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ferent persons, but by the same person at different times, the same person in different stages of the Christian progress, the same person under different measures of
Finally, would we know whether we have made, or are making, any advances in Christianity or not? These are the marks which will tell us. Do we think more frequently about religion than we used to do? Do we cherish and entertain these thoughts for a longer continuance than we did ? Do they interest us more than formerly? Do they impress us more, do they strike us more forcibly, do they sink deeper? If we perceive this, then we perceive a change, upon which we may ground good hopes and expectations; if we perceive it not, we have cause for very afflicting apprehensions, that the power of religion hath not yet visited us ; cause for deep and earnest intercession with God for the much wanted succour of his Holy Spirit.
WHY MEN RESIST AND PUT ASIDE THE THOUGHTS
Sr. John III. 19, 20.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into
the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
Our Lord, two verses preceding these, states the momentous truth, that “God had sent his Son into the world, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” But in the works, no less than in the words of God, the intention is not always the same with the effect, but often of a nature entirely contrary. Who can doubt but that the intention of our Maker, in giving us the faculty of speech, was mutual utility and pleasure? Yet the faculty of speech often produces the very reverse of these, mutual annoyance and offence. Our joints and limbs were formed, without question, with a design of being instrumental to action and motion ; yet the effect not seldom is, that they are the seats of pain and disease. It fares in like manner with the Christian dispensation. Its intention was to redeem souls, to save them from sin, from the devil, and from death; to turn us from our sins; to lead us into the ways of life, and to con
duct us in the paths of righteousness, which is the path to Heaven and to God. This was its intention, but far different its effects : its effects, in many instances, are altogether opposite ; they are not unfrequently, such as to increase the condemnation and punishment. “He that despised Moses' law died without mercy; of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the spirit of grace ?” It has been noticed, that this is no more than what happens in the gifts of nature: they are all intended for use, capable of abuse; calculated for good, convertible to evil ; designed and suited for our benefit, turned by ourselves to our prejudice, perhaps to our destruction. What is generally true of the endowments which we receive from the hands of our Creator, may be expected to be true of spiritual things, of the works and operations of grace, distinguished indeed from the course of nature, but proceeding from the same cause; and more particularly true of those things which were meant and intended to be not only benefits but trials. Religion is a trial of character. The world we live in is a place, the life we live is a state, of trial and probation. Christianity itself is a part of this system. It is a trial to all, to whom it is proposed; infinitely to their advantage, if accepted ; at their utmost peril, if put away and rejected. “Ye put it from you,” says St. Paul, “and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life.” Therefore we are not to wonder as though it were any thing strange, that the intention of the Gospel is different from its effects. It is, in a certain degree, the case with all things which belong to us. It is more particularly true, as it was more particularly to be expected of every thing which partakes of the nature of a trial, which is the case with revealed religion.
And it may be observed, that it is not perhaps either a harsh or unauthorised interpretation of some prophetic descriptions of Christianity, to apply them to its character, spirit and intention, rather than to its effects, which are in so many other cases, as well as in this, contrary and opposite. “ The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid ; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” This, in the strong eastern manner, as applicable to Christianity, to which it has generally indeed been understood to allude, paints the spirit and tendency of Christ's religion, which is exceedingly peaceable, rather than its effects, which are often in this respect frustrated and overcome by the perverseness of man.
Amongst many causes which occasion the thing we speak of, namely, why the effect of Christianity so frequently does not come up to the intention, is the cause assigned by our Lord himself in the text : “ men love darkness rather than light.” Light, he states, is come into the world, yet mankind continue unenlightened ; and why, because men love darkness rather than light. This our Lord lays down as a fact : men love ignorance rather than inquiry; to be without a sense of spiritual things, rather than to search into them ; a determined resistance of the thought of religion, rather than any indulgence, or perhaps it ought to be called, intrusion of it. Of this fact, of this observation, experience attests the truth ; and irrational as such conduct may seem, the inducement to it, and the motive of it, is not difficult to find out. Ignorance is a great flatterer, a great soother of consciences, an opiate to the souls of men. While we remain in ignorance of the revealed will of God, we shall readily bring ourselves to think, that whatever it be, it must be a law of ease and indulgence to human infirmities; under which name of “human infirmities” we shall include every sensuality to which we are addicted, every sin which we have set our hearts upon, every passion we feel, and every temptation we wish to comply with. The heathen world counted and thought in this manner, because they were ignorant ; and many Christians count and think in like manner, because they are ignorant also.
And is not this an inducement to remain in ignorance? The ignorance of the Christian is more voluntary than that of the unenlightened heathen : there is that difference ; but the soothing effects of ignorance is the same in both. On this account, when the infidel became a Christian, and began to look into some of the truths and regulations which the Gospel introduces, he felt and found what an awakened Christian will find and feel now, that the law of God is a law of purity; that without holiness no man can see God; that continued sin is unrepented sin ; that unrepented sin is an exclusion from heaven ; and that this holds of all sins of all kinds. Now, though “ light be come into the world,” if it only serve to make such discoveries as these, no wonder that men, indolent, besotted, corrupted men, “ love darkness rather than light.” No man looking for heaven can continue in any known sin. But is it to find this out that we are to come to the light ? Surely, surely, rather let me remain in darkness. For what must be the consequence of this knowledge ? It is no other, nothing less, than to break up my plan of happiness—my pleasures, my enjoyments, and my