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deprivation does not render him melancholy; for to the unclosed eye of faith, a fairer world is yet visible. Indeed, the loss of the external sense, may have been made the means of augmenting the clearness of his spiritual vision.—Many years ago, I became acquainted with a pious woman, who, in the latter part of her life, had become blind. She told me (and apparently with great sincerity) that she would not desire the restoration of her sight, even if it could be restored. I derived the impression, that after becoming blind, her faith had been increased, her meditations rendered more spiritual, and her communion with God more intimate and uninterrupted; and that she was afraid, should her sight be restored, it might have the effect to divert her atten. tion, and lessen her spiritual enjoyment.
3. With the subject of holy meditation before us, we can discover one reason why they who are spiritually minded, never close a day without feeling that they have fresh cause for repentance. Should a day pass, without their committing any external act of sin, still they would feel that they had cause for humiliation before God, on account of their vain thoughts. Such men view themselves under obligation to give God their hearts, and with all diligence to keep them for him ; and they feel no small degree of guilt, because they do it so imper. fectly. They chide themselves because their thoughts are with him no more by day, no more by night. And those who most eagerly strive to cherish holy meditations in their minds, are the ones who feel the most guilt on account of vain thoughts. Much of the sin of which a Christian is convicted, in reviewing one of his Sabbaths, consists in the wanderings of his mind from those holy subjects, which he considers ought exclusively to occupy his thoughts, during that sacred day. And the want of holy meditations on other days, does, in his view, form no inconsiderable item in the list of his moral delinquencies : and is of itself enough to convince him, that he has not yet attained to perfection. That man, who feels it no part of his duty to give a pious direction to his thoughts, may fancy himself a faultless character ; when the Christian is groaning, “ O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?”
Time would fail me, were I to particularize every thing belonging to the experiences of the Christian, and to describe all the shades of difference between the various affections which the Spirit of God has wrought in his heart. It was not so much the design of this work, to bring into view all that could be said on each branch of divine truth, as to point out the harmony which subsists between the several branches, as proceeding from one common root. A sufficient number of particulars under the head of experimental religion, have already been presented to enable us to perceive, that entire harmony exists between the various affections which the Holy Spirit generates in the heart of the believer; also, that there is a necessary connection between these affections, and the holy doctrines of the Bible.
Those particulars belonging to internal religion, to which I have not assigned a place as distinct articles, will be seen, if closely exam. ined, to have a great affinity to such as have been considered. For example, godly fear is nothing but love, afraid to offend the greatest
and most amiable of all beings. Patience is nearly allied to submission. It seems to be a submission which is protracted, and that under a continuation of afflictive and trying events. Meekness, that excel. lent grace which shone so conspicuously in our blessed Lord, differs but little from humbleness of mind; in connection with which it is often introduced. A believolent and humble spirit will be meek ; that is, it will not be easily provoked; and when provoked, it will be easi. ly pacified. A tender, in distinction from a hard heart, or what is usually termed a tender conscience, forms an important ingredient in the experience of every true Christian : but a tender conscience differs very little from a penitential frame of heart. A heart which is truly contrite for sin, will be afraid to repeat those offenses which have caused it so much grief.
Spiritual discernment is another ingredient in the Christian's expe. rience. The things of the Spirit of God are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor. ii. 14. He who is divinely illuminated, beholds the beaaty and glory of the Lord, in such a manner as other men can not behold it. The understanding is employed in the discovery, but if the heart were not sanctified, the glory of holiness could not be discerned. This spiritual discernment, as we have already seen, is not very distinguish. able from that complacency in holy characters, and in other exhibi. tions of holiness, which forms the subject of the second Article in the experimental system. A mind qualified to discern the beauty of holy objects, and a mind prepared to exercise complacency in them, is much the same. Perhaps the former is to be considered as preparatory to the latler: yet both must be the fruit of benevolence.
Holy joy belongs to genuine Christian experience. “The fruit of the Spirit is love and joy.” “ The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” This joy in the Holy Ghost, results from the grace which he begets and cherishes in the hearts of believers, and is greatly increased by the vigorous exercise of those graces.
Self-examination, or the keeping up an intimate acquaintance with our own hearts, and detecting their secret springs of action, is one of the appendages of internal religion. It implies a desire thoroughly to know ourselves, and to form the game estimate of our every thought, word, and action, which He forms, who will one day sit in judgment upon them. Between this Christian trait, however, and holy meditation, the distinction is scarcely perceptible. Some remarks on the vital importance of self-examination, will be reserved for the retrospect of Part II., upon which I shall now enter.
A RETROSPECT OF PART II.
Though this Part of our work was prefaced with some general re. marks on the nature and importance of experimental religion, still I
know not how to leave so interesting a subject, till I have placed before the reader a few other remarks that have been suggested to my mind, and which I could not easily embody in any of the foregoing Articles. In making these remarks, it may be difficult to avoid all repetitions : but should I, in some instances, “write the same things to you," permit me to adopt Paul's apology, and say, “ for you it is safe." Phil.
1. Let it be distinctly remembered, that all religious experiences are not of a holy nature. There are false experiences, as well as those which are true. In relation to internal religion, more than almost anything else, there is great danger that a man will think himself to be something, when he is nothing. Gal. vi. 3.
6 There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filthiness.” Prov. xxx. 12. By the passage last cited we are to understand, that men of this character have their successors from age to age. There are many, whose seemingly warm love to Christ is proved to be spurious, by its waxing cold, in distinction from its enduring to the end. Matt. xxiv. 12, 13.
The Christian world is certainly full of unscriptural doctrines, unless we suppose the scriptures themselves to contain contradictory schemes. And have we not reason to believe, that false experiences are as common as false doctrines ? In the experimental, or inward part of religion, Satan must have peculiar advantages for deceiving us; since it has its seat within a man's own breast, and comes not within the observation of his fellow men. A man who is thus deceiv. ed, may say to his anxious friends, Think you I am unacquainted with the true state of my own feelings? “ For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful.” Ps. Xxxvi. 2.
II. That a man's religious experiences correspond with those of some other man, furnishes no positive evidence that they are genuine. Two time-pieces might agree, even to a minute, and yet both be wrong. The very fact, however, of their agreeing so exactly, would probably mislead the owners, and make them suppose they had the true time. In like manner, the experiences of two individuals may be alike, and yet neither of them be genuine. Such resemblance in religious ex. periences often exists; and the practice of making it a test of their soundness, has been the means of deceiving very many. I verily be. lieve, that through the subtlety of the tempter, there have been great religious excitements, where the method which the converts used to test the genuineness of their religion, was to compare themselves among themselves; which practice, the apostle assures us is not wise. It is unwise for any man to make his neighbor's feelings a standard, by which to determine the character of his own. It is the part of wisdom first to ascertain, that what you make your standard, is itself indisputably right. Such a standard of experimental, as well as of doctrinal religion, we have in the word of God. The experiences of Abraham, of David, and of Paul, were the experiences of men who were born of God. All those religious affections, by whomsoever er. perienced, which the scriptures exhibit with approbation, may safely be made the touch-stone by which to try our own. But before I can determine my own exercises to be right, from the circumstance that
they accord with those of my neighbor, I must first try the character of his, by that infallible standard—the word of truth. If you are presented with a memoir of a person celebrated for his piety, it is danger. ous to use it as a test by which to determine the genuineness of your own, until you clearly see that the religion it exhibits is in accordance with the word of God. Thus, for example, you are not authorized to draw any conclusion in favor of your own experiences, because they harmonize with those of Brainerd and Martyn, any further than you have become satisfied that theirs are in harmony with the Bible.
III. In connection with this department of divine truth, it highly concerns us to ascertain what is intended by the witness of the Spirit. “ The Spirit itself,” says the apostle, “beareth witness with our spirit
, that we are the children of God." Rom. viii. 16.
In what manner, it may be asked, does the Spirit bear witness ? The Spirit is said to bear witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God, when he begets in us those holy dispositions and tempers, which constitute us his children; and when he helps our spirit to discern their existence, and their conformity to the divine image. In the holy scriptures, the Spirit of God has borne witness to the truth. There we have his tes. timony concerning Christian experience, or inward religion. It is by his powerful influence that such religion is wrought within us; and when he has given it an existence in our hearts, he can enable us to discern its agreement with the testimony he has given concerning it, in the written word.
It may perhaps be said, This is rather the fruit, than the witness of the Spirit-a preparation for the testimony, rather than the testimony itself. This difficulty is easily obviated; for in the same chapter where this witness is spoken of, the Spirit is said to make intercession for the saints, with groanings which can not be uttered. These un utterable groans, it is manifest, exist no where except in the hearts of the saints; and yet they are called the intercessions and the mind of the Spirit, because they are the product of his gracious influence. In the same sense in which the Spirit of God is said to make intercession for us, with those uputterable groanings which he produces in us, he is said to bear witness, by those holy affections in our hearts of which he is the author. As soon as these holy affections exist, even before they are manifested by external actions, our own spirit is capable of discovering them, and thence deriving evidence of our adoption into the family of God.
It is well calculated to confirm us in the opinion, that, by the witness of the Spirit, is meant nothing more than those holy affections which he produces in our hearts; that these, together with the holy actions in which they naturally result, are always resorted to in the scriptures for the evidence of our being the children of God. They are not only adduced as furnishing some of the evidence of our adoption, but as furnishing the whole of it. If this be correct, is it not very unreason. able to suppose, that the text in question has reference to evidence of a different nature ? Any different view of the witness of the Spirit, must be of a dangerous tendency. It would be leaving this interesting question, Am I a child of God ? to be determined by other and different evidence, than that which arises from possessing the temper, or per.
forming the duties, of an obedient child. Does not a dependence on some more immediate witness of the Spirit, than what consists in those holy dispositions which are the result of his sanctifying influences, expose us to believe every spirit; even such as go about to deceive that they may destroy? If we adopt the sentiment, that the Holy Ghost bears witness of our acceptance, in some way which leaves no impress of the divine image on our heart, how can we distinguish be. tween His testimony, and that of a lying spirit; a spirit who would rejoice to persuade us, by some secret whisper or impression, that we are the children of God, and not of the devil ?
IV. Since experimental religion, when genuine, is truth in the inward parts, it must naturally lead the mind to adopt true doctrines, instead of such as are erroneous. A rectified palate has a relish for wholesome food; and a sanctified heart relishes the sincere milk of the word. 1 Pet. ii. 2. That holy anointing which transforms a sin. ner into a saint, and preserves in him the renovated character, "is truth, and is no lie.” (1 John, ïi. 27. The entrance of divine truth into the heart, when it has been effected by this anointing, has often proved the means of bringing men to believe what they had before called hard, and even horrible doctrines. In them is verified that pre. diction; “They also that erred in spirit, shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine." Isa. xxix. 24. There is a divine glory in revealed truth, and the experimental believer dis. covers it.
In him it is not a mere rational conviction, in which his heart takes no interest: it is a benevolent mind discovering an ineffa. ble display of God's goodness in his precious word. The more com. pletely selfish affections are expelled his bosom, the more are his eyes opened to behold those glorious mysteries, which are brought to light by the volume of inspiration.
This spiritual discernment of the holy nature and sweet harmony of divine truth, is that which, above all other things, produces a full and settled belief of the inspiration of the scriptures, and of the divine origin and excellency of that religion which they inculcate. When we are warned against being carried about with divers and strange doctrines, we are told what is the best preventive for this evil : “ For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace.” This was the thing which established the heart of Peter, when he said to Jesus, " Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That it was the thing, is evident from Christ's saying to him, “ Blessed art thou, Simon, Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” When it is said, “ He that believeth on the Son, hath the witness in himself,” it supposes that the religion of the gospel holds dominion in the heart of the believer; and that it prepares him to be fully satisfied concerning its truth, so as effectually to prevent him from becoming an infidel. Grace in the heart, is not only a preventive against apostacy from the Christian faith ; but its tendency is to preserve us from all departures from sound doctrine. By what the apostle John says concerning those heretics which went out from them, it is manifest he imputes their departure from sound doctrine, to their destitution of that unction from the Holy One, by which we know all things. 1 John, ii. 18—20.