Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

to expect it. And an expectation of success, resting, not upon any independent efficacy of divine truth, but upon the influence of the Spirit, will most powerfully prompt us to use the appointed means. When we feel most deeply, that neither he who planteth nor he who watereth is any thing, but God who giveth the increase, we shall have the strongest incitement to diligence and perseverance in planting and watering. On the contrary, the sentiment, that we must look for success to our own efforts, or to the mere influence of the truth upon the unrenewed heart, would lead to utter discouragement and despondency. Were this our only dependence, we should expect to be forever compelled to say, Lord, who hath believed our report ?

Finally : how manifest is the propriety and importance of fervent prayer to God, that he would grant the influence of his Spirit for the renewal of sinners. As he is the gracious Author of that saving change, we should gratefully and devoutly acknowledge him as such. And as he has promised to accomplish this work in answer to the prayers of his people, all our regard to his glory, and to the salvation of immortal souls should move us to earnest and unceasing prayer, that he would vouchsafe to sinners the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. The Lord grant, that his people may have just and adequate conceptions of their dependence for the sanctification of their hearts and their holy enjoy-. ments, on the power of his Spirit; and that all his ministers, being guided by wisdom from above, may hold forth this momentous doctrine in its true light, giving it the same prominence, and the same relation to other doctrines, which it has in the sacred scriptures ; so that the Holy Spirit may be duly honored, and his blessed influences extended far and wide.

PUBLISHED BY THE

[ocr errors]

AMERICAN DOCTRINAL TRACT SOCIETY.

PERKINS & MARVIN, AGENTS.
Depository, 114, Washington Street, Boston.

THE BIBLE THE ONLY SURE TEST

OF

RELIGIOUS CHARACTER.

[BY REV. LEONARD WOODS,

D. d.]

If a man wishes to ascertain whether he has a title to an estate, which has been left by a rich relative, he searches the laws of the land respecting inheritance. He examines the interpretations which have been given of those laws, in the writings of the ablest jurists, and in the decisions of courts of justice. He diligently inquires into all the circumstances of the case, and into all the conditions with which it may be necessary for him to comply in order to secure the possession of the estate. In this business he proceeds with great zeal, and without any delay. The interest which he has in the subject urges him on to complete the examination seasonably, so that if his title is clear, he may have the pleasure of anticipating the property, and may adopt every measure which wisdom dictates in order to obtain the possession of it.

But what is the largest estate on earth, compared with the heavenly inheritance? And what is the care and diligence which we ought to exercise in order to secure any earthly good, compared with that which we ought to exercise, to make sure our title to the inheritance of the saints in light ?

But how are we to determine, whether we have a title to that inheritance ? Clearly, we must do this by ascertaining what are the qualifications of those who are entitled to it, and whether those qualifications belong to us. This is the business of self-examination ;-a business of vast moment to all Christians, though often neglected ; and when not entirely neglected, often performed without due regard to the proper test of character. No language is adequate to describe the evils which result either from the omission of self-inquiry, or from an attempt to perform the duty while the rule of judgment is overlooked.

This general subject is often well explained and forcibly inculcated by Christian preachers and Christian writers. The remarks in this Tract will be directed to a particular point, and that, one of great practical importance; namely; that in the whole business of examining ourselves, and judging of religious character, we should make the word of God our rule..

A little consideration will make it manifest, that the word of God is the only safe rule. Neither the opinions of the world, nor the character of Christians, nor the particular experience of those around us, nor any views which we might be led to entertain of the nature of religion by our own reasoning, or by our own feelings, can be a safe standard. The prevailing opinions of the world, so far from being certainly right, are likely to be wrong ; because the world lieth in darkness. Even Christians are all very imperfect; and their faults frequently more visible than their excellencies; so that measuring ourselves by them would certainly expose us to mistakes. As to the religious experience of those around us,-it may be true and saving, or it may be false and delusive. At best, it will be a mixed experience. And unless we have some higher rule of judgment, how shall we be able to separate the true from the false, the wheat from the chaff. If we judge of ourselves by what we know of the experience of others, we shall be in danger of setting a high value upon that which is worthless, and a low value upon that which constitutes the very essence of religion. Who is able to form a safe and perfect standard of judgment in regard to religious character, but that Being, whose knowledge is infinite, and who is therefore liable to no mistake? Who but God perfectly knows the nature of the kingdom of heaven, and the necessary qualifications of those who shall be admitted into it? If any man should undertake by his own wisdom, without divine teaching, to make out a description of the qualifications which the heirs of heaven must have, he would undoubtedly fall into various errors ; and his errors would misguide all those who looked to him as a stand

cerns.

ard. A rule of judgment, on which we can safely rely, must be formed by God himself, or by those who enjoy his infallible guidance. If we faithfully attend to a rule, formed in this way, we may expect that the conclusions which we adopt, will be according to truth, and will stand forever.

Another reason, and one of great moment, for making the word of God our rule of judgment respecting character, is, that this is to be the rule of judgment at the last day. Christ himself has expressly informed us, that the word which he spake shall judge us at the last day. In matters of a civil nature, we search for those laws and precedents which are to be the rule of judgment. In special cases, we search again and again, and ask the counsel of those who possess superior skill, so that we may determine as exactly as possible, what will be the decision of the court of justice, and may govern ourselves accordingly. Such a mode of proceeding is in the highest degree important with respect to our spiritual con

Our state for eternity is to be decided at the last day; and God has graciously informed us, that his word is to be the rule of judgment. To determine then how our character will appear at the last day, it is only neces. sary that we should try ourselves faithfully by the word of God. If we try ourselves by any rule less elevated and less strict than this, we may indeed be led to cherish, a hope of future happiness; but the hope may be one which shall perish forever. And who would wish for a hope, built on delusion? The painfulness of the final disappointment must be far more than an overbalance for all the pleasure which can now be derived from such a delusion. And besides this, the indulgence of a delusive hope is, of all things, the most likely to prevent us from obtaining that hope which is sure and steadfast.

This is a subject of most serious interest to all the heirs: of immortality. When in our seasons of reflection, the momentous inquiry arises in our minds, whether we have a title to the kingdom of heaven ; it is infinitely important, that we should repair directly to the word of God, and judge of our character and prospects by that sure standard. Many of the books which have been written by learned and pious men on the nature and evidences of

religion, exhibit the truth with clearness and fidelity, and may be consulted with great profit. But they should never be substituted for the word of God. Nor should any works of human origin be so used, as to diminish in our view the importance of scripture, or in any degree to withdraw our attention from it. Religious books should be calculated to raise our esteem for the Bible, and to aid us in understanding its instructions, and in applying them to our own case. If they have a different influence, they are not only useless, but hurtful.

In a general view, what has now been said of the propriety and importance of making the word of God our rule of judgment respecting character, may be sufficient. But as this is a subject on which inadequate and erroneous apprehensions are often entertained, it is desirable to make the rule itself as plain and obvious as possible. For this purpose, a few passages of scripture will be selected, in which the nature and evidences of true religion are brought into view professedly, and with more than ordinary prominence and fulness; and then, instead of referring to the Bible generally, we shall, for the present, refer definitely to these prominent passages as our rule; still keeping in mind, that the other texts which relate to the same subject, are to be treated in the same manner.

We begin with the Decalogue; Exod. xx. 3—17. These ten precepts, written on tables of stone by the finger of God, show what are those affections and actions which God requires of us. They are contained summarily, as Christ teaches us, in these two commands. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The next passage to be quoted, points out our particular duty as sinners. Mark i. 15. Jesus preached, Repent ye, and believe the gospel.

We next refer to a place, where Christ undertakes, with a striking particularity, to delineate the peculiar traits of character which belong to his disciples.

Matt. v. 3–9. Blessed are the poor in spirit.Blessed are they that mourn.Blessed are the meek.Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteous

« ForrigeFortsæt »