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This may be in a great measure owing to the mutability of human nature in general, and particularly to the levity and inconstancy of youth, in conjunction with the force of those temptations of life, which continually surround and press upon them. Yet I apprehend this is not all, but that it is, in part, to be charged on something defective, even in their best days, on their resting in something short of real religion, and a true saving change. Solomon had seen reason to say, There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death*: And I believe every considerate person will be ready to own, that in order to prevent so fatal a delusion, and all the train of mischiefs which may follow upon it, great care should be taken in stating this important question; "What is the true and solid basis, on which we may securely ground our eternal hopes?" It is a question of the highest importance, and the most universal concern, both to the aged and the young; so that I trust I need not offer any apology for complying with the request of a pious and judicious friend, who recommended this subject to our consideration, at this time, and on this occasion.
In prosecution of this design, I have made choice of these words of the apostle, which I have now been reading, and which may, without offering any violence to them, be very fairly and naturally accommodated to the present purpose.
It is plain from many passages in this epistle, that the great Apostle, who had planted the christian church among the Galatians, had reason to fear, that many, who were by profession its members, were not sufficiently established in their holy faith. It is probable, that he himself had an opportunity of making but a short stay amongst them; and partly through their own negligence and prejudices, and partly through the artful attempts of false teachers, in the absence of St. Paul, they appear to have fallen into a set of notions, and a conduct which tended, not only to impair the glory, but to subvert the very foundation of the gospel, and with it the foundation of their own eternal hopes. Of this the apostle docs, in a very awful manner, admonish them. He tells them, in the very beginning of his epistle, that he Marvelled, that they were so soon removed from him that called them, and from the principles he had taught them, into another gospelt. And afterwards he useth these very free and emphatical words: O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched, or enchanted you, that you should not obey the truth? Are you so foolish? Having
* Prov. xiv. 12.
Gal. i. 6.
begun in the spirit, having professed to embrace the gospel, and shewn the appearances of some common zeal for it, can you now hope to be made perfect by the flesh, or by the ritual and carnal observances of the Mosaic institution? Is it thus that you disgrace all you have done, and all you have borne for Christ? Have you then suffered so many things in vain? On the whole, he tells them, he was ready to apprehend, that all the agreeable hopes, he had once entertained concerning them, would be buried in everlasting disappointment, and that it would appear, he had Bestowed upon them labour in vaint. Thus did he Stand in doubt of them; and that doubt pierced his heart with the most tender concern, and brought upon him, as it were a second time, those pangs of soul which he had felt on their account, when he saw them in all the ignorance and wickedness of their Gentile state. He was hardly more solicitous then, that they might be Turned from dumb idols to the living.God, than he was now, that they might give convincing evidences that Christ was formed in them, i. e. that they had cordially received and digested the gospel, and that their hearts were delivered into the mould of its: Which it did not appear they were, while they were thus making void the grace of God, and the righteousness of faith, by adhering to the foolish and pernicious doctrine of the necessity of seeking their justification, in part at least, by the observations of the Mosaic law.
This seems to be the most natural sense of the words of the text, where such a latitude of expression is used, as the apostle elsewhere seems to study, on purpose to render his writings universally edifying, and useful to them, whose particular circumstances in life, are widely different from those of the persons to whom they were originally addressed.
As to the introductory words, My little children, we cannot imagine they refer to the age of those to whom the apostle wrote. The evident design of them is, to express that kind of parental tenderness which he entertained for them, like that which a mother hath for an infant with which she travails in birth. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, till Christ be formed in you.
It would be easy to multiply observations from the words. I might especially take occasion to shew,-that it is possible, those that once seemed very hopeful, and still maintain an external profession, may appear, after all, in such dangerous circumstances, that judicious ministers, and other christian
friends, may be thrown into a great deal of perplexíty and agony on their account;-and that the great thing necessary to establish their safety, and the comfort of those concerned for them, is, that the Lord Jesus Christ be formed in them.
That I may more particularly illustrate and improve the text, and take in what is most important in these remarks, I will
I. Consider several things, on which men are ready to build a false confidence, which will bring them into danger, and their judicious friends into perplexity upon their
II. I will endeavour to shew you, what is the only solid foundation of their own hopes, and the joys of others with regard to them; which is here expressed by Christ formed in them. And then,
III. I shall conclude with some more particular improvement, in proper inferences from the whole.
These are plainly matters of universal importance; but as I am now peculiarly addressing myself to young persons, I shall endeavour to fix on those thoughts, which may be most remarkably suitable to them: For I am much more concerned that my discourse may be useful, than that it may be critically regular and exact. I hope there are many amongst you, who are experimentally acquainted with the vitals of christianity, and have received from above an Incorruptible seed*. There are others, to whom I must say with the apostle to the Galations, I stand in doubt of yout; and to such, I hope, I can apply myself in the language of the text, My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, till Christ be formed in you. Pardon me, if in this instance I am jealous over you with a godly jealousyt. I would endeavour, with the sincerest and tenderest affection, and with such freedom as the importance of the case requires, to guard you against those sandy foundatians, which will bury you and your hopes, deep in eternal ruins; and to direct you to the rock of ages, on which they who build shall never be ashamed.
I therefore intreat your serious attention, and would humbly ask, both for myself and you, the teachings of that blessed Spirit, whose peculiar office it is, in the most efficacious manner, to shew us our danger and our remedy; to aid the labouring minds of ministers, and to cause them to see with satisfaction
* 1 Pet. i. 23,
↑ Gal. iv. 20.
2 Cor. xi. 2.
The travail of their souls*, while he gives to their hearers a new birth, and immortal life, by forming Christ in them.
I. I am to caution you against the several things, on which young persons are peculiarly prone to build a false and precarious confidence.
And here let me peculiarly intreat you, as you love your souls, and value your eternal hopes,-that you trust not to the privileges of your birth,―or the rectitude of your speculations in matters of religion,--or the purity and frequency of your forms of worship, or the warmth of your passions,—or the morality of your conduct: For none of these apart, nor even all of them united, can, according to the tenor of the gospel, be sufficient for your security and happiness.
1. Trust not to the privileges of your birth and education, as the foundation of your eternal hopes.
You are, many of you, the seed of God's servants, perhaps for several succeeding generations. You may be ready to plead that you were born in his house, that you were early devoted to him in baptism, and have been brought up in the most regular and conscientious manner: You have been surrounded with holy instructions and correspondent examples from your infancy; and repeated fervent prayers, both in the family and in secret, have been sent up to heaven upon your account. These are indeed signal advantages, and you may justly rejoice in them; for in these respects you are The children of the kingdom: But rejoice with trembling, for our Lord hath told us, that it is more than a possible case, that The children of the kingdom may be cast out, and have their portion in utter darknesst. The peculiar regard shewn to the seed of Abraham may perhaps be abused by some of you, as an encouragement to those presumptuous hopes. But remember, that Ishmael was the son of Abraham, and Esau of Isaac; and yet neither the one, nor the other, Inherited the blessing of his Father. Remember that beautiful, but dreadful parable, which repre sents a wretched creature in hell, that could cry, Father Abraham, and yet in vain added, Ilave mercy upon me, and send me but a drop of water to cool my tongue. Once more, remember those emphatical words of the baptist, so expressly levelled against this arrogant presumption: Think not, says he, to say within yourselves, we have Abraham for our father;
for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham*: As if he should have said, "The promises made to those who are the children of Abraham, respect not merely them, who are lineally descended from him, but those who are the heirs of his piety and his faith; for if God were to turn these stones into men, and to form them by his grace to a holy character and temper, such, though descended from no human parents at all, would, in the sense of the promise, be children of Abraham." And it were more reasonable to expect such a transmutation, than that God should acknowledge a generation of vipers as his people, because they were derived from holy ancestors. On the contrary, God directly assures us, that if the son of the most religious Father forsake the way of virtue and holiness, and prove as the Degenerate plant of a strange vine†, in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he diet. And surely herein the ways of the Lord are apparently equal; for it is most evident, that a long descent from God's people is a reproach and condemnation, rather than an honour, to those who abandon that good old way in which their ancestors have trod, and as it were, cut off that intail of piety, which has been the care and the glory of preceding generations.
2. Trust not to the regularity of your sentiments, in matters of religion, as the foundation of your eternal hopes.
So various are the workings of men's hearts, and the devices of Satan, that, if I mistake not, there are some that place their confidence in the strictness, and others in the latitude of their religious opinions; but the one, and the other, will appear equally vain, when considered in the view now before us.
Some may possibly persuade themselves, that their condition is secure, because their sentiments are orthodox. They live perhaps in the midst of the unbelieving and profane, and see daily contempt and derision thrown upon the blessed gospel, or its most glorious peculiarities; but through the influence of a good education, or from some other principle, short of true piety, they may nevertheless not only hold fast The faith once delivered to the saints, but even contend earnestly for it§: Nay, they are, perhaps, learned in the controversies of the time; and can indeed pronounce concerning them in a very rational and accurate manner.
If this, my friends, be the case with any of you, I congraMatt. iii. 9. † Jer. ii. 21. § Jude, ver. 3.
Ezek. xviii, 10—13, 24.