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lead the blind: a novice should not be put into the ministry. Indeed; next to the curse of an unsanctified ministry, there is perhaps no source from which the church, in its different branches, has suffered more than from an ignorant ministry. Omitting many things that might be mentioned here, I will just remark, that the setting up of unscriptural tests and evidences, for judging of the Christian character and conversion, must be traced principally to this source. This is certainly a great evil, in our day; and is lamented by the wise and good of all denominations. In many cases, great stress is laid on certain things, as evidence of Christian conversion, or Christian character, which have little or no connexion whatever with religion; whilst the proper and scriptural evidences of a new heart and character, are almost entirely overlooked. Such mistakes not only lead to delusion and corruption in the particular societies which entertain them, but they fill those societies, with uncharitable sentiments towards others. Judging of other denominations, by unscriptural tests, they must judge wrong, and may be led to denounce, as unchristian, those better than themselves; they may even conscientiously think it their duty to counteract and pull down a society, which is doing more for the cause of truth, than they are doing. With respect to rash preaching, I will just make one remark. Paul was an excellent example of plain and faithful preaching. He declared the whole counsel of God; but he was far removed from rashness. Many cases appear in his history and writings, in which he employed great address, for the purpose of exhibiting the truth, so as to give no unnecessary offence.
In the second place, I would observe, that much prudence and wisdom is necessary in conducting the controversies which must arise between different denominations in the Church. Many persons are of opinion, that there should be no controversy between Christians; that it should all be reserved for infidels, and open enemies of religion. But if this opinion be right, the apos tles were wrong. There was frequent controversy in the primitive church.. Paul, at Antioch, zealously opposed Peter, rather than permit the cause of truth to suffer; and he often contended strenuously, with Judaizing teachers, whom still he did not denounce as entire enemies to the gospel. So, also, when Luther and his associates began the reformation, those holy men thought the time was come, when not only peace, but life itself, should be hazarded for the cause of truth. No doubt, the love of peace, and the love of truth, are the two great principles which ought to direct in all the intercourse of the church. But if these principles should come into collision, as they certainly may, and often do--the love of peace should yield to that of truth. The love of truth is a principle of paramount authority. When the love of truth is genuine, it is in itself a principle of candour and charity, and will preserve the peace of the church as far as it can with propriety be preserved. But to sacrifice important or fundamental doctrines for peace, is just as bad as to sacrifice them for ease or safety ;--but if the truth could have been sacrificed for either ease or personal safety, the church would hever have had its martyrs.
But if controversy be necessary, it should ever be conducted in a Chris tian spirit. And in order to this, in the first place, let every man who calls himself a Christian, lay aside that morbid sensibility, which rises into anger, when any part of his creed is questioned, even in a moderate manner; let every Christian be willing to have his principles questioned, and brought to the scriptural test, whilst there are other Christians who differ from him: and in the second place, let those engaged in controversy, remember that they are not contending for their own honour, but for the honour and cause of God: and let all pride of talents and love of victory, be kept down in religious disputation. Were these plain rules observed--and would Christians, with mutual regard to the rights of conscience, bring forward their differences, and discuss them in the fear of God; such a course might lay a true foundation for the peace of the church; and afford a prospect of removing from it whatever errors may at present exist; and of fulfilling that cheering prophecy, that "the watchmen of Zion shall see eye to eye."
In the third place, I would observe, that it is the duty of all Christians to discountenance a proselytizing spirit. This is perhaps one of the greatest evils which can enter the church. By a proselytizing spirit, I mean that spirit which substitutes the love of party for the love of truth, and maintains the interests of that party on the principles of mere human policy. Such a spirit in the church is much like party spirit in the state. It is thought, indeed, that some degree of party spirit is useful in free governments; but when it passes its proper limits, all men are convinced of its ruinous tendency. It injures morals; it fills the land with slander and falsehood; and often throws suspicion on the best characters in the nation.
Now whatever effects the spirit of party may produce on the state, the spirit of proselytism will produce in the church-with perhaps this difference, that religion creates more intense feelings in the mind than even politics. How disastrous, then, must the consequences be, when the spirit of proselytism affects even a small part of the church! A few men, of even moderate talents, devoted to this employment, may do more injury, and produce more unseemliness in the house of God, than ten times their number of infidels, though of the most distinguished talents.
In the fourth place, I would observe, that the institutions which have lately arisen in the church, have received less attention than, from their importance, they deserve. These institutions are numerous, comprehending, among others, Bible Societies, Sunday Schools, Tract Societies, Concerts of Prayer, and Missionary and Education Societies, on an extended scale. These, in their united influence, form a most important machinery for the propagation of truth. The church had existed for near eighteen centuries, without these institutions; and yet, when they came into view, they appeared to have so much of the Christian spirit, and were so well calculated to embody, and carry forward, all the principles of the gospel, that we wondered the church should ever have been without them.
The manner in which these institutions arose, also deserves attention. They
evidently came not by the will of man, nor by human device, but by the interposition of God. The first movement in reference to a Bible Society, was a petty attempt to supply with the Scriptures, a few destitute families in a poor neighbourhood; and out of this arose the Bible Society, which now overshadows Christendom, and sends its blessings to the ends of the world. The prime movers in the scheme, intended no such thing. They were the first to wonder at what they had done; or rather to exclaim,- "What hath God wrought?" Similar remarks might be applied to most of the other institutions. Indeed, in their origin and progress, we have more than sufficient evidence to convince the Christian-we have almost enough to convince the infidel that these institutions are from God. I say we have almost evidence enough to convince the infidel; and I believe I may add with safety, that infidelity has been greatly confounded, by these new appearances in the church.
But it is matter both of surprise and regret, that what has been sufficient to confound infidelity, has not been sufficient to awaken the whole church of God. Some parts of the church, indeed, seem to be alive to the subject; but with us, (to our shame and humiliation be it spoken,) professors of religion are generally asleep. Perhaps, then, the first thing incumbent on us, is to spread the knowledge of these institutions and their operations, as extensively as possible. For when they become fully known, they must, and will, in some measure, form a test of Christian character. They have so much of the Christian spirit, that all who love the gospel will love them, and every true Christian will do something for their advancement. The rich will then give as God has prospered; and those who have little, will still give something. I believe, even now, if it were communicated from heaven to any individual, that the great Head of the church would receive nothing more from him to aid the cause of religion-that God would carry on his own work-raise up and prosper his servants - and fill his own treasury, but that nothing more should ever be received from him, in aid of the cause,-I believe that such communication would be regarded almost as a death-warrant that individual would feel as if "God had taken away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city." Who, then, will wilfully exclude himself from any part or lot in this matter?
These sacred institutions assuredly present a loud call to the ministry, and the church, to raise the standard of exertion in every form. And let it be remembered, too, that, in times of darkness, God might wink at things, which he will not pass with impunity in times of greater light. In this glorious day of the manifestation of divine power, the church is called to act under peculiar responsibilities. Let us, then, my Brethren, here dedicate ourselves anew to God: let us solemnly resolve, that through divine grace, we will stand firm and wakeful at our posts; and let us devoutly look to that God, from whom salvation cometh, to inspire the churches under our care, and all the churches of our Lord Jesus Christ, with a spirit worthy of their Master, and worthy of this eventful age. AMEN.
Go....Teach all Nations....Matt. xxviii. 19.
NEW-YORK, JANUARY, 1829.
SERMONS L. & LI.
THE NATURE AND MEANS OF GROWTH IN GRACE.
2 PETER, iii. 18.-Grow in grace.
THE word "grace" is of frequent occurrence, and high and interesting import, in the sacred Scriptures. In the great concern of man's salvation, no other word has a richer meaning. But while the general idea of the term is every where retained, there are several shades of difference in the signification, as it is used in different passages of the sacred text. Its primary and more usual sense is, the favour of God to sinners; or in other words, the love and mercy of God. In this acceptation, grace is the fountain of life, the source of salvation, to which all other blessings may be traced, as to their first cause. Thus Paul, (who abounds in the use of this word,) in his epistle to the Ephesians, says, "Having predestinated us to the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved." And again," By grace are ye saved,”. "that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus."
But as the gospel is the channel through which this fountain pours forth its exuberant streams, it is called, not only “the gospel of the grace of God," but "grace" itself. As where it is said, "We then as workers together with him, beseech you, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” And also in the following text, "For the grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared unto all men;" in both which passages, the least attention to the context will show, that by the grace of God is meant the gospel.
And as the gospel is rendered effectual to the salvation of sinners, only by the aid of the Holy Spirit, therefore his influences on the heart have also received the name of grace: as, "My grace is sufficient for thee :" "By the grace of God I am what I am :” "And his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
But in our text, the word "grace," has a meaning somewhat different from what it has in any of the passages which have been cited. Christians are here exhorted to " grow in grace;" which would not be a practicable thing, in any of the senses of the word already given. By "grace," here, we must understand, the principle of new life, implanted in regeneration; a sense of the word, much in use among us, but rather unusual in the Scriptures.
When the apostle exhorts Christians to " grow in grace," it is the same, as if he had said, increase in holiness, or advance in piety. And it would not be easy to select a subject of greater importance, to all professors of religion. If comfort and usefulness here, and the degree of our felicity and glory in heaven, will be proportioned to our growth in grace, then the subject possesses an intrinsic importance, which should command the attention, and deeply interest the feelings, of all who hear me. What I propose then is,
I. To explain the nature of growth in grace.
II. To inquire, by what means growth in grace may be promoted.
It is evidently implied in the exhortation, that the persons addressed, were the subjects of grace; for that which has no existence cannot increase. But grace is a plant which does not grow in nature's garden. It is of heavenly origin. By nature we are all " children of wrath," conceived in sin, and totally destitute of holiness. None, therefore, but the truly regenerated soul is capable of growth in grace. We have, it is true, a rational nature and a moral constitution, and are accountable, free agents; but in relation to spiritual exercises, we are dead-"dead in trespasses and sins." If there existed naturally, in man, any principle of spiritual life, it might, by assiduity and favourable circumstances, be enkindled; and by being cherished, might, by degrees, advance to maturity. A seed which possesses vitality, although it has lain dormant for a thousand years, yet when placed in a congenial soil, and subjected to the influences of heat, air, and moisture, will readily sprout, and grow, until it arrives at maturity. But if the vital principle be lost, it will never give any indications of life; and all the skill and power of man can never cause it to vegetate. And yet, this seed, when subjected to the minutest scrutiny by the aid of the best optical glasses, may appear to have no defect in its internal structure. It may possess the perfect organization of seeds of the same species, but its vitality has fled, and no power on earth can restore it. Analogous to this is the condition of the human soul. Possessed still of all the faculties with which it was created, it has lost the image of God, which consisted in righteousness and true holiness." The principle of spiritual life with which it was animated, has become extinct. And as the communication of life of every kind is the prerogative of God, so the regeneration of the soul is ascribed to him in Scripture; and as this work requires the exertion of the same power, which at first caused light to shine out of darkness, it is denominated "a new creation ;" and, as there is in it, some analogy to the raising a dead body from the grave, it is called “a resurrection;" but as this divine power is exerted in a free and sovereign manner, without any consideration of merit in the creature, it is called " grace."
Although grace does not exist in any man by nature, but as a communicated principle, yet it may be received at any period of our existence in this world, from infancy to old age; and we read of some who were sanctified from the womb; but as far as can be judged from experience, the number of such is very small. Piety is seldom observed to exist with the first dawning