Imatges de pÓgina
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to the maxims and practices of the many, we seldom hear of any errors prevailing, but such as will find a favourable toleration, and may be avowed without exciting very strong and general expressions of contempt and ill-will against those who maintain them. But whenever real religion, as a life of faith in the Son of God, is set forth upon the principles of Scripture, and by the operation of the Holy Spirit witnesses are raised up, who, by their conduct, demonstrate that they are crucified with Christ, to the law, to sin, and to the world, then is the time for Satan to discredit this work, by imposing a variety of false views and appearances upon the minds of the ignorant and unwary; and he is seldom at a loss for fit instruments to promote his designs. Since the late revival of the Reformation-doctrines amongst us, we have, perhaps, fewer things of this kind to apologize for than have been observable on any similar occasion: and the best apology we can offer for what has been really blameable, is, to show that it was even thus in the apostles' days; and that if any arguments taken from these blemishes are conclusive against what some choose to call the novel doctrines now, they would with equal reason, conclude against the validity of the New Testament.

And, not to confine myself to such things as the world is most prone to except against, I shall endeavour to show that the seeds of all errors and heresies, the fashionable, as well as those which are more generally despised, were sown in the first age, and appeared so early as to give occasion for the apostles' censures against them. I do not mean by this to parallel every name and every singularity that a subtle head or a warm imagination may have started; but to assign, in general, the principles to which all these delusions may be

reduced, the sources to which these inebriating and dangerous streams may be traced; for, indeed, the operations of the human mind seem to be much more simple and limited than we are ordinarily aware. As there can be no new truths, though every truth appears new to us which we have not known before, so it is probable that there can be now no new errors; at least it is certain that a competent knowledge of antiquity, or even a careful perusal of the apostles' writings, will furnish sufficient evidence, that some modern authors and teachers, are, by no means, the inventors of the ingenious schemes they have presented to the public. Truth, like the sun, maintains a constant course; every thing would stagnate and die if we were deprived of it for a single day. But errors are like comets, which, though too eccentric to be subject exactly to our computations, yet have their periods of approach and recess; and some of them have appeared and been admired, have been withdrawn and forgot, over and over again,

Error, in the simplest form, is a misapprehension of the truth. Some part of the Gospel must be known before any erroneous conceptions of it can take place. Thus we read, that Simon Magus was struck with Philip's preaching, and the effects which attended it. He was so far impressed, that, it is said, he believed, that is, he made a profession of faith; he was convinced there was something extraordinary in the doctrine, but he understood it not: and the event showed he had no part nor lot in the matter. He is thought by the ancients to have been the founder of that capital sect which is known in general by the name of the Gnostics, and which, like a

*Acts, viii. 9-22.

gangrene, spread far and wide in various branches and subdivisions, each successive head refining upon the system of the preceding. In Sir Peter King's History of the Apostles' Creed, and Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, the English reader may see the substance of the figments which these unhappy men, wise in their own conceit, vented under the name of the Christian religion.

The doctrine of Jesus Christ, and of him crucified, which St. Paul preached, and in which he gloried, is the pillar and ground of truth, the rock upon which the church is built, and against which the gates of hell shall never prevail.* Mistakes in this point are fundamental, dangerous, and, if persisted in, destructive; for, as such a knowledge of God as is connected with his favour and communion is eternal life, so none can come to the Father but by the Son, † nor can any know him but those to whom the Son will reveal him. On this account Satan's great endeavour (and on his success herein the strength of his kingdom depends), is to darken and pervert the minds of men, lest they should acknowledge and understand what the Scripture declares of his person, characters, and offices, as well knowing, that if these are set aside, whatever else is left of religion will be utterly unavailing. Jesus Christ is revealed in the Scripture, and was preached by his first disciples, as God manifest in the flesh, a divine person in the human nature; who, by submitting to ignominy, pain, and death, made a full and proper atonement for sin, and wrought out an everlasting righteousness in favour of all who should believe in his name; and he is set forth in that nature, in which

* 1 Cor. ii. 2.; Gal. vi. 14.; 1 Tim. iii. 15.; Matt. xvi. 18. + John, xvii. 3. xiv, 6. + Matt. xi. 27.

he suffered, as the object of our supreme love, trust, and adoration. Other important doctrines, largely insisted on in the word of God, such as the demerit of sin, the obnoxiousness of sinners to punishment, and the misery and incapacity of man in his fallen state, are closely connected with this, and cannot be satisfactorily explained without it. The necessary method of our recovery exhibits the most striking view of the ruin in which sin has involved us, and is the only adequate standard whereby to estimate the unspeakable love of God manifested in our redemption. On the other hand, a knowledge of the true state of mankind, in consequence of the fall, is necessary to obviate the prejudices of our minds against a procedure which, though in itself the triumph of divine wisdom, is, in many respects, contradictory to our natural (and therefore false) notions of the fitness of things. St. Paul declares,* "that the "natural man receiveth not the things of the "Spirit of God, neither can he discern them ;" and in another place,t "that no man can say," that is sincerely and upon solid conviction, "that "Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." To worship him who had been hanged upon a cross, and to expect eternal happiness from his death, was to the Jews a stumbling-block; it offended their notions of the unity of the Godhead, and opposed their high esteem of their own righteousness; and to the Greeks or Heathens it appeared the greatest folly and absurdity imaginable. For these reasons the Gospel was rejected by multitudes as soon as proposed, and those who preached it were accounted babblers and madmen; not because they were at a loss for propriety of expres

1 Cor. ii. 14.

+ 1 Cor. xii. 3.

sion, or discovered any thing ridiculous in their conduct, but because they enforced tenets which were adjudged inconsistent with the common sense of mankind.

But, notwithstanding these prejudices, the energy of their preaching, and the miraculous powers with which it was accompanied, made an impression upon many persons, so far as to induce them to profess the name of Jesus, though they were not spiritually enlightened into the mysteries of his religion, nor their hearts thoroughly subdued to the obedience of the faith. There are other points, within the compass of the Gospel ministry, more adapted to affect the minds of men in their natural state. Few are so hardened but they have a conscience of sin, some fears with respect to its consequences, and a pre-intimation of immortality. Such are capable of being greatly affected and moved, by a pathetic declaration of the terrors of the Lord, the solemnities of a future judgement, the joys of heaven, or the torments of hell. We cannot doubt that these topics, when insisted on with that strength of argument, and warmth of spirit of which the apostles were capable, would engage the attention of many who were not partakers of that divine light by which alone the whole scheme of truth, in its harmony and beauty, can be perceived. The seed sown upon the rock sprang up immediately; the quickness of its growth, and the suddenness of its decay, proceeding from the same cause, a want of depth in the soil. Not a few of these hasty believers presently renounced the faith altogether; and others, who went not so far as to disown the name, endeavoured to accommodate the doctrine to their prepossessions, and to explain or reject what they could not understand in such a manner as to form

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