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Am I calculating on going to heaven, because a long time ago I had certain convictions and feelings, which I thought were those of a Christian ? Ask yourselves such questions, and you will make a proper use of this discourse,
Perhaps some of you may think that I make too much of this change, and too much ado about religion generally; that I am over strict in my representation of things. This doctrine of conversion and a change of heart, perhaps you have been wont to regard as mere methodism.
I wish then you would examine the Scriptures on this subject. Possibly I may be right after all ; and if I should be, then what becomes of you? should be, do I say? I am right. Ye must be born again. What can be more plain ? what more positive than that? And why marvel ye? Is it not manifest that you require such a change? It is not arbitrarily appointed of God that this change should take place; it is absolutely necessary that it should. You cannot go to heaven as you are. You cannot enjoy a holy God, while you are yourselves not holy. Yet when we speak on the subject, you hear, you wonder. I hope you do not despise, and I pray you may not perish.
Ye did run well ; who did hinder you, that ye should not obey
the truth ?-GALATIANS v. 7.
It is not saying enough of the Bible to say that its contents are truth. They are the truth; as this is emphatically the book, as the word Bible signifies. All other truth is insignificant in comparison with that revealed here. This truth relates to the high matters of God and the soul, accountability, redemption, and immortality. And this is the truth which makes men free, and sanctifieth them.
Our first duty, in regard to the truth, is to believe it. But this is not the whole, nor yet the principal part of our duty in regard to it. It is to no purpose that it is believed, if that be all. Indeed it had better not be believed, if it is only believed. The belief of the truth is valuable only as preparatory to something else. That other thing which is due to the truth, is obedience. “If ye know these things, happy
do them.” “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only."
There is truth which requires only to be believed. It neither reveals nor creates obligation. It is purely speculative. It neither does nor should it affect the heart, or influence the conduct of him who believes
it. But the truth of the Bible is not of this nature. It is not merely speculative, but experimental and practical. It requires something to be felt and done. There are emotions of heart, and a manner of life, which are appropriate to it. It must be obeyed.
To obey the truth, is to feel and act agreeably to it. It implies such a state of the heart, and such a conformation of conduct as comports with the nature of the things revealed and believed. As, for example, the truth relates in part to the character of God, which it represents to be infinitely excellent and amiable. To obey that truth, is to admire and love the divine character, for those are the feelings appropriate to it. Is it the greatness of God that is the object of contemplation? The duty is veneration. Is it his sovereignty? The duty is submission. Is it his law? The duty is compliance with all its requisitions. Does the truth relate to the subject of sin? Then the duty is repentance. Does it relate to the Saviour? The duty is faith and trust in him. We may learn hence the high importance, yea, necessity of apprehending and believing the truth. It cannot otherwise be obeyed. Obedience to truth not known or not credited is impossible.
We may learn also the insignificance and worthlessness of mere faith and knowledge. To believe there is a God and not love him; to have a knowledge of Christ, without trust in him, or of sin without repenting of it, what is that worth?
The obedience of the truth, is religion. There can be no better definition of it, unless it be one which we find in Scriptures; viz., this “faith that worketh
by love." There is no other religion worth any thing, or availing aught, but that which answers to this description. The obedience of error is not religion, nor is the belief of truth religion. Sincerity is not religion, nor is orthodoxy, but the obedience of the truth. Religion is neither cold light nor latent heat, but a flame that enlightens while it warms. Truth is the light of religion, and love is its fire. Some have the light without the fire; they hold the truth in unrighteousness; their knowledge is unaccompanied with love. Some have the fire without the light; a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. Some have neither. The union of the two constitutes a Christian.
To obey the truth, is not any thing that can be done at once, or that requires to be done only at stated periods. Religion is not a job, which being done, there is an end of it; not a mere arrears to be paid up; or a mere score to be wiped off. The obligation is not cancelled when it is discharged. It exists still, and covers the whole of life. It is not a mere Sabbath occupation, but the business of every day. Each successive moment renews the obligations of the moments that went before. The Christian has never done his work, but is always doing it. The Christian life, as you know, is frequently compared to a race. To obey the truth, is to run well in this race. The Galatians had ceased to run well, because they had ceased to obey the truth.
The truth must be perseveringly obeyed. The Bible makes no account of past experience and past good conduct, unless it be sustained by a corresponding present experience and conduct.
“ When a
righteous man turneth away from his righteousness and committeth iniquity, all his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die." All the promises of God are made to perseverance in obeying the truth; "to them who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for honor and immortality; to him that overcometh; to him that is faithful unto death. He that endureth to the end, shall be saved; we shall reap, if we faint not.” It is to no purpose to begin well, nor for a time to go on well. The thing is to end well. That is well that ends well. It is of no use to lay hold, except we hold on. There is fickleness and folly in setting out, and not going through. Yet this is what many do.
There is such a thing (would there were not) as declension in religion. The Galatians declined. Paul heard of it, and wrote to them on the subject. This epistle is what he wrote to them; and he expresses his surprise, his regret, his mortification that it should be so with them. "I marvel," he says, “that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ. How after that ye have known God, or rather known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements ? I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed on you labor in vain. Where is the blessedness ye spake of? I stand in doubt of you. Ye did run well. Who did hinder you ? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you." He was oppressed and grieved when he reflected on their course. How melancholy it is that men should turn away from