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faith. Hence they are led to pronounce themselves exclusively the favourites of Heaven-the redeemed of the Lord, his elect, his predestined people. But if our internal feelings alone are to be considered as a sufficient criterion by which to judge in such cases,-say, what is the heresy —what the superstition, that might not lead its votaries to lay claim to it? St. Paul himself, it is evident, did not rely upon these internal feelings or suggestions; but he “endeavoured to keep his body in subjection, lest having preached to others, he himself should be a cast-a-way.” He did not boast of his state in Christ as being positively ascertained and determined. On the contrary, he says,—“not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” When in defence of his apostolical mission, he is brought to the unwilling necessity of boasting of himself, he does not dwell upon his inward assurances and absolute convictions of acceptance with God, but he recounts the labours, the persecutions, the dangers which he cheerfully encountered, as a diligent and faithful minister of Christ—thus teaching, by an obvious inference, that religious experience, without moral practice, will be of no avail.
Not a single passage, not a single example, indeed, can be cited from the whole New Testament, to prove that any disciple of our Lord ever considered his sins to be forgiven and his
salvation assured, merely from his own feelings of divine influence, and what passed within his own breast.
And what shall we say then of those
presume to limit the mercy of Jehovah, and pronounce a harsh and severe sentence against all who do not pretend to any
such internal impressions and convictions ?
Our blessed Lord himself declares, “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. And in the Acts of the Apostles, many signs and wonders are recorded in evidence of spiritual influence; but not in any one instance, the mere inward emotions either of the preachers or their converts.
We do not attempt to deny that a feeling of immediate and sensible assurance of God's favour, so impressed upon us, that we can certainly distinguish it to be of divine original, from the manner in which it affects us, may, by a special mercy, be vouchsafed. But we do most strenuously deny that such a feeling is anywhere in Scripture made necessary. And we hesitate not to assert, that all such impressions are imaginary and deceitful, unless they be accompanied with that one which the Apostle experienced and mentions, when he says, “our rejoicing is this — the testimony of a good conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have had our conversation in the world.”
Does a Christian then desire to be informed
of his religious proficiency, and to ascertain his prospects, through Christ, of eternal salvation ? Let him consult his own heart-let him appeal to his conscience-let him prove the soundness of his principles by the integrity of his practice: -a practice springing from “ a true and lively faith”—a practice measured by the Gospel, the only sure and unerring standard. Let him prove the sincerity of his faith by the excellency of its evangelical fruits. These are evidences which can never deceive. When a man's life is changed from a course of sin to the paths of righteousness, the power of divine grace is plainly visible; and he may rest assured that his heart is renewed and converted unto God. He can adduce his obedience, imperfect though it be, as a proof of his conversion ;-his “conscience bearing him witness,” he knows for a certainty that he is under the direction and influence of God's Holy Spirit; for he exhibits in his life the most excellent fruits of that Spirit, in all goodness and righteousness, and truth—in fearing and serving God, in exercising every act of kindness and charity towards his neighbour, and in the temperate government of all the passions and desires of his heart. And with this blessed conviction, that “it is God that worketh in him,” it will be his constant and prayerful endeavour to “ grow in grace”-to “go on unto perfection :"—incited to press forward by the encouraging declaration of St. Peter, “he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with him ;” and above all, by the gracious promise of his incarnate Lord," he that endureth to the end shall be saved."
It is thus, my brethren, that “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit,” practically and experimentally,—"that we are the children of God;" even by the evidence of Christian virtues and dispositions wrought by that Spirit in our souls: things which every man's own heart and conscience can easily ascertain, and which bear undoubted testimony to the residence and operation of God's Holy Spirit within us.
Thus then may we safely assure our hearts, and know that we are of the truth, when we hold the truth in righteousness—when we “hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” The signs of our faith will thus be clear and unequivocal; and when it sends forth the pure streams of goodness and Christian charitywhen it works by love both of God and manwhen it is manifested in fervent and regular devotion to God, in a sober and temperate government of ourselves, in a spirit of justice, humanity, and kindness to our neighbours, it will indeed be a health-giving fountain, springing up into everlasting life.
In short, true Christian faith will be naturally accompanied, it will be proved and verified by
these its blessed effects: it will make us pious, and mild, and merciful : it will keep our tempers serene, and our conduct unblemished : it will make our lives exemplary, our deaths peaceful, and our prospects of immortality glorious.
Let us all then earnestly beseech Almighty God, the inspirer of every thing that is good, of his infinite mercy, to vouchsafe unto us this sanctifying grace unto salvation-to increase in us this right faith, and to produce in us the blessed fruits of his Holy Spirit, that so, being cleansed from all impurities of the flesh and spirit, and making it our constant and earnest endeavour to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” we may finally be found meet to be partakers of that everlasting life, which He has graciously promised to the humble, believing followers of his dear Son, our alone Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.