A necessary difference between the true Religion and a false, is, that the one must be a religion of facts, and the other is likely to be a religion of fancies, or at best of ideas and precepts. Of this we have a remarkable proof in the earliest Christian Creed, which if dogmatic at all, is entirely so through the medium of its facts. And it grew to be a Creed, altogether in a matter of fact way; and was practically a Creed, a long while before it was dogmatically pronounced to be the Apostles' Creed.
We are very much struck with this when we begin to study the burden and the style of the preaching of the Apostles, and to analyze its power and effects upon the hearts and lives of their converts. Great facts are stated clearly enough and appeals are made strongly enough to forsake dumb idols and to serve the living God; and the manifestations are visible enough of emotion so controlling as to turn the whole life-current. But there is no preaching about mere inward emotion, nor any profession of mere inward experience. Life-facts are made to tell on life-action:--that is all. A religion of great facts, is made to bring forth the fruits of good living. To infer the doctrines and truths taught, from the facts testified to, was the divine and inspired work of Paul in his three great doctrinal letters.
To analyze the emotions wrought in the heart appears not to have been systematically attempted by the inspired writers; and as far as it is done (unless the VIIth Chap. to the Romans furnishes a single exception,) it has been done casually and incidentally. But the fact of conversion, of imparting a new life to a dead soul, is not only every where taken for granted but often most explicitly and broadly stated: and it would seem that nothing could be safer, than [3/4] to leave the emotions proper to such a change to be testified to, by the subjects of it, in every age and country; and to be made the theme of reasoning, of deduction, of philosophic analysis, and even of theory, as much as any other series of inward emotions and experiences.
EDUCATIONAL AND TRADITIONAL RELIGION.
Had it been the will of the Great Head of the Church, that that Church should have consisted, in all ages and countries, of adult believers alone, it is evident that some theory of religious experience and of personal religion, would soon have been developed. But if, on the other hand, as the facts plainly show, it were his will that his church should consist of adult believers and their children, then, underneath and within this educational and hereditary form of Christianity, its inner life might long remain concealed; and the manifestations of it be discerned only where its life and power were most intense and outworking.
Under these circumstances, which are plain matters of historic fact, the majority of Christians most probably would lay no claim to a marked inward and spiritual experience. In most cases, even where it existed, in rude and uncultivated natures, we may well suppose that it almost unconsciously existed; or existed altogether as a matter of course; and was no more made a matter of reflection or speculation than any other class of hereditary or educational emotions: such, for example, as their love of home and native land. Even the great army of Preachers, during the ages of progress and persecution would be much more likely to follow the Apostles' example of testifying to facts, than to strike out a track of their own, in the analysis of religious experience. Besides most of them were rude and matter of fact men, singularly exempt from any fondness for subtle distinctions or abstract discussions. I can find no trace of speculations upon inward experiences such as constitute the distinctive mark and main staple of all modern religious biography, until we reach the times of St. Augustine. His mind, his genius, his intensely vigorous inner life, and the whole course of the dealings of God with him, in his providence and by his Holy Spirit, fitted him for such a work as his Confessions, and make them stand out amongst the other productions of the first six hundred years of [4/5] the Church's History, almost if not quite as remarkably as Paul's three great doctrinal Epistles, do amongst all the inspired records. after the ascension of our blessed Redeemer. They are perfectly true to scripture, to human nature, to the facts of history, and to the experience of all christians in all ages and in all countries, whose temptations, struggles, exercises and victories have been of the same profound and passionately emotional character; and differ only in degree, from the exercises of all those devout minds which have had a turn for analyzing this class of emotions; and a taste for recording them.
To my mind nothing would be more afflicting and revolting than, for one moment, to suppose it possible that the millions of the successive generations, which, in all christian lands, for more then fifteen hundred years, had followed each other through the awful portals of the eternal world, had all. or nearly all, entered it, without any satisfactory experience of the power of religion in creating their hearts anew and afore preparing them for the presence of God, merely because the fact has come down to me, that they received from the fathers of the old dispensation the theory of hereditary and educational religion; and because the record has not come down to me, of the soul-history and of the inner life of that religion, in the ease, most certainly of those many saints of God, who amid all the surrounding darkness and corruption were made the subjects of His renewing and sanctifying grace!
Educational and hereditary religion, most unquestionably was the very staple of the Jewish dispensation; and that, by divine appointment. Piety and inward fitness for office, most evidently could be no man's birth-right: and yet the Priesthood was restricted to one tribe; and the office of the High Priest was absolutely tied down to primogeniture. And to me it seems much more natural that all Asiatic Christians, and certainly all Judaizing Christians, should have erred, as some branches of the Greek Church have actually done, in restricting the priest's office to certain families, so that none but the son of a priest can be a priest; than that they should have broken loose from all such restraints; and maintained, as some do in our times, that an inward experience is the only preparation for the ministry, and an inward call the only commission to it, which Heaven has been pleased to authenticate!
 HOW IT WORKED.
Through all these ages, the practice rather than the exception, every where was, that the child was set apart for the ministry--not as now, by the prayers and private consecration of the parents, should his heart be changed and otherwise he should manifest a fitness for the work; but absolutely and unconditionally, unless by open vice, or downright rebellion, he defeated the purposes of his superiors.
And the same principle ruled, and almost over the whole of Christendom still rules, with regard to reception to the rite of Confirmation. All the young, more or less carefully or negligently, are trained for it, as for one of the matter of course privileges, at a certain age, of all who have received the hereditary rite of Baptism, and have imbibed, in however slight a measure, the ideas of a traditional Christianity.
I hope it will be perceived that I am here limiting myself, most guardedly, to a statement of facts. I cannot here travel out of the record to conjecture how admirably such a system might have worked in all countries and through all the ages, had it been administered by the Clergy and by Parents, with the wisdom, diligence, zeal and piety with which it has been carried out, in our times, in their secluded settlements, by our admirable fellow-christians, the Moravian Brethren.
Enough for my present purpose to confess and deplore that after the ages of persecution to the times of the Reformation, and in most places until now, with rare exceptions, it has never been thus administered. Utter and most culpable neglect, in this respect, was first the cause, and then the effect, of that wide spread, long enduring deterioration of our Holy Religion; which, as unaccountable in itself as the proclivity of the Jews to idolatry, is still more profoundly mysterious, as a dispensation of Divine Providence. Why did the Church cease to be "the light of the world and the salt of the earth?" Why were its conquests interrupted, before the whole world was made obedient to the cross? And why do so many of the branches of the Church, still consist almost entirely of those, who, even in the judgment of the largest charity, have no conception of the religion of the heart? Without pronouncing and opinion upon the theory itself, this much is certain, that the [6/7] carrying of it out, was, down to the time of the Reformation, a total failure: and in most countries where it was accepted by the Reformers, and attempted to be reduced to a better practice, the greatness of the failure is hardly less emphatically pronounced. Protestant Germany and Reformed Geneva, present, alas, in this respect, but a shade of difference, from the state of things of old--and one hundred years ago, the case was hardly appreciably better in many parts of Old and New England. In the times of the Wesleys and of Jonathan Edwards, in both countries, the ideas of personal piety, and of an inward experience of religion in the heart, were as much ridiculed and opposed, by the great majority of nominal christians, as they still are, at this moment, in the far greater part of continental, protestant Europe!
EMOTIONAL AND PERSONAL RELIGION.
The extent and magnitude of the evils which grew out of this neglect, the small number of devout and practical christians, and the decay of an earnest and primitive piety were deplored by the Reformers, only less, if any less, than those grave errors in doctrines; departures from the primitive practice; and notorious and shocking vices of the clergy, against which their protest was mainly directed. And it is worthy of particular comment, that, whilst the wisest and best of them complained loudly of the decay of discipline, and the decline of preaching of the pure word of God; and the neglect of the early and careful religious training of the young, not one word is uttered against the principle of educational and traditional Religion. On the contrary it is all along, every where and by the holiest of the Reformers taken for granted that this is the method which grew up and was fashioned according "to the pattern shown" to the fathers "in the mount." I do not remember to have met with a single passage implying a doubt upon the subject until about the time of the rise of our Puritan fathers; who profoundly grieved and distressed at the slight and slow progress of evangelical piety and personal Religion in all the Reformed Churches, and especially in the Church of England as established and administered by law, seem gradually to have developed the idea, that to require a very high standard of personal religion, on the part of those received into full communion with the Church, [7/8] much higher and more rigid than that commonly required of young persons coming to confirmation, could be made and ought to be made, the grand panacea for all the woes and wounds of the Church. As soon as they had separated from the Church: they began, both in Scotland (in a few places) and in New England very generally, to carry this ruling idea into practice, by the appointment of Committees and Church Sessions, to propound such questions to candidates for church privileges, as might lead to a reasonable conclusion, in the judgement of charity, whether the person were a favoured subject of the special grace of God or not. But down to a time later than that of Baxter, no fixed or unalterable standard of religious experience was set up. No unreasonable importance was attached to the suddeness, intensity or extraordinary character of the emotions connected with this change; no rigid requirement was made of ability to fix the time, assign the circumstances, or describe the process of this great transformation. On the contrary I remember to have seen it somewhere related, that in a company of Puritan Divines, during the most salutatory period of their influence in England, to the number of twenty or thirty, or even more; the question was passed round amongst them to ascertain how large a number could remember the period of their conversion, or describe its attendent circumstances; when it was found that there was but one such in the whole company. All the rest, in the judgment of charity, had been called and chosen in their youth, or for aught any of them could tell, chosen and sanctified from the womb; or indebted to the prayers and careful and pious training of truly christian Mothers. [I have been furnished by a clerical friend with a similar but even more remarkable narrative of a much more recent occurrence in a Class at Andover Theological Seminary as lately as 1823, with regard to the members of which it was ascertained, that the conversion of only 6 out of 42 was signalized with any strongly marked emotions, and those wore the only six who had not been brought no religiously, by pious parents or a pious mother.] This narrative, if highly creditable, as I really think it is, to the moderation of those concerned, certainly must raise a doubt whether the training which they had received in the bosom of their deserted Mother, the Church of England were always and altogether as defective as they alleged, as the excuse for their secession.
And it is a soothing and delightful reflection to a philosophic and christian mind that the very best traits of the Puritan [8/9] character which they carried with them to New England and into their new church organization, all unconciously to themselves, were derived from the pure doctrines and salutary, though very defective culture, of the Church they left behind. And 1 think that such a mind and such an eye, can discern in all that is still conservative in the religious character of the New England people, wherever they are, and wherever they go, and the evidently strong tendency amongst them to return to the bosom of our branch of the church, the fruits of the early and careful culture which their forefathers received in their father-land!
I believe, also, that it can very confidently be stated, that the more exclusive standard of personal religion, signalized by certain very distinctive marks, was not set up, until after Wesley proclaimed his peculiar views with regard to the assurance of faith. Nor, in all their extreme length and breadth, do they seem, even yet, perfectly to harmonize with all other parts of the creed, of any Protestant denomination, holding the ancient ideas of the Reformation, with regard to Infant Baptism: they are entirely and altogether at home, only, amongst our Baptist Brethren: and it must-be confessed, that in Kentucky and generally in the West and South West, they have been fearlessly professed, and unflinchingly carried out, to all their legitimate practical conclusions. If there exists upon earth a body of professed christians, received into the communion of the Church only after explicit confession of individual faith, and a profession of personal experimental religion, it is that vast and highly respectable body, the Baptist Church in the United States.
HOW IT WORKS.
It is not strictly within the line of my argument, to interpose, at this point, several obvious reflections; but they are so instructive and so powerfully sustained by the facts, that I am strongly inclined to notice them.
It may readily be granted that the proportion of truly converted and pious persons in these Churches, is much greater than it was anywhere, except amongst the Waldenses, before the Reformation, much greater than in those continental branches of the Protestant Church which still groan under secular domination: and yet not [9/10] a step be made in advance in the attempt to show, that the whole amount of this difference is to be passed to the credit of this one difference of administration. Before that could be conceded, the question must; be answered whether the modified system has not wrought even a greater change amongst the Congregationalists and Presbyterians of the Eastern States? Sufficient for my present purpose is it, to maintain, that the number of pious persons, and the standard of piety, in these branches of the Church, is in no way inferior to that which prevails in the very best Baptist Church. Nay, a suspicion might naturally arise in an inquisitive mind, whether the inferior standard, in all these respects which prevails amongst the very many Baptists of the South and West, compared with the few in New England, is not mainly to be attributed to the unrestrained working of the system in the one case, and the modification to which it has been subjected in the other, by the influence of religion amongst surrounding denominations, saturated with the traditional and educational element.
Without expressing an opinion upon the ancient theory, we were bold to pronounce the carrying of it out, an utter failure. In like manner, without expressing an opinion upon the modern theory whether in its Baptist nakedness, or in its more modified Congregational and Presbyterian form, with almost equal confidence can we pronounce that its results are very much a failure; and with regard to that at which it aimed and for the sake of which it hazarded and suffered so much--the realization of the sublime and beautiful idea of a pure and perfect Church, it is an utter failure.
At what a tremendous cost has the proposition, old as the times of the Jews, and pervading both dispensations, been again wrought out; that they are not all Israelites who are of Israel; that within the visible church, there is a circle, which no eye but that of the heart searching God can discern, which encloses the comparatively few elect of God; that a distinction must still be drawn between mere nominal christians, and those who are such indeed and in truth, and that, until the dawn of the millenium we must, perforce, content ourselves with a true Church, though exceedingly imperfect; however ardently we may sigh, for one that is both pure and perfect.
Permit me here to pause, in order to state more clearly the [10/11] bearing of this long discussion, upon the subject I have in hand. That subject is the reality and destinctive features of the inner religious life--"the life of God in the soul of man." By the contrast I have drawn, I think I have conclusively shown that both theories, and both systems, are underlaid by this fundamental truth. Both are compelled to recognize the distinction between mere nominal Christianity and that which is real--between the profession of religion and the possession of it; since both aim at the increase of the number of the one, in any community, where the Church exists, and the decrease of the number of the other. What is it, but another form of expressing the very work and the whole work of the Church on earth to increase the number of the renewed, the sanctified and the saved; and to diminish the number of the lost!
One may denounce the ancient educational scheme of Christianity as fraught with the most disastrous consequences, surrounding the altars and filling the portals of the Church with whole nations of unconverted and deceived, pretended worshippers. Another may deplore the prevailing opinion with regard to personal and experimental religion, as full of fanaticism, and tending naturally to increase indefinitely the number of self-deceivers and perhaps of hypocrites.
But I can conceive of nothing more unphilosophic and uncandid, than the attempt to deny, that the very life of both systems as far as they have any life at all, is that which underlies them both; the admission on all hands, "that he is not a Christian'' who is one outwardly, neither is that "regeneration" which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Christian who is one inwardly, and "regeneration" is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God."
Conversion, renewal, regeneration in this inner and higher sense--the convictions, the struggles--the hopes and fears--the anguish and occasionally, the transports, of that emotional and spiritual life which marks this wonderful change, and those bloodless victories which are achieved over a fallen and depraved nature, have been believed in by truly converted and Christian people, through all the ages, from the time of St. Augustine, to the present time. And what is more to my purpose, the revival of these ideas, and the prominence given to them, have signalized every revival of [11/12] religion, in every age and country; been the chief object of every proposed Reformation; imparted life and power to every remarkable preacher; and constitute the main staple of the best works of the most holy men of all ages and countries.
I have already alluded to one of these productions; the earliest certainly, and in many respects, one of the ablest and the best. How any one can read the confessions of St. Augustine, and compare the various, contending and mighty emotions of his great soul, in its conviction for sin, in its exercises of humility and contrition on account of it; in its acts of faith and simple child-like reliance upon the merits of Christ; in its longing after holiness and perfect conformity to the mind of Christ and submission to the will of God; in its out-bursts of love and gratitude, to the bleeding, atoning Saviour; and in its pleadings for the aid and comfort of the Holy Ghost;--with emotions and exercises, precisely similar,--which awaken the liveliest response in every renewed heart; which constitute the very staple of all modern evangelical biography; such for example as those of Brainard, Cecil, Martyr and Pay son, and not confess that the life of God in the soul of man, is by far the most interior, the most passionate and the most intense part and portion of the hidden life of the soul, is a wonder surpassing all other wonders!
It is the deep, underlying, and the all pervading influence, and the universality of this life which imparts the wonderful charm to religious biography and works on experimental religion, with which, from the number of these works distributed and sold, we know that they are invested, in the estimation of all true Christians. This was the spirit that signalized the times of St. Bernard, which breathes through the commentary of Quesnel, and all the best writings of the Jansenists. This is the very atmosphere in which Madame Guyon, Paschal and his sister, and the whole lovely band of pietists lived and breathed. The key note in the truly converted soul, which responds to all this, is the self same which has ever made the Psalms of David the favorite devotional manual of all the people of God; and which responds so sweetly to those touching heart-hymns in every language, which were never wanting in any age, but which pious souls in England, and especially in Germany have breathed forth, ever since the reformation as the very breath [12/13] of their divine life. And if the whole nature of every renewed creature were not in full harmony with it, Bunyan's immortal work would never have obtained its world wide celebrity.
The amount of this kind of religious literature, in almost every age and country has been prodigious, only restricted by the mode and cost of publication and limited by the number of readers; and only exceeded by the number of sermons and commentaries. And in Protestant Europe and America scarcely exceeded by any except, by a different, but strictly analagous species of literature, that which, in the form of novels and romances, treats of another portion of our emotional nature, the trials of the heart, during the dawn, progress and unfolding of those strong selections which underlie all of our domestic relations. And with all the facts before him, I should suppose that a sane mind would just as soon be able to come to the conclusion that conjugal love is not a reality, as that experimental religion is all a pretence. The inner world--the world of feeling and affection, through several years of most persons' lives, and through the whole of the most loving and love-able; is by far a more real world, more; prominent, more all engrossing, than either the outer world, or the world of intellect and taste. And for man there is but one higher world, more real, and more all engrossing; and destined to be more and more so, through all eternity; and that is the world of his inner religious life--"the life of God in the soul of man." And by the power with which that life works, "he becomes" daily more and more "a new creature in Christ Jesus" and "is changed into the same image, from glory to glory."
It is worthy of remark, that, in both these departments of the world of feeling, the first emotions proper to each, arc by far the most tumultuous and passionate. On this very account it is, that this portion of them is often transient, sometimes unreal, and always exposing the subject of them to strange illusion and wonderful instants of self deception. Hence, in the one region, so many unhappy marriages, contracted without the solid basis of a true unalterable attachment; and in the other, so many unstable professions of religion;--some spurious counterfeits of a genuine, conversion, having, for a while, with all concerned, passed current [13/14] in place of the genuine coin. But no careful observer of human nature is ever taken by surprise by all this; or feels his confidence shaken in the least, in the reality of a true conjugal attachment; or the genuineness of real conversion of the heart to God. There are, then, life-long modifications of our inner emotional world. The ever succeeding and varying forms of emotion proper to each are never as tumultuous and passionate, perhaps, as at first; but the more even and unruffled the, outward flow, the more deep and pure the tide which runs beneath.
All along however, the trial and the occasion will prove that, the genuine old fire is not extinguished, it is only concealed from view. The husband and wife who have been united in the bonds of a true affection, when surrounded with their children's children, are always ready to testify, that the toil and struggle along the dusty way side of life have only served to keep purer and brighter the gold of their wedding ring. And so have I seen the aged Christian, having long outlived the passionately emotional season of his first love; and survived the many vicissitudes and fluctuations of a long and chequered religious experience; settling down into a serene and placid state, equally removed from the rapture of assurance, and the pangs of doubt and fear; but by far more radiant in hope, more tranquil in unalterable confidence and love, and more abundant in all the fruits of righteousness and true, holiness, than at any earlier period of his Christian life! I am constrained, therefore to regard it, as peculiarly unfortunate when, as is too often the case, the cold selfish and cruel husband, looks back for arguments to excuse the change within himself, to the time, when he was an ardent lover; but surely we have at least equal occasion to be shocked, when a cold, formal and worldly-minded professor looks batik to his early religious experience, for the evidence that he has once known and felt the, power of religion. True life is progressive; and no evidence can be stronger of the absence of life, than alack of progress. We must first "be made alive to God;" and after that "must grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
I have purposely given to the reality of the divine life, this discursive treatment, as an introduction to something further which I have to say concerning the nature of it, in a manner equally undogmatic and inartificial.
 TRAITS OF THE INNER LIFE.
It has a foreign origin, and is not, of indigenous growth. And in this respect it differs altogether from, every other mode of our inner life. It is true that every form of natural, intellectual, emotional and spiritual life, is derived from the supreme fountain of all life'. But when once man was created a living soul, the life which connects him with the external world was perfectly natural; and the growth of his reason and intelligence from the condition of the childishness and pupilage of the rudest savage, up to the highest degree of culture to which the glorious intellects of Bacon, Milton, Paschal and Newton attained, is as perfectly natural a process as the development of the germ into the mature and perfect plant. The same is equally true of the wonderful difference between the complicated, refined and exalted sentiment of maternal love, as developed and perfected in the case of the most highly cultivated Christian mother now living upon earth (supposing, for a moment that it would be possible to separate it from her religion) and that simple, yet beautiful instinct in the bosom of an Indian mother which prompts her to defend and shelter her defenceless offspring. The difference is well nigh infinite, but it imperfectly, natural, and brought about, by aliment and culture, suited, to our .emotional nature, and fitted to produce such results.
Not so with regard to our moral; and spiritual natures. However it might have been with our first parents in Paradise, since the fall, there is no religious and spiritual life in the soul which can grow, or receive aliment, or prove itself susceptible of development. And I suppose that it is precisely in this sense that the scriptures pronounce us "dead in trespasses and sins."
This accounts satisfactorily for what otherwise, could not be accounted for at all, the names and designations, by which, in the Holy Scriptures, and in all writers upon sacred subjects, this highest form of our life is known. It is called the new life because imparted later than the old natural life; the inner life, because it, is between God and the soul, and not, between one soul and another, as is the case with the whole class of natural affections; the hidden life, because quite incomprehensible to those who know it not; the divine life, or "the life of God in the soul of man," which is its broadest and fittest designation, because God the Holy Ghost [15/16] sent down from Heaven can alone impart it:--According to that comprehensive, most true and most emphatic clause of the Nicene Creed, in which we profess our belief in Him, as the Author and Giver of Life. This inner, spiritual life, is the very life of which He is the giver, since all other forms of life have before been ascribed to "God the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible."
INITIAL AND PROGRESSIVE.
This admitted, it seems unavoidable to proceed to the statement that it is imparted in its germ and not in its maturity. This seems to be the law of all derived life.
The very planets in their spheres are developments. The solid earth has its growth. And successive creations of plants and animals upon its surface, all mark the eras in a long series of developments which shall never cease, till the perfect in its kind, is attained to, when there shall be a New Heaven and a New Earth." I need not adduce the more familiar analogy between the germs of all living things, in the vegetable and animal creation and this higher law of spiritual life. No doubt the Creator might have clothed this beautiful earth with perpetual vendure and with trees bearing fruit after their kind, without the delay and the perils of the blossom and the germ; and beautiful fields covered with a perpetual harvest, without the toil of planting or the anxieties of culture; and peopled with full-grown men, brought forth, by some wonderful method, in all the maturity of their faculties; but what his power, no doubt, might have accomplished, in his wisdom he has not seen fit to do; but has ordained all life, from the germ to its maturity, and here on earth, at least, under like conditions of care and toil and culture, and to all the anxieties and perils, of all other possible forms of life so imparted.
Thus, were this writing controversial in its form and spirit, I should join issue with those who really maintain that this germ-life is generic, either imparted to every baptized person, or to all mankind as a consequence and part, of the new life, derived from the second Adam: and I should also apparently join issue with some who present exaggerated views (whatever may be those which they might, more guardedly maintain) of the suddenness and greatness [16/17] of this change, as supposed to be wrought in what are almost universally regarded as revivals of religion. But my aim and object is by no means controversial. And with regard to other extraordinary manifestations of the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, I have nothing here to say, except that it is probable that a real conversion so wrought and at such a time, differs but. little, from the ordinary germ-type; its greater sudden maturity being either more apparent than real; or altogether unreal and deceptive, or, as is more probable, being of an artificial and hotbed growth in certain directions, the injuries of which, in other directions, it will cost much extra delay and suffering, to repair.
And with regard to the almost numberless theories concerning this germ-life; when and how it is imparted; how it can be reconciled to other theories;--the theory, for example, which attempts to account for natural goodness, or the instinctive virtues and moralities, as they have been called; or that which accounts for instances of progressive renewal, under the use of educational influences; or of sudden conversions, under the influence of largo measures of excitement; in a word with regard to all theories, in the whole mystery of "the life of God in the soul of man," if the facts are only fully and clearly admitted, on my own part, I am content to hand over all conceivable theories, of all possible theorist, to that domain of theoretical speculation, which may be natural and legitimate enough; but outside of a man's own thoughts, or at any rate outside of the teacher's closet, can hardly ever be harmless, it seems to me, as 1 shall point out when I come to select from the topics, which I have here lightly touched, those most proper to be rendered prominent in a charge; that such theories and speculations can never modify the staple of our pulpit discourses otherwise than injuriously, nor take the place of more important topics, without entailing upon the hearers the most disastrous consequences.
On this occasion and in this place, at any rate, I discard all theories, ignore all vain speculations, and shall try to advance calmly and dispassionately, as if we and truth were alone in the world, to be sought after and held forth, as in the sight of God alone.
Taking years together, the development and progress of this life, first imparted in its germ, may be somewhat uniform; but by the [17/18] measure of shorter intervals, it is found to be exceedingly fitful and irregular. This indeed seems to be the uniform law of all life. Winter and cloudy weather and fierce winds seem to retard the growth of the gnarled oak, but they really add to its vigour and durability--and whilst its over luxuriant leaves and branches are injured or destroyed by the frost and the tempest, its roots strike more deeply downward and its fibres become more tough and compact. The progress of our physical nature from childhood to maturity is marked by similar alternations of imperceptible growth and remarkable development. And a similar law has been observed by those to whom the culture of the youthful mind has been entrusted; months, or years of mental torpor and inaction, succeeded by longer or shorter periods of prodigious progress, until the mind has attained to the full maturity of its powers.
FITFUL AND AT INTERVALS.
How variable are the emotions proper to the divine life in the soul! At times, animated, glowing and all absorbing: at others, languid, indifferent and cold to a painful degree. For awhile, the sensible presence and grace of God rendering all the exercises and duties of religion perfectly delightful. And then "the lust of the eye, the pride of life," and excessive worldliness, usurping the place of piety and prayer in the heart, religious declension, depression and despondency are almost sure to ensue. This it is, which renders the divine life, a conflict and a warfare. Here lies a great peril to the soul. And in some instances, it is greatly to be feared that Satan gains the advantage.
Every other form of derived life, imparted in its germ and subject to the laws of culture and of discipline, is also subject to the law of peril, decay and death. Awful thought! May not this spiritual life, subject as we know it is to declension and peril, be exposed to the extreme peril of spiritual and eternal death? How otherwise are we to interpret the admonitions and warnings of the word of God? or comprehend the anxiety and distress even of an inspired apostle, "lest having preached to others he himself should be a cast away? " Wherever speculative and dogmatic truth, on this knotty point may be found, our duty is clear--"be not high-minded [18/19] but fear"--working out our own salvation with fear and trembling." [Our Church wisely comprehends both Superlapsarians and Sublapsarians. To my mind, the controversy when narrowed down to its last term, seems to turn upon the question, whether, in such proof texts as these, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand"--whether such text affirm a universal or only a general. Against any dogmatic assertion, that they affirm a universal, is to be arrayed probability, analogy, and other passages apparently irreconcilable with such an interpretation.]
However the doctrine may be speculatively settled, thank God for the evidence we have, that such instances of spiritual death are rare, and form the exception and not the rule. The life implanted is a healthy and vigorous life, within, it is furnished with all the faculties of growth, and without, uncongenial as is the atmosphere and climate of an unfriendly world, and numerous and powerful as are the enemies which threaten its safety and developement; yet, in the garden of the Lord, which is His Church, blessed by the sunshine of his Spirit, and watered by his word and sacraments, and tended with all watchful care by affectionate and pious parents, and faithful and devoted ministers, is there not every reason, to hope well for the growth of the new born child of God, in all the fruits of the Spirit? And when we consider what the ground is, of a Christian's hope for safety and protection; even the compassion and faithfulness of that Saviour, who hath called him by his grace, and in whom, and not in his own strength or endeavors, is all his hope; oh how cheering is the assurance that " He who hath begun a good work in us, will carry it on, until the day of Jesus Christ."
PROGRESS, THE LAW--DECAY AND LOSS, THE EXCEPTION.
Always, under favorable circumstances, and often under the most unfavorable, the development of this life is wonderful and beautiful. And what a growth it is: how contrary to nature, and how perfectly in unison with all that is heavenly and divine! A growth of humility, upon the decay of all pride and vain glory; of benevolence, where all before was selfish and unamiable; of forbearance and consideration for the interests and even for the feelings of others, in contrast with previous haughtiness and reserve! A vast improvement in the devotional spirit, in faith, and hope, and love. and in all their natural expressions, prayer and praise, and all the [19/20] outward charities of life! Oh, how directly upward, heavenward and Godward, are all the tendencies of this life; longing after conformity with his holiness, after the impress of his likeness in Jesus Christ, after more sensible manifestations of his presence and communications of his love; breathings for, and aspirations after, that participation in the divine nature, which is spoken of by the Apostle "as being filled with all the fullness of God!" This is life indeed! This is soul-life, because it is the life of purity, of perfection, and of love! A life that is all emotion and yet all repose; all action and yet all rest; all rapture and yet all serenity and peace!
THE ONLY TRUE LIFE.
Of such a life it is not too much to say that it is the only true life; the only life really worth having. To this end all other life was given; and is valuable only as it helps to the attainment of this life and tends to its perfection. Of what value is the life of the body, when the mind lies dormant, as in the idiot; or the life of the intellect with all its cultivated and perfected powers, trained to their noblest efforts, unless the heart is warm with all the generous emotions of social and domestic life? And oh, ye men of gifted intellect, refined taste, and warm and generous emotions towards your fellow creatures; what is the worth of all this life, if your souls are still dead in trespasses and sins; if they are not yet alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! One only life is real; one only life is worth having! It is that which is like the life of God, holy and full of love, and like his life can never cease or be destroyed. All other forms of life on earth perish and pass away. The body crumbles to the dust. The proudest intellect falters and totters under the touch of years. We may even outlast our dearest domestic ties, and outlive the warmest affections of the heart. The only life worth having, which will survive the tomb, will be this "precious life of God in the soul of man." And the gift of all the other forms of life has been lost forever, if they have not been turned to this account, to win that life which never can be lost, but endures forever!
THE ONLY SATISFACTORY LIFE.
Here lies the only satisfactory solution of the utter vacuity and dissatisfaction [20/21] of all those who have not attained to the enjoyment of this life. "Formed capable of knowing, loving and serving God, and of enjoying Him forever," how is it possible that capacities so exalted can be satisfied with any thing that earth or time, or sense can bestow? Created to live upon that bread of life which came down from Heaven, how can men help starving, "when fed only with husks which the swine do eat."
But what is the aliment suited to this our renewed and spiritual nature? In a certain sense, the truth and the word of God afford that appropriate nourishment. And in another certain sense, the bread and wine in the Lord's supper, are spoken of as that spiritual nourishment, which strengthens and invigorates the soul, as the literal bread and wine do the body. But in the highest, most emphatic and most sublime sense, there is but one kind of food for the soul. And so He who gave himself for us most emphatically declares--"I am that bread of life." The word and the sacrament may go to the strengthening of the faith; but it is only by faith that the soul itself feeds on that bread of life. Not when the consecrated elements touch the lips, not when the faith is strengthened by this exhibition of Christ evidently crucified amongst us; but by a lively apprehension, through faith, of the great truth that Christ died for our sins, and by the exercise of those Jeep and strong emotions proper to such a living faith, is the heart made better. All the rest are means to an end, this is the end itself; that the soul may truly know that this is "the true God and eternal life."
MARKED, HOWEVER GRADUAL AND PROGRESSIVE.
I am aware that much of this will be received as doctrinally true, by many who frequently express themselves as if conversion, properly speaking, could only be possible in the case of open and flagrant transgressors. That there is a sense in which the term can thus be limited, can hardly be denied. If the emphasis is to be placed upon the turning, and the attention directed exclusively to that which is its outward expression; then must it be conceded to be true, "that only [21/22] evil doers can cease to do evil, and learn to do good." But the whole bearing of this argument is more interior; and refers to the natural condition of the dead soul in every son and daughter of Adam; and the new life of God in the soul, by the power and grace of the Holy Ghost; and under the length and breadth of this statement, and by its penetrating and all pervading power, I am fully prepared to maintain, that this new life is necessary alike for all.
In the spiritual world there is the same proportion and fitness of things, as in every other department of our emotional life. A child who has had much forgiven, will, comparatively, love much. And to the emotion, proper to the first perceptible dawn of the divine life, however and whenever its still earlier germ may have been implanted, will, ordinarily, be proportioned very accurately to these two elements, the intensity of the emotional nature of the subject of the work of grace, and the foregoing and immediate occasions for calling forth such emotions. The rule will not always be, the greater the number, magnitude and aggravation of the sins to be repented of, and the, more manifest the emotional character of the individual, the greater the distress of mind: for besides the infinitely various measures in which the Holy Spirit reveals the evils of the heart and life, there is no uniform rule by which the intensity of different emotional natures may be estimated. The more superficial and passionate natures, very often are incapable of deep emotion, whilst persons quiet in their ways, and even cold and repulsive in their manner, are proved by fit occasions, to be capable of the deepest and most abiding feelings. And still, no doubt, two things may safely be conceded, that the more evil the course before conversion, provided the inward perception of the enormity of these offenses be proportionate, and provided, also, that the emotional nature prove really as passionate as had been supposed; then the conviction of sin will be found to be in a proportion compounded of both those elements. And I cannot conceive the denial to be possible on the part of those who look with greatest suspicion upon conversions of this type; that amongst men of the highest mark in the ranks of the ministers, missionaries and martyrs of our God, in every age and country, are to be found those whose conversions have been signalized by the mightiest throes and agonies of the [22/23] new birth:--such as St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, Luther, Bunyan, John Newton, and a long list of illustrious names, of whom, most emphatically, the world was not worthy. The error and the evil has been, on the one hand, of making these marked instances, the model and standard of all other cases of conversion; and on the other, maintaining that because no change in the outward life was needed, no change of heart was called for, or indeed was possible.
Contrary to all this, cases have occurred in the ministry of nearly every middle-aged clergyman, whose life has been devoted, not so much to the external growth of the Church, as to the increase of the number of its devout members, of persons whose outward lives could not be mended; and yet, whose inward experience of the life and. power of religion, has been remarkably vivid and intense.
NEEDED ALIKE BY ALL.
Intelligent and impartial observers, without experience on their own part, in common with such Christians, are exceedingly puzzled by these cases. It would be absurd to maintain that there is no reality in them, since the fruits remain, in an obvious and marked degree. And it would be equally absurd to turn over all such cases to the domain of fanaticism, for all the facts are at variance with any such supposition. And I shall, therefore, pass on to show that though such cases may be rare, they are by no means unreasonable, and by the light of the subject 1 have in hand, there is nothing easier than to account for them.
Let it be granted that the laws which govern the voice and action of our consciences, are less known than those of any other part of our spiritual being, and I think it will be conceded that none can properly estimate before hand, what its dictates should be, or how clamorous and pungent its convictions, in any given case. Every day, by what we see and hear, we are alternately and equally amazed at its apparent torpor in some cases, and its scorpion-like scourges, and the wild outcries of its victims, in others. Who can say what the voice of his own enlightened conscience, restored to a lively and healthy sensibility might be, when only sitting severely in judgment on his secret faults, and the sins of his thoughts, imaginations and desires? Is it [23/24] not more than probable that "none could look upon a naked human heart and live," even were it his own soul, should conscience and the Holy Ghost, by its office, first reveal it to itself, and then impartially point out its deformities? With such considerations before us, it will not seem at all improbable, that for reasons satisfactory to Him who is supreme and sovereign over all his creatures; he may sometimes reveal great offenders to themselves, only partially and gently, in a manner just sufficient to drive them to the cross; whilst, to strip them of their self righteousness, and to stain the pride of all human glory, the hearts of some of the most blameless and amiable people upon earth, may be so opened and revealed to them, as to constrain them to loathe themselves as inexpressibly vile in the eyes of infinite purity, and to humble themselves in dust and ashes!
SENSE OF INBRED SIN.
This seems to me to be emphatically true, when we look at the doctrine of original sin, not theoretically or captiously, but practically, as it has often been brought to bear upon the conscience, by the power of the Holy Ghost. I know not how otherwise to account for that anguish of soul, in the case of the penitent David, under the influence of which, at the moment when "blood guiltiness" wrung the most agonizing expressions from his conscience, lie was heard to exclaim, "Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me!"
Born into this world the child of the wicked one and not of God, and therefore, of necessity, the child of wrath! Banished from all holy precincts and all holy company! Alienated from the presence, the life and the love of God! Incapable of appreciating, of choosing, of cherishing any thing that could exalt us to sympathise with angels, or to walk with God! Looked upon by them, it may well be, with infinite commiseration, but with emotions of dislike and alienation, which we can express only by the terms of hate and abhorrence, even as God must abhor every impure and evil thing! With their light let into the soul, and their estimate and sense of things imparted to the conscience, which I suppose constitutes the very essence of every true conversion, what can possibly be the result, but such loathing of [24/25] ourselves, such searchings of heart, such compunction, such outcries for mercy and for cleansing, as the unconvicted and unconverted, are not at all likely to comprehend?
A moments further reflection will be sufficient to show that only a very gross and material conception of the nature of sin, could have ed to the erroneous impression which I am combatting. Just as if conscience and the God of conscience, could only take cognizance of those crimes with which the law of the land has to do! Why, the very public conscience, erroneous as its decisions often are, is more enlightened than that, and reprobates an unnatural son who would suffer his mother to starve, or an aged grand-parent to be succoured or buried by strangers, more severely, than it does on a defaulter or a felon. The want of natural affection and of gratitude, is more resented, than many a trivial breach of the laws of the land.
How naturally then, does it come to pass, when this spiritual discernment is once restored to a man of many external virtues, that he should turn his view from the outward to the inward man; from life-sins to heart-sins--from sins hurtful, and therefore hateful to men--to sins still more hateful to God, because committed more immediately against him!
I will here select only the sin of ingratitude, and limit my remarks, for the present, to temporal benefits. The ability to conceive of the excellence and beauty of this virtue, is not confined to generous and cultivated natures. Courage and heroism are much more common amongst savages, and they are more promptly and universally appreciated, perhaps; but rare as the virtue of gratitude is, amongst the baser sort of savages, the perception of the excellence and loveliness of it in others, is one of the most irrepressible of their instincts. A man who is treacherous to a friend, or false to a generous benefactor; or cruel to a kind and indulgent parent, is everywhere, even amongst savages, looked upon and treated as the dregs of society and off-scouring of all things! In what estimation then must a noble and [25/26] generous nature, when once enlightened, hold itself, when constrained to confess, that there is no ingratitude so black, as his towards the greatest benefactor--no return so base--as that which he has "rendered to the Lord for all his benefits towards him"--and no treatment so cruel as that which he has rendered to his Heavenly Father, and his compassionate Saviour! "The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master's crib; "but we, more unreflecting and more ungrateful, do not know our best friend; nor consider the greatest of benefits. There is no ingratitude like that of man towards the most bountiful and patient of all friends!
WORST KIND OF INGRATITUDE.
Even this, however, is not the worst of this sad case. We prove ourselves not only unconscious of the value of the gift, but most unnaturally, altogether unconscious of the exalted worth and merits of the giver, and most criminally forgetful of all that it cost Him, to place himself in a position, first to purchase the most inestimable benefits for us at an expense of suffering, enough to break the heart, which once begins to estimate them aright, and then pleadingly, lovingly to persuade us to accept of these benefits, almost forcing, them upon us; and we would not! Ingratitude for the gift of a Saviour--inability to appreciate his love, and long refusal to return that love, in kind; ah! this sin alone were dark and damning enough to close the doors of mercy and salvation on all mankind, even though to this had never been added the provocation of a solitary positive transgression.
And it is quite remarkable, and goes to show the reality, the substantial and almost perfect identity of feeling on the part of all persons really convicted of sin by the power of the Holy Ghost, that not only do the showy virtues of a merely moral life, pale their ineffectual light before the radiance of the cross, and the man of many virtues confess himself to be a sinner, because he has not loved our Lord Jesus Christ; but the most hardened and notorious offender is far less affected with a sense of the ingratitude and aggravations of his sins, as committed against law, and as having incurred an awful penalty, than he is, when he feels that they have been committed against love--against the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord! In other respects these different [26/27] classes of persons are very differently affected, but in this, which enters deeply into the very interior depths of the new life, they are affected precisely alike. They have alike neglected and rejected the great salvation, and the sense of the guilt of this sin out-weighs the burden of all others put together.
And well it may! What, confess to the charge of having no heart to perceive and appreciate the excellence and loveliness of such a character as that of the meek and lowly Jesus--no eye to take in and to be enraptured with, the light of that sun of righteousness, one ray of whose glory fills all Heaven with rapture? Is our fallen nature, so cold, so base, so unresponsive, that Christ has been in our midst for years; and yet we have not "beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, "though saints and angels and all the hosts of Heaven, feel their glorified natures thrilled with adoring and extatic emotion, when that name is barely named, which is above every name.
INSENSIBILITY TO SUFFERING LOVE.
Even this, again is not the worst of this sad case. The love of this Saviour for us, is no sublime abstraction--it is a suffering reality! It finds its fit expression in no spontaneous, pleasing overflow, but all its most fitting expressions are those of privation, of loss, of self-sacrifice, nor only negatively thus, but of positive life-long toil and pain, and sorrows, and at last of agony and death. And Christ has thus, all along, been set forth evidently crucified amongst us--the story of his life, and the sad recital of the last days of the Son of Man, have been as familiar to our ears as household words; and we have assented to it all, we have responded in the creed to the solemn profession of our belief in it all. And why have we not felt it? Why have we not been moved by it, as when a woman mourneth for her first born? No reason can be given, but an evil heart of unbelief--an heart, harder, as to such appeals, than the nether millstone! Is it at all to be wondered at, then, that when this simple and actual view of the true state of the case, is set before the soul of the most upright and blameless man that ever lived, by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, that he should make the woods and fields re-echo to his sighs and [27/28] groans, and water his couch with his tears, until the hope dawns upon his soul, that even he has not sinned past forgiveness, but that even for heart sins like his a fountain has been opened, in this same blood of atonement. The very blood which accuses, atones also, and the very act of forgiveness which binds up the heart, breaks it in pieces. And whatever shade of difference there may have been between them, has not been due, in the slightest degree, to the exemption of some, from those outward transgressions, which constitute, say some, the only occasion for conversion, or render it even possible; but solely to the measure of the illumination of the conscience, by the light of divine truth, and the degree of its restoration to a keen apprehension of secret faults.
THE CONTRASTS COMBINED.
As fitly at this point as any other, I may advert to the impression left, at the time on purpose, of the contrast between the working of the scheme of educational and traditional religion, as compared with that of emotional and personal religion. Leaving, as I intended to leave, a strong impression, that neglect as to the, right use of both, and culpable abuse of both, had resulted in evils between the magnitude of which it would be difficult to choose, I did not attempt to decide which of them was right or wrong, or whether the perfection of the Gospel scheme does not consist in the just proportions and perfect harmony of the two combined, wisely and efficiently administered as God graciously designed.
It is evident that the palpable abuse of either, is no good argument against its proper use; and also, that the great maxim, that "that which is best administered is best," is not without its just application to this question.
I prefer, however, here to resolve it, into its other consitituent elements and to consider for a moment, the working of the church system, as it is sometimes called, first aside from, and then in connection with what is sometimes spoken of, as the evangelical system.
And let me ask, whether along with this most simple announcement of the proposition, it is not at once self-evident that the first is the embodiment of that, of which the last is the very life and soul? And [28/29] so the question at once arises, can the body live, and feel, and act, however, fair in form or perfect in proportions, unless animated with the etherial spirit? For what is the casket without the gem which it should contain?
In the light of this comparison it is self-evident that they never can exist, in absolute and complete separation, every church system however perfunctory and however near the period of dissolution, having still the gospel breath of life in it, or it would sooner have expired. And so, no evangelical scheme, did ever yet long exist, in absolute separation from outward corporeity. The soul of Quakerism itself as far as it had a living evangelical soul, was clothed with a sort of stiff, precise and drab coloured corporeal form; without enough however, of either spirit or form, long to maintain its place amongst the habitations of men.
Extending my search through all the ages, I think that 1 perceive that the more simple the form which thoroughly embraces the church system, and the more entirely filled to the overflowing with (he very spirit of the Gospel, as for example, during the early persecutions before the conversion of Constantine--during the times that the Nestorians were successfully carrying the Gospel into Asia, and through the whole history of the noble missions of our Moravian Brethren, our holy religion has not only been clothed in her most heavenly beauty, but invested with her most conquering power.
From the time of Cranmer to the reign of the first Charles, in the rural districts of England, the two elements were not very badly mingled though both had fallen into neglect, insomuch that it is hard to tell which was most lacking sound churchmanship or warm-hearted evangelism. And since, through all the fluctuations and modifications of the revival of religion under the Wesleys and amongst the Evangelical Clergy of the Church of England, it has been evident, that aggression and progress have been very accurately proportioned to the excess of the evangelical element, and all that is safe and conservative more accurately proportioned to the preponderance of the church element.
In my own opinion, "what God hath joined together, no man has any right to put asunder!" And those dioceses and those churches [29/30] in which the church system is carried out most simply and noiselessly, at the same time that little or nothing is said about it in the pulpit; but where Christ and him crucified is preached with most unction and power, and where the office and work of the Holy Ghost is set forth most prominently, will continue to give proof of unequalled prosperity.
EXTENT AND SUDDENNESS OF THE CHANGE.
I have no disposition here to split hairs upon those long contested points, the directness, suddenness and extent of this renewal of a fallen or sinful nature, or to discuss any one of the wire-drawn theories concerning its origin, or the instruments divinely employed to bring it about. My chief concern has been to enforce its reasonableness, its necessity, and the universality of that law, which requires it, of every son and daughter of Adam, as an indispensible preparation, for the cheerful performance of duty, in a loving and acceptable manner, here, and the enjoyment of Heaven hereafter.
And far from joining in the outcry that the old and decayed branches of the Church and certain fashionable members of several branches of degenerate Protestant churches now deny, that there is any-such thing as a change of heart, I the rather fortify the proof of the doctrine, by maintaining that its reality and truth are, and ever have been, universally admitted. An imperfect nature in all men, even in the best, is confessed by all, and the fact of a fall denied by but very few:--and the restoration of the soul to the image and favor of God, and to a state which shall render duty spontaneous and delightful, must be admitted to be the only adequate remedy for this imperfection, be it more or less. And what is this but a change of heart.
THE CHARGE--LET NOT THEORY INVALIDATE THE ADMITTED FACT.
The charge which we do make, and which it were most easy to make good, and the very danger against which I would admonish the clergy, is the making void the doctrine by vain theories, worse than unprofitable. The Scribes and Pharasees did not deny the law, or question its authority or its necessity. Their crime consisted in making void that law by their traditions. And so the Greek and Roman branches of the Church, and sacramentarians of every type and every [30/31] school, do not pretend to deny the fact of a change of heart, or attempt to gainsay its absolute necessity; but I conceive that they do make void the doctrine by their false and worse than idle theories and their lax and pernicious practices. Even amongst the Romanists, the saints and the pietists are admitted to have reached this wonderful height of religious attainment; whilst the multitude of the unholy and profane are permitted to delude themselves with the fatal idea of the efficacy of the sacraments and the power of priestly absolution, as substitutes for that new heart, which alone can satisfy the divine requirements.
And, dear brethren in this ministry, let me most affectionately warn and charge you to abjure all those theories and speculations, which, in the opinion of the most jealous and sensitive, could even tend to the impression that this change is not a divine reality--that its necessity is not in all cases, equally and infinitely great; or that any gift can take the place of it; or, anything short of the grace of God, and the power of the Holy Ghost, can effect it in the heart of even the most blameless of human beings. Nor only so, I would have you guard yourselves most carefully against allowing any thing whatsoever to supercede this one great object and aim of your ministry, to bring all the members of your flock to the knowledge and experience of religion in their own souls.
In the early struggles of an infant diocese, suffering, like ours, under a want of all things, where parishes are to be organized, churches to be built, schools and colleges to be established and endowed, we are sorely tempted to hare our attention far too much directed to the putting up of the mere scaffolding and cementing the outward walls, to the neglect of the more spiritual and infinitely the most important part of our work, the conversion of sinners and the edification of the people of God. It is only for this, that parishes are organized and churches built, and ministers are commissioned and the whole economy of grace in God's Holy Church was ordained. All these are only the means. The end is the conversion, renewal and sanctification of all the elect of God. Drive at that, with all your faculties, powers and energies. Let nothing turn you aside from it, day or night. "Be instant in season, out of season--reprove, rebuke, exhort--"that so [31/32] you may "both save yourselves and those that hear you." And be troubled and distressed, and humble yourselves in dust and in ashes, whatever other apparent good may attend your ministry, unless you are wise to win souls to Christ.
My heart is unutterably distressed and grieved, when I observe the time, attention and zeal which are all needed to secure the thing itself, most unprofitably directed to some theory or other, with regard to the divinely appointed mode of communicating it, and the instrumentalities to be employed, by us, to that end. Whatever in the pulpit usurps the place of topics fitted to convince of sin, to "shut us up to the faith which is by Christ Jesus, our Lord," to lead to the salvation of the soul, and the increase of personal piety, must operate most perniciously, and if persisted in, must prove most injurious to the souls of men.
But when the theory itself is erroneous--when it substitutes what man may do, for that which God must do, when it misnames natural virtues and instinctive morality, and extols them as the fruits of the spirit, and as evidences of a renewal which renders conversion unnecessary or impossible; and worse still, when it puts baptism in the place of spiritual regeneration, and urges the reception of Confirmation and the Lord's Supper as effectual means, aside from the efficacy of repentance, faith and prayer, for the implantation of the germs of a new nature; ah! then it is, that I feel how great the danger is of substituting the sign for the thing signified; and resting satisfied with the theory of regeneration, whilst strangers to its reality.
HAVE WE OURSELVES EXPERIENCED THIS CHANGE?
I cannot put it in the form of a charge to you, dear brethren, but must apply it equally to myself, that it becomes us all, above every thing else, to look to the state of our own hearts. If unconscious of our own guilt and misery, how can we speak feelingly of those of others, or in a manner to make them feel? If we have never felt ourselves our own infinite need of a Saviour--how can we warn others to flee from the wrath to come; or never admired and loved the glory of his work and office as a Saviour and Redeemer, how can we recommend the lost to look to Him? And if we have never ourselves felt [32/33] the life-giving touch of the Holy Spirit, how can we point Him out to others as the Lord and Giver of life? If without personal religion ourselves, we undertake to recommend it to others, would it be strange if they were to turn fiercely upon us and exclaim, "Physician, heal thyself!"
To speak of a minister of Christ, as possibly an unconverted man, at first sounds revoltingly harsh and censorious. And most certainly unless we were first perfect ourselves (in which case it is presumed that no temptation to do so would ever arise in the mind,) or were certain that God had endowed us with the discernment of spirits, it would very ill become any of us, so to speak of any apparently good man. But to speak of it as a common danger to which we are all alike exposed, must be consistent with charity, because it is salutary and safe, and coincides exactly with the wholesome fear, which led even St. Paul to tremble, "lest having preached to others, he himself should prove a castaway."
A radical deficiency here must inevitably communicate a moral paralysis to all our pulpit powers. If we have never ourselves been converted, where will be cur passionate and life-long earnestness to lead others to conversion? How can we describe with emotion and true eloquence, what we have never ourselves experienced?
And if on account of some palpable deficiency like this, our discerning hearers, or, if you please, the most captious and fault finding of our hearers should complain that we do not believe in a change of heart, because we do not preach it, whom have we to blame but ourselves? For surely within the whole compass of Gospel truth, there is not another doctrine upon which it is more important that our trumpet should utter no uncertain sound. Most assuredly if the signs of our Apostleship in this respect were clear, the evidences of our conversion well defined, and our solicitude for the conversion of others, some little like that which animated the bosom of apostolic men, there could not possibly remain any reasonable ground for doubting what we held and taught upon the subject!
MAGNIFY AND EXALT THE OFFICE AND WORK OF THE HOLY GHOST.
However guarded and cautious I may feel constrained to be on this [33/34] point, I feel quite strong and confident with regard to the next which I have in charge: and am very bold and decided when I admonish you to take good heed to your ministry, as far as giving a most prominent and conspicuous place in it, to the work and office of the Holy Spirit.
Room may yet remain for speculations upon the origin of evil; and the nature and extent of original sin--and a wide margin, if you please, for theories with regard to the effect of baptism, and the time when, and the manner in which the first germ of the new life is imparted to the soul; but lean hardly concede that a like space remains for speculation and theory with regard to the work and office of the Holy Ghost. At the time, when, at Nice, the belief was recorded that "He was the Author and Giver of Life," it is more than probable that the true theory with regard to them had not yet been clearly and dogmatically defined; and that the views commonly entertained by the Fathers, referred somewhat more to his visible office, and miraculous influences than in after times; and somewhat less to his ordinary operations, in enlightening the understandings of all the people of God, in changing their affections and controlling their wills. But however that may be, I deem it certain that afterwards, by St. Augustin and men of his school, by Bernard and the saints of his age, by the pietists of all ages, and especially by those of the times of the Jansenists; the whole mystery of the life of God in the soul of man; the entire workings of the human heart, in the whole process of conviction, conversion and sanctification, were subjected to so severe and exact a scrutiny, that nothing further was needed than the application of the most inductive and logical of the reformed minds, of the 17th century in England; to reduce it to so exact and scientific a statement, that I gravely doubt whether, in all coming ages, it will be susceptible of any appreciable additions, or liable to any valuable modifications. The Puritan divines added nothing to, though they expatiated very ably and much more largely upon, what can be found recorded, upon this subject, in the works of Taylor, Barrow, Usher, Andrews, Hopkins, Bedell, Bull, and Hall. And in no other productions, in any other language through all the ages, can statements so full, so clear, so guarded, so convincing, so doctrinal and so exhaustive, be found [34/35] upon this great Pentecostal truth--the more full revival and development of which seems to have been the very life's blood of the times of the Reformation
It would seem to me that no truly converted man can possibly set down to the study of the voluminous works of these illustrious men, without perceiving, all along, "as face answereth to face in the glass," that he is engaged in anatomizing and dissecting his own soul, counting off, one by one, the way marks, in the progress of his own religious experience, and adding another to the countless number of witnesses, that it is thus that the Holy Ghost deals with his chosen ones. The disposition to carp and find fault, would, from the very first, be disarmed, by the still stronger disposition to approve and admire.
And for my own part, I can hardly conceive of an instance of presumption and hardihood more adventurous, than for any man in these degenerate days, however highly endowed by nature, to set up a scheme of his own, even against such works of the cyclops as these; or invite us to receive a theory of the divine influences, differing in any thing, from that pattern shown to these saints of the Most High God upon the Mount, and upon coming down lo us from the contemplation of which, we have beheld their faces, as if they had been those of the Angels!
To preach the gospel as it was preached by these worthies, to treat of the nature and necessity of true conversion as they did, to portray all the hopes and fears, all the struggles and conflicts, all the joys and sorrows of this most inner life, as they felt and discoursed of it, would give scope and aim large enough for the greatest and best of our divines. And the nearer the great preachers of the Church of England in the eighteenth century came to these models, the more largely Cecil, and Romayne, and Newton, and Simeon, drew from these inexhaustible resources, the more abundantly was their way strewn with the fruits of righteousness and true holiness. And our own most successful ministers, Bishops Moore and Griswold, and Henshaw, followed by an host of only less illustrious names, our Milnors, Bedell's, Jackson's, and Gallagher's; sought and found the chief and most successful weapons of their ministry, next to the prayerful study of the Bible itself and the silent, powerful and congenial influence of the prayer book, in [35/36] those views of conversion, of the exercises and emotions proper to a renewed nature, and of the work and office of the Holy Ghost, in that great armory of which I am now speaking. And I am persuaded that the more we use the like weapon, the more valiant and successful, dear Brethren, shall we be, in fighting the Lord's battles in our day!
To shut out these topics from our pulpits, or to assign to them a subordinate and secondary place, or worse still, to supply their place with any newly vamped up theory of our own, would be to impoverish our people to the last degree of spiritual famine. Where else can we find topics various enough to sustain interest, or copious enough to impart instruction, or stirring enough to arouse attention, or personal enough to touch the heart, or thrilling enough to awaken its emotions, or mighty enough to control the will? A pulpit of one idea, resembles an organ with one pipe, its utterance may be very shrill, but must soon become most painfully monotonous. But a pulpit which dwells as much on the work of the Holy Spirit, as on the perfect atoning merits of Christ, on the inward experience of the life and power of religion, as upon its outward expression in the proprieties of life, which is, to say the least, as copious upon the subject of conversion as it is upon the subject of baptism, and makes as much of emotional religion, as of that which is traditional--a pulpit which is by no means void of moral discussion, or meagre on educational and Church training, but is immeasurably more full and on fire, upon the greater verities of the Bible, is like a full toned organ, where every stop contributes its share to the majestic harmony of the whole.
It, appears to me that this is no more than the honor which is due to the Lord and giver of life; and that one of the great and all-pervading laws of his influence, in the kingdom of Christ, is this: "He will honor those who honor Him;" just as, in the providential government or God--providence will favor those who trust in providence, and for a like reason. He who believes in this last very precious truth, will take great care to place himself in harmony with all the laws of providence; and then, of course, God will be upon his side.
So, if we honor the Holy Ghost in our preaching and the whole manner of conducting our ministry--if we exalt His office and His work, if we feel and teach, that without Him we are nothing, that of [36/37] ourselves we cannot think a good thought, or perform a good action of the lowest class, why then we shall be at pains to place ourselves in harmony with the principles of His influence, in the spiritual world. We shall be upon our guard lest we grieve the Holy Ghost, we shall wait for His sweet and all-powerful grace, in all the ways of his appointment--in ministering and receiving all the ordinances and sacraments of the gospel, in the careful early religious training and education of our children, in the noiseless but perpetual application of alt the appliances of social and public worship, in the faithful, searching and pungent preaching of the word of God; and above all, in diligent prayer for the gift of the Holy Ghost, in all his ordinary converting and sanctifying influence.
This grace is not limited or partial. On the other hand, the most fit comparison with which I have ever seen it compared, is, to the sun in the firmament--always, night and day, pouring his effulgent beams over and through all creation. If lacking to the earth at midnight, it is not because they are not given forth, but because the earth has turned her face from him; if too few in winter, it is because they are received askance--and if wanting at any other lime, it is on account of intervening mists or clouds.
So "our gracious God is always more ready to hear than we to pray, and wont to give more than we either desire or deserve," and if his face is averted, it is only because our sins have separated between the Holy Ghost and our own souls. The mists of ignorance and error, and the clouds of passion, the dust of worldliness, and the darkness of doubt and unbelief hinder His beams from reaching the good seed which has been sown in our hearts, and rendering it fruitful unto eternal life. It is by a gentle and docile spirit--by faith and prayer, that we place ourselves beneath his genial and life-giving beams, and drink in that heavenly warmth which can alone make our souls alive to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.