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like a vulture to terrify and devour, but like a dove to invite and allure.
The Psalmist confesses, that he had felt anxious doubts of God's mercy; but he ascribes them to "his own infirmity," not to the divine Spirit.
If we were to suppose a person enlightened to a view of his own sinfulness, and, at the same time, a stranger to the hopes of the gospel, we might expect to find him in a state of horror and dismay. But they who understand the way of salvation through a redeemer, will feel hope kindly interposing to relieve the terrors of guilt; except where hope is secluded by partial views, mistaken opinions, injudicious counsel, a gloomy temper, or powerful temptations. The gospel holds up terrors to the impenitent and obstinate; but the inquiring and returning see a hope set before them.
You fear, perhaps, that you have never expericnced the transforming power of divine grace, because you cannot remember to have felt those amazing terrors, of which you have heard some godly people speak. But you must consider, that the gospel makes no certain degree of terror, the rule by which to judge of the sincerity of your repentance. This may be various in different subjects, according to their characters and circumstances. The habitual disposition of your hearts, with respect to sin and holiness, is a far more certain indication of your character. If you have had those convictions of sin, which have issued in a hatred of it, and in a choice of holiness, you have had all that are necessary. And whatever pangs and terrors you have known, if they have left you in the love, and under the power of sin, your last state is worse than the first. You are to judge of your state, rather by your habitual temper than by any temporary exercises. A calm, sedate view of the evil of sin, accompanied with a just apprehension of the grace and mercy of the gospel, is far more likely to pro
duce a durable good effect, than any violent overbearing terrors. Judas had horror without repentance. Felix was suddenly struck with the fear of a future judgment, but still continued in his sins. The height of religious terrors will not ensure repentance, nor afford an evidence of it. More calm convictions often issue well. The Eunuch became a believer by a rational attention to the gospel; and he went his way rejoicing. Lydia, in hearing the word, felt her heart opened to attend to the truth; and she was judged faithful to the Lord.
I would not be understood to insinuate, that violent convictions never precede true repentance. Paul and the jailer trembled and were astonished. But what I intend is, that there may be such convictions without repentance; and that there may be, and often is, repentance produced in a more easy and gentle manner: So that we are to judge of the sincerity of our repentance, rather by its abiding fruits, than by any remarkable circumstances which preceded it..
2. Our subject farther teaches us, that they onTy are led by the Spirit of God, who are of a dovelike temper.
True christians have in them the mind, which was in Christ, and which was emblematically signified in the gentle and dovelike descent of the Spirit upon him.
The spirit of God is said to dwell in the hearts of believers. They are required to be filled with the Spirit. Their having the spirit is the test, by which they are to judge, whether they belong to Christ.. "Hereby we know that Christ is in us, because he hath given us of the spirit." "If any man have not. the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."
Now, whether we have the spirit of Christ, or not, must be determined by enquiring, whether we have that benevolent, pure, peaceable and humble:
temper, which the Spirit produces and preserves in those hearts where he makes his residence. Let us always remember, that the Spirit comes like the dove.
The divine influence will not render men haughty and turbulent, contentious and passionate, stiff and overbearing, but calm and serious, modest and teachable, mild and condescending. "The wisdom which is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." The apostle says, "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace." This observation he makes in opposition to those who excused their disorderly conduct, by alleging, that they were under the high operations of the Spirit. He would have them believe, that a divine operation never produced confusion in the mind, or disturbance in the church-never rendered men irrational in their conduct, or troublesome to their brethren-never was carried to such a height, as to deprive them of selfcommand, and transform them into madmen.
It is absurd then to impute to an uncommon influence of the Spirit any error of conduct, excess of passion, extravagance of zeal, or bitterness of censure; for the Spirit comes like the dove. He is in the still, small voice; not in the storm, the earthquake and the fire. The fruits of the Spirit are, like his influences, sweet and benevolent. These are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, meekness, goodness, faith and temperance. In these the main substance of religion consists.
True religion makes men humble and selfdistrustful; not arrogant and vain. It will not dispose them to talk much of their own goodness; but to shew out of a good conversation their works with
meekness of wisdom. It will not prompt the newconvert, or youthful penitent, to assume the publick teacher and reprover, but will make him swift to hear and slow to speak. It will not render the stomachs of new born babes difficult and squeamish, and apt to be disgusted with plain aud wholesome food-it will teach them to lay apart all guile and hypocrisy, and envy and evil speaking, and to seek the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby. It will urge men often to the humble exercises of devotion-to selfexamination, confession, repentance and prayer. But it will not turn the secret devotions of the closet into loud, ostentatious, pharisaical prayers. It will warm the heart with godly zeal: But this zeal will choose employ itself chiefly at home, in personal repentance and reformation. Whenever it goes abroad, it will take for its companions, Humility, Prudence and Charity. Bitter zeal descends not from heaven. It is not the fruit of that Spirit, which comes like the dove. "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God; but the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them who make peace."
That enlightening and convincing influence, which discovers to one the corruptions of his own heart, will, of course, make him humble. It will dispose him to think others better than himself not to say, "Stand by yourselves, come not near to me, for I am holier than you." That temper, which is a fruit of the spirit, laments the prevalence of errour and wickedness. But while it labours to promote christian purity, it labours also to promote charity and peace. While it longs for greater unity of sentiment, it is chiefly solicitous to see a unity of affection, among christian professors. It reprobates none for small differences, but judges with candour, and studies the things which make for mutual edification.
It is by the exercise of such a dovelike temper, that we gain satisfactory evidence of our having the spirit of Christ. Whatever warmth of affection we may have felt on certain occasions; if, in our general conduct, we obey the motions of the flesh, we are not led by the spirit. If we walk in the spirit, we shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.
3. Our subject reminds us of our obligation, to adorn with good works our Christian character, and to recommend to the choice of others the religion which we profess. We should resemble the dove, whose wings are covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.
Christians are exhorted to provide things honest in the sight of all men-to adorn the doctrine of their Saviour in all things-to take heed, that their good be not evil spoken of-to think especially of those things, which are of good report.
That we may beautify our christian professions we must see that our lives correspond with it. "Let every one who nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity." If in words, we profess to know Christ, but in works deny him, we are abominable. We disgrace our profession and expose it to contempt. We represent religion as an empty, unmeaning thing. Paul says, "Though I speak with the tongue of men and angels, and have not charity, I am as sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal."
We must maintain the universal practice of du
ty. "Then shall we not be ashamed, when we have respect to all God's commandments." The beauty of religion appears in its selfconsistency and uniformity. If we seem to be strict and conscientious in some things, while we are loose and careless in others, our religion is disjointed, misshapen and deformed.