A minister's experience confrming the truth of his doctrines. BY JOEL HAWES, D. D.
Philippians 3 : 18. For many walk of whom I have told you often, and now tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.
When the Apostle Paul penned this scripture he was far advanced in life, and had spent some thirty years as a preacher of the gospel. He had thus acquired a large experience in the ministry, and had gathered abundant evidence of the truth of the doctrines which he preached. He saw that men were just as depraved and sinful as he had declared them to be, and just as much disposed to embrace a false hope and think themselves Christians, when, in fact, they were enemies of the cross of Christ and heirs of wrath. Of this we have an affecting exemplification in the text. The persons referred to were, no doubt, professors of religion. While the Apostle was with the Philippians, ministering the gospel among them, he had often spoken to them of this class of persons ; he had described their character and pointed out their end; and now, when many years had passed away, and he was writing an epistle to the church at Philippi, he refers again to the same persons, and intimates that he still held the same opinion in relation to their character and their end. His experience had gone to confirm the truth of what he had formerly said respecting the sin and danger of those, who, while they
professed to be Christians, were in fact in a state of sin and condemnation. He therefore referred to their case again, and with increased tenderness and concern. He even ¦wept while speaking of their condition and their doom.
But not to dwell on the text in its primary application, I shall take occasion from it to address you on a subject which has much occupied my thoughts in the course of my ministry, and which I deem of great practical importance. It is this, — A minister's experience confirming the truth of his doctrines. This subject I shall venture to illustrate with special reference to my own experience in the ministry.
It is now over forty-nine years since I commenced preaching the gospel in this city. During that period I have had large opportunity, here and elsewhere, to notice the workings of the human heart under the ministration of God's truth ; and my present design is to specify some of the leading doctrines on which I have insisted, and to show how my experience in the ministry has gone to confirm the truth of those doctrines.
1. I have preached the doctrine of man's entire moral depravity by nature, and his absolutely lost condition as a sinner. The time was when I disbelieved this doctrine and regarded the preaching of it with indifference and dislike. That was when I neglected the Bible and the Sabbath and prayer, and w^as an
impenitent, irreligious young man. But when it pleased God,,
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as I trust, to open my eyes and show me to myself, I received a deep impression of the exceeding sinfuhiess of the human heart, and of man's utter ruin as a sinner against God. And from that day to the present, my conviction of this fact has been continually gaining strength. I felt the truth of it in my own anxious religious inquiries ; I found it plainly taught in the word of God ; it was impressed upon me anew in my study of theology ; I saw it exemplified in the conduct of men, in whatever situation they were placed ; and in the whole course of my ministry, I have never seen the least occasion to qualify or restrain the impression I first received respecting the deep depravity and complete ruin of man, in his natural, unregenerated state. On the contrary, the longer I have lived, the more I have studied the Bible, and the more I have become acquainted with the human heart, the deeper has been my conviction that the love of God has entirely ceased from it, that man is by nature estranged from God, an enemy by wicked works and dead in trespasses and sins.
I have not indeed been insensible of the kind and amia-
ble qualities which I have seen in many of my fellow men. I have not been disposed to undervalue or to overlook generosity, or integrity, or public spirit, or gentleness of disposition, or refinement of manners, or whatever other commendable and useful qualities of character any may have exhibited. Much of all this have I seen, and much have I commended all this whensoever and in whomsoever seen. But I have not been able to blind my eyes to the fact that in the midst of all that is kind and gentle and honorable and lovely in human nature, there may be, and often is, a spirit of deep and immovable ungodliness, an habitual disregard of Christ and his salvation, and an utter neglect of all the serious duties of experimental religion. In very numerous cases have I seen this exemplified in the course of my ministry, — persons of amiable disposition, of correct morals, of cultivated taste, and fine intelligence, and these of both sexes, sitting year after year under the preaching of tbe gospel, as unmoved as the seats on which they sat ; putting from them, in perfect indifference or dislike, the claims of the Saviour's love, and growing up from childhood to youth, and from youth to mature age, entirely neglectful of God and the interests of their immortality. 0, how often have I seen this in the course of my ministerial experience ; and whenever I have seen it, the effect has been to give me a still deeper impression of the great evil of sin ; of its terrible power to alien-
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ate the heart from God and set the creature in a posture of hostility to his Creator.
Another fact which I have often had occasion to notice, is, that whenever any of the class of persons just described, or of any other class, have been awakened to a serious concern for their salvation, they have always been ready to confess their guilt and ruin in the sight of God. No matter how pure or innocent or safe they may have thought themselves before, the moment the Spirit of God visited them with his awakening and convicting influence, all their fancied goodness and security were removed, and they were ready to confess that they were indeed poor, and guilty, and lost. And now, when I look over the congregation and see what numbers are here in their natural, unregenerated state, I cannot repress the painful conviction that whatever else they may possess, they have not the love of God dwelling in them, that they are utterly ruined in sin and exposed to a righteous condemnation ; nor have I doubts from my past experience, that should it please God to arrest the attention of this class of persons, and show them the plague of their hearts, their true state and character, they would confess the truth of what I now say, would renounce their present false sentiments and false security, and fly to the cross of Christ as
their only refuge from a righteous condemnation.
2. Another truth to which I have given much prominency in my preaching, is that while man is by nature utterly ruined in sin, there can be no permanent, fruitful religion, which is not based on a change of heart, wrought by the Holy Spirit. This too, is a doctrine which I early embraced, after I began seriously to reflect on the subject, and the truth of it has been confirmed by every year's experience in the ministry. Such is the state of the natural heart that it will not yield fruit unto God till it is renewed by his Spirit. You cannot make flowers grow in the snow, nor gather a harvest of wheat amid the arid sands of the desert. No more can you make holiness and religion grow and bear fruit in the cold, barren heart of unrenewed man. You may, to some extent, effect an external reformation ; you may garnish the outside and persuade to a decent observance of the forms of religion. But this is all you can do. You can not inspire the heart with the love of God, nor with a penitent hatred of sin and a liearty renunciation of it ; you can not make the yoke of Christ seem easy and his burden light to one who has not been made a new creature in Christ ;
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nor can you make one steadfast and happy in the Christian life, so long as the old heart of stone remains in the bosom. Experience and observation, to say nothing of the Scriptures, have taught me a lesson on this subject, which I can never forget. I have seen persons, under the influence of various causes, much interested in the subject of religion, and for a time appearing well ; but having like the stony ground hearers, no root in themselves, no principle of holiness in the heart, no work of the Spirit wrought within, they endured for a season and then fell away ; either becoming open apostates, or resting in a mere profession without the power of godhness. The religion of fashion, the religion of form, the religion of decent observance may exist, and even flourish, where there is no true love to God in the heart, and no work of the Holy Spirit within ; but the religion which saves the soul, which assimilates to Christ and delights in doing his will, the religion, in a word, which is penitent, humble, prayerful, grateful, self denying and self consecrating, this religion can never grow, can never flourish but in connection with a heart renewed by the Holy Spirit, and continually kept alive and refreshed by the dews of his grace. Of this I have an unwavering conviction, derived not from speculation, or a theoretical study of divinity, but from my whole experience and observation in the ministry. Persons, however fair their appearance, or promising their profession for a time, will be inconstant, unstable, unfruitful in God's service and unhappy in it too, so long as they are strangers to
that work of the Holy Spirit, by which alone the heart is renewed and the soul made meet for heaven.
On the other hand, such as know what that work is from the experience of it, such as have been renewed in the spirit of their minds by divine grace, and united to Christ by a faith of God's producing, will be steadfast and persevering ; they enter the path of the just ; they walk in it with increasing constancy and delight, and finally come off conquerers and more than conquerors through him that loved them. These facts which have been continually multiplying under my observation during my ministry, have not only convinced me of the reality of a change of heart produced by God's Spirit, but of its indispensable necessity in order to all constancy and fruitfulness in religion.
3. I have preached that as the heart is deceitful above all things, as well as desperately wicked, so we can not know, with
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certainty, who are Christians until they are tried, and frequently our best expectations, in regard to individuals, are entirely disappointed. I was much more disposed to trust to ap-
pearances and professions in the early part of my ministry than I now am. Then, if I saw any, who appeared to be awakened, and subsequently expressing a hope of conversion ; especially, if I saw them much engaged and zealous in religion, I was ready to conclude that they had passed the great change, and had truly entered the path of life. I knew indeed there was danger of self-deception ; I taught this in my preaching, and endeavored to guard my hearers against mistaking the foundation of their hopes. But while experience has confirmed the truth of all I ever preached on that point, it has also taught me that the danger of being deceived is much greater than I was aware. Especially has it taught me how extremely unable we are to know the heart, or to decide with certainty, who are true Christians until they have been tried.
Look at a tree full of blossoms in the spring season ; — all appear fair and promising. But wait a few weeks and a large proportion, perhaps, will have fallen off. while only a few will remain to be ripened into fruit. Just so it is with spiritual blossoms ; you can not tell which will be blighted, and which endure. The tares and the wheat, when they first spring from the ground, look so much alike, that the most practiced eye can hardly distinguish them. The seed which fell on stony places readily sprung up and for a time, appeared as well and promised as rich a harvest, as that which fell on good ground. But having no depth of earth, it withered when the sun shone upon
it, and it brought forth no fruit to maturity. So have I often seen it in the field which I have been called to cultivate. I have seen the fairest and most promising plants wither and die under my hand ; while others, which at first seemed so feeble that I scarcely expected to raise them, have grown to be vigorous and abundantly fruitful. Or to change the figure, I have seen many who at the commencement of their course, seemed to run well, and promised fair to reach the goal and take the crown ; but after a time they were hindered by some unexpected obstructions, turned back and blasted all hope of their salvation. Others, again, who, on setting out in the Christian life, seemed timid, and hardly dared to hope that they were Christ's disciples, have held on their way, waxing stronger and
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stronger, till* they have appeared among the most established and useful members of the church.
I have stated these two extreme examples. But between them, I have seen almost every degree and shade of difference among those who, on setting out in the Christian course, prom-
ised equally well, — some holding out faithful unto the end, others turning back, others stopping midway, and others so inconstant, so unstable as to make it extremely doubtful whether they would not at last come short of the mark and lose the prize. When I have seen this, as I often have, I have been powerfully reminded of the words of Paul, " Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart." The human heart is a deep mystery. Its springs of action are exceedingly complicated and hidden ; and none but God can know it in all its secret windings of motive, purpose and conduct. We can know but little of our own hearts ; much less can we know the hearts of others. I have sometimes seen the most surprising changes in the character of individuals. After having appeared well for a number of years, they have, on being brought into a change of circumstances, subjected to some new trial, suddenly developed a character, entirely unlike what they had before manifested, and all my hopes respecting them have been most painfully disappointed. The practical effect of this on my mind has been, not to make me doubt, either the reality or the importance of experimental religion, but to give me a deeper impression of the extreme deceitfulness of the heart, to make me cautious in judging of others, and to show me how absolutely necessary it is that we all be humble and watchful, lest we mistake our own character and finally fail of the crown of life.
I will here remark in passing, that among the causes of failure in the Christian course, which blight early Christian hope and render the life barren of spiritual fruitfulness, incautious, unsuitable conformity to the spirit and customs of the world, I have always found, to be the most common, and the most dangerous. There is a secret influence here, of the deadening power of which, few professors of religion are adequately aware. They set out in the divine life with tender, lively affections, and with a sincere purpose to live near to God and to honor him in all their ways. But ere long the world puts forth its enticements, and draws them into one compliance, and then
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into another, and then another till they come to the very verge of what is positively forbidden and sinful, and there, like Bunyan's pilgrim on the enchanted ground, their heads soon become so giddy, their minds and their hearts so bewildered, that they are in extreme clanger of making shipwreck of a good conscience, or at least of settling down, as mere formal, worldlyminded professors. 0, how often have my hopes in regard to young converts been disappointed in this way ! Would that I could impart to all whom I now address, the results of my ob-
servation and experience in this matter ! Sure I am it would make them far more careful, than many are, to shun even the appearance of evil, and always anxious to keep themselves unspotted from the world.
4. I have always preached, and the truth of my preaching in this respect, has been confirmed by my whole experience, that, persons usually die very much as they have lived. I have never held out the least encouragement to any of my hearers, to put off preparation for death till the close of life, in the hope that the requisite preparation may then be made. Nor have I ever said a word which, rightly understood, would lead professing Christians to flatter themselves, that although they be unwatchful and worldly-minded in life, they shall have peace and hope in the dying hour. On the contrary, I have always believed and preached that those who neglect religion in the days of health and activity, expose themselves to the greatest danger of being left to die in hopeless impenitence and sin ; and that professing Christians who live at a distance from God, and are formal in their religion, are likely to come to the closing scene in great darkness and doubt as to the foundation of their hope, and usually die under a cloud, giving no comfortable evidence as to where they have gone. Of this I have often told you, and now tell you again, that all I have ever said to you on this subject is confirmed by my experience.
People do die very much as they have lived. I have known but very few who neglected religion till they came upon a sick and dying bed, who then gave any evidence of being prepared for death ; and what of evidence even these few may have given, long observation has taught me to regard with great distrust. So those professing Christians who have been undutiful and unwatchful in life, I have almost invariably found dark and comfortless on the bed of death. It has made me sad to visit them in the closing scene, and still more sad to see the
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grave close over their mortal remains ; for I saw that God was withholding from them the light of his countenance in their last extremity, and it was painfully doubtful how it would fare with them in eternity. On the other hand, I have found, with very rare exceptions, and those resulting from the power of disease, that such Christians as have kept near to God in life have found him near to them in death. His presence and his promises came home to them as a refreshing cordial, when heart and flesh were failing them, and all seemed bright and cheering, as they were about to close their eyes on this world to open them in another. Many such have I seen die, and I have felt it was good to linger around the dying scene ; for there I
learnt the power and excellence of religion, and saw how faithful God is to t-hem who fear and love his name. The experience I have had in scenes like these I account among the richest treasures I have gathered from my ministry. Nothing has tended more to endear the gospel to my heart or convince me of the reality of experimental religion, than the calm, peaceful end of watchful and faithful Christians ; and nothing has given me a deeper impression of the folly and guilt of an irreligious, worldly life, than the emptiness and stupidity, than the darkness and hopelessness which are wont to mark the close of such a life.
Another thing I may mention in this connection, on which I have constantly insisted in my ministry. It is this. Youth is by far the most hopeful period for obtaining salvation, and those who neglect to seek salvation then are very likely to neglect it always. This has been repeated in your hearing hundreds of times in different forms, and the truth of it has been confirmed by the experience of my whole ministry. A very great proportion of all who have given evidence of piety under my preaching, gave their hearts to God while young. Only a few, a very few in comparison, have I known called into the kingdom of grace past twenty-five or thirty years of age. So uniform has been my experience in this matter — and it accords with the experience of other ministers — that when I see persons passing on through the period of youth neglectful of Christ and
his salvation, I feel constrained to look upon them with extreme concern. They seem to me to be turning their back upon the mercy of God, and bidding farewell to heaven. They may be saved, but the chances are fearfully against them. I say this to the young now before me, and I beg you, my dear youthful
CONFIRMING THE TRUTH OF HIS DOCTRINES. 359
friends, to remember that I speak from many years' experience and observation, when I say that you now enjoy the most favorable season you will ever have for seeking the friendship of God, the salvation of your souls ; and if you pass this period in impenitence and neglect of the Saviour, there is great reason to apprehend that you will never enter into life. 0, to how many in the morning of life, have I, during the years I have spent here in the ministry, lifted up my voice and cried — Behold now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation; and how many disregarding that voice have hastened on, fearless of consequences, into the busy concerns of the world, who have long since gone down to the dead, unmeet for heaven, or still survive only to fill up the measure of their, sins and fit themselves for destruction. May the youth whom I now address act a wiser part — hear God's inviting voice in their tender age, and enter betimes into the path of peace and salvation.
5. I remark again that while the word and the providence of God have been continually preaching to you that you live in a changing and dying world, my ministry has aimed to inculcate the same lesson, and I need not say how all has been confirmed by experience. Here, standing on my watch-tower, I have lifted up my voice and cried from year to year — " All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the breath of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall endure for ever." So have I preached, and so has been the voice of experience. O how many changes have passed under my eye since first I began to proclaim here the messages of God! How many the names of the young men who have sought fame and been disappointed! How numerous the sighs and sorrows that have come to my ears on every side from those who have sought happiness in worldly pursuits and enjoyments, and have been disappointed ! I have preached again and again that true and satisfying happiness is not to be had 'in the things of the world; and so I have found it. " I have seen men aspiring to be rich, but I have never seen any satisfied with riches. I have seen men aspiring to honor, but I have never seen any satisfied or happy in the possession of honor. So I have seen the young, the gay, and the giddy, seeking happiness in the brilliant assembly, in the places of mirth, of fashion and pleas-
ure; but I have never known any who found what they sought 31*
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in this way." No ; true happiness, such as satisfies the longings of the soul, can not be found in these things ; and many have I known who, after having made the trial, have turned away in disappointment, and in sighs and tears, crying out — " The world, the world has ruined me."
I have preached to you likewise that all must die; and how melancholy the testimony of experience to this fact? How great and how sorrowful a funeral procession it would be if all this congregation should be laid in coffins and conveyed to their graves on some day of this week! And yet I have buried a much larger congregation than this since I came among you as a minister. Whole families have I seen broken up by the unsparing hand of death; whole streets vacated of their inhabitants, and the whole aspect of society around me changed. As it has been in times past, so it will be in time to come. Death will continually be carrying on his work among us, and ere long all who are here in these seats to-day will be dead and gone to their final home. O that this solemn truth might be deeply im-
pressed on our minds, and we be ready for our departure whenever the summons shall come.
I have spoken of the lessons of experience as confirming the lessons of my preaching. But there are some truths on which I have insisted much and frequently in my ministry, which as yet have received no confirmation from our experience. I refer to such as relate to scenes beyond the grave — to judgment and eternity, to heaven and hell. I have preached that all must die, and all, as we see, do die. I have preached too that after death cometh the judgment, and judgment will come. Its certainty is recorded in God's book, and it will come as surely as the day of our death will come. And as the result of the judgment, the whole race of man — all who have lived or shall live till the end of time — will be fixed in their eternal dwelling-place — the righteous in heaven, the wicked in hell — and thus this world's great drama will be closed. So I have firmly believed; so I have taught in the whole course of my ministry. I have constantly aimed to leave the impression on my hearers, that whatever they do here is a seed for eternity; that heaven or hell awaits every human being as the result of his probation in this world, and of his trial on the last great day. The confirmation of experience is yet to come. But it will come, and it may come much sooner than we are aware. It is only for God to stop the breath, which be may do any moment, and instantly eternity opens, and heaven
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and hell stand revealed as present realities. Are you prepared, my friends, to await the testimony of experience in relation to these great and solemn scenes? Where would that testimony find you, were you to be summoned to meet it in your present state and character? Would it find you saved or lost, in heaven or in hell? What is now future will soon be present; and O that all who hear me may be prepared by a true repentance and a vital union to Christ by faith, to have experience teach them how glorious a thing it is to be saved, and to dwell for ever in heaven, and no one be left to learn from experience how fearful a thing it is to neglect the salvation of Christ and be lost for ever.
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