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are many prevalent errors, both of opinion and practice. Many who like you have come to the conviction that they never knew any thing of true religion, have resolved that they would silently withdraw from the communion of the church. They absent themselves from the Lord's table. They perhaps give no more attendance on the ordinances of the Lord's house. Convinced that they are strangers to piety, they consider this a good reason why they should, of their own accord, retire from Christian fellowship.
All such are under a palpable mistake. There are none appointed in the Church of Christ to grant permission to any who may desire it, to withdraw and return again to the world. No man within the church has the right to assume this permission for himself. The Scriptures recognize but two ways in which any communicant can ever be removed from the church on earth. The one is by the direct agency of God himself. Death removes one after another, and takes them into eternity. But death does not absolve any one from his solemn vows; he transfers the true Christian to the church in glory, to abide there forever. The other method is by exclusion because of offences. For the preservation of her own purity, the continuance of her own institutions, as well as the discipline and recovery of her own members, the church has been invested with the power of cutting off such as offend and will not be reclaimed. When admonition has failed, and all suitable efforts have been frustrated, then is the church required, in the name of her great Lord and Head, to pronounce such excluded from all Christian rights and privileges. Ever after, unless they repent and return, such are to be held as heathen men and publicans. Other than the two methods which I have now described, death by the agency of God himself, and exclusion in the manner and for the reasons which have been defined by our Lord himself, there is no way of being disconnected from the church of the living God. He is subject to a great misapprehension who supposes that he may withdraw at his own pleasure.
For, in the first place, such a withdrawal, if it could be permitted, would not absolve one from the vows which have already been made. Once made, they can never be retracted or broken. The language of the church to such as come to the Lord's table is in substance: "Let it be impressed on your minds that you have entered into solemn relations which you can never renounce, and from which you can never escape. Wherever you go, they will be upon you. They will follow you to the bar of God; and in whatever world you may be fixed, will abide on you to eternity. You can never be again as you have been. You have voluntarily, publicly, and unalterably committed yourselves, and henceforth you must be the servants of God." There is no retreat, no retirement, no crowd, no cavern, no island of the sea, no spot in all the creation of God to
which you may betake yourself, where the solemnity and obligation of these vows will not rest upon you. Retrogression, therefore, is not to be thought of for one instant.
Besides all this, if you are not a Christian now, your obligation to be a Christian is not diminished in the least by any change in your outward circumstances and relations. You cannot escape from that duty. It is omnipresent, like the air you breathe. Are not the crowds of living men, heedless, impenitent though they be, under obligation to believe and obey from the heart? Does not God lay righteous claim to their services? Ought they not to be the disciples of Jesus Christ? Will not their guilt be great, and their punishment intolerable, if they refuse? Is it to such that you would think of withdrawing? Withdraw from what? Not surely from responsibility. Not from the duty to be from the heart a believer in Jesus. Had you the wings of the morning, you could not fly beyond the reach and jurisdiction of this equitable requirement. To retire from the church, even if it were permitted, would not lessen your obligations, or lighten their pressure, or diminish their solemnity, or absolve you from the moral government of God.
Withdraw from the church! To what would you go? To the world again? To the unbelief and heedlessness of impenitent men? But this is to rush upon a certain destruction. To such, nothing remains but a looking-for of judgment which shall devour the adversaries. Hope there is none in that quarter. Absolutely certain is it, that all such as obey not the gospel of God will be visited with tribulation and anguish. To go back, is to go back to perdition. There is nothing in a state of unbelief which can comfort your heart or illuminate your prospects. To go back to the world, is to go back to infamy and death. Retreat is cut off. Whatever is to be done, we cannot go back, unless we have made an agreement with hell, and with death are in covenant, and the last hope has gone out, and our resolution is formed to meet our inevitable fate in the sullenness of despair. It is not so with you. Evident is it, then, that you must hope for relief from another quarter; instead of retreating, you must advance. You are shut up to an onward movement. You can move only in one way. True wisdom it is to say, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life."
When convinced of this, the next direction is obvious.
4. Begin now, begin anew those very acts which are necessary to pardon and life, in the case of those who have made no pretensions to religion. It is a great mistake, into which many fall, to suppose that when the hope of forgiveness is once obtained, then they are no more concerned with that class of truths which are addressed to those in an impenitent state. It is to be received as a general rule of great practical importance, for all to continue to hear and repent and pray, just as if these
duties were now required for the first time. There are some qualifications and limits to this rule, no doubt, but these are such as the fulness of one's religious experience will readily suggest; but that it is a direction both safe and wise cannot be questioned. Edwards, than whom few men have known so much of the complexities and varieties of Christian experience, insisted much on this rule in his day; and had it always been adopted and applied, there would have been less of delusion and disappointment.
You consider yourself an unconverted man. You are convinced that you have never experienced a saving faith in Christ. Admit it. Be it so, that there is no mistake in your judgment. Act now on this conviction. Surely you cannot be in doubt as to what you must do. Your past professions, your standing in the church cannot change the direction which are addressed to all in an impenitent state. Like any other unconverted man, you must cry out, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. The motives to do this, and to do it speedily, are more numerous and pressing in your case than in any other. You must begin at the very point where you would begin had you never had a hope before. You must open your eyes to behold your own sinfulness. You must be careful that you grieve not the Spirit of God which has come to convince you of the truth. You must set yourself to rehearse your obligations violated, and sins indulged. You must bow down, confess, and plead for pardon. Oh, repent of thy wickedness; if you did not go far enough before, come now and say, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee. If there was some secret thing before which prevented you from closing quite with the only Saviour of sinners, be sure that there is nothing now. If you were only almost persuaded to be a Christian before, be altogether persuaded now. If you failed of entering the kingdom of God before only by a little, be sure that you now enter quite within. If in your first approaches to the Master you kept back part of the price, now come and give him your all. I know of no other terms of salvation than these. I know of no other conditions of return and acceptance. These are suited to all the varieties of an impenitent state. To men of every grade and character, under whatever name they pass, of whatever appearance, the same direction is to be given: Repent, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.
I am not ignorant of what may be regarded as the peculiarities of your case; I know what distrust, what difficulty, what fear, what agitations of soul you must experience. I know to what temptations of the great foe you will be exposed; what deceits, what liversion, what delays, what hindrances, he will employ with tremest skill, to prevent your cordial acceptance of pa these, none will he be so sure to try, as the fear that in your case pardon will not be granted. If possible
he will make you think that your guilt is of such a character that you cannot expect to be forgiven. My last direction accordingly is,
5. Be confident of this, that if you ask for mercy on the same. terms in which all must plead for it, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, you will be forgiven. It is true, that your sin has been very great in having rejected the Saviour so long, and under such peculiar circumstances; but there is no sin which a God of infinite mercy cannot forgive, if it be repented of. That you could have passed through such privileges, looked upon the body and blood of Christ with a heart unsubdued, ungrateful, is indeed a great aggravation of your guilt; but there is no degree or amount of iniquity which atoning blood cannot wash away, if the penitent spirit will but ask for its application. To eat and drink unworthily is not the unpardonable sin. To take of the bread and of the cup with a heart deceived and unchanged, does not of itself seal one's damnation. There is no sin which cannot be pardoned if it be confessed and forsaken. We must never suffer ourselves to think that there is any kind, or quality, or amount of sin, though it be high as mountains, and dyed deep as crimson blood, which God is not both able and willing to forgive. Broad, deep, and full as the sea, his mercy can roll over a world of sin, and wash away a world of iniquity. His offers of mercy are made to you as really as to any other; his promises are just as sure in your case as in any other; and if you have been a stranger to true peace and hope before, you may come, if you will, and try the efficacy of a Saviour's blood applied to your conscience now. There is no sin which is unpardonable if it be repented of. The sin which excludes one from mercy both in this life and that which is to come, is such a resistance to the Holy Ghost as makes repenting impossible.
With you the Spirit of God seems to be striving now. That very thing which it is his peculiar province to do, he is now doing with you. He is convincing you of your sin; he is showing you your need of a Saviour; he is pointing you to the cross, -he is moving you to repentance. And if there be one person on earth whose condition more than any other awakens the pity and tenderness of the Redeemer of sinners, it seems to me it is the professor of religion who has come at length to be convinced that he is not a Christian; who dare not go back; who is afraid to go forward; who, though called a disciple before, yet having denied and forsaken his Master, is now weeping bitterly over his sin, and for the first time longs to lay his head at the Saviour's feet, and bathe them with tears which cannot be feigned.
BY REV. WILLIAM ADAMS, D.D.,
THE GOOD WOMAN.
"Who can find a a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry: her clothing is silk and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant. Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. Favor deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”—PROVERBS Xxxi. 10–31.
"The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him."
It is impossible to say who Lemuel was. Some have conjectured that this was another name for Solomon. Whoever he may have been he was singularly fortunate in his mother; for the words which she taught him are worthy of that imperishable record they have received from the pen of inspiration. Well would it be for the world if every mother was qualified to give, and every son disposed to follow similar advice in the selection of a wife.
An inspired description have we here of a good woman. Circumstances, customs, habits change; men and manners pass away; but the qualities of a good character are the same in all times and places. What was essentially good and praiseworthy in an Arabian tent three thousand years ago, is good and praiseworthy now, and will be to the end of time.
Art has toiled these many centuries to paint on canvass and embody in marble every conception of the beautiful and graceful in the female face and form. Poetry has rivalled her sister muse in the same endeavor; the world is full of fancy and ro