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There is a moment when he who loved the world more than God begins to love God more than the world.
You have now before you the evidence that men are not religious by nature; and that this destitution implies the universal and entire depravity of man, and the necessity of a great and sudden change in the affections, by the special influence of the Holy Spirit. This is not a matter of abstract speculation, of no practical utility. Our being and accountability are eternal, and the law of God, which is the rule of obligation, is eternal. Heaven is a religious world, and the present is our state, and our only state of probation. Here in this morning of our being the elements are formed of an immutable character in the eternal state and if that which is first formed is one that unfits us for heaven, and fits us for destruction, can we too soon or too clearly perceive it, or too deeply feel it, or too earnestly strive to be conformed in our affections to the requirements of the Gospel, to the conditions of pardon, and to the exigencies of the heavenly state? What then is the improvement which you will make of these discourses, whose hearts tell you that you have no religion? Will you say, that these are hard sayings, and that you do not like such doctrine? But is it therefore untrue, because it is painful? And will you, dare you, in the presence of such evidence, reject it in favour of the dictates of mere inclination? Will you apply to such as endeavour to explain away this evidence, and speak to you smooth things, and prophesy deceits? Beware! others before have done this, and " God sent them strong delusions, that they might believe a lie and be damned, because they had no pleasure in the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." You may persuade yourself, or be persuaded, that a change of heart is not necessary to prepare you for death and heaven, and yet,
"This fearful truth will still remain;
Or drink the wrath of God."
Do you then at length inquire what you must do to be saved? The answer is plain-Repent, and you shall be forgiven; believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved. Neglect then the subject no longer. Resolve that from this time you will make the salvation of your soul your first and great concern. Break off your alliance with vain persons and diverting amusements: read your Bible daily and earnestly alone; and lift up your cry to God, in earnest supplication for mercy; plead guilty, and cry for pardon through a Redeemer's blood.
Go....Teach all Nations..... Mat. xxviii. 19.
ACTS XXVI. 28.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
THIS acknowledgment was made by the king, while Paul stood before him a prisoner in chains. Being permitted to speak for himself, the apostle begins with relating his manner of life from his youth; -how that after the strictest sect of their religion, he lived a Pharisee. He next mentions his former zeal in persecuting the saints-Which went to prove the sincerity of his new course of conduct, while it cleared him from the charges of his accusers. He then relates the circumstances of his miraculous conversion; and the fact of his receiving from Christ himself a commission to preach the gospel; and shows, that his preaching repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, was only in obedience to the heavenly vision. He thus effectually pleads his own cause, and the cause of his divine Master. He then appeals directly to the king, in the conciliatory and pertinent language that precedes the text.-"King Agrippa, believest thou the
*This Sermon having been preached in several places, with very manifest tokens of the divine blessing, was requested of Mr. Wilcox for publication in this Work. In consequence of which, a short time before his lamented death, which took place May 28th, gave permission that the manuscript be forwarded to the Editor.
prophets? I know that thou believest." Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.
Preaching like this of Paul, often produces the same effect and no more. Conscience is awakened to the reality and importance of religion; while the heart is not yet ready to receive the truth in the love of it. Probably very few, if any, enjoy a preached gospel for any considerable time, without being brought in their minds to the very point to which Agrippa was brought, when he uttered the sentiment of the text. In many, doubtless, this state of mind is frequent. They are often just upon the point of becoming Christians. They continue perhaps year after year in this state of indecision: and many, it is to be feared, go down to the second death, who all their lives long, were almost persuaded to become Christians.
I have chosen these words of king Agrippa, as the foundation of some remarks upon the UNREASONABLENESS and DANGER of such indecision, with respect to religion.
I. We will consider, in the first place, the UNREASONABLENESS of such indecision.
1. This will appear evident, first, from a view of the advantages which are enjoyed for forming a decision.
It cannot be too often repeated, that even the works of creation exhibit enough of God's wisdom and benevolence to lead us at once to adore, love, and obey IIim, if it were in our hearts to love infinite excellence. Our first parents could see enough of God in the beauties of Eden, and in the glories of the firmament, to awaken spontaneous emotions of gratitude and praise. And if we do not discover constant manifestations of the divine glory, in creation, it is only because our eyes are blinded by sin. And is it not unreasonable to shut our eyes, and grope in darkness at noonday, and then complain of the want of light?
But God has given us something more than the light of nature: though his justice did not require him to do it. A just sovereign is under no obligation, surely, to send messengers with terms of reconciliation to a few outcasts upon the borders of his dominions, who have fallen off from their allegiance by unprovoked rebellion.
Much less is he under obligation to make any sacrifice for their recovery; or to reason and plead with the rebels, when they only can be benefitted by such expense, and labour, and condescension. But God has sent to our rebellious world an embassy of peace, at an immeasurable expense; and has condescended to reason and plead with us, that we would be reconciled to him. He has sent down to us the Bible, containing a written revelation of his will, and containing the only terms on which the guilty can be restored to favour and to happiness.
Do you doubt whether the origin of this book is divine? It is not my present purpose to examine the evidence by which its inspiration is proved. My object is rather to exhibit the advantages for making such an examination; and to enforce the duty of doing it; and of coming to a decision without delay. One practical appeal respecting this evidence shall suffice. You wish to know if the Bible be divine. Will not the same evidence satisfy you which satisfied Paul? You have the very same; the same miracles and the same testimony. Nay, you have more evidence of the truth of the Christian system, than Paul had. You have increased evidence in the striking fulfilment of prophecies since his time; particularly in the state of the Jews, from that period to the present. You have increased evidence in the trial that Christianity has undergone for eighteen hundred years; in the triumphs it has gained over the world, and the powers of darkness; in the thousands that have sealed their testimony to its truth with their blood; and in the millions it has transformed from the image of Satan into the holy image of God.
Paul had evidence enough of the divine origin of Christianity, to induce him to leave all for its sake, and to account all but loss for its excellence; enough to induce him to part with kindred and country, that he might make known its unsearchable riches to his fellow-men; enough to enable him resolutely to go through perils the most appaling; to suffer hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, watchings and fastings, shipwrecks and persecutions, stripes, and dungeons, and deaths. While you, who have much more evidence of the truth of Christianity than he had, are not prepared heartily to take a single de
cisive step in its favour. What then is the conclusion that is forced upon us? Shall we say that the great apostle of the gentiles was a weak and credulous man? Or rather that you, who remain undecided about the truth of Christianity, are unreasonable and stubborn in unbelief, or awfully negligent of examination?
The truth of Christianity is not more evident, than its doctrines are intelligible. A revelation that cannot be understood is an absurdity. What is revealed cannot at the same time be hidden. The hidden things pertaining to the Christian system lie beyond the range of revelation; and of course belong not to us, as creatures of time; but are reserved to be the themes of eternity.
It is not pretended that there are no mysteries connected with the religion of Christ. Mysteries there must be in a religion coming from the infinite God, to creatures of the dust and of yesterday. But the mysteries of our religion add to the proofs of its great excellence, as well as to those of its high origin. Where would be the infinite grandeur and beauty of a system of religion, that we could fully comprehend in this infancy of our being? Who would not wish for a religion in which something, nay, much is left to be revealed by the light of eternity?
It is readily conceded then, that there are some things in the Scriptures, hard to be understood; and which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction. And if you would wait to see every dark passage in the Bible made clear, before you determine to give up your heart to its influence, you must wait all your days in vain, and perish at last in your sin. For there is not the least probability, that you will see what no man, holy or unholy, learned or unlearned, has ever yet seen. It is the resort of the captious sinner, when pressed with truths that are plain, to demand an explanation of those that are mysterious. Urge upon him the duty of repentance, and he will stifle all conviction by adverting to the inexplicable union between human and divine agency. As if a man should reject what he can understand, because there is something else which he cannot understand.