Who is on the Lord's side? Exodus 32:26.
The question was addressed by Moses to the professed people of God, immediately after their great departure from God while Moses was on the Mount, when they went and worshiped a golden calf which had been cast for them by Aaron. After expostulating with the guilty nation, he called out, "Who is on the Lord's side?" It is not my intention to dwell on the history of this case particularly, but to come at once to the main design I have in view this evening, which is to show that there are
THREE CLASSES OF PROFESSING CHRISTIANS
I. The true friends of God and man. II. Those who are actuated by hope and fear, or in other words by self love, or by selfishness. III. Those who are actuated by public opinion.
These three classes may be known by attending to the characteristic developments which show what is the leading design in their religion. It needs not be proved, that persons may set out in religion from very different motives, some from real love to religion, and some from other motives. The differences may be arranged in these three classes, and by attending to the development of their real design in becoming religions, you learn their characters. They all profess to be servants of God, and yet by observing the lives of many, it becomes manifest that instead of their being God's servants they are only trying to make God their servant. Their leading aim and object is to secure their own salvation, or some other advantage for themselves, through the medium of the favor of God. They are seeking to make God their friend, that they may make use of him to serve their own turn.
I. There is a class of professed Christians who are the true friends of God and man.
If you attend to those things which develop the true design and aim of their religion, you will see it to be such. They are truly and sincerely benevolent.
1. They will make it manifest that this is their character, by their carefulness in avoiding sin.
They will show that they hate it in themselves, and that they hate it in others. They will not justify it in themselves, and they will not justify it in others. They will not seek to cover up or to excuse their own sins, neither will they try to cover up or to excuse the sins of others. In short they aim at perfect holiness. This course of conduct makes it evident that they are the true friends of God. I do not mean to say that every true friend of God is perfect, no more than I would say that every truly affectionate and obedient child is perfect, or never fails in duty to his parent. But if he is an affectionate and obedient child, his aim is to obey always, and if he fails in any respect, he by no means justifies it, or pleads for it, or aims to cover it up, but as soon as he comes to think of the matter, is dissatisfied with himself, and condemns his conduct.
So these persons who are the true friends of God and man, are ever ready to complain of themselves, and to blame and condemn themselves for what is wrong. But you never see them finding fault with God. You never hear them excusing themselves and throwing off the blame upon their Maker, by telling of their inability to obey God, or speaking as if God had required impossibilities of his creatures. They always speak as if they felt that what God has required is right and reasonable, and themselves only to blame for their disobedience.
2. They manifest a deep abhorrence of the sins of other people.
They do not cover up the sins of others, or plead for them and excuse them, or smooth them over by "perhaps this," or "perhaps that." You never hear them apologizing for sin. As they are indignant at sin in themselves, they are just as much so when they see it in others. They know its horrible nature, and abhor it always.
3. Another thing in which this spirit manifests itself, is zeal for the honor and glory of God.
They show the same ardor to promote God's honor and interest, that the true patriot does to promote the honor and interest of his country. If he greatly loves his country, its government, and its interest, he sets his heart upon promoting its advancement and benefit. He is never so happy as when he is doing something for the honor and advancement of his country. So a child that truly loves his father, is never so happy as when he is advancing his father's honor and interest. And he never feels more indignant grief, than when he sees his father abused or injured. If he sees his father disobeyed or abused by those who ought to obey, and love, and honor him, his heart breaks forth with indignant grief.
There are multitudes of professing Christians, and even ministers, who are very zealous to defend their own character and their own honor. But this one class feel more engaged, and their hearts beat higher, when defending or advancing God's honor. These are the friends of God and man.
4. They show that they sympathize with God in his feelings towards man.
They have the same kind of friendship for souls that God feels. I do not mean that they feel in the same degree, but that they have the same kind of feelings. There is such a thing as loving the souls of men and hating their conduct too. There is such a thing as constitutional sympathy, which persons feel for those who are in distress. This is natural. You always feel this for a person in distress, unless you have some selfish reason for feeling malevolent. If you saw a murderer hung, you would feel compassion for him. The wicked have this natural sympathy for those that suffer.
There is another peculiar kind of sympathy which the real child of God feels, and manifests towards sinners. It is a mingled feeling of abhorrence and compassion, of indignation against his sins, and pity for his person. It is possible to feel this deep abhorrence of sin mingled with deep compassion for souls capable of such endless happiness, and yet bound to eternal misery.
I will explain myself. There are two kinds of love: one is the love of benevolence. This has no respect to the character of the person loved, but merely views the individual as exposed to suffering and misery. This God feels towards all men. The other kind includes esteem or approbation of character. God feels this only towards the righteous. He never feels this love towards sinners. He infinitely abhors them. He has an infinitely strong exercise of compassion and abhorrence at the same time. Christians have the same feelings, only not in the same degree, but they have them at the same time. Probably they never feel right unless they have both these feelings in exercise at the same time. The Christian does not feel as God feels towards individuals nor feel according to the true character of the individuals, unless both these feelings exist in his mind at the same time. You see this by one striking characteristic. The Christian will rebuke most pointedly and frequently those for whom he feels the deepest compassion. Did you never see this?
Did you never see a parent yearning with compassion over a child, and reprove him with tears, and yet with a pungency that would make the little offender quail under his rebuke. Jesus Christ often manifested strongly these two emotions. He wept over Jerusalem, and yet he tells the reason in a manner that shows his burning indignation against their conduct. "O Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee!" Ah, what a full view he had of their wickedness, at the moment that he wept with compassion for the doom that hung over them.
It is just so with this class of Christians. You never find one of them addressing a sinner so as merely to make him weep because somebody is weeping for him. But his tender appeals are accompanied with strong rebuke for sin.
I wish you to remember this point that the true friend of God and man never takes the sinner's part, because he never acts through mere compassion. And at the same time, he is never seen to denounce the sinner, without at the same time manifesting compassion for his soul and a strong desire to save him from death.
5. It is a prominent object with such Christians, in all their intercourse with men, to make them friends of God.
Whether they converse, or pray, or attend to the duties of life, it is their prominent object to recommend religion and to lead every body to glorify God. It is very natural they should do this, if they are true friends of God. A true friend of the government wishes everybody to be a friend of the government. A true and affectionate child wishes everybody to love and respect his father. And if only one is at enmity, it is his constant aim and effort to bring him to reconciliation. The same you would expect from a true friend of God, as a leading feature of his character, that he would make it a prominent object of his life to reconcile sinners to God.
Now mark me! If this is not the leading feature of your character, if it is not the absorbing topic of thought and effort to reconcile men to God, you have not the root of the matter in you. Whatever appearance of religion you may have, you lack the leading and fundamental characteristic of true piety. It wants the leading feature of the character and aims of Jesus Christ, and of his apostles and prophets. Look at them, and see how this feature stands out in strong and eternal relief, as the leading characteristic, the prominent design and object, of their lives, Now let me ask you, what is the leading object of your life, as it appears in your daily walk? Is it to bring all God's enemies to submit to him? If not, away with your pretensions to religion. Whatever else you may have, you have not the true love of God in you.
6. Where there are persons of this class, you will see them scrupulously avoid everything that in their estimation is calculated to defeat their great end.
They always wish to avoid every thing calculated to prevent the salvation of souls, everything calculated to divert attention or in any way to hinder the conversion of souls. It is not the natural question with them, when any thing is proposed which is doubtful, to ask, "Is this something which God expressly forbids?" The first question that naturally suggests itself to their minds is, "What will be the bearing of this upon religion? Will it have a tendency to prevent the conversion of sinners, to hinder the progress of revivals, to roll back the wheels of salvation?" If so, they do not need the thunders of Sinai to be pealed in their ears, to forbid their doing it. If they see it contrary to the spirit of holiness, and contrary to the main object they have in view, that is enough.
Look at the temperance reformation for an illustration of this. Here let me say, that it was the influence of intemperance, in hindering the conversion and salvation of sinners, that first turned the attention of the benevolent men who commenced the reformation, to inquire on the subject. And the same class of persons are still carrying it on. Such men do not stand and cavil at every step of the way, and say, "Drinking rum is no where prohibited in the Bible, and I do not feel bound to give it up." They find that it hinders the great object for which they live, and that is enough for them they give it up of course. They avoid whatever they see would hinder a revival, as a matter of course, just as a merchant would avoid anything that had a tendency to impair his credit, and defeat his object of making money by his business. Suppose a merchant was about to do something that you knew would injuriously affect his credit, and you go to him in the spirit of friendship and advise him not to do it, would he turn round and say, "Show me the passage in the Bible where God has prohibited this?" No. He would not ask you to show him anything more than this, that it is inconsistent with his main design.
Mark this, all of you: A person who is strongly desirous of the conversion of sinners does not need an express prohibition to prevent his doing that which he sees is calculated to prevent this. There is no danger of his doing that which will defeat the very object of his life.
7. This class of professing Christians are always distressed unless they see the work of converting sinner going on.
They call it a lamentable state of things in the church, if no sinners are converted. No matter what else is true, no matter how rich the congregation grows, nor how popular their minister, nor how many come to hear him, their panting hearts are uneasy unless they see the work of conversion actually going on. They see that all the rest is nothing without this yea, that even the means of grace are doing more hurt than good, unless sinners are converted.
Such professors as these are a great trouble to those who are religious from other motives, and who therefore wish to keep all quiet, and have everything go on regularly in the "good old way." They are often called "uneasy spirits in the church." And mark it! if a church has a few such spirits in it, the minister will be made uneasy unless his preaching is such as to convert sinners. You sometimes hear of these men reproving the church, and pouring out their expostulations for living so coldly and worldly, and the church reply, "O, we are doing well enough, do you not see how we foolish, it is only because you are always uneasy." When in fact their hearts are grieved and their souls in agony because sinners are not converted and souls are pressing down to hell.
8. You will see them when manifesting a spirit of prayer, praying not for themselves but for sinners.
If you know the habitual tenor of people's prayers, it will show which way the tide of their feelings sets. If a man is actuated in religion mainly by desire to save himself, you will hear him praying chiefly for himself that he may have his sins pardoned and "enjoy" much of the Spirit of God, and the like. But if he is truly the friend of God and man, you will find that the burden of his prayers is for the glory of God in the salvation of sinners; and he is never so copious and powerful in prayer as when he gets upon his favorite topic the conversion of sinners. Go into the prayer meeting where such Christians pray, and instead of seeing them all shut up in the nut shell of their own interests, spending their whole prayer on themselves, and just closing with a flourish about the kingdom of Christ, you will hear them pouring out their souls in prayer for the salvation of sinners. I believe there have been cases of such Christians who were so much absorbed in their desires for the salvation of sinners, that for weeks together they did not even pray for their own salvation.
Or if they pray for themselves at all, it is that they may be clothed with the Spirit of God, so that they can go out and be mighty through God in pulling souls out of the fire.
You that are here can tell how it is with your prayers, whether you feel most and pray most for yourselves or for sinners. If you know nothing about the spirit of prayer for sinners, you are not the true friend of God and man. What! no heart to feel when sinners are going to hell by your side! No sympathy with the Son of God, who gave his life to save sinners! Away with all such professions of religion. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." Do not tell me men are truly pious, when their prayers are droned over, as much a matter of form as when the poor popish priest counts over his beads. Such a man deceives himself, if he talk about being the true friend of God and man.
9. These persons do not want to ask what are the things they are "required" to do for the conversion of sinners.
When anything is presented to them that promises success in converting sinners, they do not wait to be commanded to do it, on pains and penalties if they do not. They only want the evidence that it is calculated to advance the object on which their hearts are set, and they will engage in it with all their soul. The question is not with them all the while, "What am I expressly commanded to do?" but, "In what way can I do most for the salvation of souls, and the conversion of the world to God?" They do not wait for an express command in the Bible, before they engage in the work of missions, or Sabbath schooled or any other enterprise that promises to save souls; but they are ready to every good word and work.
10. Another characteristic of such Christians is a disposition to deny themselves to do good to others.
God has established throughout all the universe the principle of GIVING. Even in the natural world, the river, the ocean, the clouds, all give. It is so throughout the whole kingdom of nature and of grace. This diffusive principle is every where recognized. This is the very spirit of Christ. He sought not to please himself, but to do good to others. He found his highest happiness in denying himself to do good to others. So it is with this class of persons they are ever ready to deny themselves of enjoyments and comforts, and even of necessaries, when by so doing they can do more good to others.
11. They are continually devising new means and new measures for doing good.
This is what would be expected from their continual desire to do good. Instead of being satisfied with what does not succeed, they are continually devising new ways and means to effect their object. They are not like those persons who make themselves satisfied with doing what they call their duty. Where an individual is aiming mainly at his own salvation, he may think if he does his duty he is discharged from responsibility, and so he is satisfied he thinks he has escaped from divine wrath and gained heaven for himself, by doing what God required him to do, and he cannot help it, whether sinners are saved or lost. But with the other class, it is not so much their object to gain heaven and avoid wrath, but their leading object is to save souls and to honor God. And if this object is not advanced, they are in pain. Such a man in the one whose soul is all the while devising liberal things, and trying new things, and if one fails, trying another and another, and cannot rest till he has found something that will succeed in the salvation of souls.
12. They always manifest great grief when they see the church asleep and doing nothing for the salvation of sinners.
They know the difficulty the impossibility of doing anything considerable for the salvation of sinners while the church is asleep. Go into a church where the great mass are doing nothing for the conversion of sinners, and floating along on the current of the world, and you will find that the true friends of God and man are grieved at such a state of things. Those who have other objects in view in being religious, may think they are going on very well. They are not grieved when they see the professed people of God going after show and folly. But if there are any of this class, you will find them grieved and distressed at heart, because the church is in such a state.
13. They are grieved if they see reason to think their minister temporizes, or does not reprove the church pointedly and faithfully for their sins.
The other classes of professors are willing to be rocked to sleep, and willing their minister should preach smooth, flowery, and eloquent sermons, and flattering sermons, with no point and no power. But these are not satisfied unless he preaches powerfully and pointedly, and boldly, and rebukes and entreats and exhorts, with all long-suffering and doctrine. Their souls are not fed, or edified, or satisfied with any thing that does not take hold, and do the work for which the ministry was appointed by Jesus Christ.
14. This class of persons will always stand by a faithful minister, who preaches the truth boldly and pointedly.
No matter if the truth he preaches hits them, they like it, and say, Let the righteous smite me, and it shall be an excellent oil. When the truth is poured forth with power, their souls are fed, and grow strong in grace. They can pray for such a minister. They can weep in their closet, and pour out their souls in prayer for him, that he may have the Spirit of God always with him. While others scold and cavil at him and talk about his being extravagant, and all that, you will find Christians of this sort will stand by him, yea, and would go to the stake with him for the testimony of Jesus. And this they do for the best of all reasons such preaching falls in with the great design for which these Christians live.
15. This sort of Christians are especially distressed when ministers preach sermons not adapted to convert sinners.
I mean when the sermon is not especially addressed to the church, to stir them up. Others may approve the sermon, and praise it, and tell what a great sermon it is, or how eloquent, or lucid, or grand, or sublime, but it does not suit them if it lacks this one characteristic a tendency to convert sinners. You will find some people that are great sticklers for the doctrine of election, and they will not believe it is a gospel sermon unless it has the doctrine of election in it, but if the doctrine of election is in it they are suited whether it is adapted to convert sinners or not. But where a man has his heart set on the conversion of sinners, if he hears a sermon not calculated to do this, he feels as if it lacked the "great thing" that constitutes a gospel sermon. But if they hear a sermon calculated to save souls, then they are fed, and their souls rejoice.
Hence you see the ground for the astonishing difference you often find in the judgment which people pass upon preaching. There is in fact no better test of character than this. It is easy to see who they are that are filled with the love of God and of souls, by the judgment which they pass upon preaching. The true friends of God and man, when they hear a sermon that is not particularly designed to probe and rouse the church and bring them to action, if it is not such as to bear down on sinners and does not tend to convert sinners, it is not the sermon for them.
You will always find this class of persons speaking in terms of dissatisfaction with themselves, that they do no more for the conversion of sinners.
However much they may really "do" for this object, it seems that the more they do the more they long to do. They are never satisfied. Instead of being satisfied with the present degree of their success, there is no end of their longing for the conversion of sinners. I recollect a good man, who used to pray till he was exhausted with praying for individuals, and for places, and for the world's conversion. Once when he was quite exhausted with praying, he exclaimed "Oh! my longing, aching heart! There is no such thing as satisfying my unutterable desires for the conversion of sinners. My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath." That man, though he had been useful beyond almost any other man of his age, yet he saw so much to do, and he so longed to see the work go forward and sinners saved, that his mortal frame could not sustain it. "I find," said he, one day, "that I am dying for want of strength to do more to save the souls of men. Oh, how much I want strength, that I may save souls."
17. If you wish to move this class of persons, you must make use of motives drawn from their great and leading object.
If you wish to move them, you must hold up the situation of sinners, and show how they dishonor God, and you will find this will move their souls and set them on fire sooner than any appeal to their hopes and fears. Roll on them this great object. Show them how they can convert sinners, and their longing hearts beat and wrestle with God in prayer, and travail for souls, until they see them converted, and Christ formed in them the hope of glory.
I might mention many other characteristics which belong to this class of professing Christians the true friends of God and man, did time and strength permit. But I must stop here, and postpone the consideration of the other two classes till next Friday evening, if we are spared, and the Lord permit.
Now, do you belong to this class, or not? I have mentioned certain great fundamental facts, which, when they exist, indicate the true character of individuals, by showing what is their main design and object in life. You can tell whether this is your character. When I come to the other part of the subject, I shall endeavor to describe those classes of professing Christians, whose religious zeal, prayers, and efforts, have another design, and show their character, and how this design is carried out.
And now, beloved, I asked you before God, have you these characteristics of a child of God? Do you know they belong to you? Can you say, "O Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee, and that these are the features of my character!"
Who is on the Lord's side? Exodus 32:26.
Last Friday evening, you will remember, that in discoursing from this text, I mentioned three classes of professors of religion: those who truly love God and man, those who are actuated solely by selfishness (or at most self love) in their religious duties, and those who are actuated only by a regard for public opinion. I also mentioned several characteristics of the first class, by which they may be known. This evening I intend to mention several characteristics of the second class,
Those professors who are actuated by self love or by selfishness.
I design to show how their leading or main design in religion develops itself in their conduct. The conduct of men invariably shows what is their true and main design. A man's character is as his supreme object is. And if you can learn by his conduct what that leading object is, then you can know with certainty what his character is. And I suppose this may generally be known by us with great certainty, if we would candidly and thoroughly observe their conduct.
These three classes of professors agree in many things, and it would be impossible to discriminate between them by an observation of these things only. But there are certain things in which they differ, and by close observation the difference will be seen in their conduct, from which we infer a difference in their character. And those points in which they differ belong to the very fundamental of religion.
II. I will now proceed to mention some of the characteristics of the second class
those who are actuated by self love, or by selfishness, in whom hope and fear are the main springs of all they do in religion. And the things that I shall mention are such as, when they are seen, make it evident that the individual is actuated by a supreme regard to his own good, and that the fear of evil, or the hope of advantage to himself, is the foundation of all his conduct.
1. They make religion a subordinate concern.
They show by their conduct that they do not regard religion as the principal business of life, but as subordinate to other things. They consider religion as something that ought to come in by the by, as something that ought to come in and find a place among other things, as a sort of Sabbath day business, or something to be confined to the closet and the hour of family prayer, and the Sabbath, but not as the grand business of life. They make a distinction between religious duty and business, and consider them as entirely separate concerns. Whereas, if they had right views of the matter, they would consider religion as the only business of life, and nothing else either lawful or worth pursuing, any further than as it promotes or subserves religion. If they had the right feeling, religion would characterize all that they do, and it would be manifest that everything they do is an act of obedience to God, or an act of irreligion.
2. Their religious duties are performed as a task, and are not the result of the constraining love of God that burns within them.
Such a one does not delight in the exercise of religious affections; and as to communion with God, he knows nothing of it. He performs prayer as a task.
He betakes himself to religious duties as sick persons take medicine, not because they love it, but because they hope to derive some benefit from it.
And here let me ask those who are present tonight, Do you enjoy religious exercises, or do you perform them because you hope to receive benefit by them? Be honest, now, and answer this question, just according to the truth, and see where you stand.
3. They manifestly possess a legal spirit, and not a gospel spirit.
They do rather what they are obliged to do, in religion, and not what they love to do. They have an eye to the commands of God, and yield obedience to his requirements, in performing religious duties, but do not engage in those things because they love them. They are always ready to inquire, in regard to duty, not so much how they can do good, as how they can be saved. There is just the difference between them, that there is between a convinced sinner and a true convert. The convinced sinner asks "What must I do to be saved?" The true convert asks "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" So this class of professors are constantly asking, "What must I do to get to heaven?" and not "What can I do to get other people there?" The principal object of such a professor of religion is not to save the world, but to save himself.
4. They are actuated by fear much more than by hope.
They perform their religious duties chiefly because they dare not omit them. They go to the communion, not because they love to meet Christ, or because they love to commune with their brethren, but because they dare not stay away. They fear the censures of the church, or they are afraid they shall be damned if they neglect it. They perform their closet duties not because they enjoy communion with God, but because they dare not neglect them. They have the spirit of slaves, and go about the service of God, as slaves go about the service of their master, feeling that they are obliged to do about so much, or be beaten with many stripes. So these professors feel as if they were obliged to have about so much religion, and perform about so many religious duties, or be lashed by conscience and lose their hopes. And therefore they go through, painfully and laboriously enough, with about so many religious duties in a year, and that they call religion!
5. Their religion is not only produced by the fear of disgrace or the fear of hell, but it is mostly of a negative character.
They satisfy themselves, mostly, with doing nothing that is very bad. Having no spiritual views, they regard the law of God chiefly as a system of prohibitions, just to guard men from certain sins, and not as a system of benevolence fulfilled by love. And so, if they are moral in their conduct, and tolerably serious and decent in their general deportment, and perform the required amount of religious exercises, this satisfies them. Their conscience harasses them, not so much about sins of omission as sins of commission. They make a distinction between neglecting to do what God positively requires, and doing what he positively forbids. The most you can say of them is that they are not very bad. They seem to think little or nothing of being useful to the cause of Christ, so long as they cannot be convicted of any positive transgression.
6. This class of persons are more or less strict in religious duties, according to the light they have and the sharpness with which conscience pursues them.
Where they have enlightened minds and tender consciences, you often find them the most rigid of all professors. They tithe even to mint and anise. They are stiff even to moroseness. They are perfect pharisees, and carry everything to the greatest extremes, so far as outward strictness is concerned.
7. They are more or less miserable in proportion to the tenderness of their conscience.
With all their strictness, they cannot be sensible that they are great sinners after all: and having no just sense of the gospel justification, this leaves them very unhappy. And the more enlightened and tender their conscience, the more they are unhappy. Notwithstanding their strictness, they feel that they come short of their duty, and not having any gospel faith, nor any of that holy anointing of the Holy Spirit that brings peace to the soul, they are unsatisfied, and uneasy, and miserable.
Perhaps many of you have seen such persons. Perhaps some of you are such, and you never knew what it was to feel justified before God, through the blood of Jesus Christ, and you know not what it is to feel that Jesus Christ has accepted and owned you as his. You never felt in your minds what that is which is spoken of in the text, "There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Does such language bring home any warm and practical idea to you, that it is a reality because you experience it in your soul? Or do you, after all, still feel condemned and guilty, and have no sense of pardoned sin, and no experimental peace with God, or confidence in Jesus Christ.
8. This class of persons are encouraged and cheered by reading the accounts of ancient saints who fell into great sins.
They feel wonderfully instructed and edified when they hear the sins of Gods people set forth in a strong light. Then they are comforted and their hopes are wonderfully strengthened. Instead of feeling humbled and distressed, and feeling that such conduct is so contrary to all religion that they could hardly believe they were saints if it had not been found in the Bible, and that they could not believe at all that persons who should do such things under the light of the Christian dispensation, could be saints; they feel gratified and strengthened, and their hopes confirmed, by all these things. I once knew a man, an elder too, brought before the session of a church for the crime of adultery, and he actually excused himself by this plea: He did not know, he said, why he should be expected to be better than David, the man after God's own heart.
9. They are always much better pleased, by how much the lower the standard of piety is held out from the pulpit.
If the minister adopts a low standard, and is ready charitably to hope that almost every body is a Christian, they are pleased, and compliment him for his expansive charity, and praise him as such an excellent man, so charitable, etc. It is easy to see why this class of persons are pleased with such an exhibition of Christianity. It subserves their main design. It helps them to maintain what they call a "comfortable hope," notwithstanding they do so little for God. Right over against this, you will see, is the conduct of the man whose main design is to rid the world of sin. He wants all men to be holy, and therefore he wants to have the true standard of holiness held up. He wants all men to be saved, but he knows they cannot be saved unless they are truly holy. And he would as soon think of Satan's going to heaven as of getting a man there by frittering away the Bible standard of holiness by "charity."
10. They are fond of having "comfortable" doctrines preached.
Such persons are apt to be fond of having the doctrine of saints' perseverance much dwelt on, and the doctrine of election. Often, they want nothing else but what they call the doctrines of grace. And if they can be preached in such an abstract way, as to afford them comfort without galling their consciences too much, they are fed.
11. They love to have their ministers preach sermons "to feed Christians."
Their main object is not to save sinners, but to be saved themselves, and therefore they always choose a minister, not for his ability in preaching for the confession of sinners, but for his talents in feeding the church with mere abstractions.
12. They lay great stress on having "a comfortable hope."
You will hear them talking very solemnly about the importance of having a comfortable hope. If they can only enjoy their minds, they show very little solicitude whether anybody else around them is saved or not. If they can have only their fears silenced and their hopes cherished they have religion enough to satisfy them.
Right over against this, you will find the true friends of God and man are thinking mainly of something else: they are trying to pull sinners out of the fire, and do not spend their energy in sustaining a comfortable hope to themselves.
In their prayers, you will find the class I am now speaking of, are praying mainly that their evidences may be brightened, and that they may feel assured that they are going to heaven, and know that they are accepted of God. Their great object is to secure their hopes, and so they pray that their evidences may be brightened, instead of praying that their faith may be strengthened, and their souls full of the Holy Ghost to pull sinners out of the fire.
13. They live very much on their own frames of mind.
They lay great stress on the particular emotions which they have from time to time. If at any time they have some high wrought feelings of a religious nature, they dwell on them, and make this evidence last a great while. One such season of excitement will prop up their hopes as long as they can distinctly call it up to remembrance. No matter if they are not doing anything now, and are conscious they have no exercises of love to God now, they recollect the time when they had such and such feelings, and that answers to keep alive their hopes. If there has been a revival, and they mingled in its scenes until their imagination has been wrought up so that they could weep and pray and exhort with feeling during a revival, that will last them a long time, and they will have a comfortable hope for years on the strength of it. Although, after the revival is over, they do nothing to promote religion, and their hearts are as hard as adamant, they have a very comfortable hope all the while, patiently waiting for a revival to come and give them another move.
Are any of you who are here now, propping yourselves up by your past frames and feelings, leaning on evidences, not from what you are NOW doing but something that you felt last year, or years ago? Let me tell you, that if you are thus living on past experience, you will find it will fail when you come to need it.
14. They pray almost exclusively for themselves.
If you could listen at the door of their closets, you would hear eight-tenths of all their petitions going up for themselves.
It shows how they value their own salvation in comparison with the salvation of others. It is as eight to two. And if they pray in meetings, very often it will be just the same, and you would not suppose, from their prayers, that they knew there was a sinner on earth traveling the road to hell. They pray for themselves just as they do in the closet, only they couple the rest of the church with them so as to say "we."
15. Such persons pray to be fitted for death much more than they pray to be fitted to live a useful life.
They are more anxious to be prepared to die, than to be prepared to save sinners around them. If they ask for the Spirit of God, they want it to prepare them to die, more than as the Psalmist prayed, "Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee." How many of you are of this character? How many are there here, whose prayers are described exactly? An individual who made it his great absorbing object to do good and save sinners, would not be apt to think so much about when, or where, or how he shall die, as how he may do the most good while he lives. And as to his death, he leaves that all to God, and he is not afraid to leave it all with him. He has long ago given his soul up to him, and now the great question with him is not, When shall I die? but, how shall I live so as to honor God?
16. They are more afraid of punishment than they are of sin.
Precisely over against this, you will find the true friends of God and man more afraid of sin than of punishment. It is not the question with them, "If I do this shall I be punished?" or, "If I do this, will God forgive me:" But the question is that which Joseph asked, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" There was the spirit of a child of God, afraid of sin more than punishment, and so much afraid of sin that he had no thought of punishment.
This class of persons I am speaking of, often indulge in sin if they can persuade themselves that God will for give them, or when they think they can repent of it afterwards. They often reason in this way: "Such a minister does this;" or "Such an elder or professor does this, and why may not I do the same?" There was a member of this church had a class in the Sabbath school; but seeing that others did not take a class, the individual reasoned in this way: "Why should I do it any more than they?" and so gave up the class. Here is the spirit of this whole description of professors "Others get along without doing such and such things, and why should I trouble myself to be better than they?" It is not sin that they fear, but punishment. They sin, they know, but they hope to escape punishment. Who cannot see that this in contrary to the spirit of the true friends of God, whose absorbing object it is to get sin, and all sin, out of the world? Such persons are not half so much afraid of hell us they are of committing sin.
17. They feel and manifest greater anxiety about being saved themselves, than if all the world was going to hell.
Such a professor, if his hope begins to fail, wants to have everybody engaged, to pray for HIM, and make a great ado, and move all the church, when he never thinks of doing anything for the sinners around him, who are certainly on the road to hell. He shows that his mind is absorbed in himself, and that his main design is not to see how much good he can do.
18. They are more fond of receiving good than of doing good.
You may know such persons have not the spirit of the gospel. They have never entered into the spirit of Jesus Christ, when he said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
A person actuated by true love to God and man enjoys what he does to benefit others, far more than they do who receive good at his hand. He is really benevolent, and it is a gratification to him to show kindness, because his heart is set upon it, and when he can do it, a holy joy is shed over his mind, and he enjoys it exquisitely.
The other class are more eager to receive than to impart. They want to receive instruction more than to impart it. They want to receive comfort, but are never ready to deny themselves to give the comforts of the gospel to others. How directly contrary this is to the diffusive spirit of the gospel, any one can see at a glance. That spirit ends its supreme happiness in communicating happiness to others. But this class of persons want to lay everybody under contribution to impart happiness to themselves, instead of laying themselves out to bless others.
Who does not know these two classes of professor? One always seeking out objects to do good to, the other always trying to gain good themselves. One anxious to communicate, the other to receive. One to do good, the other to get good. These two classes of character are just as opposite as light and darkness.
19. If this class of professors are led to pray for the conversion and salvation of others, you may observe that they are actuated by the same kind of considerations as they are when they pray for themselves.
They are chiefly afraid of hell themselves, and when they are strongly convicted, they are afraid others will go there too. They are seeking happiness for themselves, and when self is not in the way, they seek the same for others. They pray for sinners, not because they have such a sense of the evil of sin which sinners are committing, as because they have such a sense of the terrors of hell to which sinners are going. It is not because sinners dishonor God that they want them converted, but because they are in danger. Their great object in praying is to secure the safety of those they pray for, as it is their great object in religion to secure their own safety. They pity themselves and they pity others. If there was no danger, they would have no motive to pray either for themselves or others.
The true friends of God and man feel compassion for winners too, but they feel much more for the honor of God. They are more distressed to see God abused and dishonored than to see sinners go to hell. And if God must be for ever dishonored or men go to hell just as certainly as they love God supremely, they will decide that sinners shall sink to endless torments sooner than God fail of his due honor. And they manifest their true feelings in their prayers. You hear them praying for sinners as rebels against God, as guilty criminals deserving of eternal wrath, as the enemies of God and the universe; and while they are full of compassion for sinners, they feel also the enkindlings of holy indignation against them for their conduct towards the blessed God.
20. The class of professors I am speaking of are very apt to be distressed with doubts.
They are apt to talk a great deal about their doubts. This makes up a great part of their history the detail of their doubts. The great thing with them being the enjoyment of a comfortable hope, as soon as they begin to doubt, it is all over with them, and so they make a great ado with their doubts, and then they are not prepared to do anything for religion because they have these doubts. The true friends of God and man being engaged in doing good, if the devil at any time suggests that they are going to hell, the first answer they think of is, "What if I should? Only let me pull sinners out of the fire while I can." I suppose real Christians may have doubts.
But they are much less apt to have them, by how much the more they are fully bent on saving sinners. It will be very hard work for Satan to get a church who is fully engaged in the work to be much troubled with doubts. Their attention is not on that, but on something else, and he cannot get the advantage over them.
21. They manifest great uneasiness at the increasing calls for self denial to do good.
Said an individual, "What will this temperance reformation come to? At first they only went against ardent spirit, and I gave up that, and did very well without it. Then they called on us to give up wine; and now they are calling on us to give up our tea and coffee, and tobacco; where will it end?" This class of persons are in constant distress at being called on to give up so much. The good that is to be done does not enter into their thoughts, because they are all the while dwelling on what they have to give up.
It is easily seen why it is that these aggressive movements on the kingdom of darkness distress such person. Their object never was to search out and banish from this world everything that is dishonorable to God or injurious to man. They never entered upon religion with the determination to clear out every such thing from the earth, as far as they had power, and as fast as they were convinced that it was injurious to themselves or others, in soul or body. And therefore they are distressed by the movements of those who are truly engaged to search out and clear away every evil.
These persons are annoyed by the continually increasing calls to give for missions, Bibles, tracts, and the like. The time was, when a rich man gave twenty-five dollars a year to such things, he was thought to be doing pretty well. But now there are so many calls for subscriptions and contributions, that they are in torment all the time. "I don't like these contributions, I am opposed to having contributions taken up in the congregation, I think they do hurt." They feel specially sole at these agents. "I don't know about these beggars that are going about." They are obliged to keep giving all the time, in order to keep up their character, or to have any hope, but they are much distressed about it, and do not know what the world is coming to, things are in such a strange pass.
As you raise the general standard of living in the church, this class of professors find they have to come up too, lest their hopes should be shaken. And the common standard of professors has been raised already so much, that I have no doubt it costs this class of persons new four times as much of what they call religion, to keep up a hope, as it did twenty years ago. And what will become of them if there are to be so many new movements and new measures, and so much done to save the world? The Lord help them, for they are in great distress!
22. When they are called upon to exercise self-denial for the sake of doing good, instead of being a pleasant thing, it gives them unmingled pain.
Such a one does not know anything about enjoying self-denial. He cannot understand how self-denial is pleasant, nor how anybody can take pleasure in it, or have joy of heart in denying himself for the sake of doing good to others. That, he thinks, is a height in religion to which he has not attained. Yet the true friend of God and man, whose heart is fully set to do good, never enjoys any money he expends so well as that which he gives to promote Christ's kingdom. If he is really pious, he knows that is the best disposition he can make of his money. Nay, he is sorry to be obliged to use money for anything else, when there are so many opportunities to do good with it.
I want you who are here to look at this. It is easy to see that if an individual has his heart very much set upon anything, all the money he can save for that object is most pleasing to him, and the more he can save from other objects for this that his heart is set on, the better he is pleased. If an individual find it hard for him to give money for religious objects, it is easy to see that his heart is not set on it. If it were, he would have given his money with joy. What would you think of a man who should set himself against giving money for the advancement of religion, and get up an excitement in the church, about the missionary cause, and having so many calls for money, when he had never given five dollars? It would be absolute demonstration that his heart was not truly set on the cause of Christ; if it were, he would give his money for it, as free as water; and the more he could spare for it, the better he would be pleased.
23. This class of persons are not forward in promoting revivals.
This is not their great object. They always have to be dragged into the work. When a revival has begun, and gone on, and the excitement is great, then they come in and appear to be engaged in it. But you never see them taking the lead, or striking out a-head of the rest, and saying to the rest of the brethren, Come on and let us do something for the Lord.
24. As a matter of fact, they do not convert sinners to God.
They may be instrumental of good, in various ways, and so may Satan be instrumental of good.
But as a general thing, they do not pull sinners out of the fire. And the reason is, that this is not their great object. How is it with you? Do you absolutely succeed in converting sinners? Is there any one who will look to yon as the instrument of his conversion? If you were truly engaged for this, you could not rest satisfied without doing it, and you would go about it so much in earnest, and with such agonizing prayer that you would do it.
25. They do not manifest much distress when they behold sin.
They do not rebuke it. They love to mingle in scenes where sin is committed. They love to be where they can hear vain conversation, and even to join in it. They love worldly company and worldly books. Their spirit is worldly. Instead of hating even the garment spotted with the flesh, they love to hang around the confines of sin, as if they had complacency in it.
26. They take but very little interest in published accounts of revivals, missions, etc.
If any of the missions are tried severely, they neither know nor feel it. If missions prosper, they never know it, they take no interest in it. Very likely they do not take any religious paper whatever. Or if they do, when they sit down to read it, if they come to a revival, they pass it over, to read the secular news, or the controversy, or something else. The other class, the true friends of God and man, on the contrary, love to learn the progress of revivals. They love to read a religious paper, and when they take it up, the first thing they do is to run their eye over it to find where there are revivals, and there they feast their souls, and give glory to God. And so with missions: their heart goes forth with the missionaries, and when they hear that the Lord has poured forth his Spirit on a mission, they feel a glow of holy joy thrill through them.
27. They do not aim at any thing higher than a legal, painful, negative religion.
The love of Christ does not constrain them to a constant warfare against sin, and a constant watch to do all the good in their power. But what they do is done only because they think they must. And they maintain a kind of piety that is formal, heartless, worthless.
28. They come reluctantly into all the special movements of the church for doing good.
If a protracted meeting is proposed, you will generally find this class of persons hanging back, and making objections, and raising difficulties as long as they can. If any other special effort is proposed, they come reluctantly, and prefer the good old way. They feel sore at being obliged to add so much every year to their religion in order to maintain their hope.
29. They do not enjoy secret prayer.
They do not pray in their closets because they LOVE to pray but because they think it is their duty, and they dare not neglect it.
30. They do not enjoy the Bible.
They do not read the Bible because it is sweet to their souls, sweeter than honey or the honey-comb. They do not "enjoy" the reading, as a person enjoys the most exquisite delights. They read it because it is their duty to read it; and it would not do to profess to be a Christian and not read the Bible: but in fact they find it a dry book.
31. They do not enjoy prayer meetings.
Slight excuses keep them away. They never go unless they find it necessary for the sake of keeping up appearances, or to maintain their hope. And when they do go, instead of having their souls melted and fired with love, they are cold, listless, dull, and glad when it is over.
32. They are very much put to it to understand what is meant by disinterestedness.
To serve God because they love him, and not for the sake of the reward, is what they do not understand.
33. Their thoughts are not anxiously fixed upon the question, When shall the world be converted to God?
Their hearts are not agonized with such thoughts as this, on, how long shall wickedness prevail? Oh, when shall this wretched world be rid of sin and death? Oh, when shall men cease to sin against God? They think much more of the question, When shall I die and go to heaven, and get rid of all my trials and cares?
But I find I am again obliged to omit the examination of the last class of professors till next Friday evening, when, with the leave of Providence, it will be attended to.
1. I believe you will not think me extravagant, when I say that the religion I have described, appears to be the religion of a very large mass in the church.
To say the least, it is greatly to be feared that a majority of professing Christians are of this description. To say this, is neither uncharitable nor censorious.
2. This religion is radically defective.
There is nothing of true Christianity in it. It differs from Christianity as much as the Pharisees differed from Christ as much as gospel religion differs from legal religion.
Now, let me ask you, to which of these classes do you belong? Or are you in neither? It may be that because you are conscious you do not belong to the second class, you may think you belong to the first, when in fact, you will find, when I come to describe the third class of professors, that I describe your true character.
How important it is that you know for a certainty what
is your true character whether you are actuated in religion by true love
to God and man, or whether you are religious only out of regard to yourself.
O, what a solemn thought, if this church, of which I have been the pastor,
have never come to an intelligent decision of the question, whether they
are the true friends of God and man or not. Do settle it, beloved. Now
is the time. Settle this, and then go to work for God.
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