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and affections have not this effect. There may indeed be great zeal, and a great deal of what is called religion; but it is not a truly Christian zeal; it is not being zealous of good works. Their religion is not the service of God; it is not seeking and serving God; but indeed seeking and serving themselves.Though there may be a change of life, it is not a change from every wicked way to a uniform Christian life and practice, but only turning the stream of corruption from one channel to another. Thus the apostle James distinguishes, in our context, a true faith from the faith of devils; James ii. 19, 20. "Thou believest that there is one God. The devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" And thus the apostle John distinguishes true communion with God; I John i. 6, 7. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin." By this he distinguishes true spiritual knowledge, chap. ii. 3, 4. "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." hereby the same apostle distinguishes true love, chap. iii. 18, 19. "Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed (in work, as the word signifies) and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him."
2. Truly gracious experiences have a tendency to destroy Satan's interest in the world.
When false religion, consisting in the counterfeits of the operations of the Spirit of God, and in high pretences and great appearances of inward experimental religion, prevails among a people-though for the present it may surprise many, and may be the occasion of alarming and awakening some sinners-it tends greatly to wound and weaken the cause of vital religion, and to strengthen the interest of Satan, desperately to harden the hearts of sinners, exceedingly to fill the world with prejudice against the power of godliness, to promote infidelity and licentious principles and practices, to build up and make strong the devil's kingdom in the world, more than open vice and profaneness, or professed Atheism, or public persecution, and perhaps more than any thing else whatsoever.
But it is not so with true religion in its genuine beauty. -That, if it prevails in great power, will doubtless excite the rage of the devil, and many other enemies of religion. However, it gives great advantage to its friends, and exceedingly strengthens their cause, and tends to convince or confound enemies. True religion is a divine light in the souls of the
saints; and as it shines out in the conversation before men, it tends to induce others to glorify God. There is nothing like it (as to means) to awaken the consciences of men, to convince infidels, and to stop the mouths of gainsayers.Though men naturally hate the power of godliness, yet when they see the fruits of it, there is a witness in their consciences in its favour." He that serveth Christ in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, is acceptable to God, and approved of men," Rom. xiv. 17, 18. The prevailing of true religion ever tends to its honour in the world, though it commonly is the occasion of great persecution. It is a sure thing, the more it appears and is exemplified in the view of the world, the more will its honour, and the honour of its author, be advanced. Phil. i. 11. "Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God."
The third use may be of exhortation, to seek those distinguishing qualifications and affections of soul which neither the devil, nor any unholy being, has or can have.
How excellent is that inward virtue and religion which consists in those! Herein consists the most excellent experiences of saints and angels in heaven. Herein consists the best experience of the man Christ Jesus, whether in his humbled or glorified state. Herein consists the image of God.-Yea, this is spoken of in scripture as a communication of something of God's own beauty and excellency. A participation of the divine nature, 2 Peter i. 4. A partaking of his holiness, Heb. xii. 10. A partaking of Christ's fulness, John i. 16. Hereby the saints are filled with all the fulness of God, Eph. iii. 18, 19. Hereby they have fellowship with both the Father and the Son, Í John i. 3; that is, they communicate with them in their happiness. Yea, by means of this divine virtue, there is a mutual indwelling of God and the saints; I John iv. 16. " God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him."
This qualification must render the person that has it excellent and happy indeed, and doubtless is the highest dignity and blessedness of any creature. This is the peculiar gift of God, which he bestows only on his special favourites. As to silver, gold, and diamonds, earthly crowns and kingdoms, he often throws them out to those whom he esteems as dogs and swine; but this is the peculiar blessing of his dear' children. This is what flesh and blood cannot impart. God alone can bestow it. This was the special benefit which Christ died to procure for his elect, the most excellent token of his everlasting love; the chief fruit of his great labours, and the most precious purchase of his blood.
By this, above all other things, do men glorify God. By
this, above all other things, do the saints shine as lights in the world, and are blessings to mankind. And this, above all things, tends to their own comfort; from hence arises that "peace which passeth all understanding," and that "joy which is unspeakable, and full of glory." And this is that which will most certainly issue in the eternal salvation of those who have it. It is impossible that the soul possessing it should sink and perish. It is an immortal secd; it is eternal life begun; and therefore they that have it can never die. It is the dawning of the light of glory. It is the day-star risen in the heart, that is a sure forerunner of that sun's rising which will bring on an everlasting day. This is that water which Christ gives, which is in him that drinks it "a well of water springing up into everlasting life;" John iv. 14. It is something from heaven, of a heavenly nature, and tends to heaven. And those that have it, however they may now wander in a wilderness, or be tossed to and fro on a tempestuous ocean, shall certainly arrive in heaven at last, where this heavenly spark shall be increased and perfected, and the souls of the saints all be transformed into a bright and pure flame, and they shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Amen.