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road of virtue, have thought it an easier and pleasanter mode of avoiding the consequences of their enormities, to persuade themselves of sudden conversions, and peculiar favour from heaven; and to compensate for inward impurity by outward sanctity, and for disobedience in things essential, by intemperate zeal in things indifferent, formal, and merely ostentatious.
Thus spiritual pride, want of charity, hypocrisy, knavery, folly, and extreme wickedness, have given rise to extraordinary pretensions to the Spirit, and verified the observation, that the wickedest of mankind have been among those who displayed the appearance of goodness and piety in the extreme.
“ The gradation has been,” (says Dr. Trapp,) “ righteous overmuch in practice-righteous overmuch in practice and doctrine - immoral and profligate in both ; and this still with pretensions to extraordinary measures of the Holy Spirit.”
But to what should a conviction of this truth lead the sober Christian ? Certainly not to deny the doctrine of supernatural assistance, which he finds in the gospel; but to avoid all extravagance of pretension, all boasting, all over-righteousness, all preference of himself to others, on account of spiritual gifts, lest he also should find himself deceived and a deceiver.
The religion of Christ is of a retired and reserved nature. Its most important transactions are in the recesses of the heart, and in the closet. It loves not noise nor ostentation. Let him, therefore, who wishes to know whether he really has the Spirit, examine whether his virtues and good dispositions abound in retirement, and without the least parade whatever, or the smallest applause or reward of men. If he does good privately, and avoids the eyes of admirers, I think he may entertain an humble confidence that he has the favour of God. He has, in consequence, a source of joy within him, which no man taketh away. He has the bread of life, and feeds on it in his heart by faith with thanksgiving. He is silently and unostentatiously happy, neither courting the notice of the world, nor regarding its unjust censure. He is particularly careful, that no ill-treatment shall cause him to violate the law of charity. His chief concern is to bear and yet forbear; to be rather than to seem good.
Affected Sanctity, Demureness, Canting, Sourness,
Censoriousness, ignorant and illiterate Preaching, no marks of a State of Grace, but contribute to bring the whole Doctrine of Divine Energy into contempt, and to diffuse Infidelity.
Religion is lovely. Her voice is melodious, and her aspect delightful. How has she been deformed! She has been taught to utter jargon with the hoarse croaking of the portentous raven, or to scream with the terrific howlings of the bird of night. Her face has been changed from the face
of an angel to a gorgon's head, surrounded with snakes. She has been rendered a bugbear, terrifying all who approach her, instead of a gentle nursing mother, inviting wretched mortals to her fostering bosom, by the tenderest blandishments of maternal love.
Men of natural sense, improved by a learned education, and polished by all the elegancies of cultivated life, have turned from her, thus disguised as she appears, with disgust and horror. They have devoted themselves to a seducing philosophy, and left religion, thus disfigured, to the gross vulgar, who they erroneously conceived were naturally attached to the horrors of a cruel and gloomy, as well as a silly, superstition.
Is it not desirable to vindicate Christianity from such dishonour—to show that her most important doctrine, the doctrine of divine energy, leads to every disposition that is gentle, amiable, and benificent; that it exalts, refines, and mollifies the human bosom; and while it kindles a lively and pleasant hope of future felicity, improves every real enjoyment of the present life? Such a representation, and it certainly is a just one, must invite every man, who feels duly for himself or others, within the Christian pale.
The Spirit is a spirit of truth, and therefore must be adverse to all affectation of sanctity, all studied severity of aspect and demeanour, intended only to excite external respect, and to impress on the spectators, often for the sake of interest, as well as from vanity, an idea of spiritual pre-eminence. The Spirit is a loving spirit, and therefore very unlike that of the sour, censorious pretenders, who condemn all innocent amusements, and think none capable of divine favour but themselves, and those who entertain their sentiments on points perfectly indifferent in the sight of God, and of every reasonable man. The Spirit is a spirit of wisdom, which implies a due degree of knowledge and ability for every undertaking we voluntarily engage in, and therefore cannot approve the preaching of illiterate persons, who are unacquainted, not only with the languages in which the Scriptures were written, but often with their own; who are fitter to be catechumens than catechists; to sit at the feet of Gamaliel, than to usurp his chair. Learning may not be requisite in the pious hearer, but it is certainly so in every one who assumes the office of an instructor. He is not an honest man, who professes and is paid to instruct others, without having exerted himself to the utmost to procure a competent store of knowledge. The operations of the Holy Spirit, accompanying his endeavours, may make a good Christian in his private capacity; may give him faith and knowledge sufficient for his salvation; but they do not, since the time of the apostles, bestow a knowledge of languages, or qualify alone, without the aids of human learning, for a teacher of theology.
The annals of suicide, if any such there were, and the registers of Bedlam, might bear witness to the mischiefs caused by fanatical mechanics, with strong passions and imaginations, but of feeble and narrow intellects, wildly haranguing weak and aged men and women on their lost state, on their danger of eternal damnation, and a thousand other most awful matters, which at once puzzle the understandings, and dismay the hearts of the deluded multitude. True Christianity shudders at the suf
ferings of well-meaning devotees, wantonly inflicted by ignorant zealots, seeking self-importance, and gratifying the pride of their hearts, as leaders of a wretched tribe, whom noise and high pretensions collect easily in every populous city, and in every poor neighbourhood, where the necessity of constant manual employment for the means of subsistence precludes all contemplation, and the improvement of judgment that might result from it.
In compassion to these people, who deserve every assistance, because they certainly intend every thing that is good, though they do and suffer great evil, through defect of judgment, I wish the regular clergy, both of the established and dissenting church, to feed them with the food in which they delight—the heavenly manna, the doctrine of grace.
There is no doubt but that many of them do so occasionally; but I submit it to them whether it ought not to be a leading and principal topic in every discourse inculcating morality. I beg leave to suggest that evangelical preaching, in which the doctrine of divine energy must always make a very considerable part, would keep their congregations from wandering after men, who have no other qualification for preaching but zeal, real or pretended; zeal without knowledge, or a knowledge confined, superficial, and unaccompanied with general charity or sound discretion. With all their defects, they do, however, preach the doctrine of grace. The people know this to be the genuine doctrine of the gospel, and therefore they flock by tens of thousands to hear it, regardless of the barbarism of the self-appointed crator, who leaves the loom and the last for the pulpit.
The pearl of great price they estimate highly,