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practical piety and christian morality. The great and essential truths of the gospel feed and nourish a holy heart, and directly tend to promote every christian grace and moral virtue. And so far as divine truth tends to promote holiness of heart, just so far it equally tends to promote holiness of life. Christ was a sentimental preacher. In his sermon on the mount, he explained and enforced the great doctrine of disinterested love, which distinguishes all true religion from false, and strikes at the root of some of the most dangerous errours, not only of the Scribes and Pharisees, but of professing christians at the present day. Paul, the first and great apostle of the Gentiles, tells them, that he determined to know nothing among them, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. In his epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Hebrews we find, that in order to promote the growth of grace in true believers, he dwells abundantly upon the great and fundamental doctrines of christianity. And he rejoiced in the thought that he had not shunned to declare all the counsel of God, nor kept back any thing that was profitable in his preaching. It is sentimental and instructive preaching, that is best suited to quicken, comfort, and reprove real saints; and to undeceive self-righteous and self-deceived hypocrites. One reason why so many prefer what they call practical preaching to sentimental, is because they do not love the soul-humbling, and self-denying doctrines of the gospel. They hate to hear preachers explain and inculcate the doctrines of divine decrees, of divine sovereignty, of divine agency, of special grace, and of the continued influence of the holy Spirit in the performance of every duty. They are much better pleased to hear discourses upon external duties, than upon internal graces. But though sentimental preaching be not
the most pleasing and popular, it is the most necessary and profitable. This appears to be true, by universal' observation and experience. If we search the history of the Church from Christ's day to the present time, we shall find that devotional and practical piety has always flourished the most under the most sentimental and instructive preaching.
2. If religious knowledge be conducive to the growth of religious affections; then that religious conversation among christians is the most useful, which is the most instructive. They should often speak one to another upon religious subjects, and endeavour to promote their mutual edification and growth in grace. But they too often converse without much edification or benefit, because they do not aim at giving or receiving instruction. If their conversation turn principally upon the general stupidity of sinners, or the general coldness of professors, or the great corruption, obstinacy, and deceitfulness of their own hearts, it rather tends to nourish spiritual pride and self-complacency, than any truly gracious affections. But if they converse freely and familiarly upon the peculiar doctrines, duties, and promises of the gospel; or upon the pecul iar nature of the christian graces; or upon the best means of promoting vital piety; or upon their own obligations to walk worthy of their high and holy calling, they cannot fail of instructing each other, and of promoting their mutual love, zeal, and activity in their christian course. Christ always conversed instruc tively with his disciples and others, and on one occasion he so clearly and fully opened the Scriptures, that he made the hearts of those with whom he conversed, to burn with a holy love and joy. This example his friends ought to follow in their free and fa miliar intercourse together. Indeed they are expressly
commanded to avoid all vain and evil speaking, and to converse instructively and profitably on all occasions. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers." There are a great many christians, who might be extremely useful, if they would aim at edifying, rather than gratifying one another, in talking upon experimental religion. It is their duty freely and frequently to converse together upon those glorious truths and objects, which they will delightfully converse upon, when they shall meet and dwell together in the kingdom of glory.
3. If divine knowledge has a tendency to promote all the christian graces and virtues; then growing christians have an increasing evidence of their good estate. Our Saviour compares grace in the heart to seed sown in the earth, which springs up and grows very gradually and insensibly. Though the best of christians grow very gradually, yet they carry about with them marks of their increasing holiness, which is an increasing evidence of their being the subjects of a saving. change, and of their having gone forward, rather than backward, in their religious life. And if they critically and impartially examine the exercises of their own hearts, they will find more or less of the following effects of the growth of grace.
They will find that they have become more and more sensible of the essential difference between nature and grace. Natural and spiritual affections often put on a similar appearance, when they flow out towards the same objects; which renders it the more difficult to distinguish them from each other. Christians are very liable to put nature for grace, and selfishness for benevolence. When their natural affections unite with
their spiritual affections, they are apt to imagine, that they are all pure and holy. All these affections, however, are distinguishable, and growing christians learn by experience to distinguish them. The more they increase in knowledge and grace, the more clearly they discern the difference between holy affections, and all others which bear the nearest resemblance of gracious exercises.
By growing in grace, they experience a growing sense of their constant and absolute dependence upon the divine Spirit for all right affections. They lean less to their own understanding; trust less to their own hearts; and depend less upon their own resolutions and strength. They find more sensibly, that they are not sufficient of themselves to think any thing as of themselves; but that their sufficiency is of God. They are convinced by experience, that the preparation of their heart and the answer of their tongue is of the Lord. They feel more and more disposed to acknowledge God in all their ways, and to rely upon his gracious aid and influence in every duty.
Their growth in grace gives them a growing sense of their vileness and unworthiness in the sight of God. The more holy they are, the more clearly they discern the beauty of holiness and the deformity and turpitude of sin. As Job grew in grace by passing through the furnace of affliction, he felt an increasing sense of his moral imperfection and vileness in the sight of God, to whom he said, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." A clear view of the holiness and majesty of God, had a similar effect upon the holy heart of Isaiah, who said, "Wo is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of
unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts." The apostle Paul, while pressing forward towards sinless perfection, had a deep and growing sense of his remaining depravity, and moral turpitude. "O wretched man that I am, said he, who shall deliver me from the body of this death." David often sighed and groaned under a sense of his sin and guilt. Though growing saints really increase in holiness; yet the more grace they have, the more clearly they discern their remaining corruptions, and the more they loath and abhor themselves for them.
Hence growing christians have a growing sense of the grace of God in their salvation. The more they grow in the knowledge of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and the clearer views they have of the divine character, and of the divine law, and of the difference between nature and grace, the more they are astonished at the great things which have been done for them. They are ready to adopt the grateful language of the apostle, "By the grace of God, we are what we are." They are astonished at the grace of God, in providing a Saviour; at the grace of Christ in dying for them; and at the grace of the holy Spirit in subduing their stubborn hearts, and continuing to carry on a work of sanctification in them. The whole scheme of redemption appears to be full of the riches of divine grace.
Hence growing christians have a growing desire to bring forth fruits of righteousness. In whatever station they are fixed; in whatever business they are em ployed; in whatever condition they are placed; they feel more and more disposed to lay out themselves, to promote the glory of God and the good of mankind. The growth of grace produced this effect in Abraham, who left his country and friends, and offered up his Son, for the glory of God; it produced this effect in