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know, that in the judgment of the Apostle, the most indifferent thing becomes evil to that man, who in its pursuit flies in the face of publick religious opinion; who in this manner wantonly invades the scruples of those, for whom Christ died.
On the whole, Brethren, this sermon is designed to prevail with you to covet earnestly the possession of the best companion, we can possibly enjoy in this transient life; I mean a good conscience. If you know of any thing, belonging to our frail nature, better or more desirable; any thing better calculated to make your sleep refreshing, or your waking hours pass away with a higher relish; any thing, that shall cause your lives to be more honourable, or your deaths more glorious, in God's name, embrace it; fold it to your bosom, and wind it around your hearts. I am for the greatest good, be it where it may. I am for happiness here, and happiness hereafter. But if, upon diligent inquiry, you can discover no flaw, no errour, no hyperbole in that saying of the great Apostle, " Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth;" why then, make it the subject of your thoughts, and the rule of your actions: Amid all the chances and changes of this mortal life, be it your chief, as it must be your most important, concern to preserve a conscience void of offence both towards God and man. It is more valuable than rubies. It is a more precious gem in the setting of the soul, than wealth can purchase, or monarchs wear. It will not lose, it will increase its brilliancy from being exposed to the attritions of time; and when "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the earth shall melt with fervent heat," its lustre will not be dazzled or obscured by the bright sunshine of eternity. AMEN.
ACTS xxvi. 28.
Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
IN the moral properties of the mind, in the expression of their hopes and fears, mankind have been the same in every age. The same has been their love of ease, of happiness, of all that can satisfy the desires of the heart. Circumstances may vary the principal object of attraction, but a principal one there always is, for whose attainment the pulse beats high, and the bosom throbs, and body and soul co-operate with all their powers. I wish it was religion, the divine religion of Christ. It can fill up the widest expanse of human hope. It can add new lustre to the brightest and disperse the shadows of the darkest day. It can pour the fullest tide of felicity into the various channels of this mortal life, and when life shall perceptibly ebb away, it can extract every pungent quality from the sting of death.
And yet, when religion possessed its most able advocate in the person of Paul; when with a manly spirit and a commanding eloquence, he vindicated it from the defamation of its enemies; when there was power vouchsafed him from on high to give unwonted energy to the language of his lips, and the inspiration of his soul; even then a Jewish king was heard to qualify the unexpected convictions, which began to fasten upon his mind. He should have come out openly and fearlessly. He should have humbled every sentiment of pride. He should have dismissed every shadow of doubt. He should have acknowledged himself instructed as a hearer, convinced as a sinner, fully satisfied and resolved as a disciple of Christ. But mark ye the prejudice of the Jew, still lingering in his thoughts. Mark ye the slowness of his heart to believe, the cautiously equivocal terms in which he replied to St. Paul," Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."
Mark ye this. It may hold up a mirror to your consciences, Brethren, and that mirror may reflect a similitude, ye will one day
be very glad to disavow. Do you understand me? Have ye not time and again been sorely grieved by arrows lanched from the bow of the preacher? Have ye not felt the deeply searching power of the Spirit in your souls, as ye have heard the Son of Man described, the divineness of his origin, the fervency of his love, the perfection of his character, the wonders that he wrought to reconcile you to God, and enable you to lay hold on the exceedingly great and precious promises of the gospel? Have ye not felt, have ye not heard, all this? And feeling, hearing, have ye not trembled as sinners, as dying men, as candidates for immortal life or immortal death? Have ye not moreover, in the midst of this alarm, this trepidation, this sinking of the spirits before a God of consuming fire, have ye not mentally cried out with King Agrippa, in answer to the voice of instruction and entreaty," Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian?" Ye have, I know the nature of the human heart so well, that I can vouch for it, with the utmost confidence and decision. Upon this subject, there can be no mistake, no uncertainty. Instead of warmly professing to deny it, another and a very different feeling should prevail, the feeling of shame, and of self-reproach. For where do ye get that word, ALMOST? It forms no part of the economy of grace. It enters not into the creed of the true followers of Christ. So far from recognizing it, as proceeding from the Father of Lights, Paul answered King Agrippa and said, "I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds."
You perceive therefore, Brethren, that in this all important coneern, there is to be no wavering, no irresolution of the mind. It must be prompt, decided, unequivocal. Almost will not do; we must be altogether persuaded to become Christians. The path of safety is the path of conviction, perfect and entire conviction. There grow the fruits of piety. All else is a drear and barren waste, without one flower of spring to cheer the eye, or one ripened product of the autumn to gratify the taste of man. Why then this indecision, this lingering of the soul on the hither banks of Jordan? Light has dawned upon it. It shines with a brilliancy too pure to dazzle, and too clear to confound. Why then do we not wake out of sleep? It is high time. Why do we not leave our moral dungeon, and invest ourselves with the whole armour of light? There is no sunshine equal to the sunshine of the gospel.
I will tell you. I will begin at the foundation, and assert that it is owing to the corruption of our nature. Fond, easy man thinks that he is very good and very innocent; that he comes forth from his Maker's hands fair as the morning, and guileless as its dew. And so he does, if appearances alone are to be consulted. So do the young of animals the most ferocious and malignant. But in their case, if there be any thing more than appearance, why do they not grow up mild as the lamb, and gentle as the dove? Why does not "the wolf dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together?" You will attribute it at once to nature, and not to education. There are animals so fierce, that they cannot be tamed, though you were to commence the trial at the most tender age; and, in spite of appearance, I ask no better proof of a radical malignity connected with the first breath they draw.
It is precisely thus with our fallen humanity. It buds and it blos soms well. I know not an object lovelier than an infant cradled in its mother's arms. It is a happy emblem of innocence; but after all, it is an emblem only. It is not a reality, a substance that will stand the test of experiment, the chemical test applied to it by the hand of time. In other words, an infant in its progress to maturity invariably shows, that it was shapen in iniquity, and conceived in sin. By no pains, can we prevent the original taint in its nature from being rapidly disclosed. Every parent knows it, every human being, if he will but revert to the past, and trace up every evil thought and habit to the fountain head. They were developed before he could comprehend what was right, and what was wrong. Our Saviour himself declares, that they proceed "out of the HEART." If this were not the source, you might find one individual at least, who from his youth up would be authorized to affirm, I have always "washed mine hands in innocency." I have neither thought amiss, nor spoke amiss, nor done amiss. But no such thing: Save the man Christ Jesus," all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." We begin in ignorance. We continue in opposition to knowledge and the sense of duty. As the Apostle acknowledges of himself and his brethren, "When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death;" so it is with us. Disguise the matter as we please, here is the grand foundation of all our indisposition to em
brace the principles, and exhibit the virtues of the Christian life; The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be."
It is not meant, that there is a hatred against his majestick essence, or against those attributes, which have conspired to bring us into existence. But there is a hatred against his law, as decided an aversion to its provisions, as instinct ever manifested against whatever is pernicious to health and happiness, amongst the lower orders of creation. Sin is pleasant to the eyes, though we have the evidence of experience, that it is bitter to the taste. There is no effort requisite to make us sinners. We are made before we are aware. While to be holy: How great must be the struggle! How wonderful the change! It is like facing the storm, or breasting the surges of the sea. And call you this acting in compliance with the voice and the dictates of nature? I cannot arrive at the same conclusion. If it were natively pure, and holy, and of good report; there would not always be some lusts to mortify, some lawless passions to subdue, some reason and forethought to be exercised, before we are found heartily consenting to the will of God. As ye would be Christians in reality, as ye would not be satisfied to be ALMOST persuaded to be such: Dismiss ye therefore, Brethren, the carnal mind, with all its enmity to the divine law; Resolve, by the grace of God, to triumph over your natural corruption. Such is the infirmity, and the imperfection of our race, that a remainder of the poison will always be present with you. But the Holy Spirit searcheth the deep things of man, and applying to him, ye shall have power vouchsafed to keep it under; to set to it bounds, which it cannot pass; to make you a new heart and a new spirit, that ye may not die eternally.
Another cause, intimately connected with the preceding, and greatly controlling us in our opposition to the way of life, may be referred to our passionate attachment to this world. I find myself surrounded on every side by mere worldlings; by men and women, who never seem to reflect, that this state of trial will soon come to an end; that we shall soon be even as others, bereft of life and motion, shrouded in the land of silence, and crawled upon, by the very worm, we are now so prone to crush beneath our tread. In this particular, the experience and the fate of friends are quite lost upon us. We neither take note of time, of the gray hairs which begin to sprinkle our locks, nor do we take note of the dead; of