The Earnest Anxieties of Ministers for Their People
Based on a Sermon by Samuel Davies, January 8, 1758
“My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! (20) I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” Galations 4:19-20
Nothing could bring more joy to a sincere Christian who loves God and mankind, than to be fully satisfied of the real holiness and happiness of those around him: and nothing is more painful than an anxious concern and fear in a matter he has so much at heart.
Some can say that they are very much at ease about this, and they glory in this easiness as a great sign of charity and benevolence. They hope well of all people. Though Scripture and reason join together in declaring, that men of bad lives who habitually indulge themselves in sin, and neglect the known duties of piety and morality, are not true Christians, but must be judged destitute of true piety by all who would judge according to evidence; "Yet, God forbid," they say, "that they should judge any man. They are not of a critical spirit, but sincere and benevolent in their hopes of all." In this way they can venture to hope that the tree is good, even when the fruit is corrupt: that is, that a Christian, in essence, may lead a wicked life.
But this attitude should not to be honored with the noble name of Charity. Let it be called ignorance, gross ignorance of the nature of true religion; or infidelity and avowed disbelief of what the Scripture determines concerning the character of a good man; or let it be called indifference, an indifference whether men are now good or bad, and whether they will be happy or miserable forever after. Where there is no true love or affectionate concern, there will be no uneasiness.
Or let it be called a mere trick of self-defence. Men are often cautious of condemning others, not from concern for them, but out of mercy to themselves, not being willing to involve themselves in the same condemnation! Since they are conscious they are as bad as others, they must be sparing to others, in order to spare themselves!
These are the true names of what passes for the name of Charity in the world.
Paul, whose heart was filled with kindness for mankind, could not enjoy the pleasure of this fake charity. He could not come to that conclusion that all was well, not even of all under the Christian name; not of all whom he once hoped were his spiritual children; no, not of all the members of the once flourishing churches of Galatia, where he met with so friendly a reception, and had so much promising signs of success. " I am perplexed about you!" he says.
The state and character of these churches, we may partly learn from this epistle. A considerable number of Galatians had been converted from heathenism to Christianity by Paul's ministry; and in the joy of their first zeal they made a very promising start: and so he reminds them that they had “begun by the Spirit,” (3:3) that when they first started in the Christian race, they had run well, (5:7) that they suffered many things in the cause of the gospel; (3:4) and as to their affection to him, it was very extraordinary. "You ... received me," he says, "as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. ... I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me " (4:14, 15)
But sadly! how naturally do the most flourishing churches tend to decay! How frail and fickle is man! How inconstant is popular applause! These promising churches of Galatia soon began to decline, and their favorite, Paul, their apostle and spiritual father, appeared in quite another light, appeared as their enemy, because he told them the truth.
There was a set of false preachers in that age, who corrupted the pure gospel of Christ with Jewish notions. The ceremonies of the law of Moses, and the traditions of their elders, they held as perpetually and universally required; and as such they imposed them even upon the Christian converts from among the Gentiles, who never had anything to do with them.
Had these Jewish elements been only recommended to them as indifferent things which could or could not be done simply as a matter of preference, it would not have had such bad influence on Christianity. But they continued to impose them as absolutely necessary to salvation and taught that the righteousness revealed in the gospel was not sufficient without these additions.
And so, they worked to corrupt the great doctrine of a sinner's justification by faith alone, through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that grand article upon which the church stands or falls. These judaizing teachers had artfully insinuated themselves into the Galatian churches, and spread the poison of their legal doctrines. This sunk Paul in the esteem of his converts, and they exchanged his pure gospel for another, more adapted to their taste. Because of this, religion was declining fast among them; and Paul is alarmed for fear that all his work with them would be in vain.
This letter to the Galatians is an affectionate attempt to recover them. It is for the most part a logically presented argument; for its author was not fond of appealing to their emotions without enlightening their understandings. But sometimes he is driven to very touching words and reaches out to the heart. Our text this morning is an example of such a tender, passionate address. "My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you!" What tender and moving words are these!
"My little children." This is a fond, affectionate call; the language of a tender father. It strongly expresses his fatherly love and concern for the Galatians. He uses the same style when writing to the Thessalonians, "You know” he writes to them, “how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God." (1 Thess. 2:11)
He may also call them his children, to imply that he had begotten them by the gospel as spiritual children to God: or rather as the following words suggest, he alludes to the sickness and anxiety of a mother in conception, and the pangs and agonies of child-bearing; and by these he illustrates the pangs and agonies of zeal, and the affectionate concern he had felt for them while Christ was forming in them under his ministry, and they were in the critical hour of the new birth. He might well call them his children, because he had suffered all the pains of a mother for them! He adds the description little, my little children, as a term of endearment from a parent, or perhaps to imply their small progress in Christianity. They were but little children in grace still.
"My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth." We have just seen how this is an allusion to the pain and pangs of conception and birth; by which the apostle describes the agonies of affectionate zeal, and tender concerns he felt for the Galatians. But what made them twice as painful for him, was, that he was forced to feel them more than once, “I am again in the anguish of childbirth.” He had cheerful hopes that Christ was indeed formed in them, and that they were born from above, and that there would therefore be no more occasion to feel those agonies he had suffered for them. But unfortunately! he had now reason to fear the opposite, and, therefore, he must again feel the same pangs and agonies, he must suffer the anguish of childbirth again.
"Until Christ is formed in you;" that is, until they are made new creatures after the image of Christ; until the sacred new life is formed in their hearts; until the heavenly embryo grows and ripens for birth, or until they are conformed to Jesus Christ in heart and practice, until then he can never be easy. Though they should bear the Christian name, though they should make great progress in other areas, though they should become as much attached to him as ever, yet he must still feel the pangs of birth for them, until Christ is really formed in them.
"I wish I could be present with you now." In his absence they had been corrupted by the judaizing teachers; and he hoped his presence might have some beneficial influence to recover them. He was impatient with the limitations of written correspondence and longed to pour out all his heart to them face to face.
"I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone." When he left them, they were in a flourishing state, and therefore he departed from them in the warmest language of affection, approval, and confidence. "But now" he says, "I wish I could be present with you," that I may change my tone; that I may speak to you with more severe and alarming words; and instead of congratulating for your happy condition, I must warn you of your danger."
Or his meaning may be, "I find myself forced to use severe language with you in this letter, which I do not like in the least. I therefore want to be present with you, that I may in person recover you, that, having done this, I may change my tone, and speak to you in a soft, approving way, which is always what I most desire, as you would also. It is quite contrary to my disposition to use such harsh language with my dear children."
Or perhaps he may mean, "I want to be present with you, that I may know the different characters of your members, and that I may be able to change my tone, and address them accordingly; that I may warn, admonish, exhort, or comfort you, as may be best for your respective cases. I would willingly speak comfortably to you all with no exception, but this I cannot now do."
"For I am perplexed about you." The last time I left you, I had great confidence in you, and hoped that you would persevere: but now I am perplexed about you, and therefore must change my tone with you if I were present with you. While I am perplexed about you, I can’t speak comfortably to you all together; but I must honestly tell you of my suspicions about you, and, until there appears a change in you, I cannot change to a more pleasing tone.
And all of you here this morning, consider that this charge is entrusted to me by the great Shepherd, for which I must give an account: you and I are too nearly concerned in this text to consider it merely as a piece of history, referring only to Paul and the Galatians some 2000 years ago. It must be brought nearer home in a particular application.
And if the following is true of Mr. Davies it is doubly true of I who am only echoing his words. He says: “God forbid so vain and proud a thought should ever find a place in my heart, as to set myself upon the footing of equality with Paul, the chief of the apostles. I will not tell you how much and how often I have been mortified, especially of late, at the thoughts of my vast inferiority, not only to him, but to the ordinary ministers of Christ of a lower class. You seldom hear a sermon from me but what fills me with shame and confusion in the review; and I almost cease to wonder that the gospel has so little success among you, while managed by so unskillful a hand. Yet I hope I may truly profess so much sincere affection and concern for you, as to warrant me to borrow the words of the apostle, though in a much lower sense: "My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! (20) I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone," according your various cases; "for I am perplexed about you."”
And I hope you are prepared to hear me seriously this morning, and a serious hearing is justly expected from you; for, remember, the day of death and the day of judgment will come, and that you must die, and then you must be judged, and then you must be doomed to your everlasting state.
I am perplexed about some of you. I am concerned about you with a godly concern. And if there is no ground for it, then you will forgive me; for if it is an error, it is the error of deep concern. Though I was an entire stranger to you all, I might justly have this concern for some of you, on this general principle, that there never yet was so pure a church meeting in one place, as not to have one insincere, hypocritical professor in it. Even the apostles, handpicked as they were, had a Judas among them. And can we expect more than that level of purity in our gathering as little as it is? In every church there are, sadly! some whose characters are doubtful; and the goal this morning is to describe such characters, and then leave it to yourselves, to judge whether there are not such among you.
Forgive me, if I suppose that some of you live in the greatest neglect of family religion. You lie down and rise up, perhaps, for weeks, months, and years, and yet never call your families together morning and evening to worship the great God who has placed you in families. If this is the character of any of you, then I must plainly tell you, I stand in doubt of you! I really doubt you have any sincere relish for the worship of God; for if you had, how could you, as it were, excommunicate yourselves from the precious privilege of drawing near to God with your dear families, and devoting yourselves and them to him?
I really doubt that you have no deep affecting concern for the salvation of your children, otherwise, how could you neglect a duty that can so naturally and directly make pious impressions on their minds? Can anything more naturally tend to make them aware of their obligations, their sins, their needs, and mercies, than to hear you solemnly mention these things everyday, in the presence of the great God?
Your character in this is opposite to that of godly men in all ages. You will find in the history of the patriarchs, particularly of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that, wherever they had a dwelling for themselves, they had an altar for God. You find David returning from the solemnities of public worship “to bless his household,” (2 Sam 6:20,) and saying, "Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray." (Ps 55:17 KJV) You find Daniel praying, as he was accustomed, three times a day, even when the penalty was not only the loss of his place at court, but his being thrown to the lions!
You find Paul greeting some of the early Christians, with the church that was in their house in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians and Philemon. (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Phil 2) Which strongly implies that they made their families little churches by celebrating the worship of God in them; for a church without the worship of God would be a strange thing indeed. And remember the wonderful example of Joshua, who bravely resolved, that whatever others should do, "as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Jos 24:15)
You see, then, your character in this important instance, is the opposite to that of the saints in all ages. And have I not reason to stand in doubt of you, especially as you cannot now claim that you did not know: since you have been so often instructed in your duty on this matter. You may plead that you are not able or that you are just too busy, or that your neighbors or relations would ridicule you as religious fanatics. But this is so far from clearing you, that it makes you even more suspicious!
If these are the reasons why you neglect family worship, is it not because you love your place in this world, more than the honor of God, more than his service, and more than the immortal interest of your children? How shocking would it be to you, if God should authoritatively lay that restraint upon you which you voluntarily put upon yourselves? Suppose he should say, "I will allow all the families around you to worship me every day, but I put your family under an interdict; from them I will receive no worship;" how would this shock you! And will you of your own accord take this curse upon yourselves? Do think of this, and this very evening consecrate your houses to God.
Again, I will suppose some of you generally observe the outward duties of religion; you pray in secret and in your families; you attend public worship; you receive the sacrament, and you sometimes fast, but generally this is but a dull round of lifeless formalities. Even a cautious Christian may suspect that your whole hearts are not engaged, that you give no great effort in religion, and that there is no spiritual life in your devotions. In this way, mere man may suspect; and he who searches the heart may see it so in fact.
Now, if this is your character, I must tell you, that I stand in doubt of you. If you are really lukewarm Laodiceans, the case is quite plain: it is not a matter of doubt, but that you are the most hateful creatures on earth to Jesus Christ. He could wish you were cold or hot, or anything rather than what you are. And where the appearances of such formality are found, where there is a dull uniformity in all your devotions, without any signs of those divine changes which the gracious presence of God produces, your case looks very suspicious, even to men. I really stand in doubt of you; and you have great need to look to yourselves, for fear that the suspicion turns out to be well-grounded.
I also stand in doubt of some of you, that your pious impressions have worn off, before they ripened into fruitfulness. This is a very common case in the world, and therefore it may be yours.
I am afraid some of you are farther from the kingdom of God today, than you were some months or years ago. There was a time when you were serious and thoughtful, but now you are light and vain. There was a time when you had some clear, moving convictions of your sin and danger, which made you thoughtful and uneasy, persuaded you to use of the means of grace with unusual earnestness and diligence, and made you more watchful against sin and temptation. Had you only persevered in this way, your case would have been very hopeful; you might even, before now, have been sincere Christians, happy in the favor of God, and the joyful expectation of a blessed immortality. But, sadly! now you have become more thoughtless and carnally secure, more negligent and careless, more worldly-minded, more bold and willing to take risks with temptation, and particularly mixing in with ensnaring company; less sensible of your sin and danger, less afraid of God’s displeasure, less concerned for a Savior, and less affected with eternal things! I stand in doubt of you, that this is the case of some of you! And if it is, then it is very depressing! The last state of that person, has become worse than the first!
Perhaps your pious impressions went so far, that yourselves, and others also, began to number you in the list of sincere converts. But, sadly! you have relapsed, and now your case is dismally dark; it is very doubtful whether you ever had one spark of true piety. Like the Galatians you did run well once ; but the corruptions of your own hearts, the cares of the world, the influence of bad company, and the temptations of the devil, have ensnared you, and made you turn back, and now you have gotten into the easy, slippery, descending road of apostasy; from where, as from a precipice, your feet will, before long, slide, and let you fall into the fiery gulf of hell below!
You are every day running farther and farther from God and heaven, and so much nearer to the fires of hell! Your consciences, by repeated shocks, have been stunned into insensibility, your hearts have been hardened more and more, like clay in the sun. Your corruptions have been gaining the victory in repeated conflicts, and grow more strong and insolent, like veteran troops accustomed to war and conquest. In short, your case every day grows more and more discouraging; and I stand in doubt of you, lest you should never recover your pious impressions, nor enter into the kingdom of God!
I am also in doubt of some of you, that the world has your hearts: your thoughts seem to be engrossed by it, and your affections fixed upon it as your supreme good, and hence your mouth is full of it; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Now “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 Jn 2:15) Covetousness is idolatry; and you know that no idolater has eternal life. (Col 3:5) I fear this is the character of some of you!
Is there not also reason to doubt of some of you, from the evidence you give of an unchristian spirit towards mankind? You may perhaps make a superficial profession of religion, and come to Church every Sunday; but do you not see in yourself pride, and unchristian resentment, and an unforgiving spirit when you are wronged, a disposition to defraud others and take advantage of them in your financial dealings? Such an attitude, when predominant, is utterly inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity, and proves you are entirely destitute of it; and the appearances of the prevalence of such an attitude makes your case very suspicious.
Your everlasting state stands in dreadful suspense, and if you should die this night, I worry whether heaven or hell will be your eternal residence!
Thus, I have drawn a picture of various doubtful characters, and now I leave you to judge whether there are some such among you. Examine yourselves thoroughly, that you may have the judgment of God in your favor; for by that you must stand or fall.
Some of you, perhaps, may wonder why nothing has been said of the outward sinner, the drunkard, the swearer, the immoral, the thief, or the swindler. There has been no word of the infidel and scoffer, who openly reject the religion of Jesus, and relapse into heathenism; and who openly mock sacred things. Nothing has been said of the careless person, who lives in the complete neglect of even the forms of religion! Nothing has been said of the senseless, thoughtless person, who lives like a brute animal, merely for the purposes of the present life! Nothing has been said of such as these, because they do not come under the class of doubtful characters. There is no doubt at all about them! They are surely utterly destitute of all true religion, and must perish forever, if they continue in their present condition!
If you would know how I come to be sure as to them, I answer: Because I believe both my reason and my Bible; for both put the character and the doom of such beyond all doubt. Common sense is sufficient to convince me, that such are unholy, impenitent sinners; and I am sure, both from both reason and revelation, that an unholy, impenitent sinner, while in that state, can never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Let those who hold a higher hope for them, point out the grounds of it. Indeed, there is one lamentably doubtful thing as to such: it is very doubtful whether their present condition will ever be changed for the better! The most promising period of life is over with them, and even in that period they continued impenitent under all the means of grace they enjoyed; and is it not more likely they will continue so in the time to come? May God grant that they be alarmed, and see their danger in time, that they may use proper means for their deliverance!
Nothing can turn the full evidence against them, into their favor; and nothing can make the doubtful case of the former class, good and clear, but the formation of Christ within them. This alone can put it beyond all doubt that they are Christians indeed, and prove their sure title to everlasting happiness. This will be the subject in the remainder of our time.
Here you would ask me, I suppose, "What it is to have Christ formed within us?"
I have already told you briefly, that it means our being conformed to him in heart and life, or having his holy image stamped on our hearts. This is essential to the character of every true Christian. This is the meaning of the Apostle Paul’s words: "That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;" (Eph 3:17) and "anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." (Rom 8:9) "Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked," (1 John 2:6) says John. "Have this attitude in yourselves," says Paul, "which was also in Christ Jesus." (Phil 2:5 NASB). "Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son." (Rom 8:29)
The character of a Christian resembles Christ's so much, that Scripture describes it as “Christ ... formed in you” (Gal 4:19) in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Indeed, it falls infinitely short of the all-perfect original, but yet it is a prevailing character, and the usual governing principle of the soul. That childlike attitude towards God; that humble veneration and submission to the Word of God, to Christ’s commands; that ardent devotion; that strict regard to all the duties of religion; that self-denial, humility, meekness, and patience; that heavenly-mindedness and noble superiority to the world; that sincere kindness, benevolence, and mercy to mankind; that ardent zeal and diligence to do good; that self-control and sobriety which shone in the blessed Jesus with a divine, incomparable splendor, all these and the like graces and virtues shine, though with feebler rays, in all of his followers! They have their infirmities indeed, many and great infirmities, but not such as are inconsistent with their having this Christ-like disposition!
You may make whatever excuses you please, but this is an eternal truth, that unless you have a real resemblance to the holy Jesus, you are not his genuine disciples! Please look carefully into this point. Have you a right to take your name 'Christian' from Christ, by reason of your conformity to him?
Again, if Christ is formed in your hearts, he lives there. The heavenly pattern is not yet complete, not yet ripe to enter into heavenly world, but it is begun. I mean, those virtues and graces mentioned above are not dead, inactive principles within you, but they operate, they show themselves alive by action, they are the governing principles of your practice.
You are not like him in heart, unless you are like him in life too; and if your life is conformed to his, it will plainly distinguish you from the world, while it continues so wicked. If you are like him, you will certainly be very unlike to the generality of mankind; and they will acknowledge the difference, and point you out, and hate you, as not belonging to them. They will stare at you as an odd, unfashionable stranger, and wonder that you do not copy their example. "If you were of the world," says Christ, "the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (John 15:19)
I hope you now know what it is, to have Christ formed within you.
And in what heart among you, is the holy Christ conceived and growing? Where are the followers of Jesus? Surely, they are not so like the men of the world, the followers of sin and Satan, as to be indistinguishable. Astonishingly! how many impostors are uncovered by this testing! How many false pretenders to Christianity, who are the very opposite of its great Founder! And as many of you as continue unlike him now in holiness, must continue unlike him forever in happiness. All Christ's heavenly companions are Christ-like; they bear his image and his name written on them!
Now this transformation of the heart, is entirely the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not the result of human effort, but a creation of divine power. It is the hand of God, which draws the outlines of this image of Christ on the heart, though he makes use of the gospel and a variety of means as his pencil.
But you would ask further, "In what way does this divine agent work? Or, how is Christ formed in the hearts of his people?"
I answer, changes of the heart of man are felt. Nothing can be done there, without its perceiving it. Much less can Christ be formed there, while it is wholly insensible of the powerful operation. There is indeed a great variety in the individual circumstances, but the substance of the work is the same in all true Christians. Therefore, if ever you have been the subjects of it, you have necessarily felt the following things:
1. You have been made deeply aware of your being entirely destitute of this divine image. Your hearts have appeared to you as a huge, shapeless mass of corruption, without one ingredient of true goodness, amidst all the flattering appearances of it! In view of this horrible discovery, your high conceit of yourselves was brought low, your airs of pride and self-importance lowered; and you saw yourselves utterly unfit for heaven, that region of purity; and ready to fall, as it were, by your own weight, into hell, that infernal collector of all the pollutions of the moral world!
This is the first step towards the formation of Christ in the soul. And have you ever gone this far? If not, then you may be sure you have never gone any further.
2. You have, from there, eagerly sought out and pursued the means appointed for the renovation of your nature. Prayer, hearing the gospel, and other divine ordinances, were no more lifeless, customary formalities to you; but you exerted all the vigor of your souls in them. You also guarded against everything that tended to nourish your depraved disposition and hinder the formation of Christ within you. Then you dared not play with temptation, nor venture within its reach!
This is the second step in the process. And have you ever gone this far? If not, then you have never gone further; and if you have never gone further, you can never reach the kingdom of God in your present lost condition!
3. You have been made aware of your own weakness; and the inadequacy of all the means you could use to change your own hearts; and that nothing but God’s hand could do it. When you first begun your endeavors, you had high hopes that you would do great things; but, after hard strivings and strugglings, after many prayers and tears, after much reading, hearing, and meditation, you found no good effect followed. To the contrary, the corruption of your hearts appeared more and more, and therefore you came to the conclusion that you were growing worse and worse. In this way the blessed Holy Spirit convinced you of your own weakness, and the necessity of his influence to work this divine change. He cleared away the rubbish of pride and self-righteousness from your hearts, in order to prepare them, as a clean canvas, to receive the image of Christ.
And have you ever been humbled and mortified in this way? Have you ever been reduced into this wholesome self-despair? It is the humble heart alone, which is susceptible to the image of the meek and lowly Jesus. Pride can never receive its outline, nor can it be carved on an insensible stone!
4. And then, in the forth place, the Holy Spirit enlightened your minds to view the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and the method of salvation revealed in the gospel. The bright beams of the divine perfections shining in that way of salvation, the attractive beauties of holiness, and all the wonders of the gospel, struck your minds with delightful astonishment! And you now viewed them in a totally new light. On this basis, you were enabled to cast your guilty, corrupt, helpless souls upon Jesus Christ, whom you saw to be a glorious, all-sufficient Savior; and with all your hearts you embraced the way of salvation through his mediation!
The view of his glory proved to be a transforming power! While you were contemplating the object-you received its likeness; the rays of glory shining upon you, as it were, made your hearts transparent, and the beauties of holiness were stamped upon them! Paul describes the matter in this way, "we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Cor 3:18 NASB)
And so, your hearts retained the image of his glory, like the face of Moses after he had been speaking with God in the Mount. You began more and more to have the mind of Jesus Christ within you! He was formed in your hearts and began to live and act there. The life you lived in the flesh, you now lived by faith in the Son of God. Now your minds took a new turn, and your life a new direction; and the difference began to appear even to others around you. Not knowing the divine original, they knew not whose image you bore. "The reason why the world does not know us," says John, "is that it did not know him!" (1 John 3:1) This, however, they knew, that you no longer resembled them! Therefore, they looked at you as an odd sort of creature, whose attitudes and manners were as different from theirs as if you were foreigners! You soon started to be visibly out of place among them, and they were weary of your company, and you of theirs.
And now, please consider this. Have you ever been the subjects of this work of God? Has Christ ever been formed in your hearts? I stand in doubt of some of you, though blessed be God, there are others who give good grounds for a hope concerning them, by their apparent likeness to Christ!
5. Next, if Christ has ever been formed in you, it is your persevering endeavor to improve and perfect this divine image. You long and work hard to be fully conformed to him, and, as it were, to catch his attitude, his manner, and spirit, in every thought, in every word, and in every action. As far as you are unlike to him, just so far you appear deformed and repulsive to yourselves. While you feel an unchristian spirit at work within you, you seem as if you were possessed with the devil. And it is the work of your life to subdue such a spirit, and to brighten and finish the features of the divine image within you, by repeated touches and re-touches.
By this short list, you, in this small assembly, may be helped in determining whose image you bear: whether Christ's or Satan's, whether Christ's or the world's, whether Christ's or your own. And let me tell you, if you can’t determine this, for all you know you may be in hell the next hour! For no one will ever be admitted into heaven, who is not formed after the image of Christ. The glorious company on Mount Zion are all followers of the Lamb! They are like him, for they see him as he is. A soul unlike him would be a monster there: a native of hell, snuck into heaven; a wolf, among lambs; a devil, among angels. And can you hope to be admitted there, while you are so unlike him?
The two grand regions of the eternal world are under two opposite leaders: the holy Jesus presides in the one, and the prince of devils, the prime offender and father of sin, in the other. Both regions are settled with colonies from our world; and the inhabitants of both are like their respective leaders. Therefore, if you resemble the Prince of Heaven, then with him you will dwell forever; but if you resemble the tyrant of hell, then you must forever be his miserable slaves. Therefore, make this small effort, and drive home this question: Is Christ formed in my heart, or is he not?
If he is, then rejoice in it, as a sure pledge of your heavenly inheritance. No one ever went to hell, who carried the image of Christ on their hearts; but the heavenly regions are peopled with such as those. His image is the grand passport into that country, a passport that was never disputed; and, if you bear it, the celestial gates will be flung wide open to receive you, and your human and angelic brethren, who have the same character, the same manner, the same spirit, will all celebrate your arrival, and shout your welcome; will own you as their kindred, from your visible resemblance to them; and you will immediately and naturally enter into warm familiarity with them, from the sameness of your dispositions.
The Father of all will also own the dear image of his Son, and the blessed Jesus will acknowledge his own image, and confess the relation. Blessed moment, when you will arrive, when all the followers of the Lamb will appear on Mount Zion, in his full likeness, without spot or blemish, or any such thing! Blessed moment, when no stranger of another disposition and another spirit will mingle among them, but be all cast in the same mold, and all be clothed in white, with the beauties of holiness and the robes of salvation! And to you who believe, does this not make your eager hearts spring forward to meet that day?
But amid all the joy which that wonderful prospect gives you, it must humble you to think, that though Christ is really formed in your hearts, it is but very imperfectly, as an unfinished sketch. His image as yet is but very faint; you still carry the traces of some infernal features within you. Let this consideration constrain you to put yourselves daily under the operation of the blessed Spirit, until he finishes the heavenly picture by repeated touches, and diligently give yourself to all the means which he is pleased to use as his pencil. Guard against everything that may deform the divine work or delay its perfection. Go on in this way, and the glorious picture will daily catch more and more the likeness of the divine original, and soon come to complete perfection.
But, in closing,
I must speak a word to such of you in whom Christ has never yet been formed.
Please turn your eyes upon yourselves and survey your own deformity! Do you not see the image of the devil upon you? Have you not forgotten God, and refused to love him, like a devil? Have you not loved and practiced sin like a devil? Or have you not wallowed in sensual pleasures, and confined all your concern to the present life, like a beast, and so, made yourselves the most horrid monsters, half beast, half devil? And can you love yourselves while this is your character? Can you flatter yourselves that such as you, can be admitted into heaven?
Since it is possible your deformed spirits may yet receive the image of Christ, will you not use all possible means for that purpose, while there is hope? This day begin the attempt, resolve and labor to become new men while it is yet time.
But tragically! This exhortation is but feeble breath, which vanishes into air between my lips and your ears; something is needed to give it force and make it effective.
We have the gospel, we have preaching, we have all the means of salvation; but something is needed to give them life, to make them effective, and lay them home on the hearts of sinners with that almighty energy which they have sometimes had.
Something is needed for this to happen, and what is it?
It is You, eternal Spirit. You, the Author of all godliness in the hearts of men: you, the only one who can form Christ within: you are absent, and without you neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters; they are all nothing together.
Come, we pray, Spirit of the gospel, You who gives life to all the means of grace, Assistant of poor and weak ministers, You who alone can open their hearers' hearts! Come visit this small assembly. Come we pray, this moment! and Christ will be formed in us, the hope and the pledge of an eternal inheritance.