Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Directions towards attaining experimental religion

But I shall give more particular directions towards attaining experimental religion.

1. Fix your eyes on the particular evils of your heart and life, and ply closely the reformation of them by the Spirit. Alas! what are we doing in the way of mortification of sin? Experimental religion is a dying to sin, by virtue of our union with Christ. What use have we for Christ, if not to 'save us from our sins?' Matt.1:21. But the use many make of Christ is to save them and their sins. They will drink, swear, lie, cheat, and do unjustly still, and they will call these infirmities, or very little things, that need not disturb a man; and they will lick themselves whole with their believing; and on a new temptation go just back again to them. Sirs, this is to make Christ the minister of sin, and to sin because grace abounds. The running the round between swearing and confessing, will make men fall down at length into the pit, whence they will never rise again, Prov. 29:1. If Christ cure thee not of thy disease, thou wilt never get life by him.

Therefore, I say, ply reformation of heart and life closely. It will not be wishing that will do it; ye must put your hand to the work. It will cost mourning groans under the weight of sin, believing looks, and vigorous endeavours against it. Is there a thing that is your weak side? pray remember thy soul is at stake; if it overcome thee, thy soul is gone; and if ever thou see heaven, thou must get above it, Matt. 5:29; Rev. 3:21. O! mind that passage, Mark 10:21, 'One thing thou lackest,' &c. Look to thy spots in the glass of the law, and quickly set about purging them. Thou hast, may be, a carnal worldly heart: fall on to get it spiritual and heavenly; an ill tongue, get it bridled; or an offensive carriage, get it mended.

2. Continue at the work, for the victory is not got but by degrees. The interruptions that take place in our plying the work of religion, make it still the more difficult. The miserable halts we make in the exercise of godliness, do but weaken us, and give the enemy more time to recruit. And they that cannot digest the making religion their business, are not fit for heaven. Heaven is an eternal triumph; how can they be capable of it, then, that make it not their business to fight, or that are always overcome, instead of being overcomers? It is a rest, therefore it presupposeth a labour; not so much the toil of business in the world, for the most carnal have as much of that as professors, but a rest from labour against sin.

3. Take often notice what progress ye are making. Consider with yourselves, Have I got any more victory over my passions, my lusts, and my prevailing iniquity? Is there a cubit added to my spiritual stature? Am I going backward or forward? Sirs, people that are at pains with a farm, they count their profit, to see whether they be winners or losers: if any thing has been mismanaged to their loss, they endeavour to mend it the next time; and if they find they are gainers, they are encouraged to redouble their pains. But, alas! what pains men are at about religion, is bestowed on it as if they cared not whether they prospered or not; and therefore, they have no experience.

4. Look after the profit of duties. We should never hear a sermon, but should inquire, when we have come from it, Now, what have I made of this? where did it touch me? what evil of my heart has it discovered? what influence has it had on me to fit me more for my journey and work? Sermons are not easy to some of you, that are far off from the place of public worship: ye would think it a great deal to go one mile, or two, three, four, or five miles in vain, in other cases. Look after your prayers, as the Psalmist did, Ps. 5:3. Ye would think it much if ye were to ask a request of your neighbour, and yet get no answer, or a refusal. O! why then do ye not consider how your prayers are accepted by the prayer-hearing God? I assure you, if ye would fall upon this way, ye would soon find the good of it.

5. Converse with experimental Christians about experimental religion. There is a wonderful diffidence that professors have in one another at this day, Matt. 24:12. I verily believe this would be a good way to cure it, if those that have any experience of religion would modestly bring it forth to the edification of others. There is nothing that more endears Christians one to another than this. It is an unchristian-like thing in professors to despise converse about practical godliness and Christian experience. And there is more of the wisdom of the serpent than the harmlessness of the dove, in people's locking up in their own breasts all their sense of practical godliness, when it might be brought forth to the glory of God, and the good of others. I believe this way has been the cause of so much jealousy, suspicion, and division among professors; and has run out all Christian conference into vain jangling about the controversies of the time.

6. Be very nice as to the point of sin and duty, Ps. 133:2. Sudden resolutions in matters which will allow deliberation, are often to be suspected. Sometimes the matter of sin and duty is of that nature, that there is no time to deliberate; all that can be done is, to look to the Lord for immediate clearness, and the Christian shall have it, Prov. 4:12, 'When thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.' Compare Matt. 10:19, 'But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.' Sometimes the Christian may have time to deliberate, and then God's ordinary way is to clear men step by step, Prov. 4:12, 'When thou goest thy steps shall not be straitened.' Say not, the way is plain at first glance in this case; for the Spirit of God bids thee 'ponder the path of thy feet,' Prov. 4:26. If a way be such as our own heart at the very first inclines to, I say it ought the rather to be narrowly examined, seeing in scripture-language the way of our own heart is of no good name. And suppose the inclination of the man's heart does really fall upon the right side in this case, yet this is no Christian resolution, but a stumbling on the right way, which God will never accept. Therefore, men that would act as Christians in the point of sin and duty, should lay aside prejudices, trample their inclinations under foot, lay the matter before the Lord, and themselves open to conviction there, as a piece of clean paper, on which God may write what he sees meet, pondering all things with a holy jealousy over their own hearts, lest they be biased by their own inclinations and preconceived opinions. I am sure much of God is to be found in this way.

7. Acknowledge God more in your temporal concerns, Prov. 3:6. Are we Christians? let us depend on God for all things in this life and the other. We are directed to pray about them, the promises are about them, and therefore we should wait on God for them. Many a sweet experience have the saints got in temporal things, when they have been helped to lay them before the Lord, and leave them there without anxiety, in the use of the means.

8. Lastly, Have a precise respect to all the commands of God, and be truly strict in your lives; that is, deal with men as believing God's eye is upon you, and with God as if the eyes of men were upon you. Never look on the authority of the multitude as sufficient to make that no fault, which will not abide strict examination by the word of God. Let the command of God prevail with you; and whatsoever liberty ye may take for ought that men can say or do to you, let that be a sufficient restraint. Thus may ye attain experimental religion.