« PreviousContinue »
3. From what has been advanced, we may infer the necessity there is of avciding the mistake of the gnostics on the one hand, and the error of incredulous sages on the other; the former of whom, contending for a speculative faith, salute Christ as their Lord, though they refuse to obey his commands; while the latter, holding faith in the utmost derision, and depending upon their own power
for the performance of every good work, pollute, by unworthy motives, the most excellent of their actions.
THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED.
As many have taken great offence in observing how little effect the doctrines of the gospel have upon the lives. of Christians, so called, it becomes us here to inquire into the causes of this grand evil.
The doctrines which distinguish Christianity from theism have this peculiarity, that no man can possibly receive them, unless he has first sincerely embraced the doctrines of theism. He must believe in God, before he can believe in Christ; he must have the sincerity of an honest heathen, before he comes to the possession of Christian charity. It is usual with the whole multitude of outward professors to cry out in their public services, “ We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the Holy Ghost,” &c. ; though their faith, it may be, is not equal to that of devils, who believe in the existence of a rewarding and avenging God, with sincerity sufficient to make them tremble before him. But these hypocrites can no more he said to believe from the heart the latter articles of the apostles' creed, than those children who are yet unacquainted with the alphabet may be said to have perused and digested the most profound authors. The higher doctrines of the gospel must necessarily appear both useless and absurd to those whose faith in God is not
sufficient to penetrate them with a holy fear; for as we cannot arrive at manhood without first passing through the state of infancy, so we cannot cordially receive the latter part of the apostles' creed till we have first embraced the former part by a lively and steadfast faith. Why did Caiaphas refuse to believe in Christ? Because he was but an hypocrite with respect to the Jewish faith. On the contrary, why did Cornelius the centurion so readily believe? It was, undoubtedly, because the sincerity of his faith in God had prepared his heart for the reception of faith in Christ. Every man,” saith this divine Saviour, " that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me." John vi. 45. Ye” who “believe in God believe also in me; and I will
the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, even the Spirit of truth.” John xiv. 1, 16, 17.
These fundamental doctrines compose the ladder of evangelical truth, in which he who takes offence at any single step, runs a double hazard, -that of ascending no higher, and even that of falling from the step where he has obstinately determined to take up his rest. that doeth truth, cometh to the light ;" John iii. 21; but he that refuses the first truths places himself beyond the possibility of receiving those which are of a more sublime nature. If he has not first observed the dawn of the gospel day, he can never contemplate our divine Sun, when shining in his meridian brightness.
The articles of the Christian faith may be compared to a course of geometrical propositions, the last of which always suppose a perfect knowledge of the first. To require, then, of spiritual infants any high and important acts of faith in Jesus Christ, or in the Holy Spirit, before they are taught to entertain just notions of the supreme Being, would be equally unreasonable, as for a man to pretend that it is possible to make a good geometrician of an ignorant peasant, by instructing him to repeat the terms of Euclid's last propositions, without ever bringing him to a true understanding of the first. Now if the generality of Christians are contented with learning merely to repeat our doctrinal terms, we must expect to
see them as far from manifesting the virtues of St. Paul, as the superficial peasant from possessing the solidity of Euclid.
PROFITABLY to teach the doctrines of the gospel, there are certain rules necessary to be observed ; and where these rules are either unknown or neglected, the gospel becomes of little importance.
1. A true doctrine, in order to have its due effect, must be announced with purity. It should neither be mutilated by hasty contractions, nor corrupted by vain additions. The prince of error equally serves his own interest by perplexing the truth, as by spreading a falsehood; and when errors are added to evangelical truths, those truths may
be compared to excellent medicines unhappily mingled with dangerous poisons. Thus, the doctrine of future punish
. ments is not only deprived of its utility, but becomes really pernicious, by the addition of another doctrine, which teaches, that a sum of money left as the price of prayer for a departed soul will effectually soften, and even terminate, its pains.
2. A doctrine should not only be delivered in the purest manner, but they who announce it should study to demonstrate its excellency and power by the whole course of their conduct. Were leprous physicians to cry up a specific against the leprosy, it cannot be imagined, that lepers, in general, wonld anxiously adopt a remedy which had been attended with so little effect upon the recommenders of it. We here intimate, not without the utmost regret, that too many of the clergy destroy the effect of their doctrines by the immorality of their conduct.
3. To give scriptural doctrines their full effect, it is necessary to make them pass from the understanding to
the will, or from the judgment to the heart, of those who admit them. It would be in vain to procure for a patient the most efficacious remedy, if, instead of applying it according to the method prescribed, he should think it sufficient to touch it with his lips, or should content himself with drawing in the grateful odour exhaling from it. To such a patient, however, the greater part of Christians bear a strict resemblance, who speculate upon the gospel, without ever embracing it with that lively “faith which worketh by love.” Gal. v. 6.
4. It is not sufficient that these doctrines should be preached in their native purity, but it is equally necessary that they should be preserved in that purity by those who receive them. Our Lord makes this solemn declaration to sinners : Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Luke xiii. 3. Yet how is it that
many thousands of Christians, who admit this important truth, remain to the present day in a state of impenitence ? It is because they mingle with it the following pernicious error : Though I spend the present moment in sin, God will assuredly give me grace to repent in the latter part of my life. Hence that lamentable inattention to the duties of religion, which is so universal among us at this day.
5. Very frequently, the doctrines of the gospel are attended with no considerable effect upon those who admit them, because the salutary operation of these truths is counteracted by the powerful influence of earthly desires indulged in the heart. Thus, in a disordered stomach, the most wholesome food is deprived of its virtue. To remedy this evil, it is necessary to enter upon a regimen too severe to be regarded by an obstinate patient, and upon the absolute necessity of which an inattentive physician will not peremptorily insist.
6. Where doctrines of the most humiliating tendency have not first made a deep impression, there the consolatory doctrines of the gospel tend only to uphold the sinner in a course of impiety. Those preachers who favour the false judgment of worldly men, wanting either courage or experience wisely to minister the doctrines of the gospel, Ho that they may alarm the impenitent and console the dejected; these preachers, instead of eradicating, do but increase, the evil we lament. It cannot, indeed, be denied, that they offer many sacred truths to the world ; but, while they do not nicely distinguish and apply them to the different states of their hearers, as they only draw their bow at a venture, it is no wonder that their arrows so frequently fall beside the mark. These perplexers of truth contribute as little to the conversion of sinners, as a physician would contribute to the recovery of the sick, who, without any prudent selection, compounding together all the drugs of an excellent pharmacopæia, should indiscriminately offer the same confused recipe to every patient.
7. The doctrines of Christianity are frequently delivered as the opinions of men, rather than as the declarations of God, founded upon events much better attested than the most certain historical facts; and to this single error the inefficacy of those doctrines may, in a good degree, be imputed. Were reason and conscience made to walk in the front of the gospel, the want of a Redeemer would be moreuniversally experienced in the world than it has hitherto been. But while the preachers of that gospel neglect to assert the depravity of human nature ; or, while they omit, in confirmation of so melancholy a truth, to make the most solemu appeals to the consciences of men; so long we may expect to see their ill-directed labours universally unsuccessful. Had these teachers in Israel an experimental acquaintance with those truths upon which they presume openly to descant, their word would speedily be attended with unusual efficacy; their example would give it weight; and, in answer to their fervent
the God of all grace would set his seal to the truth of the gospel.
Whenever the messengers of religious truth shall become remarkable for the purity of their lives, and the fervency of their zeal, their doctrines will be soon attended with sufficient influence in the Christian world, to overthrow the objection we have been here considering, and effectually to stop the mouth of every gainsayer.