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2 CORINTHIANS iii. 17.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
WERE the actual condition of a country to be always es. timated by the partial judgment of its friends, there is not one to vie with these United States, in the devotion of its citizens to the cause of liberty, in the ardour with which they maintain it, or the jealous spirit by which it is guarded against the invasion of foreign and domestick foes. And certainly in a political point of view, there is much to warrant the manly pride and elevated self-complacency of our countrymen. Compared with all other nations, we do enjoy the freest principles and the freest institutions. Such are the constitution and the laws, that the rich have no prerogative to oppress the poor; no licence to divert the streams of justice; no power to forge the massive chain, and having forged, to fasten its links around the bodies or the souls of freemen.
But while we thus occupy a proud pre-eminence in the scale of human rights and privileges; while distant lands admire the splendid, and, as I would fain believe, the substantial fabrick of our independence; while they sigh for its rich possession, and spend their strength in vain and fruitless efforts to obtain it, there is, in the pure eye of God, a species of slavery pervading every portion of our favoured clime, baneful in its aspect, corroding in its properties, and destructive, fatally destructive, in its operations. It is not discerned in manacles for the hands, or fetters for the feet; in the yoke of bondage applied to the neck, or the bridle of arbitrary rule to the organs of speech. It is not political, it is moral slavery, which exists and thrives with us, in common with all other sections of the human family. A slavery, that however disgraceful and disastrous, still spreads its contagion far and wide; still includes us within its expanded sphere, and brings us into captivity to the law of sin and death.
O Sim thou wretchedly deformed and hideous monster! How dost thou wield the destinies, and control the triumphs of humanity! How dost thou infest every haunt of licentiousness and revelry! How dost thou commingle with the gay and festive hours of our day and generation! We cannot stir, but thou art near, to defile with thy presence, to contaminate with thy touch, to disgust with thy filth and folly. We can make no harbour from the storms of life, in which thy intrusive foot is not often shoved, thy smile so winning and so treacherous, thy voice so dulcet and so false. There is indeed a remedy, but how few embrace it. There is a sanctuary, to which the weary and heavy-laden may always repair, deriving strength in their weakness and courage in their dejection. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." Where the Spirit of our God takes up his abode, there slavery ends; the slavery of corrupt thoughts, of impure desires, of unhallowed passions, of ungodly deeds. The mind becomes enlightened, and the heart reformed. Sinners have struck the flag of rebellion, and hoisted the banner of the cross. They loiter no longer in the camp of the enemy. They swell the ranks, and gather around the tent of the Friend and the Saviour of their souls.
Let us analyze this matter. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty," because its possessors have been born again, born anew in the sacred soil of freedom. And to be born again implies. something more than simple conformity to established rites and usages. By the outward application of water, the skin may become white as the bolted snow. But what avails it, if the heart. continues black as jet? What avails a deluge of waters, if when they pass away, rank and noxious weeds shoot up to choke all other verdure, and rifle the husbandman of his promised harvest, God forbid, that I should breathe a sentiment adverse to a single institution of the gospel of Christ, I rather honour them all. Religiously do I honour holy baptism. I believe it identified with, if not essential to, the character of the Christian, desirous, as our Saviour was, of fulfilling all righteousness. But is it credible, that. the sprinkling of a few drops of water, or the immersion of the whole body in the purest and most limpid stream? Is it credible that either of these constitute the sole expedient requisite to recover the lost Image of God, and exist redeemed by his grace, and sanctified by his Spirit?
Men there are, whose loud contentions about the mode, whose wonderful tenacity about quantity and quality, indicate as if special virtue was to be attributed to these merely incidental circumstances. But I would as soon think of calculating a man's piety by the dimensions of his body; of associating the idea of sinfulness with the short, and of righteousness with the tall in stature. It would not be more absurd, It could not be more preposterous. Neither sprinkling nor immersion change the heart. They may be performed in infancy or in manhood, and that heart may nevertheless wax worse and worse, in both the highway and the by-way of sin. It is to the adult, of no virtue to be baptized, unless he is buried with Christ, by baptism, to the entire conquest of the whole body of sin. Do this, and the external washing may have been slight or profuse, early or late; it matters not. The great desideratum is to be conformed in our inward parts to the image of Him, that hath created us.
Nor is Christian liberty, or the state of being born again, to be confounded with noisy rant and verbal declamation upon the subject of religion. Have ye never read, that many, who rejected our divine Redeemer in the days of his flesh, arrogated to themselves the praise of unrivalled sanctity? Have ye never read of their unbounded zeal and devotion, of the tithes they paid and the prayers they offered, of the proselytes they gained and the stigmas they cast upon the true servants of God? They even denounced the conduct of the immaculate Jesus himself. They charged him with being the companion of harlots, the friend of publicans and sinners; with being addicted to wine and fond of luxurious living. But what was the testimony borne against them by this inquisitor of the secrets of the heart? "O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh."
And are we compelled to read, in order to become conversant with persons of their description? Have we never seen or heard of them distributed in various quarters of our country, equally audacious, equally intolerant, equally disposed to denounce and reprobate the members of other communions, to question their principles and brand their piety? Alas, Brethren, the final steps of bigotry and intolerance are yet to be trodden. It is to be feared, that it will be long, very long, before their last vestige will be ob
literated from an insulted soil. Were you to judge of some men by their looks, you would think that angels had assumed the human shape and form. But judge them by their words and actions, and there is a want of charity, a bitterness of temper, an exuberance of passion, a deficiency of good works, that unitedly force upon us the conviction of their being destitute of the vital spark of renovation, of their being ignorant of God's righteousness, and that, going about to establish their own righteousness, they have still to submit themselves to the righteousness, which is of God, by faith.
No better is the Christian liberty or spiritual regeneration of those, whose religion partakes of that peculiar quality of the ocean, the ebb and flow of its waters: Who come forward in the full tide of successful experiment, and anon retire only to expose, the more palpably, a wide spreading strand of mud and pollution: Who one moment withdraw themselves from the world, with the avowed purpose of entering into the closest communion with their God, and the next return from their devotions to commit iniquity with a greediness set to its edge and sharpened by their recent abstraction: Who upon the holy Sabbath exclaim, This is the Lord's day! This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it! While on every other day, they discover themselves to be so thoroughly engrossed with temporal concerns, as effectually to exclude all serious thoughts, and all devout affections from the mind: Who have even the ingenious faculty of dividing the Sabbath, as did the Romans some of their festival days, making the one part holy, and the other profane; the morning a suitable time to worship God, and the evening to find their own pleasure; the morning to confess their sins, and the evening to furnish themselves with the foundation for a subsequent confession; the morning to make their peace with God, and the evening to break it; the morning to be solemn and devout, thoughtful and humble, the evening gay and inconsiderate, idly perambulating the streets or reposing at home upon the couch of languid ease.
Strange inconsistency! Marvellous contrivance to serve two masters! Were it thus with individuals compelled to earn their diurnal sustenance with the sweat of their brows, we should be very prompt in charging them with indolence and folly, to suspect them of vice, in some one or more of its degrading forms. And is the service of our Maker less valuable, less imperative than our own? Is it no
thing to squander away the hours expressly commanded to be kept holy, and at the same time a most scandalous and unpardonable offence to neglect the incumbent avocations of life? Not such will be the decision of the Most High, at the great day of account. Feign ed excuses, disingenuous though plausible arguments, will then weigh lighter than a feather in the scales of retributive justice. They, who now think themselves Christians, liberated from the thraldom of sin, because they pay some outward deference to the externals of religion; and the renewal of whose minds is limited to occasional acts of homage and devotion, will then have ample cause to regret the time past of their lives. In eternity, things are not done by fractions or by halves, whether the mansions of misery or of happiness are concerned.
So also in relation to this world, a more fatal errour does not prevail, than that, which supposes there is a time to be spiritual, and a time to be worldly; a time when we must surtender all our powers and faculties to the exclusive business of religion, and a time when we may dismiss all thoughts of our Creator from the mind, living and acting as though he had abdicated his throne, and suspended for a season the course of his providence; as though he had relinquished his authority and power to exact obedience, and reign supreme in the affections of the children of men. Wretched, truly wretched and fallacious reasoning! How astonishing, that persons bearing his image and professing to wear the livery of his Son should be thus egregiously deceived! It belongs to the casuistry of this world, and may now blind the eyes and indurate the consciences of multitudes; but, at no distant period, "the light of the wicked shall be put out, and the spark of his fire shall not shine. The light shall be dark in his tabernacle, and his candle shall be put out with him." Where the Spirit of the Lord actually resides, there must be visible, at all times and all seasons, the genuine effect of regeneration. It must be seen in the cultivation of every right, and the abandonment of every false way, or it will assuredly be counted worthless and unprofitable, at that solemn hour, when to have been truly redeemed and sanctified, during the term of our mortal pilgrimage, will alone ensure a favourable reception from our final judge.
Yes, Brethren, the liberty of the Christian, the birthright he enjoys, admits not the idea of his wantonly grieving the Holy Spirit of God,