BOUND TO KNOW YOUR TRUE CHARACTER.
Examine yourself whether ye be in the faith; prove your ownselves. 2 Corinthians 13:5.
In speaking from this text I design to pursue the followingorder:
I. Show what is intended by the requirement in the text. II.The necessity of this requirement. III. The practicability ofthe duty enjoined. IV. Give some directions as to the manner ofperforming the duty.
I. I am to show what is intended by the requirement in thetext, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; proveyour own selves."
It requires that we should understand our own hearts, thatwe should take the proper steps to make proof of our real characters,as they appear in the sight of God. It refers not to a trial ofproof of our strength, or knowledge, but our moral character,that we should thoroughly test it, so as to understand it as itis. It implies that we should know how God regards us, and whathe thinks of us whether he considers us saints or sinners. Itis nothing less than a positive command that we should ascertainour own true character, and settle the question definitely forourselves, whether we are saints or sinners, heirs of heaven orheirs of hell.
II. I am to show the necessity of this requirement.
1. It is indispensable to our own peace of mind, that we shouldprove and ascertain our true character, as it is in the sightof God.
The individual who is uncertain as to his real character, canhave no such thing as settled peace of mind. He may have apathymore or less complete and perfect, but apathy is very differentfrom peace. And very few professors of religion, or persons whocontinue to hear the gospel, can have such apathy for any lengthof time, as to suppress all uneasy feelings, at being uncertainrespecting their true character and destiny. I am not speakingof hypocrites, who have seared their consciences, or of scofferswho may be given up of God. But in regard to others, it is strictlytrue that they must have this question settled in order to enjoypeace of mind.
2. It is essential to Christian honesty.
A man who is not truly settled in his mind as to his own characteris hardly honest in religion. If he makes a profession of religionwhen he does not honestly believe himself a saint, who does notknow that is not exactly honest? He is half a hypocrite at heart.So when he prays, he is always in doubt whether his prayers areacceptable, as coming from a child of God.
3. A just knowledge of one's own character is indispensableto usefulness.
If a person has always to agitate this question in his mind,"Am I a Christian?" If he has to be always anxiouslylooking at his own estate all the while, and doubtful how he stands,it must be a great hindrance to his usefulness. If when he speaksto sinners, he is uncertain whether he is not himself a sinner,he cannot exhort with that confidence and simplicity, that hecould if he felt his own feet on a rock. It is a favorite ideawith some people, that it is best for saints to be always in thedark, to keep them humble.
Just as if it was calculated to make a child of God proud toknow that he is a child of God. Whereas, one of the most weightyconsiderations in the universe to keep him from dishonoring Godis, to know that he is a child of God. When a person is in ananxious state of mind, he can have but little faith, and his usefulnesscannot be extensive till the question is settled.
III. The practicability of this requirement.
It is a favorite idea with some, that in this world the questionnever can be settled. It is amazing what a number of persons thereare,that seem to make a virtue of their great doubts, which they alwayshave, whether they are Christians. For hundreds of years it hasbeen looked upon by many as a suspicious circumstance, if a professorof religion is not filled with doubts. It is considered as almosta certain sign, he knows nothing of his own heart. One of theuniversal questions put to candidates for admission has been,"Have you any doubts of your good estate?" And if thecandidate answers, "O yes, I have great doubts," thatis all very well, and is taken as evidence that he is spiritual,and has a deep acquaintance with his own heart, and has a greatdeal of humility. But if he has no doubts, it is taken as evidencethat he knows little of his own heart, and is most probably ahypocrite. Over against all this, I maintain that the duty enjoinedin the text is a practicable duty, and that Christians can putthemselves to such a proof, as to know their own selves, and havea satisfactory assurance of their real character.
1. This is evident from the command in the text, "Examineyourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves."Will any one believe that God requires us to examine ourselvesand prove ourselves, and see what is our true character, whenhe knows it to be impossible for us ever to learn our true character.
2. We have the best possible medium of proof, to try ourselvesand prove our character, and that is our consciousness.
Consciousness gives the highest possible certainty as to thefacts by which our characters are to be determined, and the greatquestion is settled. What is our state before God? We may have,and ought to have, the same kind of evidence of our state beforeGod as we have of our existence; and that is, consciousness. Nay,we cannot help having the evidence. Consciousness is continuallytestifying what are our states of mind, and it only needs forus to take notice of what consciousness testifies, and we cansettle the question as certainly as we can our own existence.
3. God gives men such constant opportunities to act out whatis in their hearts, that nothing but negligence can prevent theircoming to a decision of the matter.
If men, were shut up in dungeons, where they had no opportunityto act, and no chance of being influenced by circumstances, andno way to develop the state of their hearts, they would not beso much to blame for not knowing themselves. But God has placedthem in the circumstances in which they are in this life on purpose,as he said to the children of Israel, to prove them, and to knowwhat is in their hearts, and whether they will keep his commandmentsor no. The things around us must produce an impression on ourminds, and lead us to feel and act in some way. And this affordsopportunities of self-knowledge, when we see how we feel and howwe are inclined to act in such diversified circumstances.
4. We are farther qualified to trust to our own true characters,by having a perfect rule to try them by.
The law of God is a true standard by which to try our characters.We know exactly what that is, and we have therefore an infallibleand an invariable rule by which to judge of ourselves. We canbring our feelings and actions to this rule, and compare themwith this standard, and know exactly what is their true characterin the sight of God, for God himself tries them by the same standard.
5. Our circumstances are such that nothing but dishonesty canpossibly lead us to self-deception.
The individual who is self-deceived is not only careless andnegligent, but decidedly dishonest, or he would not deceive himself.Hemust be to a great degree prejudiced by pride, and blinded byself-will or he could not but know that he is not what he professesto be. The circumstances are so many and so various, that callforth the exercises of his mind, that it must be willful blindnessthat is deceived. If they never had any opportunities to act,or if circumstances did not call forth their feelings, they mightbe ignorant. A person who had never seen a beggar, might not beable to tell what were his true feelings towards beggars. Butplace him where he meets beggars every day, and he must be willfullyblind or dishonest, if he do not know the temper of his hearttowards a beggar.
IV. I will mention a few things as to the manner of performingthis duty.
1. It is not done by waiting for evidence to come to us.
Many seem to wait, in a passive attitude, for the evidenceto come to them, to decide whether they are Christians or not.They appear to have been waiting for certain feelings to cometo them. Perhaps they pray about it; perhaps they pray very earnestly,and then wait for the feelings to come which will afford themsatisfactory evidence of their good estate. Many times they willnot do anything in religion till they get this evidence, and theysit and wait, and wait, in vain expectation that the Spirit ofGod will come some time or other, and lift them out of this slough,while they remain thus passive and stupid. They may wait tilldoomsday and never get it in this way.
2. Not by any direct attempt to force the feelings into exercisewhich are to afford the evidence.
The human mind is so constituted, that it never will feel bytrying to feel. You may try as hard as you please, to feel ina particular way. Your efforts to put forth feelings are totallyunphilosophical and absurd. There is now nothing before the mindto produce emotion or feeling. Feeling is always awakened in themind by the mind's being intensely fixed on some object calculatedto awaken feeling. But when the mind is fixed, not upon the object,but on direct attempts to put forth feeling, this will not awakenfeeling. It is impossible. The attention must be taken up withthe object calculated to awaken feeling, or there will be no feeling.You may as well shut up your eye and attempt to see, or go intoa dark room. In a dark room there is no object to awaken the senseof sight and you may exert yourself and strain your eyes, andtry to see, but you will see nothing. When the mind's attentionis taken up with looking inward, and attempting to examine thenature of the present emotion, that emotion at once ceases toexist, because the attention is no longer fixed on the objectthat causes the emotion. I hold my hand before this lamp, it castsa shadow; but if I take the lamp away, there is no shadow; theremust be a light to produce a shadow.
It is just as certain that if the mind is turned away fromthe object that awakens emotion, the emotion ceases to exist.The mind must be fixed on the object, not on the emotion, or therewill be no emotion, and consequently no evidence.
3. You will never get evidence by spending time in mourningover the state of your heart.
Some people spend their time in nothing but complaining, "O,I don't feel, I can't feel, my heart is so hard." What arethey doing? Nothing but mourning and crying because they don'tfeel. Perhaps they are trying to work themselves up into feeling!Just as philosophical as trying to fly. While they are mourningall the while, and thinking about their hard hearts, and doingnothing, they are the ridicule of the devil. Suppose a man shouldshut himself out from the fire and then go about complaining howold he is, the very children would laugh at him. He must expectto freeze, if he will shut himself out from the means of warmth.And all his mournings and feeling bad will not help the matter.
Second Positively. What must be done in this duty?
If you wish to test the true state of your heart with regardto any object, you must fix your attention on that object. Ifyou wish to test the power or accuracy of sight, you must applythe faculty to the object, and then you will test the power andstate of that faculty. You place yourself in the midst of objects,to test the state of your eyes; or in the midst of sounds, ifyou wish to test the perfectness of your ears. And the more youshut out other objects that excite the other senses, and the morestrongly you fasten your minds on this one, the more perfectlyyou test the keenness of your vision, or the perfectness of yourhearing. A multiplicity of objects is liable to distract the mind.When we attend to any object calculated to awaken feeling, itis impossible not to feel. The mind is so constituted that itcannot but feel. It is not necessary to stop and ask, "DoI feel?"
Suppose you put your hand near the fire, do you need to stopand ask the question, "Do I really feel the sensation ofwarmth?" You know, of course, that you do feel. If you passyour hand rapidly by the lamp, the sensation may be so slightas not to be noticed, but is none the less real, and if you paidattention strictly enough, you would know it. Where the impressionis slight, it requires an effort of attention to notion your ownconsciousness. So the passing feeling of the mind may be so slightas not to occupy your thoughts, and thus may escape your notice,but it is not the less real. But hold your hand in the lamp aminute, and the feeling will force itself upon your notice, whateverbe your other occupations. If the mind is fixed on an object calculatedto excite emotions of any kind, it is impossible not to feel thoseemotions in a degree; and if the mind is intently fixed, it isimpossible not to feel the emotions in such a degree as to beconscious that they exist. These principles will show you howwe are to come at the proof of our characters, and know the realstate of our feelings towards any object. It is by fixing ourattention on the object till our emotions are so excited thatwe become conscious what they are.
I will specify another thing that ought to be borne in mind.Be sure the things on which your mind is fixed, and on which youwish to test the state of your heart, are realities.
There is a great deal of imaginary religion in the world, whichthe people who are the subjects of it mistake for real. They havehigh feelings, their minds are much excited, and the feeling correspondswith the object contemplated. But here is the source of the delusionthe object is imaginary. It is not that the feeling is false orimaginary. It is real feeling. It is not that the feeling doesnot correspond with the object before the mind. It correspondsperfectly. But the object is a fiction.
The individual has formed a notion of God, or of Jesus Christ,or of salvation, that is altogether aside from the truth, andhis feelings in view of these imaginations are such as they wouldbe towards the true objects, if he had true religion, and so heis deluded. Here is undoubtedly a great source of the false hopeand professions in the world.
V. I will now specify a few things on which it is your dutyto try the state of your minds.
1. Sin not your own particular sins, but sin itself, as anoutrage committed against God.
You need not suppose you will get at the true state of yourhearts merely, by finding in your mind a strong feeling of disapprobationof sin. This belongs to the nature of an intelligent being, assuch. All intelligent beings feel a disapprobation of sin, whenviewed abstractly, and without reference to their own selfishgratification. The devil, no doubt, feels it. The devil no morefeels approbation for sin, when viewed abstractly, than Gabriel.He blames sinners and condemns their conduct, and whenever hehas no selfish reason for being pleased at what they do, he abhorsit. You will often find in the wicked on earth, a strong abhorrenceof sin. There is not a wicked man on earth, that would not condemnand abhor sin, in the abstract. The mind is so constituted, thatsin is universally and naturally and necessarily abhorrent toright reason and to conscience. Every power of the mind revoltsat sin. Man has pleasure in them that commit iniquity, only whenhe has some selfish reason for wishing then to commit it. No rationalbeing approves of sin, as sin.
But there is a striking difference between the constitutionaldisapprobation of sin, as an abstract thing, and that hearty detestationand opposition that is founded on love to God. To illustrate thisidea. It is one thing for that youth to feel that a certain actis wrong, and quite another thing to view it as an injury to hisfather. Here is some thing in addition to his former feeling.He has not only indignation against the act as wrong, but hislove to his father produces a feeling of grief that is peculiar.So the individual who loves God feels not only a strong disapprobationof sin, as wrong, but a feeling of grief mingled with indignationwhen he views it as committed against God.
If, then, you want to know how you feel towards sin, how doyou feel when you move around among sinners, and see them breakGod's law? When you hear them swear profanely, or see them breakthe Sabbath, or get drunk, how do you feel? Do you feel as thePsalmist did when he wrote, "I beheld the transgressors,and was grieved, because they kept not thy word?" So he says,"Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep notthy law." And again, "Horror hath taken hold upon me,because of the wicked that forsake thy law."
2. You ought to test the state of your hearts towards yourown sins.
Look back on your past sins, call up your conduct in formertimes, and see whether you do cordially condemn it and loatheit, and feel as an affectionate child would feel, when he remembershow he has disobeyed a beloved parent. It is one thing to feela strong conviction that your former conduct was wicked. It isquite another thing to have this feeling attended with strongemotions of grief, because it was sin against God. Probably thereare few Christians who have not looked back upon their formerconduct towards their parents with deep emotion, and thought howa beloved father and an affectionate mother have been disobeyedand wronged; and who have not felt, in addition to a strong disapprobationof their conduct, a deep emotion of grief, that inclined to ventitself in weeping, and perhaps did gush forth in irrepressibletears. Now this is true repentance towards a parent. And repentancetowards God is the same thing, and if genuine, it will correspondin degree to the intensity of attention with which the mind isfixed on the subject.
3. You want to test your feelings towards impenitent sinners.
Then go among them, and converse with them, on the subjectof their souls, warn them, see what they say, and how they feel,and get at the real state of their hearts, and then you will knowhow you feel towards the impenitent. Do not shut yourself up inyour closet and try to imagine an impenitent sinner. You may bringup a picture of the imagination that will affect your sympathies,and make you weep and pray. But go and bring your heart in contactwith the living reality of a sinner, reason with him, exhort him,find out his cavils, his obstinacy, his insincerity, pray withhim if you can. You cannot do this without waking up emotionsin your mind, and if you are a Christian, it will wake up suchmingled emotions of grief, compassion and indignation, as JesusChrist feels, and as will leave you no room to doubt what is thestate of your heart on this subject. Bring your mind in contactwith sinners, and fix it there, and rely on it you will feel.
4. You want to prove the state of your mind towards God.
Fix your thoughts intently on God. And do not set yourselvesdown to imagine a God after your own foolish hearts, but takethe Bible and learn there what is the true idea of God. Do notfancy a shape or appearance, or imagine how he looks, but fixyour mind on the Bible description of how he feels and what hedoes, and what he says, and you cannot but feel. Here you willdetect the real state of your heart. Nay, this will constitutethe real state of your heart, which you cannot mistake.
5. Test your feelings towards Christ.
You are bound to know whether you love the Lord Jesus Christor not. Run over the circumstances of his life, and see whethertheyappear as realities to your mind, his miracles, his sufferings,his lovely character, his death, his resurrection, his ascension,his intercession now at the right hand of the throne of God. Doyou believe all these? Are they realities to your mind? What areyour feelings in view of them? When you think of his willingnessto save, his ability to save, his atoning death, his power, ifthese things are realities to you, you will have feelings of whichyou will be conscious, and concerning which there will be no mistake.
6. What are your feelings towards the saints.
If you wish to test your heart on this point, whether you lovethe saints, do not let your thoughts run to the ends of the earth,but fix your mind on the saints by you and see whether you lovethem, whether you desire their sanctification, whether you reallylong to have them grow in grace, whether you can bear them inyour heart to the throne of grace in faith, and ask God to bestowblessings on them.
7. So in regard to revivals.
You wish to know what is the state of your feelings towardsrevivals, then read about them, think of them, fix your mind onthem, and you cannot but have feelings that will evince the stateof your heart. The same is true of the heathen, of the slaves,of drunkards, of the Bible, of any object of pious regard. Theonly way to know the state of your heart is to fix your mind onthe reality of those things, till you feel so intensely that thereis no mistaking the nature of your feelings.
Should you find a difficulty in attending to any of these objectssufficiently to produce feeling, it is owing to one of two reasons,either your mind is taken up with some other parts of religion,so as not to allow of such fixed attention to the specified object,or your thought wander with the fool's eyes, to the ends of theearth. The former is sometimes the case, and I have known someChristians to be very much distressed because they did not feelso intensely as they think they ought, on some subjects. Theirown sins, for instance. A person's mind may be so much taken upwith anxiety, and labor, and prayer for sinners, that it requiresan effort to think enough about his own soul to feel deeply, andwhen he goes on his knee to pray about his own sins, that sinnerwith whom he has been talking comes right up before his mind andhe can hardly pray for himself. It is not to be regarded as evidenceagainst you, if the reason why you do not feel on one subjectin religion is because your feelings are so engrossed about another,of equal importance. But if your thoughts run all over the world,and that is the reason you do not feel deeply enough to know whatis your true character, if your mind will not come down to theBible, and fix on any object of religious feeling, lay a stronghand on yourself, and fix your thoughts with a death-grasp, tillyou do feel. You can command your thoughts: God has put the controlof your mind in your own hands. And in this way, you can controlyour own feelings, by turning your attention upon the object youwish to feel about. Bring yourself, then, powerfully and resolutely,to that point, and give it not over till you fasten your mindto the subject, and till the deep fountains of feeling break upin your mind, and you know what is the state of your heart, andunderstand your real character in the sight of God.
1. Activity in religion is indispensable to self-examination.
An individual can never know what is the true state of hisheart, unless he is active in the duties of religion. Shut upin his closet, he never can tell how he feels towards objectsthat are without, and he never can feel right towards them untilhe goes out and acts. How can he know his real feeling towardssinners, if he never brings his mind in contact with sinners?He goes into his closet, and his imagination may make him feel,but it is a deceitful feeling, because not produced by a reality.If you wish to test the reality of your feelings towards sinners,go out and warn sinners, and then the reality of your feelingswill manifest itself.
2. Unless persons try their hearts by the reality of things,they are constantly subject to delusion, and are all the timemanaging to delude themselves.
Suppose an individual shut up in a cloister, shut out fromthe world of reality, and living in a world of imagination. Hebecomes a perfect creature of imagination. So it is in religion,with those who do not bring their mind in contact with realities.Such persons think they love mankind, and yet do them no good.They imagine they abhor sin, and yet do nothing to destroy it.How many persons deceive themselves, by an excitement of the imaginationabout missions, for instance; how common it is for persons toget up a great deal of feeling, and hold prayer meetings for missions,who really do nothing to save souls. Women will spend a wholeday at a prayer meeting to pray for the conversion of the world,while their impenitent servant in the kitchen is not spoken toall day, and perhaps not in a month, to save her soul. Peoplewill get up a public meeting, and talk about feeling for the heathen,when they are making no direct efforts for sinners around them.This is all a fiction of the imagination. There is no realityin such a religion as that. If they had real love of God, andlove of souls, and real piety, the pictures drawn by the imaginationabout the distant heathen would not create so much more feelingthan the reality around them.
It will not do to say, it is because their attention is notturned towards sinners around them. They hear the profane oaths,and see the Sabbath-breaking and other vices, as a naked realitybefore their eyes, every day. And if these produce no feeling,it is in vain to pretend that they feel as God requires for sinnersin heathen lands, or anywhere. Nay, take this very individual,now so full of feeling for the heathen, as he imagines, and placehim among the heathen transport him to the Friendly Islands, orelsewhere, away from the fictions of imagination, and in the midstof the cold and naked reality of heathenism, and all his deepfeeling is gone. He may write letters home about the abominationsof the heathen, and all that, but his feeling about their salvationis gone. You hear people talk so about the heathen, who have neverconverted a soul at home rely upon it, that is all imagination.If they do not promote revivals at home, where they understandthe language and have direct access to their neighbors, much lesscan they be depended on to promote the real work of religion onheathen ground. The churches ought to understand this, and keepit in mind in selecting men to go on foreign missions. They oughtto know that if the naked reality at home does not excite a personto action, the devil would only laugh at a million such missionaries.
The same delusion often manifests itself in regard to revivals.There is an individual who is a great friend to revivals. Butmark they are always revivals of former days, or of revivals inthe abstract, or distant revivals, or revivals that are yet tocome. But as to any present revival, he is always found aloofand doubtful. He can read about revivals in President Edwards'day, or in Scotland, or in Wales, and be greatly excited and delighted.He can pray, "O Lord, revive thy work; O, Lord, let us havesuch revivals, let us have a Pentecost season, when thousandsshall be converted in a day." But get him into the realityof things, and he never happens to see a revival in which he cantake any interest, or feel real complacency. He is friendly tothe fictitious imaginings of his own mind; he can create a stateof things that will excite his feelings, but no naked realityever brings him out to cooperate in actually promoting a revival.
In the days of our Savior, the people said, and no doubt reallybelieved, that they abhorred the doings of those who persecutedtheprophets. They said, "If we had been in the days of our fathers,we would not have been partakers with them of the blood of theprophets." No doubt they wondered that people could be sowicked as to do such things But they had never seen a prophet;they were moved simply by their imagination. And as soon as theLord Jesus Christ appeared, the greatest of prophets, on whomall the prophecies centered, they rejected him, and finally puthim to death, with as much cold-hearted cruelty as ever theirfathers had killed a prophet. "Fill ye up," says ourSavior, "the treasure of your fathers, that upon you maycome all the righteous blood shed upon the earth."
Mankind have always, in every age of the world, fallen in lovewith the fictions of their own imagination, over which they havestumbled into hell. Look at the Universalist. He imagines a Godthat will save everybody, at any rate, and a heaven that willaccommodate everybody; and then he loves the God he has made,and the heaven he has imagined, and perhaps will even weep withlove. His feelings are often deep, but they are delusive, becauseexcited by fiction and not by truth.
3. The more an individual goes out from himself, and makesthings not belonging to himself the subject of thought, the morepiety he will have, and the more evidence of his piety.
Religion consists in love, in feeling right and doing right,or doing good. If therefore you wish to have great piety, do notthink of having it by cultivating it in a way which never causedpiety to grow; that is, by retiring into a cloister, and withdrawingfrom contact with mankind. If the Lord Jesus Christ had supposedsuch circumstances to be favorable to piety, he would have directedthem so. But he knew better.
He has therefore appointed circumstances as they are, so thathis people may have a thousand objects of benevolence, a thousandopportunities to do good. And if they go out of themselves, andturn their hearts upon these things, they cannot fail to growin piety, and to have their evidences increasing and satisfactory.
4. It is only in one department of self-examination that wecan consistently shut ourselves up in the closet to perform theduty; that is, when we want to look back and calmly examine themotives of our past conduct. In such cases it is often necessaryto abstract our thoughts and keep out other things from our minds,to turn our minds back and look at things we have done, and themotives by which we were actuated. To do this effectually, itis often necessary to resort to retirement, and fasting, and prayer.Some times it is impossible to wake up a lively recollection ofwhat we wish to examine, without calling in the laws of associationto our aid. We attempt to call up past scenes, and all seems confusionand darkness, until we strike upon some associated idea, thatgradually brings the whole fresh before us. Suppose I am to becalled as a witness in court concerning a transaction, I can sometimesgain a lively recollection of what took place, only by going tothe place, and then all the circumstances come up, as if but ofyesterday. So we may find in regard to the reexamination of somepart of our past history, that no shutting ourselves up will bringit back, no protracted meditation or fasting, or prayer, tillwe throw ourselves into some circumstances that will wake up theassociated ideas, and thus bring back the feelings we formerlyhad.
Suppose a minister wishes to look back and see how he felt,and the spirit with which he had preached years ago. He wishesto know how much real piety there was in his labors. He mightget at a great deal in his closet on his knees, by the aid ofthe strong influences of the Spirit of God. But he will come atit much more effectually by going to the place, and preachingagain there. The exact attitude in which his mind was before,may thus recur to him, and stand in strong reality before hismind.
5. In examining yourselves, be careful to avoid expecting tofind all the graces of the Christian in exercise in your mindat once.
This is contrary to the nature of mind. You ought to satisfyyourselves, if you find the exercises of your mind are right,on the subject that is before your mind. If you have wrong feelingsat the time, that is another thing. But if you find that the emotionsat the time are right, do not draw a wrong inference, becausesome other right emotion is not in present exercise. The mindis so constituted, that it can only have one train, of emotionsat a time.
6. From this subject you see why people often do not feel morethan they do.
They are taking a course not calculated to produce feeling.They feel, but not on the right subjects. Mankind always feelon some subjects; and the reason why they do not feel deeply onreligious subjects is, because their attention is not deeply fixedon such subjects.
7. You see the reason why there is such a strange diversityin the exercises of real Christians.
There are some Christians whose feelings, when they have anyfeeling are always of the happy kind. There are others whose feelingsare always of a sad and distressing kind. They are in almost constantagony for sinners. The reason is, that their thoughts are directedto different objects. One class are always thinking of the classof objects calculated to make them happy; the other are thinkingof the state of the church, or the state of sinners, and weigheddown as with a burden, as if a mountain were on their shoulders.Both may be religious, both classes of feelings are right, inview of the objects at which they look.
The apostle Paul had continual heaviness and sorrow of hearton account of his brethren. No doubt he felt right. The case ofhis brethren who had, rejected the Savior, was so much the objectof his thoughts, the dreadful wrath that they had brought uponthemselves, the doom that hung over them, was constantly beforehim mind, and how could he be otherwise than sad?
8. Observe the influence of these two classes of feelings inthe usefulness of individuals.
Show me a very joyful and happy Christian, and he is not generallya very useful Christian. Generally, such are so taken up withenjoying the sweets of religion, that they do but little. Youfind a class of ministers, who preach a great deal on these subjects,and make their pious hearers very happy in religion, but suchministers are seldom instrumental in converting many sinners,however much they may have refreshed, and edified, and gratifiedsaints. On the other hand you will find men who are habituallyfilled with deep agony of soul in view of the state of sinners,and these men will be largely instrumental in converting men.The reason is plain. Both preached the truth both preached thegospel, in different proportions, and the feelings awakened correspondwith the views they preached. The difference is, that one comfortedthe saints the other converted sinners.
You may see a class of professors of religion who are alwayshappy, and they are lovely companions, but they are very seldomengagedin pulling sinners out of the fire. You find others always fullof agony for sinners, looking at their state, and longing to havesouls converted. Instead of enjoying the antepast of heaven onearth, they are sympathizing with the Son of God when he was onearth, groaning in his spirit, and spending all night in prayer.
9. The real revival spirit is a spirit of agonizing desiresand prayer for sinners.
10. You see how you may account for your own feelings at differenttimes.
People often wonder why they feel as they do. The answer isplain. You feel so, because you think so. You direct your attentionto those objects which are calculated to produce those feelings.
11. You see why some people's feelings are so changeable.
There are many whose feelings are always variable and unsteady.That is because their thoughts are unsteady. If they would fixtheir thoughts, they would regulate their feelings.
12. You see the way to beget any desired state of feeling inyour own mind, and how to beget any desired state of feeling inothers.
Place the thoughts on the subject that is calculated to producethose feelings, and confine them there, and the feelings willnot fail to follow.
13. There are multitudes of pious persons who dishonor religionby their doubts.
They are perpetually talking about their doubts, and they takeup a hasty conviction that they have no religion. Whereas if insteadof dwelling on their doubts they will fix their minds on othersubjects, on Christ for instance, or go out and seek sinners,and try to bring them to repentance, rely upon it, they will feel,and feel right, and feel so as to dissipate their doubts.
Remember, you are not to wait till you feel right before youdo this. Perhaps some things that I said to this church have notbeen rightly understood. I said you could do nothing for God unlessyou felt right. Do not therefore infer, that you are to sit stilland do nothing till you are satisfied that you do feel right.But place yourself in circumstances to make you feel right, andgo to work. On one hand, to bustle about without any feeling isno way, and on the other hand, to shut yourself up in your closetand wait for feeling to come, is no way. Be sure to be alwaysactive. You never will feel right otherwise. And then keep yourmind constantly under the influence of those objects that arecalculated to create and keep alive Christian feelings.
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