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The public institutions of religion are rich means of sanctification; and they are highly prized by all those who have a relish for holiness. David is not the only saint whose soul has longed and even fainted for the courts of the Lord. Ps. lxxxiv. 2. Christians prize the family altar, and still more the closet, as precious means of growth in grace. On the same account, they delight in the Sabbath. Its entire conse. cration to the exercises of religion and the pursuits of holiness, makes them view it as a day, which will contribute much to advance them in the knowledge and love of God; and they hail its return with emo. tions of joy. They who delight in the word, the house, the day, and the ordinances of the Lord, delight also in the society of his friends ; because they reflect something of his image, and impart new courage to them in running the Christian race.
This desire to enjoy the public and private means of grace, which is experienced by all holy men, is not confined to the period of their conversion, but (as the seriptures clearly teach) forms a part of their permanent character. And if delight in the ordinances of religion and in the means of grace, is a permanent characteristic of God's children, then a hungering and thirsting after righteousness is also an enduring trait in their character; since the former owes its existence and, of course, its permanency, to the existence and permanency of the latter.
7. All that vigorous effort to obtain complete salvation, which the Christian is described as making, and which he is required to make, helps establish the point, that appetite for holiness is an essential ingredient in his religion. True christianity prompts its possessor to labor for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life-to strive to enter in at the strait gate—to run the race set before him—to wrestle with principalities and powers—and to fight the good fight of faithdepending solely on the Captain of his salvation for success.
See John vi. 27. Luke xiii. 24. Heb. xii. 1. Eph. vi. 12. 1 Tim. vi, 12. From this scriptural view of the Christian life we learn, that holy de. sire, manifested by the most vigorous and persevering exertions to obtain complete exemption from sin, constitutes a trait in the character of every follower of the Lamb. Whoever reads the scriptures with the least degree of attention, must be convinced, that the efforts which the Christian makes to obtain salvation, are not represented as termi. nating at the period of his regeneration. That is the period when he first enters on his pilgrimage through a wilderness of fiery trials. He then first puts on the armor of a Chrisian soldier, and takes the field to fight against the world, the flesh and the devil.
THE ARTICLE HARMONIZED.
First. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is in perfect unison with the other branches of experimental religion.
It is harmonious with the first Article of our experimental series. Can it be that holy love, which is the main-spring of all true godli. ness, should dwell in the same heart with sin, and not lust against it,
and desire its expulsion? Can it ever rest contented, until it has gained a complete dominion over the whole heart? A Christian can not exercise benevolent love towards himself, without desiring to be made perfectly holy. And true benevolence to others can not exist within him apart, from that same desire.
This thirsting after righteousness is in harmony with the second Ar. ticle. A delight in other beings (whether Creator or creatures) on account of their holiness, will excite in us a desire to possess, to a higher degree, that loveliness of character which we discover in them.
The greater the complacency we take in holy characters, the more E ardently shall we desire to resemble them. Our beholding the glory
of God creates a desire to be changed into the same image. portion to the greatness of our delight in God, is the ardor with which our souls pant after perfection.
There certainly can be no discord between this and the third Article. If our reconciliation and submission to God be not forced, we shall never rest while any remains of disloyalty are lurking in our hearts. They who do not desire higher degrees of submission, have not yet grounded their weapons of rebellion.
There is a very conspicuous concord between an appetite for holi. ness, and the subject of the fourth Article, namely, repentance. exact proportion as we exercise godly sorrow for sin, shall we hunger and thirst after righteousness; that is, our love of holiness will keep pace with our hatred of sin. A penitent will never feel that he has repented enough, till his heart has become perfectly contrite.
Faith, the subject of the fifth Article, accords with this thirsting after higher attainments in holiness, which we have just been consid ering ; for faith walks as well as leans. “ Who is she that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved ?" All those whose faith is genuine, have become familiar with that prayer, which the Sa. vior has taught them to make ; “ Lord, increase our faith.”
The agreement is very perceptible between this desire after growth in grace, andt he hope of glory, which was treated of in the next Arti. cle. They who hope for heaven as a world of perfect holiness, will desire increasing degrees of holiness while they continue on the earth. “Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself.”
It is equally true, that an eager desire for greater attainments in religion, is in harmony with humility. If these greater attainments were sought after for the purpose of exalting one's self, they would not har. monize with it at all. When a pharisee desires an increase of his religion, it is to exalt himself; but when a humble disciple of Jesus desires that his piety may be increased, it is that he himself may be more abased, and God more exalted. To be desirous of possessing more of that religion which consists in poverty of spirit, is in reality to be desirous of walking more humbly with God. But it needs a close inspection of our hearts, to enable us to decide concerning the nature of our zeal for high attainments in religion. What is our ob. ject in wishing to be greater Christians ? Is it that we may be more humble and useful men; or is it that we may attract more attention to ourselves ? If our zeal to be distinguished Christians, should spring from a self-righteous desire to attract the attention of our Maker, it
would not harmonize with humility, any more than if it were to bo originated by a regard to the praise of men.
Secondly. This Article of experimental religion is harmonious with our doctrinal Articles.
This is no doubt true, in relation to all those Articles ; but I shall not detain the reader in pointing out that harmony, except in those cases where it is very apparent. This eighth Article in the system of experimental religion, has a manifest agreement with the eighth in Part I. viz. the doctrine of regeneration. If regeneration is a radical change of our depraved nature, (which it was shown to be,) it must produce a change of desires. The desires are according to the nature of the heart whence they proceed. All the desires of a natural heart are of a sinful character. They are hungerings and thirstings, not after righteousness, but unrighteousness. But when, by regenerating grace, holiness is introduced into the heart, it will send forth new de. sires, and such as correspond with the nature of the change which has taken place. It is therefore quite certain, that, if there be such a change as regeneration, all who experience it will hunger and thirst after righteousness. The unfeigned prayer of every one of them will be, “Create in me a clean heart, o God: and renew a right spirit within me.” Ps. li. 10.
This Article harmonizes with the twelfth of Part I.--the doctrine of the saints' perseverance. According to that Article, all those who are born of God, will persevere in the way of holiness unto the end, and be saved ; and this, discovers to us one important means by which their perseverance will be effected, namely, their appetite for holiness, and their eager desire after increasing conformity to God. True, there is a divine power that worketh in them mightily; but it works in them both to will and to do. They are not dragged to heaven against their wills. It is true, they are drawn; but it is in such a way, that the more effectually they are drawn, the more freely they run. petite for holiness inclines them to feed on spiritual food; it also in. clines them to seek for such food on which to feed. They labor for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life. He who has deter. mined that the righteous shall hold on his way, has also determined on the proper means to effect so desirable an object. And what one means could be better adapted to the end, than to give him an insatiable thirst after righteousness; and from time to time to revive it, when, by means of the lustings of the flesh, it has been abated? Between this
, and the appointed means for preserving the life and health of the body, there is a very observable analogy. God has so constituted us, that the life and health of the body are preserved by its receiving nourish. ment from meats and drinks ; and to secure the use of these, he has endued us with animal appetite—with hunger and thirst.
In like manner, he has secured the use of that moral nutriment which believe ers need for the preservation of their spiritual life and health, by giving them spiritual appetite, so that they hunger and thirst after righteous
This Article in the experimental department, harmonizesīwith the third in the doctrinal system; namely, that which treats of the law of God as a rule that requires perfect holiness of every intelligent creat
ure. The believer, while on earth, is a strange compound of holiness and sin. He is, however, ready to say, “The law is spiritual, but I am carnal.” He approves of the law, in all its extent and spirituality. As far as the members of the new man are formed within him, he is conformed to the law; and so ardent are the lustings of the spirit against the flesh, that he can never rest, until all the powers of bis soul are brought into an entire subjection to this perfect rule. Here we ob. serve a pleasing harmony between the law, in all its extent, and those insatiable desires after a complete conformity to it, which now exist in the heart of the believer. The time is coming, and is not far distant, when these desires will be fully realized, in a world of perfect holiness.
I need not say that this branch of the religion of the heart, is in uni. son with that fundamental doctrine with which we started. God is the standard of moral perfection. His rational creatures were made after his likeness. This likeness was lost by the fall; but is restored to the subjects of grace, in their regeneration. As apostacy led creat. ures to forsake God, so recovering grace leads them back to him. By such as experience this grace, God is again made the standard of character, and they earnestly desire to be conformed to him. Nothing short of a complete restoration of his image and favor, will satisfy the desires of thein whose souls pant after God.
1. Though perfection is never attained to in this life, there is no impropriety in saying that it can be. When we say of a sinner that he is capable of exercising repentance, it is far from asserting that he is a penitent. As there are no obstructions in the way of sinless perfection, but such as are of an inexcusable nature, it is not improper to say that such perfection is attainable. But this amounts to no proof that a single Christian has arrived at such a state. The Lord com. manded the children of Israel utterly to destroy the seven nations of Canaan, leaving alive nothing that breathed. Deut. xx. 16. speak of the command which was given them, we say that it meant a complete extirpation of the devoted nations. And if we speak of what was practicable, we say that the divine requirement did not exceed their ability. See Num. xiii. 30. But if we speak of what they actually accomplished, we are obliged to say, " they did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the Lord commanded them: but were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works."
Divine commands requiring sinless perfection, are no proof of its actual existence; nor is the possibility of attaining to it any proof. The question now before us is, not what is our duty; but what is the fact in relation to this matter. When we come to matter of fact, we find that sinless perfection has been unknown on earth, since the fall of man, except in the case of our Redeemer. He was, in a sense pe. culiar to himself, holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. The word perfect, it is true, has been applied to his followers; but it has been so explained by other things said of them, as to render it cer.
tain, that spotless purity was not the idea intended to be conveyed. The real followers of the Lamb are represented as perfect, (in distinc. tion from unregenerate men, and especially from false professors,) be. cause, first, they possess true holiness, which has a perfect naturethe nature of God himself; and, secondly, because they possess the whole Christian character, though only in miniature ;-all the graces of the Spirit, and all the branches of holy practice. Their religion has the essential number of parts, and in this respect is perfect; and yet no single part is perfect. They have love, and submission, and re. pentance, and faith, and hope, and all the other graces of the Spirit; but they have none of these graces to perfection.
2. From the attention we have paid to this branch of Christian experience, we discover the unsoundness of the religion of two differ. ent classes of converts :
First. We discover the unsoundness of their religion, who imagine they have already attained to a sinless state. To determine whether the religion of such be spurious, the scripture does not require us to wait till we can compare their claims with their lives. It considers their very claims to be such as authorize us to decide concerning their character. “If I say I am perfect, it shall prove me perverse.” “ If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. The hating of our brother, or living an immoral life, iş not spoken of as furnishing more decisive evidence of an unregenerate state, than saying that we are perfect and commit no sin. The inspi. red word clearly
teaches that there is not a sinless man on earth-no, not a just man that sinneth not; and it evidently supposes that no man, who has the Spirit of God abiding in him to convince him of sin, (as every true convert has,) can possibly make a mistake in so plain a case. It supposes that no one who is spiritually enlightened, can fail to dis. cover that, both in heart and practice, he is still sinful; that no one can be engaged in a constant conflict with indwelling sin, (as it represents every Christian to be,) and at the same time imagine that his sins are all destroyed, and that he is as pure as an angel of light.
Secondly. We discover, with equal clearness, the unsoundness of the experience of such as have no hungerings nor thirstings after right. eousness-no desires to arrive at a state of perfect conformity to God. If such should say, “ There is no perfection on earth-Paul declared he had not become perfect;" I would ask, Do you agree with the apostle in seeking after it, yea, in making it the grand object of pur. suit ? You can not but remember that while he declared he was not already perfect, he expressed an eager desire to become so. His spiritual attainments were great, compared with those of most Chris. tians; but these attainments he left behind him, and, reaching after greater, pressed constantly towards the mark. Now if we do not resemble the apostle in this part of his experience, it will constitute but a very feeble evidence in our favor, that we agree with him in ac. knowledging we are not already perfect.