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to strengthen that which was weak, and to heal that which was sick. I will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax; but I will bind up the broken hearted, and comfort the feeble minded, until I have obtained a spiritual victory and triumphed over both Jews and Gentiles. My kingdom cometh not with observation, or with tumults and convulsion, like other kingdoms, but silently and irresistibly, in the hearts of men. I have cured the withered hand, I have healed multitudes that followed me, and I am now ready to heal the minds as well as the bodies of men, and perform the whole work which I was sent into the world to perform.” The spirit of the text in this connection, justifies us in saying,
That Christ is ready to receive and comfort the feeble minded. I shall,
I. Describe the feeble minded; II. Consider how it comes to pass that they are feeble minded; and,
III. Show that Christ is ready to receive and comfort them. I. I am to describe the feeble minded.
These are certainly such as resemble the bruised reed and smoking flax. They are those of a broken and contrite spirit, and essentially different from the stout hearted. Their carnal mind has been slain, and their stony hearts softened. They have experienced a saving change, but still are in darkness and difficulty. They feel their need of comfort, and their unworthiness of it. This is the general character of the feeble minded, in distinction from those who are strong in faith. But it may be proper and useful to give a more specific description of the feeble minded; for they do really differ in various respects, though they are essentially alike. Here it may be observed,
1. That those are feeble minded, who have submission to God, without faith in Christ. This is often the case with young
Their enmity to God is taken away; their objections are removed; they cease to contend with their Maker; they justify him and condemn themselves; they realize that they are in his hand, as the clay is in the hands of the potter; and they are willing that he should dispose of them as shall be most for his own glory. While they lie here submissively at the foot of divine sovereignty, their past fears and distresses leave them in a solemn calm that they cannot account for, but are apt to conclude that God has given them up to stupidity. Though they really submit to God, yet they do not believe in Christ. They realize that God may justly destroy them, but do not see how he can justly and consistently save ihem. They are still ignorant of the way of salvation through the atonement of Christ; and, being ignorant of this, they do not exercise faith in the only and all sufficient Mediator; which leaves them in darkness. In such a weak, feeble and comfortless situation, many have continued not only for days and weeks, but even for months, if not for years. These persons resemble the smoking flax before it begins to blaze.
2. Those are feeble minded, who have submission and faith, but no hope. Submission and faith may both exist in the heart, without creating a hope of salvation. Those who have submitted to divine sovereignty, and seen the way of life through Christ, may not know nor think, that their submission and faith are genuine exercises of grace, and entitle them to the promises of the gospel. Though they are conscious of love to God and love to Christ, still they imagine that they do not feel as they have always supposed that true converts feel. The change of views and feelings in their minds does not appear to them like what they have supposed a saving change to be. Though they are sensible that they feel differently from what they once felt, yet they durst not indulge a hope that they have passed from death unto life, and are in a renewed, pardoned and justified state. They sensibly desire to obtain pardoning mercy, and feel determined to seek and strive for salvation as long as they live. There are a great many such persons in the world, who appear to others, by what they say and do, to be real christians, and yet entertain no hope themselves of their own good estate. Their hearts appear to be broken like the bruised reed, their consciences appear to be enlightened and tender, and they discover sparks of grace, which resemble the smoking
, flax before it bursts into a flame.
3. There is another class of the feeble minded; I mean such as have submission, faith and hope, but yet have little confidence in their gracious state. They sometimes hope, and sometimes fear, but generally doubt. They are never confident that they have received the grace of God in truth. They mean to be conscientious and punctual in the performance of all religious duties, and to seek and strive for greater light and confidence; but yet they live somewhat easy upon their feeble and slender hope of being the children of God. They are almost continually under what they consider the hidings of God's face, which strong as well as weak christians sometimes experience. I must not omit to observe,
4. That backsliding christians are weak and feeble minded. There are some sincere professors who lose their first love, neglect their first duties, and grow languid and dull in running the Christian course. Such instances are mentioned in scripture; and such instances are to be found at the present day. This may be owing, in many cases, to a change of circumstances, which lead the spiritually minded to become worldly minded, the strict to become lax, the serious to become vain, and the exemplary to become conformed to the spirit and manners of the world. The declension may take place in almost any stage of the Christian life; but more generally occurs in the early stage of it, among young and inexperienced converts, who are not well acquainted with the world, the men of the world, the things of the world, and the remaining depravity of their own hearts. Such persons are feeble minded while their stupidity continues; and after they awake, repent, and return to God, they cease to trust in their own hearts, and tremble in the view of the dangers of their pilgrimage state.
Now such feeble minded christians as have been described, are no visionary characters. The apostle often mentions such persons. He exhorts the Romans to receive him that is weak in the faith. He tells them that they ought to bear the infirmities of the weak. He commands the Thessalonians to comfort the feeble minded. And he sets them an example of this tenderness and compassion. He says, “ To the weak, became I as weak, that I might gain the weak.” It is probable that there are many more weak, than strong christians, at this day. This certainly seems strange at first view; but it does not destroy the evidence of the fact. We must believe this is true, though we should not be able to account for it. It is very easy, however, to discover and point out various causes, why many pious persons should be feeble minded, or weak in the faith. This leads me to consider,
II. How it comes to pass, that any who have experienced a saving change, should be such feeble minded persons as have been described. Among others, the following causes may be mentioned. And,
1. It may be owing to the want of instruction, that some are feeble minded. There are many persons who are deprived of religious instruction. Some in this gospel land are destitute of Bibles and of preaching; and yet God sees fit, by means of his providential dealings and private instructions, to awaken, convince and convert them. He causes them to see the plague of their own hearts, fastens a sense of guilt and self condemnation on their consciences, and disposes them to cast themselves upon divine mercy; and there leaves them in darkness and doubts. They are unacquainted with the scriptural signs of grace, and know not how to judge justly of their spiritual state. Others may sit under general and indiscriminating preaching, and seldom hear any thing said about experimental religion. The exercises of the heart under awakenings and convictions, and in the act of conversion, are rarely mentioned, or, if mentioned, are never described. And how should those who sit under such preaching, be otherwise than feeble minded, in respect to their religious exercises ? It is undoubtedly partly owing to the want of religious instructions, that a great many real christians make no more progress, and enjoy no more comfort, in their religious course. Though there are many religious instructers in this favored land, yet there is a great want of sentimental and experimental preaching, which is the occasion of there being not a few feeble minded christians.
2. It may be owing to wrong instructions, that some are feeble minded. They never hear the great and peculiar doctrines of the gospel clearly explained, and properly supported. But, on the other hand, they hear a great deal said against them, as unscriptural, unprofitable and dangerous. Not a few of those who profess to preach the gospel, deny the first principles of the oracles of God, and employ all their learning and ingenuity in opposing, and attempting to refute them. Though such preachers cannot prevent their hearers from becoming christians, and believing the doctrines they deny, yet they throw great difficulties in the way of their growing in knowledge and grace, and becoming strong in the faith. Though they do not embrace all the errors which they hear taught and inculcated, yet they very often embrace some, which weaken their faith in the precious truths that they do embrace. How many apparently good men will neither deny nor maintain the doctrine of decrees, the doctrine of election, the doctrine of reprobation, the doctrine of true submission, the doctrine of total depravity, the doctrine of instantaneous regeneration, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints, nor the doctrine of saving grace as a due qualification for communion at the table of Christ. All such persons are weak in the faith. They see those doctrines of the gospel, as one saw "men as trees walking." And having such obscure and faint ideas of the doctrines of grace, they must be involved in darkness and uncertainty, in respect to the religious state of their minds. Having been taught to place religion in that in which it does not consist, they must be at a loss whether they have ever experienced a saving change or not. Though there may be some feeble, yet there are but very
few strong and growing christians, who statedly sit under erroneous preaching.
3. It may be owing to a natural gloominess of mind, that some christians are weak in faith, and hope, and every Christian
, grace. Though they read a great deal in the Bible, and though they hear a great deal of plain, instructive and experimental preaching, and though they have a sound judgment, yet they love to look on the dark side of things, and cherish a desponding disposition. Those who wish to live in fear, rather than in hope, and make themselves believe it is their duty to call their sincerity in question as often as they can, take a direct method to weaken their faith and hope, and every gracious affection. It is easy for gloomy persons to call up gloomy objects, and dwell upon those things, which tend to weaken their evidence of grace. They are so unduly afraid of being deceived, that they try to make themselves believe that all the light they have ever seen, and all the comfort they have ever enjoyed, was owing to some delusion. And when new views and feelings are experienced, they do all they can to repel them, and argue them away, and prevent them from giving light and hope. They adopt a mode of arguing which is very plausible. They say that there is an essential difference between true and false love, true and false faith, true and false repentance, and every Christian
grace has its counterfeit, so that there is room to be deceived; and, according to scripture and observation, there is reason to fear that many have been deceived; it is possible, therefore, after all that they have experienced, they may be deceived. By this mode of reasoning from the possibility of deception, they keep themselves in perpetual darkness and doubt. There is great sophistry in this mode of reasoning in respect to themselves, but not in respect to others. It is always true, that it is possible they misjudge in respect to the goodness of others; but it is not always true, that they should misjudge in respect to their own gracious affections. As there is an essential difference between holy and unholy affections, so they may know this difference; and when they know this difference, and clearly see that their love is of the right kind, it is then impossible that they should be deceived. This may be clearly illustrated by the case of Judas and that of Peter. The eleven apostles thought that Judas was a good man till he betrayed his master, but they were deceived in respect to his sincerity. Peter, as well as the rest, was deceived with respect to him, and it was not possible that it should have been otherwise, so long as Judas conducted like a sincere christian. But it was impossible that Peter should be deceived in this respect, when he exercised supreme love to Christ, and could appeal to him and say, “ Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee." It would have been absurd then for Peter to put these questions to himself, Is it not possible that I am now deceived ? Have not others been deceived ? May not I, after all, be deceived? Such questions as these, would have been as absurd for Peter to ask himself, as to ask, “Am I not asleep, while I know I am awake?” Every real christian has the witness in himself of bis sincerity, and when he loves Christ