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who fear Christianity should be true, and therefore, with fool-hardy presumption, resolve to deny it.
On the Seasons of Grace.
There are times when the mind seems sensible of a peculiar serenity; the understanding is clear to discern spiritual things, and the heart glows with sentiments of Christian piety and general benevolence. At those times, man appears to be exalted above the common level of mortality. All pure, all peace, all love, all joy, his nature endeavours to soar above the earth, and to reach the source of all excellence. A sweet complacency, in those moments, diffuses itself over the soul, and an internal satisfaction is experienced, which no language can describe ; but which renders him who feels it, as happy as it is possible to become in a sublunary existence.
These are the halcyon times which may be termed the seasons of grace; the seasons, when the God of mercy, compassionating the weary pilgrim, sends down the cup of comfort to exhilarate and reward him; displays the lamp of heaven, to illuminate his path as he travels in the valley.
These favours, as I firmly believe, are offered to
all the sons of Adam who do not presumptuously and repeatedly and knowingly offend the donor : for that man may grieve the Spirit and quench the Spirit, we are told in the strong language of Scripture.
But a proper reception of this divine benefit will secure its frequency and continuance. Our own endeavours must be exerted with vigilance and constancy, to preserve the divine frame of mind which it may have produced. Nothing can effect this but the avoidance of habitual vice and impurity, and the practice of virtue. But if, after all, there should be seasons of insensibility and coldness, it must not be concluded that the spiritual assistance is withdrawn in displeasure. For even in the darkest valley, an unseen hand can support and guide the pilgrim in his progress; and after the clouds shall have prevailed their time, the sun will break forth with all its warmth and lustre.
It appears to me to be the first object of Christian philosophy to secure the duration and frequent recurrence of the seasons of grace. In order to accomplish this end, whatever conduces to the moral improvement of the heart must be pursued with ardour. The fine morality, discovered by the light of nature and the feelings of the heart, probably assisted, among the heathens, by divine interposition, may and ought to be called in to add something to the work of Christian improvement; for the best heathen ethics are founded on truth, and therefore immutably valuable. A state of grace without morality, I firmly believe, is not permitted by him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.
But the man who is blessed with the visitations of the divine Spirit, feels his heart spontaneously inclined to every thing that is lovely and of good report. Virtue appears to him amiable, and easy to be practised; and vice disgustful, at once the pollution and the misery of his nature. All the angry passions subside in him; the gentle and benevolent affections grow in their place, and man becomes what he was before the lapse of Adam, and what the gospel revelation was designed to render him, a being little lower than the angels.
Of mistaking the Effects of Imagination for the
Seasons of Grace.
There are many who will scarcely allow the existence of any thing which they cannot subject to the notice of the senses. They must literally see the truth of every thing which requires their assent, or they will doubt its reality. To them, whatever is said on the subject of a spiritual world, or an invisible agency on the soul of man, appears to be the effusion of fancy, and the sick man's dream.
And, indeed, the experience of mankind justifies great caution in distinguishing between the actual operation of the Holy Spirit, and the delirious effects of a too lively imagination. The imagination, heated by the devotional flame, has often kindled a destructive fire. It is indeed the parent of fanaticism, in all its extremities, and all its evil consequences. As, therefore, the real agency of the Holy Spirit is to be invited and cherished, so the mere imagination of it is to be most studiously avoided.
That the whole doctrine is not imaginary, is evident to him who reads and believes the gospel. Such operations are there plainly spoken of and promised as the greatest blessings to the human race. Their effects are described as great and sudden, in affording both comfort, holiness, and illumination.
The reality of seasons of grace cannot be questioned but by him who at the same time questions the whole system of revelation. And a rational man, it is to be believed, will find no difficulty in satisfying himself that he is not deluded by his imagination, when he feels himself particularly virtuous, pure, benevolent, and open to celestial influence.
But as all men are not governed by reason, and none are governed by it uniformly, it certainly is probable that the delusions of imagination may often be mistaken for supernatural assistance. A few cautionary suggestions on the subject may not, therefore, be superfluous.
Since it is possible that the best-intentioned may be thus deluded, let every man try his spirit by the fruits it produces ; not by a sudden or momentary fruit, but by the frequency and abundance of its productions. If it habitually produces peace, joy, purity, piety, and benevolence, let no man attribute it to his imagination; but give the glory to God, and be grateful.
But if it display itself in pride, self-conceit, and contempt of others, in acts of violence, in disturbing good order, in any behaviour which seems to argue an opinion of peculiar inspiration from heaven, of a partial commission, delegated to reform the world by irregular, uncharitable, and offensive interposition; if it pretends to visions and illuminations unexperienced by the best and wisest of men; if it assumes the privilege of actually conversing in person with Jesus Christ, and talks of the hour and moment when the Holy Ghost rushed upon the bosom ; it is time to beware of the infatuation of a deluded fancy. There is certainly every reason to believe that such a temper of mind is not from God.
But it is folly and impiety to confound with these that sweet frame and disposition of mind, which the Scriptures describe as descending from the Holy Ghost, and which has indeed every mark of divine origin.
He who condemns the doctrine of divine agency on the mind of man, as fanciful, must, if he is consistent, include the whole of the Christian religion, and all that has ever been said or written in favour of it, under the same imputation. According to him, the fair edifice must melt away, like a palace of ice, when the sun of reason shines upon it. But we maintain that the true gospel, which is indeed the doctrine of grace, is the rock of ages.