Thursday, June 21, 2007

Reasons for the scarcity of experimental religion

Further extracts from Thomas Boston sermon

I shall point out some of the causes of the scarcity of experimental religion.

1. The Lord has a controversy with our mother, and therefore has withdrawn, and it fares the worse with the children. She was some time Hephzibah, and her land Beulah; but now her gold is become dross, and her wine mixed with water. She has forgotten her husband, and has been gadding after other lovers. She hath cast herself into a loathsome disease; her kindly heat and warmth is gone; any thing of it that is left has struck out to the outward parts, leaving a key-cold heart within. And, by all appearance, she will not be cured, till blood be let of her.

2. People's spiritual senses are dulled with the luscious sweets of a present world. Farms and merchandise take away people's appetites for the marriage-supper, Matt. 22:4, 5. The devil makes birdlime of the things of the world to catch professors, that they find, when they would get upward, their feet stick in the mire. Many of us, I trow, when our worldly incomes were less, our spiritual incomes were more. Or, if the world go against people, their spirits are so embittered, that they find no sweetness at all in religion.

3. Religion is not made people's business, but just a by-hand work. Men are like the mole, whose abode is in the earth; and though sometimes it come above ground, it hastes in again to its hole, to be in its element. They will say their prayers indeed, evening and morning; but for walking with God in the interval of duties, they know nothing about it. Their religion is over when duties are over. They are like a man that takes physic indeed, but he just vomits it up again when he has got it, giving it no time to work, Gen. 6:9. Religion's chance-customers will never grow rich by it.

4. People's not holding hand to any attainment they make in religion, like 'the slothful man, not roasting that which he took in hunting,' Prov. 12:27. They are, it may be, at some pains to earn something in religion, but they put it in a bag with holes. Sometimes they are in a fair way to gain experience of religion, they get some taste of it, but then they do not follow on, Hos. 6:3. The spark is kindled, but they let it go out; they do not feed it, and presently they have a cold coal to blow again.

5. Lastly, Formality in religion, when people content themselves with outward worship, doing the work, but make it not their business to worship God in the spirit; by faith in him, love, dependence, fear, hope, patience, &c. It is these and the like graces that bring in the experimental knowledge of Christ and religion into the soul. These are they that get forward to God, even to his throne. And duties without them are useless and vain, like liquor that has lost all the spirits.

Attractiveness of experimental religion

1. Experimental religion is a sort of heaven on earth. Heaven is the eternal feeling of that goodness which is in God the chief good. It is his eternal pouring out of his goodness into the souls of his people, making them drink of those rivers which they heard were at his right hand. Now, ye may begin it here with tasting the word of life. That will make great delight, as the full enjoyment makes perfect joy there.

2. There are none who, being capable of that enjoyment on earth, that get the first taste of it in heaven. No; they all begin it here, John 17:3. For God first gives men a taste of Christian experience, and then they desire the full enjoyment of it, and they get it in heaven. And this is the reasonable way with the rational creature. Whosoever taste not here, shall not drink above.

3. The experimental Christian has the counterpart of the Bible in his breast, though imperfect. He has things old and new to bring out of his treasure, that answer to scripture doctrines and promises, as the copy to the original. The experimental Christian is a walking Bible. He has a body of divinity formed of experiences, which is an excellent sort of learning, a thousand times preferable to all the raw unfelt notions of noisy professors, that are like the sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.

4. The experimental Christian is fit to sail to heaven, whatever wind be blowing; for he hath both sail and ballast. He has experienced of the goodness and faithfulness of God, and of the sanctifying power of truth; that is sail that will carry him through in all storms; and he has experience of the corruption of his own nature, the deceit of his own heart, and of his pitiful weakness; and that will be ballast to him. For want of these in time of trial, few get through.

(1.) It is very hard, without experience of religion, to stand in a time when the proud contemners of God seem to be most happy: when the sun shines bright on the way of wickedness and apostasy from God, and nothing but clouds and darkness appear in the way of holiness, Mal. 3:15, 16. It is strange if those who never felt more sweetness in religion than in the world, do not at such a time turn their back on it altogether; but the experimental Christian will not do so: for 'the righteous shall holden his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger,' Job 17:9.

(2.) When the night of error overtakes a church, and errors like locusts swarm abroad, how hard is it then to stand without experience! 2 Thess. 2:10. Where truth sinks not into the heart, but floats in the head, it makes itching ears, to which novelties have easy access. They to whom old truths are unsavoury, lie a prey to new notions. And hence it has come to pass, that many noted professors have been carried away in such a time. But he that has tasted of the power of truth, will say from his experience, 'The old is better,' Luke 5, ult.

(3.) When divisions enter into a church, it is hard to keep right without experimental religion. Division is a great plague from the Lord, a stain on the beauty of the church, and a dreadful snare to men. When church-builders are like Babel-builders, how can the work thrive? It turns some quite off from all religion; while they see one going one way, and another, another way, they know not whom to follow, and they cast of all together. Others, whose religion was never so deep as the bottom of their hearts, exhaust the whole of their vigour on the controverted points, and so they become dead in the vitals of godliness. So that, unless people be experimental Christians, and exercised to godliness too in the time, having the ballast I spoke of before, they will run into terrible excess of selfishness, judging not only practices, but hearts: a very unchristian employment!

(4.) When great men, and good men are falling, how hard is it to stand, unless men have a witness to the truth from within? God, in his holy providence, for the further trial of men, permits the fall of men of name for gifts and piety: and when these fall, readily they fall not alone, but as mighty oaks break down others about them, unless they be well rooted and grounded. And therefore, they will never bring their religion to a good account, whose religion is only to do as others do.

(5.) Lastly, When it comes to hard and sharp personal persecution, especially to resisting unto blood. When extreme hardships, even death itself, are laid in the balance with an unfelt religion, it is hard to think how one should stand, who has had no experience of the power of it. Should God give us up into the hands of a bloody antichristian enemy, it would not be hard for them that have not been sealed by the Spirit, to refuse the mark of the beast.