PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
On the Act or Covenant of Religious Consecration.
It must be obvious from what was said in the last chapter, that no one can reasonably expect to make much advancement in religion, without a permanent and devout personal consecration. Unless the Christian is willing to make such a consecration, and unless he actually adds the execution of the thing to the desire or willingness to do it, by a formal and decisive act, we can see no encouragement, that he will reach those results of personal inward experience, which will be hereafter indicated. This is a duty so important, so much depends upon it, that it seems to be necessary to give to it a separate and more particular consideration.
(1.) — And the first remark, which we have to make on this subject, is, that the consecration of ourselves to God, which is so inseparable from the progress and perfection of the divine life, should be made DELIBERATELY. — A consecration, made in this manner, viz. with calmness and deliberation, is due to our own characters, as rational and reflecting beings. As God has made us perceptive and rational, he desires and expects us, especially in important transactions, to act in accordance with the principles he has given us. It is not reasonable to suppose, that God would be pleased with a consecration, made thoughtlessly and by blind impulse, rather than by deliberate reflection. Man has deliberately rebelled and gone astray, and it is due to himself and his Maker, it is due to truth and to holiness, that he should deliberately and reflectingly submit and return; that his repentance of sin should be accompanied with a clear perception of his sinfulness; that his determination to do God's will should be attended with some suitable apprehensions of what He requires; and that his fixed purpose of future obedience should be sustained by the united strength of all appropriate considerations.
(2.) — We observe, in the second place, that the consecration must be made for ALL COMING TIME. It is true, that there may be specific consecrations of a modified character, restricted to particular objects and occasions, and limited also to definite periods. A person, for instance, may devote himself exclusively, for a limited time, to the one important object of erecting a place of public worship. And regarding him as giving to this one object all his powers of body and of mind, we may properly speak of him, in an imperfect or modified sense of the term, as CONSECRATED to this particular work. But it is quite obvious, that such instances of consecration are exceedingly different from the one under consideration; which is fundamental and universal in its character, and which would be inconsistent with itself, if it were applied to one object to the exclusion of others; which takes into view the very being and nature of the soul; which considers the principles of man's departure from God and also the principles involved in his restoration; which recognizes the full amount of God's immutable and infinite claims; and which, therefore, on the grounds of truth and rectitude, as well as of safety and of happiness, cannot be made for a less period than all time and eternity.
(3.) It may be remarked again, that the consecration, including our bodies as well as our spirits, and our possessions as well as our persons, all we are and all we have, all we can do and all we can suffer, should be made without any reserve. There are many professors of religion, who are willing to give up something to the Lord; and perhaps it can be said, that there are many who are willing to give up MUCH; but the consecration, of which we are speaking, requires us to be truly willing to give up ALL. And not only to be WILLING to give up all, but to do it. It is true, that in our present state, some things are needful for us, and our heavenly Father assures us that he is not ignorant of it. But while, in compassion to our obvious wants, he bestows upon us those things, which are necessary to beings who must be fed, clothed, and sheltered, he requires us to hold these and all other gifts of a temporal nature, which we sometimes call our own, as bestowments imparted by himself for a special purpose, and to be retained and used in perfect subordination to the divine will. — And still more important and necessary is it, that all the exercises of the mind, that all powers and efforts of the intellect and all desires and purposes of the heart and will, should be laid sacredly upon the divine altar; in perfect simplicity of view; without any reservation, and without any regards, however secret and intimate, to the claims of self; inscribed, as it were, within and without, with holiness to the Lord; FROM God, OF God, and FOR God. — Consecration without reserve implies, that we are not only to give up our persons and powers to be employed as God wills, but also to endure or suffer as God wills; and it implies also that we are to give them up to be employed and to suffer, just in the time and place, and in all the precise circumstances, which are agreeable to God; without presuming to dictate to him in the smallest respects, and without any will or choice of our own.
(4.) — Finally, in the full conviction that no efforts or purposes of our own will be available without divine assistance, we should make the consecration in reliance upon divine strength; recognizing, on the one hand, our own entire weakness; and at the same time fully believing, on the other, in the willingness and readiness of God to aid, and deliver us in every time of temptation and trial. A consecration, made without a distinct recognition of our own insufficiency, and without the expression and the reality of reliance on God alone as our only hope; would be wanting in the most essential element. It would necessarily fail of the divine blessing; and could not result in any good. "Lay it down to yourself as a most certain principle," says Dr. Doddridge, "that no attempt in religion is to be made in your own strength. If you forget this, and God purposes finally to save you, he will humble you with repeated disappointments, till he teach you better."
A consecration, thus deliberately made, including all our acts, powers, and possessions of body, mind, and estate, made without any reserve either in objects, time, or place; embracing trial and suffering as well as action, never to be modified, and never to be withdrawn, and which contemplates its fulfillment in divine and not in human strength, necessarily brings one into a new relationship with God, of the most intimate, interesting, and effective nature. It is not easy to see, how a soul, that is thus consecrated, can ever be deserted. Divinity is pledged in its behalf. And in all times of temptation and trial, when clouds and storms hang darkly and heavily around, there will always be a redeeming power, a light in the midst of shadows, the shining of the bow of promise.
A word further remains to be said here. I am aware, there are some who seem to appreciate the necessity of entirely consecrating themselves to God, and perhaps may be said to be willing to do it, but who have felt a difficulty in one particular. They have inquired with a good deal of solicitude, how is it possible to make a consecration now, which shall bind us to fulfill the will of God in all the emergencies of the unseen and untried future; including cases, the difficulties of which we are now unable to appreciate; and therefore do not know, that we have now, or ever shall have strength to meet them. In respect to such cases all we can say is, that we must commit ourselves into the hands of God in the exercise of simple faith; remembering his declaration, that "his grace is sufficient." God hath said, Heb. 13: 5, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me."
In the conclusion of this subject, I would introduce another short passage from Dr. Doddridge. ["Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul", chap. xvii] — "I would further advise and urge," he says, "speaking on the matter of making an entire consecration of ourselves, "that this DEDICATION should be made with all possible solemnity. Do it in express words. And perhaps it may be in many cases most expedient, as many pious Divines have recommended, to do it in writing. Set your hand and seal to it, that on such a day of such a month, and year and at such a place, on full consideration, and serious reflection, you came to this happy resolution, that whatever others might do, you would serve the Lord." In connection with some further remarks of this kind he gives two forms of consecration, of which the following is an abridgment, with the addition of a few words in brackets, which seemed to be necessary to complete the sense.
Form of consecration, abridged from Dr. Doddridge.
Eternal and ever blessed God! I desire to present myself before Thee with the deepest humiliation and abasement of soul, sensible how unworthy such a sinful worm is, to appear before the Holy Majesty of heaven, and to enter into a Covenant transaction with Thee. I come acknowledging myself to have been a great offender; smiting on my breast and saying with the humble publican, God be merciful to me a sinner. I come invited in the name of thy Son, and wholly trusting in his perfect righteousness; intreating that, for his sake, Thou wilt be merciful to my unrighteousness, and wilt no more remember my sins.
Permit me, O Lord, to bring back unto Thee those powers and faculties, which I have ungratefully and sacrilegiously alienated from thy service: And receive, I beseech Thee, thy poor revolted creature, who is now convinced of thy right to him, and desires nothing in the world so much as to be Thine. It is with the utmost solemnity, that I make this surrender of myself unto Thee. I avouch the Lord this day to be my God; and I avouch and declare myself this day to be one of his Covenant children and people. Hear, O Thou God of heaven, and record it in the book of thy remembrance, that I am thine, ENTIRELY THINE. I would not merely consecrate to Thee some of my powers, or some of my possessions, or give Thee a certain portion of my services, or all I am capable of for a limited time; [but I give myself to Thee and promise, relying upon thy divine assistance, ] to be wholly thine and thine forever.
From this day do I solemnly renounce all the former Lords, which have had dominion over me, every sin and every lust, and in thy name set myself in eternal opposition to the powers of Hell, which have most unjustly usurped the empire over my soul, and to all the corruptions, which their fatal temptations have introduced into it. The whole frame of my nature, all the faculties of my mind and all the members of my body would I present before Thee this day, as a living sacrifice HOLY and ACCEPTABLE to God, which I know to be my most reasonable service. [To thee I consecrate not only my person and powers,] but all my worldly possessions; and earnestly pray Thee also to give me strength and courage to exert for thy glory all the influence I may have over others in the relations of life, in which I stand.
Nor do I only consecrate all that I am and have to do thy service; but I also most humbly resign and submit myself and all that I can call mine, [to endure and suffer at thy hand whatsoever thou mayst see fit to impose upon me in the dispensations] of thy holy and sovereign will. I leave, O Lord, to thy management and direction all I possess and all I wish; and set every enjoyment and every interest before Thee, to be disposed of as thou pleasest; contentedly resolving, in all that thou appointest for me, my will into Thine, and looking on myself as NOTHING, and on Thee, O God, as the great, Eternal All, whose word ought to determine every thing; and whose government ought to be the joy of the whole rational creation.
Receive, O heavenly Father, thy returning prodigal! Wash me in the blood of thy dear Son! Clothe me with thy perfect righteousness; and sanctify me throughout by the power of thy Spirit. And O Lord, when thou seest the agonies of dissolving nature upon me, remember this Covenant, even though I should then be incapable of recollecting it, and look with pitying eye upon thy dying child. Put strength and confidence into my departing spirit; and receive it to the embraces of thine everlasting love.
Glory to God alone.
"Oh Loved! but not enough, though dearer far,
"Than self, and its most loved enjoyments are;
"None duly loves Thee, but who, nobly free
"From sensual objects, finds his ALL in Thee.
"Glory of God! thou stranger here below,
"Whom man nor knows, nor feels a wish to know
"our faith and reason are both shocked to find
"Man in the post of honor, Thee behind.
"My Soul! rest happy in thy low estate,
"Nor hope, nor wish, to be esteemed or great,
"To take the impression of a Will Divine,
"Be that thy glory, and those riches thine.
"Confess Him righteous in his just decrees,
"Love what He loves, and let his pleasures please;
"DIE DAILY; from the touch of sin recede;
"Then thou hast crowned Him, and he reigns indeed.