« AnteriorContinuar »
charity, which is nothing but the absence of Christianity: and any the least appearance of earnestness for some great and valuable truth, which we are unwilling to part with, because we hope to be saved by it, is browbeaten, condemned, and cast out of their moral system, under the name of heat, want of temper, fire, fury, &c. They add moreover, that articles of faith are things merely speculative: and that it is of little signification what a man believes, if he is but hearty and sincere in it: that is, in other words, it is a mere trifle whether we feed upon bread* or poison ;f the one will prove to be as good nourishment as the other, provided it be eaten with an appetite. Yet some well-meaning people are so puzzled and deceived by this sophistry, that they look upon concord among Christians as a thing impracticable and desperate; concluding a point to be disputable because it is dis. puted, and so they fall into a loose indifferent humor of palliating and thinking charitably, as it is called, of every error in faith and practice ; as if the church of Christ might very innocently be turned into a Babel of confu
Now that men do maintain opinions strangely different from one another, especially on subjects wherein it most concerns them
* See and compare Deut. viii. 3. Amos viii. 11. Acts xx. 28. + James iii. 8. 1 Tim. iv. 1.
to be agreed, is readily confessed: we are all witnesses of it: and, allowing them to be equally informed, there are but three possible sources from whence this difference can arise. It must be either from God, or from the scripture, or from themselves. From God it cannot be, for it is a great evil; it is the triumph of Deists and reprobates, and the best handle the enemies of Christianity ever found against it: and God is not the author of evil. Nor can it be from the scripture : to draw it thence, is but another way of imputing it to God.
The scripture is his word ; and he is answerable for the effect of his words when written or reported, as when they are suggested at first hand by the voice of his holy Spirit. It remains therefore, that the only source of this evil must be the heart of man : and that it is really so, will be evident from the scripture, and the plainest matters of fact. The account we have of this affair is, in short, as follows-Ever since the fall, the nature of man has been blind and corrupt; his understanding darkened,m and his affections polluted : upon the face of the whole earth, there is no man, Few or Gentile, that understandeth and seeketh after God;n the natural man, or man remaining in that state wherein the fall left him, is so far from being able to discover or know any religious truth, that he hates and flies from it when it is pro. posed to him; he receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God. Man is natural and earthly; the things of God are spiritual and heavenly; and these are contrary one to the other: therefore, as the wisdom of this world is fool ishness with God,p so the wisdom of God is foolishness with the world. In a word, the sense man is now possessed of, where God does not restrain it, is used for evil and not for good : his wisdom is earthly, sensual,* devilish;9 it is the sagacity of a brute,r animated by the malignity of an evil spirit.
m Epb. iv. 18,
Rom. iii, 11.
This being the present state of man, the scripture does therefore declare it necessary, that he should be transformed by the renewing of his mind, and restored to that sound mindt and light of the understanding,u that spiritual discernment,w with which the human nature was endued when it came from the hands of God, but to which it has been dead from the day that evil was brought into the world. And where the grace of God that should open the eyes, and prepare the heart to receive instruction, has been obstinately withstood and resisted; this blindness, which at first was only natural, becomes judicial; from being a defect, it is confirmed into a judgment; and men are not only unable to discern the truth, but are settled and riveted in error: which is the case with all those to whom God sends strong delusion that they should believe a lie, and have pleasure in unrighteousness.y It is then they sit down in the seat of the scornful, as fools, that make a mock at sin, and despisers of those that are good;a hating and railing at their fellow.creatures, only because they are endued with the fear of God! This is the last stage of blindness; and it is referred to in those words of the apostle If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost :b as also in that lamentation of our blessed Lord over the city of Jerusalem -If thou hadst known, even thousat least in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace ! but now they are hid from thine eyes.c
01 Cor. ii. 14.
r Jude 10. u Eph. i. 18.
The absolute necessity of God's grace to lighten our darkness, has often been largely and faithfully insisted upon by the writers and preachers of the church of England, but since a spirit of Deism has crept in among us, it has been openly slighted and contemned by some, and too much neglected by others; which has given an opportunity to several sorts of enthusiasts to make a wrong use of it : such as our Quakers, Methodists, and particular the reverend Mr. William Law, who, after writ. ing so excellently upon the vanity of the world, and the follies of human life, (on which subjects he has no superior) has left us nothing to depend upon but imagination, and reduced the whole evidence of Christianity to fancied impulses and inspiration ; so as to render the scriptures useless, and the appointed means of grace contemptible. I have observed the like to have happened in many other instances ; that where any essential point of doctrine has been dropt by the writers of the church, or at least not brought out to view so often as it should have been, it has been taken up by others, (as all tures are sown while the husbandmen are asleep) and employed under some false state of it, to the no small disad. vantage of the church and the Christian religion.
y2 Thess. ii. 11. a 2 Timothy iii. 3. c Luke xix. 42. Z Proverbs xiv. 9. b 2 Corinthians iv. 3.
To illustrate this subject a little farther, I shall make it appear by a few plain examples, that where mankind have been divided in their opinions with regard to any divine truth, it has not been owing to the ambiguity of its terms, or the defect of its evidence, but whol. ly and solely to the state and temper of the hearers. And thus Christ himself has instructed us in his parable of the sower ; that where the good seed of the word perishes, it is to be imputed to the ground and not to the seed. How else can we account for it, that when St. Paul laid the evidence of the gospe!