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DIFFICULTIES IN JUDGING OUR RELIGIOUS CHARACTER.
1. The want of scriptural and clear views of what constitute genuine evidences of Christian character.-2. The imposing similarity between saving grace and its counterfeits.-3. The partiality of self-love.—4. Timorous and hamble diffidence in real believers.-5. Diversity of natural temper, and the effects of early education and habits.-6. Proneness to look at outward ac. tions, without attending to the motives from which they proceed ; and inability, in many instances, to ascertain what our motives were.—7. Smallness of grace, and imperfections of character.--8. Seasons of spiritual darkness and desertion.-9. The temptations of Satan.-10. A state of melancholy.
BEFORE we commence any momentous undertaking, it is of the utmost importance that we be fully apprized of the difficulties with which it is attended. Should we rashly enter on it, while ignorant of these, obviously we must be in danger of being misled by them, and of proving unsuccessful. Or, should we come to the knowledge of them unexpectedly as we proceed, we cannot fail to be discouraged, as well as impeded, in our work-if not perhaps deterred from its prosecution. Whereas, had we previously been aware of them, such consequences might have been prevented.
The case is precisely similar in the investigation of our spiritual state and character. That it is accompanied with many, and by no means slender difficulties, will be denied by no person who has carefully studied, and who understands the subject. Nor is the danger of self-delusion in such an inquiry, a thing little to be dreaded. On the contrary, we cannot be too solicitous to shun it, and to arrive at the true knowledge of ourselves. Prior, therefore, to laying down rules for self-examination, it will be necessary, my reader, to call your attention to the principal of these obstructions which stand in your way, and to show you how you may guard against their deceptive and ruinous influence.
1. A very common difficulty arises from the want of scriptural and clear views of what constitute genuine evidences of Christian character. That the word of God furnishes us with tests of Christian character, can be denied by none. And that these tests, when properly understood, may be relied on as decisive and infallible, is equally incontrovertible. Dictated as this sacred volume is by the Spirit of God, all its marks of godliness, like their author, are free from imperfection ; and are entitled to our unlimited and unsuspecting confidence.-Nor are these marks either few in. number, or darkly and ambiguously expressed. On the contrary, they are so incorporated with almost every portion of this book, that scarcely can we read a page of it, without meeting with some of them; and, for the most part, they are so plainly, though concisely, delineated, that with a competent measure of religious knowledge, and careful attention, they can scarcely be
misapprehended. And their abundant variety furnishes every man with ample scope for investigating his religious character. He who is doubtful on one point, is here provided with the means of trying himself by others, which may be still more adapted to his case and circumstances, or more level to his comprehension.
But transcendently excellent as this standard of character is, and suited to point out the real condition of every son of Adam with infallible accuracy, too many who have access to it, and who profess to believe its divine authority, are but little acquainted with its contents. They may possess some knowledge of its principal historical facts, and a few of its leading doctrines; but with its descriptions of Christian character and genuine godliness, they have a very limited and imperfect acquaintance. Indeed, so indistinct and confused are their ideas on this point, all-important though it be, that were they requested to state plainly a few of its scriptural criterions, they would be compelled to admit their ignorance of these very things which belong to their peace.—Nor is this the case with those only who are illiterate, and who possess little information on any subject. So far from this, it is characteristic of many who have received a liberal education, and whose knowledge of science and business is extensive and accurate. They know almost every thing, except that which above all they ought to know. They cannot specify, from this volume, what are the discriminating and distinctive features of a child of God.
Now, it is obvious that while this is the case with any man,—while he is destitute of scriptural and clear views of what constitute genuine evidences of Christian character,-it is impossible for him to judge favourably of his spiritual state, and to know that his decision is well grounded. Apart from the word of God, he can have no safe foundation of hope for eternity. This Book, and this alone, contains the only sure tests of piety. But these must be understood before they can be rightly applied. Without this, no real benefit can be derived from them. On the contrary, they may be perverted to men's hurt.With these marks, therefore, every professing Chris. tian should endeavour to be well acquainted. Ву comparing scripture with scripture,—by consulting the best commentators and approved practical writers,--and by conversing with aged and well-informed Christians, this important knowledge may be acquired. And, in this study, the candid and sincere inquirer may obtain some assistance, by attentively consulting, not only the contrasts of the false marks, in Chapter Fourth ; but chiefly the genuine evidences, in Chapter Fifth of this treatise.
2. Another difficulty is, the imposing similarity between true grace, and its counterfeits.—That there is an essential difference between every Christian grace, and its counterfeit, how deceptive soever the resemblance may be, is readily granted. In their origin, nature, and effects, they are widely, and unalterably different. Nevertheless, in several respects there is a similarity between them, which is exceedingly imposing, and by which multitudes are deceived,-a similarity, the spuriousness of which cannot be detected, without a considerable acquaintance with divine truth. As counterfeit coin may bear such a near likeness to the sterling currency of the realm, that none except those who are daily conversant with money, may be able to distinguish the true from the false; so it is with respect to the graces of the Christian life, and their mere similitudes. The resemblance between the genuine and the spurious, in many cases, is so deceiving, that nothing can enable any person to point out their difference, except a clear knowledge of the characteristic features of both. On this account it is necessary, that all who would judge accurately of their spiritual state, and be fully satisfied that they are not deluding themselves, by trusting in the shadow instead of the substance, should diligently study the marks of the former, as well as of the latter.
By carefully and diligently examining this subject, it will be found, that scarcely is there a single grace, or feature of the Christian life, which has not some counterfeit resemblance. There is a sorrow for sin which worketh death, as well as a godly sorrow which worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of. There is a forsaking of sin which is indicative of no change of heart, as well as that which flows from gracious principles. There is a strict observance of religious duties, which is quite compatible with the secret love and practice of iniquity. There is a love to the people of God,—to the word and