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PIETY THE WAY TO RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE.
JOHN, VII. 17.
If any man will do His will, he shall know of the
doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
Tuis declaration of our Lord forms a part of an interesting conversation which he had with the Jews on the subject of his mission. He addresses them as persons possessing the means of reasonable conviction on this important question, refers them to the miracles which he wrought for the decision of it, and at the same time declares, that if any man will, or is willing to, do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.
The Jews had peculiar adyantages for trying the validity of our Lord's claims, and the truth of his doctrine. On the present occasion, they seem to have been divided in opinion respecting him. Some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people. He was not such a Messiah as they expected. He did not assume the pomp and grandeur of temporal dominion, or they, no doubt, would to a man have welcomed him as their deliverer and king. And yet they could not altogether resist the evidence of his divine mission, arising from the purity and excellence of the doctrines which he taught, and the miracles which he wrought in confirmation of them. They marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned? When Christ, or the Messiah, cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?
To the first of these objections, arising from his not enjoying the advantages of a superior education, our Lord replies, My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me. His claims were not founded on human attainments of any kind, but on testimonies of a very different nature; on proofs of a much higher origin, irresistibly bright and convincing to those whose minds are not clouded by prejudice, or perverted by worldly ambition. And he plainly intimates, that, notwithstanding the pretended doubts of their teachers and rulers, they both knew him, and knew from whence he came. So that here, as on another occasion, our Lord declares this to be the condemnation of unbelievers, that light is come into the world, but that men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. And certain it is, that no man ever rejected Christianity on account of the immorality of its doctrines; or, because he was desirous of becoming more pure, holy, just, and beneficent, than these require that he should be. Her constant and invariable language is, Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts ye double-minded. Expel prejudice from your minds ; embrace the truth in the love of it, and the truth shall make you free. Your rejection of Christ and of his doctrine springs from your corrupt passions, your pride and self-sufficiency, and your refusing to come to the light, lest your deeds should be made manifest. But if any man will do the will of God, will follow the rules which both the light of reason and the dictates of revelation prescribe for the attainment of religious knowledge; if, sensible of his own ignorance, he ask wisdom of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and rely upon the guidance and direction of his promised Spirit, with that humble and teachable disposition which even an earthly teacher requires of those who would profit by his instructions, he shall know, in his happy experience, that the doctrines of the gospel are of God, and are able to make him wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
The words of the text may be considered as a general proposition, stating the connexion that subsists between a disposition to do the will of God, and the attainment of correct and enlarged views of Christian doctrine; or, in other words, between practical piety and religious knowledge. If any man, says our Lord, will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
The important truth contained in this declaration of our Lord seems to imply two things :
I. That he who sincerely desires and endeavours to do the will of God, is thereby better qualified to form a right judgment of moral and religious
truth, than a person of a contrary disposition and temper of mind.
And, II. That the man who sincerely desires to know the will of God that he may đo it, shall certainly attain that degree of knowledge which is essential to salvation.
1. I observe, then, in the first place, That he who sincerely desires and endeavours to do the will of God, is thereby better qualified to form a right judgment of moral and religious truth, than ä person of a contrary disposition and temper of mind. And this will appear, if we consider,
1. The influence which the affections have upon the human understanding.
What a man earnestly desires and delights in will engage his whole soul; and if he is of a serious turn of mind, he will direct his chief attention to those truths which God has been pleased to reveal in his holy word, as these alone are able to make us wise unto salvation. Other truths may be useful or ornamental; but these are of paramount importance, and essentially connected with our well-being and happiness, both in this life and in that which is to come. The man who acts under this persuasion will delight himself in God and in his holy law, and will meditate upon it day and night. The sentiments and desires of the heart will be found to correspond with those of the psalmist, when he says, The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul : the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever : the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey, and the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. That strong desire which the good man has for divine truth, that appetite for the bread of life, and that nungering and thirsting after righteousness which he feels, are incomparably greater and more intense than that which is produced either by a vain desire of knowledge, or the mere pleasure of speculation. An immoral man, on the other hand, may, indeed, espouse, and even plead for, the peculiar and distinguishing doctrines of the gospel; yet as he does not, and cannot, cordially embrace them, so it is doubtful whether he can be said to understand them. The natural man, we are assured, receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned. This will further appear, if we consider,
2. That every predominant passion or lust is in itself an impediment to the knowledge of divine truth.
Thus, for instance, an undue regard to the praise of men often perverts the judgment: I say, an undue regard, because there is a proper regard to reputation, or rather character, which is both commendable and useful. But, when worldly reputation is the chief object of solicitude; when men