“The Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28).
And there are many who go thus far; ever since the Christian religion was in the world, there have been many in every age and nation, who were “almost persuaded to be Christians.” But seeing it avails nothing before God, to go only thus far, it highly imports us to consider,
First, What is implied in being almost;
Secondly, What in being altogether a Christian.
What is implied in being almost a Christian?
Now, in the being almost a Christian is implied, first Heathen Honesty. No one, I suppose, will make any question of this; especially, since by heathen honesty here, I mean, not that which is recommended in the writings of their philosophers only, but such as the common heathens expected of one another, and many of them actually practiced.
By the rules of this they were taught, that they ought not to be unjust: Not to take away their neighbor’s goods, either by robbery or theft: Not to oppress the poor, neither to use extortion toward any: Not to cheat or overreach either the poor or rich, in whatsoever commerce they had with them: To defraud no man of his right; and if it were possible, to owe no man anything.
Again, the common heathen allowed, that some regard was to be paid to truth as well as to justice. Yet, again, there was a sort of love and assistance, which they expected one from another.
A second thing implied in being almost a Christian, is having a Form of Godliness, of that godliness which is prescribed in the gospel of Christ; the having the outside of a real Christian. Accordingly, the almost Christian does nothing which the gospel forbids. He takes not the name of the Lord in vain. He blesses and curses not ; he swears not at all, but his communication is yea, yea; nay, nay. He not only avoids all actual adultery, fornication, and uncleanliness, but every word or look, that either directly or indirectly tends thereto.
And in doing good, he does not confine himself to cheap and easy offices of kindness, but labours and suffers for the profit of many, that by all means he may help some. He hath the form of godliness, uses the means of grace; yea, all of them, and at all opportunities. He constantly frequents the house of God; and behaves with seriousness and attention.
To this, if we add, the constant use of Family Prayer, by those who are masters of families, and the setting times apart for private addresses to God, with a daily seriousness of behavior: he who uniformly practices this outward religion, has the form of godliness.
There needs but one thing more in order to his being an almost a Christian, and that is, Sincerity. By Sincerity, I mean a real, inward principle of religion, from whence these outward actions flow. And, indeed, if we have not this, we have not heathen honesty; no, not so much of it as will answer the demand of a heathen Epicurean poet. Even this poor wretch, in his sober intervals, is able to testify: Good men avoid sin from the love of virtue: Wicked men avoid sin from a fear of punishment.
So, that, if a man only abstain from doing evil in order to avoid punishment, to avoid the loss of his friends, or his gain, his reputation, should not also abstain from doing evil, but also do ever so much good; yea, and use all the means of grace; yet we could not with any propriety say, “This man is even almost a Christian.” If he have no better principle in his heart, he is also a hypocrite altogether. Sincerity, therefore, is necessarily implied in the being almost a Christian.
But here it will probably be inquired, Is it possible, that any man living should go as far as this, and, nevertheless, be only almost a Christian? What more can be implied, in the being a Christian altogether? I answer first, That it is possible to go thus far, and yet be almost a Christian, I learn not only from the Oracles of God, but also from the sure testimony of experience.
I did for many years, as many of this place can testify; using diligence to eschew all evil, and to have a conscience void of offence; redeeming the time; buying up every opportunity of doing all good to all men; constantly and carefully using all the public and private means of grace; endeavoring, after a steady seriousness of behavior, at all times, and in all places: and God is my record, before whom I stand, doing all this in sincerity; having a real design to serve God; a hearty desire to do His will in all things; to please Him who had called me to “fight the good fight,” and to “lay hold on eternal life.” Yet my own conscience bears me witness, in the Holy Ghost, that all this time I was but almost a Christian.
What more than this is implied in the being altogether a Christian?
First, the love of God. For thus said the Lord in His word, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” Such a love of God is this, as engrosses the whole heart, as takes up all the affections, as fills the entire capacity of the soul, and employs the utmost extent of all its faculties. He that thus loves the Lord his God, His spirit continually “rejoice in God his Saviour.”
The second thing implied in being altogether a Christian, is, The love of our neighbor. For thus said our Lord in the following words, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. “ If any man ask who is my neighbor; we reply, every man in the world; every child of His Who is the Father of the spirits of all flesh. Nor may we in any wise except our enemies, or the enemies of God and their own souls, but every Christian loves these also as himself, yea, “as Christ loves us.”
There is yet one thing more that may be separately considered, though it cannot be actually separate from the preceding, which is implies in the being altogether a Christian, and that is the ground of all, even faith.
Now, whatsoever has this faith, which purifies the heart, (by the power of God Who dwells therein,) from pride, anger, desire, from all unrighteousness, from all filthiness of flesh or spirit; which fills it with love stronger than death, both to God and to all mankind; love that does the works of God, glorying to spend and to be spent for all men, and that endures with joy, not only the reproach of Christ, the being mocked, despised, and hated of all men, but whatsoever the wisdom of God permits the malice of men or devils to inflict: whosoever has this faith thus working by love, is not almost only, but altogether a Christian.
Do good designs and good desires make you a Christian? By no means, unless they are brought to good effect. “The road to Hell is paved (said one) with good intentions.” The great question of all, then, still remains: Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can you cry out: “My God and my all!” Do you desire nothing but Him? Are you happy in God? Is He your glory?, your delight, your crown of rejoicing?
And is this commandment written in your heart: That he who loves God love his brother also? Do you then love your brother as yourself? Do you love every man, even your enemies, even the enemies of God, as your own soul? As Christ loved you? Do you believe that Christ loved you, and gave Himself for you? Have you indeed redemption through His blood, even the remission of thy sins? And does His Spirit bear witness with your spirit, that you are a child of God?
May we thus all experience what it is, to be not only almost, but altogether Christians! Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus: knowing we have peace with God through Jesus Christ: rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, and having the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost given to us!