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flaming sword he finds removed, and him who was still before a consuming fire, he finds now a warming sun to his soul. Here is experimental knowledge of Christ. Hence the apostle says, Rom. v. 1, 2. • Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.?
2. Chrisi's blood purgeth the conscience from dead works to serve the living God.' Heb. ix. 14. Now, the ex. perimental Christian knows from experience, that unremo. yed 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 ena. bled to serve him, as a son doth a father.
3. Christ is fully satisfying to the soul, Psal. lxxiii. 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 man for it; 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,' i 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 end he has himself to call beast' and fool' for his error. But when he comes into difficul. ties, 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,' i Cor. i. 30. Now, the Christian falls secure, does not make use of Christ, and then ere ever he is aware, he is like Samson with. out his hair. When he awakens, he sees his case is all gone to wrack, the course of sanctifying influences is stopt, the 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 experimental knowledge of Christ is the sum of practical re, ligion. Consider,
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 have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus : that ye put off, concerning the former conversa. tion, 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, for 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 is eternal life begun. Yea, Christ is the sum and substance of a believer's life, Phil. i. 21. To me to live is Christ.'
2. All true religion is the creature's conformity of likeness to God, made by virtue of divine influences, transforming the soul into the divine image. Now, there can be no conformity to God but through Jesus Christ; for he is the only channel of the conveyance of 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 dis. cuss in an use of exhortation. O Sirs ! labour to be experi. mental 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,' i 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. Ixiii. 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 honeycomb; why, because he feels the power of it on his spirit, Psal. xix. i1. Religion would not be such a burden to us as it is, if we could by experience carry it beyond dry sapless notions : it would be a reward to itself, and so chain the heart to it.
3. All the profit of religion to ourselves lies in the experience of it, Matth. vii. 22. What avails all the religion men have in their heads, while it never sinks into the heart? Knowledge without experience will no more sanctify a man, then painted fire will burn, or the bare sight of water will wash. Ah! what avails that knowledge to a man, by which he is never a whit more holy, nor less a slave to his lusts? True, it may do good to others, as the profit of the carpenters gift came to Noah, while they themselves perished in the deluge. Light without heat serves only to shew the way to hell, where there is scorching heat without light. Gifts
without grace are like a ship without ballast in a boisterous sea, that cannot miss to sink. And when such an one is sinking into hell, his gifts will be like a bag of gold on a drowning man, precious in itself, but will only help to sink him the faster.
4. The experimental Christian is the only Christian whose religion will bring him to heaven. Heaven in effect is but a perfect experimental knowledge of Christ, where the saints will for ever feed upon that sweetness they have heard to be in him. And there is no attaining of heaven, unless men first begin on earth to know Christ thus.
5. Lastly, It is absolutely necessary to qualify a man to go on and hold right in an evil time. And surely, if ever there was need for it, there is need now.
(1.) The experimental Christian is fitted thereby to suffer for Christ, because he has the testimony within himself, that the way which the world persecutes is the way of God. No arguments give such a certainty of the truth of religion as experience does.
(2.) When wickedness prospers, and piety is oppressed, experimental religion keeps a man from being led away with the error of the wicked, Mál. iii. 16.
(3.) When many stumbling-blocks arė laid in the way, especially in divisions and church-contentions, which make many wicked men think there is no reality in religion at all; yet the righteous, in such a time, shall hold on his way.
This is a very weighty point; and to illustrate it a little further, I will,
1. Give evidence that experimental religion is very rare: 2. Point out some causes of it. 3. Shew how it may be obtained. 4. Press you to seek after it by some considerations.
First, I am to give evidences that experimnerital religion is very rare in our day.
1. The little relish that men have of the word either preached or read. Experience makes the word savoury; hence David'says “I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil;' Psal. cxix. 162. How many are there to whom the word is tasteless as the white of an egg? Their fancy may be tickled by the discovery of something which they knew not before: but, alas ! they have no inward sensation of the thing wrapt up in the words of truth.