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The conduct of believers in the Macedonian churches, “ who first gave their own selves to the Lord," and then resigned themselves to the direction of the apostles, is to the same purpose.* Besides, that every believer in Christ often dedicates himself to the Lord, in his meditations, resolutions, and prayers, will, I presume, be denied by none. But if they may, and ought, to do so in their thoughts, desires, and words of vocal utterance, what should render it improper in words which are written? If the former be right, the latter cannot be wrong, when performed with uprightness, and in the exercise of humble dependence on the grace of Christ.
But like many other things which are good in themselves, this practice is perverted by some into a ground of self-confidence. When men are under deep concern about their salvation, it is natural for them to flee to every thing which promises relief. They betake themselves to reading the scriptures, to prayer, to fasting, to acts of self-denial, and to abstinence from sinful gratifications ; and, in some cases, to the work of self-dedication to God. They have seen it commended in religious books, or heard good men approve of it, when properly observed, as a method of strengthening their resolutions to serve him. To this deed, therefore, they have recourse, before their hearts have said, Amen, to God's covenant. They write and subscribe a dedication of themselves to the Lord, and begin to say to themselves, " The bargain is struck,-now Christ is ours, and we are his, our salvation is certain." -Now, all this frequently has been done, by those whose subsequent conduct has too plainly proved their estrangement from God. The performance of this deed, therefore, viewed by itself, is no sure evidence of any man's christianity. And yet it is unquestionable that some rest their hopes almost solely on this precarious foundation. They have done so, and to this they cling as a ground of trust, though destitute of every genuine evidence that they are the children of God.
* 2 Cor viji. 5.
14. The last false mark which I shall mention is, a confident and boasting assurance of salvation. Should most of the foregoing marks, or it may be the whole of them, be found in the same individual, it is reasonable to suppose that they will excite in him a strong degree of confidence respecting the safety of his spiritual state. So fully persuaded of this may he be, that he may seldom be troubled with doubts respecting it, and may experience something which he accounts “joy and peace in believing." He may take pleasure in relating to others, the wonderful change which he has experienced, boldly claim Christ as his Saviour and portion, and speak of heaven as his final home, with an unhesitating assurance which may astonish
of the true followers of the Lamb. Such a man can seldom be long in any company
till he wishes to let all around him know his high attainments in religion ; impudently questions them whether they possess assurance of their interest in Christ, -a practice which even apostles did not exemplify among professing Christians,-pities and condemns
those who dare not, and will not be presumptuous and obtrusive like himself,-and, in effect, if not indeed in very words, says to every humble and selfcondemning believer, “ Stand by thyself, for I am more righteous than thou.”
That some saints do attain assurance of their interest in Christ, cannot be denied, and shall afterwards be proved. It is far, however, very far from being a common attainment. Generally they have their doubts and fears, and are filled with deep humility and self-abasement. So far from assurance, the most they can ordinarily reach, is humble trust. And of such persons there is more hope, than of those who are too confident. As a late eminent writer has well expressed himself,—“ I entertain a better opinion of the modest, doubting, fearful professor, than of the bold and assured one. The life of the former, as it seems to me, is, commonly at least, more watchful; more careful; more self-condemning ; more scrupulous concerning the commission of sin, and the omission of duty; more declaratory of the spirit of little children. The spirit of the latter, even when he is admitted to be a Christian, appears to me to be often fraught, in an unhappy degree, with self-exaltation ; with censoriousness, as well as contempt, of those who differ from him ; with uncharitableness; with peremptoriness of opinion; and with an unwarrantable assurance of the rectitude of whatever he believes, says, or does. These certainly are not favourable specimens of any character. I would be far from ultimately condemning the profession of all those, in whom these things are more
or less visible; yet I assert without hesitation, that
I their light would shine more clearly before men, were it not obscured by these clouds."*
They who have high and confident hopes of their interest in Christ, have much need to examine narrowly the grounds on which they rest. If they are nothing better than these which I have attempted to expose, and I trust satisfactorily proved to be fallacious, their towering hopes, like that of the hypocrite, shall be cut off, and shall utterly perish. Though they should feel as assured of their eternal happiness, as if they already had it in possession; yet, unless they be brought to entertain different views, and to build their expectations of celestial bliss on a different foundation, their disappointment shall be certain and awful. Never should it be forgotten, that it is not the degree of any man's confidence, but the foundation on which it is built, and the evidence by which it is supported, which attest the safety of his spiritual state.
Such then are some of the most dangerous false marks, by which too many are deceived. Let me beseech you, my reader, to examine yourself carefully by them; and if you find that you cannot lay claim to any thing higher and better, be assured you are still a stranger to the “ washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.”—Before you desist from this important inquiry, however, carry it still farther, and try your character by the genuine evidences of a gracious state, mentioned in the following chapter.
• Dwight's Theology, Serinon LXXXVIII.
GENUINE EVIDENCES OF SAVING GRACE.
1. Habitual renunciation of all dependence on our own righteousness, and a humble and fixed reliance on the righteousness of Christ.–2. Love to Christ in all his offices and characters.-3. A prevailing desire to be conformed to his image.-4. Love to the word of God.-5. Love to the approved followers of Christ.–6. Love to the Lord's day, and to the public ordinances of religion.—7. Habitual endeavours to obey all God's commandments.8. A cordial approval of the spirituality and holiness of the divine law.9. The spirit and practice of secret prayer.-10. Resisting the thoughts and emotions of sin.-11. Heavenly-mindedness.–12. Sincere concern for the salvation of others.
In attempting this important part of his task, the writer would desire to be sensible of his awful responsibility. He is aware that should he elevate the standard higher than God himself has done in his word,—so high that few, if indeed any, of his children can reach its measure; it may grieve and wound the heart of some, whom the Lord commands his ministers to comfort. Or, should he venture to lower it beneath the divine standard; many presumptuous formalists may be flattered to their ruin. While, on the one hand, therefore, he does not wish to grieve any one of the generation of the godly,to break the bruised reed, or to quench the smoking flax,—but rather to encourage the weakest in the family of grace; on the other, he dare not speak peace to those, to whom God proclaims destruction.