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The occasion on which the passage is introduced is deserving of our notice. Certain men, of pernicious principles, had crept unawares into the churches, so as to render it necessary for the Apostle to write even on the common salvation, and to exbort the brethren earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. Nor was it confined to principles: those who had departed from the faith had also gone far into impure and dissolute conduct; turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, defiling the flesh, despising dominion, and speaking evil of dignities. It is no new thing for deviations in Christian doctrine to be followed by those in practice. As truth sanctifies the mind, so error pollutes it. It was to turn the apostasy of these ungodly men to the advantage of the faithful, that the Apostle addresses them as he does: But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. Having exposed the wicked ways into which these men had turned aside, he points out the good and the right way, and holds up the end to which it leads.
In discoursing on the subject, we shall notice the principles which we have suggested to us, and the prospects which they furnish in respect of a blessed hereafter.
1. Let us offer a few remarks on THE PRINCIPLES WHICH ARE HERE SUGGESTED TO US, AS CONSTITUTING TRUE RELIGION.
Whatever ideas we have entertained of truth and religion, it is necessary to bring them to the scriptures, as to the standard.
1. True evangelical religion is here represented as a building, the foundation of which is laid in the faith of Christ : Building up yourselves on your most holy faith. Whether it relate to personal or to social religion, this must be the foundation of the fabric, or the whole will fall. Many persons are awakened to some serious concern about futurity, and excited to inquire what they must do to be saved : and, in that state of mind, it is not unusual for them to have recourse to reading and prayer, as a preparation for death. Many preachers too, will think it sufficient to direct them to the use of these means. But if the death and mediation of Christ be overlooked, it is not reading, or prayer, or any other religious exercise, that will avail us. Why did John the Baptist, Christ, and his apostles, lay the foundation of the gospel kingdom by calling on sinners to repent and believe the gospel? Was it not because all other duties, prior to these, were of no account? When some, who followed Christ for loaves, inquired what they must do to work the works of God; bis answer was, This is the work of God, That ye believe on him whom he hath sent ; plainly intimating, that no work, prior to this, could be pleasing to God. The scriptures direct men to pray, but it is in faith. To the question, What must I do to be saved? there is but one answer: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. Christ is the door ; by him if any man enter in he shall be saved. To direct inquirers to any thing short of this, is to direct them to that which, if complied with, will leave them short of salvation. This the scriptures never do: there is not a direction in the oracles of God but, if truly followed, will lead to everlasting life.
One lays the foundation of his religion in what he calls reason ; but which, in fact, is his own reasoning. The same inspired writer who in one sentence commends understanding, in the next warns us against leaning to our own understanding. To strengthen ourselves, and one another, in this way, is to build up
ourselves on our own conceits. Another founds his religion on his good deeds. Good deeds undoubtedly form a part of the building, but the foundation is not the place for them. They are not the cause, but the effects of faith. They prepare us for heaven, as meetening us for it, but not as rendering us deserving of it. A third builds his religion on impressions. It is not from the death of Christ for sinners, or any other gospel truth, that he derives his comfort; but from an impulse on bis mind that his sins are forgiven, and that he is a favourite of God, which is, certainly, no where revealed in the scriptures. We may build ourselves up in this way, but the building will fall. A fourth founds his religion on faith, but it is not a holy faith, either in respect of its nature or its effects. It is dead, being alone, or without fruit. The faith on which the first Christians build up themselves, included repentance for sin. As when forgiveness is promised to repentance, faith in Christ is supposed; so when justification is promised to believing, repenVol. VII.
tance is supposed. However distinct they are as to their nature and objects, they have no separate existence. Hence, in the preaching of John, Christ, and the apostles, they are united; and hence, the faith of Christ, supposing a renunciation of every thing opposed to it, and including a cordial acquiescence in the gospel. way of salvation through his death, is most holy.
These principles your dear deceased pastor has long believed and taught. May you long continue to exemplify their holy influence.
2. That religion which has its foundation in the faith of Christ, will increase by praying in the Holy Spirit. As there is no true practical religion without faith in Christ, so there is no true prayer but in the Holy Spirit. It is true, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; but it is no less true, that we know not what to pray for as we ought, but as the Spirit helpeth our infirmities : clear proof this, by the way, that may be man's duty which yet, owing to his depravity, capnot be performed but by divine grace; and that the Holy Spirit works that in us, which God, as the governor of the world, requires of us ; writing his law upon our hearts, or working in us that which is pleasing in his sight.
The assistance of the Holy Spirit, however, is not that of which we are always sensible. We must not live in the neglect of prayer, at any time, because we are unconscious of being under divine influence; but rather, as our Lord directs, pray for his Holy Spirit. It is in prayer that the Spirit of God ordinarily assists us. Prayers begun in dejection have often ended in joy and praise : of this, many of the Psalms of David furnish us with examples.
One of the sentences uttered by your deceased pastor, when drawing near his end, was, I wish I HAD PRAYED MORE. This was one of those weighty sayings which are not unfrequently uttered in view of the solemn realities of eternity. This wish has often recurred to me since bis departure, as equally applicable to myself, and, with it, the resolution of that holy man, President Edwards, óso to live as he would wish he had when he came to die.' In reviewing my own life, I wish I had prayed more than I have for the success of the gospel. I have seen enough fur
nish me with matter of thankfulness; but had I prayed more, I might have seen more. I wish I had prayed more than I have, for the salvation of those about me, and who are given me in charge. When the father of the lunatic doubted whether Jesus could do any thing for him, he was told in answer, that if he could believe, all things were possible. On hearing this, he burst into tears, saying, Lord, I believe ; help thou mine unbelief! He seems to bave understood our Lord as suggesting, that if the child was not healed, it would not be owing to any want of power in him, but to his own unbelief. This might well cause him to weep and exclaim as he did. The thought of his unbelief causing the death of his child was distressing. The same thought has occurred to me as applicable to the neglect of the prayer of faith. Have I not, by this guilty negligence, been'accessary to the destruction of some that are dear to me? And were I equally concerned for the souls of my connexions, as he was for the life of his child, should I not weep with him? I wish I had prayed more than I have, for ny own soul: I might then have enjoyed much more communion with God. The gospel affords the same ground for spiritual enjoyment, as it did to the first Christians. I wish I had prayed more than I have, in all my undertakings: I might then have had my steps more directed by God, and attended with fewer devia. tions from his will. There is no intercourse with God without prayer. It is thus that we walk with God, and have our conver. sation in heaven.
3. We are given to understand, that by means of building on our most holy faith, and praying in the Holy Spirit, we keep ourselves in the love of God. The love of God, here, is to be understood, not of his love to us, but of ours to him; as when our Lord told the unbelieving Jews that they had not the love of God in them. To keep alive this sacred flame, amidst the temptations of the world, is, in a manner, the sum of the Christian life. If this be preserved, every other grace will thrive, and we shall prosper in all that we set our hands to, in the service of God. Not only must natural affection to our dearest friends and relations give place to the love of God, but even the love of our Christiav brethren must be on account of their obedience to him: Who is my mother ? and who are my brethren? Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
This is a subject into which your dear pastor entered with deep interest, considering it as essential to true religion. He dwelt much, in his preaching, on the glory of the divine character and government, as displayed in the law and the gospel, and scrupled not to declare his firm persuasion that all religious affections which disregarded this were spurious, and would prove of no account at the great day. He was persuaded, that, as sin must be hated as sin, or it is not bated at all; so God must be loved as God, or he is not loved at all. But to love God as God, is to love him for what he is, as well as for what he has done for us. He had, indeed, no such notion of loving God for his own excellency, as should render us indifferent to our own salvation. On the contrary, he considered it as essential to the love of God to desire his favour as our chief good. But we can no more desire this, irrespective of what he is, than we can desire any other object without considering it as in itself desirable. Unless we love God in respect of his character, his favour would be no enjoyment to us.
In these views, I am persuaded our brother was in the right, and that, instead of their being mere metaphysical subtilties, they enter into the essence of true religion. The glory of the gospel consists in an exhibition of the glory of the Divine character. Had it been possible for sin to have been forgiven, and sinners accepted, in a way inconsistent with righteousness, however agreeable it might have been, as furnishing us with the means of escape from wrath, there had been no glory in it, and, had we truly loved God, no satisfaction to vur miods.
In judging of what is true or false, right or wrong, the love of God is that to the mind which an ear for music is to harmony, or which a delicate sense of fitness is to our speaking and acting with propriety. It is thus that the Apostle represents it in his Epistle to the Philippians ; And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more, in knowledge and in all judgment : that ye may approve things that are excellent : or, in all sense ; that ye may try things that differ. In short, there is no calculating the hear.