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will seek to grasp it, than there are who will apply the touchstone, and prove it, before they care to call it theirs. You know what I mean, my young friends, by the false glittering; for you have often been taken with a gewgaw, and have thought it a prize-have often toiled and obtained nothing; yet, even now, the gilded toy has charms.
I am about to propose, for your future use, a test of rather a different kind. It is this—“Will it stand the fire ?" I will admit that it is not a test to which you can subject every thing: for, taken literally, they would indeed be few that would stand it. But, if you knew that some day, that devouring element would try its power upon all that you possessed, would you not seek to have your choicest treasure, of materials which would be fire-proof, or of which the incrusted dross only would be consumed?
There is a day coming, in which the fire shall try every man's work :” a day, in which the “wood, hay, and stubble” shall be consumed; and the gold, silver, and precious stones only, shall abide. Knowing that this day must come, and not knowing how soon, it will be wise to apply the test now, that we may ascertain whether the things in which we trust will stand the fire.
Let us look at some of these things. Perhaps the first that presents itself to the mind, in an enquiry like this, is our expectation of future happiness. There are but few persons who do not cherish some hope of heaven, though what that heaven is, in too many cases, they do not care to enquire. We will not stop to notice that kind of hope which has no other basis than the phrase, “God is merciful"—a phrase often repeated, and but little understood; or that delusive ground of dependance, “I have been baptized in my infancy, and therefore must be safe.” All this is so evidently “stubble," that it would be vain to ask, “ Will it stand the fire ?" It will not even bear to be looked at in the reflection of that fire's light; the very question almost kindles it. But there is a hope which looks well, and in which many have wrapped themselves round; “I hope I am going to heaven; I am punctual in all the observances of religion; I devote much time to prayer; I read my Bible, and though I am not all I should be, yet I think I am getting better;" or, (for it is not to one class of self-deceivers only, that I would address myself.)
I am a member of a Christian church, and am looked upon as a believer by my friends; I am a visitor of the poor, and a Sunday school teacher ; surely I have proof sufficient that my hope is well founded.
Some of my young friends will think it impossible that things like these should ever be thought foundation sufficient to build eternal hopes upon; but I am not sketching from fancy: examples of this kind abound. And when, in such persons, there is found correct outward conduct; I mean, correct according to the standard of the natural man, and a seeming wish to act up to the light of conscience, Satan has but little difficulty in persuading them that they have no cause to fear. Oh! if there be any such who may read this paper, let me entreat them to apply the test fairly" Will these things stand the fire ?"
And what is this fire :* Oh! it is the eye of that God who looks into the inner man; who judges-not the motive by the conduct; but the conduct by the motive ; who will have purity of heart, as well as purity of action-the eye of that God who is not satisfied with the bending of the knee, and the homage of the lips; but who requires the heart devoted, and the will subdued; whose inflexible justice knows nothing of lenity, and whose holy law admits not of compromise ; who weighs every thing in the balance of the sanctuary, and cannot accept any righteousness that has spot or stain in it.
What is this fire? It is the light of Eternity! that light which shews things as they really are; and makes palpably evident both the truth and the necessity of that declaration, often listened to, but very seldom pondered, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord,"—that light which, bursting upon a man's soul, shews him at once the immense difference there is between the regenerate and the unregenerate; the carnal and the spiritual. He once thought that they merged into each other ; but now he sees a gulph between them. He needs not to wait the sentence-that light shews him where he stands.
What is this fire? It is the voice of conscience-of a conscience
• 1 Cor iii. 13. I am aware that in the text quoted, the trial is restricted to one kind of work only, and has in it no reference to the subject of this paper; but I have thought myself at liberty to use the words, as the thing spoken of is a truth, though not the truth contained in that passage.
broad awake: the voice which will not now be silenced; which no longer whispers rebuke, but thunders condemnation. Or, if it whisper, it is that whisper, every word of which thrills through the self-convicted soul-"Ye knew it, and ye did it not !” Once, the reproofs of that conscience could be hushed, or drowned in the buzz of the world's applause-now, it commands a hearing, and prejudges him, who is a self-deceiver no longer.
My reader, will your hope stand this fire? It will not: rest assured it will not, unless based alone upon the finished work of Christ; upon that perfect righteousness in which even that alldetecting eye detects no spot, and that all-revealing light reveals no flaw. Unless you have been led to believe on Him, who is “the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believeth,” your hope will not stand. Unless you have been washed, not by the water of baptism, but by the blood which cleanseth; and sanctified, not by the possession of a kind of grace, of man's invention, of which men may partake, and yet perish; but by the mighty.transforming power of that grace which changes the whole man, and not merely improves him; gives a new nature; imparts a new life :—that grace which teaches obedience to every precept, by placing us among the children,” and giving us the spirit of adoption. Is this the description of your religion? If it be, your hope will stand the fire. Fear not then, for they who trust in Jesus shall never be ashamed. That faith, which is the gift of God, will prove to be gold tried in the fire.” It may now be so weak, so small, as to be scarcely evident; but then, the brightness of that light will make it visible, and the timid believer, who at times scarcely sees a difference between himself and the mere professor, will also see the gulph which separates them.
My dear young friends, I may not stay to sketch the various forms of undetected hypocrisy; but let me entreat each of you, to take your own case immediately to Him, who can alone search the heart; and in “his light may you now see light!” May He make you willing to be judged now, that you may not be condemned then. Do not rest satisfied with any religion but that which comes from God himself; for nothing will do for a dying hour that has not upon it the stamp of his approbation.
I have dwelt longer on this subject than I had purposed, and must therefore content myself with naming but one thing more, to which I desire you should apply this test; the excuses with which many of you quiet your consciences. You know that God has a right to demand your affections--that, as the God of creation, as the God of providence, and, as the God who, from love to fallen man, has provided a full and free salvation, he has a right to your unreserved obedience. You know it; you acknowledge it; and yet, you withhold that obedience. And why? As I ask the question, you do not for a moment hesitate; excuse upon excuse is readily presented to your mind; some of them, as you think, unanswerable. Will they stand the fire?
It is so easy to parry all that man can say; so easy to lull conscience to sleep; and so easy, when the hollowness of every other excuse has been shewn, to intrench yourself behind that last "refuge of lies," where indolence finds a pillow on which she may repose, and from which nothing will ever rouse her but the power of Divine grace. Do you ask what this last excuse is ? this strongest of the strong chains which Satan winds around his slaves, when no other can keep them quiet. It is this :-“I am anxious about the concerns of my soul; I do try to pray; I would believe if I could, but I cannot come to Jesus.” If this be an honest excuse, it means that you have done, are doing, and are willing to do, all that can be done, and all that the importance of the object desired merits. Now, if this be true, of course it is a sufficient excuse, not only for the bar of conscience now, but for that bar at which the decisions of conscience are to be tried. Of course, it is sufficient to rest upon now, and is such an one as you can present to God at the last day. Do you shrink from this conclusion? Do you call to mind the man who was speechless when the king came round, though he had, doubtless, found some silencing reason why he should not put on the wedding garment, when he had only servants to deal with? Do you feel that, when God asks you why you died a rebel, no excuse will justify you? that you too will be speechless? Then I say, your excuse is not an honest one, and you know it is not. It may look well, but, I repeat, it is not an honest one. Your conscience testifies against you, that it is indeed an excuse, and not a reason. You are not doing all you can; and because you are not really willing to yield to Christ, you are in the secret of your heart, throwing the blame off yourself upon God. You acknowledge the truth of man's utter inability, because it suits your indolence, and can quote many a text to prove that the work of regeneration is altogether of God. I would not be misunderstood in any thing I may say,—as if I meant to imply that there was any power in the creature. I know, that from first to last, all is of God. I am sure, that every thought which tends towards God, comes from God; and that man, left to himself, neither can nor will take one step in his return to that God, upon whom he has willingly and deliberately turned his back, But the admission of this gives no force whatever to your excuse ; for I am not attempting to strengthen or weaken the arguments you would use, but am rather desiring to deal with the testimony which is given in the "court of conscience." When we bring the cause there to be tried, schoolmen and systems must stand outside ; and the argument, which seemed supported by such weighty reasoning, and such posing difficulties as would almost lead one to conclude it unanswerable, suddenly loses all its trappings, and resolves itself into the simple question,-Are you willing, really willing, to be saved ?-saved, with that salvation which includes the conquest of sin, as well as its pardon, and ensures holiness as well as heaven? If, in "this little court of appeal," the honest answer be given,—“Yes, I am really willing," there needs then no long entering into the question of ability or inability, for one invitation answers all these difficulties, “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” But if the answer wavers, and the impartial witness whispers that sin is loved, that you would rather not part with what God commands you to forsake; then, I think, it is no longer, “I would come if I could.” Another text suits you: it is a solemn and an awful one,-"Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life!"
My dear young friends, believe me, this excuse will not only not “stand the fire," but it will not endure even the ray which a death-bed will dart through it. I have dwelt rather at length upon this, because I know that, to very many minds, it comes with a plausibility which they would rather not detect; and the “ father of lies” knows well how to make the most of it. And sometimes it proves a stumbling-block in the way of those who, in sincerity of desire, are groping their way to God. But let