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pentance, a false hope, a false submission, a false obedience, and a whole life of false religion. But if we place supreme love to God, for what he is in himself, before faith, then all the gracious exercises which flow from it will be holy and disinterested affections. The repentance, the faith, the joy, the hope, the submission, the obedience, and the whole religious life, which flow from such love, will be all holy and acceptable in the sight of God. And such persons as thus love God before they know that he loves them, who repent before they know that they shall be forgiven, and who love and believe in Christ before they know that he died for them in particular, may have clear and satisfactory evidence that they have experienced a saving change; that they are meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; and that they shall for ever love and enjoy God, and be perfectly happy in his favor and service.
IMPROVEMENT. 1. If the first exercises of renewed sinners always take place in the same order, then all real saints have always had precisely the same kind of religious experience. They have always been the subjects of the special, renewing, sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit. He has converted all sinners who have ever been converted, in all ages. And though he has not always made use of the same external means in converting them, yet he has always produced in their hearts the same kind of effects, and in the same order. He has caused them first to exercise supreme love to God, then true repentance of sin, and then a saving faith in the divine Redeemer. He converted Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and all the Old Testament saints, in the same manner in which he converted Jews and Gentiles in the apostle's day. And we are told that they were all made to drink into one spirit;" that is, to exercise the same kind of holy affections. The psalms of David contain not only his own religious experience, but the religious experience of the church of God in general; and it appears that the love, the repentance, the faith, the hopes, the fears, the joys, and the sorrows of all true believers have always been of the same nature.
And it is upon this ground, that the apostle with great propriety exhorts christians in all future ages, “to be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Though real christians may have different opinions in speculation, concerning some of the doctrines of grace, and concerning the mode and order of the Spirit's operations in renewing or converting sinners, yet their own spiritual experiences are all essentially alike. And could they agree to call the same things by the same proper names, they would no longer contend, whether love be before repentance, and repentance before faith; but would all allow that their repentance and faith flowed from supreme love to God. This is the truth in respect to all who have experienced a saving change, and this truth they will all sooner or later believe. Those christians who have been properly taught, do now speak, as well as experience, the same things.
2. If the Holy Spirit, in converting sinners, always produces love to God before faith in Christ, then it is extremely erroneous to represent faith as previous to love in the renewed heart. This is the greatest and most prevailing error among those who believe in experimental religion. For all who place faith before love, suppose that men cannot love God before they believe that God loves them and intends to save them. But the love, the repentance, and all the religious affections which flow from such a faith, are totally selfish, and diametrically repugnant to all the precepts of the divine law. And for this reason, the religion originating from such a source, is properly called Antinomianism, or a religion against the law of God. All Antinomians suppose that unregenerate men are not bound to love God as the law requires, until they believe the gospel ; and that believing the gospel is the same as believing that Christ died for them in particular, and that they are actually interested in the benefits of his atonement. It is easy to see at once, that such a faith will naturally produce love to God, love to Christ, love to the Holy Spirit
, love to the visible friends of Christ, love to prayer, praise, and the external performance of all religious duties. Such a faith may make the most devout, affectionate and lively christians, in appearance, while their hearts are full of nothing but spiritual pride, hypocrisy and selfishnesss. What made the Scribes and Pharises so devout, so prayerful, and so strict in their external conformity to all the rights and ceremonies of their religion? Was it not because they thought they stood high in the favor of God? What made the multitudes at first follow Christ with their hosannas? Was it not a belief that he loved them, and came to save them in particular from temporal and eternal ruin? The doctrine that faith is before love in conversion, is calculated to lead men into the most fatal delusion. It teaches them to believe that Christ died for them in particular, and intends to save them; and also to love Christ, to love God, to repent, and to obey, from mere mercenary, selfish motives; which is a fatal error, and if cordially embraced and acted upon, will destroy them for ever. Christ always did and always will reject those who love him merely for his favors.
3. If there can be no true experimental religion but what originates from that supreme love to God which is before faith in Christ, then there is ground to fear that there is a great deal of false religion among all denominations of christians. For many of their most devout teachers inculcate the doctrine that faith in Christ is always before love to God. And it is to be presumed that a doctrine so agreeable to every natural man has been cordially embraced by multitudes, who have been made acquainted with it by books and by preaching. If we look into many grave treatises published upon vital or experimental religion, we find faith placed before love and repentance. If we read Hervey's Dialogues, Marshall's Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, or many of the writings of the Presbyterian divines in Europe and America, we find that these authors inculcate the doctrine that faith always precedes love, and lays the foundation for love, in the sinner's conversion. If we hear many of the most admired preachers of the present day, we find them most frequently and most pathetically dwelling upon the love of Christ to sinners, and endeavoring to persuade them to believe that Christ is willing to receive them into his favor just as they are, before they exercise either love or repentance. They preach this false and dangerous doctrine, in direct opposition to the well-known sentiments of those divines, who by their writings and preaching, teach the true order of gracious affections in the renewed heart. People generally are much more fond of hearing this error, than the opposite truth; and consequently their preaching is calculated to make many converts, and to make them rapidly. They first endeavor to alarm sinners with a deep sense of their perishing condition by nature, and then most affectionately urge them to believe that Christ loves them, and is willing to save them just as they are, unholy and impenitent. And as soon as awakened, impenitent, selfish sinners come to believe this, their faith fills their hearts with love, and gratitude, and the most ravishing joys. There are many ministers, and some who affect to be the most learned, the most eloquent, and the most sincere friends of vital piety, who are using every method in their power to propagate through the country, sentiments which are directly suited to promote such unholy, unsound and dangerous conversions.
Finally, this subject teaches all who have entertained a hope of having experienced a saving change, the great importance of examining themselves, whether they have ever exercised that precious faith which flows from supreme love to God. There has been a great deal of false religion in the world, and many have been fatally deceived in respect to the nature of their religious experience. The multitudes who entered into covenant with God at Mount Sinai, were deeply impressed with what they had heard and seen, and probably thought they were sincere friends to Jehovah; but they deceived and destroyed themselves, and are set up as awful monuments to deter others from the same self deception. Many who followed John and Christ, and heard them gladly, and thought themselves true converts, soon lost all their religious affections, and turned bitter enemies to the gospel of Christ. This gave Christ occasion to warn his hearers against the danger of entertaining false hopes, which would not stand the test of the last day. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name; and in thy name have cast out devils; and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Men are in as much danger of forming and living upon false hopes now, as ever they were. They are in danger of being deceived by the great enemy of souls, who often appears in the form of an angel of light, to deceive and destroy. They are in danger of being deceived by false teachers, who come to them under the garb of the ministers of Christ, and of the friends of truth. And they are in still greater danger of being deceived by the deceitfulness of their own hearts. Surrounded by so many dangers of deceiving themselves in respect to their religious hopes, they need to be very strict and impartial in examining the nature of their religious affections. Hence says the apostle, “ Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates ?” And again he says to the same professors of religion, “I am jealous over you with godly jealousy.” “I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” This he said in direct reference to false teachers. It is commonly through the means of some false doctrine, that men deceive themselves with false hopes of being the subjects of grace. They have no right to hope that they have experienced a saving change, merely because they have been in great anxiety and distress, and afterwards felt peculiar love and joy and peace. For this love and joy and peace may flow from an appropriating faith, or a belief which has no evidence from scripture, sense, or reason, that Christ died for them in particular, and intends to save them. Such religious affections, which flow from such a false faith, afford no evidence of the renovation of the heart. But on the other hand, those have a right to hope that they have passed from death to life, who are conscious of having loved God for what he is in himself, of having hated sin because of its odious nature, and of having
loved Christ for honoring God and opening the door of mercy to perishing sinners. Such repentance and faith, flowing from such supreme love to the divine character, afford good evidence of a sound conversion. For this is the love, the repentance, and the faith, which the Holy Spirit always produces in those whom he renews and sanctifies. And such sanctification of heart is the only evidence of justification, and a title to eternal Jife. The Antinomian faith precludes all self examination. Those who place faith before love, hold that it is a sin for those who have once believed that Christ died for them in particular, to doubt of their gracious state. The reason is obvious. If a faith before love, and without love, be a justifying faith, then assurance belongs to the essence of faith ; and consequently sanctification is not necessary to prove a believer's justification. But let no man be deceived; for if he have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.