« PreviousContinue »
punctual in attending public worship and divine ordinances ? or, if he has been constant, has he been faithful ? Has he preached the pure doctrines of the gospel plainly and fully ? Has he properly invited sinners to accept the offers of the gospel, and secure the salvation of their souls? Has he warned and admonished them against fatal errors, and all manner of sinful and destructive practices? Or has he conformed to the sinful customs and manners of the world, and set an example that his people could not innocently follow? If he has done this, he is undoubtedly chargeable with blame, in promoting and increasing religious declension among this once religious and exemplary people. He has reflected, and will reflect more upon this serious subject. In the next place, let the professors of religion seriously inquire whether they have not been, in a great measure, the primary and faulty cause of the unhappy declension of religion and vital piety here? Had those who first came to the house of God this morning asked the question, What think ye
e? Will not such and such a member of the church come to the feast to-day? What would one and another have said ? Undoubtedly, they would have said, we think such and such ones will come, for they have always constantly and punctually attended; but whether such and such and such a one will come to the feast, we doubt, for we have known him to be very inconstant and dilatory in attending public worship and divine ordinances. Are there not some such inconstant attendants on public worship and divine ordinances in this church? Have they not been influential in bringing on the declension of religion here? Are there others who, though not so inconstant, are unpunctual in attending public worship? And is not their example of a detrimental tendency to the instituted ordinances of religion? Are not some constant and punctual attendants on divine ordinances, in some other ways doing injustice to the cause of Christ? In a word, what think ye; have not the professors of religion here been blamably inconstant and unpunctual in attending public worship, and, by their example, led the men of the world to think, and speak, and act reproachfully with respect to the Sabbath, and all the ordinances of the gospel ?' If this be true, where should reformation begin? Should it not begin in the church? You have this day practically renewed your obligations to the divine Redeemer. Hear what he says to a declining church. “ Remernber therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die."
GROSS IGNORANCE OF DIVINE TRUTH, INCOMPATIBLE
WITH CREDIBLE EVIDENCE OF PIETY.
"BRETHREN, my heart's desire, and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record, that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."-Romans, x. 1, 2, 3.
THESE words naturally lead us to inquire, why the apostle Paul believed, that his Jewish brethren were entirely destitute of true religion.
The apostle here solemnly declares, that he believed his Jewish brethren were totally destitute of true religion, and exposed to future and eternal ruin. It is, therefore, a very serious and important inquiry, why he entertained such an unfavorable opinion of those, who were of the seed of Abraham, of the stock of Israel, and descendants of God's peculiar people. Here then, I would observe,
1. That he did not form this unfavorable opinion of his brethren according to the flesh, through any religious prejudice. Religious prejudice is of a blinding nature, and tends to lead those who are under its influence, to form an unjust and censorious opinion of the religious character of others. Nathanael was prejudiced against Christ, on account of the place of his birth and education. For when Philip told him, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,” Nathanael expressed his surprise and prejudice—“Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth ? The Jews also were so prejudiced against the Samaritans, that they would have no dealings with them. But Paul had no such national prejudice against the Jews. He felt both a natural and benevolent affection towards them, which he expressed in the strongest terms. "Brethren,
my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” He not only wished and desired, but heartily prayed for their salvation. He really believed, that they were entirely destitute of grace, and were pursuing a devout path to destruction. He knew, that they had a very different opinion of themselves, and thought that they were eminently pious, and going in the direct road to heaven. But he saw something about them, which convinced him that they were under a strong delusion, which exposed them to final disappointment and ruin. This excited his tender compassion towards them, and his ardent, benevolent desire and prayer, that they might be undeceived and saved from the wrath to come. It was not owing, therefore, in the least degree, to any prejudice he had against them, that he plainly and faithfully told them, that they were in the state of nature, unrenewed, and without a title to eternal life; but it was solely owing to his sincere and compassionate desire for their spiritual and eternal good. Nor,
2. Did he believe that they were entirely destitute of grace, because they did not profess to have true religion. Aīs the Jews were professors of religion, and some of them, especially the Scribes and Pharisees, were high professors, and verily thought they were eminently pious. They “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." Paul says, that while he was a Pharisee, he thought he was perfectly holy or entirely blameless. And he tells one of that sect, that he not only professed, but boasted of his piety. “Behold,” says he to him, "sthou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law, and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowl. edge, and of the truth in the law.” This was the high opinion which the Jews in general had of their piety, of which they publicly professed and boasted. Some persons appear so amiable, virtuous, and religious, that we should certainly believe they were truly pious, if they only had made a public profession of religion. It was not owing to the want of a public profession of religion, that the apostle did not believe his Jewish brethren had any true religion or vital piety. He did not complain of their not professing enough, but rather of their professing too much. Nor,
3. Was his disbelief of their piety owing to their neglect of the external duties of religion. They were extremely exact and punctilious in their external obedience to the law, and in
the duties of devotion. They paid tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin. They made long prayers, and fasted twice in the week. They shone like whited sepulchres in their external conduct, and outwardly appeared righteous unto men. They resembled the young man, who said he had kept the whole law from his youth up. Christ allowed, that they sustained such a beautiful external appearance, and the apostle does not deny it. But yet he did not believe, that they had the love of God in them, or possessed the least degree of true holiness. Besides,
4. It was not owing to their want of zeal, in performing the duties and promoting the cause of what they considered true religion, that he did not believe that they had any saving grace. Christ did not complain of them for having too little, but for having too much religious zeal. He said, “Wo unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, ye make him two-fold more the child of hell than yourselves.” Paul likewise acknowledges, that they were as zealous in religion as he
He said to them, “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous towards God, as ye all are this day.” And again he said, “ “Ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure, I persecuted the church of God and wasted it; and profited in the Jews' religion above many, my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” Hence he frankly acknowledges in the text, “I bear them record that they have a zeal of God." But at the same time, in the most friendly and fraternal language, he told them that he did not believe they knew the grace of God in truth. It certainly appears strange at first view, that he should have such an unfavorable opinion of their piety, after he had owned them as his brethren according to the flesh, and expressed an ardent desire for their future and eternal good ; after he had acknowledged their universal external obedience to the divine commands; and after he had allowed that they were very zealous in their religious duties and devotions. The serious and important question, which we proposed to consider, now arises : # Why did not the apostle view his Jewish brethren as visible saints ?" He did not pretend to speak to them and judge of them, as a searcher of hearts, but only as a faithful minister, who had a right to form his religious opinion of them by visible evidence. But what visible evidence could
he have that they were not real saints, as they professed and believed themselves to be? He tells them the ground of his unfavorable opinion of them, in the text.
“ Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record, that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” The sole reason which the apostle here assigns, why he had such an unfavorable opinion of his Jewish brethren, is their gross ignorance of the great and essential doctrines of the gospel. Such ignorance they manifested by disbelieving and rejecting the pure doctrines of the gospel which he preached. He knew that he had preached the first principles of the oracles of God; he knew that they had disbelieved and rejected those doctrines; he knew that their disbelief and rejection of them was owing to their gross ignorance; and he knew that such ignorance was entirely inconsistent with their having true love to God and faith in Christ, and of course, that they must be entirely destitute of saving grace.
If you now ask, what were the great and essential truths of the gospel, of which they were so grossly ignorant ? I answer,
1. That they were grossly ignorant of the true character of God. The apostle allows that they believed the existence of God, for they had a zeal of God; but he immediately subjoins, that their zeal was not according to knowledge, for they were ignorant of his righteousness, or moral character. God is love ; and his moral character consists in pure, holy, impartial, uniVersal, disinterested, righteous love. The righteousness of God means the same as his holiness, and his holiness comprises his goodness, justice, mercy, truth, and every moral excellence or perfection of his nature. But Paul's Jewish brethren had no true knowledge of these moral attributes of God. They thought he was altogether such a one as themselves; that he felt benevolently towards his friends, and malevolently towards his enemies. For this Christ condemned and reproved them. “ Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,
and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you ; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Be