Who is on the Lord's side? Exodus 32:26.
The question was addressed by Moses to the professed peopleof God, immediately after their great departure from God whileMoses was on the Mount, when they went and worshiped a goldencalf which had been cast for them by Aaron. After expostulatingwith the guilty nation, he called out, "Who is on the Lord'sside?" It is not my intention to dwell on the history ofthis case particularly, but to come at once to the main designI have in view this evening, which is to show that there are
THREE CLASSES OF PROFESSING CHRISTIANS
I. The true friends of God and man. II. Those who are actuatedby hope and fear, or in other words by self-love, or by selfishness.III. Those who are actuated by public opinion.
These three classes may be known by attending to the characteristicdevelopments which show what is the leading design in their religion.It needs not be proved, that persons may set out in religion fromvery different motives, some from real love to religion, and somefrom other motives. The differences may be arranged in these threeclasses, and by attending to the development of their real designin becoming religions, you learn their characters. They all professto be servants of God, and yet by observing the lives of many,it becomes manifest that instead of their being God's servantsthey are only trying to make God their servant. Their leadingaim and object is to secure their own salvation, or some otheradvantage for themselves, through the medium of the favor of God.They are seeking to make God their friend, that they may makeuse of him to serve their own turn.
I. There is a class of professed Christians who are the truefriends of God and man.
If you attend to those things which develop the true designand aim of their religion, you will see it to be such. They aretruly and sincerely benevolent.
1. They will make it manifest that this is their character,by their carefulness in avoiding sin.
They will show that they hate it in themselves, and that theyhate it in others. They will not justify it in themselves, andthey will not justify it in others. They will not seek to coverup or to excuse their own sins, neither will they try to coverup or to excuse the sins of others. In short they aim at perfectholiness. This course of conduct makes it evident that they arethe true friends of God. I do not mean to say that every truefriend of God is perfect, no more than I would say that everytruly affectionate and obedient child is perfect, or never failsin duty to his parent. But if he is an affectionate and obedientchild, his aim is to obey always, and if he fails in any respect,he by no means justifies it, or pleads for it, or aims to coverit up, but as soon as he comes to think of the matter, is dissatisfiedwith himself, and condemns his conduct.
So these persons who are the true friends of God and man, areever ready to complain of themselves, and to blame and condemnthemselves for what is wrong. But you never see them finding faultwith God. You never hear them excusing themselves and throwingoff the blame upon their Maker, by telling of their inabilityto obey God, or speaking as if God had required impossibilitiesof his creatures. They always speak as if they felt that whatGod has required is right and reasonable, and themselves onlyto blame for their disobedience.
2. They manifest a deep abhorrence of the sins of other people.
They do not cover up the sins of others, or plead for themand excuse them, or smooth them over by "perhaps this,"or "perhaps that." You never hear them apologizing forsin. As they are indignant at sin in themselves, they are justas much so when they see it in others. They know its horriblenature, and abhor it always.
3. Another thing in which this spirit manifests itself, iszeal for the honor and glory of God.
They show the same ardor to promote God's honor and interest,that the true patriot does to promote the honor and interest ofhis country. If he greatly loves his country, its government,and its interest, he sets his heart upon promoting its advancementand benefit. He is never so happy as when he is doing somethingfor the honor and advancement of his country. So a child thattruly loves his father, is never so happy as when he is advancinghis father's honor and interest. And he never feels more indignantgrief, than when he sees his father abused or injured. If he seeshis father disobeyed or abused by those who ought to obey, andlove, and honor him, his heart breaks forth with indignant grief.
There are multitudes of professing Christians, and even ministers,who are very zealous to defend their own character and their ownhonor. But this one class feel more engaged, and their heartsbeat higher, when defending or advancing God's honor. These arethe friends of God and man.
4. They show that they sympathize with God in his feelingstowards man.
They have the same kind of friendship for souls that God feels.I do not mean that they feel in the same degree, but that theyhave the same kind of feelings. There is such a thing as lovingthe souls of men and hating their conduct too. There is such athing as constitutional sympathy, which persons feel for thosewho are in distress. This is natural. You always feel this fora person in distress, unless you have some selfish reason forfeeling malevolent. If you saw a murderer hung, you would feelcompassion for him. The wicked have this natural sympathy forthose that suffer.
There is another peculiar kind of sympathy which the real childof God feels, and manifests towards sinners. It is a mingled feelingof abhorrence and compassion, of indignation against his sins,and pity for his person. It is possible to feel this deep abhorrenceof sin mingled with deep compassion for souls capable of suchendless happiness, and yet bound to eternal misery.
I will explain myself. There are two kinds of love: one isthe love of benevolence. This has no respect to the characterof the person loved, but merely views the individual as exposedto suffering and misery. This God feels towards all men. The otherkind includes esteem or approbation of character. God feels thisonly towards the righteous. He never feels this love towards sinners.He infinitely abhors them. He has an infinitely strong exerciseof compassion and abhorrence at the same time. Christians havethe same feelings, only not in the same degree, but they havethem at the same time. Probably they never feel right unless theyhave both these feelings in exercise at the same time. The Christiandoes not feel as God feels towards individuals nor feel accordingto the true character of the individuals, unless both these feelingsexist in his mind at the same time. You see this by one strikingcharacteristic. The Christian will rebuke most pointedly and frequentlythose for whom he feels the deepest compassion. Did you neversee this?
Did you never see a parent yearning with compassion over achild, and reprove him with tears, and yet with a pungency thatwould make the little offender quail under his rebuke. Jesus Christoften manifested strongly these two emotions. He wept over Jerusalem,and yet he tells the reason in a manner that shows his burningindignation against their conduct. "O Jerusalem, thou thatkillest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee!"Ah, what a full view he had of their wickedness, at the momentthat he wept with compassion for the doom that hung over them.
It is just so with this class of Christians. You never findone of them addressing a sinner so as merely to make him weepbecause somebody is weeping for him. But his tender appeals areaccompanied with strong rebuke for sin.
I wish you to remember this point that the true friend of Godand man never takes the sinner's part, because he never acts throughmere compassion. And at the same time, he is never seen to denouncethe sinner, without at the same time manifesting compassion forhis soul and a strong desire to save him from death.
5. It is a prominent object with such Christians, in all theirintercourse with men, to make them friends of God.
Whether they converse, or pray, or attend to the duties oflife, it is their prominent object to recommend religion and tolead every body to glorify God. It is very natural they shoulddo this, if they are true friends of God. A true friend of thegovernment wishes everybody to be a friend of the government.A true and affectionate child wishes everybody to love and respecthis father. And if only one is at enmity, it is his constant aimand effort to bring him to reconciliation. The same you wouldexpect from a true friend of God, as a leading feature of hischaracter, that he would make it a prominent object of his lifeto reconcile sinners to God.
Now mark me! If this is not the leading feature of your character,if it is not the absorbing topic of thought and effort to reconcilemen to God, you have not the root of the matter in you. Whateverappearance of religion you may have, you lack the leading andfundamental characteristic of true piety. It wants the leadingfeature of the character and aims of Jesus Christ, and of hisapostles and prophets. Look at them, and see how this featurestands out in strong and eternal relief, as the leading characteristic,the prominent design and object, of their lives, Now let me askyou, what is the leading object of your life, as it appears inyour daily walk? Is it to bring all God's enemies to submit tohim? If not, away with your pretensions to religion. Whateverelse you may have, you have not the true love of God in you.
6. Where there are persons of this class, you will see themscrupulously avoid everything that in their estimation is calculatedto defeat their great end.
They always wish to avoid every thing calculated to preventthe salvation of souls, everything calculated to divert attentionor in any way to hinder the conversion of souls. It is not thenatural question with them, when any thing is proposed which isdoubtful, to ask, "Is this something which God expresslyforbids?" The first question that naturally suggests itselfto their minds is, "What will be the bearing of this uponreligion? Will it have a tendency to prevent the conversion ofsinners, to hinder the progress of revivals, to roll back thewheels of salvation?" If so, they do not need the thundersof Sinai to be pealed in their ears, to forbid their doing it.If they see it contrary to the spirit of holiness, and contraryto the main object they have in view, that is enough.
Look at the temperance reformation for an illustration of this.Here let me say, that it was the influence of intemperance, inhindering the conversion and salvation of sinners, that firstturned the attention of the benevolent men who commenced the reformation,to inquire on the subject. And the same class of persons are stillcarrying it on. Such men do not stand and cavil at every stepof the way, and say, "Drinking rum is no where prohibitedin the Bible, and I do not feel bound to give it up." Theyfind that it hinders the great object for which they live, andthat is enough for them they give it up of course. They avoidwhatever they see would hinder a revival, as a matter of course,just as a merchant would avoid anything that had a tendency toimpair his credit, and defeat his object of making money by hisbusiness. Suppose a merchant was about to do something that youknew would injuriously affect his credit, and you go to him inthe spirit of friendship and advise him not to do it, would heturn round and say, "Show me the passage in the Bible whereGod has prohibited this?" No. He would not ask you to showhim anything more than this, that it is inconsistent with hismain design.
Mark this, all of you: A person who is strongly desirous ofthe conversion of sinners does not need an express prohibitionto prevent his doing that which he sees is calculated to preventthis. There is no danger of his doing that which will defeat thevery object of his life.
7. This class of professing Christians are always distressedunless they see the work of converting sinner going on.
They call it a lamentable state of things in the church, ifno sinners are converted. No matter what else is true, no matterhow rich the congregation grows, nor how popular their minister,nor how many come to hear him, their panting hearts are uneasyunless they see the work of conversion actually going on. Theysee that all the rest is nothing without this yea, that even themeans of grace are doing more hurt than good, unless sinners areconverted.
Such professors as these are a great trouble to those who arereligious from other motives, and who therefore wish to keep allquiet, and have everything go on regularly in the "good oldway." They are often called "uneasy spirits in the church."And markit! if a church has a few such spirits in it, the ministerwill be made uneasy unless his preaching is such as to convertsinners. You sometimes hear of these men reproving the church,and pouring out their expostulations for living so coldly andworldly, and the church reply, "O, we are doing well enough,do you not see how we foolish, it is only because you are alwaysuneasy." When in fact their hearts are grieved and theirsouls in agony because sinners are not converted and souls arepressing down to hell.
8. You will see them when manifesting a spirit of prayer, prayingnot for themselves but for sinners.
If you know the habitual tenor of people's prayers, it willshow which way the tide of their feelings sets. If a man is actuatedin religion mainly by desire to save himself, you will hear himpraying chiefly for himself that he may have his sins pardonedand "enjoy" much of the Spirit of God, and the like.But if he is truly the friend of God and man, you will find thatthe burden of his prayers is for the glory of God in the salvationof sinners; and he is never so copious and powerful in prayeras when he gets upon his favorite topic the conversion of sinners.Go into the prayer meeting where such Christians pray, and insteadof seeing them all shut up in the nut shell of their own interests,spending their whole prayer on themselves, and just closing witha flourishabout the kingdom of Christ, you will hear them pouringout their souls in prayer for the salvation of sinners. I believethere have been cases of such Christians who were so much absorbedin their desires for the salvation of sinners, that for weekstogether they did not even pray for their own salvation.
Or if they pray for themselves at all, it is that they maybe clothed with the Spirit of God, so that they can go out andbe mighty through God in pulling souls out of the fire.
You that are here can tell how it is with your prayers, whetheryou feel most and pray most for yourselves or for sinners. Ifyou know nothing about the spirit of prayer for sinners, you arenot the true friend of God and man. What! no heart to feel whensinners are going to hell by your side! No sympathy with the Sonof God, who gave his life to save sinners! Away with all suchprofessions of religion. "If any man have not the Spiritof Christ, he is none of His." Do not tell me men are trulypious, when their prayers are droned over, as much a matter ofform as when the poor popish priest counts over his beads. Sucha man deceives himself, if he talk about being the true friendof God and man.
9. These persons do not want to ask what are the things theyare "required" to do for the conversion of sinners.
When anything is presented to them that promises success inconverting sinners, they do not wait to be commanded to do it,on pains and penalties if they do not. They only want the evidencethat it is calculated to advance the object on which their heartsare set, and they will engage in it with all their soul. The questionis not with them all the while, "What am I expressly commandedto do?" but, "In what way can I do most for the salvationof souls, and the conversion of the world to God?" They donot wait for an express command in the Bible, before they engagein the work of missions, or Sabbath schooled or any other enterprisethat promises to save souls; but they are ready to every goodword and work.
10. Another characteristic of such Christians is a dispositionto deny themselves to do good to others.
God has established throughout all the universe the principleof GIVING. Even in the natural world, the river, the ocean, theclouds, all give. It is so throughout the whole kingdom of natureand of grace. This diffusive principle is every where recognized.This is the very spirit of Christ. He sought not to please himself,but to do good to others. He found his highest happiness in denyinghimself to do good to others. So it is with this class of personsthey are ever ready to deny themselves of enjoyments and comforts,and even of necessaries, when by so doing they can do more goodto others.
11. They are continually devising new means and new measuresfor doing good.
This is what would be expected from their continual desireto do good. Instead of being satisfied with what does not succeed,they are continually devising new ways and means to effect theirobject. They are not like those persons who make themselves satisfiedwith doing what they call their duty. Where an individual is aimingmainly at his own salvation, he may think if he does his dutyhe is discharged from responsibility, and so he is satisfied hethinks he has escaped from divine wrath and gained heaven forhimself, by doing what God required him to do, and he cannot helpit, whether sinners are saved or lost. But with the other class,it is not so much their object to gain heaven and avoid wrath,but their leading object is to save souls and to honor God. Andif this object is not advanced, they are in pain. Such a man inthe one whose soul is all the while devising liberal things, andtrying new things, and if one fails, trying another and another,and cannot rest till he has found something that will succeedin the salvation of souls.
12. They always manifest great grief when they see the churchasleep and doing nothing for the salvation of sinners.
They know the difficulty the impossibility of doing anythingconsiderable for the salvation of sinners while the church isasleep. Go into a church where the great mass are doing nothingfor the conversion of sinners, and floating along on the currentof the world, and you will find that the true friends of God andman are grieved at such a state of things. Those who have otherobjects in view in being religious, may think they are going onvery well. They are not grieved when they see the professed peopleof God going after show and folly. But if there are any of thisclass, you will find them grieved and distressed at heart, becausethe church is in such a state.
13. They are grieved if they see reason to think their ministertemporizes, or does not reprove the church pointedly and faithfullyfor their sins.
The other classes of professors are willing to be rocked tosleep, and willing their minister should preach smooth, flowery,and eloquent sermons, and flattering sermons, with no point andno power. But these are not satisfied unless he preaches powerfullyand pointedly, and boldly, and rebukes and entreats and exhorts,with all long-suffering and doctrine. Their souls are not fed,or edified, or satisfied with any thing that does not take hold,and do the work for which the ministry was appointed by JesusChrist.
14. This class of persons will always stand by a faithful minister,who preaches the truth boldly and pointedly.
No matter if the truth he preaches hits them, they like it,and say, Let the righteous smite me, and it shall be an excellentoil. When the truth is poured forth with power, their souls arefed, and grow strong in grace. They can pray for such a minister.They can weep in their closet, and pour out their souls in prayerfor him, that he may have the Spirit of God always with him. Whileothers scold and cavil at him and talk about his being extravagant,and all that, you will find Christians of this sort will standby him, yea, and would go to the stake with him for the testimonyof Jesus. And this they do for the best of all reasons such preachingfalls in with the great design for which these Christians live.
15. This sort of Christians are especially distressed whenministers preach sermons not adapted to convert sinners.
I mean when the sermon is not especially addressed to the church,to stir them up. Others may approve the sermon, and praiseit,and tell what a great sermon it is, or how eloquent, or lucid,or grand, or sublime, but it does not suit them if it lacks thisone characteristic a tendency to convert sinners. You will findsome people that are great sticklers for the doctrine of election,and they will not believe it is a gospel sermon unless it hasthe doctrine of election in it, but if the doctrine of electionis in it they are suited whether it is adapted to convert sinnersor not. But where a man has his heart set on the conversion ofsinners, if he hears a sermon not calculated to do this, he feelsas if it lacked the "great thing" that constitutes agospel sermon. But if they hear a sermon calculated to save souls,then they are fed, and their souls rejoice.
Hence you see the ground for the astonishing difference youoften find in the judgment which people pass upon preaching. Thereis in fact no better test of character than this. It is easy tosee who they are that are filled with the love of God and of souls,by the judgment which they pass upon preaching. The true friendsof God and man, when they hear a sermon that is not particularlydesigned to probe and rouse the church and bring them to action,if it is not such as to bear down on sinners and does not tendto convert sinners, it is not the sermon for them.
You will always find this class of persons speaking in termsof dissatisfaction with themselves, that they do no more for theconversion of sinners.
However much they may really "do" for this object,it seems that the more they do the more they long to do. Theyare never satisfied. Instead of being satisfied with the presentdegree of their success, there is no end of their longing forthe conversion of sinners. I recollect a good man, who used topray till he was exhausted with praying for individuals, and forplaces, and for the world's conversion. Once when he was quiteexhausted with praying, he exclaimed "Oh! my longing, achingheart! There is no such thing as satisfying my unutterable desiresfor the conversion of sinners. My soul breaketh for the longingthat it hath." That man, though he had been useful beyondalmost any other man of his age, yet he saw so much to do, andhe so longed to see the work go forward and sinners saved, thathis mortal frame could not sustain it. "I find," saidhe, one day, "that I am dying for want of strength to domore to save the souls of men. Oh, how much I want strength, thatI may save souls."
17. If you wish to move this class of persons, you must makeuse of motives drawn from their great and leading object.
If you wish to move them, you must hold up the situation ofsinners, and show how they dishonor God, and you will find thiswill move their souls and set them on fire sooner than any appealto their hopes and fears. Roll on them this great object. Showthem how they can convert sinners, and their longing hearts beatand wrestle with God in prayer, and travail for souls, until theysee them converted, and Christ formed in them the hope of glory.
I might mention many other characteristics which belong tothis class of professing Christians the true friends of God andman, did time and strength permit. But I must stop here, and postponethe consideration of the other two classes till next Friday evening,if we are spared, and the Lord permit.
Now, do you belong to this class, or not? I have mentionedcertain great fundamental facts, which, when they exist, indicatethe true character of individuals, by showing what is their maindesign and object in life. You can tell whether this is your character.When I come to the other part of the subject, I shall endeavorto describe those classes of professing Christians, whose religiouszeal, prayers, and efforts, have another design, and show theircharacter, and how this design is carried out.
And now, beloved, I asked you before God, have you these characteristicsof a child of God? Do you know they belong to you? Can you say,"O Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I lovethee, and that these are the features of my character!"
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