« AnteriorContinua »
terms, whether they refer to things peculiar to Judaism, or to the early times of Christianity ; it is clear, from scripture and the nature of things, that others of them are expressive of principles, which, in every age, are of the first importance. Though the Apostle speaks of leaving them, yet he does not mean that we should give them up, or treat them with indifference, but 80 unto perfection ; as a builder leaves his foundation when he raises his walls, and advances toward the completion of his building
Repentance was the first lesson inculcated by John the Baptist, and Christ and the apostles ; and that, not merely on profligate sinners, but on Scribes and Pharisees. All that they had hitherto learned, required as it were, to be unlearned; and all that they had done, to be undone, and uiterly relinquished.
The knowledge which carnal men acquire of divine things puffs them up; and, while they think they understand great things, they know nothing as they ought to know it. All the works, too, which have been wrought during a state of unregeneracy are dead works; and, instead of being, in any degree, pleasing to God, require to be lamented, with shame and self-abhorrenee. Repentance is a kind of self-emptying work ; it includes a renunciation, not only of those things for which our own consciences at the time condemned us, but of what we have been in the habit of reckoning wisdom and righteousness. Hence the propriety of the order in which the scriptures place it, with regard to faith-Repent and believe the gospel. Renonnce your own ways, and embrace his. He that will be wise, must first become a fool, that he may be wise.
Faith toward God, or believing views of the being and glory of the divine character, are reckoned almost among the first principles of the doctrines of Christ. If we have just ideas of this very important subject, we have the key to the whole system of gospel truth. He who beholds the glory of the divine holiness, will, in that glass, perceive his own polluted and perishing condition; and, when properly impressed with a sense of these things, he will naturally embrace the doctrine of a Saviour, yea, aod of a great
Salvation by mere grace, through the atonenent of Jesus, will appear the very object of his soul's desire. And, with these principles in his heart, other scripture doctrines will appear true, Vol. VII.
interesting and harmonious. There are but few erroneous sentiments in the Christian world, which may not be traced to a spirit of self-admiration, (which is the opposite of repentance,) or to false conceptions of the divine character.
To these the Apostle adds, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment; or the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, of endless duration. These are principles, which, though they occupy almost an ultimate place in the sacred system, yet, as every other important truth respecting man proceeds upon the supposition of their reality, they may properly enough be reckoned among the first principles of the oracles of God. If these principles were given up to the Infidel, the spirit of whose creed amounts to this, Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die: or if the latter of them were given up to the Universalist, who, though he admits of a judgment to come, yet not of an eternal one ; we should soon find the whole fabric of truth falling to the ground.
2. We must not content ourselves with knowing what is truth, but must be acquainted with the evidence on which it rests. Chris. tians are required to be always ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them, with meekness and fear : and this supposes, not only that every part of religion admits of a rational defence, but that it is necessary for Christians to study, that they may be able to defend it ; or, at least, to feel the ground on which they rest their hope.
The truths contained in the oracles of God, may be distinguished into two kinds : those which approve themselves to our ideas of wisdom or fitness ; and those which utterly surpass our understanding, but which require to be believed as matters of pure revelation. The former chiefly respect the counsels and works of God, which are exhibited to our understanding, that God in them may be made manifest : the latter more commonly respect the being and inconceivable glories of the Godhead, the reality of which we are concerned to know, but on their mode or manner are forbidden to gaze.
It is exceedingly desirable to trace the wisdom and harmony of evangelical truth : it is a source of enjoyment, superior perhaps, to any thing with which we are acquainted. All the works of God are honourable and glorious, and sought out by all them that have pleasure therein ; but redemption is his great work, wherein appears glory to himself in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will to men : here, therefore, must needs be the highest enjoyment. Prior to the revelation of redemption, the holy angels shouted for joy over the works of nature; but, having witnessed the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, they desired to look into other things. Nothing tends more to establish the mind, and to interest the heart, in any truth, thar a perception that it is adapted, at once, to express the glory of the divine character, and to meet the necessities of guilty creatures. The more we think of truth, therefore, in this way, the more we shall be rooted and grounded in it.
But what reason have we to give, for embracing those doctrines which we consider as above reason, of the fitness of which we, consequently, pretend to bave no ideas. We answer, they are contained in the oracles of God. Nothing is more reasonable thin to give implicit credit to Him who cannot lie. On this ground, we believe that there are three who bear record in heaven, the Father the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and that these three are one. If God had revealed nothing but what would have come within the limits of our understanding, he must have told us little, or nothing at all, of his self-existence, eternity, and infinity ; for we have no positive ideas of any of these things. Yet the revelation of such truths
may be as necessary as those which approach nearer to our comprehension. The latter afford food for knowledge ; the former teach us humility, and furnish matter for faith.
3. We must learn truth immediately from the oracles of God. Many religious people appear to be contented with seeing truth in the light in which some great and good man has placed it : but, if ever we enter into the gospel to purpose, it must be by reading the word of God for ourselves, and by praying and meditating upon its sacred contents. It is in God's light, that we must see light. By conversing with the sacred writers, we shall gradually imbibe their sentiments, and be insensibly assimilated into the same spirit.
The writings of great and good men are not to be despised, any more than their preaching ; only let them not be treated as oracular. The best of inen, in this imperfect state, view things partially; and, therefore, are in danger of laying an improper stress upon some parts of scripture, to the neglect of other parts, of equal, and, sometimes, of superior importance. Now where this is the case, imitation becomes dangerous. It is rarely known but that an original suffers in the hands of a copyest : if, therefore, the former be imperfect, what may be expected of the latter? We all come far short of truth and righteousness, let our model be ever so perfect ; but, if this be imperfect, we shall possess not only our own faults, but those of another.
If, as ministers, we go about to depict either the character of a bad man, or of a good man, a state of unregeneracy, or a work of grace ; and, instead of drawing from real life, only copy from some accounts which we have read or heard of these matters, we shall neither convince the sinner, nor meet the case of the believer ; all, to say the least, will be foreign and uninteresting.
If we adopt the principles of fallible men, without searching the scriptures for ourselves, and inquiring whether, or not, these things be so, they will not, even allowing them to be on the side of truth, avail us as if we had learned them from a higher authority. Our faith, in this case, will stand in the wisdom of man, and not in the power of God. There is a savour in truth, when drawn from the words which the Holy Spirit teaches, which is lost, or at least diminished, if it pass under the conceptions and expressions of men. Nor will it avail us when most needed ; for he who receives his creed from men, may deliver it up to men again. Truth learned only at second-hand, will be to us what Saul's armour was to David ; we shall be at a loss how to use it in the day of trial,
4. If we would possess a deep and intimate acquaintance with divine truth, we must view it in its various connexions, in the great system of redemption. Systematical divinity, or the studying of truth in a systematical form, has been, of late years, much decried. It has become almost general to consider it as the mark of a contracted mind, and the grand obstruction to free inquiry. If we imbibe a false system, indeed, there is no doubt but it will prove
injurious; if it be true in part, but very defective, it may impede our progress in divine knowledge ; or if, in order to retain a system, we torture the scriptures to make them accord with it, we sball pervert the truth, instead of preserving it. These are things which make against false, defective, and anti-scriptural systems of faith : but not in the least against system itself. The best criterion of a good system is its agreement with the holy scriptures. That view of things, whether we have any of us fully attained it, or not, which admits the most natural meaning to be put upon every part of God's word, is the right system of religious truth. And he whose belief consists of a number of positions arranged in such a connexion as to constitute a consistent whole, but wbo, from a sense of his imperfection, and a remembrance of past errors, holds himself ready to add or retrench, as evidence shall require, is in a far more advantageous track for the attainment of truth, and a real enlargement of mind, than he who thinks without a system.
To be without system is nearly the same thing as to be without principle. Whatever principles we may have, while they continue in this disorganized state, they will answer but little purpose in the religious life. Like a tumultuous assembly in the day of battle, they may exist; but it will be without order, energy, or end.
No man could decry systematical knowledge in any thing but religion, without subjecting himself to the ridicule of thinking men. A philosopher, for instance, would expose himself to contempt, who, instead of improving facts which had fallen under his observation, that he might discover the general laws by which they are governed ; and, instead of tracing things to their first principles, and pursuing them to their just consequences, should inveigh against all general laws, all system, all connexion and dependence, and all uniform design, in the variety of creation. What should we say.of a husbandman, who refused to arrange his observations under the respective branches of business to which they naturally belonged; who had no general scheme, or plan of proceeding; but left the work of every day to the day itself, without forethought, contrivance or design? Or what opinion should we form of a merchant, or a tradesman, who should exclude systemati