« PreviousContinue »
and Felix, or secretly depraved, as Judas and Caiaphas. And it was to persons of this character that Christ addressed himself in the following terms: How can ye believe who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” John v. 44. “ If any man will do the will of him that sent me," and follow the light that is imparted to him, “he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” John vii. 17. Hence when any who have been consecrated to Christ by baptism are seen withdrawing from the footstool of their Master to the schools of philosophy, or, at least, making no advances in true holiness, we may rest assured, that their decline is caused, or their spiritual growth prevented, by the secret indulgence of some vicious inclination. These philoscphizing moralists, and these lukewarm disciples, may be compared to the fruit that falls before it has attained to the perfection of its species : examine such fruit, and you will find, under a beautiful appearance,
either a destructive worm, or loathsome rottenness; such is the apostatizing deist, under the most specious forms he can possibly assume.
When J. J. Rousseau expressed himself in the following terms, “ If God judges of faith by works, then to be a good man is to be a real believer," he was not far beside the truth, provided that by a good man he intended one who lives in temperance, justice, and the fear of God; since every man in whom these virtues are discoverable is assuredly principled in the true faith. Such a one is a real believer, according to that economy of grace under which Job, Josiah, and Socrates shone out to the glory of God; men who either possessed principles of faith, or whose best actions are no more to be admired than those of our domestic animals.
This writer had less distinct views of truth when he added, “ The true Christian is the just man, unbelievers are the wicked ;” since there are just men who are not yet Christians, as there are studious persons who cannot yet be accounted profound scholars. Moreover, there are many who, like the centurion Cornelius, do not yet believe the gospel, because they have never
heard that gospel explained with precision and fidelity : and surely such deserve not to be termed absolutely unjust
The latter proposition approaches indeed nearer the truth : “ Unbelievers are the wicked;" yet this is false, except the term “ unbeliever" be taken for one who obstinately disbelieves the gospel ; since a good man who receives the first part of the apostles' creed, may yet, like Nathanael and Nicodemus, be so forcibly held back by involuntary prejudice, with respect to the other parts of the same creed, that he may fluctuate long between truth and error.
It is by propositions so vague and insidious that our philosophers delude themselves and beguile their disciples.
“But,” replies J. J. Rousseau, “ have we power to believe, or not to believe ? Is the not being able to argue well imputed to us as a crime ? Conscience informs not what we are to think, but what we are to do; it teaches us not to reason well, but to act well.” And are all the faculties of man, except his conscience, to be considered as utterly useless, with regard to this important matter? Let it, however, be granted, that a wicked and haughty person has it not in his power to believe; yet it is highly necessary that he should fear the truth, so long as he gives himself up, either to actions or inclinations that are manifestly evil. Thus the conscious robber can never overcome his fear of justice, so long as he is disposed to continue his iniquitous practices; but if, after making full restitution, he should become sincerely upright, maintaining a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man, he will tremble no more at the idea of judges, tribunals, or executions.
If it be asked, What secret vice it was that would not suffer so honest a man as J. J. Rousseau to embrace the gospel ? without searching into the anecdotes of his life, we may rest satisfied with the discovery he has made of his own heart, in this single sentence: “What can be more transporting to a noble soul than the pride of virtue?” Such was the pride which made him vainly presume that he had power sufficient to conquer himself, without invoking the assistance of God; and by which he
was encouraged to assert, that the doctrines of the gospel were such as no sensible man could either conceive or admit.” Such was the virtuous pride which would not suffer the pharisees to receive the humiliating truths of the gospel, and which filled the heart of Caiaphas with jealousy and hatred against Christ.
There is no species of pride more insolent than that which gives rise to the following language: “It is asserted, that God so loved the world, as to give his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. These tidings, whether they be
' true or false, are highly acceptable to many ; but, for my own part, I openly declare, that I reject with contempt the idea of such a favour. I read with attention those writings which tend to unfold the mysteries of nature; but resolve never to turn over those authors who vainly attempt to establish the truth of the gospel. This subject, though it has occupied the thoughts and engaged the pens of inquiring students for these seventeen hundred years, I shall ever regard as unworthy my attention. I leave it to the vulgar, who are easily persuaded of its importance. My virtues are sufficient to expiate my crimes; and on these I will resolutely depend, as my sole mediators before God." If this is implicitly the language of every man who obstinately rejects the doctrines of the gospel, what heights of presumption, and what depths of depravity, must lie open, in the souls of such, to the eye of Omniscience! Reason and revelation agree to condemn them. Behold the ground of their sentence : " Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased : and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted : for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." Luke xiv. 11; 1 Peter v. 5.
Reason itself is sufficient to discover, that before the supreme Being nothing can appear more detestable than the pride of a degenerate and ungrateful creature. And jf so, the deists of Socrates' time must have been far less culpable than those of the present day. The former, conscious of the uncertainty with which they were encompassed, made use of every help they could procure in the pursuit of truth, with unwearied assiduity. The latter, presuming upon their own sufficiency, decide against doctrines of the utmost importance, without impartially considering the evidences produced in their favour. The former, by carefully examining every system of morality proposed to their deliberation, discovered a candour and liberality becoming those who were anxiously “feeling after God, if haply they might find him.” Acts xvii. 27. The latter, by condemning revelation, without calmly attending to the arguments of its advocates, manifest a degree of prejudice that would be unpardonable in a judge, but which becomes execrable in a criminal who is pressed by the strongest reasons to search out the truth.
Plato, in the sixth book of his Republic, introduces his master marking out the dispositions necessary to a virtuous man. "Let us begin," says Socrates," by recounting what qualities are necessary to him who would one day become an honest man and a true philosopher. The first quality is the love of truth, which he ought to seek after in every thing, and by every means; true philosophy being absolutely incompatible with the spirit of delusion. He who has a sincere desire to obtain wisdom cannot confine himself to things that are here below, of which he can acquire but an uncertain knowledge. He is born for truth, and he tends to it with an ardour which nothing is able to restrain.” Ye who oppose philosophy to revelation, and reject, without throughly investigating, the doctrines of the gospel, can you be said to discover an attachment to truth as sincere as that of Socrates ? Do ye not rather esteem that an excessive fondness for truth, or even a dangerous species of enthusiasm, which the wisest heathens have looked upon as the first disposition requisite to an honest man ?
Plato and his master, who scrupulously acknowledged the truth wherever they discovered it, were assuredly in a state of acceptance before God, without an explicit acquaintance with Jesus Christ; for where the Almighty hath not strewed, there will he never expect to gather ; and where he hath scattered only the first truths of the gospel, there he never will require that precious fruit
which he expects to be produced by the highest truths of revelation. Thus the husbandman is content to reap nothing but barley in a field, where nothing but barley has been sown,
But if, after sowing the same field with the purest wheat, it should produce only tares, with a few scattered ears of barley, he would, undoubtedly, express a degree of surprise and displeasure, at having his reasonable expectations so strangely disappointed.
In the new testament we find a remarkable parable to this purpose, where mankind are considered as the domestics of God's immense household. In this parable, the Almighty is represented as collecting his servants together, and confiding to the care of each a separate loan, to be employed for the mutual interest of the covenanting parties. To one of his domestics he imparts five talents ; to another, two; while a third has no more than a single talent committed to his charge; but all are required so to occupy, that their gains may be proportionate to the several sums entrusted to their fidelity. Now, if the Christian, with five talents of spiritual knowledge, acquires no advantage over the Jew, who has received but two; is it not evident that he has acted the part of an unfaithful servant ? Nay, he is to be esteemed even more unprofitable than the heathen who suffers his single talent to lie unimproved, since, amid all his trifling gains, he has slothfully concealed three valuable talents, while the other has buried but one. But were the first and the last to derive equal advantages from the disproportionate privileges permitted them to enjoy, while the latter would be received as a good and faithful servant, the former might deservedly be treated with an unusual degree of severity by his insulted Lord. This parable may assist us to conceive that a philosopher who is called by baptism to evangelical perfection, and yet contents himself with practising the morality of a heathen, has not, in reality, so much solid virtue as a sincere deist bred up in the bosom of paganism.
Our progress in morality, like our advancement in science, is to be estimated by considering the circumstances in which we are placed, and the privileges we enjoy. A