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sweetness, virtue, and excellency thereof, in your minds, so as ye may taste indeed that the Lord is good. This knowledge alone will be available to your salvation, while all other knowledge is quite useless and unprofitable as to any salutary effect. For says our Lord, John xvii. 3. This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.' But the further pressing of this experimental knowledge of Christ, I must defer to another occasion, with which I shall conclude this work.
A DISCOURSE ON THE EXPERIMENTAL KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST.
Phil. iii. 10.--That I
A MERE speculative knowledge of Christ, and of the great doctrines of the gospel, however laboriously acquired and extensive it may be, is of small importance in itself, and quite vain and ineffectual, if it be not sanctified, and issue in experimental knowledge of Christ, and a real feeling of the beauty and excellency, and efficacy of divine truth on the heart. A man may have a competent, nay, a very extensive acquaintance with the whole doctrines of the Christian religion, as laid down in the scriptures, and of which we have an excellent compend in the shorter Catechism, which I have been endeavouring to explain to you for a series of years; yet if you have not the experimental knowledge of Christ, all your knowledge is in vain as to the salvation of your souls. I therefore come, as a conclusion of the whole, to press this experimental knowledge upon you, as what alone will be available for any saving purposes.
In the preceding verse, the apostle speaks of the gain he received in Christianity in point of justification, flowing from the soul's closing with Christ, and renouncing all other; and here he speaks of that gain in point of sanctification. And first, more generally, That I may know him. Might not the Philippians hereupon have said, And do not you know Christ, who have preached him so long? There are two ways of knowing, one by hearing of a thing, another by sight and feeling: one by the relation of another, another by experience, as one knows honey, and all the virtues of it, by report, which he believes, another testing it himself. The apostle knew Christ by faith, when he first believed in him; and here he would have the spiritual feeling and experience of him, finding by experience him to be what he has heard and believed him to be. He had something of this, but he would still have more.
The doctrine arising from the text is,
religion,' 1 Cor. ii. 2. 'flowing from faith, to be studied by all.'
I. I am to shew what this experimental knowledge of Christ is. It is an inward and spiritual feeling of what we hear and believe concerning Christ and his truths, whereby answerable impressions are made on our souls, Psal. xxxiv. 8. like that of the Samaritans, John iv. 42. when they said unto the woman, 'Now, we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.' There is a så voury report of Christ spread in the gospel; faith believes it, and embraces him for what the word gives him out to be; and then the believing soul doth come and see. There is a glorious scheme of the lovely perfections of Christ drawn in the Bible, and faith believes that he really is what he is said to be; and then that scheme begins to be drawn over again in the Christian's experience, and this is al. ways drawing more and more till he come to glory. It is just as if some eminent physician should give a friend remedies for all diseases he may be liable to; and when he leaves them with him, he lets him know that such a remedy is good for that distemper, and another is good for such another, &c. Now, he knows them all; bai he falls sick, and he takes the remedy fit for his disease, and it proves effectual. Now, the man knows the remedy by experience. ! which he knew before by report only. Even so Christ is given a all in all to a believer, and he makes use of Christ for his case, and that is the experimental knowledge of him. I will illustrate these by some instances.
1. The scripture says of Christ, He is the way to the Father, Johu xiv. 6. Now, the man that has tried many ways of attaining acces to God, and communion with him, and is denied access, and can find no way to come to God, at length comes by Jesus Christ, renouncin: all things else, leans only on his merit and intercession, and he finds : an open door of access to God, and communion with him. Th: flaming sword he finds removed, and him who was still before a cor suming fire, he finds now a warming sun to his soul. Here is experi mental knowledge of Christ. Hence the apostle says, Rom. v. 1, * Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, throug our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom we have access by faith into the grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.'
2. Christ's blood purgeth the conscience from dead works to serve the living God,' Heb. ix. 14. Now, the experimental Christian knows from experience, that unremoved and unrepented-of guilt defiles the conscience, leaves a sting in it, unfits him to serve the Lord, as much as a man in filthy rags is unfit to stand before a king: it breeds in the heart an unwillingness to come before God, and mars his confidence: he tries to repent, overlooking the blood of Christ, but it will not do. He looks to an absolute God, and his heart is indeed terrified, but nothing softened. At length he looks to God in Christ, throws the burden of his guilt, and dips his soul in the sea of Christ's blood; and then the heart melts for sin, the sting is taken out of the conscience, the soul is willing to converse with God, and is enabled to serve him, as a son doth a father.
3. Christ is fully satisfying to the soul, Psal. Ixxiii. 25. Hab. iii. 17, 18. We all know this by report; but the Christian experimentally knows it by a spiritual sensation in the innermost parts of his soul. Sometimes, when all his enjoyments have been standing entire about him, he has looked with a holy contempt on them all, saying in his heart, These are not my portion. His heart has been loosed from them, and he has been made willing to part with them all for Christ, in whom his soul rejoiced, and in whom alone he was satisfied. Sometimes, again, all outward things have been going wrong with him, yet he could comfort, encourage, and satisfy himself in Christ, as David did in a great strait, 1 Sam. xxx. 6. He has gone away to his God and his Christ, and with Hannah returned with a countenance no more sad,' 1 Sam. i. 18.
4. Christ helps his people to bear afflictions, and keeps them from sinking under them; and he lifts up their heads when they go through these waters, Isa. xliii. 2. Now, the Christian meets with affliction; and he takes a good lift of his own burden, for it is the thing he thinks he may well bear. But his burden is too heavy for him. He wrestles with it: but the more he wrestles, it grows the heavier, and he sinks the more. At length he goes to Christ, saying, 'Lord, I thought to have borne this burden, but I am not able; I will sink under it, if I get not help :' Master, save us, for we perish. And so he lays it over on the great Burden-bearer, and he is helped, Psal. xxviii. 7. Now, the man, when he thought he could do all, could do nothing ; and when he thinks he can do nothing, he can do all, 2 Cor. viii. 9, 10.
5. Christ is made unto us wisdom,' 1 Cor. i. 30. The experimental Christian finds, that when he leans to his own understanding, he mistakes his way at mid-day; and all that he reaps of it, is, that in the end he has himself to call · beast,' and 'fool,' for his error.
But when he comes into difficulties, that he sees he knows not how to extricate himself out of, and is wary, and lays out his case before the Lord, and gives himself up as a blind man to be led by the Lord, he finds he is conducted in the way he knew not; and the result is, to 'bless the Lord who has given him counsel.'
6. Lastly, Christ is made unto us sanctification,' 1 Cor. i. 30. Now, the Christian falls secure, does not make use of Christ, and then ere ever he is aware, he like Samson without his hair. When he awakens, he sees his case is all gone to wrack, the course of sanctifying inftuences is stopt, and graces are lying in the dead thraw, and lusts are strong and rampant. He falls a grappling with them, but is worsted still; until he come to himself, and acknowledge his utter weakness to stand in this battle, and renew the actings of faith in Christ; and then out of weakness he is made strong, waxes valiant in fight, and turns to flight the armies of the aliens,' Heb. xi. 34. He flings down the confidence in himself, like the broken reed that has pierced his hand; and though the promise lie before him, like the rod turned into a serpent, which unbelief tells him he would be too bold to meddle with, he ventures and takes the serpent by the tail, and it becomes the rod of God in his hand.
Let these suffice for examples of experimental religion.
II. I proceed to confirm the point: or to shew that the esperimental knowledge of Christ is the sam of practical religion. Coosider,
1. The scripture testimonies concerning this. To learn religion in the power of it, and in all the parts of sanctification, is to learn Christ. Hence the apostle says, Eph. iv. 20,—24. ' But ye hare not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and bare been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus : that ye put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts : and be renewed in the Spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created, in righteousness and true holiness. There needs no more to be known, før that comprehends all, 1 Cor. ii. 2. 'I determined not to know any thing among you,' says Paul, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. It is 'eternal life,' John xvii. 3. It is a pledge of eternal life; it i, eternal life begun. Yea, Christ is the sum and substance of a be liever's life, Phil. i. 21. To me to live is Christ.'
2. All true religion is the creature's conformity or likeness to God, made by virtue of divine influences, transforming the soul int: the divine image. Now, there can be no conformity to God be through Jesus Christ ; for he is the only channel of the conveyane
of the divine influences, and God can have no communication with sinners but through him. He alone makes us partakers of the divine nature, 2 Cor. iv. 6.
3. Whatever religion or holiness a man seem to have, that doth not come and is maintained this way, is not of the right sort. It is but nature varnished over: for he that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father.'
The soul's closing with Christ by faith, opens the way to this experimental knowledge of him; so that whosoever would know Christ thus, must in the first place so close with him.
(1.) Faith closing with Christ, believes he is such an one as he is held out in the gospel, gives credit to the report; and it is the want of this that mars this knowledge, Isa. liii. 1.
(2.) Faith closes with Christ to that very end, that the soul may so know him. The soul stands in need of Christ in all that wherein he is held out as useful to a sinner, and faith takes him for that.
(3.) Faith unites the soul to Christ, and so makes way for this knowledge, which is the happy result of this union.
I come now to a word of improvement, which I shall discuss in an use of exhortation. O Sirs ! labour to be experimental Christians, to have the inward feeling of what you hear and say ye believe concerning Christ. Why will ye stand in the outer court all your days ? Come forward, and dip into the heart of religion. Come in where the world's ungracious feet could never carry them. And be not satisfied with less of religion, than what the beloved disciple in the name of believers says he felt, Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ,’ 1 John i. 3. This is a weighty and seasonable point. To enforce this exhortation, I offer the following motives.
1. Religion is not a matter of mere speculation to satisfy men's curiosity, but a matter of practice. Men's eternal state lies at the stake, which can never be brought to a comfortable issue by a speculative knowledge, more than a man can be cured by the knowledge of a remedy, without application of it. An unexperimental professor is like a foolish sick man, who entertains those about him with fine discourses of the nature of medicines, but in the mean time he is dying himself for want of application of them..
2. The sweet of religion lies in the experience of it: hence the Psalmist says, ' My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, Psal. lxiii. 5. No man can have the idea of the sweetness of honey like him that tastes it, nor of religion like him that feels the power of it. One reads the word, and it is tasteless to him; to another it is sweeter than the honey comb; why? because he feels the
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