« PreviousContinue »
often found to be the occasion of much anxious foreboding-this point is, the revealed method of pardon. The mind which has received the doctrine of justification by faith, possesses a ground of encouragement, and of confidence toward God, which no other doctrine could supply. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. But where the event of our acceptance is felt to be dependent, either in whole or in part, on our own acquirements and services, there is a way opened to every kind of uncertainty; and to all that agitation, which uncertainty, on so momentous a point, must tend to produce. Every sin, every defect, becomes a failure in the terms of salvation, and necessarily creates the most injurious impression. The only effect of effort and experience, is to ascertain, with a deeper conviction, that, if men say they have no sin, they deceive themselves. The spirituality of the divine law, the holiness of the divine nature, and the manifold corruption of the human heart, all are seen as they were never before seen. Thus the mistaken enquirer, seems to be falling away from his object, in proportion to his labour with a view to obtain it; and it is in his disposition to regard this fact, as the too probable indication of his approaching perdition.
It is not perceived, that when the salvation of the gospel is said to be without money and without price, the meaning is, that it is to be without our own deservings. It is not understood that pardon
is conferred purely on the ground of worthiness in another; and that acceptance is ours, solely in virtue of a righteousness not our own. Nor is it yet apprehended, that these blessings are not more the unbought bounties of heaven, than is the grace which enlightens the reason, subdues the will, and changes the heart. All are intended, when it is written,-Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door of life shall be opened unto you. Wherever there is a sincere concern to be found in the path of life, and an ignorance of these things, the extent of such ignorance must be that of the distance between the individual and the peace of believing. The means by which rest is conveyed to the soul, are not even known; whereas, they must not only be known, but applied, before a state of repose can be obtained. There are things which we must learn of Jesus, preparatory to our entrance into his joy; and the substance of these things, is, that we have destroyed ourselves, and that in him only is our help.
Still, every observant Christian must be aware, that despondency not unfrequently occurs where neither disease, nor defective knowledge, can be said to be its cause.
In some instances it appears to be the result of CONTINUED, OR UNUSUAL SUFFERING. The scriptures teach, that though no affliction is for the present joyous, but grievous, yet afterward it worketh the peaceable fruits of righteousness-and this we all profess to believe. Nevertheless, when deep calleth
unto deep; when troubles come upon us as a host, or in thick succession, the mind of the most devout man will sometimes droop under them, and even refuse to be comforted. The agitations of the heart interfere with the sober exercise of reason; and in a strange desperateness of feeling, the sufferer can hardly suppose that any change will be for the worse. He prays, and seems to pray in vain. He solicits sympathy, and does so to no purpose. While others seek and obtain, it seems to be his lot to spend his strength for nought. Thus his state is viewed as peculiar,-as under the special frown of heaven. Accidents, and death come, as though to bear away his last fragments of comfort, and leave him utterly desolate. His nearest connexions may prove his persecutors rather than his comforters; or the embarrassments of his worldly affairs may serve to augment the weight of evil already laid upon him. The body, frequently subject to the pressure of heavy burdens, learns to stoop; and the mind, thus laden with grief, often falls into the habit of the gloomy and desponding. A glance at the eighty-eighth psalm will be enough to show, that the picture now before us is not, in the slightest degree, overcharged.
Another, and a very frequent cause, of this depression, consists in A PRONENESS TO INDULGENCES, WHICH THE SCRIPTURES PROSCRIBE AS SINFUL. Where there is no disease, and where neither defective knowledge, nor affliction, can be regarded as the occasion of this state of feeling, religious declension
should generally be suspected. The best men are chargeable with sin daily, hourly; sins of ignorance and of infirmity; sins pertaining to the outward conduct, and to the habit of the mind. But these, while they call for daily penitence, should not exclude hope. The Saviour would not have taught his disciples to pray for the forgiveness of their daily trespasses, if he had not foreseen that the most devoted of his followers would trespass daily. Still, where there is a grieving of the Spirit of God, by a course or habit of known sin, it ought not to be matter of wonder that seasons of spiritual darkness follow.
By such a course of sinning, we do not mean what would amount to an open abandonment of a religious profession. In our day, such a profession may be maintained without any material sacrifice; and it is as astonishing, as it is painful, to see how large a share of the maxims and feelings which are directly opposed to scriptural piety may be sometimes retained in connexion with the most formal pretensions to it. We see that persons professing godliness may indulge in pride, vanity, envy, covetousness, sensuality, wrath, hardness of heart, and in vices even more degrading. Often do they seem to be as much under the power of these evils, as they could well have been, if they had never professed to have received the gospel. When we look on the stubborn pride, the childish craving after human favour, the thirst of present things-in a word, on the many-formed selfishness of not a few
accredited believers, can it be wonderful that the Spirit of God is sometimes grieved, so as to withdraw his insulted light and peacefulness? There is no wonder at it; the astonishment rather is, that the bitterest sufferings of such a state are not more widely dispensed.
We need only glance at the conduct of the persons who indulge such passions, to be assured that they know little of self-examination, or of secret prayer. These solemn duties make men wise, cautious, lowly, and strong in the Lord; and, were they properly attended to, would certainly prevent those outbreaks of folly and irreligion, which we often witness. In truth, one is obliged to suspect, that many of this class have only a name to live; so little do they suffer, notwithstanding the foul spots with which the garments of their religious profession are stained. In the experience of some, the temporary withdrawment of religious hope is employed to make them sensible of their folly and guilt. While shaken by the terrors of despair, they learn to exclaim, Oh that it were with me as in the days that are past, when the candle of the Lord shone full upon me!
It must be further remarked, that despondency is sometimes experienced, where neither of the causes hitherto mentioned can be said to have produced it. In such cases, we have scarcely any refuge apart from submission to THE Sovereignty of God. It is no more surprising, that God should appoint a season of darkness to the soul, without making