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readily granted. But of this gracious affection there is a specious counterfeit, which is but too frequently mistaken for that which is genuine.
Depraved though our natures be, we are so constituted that we cannot withhold some degree of our approbation and esteem, from one who is a public benefactor, and who has performed deeds, either for ourselves or others, which are great, generous, and disinterested. The man who has devoted his time and wealth to relieve the needy and oppressed; or who has hazarded his life to snatch a stranger from the overwhelming flood, or the devouring flame, we cannot but applaud and love. The name of a Howard awakens our esteem. Nor does it require any peculiar share of humanity to do so. No one in civilized society can feel otherwise, unless, by habits of cruelty, he has divested himself of what is common to our nature, and become absolutely brutalized.
On this obvious principle it is easy to see, that men who are devoid of every holy disposition may possess some kind of love to Christ. That he is the greatest, the most generous, and the most disinterested benefactor of guilty mankind, they cannot deny. And when it is plainly set before them, they not only readily admit it, but seem to feel it. When they read, or hear, affecting delineations of his character and work ;-his glorious and supreme dignity,—his immeasurably great condescension and
ve,-his unwearied efforts to benefit men by his instructions, example, and miracles, the meekness with which he submitted to unprovoked and relent
less persecution, and the ignominious and painful death which he voluntarily endured, that he might redeem perishing sinners from the awful consequences of their guilt, and raise them to the enjoyment of glory, honour, and immortality ; they are constrained to admire and esteem his matchless benignity. Such warm and tender emotions of respect they may feel for him, that for a time he may appear to them the chief object of their love.—But promising as this seems, it is just wbat may be felt by an unrenewed heart. Their love to Christ is
precisely of the same nature with that which they experience to any earthly benefactor, or even to the fictitious hero of a romance. There is nothing in it of a gracious character, and consequently it is productive of no sanctifying effect. It prompts them not for Christ's sake to sacrifice
every forbidden gratification, to obey all his commandments, to seek after conformity to his image, and daily to take up their cross and to follow him.-Nor is it less transitory, than it is ineffective. Its sudden flash is soon extinguished; and, though it may be repeated again and again under fresh excitement, yet it gleams only to set in darkness. And yet from such a love to Christ as this, the natural, unfruitful, and short-lived emotion of the unrenewed heart,—too many are inclined to judge favourably of their spiritual state.
12. A spurious zeal in the cause of religion, is mistaken by some as an evidence of vital piety.—That “it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing,” is the declaration of an apostle.* And that
* Gal. iv, 18.
it is always a most unpromising and suspicious symptom, to behold any professed Christian cold and indifferent in matters which relate to the glory of God, and his own salvation, is what no man can deny. But that there is “a zeal which is not according to knowledge;"* and, which, so far from being indicative of holy principle, is solely the effect of natural ardour, is equally incontrovertible. Not only may men destitute of godliness be very zealous in support of the grossest errors and absurdities; but they may display a similar temper in the cause of truth. Jehu, though he executed the threatened judgments of God against the house of Ahab, and the worshippers of Baal, and though he affirmed that in doing this, he was actuated by “zeal for the Lord of hosts ;" yet was himself an idolater.t “ Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” But great as was the zeal which he manifested for the worship of God, as soon as that priest died, he apostatized from the service of the Lord, and was guilty of shedding innocent blood. And thousands who have persecuted the followers of the Redeemer, have done so from professed zeal for his honour, and the purity of his worship ;-nor can we doubt that some who have shed the blood of the saints, imagined that they were actually doing God service."
False zeal is usually confined to small matters, while things of the highest importance are treated with indifference. The Pharisees were scrupulous in
+ 2 Kings x.
. Rom. x, 2.
# 2 Chron. xxiv. 2.
$ Johu xvi. 2.
paying tithes of mint, anise, and cummin, but omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. They tenaciously held the traditions of
. the fathers, but hesitated not to transgress the law of God. Like them, many are vehemently attached to particular forms of worship, and to the shibboleth of their party, who testify little concern about practical godliness. “ To be all on fire about rituals and ceremonials, either for them or against them, when we are negligent and indifferent about the very vitals of religion ; to lay a mighty stress upon doubtful things, or the mere dictates of men, and yet to make a small account of the undoubted precepts of God, and even the plain dictates both of natural and revealed religion ; to be exceeding eager upon such points as are confessed by all thinking men to be attended with great obscurity and difficulties ; upon knotty and perplexing questions ; but slightly to pass over the clear and obvious truths and duties of religion ; this is an untoward and a monstrous zeal.”*
No man ought to judge favourably of his spiritual state, simply on account of his zeal in religious matters, how ardent soever it may be, and to whatever length it may carry him in submitting to what he accounts persecution. An apostle says, “ Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing."+ Unless it be regulated by clear scriptural knowledge ; be proportioned to the real importance of the matter in which it is exercised; be cherished against our own faults more readily than those of others; and be accompanied by
* Evans' Christian Temper, vol. II., Sermon XVIII. +1.Cor. xiii. 3.
other plain evidences of Christian character; we ought to guard against reliance on it as a mark of a gracious temper.
13. Some conclude that their state is safe, in consequence of having formally devoted themselves to the Lord, in a written dedication, or covenant.— The practice of personal self-dedication to the Lord in private, by writing a form of it, and subscribing it with the name, is much condemned by some teachers in our day. They represent it as a practice which is dangerous and ensnaring, calculated to lead to false
and security, and to encourage men to rely on what is called their covenant with God, instead of God's covenant of peace exhibited to guilty men in the gospel.” That such abuse is sometimes made of this deed, is not only readily granted, but is the very point which I here wish to expose. At the same time I am far from reprehending this usage, as a thing which ought in every case to be avoided. On the contrary, I am persuaded that it is warranted by the word of God, and has been followed by many of his people, to their no small comfort and encourage ment. Speaking by the prophet Isaiah, the Spirit of God foretells, that in seasons of great spiritual refreshment in his church, “ One shall say, I Lord's ; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel ;"* words which, after all the various renderings and interpretations which have been given of them, appear to me to countenance this practice.
• Isa, xliv. 5.