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ercises. The first is written with ink on paper ; the last, by the Spirit of the living God, in the fleshly tables of the heart. What but experi. mental religion did David mean when he said, “ Behold thou desirest truth in the inward parts ?” What else did John intend by the anointing that abideth in us; which he declares is truth, and is no lie? And what else could Christ himself have intended by that knowledge of the truth, which he assured his hearers would make them free? Ps. li. 6. 1 Joha, ii. 27. John viii. 32. In these and many other passages, all that experimental religioa approved by the scriptures, is described to us uader the name of TRUTH, that weighty word which stands opposed to fiction and change.
If religious experience were a thing that received its shape by the will of man, truth would never have been selected as the word by which to describe it. The selection of this significant word for this purpose, was no doubt designed to show that mere feeling is not the thing ; nor mere religious feeling ; but that it needs to be right feeling, even that which accords with the true state of things in the moral system ; par. ticularly as they are exhibited in the word of God. If the existence and character of God are immutable, and also the doctrines which re. sult froin his existence and character; then gracious experiences must be equally immutable ; for they consist in feelings or affections which correspond with these fundamental truths. The scripture makes it necessary, that the doctrine or instruction it contains should be spiritwally discerned, and cordially approved. God has not revealed so much important truth merely to gratify our curiosity, or enlarge the intellect. This revelation is made to creatures who have a heart, as well as an understanding; we shall therefore, of necessity, either love or hate the truth that is made known to us. Hatred of the truth can not be the experience required; and the love of error is nothing different from the hatred of truth. What can be more absurd than to suppose a true evangelical experience to consist in believing and loving a false gospel; that true love to God can be delighted with false representations of his character; and that saving faith is as well pleased with a false Christ as with the true.
A true Christian experience can not consist in the heart's being uni. ted to error, or (to use other words) in loving falsehood. Let such love be ever so great, still it is worthless; yea, the more ardent, the more offensive it must be in the sight of Him who requireth truth, not in our mouths only, but also in our inward parts. Religious error, even when it is brought forward under the sacred name of Christian doctrine, is nevertheless represented in the word of God as a wild seed, produ. cing no harvest except that whose end is to be burned. Error is spoken of, not as purifying, but as corrupting and poisoning the mind, and eating like a canker. 2 Tim. ii. 17.
I trust the reader was convinced in the outset of this work, (if, in. deed, he needed conviction on so plain a point,) that truth is of neces. sity harmonious; and that the different parts of that religion which is from God can not be discordant. But what could constitute a more grating discord, than the supposition that Christian experience consists in loving a different gospel from that of Jesus Christ! The candid of every denomination in the Christian church, must accede to this senti.
ment; That to constitute a harmony between doctrinal and experimental religion, the TRUE DOCTRINES, whatever they are, must be cordially received. Allowing that every Christian has his errors, this is certain, that his religious experiences, so far as they are genuine, do not consist at all in the love he has to his errors, but in the love he has to those truths which his creed embraces.
As we are now entering on this interesting department of divine truth, how important that we should be established in correct principles. If we are guilty of any essential mistake here, it will prove a worm at the root of our vine, and sand at the foundation of our build. ing. Our religion will neither please God, nor save our own souls. Let it be increased ever so much, and persevered in ever so long, it will avail nothing. It is not enough that we feel; or that our feelings concern religion; or that they are joyful : the question is, Are they holy? Do they agree with the word of truth? Until there is an agree. ment between the affections of the heart, and the truth communicated in the scriptures, the truth is not in us, and in the most proper sense it is not known. Before this it is seen with a jaundiced eye. For it should be remembered that the heart, rather than the understanding, is the eye of the soul; at least it is so when spiritual things are the object of vision. So long as the heart remains evil, the soul never discovers their true beauty, but is full of darkness. Matt. vi. 22, 23. Nor can this darkness be dispelled by mere intellectual light, however much it may be increased.
That a conformity of the heart to divine truth, is the thing which renders a religious experience genuine, is evident from the scripture representations concerning both true and false converts. True con verts are characterized by the influence which the truth exerts upon them, and their feelings towards it. They “ with open (unveiled) face beholding as in a glass (i. e. the gospel) the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” They have “purified their souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit.” They are “ clean through the word that is spoken to them.” They are “ sanctified through the truth.” They“ know the grace of God in truth.” 2 Cor. iii. 18. 1 Pet. i. 22. John xv. 3 ; xvii. 17. Col. i. 6. The gospel, the truth, the word, and the
grace of God, in these several passages, mean the same thing, viz. that rev. elation of God's glorious grace which is made in the scriptures. Also, the unveiling of the face, and the purifying, cleansing, or sanctifying of the soul, are descriptive of one thing, namely, that radical change which is effected in all those who are made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. As an immediate consequence of this change, the glory of the Lord is seen, the grace of God is truly known, and the truth is obeyed. This transformation of character, which lays the foundation of all the future experiences of the Christian, is attributed to the instrumentality of the word, the truth, or, what is the same, the glory of the Lord revealed; and, as efficient agency is concerned, it is ascribed to the Spirit of the Lord. The Spirit, by means of the word, makes known to the sinner his moral blindness, and then, by his own almighty influence, removes the film from his eyes, and pours in the light of truth upon his soul. A world of spiritual wonders now
arrests his attention : for being created in Christ, old things are past away, and all things are become new. He receives with meekness the ingrafted word, which is able to save his soul. The seed of the word is sown in his heart, where it will take deep root, and bring forth fruit unto eternal life.
False converts, or hypocrites, are represented as under the influence of religious affections which are of an entirely different character, having no agreement with the truth. They are characterized as those who do not understand the word; who do not receive the love of the truth, that they may be saved; nor have the word of God abiding in them : but as men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth. Matt. xii. 19, 23. 2 Thess. ii. 10. John v. 38. 1 Tim. vi. 5. If these are the characteristics which mark the hypocrite, it is a fair inference that those of a contrary nature distinguish the true Christian. He must understand the word, and receive the truth in the love of it: he must not be destitute of the truth, but have the word of God abiding in him; the word of Christ must dwell in him richly.
As I have insisted on the necessity of an agreement between our re. Jigious affections and the word of God, some may understand me to intimate, that the soundness of a conversion is to be determined by its being accompanied by certain pertinent texts of scripture suddenly suggested to the mind. Far be it from me to express any such senti. ment; for should all the promises of the Bible rush into the mind of the anxious sinner at once, it would, in my view, be no proof that he was born of the Spirit. And if this should affect him to tears, or produce the greatest exultation of joy, still it would not determine the soundness of his conversion. If the beauties of holiness, which are contained in the promises are not seen; if these do not have a transforming effect on the heart, his joys, however ecstatic, are vain and worthless. There is a divine excellency in the truth of God's word, (even its threatenings as well as its promises ;) and in every genuine conversion that excellency is discovered; it is seen to be glorious on account of its own intrinsic beauty. The truth, like the seal on the wax, leaves its image on the heart. It diffuses through the affections of the soul its own divine and purifying nature. And if such be the effect of God's word on the heart of the convert, it is by no means a malerial circumstance, that he should be able to tell what particular passages, or whether any, were suggested to his mind at the time when he was turned from the power of Satan unto God.
Experimental religion begins with the renovation of the heart. What passes in the mind of converts as preparatory to this change, may be spoken of with propriety, for the sake of illustrating the riches of di. vine grace; but since all this takes place before they become possessed of the Christian character, and is nothing of a higher nature than that which may now be found in the unregenerate, it is not, in the most proper sense, any part of their Christian experiences. These commence with their becoming partakers of the divine nature, and last as long as they live; yea, as long as they exist.
Some have been in the habit of considering the experiences of a Christian, to be limited to a very short period; not extending many months, perhaps not many days or hours, beyond his first hopes of for
giveness : but this is an entirely wrong view of the subject. The in. ward religion, which commences with the new birth, lasts forever. There is not only a new course of external conduct begun, which lasts to the end of life, but also a new set of inward exercises which are equally lasting. The Christian life is continued, because the principle of life remains: “For his seed remaineth in him.” The tree grows upward in its branches, because it grows downward in its roots. The refreshing waters of grace continue to flow out in fertilizing streams, because the well within continues to spring up. We continue to serve God, because we continue to love him. We persevere in bringing forth fruits meet for repentance, because we persevere in the exercise of that repentance which is unto life. The Christian to the end of life walks by faith, because to the end of life he continues to exercise faith, even that which purifieth the heart. The continuance of the religion of the heart, is the only thing which insures the continuance of holy practice. The whole of holy practice, from beginning to end, first exists in the heart; and while considered as exsiting there, it is denominated ex. perimental religion. This is that part of divine truth now to be delineated.
Under the First Part, doctrinal truth was separated into distinct Ar. ticles. The same method will now be pursued in treating of the reli. gion of the heart
BENEVOLENCE, OR THE LOVE OF GOOD WILL, IS NOT ONLY A PART OF EXPERIMENTAL RELIGION, BUT IS, INDEED, THE SOURCE OF ALL THE GRACES OF THE SPIRIT.
BENEVOLENCE implies a good wish toward the object it regards. The word is of Latin derivation, and is compounded of the adverb bene, which signifies well, and the verb volo, to wish. It is synonymous with good will ; which, however strong may be its kind wishes toward the object of its regard, does not necessarily imply any de. light in its character, It may be exercised toward friends and foes; toward good and bad characters. The birth of the Savior was an. nounced by the angels, as an expression of God's good will to men, sinful men; who though they had much to excite his compassion, had nothing to attract his complacency.
In the scriptures, love is the word most frequently used to express both good will to the person, and also delight in the character. In the order of nature, good will has a priority to complacency, and, indeed, to all those holy affections which constitute the system of Christian experience. When I speak of its priority, I would not be understood to mean that it is more excellent in its nature, (for their nature is the
same,) but it more than any of the rest resembles the root of the tree. By the relationship which the other religious affections bear to this, we obtain the clearest conception of their character. The apostle teaches us that every right affection, required in the moral law, is compre. hended in the love of good will, when he says “ Love worketh no ill to his neighbor.” To the same effect is that teaching of Christ, which leads us to consider love to God and men, as comprising all that is enjoined by the law and the prophets. That the religion of the gospel, as well as of the law, is comprehended in benevolence, is made plain by the instruction contained in the thirteenth chapter of the first of Corinthians. All evangelical religion is in this chapter resolved into love ; which the translators have here expressed by what they considered to be a word of the the same import, namely, charity. The chapter closes by saying, “ Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but ihe greatest of these is charity.” Love appears to be that grace of the Spirit which beautifies and strengthens all the rest. Faith worketh by love; and that hope that maketh not ashamed is the result of the love of God shed abroad in the heart. Humility, that grace which gives such a lustre to the whole Christian character, is a branch growing from this root: for charity vaunteth not itself and is not puffed up." Gal. v, 6. Rom. v. 5. 1 Cor. xiii. 4.
Benevolence comprises not only all the holiness of the creature, but also all that of the Creator ; for when it is said “God is love," his whole moral perfection is declared in a word. That the love which in this passage is attributed to God, intends his benevolence, is evident, because the apostle proceeds immediately to tell us how he manifested his love, namely, by sending his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. I John, iv. 8, 9. Pure benevolence was the fountain, whence proceeded this mighty stream that has gladdened our wretched world. God so loved the world that he did not withhold his dearly beloved Son, but freely gave him up for our redemption. In this benevolent affection, especially in this wonderful display of it, he glories, as being the highest proof of his moral excellence. The good. ness of God is his glory; and his goodness is most strikingly manifested in his benevolence; and this never appeared to such advantage, as when he gave his Son to die to redeem rebels from deserved punishment.
That we may rightly understand all which shall be said on experimental religion, it is very important that we form clear and distinct conceptions of that love, which is the subject of its first Article. A mistake here will spread darkness over this whole department of our system. It will be making the tree corrupt, and of course its fruit will be corrupt. If the love experienced be pure, the tree can not be corrupt; so on the other hand, if the love be impure, tree the can not be good. Love is so much the root of the tree of grace, that if the love we exercise be essentially defective, the tree can yield no wholesome fruit. Surely a matter of such consequence claims to be investigated with much diligence and prayer. We are assured that he that loveth is born of God: but if we form an entirely wrong opinion of the nature of that love which is the evidence of the new birth, the tendency of such an opinion will be ruinous.