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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 xvii. 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. iii. 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 hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger,' Job xvii. 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. ii. 10. Where truth sinks not into the heart, but floats in the head, it makes itching ears, to which novelties have easy
They to whom old truths are unsavoury, lie a pray 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 v. 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
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 off 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.
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 ? Matth. i. 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. xxix. 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. v. 29. Rev. iii. 21. O mind that passage, Mark x. 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 froin 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
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, Psal. v. 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? assure you,
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, Matth. xxiv. 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, Psal. cxxxii. 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. iv. 12. “When thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.' Compare Matth. x. 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. iv. 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. iv. 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,
I seeing in scripture-language the way of our own heart is of no good
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 biassed 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. iii. 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.
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.
THE RIGHT IMPROVEMENT OF A TIME OF SICKNESS AND
Two sermons preached on a congregational fast-day, at Ettrick,
April 27, 1720, on occasion of the great sickness and mortality then prevailing
Psal. xc. 12.—So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our
hearts unto wisdom.
THE SERMON IN THE FORENOON.
This text is a prayer suitable to the dispensation of this day. While we stand and see so much sickness and mortality prevailing among us, they have stout hearts indeed, who look not up to the Lord with this or the like petition in their hearts, So teach us, &c.
This psalm was calculated for a dying time, being supposed to be penned upon the occasion of that sentence passed in the wilderness, Num. xiv. 28, &c. concerning the death of those from twenty years old and upward who came out of the land of Egypt, so as none of them should enter Canaan, but Caleb and Joshua. It was penned, I