A Man Bewildered Among Many Counsellors
REVISED AND ENLARGED.
The old is better.--Luke v. 39.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1835, by
JOHN W. MITCHELL,
(as Treasurer of the General Protestant Episcopal Sunday School Union,)
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.
PREFATORY NOTE TO SECOND EDITION.
A new edition of this Tract having been called for, the Author has carefully revised it, and has, he would fain hope, rendered it more complete, by the introduction of two additional Letters.
He acknowledges his indebtedness for many of the most valuable thoughts in the Letters now added, to one set over him in the Lord; whose judgment, at least in matters of experimental religion, no Churchman will fail to respect. This circumstance encourages the Author to hope that his humble effort to set the great doctrines of the Gospel in a clear and distinct point of view, may not be altogether unavailing.
 MY GOOD FRIEND,
WE often hear it said, "It makes no difference what a man believes, so his heart is right." Your case most forcibly reminds me how false that maxim is. How can I doubt your sincerity when you tell me that you are anxious to do what is right? that whenever you can find out the truth, you are ready to embrace it; whenever you can see your duty, you will perform it at every hazard? But you are tossed upon the sea of conflicting opinions, and cannot for the life of you tell which way to go.
Now see what a difference it does make with you. You have never become a regular member of any denomination of Christians. You have no particular religious attachments, and of course have no regular habits of worship; you are all things by turns, and nothing long. You feel no special interest in any one congregation or religious society; so that it is the business of no one in particular to look after you; and your contributions to good objects are too much scattered to produce any decided effect, or to let you see the good fruit thereof. Your children are growing up around you without any decided religions views, or any intelligent understanding [5/6] of the Gospel, and its privileges and obligations. You are restless, uncomfortable, and turned about by every wind of doctrine. You are a mechanic without a trade, a soldier in the army, belonging to no regiment or company, with no uniform on, without special claim on any one in particular for guidance, rations, or medical attendance.
Verily, my friend, I believe the worst choice you could make is better than no choice at all, and I dare not conceal my fears, that if you try to get to heaven all alone, you will starve to death, or break down by the way, and so meet with bitter disappointment. "The journey is too great for thee," my brother. God himself tells you so, and has provided a variety of helps and means to keep up your strength and to prevent you from going astray.
Believing that your comfort, your usefulness in life, and your safety too, depend greatly upon your taking a decided stand, and that very shortly, "I also will show my opinion," and beg that you will give it value just so far as it commends itself to your own good judgment and sober reflection. I must remind you too, that God must help us, or we cannot even see the truth, and beseech you to lay aside for a moment what you have in hand, that you may ask for his Holy Spirit to clear away the mists of error and prejudice from your eyes, and to enable you to say most heartily, "That which I see not, teach Thou me."
I proceed then to state as distinctly as I can, what I understand to be the difficulties which lie in your way.
You say, that you have been reading the Bible all your life, and understand it no better than you did at first; that almost [6/7] every doctrine has some text to support it; that the last man you talk to, puts you to silence if he does not convince you; that it is a hopeless task for a plain man like you to compare the merits of all the various religious denominations; and that you have tried your very best to become converted, and have never been able to succeed. And your conclusion is, that one way is as good as another; that you will wish well to all, do the best you know how, and entreat the Lord Jesus to be very merciful to a bewildered and frail creature.
Now, if I undertake to guide you out of this tangled wilderness, I must be allowed to do it in my own way. I must ask you to have patience with me, and to hear me out before you say my opinion is worth no more than any other man's. As mine, it is worth just nothing at all; but if it be supported by plain, sensible reasons, it may be worth a good deal. Let us then look at this matter of denominational controversies.
Suppose I were to tell you that you, even you, not a book-learned man, ought to acquaint yourself with the disputed points, and to draw a conclusion of your own, you would, doubtless, think me very extravagant in my requirements. But let me ask, can you tell, without putting yourself to some little pains, that success is so hopeless? You remember that case which excited so much attention at our last Circuit Court. You were on the jury. There were some thirty or forty witnesses examined. Some told the truth as they believed it, others plainly leaned to one side; and others again were generally believed to have lied outright. They contradicted each other about the facts of the case, and as for their opinions, who could reconcile them? Half [7/8] a dozen lawyers wrangled over the merits, and thick was the dust of controversy. At one time it appeared to me hopeless to see through the mist. But you were sworn, with eleven other plain men, to decide the matter justly; and in the end you did very confidently render a verdict, affecting in no small degree the character and interest of the parties. And how did you come to your conclusion? Why, first of all, you perceived that a great deal that was said was without special importance, and you threw all that on one side as rubbish. You found something agreed to on all hands, and you put that in a safe place as true. When the case came to be argued, you saw, by the help of the lawyers, that its merits hinged upon two or three questions; and to these you gave your chief attention. Although no lawyer, your own good sense, and the Judge's charge, supplied you with some sound rules of judging, by which you could be guided. And thus you made up your mind.
Now, all the conflicting parties in religion have their representatives; the chief arguments are contained in books or tracts that are cheap, accessible, and that do not require a very long time to read. And upon examination you would find that there are many points of agreement, and that the controversy is capable of being narrowed down far more than one might suppose.
Indeed, you plain men are too modest; too diffident of your abilities. I see you constantly examining and deciding questions that are very profound, while you do but peep into this and draw back in alarm. You, for instance, are very decided in your political opinions; and although some of the [8/9] most eminent men in our country have held the opposite opinion, you do yet stoutly deny the constitutionality of a United States Bank; you do not scruple to bring your neighbors to your way of thinking, and you act upon it at the polls by your vote.
Are we not in danger, then, of making too much of the difficulties in the way of religious inquiry? May it not be that if men would bring to these inquiries just that honest, attentive, candid spirit which they carry into the jury-box, they would arrive at just and satisfactory conclusions?
Indeed, I do not fear to affirm, that the time spent in one year in reading the political newspapers, if devoted to the serious and attentive perusal of but a few standard authors, would put a man of ordinary intelligence, in possession of clear and distinct views as to the points usually controverted, and enable him to form a judgment thereon. Religion, like other things, must be studied in order to be understood. Time, patience, and a willing mind must be brought to its investigation. Men must take trouble, if they would find out anything worth knowing.
"He that by the plough would thrive,
Himself must either hold or drive."
 MY WORTHY FRIEND,
I NOW proceed to consider what you urge about the difficulty of understanding the Scriptures, and about the ease with which very opposite doctrines are proved out of the same books and passages; and here let us take care not to state these points too strongly, nor to leave out those limitations necessary to make your positions strictly true. I will grant most freely that an ingenious and plausible man can make anything out of anything, whether in politics, law, or religion; for the difficulty is in no way peculiar to religion; provided, however, that you permit him to select his own points, to put his own meaning upon words, and to put his own notions into other people's mouths. But if you require him to give you reasons, instead of assertions, and try what he says by certain common-sense principles, which are in everyday use, he may puzzle you a little, but you can plainly see that the case is not proved. In other words, if you do, besides listening, turn things over in your mind, and take the trouble to measure and weigh what is said to you, you will be able to find good and substantial reasons why some things are to be believed and some to be rejected.
 Let me mention some of these principles by which you may try what you hear. One text must not be explained so as flatly to contradict another text; it must not be taken out of its proper connection; nor must we forget the times when and the circumstances under which it was written. We must not build up an important doctrine upon one single text, and that of obscure meaning; and if a man propounds a new doctrine,--one that all the fathers and martyrs and wise and holy men of past ages knew nothing of,--we need pay him no attention, unless he presents the most powerful and convincing reasons to show that all the world has been wrong, and that he is the man to whom wisdom appertains. You are not bound to follow every man through the fog in which he has involved himself. For instance, you sit down and read, in your Bible, how Cornelius, a Gentile, prayed to God; that God said, his prayers and alms had come up before him; that he sent Peter to him, who acquainted him with the Gospel and baptized him. Now, should your neighbor ply you for hours with his new doctrine, that an unbaptized man must not pray, and bring up the finest arguments in the world, your own good sense should lead you to say, Your arguments must be wrong; for here is a plain case in which an unbaptized man prayed, and God heard his prayers. I do insist that if you will think as well as read--judge as well as hear --make men give you good reasons why you should suppose that a text means something entirely different from what it seems to say--you would not be so perplexed, and with some security could reach the conclusion,--this man speaks truth, and that one is mistaken.
 In truth, laziness is a besetting sin of nearly all of us; we do not like to take trouble, especially in the way of thinking. To hear a man talk, and to fall in with what he says, is easy; to reflect upon it is labor. And I must remind you, very seriously, that you are just as much responsible to God for your opinions as for your practice. Nobody's judgment can excuse you for not using your own.
And now let me ask, Is it strictly true that you have learned nothing certain and definite from reading the Bible? I candidly admit that it contains many things hard to be understood, and capable of being perverted; that it is not easy to derive from it a scheme of Divinity; and that many of its topics are so mysterious that men will always differ about them. When we remember that the Bible is a collection of books written by many individuals, at various periods of the world, and in languages now disused; when we consider how many allusions there are to things and customs unknown in our day, and that it treats of the sublimest and most awful subjects known to man; it would be strange that a man could understand it thoroughly by merely reading it. You need a teacher; and I shall endeavor to show, by and by, that God has appointed you a teacher, and that it is a dangerous thing for a man to think that any notion or impression which he may have got by reading the Bible, as people generally read it, is what the Bible teaches us, as God's truth.
Besides mysterious doctrines, however, the Bible relates facts, and enjoins duties; and I do not hesitate to affirm that, in relation to these, you need be at very little loss; and [12/13] moreover, that you have already tolerably distinct and clear views about them. You have no doubt upon your mind that the Bible reveals to you God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. It declares, as distinctly as human language can express the truth, that Jesus Christ, his Son, and our Lord, was conceived by the Holy Ghost; born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried; that the third day he rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven; that he sitteth on the right hand of God, and from thence shall come to judge the quick and dead. You do not doubt that there is a Holy Ghost; that Christ established a Holy Universal Church; that he revealed to us the Remission of sin, the Resurrection of our bodies, and Life everlasting.
There is not one of these propositions but what is capable of being proved beyond all doubt or controversy. Of this much, at least, you yourself, I believe, are thoroughly persuaded. And these very propositions were collected together before there was any division between the Eastern and Western branches of the Church, fifteen hundred years or more ago, into what is called the Creed, and were declared by the Church to constitute all that is absolutely necessary for a Christian man to believe. Bear this Creed in mind, for we must come back to it after a while.
I think we have found this much, at least, that is not to be disputed. Let us turn our thoughts to the precepts. Do you doubt at all that the Bible teaches the necessity of Repentance, Faith, Charity, and Holiness? I do not see how you can entertain even a suspicion on these points. The Ten [13/14] Commandments are not hard to understand. The duties of being baptized and of receiving the Holy Communion are most expressly enjoined, and are not mentioned in any dark or mysterious way.
If you cannot understand all of a man's speech, you can hardly misunderstand the general purport of it, unless he is trying on purpose to bewilder you. And so you can hardly have failed to catch the one great idea of Scripture, the general strain and spirit and design of it; viz., that man is very guilty and very sinful; that Christ, to remove our guilt, stood in our place and suffered in our stead; that to remove our sinfulness and make us holy, he sent his Holy Spirit to convert us and change our sinful natures; that we must own our guilt and be sorry for it, must put our case into the hands of Christ and trust in him for pardon; that we must pray for the help of his Spirit, walk in his laws, and forsake our sins.
Is the Bible, then, a book of riddles, when you can see in it a uniform and glorious plan for saving sinners? When its historical outline, its great facts, are told with the utmost simplicity, and precepts given which apply to every circumstance of life?
My good friend, you see that you have learned a great deal, you believe a great deal. You already know enough to make it your plain duty to live soberly, righteously, and godly; to be diligent in prayer; to restrain your sinful appetites; to guard against the love of money; and, in fine, to make it your chief study to find out the will of God, and your great business to perform it. Acknowledge then frankly [14/15] to yourself that you have learned much from your Bible; and continue diligently and prayerfully to read in it by day and meditate therein by night; nor let the difficulty of understanding what is darkly spoken, be an excuse for neglecting that which is written as with a sunbeam. Scripture has shallows in which a lamb may wade, as well as depths in which an elephant may swim. An earnest spirit can readily learn enough to place itself within the limits of pardon; for "if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved;" rescued from the condemnation and the power of sin. To find out all the duties binding upon you in the new relation of God's child and friend, is, indeed, a life-long business, a matter requiring thought and effort and anxiety. Do first what you know you ought to do, and what you know how to do, and having thus been faithful even in a very little, more light and knowledge shall be given you.
 MY DEAR FRIEND,
I FEAR that by this time you are ready to consider me one of Job's comforters; and to conclude that I do not appreciate your honest difficulties. But indeed I do appreciate them, and having showed wherein they were overrated, I shall now acknowledge that, to a certain extent, they are real grounds of complaint.
The general spirit of the Bible, and a knowledge of the chief facts and duties therein contained, are not enough to satisfy a sincere inquirer after eternal life; he desires most naturally an acquaintance with all its holy teachings; and in order to secure his religious peace and progress, he must leave the first principles and go on to perfection, exchanging the sincere milk of the word for its more substantial nourishment. The question about the Church must be settled, and he must have his place in it, and reasons to repose confidence in it, or he cannot be a contented, useful, growing Christian. Indeed, he cannot fulfil one of the great terms of pardon, confessing Christ before men, without being baptized, and so becoming a member of the Church.
I have said heretofore that you needed a reliable teacher, [16/17] and now renew the assertion. Lock up a smart, good boy with a Latin grammar, a dictionary, and a few Roman authors, He may learn Latin; some have done so under these circumstances; but in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the experiment would fail; even if success followed in the hundredth case, it would be under great disadvantages, and the child would be months in finding out what a good teacher could have told him in five minutes. So a man may make himself a lawyer, by studying without any comment the volumes containing the law of his country, but it would be a very painful, laborious, and uncertain undertaking.
Now we have no reason to think that God ever designed that the world should be converted only, or chiefly, by reading the Bible. And I cannot agree with my neighbors who say, that all a man need do in order to be saved, is to read his Bible and pray. I would tell him to read and pray, and lay great stress upon those duties, but I could not let my advice stop there. Some think that to scatter Bibles is the greatest and most urgent business of Christians; and indeed it is a glorious thing to place the word of life in the hands of man; it does not follow, however, that because men have a Bible, they will read it; nor because they read it, that they will understand it, and obey its teachings. I repeat, man wants not only a Bible, but a reliable teacher to explain it, to enforce it, and to keep it before his mind. And while I do not know of any infallible teacher, who will not only instruct you, but do all your thinking for you, I do know a safe one, and shall, before I end, direct you to her.
When our Lord Jesus Christ went away into heaven, he [17/18] left to us his truth to make us free. Now, I think you may plainly see that three great means were devised in order that this truth may avail to our salvation. First of all, it was committed to writing, that there might be no mistake about it; in the next place, a ministry was appointed to hold it up before the eyes of men, that it might not be forgotten; and lastly, the Holy Spirit was sent to open our hearts, so that we may love it and embrace it. When the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading his Bible and trying hard to understand a difficult part of it, he felt that he needed some man to guide him, and God did send him a guide. I trust you will find your case like his.
Your general acquaintance with Holy Scripture assures you that Christ did establish a society called the Church, and set officers over it, and required every man to become a member of it. Let me ask you to notice some plain statements about this matter.
We do find Christian people exhorted to search the Scriptures; it was called "noble" to do so; they were told to prove all things; to count all Scripture profitable; and not to believe an angel from heaven who should contradict the word revealed. But the idea of converting men by putting in their hands copies of the Bible is nowhere found. Preaching was to be the great instrument of convincing and teaching men: "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." The living voice was to utter the words of life, and mortal hands to dispense its benefits.
And who was to preach? Everybody? Our Saviour appeared to more than five hundred brethren at once, after [18/19] his resurrection, but did not tell them to preach. No; he assembled the Eleven Apostles, and said, "Go ye and preach the Gospel to all nations," "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." So that preaching is a privilege and a duty assigned, not to all, but to a certain class of men. These Apostles were not only to teach men, but to baptize them, and thus receive them into God's family; they were to feed them, and admonish them, and to watch for their souls. We are directly told "God hath set some (officers) in his Church--first Apostles, secondarily Prophets, thirdly Teachers;" and the people are enjoined, "Now we beseech you, brethren, know them that are over you in the Lord, and admonish you, and esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake;" "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls as they that must give account." Thus, there are, you see, religious teachers to whose advice you must listen, and whose awful admonitions you are even bound to obey.
I would have you observe, again, that the Scripture has not a word to make us think that there was to be any other than this one Church of Christ. The Apostles were told to teach all nations; and they did teach them by nations, and gave to each nation the Church in its integrity. There was in the Apostles' days no division in the Church, except this necessary one of place. In one sense of the word, there were many Churches--the Church at Rome, the Church at Corinth, the Church at Jerusalem. But in the strict and proper sense, there was only one Church--the Catholic or Universal Church of Christ--and he who was a member of [19/20] it at Rome was a member of it at Corinth. Rival sects and names, like those we now have, were unknown in those holy days, and those who would make divisions and name themselves after men, were most sternly reproved.
Now, if you can find that Church which was planted by the Apostles among your nation, and which has stood in her place age after age, is it not, in the highest degree, probable that she is your teacher? And unless you have some reason to suspect her goodness, ought you not to listen first of all to what she has to say?
And now, methinks you are almost disposed to give me up; but bear with me a while. I promise, as an honest man, not to puzzle you, or to entice you into water deep enough to drown you. Let us look boldly at this question--What society of Christians is to me the true and lawful descendant of that Church spoken of in the Bible?
Do not say to me here, as sufficient to make me forbear any further speech, that there are two hundred denominations of Christians in the United States, and that it is hopeless to examine the merits of each. I am well aware that our country is divided up into a large number of sects and parties in religion, and were we to attempt to examine each and every one by itself, it would be an endless task. I propose, therefore, to simplify the matter by arranging them in what may be called groups, so that out of the two hundred some one hundred and ninety-seven or eight shall stand together. I do this without intending any disparagement to any body of Christians, and without meaning in any wise to confound them all together, as if all were equally near or [20/21] equally far off from primitive truth and order. That would be not only unjust but ungenerous and unchristian to a high degree. The truth is, that some of these many denominations are very near the truth, as held by the early Church; very many are heretical in several points; and some are sunk in the grossest and vilest heresies and denials of the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. For some of the manifold denominations about us, I have, then, great respect; for others, none whatever.
Let us arrange them thus, if you will: 1st, the Roman Catholic Church; 2d, the Protestant Episcopal Church; and 3d, the numerous Protestant sects or denominations. There are a few principles by which the Church of Rome is very plainly distinguished from the Episcopal Church, and a few others by which the Episcopal Church is distinguished from Rome and from all the Protestant denominations. This attitude of our Church is expressed in the name she has adopted to suit the state of things in our country. As Protestant, she is widely removed from Rome; as Episcopal, she differs essentially from all the societies with which you are acquainted.
I do not find that you, or those persons generally among whom my duty calls me, are much embarrassed by the claims of the Church of Rome; so that I need not dwell long upon them. I will, however, suggest a few reasons why we may suffer her pretensions to pass, for the present at least, unnoticed.
1. She is the Roman or Latin Church. Let Romans listen to her if they will. She is their mother, but none of [21/22] ours; and though she boasts that she is the Catholic Church, she has no more claim on us than the Greek Church or the Nestorian.
2. She does not, to say the least, encourage the reading or studying of the Bible, and so justly incurs the suspicion that her teachings are not conformed to it. It is all right for a Judge to say, "Gentlemen of the Jury--in deciding what this statute means, pray give attention to what I say, and mark well these decisions and authorities;" but I should much suspect that Judge who should forbid the Jury to take the law with them, and look at it for themselves.
3. She requires me to discredit the evidence of my eyes, my ears, my taste and smell, whereas Christ has expressly authorized me to trust my senses. Said he to the doubting disciples, "Handle me, and see that it is I myself." If handling Christ's body proved it to be his body, the same evidence proves that a piece of consecrated bread is not his body.
4. Her religious system does not accord with the general strain and purport of Scripture, of which at least we are competent judges.
5. Poverty, ignorance, and degradation, such as prevail in Italy and Spain, where Rome has had uninterrupted sway for centuries, cannot result from that pure form of godliness which has the promise of the life which now is, as well as of that which is to come.
Passing by these claims, then, let us contrast the Protestant Episcopal Church with the Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, and other denominations, and see why she has the first claim on your reverence. I shall endeavor to do this [22/23] with entire courtesy, and with unaffected good will to the persons of those whose opinions I deem, however sound in some things, to be wide of the truth in others.
Now, as you are not a Roman, or a Greek by nation, but an Anglo-Saxon, let us ask, Where is the old Anglo-Saxon Church?
The Church of England alone claims to have preserved an unbroken constitution from the days of the Apostles down to the present hour. The birth-day of all these other societies is fresh in the memory of man. Not one of them pretends to be the mother who nourished and brought up for ages upon ages successive generations of Englishmen.
The Church of England was founded, some say, by St. Paul himself; certainly by apostolic men. It has never changed its constitution; it has never died out; it has never lost its name and place in England. And the Protestant Episcopal Church in this country is a shoot planted here by her hands, to take care of her children who crossed the mighty deep.
It is true that, for a season, she was forced, not without earnest remonstrance, into submission to the Pope, and, in common with the rest of the Church, soiled her white robes; but it is equally true that in God's good time she was led to renounce the Pope, and she washed her vestments in the pure waters of truth. She was sick awhile, but never died. Samson slumbered, and the Philistines bound him, and sported with him; but he was Samson yet; and when his locks grew out again, he possessed all his former might. The Church of England is now, in form and constitution, what she always [23/24] was. She has been reformed, but never revolutionized; she has cast off Romish corruptions and errors, but has never lost her essential connection with the great Head of the Church; and her authority has been handed down, in regular order, from the very earliest days, without any break or violation of her essential and constituent principles. If, indeed, the "old is better," why leave that which has been the Church of your fathers, for sixty generations it may be, to try a new society?
The Providence then which caused us to be born of an Anglo-Saxon race, does also invest the Anglo-Saxon Church with the character and rights of our natural Guardian; and unless she has done something to forfeit that claim, we need go no further, but here stop and offer up our sacrifice.
I acknowledge, however, that if our mother Church becomes in name a Church, but in fact a synagogue of Satan, then a man's situation is one of serious embarrassment; and a Church which bears the symbols of authority, and has natural claims upon us, can no longer be confided in, when she either
1. Throws the Scriptures aside;
2. Ceases, in her teachings, to breathe the spirit of the Gospel;
3. Fails to bring forth the fruits of piety;
4. Abridges the true liberty of her children; or
5. Imposes unlawful or unreasonable terms of communion.
Let us examine these several points.
1. Is ours a Scripture-loving Church?
Church articles have been well compared to bank notes; [24/25] they are perfectly good so long as she pays cash on demand. Now, while the Church of Rome expects her notes to pass upon her sole credit, our Church is always ready with the pure gold. Listen to her doctrine; "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed, as an article of the Faith." When a priest is ordained, he must answer aye to this question: "Are you persuaded that the Holy Scriptures contain all doctrine required as necessary for eternal salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined out of the said Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach nothing as necessary to eternal salvation but that which you are persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture?"
Moreover, so much love, has the Church for the Bible, and so much confidence in the power of the Divine Word, that none of us, not even a Bishop, can preach upon a Sunday morning without there being read, first of all, several of the Psalms, two full chapters, one from either Testament, and a portion of one of the Epistles and of one of the Gospels. In fine, she uses every means to acquaint the people with the Bible, and distinctly avows her willingness for all her teachings to be tried by it.
2. Does she carry out the Gospel in her Teachings?
Just listen to that service. Adam Clarke, the Methodist, said that the Prayer-Book was, next to the Bible, "the book of his understanding and of his heart." I could quote numerous such testimonies. Take that Prayer-Book, and [25/26] show me the sentence which will not stand the three great tests of Gospel truth viz,, does it humble the sinner? exalt the Saviour? promote holiness? Is not the service full of heart religion? "O God, make clean our hearts within us." "Create and make in us new and contrite hearts," "May it please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances, and to endue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, to amend our lives according to thy holy laws." The Prayer-Book is full of Christ; everywhere it says to sinners, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world."
3. Has the Church brought forth the Fruits of Piety?
Mr. Barnes, a Presbyterian clergyman, shall answer this question for us. I quote his words:--
"We remember the name of Cranmer--Cranmer, first in many respects among the reformers; that it was by his steady and unerring hand, that, under God, the pure Church of the Saviour was conducted through the agitating and distressing times of Henry VIII. We remember that God watched over that wonderful man; that he gave this distinguished prelate access to the heart of one of the most capricious, cruel, inexorable, bloodthirsty, licentious monarchs that has disgraced the world; that God, for the sake of Cranmer, and his Church, conducted Henry, as 'by a hook in the nose,' and made him faithful to the Archbishop of Canterbury, when faithful to none else; so that, perhaps, the only redeeming trait in the character of Henry, is his fidelity to this first British prelate under the Reformation. The world will not soon forget the names of Latimer, and Ridley, and [26/27] Rogers, and Bradford; names associated in the feelings of Christians with the long list of ancient confessors, 'of whom the world was not worthy,' and who did honor to entire ages of mankind, by sealing their attachment to the Son of God on the rack, or amid the flames.
"Nor can we forget that we owe to episcopacy, that which fills our minds with gratitude and praise, when we look for examples of consecrated talent, and elegant literature, and humble devoted piety. While men honor elevated Christian feeling; while they revere sound learning; while they render tribute to clear and profound reasoning, they will not forget the names of Barrow and Taylor, of Tillotson, and Hooker, and Butler; and when they think of humble, pure, sweet, heavenly piety, their minds will recur instantly to the name of Leighton. Such names, with a host of others, do honor to the world. When we think of them, we have it not in our hearts to utter one word against a Church which has thus done honor to our race, and to our common Christianity. * * * * We have never doubted that many of the purest flames of devotion that rise from the earth, ascend from the altars of the Episcopal Church, and that many of the purest spirits that the earth contains, minister at those altars, or breathe forth their prayers and praises in language consecrated by the use of piety for centuries."
4. Does the Church protect the Rights of her Children?
In this respect she is far more careful than any religious society known to you. In the parish, the vestry (elected every year by the people) have entire control in all that relates to the property of the Church and the affairs of the [27/28] congregation. The people thus elect their own minister. They can appeal from his decision to the Bishop in cases of difficulty. In making laws and in electing officers, the people, by their chosen representatives from the various parishes, have exactly the same voice as the ministry; and that, in the State Conventions, and in the General Convention of the whole Church. In these bodies private Christians are often the most influential men; and without the concurrence of the laity, all the Bishops, and all the Clergy together, cannot pass any measure.
5. Is the Church Liberal, or has she imposed Unreasonable terms of Communion?
Listen to her own language: "What is required of those who come to the Lord's Supper? To examine themselves whether they repent them truly of their former sins, steadfastly purposing to lead a new life; have a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of his death, and be in charity with all men." Again "Dearly Beloved, on Sunday next I purpose, through God's assistance, to administer to all such as shall be religiously and devoutly disposed, the most comfortable Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ;" &c. And again: "Ye who truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways, draw near with faith," &c.
Is any truly converted man excluded here? any sincerely pious man refused a participation in the holy Sacrament?
Suppose now you are persuaded that you are a poor [28/29] sinner, with no hope but in the mercy of Christ, and desire to give yourself up to him in baptism. You wish to know what will satisfy me in point of doctrine. You suppose, probably, that I would ask you whether you believe all that is in the Prayer-Book; what your notions are about election, free-agency, and such deep matters. But I am not at liberty to do anything of the kind. "Dost thou believe the articles of the Christian Faith, as contained in the Apostles' Creed?" This is the question to which you must answer. You have seen before that this Creed is a summary of the chief truths of the Gospel, used in the Church from the earliest days. If you believe thus much, and come forward with a simple trust in Christ, you are at once entitled to the privileges of the Church, and she will teach you day by day all else you ought to know.
Let us dwell upon this for a moment, and we may see why it is, that our Church occupies the ground on which all must stand when our present divisions cease. Our Saviour knew that men would differ much in their opinions. We see that this difference happened at the very beginning of the Church. But men need not part because they differ. So our Saviour said, "Baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost." He made belief in the doctrine of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the only condition (conversion, being, of course, supposed,) of baptism. The early Church set out this doctrine in the Creed, and said all men may come in who believe thus much. But now the Church of Rome says, this will not suffice; you must avow your faith in Transubstantiation for instance. Our friends [29/30] of various names require you to acknowledge your faith in Calvinism, in Immersion, or in some peculiar set of opinions. Now, if we ever are to get together again, it must be by giving up all these and similar tests, allowing liberty of opinion about them, and allowing all to embrace the privileges of the Church who hold the fundamental truths of the Gospel, as set forth in the Creed.
Let me in this connection call your attention to the stability of the Protestant Episcopal Church.
It is a very remarkable fact that this Church has never been divided, either in England or in this country. Our other friends divide on questions of expediency and of politics, as well as of religion. They even dig a deep trench all along Mason and Dixon's line. Episcopalians, however, regard that man as a traitor and an enemy who would attempt to rend the Church in twain. Is it a mere chance, that while one religious body after another has been convulsed and rent asunder, threatening even the perpetuity of the social compact, this Church, notwithstanding differences of opinion within her pale, is quiet and at rest, upon the great and essential doctrines of the Gospel? Is it an accident, that while every other society, within a brief period, has been split into fragments, this Church preserves her integrity, and presents from age to age an unbroken and unshaken front to the hosts of Satan?
Now, my good friend, I have set before you a venerable Apostolic Church: the Church of your fathers, and of your race, from which the sects have from time to time severed themselves. A Church that loves the Bible, reads more of [30/31] it at one service than our other friends do in six, and that authorizes you to try all her teachings by Scripture. A steadfast Church, that holds together, and whose constant aim is to cultivate love and brotherly kindness when the fiercest passions are raging around her; and that never has been split. A Church that utters no other language than the earnest, gentle, soul-subduing language of the Gospel; that offers the privilege of her courts to all humble-minded believers without any exacting demands about deep and disputed points. A Church that has been adorned with Martyrs and Saints whose praise is known in heaven and on earth. A Church that is so arranged in its government as most carefully to guard her children from oppression. Is not she the Mother whom you seek? May you not with safety nestle by her altar, and rear your young children in her courts? I do not abuse those who differ from me, and love new things, but while I live will I maintain, THE OLD IS BETTER.
 MY DEAR FRIEND,
SUPPOSING that your mind is at rest upon the subjects thus far discussed, another difficulty is in your way. You say that you see no prospect of being able to come into the Church, because you have tried most honestly, and so far with no success whatever, to get through. [* This expression is peculiar to the south and southwest, amongst those who favor what are popularly known as "revivals." It is equivalent to what is meant by getting religion, sudden, instantaneous conversion, or the like, in other sections of our country.] Your case is not peculiar: I find very many persons who agree in saying, that they are anxious to be Christians; that they have attended on many "revivals," were the very first to go up to be prayed for, saw others converted by their side, but failed to obtain a hope.
I must here profess my solemn and abiding conviction of the truth, that "except ye be converted and become as little children, ye can in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven." And by conversion I understand, not a mere improvement in morals, not a mere outward conformity to the duties of religion, but a decided change of heart, life and character, [32/33] effected by the Holy Spirit, under the influence of divine truth and Gospel ordinances. Whenever I deny, forget, conceal, or disparage this great doctrine; whenever I cease to assert its necessity with zeal and distinctness; then may the Lord in mercy to his people make my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. But as for this phrase which is now in every body's mouth, in these parts, and the thing intended by it, I do enter my most earnest protest against them, and maintain that they are productive of the most serious and lasting evils.
I protest against the phrase because it is unscriptural; not one such expression is to be found anywhere in the Bible; because it is indefinite. "Father," said a little boy to a friend of mine, "what is it that they get through?" and who shall answer the child's question? because it is unbecoming and inconsistent with the respect we owe to holy things: how intolerable to describe a man's rescue from death to life as getting through!
Nor is the idea intended to be conveyed less false, unscriptural, and dishonorable to God. The process intended is just this: a man awakened to the importance of religion, must come forward before a large audience, and kneel or sit in a conspicuous place; the good people gather around him, some exhort, some pray, some sing. He is now a mourner, and if all is right, presently becomes very miserable: his friends now redouble their efforts: Don't you see a ray of light? don't you feel better? they inquire. After a certain lapse of time, if all goes well, the mourner begins to take comfort; he experiences the natural relief of tears, his heart [33/34] feels lighter; he rises to his feet and gives glory to God, and then he is said to have gotten religion, or to have got through! Is not this a fair picture of what commonly obtains in our country? and can any mark or trace of such a process be found in the Bible, or in the early Church?
There is here no serious deliberate choice; for many who have gone through this process assure me that reflection was impossible: there are here no deliberate resolutions against special sins, no opportunity to repair injuries, to become reconciled to enemies, and to do such other acts as are absolutely essential before a man has a right to consider himself pardoned. Bodily exercise is the most striking feature of the whole proceeding; the man seems to be endeavoring, with the assistance of others, to carry himself through a certain set of feelings, and to reach in the end a certain degree of joy and gladness.
This system hides Christ; for a man loses sight of Christ whenever he trusts in anything of his own; and if a man thinks he has to appease God, he had as well do so by prayers, fastings, alms, and stripes, as by prayers, groans, sighs, and lamentable exclamations.
A friend once asked me to converse with a servant who was in great trouble. He was very honest and upright, and for two years seemed to be absorbed in prayer all the time. I said to him after a little, "I think I can explain what you consider to be the way of being saved. You know you are a great sinner, and deserve to meet the wrath of God, and that he is now angry with you; but if you try to mend your ways and to do right, and keep on praying and striving, after [34/35] a while God will say, This is a sinner indeed, but then he is so sorry and so troubled, and tries so hard to do right, that it will not do for me to stay angry with him." The poor fellow's eyes sparkled as he said, "That is just what I am looking for; and when the Lord sees that is the way with me, he will let me through." Are these notions peculiar to the ignorant? are they not commonly entertained? And yet there is no Christ here: the sinner pleads his own case, and succeeds by his own efforts.
The consequences of this system are as bad as its theory. Of these converts, it is notorious that a large proportion soon sink into the mire; and others remain in the society to which they have attached themselves, while hypocrisy is attributed to them by the world. Some, indeed many, are sincere and do well, not because they got through; that was a disadvantage; but because they were led, by God's Spirit, to make in secret that serious, deliberate surrender of themselves to Christ, in which consists the reality of religion.
As a man put in charge of the Gospel, and deeply realizing the strict account I must render to the Judge of quick and dead, I earnestly advise you not to get through; not to fall in for one moment with these human inventions, but to be converted in the scriptural sense of that word.
In order to bring out this matter, I will ask you to consider three things.
1. What is it that hinders a sinner from being at peace with God?
2. What must he do to overcome that hindrance, and so to be at peace with him?
3. How shall he know that his peace is made with God?
 These questions comprehend the whole matter.
1. Now, as to the first, there was once a fearful difficulty. Man was guilty; the law demanded his life; and God was angry with him. But look you; Christ has come to stand in our place. He has atoned for our sin, suffered death in our stead, fulfilled and satisfied the law, and reconciled God to the whole world. If this were all, there would be no more to do; for God has not now to be appeased; no new sacrifice is demanded; there is not a shadow of unwillingness on the part of God to be at peace with us all.
Where is the difficulty then? We answer, in the sinner's will. The trouble is, not that he has done wrong, but that he justifies his wrong, and intends to renew it; that he despises mercy, and asks for justice; that he hates the Judge and Law, will not accept a pardon, and, even were he pardoned, would go forth only to incur a greater condemnation. Now, as Christ, by his death, removed every difficulty that existed on the part of God, so the Holy Spirit comes to remove those which are entirely our own. And if we can only be so persuaded of our guilt and danger, and of God's goodwill in Christ, that we will agree to accept pardon upon his terms and to do his will, the controversy is at an end, and we are reconciled to God. But this we would never be disposed to do, without the Spirit working in us and with us from first to last.
2. What, then, must a sinner do, in order to make his peace with God?
In a word, I would answer that he must accept freely the [36/37] offer of mercy made to him in Christ, embracing its provisions, and acceding to its conditions.
He must acknowledge the guilt of which he stands charged, and sincerely deplore it and repent of it. He must own his weakness, and, with humble prayers for help, set himself to amend his life. He must accept Christ as his only and all-sufficient Saviour, and plead nothing save his merits as a reason why he should be spared punishment. He must profess the faith of Christ, and make to him a solemn vow of love and service in the sacrament of Baptism, which is, besides, a means of imparting heavenly grace to his soul, and the appointed ordinance in which God pronounces his sins forgiven. In other words, religion consists not in emotion or excitement, however these may attend upon it; but it is, in the main, a choice--a solemn, grave, and deliberate choice--of mercy as our portion, and God's favor as alone able to make us happy. It is a change of views, affections, hopes, purposes, and desires.
If you will take the pains to examine the different instances of conversion recorded in the New Testament, you will find they all agree in this. Faith, an honest acceptance of Christ, preceded and accompanied by godly sorrow, and issuing in a religious profession and a holy life, is the great condition ever insisted on. Thus we find Paul suddenly arrested; for conviction is often sudden, and this was a miracle besides. First, arrested; secondly, inquiring Who art thou, Lord? and what wilt thou have me to do? thirdly, sorrowing for sin, for he was three days blind and fasting; and fourthly, he gives himself to Christ, and washes away his [37/38] sins in holy Baptism. Not one word is here about exhilaration or any getting through, but all is calm, deliberate, and serious.
Look at the case of the Ethiopian: 1st, inquiring the way of safety; 2d, hearing of Christ crucified; 3d, desiring to accept him as his Saviour; and 4th, baptized by Philip. What doth hinder me to be baptized? said he. Philip does not ask, in reply, whether he "felt comfortable," or "was happy." If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest, was his answer; and that answer is as good now as it ever was.
Look at Lydia: 1st, her heart is opened, and she attends to the preached word; 2d, she believes, "was judged faithful;" 3d, she is baptized and her family; 4th, she begins to work for Christ, and help his servants.
From all this, I conclude that the Bible does not require any extravagant emotions or experience; but requires, chiefly, faith, an honest, serious, humble, and cheerful acceptance of the offer of mercy made us in Christ.
3. The third inquiry is, what is the evidence of conversion?
I answer, the change itself is a witness. There is all the difference in the world between a dead and a living man. If you are born again, you may know it by the spiritual life imparted to you. The question is, in my view, a simple one. You are, at this moment, either a carnal man or a spiritual man; you cannot be anything between these characters. If you have a carnal mind, you may know it in this way: the carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to his [38/39] law; and, therefore, if you set up your will against God's, and do not honestly strive to keep his law, you are carnal.
On the contrary, the renewed or spiritual mind loves God, and makes it its chief study to please him; it lives for God, and its affections go out after God. If this be your character, you are not under the curse.
Again, if a converted man, you have the witness of the Spirit; not that he talks with you or tells you in words that you are a Christian. How does God witness that he is in the world? By his works--by the wisdom, goodness, power, and over-ruling providence he displays and exercises all around us. And thus the Spirit bears witness within us, by the fear of sin he cherishes; the grateful thoughts of Christ he gives us; the earnest breathings after holiness he inspires; the strength, which we dare not call our own, and which we yet feel and know is within us, by which we are enabled to keep down sinful thoughts, to curb angry passions, to do and to forbear, for Christ's sake, what we dislike to do or to forbear. Thus the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits that we are the sons of God.
I know how hard it is for you to break away from opinions so generally maintained around you. But if I have made clear my points, I beg you to dismiss forever this idea of getting through; of manufacturing a glorious experience wherewith to appease God, when already Christ is your peace. And if you have these marks of conversion, a godly sorrow for sin with a determination to forsake it; a willingness to commit a lost and ruined soul into the hands of Christ, making mention of his righteousness and his alone; [39/40] a strong determination, though he slay you, yet you will trust in him and keep his holy commandments; then you need no longer delay to seek a home in his Church; to subscribe yourself by his name, to avail yourself of his Holy Sacraments, and to take to yourself the sweet assurance, "Be of good comfort, thy sins are forgiven thee."
Thus, my dear friend and brother, have I tried to show you, that God is not unreasonable--that there is a plain path, and a safe guide to aid you if you will return to him. If you will be honest and earnest, you will find good in this way. May God enable you soon to come to a decision, to say first of all, "As for me and my house we will serve the Lord," and then to say, "The Church of the Fathers shall be my choice."
 MY DEAR FRIEND,
IT may be, that by this time you are satisfied in your own mind, that it is high time for you to act that every consideration of duty and of interest does earnestly require of you to take a decided and unequivocal stand upon the side of God and of his Church.
But will you act out these solemn convictions? Will your present inquiries result in any thing? Or will you act the part of one, who examines carefully a business offer, ascertains that his best course is to accede to it, and at last gets out of heart when the writings are all drawn up, and one tells him now sign the bond? I have not unfrequently seen men act in this latter way, unwise as it is; and I should be distressed no little, should you thus waver, and leave the great question unsettled. Sometimes a man is held back by the consciousness that he lacks honesty of purpose. If he accepts the offers of the Gospel, it must be upon the terms of the Gospel. If he takes Christ as his Master, he must first renounce all that is unchristian. He feels that however he may acquiesce in the general plan of redemption, and however purposed he may be to lead what is called a religious [41/42] life, there is yet some one practice or habit clearly forbidden in God's law, which he is not willing to abandon: some one duty plainly enjoined, which he is not willing to discharge--observe, I do not say that he is unable, but that he is unwilling to do and to forbear. The thing disputed may be the veriest trifle: something which he would blush to own but his hesitancy about it suffices to destroy all confidence in his own sincerity, and forms an impenetrable barrier to his further progress. Ah! how we do see men stop, and talk, and grumble; pretending this trouble and that, when the secret is that they feel they are not honest: they know in themselves that there is some one particular in which they are heeding the voice of inclination rather than that of duty.
The time would fail me were I to endeavor to show how disingenuous is such a course--how ungrateful it is when Christ gave you all, and shrank from no pain or sacrifice for you, that you should begrudge him a trifle--how hopeless it is for a man thus to dispute, as if the Great God was to yield to him, and to alter that unchangeable condition of pardon, viz., obedience and submission, prompt, universal, and without exception. The man who comes to the Sacraments without this purpose of keeping all the commandments, does but utter a solemn falsehood. And if there be any such difficulty in your way, you must first of all pray for grace to conquer your stubborn will in this particular. So that you shall count it a privilege to take the thing that most you love, the indulgence that most you cherish, and to offer it upon the altar of God, as a poor and unworthy acknowledgment of his undeserved goodness and mercy.
 If, however, your heart does not thus condemn you, and you are not conscious of any such half-way purpose, you may yet have difficulties. Let me mention two.
FIRST.--I am not good enough to come into the Church.
If a holy character acquired were the condition of Church membership, I cannot imagine where any members could be procured. Never yet have I seen any who thought themselves good enough to be in the Church, save those whose conduct sadly evidenced that their minds were unrenewed; and if we could find any who had this holy character, they would have no need of a Church; for sound men need no physic. We send patients to a hospital because they are sick, and desire to get well; we send children to school because they are ignorant, not because they are educated; and Christ calls poor sinners into his Church, because they are sinners. The condition is not that they are holy, but that they earnestly desire to be holy, and feel their need of divine grace, in order to escape the dominion of sin.
No man can come without profanation to the sacraments of our blessed religion, who is willingly indulging himself in any known transgression. No religious convictions are genuine which do not lead a man to contend with his evil nature, and to commence in earnest, the work of reformation; but if one must be assured that he is a good and worthy man in the sight of God before he is baptized, confirmed, or approaches the holy table, then he can never come. You will say, however, that the Scripture uses very strong expressions to denote the spiritual change,--"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature;" and such like. Perhaps of all these [43/44] expressions, none is more formidable than that which represents the Christian as being "born again." It is asked, how can I, poor, weak creature that I am, come forward to Baptism, and hear the minister tell the people that I have been "born again" of God's holy Spirit, while I am so painfully conscious of indwelling sin?
So far from alarming you, this comparison of the spiritual to the natural birth ought greatly to encourage you. What is man when first born into this material world? A babe. He has life indeed, but little else; he is feeble, helpless, dependent. He can neither walk about nor feed himself; and the flame of life burns so feebly, that a rude blast would at once extinguish it, or if neglected, it would flicker and die of itself.
For this helpless being God provides a mother. She protects, and clothes, and feeds it. Away from the mother it must die. God might sustain its life by other means, but in the usual order of his providence, it must draw strength from its mother's breast.
Now here is a little sickly babe; its vitality is chiefly expressed by signs of suffering and cries of want. Shall we lay it down to die? Oh, no. A healthy child might bear neglect for a brief season; but as for this one, pity demands that we seek its mother. And, mother! guard it with a special care; keep it from the wintry blast; give it the support it needs, and let it be most gently dealt with.
And are we to be born full-grown men into the spiritual world, and to begin where St. Paul left off? Are we to be at once teachers, examples, giants in the faith? Is there no [44/45] nursing-mother needed for us? Think of it then in this light;--we can be born again only as babes in Christ, and the Church is our mother appointed to train us up to manhood.
If that soul of yours is dead indeed, if there appear no pulsation of a heart alive with penitence and faith, no breath of prayer, no hungering and thirsting after righteousness, it were mockery indeed to lay it on the mother's breast. The sacraments are worse than useless to a man unawakened to a sense of sin and misery.
But if that soul be alive, yet feeble,--if it cry, and cry piteously for help--if it hunger and thirst after righteousness--oh, cast it not out into the open field to die. Mother Church opens wide her arms, and is anxious to feed it with her word and sacraments; to keep it safe within her sacred pale; to warm it with her prayers; and to soothe its sorrows with the comfortable words of Christ.
Our goodness is not the qualification God has laid down for admission into his Church. Our sense of need--our conviction that we are lost without Christ--our desire to be pardoned--our willingness to be reformed--our confidence in the power and love of God in and through Christ--these, and these alone, are God's conditions. I am to notice, however, another difficulty.
SECONDLY.--You distrust your ability to maintain a Christian walk and conversation.
I am willing now one says, "to accept God's mercy upon his own terms; so far as I know myself I think I want to be a Christian. But then I may be mistaken: and if it [45/46] should so turn out, what an increased guilt and responsibility I will have incurred! what a scandal to the Church will have been sustained! Had I not better try myself a while longer, before I take a stand from which I can retire only in shame and dishonor?"
I must here remind you, that willingness to do God's will does not mean ability to do it. Our present willingness is something which we may find out by prayerful self-examination--our future ability is altogether contingent upon God's help and grace. It is the former of these that we alone profess in Baptism--"I renounce them all, and will endeavor by God’s help not to follow nor be led by them"--is the modest promise you must make as you turn away from the world, the flesh and the devil. And more than this no man dares promise, who knows aright the plague of his heart, and the power of temptation.
It well becomes fallible man to distrust his own heart, by which he has been so often deceived. But when we have duly weighed the whole matter: when we have earnestly sought heavenly direction and spiritual aid, and conscience assures us that we are not trifling with God or endeavoring to elude his just demands, then have we all the evidence of our own sincerity we can ever hope to have. St. Paul tells us that he "knew nothing of himself," that is, he was not aware of any secret dishonesty towards God--but then adds with singular modesty, "yet am I not hereby justified: he that judgeth me is the Lord;" and in another place, "we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly." May the time never come when you shall lay [46/47] claim to more sincerity than this blessed apostle. Remember that God is not laying traps and snares for us; he is not seeking excuses to condemn us. He has expressly promised to assist our endeavors to know our own mind and purpose, and authorizes us to believe that if, after invoking his aid, our conscience affirms that we are honest, we may safely go on. "If our hearts condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God."
The reputation and sanctity of his Church is dearer to God than it is to us; I may add, than it is to the devil, who so often strives to make us repress our religions convictions, by suggesting to us that in avowing our faith we shall do an injury to the cause of religion. And if God sees fit to invite sinners into his Church, and proposes to make use of such poor creatures as we, I see not how we can hang back. Let us do our duty, and Christ who loved the Church and gave himself for it, will evermore protect its interests.
But you wish to try yourself, and to have better evidence of your ability to lead a godly life--one would think you had tried yourself long enough already. All your experience testifies that you cannot walk uprightly without the restraint of a religious profession, and the help of Gospel ordinances. Our Lord testifies the same thing; for if men could do well without a Church, he would have never established and perpetuated such an institution. You may try yourself to the end of all time, and the result will be still the same. You cannot unassisted live up even to your own very defective and inadequate standard of Christian duty.
 But suppose it otherwise: suppose that for the six months next ensuing you satisfy yourself, and maintain a Christian temper, what would then be your great reliance, your ground of confidence, in promising to keep God's law? Would it be the promise of his grace, or would it be your own integrity?
Suffer me to show by illustration, what is the spirit in which everyone should come to the ordinances and sacraments of religion.
I would instance the case of an undutiful child, who has despised his father's authority, and pained a mother's heart. He has left his home, and pleased with the idea of independence, flushed with the hope of gain, has sought that land of California, whose glittering treasures have attracted so many eyes. His associations there are low and debasing, and he daily feels the contamination of the evil natures around him--he experiences disappointment to--the gold eludes his search--sickness lays hold upon him, and grim famine seems to await him. Now conscience reproaches him for his unfilial conduct, and the memory of happier days stealing upon his soul embitters, by the contrast, the miseries of the scene around him.
In his desolation there comes a letter: it is written by his father's hand. It tells him: "Come back to us come back, if you are truly sorry for the past, and disposed to do your duty; we will take you to our arms again, and do all we can to make you happy." And this letter moreover tells him how to come, and says if he will come at once, he shall find no difficulty; and it adds, "Much as we love you, my [48/49] child, we are afraid to trust you with much money--we know by experience that it is not good for you to be independent. But your passage is provided for all along the way, and with the little that we send you now, you can make your way to the nearest sea-port, and thus beginning your journey, you will find every necessary arrangement made at the successive points along your route."
Now if that son were truly sorry for his fault--if he really intended to go home--if he had full confidence in his father's foresight, truth and kindness, I can hardly suppose he would tarry for a moment; he would commence his journey in full confidence, although the particulars of its arrangement might not be made known to him.
The son may answer his father's letter on this wise--he is very penitent, very anxious to return, but he has no money; he is afraid to undertake such a journey without a larger amount of means in his possession, and thinks he had better tarry awhile, until, by patient industry, he has accumulated something upon which he may fall back in case of accident. Could his father fail to discern, beneath all this fair speech, a lurking pride, a dissatisfaction at being thus treated like a little child, a secret want of confidence in the prudence and foresight of his parent?
Perchance the son may take this view of the subject--that it is but a short time since he has begun to have better thoughts, and he is very much afraid his good impressions may prove but transient; that if he should now go home, promising to cease from his evil ways, and to be a dutiful son, and should afterwards break this promise and disappoint [49/50] the expectations he had excited, it would be a great injury to him, and a lasting disgrace to his family. He thinks it best to try himself awhile, and see whether he is a truly reformed man, before he seeks again the parental reef.
Now what does this amount to? He hopes to be a better son, and he begins by express disobedience to his father's injunction, which was to return at once and without the least delay. He wishes to reform, and, instead of placing himself under the hallowing influences of home, remains among rude, depraved, vicious men, the weight of whose influence is altogether upon the side of self-indulgence. By failing to act when his heart is softened by the workings of memory, and the dispensations of Providence, and the effect of kindly words wafted to him from afar, he exposes himself to the fearful danger of becoming once more indifferent to home, and of being bound by new and stronger ties to his sinful habits, and to his debasing associations.
You, my friend, are just such a wanderer. You are thus lovingly called and invited to return, and that without delay, for there is no promise if you linger. In making an open and formal profession of your faith, without any capital of past experience to rely on, you do as that son would do, in committing himself to a long and perilous journey, with no money in his hands, and with no other dependence than what he should find provided for him along the way. Christ bids you promise to be a Christian; he gives you just grace enough to serve your present need, (for, according to Flavel, "the desire for grace is grace begun,") and adds his [50/51] promise that, as occasion shall require, he will come to your aid. And if, while men shall say that you have no religion, and the devil whispers that you will disgrace the Church, and your own experience testifies that you are not able to do right, you prefer to believe God rather than all these, and throw yourself on his promise; you do then indeed exercise faith; you renounce your own righteousness; you declare most impressively, "In thy WORD is my trust."
It is a grave question for you to consider, whether you are willing to trust God thus far; to come when he calleth, and not when you think you are ready. It is a grave question, whether you will strike out into the wilderness without chart or compass, without food or water, and with the certainty before you that you must perish, unless God be ever near. I trust you may have the courage to do so, and may build your hopes of perseverance and final victory, not on any fancied attainments of your own, but on God's sole word and promise.
If, when so lovingly called and invited by God himself, while conscience declares you ought to go, you hesitate until you have tried yourself, you will, first of all, disobey the express injunction of your Lord, which is, not merely to come, but to come without the least delay. Your work of reformation, instead of being assisted by the kindly influences of Christian sympathy and holy teachings and heavenly grace, must be carried on in the chill atmosphere of worldliness and frivolity. You repress and stifle the generous emotions of a heart, softened by calamity, freshly impressed with the lessons of adversity, just beginning to thaw beneath [51/52] the beams of God's love and goodness. Beware, lest while you are lingering to try yourself the heart become hard again, the precious lessons be forgotten, and cold, icy indifference shall prevail where once were contrition and gratitude and holy aspiration.
 MY DEAR FRIEND,
IT has often been my duty to persuade men, that they ought to profess the faith of Christ by coming forward to the sacraments of his appointment; men, whose fitness consisted in this alone,--they felt themselves needy, helpless, perishing sinners; they believed that Jesus Christ is both able and willing to save sinners; and they, were conscious of a serious purpose and desire to become partakers of this salvation, and to fulfil the conditions it imposes. I have encouraged them to come to Baptism, to Confirmation, and to the Holy Communion, albeit they were laden with infirmity, and felt that even the sin against which they struggled, continually got the mastery over them.
Not unfrequently I have noted in such persons a vague fear and suspicion of this teaching. It was evident that they suspected me of being led, through a mistaken kindness, to accommodate the doctrine to their weakness; to lower the standard of duty, and to explain away that great truth of holy Writ, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
It behoves me, then, in justice to you and to myself, to do [53/54] away such suspicions; to show that this system of the Church promotes holiness in the largest sense of that word, and that as members of Christ's Church we have singular advantages for the attainment of this character.
The obscurity in this matter arises altogether from confounding two things that should always be kept separate, viz., the conditions on which we are pardoned, and our duty after we are pardoned. The truly awakened man, the earnest inquirer after eternal life, does indeed at once "cease to do evil, and learn to do well." We distrust the sincerity of any man who pretends to religious concern, without endeavoring to restrain his evil inclinations or practice the virtues inculcated in the Gospel.
But still, perfection of Christian character is not among the terms of pardon proposed to us in the Gospel. It is proposed to us as our rule of life; it is that after which we must continually strive, and no man is safe, who, once pardoned and adopted into God's family, does not honestly endeavor to keep the law in its letter and in its spirit, and to attain "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
When a man is first awakened to a sense of his danger, and his mind is agitated by the agonies of remorse and self-loathing and anxiety and dread, it will not do to tell him a long story, or to set him upon any difficult investigation. Our speech must be brief and to the point. We find, then, the terms of pardon as proposed to us in the Gospel to be few and simple. ''He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;" "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised [54/55] him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." When the jailer asked, "sirs, what must I do to be saved?" the Apostles answer, "What must you do? do nothing--believe, and be saved." They do not send that man off to practice reformation awhile, and to acquire a holy character. They tell him to fall in with a salvation already worked out for him: they take him untried as he was, and immediately upon his profession of being willing to trust his soul with Christ, they officially assure him of God's good will and pardon by baptizing him--so also with the thousands converted upon the day of Pentecost: upon repentance and faith, they were at once received into the Church.
But after the jailer's conversion and baptism, released from his despair and full of gratitude for a pardon which he had done nothing to deserve, another question must have arisen in his mind--What is my duty now? What course must I pursue in order that I may not forfeit this blessed pardon? How shall I testify to God and man that I am not insensible to the exceeding condescension and forbearance of my Lord? Now the Apostles could safely say, "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity." And that pardoned man thus instructed in his duty might well resolve that by God's grace he would strive to gain all these heavenly tempers. Suppose, however, that the Apostles had thus answered his earnest question about the way of pardon: that instead of asking him, Can you trust Christ? [55/56] they had demanded whether he had virtue, and knowledge, and temperance, and charity, and godliness? The poor man would then have sunk in despair, for he had none of these graces and saw no way of acquiring them.
Now this provision of the Gospel is most reasonable. Man must be assured of pardon before he can try to be really holy. With Sinai's thunders in our ears, and God present to our thoughts as an angry, vindictive judge alone, and an amount of woe already accumulated sufficient to ensure our misery, we have no heart to attempt amendment; but when God blots out the past and says, I forgive it all--when he places us who were prone in the dust, at least upon our knees and upon the palms of our hands, and says in kindly voice, "My son, now try and do better--I intend to help you, and you must try to imitate the justice and the mercy and the purity which you see in me--if you do not this, it will be a sign that you do not love me, and I must of necessity disown you as a child,"--O! what new motives are supplied us! how ashamed must we feel not to do our best! how pleasant to do for love's sake with his help what we could never have done for fear without that help!
I will now venture to affirm, that the omission of a holy character acquired from the terms of pardon, raises, instead of lowering the standard of Christian character: for if we come to Christ empty, we receive of his fullness and magnify his grace: if we come full-handed, we rob him of his honor.
One man has been the subject of a bright conversion. He says, I am not afraid to come into the Church, because I am a different man from what I used to be. I have had [56/57] such precious evidences, such good feelings, and such powerful impressions made upon my mind, that I feel reasonably certain I shall not change my purpose nor turn back to the world. Here is self-righteousness; self-complacency: here is an evident reliance on something apart from God's grace and promise. Is this man a better man than he who comes oppressed by a sense of his unworthiness, with no good feelings, but fairly driven to Christ by the clear conviction that to stay away is to die? who knows he cannot hold out, who is afraid that he will relapse into vice and sin, and says with fear and trembling, Lord, save me, I perish?
If we must be holy before we are pardoned, then Christianity is not very different from the religions of the Pagan world. They all said this, and because they said this, they ever failed to give comfort to the troubled conscience.
If we must be holy before we are pardoned, then the Romanist is right, and we are not forgiven for the alone merits and death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
If we must be holy before we are pardoned, then we reach this very strange conclusion, that a man before he has saving faith, can perform good works, pleasant and acceptable unto God.
The peculiar excellence of our blessed religion, the great principle therein, which has ever comforted the despondent and raised the fallen, is simply this,--it first forgives, and then it sanctifies. It uttereth no such mocking words in the ears of men as "Be holy, and you shall be forgiven;" but after pardoning freely, "without money and without price," it crieth to us who are thus saved, not by works of righteousness [57/58] which we have done, but according to God's mercy, by the "washing of regeneration and the renewing of the holy Ghost," "Now, be holy, because you are pardoned."
Holiness is not then a requisite for pardon, but it is the high and indispensable duty of all those who have been pardoned. It is the evidence that we have passed from death unto life; it is the condition on which depends the continuance of God's favor and goodness.
If now you come to the ordinances and sacraments of the Church, with the very humble qualifications which I have mentioned, think not that your work is done. On the contrary, you are just beginning it. You undertake to lead a sober, godly, and righteous life, and make a most solemn vow to this effect; you choose for yourself no lower standard than that of our Lord's example; and you must inevitably forfeit your pardon itself if you do not honestly endeavor to grow up from a babe to a full-grown man in Christ Jesus.
While the Church, following the teaching of Scripture, makes the terms of pardon very few and very moderate, she does also, according to the same Scripture, declare it to be the bounden duty of every man to aim at a progressive, warmhearted, and consistent piety.
An adult is baptized. Before he is dismissed from the font, the Church admonishes him that he is now ''the child of God and of the light;" that he must "walk answerably to his Christian calling, and as becometh the children of light;" that be must "continually mortify all his evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceed in all virtue and godliness of living."
 In Confirmation she prays for her children, "that they may daily increase in the Holy Spirit more and more." How instructive this! We must increase and grow, and that every day; and not only so, but more and more each day. In her form of Family Prayer she teaches us each morning to "dedicate both our souls and bodies to God in a sober, righteous, and godly life;" and then to pray him to "strengthen and confirm" us in this resolution, "that as we grow in age, we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour." Yet again, in Ordination, she solemnly warns her Priests, "See that ye never cease your labor, your care and diligence, until ye have done all that lieth in you, according to your bounden duty, to bring all committed to your charge to that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you either for error in doctrine or for viciousness in life."
The Church is faithful. Oh, that her children lived up to her teachings! Over and over again, in her exhortations and collects, does she press upon us the vast importance, the absolute necessity for our safety, of cherishing a warm and devotional spirit; of faithfully endeavoring to follow the example of the saints in all godly living, and of seeking after that mind which was in Christ Jesus.
While, then, I urge you not to wait until you are holy, in the full sense of that word, before you come into the Church, understand me not to say that holiness is a matter of indifference, or that you can be saved without it. Far from it; to attain that state, must be the great study of your life. All [59/60] your sins and failures should mortify and distress you, and lead you constantly to the throne of grace. And you are never to rest satisfied and contented with what you have done, but ever to press forward, and reach after completeness and perfection of Christian character.
I have ever thought that of all woes, that incurred by the formal, worldly-minded, ungodly Churchman, must be the greatest. What singular privileges he enjoys! On every occasion of public service, Mother Church says to him, My son, first of all bethink thyself; kneel down and confess thy sins, and do so with thine own lips and tongue. On holy days she, more than this, utters in his ear the precepts of the law one by one, and bids him ask pardon for the past, and grace for the future. She reads to him the Scripture, that he may not be dependent on man's exposition for his knowledge of God's will. She calls him at every Communion season to examine himself, to amend his ways, to reconsecrate himself to God. She admonishes him, if in doubt and disquietude, to seek his pastor and disclose his grief. She proposes to his consideration, in regular order, every great event of Gospel history, every grand mystery of the Gospel revelation.
Her whole system is instinct with life and warmth and glowing devotion; and it is with this spirit that she would imbue her children. "Praise ye the Lord," she cries. "Lift up your hearts." "Let us give thanks unto our Lord God." And as though we could not but be warmed and animated with the holy truths and the blessed hopes set before us in her service, she pauses, as it were, ever and anon, that we [60/61] may cry, "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost."
In the Psalms of David she furnishes us with a standard of religious experience, certified by Almighty God himself, as safe, reliable, and genuine; free alike from the coldness of the mere formalist, and from the extravagance of the fanatic. The Holy Communion, offered to us not at long and rare intervals, as a thing of terror and a dangerous ordeal, but frequently, and on every occasion of peculiar solemnity, becomes, in our estimation, a feast of love, a divine provision to sustain us in our weary pilgrimage. "Draw near with faith," she says, "and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort."
She follows us to our homes; she comes to us when stretched upon a bed of sickness, admonishing us to take our troubles patiently. She has provided prayers for the troubled in mind and conscience, and blessed words in which the parting spirit may be commended to the God from whom it came.
And if a man thus taught, thus constantly reminded of his duty, thus warned, encouraged, rebuked, and comforted; if he is unfaithful and unholy, idle, resentful, self-indulgent, worldly-minded, lucre-loving, devoid of life and spirituality, a dry and rotten branch upon the goodly tree, I shudder to think how the privileges he has neglected and abused will aggravate his final distress.
I have thus taken upon me, who am but dust and ashes, to write to you of high and holy things. I think I have uttered truth; for I have but echoed, in the main positions of [61/62] these letters, the distinct voice of Scripture, and of Mother Church.
And now, poor wanderer upon the bleak common of the world, ragged, weary, hungry, and diseased, come back to your father's house. In it there is room enough, and bread enough, and love enough for all. Wait not until you are restored to soundness, stay not for better clothes, tarry not until you have found something to bring with you, but come as you are to Christ, in his Church; and then, clad and fed, revived and restored by his kind hand, let gratitude impel you to aim after (I will not say angelic, but) divine purity and perfection.
By which one may decide whether he is a truly converted, and a Christian man.
The Scriptures lay stress on these four principal things
1. Repentance. 2. Faith. 3. Charity. 4. Holiness.
No unconverted man can possess these graces.
1. Do I realize that my heart is by nature deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, averse to God, nimble and unwilling to keep his holy law?
2. Do I feel that my transgressions are innumerable? that they have been perpetrated deliberately, knowingly, repeatedly, and that eternal punishment is no more than they deserve?
3. Am I truly grieved at their remembrance? do I realize their hatefulness, and specially deplore their ingratitude? Are they to me a grief, a burden and a thrall, from which I would make any sacrifice to be delivered?
4. Am I sincerely desirous to be delivered from the power as well as from the punishment of them?
1. Do I steadfastly believe the Gospel narrative?
2. Do I receive the whole Bible as God's own word?
3. Do I acknowledge Christ, as my substitute smitten in my stead--as my teacher whom I must heed--as my example whom I must imitate?
4. Owning myself a vile sinner, without a shadow of a claim on God's justice, do I embrace the offer of his mercy made me in Christ, and do I rest the undivided burden of my soul, simply on the merits and intercession of my dear Lord?
1. Whereas I once loved not God, nor love him now but poorly, do I yet prefer him to wife, children, land, fame, and life itself? Is his service my choice, his honor dear to me; and do my chief pleasures flow from his approbation?
2. Do I remember with thankfulness the exceeding love of my Master and only Saviour Jesus Christ in dying for me, and sending the Spirit to sanctify me, in providing his word to instruct me, and his Church to house me and feed me, and in going to prepare me a place in heaven?
3. Do I heartily forgive all who have injured me by word or deed? Do I pray for them, and desire to do them good?
4. Do I count all men my brethren, and strive as I may to promote their welfare in body and in soul? Am I specially drawn to all sincere and humble-minded followers of the Lord Jesus, and do I find pleasure in cultivating intercourse and [64/65] in exchanging offices of love with those who are of the household of faith?
1. Do I honestly pray, meditate, search the Scriptures, attend to the Church's voice and use the Gospel ordinances, in order that I may discern DUTY, and be enabled to discharge it?
2. Do I indulge in no acknowledged, presumptuous sin, nor neglect any well-known duty? Do I watch as well as pray; and while I make many mistakes and commit grievous faults, can I appeal to God in sincerity that it is my earnest desire and effort to do my whole duty as a Christian?
3. Do I render to God the service of my affections, and the reverence of my body? Do I regard myself as his steward in my estate, honoring him with the first fruits and serving myself last, accounting it a privilege, not a hardship, to feed his poor, and to set forward his Church?
4. Have I been baptized and confirmed? And do I with reverence and self-examination, and with holy vows of amendment, receive from time to time the emblems of Christ's body and blood?
Try yourself by these questions and such as these. Thus, instead of "keeping the manna of old experience by you until it corrupts in your hands," you shall have it fresh from heaven each day.