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exhorted them to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, Matth. iii. 8. i. e. agreeable to that repentance which they had professed; encouraging them, that if they did so, they should escape the wrath to come, and be gathered as wheat into God's garner, Matth. iii. 7, 8-10, 12. So the apostle Peter says to the Jews, Acts ii. 38. Repent, and be baptized: which shews, that repentance is a qualification that must be visible, in order to baptism; and therefore ought to be publicly professed. So when the Jews that returned from captivity, entered publicly into covenant, it was with confession, or public profession of repentance of their sins, Neh. ix. 2. This profession of repentance should include or imply a profession of conviction, that God would be just in our damnation: (see Neh. ix. 33-35. and chap. x.) They should profess their faith in Jesus Christ, that they embrace Christ, rely upon him as their Saviour with their whole hearts, and joyfully entertain his gospel. Thus Philip, in order to his baptizing the eunuch, required him to profess, that he believed with all his heart. They who were received as visible Christians, at that great out-pouring of the Spirit, which began at the day of Pentecost, appeared gladly to receive the gospel: Acts ii. 41. Then they that gladly received the word, were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. They should profess that they rely on Christ's righteousness and strength, that they are devoted to him as their only Lord and Saviour, and that they rejoice in him as their only righteousness and portion. It is foretold, that all nations should be brought publicly to make this profession, Is. xlv. 22, &c. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even unto him shall men come, and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory. They should profess to give up themselves entirely to Christ, and to God through him; as the children of Israel, when they publicly recognized their covenant with God; Deut. xxvi. 17. Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice. They ought to profess a willingness of heart to embrace religion with all its difficulties, and to walk in a way of obedience to God universally and perseveringly; (Exod. xix. 8. and xxiv. 3, 7. Deut. xxvi. 16-18. 2 Kings xxiii. 3. Neh. x. 28, 29. Psal. cxix. 57, 106.) They ought to profess, that all their hearts and souls are in these engagements to be the Lord's, and for ever to serve him, 2 Chron.
xv. 12-14. God's people swearing by his name, or to his name, as it might be rendered, (by which seems to be signified their solemnly giving up themselves to him in covenant, and vowing to receive him as their God, and to be entirely his, to obey and serve him), is spoken of as a duty to be performed by all God's visible Israel; (Deut. vi. 13, and x. 20. Psal. lxiii. 11. Is. xix. 18. chap. xlv. 23, 24. compared with Rom. xiv. 11. and Phil. ii. 10, 11. Is. xlviii. 1, 2, and lxv. 15, 16. Jer. iv. 2. and v. 7. and xii. 16. Hos. iv. 15. and x. 4.) Therefore, in order to persons' being entitled to full esteem and charity, with their neighbours, as being sincere professors of Christianity; by those fore-mentioned rules of Christ and his apostles, there must be a visibly holy life, with a profession, either expressing, or plainly implying such things as those which have been now mentioned. We are to know them by their fruits: that is, we are by their fruits to know whether they be what they profess to be; not that we are to know by their fruits, that they have something in them, to which they do not so much as pretend. Moreover,
2. That profession of these things, which is properly called a Christian profession, and which must be joined with Christian practice, in order to persons' being entitled to the benefit of those rules, must be made (as to what appears) understandingly: that is, they must be persons that appear to have been so far instructed in the principles of religion, as to be in an ordinary capacity to understand the proper import of what is expressed in their profession. For sounds are no signification or declarations of any thing, any further than men understand the meaning of their own sounds.
But in order to persons' making a proper profession of Christianity, such as the scripture directs, and such as the followers of Christ should require, in order to the acceptance of professors, with full charity, as of their society; it is not necessary they should give an account of the particular steps and method, by which the Holy Spirit, sensibly to them, wrought those great essentials of Christianity in their hearts. There is no footstep in the scripture of any such way of the apostles, or primitive ministers and Christians, requiring any such relation, in order to their receiving and treating others as their Christian brethren or of their first examining them concerning the particular method and order of their experiences. They required of them a profession of the things wrought; but no account of the manner of working was required of them. Nor is there the least shadow in the scripture of any such custom in the church of God, from Adam to the death of the apostle John.
I am far from saying, that it is not requisite that persons should give any sort of account of their experiences to their
brethren. For persons to profess those things wherein the essence of Christianity lies, is the same thing as to profess that they experience those things. Thus for persons solemnly to profess, that, in a sense and full conviction of their own utter sinfulness, misery, and impotence, and totally undone state as in themselves-their just desert of God's utter rejection and eternal wrath, without mercy, and the utter insufficiency of their own righteousness, or any thing in them, to satisfy divine justice, or recommend them to God's favour-they do only and entirely depend on the Lord Jesus Christ, and his satisfaction and righteousness; it is the same thing as to profess, that they experience those particulars. When any profess, that they do with all their hearts believe the truth of the gospel of Christ; and that, in a full conviction and sense of his sufficiency and perfect excellency as a Saviour, as exhibited in the gospel, they do with their whole souls cleave to him, and acquiesce in him, as the refuge and rest of their souls, and the fountain of their comfort; that they repent of their sins, and utterly renounce all sin, and give up themselves wholly to Christ, willingly subjecting themselves to him as their King; that they give him their hearts and their whole man; and are willing and resolved to have God for their whole and everlasting portion; what is it but saying, that they experience those things? Again, if any profess, in a dependence on God's promises of a future eternal enjoyment of him in heaven, to renounce all the enjoyments of this vain world, selling all for this great treasure and future inheritance, and to comply with every command of God, even the most difficult and self-denying, and devote their whole lives to God's service; what is it but a declaration of so much experience? Once more, when any profess, that, in the forgiveness of those who have injured them, and a general benevolence to mankind, their hearts are united to the people of Jesus Christ as their people, cleave to them and love them as their brethren, and worship and serve God, and follow Christ in union and fellowship with them, being willing and resolved to perform all incumbent duties, as members of the same family of God and mystical body of Christ; I say, for persons solemnly to profess such things as these, as in the presence of God, is the same thing, as to profess that they are conscious to, or do experience such things in their hearts.
Nor do I suppose, that persons giving an account of their experience of particular exercises of grace, with the times and circumstances, gives no advantage to others in forming a judgment of their state; or that persons may not fitly be inquired of concerning these, especially in cases of great importance, where all possible satisfaction is to be desired and sought after, as in the case of ordination or approbation of a minister. It may give
advantage in forming a judgment, in several respects; and among others in this, that hereby we may be better satisfied, that the professor speaks honestly and understandingly, in what he professes; and that he does not make the profession in mere formality. In order to a profession of Christianity being accepted to any purpose, there ought to be good reason, from the circumstances of the profession, to think, that the professor does not make such a profession out of a mere customary compliance with a prescribed form, using words without any distinct meaning, or in a very lax and ambiguous manner, as confessions of faith, are often subscribed; but that the professor understandingly and honestly signifies what he is conscious of in his own heart; otherwise his profession can be of no significance, and no more to be regarded than the sound of things without life. But indeed (whatever advantage an account of particular exercises may give in judging of this) it must be owned, that the professor having been previously thoroughly instructed by his teachers, and giving good proof of his sufficient knowledge, together with a practice agreeable to his profession, is the best evidence of this.
Nor do I suppose, but that if a person-who is inquired of about particular passages, times and circumstances of his Christain experience-seems to be able to give a distinct account of the manner of his first conversion, in such a method as has been frequently observable in true conversion, so that things seem sensibly and distinctly to follow one another in the order of time, according to the order of nature; it is an illustrating circumstance which among other things, adds lustre to the evidence he gives his brethren of the truth of his experiences.
But what I speak of as unscriptural, is insisting on a particular account of the distinct method and steps, wherein the Spirit of God did sensibly proceed, in first bringing the soul into a state of salvation, as a thing requisite in order to receiving a professor into full charity as a real Christian; so as, for the want of such relation to disregard other things, in the evidence which persons give to their neighbours of their Christianity, that are vastly more important and essential.
Secondly, That we may rightly understand how Christian practice is the greatest evidence that others can have of the sincerity of a professing Christian, it is needful that what was said before, shewing what Christian practice is, should be borne in mind; and that it should be considered how far this may be visible to others. Merely that a professor of Christianity is, what is commonly called, an honest, moral man, (i. e. having no special transgression or iniquity that might bring a blot on his character,) is no great evidence of the sincerity of his profession. This is not making his light shine before men. This is not that work and la
bour of love shewed towards Christ's name, which gave the apostle such persuasion of the sincerity of the professing Hebrews, (Heb. vi. 9, 10.) We may see nothing in a man, but that he may be a good man; there may appear nothing in his life and conversation inconsistent with his being godly, and yet neither any great positive evidence that he is so. But there may be great positive appearances of holiness in men's visible behaviour: their life devoted to the service of God. They may appear to follow the example of Jesus Christ, and come up in a great measure to those excellent rules in the 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters of Matthew, and 12th of Romans, and many other parts of the New Testament. There may be a great appearance of their being universal in their obedience to Christ's commands and the rules of the gospel; in the performance of the duties of the first table, manifesting the fear and love of God; and also universal in fulfilling rules of love to men, love to saints, and love to enemies; rules of meekness and forgiveness, rules of mercy and charity, and looking not only at our own things, but also at the things of others; rules of doing good to men's souls and bodies, to particular persons and to the public; rules of temperance and mortification, and of an humble conversation; rules of bridling the tongue, and improving it to glorify God and bless men, shewing that in their tongues is the law of kindness. They may appear to walk as Christians, in all places, and at all seasons; in the house of God, and in their families, among their neighbours, on Sabbath days, and every day, in business and in conversation, towards friends and enemies, towards superiors, inferiors, and equals. Persons in their visible walk may appear to be very earnestly engaged in the service of God and mankind, much to labour and lay out themselves in this work of a Christian, and to be very constant and stedfast in it, under all circumstances and temptations. There may be great manifestations of a spirit to deny themselves, and suffer for God and Christ; the interest of religion, and the benefit of their brethren. There may be great appearances in a man's walk, of a disposition to forsake any thing, rather than to forsake Christ, and to make every thing give place to his honour. There may be great manifestations in a man's behaviour of such religion as this being his element, and of his placing the delight and happiness of his life in it; and his conversation may be such, as to carry with him a sweet odour of Christian graces and heavenly dispositions, wherever he goes. And when it And when it is thus in the professors of Christianity, here is an evidence to others of their sincerity in their profession, to which all other manifestations are not worthy to be compared.
There is doubtless a great variety in the degrees of evidence that professors exbibit of their sincerity, in their life and practice;