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new creation, is, that as it may be carried to different degrees of perfection, so it may be attended with different degrees of comfort. Nor is there any proof from Scripture or experience, that persons equally pious are filled in this world with equal joy and consolation. They, that have a greater share than ordinary of such delightful perceptions, ought undoubtedly, if the tenor of their lives afford cause for them, to be very thankful. But such as have the least, if their hearts condemn them not, may have confidence towards God *; and be assured, that the smallness of their present degree of comfort shall work together with all other things for their future good t. Indeed the very same persons, without any other change in their spiritual state, find, at times, elevations, depressions, insensibilities, for which they can only account by variations, visible or supposed, in their bodily health, or God's unsearchable will and pleasure. Again, very bad people too often trust in themselves, that they are righteous $; and rejoice on groundless presumptions; while, on the other hand, though the good must, in their composed hours, feel some satisfaction in the hope, that they are such ; and therefore every one ought to reflect, whether he hath, on serious thought, felt that satisfaction, or not; yet the light of God's countenance hath been frequently withdrawn from some of the best of men, and their souls disquieted within them ş. Nay, even our Saviour complained, that, in respect to the cheering influences of his presence, God had forsaken him . So that no one can justly think well or ill of himself on such accounts as these. The Psalmist hath told us, that they who sow in tears,
Luke xviii. 9. Ś Psalm xlii. 6,
M Matth. xxvii. 46.
* 1 John iii. 21.
+ Rom. viii. 28.
in joy: and he that now goeth on his way weeping, and beareth forth good seed, shall doubtless come again with joy, and bring his sheaves with him*. And the Prophet hath stated both this case, and its opposite. Who is among you, that feareth the Lord, and obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. Behold, all
ye that kindle a fire, and compass yourselves about with sparks : walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled.
have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow t.
The only sure evidence therefore of the goodness of our condition, is the sincerity of an obedience, flowing from motives truly Christian. And accordingly, what the Apostle calls here in the text a new creature, he calls, in a parallel place of the preceding chapter, faith working by love f, and in another, keeping the commandments of God 9. So that when he saith, the new creature will avail, and nothing else, he saith it on supposition of its being so completed, as to answer its end : which end unless we are careful to attain, by exerting the principles of the spiritual life conferred on us in baptism, and growing up in all Christian graces; however great a blessing in itself our sacramental regeneration is, it will be none to us : but we had better not have been born, better not have been new born, if it only intitles us to privileges, that we finally forfeit; and become, to use St. Jude's expression, twice dead |l, our Saviour hath told us, that the tree is known by its fruits [. And the fruits of the spirit are the virtues of a holy life**
* Psalm cxxvi: 6, 7. + Isaiah 1. 10, 11. 6 I Cor. vi. 19. | Jude, verse 12. ** Gal. v. 22. Eph. v. 9.
Gal. v. 6. 9 Matth. xii. 33.
If we experience these, we have a mark of our acceptance with God, which cannot deceive: all other marks, all other feelings, be they ever so lively, ever so pleasing, may. Doubtless, if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his *. Our pious disposition, our well-grounded comforts, all proceed from the Holy Ghost: and we can have neither, without perceiving them. But we may perceive them, without certainly knowing by the manner of the perception, that they are his work : it suffices, that, on the authority of Scripture, we believe they are. And Scripture hath no where taught us to distinguish, what impulses, or sensations within us, come from God, and what from a different source, by the mere strength and delightfulness of them. Without question, clear and joyful persuasions of our interest in the divine favour, if we have foundation to judge that we are intitled to them, are the greatest felicity, that we can enjoy in this world. But whoever relies on such persuasions alone, instead of examining what ground they stand upon, exposes himself to the utmost danger of being misled by a heated imagination, or a sinful confidence: of which kind of delusions the history of the church in all ages hath been full. And whoever determines either his own state towards God, or that of any one else, to be a bad one, for want of such tokens of its being a good one, contradicts the rule of holy writ. Every one that doth righteousness, is born of him t, and unwisely dejects himself, or uncharitably condemns his brother.
Let us therefore be very cautious not to fancy the paths of religion either narrower or broader, than they are: neither to make the heart of the righteous sad, whom God hath not made sad; nor strengthen Rom. viii. 3.
+1 John ii. 29.
the hands of the wicked, by promising him life* : for of both these errors we may be guilty at once. But in order to avoid both, let us form our notions of ourselves and others by God's unerring word, interpreted with the reasonableness and mildness of a truly Christian temper; and then we shall quickly discern, that the only sure test of good and bad persons is that, which St. John hath so solemnly delivered from above. This then is the message, which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say, that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, that is, wickedness, we lye, and do not the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, if we studiously imitate the purity and holiness of our heavenly Father, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin t. * Ezek. xiii. 22.
+ 1 John i. 5, 6, 7.
ACTS VII. 59, 60.
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and say
ing, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice,
Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he feel asleep.
As the interests of religion and virtue require, that due regards be paid to the memory of pious and good persons; and as they who have laid down their lives for God and their duty, have given the strongest proofs of their attachment to the noblest cause : so the Christian church hath, from the beginning, shewn distinguished honours to those professors of its holy faith, who have sealed their testimony to it with their blood. The first martyr, or witness, of this kind, after the blessed Jesus himself, was St. Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost and of power and of wisdom *, whose death is related in the text. And we find in the next verse but one, that devout men carried him, with decent solemnity, to his burial, and made great lamentation over him; undoubtedly mixed with equal triumph, that he had finished his course in so exemplary a manner ; nor were they withheld from it by fear of the resentment, to which so public an instance of respect must provoke his murderers and all their adherents.
* Acts vi. 3. 5. 8. 10.