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THE THOUGHTFUL DIRECTED.
THERE are few persons—if, indeed, there are any, whose privilege it has been to be instructed in the great facts which the Holy Scriptures reveal in regard to the nature and authority of God, and the circumstances and condition of man as an immortal and responsible being—who do not find themselves, at some time or another of their life, irresistibly affected by anxious thoughts upon these points. Whatever may be the circumstances under which they are thus led to reflect, the period at which this state of mind occurs is in the highest degree critical. A belief in the Divine authority of the Scripture must satisfy that such subjects deserve the solicitude which is excited in regard to them. The eternal welfare of the soul is involved in laying them to heart, and allowing them their legitimate influence. It is an opportunity, therefore, fraught with the promise of good, when the heart is disposed to deal seriously with them. It is a day of merciful visitation. Yet there is a danger of not turning this period to good account of allowing it to pass without accomplishing its rightful end. To prevent such an evil the accompanying suggestions are offered. They are addressed to those who are serious—who are thoughtful. Should they, however, fall into the hands of one whose state cannot be thus described, at least let the question be asked, ere these pages are laid aside, Ought I not to be thoughtful ? Should I not-possessed of an immortal soul-soon to die—soon to give my account to Godshould I not be serious? Is there any good reason why I should not be anxious on these subjects? May I not begin to think when it is too late? Happy will it be, if, by the blessing of God, such inquiries lead the subject of them to rank himself
OF YOUR OWN MIND.
to whose thoughts and solicitudes it is now proposed to afford a right direction, and to offer the proof of affectionate sympathy. I. CONSIDER THAT THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS STRIVING WITH
A state like the present is not natural to you. Left to yourself, you would be now, what you have been, and what the multitude around you still are, utterly careless and indifferent to all that concerns your spiritual and eternal welfare. If, then, you are now constrained to pause in your course-to retire into yourself—to think on your ways—and seriously to ask, What am I? what have I been doing? whither am I going? consider, solemnly and gratefully, that the hand of God “ hath done this"—that He maketh your “ heart soft”-that His voice is addressing you—and that a peculiar dispensation of mercy is passing over you ! II. BE CAREFUL THAT YOU DO NOT RESIST THE REFLECTIONS This caution will be
necessary to you. Most of our first impressions, even from religious truth, are of a painful and humiliating kind. To reflect, at such a time, is to look back on the folly of our ways, the deceitfulness of our hearts ; it is to tremble under the sense of our danger and the apprehension of Divine wrath. Many have refused to look on such fearful things. They have shut their eyes ; their eyes have been sealed; and they have been lost!
Learn wisdom, then, from this fatal error. Remember that the utmost you could do would be to postpone reflection. Sooner or later every man must know his real state, and he must dwell upon it; and consider whether it is better to know it now, while a remedy may be found, or to know it hereafter, when it is too late, and when the knowledge of it shall prey on you as a worm that dieth not! Remember that the religion of a sinner must of necessity begin in conviction, repentance, and tears. You must mourn, if ever you rejoice; you must be convinced of sin, if ever you are convinced of righteousness; you must know you are by nature lost, if ever you are saved. Strive not then, against the Spirit of God who is striving with you. Rather eherish his gentlest whispers by retirement from the world, and devout meditation. “Harden not your heart, as in the day of temptation and of provocation in the wilderness," lest he forsake you for ever. Yourlast estate would, in such case, be unspeakably worse than your first.
III. On the other hand, we would say, BE CAREFUL NOT TO RELY ON YOUR PRESENT STATE OF MIND. Many have erred on this point. They have had, perhaps, more reflective habits than others; their attention has been specially awakened, by some means, to religious objects ; they have thought of them frequently, and sometimes with pleasure. They have considered their present state as an improved one; and they have been disposed to rest on it as safe and sufficient. Be on your guard against this delusion. Thinking about religion, is a different thing from being truly religious. Conviction, though necessary to conversion, is not itself conversion. You might be made as miserable by the sense of sin and the fear of punishment as were Cain and Judas, and yet your pride might be unsubdued-your heart unchanged. Ask, then, not what is the amount of your anxieties and convictions, but ask whether the effect of them is to be found in your thorough change of heart.
Let not your meditations die away in useless reverie and selfish lamentation. Remember, that in the judgment of God knowledge only answers its right end as you reduce it to practice; and that you might reflect on religion to the end of your days without avail, if it did not “turn your feet to walk in the way of his testimonies." The man-slayer, who, instead of flying to the City of Refuge, should pause and delay; and partly by justifying his conduct, partly by disbelieving the pursuit of his adversaries, and partly by admiring the security which the place afforded, should divert his attention from the simple act of entrance; would not improve his condition by any of these considerations. His safety lies in using the Refuge; and he must perish if he do not use it !
IV. BE CONCERNED THAT YOUR THOUGHTS AND ANXIETIES FLOW IN A PROFITABLE CHANNEL. Avoid questions of doubt, of curiosity, and of extreme difficulty. Be not diverted from what is useful by the novelties and extravagancies of the day, by which men seek to win attention to themselves, and which, if they gratify a vain imagination, cannot be acceptable to an
“ If any
humble and a serious mind. Ask not, “ Am I elected ?” “What is the unpardonable sin ?” “Are there many who shall be saved ?” Venture not into the perplexities of metaphysical inquiry. Of difficulties of this order, some will become plain to you as you advance ; others of them will for ever mock your inquiries, for they stretch into infinity ; while all of them are improper to your present state of mind. What for the present you want is the knowledge of that truth, which is necessary to your salvation; and necessary truth, like your daily bread, is placed within your reach. “It is nigh unto thee, even in thy mouth.” man will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine.” He who asks to gratify his vanity shall have nothing; he who asks what is needful to his salvation shall not ask in vain! You may. be willing to occupy your attention with what is curious and speculative in religion, and it may be true that your habits are now serious as compared with what they have been ; but if you go no farther than this, you have not yet that deep seriousness of the soul, which is the immediate forerunner of true conversion.
Not only think, then, but be especially careful that your thoughts are profitably occupied. Dwell much on your sinful condition, not merely as sin is discovered in action, but as it dwells in your heart, darkening your understanding, averting your affections from God, and making all your religious exercises distasteful to you. Endeavour to come under the full conviction of your entire helplessness; that you have of yourself no power either to pray, or to repent, or to think aright: and that much less have you power to accomplish your reconciliation with God. Expatiate at large on the character and work of the Lord Jesus ; on his power and mercy; on his offices, and their suitableness to your state ; on his ability to help you, and on his willingness ; on the Divine sufficiency of his sacrifice to remove your
sin ; on the claims which he has, both as God and as a Saviour, to your confidence and subjection; and on his promises and invitations as they are freely expressed to you in the Gospel of Life.
“ He that will CONSIDER these things, even he shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord !”
V. Leaning on Divine help, ENDEAVOUR AT ONCE TO STAND SEPARATE FROM YOUR PARTICULAR SINS, ESPECIALLY YOUR
EASILY BESETTING SIN." Your most besetting sin is that which is most present to you; which has most power over you; and which becomes your greatest hinderance in seeking your salvation. It be some lust of the body—the love of ease, or the love of appetite. It may be some lust of the mind pride, anger, malice, covetousness, ambition, worldliness. It may be some gross and sensual sin; or it may be a vice reputable and profitable, according to mere human calculation: but, whatever it is, it must be sacrificed. Though useful as the right hand, it must be cut off; though dear as the eye is to you, it must be plucked out and cast away. This is made necessary as a test of your sincerity. The hypocrite, and the person
who has insufficient conviction, may go a great way, but they cannot go so far as this. Herod heard many things, and did many things, with gladness ; but, when pressed on his particular iniquity, he chose rather to add murder to adultery than to forsake it. It is made necessary as a term of your profession. If you would really " name the name of Christ,” you must "depart from all iniquity." What, Christ and Belial! God and Mammon ! you surely would not vainly seek to unite these in your
affections ! “ You cannot serve two masters.” Religion will not consent to be one thing of many, nor one thing of Two in
your choice ; it must be the ONE THING ALONE ; it must be predominant and supreme ; NOTHING, NO NOTHING, must be held in comparison with it! Sit down, then, and count the cost. “ If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” VI. PUT YOURSELVES NEAR TO GOD IN THE DILIGENT USE
We are not only to seek for the blessing of God, but we are to seek it in his way. As many persons, in the life-time of our Lord, put themselves in his way, until he blessed them ; so you should put yourself “ in the way of his steps" by a careful use of all scriptural
Give yourself to reading, to prayer, to self-inquiry; become the companion of those who fear God; cherish a "con
OF THE APPOINTED MEANS OF GRACE.