« PrécédentContinuer »
frame, does not yet possess the temper, nor perform the duties of filial piety. But does he not take a step which encourages the hope of his reformation, and gives pleasure to all who wish it ? What parent would be dissatisfied with these auspicious beginnings ? Rather let me ask, what parent would neglect to cherish and assist their
progress ? “ If ye then being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him ?» With this divine argument before you, can you suspect that the God of all grace will spurn the returning prodigal from his presence, because he is destitute of that holiness which he implores and seeks? Can you doubt, a moment, whether he will behold him with an eye of compassion ; and," while he is yet a great way off,” reach forth the helping hand to aid and accellerate his approach ? If there be “joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance, there must be a disposition in heaven to give energy and effect to measures preparatory to this exercise ; and to adopt and pursue these measures must afford a rational and scriptural ground of trust in divine mercy.
For although it is never to be forgotten, that as in the natural, so in the moral system, all events are subject to the control and government of Jehovah ; and that we are alike indebted to his guardian care and blessing for spiritual and temporal endowments, it is still to be remembered that “ he will yet for this be inquired of to do it for us.” In this way, and in no other, he usually meets and accepts his degenerate offspring
Whether, therefore, we consider their operation on the springs of human action, or their instrumentality to prepare the minds of men for the reception and improvement of the grace they need, the means of religion obviously lead to a happy result.
III. This result we are, thirdly, to disclose. When we look around on that part of chistendom, which falls within the compass of our observation, what description of persons are most frequently renewed in the spirit of their minds ? Are they the heedless triflers, who seldom spend a thought on the solemn realities of eternity ; who deem it a burden even to hear, much more to read and contemplate moral and religious instruction ? No; they are the sober and regular attendants on the sacred institutions of the gospel ; who
4 ask the way to Zion with their faces thithere ward; watching daily at wisdom's gates, and waiting at the posts of her doors.”
That men are usually converted from sin to holiness, in this manner, none, I think, will dispute. Some, however, may allege, as exceptions to the general rule, that of those who are equally sedulous in the use of means, “ one is taken and another left;" and that there are cases in which all these " are passed by,"
» whilst some notorious offender is suddenly arrested in his mad career, and “ brought out of darkness, into marvellous light.” But for ought we can tell, the person who wears the aspect of equal solicitude and zeal, may be a mere formalist, confiding in externals for salvation ; or an artful hypocrite, employing them for no better purpose than to gain the confidence and applause of mortals. Whilst the similar conduct of the other may originate in a sincere desire to be delivered from the corruption that is in the world through lust, and made partaker of a divine nature.” Or perhaps both may be real christians, and the contrast between them consist solely in their different degrees of assurance. So too, the person, who unexpectedly assumes the air and language of religion, may, after all, be an enthusiastick pretender, transported by the fervour of animal affections, which will soon subside, and present him again to our view in his former character. Examples of this sort often occur. Admit, nevertheless, that he stands the test, and “brings forth fruits meet for repentance ;” is no account to be given of such a change without supposing it miraculous ? If an indolent man roused by the suffering and want, which he had brought upon himself, were instantly to alter his course, and, by economy and exertion, to rival, or even to surpass his more industrious and opulent neighbours, should we once think of ascribing this alteration to a supernatural interposition of providence in his behalf ? Is it less probable that the abandoned sinner, when truly awakened, may so sensibly feel the guilt and misery of his state, as to be impelled to efforts, which, in concurrence with the established influences of the holy spirit, may greatly accelerate his conversion? Do we not know by experience, that the length or shortness of the time in which all our attainments are made, depends much, under God, on the ardour with which they are sought. And are we not conscious, that this ardour is always proportionate to the sense we have of their necessity and worth?
Hence, notwithstanding any appearances to the contrary, the cooperation of heaven may invariably correspond to the respective diligence, of individuals, in quest of “the one thing needful :" Not as a reward of debt, but of grace, free and unmerited grace; that grace which, according to their different degrees of fidelity and zeal, will assign a more or less brilliant crown to those who are finally found of their judge in peace.
In worldly pursuits we are expressly apprized, that “ the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill.” But in spiritual concerns, “ of a truth God is no respecter of persons. Thus saith the Lord, I said not unto the seed of Jacob, seek ye me in vain."
The grounds of this difference are obvious. Temporal disappointments may be needful and conducive to transfer our affections from earth to heaven ; and in this light, though not "joyous, but grievous for the present,” may be inflicted in mercy. Yet what reason, comporting with the benevolence and equity of the divine character, can be assigned for rejecting the suit of any who aspires to a “ clean heart and a right spirit,?” Other bles