THE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH A PROFESSION OF RELIGION SHOULD BE MADE. NO. 2.
2 Cor. vi. 17, 18. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
In the previous discourse I stated some of the principles on which a profession of religion should be made.
I propose now to resume the subject, and to state some other principles which should direct us in the performance of this duty.
IV. The fourth principle is, that we should come into the church with a fixed and settled purpose to do our whole duty as it may be made known to us by God. I mean by this, that we should not flinch from any duty, however arduous; we should not shrink back from it because .it will demand personal sacrifice, or because it will bring upon us the scorn or the opposition of the world, or because it may be attended with pecuniary loss, or because it may expose us to a martyr's death.
It is scarcely necessary to attempt to prove that this is involved in the purpose to make a profession of religion. What is religion? It is doing the will of God. And he who professes religion, professes his solemn purpose to do the will of God, and not his own. When Saul of Tarsus was converted, one of the first questions which he asked was, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Acts ix. 6. The governing purpose of his soul was changed, and it became henceforth a characteristic of the man that he engaged unceasingly in doing the will of God. And how is it possible that a man can be a Christian who does not? Can he be a Christian who enters the church intending to do his duty or not, as he pleases; resolving to be guided by caprice, or fashion, or self-indulgence, or ambition, or pleasure, rather than by the solemn convictions of duty? Can a man be a Christian who has no settled conviction of what is right and what is wrong ;• who makes no distinction between truth and falsehood; who has no such views of God's government as to lead him to submit to him? Is such a man prepared publicly to profess that he is influenced by a supreme regard to the will of God? To ask these questions is to answer them. There can be no two ways of thinking about them, however many ways there may be of acting.
Instead, therefore, of attempting to demonstrate what will be conceded by all, I shall assume that a man who enters the church not intending to do his whole duty, has no right Views of the nature of the Christian profession. And assuming this, I shall proceed to specify some of the acknowledged duties which will be incumbent on him.
One is, to repair, as far as possible, the evils of his former life. Many of those evils, indeed, cannot now be repaired. If a man has been a blasphemer, and a contemner of the divine commands, he can make no reparation to God. His only course in respect to these sins is to humble himself in dust and ashes; and seek for pardon through the blood of the Redeemer. In like manner for many of the evils which be has done to men, he can now make no reparation. The parent whom he disobeyed when a child may be dead, and he cannot now ask his forgiveness, or repay the disregarded and abused kindness of the father or the mother. The neighbor whom he slandered, or whose property he took away by fraud, may be dead also. The man who was killed by the intoxicating liquor which he sold may be dead, and his children, impoverished and degraded, may be so far ruined in their character, that he cannot- repair the evils which he has done them. For these, and all similar offences, he can only humble himself before God, and resolve, by a different life, to repair as far as possible the evils done to the community at large. The individuals may be beyond your reach, but an injured community is not, and is as much to be benefitted by your active life in holiness, as it has been injured by your active life of sin. But there are other cases. The man whom you may have corrupted by your infidelity, blasphemy, or sensuality, may live, and you may be the means of reclaiming him. The man whom you may have slandered may still live, and to him you may make penitent confession of your error. The man that you defrauded may be alive, and you are bound to restore, with penitent acknowledgments, that of which you deprived him. You failed in business. You made an assignment. You compounded with your creditors; and they released you, and the law released you. But you are now in circumstances of comfort or afflueneeT>-able to pay all. Will your conscience be released because the law released you? Are you free from moral obligation fo pay what you owe, because the law has cancelled the legal obligation ?. You had their property. You used it. It was by no fault, of theirs that it was lost—and they, one and all, suffered by it. You have the means-of restoring it. . What will good faith require of a man thus circumstanced? And why shall not he who has now the power restore all, so that he may feel that in conscience arid in-law he owes ho man any thing? At a period of life when men usually begin to look for relaxation and ease, Sir Walter Scott failed, arid was burdened with a debt of nearly half a million of dollars. To pay it he had nothing but hisjpen. How many men—professors of religion, too, I fearwould have sat down in despair. Not so. he'. He refused even the aid of his friends. /This right hand,' said he, 'shall pay it'—and night and day he toiled till mind and body, crushed together, sunk. under the noble effort to pay every man that he owed.. What an example to men bearing the Christian • name, who, in the unavoidable transactions of business, are unable to pay their creditors-! What a reproach to him who can continue to live in affluence unconcerned, and who feels that all is done where the law has pronounced him discharged!
Again. In the purpose to do his whole duty will be involved the purpose to lead a life of prayer. I refer now to secret prayer. Most persons when they are about to make a profession of religion, practice secret prayer. If their minds are deeply impressed, and .they feel that they are sinners, they pray of course. And even if they practice a deception on others or on themselves, there is such an obvious impropriety in making a profession ol religion without any prayer, that they then, if at no other time, call upon. God. But at the same time it is easy to. conceive that this may be regarded as an extraordinary duty, and that they have no serious intention to continue to practice it to any considerable extent after they shall have been a'dmitted to the church. Now, my remark is, that if there is any such secret purpose, a profession of religion should not be made, for it is clear that a man who does not in good faith practice secret prayer, cannot be a pious man. "When thou prayest," said tlve Saviour, "enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret." Matth. vi. 6. "Pray without ceasing," "in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God," are among the most positive commands of the Bible. It would be easy to demonstrate that this is a duty. But this is not my design. My remark is, that a man who comes into the church not prepared to take from his worldly business as much time every day as shall be necessary, -with a good conscience to keep up the life of religion in the heart; to meet the temptations to which he is exposed, and to walk with God, cannot be a pious man, and should not approach the Lord's supper. Unless he loves his closet; unless he prefers it to any place of amusement, of business, or of gain; any pursuit of-science, literature, or ambition, he may have much that is amiable, and kind, and fascinating, but he has no evidence that he is a pious man. For evidence of piety will be better found in the persevering practice of secret devotion, than in the most noisy profession, and in the most public proclamation of a purpose "to serve God.
The same thing is true of those whose duty would lead them to the practice of family prayer. The general principle is, that a man should honestly intend to discharge his whole duty. My remark now is, that if he is not prepared to summon his family around him, and worship God by leading them to the throne of grace, he is not prepared to make a profession of religion. It would be too long to go into a proof on this point now. A remark or two must suffice. What will be your influence in your family if this is not done? The truth is, that there is such an instinctive sense of the propriety of family devotion in every household, that where this is not done, all other influence of a religious kind is neutralized. A child knows that a father who professes to be a Christian should worship God in his own dwelling. To him it is inexplicable that he does not do it. -He learns, you can hardly tell how, that those who-are sincere and eminent Christians, do offer the morning and evening sacrifice to God. And he has no way of accounting for the fact that you do hot do it except on the supposition that you have less religion—a supposition that approximates very rapidly to. the conclusion that you have Hone. And what man can expect the divine blessing on his family; who can -expect- peace in his own bosom, who is living in the habitual and constant neglect of a known duty? How can a man pome and partake of the emblems of a- Saviour's body, who at the very-time knows that he is daily neglecting a positive requirement of God, and who is resolving to persevere in the neglect?
Again. The purpose to. do pur whole, duty will extend to all the relations of life. It will extend to the intention to be a Christian, and to act like a Christian, wherever, in the providence of God, we may be placed. Whether in the relation of parent or child; of husband or wife; of brother or sister; of master or servant; of employer or apprentice, or clerk, in all these relations there will.bethe solemn and fixed purpose to do our whole duty, and to adorn religion there. In any situation in which we may be placed, there will be the design to live and act as the Saviour did. And if there is an intention to lay aside the severer restraints of religion; .to mingle in scenes of gaity and vanity that are contrary to the most strict obligations of Christianity; to. go away from the sanctuary and to be as gay, as volatile, as ambitious, and as fond of dress and amusement as the people of the World are, the case is clear, whatever else you may do, you should never approach the table of communion,
V. A fifth general principle is, that we are to come resolving that we will be as eminent Christians as possible, or that we will make as much' of our religion as we possibly can make of it. My meaning is, that we should "make full proof of the power of the gospel to sanetify the soul; that we should not come intending merely to be a member of the church; nof merely to reach heaven, but intending that whatever there is of purifying power, whatever there is of consolation, whatever there is of the fulness of hope in the gospel should be ours. Oneof the resolutions of President Ed ward's, adopted in early life, was in these words: "On the supposition that there never was but one individual in the world, at any tims? who was properly a complete Christian in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true- lustre", arid appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one who should live in my time." Nor do I see bow any one Can be prepared to make a profession of religion who" does not adopt substantially that resolution. No commands of the New Testament are mare positive.than those which require us not only to aim at perfection, but to be perfect. "Be ye, therefore, perfect,'-1"said the Saviour, "as your Father in heaven is perfect.'? Matth. v. 48. , "As hewhich hath called you is holy, sobeye holy in all manner of conversation.'-' 1 Pet. i. 15: 'The' idea is that he who makes a profession of religion should resolve to be as holy as possible; to be as dead to the world as possible; to be as eminent in love to God arid in love toman, in prayer, and faith, and 'humility, and self-denial as he possibly can be.
Ta dwell on this head in the way of proof, wonld be useless. I may just add, however, that if a man wishes either comfort or usefulness in the church, he can obtain either only in this way. No man ever arrived at any eminence either in moral character, or in any profession, who had not such a singleness of aim: "If thine eye be single thy whole body shall be full of light; but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." Matth. vi. 22. The reason why there is so little comfort, peace, joy, and usefulness among the .professed friends of Christ, is, that they never came into the church with any unity of aim; or if they did, they soon abandoned it. To be a Christian; to live a life of piety; to be holy, was only one of many plans which they formed; and one, alas! which has beea often compelled to give way to others. For it often happens, that of all the plans and purposes which professed Christians form, those of their religion are the most flexible and yielding. The laws of fashionable life, at any expense of time, or money, or ease, must be conformed to. The laws which govern them in their attempts to become rich and honored, are to be conformed to. If there is to be any yielding, the laws of their religion are- to be made, to give way. If any time is taken for any new project, it is time taken from their closets rather than their counting-rooms; and the devotions of the family are abridged rather than the pleasures of the evening party. If, in- the pressure of hard.times, there is any curtailment of expenses requisite, the curtailment is made in the matters of benevolence, and the cause of Christ first surfers. Meantime the splendid mansion, and the carriage, and the retinue of servants, a»d the gay apparel, and the gotgeous furniture are kept as long as they can be"; but the channels of benevolence are dry, and sympathy for the cause of a dying world is suddenly extinguished- With such the least stable of all laws.are those of the New Testament; the most firm are those which control the fashionable and the .business world. Now, what I am wishing to say is this: That he who comes into the church intending that in any unexpected emergency the first acts of retrenchment shall be made on his religion ;. that his piety shall be perpetually giving way to the laws of fashionable life, of politics, of gain, and of honor; that all abridgments of time shall be taken from his times of prayer, and of reading the Bible, and of proper religious duty, knows nothing about.religion, and should not presume to approach the emblems of a Saviour's death. .The only things in this world that are to be stern, inflexible, unchanging, and eternal,, are the principles of religion; and where they are not so regarded, whether in the church or out of it, there is.an utter destitution of the principles of truelove to the Redeemer. . Heaven and earth are to pass away, but the laws of Christ arc not to pass away. VI. A sixth principle which I state on which we should "make a profession of religion is, that we should be the warm and decided friends of revivals. I mean
by this, not only that we should be the friends of religion in general, and of its advancement—which every man who makes any pretensions to piety must be—but that we should be the advocates and friends of the extraordinary manifestations of the grace of God when numbers are simultaneously converted to the Saviour. I do not deny that religion is to make advances in the world by other modes than by revivals; nor do I affirm, by any means, that we are to undervalue any influences, however feeble, that tend to the promotion of true piety on the earth. But this is what I mean. The gospel is fitted to produce a deep and far-spreading simultaneous influence on the minds of men. It is a fact that such an influence often descends from heaven and pervades a community, and that a sense of the importance of religion spreads from heart to heart, and the power of sympathy is excited, and many come simultaneously to the cross. It is a fact that the Saviour promised such blessings, and that on the day of Pentecost the Spirit of God descended with such power, and that thousands were converted. And it is a fact that if this world is ever converted to God; if this land is saved from infidelity, and Sabbathbreaiing, and licentiousness, and profaneness, it must be by such scenes as were witnessed on the day of Pentecost. I have no other hope of the prevalence and extension of religion and purity on earth than by revivals of religion. Of this age they have been the glory; striking deeper and farther onward into all that is valuablein our prospects for the future, than any or than all other means that have been adopted to bless our country.
Now men enter the church with very Various feelings in regard to these manifestations of the grace of God. Some have never witnessed such displays of his mercy, and have no settled opinion in regard to them. Some look on the whole subject with distrust, and have no desire to witness them. Some associate them with scenes of disorder and fanaticism; regard them as the result of an overheated imagination, and as tending to unsettle all that is fixed and permanent. Some regard them as the sluices of error and extravagance, and deem them fobe the mere production of human measures and machinery. The ignorance of many in the church on this subject is to be pitied rather than to be regarded as a subject of reproach. But the opposition which is often made deserves other language than that which merely describes ignorance. The apathy of the churches in regard to revivals is one of the most melancholy features of the times in which we live.
The position which I wish now to be understood as taking is, that no one should make a profession of religion unless .he is prepared to give his prayers, and toils, and honest efforts to a promotion of a pure revival of religion. He is not to come into the church to speak of such scenes as disorder and confusion; he is not to come to complain of the preaching which the Holy Ghost usually blesses to this end; he is not to come to take side with the wicked world in characterizing such scenes as that on the day of Pentecost as extravagance and wild-fire; he is not to come to impede any honest and well-meant effort to promote the salvation of souls. Not-for such purposes is he to come into the church of Jesus Christ—for in all churches there are enough such- already. . We need other men. The churches need other professors of religion. There must be other professors of religion—those who will heartily,, and prayerfully, and continually seek a revival of the work of God. And if such is your state of mind that you could not ;n all honesty and heartiness join in the prayer that the churchmight witness such a scene as that on the day of Pentecost; if you would be alarmed, or would shrink back atrthe prospect of the" simultaneous conversion of hundreds and thousands in a brief period of time; if you would call, it extravagance and enthusiasm, and join with the wicked and say, " these men are filled with new wine," then it is manifest that you are not prepared to make a profession of religion. Jesus Christ needs no allies who would deride the work of the day of Pentecost, or that would consider it as a scene-of tumult and disorder.
But what I have now said expresses very feebly what I wish to say. -It is not merely that you are not to oppose such a work, but-it is that you "would heartily desire it, and pray arid labor for it. The sum of what I would say is, that in all our churches we need—,we greatly need —those who in the fulness of an overflowing heart can say, "0 Lord, revive thy work, in the midst of the years make known, in wrath remember mercy;" those who for " Zion's sake will not hold their peace, and who for Jerusalem's sake cannot rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness,-and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth." Why should a man enter the house of God to impede in any way the work of salvation? And if you are not prepared to stand forth as the advocate of revivals of religion; if you are not prepared to give your influence to promote them ; if you are not prepared to sustain a pastor in such preaching and efforts as are adapted to produce them; if you cannot be depended on, should God in his mercy visit his people with the descending blessings of salvation like floods and torrents, then you have not a spirit adopted to the exigency of the times in which you live; you bring not the aid which the church needs in this time of her history."
VII. A seventh principle which I state is, that you should enter the church as a warm and decided friend of any and every proper plan for the salvation of the world. For what did the Redeemer organize the church? What purpose did he contemplate by continuing it as an organized body from age to age? Not for its own ease; not primarily and principally that its members might be prepared for heaven. When converted they are prepared for heaven, and if they should then die, they would be saved; and heaven is a higher place of comfort than the church here, and better fitted to purify the soul than all the advantages which we can here enjoy. The design for which be keeps them here he has stated. "Go ye into all the world and'preach the gospel to every creature." Christ contemplates the conversion of this whole world to himself. There is not a nation or a people which he does not intend to subjugate to his law. The distant tribes of men are to learn his name, and to hear the sound of his gospel; and the instrumentality by which that is to be effected is his church.
Every individual who becomes connected with the church should sympathize with Jesus Christ in his purpose to .save the world. He should be of course a friend of every feasible plan to extend the influence of religion; he should regard his time, and influence, and wealth, as all the property of God the Saviour, to be employed in whatever way he shall direct. In all societies he should be prepared to advocate the plans of benevolence; at all times he should rejoice in the opportunity of befriending every scheme that goes to alleviate human misery, and to"elevate man to the favor of God. It should not be forced, constrained, unwilling; but he should be just as willing to sacrifice his time and property to benefit the world as Jesus Christ was to sacrifice comfort and life to save us. Why should he not be? He should be just as willing, if need be, to cross oceans amidst privations and wants to benefit the perishing as the apostle Paul was. Why should he not be? then I should feel no interest in exhorting any man to make a profession of religion, and you would feel that it was a matter of no consequence whether it was or was not done. It would be a matter too insignificant to excite any solicitude; and the whole subject might be dismissed without concern. And one reason, as I apprehend, why so few make a profession, is, that it is felt by them to be a matter of little importance, implying a slight change of purpose, and not connected with any great and important principles. I do not conceal the fact that I hope by the representation which I have made to deter from this act those who would come into the church only to. be an incumbrance when there; but I have also desired to show you that it is an act which demands solemn purpose, and profound thought, and much prayer, and which is worth an effort. We need none, we ask none, to come among us who are not prepared to consecrate themselves in the self-denials of a holy life to the Son of God; none who will not every where and always have the humility, the self-denial, the heavenly-mindedness, the ever burning zeal, the uersal benevolence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It needs no great acquaintance with the church to see that all are not so. And it needs but little observation to see the effect when they are not so. When members of the church are more penurious fax regard to the objects of Christian benevolence than are the men of the world; when you can more certainly calculate on a liberal benefaction for the circulation of the Bible and the spread of the gospel from a man who makes no pretension to religion than from a professed Christian; when a member of the church joins with its foes in finding fault with the plans of Christian benevolence,-in exaggerating the errors of those engaged in this work, in throwing obstacles in the way; when they look with unconcern on the whole enterprize of saving man; when they have thousands to lavish on their dwellings, their dress, their furniture, their equipage, their children, and nothing to give to that Redeemer who died for men ; or when they can find it in their heart to lavish on a splendid entertainment their wealth without limit or bound and turn away coldly from the pleadings of a perishing world for aid, whatever may be the estimate in which they will be held finally by the Master before whom they must stand or fall, it is impossible not to see the effect which it must have in regard to the salvation of the world. There are devoted men with as complete a right to earthly comforts as we have, who have forsaken all, and who labor amidst many discouragements in heathen lands to bring them to God. And that which their hearts must most deeply feel is, the coldness and indifference with which their enterprize is regarded by many of the professed friends of their common Lord.