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always afterwards, of growing in grace, and in the knowledge of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They esteem a day in the courts of the Lord better than a thousand, where divine truths are exhibited, and divine ordinances are administered, for their spiritual benefit and growth of grace. For the sake of enjoying such means of grace to the best advantage, those who have become the subjects of special grace desire to join the church and enjoy the special privileges of it. Besides,
6. They are so sensible of the deceitfulness of their own hearts, and their proneness to forget and forsake God, that they desire to bind themselves, by covenant vows and obligations, to be steadfast and unmovable in his service. They find their hearts are like a deceitful bow, always bent to backsliding. Their first joyful views and hopes are often soon sunk in clouds and darkness, and their ardent love to God, soon succeeded by an undue love to the world, and their warm attachment to the friends of God, interrupted and abated by mixing with his apparently amiable enemies. They feel, therefore, the need of binding themselves to God and to his friends, to check and restrain them from going backward, instead of forward, in their religious course. These and various other reasons that might be mentioned, concur to lead them to enter into a solemn and perpetual covenant with God, never to be forgotten.
I shall conclude at present with one remark, which is plainly suggested by the subject. It is this: those who have sincerely made a public profession of religion, must rejoice to see any who appear to be the subjects of special grace, make a public profession of religion. There was great joy in Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s day. There was great joy in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. And there was great joy in Samaria. And this great joy, in all these instances, was occasioned by those who made a public and credible profession of religion. It is very desirable that sinners should be turned from sin to holiness, and publicly declare they are the Lord's, and come and subscribe with their own hands a perpetual covenant never to be forgotten. It is very desirable that all in this place, who have become the subjects of special grace, should spontaneously confess Christ before men, and add their names, their talents, their influence and exertions to this church. We have need of them, and they have need of us. The Spirit and the bride say come; let him that heareth say come, and let him that is athirst come, and partake of the rich provisions of Christ's table. Here a question arises, which every professor ought to put to himself. Do I desire the growth, the increase and prosperity of this church? Do I desire that those who are not, might be the subjects of special grace? This is a trying question; and let no member of the church refuse to try himself by it.
1. If those who have become the subjects of special grace desire to make a public profession of religion, and to enter into covenant with God, then none who have really become subjects of special grace have any just excuse for neglecting to join the church, and neglecting to bind themselves to love and obey God for ever. There are, undoubtedly, not a few who have become the subjects of divine grace, that neglect to name the name of Christ, and to take the bond of the covenant upon them. I call this a neglect, because God has expressly required his friends to profess their love and obedience to him in a public manner, and to confirm their profession by a solemn, covenant transaction. And since the gospel day, Christ has expressly required his friends to confess him before men, and celebrate the memorials of his death. His command applies to, and binds, all who love him in sincerity. If any, therefore, who are become reconciled to him upon the terms of the gospel, do not profess him before the world, they neglect to perform a plain, positive and important duty, for which it is impossible that they should have any good excuse. But it is very evident that such persons often do endeavor to excuse themselves before God and their own consciences. I proceed, therefore, to examine their excuses.
Some say that they are in doubt, whether they ever have become the subjects of special grace. But I am speaking to doubting christians, who are essentially different from doubting sinners, who never were the subjects of special grace. Doubting christians have been the subjects of special grace; for the love of God has been shed abroad in their hearts. Such persons have no right to doubt, because they have the witness in themselves that they have been born of God. This evidence they ought to see, and renounce their doubts. Those who plead their doubts for the neglect of their duty, often acknowledge that, at times, they do see evidence of a change of heart. They do sensibly exercise love to God, faith in Christ, and obedience to his commands; and if such evidence and light should continue, without interruption, their hopes would overcome their doubts, and they should see their way clear to join the church. But have they any ground to expect, if they are christians, that their holy exercises ever will become uniform and uninterrupted? If not, why do they wait for that which they know they shall never find? While they justify themselves by this excuse, their own mouth condemns them. They have evidence, and acknowledge they have evidence, of saving grace, which is the evidence upon which they ought to act in making VOL. V.
a public profession of religion. They therefore neglect a known duty, and are utterly inexcusable. But they say they are waiting for more grace, to give them more evidence; but can they expect more grace to give them more evidence, while they neglect their duty, and resist the evidence which God has graciously given them? The truth is, those who plead the want of evidence of grace, while they possess grace, assign a reason to themselves and others for their neglect, which is not the true cause of it. They are governed by some wrong, latent motive which they do not perceive, and for their blindness to it they are wholly to blame.
Some who are the subjects of special grace, plead in excuse for neglecting to join the church, that they are afraid the church would not receive them, if they should offer themselves to join. But let us examine what possible grounds they can reasonably have for such apprehensions. Are they afraid that they are not capable of relating their internal views and exercises so clearly and intelligibly, as that others may understand them, and exercise charity towards them? There is no ground for this apprehension. For those who have but little doctrinal knowledge, are capable of expressing the views and exercises they have had, in respect to God and their own hearts, and in respect to Christ, who suffered and died for them; and are quite as likely to give satisfactory evidence of a change of heart as others who have much greater speculative knowledge. Or are they afraid that the church will not judge candidly and impartially of the account they give of their hearts and conduct? This is an unreasonable fear, and looks like a groundless suspicion of the church. Though there may be undue prejudices in some individual or individuals, yet it is not to be supposed that the church, as a body, will be destitute of candor and impartiality. And the suspicion ought to be given up, as it ought never to have existed. Or does a fear of not being accepted, arise from a low and humiliating sense of their own unworthiness ?
If this be really the case they will not fail to discover it, and when discovered, it will be a recommendation, rather than an objection, in the minds of the church. The fear of not being received by the church, let it arise from what cause it may, is no excuse for any person's not making a public profession and joining the church.
Some who are the subjects of special grace, often plead in excuse for neglecting to make a public profession of religion, that they fear they should do more dishonor than honor to reli. gion, if they should make a public profession and join the church. No christians ought to indulge such thoughts as these. As they have really embraced the gospel, they stand entitled to
the Spirit of promise, and are actually subjects of sanctifying as well as regenerating grace. He that has begun a good work in them, will carry it on until the day of Jesus Christ. Their fear arises from a species of unbelief, which is entirely inexcusable. If they sincerely desire to honor religion, they have no more reason to fear that they shall not honor it than other christians have. And if this were a good excuse in them, it would be as good an excuse for all others neglecting to make a public profession. Those who make this excuse may really fear that they may suffer reproach and opposition from the world, if they should profess religion, and this is the secret cause of their neglect. If they should discover this to be true, they must condemn themselves, and delay no longer. For no man can be a true disciple of Christ unless he is willing to take up his cross, and follow him.
Some who are the subjects of special grace, we hear plead in excuse for neglecting to profess religion and join the church, that they see others, who appear to be the subjects of special grace, and better qualified than they are to prosess religion, live in the long neglect of this duty. This is a vain and groundless excuse ; for they may be mistaken in respect to the qualifications of others; and if they are not, they have no right to follow their bad example. They are stumbling-blocks, and must answer for the great injury they do to themselves, to others, and to the cause of Christ. It is to be feared, however, that this is one of the most common and most consoling excuses that many make for neglecting to join the church. But can any subject of special grace really believe, that the neglect of others will excuse his neglect ? The excuse is too grossly absurd ever to be made.
Some who are the subjects of special grace, endeavor to excuse themselves for neglecting to join the church where they are, because some of the members are irregular, and the church neglect to watch over them, or to reprove them, or to cast them out from their communion. A church may be in such a feeble, declining, luke-warm state. But this is no reason why those wbo love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and desire to promote his sinking cause, should neglect to name his name, and promote his cause; but rather a strong reason for their uniting with his few friends, to purify, strengthen and revive religion, and to rectify whatever is amiss in the church. The criminal neglect, imperfection, or insincerity of others, will not contaminate them, nor prevent their holding communion with Christ at his table. The excuse savors too much of spiritual pride, and looks like trusting in themselves that they are righteous, and despising others. Neither this, nor any other excuse that can be made, will justify any who are subjects of special grace, for neglecting to make a public profession of religion and not joining the church. I have said so much apon this point, with a view to awaken the attention and convince the consciences of doubting and delaying christians, and not of doubting and delaying sinners; for they have no right to take God's covenant into their mouths. But it behooves the subjects of special grace, to join themselves to the Lord and to his people, in a perpetual covenant never to be forgotten.
2. If the subjects of special grace always desire to profess religion and partake of divine ordinances, then so long as they neglect their duty they must necessarily feel unhappy. They continually experience a painful conflict in their minds. Their holy and unholy desires are opposed to each other, and their hearts are at variance with their consciences. Their conscience imperiously calls upon them to do their duty, and condemns them for their criminal neglect; and what gracious exercises they have, keep conscience awake and alive to do its office. So that they live in a state of constant self condemnation. They experience an unhappiness, which they never experienced before they became the subjects of special grace. They feel an aversion to the world which they once loved, and cannot enjoy it. They feel an aversion to the friendship of the world, which they once loved, and cannot enjoy it. Though they find some pleasure in thinking of God, and in reading his word, yet that very pleasure condemns them for the neglect of a known duty. They lose an intimacy with those with whom they were once intimate, and are afraid of an intimacy with the professed friends of God, lest they and the world should see and reproach them for their criminal inconsistency of conduct, because they neglect other important duties, that they may appear less inconsistent to themselves and others. But still, they cannot get rid of their self inconsistency, and self condemnation, but live a painful and unhappy life. That this is true, I appeal to such as live in hope against hope, and in the habitual neglect of known duty.
3. While the subjects of special grace neglect to join the church, they live in a very sinful, as well as unhappy manner. They greatly injure both themselves and religion. They injure themselves, by depriving themselves of that peace and comfort which they might enjoy in communion with God and his people. They injure religion, by neglecting to perform those peculiar and important duties by which it is to be promoted in the world. They injure the friends of God, by practically joining with the world in neglecting and opposing the cause which they desire to promote, and have bound themselves to promote. They practically justify the impenitent in their impenitence and unbelief. They practically justify the penitent and believing,