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citous that we may be growing and thriving infants. And my reader, if so be you have tasted that the Lord is gracious*, will, I doubt not, feel this solicitude. I would therefore endeavour to assist you in making the enquiry, whether religion be on the advance in your soul. And here, I shall warn you against some false marks of growth; and then, shall endeavour to lay down others on which you may depend as more solid. In this view I would observe, that you are not to measure your growth in grace, only or chiefly by your advances in knowledge, or in zeal, or any other passionate impression of the mind; no, nor by the fervour of devotion alone; but by the habitual determination of the will for God, and by your prevailing disposition to obey his commands, to submit to his disposals, and to subserve his schemes in the world.
§. 2. It must be allowed, that knowledge and affection in religion, are indeed desirable. Without some degree of the former, religion cannot be rational; and it is very reasonable to believe, that without some degree of the latter that it cannot be sincere, in creatures whose natures are constituted like Yet there may be a great deal of speculative knowledge, and a great deal of rapturous affection, where there is no true religion at all; and therefore much more, where there is no advanced state in it. The exercise of our rational faculties, upon the evidences of divine revelation, and upon the declaration of it as contained in scripture, may furnish a very wicked man with a well-digested body of orthodox divinity in his head, when not one single doctrine of it has ever reached his heart. An eloquent description of the sufferings of Christ, of the solemnities of judgment, of the joys of the blessed, and the miseries of the damned, might move the breast even of a man who did not firmly believe them; as we often find ourselves strongly moved by well-wrought narrations, or discourses, which at the same time we know to have their foundation in fiction. Natural constitution, or such accidental causes as are some of them too low to be here mentioned, may supply the eyes with a flood of tears, which may discharge itself plenteously upon almost any occasion that shall first arise. And a proud impatience of contradiction, directly opposite as it is to the gentle spirit of christianity, may make a man's blood boil, when he hears the notions he has entertained, and especially those which he has openly and vigorously espoused, disputed and opposed. This may possibly lead him, in terms of strong
* 1 Pet. ii, 3.
indignation, to pour out his zeal and his rage before God, in a fond conceit, that as the God of truth, he is the patron of those favourite doctrines, by whose fair appearances perhaps he himself is misled. And if these speculative refinements, or these affectionate sallies of the mind, be consistent with a total absence of true religion, they are much more apparently consistent with a very low estate of it. I would desire to lead you, my friend, into sublimer notions, and juster marks; and refer you to other practical writers, and above all to the book of God, to prove how material they are. I would therefore intreat you to bring your own heart to answer, as in the presence of God, to such enquiries as these.
§. 3. Do you find "divine love, on the whole, advancing in your soul ?"-Do you feel yourself more and more sensible of the presence of God; and does that sense grow more delightful to you, than it formerly was? Can you, even when your natural spirits are weak and low, and you are not in any frame for the ardours and ecstacies of devotion, nevertheless find a pleasing rest, a calm repose of heart, in the thought that God is near you, and that he sees the secret sentiments of your soul; while you are, as it were, labouring up the hill, and casting a longing eye towards him, though you cannot say you enjoy any sensible communications from him? Is it agreeable to you to open your heart to his inspection and regard, to present it to him laid bare of every disguise, and to say with David, Thou, Lord, knowest thy servant*! Do you find a growing esteem and approbation of that sacred law of God, which is the transcript of his moral perfections? Do you inwardly esteem all his precepts concerning all things to be right? Do you discern, not only the necessity, but the reasonableness, the beauty, the pleasure of obedience; and feel a growing scorn and contempt of those things, which may be offered as the price of your innocence, and would tempt you to sacrifice or to hazard your interest in the divine favour and friendship? Do you find an ingenuous desire to please God; not only because he is so powerful, and has so many good and so many evil things entirely at his command; but from a veneration of his most amiable nature and character; and do you find your heart habitually reconciled to a most humble subjection, both to his commanding and to his disposing will? Do you perceive, that your own will is now more ready and disposed, in every circumstance, to bear the yoke, and to submit to the
+Psal. cxix. 128.
2 Sam. vii. 20.
divine determination, whatever he appoints to be borne, or forborne ? Can you in patience possess your soul*? Can you maintain a more steady calmness and serenity, when God is striking at your dearest enjoyments in this world, and acting most directly contrary to your present interests, to your natural passions and desires? If you can, it is a most certain and noble sign, that grace is grown up in you to a very vigorous state.
§. 4. Examine also, "what affections you find in your heart towards those who are round about you, and towards the rest of mankind in general."-Do you and your heart overflow with undissembled and unrestrained benevolence? Are you more sensible than you once were, of those most endearing bonds which unite all men, and especially all christians, into one community; which make them brethren and fellow-citizens? Do all the unfriendly passions die and wither in your soul, while the kind social affections grow and strengthen? And though self-love was never the reigning passion, since you became a true christian; yet as some remainders of it are still too ready to work inwardly, and to shew themselves, especially as sudden occasions arise, do you perceive that you get ground of them? Do you think of yourself only as one of a great number, whose particular interesis and concerns are of little importance when compared with those of the community, and ought by all means, on all occasions, to be sacrificed to them?
§. 5. Reflect especially "on the temper of your mind towards those, whom an unsanctified heart might be ready to imagine it had some just excuse for excepting out of the list of those it loves, and towards whom you are ready to feel a secret aversion, or at least an alienation from them."-How does your mind stand affected towards those who differ from you in their religious sentiments and practices? I do not say that christian charity will require you to think every error harmless. It argues no want of love to a friend in some cases, to fear lest his disorder should prove more fatal than he seems to imagine; nay sometimes, the very tenderness of friendship may increase that apprehension. But to hate persons because we think they are mistaken, and to aggravate every difference in judgment or practice into a fatal and damnable error, that destroys all christian communion and love, is a symptom generally much worse than the evil it condemns. Do you love the image of Christ in a person who thinks himself obliged in conscience to profess and worship in a
* Luke xxi. 19.
manner different from yourself? Nay farther, can you love and honour that which is truly amiable and excellent in those, in whom much is defective; in those, in whom there is a mixture of bigotry and narrowness of spirit, which may lead them perhaps to slight, or even to censure you? Can you love them, as the disciples and servants of Christ, who through a mistaken zeal may be ready to cast out your name as evil*, and to warn others against you as a dangerous person? This is none of the least triumphs of charity, nor any despicable evidence of an advance in religion.
§. 6. And, on this head, reflect farther, "how can you' bear injuries ?"-There is a certain hardiness of soul in this respect, which argues a confirmed state in piety and virtue. Does every thing of this kind hurry and ruffle you, so as to put you on contrivances, how you may recompense, or at least how you may disgrace and expose him, who has done you the wrong? Or can you stand the shock calmly, and easily divert your mind to other objects, only (when you recollect these things,) pitying and praying for those, who with the worst tempers and views are assaulting you? This is a Christ-like temper indeed, and he will own it as such; will own you as one of his soldiers, as one of his heroes; especially if it rises so far, as instead of being overcome of evil, to overcome evil with good+. Watch over your spirit and over your tongue, when injuries are offered; and see whether you be ready to meditate upon them, to aggravate them to yourself, to complain of them to others, and to lay on all the load of blame that you in justice can: or, whether you be ready to put the kindest construction upon the offence, to excuse it as far as reason will allow, and (where, after all, it will wear a black and odious aspect) to forgive it, heartily to forgive it, and that even before any submission is made, or pardon asked; and in token of the sincerity of that forgiveness, to be contriving what can be done, by some benefit or other towards the injurious person, to teach him a better temper.
§. 7. Examine farther," with regard to the other evils and calamities of life, and even with regard to its uncertainty, how can you bear them ?"-Do you find your soul is in this respect gathering strength? Have you fewer foreboding fears and disquieting alarms, than you once had, as to what may happen in life? Can you trust the wisdom and goodness of God, to order your affairs for you, with more complacency and cheerfulness
Luke vi. 22.
+ Rom. xii. 21.
than formerly? Do you find you are able to unite your thoughts more in surveying present circumstances, that you may collect immediate duty from them, though you know not what God will next appoint or call you to? And when you feel the smart of affliction, do you make a less matter of it? Can you transfer your heart more easily to heavenly and divine objects, without an anxious solicitude, whether this or that burden be removed, so it may but be sanctified to promote your communion with God and your ripeness for glory.
§. 3. Examine also "whether you advance in humility."This is a silent, but most excellent grace; and they who are most eminent in it, are dearest to God, and most fit for the communications of his presence to them. Do you then feel your mind more emptied of proud and haughty imaginations; not prone so much to look back upon past services, which it has performed, as forward to those which are yet before you, and inward upon the remaining imperfections of your heart? Do you more tenderly observe your daily slips and miscarriages, and find yourself disposed to mourn over those things before the Lord, that once passed with you as slight matters; though when you come to survey them, as in the presence of God, you find they were not wholly involuntary, or free from guilt? Do you feel in your breast a deeper apprehension of the infinite Majesty of the blessed God, and of the glory of his natural and moral perfections; so as, in consequence of these views, to perceive yourself (as it were) annihilated in his presence, and shrink into less than nothing and vanity? If this be your temper, God will look upon you with peculiar favour, and will visit you more and more with the distinguishing blessings of his grace.
§. 9. But there is another great branch and effect of christian humility, which it would be an unpardonable negligence to omit. Let me therefore farther enquire: Are you more frequently renewing your application, your sincere, steady, determinate application, to the righteousness and blood of Christ, as being sensible how unworthy you are to appear before God, otherwise than in him? And do the remaining corruptions of your heart humble you before him, though the disorders of your life are in a great measure cured? Are you more earnest to obtain the quickening influences of the holy spirit; and have you such a sense of your own weakness, as to engage you to depend, in all the duties you perform, upon the
* Isai. xl. 17.