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scious that they are pilgrims and strangers here, regard themselves as citizens of the New Jerusalem, and look forward with delightful anticipation to that period, when they shall there be united to all who love them, and to all whom they love.
Who can reprove with such pungency, with such efficacy, with such success, as those, who are believed to be in earnest, to loathe, and shun, the sin which they reprove, and to delight in the holiness which they inculcate? Who can reprove in so acceptable, or so persuasive a manner, as those who perform this delicate and difficult duty with the meekness and gentleness, the humility and forbearance, of the Gospel; and whose lives, adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour, add to every remonstrance the peculiar weight of an unblemished example ?
What is true of these subjects is equally applicable to all others, which are made the themes of religious conversation. The words of the wise, that is, of religious men, says Solomon, are as goads, and as nails fastened by the Masters of Assemblies. The words of the wise, says Peters, in bis translation of this passage, are as goads, or as if planted with briars.
When the Disciples went to Emmaus; they expressed the influence of Christ's conversation in these remarkable terms : Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures? The conversation of pious men is not, indeed, that of Christ; but it possesses, in some degree, the same influence; and, wherever it is conformed to the Gospel, and conducted with the prudence which the Gospel requires, cannot fail to leave behind it desirable effects.
In revivals of religion, when conversation concerning this subject prevails, and the tidings of conversion are multiplied ; when the power of sympathy is awake, and the soul is prepared readily to interest itself in the spiritual affairs of its fellow-men every thing, pertaining to their religious circumstances, appears to have a peculiar influence upon the minds of others. Their views and affections, their conversation and their conduct, nay, the bare narratives of whatever pertains to their religious interests, appear, through the power of sympathy, to produce great,
, extensive, and happy effects on those, to whom they are made known. It is a remark of President Edwards, derived from his own observation during an extraordinary revival of religion, that “nothing seemed to produce greater effects on the minds of his own congregation, than recitals of the prevalence of religion in other places."
The more frequent, and the more intimate, our intercourse with such persons is, the greater, and the happier, is its efficacy. The same thing is true, when the persons, with whom we converse, and live, are possessed of characters peculiarly venerable, or of manners and dispositions peculiarly lovely. Amiable companions, near and affectionate relatives, parents, ministers, and rulers, when persons of unaffected piety, contribute more by their conversation and example, than can be easily imagined, to spread religion among mankind, and to preserve the world from profligacy and ruin. The light of these persons so shines before others, that they, beholding their good works, actually glorify their Father, who is in Heaven*.
II. Persons, already religious, will by this intercourse become more so.
All the observations, made under the preceding head, are applicable to this also ; and with additional force. But there are other considerations peculiar to this; and those, of distinguished importance.
1. Persons, already religious, are prepared to realize whatever is communicated to them by others, of the same character.
As face answereth to face in the water, so doth the heart of man to man. This observation may be emphatically applied to the hearts of Christians. Their views are substantially the same: their taste is the same: their character is the same. They have all a common interest; are engaged in common pursuits; and are bound towards a common home. They are all of one family; are children of one Parent; and followers of one Redeemer. All of them discern spiritual things in a spirilual manner; and relish them with a spiritual taste. To the interests of the divine kingdom, and to the concerns of the least individual, who belongs to it, not one of them is indifferent. All are prepared to feel the
concerns of all : and by every one, so far as they are communicated, they are actually felt. Every thing, therefore, in the lise, and conversation, of one Christian, will easily be transferred to his own circumstances by every other.
It is easy to perceive, that mutual communications among persons of such a character, and in such circumstances, will of course be regarded as the communications of friends and brethren. Every man knows with what a welcome he hears, how readily he believes, how deeply he feels, and how much he is influenced by, the conversation and sentiments of a beloved friend. The importance of this consideration is peculiarly seen in every case of reproof. The difficulties, which usually attend the administration of reproof, and its frequent want of efficacy and success, are subjects of complaint in the mouth of every thinking man. All these difficulties plainly lie in the character, either of the reprover, or the reproved. It is indispensable, that the reprover, if any hope be entertained of success, be regarded as a friend; and that he assume the lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, and forbearance, of the Gospel. Such is the character of the Christian in the eye of his fellow-christian; and such is the disposition, with which his reproofs will be administered. They will, therefore, have all the advantage, furnished by the fact, that they are derived from the best source.
At the same time, religion prepares the person, who is to be reproved, in the best manner to receive this office of friendship. It teaches him his own frailty ; the guilt and danger of backsliding; the absolute necessity of reproof to himself, as well as to others; the obligations, which his fellow.christians are under to administer it; the benevolent ends, which it is designed to answer; and the peculiar friendship, employed in reproving, agreeably to the injunctions of the Gospel. Thus the Christian is by his disposition prepared to discern, that the reproofs of instrucsion are the way of life; and thus a reproof entereth more into a wise man, than an hundred stripes into a fool.
Nor is the Christian less fitted to derive instruction, improvement, and enjoyment, from other religious communications. By a kind of instinctive application he makes the cascs, views, and içelings, of his fellow-christians his own. From their dangere
he learns the means of safety to himself. From their backslidings he derives watchfulness. From their victories he acquires courage. Their fortitude, patience, and resignation, he transplants into his own life. In their faith and hope, their comfort and joys, he exercises an Evangelical communion, which makes them all his own. In their sorrows, also, he experiences a refined and affectionate interest, springing from the very nature of Christian sympathy, and rendering him better, and lovelier, whenever it is experienced. In this manner, while on the one hand, his heart is softened and purified; he acquires on the other, the rare and difficult science of regulating the affections, and directing wisely the conduct, to which they give birth.
2. Notwithstanding this sameness of character, the views of different Christians concerning the same objects, and the emotions eccited by them, are in many respects different.
It is a remarkable fact, that in the creation and providence of God, we find no two beings, or events, exactly alike. In this diversity, God undoubtedly designed to exhibit the endless diversities of beauty, and utility, existing in his own endlessly various wisdom : so that every thing might, in some respect, be a new display of his perfect character. In nothing is this variety more conspicuous, than in rational minds. These undoubtedly differ not a little in their original structure; and vary unceasingly in their views, affections, and efforts. The very optics of the mind, although possessing the same common nature, are nevertheless so diverse from each other, as to see the same objects in lights, often widely different, and to rest on very different parts of each individual object. Let any two persons, who have been employed in contemplating the same subject, or viewing the same object, recite their respective views ; and this difference will be strongly evinced. All these varieties are also predicable of the human heart. Affections, very variously modified, are continually awakened in different persons by the same events, even when they have the same common interest. The compassion, excited by a scene of distress in a company of friends, or neighbours, is proved by their own expressions to have many diversities of shade and character.
All these varicties of thought, feeling, purpose, and exertion,
are found, every where, in Christians, with respect to every religious subject. From this fact it has been often, but rashly, concluded, that men were so made, as necessarily to form inconsistent views, of the same doctrine, or the same precept: and hence an apology has been made for error, which is intended to excuse it from criminality, and to quiet the minds of men, when chargeable with false religious opinions. This scheme attributes to God such indifference to truth, or such love to falsehood, as to have induced him to make men incapable, either from their nature, or from their circumstances, of discerning truth, and avoiding error. It is fairly presumable, that those, who hold this scheme, are not intentionally guilty of charging God thus foolishly.
But although God has not made the reception of error necessary, he has plainly formed us so as to receive truth, perhaps necessarily, certainly in a manner highly advantageous to us as social beings, in an unceasing diversity of lights. In a careful investigation of a complicated subject, it is not improbable, that of a thousand persons, thus employed, every individual would discern something, not discerned by the others; and that something true, and just. Every thing in the character of man, in his understanding, affections, and habits, contributes to this diversity.
Let me illustrate this subject by a familiar, and at the same time unobjectionable, example. There are in the Scriptures, perhaps, one hundred writers, and speakers; all of whom have spoken truth only: while each has yet uttered it in his own characteristical manner. How universally various arc these manners; and how much additional beauty, force, and profit, are in this
way added to the truth in the mind of every reader! Luke, Paul, and John, are the most voluminous writers in the New Tes. tament; and have communicated the greatest number of doctrines and precepts to mankind. How unlike each other are these writers in their several modes of viewing the interesting subjects, which they communicate to mankind. Paul and John, , particularly, are remarkably eloquent, and sublime, as well as remarkably instructive. Yet how different is the simple, artless, gentle manner of John from the bold, ardent, abrupt manner of