Are you a Christian?
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Again, we love to see means used, to promote the interest and happiness of those we love. If we greatly love an individual, we delight in those who honor him, and try to promote his interest. We are not apt to be very particular and sticklish about the means that are used to promote this object, if they are but successful. We most naturally embrace, and most cordially use those means that promise the highest success. Witness the conduct of politicians; see how wise, industrious, and energetic they are, in devising, and executing means to elect their favorite candidate. You do not hear them stop, and cavil, and criticize, and find fault with any measure, merely because it is new. If it is not wicked, and if it promises success, its being new or old, will not be a sufficient objection to its being used if it bids fair to accomplish their favorite object. So with Christians, whose hearts are set upon promoting the glory and honor of god. They are on the alert; are looking out and devising new means of effecting their favorite object. They are industrious, and energetic in finding out new ways, and adopting new expedients, to bring about the salvation of the world. But do sinners apply their minds to this subject, and show that they are interested in the glory of God? Are they planning and devising liberal things for Zion? Are they finding out new and more successful methods of promoting the glory of God, and the salvation of men? Do you, sinner, feel rejoiced when some new measure is introduced, which has a tendency to promote this great work? Do you hail it, as one of the means by which the great object is to be accomplished, upon which your heart is supremely set.
Again, it is difficult for us to believe an evil report of one whom we love. Go, and tell that affectionate wife, of some disgraceful conduct of her husband. Go, tell that mother, of the dissolute and abandoned conduct of her only son; do you find them ready and willing to believe these reports? Do they believe them without question? No, but they will sift the testimony, criticise, and scrutinize, and perhaps no weight of evidence that you can bring to bear upon them, will thoroughly convince them of the facts. What lawyer is there, who has not seen the difficulty of convincing a juror, against his will? If the juror strongly desires that the testimony of a witness should not be true, what a slight appearance of inconsistency, will cause him to give his testimony all to the winds. This law of mind develops itself, with equal uniformity, upon the subject of religion. Go, and report among warm hearted Christians, a story, whether true or false; which, if true, is dishonorable to God, and injurious to the interests of his kingdom. See, how instantly, they will ask for your authority; scrutinize and sift the testimony; and you need not expect them to believe, unless it come upon them with the force of demonstration. But do sinners manifest this unwillingness to believe evil reports of religion? Should you hear an evil report, concerning the family of some near friend of yours; should you hear that one of the sons had greatly disgraced his father, who was your intimate and most beloved friend; would vague report satisfy you? Would the mere say so, of some irresponsible individual be considered by you as sufficient proof to command your belief of the report? No, you would ask for high and unquestionable authority, and even then, you would say, I can hardly believe it. Now, sinner, When you hear any scandalous report, of any deacon or minister, or any other professed child of God, do you find yourself instantly resisting the report? Do you find yourself inclined to call for further proof; to sift and criticise the testimony; to weigh, and scrutinize, and give the report to the winds, as false and slanderous, if you find discrepancy or absurdity in it? Do you feel the inward risings of indignation, and your thoughts and feelings taking the attitude of strong repellency, when such a God- dishonoring report is in circulation? Do you feel, when such stories are reported about Christians, as you would about slander that was uttered against your wife, or dearest earthly friend.
Again, when we are compelled to believe an evil report of the object of our affection, we are careful not to give it unnecessary publicity. Does the mother go, and publish all abroad, the disgrace of her children? Does the affectionate wife, trumpet abroad upon the winds of heaven, the disgrace of her beloved husband? No, no. She locks it up in her faithful and affectionate bosom; the mother, and the wife, seal up their lips in silence, and breathe not aloud the errors of those they love. So with Christians; when they are convinced, beyond all contradiction, that something has occurred which has dishonored God, and religion; do they go and blaze it all abroad? No, unless compelled by conscience, to give it utterance, it remains a secret in their own breast. And here let me ask, sinner, are you thus careful, not to circulate what you know to be true, to the discredit of religion, and to the friends of God? Suppose, you had seen a minster, or some other professed child of God, off his guard, and had witnessed in him the commission of some disgraceful sin, would you, from love to the cause, lock it up faithfully in your breast, and never breathe it forth upon the slightest breath of air, lest it should take wings, and God should be dishonored. If you hear an individual, repeating something that is dishonorable to religion, does it distress you? Do you reprove him for it? Do you endeavor to hush the matter up, and beg him not to repeat it? I leave this question with your consciences.
Again, we naturally try to put the most favorable construction upon any event, that might be injurious to the interest or reputation of a friend whom we love. If an event has occurred that admits of divers constructions, we naturally put that construction, if possible, upon it, that is most consistent with the honor and reputation of our friend. If a circumstance should occur, in the family of a beloved friend of ours, which admitted of two opposite constructions; one of which, would disgrace our friend, and the other, not at all; we should, from the very constitution of our being, naturally incline to the construction that was in his favor. It is a law of mind, that charity, or love, hopeth all things, believeth all things, endureth all things, and is ever ready to put the most favorable construction upon any event, that the nature of the case will admit. We see the operation of this principle, and the developments of this law of mind, in the occurrences of every day. You will see Christians, inclining to put that construction upon any event, that is most consistent with the honor of religion, and of God. But do you witness this same disposition in sinners? Do you, sinners, who are here, find in yourselves a desire to construe every ambiguous occurrence in that way, which is most favorable to religion. If something is said by a professor of religoin, that turns out not to be true, do you naturally ascribe it to mistake, or to a misunderstanding, and find yourself very unwilling to believe that he meant to lie.
Again, when any of the friends, of one whom we greatly love, fall into any conduct, that is greatly dishonorable to the object of our affection, it distresses us, and we are disposed, as far as possible, to prevent a repetition of the event. If the son of our dearest friend, should fall into a disgraceful crime, and should, in our presence, be guilty of things that were calculated greatly to dishonor his father; or had he run away from his father, and was wandering a vagabond up and down the earth; we should naturally desire to reclaim him. We should love and pity him, for his father's sake; should feel grieved, and distressed at the dishonor that this son was bringing upon his father; should fell inclined to warn and expostulate; to pray for him; and instead of going and trumpeting his failings all abroad, we should naturally be tender of his reputation, for his father's sake; and do all, that we honestly and consistently could, to cover up his faults. Now, sinner, how do you behave, when you see Christians err, and get out of the way? Do you feel distressed, that they bring such dishonor upon God? Do you pity and love them, for their Heavenly Father's sake? Do you pray for, and warn them, and try your utmost to reclaim them? Let conscience speak; I will not bring a railing accusation against you. But let conscience rebuke you in the name of the Lord.
I shall conclude this discourse with several remarks.
First. With all these facts staring sinners in the face; standing out, in bold relief, upon the very head and front of their own experience; how is it, that they can suppose themselves to love God? Nothing is more common, than for unrepentant sinners to affirm, that they do love God; and yet nothing is more certain, than that they do not love him. Whence is this mistake? I answer,
1. They do not distinguish between an admiration of his natural attributes, which they sometimes feel, and a love to his moral character. The omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, eternity, and wisdom of God, are attributes, which, when considered, are calculated to inspire awe, and admiration, in the breast of intelligent beings, whether they are sinful or holy. These attributes have no moral character. The devil himself, may be filled with awe, and admiration, when contemplating the displays of his natural attributes, which are manifested throughout all creation.
Again, sinners mistake a selfish gratitude, for love to God. A supremely selfish being, may be grateful, for favors bestowed upon himself, without any true regard to the character of him who bestowed the blessing. Sometimes, when sinners escape from death, and some marked providence is interposed in their behalf, they feel a kind of gratitude; and they might feel the same kind of gratitude to Satan, as they do to God, had he bestowed the same favor upon them.
Again, sinners make their own god and fall in love with a god of their own creation. They conceive God to be such a being as they desire him to be. They strip him of his essential attributes, and ascribe to him a character that suits them, and then fall in love with their imaginary god, and walk by the light of their own fire, and compass themselves with sparks of their own kindling. The Universalist creates a god for himself; conceives of him as a being just suited to his taste; and if you keep out of his view the essential attributes of justice, and truth; he will talk and feel very piously; but, bring before his mind the true character of God, and his heart becomes at once like the troubled ocean, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
2. You see why it is, that unrepentant sinners think, religion is something very gloomy. It is because they have no love to God. What would you think of a woman who should think it a very gloomy business to be with her husband; if she should complain of it as an irksome and disagreeable task, to engage in those offices that she knew would please him. If she accounted it a grief, a burden, and a vexation, to engage in the duties of a wife. You would say it was demonstration absolute, that she did not love her husband. So it is with sinners. When they conceive of religion as something gloomy, and calculated to rob them of all their joys, it is demonstration that they do not love God; that they have no delight in pleasing him.
3. You see from this subject, why it is that sinners grow weary and complain of having too many, and too long meetings. What would you think, should you hear an individual, who professed to love you, complain of weariness, on account of the length of your interview. Suppose he should say, Oh, the time does seem so long; I do wish our interview was ended. You would understand it. You would not, and could not believe that his heart was greatly set upon you. So, when you hear sinners complaining, that there are so many meetings; and expressing a wish, that they should not be more than an hour in length; this is an index to their feelings; they do not love God; they have no delight in his service; it is a burden, and a vexation to them, to be called to spend a short time in his presence.
4. Again, you see how it is, that some professors of religion prefer parties of pleasure, to prayer meetings. Prayer meetings, are the most delightful parties, to those that love God. But to those that do not love him, they are not a source of happiness; and when they are attended by such persons, it is from other motives than from love to God. Whenever you see professors of religion, manifesting more interest in worldly parties, than in religious meetings, you may know that they are hypocrites.
5. You see, from this subject that they are deceived, who say they always love God. There may be some instances, where persons may have been converted so young, that they cannot remember the time when they did not love God. If there are such persons, I am persuaded, that such instances have, hitherto, been very rare; with these exceptions, it is certain, that they are deceived, who suppose they have always loved God. Why, by their own showing, they have never had a change of heart. They feel towards God as they always did. If they ever had truly loved God, when they first exercised this love, they would know that it was something new to them, and could not possibly suppose that they had always loved him.
6. Again, you see from this subject, that unrepentant sinners, are often great hypocrites. They profess to be very much opposed to hypocrisy, and say that they like true religion; they desire to see persons sincere in what they profess: think true religion is a good thing; and are very much in favor of it. They pretend to be very friendly to God, and say that they love him. Now, in these professions, they are arrant hypocrites. Christ might say to them, "I know you, that you have not the love of God in you."Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles."Ye are they that justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts."Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell."
7. You see from this subject, the manifest and barefaced hypocrisy, of those professors of religion, who, unnecessarily, publish the faults of Christians. We sometimes see professed Christians, as forward in speaking, in all companies, and on all occasions, of the faults, real or supposed, of the professed children of God, as infidels are. They will load down the winds, with their complaining of the imprudences and errors of those whose characters are nearly associated with all the endeared interests of religion. And this, they often do, when no such thing is called for, and where there can be no just pretense that God, or the interests of religion requires this service at their hands. They will even sometimes, to give these things the greater publicity, publish them in the newspapers, and all this under the shear pretense of doing God service and benefitting the cause of Christ. But this is the precise method, and the pretended motive of the Universalists in their slanderous publications against God, and his servants; and there is no more reason to believe that such professors of religion, have the true interests of Christ's kingdom at heart, than there is to believe that Universalists are actuated by a regard to the glory of God. Cases have occurred, in which professors of religion, have entertained passengers in steam boats, and in other public places, by retailing slanderous reports of revival men and measures. Vast prejudice, has been created, and immense evils have resulted from this infidel conduct of those who profess to love the blessed God. O shame, where is thy blush!
It is impossible, from the very laws of their mind, that they should engage in this work of death, this mischief of hell, if they truly loved the cause of Christ; and, to thus wantonly, hang up the cause, to reproach; by blazing abroad the failings, real or supposed, of those whose name, and character, and influence, are identified with the dearest interests, of Zion, is, as absolute demonstration, that they are hypocrites, as if they themselves should take their oath of it.
Finally. While sinners imagine that they love God already, it is not likely, that they ever will love him. Sinner, if you think that you love God already, you will never realize that you need a change of heart. If you really do love him, you certainly do not need a new heart, unless you would have a heart that does not love him. In pretending that you love God, you deny the very foundation of the doctrine of the new birth. But let me tell you, sinner, your delusion will soon be torn away. You cannot always deceive yourself with the imagination that you love God. You are going rapidly to eternity. There is, even now, perhaps, but a step between you and death. The moment that you appear in the presence of your Maker, and behold, the infinite contrariety there is betwixt your character and his; your delusion will vanish forever. You pretend to love God, while you know that you have no delight in his word, or worship, or service. Oh! What would heaven be to you; you cannot enjoy a prayer meeting, for one hour, and what would you do, in heaven employed in God's service forever and ever. Would heaven be heaven to you? Would you feel at home? Would you be happy there? What! Without the love of God in you. Away with this delusion: "for verily I say unto you except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."