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imperfect, if indeed they are in a state of acceptance with God, that it is justly a matter of doubt whether their hearts are right with God. The balance is so near even, between the interest of God and the world in their hearts : every good disposition is so weak, and the opposite corruptions so strong ; there are so great interruptions and frequent breaches in the course of their obedience, that it is not easy to discern to what master they yield themselves servants to obey, whether sin or righteousness. Now in such a case, though if grace really prevail, they are in a state of acceptance, yet they cannot justly conclude this positively, till the prevalence becomes more conspicuous ; nor is it their immediate duty to entertain this appropriating joy, but to use more diligence for making their sincerity unquestionable ; and then with the improvement of grace and mortification of sin, they will have a clearer foundation for a favourable conclusion concerning their state:
In the meanwhile, doubting may do them good, by quickering their diligence to clear their title. It is not fit that men should stifle their consciences, or think themselves better than they are, or determine that they are in a safe case, while really it is very hard to decide, whether sin or holiness have the ascendant.
Besides all this, actual joy in Christ may be obstructed in the best men by a constitutional or occasional melancholy. When the body is oppressed with black and heavy humours, and the due circulation of the blood obstructed; the mind is unavoidably indisposed for any sort of cheerfulness. And! when men plainly appear unapt to take pleasure in other things, in the enjoyments of life, in agreeable friends and relations; it is no more an evidence that they are not true Christians, because they cannot think of Christ and his benefits with such pleasure and satisfaction as some other Christians do, than it is to be esteemed an evidence, that they are not sensible or reasonable creatures, because they seem to have no relish for sensible good or suitable society. Both are the effects of bodily distemper ; and that must be removed, before they will be capable of any sort of cheerful affection. Yet,
2. There are some expressions of a mind truly rejoicing in Christ Jesus in every sincere Christian, even under his clouds and fears. That is, expressions of that value for Christ, which would shew itself in cheerful joy, if that were not obstructed by tender fears about his state, or by bodily distemper.
It is the habitual and fixed judgment of his mind, that Christ and his benefits are more fit to be rejoiced in, than all worldly good. If he does not actually rejoice in him, this is not owing to a low opinion of Christ, but of himself. And that is a very different thing from the temper of carnal minds. If his fears chill his joy, they do not abate his esteem. While he cannot take the comfort of relation, yet it is the sense of his soul, Happy is the people that is in such a case: I had rather be in their condition, the condition of the meanest that belong to Christ, than change states with the most prosperous sinner upon
earth. It would fill me with more joy to have my doubts scattered, and to be well assured that Christ is mine, and I am his, than to have the highest certainty of the most advantageous friendship amongst men, or of the possession of the richest inheritance in the world.' Now this is as truly rejoicing in Christ, as far as the apprehension of his own present çircumstances will allow, as the highest transports of an assured soul.
Accordingly, with all his fears and doubts, he relies upon Christ as an all-sufficient Saviour, and ventures the weight of his salvation
He dares not fly to any other refuge, or take up with any other method of life; but here he casts anchor, living and dying, as the only name under heaven whereby men may be saved. He trusts in Christ, Eph. i. 12. It is indeed with a trembling heart, lest he should not be found one who has a right by the gospel declaration to lay claim to his benefits. But the distrust he hath is of himself, rather than of Christ. The measure of confidence he entertains, is in the sufficiency of Christ : and it is such a confidence, as he dares to place in no other. Now though this may not bring him to a full rest of mind, yet it is all the rest he hath for his salvation.
When he cannot rejoice in Christ as actually his, yet he would not quit his general hope upon any terms. When he is most jealous of himself, and fearful of his interest ; should he be tried with the strongest allurements, or the most affright ing terrors to deny Christ, to abandon any farther hope fron him, or concern with him, he would shiew his superior esteen for liiin by a resolute adhierence. Many desponding Christians
as they have acquitted themselves well in such trials, so they have been enabled by that means to discern the place their master had in their hearts, beyond what they could ever do before, and so to strengthen their hopes, and rise up to a more comfortable joy in him. They have shewn the world and themselves at the same time, the sincerity of their affection, when they are content to forego any worldly good, or suffer any temporal inconvenience, upon trial, rather than break with Christ.
We may make the following reflections upon this subject.
1. The Christian religion is certainly a doctrine worthy of all acceptation ; for it contains glad tidings of great joy: and who is not willing to entertain such a message? It opens a door for joy to creatures in the most deplorable condition, who by sin had the most dismal prospect; such, upon which, “ Adam endeavoured to hide himself from the presence of the Lord;" such as would otherwise embitter every hour of life to a convinced mind, and overspread the face of death with blackness of darkness. Instead of that, the gospel sets in view for every returning sinner, the favour of an offended God, the fulness of the promises ; all that is necessary to make him safe by the way, and happy at the end of it, as freely given him in and with Christ. The gospel, agreeable to its name, contains no other than good tidings to those who give it a proper reception ; the declarations of terror made in it, shall reach only to those who reject or neglect the salvation offered by Christ.
2. We may infer the folly of suffering ourselves to be mainly taken up with wordly joy, when we have so much better. It is a most reasonable expostulation which the prophet uses with sinners, upon a prediction of the grace of the gospel, Isa. ly. 2. “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread ? and your labour for that which satisfieth not ?" when you may have so much better,
“ As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of fools," Eccl. vii. 6. The carnal joy of sinners is a blaze, and no more; it soon leaves them as it found them, if no worse. the wise man,) of laughter it is mad, (but a short fit of mad, ness ;) and of' mirth what doth it?" Eccl. ii. 2. Forbidden delights leave a sting behind them in remorse of conscience : to rejoice or glory in them, is to glory in our shame, in that of
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which we ourselves shall certainly sooner or latter be ashamed. But to rejoice in Christ Jesus, is to take pleasure in the most valuable object, in the most complete spring of happiness, in the best treasure; in that which is sufficient to support under all other uneasinesses, and in the most distressing hours : it is a joy full of glory, and to be perfected in glory.
3. Let all those therefore, who have heard the gospelmessage hitherto with negligence and contempt, be persuaded to consider the blessedness it contains, and to give it a suitable entertainment. Think seriously, what a mournful condition you are in without Christ : in a state of enmity with your Creator, under his wrath and curse, liable every moment to death, and to hell after it. Can joy in such circumstances be wiser or better, than the drunken revels of a condemned malefactor? Think, how suitable to your case and wants the discovery is, which the gospel makes of a Saviour : it is just such, as a convinced sinner would reasonably desire ; only it far exceeds what the heart of man could conceive. Consider how willing he is to perform the kind office of a Saviour to you; the abasement and sorrows he cheerfully underwent to capacitate him for it; the breathings of his good will to sinners in the gracious words that proceeded out of his lips, in the many invitations to them which are left upon record, in his instituting a ministry of reconciliation to beseech you in his stead to be reconciled to God. Think what benefits await you, as soon as you receive him: you will be justified by faith, and have peace with God; be admitted among his children, be entitled to his promises, and become heirs of his kingdom. But on the other hand, your sorrows must be far more extreme, if you should finally reject him, after he is discovered to you. God hath a sorer punishment in store for such, and your own consciences will produce weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Lay such thoughts as these, O sinner, to heart, and pray in earnest for his effectual grace, to dispose you to a willing compliance with the call of the gospel.
4. Let Christians endeavour to rise up to the height of this character of rejoicing in Christ.
in Christ. To that end, Use diligence to improve and confirm your faith in the
Your joy can
gospel-testimony: that you may be the better able to say with Peter, John vi. 69. • We believe and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” not rise beyond the proportion of faith. Therefore frequently review the various evidences of the truth and divine original of the gospel revelation ; and along with it pray to God to increase your faith, Luke xyii. 51.
Do your utmost to clear your own interest in him. Carefully inform yourselves of the tenor of the gospel-constitution, that you may not wrongfully exclude yourselves from the comfort of a covenant-relation. Let the uniting acts of faith in him, and love to him, have a frequent and lively exercise. And especially cultivate his image and resemblance, both in heart and life.
Hereupon set yourselves often to meditate on the gospel discovery concerning him.
“ Consider the apostle and high priest your profession, Christ Jesus,” Heb. iii. 1.
make him and his grace familiar, and frequently present to your thoughts, it will make joy spring up in your hearts, and keep it fresh and lively.
Let the work of thanksgiving for Christ and his benefits be your daily exercise.
This will keep your souls in a cheerful frame.
Aim at having this for your prevailing and habitual temper. Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say rejoice, Phil. iv. 4. Recollect the grace of Christ for your support in every uneasy circumstance of life. When you are lamenting the body of death, turn your thoughts hither with Paul, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” Rom. vii. 24, 25. • Blessed be God, that through Christ it shall not issue
my condemnation, as long as it hath not the dominion : that by his grace it is become my burden ; and that before he has done with me, I shall be delivered from it.' In the troubles of life, think, blessed be God, these “shall not separate me from the love of Christ. Yea, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” If death looks formidable, eye Christ as having by his own death frustrated him who had the power of death; and say, “ Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Endeavour to have joy in Christ as your governing disposition