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SERMON II.

The same Subject continued.

1 Peter, iii. 15. And he ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that it in you, with meekness and fear.

SECONDLY. Christians, in giving the reason of the hope that is in them, must give the reason, not only of their belief and assurance that the gospel is true, and a revelation from heaven; but also the reason of their hope that they do cordially embrace it, and are interested in all the blessings which are promised to all true believers. When they, in proper times and circumstances, are asked the reason of this their hope, by those who appear to want information, and to have a right to it, and it may promote a good and important end, they can make the following answer.

We all hope that we, are friends to Christ, and are interested in the promises he has made to those who believe in him. But our hope is stronger or weaker at different times, according to the strength and constancy, or weakness and inconstancy, of our religious exercises, and the consciousness we have of them, and the sight of our own hearts. We sometimes attain a degree of assurance, or that confidence which excludes all sensible doubts.; but many of us, perhaps the most, have often many doubts, and some of us have generally many doubts and fears. Others are generally more confident, and seldom if ever doubt of their being real Christians. What is the cause of this difference it is impossible for us to determine; at least in many cases. But this we are confident of, that it is owing to our imperfection in knowledge, discerning, or Christian exercises, if we be real Christians, that we have the least doubt of it, and do not always enjoy 28joy an assurance that we are friends to Christ. At the same time we believe that the reason why some real Christians do not admit a doubt of their being Christians, is, their imperfection in knowledge, discerning, and Christian experience. There are others who profess to be assured constantly, without one doubt for a long course of years, that they are Christians, and shall be saved, whose life and conversation discover that they know not what it is to be a real Christian. But we will proceed to give the reason of our hope.

In the first place we would observe, that we trust we have been convinced of sin, and reproved for it, by the Spirit of God, as none are but those to whom he applies the benefits of redemption. Antecedent to our hearts being renewed by divine power to new and gracious exercises, we were, the most of us, if not all, brought to a degree of painful conviction of our sinful and miserable condition, which we believe is the way which God commonly takes with those whom he designs to save. But as such conviction, and the exercises that accompany it, are so different in different persons, as to their degree, the length of their continuance, the attempts and exertions they make to help themselves, and the particular means by which they have taken place and continued; we shall not try to give account of them, which every one may do for himself, when it may be convenient. Besides, it would be deviating from our present purpose, which is, to give the reason of our hope that we are Christians, to enter into a description of the convictions of which the unregenerate may be the subjects. For no convictions or exercises which take place in the mind of a sinner, antecedent to his regeneration, or his having a new heart, can be any scriptural evidence that he ever will be renewed and become a Christian. There is no connection in nature, or by the declarations and promises of scripture, between any convictions and exercises of the unregenerate, and their becoming Christians. In any stage or degree of their convictions, change of sentiments, or external reformation, all may come to a full 29 stop, and be lost; or, if they continue in any degree, they may never issue in a true conversion. We therefore mean to speak only of that conviction of sin, and humiliation for it, which is an evidence of our being regenerated, as it can take place only in a renewed heart, and is connected with salvation.

Our eyes have been opened to see that the law of God, which requires our obedience to it, respects the heart and every motion and exercise of it which is of a moral nature, requiring that they all should be perfectly right and in conformity to it, and forbidding every thing contrary to this rectitude of heart, on pain of eternal punishment; that this law is perfectly right and good in all the requirements and threatenings of it. This has been attended with a conviction of the exceeding wickedness of our hearts, being wholly contrary to the law of God, and the source of every thing wrong in our outward actions. We could not but approve of the law as right, holy and good, and felt that we were wholly blameable for every thing in our heart and life contrary to this law, and were wholly without excuse. Our heart appeared to us to be naturally wholly depraved and wicked, and all sin against God so infinitely criminal and vile, and we so unspeakably guilty, having done nothing: but sinning against God and his law, that we felt and acknowledged from the heart that we deserved to have the penalty of the law executed upon us, that God would be just and glorious in doing it, and we must justify him in it, and remain forever without the least reason of complaint. Thus we submitted to God, and accepted the punishment of our iniquity, and felt a calmness and pleasure we never experienced before, in viewing with delight the divine character exhibited in his law, and works of creation and providence. We knew our heart to be naturally so totally depraved and wicked, hard, obstinate and impenitent, that it would never be made better by us, or by any means or creature, unless it were renewed by the almighty power of God, which he was binder no obligation to do; that we 30were utterly undone and lost in ourselves, that we were in the hands of God, as the clay is in the hand of the potter, to deal with us according to his sovereign pleasure and we heartily acquiesced in this, in being thus dependent on him. And when we were brought to a. more particular and realizing view of Christ, and the way of salvation by him, (of which we shall speak presently) our sins and the evil that is in our heart appeared in a worse light to us, and unspeakably aggravated, in that it was necessary that Christ should suffer so much to make atonement for sin, in which such great and astonishing love to sinners was manifested. Our abuse of the gospel, and disposition to slight and reject Jesus Christ, of which we had been actually guilty in ways and instances innumerable, appeared to us great and aggravated beyond description, and discovered the exceeding malignity and baseness of our heart; the wickedness and obstinacy in refusing to accept Christ offering himself clothed with love and salvation. Oh, who can express or fully conceive of the magnitude and aggravations of the sin of impenitence and unbelief, of which they are guilty who live under the gospel, and will not embrace it!

Thus we have been convinced of sin, and reproved. for it, and we trust have submitted to the reproof in the exercise of repentance, condemnation, shame and abhorrence of ourselves. We think this is described by Christ when he says, “And when he is come (that is, the Holy Spirit) he will reprove the world of sin: of sin, because they believe not on me.” And here we would observe, that this conviction of sin, from the beginning of it, and in its progress, has been attended with an evidence to us that the Bible is true and from God, in that it describes the character of man to be the lame which we found ours to be, when we saw the depravity and wickedness of our hearts. This description is given in the relation of the facts by which men in different circumstances have in all generations acted out and discovered the depravity and great degree of wickedness of their 31 hearts, and in the many particular assertions of the great and total depravity of the human heart. And the gospel is founded on this, that mankind are all sinners to such a degree that they are wholly lost and undone, dead in trespasses and sin, enemies to God, and under the curse of the law, which is vindicated and honoured, both in the commands and threatenings of it, by the gospel: and it asserts that man is naturally so under the power of sin that he hates the light of truth, and will not come to it, but chooses to remain in the darkness of sin, till he is born from above, and has a new heart given to him. We are assured that no men not inspired by God would have written such a book, which represents man in a light so contrary to what men naturally think of themselves, or ever would have thought of it. We are sensible that our ignorance of ourselves, before we were convinced of our own sinfulness, as we have been describing it, was the ground of our ignorance of the Bible, and our criminal disregard to it, and by this conviction we have been confirmed in the truth of divine revelation, as we never were before. And we are certain beyond a doubt, that all the professed and open infidelity, or secret disbelief of the truth of the gospel, is owing to a want of a true and real conviction of sin. And in this view, we do not wonder at their unbelief; for how can they who are so wholly ignorant of their own moral character, and of their standing in any need of the provision made in the gospel, believe and embrace it? How can they believe who are proud, and have so high an opinion of themselves, and seek honour one of another? As well may they who feel themselves perfectly sound and whole, think they want a physician.

We would observe further, that the conviction of sin and reproof for it has not been a transient thing, which soon palled away and was forgotten: contrary to this, it abides by us, continues and increases. Our hope of pardon of all our sins, and of salvation by Christ, does not abate, but increases it. We lee more and more the evil nature of sin, and the ill desert of it, as we increase in 32 our sense of the righteousness and excellency of the law of God, the wisdom of the gospel, and the worthiness and glory of God and the Redeemer. And we daily see more and more of the sinfulness of our own hearts, our indwelling depravity, that sin cleaves to us in all our exercises, and defiles them. We have an increasing sense of our desert of everlasting destruction; of our constant and absolute dependence on Christ, his atonement and righteousness, for pardon and justification, and to renew our hearts, and for every right thought and exercise, of which assistance and grace we are infinitely unworthy; therefore, if we shall be saved, it must be all of free, undeserved grace. This conviction and sense of sin, and of our own helplessness and infinite unworthiness, accompanies all our exercises of religion and piety, as essential to them, and increases as we grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

We proceed to say, when we were led to a particular view of Jesus Christ, his character, work and design, all this appeared as a reality, and the wisdom, love and grace of God shined in him and the way of salvation by him, in a new, glorious and affecting light. And we could not but highly approve of all this, and the whole character of Christ, and were filled with wonder and pleasure. We saw there was all fulness in Christ, enough to supply every want of such sinners as we were; that there was every thing in him that we could desire, and nothing undesirable; and that all he has for sinners is freely offered, without money and without price, to all who are willing to accept of it. This view and sense of heart of the truth of the gospel, and of the worthiness and excellence of Christ, and approbation of his character, and the way of salvation by him, is so fixed in our hearts, that we have never lost it, though it is sometimes more clear, impressive and affecting than at others.

Thus we have described the conviction and reproof we had of sin, and our consequent view and approbation of Christ and the gospel, as some of us have sensibly 33experienced these in this order, and it is the order of nature; for it is impossible that any man who is not Convinced of sin and reproved for it, so as to submit to God, approve of his character as legislator; and of his Jaw, should understand and approve of the gospel. Though there may be some, yea, many of us, who have not so distinctly and sensibly discerned the operations of their own minds as to ascertain the order in which their convictions and exercises took place, yet they are sensible they have had them all, as to substance, sooner or later, in a greater or less degree. Some of us have remained a longer and more sensible time, after we submitted to God in the manner which has been described, before we hid clear and affecting views of Christ and the gospel, than others, and our views of the latter have been more gradual. Others have had all crowded on their minds so much at once as not to be able to distinguish the former from the latter, so as to say which was first or last, from the perception of their own minds. And there is a great variety in the degree, way and manner, time and means, in and by which these things have taken place in different persons. Yet the work and effect appear to be the same, as to substance and the essentials of it.

Not one of us have entertained a hope that we shall be saved, or have been led to approve of the gospel, and become friendly to God and his law, wholly from a persuasion somehow impressed on our minds, that Christ died for us and would save us, or something like this: for it is impossible that such a persuasion, be it ever so dear and strong, should be true, and therefore must be false, and a great and dangerous delusion: and they whose religion is built on this foundation only, are building on the sand, and going to inevitable ruin.

Our hope that we belong to Christ, and shall be saved by him, is built on the evidence we think we have that we have cordially embraced the gospel, and have been brought to the exercise of the Christian graces, such as repentance, faith in Christ, love to God, our fellow 34Christians and our neighbours, or any of those Christian graces which are implied in these, and connected with them. Some of us, we believe, have, at their first conversion, had such clear and impressive views of the truth and excellence of the gospel, that they not only knew it was divine, but also that they did embrace it with all their heart, and strength of mind; that they were turned from darkness to marvellous light, and consequently should be saved; and the Spirit of God has so excited holy affections, and shined on his own work, as to be a witness with their spirits that they were born of God: and some have been so happy as to enjoy this evidence all their days, without much interruption; especially those who have been called to labour and suffer much for the cause of Christ and religion. There are others who at the time or their conversion have had such great light and strong affections, that they were confident, without the least doubt, that they had passed from death to life, who yet have soon fallen into darkness and doubts, whether they were really converted or not: others, who have had such mistaken notions about conversion, and the feelings and exercises in which it consisted, and of Christians, previous to their own conversion and after it, that when they really passed this change they did not know, and had not one thought that they were converted then, and for a considerable time after. But as real Christian exercises continued, and perhaps on some occasions rose higher, upon reflection on their own past experience and exercises, they have entertained a hope that they were real Christians; and the evidence of this has increased on passing through trials, and their hope has grown into a confidence which often excludes all doubt. All these differences, and those which have been before mentioned, and many others not mentioned, may and do take place among real Christians, from causes and for reasons which we do not pretend to be able fully to explore and explain. If they have been convinced of sin; have submitted to God, and embraced the gospel in the manner before 35stated; and have and exhibit the further evidence that they are Christians which we now proceed to mention; they may reasonably think themselves such, and must be embraced by us as the friends of Christ.

Our evidence that we have really embraced the gospel, by which our hope is supported and strengthened, arises from those exercises, and the conduct, which have attended or followed the things which have been already mentioned.

When we understood and believed the gospel, as before described, it had a powerful influence on our hearts and affections, which is lasting, and never wholly lost; at some times less sensible, at others more so, and is on the whole, we hope, increasing. We were brought into a new moral and spiritual world, and our affections were taken off from the things, the enjoyments and pleasures of this world, on which they were before fixed, as the great and chief good; and fixed on the infinitely important, glorious and beautiful objects of the invisible and spiritual world revealed in the Bible. Our minds have been so renewed and transformed by divine power accompanying the gospel, we hope, that we have no longer lived unto ourselves; but have with strong affection devoted ourselves to Christ, and given ourselves away to him, to serve him, and promote his honour and interest. And in our attention to his character, and the truths contained in the gospel, our affections and the exercises of our minds are excited to a higher degree and greater strength than they ever were towards any worldly object, or possibly could be: at the same time we are conscious that they are not flighty and imaginary, but solid and rational. We feel a fixed determination and resolution to follow Christ, and adhere to the practice of Christianity, by divine assistance: and whatever we were before, and though some of us were openly vicious, we are, by the knowledge of the gospel, and the power it has had on our hearts, become strictly conscientious, in all our thoughts, exercises of heart, words and actions; watchful and careful that they all 36 may be conformable to the divine commands. And what is found contrary to these in our hearts, of which we see much, we lament, and, with pain and sorrow, condemn. As to all external vicious conduct in words and actions, we hope we are thoroughly reformed, and condemn and abhor ourselves for being guilty of them, and for all our sins; and have an earnest longing to be delivered from all sin, and to become perfectly holy, which we hops is what Christ means by “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” We think this change in us could not be wrought by any thing short of divine power, accompanying the gospel, by which it has been made unto us “the power of God unto our salvation.” And we hope we have received “the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

We hope we have received from God the spirit of love, such love which in the nature and exercises of it differs from all kinds of love natural to man, and is peculiar to Christians, and conformable to the moral character of God, which consists in love. This love consists most essentially in disinterested good will, or goodness of heart. This has fixed our hearts in the first place and chiefly on God, in cordial and strong desires that he may be exalted, infinitely blessed and glorified forever, and readiness to devote ourselves to answer this end; and when we reflect on the subject, and learn that God is glorifying himself by every thing that has, does or will take place to eternity, we are highly pleased, and rejoice. And when we consider that the work of redemption by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is suited to make the greatest display of the divine perfections, both in them who shall be saved and in them who perish; and that all the sin and misery that do or ever shall take place, will serve to praise and glorify Christ, and promote the greatest possible good of the universe; and that Christ will bring the redeemed and all the friends of God to the highest happiness and glory in his eternal kingdom, even to unspeakably greater happiness than could possibly have taken place if no sin and misery had 37 ever existed, and consequently there could have been no such character as that of God manifested in the flesh, and no such works as he has done to glorify God and redeem the elect; when we consider and realize all this, we are filled with comfort, wonder and joy, finding in this divine plan all that benevolence can wish, even the highest possible good of the universe. This is an object suited in the highest possible degree to please the benevolent, and to raise their gratitude to the highest pitch to the God of love, and Redeemer of men.

This same love, which fixes our hearts on God, and renders us friendly to his being, felicity and glory, and causes us to rejoice that he will be glorified, and produce the greatest good of which the created universe is capable, unites us also to all the friends of God; especially the friends of Christ among men, whom we consider as our brethren and sisters in Christ, who bear the image of Christ in their hearts, and are friends to, and labouring to promote, his interest among men, in which we also are engaged; who are the special objects of the benevolence, complacency and delight of Christ. For these we have a peculiar friendship, desiring and rejoicing in their welfare, loving to serve them, and do them all the good we can; and we have a peculiar complacency and delight in them and their friendship, conversation and company, which we cannot enjoy in others. This, we hope, is that love of our brethren which in the scripture is connected with love to God, and is peculiar to true Christians.

We hope we have that benevolent, universal love to all our fellow men which is peculiar to Christians, which leads us to wish them the greatest good they are capable of enjoying in this life and in the world to come, and to do good as far as we have an opportunity. And we hope we love even our enemies, so that whatever evil they do, or attempt or desire to do us, this does not make us to cease to wish them well, and to do them all the good we can, and to pray heartily for their welfare; always studying and endeavouring, if it be possible, to live in peace with all men.

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We have been led by our acquaintance with Christ and the gospel, we hope, in some good measure to keep our bodies under, and crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts; to avoid all intemperance and unlawful sensual indulgence, and lay aside passion, anger, envy and malice; and to put on humility, meekness, and a calm and quiet spirit; and to practise that self-denial, and government of ourselves, our appetites and particular propensities and inclinations, according to the holy rules of the gospel, so as not to injure ourselves or any one else by the criminal indulgence of them. We hope our selfishness or covetousness, pride and levity of mind have been so far subdued as not to reign in us; and that the contrary principles of benevolence, humility and sober-mindedness have dominion in our hearts; that we set our affection on things above, and not on things on the earth; that we see the vanity of the world and the things and enjoyments of it; and are impressed with a sense of the reality, importance and excellence of the things and enjoyments of religion, and feel unhappy when these things are in any measure out of sight, and our religious exercises respecting them do sensibly subside.

We love and greatly prize the Bible. It is better to us than all the riches in the world, or than all other books. We also prize and read the books which serve to explain the Bible, and vindicate the doctrines and duties contained in it. We have great delight in reading and meditating on the Bible, especially at times, when the truths we find there are impressed on our minds. We make the Bible the rule of our faith and practice.

We spend much time, when we are alone especially, in meditating on the subjects of religion, and are pleased with religious conversation in the company of Christians. We have great pleasure in secret prayer, especially when, as we think, the Holy Spirit enlarges our hearts and helps our infirmities, in a clear and affecting view of divine things. We are pleased with joining with others in social worship when we have opportunity, either in the families where we live, in private Christian societies, 39or in public assemblies. The Christian sabbath, and the institution of baptism and the Lord’s supper, appear to us to be wise and good, suited to promote the highest good of men, and the honour of Christ, and we endeavour conscientiously to attend upon them; and are much instructed and edified by the preaching of the gospel, when the great truths of it are explained and vindicated, and the duties therein revealed are properly urged, and the preacher with suitable engagedness declares all the counsel of God.

We hope we live in the exercise of an unconditional submission to God, without making any reserve, with respect to all the events which do or shall take place, whether greater or smaller, and whether they relate more immediately to ourselves, or to the church, or to the world in general. We firmly believe that God has determined, and does order, every thing, every event, both great and small, that comes to pass, according to the counsel of his own will, which is perfectly wise and good; and we are disposed and love to say, Thy will be done, with respect to all events which do take place now, or shall come to pass. Nor do we, and we dare not, ask for any thing in prayer to God which we do not know is agreeable to his will to grant, absolutely, but conditionally, if it be agreeable to his will to do it; if it be not, we are prepared to say from the heart. Thy will be done. We have such a constant conviction and confidence that the divine will is infinitely wise, right and good, that it is matter of support, comfort and joy, that the Lord God Omnipotent reigns, and hath done, and will forever do, whatsoever pleaseth him, being infinitely above all controul; so that his counsel standeth forever, and the thoughts of his heart to all generations.

We add in the last place, that we trust that our conversation and conduct before the world is agreeable to our Christian profession, and the holy rules of the gospel. If this were not true, but the contrary, we acknowledge all our supposed inward exercises, which have been mentioned as evidences of our Christianity, are not to be relied 40upon by us. and may be justly considered as mere delusion by all others. But if what we suppose be true, for which we appeal to all who are acquainted with us, and we have been brought by the influence of the gospel of the grace God to deny all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present evil world; we think it to be a strengthening evidence, in connection with our inward convictions and exercises which we have experienced, and have now related, that we are the subjects of the power of Divine Grace; and that, whatever we once were, we are now washed, and sanctified, and justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God; and that all who behold our blameless and good conversation in Christ, ought to consider it as an evidence in our favour, and of the truth and excellence of Christianity; and that they who speak evil of us as of evil doers, and falsely accuse us, ought to be ashamed.

Thus we have endeavoured to give an honest and true account of the reason of the hope we entertain, that by believing the gospel it is become the power of God to us, to our salvation. We have omitted some things which might have been mentioned, and perhaps have made some needless repetitions. Imperfect as this account is, we wish it may prove some advantage to Christians, and matter of conviction to unbelievers.33   It is supposed that the evidence given above by Christians, of their hope of a saving interest in Christ, is common to every real Christian, without which no man has reason to think himself to be one. But in many other particulars, not mentioned here, Christians may differ, and one have views and exercises which another has not experienced in the same manner and degree, which may be a strengthening evidence to those who have them, and to those to whom they relate them, that they have tasted that the Lord is gracious. If any desire to see the subject treated more largely, they are referred to President Edwards on Religious Affections.

III. The reasonableness and importance of the direction and command which has been explained, is to be considered and proved. This may be done by the following observations.

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1. It must be supposed that every real Christian is able to comply with this direction, and can give the reason of his hope, when properly inquired of and asked. If this were not true, the command, which extends to all Christians, would be indeed unreasonable and nugatory. It is therefore reasonable to suppose and be certain that every Christian has good reason for the hope that is in him, and can give it when there is a call for it. This is a subject which he thinks upon and studies more than any other. He certainly does meditate upon it night and day. He considers and examines over and over again the evidence he has of the truth and divinity of Christianity. The theme is familiar to his mind, and the evidence of the truth increases, in his view, in strength and clearness; and, of course, he is constantly, and with solemn concern, considering the evidence he has of his being a real Christian. He must therefore be always ready to give the reason of this hope that is in him. And it is reasonable and important that Christians should do this, when asked, because,

2. It is greatly for the advantage and benefit of Christians to be prepared and ready to give the reason of their hope, and actually to do it, when they are asked in a proper manner.

This has a greater tendency to keep their minds awake to these subjects than mere private meditation; to increase their knowledge in these things, and to strengthen and invigorate their exercises, and establish their own hearts in the ground and reason of their hope. Free and serious conversation upon interesting subjects of religion is attended with advantages to Christians, which could not be enjoyed if every one kept all his religious thoughts and exercises wholly to himself. This is confirmed by reason and the experience of Christians. And many, if not all, have found, by communicating to others the reasons of their belief in Christianity, and of their hope that they themselves were Christians, their hearts more established in the truth and importance of the Bible, and their hope of salvation 42 by Christ become more clear and strong, by being quickened in their religious exercises.

3. A compliance with this command tends, many ways, to the good of others. It tends greatly to the benefit of Christians to converse with each other freely on these subjects; to communicate to one another their reasons for believing the gospel, and how, and in what way, they were brought to a clear conviction and assurance of the truth and divinity of it; and what have been their views and exercises, on which they ground their hope that they do cordially embrace the gospel, and are the real friends of Christ. By this they become particularly acquainted with each other, and obtain the knowledge of the discerning, views and exercises of their hearts, which could not be so well and fully obtained in any other way. This lays a foundation for an intimacy, love and friendship, which are sweet, edifying, lasting, and peculiar to Christians. This tends to increase the knowledge of Christians, and establish their hearts in the belief of the truth, and excite and quicken their Christian affections, while they hear others give the reason of the hope that is in them. And this appears to be an important part of Christian communion, while they drink into the same Spirit, and mutually partake of the comfort and blessings of the gospel.

This also has a tendency to promote the best good of unbelievers. If Christians have nothing to say for themselves, and are silent, when they who are not Christians, with apparent serious desire to know, ask them to give the reason of their hope, this will greatly tend to prejudice them against Christianity and professed Christians, and lead them to think that the gospel is unreasonable, and cannot be supported. But when they find Christians able and ready to give the reason of their hope, when asked, and they have it laid before them, they have matter of conviction that Christians can speak for themselves, and that Christianity is founded in reason and truth; and it may by divine influence 43reach their hearts, as the means of their salvation. And doubtless this has been the means of the salvation of many. But if this should not be the happy consequence, and the unbeliever persist in rejecting the gospel to his own destruction, the Christian has done his duty; and his labour shall not be in vain in the Lord, but answer some important end.

4. In this way Christians honour Christ and his cause. They who are not able, or are not disposed, to give the reason of their Christian hope when properly asked to do it, must be numbered among those who are ashamed of Christ and of his words. Of such, He says, shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of the Father, with the holy angels. He will consider and treat them as a disgrace and dishonour to him, should he own them to be his disciples and friends. But, on the contrary, he says, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father who is in heaven, and before the angels of God.” As these, by confessing him before men, honour him., he will honour them before the universe, in his state of the highest exaltation and glory. They who are able and ready to give the reason of their Christian hope to those who ask them, to whatever shame and sufferings they may expose themselves by this, do hereby confess and honour Christ before men, which they cannot do effectually in any other way, if this be refused or neglected. And this is one important way for Christians to exhibit their true character, and show their zeal and courage in the cause of Christ, and honour and promote it in the world. How reasonable then and important is this injunction of the Apostle!

IMPROVEMENT.

I. FROM this text, and the subject, we have warrant to conclude, that they who are not able to give a reason for their hope in the sense explained, or they who refuse to do it to any one, at any time, are not real Christians, whatever they may pretend.

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There are too many, who would pass for Christians, who can give no good reason why they believe Christianity to be true and divine, or why they hope to be saved by it. They can give no account of any particular, sensible impressions made on their hearts by any of the truths of the gospel, or of any view or exercise which indicates a real change of heart. There are others to whom the general arguments for the truth of the gospel are familiar, and they can talk well and readily upon some of them; but if they be asked what their own inward exercises are with respect to the gospel, and what is the ground of their hope that they are Christians, their mouths are immediately shut, and they have nothing to say, unless it be to object against the propriety of asking or answering such a question, as no one has any business to inquire, or right to know, what are their inward exercises; every one ought to keep these to himself, &c. Others will inveigh against Christians telling their experiences, as it is called, and insist it is nothing but mere enthusiasm. All these may be justly considered as having no good reason for hoping themselves to be Christians.

There are others who are forward enough, and even too forward, to tell of their religious experiences, and give a narrative of their conversion, which they seem to think to be extraordinary and excellent. And they do it when there does not appear any particular call to do it. They appear to be proud of their religious experiences, and often speak of them in a light and ostentatious manner, directly contrary to meekness and fear. These are so far from obeying the Apostle’s direction, that they abuse and pervert it, and do not appear to be real Christians.

II. It hence appears how reasonable and important it is that Christians should give the reason of their hope, when they join to a church, and make a Christian profession; and that they should be asked concerning their doctrinal knowledge, and experience of the power of divine truths on their hearts. Churches have a right to know of such the reason of their hope, and with what 45views, exercises and motives they desire to join them. And by this means they get acquainted with them as they could not in any other way, and a foundation is laid for future intimacy and Christian communion. They therefore must be blameable, and give reason to fear they are not Christians, who refuse to join a church be cause they cannot be admitted unless they will give the reason of their hope, as above explained. And those churches are guilty of great and criminal neglect who admit members without any examination of them respecting their doctrinal and experimental knowledge of religion, or asking them to give the reason of their hope. The consequence generally is, that the members of such churches have no particular intimacy or acquaintance with each other, not so much as they have with the men of the world, or those who make no profession of religion; and know little or nothing of each other, and are in no respect distinguished from non-professors, but merely by having made a profession, and meeting together at the Lord’s table.

III. This subject is suited to awaken Christians to a concern to be ready, and more ready than Christians in general have been and are, to give an answer to those who ask them the reason of the hope that is in them. They ought to strive to be yet better able to offer the most clear and convincing evidence of the truth, authenticity and excellence of Christianity, and to increase in the strength and constancy of every Christian grace; that they may have increasing evidence in their own minds that their hope is well founded, and be able to give more satisfying and striking evidence to others that they are Christians indeed; and so shine as lights in the world, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation.

Christians have no reason to be ashamed of their hope and the gospel, let who will speak against and ridicule it. It has and will stand the test of the most severe rational trial and examination. The more it is examined by unprejudiced reason, the brighter its truth and divine excellency shine; and it will stand and prevail, until the light 46of it shall fill the world, as the waters cover the sea, and all the opposers of it shall be turned into everlasting darkness. Wherefore let Christians gird up the loins of their mind, be sober, and hope to the end, for the grace which is to be brought unto them at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and be always ready to give an answer to every man that asketh them the reason of the hope that is in them, with meekness and fear.

There is a special reason for a careful, courageous practice of this apostolic direction, at this day, which is the time in which the sixth vial is poured out, predicted Revelation sixteenth chapter, when the spirits of devils are allowed to go forth to the inhabitants of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of the great day of God Almighty. These evil spirits are now among us, and have great influence on the minds of men, in the uncommon, rapid spread of infidelity, and all manner of error and vice. Christians therefore now have a loud and special call to watch and be sober, to vindicate the truth, and honour Christ and his cause in all possible ways. Let them hear and obey the words of Christ, which he spake with particular reference to this time: “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.”

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