultimate reliance on him. self; and realizes no necessity for any peculiar assistance from God. Among the things, which he feels to be thus absolutely in his power, Prayer, that is, Evangelical and acceptable Prayer, is always one. Nothing in the ordinary course of things, not even his own speculative belief to the contrary, will ever persuade him, that he will find any difficulty in praying to God, until after he has seriously made the trial. His own efforts to pray ally be the first, and the only, means of changing his opinion, and of convincing him, that he has essentially mistaken his real character.
Actual attempts at Prayer, at exercising faith and repentance, and at forming efficacious resolutions of obedience, furnish, in this case, a kind of instruction, not easily supplied by any thing else. Conviction of the practicability, or impracticability, of any measures, of the insufficiency of our own powers, and of the certain failure of our efforts, is wrought only by the trial of these meas
ures, powers, and efforts. A loose, general, uninfluential belief may be otherwise entertained. But a conviction, which will be felt, will be gained only in this manner. I know not whether, in all ordinary cases, this conviction is not indispensable to the attainment of holiness.
In the conduct, and character, of Religious men, the actual ex. istence of religion is often, perhaps usually, first seen and believed. In the same manner is the dignity, the beauty, and the excellence, of religion usually first discerned, and acknowledged. The truth also, and especially the importance, of many primary doctrines of the Gospel, and the chief part of what is commonly intended by Experimental religion, are all principally learned, and realized, by means of their conversation.
These may serve as specimens, sufficient for the present pur. pose, of the Instruction, acquired in the use of the Means of Grace.
2. Means of Grace become such by the Impressions, which they make on the heart.
To a person, at all versed in human nature, it is perfectly evident, that, in every case where men are to be moved to any serious exertion, mere conviction will often be inefficacious. The Intellect is not the motive faculty of the mind. The Will, in which term I include all the affections, gives birth to every effort, which the mind makes concerning the objects of the present, or the future, world.
But the mere conviction of the Intellect is, of itself, rarely sufficient to move the Will, or engage the affections. Some thing further is, in a particular manner, necessary to engage man in the serious pursuit of spiritual and eternal objects, or to make him realize any serious interest in these objects. The mere proof, that a doctrine is true, is usually but one step towards persuading us to exertion of any kind. In addition to this, it is commonly necessary for the same end, that our imagination be roused, and our affections awakened and engaged.
In accordance with these observations, mankind, in their customary language, regularly express the different states of the mind, when it is merely convinced, and when it feels the truth, of which it is convinced. To see a truth, and to feel it, are familiar expressions in our language, which denote ideas widely different from each other. So different are they, that we commonly see, without feeling at all; and, therefore, without being moved to exertion by what we see. All men use, all men understand, this language ; and thus prove, that there is a solid foundation in the nature of things for the distinction, which it expresses.
In accordance with this scheme, Eloquence, both in speaking and writing, has ever been directed to the Imagination; and to the Passions, as well as to the Intellect : and that kind of elo. quence, which has been employed in moving the heart, has been considered as possessing a higher, and more influential, nature than
that, which is addressed merely to the understanding. Hence, eloquence itself is commonly considered, rather as the power of Persuasion, than the power of Conviction.
That we are capable of being moved to a sense of spiritual objects, altogether different from a cold, unimpassioned conviction, as truly as to such a sense of temporal objects, cannot admit of a rational doubt. Every minister of the Gospel, every moralist, and every other man, who labours to amend the human character; even those, who deny the doctrine, for which I am contending; prove, that they adopt this opinion by using, to the utmost of their power, the means of Impression for this end, as well as those of Conviction. In this conduct they show, more evidently than is possible by any other method, that they realize this difference, and, to avail themselves of it, employ these means.
The Scriptures themselves are universally formed in this man. ner. They are every where filled with Instruction; but they are also filled every where with Persuasion. Instead of being a cold compilation of philosophical dogmas, they are filled with real life; with facts ; with persons; with forcible appeals to the imagination; and with powerful applications to the heart. With these, the instruction is every where interwoven. By these, it is contine ually embodied. In the Bible, no affection of the human heart is unaddressed. Our hope and fear, our love and hatred, our sorrow and joy, our desire and aversion, nay, our taste for beauty, novelty, and sublimity, for moral glory and greatness, are all alternately, and most forcibly, applied to, in order that the whole man, as a being possessed of imagination and affections, as well as of understanding, may be alarmed, allured, and compelled, to return from sin, embrace holiness, and live for ever.
Now, the Scriptures were published to a world of sinners; and with the most merciful design of bringing them to repentance and salvation. To them, in a peculiar manner, is a great part of the Scriptures addressed. They are profitable in all their parts ; and are contrived by Infinite Wisdom so, as best to compass the end, for which they were written. They teach, that we may see, they impress, that we may feel, divine truth in the most profitable manner.
In the promotion of this end, all the Means of Grace conspire. By an early, and well-directed, Religious Education, such truths, as children can understand, are conveyed to their minds with a force, eminently impressive, and singularly lasting. The state of the mind itself is, here, peculiarly favourable to the design of making deep impressions; and has, hence, been particularly regarded by God in those precepts, which enjoin such an education at this period. The efficacy of these impressions is strongly declared in that remarkable passage, already quoted from the Book of Proverbs. Train up a child in the way he should go ; and, when he is old, he will not depart from it.
What is true of Religious Education, is also true of all the Means of Grace, which I have specified. Public Worship is plainly formed, with a particular design to affect the heart of man by those truths, which are taught in the house of God. The Day, the Place, the Occasion, are all in the highest degree solemn and interesting. The numbers, united in the worship, necessarily communicate, and receive, the strong feelings of sympathy; and regard the subjects of instruction with emotions, widely different from those, which would be experienced in solitude. The nature of the Ordinances is also in a singular degree solemn, awful, and affecting. In a word, every thing, pertaining to the subject, is in the happiest manner fitted to move the mind, and deeply to enstamp on it the truths of the Gospel.
Prayer, in the like manner, is eminently fitted to teach, and not only to teach, but to make us feel, the various doctrines of Religion. Prayer, in every form, is a service, peculiarly impressive. In the Church, in the Family, and in the Closet, it is attended by pre-eminent advantages. When we retire to our closets, and shut the door on the world, and all it contains; and pray to our Father, who is in secret; we are withdrawn from all external things; are fixed on our own concerns; our guilt, our danger, our helplessness, our dependence on God alone for hope, sanctification, and deliverance; and our absolute necessity of being interested in Christ, as the only expiation for sin, and the only safety to man. We bring God before us, face to face; and see, eye to eye. The awful and transcendent character of this Great and Glorious Being rises up to our view in a manner, resembling that, in which the Israelites contemplated it at the foot, or Moses on the summit, of Mount Sinai. The nearness of the Judgment is realized with singular force, and the approach of the final Recompense, anticipated with profound awe, and most salutary apprehension.
Among the things, which, in the attempts to perform this duty, are deeply impressed on the soul of the sinner, his own Inability to pray, in a manner acceptable to God, is one of the most important and affecting. No sinner realizes this truth, before he has made the attempt in earnest. Nor does any thing appear to lay low the pride, and annihilate the self-righteousness, of the human heart in the same effectual manner. When he attempts to pray, and in the very act of attempting it, finds clear and practical proof, that his prayers are selfish, cold, and heartless ; he first begins to feel, in a useful manner, his absolute dependence on God for every good disposition. Prayer is naturally the last hope, the last consolation, of man. So long as we can ask for Mercy, we never feel entirely unsafe. But when the soul becomes satisfied, by actual trial, that its prayers are such, as itself condemns; it becomes also satisfied, that its only ultimate dependence is on the mere Mercy of God.