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Thus we have briefly considered the nature of christian experience in general. Of those experiences which are either of a singularly distressing or happy kind, we shall have to consider in some of the following pages. Our aim in this chapter has been to give an outline of christian experience unattended with any remarkable circumstance, and which may be applicable to christians at large. And now, my dear reader, in what has been said, can you trace any likeness of your own experi. ence? Have you any reason to believe that you are called out of darkness into God's marvellous light? Can you say, That whereas you were once blind, now you see? Do you feel the corruptions of your heart, and lament under a sense of
your unworthiness? Have you been convinced of the vanity and emptiness of the world? Is sin the ob. ject of your hatred ? and have you fled to Jesus as your only Saviour, and felt the gospel to be the power of God to your salvation through the energy of the Divine Spirit? These are important questions. For except you have known something of these things by your own experience, you are yet a stranger to truth, and exposed to danger. Speculative notions unattended with this will be of no utility. A clear perception, a retentive memory, a fine genius, are excellent qualifications; but they will carry no man to heaven. The heart must be changed, the affections raised to God, as well as the niind informed, or there can be no true happiness. Our Lord does not say, except ye be intelligent, except ye be endowed with extraordinary talents; but except ye be converted, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matt. xviii. 3. VOL. I.
· The Advantages of Experience.
THERE are very few who are disposed to doubt the advantages of experience. The ignorant novice, the deluded fanatic, the rash adventurer, may sometimes treat it with contempt; but, if we turn to the more sober part of society, we shall find it to be justly appreciated, and constantly revered. Its voice is heard and its dictates attended to in almost every department of life. Hence the judge, the statesman, the general, the merchant, the master, the mariner, are all respected in proportion to their experience. Their persons are courted, and their decisions received, while their sentiments become the standard of public opinion. Conjecture may be ridiculed, but who can argue against experience ? Who is not willing to be led by it? Who is there but must prefer it at all times, if indeed they desire to keep in the paths of prudence and safety ?
As in the common concerns of life, so in reli. gion, it is experience that is more advantageous than bare theory. The world is a tempestuous sea ; and without experienee we are liable to be driven about by every wind, and at last dashed to pieces on some dreadful rock, or swallowed up in its tremendous waves. If we ask those who have advanced far in the voyage of human life, they will tell us what they have gained by it, and the evils to which they were at first exposed for the want of it. It is true, say they, we have suffered much: but our sufferings have been profit
able. “ For tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us. They inform us, that though no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Rom. v. 5. Heb. xii. 11.
Jesus Christ himself, “ the Captain of our Salvation, it is said, was made perfect through sufferings. And though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered ; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him :" and again, saith the Apostle,“ in that he hiinself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour thein that are tempted.” Heb. v. 8, 9. ii. 18. He was one therefore of eminent experience; he knew all the feelings of distressed humanity ; and his dignity never appeared greater, nor did his character ever shine more illustrious, than in the midst of pain, of conflict, and of blood. If he therefore gained by experience, shall not we derive advantage from the same source ?
" I have learned by experience,” said one; and it must be confessed that the lessons thus obtain. ed are likely to be more impressive and more lasting than what can be gained in any other way. They require but little exercise of the mind to recollect them. They are not like notions which are received into the head, and which soon are forgotten. These make an impression upon the
heart, awaken the feelings, and very often form the character.
Of the advantages of religious experience, we may observe, in the first place, that it produces wisdom and prudence. The christian is often, in his first outset, possessed of the most lively emotions; his zeal carries him forward, and rises superior to his knowledge. He runs into extremes, and sometimes incurs disgrace. But as he advances, his knowledge increases : acier he has met with a few winds and storms, he becomes more prudent. His zeal is more temperate. He views objects with greater attention. He begins to see his own ignorance, and to feel his own weakness. At first, like a traveller in the valley, his views were confined; but as he ascends the mount, the prospect widens, and objects innu- . merable press upon his sight.
From the experience he has of the treachery of his own heart, the vanity of the world, and the temptations of the wicked one, he becomes more cautious and self diffident. He sees the propriety of those divine injunctions, “ Keep thy heart with all diligence. Watch thou in all things. Come out from among them, and touch not the unclean thing. Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."
Prov. iv. 26. 2 Tim. iv. 5. 2 Cor. iv. 17. He has found by painful experience the consequence of an unwatchful spirit. The world has assumed a variety of appearances to deceive him; he has been led, perhaps, to listen to her promises, and been deceived by her smiles. The path from duty to worldly pleasures has been strewed with fiowers; the entrance has been enchanting, but the labyrinth in which he has soon found himseif was hid. Satan also has insinuated, that there could be
no harm in the connexions, the pursuits, and the amusements of the world ; that occasional devi. ations are excuseable ; that many things arise from constitution, from infirmity, and from circumstances, which are unavoidable. In several ways has he thus been attacked, and, finding by his own experience the folly of listening for a moment to the corruptions of his heart, the voice of the world, and the suggestions of Satan, he is brought to be more vigilant, and to keep a watchful eye in every situation, and under every circumstance. He sees the justness of that declaration, “ that he who trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” Prov. xxviii. 26. He trembles for himself, prays for divine support, and learns to place more confidence in God as his only safety. Thus it was with Peter. He was a true christian, a courageous man, and full love to his Saviour. Though all should be offended,” says he, 16 I will not.
I will go with thee to prison and to death.” But how fallible is human nature, and how little did Peter know of himself! This same Peter denied his best friend, and at once became guilty of ingratitude, lying, inconstancy, and blasphemy. Great, indeed, was his fall; but he arose, he recovered, he wept, and returned. But what did he gain by this experience of the deceitfulness of his heart? No more do we hear him boasting, no longer does he confide in his own strength. Behold him as he goes forth to preach to the gentiles; nothing of self, nothing of human glory, nothing of presumption appears. Behold him in his writings. What cautions, exhortations, precepts abound, all tending to shew how careful, how steady, how circumspect, we should be.