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Cain and Abel, even to these our own days, wherever a revelation from God has been made known to man there have been carnal reasoners rejecting the revealed truth, careless formalists, admitting without feeling the truth, and spiritual believers persuaded of, and influenced by the truth. It depends very much upon the various constitutions of the human mind, and the various incidental circumstances of companionship and education, whether a man grows up a reasoning infidel, or a careless formalist. If sensual indulgence and trifling dissipation possess more charms for him than the cultivation of his intellect: if he loves human pleasure or human wealth rather then human wisdom; he probably never examines closely into the state of his mind about eternity, and although really an unbeliever, he does not discover it; he adopts without examination what his father and mother, and school-master and minister, tell him, and he imagines himself a Christian, while not a single article of the Christian faith has reached his heart. Meanwhile his time is occupied, and his affections engrossed by the world, and he lives in head a Pharisee, in heart and practice an Infidel. This is the common case.
If, on the other hand, intellectual pursuits possess more charms for him than sensual indulgence; if he be more ambitious of wisdom than of wealth or honours; he probably detects
the state of his heart, and perceives that he has no spiritual communion with unseen and eternal things. He perceives also, that an admission of their truth is necessarily connected with important practical consequences such as he feels would be irksome to him : his clear understanding falls an easy victim before his alienated and idolatrous affections, and presently he reasons himself into a persuasion that very probably there are no such things; and that most certainly, we have no revelation concerning them. He then avows and glories in his enlarged mind; freed, as he thinks, from the narrow trammels of education, and the cunningly devised fables of priests and hypocrites.
But neither wealth nor wisdom, neither natural constitution nor the most careful education, neither intellectual acquirements, nor sensual gratification can make a man a spiritual believer. Only Jehovah the eternal Spirit can so transform the soul, and ground and settle in it the persuasion méntioned in our text. Formalists and infidels are the natural growth of the degenerate soil of this fallen world, and like weeds in the rank luxuriance of an uncultivated marsh, they grow abundantly: but believers are the new and tender grafts, the transplanted chosen ones of the husbandman of Israel, and like flowers in the desert they bloom few and far between. There are however some, enjoy
ing the sun and rain and dews from heaven, and shedding around their respective habitations, a fragrance, a calm and mild and holy serenity, which however it may be despised or rudely trodden down by the heedless traveller, ascends as a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savour, an odour well pleasing unto God.
These are the evergreens spoken of by the prophet, “the cedar, the shittah tree and the myrtle, and the oil tree; the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together planted in the wilderness ;” and to this end, that all “
'may see and know, and consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the holy one of Israel hath created it.”* These children of God wherever found, have an inwrought persuasion of those truths on which their hopes are built, which no man can root out of their hearts. There may indeed be in some of them such an indistinctness of understanding that they cannot answer all the specious objections and arguments of philosophy falsely so called; or such a timidity of spirit that they cannot allow themselves to realize a full assurance of hope; and they may be ensnared and entangled and drawn aside to the shipwreck of their peace and comfort: yet even then, there is a seed within them which God has sown, and
* Isaiah xli. 19, 20.
which is an incorruptible seed. Every plant which our heavenly Father hath not planted, shall indeed be rooted up, but the true believer “shall be like a tree by the rivers of water that bringeth forth his fruit in due season, his leaf also shall not wither, and look! whatsoever he doeth it shall prosper.
That which constitutes the essential difference between these persons and all the rest of the world, is that by the grace of God they have received the spirit of faith. Not that they have been born better, or educated better; not that they have naturally better hearts, or live naturally better lives : no, they are by nature children of wrath even as others :" but the difference consists in this, that they have by grace received the spirit of faith. And when we consider the importance of this spirit; that without it, it is impossible to please God; that our Lord Jesus Christ makes heaven or hell to depend upon it to every individual, plainly declaring that, “he that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned :” this gives a serious aspect to the subject before us, and should lead us seriously to enter into the personal inquiry, What manner of spirit is this spirit of faith? And have I received this spirit?
My dear brethren, till this inquiry is fairly made and scripturally answered, every thing else in which you are engaged is comparatively trifling: all your profits and losses, your rich crops and well stored barns, your schemes for the further employment of your capital or improvement of your estates, your social comforts and domestic enjoyments, your learning, wealth, station, influence in the world, all are comparatively insignificance itself; insects floating on the passing breeze: all are as the fleeting flower of the field ; and if a man were possessed of all these to the utmost, yea, if he could gain the whole world, what would it profit him in a few years, perhaps days, when the worms were destroying his body, and the unquenchable fire of hell preying upon his soul? How awfully mortifying will it be to our philosophical infidels in that day, to find not only that their souls are damned, but that their reasoning is false. This boasted, but perverted, reason (for sound reason is on the side of scripture) this self-confident reason, this reason of which they had made a God, will prove to be no God. Eyes has it, but it sees not; hands has it, but it handles not; feet, but it walks not: they who set it up are like unto it, and so are all they who put their trust in it.” In vain shall they call upon this idol, when Jesus Christ shall be revealed in flaming fire taking vengeance upon his adversaries ; when he shall come in the glory of the Almighty to Judge the world in
* Psalm i. 3.