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[In connection with the quotation from Milner, I wish to recommend to every reader who has it in his power, carefully to examine his History of the Church of Christ, particularly in relation to the Pelagian controversy. If any one should say, that he read it some years ago, I would suggest to him the importance of reading it again. I think a re.perusal may lead him to see its remarkable adaptation to the present exigences of the church. I would also take the liberty of proposing to some Tract Society, or ecclesiastical body, the plan of publishing in a tract form, the substance of his third and fourth chapters of Century 5th. These two chapters, containing the Pelagian controversy and documents, occupy nearly thirty pages in the second American edition, published at Boston. The cost of such a tract would be but trifling; while the good it might do, in counteracting any existing tendencies to Pelagianism, who can calculate ?]
SHOWN TO BE HARMONIOUS IN ALL ITS VARIOUS BRANCHES ; ALSO HARMONIOUS WITH THE DOCTRINAL SYSTEM, PARTICULARLY AS EIHIBITED UNDER PART I.
Before I proceed to divide this Article into its separate branches, I shall detain the reader for a few moments with some
GENERAL REMARKS ON EXPERIMENTAL ReligioX.
The second grand division of divine truth relates to the affections of the heart
. This is usually denominated experimental religion. When any science, which has been studied as a theory, comes to be tested by experience, the knowledge thus acquired is said to be experimental. While I only look at the honey.comb, or hear others who have eaten of it describe its sweetness, the knowledge I have of it is gained by reasoning, or depends on testimony ; but as soon as I proceed to taste it myself, it becomes experience. It is in quite a new sense that I can pow say, I know that honey is sweet.
The knowledge which many have of the gospel, is like that of untasted honey; or like the philosophy of some theorizing chimist, who has never tested one of his prin. ciples by an experiment. Yet some there are, who have not only heard and reasoned on the subject of religion ; they have also tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Ps. xxxiv. 8. The knowledge of such is of the experimental kind.
Experimental religion, in the full sense of the phrase, might include all that discovery of the reality and excellency of the gospel, which the Cotivert makes, both by his inward perception of its truths, and his external conformity to its precepis.
But since a foundation exists for a distinction between the religion of the heart, and that of the life;
and since it has become customary, both for speakers and writers, to use the word experience with particular application to the former, it will be used in this restricted sense in this work. The reader will therefore understand, that by experimental religion is meant, those views, affections, desires and feelings, which exist in the heart—the heart of the renewed man. When distinguished from practice, it is that part of religion which is seen by none but the Searcher of hearts and the individual who is the subject of it. It is the root of the tree, which, out of sight, grows downward, and supports those branches that bear the precious fruit. It is that inside cleansing of the cup and platter, which makes the outside clean also. It is the good treasure of the heart, from which good things are continually brought forth. Experimental religion is that well of living water that springs up within us, and sends forth refreshing streams around us. It is the salt in ourselves, which prevents unsavory discourse and a corrupt life. It is the oil in the ves. sel, which, though hidden from the view of the beholder, causes the lamp to burn so as to give light to all that are in the house. Isa. Xxxvii. 31. Matt. xxiii. 26, and xii. 35. John iv. 14, and vii. 38. Mark ix. 50. Matt. xxv. 4.
Some there are who manifest a disgust at the very mention of expe. rience in application to religion. But I know not why they should be prejudiced against the word, seeing it is found in the scriptures. Eccl. i. 16. Rom. v. 4. And what term could be better adapted to distin. guish that knowledge which is the result of experiment, from that which is obtained by mere study or information? Whether they are pleased with the word or not, there is certainly no ground for opposition to the thing we intend by it. Who can say it is unsuitable for us to feel the weight of that truth which relates to God and our salvation? If the truth itself is not foolish, there can be nothing foolish in our ap. preciating its importance, and receiving it in the love of it.
To make light of experimental religion, is not only to undervalue that which is holy, but that in which all holiness consists. Who is there so ignorant as not to know, that holiness does not consist in intel. lectual discoveries of truth—the mere speculations of the mind? If these were to constitute holiness, devils themselves could claim the character; for they believe in the existence of the true God, and of Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. Jam. ii. 19. Mark i. 24. Nor can holiness consist in mere external actions, any more than in a speculative faith. What moral excellence can there be in the motion of the hand, the foot, or the tongue, disconnected from the impulse given to these members by the heart? Though one should bestow all his goods to feed the poor, without the principle of charity in his heart, (and the charity described by Paul belongs to the experimental department) it would profit him nothing, because it would leave him entirely destitute of holiness. The belief of the soundest doctrine has nothing in it of the nature of holiness, if experimental religion be excluded from such belief. And I may add, that the practice of all the external duties required by the law, would not constitute any holiness of character, if done without that purity of motive which belongs to the religion of the heart. Were we, then, to suffer ourselves to be either reasoned or laughed out of the experimental part of religion, we should have nothing
left but a dead carcass. Our religion would resemble a time-piece which wants nothing except the addition of the weight or main spring; but this, it must be remembered, happens to be the very thing neces. sary to give motion to the whole machinery. So, while our religion is without grace in the heart, it is dead and motionless.
Some of those who treat this branch of religion with contempt, will perhaps justify themselves by saying, that every whim and vapor has been trusted in, as constituting a religious experience. This fact will not be denied: but is it a fair inference that all experimental religion is whimsical and vaporous ? It is an indisputable fact, that an idol has been called God, and has been worshiped; but is it a legitimate infer. ence, that every thing which is called God and worshiped, is as vain and worthless as an idol ? JEHOVAH, the God of Israel, is none the less worthy of regard, because heathen idols have also been called gods, and as such have been worshiped. The most absurd notions, in different periods of the church, have been strenuously advocated, as it they were the true doctrines of the gospel : but who would think it right to infer from this, that the real doctrines of the gospel are absurd and ridiculous ? I may add, without any deviation from the truth, that many rites and observances, which are not only useless but pernicious, have been considered as constituting the essence of practical religion : but how unreasonable it would be, to infer from this superstitious perver. sion of Christianity, that the practical religion enjoined and exemplified by Christ himself, is useless and pernicious. It would, however, be just as consistent, to discard all doctrinal and practical religion, on ac. count of the false doctrines and practices which have been foisted into the church, as to despise all experimental religion, on account of those foolish vagaries which have passed under the name of religious expe. rience.
By this time the reader may be anxious to make the interesting in. quiry, “ How shall I know what is the true experimental religion of the gospel ?” The question is all-important, and can undoubtedly be an. swered to the entire satisfaction of every honest inquirer. Experi. mental religion is not a thing which is made by the will of man, or of any collection of men ; but has its foundation in the very nature of things. It is not one thing in a Jew, and another in a Gentile ;-one thing under the Old Testament, and another under the New ;-one thing in Asia, and something entirely different in the other quarters of the earth. The experimental religion taught in the scriptures is not one thing among Presbyterians, and another thing among Episcopali. ans, and another among Baptists, and still another among those of a different denomination. Neither is it one thing in kings, and another in their subjects ;-one thing among men of learning and accomplishments, and another among the unlearned and rude. No, it is the same thing in every place, period, and person. It possesses a nature as im. mutable as that of God. It is not a vapor, nor an imagination, nor a mere pleasant feeling, either in the body, or in the mind. Experi. mental religion is something altogether superior to such fancies as these. It is truth, divine truth, truth enthroned in the heart, and governing its affections. The doctrines of revelation contain truth in propositions ; experience is the truth in dispositions and voluntary ex