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Let us bear in mind, that whatever may have been the case formerly in this country, to be a consistent member of Christ's true church in the present day requires much courage and resolution. To be an inconsistent member is easy enough.
And one great test of our consistency, a test which I should think we might fairly apply to ascertain our spiritual condition before God, is that implied in the truth we have been now considering:
If our path be one of daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, progress—if we are growing substantially better as we grow older—if we are more penitent and kind, more meek, humble, and obedient, more diligent and self-denying, more anxious about being what we ought to be, and less anxious about feeling so, or appearing so; then we may have hope that our religion is somewhat substantialthat it can stand against scorn and contempt without, and also against impatience, fretfulness and despondency within—that we are, in some faint degree at least, unworthy as we are-yet in some faint degree "adorning the doctrine of God our Savior”— that the path we have entered on is the path of the just, and will be found to be" as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day”—even that perfect, glorious, endless day, when to Christ's “humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient” servants, the Lord shall reveal himself as their "everlasting light, and the days of their mourning shall be ended."
DANGER OF MISTAKING DARKNESS FOR LIGHT.
ST. LUKE xi. 35.
“ Take heed therefore, that the light which is in thee, be not darkness.”
THERE have been offered to your thoughts, on a former occasion, some few reflections on what may be called, "the progressive nature of a Christian life”-I mean the doctrine, that the sincere Christian must not at all expect to have everything light and plain before him now, but, like a traveller in the twilight of morning, must be content to walk onward with (perhaps) very little light, though still increasing, patiently trusting that, when the sun shall be risen, all will be bright and clear.
Thus (as we saw) is “the path of the just, like the shining light," the first glimmering streak of the morning in the eastern sky, “ that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” But as the subject is one of great and touching importance, especially in trying times (as I said), it may be well for us to turn our thoughts again to it; especially with a view to guard ourselves, by the aid of God's merciful Spirit, against certain errors relating to it-errors into which we may possibly be all, more or less, in danger of falling. Indeed, no doubt, we are in danger; and this the more, if we are not aware of our danger, or do not choose to allow it, or to reflect
It may well seem, that in his love for mankind, and his deep sense of this our danger, the ever-blessed Jesus framed that his most expressive parable, concerning spiritual light and darkness; and, as it appears, not once or twice only, but frequently addressed it to his disciples. From St. Luke, compared with St. Matthew, we find that
one occasion on which our Lord uttered it, was the following:
“ The people being gathered thick together," with curiosity, not only to see his miracles, but also to hear his doctrine, he took the opportunity from a scornful demand which the Scribes and Pharisees put to him : “Master,” said they, after all his miracles, we wish to see a sign from thee.” From this he took occasion to offer, to considerate persons among the multitude, some solemn warnings concerning both the value of the
gospel, and the danger of neglecting it.
• The Ninevites (said he) repented at the preaching of Jonas, but a greater than Jonas is here."
“ The queen of the south came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, but a greater than Solomon is here." And then, as if he continued :
These great men of the Jews know not what privileges they possess; they, with all their light, are, as it were, in a state of spiritual darkness;—they are so themselves, and would keep others in the same ;-their conduct is as foolish and unkind, as would be that of persons who should light a candle, and then put it under a bushel, instead of setting it on the stand, where it might give light to all who are in the room.
“ The light of a man's body is the eye,” as the light of the soul is religion. And as in the bodily eye, if the sight be single, clear, and distinct, the whole body is, as it were, enlightened-guided to execute its proper duties: whereas if the sight be injured, evil, dim, and confused, the whole body suffers for it—is perplexed, and in a manner
" full of darkness :" so is it with man's spiritual condition. If a person's
religion be "single," pure, and springing from unfeigned love of God, then the whole conduct is consistent--all is “full of light.”
But if a person's religion be “evil,” founded on some false principle originally, or corrupted by intercourse with the world, or debased by carnal lusts, then all is confusion and inconsistency, and in a manner “full of darkness.”
The danger of which inconsistency, our blessed Lord gave his first disciples, and all Christians since, most solemn warning of, when he added those startling words:
Take heed, therefore, that the light which is in thee be not darkness." As much as to say, Take heed how you imagine too hastily, that you are safe in the way of truth and salvation; for possibly you may be altogether mistaken.
The necessity of such a caution as this, may appear from a few considerations out of many which must suggest themselves to a thoughtful mind.
As, for example, some people are greatly set up by mere knowledge. Being a little more clever or knowing in some matters than their neighbors, they think at once they know everything. Nothing is above them. So by degrees they look on themselves as specially wise and enlightened, and every one else they pronounce to be in the dark. This is often the case with persons who affect to hold what are called very enlarged and liberal notions about religion—notions tending first to Socinianism, and so on to deism and infidelity.
To them, as surely as the gospel is true, must be addressed the divine warning, if they would be prevailed on to listen to it: “ Take heed! for the light which is in thee is but darkness !”
Again, we must be aware that it is by no means uncommon for people to imagine, or to act as if they im. agined, that gain is godliness" (as the apostle says); that a man has quite enough of religion in him, if he can get through life in a respectable sort of way; keeping up a fair character in society ; complying with the laws and customs of his neighborhood; and particularly careful not to be “ righteous overmuch,” that is, as he understood it, not to have more religion than is quite necessary. It is no wonder, that, with such a disposition as this, a person should think very little of all the peculiar doctrines and obligations of the church and gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In name and profession he is indeed a Christian, because he happens to be born in a Christian land. But he suffers no creed to interfere with his comforts or pursuits; he thinks seldom or never of the great mysteries of redemption and sanctification ; what has been done for him, and what still remains to be done; these things trouble him not, nor does he ever intend that they shall. He has, he thinks, light sufficient to enable him to lead what he calls a decent moral life ; and what more, he asks, can be necessary ?
Of such an one, again, it must be said, that, if the gospel be indeed true, "the light which is in him is but darkness." He flatters himself that the path he has chosen is a safe one; but he will find in the end, that, when his accounts for eternity are to be made up,
he has to deal with one who is no longer to him a Savior, but a strict, omniscient, and justly-offended Judge.
Another case may be mentioned, as one, alas! by no means uncommon, viz., when persons make the state of their feelings the test and proof of their religious sincerity. When they feel happy, comfortable, and confident, this, they think, is to be in light. When, on the contrary, they see persons inclined to be in alarm for themselves, in doubt and perplexity, this is what they consider being in darkness.
Now, I say not that it is wicked to indulge such fancies as these (for they are but fancies), but that they are erroneous, and contrary to the spirit of the gospel, and, therefore, greatly to be guarded against—this, I think, no candid inquirer into the nature and history of the Christian revelation can deny or question.
The error is one of that kind described by the ancient prophet as doubly mischievous. It “makes the heart of the righteous sad, whom God would not have made sad; and it strengtheneth and encourageth the wicked, that he should not return from his evil way, by promising him life.”
Surely, then, to a person so suffering himself to be misled, the divine warning of the holy Jesus must be well supposed to be addressed : “ Take heed lest the light which is in thee be indeed not light, but) darkness."
We may, too, consider the case of persons whose