« PreviousContinue »
us; and not unsuitable, I trust, to the solemn occasion on which we are assembled. As far as it more immediately regards religion, let us confine ourselves to the two distinguished at tributes of the Divine Nature,-the Justice, and the Mercy of God. Here, it is easy to perceive," that by "adding to" either of these, or "diminishing aught from them," we are in danger of falling into the most pernicious errors both of sentiment and conduct. On the first promulgation of the Holy Gospel, the sincere disciple, whose faith was equivalent to conversion, was told that his past sins would be forgiven, through the merits and atonement of Christ; but, with regard to the future, if he wished not to forfeit the privileges and blessings of the New Covenant, he was told, also, that he must strictly fulfil its duties, by adding to his faith, repentance and obedience. The same language is held by the pious missionary to the newly converted heathen of the present day; but there are visionary fanatics in abundance, who persuade their deluded followers, that a certain fervor of belief will cover all transgressions both past and to come. The self-sufficiency and lofty pretensions of spiritual pride, augmented as they are by erroneous notions of grace, election, and
the influence of the Holy Spirit, supersede the humble efforts of human virtue ;-the wide door of Antinomianism is thus thrown open, and the moral precepts of the Gospel are slightly felt, as any check on vice, or as any effectual encouragement to the performance of duty.
By unlimited, and, of course, indistinct notions respecting the divine mercy, others, who may not perplex their minds with any peculiar tenets of religion, often come to the same conclusion. Pleas derived from original constitution, strength of appetite and passion, or peculiar trials and temptations, will be constantly urged in palliation of any favorite vice; the necessity of fortitude, vigilance, and self-denial, will scarcely be felt; and the soul gradually sinks into the bondage and sloth of sin, from the vain idea, that the goodness of God will prove a cloke for every species of iniquity.
Still more lamentable are the consequences that result from erroneous notions of the divine Justice. The timid, but sincere believer, when he remembers his manifold omissions and transgressions, might shrink with terror from the awful trial of the last day; and, instead of fulfilling the measure of duty that is required of him, might suffer life to pass away in the habitual
gloom of religious despondency. All, indeed, may say, in the fervor and humility of prayer, "Enter not into judgment" (that is strict, unrelenting judgment)" with thy servant, O Lord, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified :" but the gracious terms of the Christian covenant should never be forgotten. We know the sacrifice, the mediation and atonement that have been made for the unavoidable failures and transgressions of human infirmity; and all fear, which serves to paralyse our efforts, instead of rousing the soul to repentance and amendment of life, is not only vain and idle, but sinful and degrading.
While errors of this sort have some claim to our tenderness and compassion, there are others respecting the justice of God, which appear to be more reprehensible and presumptuous. From some unaccountable propensity of nature,— some perverseness of instruction, or some strange bewilderment of the understanding, there are persons who can annex such qualities to the Supreme Being, as are at variance with every thing, which we are taught, by reason and by nature, to venerate, admire, and love. It would be scarcely possible to believe, without the evidence of experience, that there should be any class of
human beings, who, though Christians, profess, in their full extent, the peculiar Calvinistic doctrines of election and reprobation;-who dread not to think, and declare, that the Almighty Father, the great Creator, and gracious Preserver of the universe, has by eternal and irrespective decrees, (that is, without any regard to the merit, or demerit of human actions) doomed a certain portion of his intelligent creatures to everlasting misery, and others to everlasting happiness. Thus, we may perceive, is the axe laid to the root of all human endeavours to avoid evil, or to pursue good; thus, may the discipline and trials of this life, as preparatory for a better, be regarded as a mere illusion; and thus may all those sublime emotions of love and reverence, of trust and affiance, of gratitude and adoration, with which we wish to contemplate the nature and attributes of our great Creator, vanish in the gloom of indescribable terror and despair.
There seems to be a degree of selfishness and spiritual pride associated with these dreadful tenets, which it is difficult to speak of with truth, and at the same time, with sufficient moderation. The professors of them can meditate with great complacency on the eternal misery of millions of their fellow-creatures, proceeding
Awit from the predestination, or irreversible decrees of the Almighty, before the world was created; but they wrap themselves up in the calm assurance, that their names are written in the book of life, and that they are among the elected few that shall and must be saved. By these daring and presumptuous additions to the word of God, it is evident that his justice is converted into cruelty and caprice, and that his mercy is not only diminished, but rendered inexplicable, and almost extinct.
Without extending our observations, therefore, to other subjects, we may understand the great duty of studying the Holy Scriptures with reverence and humility. The pride of reason, the infirmities of passion, and the influence of prejudice, must all be laid aside, and we should "receive the word with meekness," as the apostle exhorts, "which is able to save our souls." For this reason, our blessed Lord declares, "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God," that is, the truths of the Holy Gospel, "as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein"-meaning that the mind of the sincere Christian must be equally pure, teachable, and free from the dominion of prejudice and error. In short, the best exercise of the understanding is required,