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because there are no christians among us? or is it be cause there are no christians among them? Neither of these can I believe. I pray to be kept from bigotted uncharitableness, and also from that false catholicism, which cries peace unto them, to whom the Lord hath not spoken peace. The first, and as I conceived, a legitimate inference from the doctrine maintained in the Sermon, was this: "If good men are never free from sinful imperfection in this life, it may be inferred, that they are deceived about themselves, who think they live without sin." The following sentence was contained in that inference. "We cannot; we believe, we ought not, to entertain the least mite of charity for the religion of that man (however apparently pious he is) who shall say, that for years, or months, or weeks, or days, he has lived in such a holy manner, that he discovers nothing in his conduct, in his words, or the frame of his heart, of which he feels that he ought to repent.' By this it was not meant to be understood, that no charity could be entertained for a Methodist, or for one who believes that sinless perfection is attainable in this life; but that none could be entertained for the man who should say, 'This perfection exists in me.' Wę thought our text authorized us to draw such an inference; and that the passage from Job, as also that from John's first epistle, were direct supporters of our inference. Job says, "If I say I am perfect, it shall prove me perverse," John says, " If we say, We have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Suffer me here to introduce the comment of Mr. Scott on this last passage: "While the apostle strenuously insisted on the necessity of an habitual holy walk, as the effect and evidence of the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus, and of communion with him; he guarded, with equal care, against the opposite error of self-righteous pride. If any professed christians, while they seemed to walk in the light, should be so elated with a conceit of their own attainments, as to say, "that they had no sin," but were perfectly pure, and as holy in heart and life as the law required, they were certainly deceived in a most arvful manner; nay, the truth was not in them, as a principle of life and illumination; or they never could have fallen into a mistake which implied the most
gross ignorance of God, of his spiritual law, and of their own hearts."
If the sinful imperfection of all good men, is a true doctrine, it must be a doctrine the truth of which is experimentally known by all good men; for this sinful imperfection exists in their own hearts. Where any doctrine is not directly tested by experience, it is easier to conceive of real christians making a mistake. It is therefore more easy to believe, that a christian does not adopt the doctrine of divine decrees, than that he does not adopt into his creed the total depravity of the unrenewed heart. It is not as difficult to entertain a hope concerning him, who denies the certain perseverance of all saints, as about him, who holds to a sinless perfection as exemplified in his own case.
If I know my heart, I do not say these things to render reviling for reviling. My antagonist must stand or fall to his own Master. I would not say these things, lest I should seem to reproach those of the contrary part, if I did not feel myself obliged in duty to say them. But now, since I have begun to examine their doctrine, in its bearing upon the genuineness of their experi inental religion, I must be suffered to speak plainly. I hope I shall not forget, that "there is not a word in my tongue," nor a sentence which drops from my pen, "but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether."
Would not these prefessing brethren do well to inquire, whether their Christian perfection, by which they differ from other denominations of Protestants, is not owing to one or all the following reasons?
1. Their having in effect abated the divine law. They lay claim to perfection which wholly keeps the moral law ; and yet they acknowledge that they do not come up to the requirements of the law as it was when given to Adam. And as it was giyen to him, they explain it as requiring no more than this, "that man should use to the glory of God all the powers with which he was created."
2. If they have not been misunderstood by us, they do not hold to the criminality of evil thoughts, in the same sense that others do. They often converse in such a manner as to imply this, that if they check their evil thoughts, instead of acting them out then there is no sin.
It is true, that a fiery dart of the devil, if it be immediately repelled by us, is not our sin but if by evil thoughts are meant evil desires in our own minds, they defile us, and render us criminal as soon as they exist. "The thought of foolishness is sin " Prov. xxiv. 9.. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Prov. xxii. 7. The thoughts, when by them the exercises of the cart are meant, do the whole towards constituting our character before the searcher of hearts. Our external conduct is wicked, only as it is the fruit of a wicked heart. We read, Gen. vi. 5, "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Here total depravity is described, by representing all the thoughts as evil, and only evil. Just so far then as the thoughts are evil in christians, so far they still remain depraved.
3. Do not our opponents approve of those religious experiences, which are really bottomed on selfishness; and is not this one reason why they think they are pure from sin? Mr. B. opposes disinterested benevolence. In their book of Doctrines, it is said, "There is a necessity of knowing his love, who first loved us, without which we cannot love him again." p. 78. It is clear from the scriptures, that men can be full of religion from selfish motives; and if they do not distinguish between selfish and disinterested motives, they will be in danger of thinking that they are perfect, when they have no love to God, except as they view him to be their friend. This was the case with the sect of the Pharasees among the Jews; they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. But God who knew their hearts, saw nothing holy in them.
4. Is it not to be feared, that it is because the spirit of God does not dwell in them, that they are not made sensible of indwelling sin? It is one part of the office work of the Holy Spirit to convince of sin. John xvi. 8. Before Paul was spiritually enlightened, he was in his own view alive; but when he was shown the plague of his own heart, it appears that he was never again ignorant of the hidden evils of it. Under these he groaned as under a body of death. Some professors there are in our connexion, who like Paul, have had two dif
ferent hopes; they had one before what they now consider their conversion to God, and the other they have had since that time. These persons appear quite different, since they experienced what they now call their conversion, from what they did before that time. They seem now to love religion a great deal better than they appeared to love it before. And yet, with the greatest seriousness, they tell us, that they have now a much greater sense of their sinfulness than they formerly bad. They declare, that they have a new sense of the holiness of God and of his law, and of Christ ;-and that they have a sweet love to this holiness, which before they knew nothing about, while they trusted in that hope of which they are now ashamed. And they also declare, that in connexion with these delightful views of divine holiness, they have increasing views of the unfathomable depths of depravity in their own hearts.
We can add with truth, that these conversions, as to their external ruits, appear better than their old ones, and their inward experiences appear to us to be conformable to the word of God. How can we then help entertaining great fears about the genuineness of their conversions, which so much resemble, what we call among ourselves, false hopes and false conversions? and whose religion so much resembles the religion of Paul, when he was alive without the grace of God; and when he lived in all good conscience, without a spark of holiness? With our views of religion, how can we help but tremble for them, lest, with all their preten sions to perfection, they should at last be found entirely wanting? If they are indeed perfect, we would rejoice in it: But if it be wholly owing to a misconception of divine truth, and a want of knowledge of their own hearts, that they think themselves perfect, our heart's desire and prayer to God for them is, that they may be saved from this delusion.
A VINDICATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE CERTAINTY OF THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS; BEING A REPLY TO THE OBJECTIONS AGAINST THIS DOCTRINE, WHICH ARE CONTAINED IN MR. BANGS'
MR. BANGS suggests an idea in his Fifth Letter, which seems calculated to preclude our saying any thing more in vindication of our doctrine. I have therefore thought it would be proper to look at this idea, before I proceed to the proposed vindication. The idea, to which I refer, will be found in the following quotation : "I would ask, is it not possible to be mistaken in your sentiment on this subject? If you say no, then you set up for infallibility; a claim which the protestant world will not, it is presumed, allow you.If you say it is possible to be mistaken, you give up the point, and grant the possibility of totally falling from grace. If you say it is not possible, because the scriptures are in your favor, you thereby assume nearly as high ground as the Pope still; because the reply supposes you cannot mistake the meaning of scripture. By granting the bare possibility of mistaking the design of those scriptures you have quoted, to support your doctrine, you grant all I contend for, and acknowledge that it is possible for a saint so to fall as to perish forever. This argument cannot be retorted upon us, for we allow the possibility of a believer's persevering steadfast to the end: and also that there is no necessity for any one to aposta tize from the faith." p. 240, 241.