IT is quite possible that a doctrine may at one time have been present
to our minds, to the evidence of which we then attended, and the truth of which
we did in consequence believe; and yet, in the whole course of our future
thoughts, may it never again have occurred to our remembrance. This is quite
possible of a doctrine in science; and it may also be conceived of a doctrine
in theology, that on one day it may have been the object of faith, and never on
any succeeding day be the object of memory. In this case, the doctrine, however
important, and though appertaining to the very essence of the gospel, is of no
use. It is not enough that we have received the gospel, we must stand in it.
And it is not enough that we barely believe it, for we are told, on the highest
authority, that unless we keep it in memory, we have believed in vain.
This may lead us to perceive that there is an error in the imaginations of those who think, that after having understood and acquiesced in Christian truth, there is an end of all they have to do with it. There is, with many, a most mischievous repose of mind upon this subject. They know that by faith they are saved, and they look to the attainment of this faith as a terminating good, with the possession of which, could they only arrive at it, they would be satisfied; and they regard the articles of a creed in much the same light that they do the articles of a title-deed, which may lie in their repository for years, without once being referred to; and they have the lurking impression, that if this creed were once fairly lodged among the receptacles of the inner man, and only produced in the great day of the examination of passports, it would secure their entry into heaven - just as the title-deed in possession, though never once looked to, guarantees to them a right to all that is conveyed by it. The mental tablet on which are inscribed their articles of belief, is consigned, as it were, to some place of concealment within them, where it lies in a kind of forgotten custody, instead of hanging out to the eye of the mind, and there made the subject of busy and perpetual observation. It is not like a paper filled, with the principles and standing rules of a court, and to which there must be a daily reference for the purpose of daily procedure and regulation. It is more, to make use of a law term, like a paper in retentis perhaps making good to them certain privileges which never will be questioned, or ready to be produced on any remote and distant occasion, when such a measure may be called for. Now this is a very great misconception; and whenever we see orthodoxy contentedly slumbering over its fancied acquisitions, and resting securely upon the imagination that all its business is now settled and set by, we may be very sure that it is something like this which lies at the bottom of it.
To rectify this wrong imagination, let it never be forgotten, that everywhere in the Bible, those truths by the belief of which we are saved, have this efficacy ascribed to them, not from the mere circumstance of their having once been believed, but after they are believed, from the circumstance of their being constantly adverted to. The belief of them on the one hand is indispensable; for let this be withheld, and the habitual recurrence of the mind to them is of no more use, than would be its constant tendency to dwell on such fancies as it knew to be chimerical. But this habitual recurrence is just as indispensable; for let this be withheld, and the belief of them were of no more use, than wonld be that of any other salutary truth, forgotten as to the matter of it, and therefore utterly neglected as to its application. The child who is told of bis father's displeasure, should he spend that hour in amusement which is required to be spent in scholarship, may believe this at the time of the announcement. But when the hour comes, should the intimation slip from his memory, he has believed in vain. And from the apostle's declaration, who assures us, that unless we keep the truth in memory we have believed in vain, may we gather what that is which forms the true function and design of the faith that is unto salvation. It is not that by the bare possession of the doctrines which it appropriates as so many materials, salvation maybe purchased: it is that by the use to which these materials are put, we may come into a state of salvation. It is not that truths lying in a state of dormancy within us, form so many titles in our behalf to the purchased inheritance: it is that truths ever present to the waking faculties of our mind, (and they never can be so without being remembered,) have an influence and a power to make us meet for the inheritance. On this important truth, so indispensable to secure the saving and salutary influence of the other truths of Christianity, when known and. believed, we shall make three observations. The first regards the kind of effort that should be made, either by an inquirer or a Christian, in the business of prosecuting his salvation. The second regards the nature of that salvation. And the third regards the power of the truth, when summoned into the mind's presence by an act of recollection, to keep it in that right train both of purpose and desire which prepares and carries it forward to the enjoyment of heaven.
I. With regard to the kind of effort that should be made by an inquirer, he does not, we will venture to say, set earnestly out in quest of salvation without its coming primarily and prominently into his notice, that he is saved by faith. And hence very often a straining of the mind after this acquirement - an anxious endeavour to believe - a repeated attempt to grasp that truth, by the possession of which it is, that we obtain a right to life everlasting; and as the accompaniment of all this, .a frequent work of inward search and contemplation, to try if that principle be there, on which there hinges so important a consummation as the favour of God, and the forgiveness of all trespasses.
Now it is worth the remarking, on this subject, that there is no such thing as forcing the belief of the mind beyond what it sees of proof and evidence. We may force the mind to attend to a matter; or we may force it to conceive that matter; or we may force it to persevere in thinking and in dwelling upon it. But beyond the light of evidence you cannot force it to any kind of belief about it. Faith is not to be arrived at in this way; and we can no more command the mind to see that to be truth on which the light of evidence does not shine, than we can command the eye to behold the sun through a dark impalpable cloud, that mantles it from human observation. Should a mountain intervene between our eye and some enchanting scene that lies on the other side of it, it is not by any piercing or penetrative effort on the part of the eye, through this solid opaque mass, that we will obtain the sight after which we are aspiring.
And yet there is a way of obtaining it. A mere effort of the eye will not do; but the effort of ascending the mountain will do. And, in like manner, a mere straining of the mind after any doctrine, with a view to apprehend it, will never, without the light of evidence, bring that doctrine into the discernment of the mind s eye. But such is the proclaimed importance of belief, as carrying in it an escape from ruin everlasting, and a translation into all the security of acceptance with God, that to the acquisition of it the effort of an inquirer is most naturally bent: and he is apt to carry this effort beyond the evidence; and the effort to behold beyond evidence is of a nature so fruitless and fatiguing, that it harasses the mind, just as any overstretch does toward that which, after all, is an impossibility.
And yet there is a line of effort that is productive. There is a path along which the light of evidence will dawn, and that which is impossible to be seen without it, will be seen by it; and that, too, without distortion or unnatural violence upon the faculties. We are bidden seek the pearl of great price, and there must be a way of it. It is quite obvious, and not at all impracticable, to read the Bible with attention, and to wait upon ordinances, and to give vent to the desirous-ness of our hearts in prayer, and to follow conscience in the discharge of all known duties - and the truth which is unto salvation, and by the knowing and believing of which we acquire everlasting life, a truth that never can be seen while an opaque and impenetrable shroud is upon it, will at length break out into open manifestation. It does not do to be so urged by a sense of the necessity of faith, as to try the impracticability of making faith outrun the evidence. But it does well to be at the post, and along the path of inquiry and exertion, where it is promised that the light of this evidence will be made to shine upon us. If we keep by our duties and our Bibles, like the apostles who kept by Jerusalem till the Holy Ghost was poured upon them, there is not one honest seeker who will not, in time, be a sure and triumphant finder.
And we ought to commit ourselves in confidence to this course, assured of the prosperous result that must come out of it. We ought not to be discomposed by our anxieties about the final attainment. Though the alternative of our heaven or hell hang upon the issues of our seeking to be justified by faith, still we ought not to try and toil to make our faith outrun the light of conviction. It should be our great encouragement, that it is not merely he who has found the Lord that is called upon to rejoice, but that it is said by the Psalmist, " Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord" "Ask and ye shall receive: seek and ye shall find: knock and it shall be opened unto you.". Let us now conceive that the truth is gotten - that faith, which has been called, and aptly enough too, the hand of the mind, has appropriated and brought it within the grasp and possession of a believer, the question comes to be, How is this new acquisition to be disposed of? We may be sensible how often truths come to be known and believed by us, and how some of them perhaps have died away from our memory, and never been recalled: and yet we may be said to be in possession of them, for upon their bare mention we will instantly recognise them as doctrines we have already learned, and with the truth of which, at the time that we attended to their evidence, we were abundantly satisfied. Now, is it by such a possession of Christian truth that we will secure a part in the Christian salvation? It is not. It is not by first importing it into our conviction, and then consigning it to some by-corner of the mind, where it lies in a state of oblivion and dormancy. It is not thus, that our knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ becomes life everlasting. The truths which be unto salvation are not laid past like the forgotten acquisitions of science or scholarship.
And we are wrong if we think, that just as the title-deeds of an earthly house in possession may be locked up in security, and never looked to but when the right of property is questioned - so our creed, with all its articles, may be laid up in the depository of our mind, and there lie in deep and undisturbed repose, till our right of entry into the house that is not made with hands, and is eternal in the heavens, comes under examination, among the other topics of the great day of inquiry. We do not think it possible that the essential truths of the gospel can be actually believed, without being afterwards the topic of daily, and unceasing, and practical recurrence. But even though they could, they would, upon such an event, be of no influence towards the salvation of the believer. The apostle tells us expressly, if they are not kept in memory they are believed in vain. By the gospel we are saved, not if we merely believe it, but if we keep it in memory. It is not enough that it have been once aequiesced in: it must ever, and through the whole futurity of our earthly existence, be habitually adverted to. It is not enough that it be sleeping in the mind's hidden repository: it must be in the mind's eye. It must be kept in remembrance; and that too, for the purpose of being called to remembrance. It is not enough that it be in the mind's latent custody: it must be in constant waiting, as it were, for being summoned into the mind's presence and its efficacy unto salvation, it would appear, consists not in the mind knowing it, but in the mind thinking of it.
This will be better illustrated by a particular truth. One of those truths to which the apostle alludes, as being indispensable to be kept in memory, in order to be of any efficacy, is, that Christ died for our sins. It is not enough then, it would appear, simply to have believed that Christ died for our sins. rfhis fact must ever and anon be recalled to our memory. It is by no means enough, that we, at one time, were sure of this truth. It is a truth that must be dwelt upon. It is not to be thrown aside as a forgotten thing, which at one time gave entertainment to our thoughts. It must live in our daily recollections. It is not enough that we have taken hold of this dependence. We must keep hold of it: nor does faith even in this save us, unless that which is believed be the topic of ever- recurring contemplation.
For this purpose, the habit of a great, and continuous effort on the part of the human mind is indispensable. We know how all the truths of Christianity, and this one among the number, are apt to slip from the attention; and what a combat with the tendencies of nature it takes to retain our hold of them. It is setting us to a work of great difficulty and great strenuousness, simply to bid us keep in memory the truths of that gospel by which we are saved. They may have entered our mind with the force of all-powerful evidence - and they may have filled it with a sense of their supreme importance_and they may have ministered in the hour of silence and devotion, an influence to relieve, and to comfort, and to elevate - and yet after all, will we find it a mighty struggle with the infirmities of our constitution, to keep these truths in memory all the day long. We will find, that among the urgencies of this world's business, the one and simple truth, that Christ died for our sins, will take its flight for hours together, and never once be presented to the mind, even in the form of a slight and momentary visitation. To be ever recurring to this truth - to give it an hourly place, along with the multitude of other thoughts that are within us - to turn it into a matter of habitual occupation for that mind, the property of which, throughout all the moments of its waking existence, is to be ever thinking this is an enterprise in every way as arduous as to work against the current of nature. It is not laying upon us a task that is either easy or insignificant, when we are told to keep the essentials of the gospel in our frequent remembrance. It is the experience of all who have honestly tried it, that it is exceedingly difficult - and yet, so far from a matter of insignificance, it is the averment of the apostle, that if we keep not the gospel in memory, we will not be saved.
We know it to be a work of difficulty, for a man overcome with drowsiness, to keep his eyes open. Suppose that by so doing, he is only made to look on a set of objects which offend and disturb him, we may readily conceive how gladly, in these circumstances, he will make his escape from the hateful imagery which surrounds him, by repairing to the sweet oblivion of nature. But, on the other hand, should his eyes, when open, have a scene of loveliness before them, by which the soul is regaled, and brightened into sensations that are every way agreeable, then, though an effort be necessary to keep himself awake, yet there is a better chance of the effort being actually made. There will be a reward and an enjoyment to go along with it; and the man, in these new circumstances, would both be in a state of pleasurable feeling, and, at the same time, in a constant struggle to maintain his wakefulness. However delightful the prospect that is before him, this will not supersede the necessity of a strenuous endeavour to keep himself in the posture of observation.
And so of the mind's eye, in the mental scenery that is before it. Under all the stir, and activity, and delight of nature's movements, may the soul be profoundly immersed in the slumbers of nature's carnality. It may be spiritually asleep, even when busily engaged with the passing insignificant dreams of our present world. It is indeed a great transition on every son and daughter of our species when he becomes awake to the realities of faith, and is made to perceive the existence and the weight of things invisible. But if all that he is made thus to perceive, be the dark and menacing imagery of terror - if he see nothing but God's holiness on the one hand, and his own sinfulness on the other - if on looking to the sanctuary above, he see nothing but the fire of a devouring jealousy in readiness to go forth over the whole region of disloyalty to heaven's law; and, on looking to himself, he see that he is within the limits of the territory of guilt, and liable to the doom that is in reserve for it, we may perceive the readiness with which many a half-awakened sinner will try to make his escape from the pain and the agitation of such frightful contemplations as these; and how gladly he will cradle his soul back again into its old insensibility, and find a refuge from the whole alarm of faithful sermons, and arousing providences, and constantly recurring deaths in the circle of his much-loved acquaintanceship, in the forgetfulness of a nature, which, by its own drowsiness, may be so easily lulled into a state of unconcern about these things.
The man will not, if he can help it, make an effort to keep himself awake, if all he get by it is a spectacle of pain: if he get a spectacle of pleasure by it, he may be prevailed upon. Still, even in this latter case, an effort would be necessary: even after the dread representation of the law is succeeded by the bright and cheering representation of the gospel, it will still be like the offering of a beauteous and inviting spectacle to the eyes of a man who is like to be overcome with drowsiness. There must be a sustained endeavour on his part to keep himself awake. He will ever and anon be relapsing into the slumbers of worldly and alienated nature, if he do not put forth a strenuousness on the object of keeping the truths of the gospel in his memory. So long as he is encompassed with a vile body of sin and of infirmity, which will at length be pulverized by death, and transformed at the resurrection, there will be a struggle with the sleeping - propensities that will still be about him towards the things that are unseen and spiritual. Great will be his pleasures even here, in the objects of his believing contemplation: but great also must be the, effort of painful and unceasing diligence to support the contemplation itself. He will just be like a drowsy spectator, with a fine and fascinating landscape before him, the charm of which he would like to prolong to the uttermost. And however engaging the prospect which the gospel sets before him, however cheering the promises, however effectually the truth that Christ died for our sins, chases away all the fears of the law, when it proclaims, that for every sin that the creature has dared to perpetrate, a holy and an avenging God must be satisfied; still we mistake it, if we think that no effort on the part of the mind is necessary to detain within the reach of its vision this bright and beautiful representation. Though called to rejoice in the Lord aiway, yet there must be a putting forth of strength and of vigilance in the work of looking unto Jesus, and of considering Him who is the Apostle and High Priest of our profession.
II. The nature of that salvation which the gospel reveals, has been so fully exhibited by Mr SERLE, in the First Part of this excellent Treatise, as to render any lengthened exposition of it in this place unnecessary. But it is worthy of remark, that, perhaps, there is not a passage in the Bible more fitted to instruct us in what the salvation of Christianity really is, than the expression of the apostle, to which we have so frequently adverted, that unless we keep the truths of the gospel in memory, we have believed in vain. The ordinary conception upon the subject is, that it is a rescue from hell, with a right of entry and admittance into heaven. And our faith is supposed to be our title-deed; a passport of conveyance, upon the examination of which we are carried in the train of our Saviour and our Judge to paradise; a thing, we fear, apprehended by many to be of no other use than merely to be retained in a sort of secure keeping, that, when found in our possession on the last day, it may then be sustained as our claim to the promised inheritance of glory.
Now the apostle tells us, that were it possible to believe the truth without being mindful of the truth, the belief is in vain: in other words, its main use to salvation does not lie in the possession of it then, but in the influence and operation of it now. When placed before the judgment seat of Christ, it will be known whether we are of the faith; and there is no doubt that this faith will open the door of heaven's kingdom to all who possess it. But, let it well be understood, that this is not the alone, nor even the most important function of faith. It does not lie in useless reserve on this side of time, till the occasion comes round, when on the other side of time, it will vest us with a right of admittance into heaven. Its main operation is our good here, by the thing which has been believed being also the thing that is remembered.
Were its only use to confer a title upon us, it might lie in store like an old charter, forgotten for years, but securing its purpose whenever there is a call for its production. But it has another use besides conferring a title: it confers a character. It does something more than cause the place to be made ready for us: it causes us to be made ready for the place. We believe in vain unless we remember: but it is the habitual advertency of the mind to the great truths of the gospel it is the unceasing recurrence of its thoughts to them - it is the practice of ever and anon calling them to consideration, and dwelling upon them from one day, and from one hour to another - it is this which appears to stamp upon faith its main efficacy towards salvation. And why? Because salvation lies in deliverance from sin, as well as from punishment because salvation consists in being introduced to tht character of heaven, as well as into heaven itself - because by salvation there is not merely the prospect of another habitation, but there is the working of another principle; and the way in which the memory must be added to faith, else we have believed in vain, is, that the memory, by calling the truths of the gospel into the mind's presence, reiterates upon the mind a moral and a sanctifying influence, which would be altogether unfelt if these truths were forgotten.
It is because the memory perpetuates the flame which was first lighted by the faith of Christianity - it is because if faith work by love, then the memory is necessary to the augmenting of this holy affection; and if it be one use of faith to justify the sinner in the sight of God, a no less important use of faith is, that through a habitual remembrance of the truths that are the objects of it, the sinner is brought under the constant operation of a moral influence, by which he is sanctified and made meet for the inheritance.
III. The truths to which the apostle adverts, when he assures us, that unless we keep them in memory we have believed in vain, are, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that, after He was buried, He rose again. Let the first truth be habitually present to the mind, and the mind will feel itself habitually lightened of the whole terror and bondage of legality. That weight of overhanging despair, which, in fact, represses every attempt at obedience, by making it altogether hopeless, will be taken off from the wearied spirit, and it will break forth with the full play of its emancipated powers on the free and open space of reconciliation. There is nothing that so chains the inactivity of a human being as hopelessness. There is nothing that so paralyzes him, as the undefined, but haunting insecurity and terror, which he cannot shake away. We must be sensible of the new spring that is given to the energies of him who is overwhelmed with debt, when he obtains his discharge. So long as he felt that all was irrecoverable he did nothing: but when he gets his enlargement, he runs with the alacrity of a new-acquired freedom in the path of industry.
Now, in the spiritual life, it is this very enlargement which gives rise to this very activity. It is the glad tidings of a release, by Him who hath paid the ransom of our iniquities, that sets our feet in a sure place - that opens up to us a career of new obedience that levels the barrier which keeps us without hope, and therefore without God in the world - that places us, as it were, in a free and unobstructed avenue, in which, by every step that we advance upon it, we draw nearer to that Jerusalem above, the gates of which are now thrown open to receive us. The real effect of the doctrine of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, upon the believer, is utterly the reverse of this world's imagination upon the subject. It does not beget the delusion in his mind of an impunity for sinning; but it chases away that heavy soporific from his moral faculties, which the sense of a broken law, when unaccompanied by the faith of an offered gospel, will ever minister to the heart; that let him struggle as he may, and keep as strenuously from sinning as he may, it will be of no use to him.
The truth that Christ died for our sins, so far from a soporific, is a stimulus to our obedience; and it is when this truth enters with power into the heart, that the believer can take up the language of the Psalmist and say, "Thou hast enlarged my heart, and I will now run in the way of thy testimonies.
But if such be the influence of this truth when present to the mind, it must, in order to have a habitual influence, be habitually present. In order to work upon the habit and character of the soul, it must ever be offering itself to the notice, and ever reiterating the impulse it is fitted to give to all the feelings, and to all the faculties. We know not a single doctrine, which, by its perpetual recurrence to the thoughts, is more fitted to keep the mind in a right state for obedience. Now, in order that the great work of sanctification go forward, the mind should be constantly in this state. Let this truth be expunged, and for all the purposes of spiritual conformity to the will of God, the whole man will go into unhingement. But let this truth be lighted up in the soul - let it be kept shining at all times within its receptacles - let the trust never cease to lean upon it, and the memory never cease to recall it, and the hope never cease to dwell upon it - let it only show itself among the crowd of this world s turmoils and anxieties - and whatever the urgencies be, which harass and beset a man on the path of his daily history, let such be the habit of his mind, that, in obedience to this truth, the thought is present with him of his main chance being secured; the animating sense of this will bear him on in triumph through manifold agitations; and when like to sink and give way under the pressure of this world s weariness, and this world s distraction, this will come in aid of his faltering spirit, and carry him in saCredness, and in safety to his final landing-place. We have not room to expatiate on the influence of the other truth, that Christ rose again - that He eyes every disciple from that summit of observation to which He has been exalted - that the sin for which He died He holds in irreconcilable hatred and that the purpose of His mediatorship was not merely to atone for its guilt, but utterly to root out its existence and its power from the hearts of all who believe in Him.
The Christian who is haunted at all hours of the day by this sentiment, will feel that to sin is to thwart the purpose upon which his Saviour s heart is set, and to crucify Him afresh. This, however, to be kept in power, must be kept in memory. And as with the former truth, if we carry it about with us at all times, we will walk before God without fear, so with it and the latter truth put together, if both are carried about with us, will we also walk before itim in righteousness, and in holiness, all the days of our lives. But it ought to be remembered, that if we are not mindful of these truths, we positively do not believe them. If we have not the memory, it is a clear evidence that we have not the faith. It is impossible but the mind must be always recurring to matters in which it has a great personal interest, if it only have a sense of their reality. We should try ourselves by this test, and be assured, that if we are not going on unto perfection through the constant and practical influence of the great doctrines if Christianity upon our heart, we need yet to learn what be the first principles of the oracles of God. It is from these considerations that we estimate so highly the following valuable Treatise of Mr. SERLE, "THE CHRISTIAN REMEMBRANCER," in which the great and essential truths of Christianity are exhibited in a luminous and practical manner. But, it is not merely those more essential truths of the gospel which form the foundation of a sinner's hope, that he brings to our remembrance; the operative nature of these truths, as inwardly experienced by the believer, in the formation of the spiritual life - the sanctifying influence of Christian truth over the affections and character of the believer the whole preceptive code of social and relative duties to which, as members of society, Christianity requires our obedience - in fine, the whole Christian system of doctrines and duties is presented in a plain and practical manner, well fitted to assist the understandtng in attaining a correct and intimate acquaintance with the truths of Christianity; while the brief, but distinct and impressive form in which they are presented, is no less fitted to assist the memory in its recollection of them.
The Treatise, as the Author remarks, is rather intended for hints to carry on the mind to farther meditations, than for full and exact meditations themselves; and it is brought into narrow compass, that the serious Christian may find it a little Remembrancer, with many short errands to his heart. And as the reader, from our previous observations, will not fail to remark, that it is not the mere knowledge or possession of any truth, but the constant remembrance of it, which can give it an operative influence over the, mind, and make it issue in those practical results which such a truth is fitted to produce - so, however important those precious truths are which are so clearly and impressively presented in the following Treatise, yet they can have no saving or salutary influence, without being kept in constant remembrance.
If it have not been our habit hitherto to call to mind the essential truths of the gospel, we ought to begin now, and by reason of use we will be sure to make progress in it. Whether it be the work of an artisan, or the work of a merchant, there is room for this thought in short and frequent intervals, that Christ died for our sins; and we are confident that, if we are believers, the thought will leave a pacifying and a holy influence behind it. God has proclaimed a connexion between the presence of gospel truth to the understanding, and the power of gospel affections over the heart. He has told us that faith worketh by love; and we, by constantly recurring to the great objects of faith, are putting that very instrument into operation by which God sanctifies all those who have received his testimony in behalf of Jesus Christ his Son. If we receive the truths of Christianity, we are not merely put in possession of them as title-deeds to a blessed inheritance above, to be presented after death for our entrance into heaven: they are also instruments to be made use of before death, for graving upon us, as it were, the character of heaven. And when the day of judgment comes, it is not by a direct inspection of the title-deeds that our right to heaven will be ascertained; it is by the inspection of that which has been engraven by the truths of Christianity, operating as so many instruments upon our character. Christ will look to the inscription that has been made upon our hearts and lives: so, while nothing can be more true, than that it is by faith we are justified, it is in fullest harmony withthis truth, that it is by works we are judged.
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