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Indeed! almost persuaded! What! so soon shaken in mind with regard to the great object of religion! What hast thou been thinking of so long, that all thou hast heard before has lost its power ? Hast thou not had a religion ? Hast thou passed so many years and not made a choice? Can all the arguments thou hast heard be of no avail ? Is there a power here which reverses all other statements ? How couldst thou be content in such a state-satisfied to go on without any weighty and solid proof, in a state that thus admits of being shaken in a moment? Is this the first time thou hast conceived anything like suspicion of thy religion? What hast thou been doing, without serious reflections on religion and duty? What solemn sounds hast thou now heard, coming from death and judgment? People will go on this way twenty or thirty years, though the ground has been proved unsound and hollow; and they will go on till that very truth comes with greater force, not a new truth, only an old one with more effective energy.
“Almost thou persuadest me.” What! not quite convinced? Have I not told thee in a most absolute and decided form ? Have not the revela. tions of eternity and heaven had any effect? What can truth do more if it fails to persuade? What is there besides? I have but truth to tell. So you may say to all you teach. There is no other resource within the compass of human power. I can now only surrender you to the divine mercy. Yet it is a grievous and sad thing for a friend of man to make this surrender. If a man will not choose to comply, what will persuade? What will convince, in addition to what has been said ? Here are the statements of sacred truth, carrying so much weight, that not God him. self can make any addition, and yet all will only almost persuade. This very representation should produce a great emotion in the mind. How is it (a man may ask himself) that every particle of my soul has not been reached ? How far am I affected by what has come to me? and that has come which should convince a whole world. What shall I pronounce of that part of my mind which holds out against all the force and eloquence of heaven? All the radiance of the divine throne, coming down in the glory of Christ, and in the terrors of the law, has not persuaded me. If we could induce men to think of the state of their minds, it would lead to melancholy and useful reflections. But they cannot be induced to mark the consequences of being thus imperfectly persuaded. Let us still press the enquiry. Why have you not gone the length of an apostle ? When do you think complete conviction will take place? What will induce you at a future time? Let us be thankful that there is conscience in the human breast. We hope that many minds will be totally persuaded. How many things have a tendency to this persuasion! Who can number all the thoughts that will come upon this total conviction ? Not more vanities before, than serious reflections now, will come to admonish and remind. Think of the sparing mercy of God; of the Redeemer, in how many lights; of the gospel, in how many displays; of all the facts and arguments brought forward by Jesus Christ and his apostles. How wretched not to be affected by these thoughts! Shall we pass through the whole length of life and not think about them ? There is need of all the multitude of serious thoughts that can be drawn around our minds. If they begin to come, they will not soon be exhausted; they cannot, through the whole course of our existence; they will multiply round á mind properly disposed; come in infinite numbers, and bring upon our minds, otherwise the victims of vanity, the whole weight and force of truth.
“Almost thou persuadest me to be a christian.” But, what is it to be a christian? Paul's reply shews it is to be like him. In wishing Agrippa, and the other persons present, to be like himself, he did not wish more or less, than that they should be christians. What is essential ? The same seriousness; the same devotion to his Master, the Messiah of the world; to know not the truths doctrinally, but the facts practically. To be a. christian, is, to let in the entire truth; to say, all this relates to me. We must open the mind to receive all; offer the mind to receive the force of all; let the truth come home. If we feel it imperfectly, let us, at the next turn, feel it emphatically_let us apply for salvation to Jesus Christ. This involves repentance-a conviction of our lost state without a Re. deemer. A complete surrender must be made of pride and self-righteous. ness, and of the soul to Jesus Christ, to be sanctified and governed by: him. There must be a practical devotion of the soul to God. All these are just the elements merely of the christian character; with less than this, a man cannot deem himself a christian. If he has not such an earnest concern for christianity, he cannot consider himself in a progress towards that happy state, to which christianity is leading its true disciples. Enquire what state we are pursuing. Are we the servants of that great Lord who has so few on earth, and who ought to have all ?
Still, there have been many but partially persuaded. If we could see into the state of their minds-what striking thoughts come; but, the next moment, vanity succeeds, and takes all away! Men, in trying circum-, stances—in sickness, on the death of relations, &c.-sometimes feel very powerful impressions of religion, have found an insufficiency in the thing they loved, and were pursuing. Religion that is the great, the only thing! When disappointed in worldly hope, some have thought for a moment, I will turn to religion ; but they will never turn effectually till God changes the heart. It is very melancholy to see men go back again; have recourse to what has again and again disappointed them, and this, too, when the world tells the same thing that religion does. What does religion say about the world? That it is all vanity and vexation of spirit. Does not the world say the same? Can the lovers of pleasure come forward and say they are happy ? In short, whatever religion teaches concerning the world, the world says the same thing. . How many griefs of conscience occur to men that idolize the world ! There would be some ground of hesitation, if the testimony of divine revelation differed from that of the world. If the world should say, “My ways are ways of pleasantness, and my paths are peace," then you would have to settle the fact. But since all make the same assertion, you may derive additional proofs of the excellence and truth of religion. The result of all experience makes it more strange, that men can accept as a God, what they have found out to be a devil; forget the reality, to embrace a vain shadow. It is a very sad thing to reflect, that there is a more mighty influence than God's. How it is so, we have only to examine the human mind. There is a strange schism in the soul that the judgment can be so completely detatched from the active powers, as if a man were governed by one sense contrary to the evidence of another; as if a man should be influenced by sweet music, and drawn along a path to a place where he sees.death before him. What infinite madness would that be! but, such is the state of man. There is the judgment—the power that sees; but his other powers control and persuade him directly contrary to the judging power. The wise man says, “In vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird;" but not so with respect to the human mind. There shall be no concealment-clear, manifest evil, and yet there is a power to influence the passions when clear light shines upon the judgment. This shews the necessity of a power, pure and irresistible, which shall not conform to human reason, but comes with a force directly divine.. Nothing is more clear, than that the passions may persuade against con viction. This proves the lost condition of intelligent beings on this earth.' But, then, what cause have we to entreat the Divine Power for ourselves, and our fellow-mortals, that this mighty power may come upon us all! It might have been enough to be almost christians, if Christ had only almost effected the atonement- almost opened the gates of heaven; then such a state of mind would have corresponded with the imperfect work of the great Leader of christianity.
But shall we leave this to the casualties of futurity? Can you make up your minds to this state! Can you sink into any kind or condition of tranquillity, when ruin, irretrievable, will surely follow ? It should impel you to a throne of mercy. It is quite time to entreat God to break the fascination; to perform a miracle of grace. And it is necessary that those who endeavour to persuade others, should have recourse to infinite power. It is a very gratifying thing, to think that we have so many assurances of mercy; that God is ready to bestow his Holy Spirit, to operate upon our minds, and, in a certain extent, to attend all our endeavours. This must mingle with all our exertions. We shall surely find, in all our efforts, some interference of a superior power. This is high consolationa most animating consideration. Let us entreat God to give that influence to us, to attend our efforts, and to make the voice of truth more powerful than it has ever been since the times of the apostles and of Jesus Christ.
PERSECUTION FOR CONSCIENCE' SAKE.
TO DISSENTERS. Nothing is more universally repudiated, at the present day, than perse. cution for religion. The great mass of English Roman Catholics, in spite of the Council of Trent, not merely reject it in words, but dislike it in heart. Protestant denominations all disown it. Infidelity, which we are inclined to think will be the last and most savage of persecutors-at present deems religion beneath persecution. It is a merciful dispensation, that since 1688, all parties have become growingly ashamed of legislative penalties for differences of faith, and some advance has been made even in discrediting those forms of intolerant vindictiveness which law can neither use nor prohibit.
It may, however, be useful to survey the whole question briefly, and especially to ask, How far are we Protestant Dissenters still liable to this most odious of sins ?
It was a most just remark of the Tory Lord Aberdeen, in his place in the House of Lords, that, owing to the advance of civilization, what, in a former age, would not have been felt as persecution, is truly so now. Dissenters only wish his Lordship to carry out this remark consistently, and they are confident that he must perceive, that, in the nineteenth century, to establish one sect is to persecute the rest. To pass by the degrading tribute of Church rates and Easter dues,—the subjection of Dissenters to the ecclesiastical courts-courts, christian ! as they call them, of a hostile hierarchy,—the special honours and dignities conferred on Episcopalians,mand pronouncing Dissenting opinions a disqualification for the Chief Magistracy of the realm;-to pass by these and many other kinds of persecution peculiar to the English Establishment, the mere circumstance of one sect being selected for State favour and State pay, is a disparagement to all the rest,-a disparagement which, in a highly civilized country, is growingly felt to be unworthy of men, of Englishmen especially. Enlightened Dissenters feel this universally,
* many of all classes are rapidly perceiving it, and an Establishment, as an Establishment, is now justly reckoned one of the forms of persecution.
Again, many of the Ecclesiastical bodies are, by their very constitution, persecuting bodies. We know of no persecutions more unscriptural, vin. dictive, and barbarous, than those of the Methodist Conference at the present time. The system of brotherly questioning, to make a man con. demn himself,the close and clerical tribunals by which excellent chris
tians are deprived of all their denominational privileges, are not only close - imitations of the Inquisition, but for England in the nineteenth century,
worse than the Inquisition in Italy or Spain in the fifteenth. The universal disgust awakened by these proceedings, in the minds of all but Conference men and their slaves, is a hopeful sign of the times, and, combined with such manifestations as those of Henry of Exeter, in the Establishment, will do much to overthrow the power of priestcraft, whether voluntary or established. The Free Church of Scotland, also, has not been wanting in exhibitions of the temper natural to ecclesiastical organizations. In one case it ejected an excellent young minister, who only proposed that they should take into consideration a persecuting article in their
Standards,” which is quite inconsistent with their own present relations to the civil magistrate, as well as a disgrace to any church. We have also seen instances in which Baptist and Pædobaptist "Associations” have used, the slight power of organization belonging to them, for very questionable purposes.
But the persecution most keenly felt at the present day, is of a kind more difficult to describe, though quite as impossible to justify, especially amongst Protestants. In the Church itself, the better men condemn, with deserved scorn, the county voter and squire who punish Noncon. formity by dismissal from employment or farms, or exclusion from public charities; but few as yet condemn that exclusion from our kindlier feel. ings, and that chilling suspicion with which most regard the honest inves. tigator whose enquiries lead him far from the views in which he formerly agreed with us. To name any of such differences might, alas, but arouse the spirit we deprecate. Perhaps we may convey our meaning without doing so. The present is an age in which theological questions are dis. cussed with a general freedom hitherto unknown. The controversies of the learned find their way into Reading Societies, Young Men's Mutual Improvement Societies, and the more intelligent circle of youthful, middle life especially. Amongst this class, the spirit of enquiry is wonderfully aroused. Not the profane, vice-loving scepticism of a former age, which sought in disbelief emancipation from the terrors of conscience; but & serious desire to know what is true. So much, not only amongst Church. men, but with Dissenters, tvo, has been taken for granted, or assumed on doubtful grounds, that enquiring minds, first discovering some of these weaker points, are led to fear and tremble for the whole fabric of the Temple of Truth in which they hare hitherto worshiped. This state of doubt is natural; we might say inevitable. Whatever fault there is, must belong to those instructors who have sought rather to keep difficulties ont of the way of their pupils or hearers, and who have taught subordinate and doubtful matters as all important, or as unquestioned. Yet the too common practice is, to answer the honest difficulties of a perplexed mind, not by candid acknowledgments that some measure of uncertainty really exists,--that there are, possibly, presumptions against the common view very difficult to be met, yet placing, on the other hand, the fair balance of evidence in view of the enquirer,-the easier and lazier course is taken, of denouncing all such enquiries as the first step to infidelity, or the leaven of Germanism; and if the enquirer cannot be awed out of his perplexities,
by exclamation's in the place of arguments, he is treated as a dangerous man, looked upon with coolness, credit for honesty is denied him-a charge which his own heart assures him, perhaps, is the most false of all and thus he is driven from the circle of orthodoxy for venturing to look only beyond it. Now, this is real persecution. It may “destroy a brother for whom Christ died.” We plead not for self-conceit, vanity, or captiousness; but christians, especially christian teachers, should qualify themselves to enter into the difficulties of the thoughtful and enquiring. And these difficulties are no longer the theological quibbles of the past generation; they are far more important, and should be dealt with accordingly.
Amidst the discussions of the present day, too, it is quite natural that many should be led to pass from one denomination to another. In such cases, how difficult is it to avoid those unkindly thoughts and expressions which are harder to bear than, perhaps, stripes or imprisonment. Again we do not plead for vacillation and levity, much less for manifest giving way to pecuniary, fashionable, or any worldly seductions in matters of religion and truth; but let us take care of imputing such motives too hastily,_let us prefer the “charity which hopeth all things,” to “judg. ing, lest we be judged;” and even if compelled to doubt motives, let us act as much as possible towards others according to their professed inten. tions and principles. We have not room for more at present; but we would earnestly exhort all whom our suggestions might influence, to guard more than ever against defending old opinions, by merely raising a hue and cry against new ones. It is the sure way to repel all the more active minds; while patience, kindness, fairness, and adequate information, must, in due time, gain the triumph for truth in every honest mind.
THE PRAYER OF FAITH.
BY THE REV. JAMES SMITH. “All things, whatsoever ye ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”—Matt. xxi. 22.
Some have supposed that this promise is to be confined to miracles, but this is a mistake. It is as much intended for us as it was for the first disciples. Look at the parallel passage in Mark xi. 22_26. Jesus directs his disciples to exercise “faith in God,” assures them that the prayer of faith shall be answered; and requires them to exercise a forgiving spirit, as they would hope to be forgiven; which is as much binding on us as on them. He says, “Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." Look also at Luke xi. 5-13. He delivers a parable to shew the power of importunate prayer, and then says, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened,” &c. Here he positively promises, that every one that heartily asks, honestly seeks, and importunately knocks, shall be attended to; but faith is supposed, and is necessary to such asking, seeking, and knocking. Once more, look at James i. 5–7. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything from the Lord.” Here you see faith is required, and without faith we are told not to expect an answer to our