Page images


state of salvation, if they do but observe moral honestty in their words and actions. Some through art, and others through ignorance, flatter men in this error; assuring them, that if they do but lead good lives, all articles of faith are no more than matters of opinion, and they need not trouble themselves about their creed. To correct this error and demonstrate the malignity of it, is the principal object of this dis

In order to which, it is obvious, as a first argument, that as a good life is the fruit of a good faith, it can no more grow from a wrong belief, than grapes can grow upon thistles. To every seed the Creator gives its own proper body; whatever we sow, the same we shall reap; and therefore it must be a strange unnatural philosophy which expects to gather the fruit of Christian godliness from the seeds of infidelity.

Then again, it is manifest that a good life is an ambiguous expression, the vulgar use of which betrays great ignorance in those who confine it to the practice of social duties. For the Christian life, properly so called, comprehends two great branches of duty; the first towards God, the second, towards our neighbour. God has an undoubted claim to the first place; our neighbour has the next. In regard to the latter, we have a plain rule to direct us: we do well, if we treat our neighbour as we wish to be treated by him. But then what are we to do in respect to God? Here the rule fails us; for we cannot do to God as he doth to us; we have nothing to give him, but obedience and resignation to his will. It is he that must approve and reward us for our duty toward our neighbour; and it would be presumptuous to expect, that

; he will reward those, who put an immediate affront upon himself. If we look to the positive rule of our

duty in the ten commandments, we find that the four first relate immediately to God himself: the others relate to our neighbour; and if we should observe the latter, to the neglect, and perhaps the contempt, of the former, and yet be thought to lead good lives ; then we may deny the true God, worship idols, take God's name in vain, profane the sabbath, and commit many other dreadful crimes, and after all, expect to be rewarded by God Almighty for leading a good life. But this is a supposition too shocking to be admitted by any but those, who are either desperately ignorant or desperately wicked. If we fail in the principal part of our duty, and offend against God himself, how can we expect his blessing for what we do to any body else? Will some little acts of kindness to a fellow subject authorise us to commit an act of rebellion? Because we have given a dinner to a beggar, are we to be pardoned by the king for committing treason? The case is the same betwixt man and God. Will he permit us to neglect his worship, and put a slight upon his holy religion, because we are just good enough to escape the penal laws of our country, and do a little service to our neighbour? No man can believe this, till he is under some strong delusion.

The malignity of spiritual wickedness will be evident from the fall of our first parents, and from the moral character of the devil himself.

The first offence, which brought death into the world, was not an offence against society; for there

; was none. It was not a sin of one man against another, but only against a positive command of God. It was revealed, that the forbidden tree would have a fatal effect: this revelation was disputed; the truth of God was suspected; the lust of pride prevailed :


and the sentence of death followed. If Adam, then destroyed himself and the world, by sinning against the word of God, certainly any particular man may ruin himself after the same example; even though he should give all his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned for the benefit of his country.

All will be ready to grant, that no wickedness can be worse than the wickedness of the devil: but let them consider of what kind it is: he is no member of society; and being a spirit, he cannot commit the sins of the body: he is no glutton, no drunkard, no miser, no adulterer: his wickedness is entirely of a spiritual nature ; in other words, it is not the wickedness of the body, but of the spirit. It consists in opposing the wisdom of God; perverting his word; accusing his justice; despising his mercy; suggesting evil thoughts to men; promoting heresies and schisms; in dividing the Christian church; and disturbing the kingdoms of the world: in a word, it is the peculiar business of the apostate spirit, to defeat the gracious purposes of the divine spirit, by all the efforts of falsehood, subtilty, pride, malice and contradiction. The whole dispute between the Saviour and the destroyer is a war of spirits; and carnal men are miserably blind and igno. rant when they make no account of it: especially when it is considered, that they themselves, as spirits, must be engaged on one side or the other.

The character most acceptable, because most useful to the grand deceiver, is that which comes nearest to his own: and for the forming of such a character, he employs the most refined of his temptations. The stupid sot, the profane swearer, the distempered sensualist, are mean examples of vice, the lowest of the devil's adherents; who are sometimes weary of the burden of their sins; and being self-condemned, are driven by remorse to the amendment of their lives: but the speculative and philosophical sinner is a man of figure; whose pride will never admit of his reformation. The Scribes and Pharisees, conceited of their false logic, could always find some way to make the word of God of no effect; and so remained incorrigible in their errors: while the Publican was prevailed upon to renounce his extortion, and tlíe Harlot to wash away her stains with the tears of repentance. The sinner who errs upon principle, and whose mind is in fault, not only departs from the will God, but opposes it: meaner sinners transgress the law; but he judges it, and sets himself above it.

Such is the case of those, who, being wise in their own conceit, are lifted up with pride, and fall into the condemnation of the devil. He whose fall is to be great must first be lifted up; he must be carried aloft, above other men, and then his fall will be his destruction. Thus did the tempter place our Saviour on high, upon a pinnacle of the temple, that he might claim an unwarrantable exemption from danger, and cast himself into the air, to meet that ruin which is the consequence of presumption.

But the spirit of man is not exposed to any danger, of which the scripture hath not given us fair warning. We are told, that we are under the peril of being overcome in our Christian warfare by spiritual wickedness in high places ; (Eph. vi. 12.) that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; that our imaginations are to be cast down, our thoughts to be brought into captivity; as a proud enemy is led in triumph after the chariot of a conqueror: that Satan hath his depths, his mysteries of iniquity, as well as his more gross and shallow deceits; that he has agents to recommend his principles, and bring them into vogue; who are


called false apostles, deceitful workers, manufacturers of fraud; transforining themselves into the Apostles of Christ, and preaching down the Gospel, under the plausible pretence of improving it, and correcting popular mistakes.

These notices ought to alarm us; yet there are few Christians who attend properly to them in this age; and therefore the work of every deceiver is easier now than it used to be. There are a set of fashionable phrases in religion, such as speculative doctrines, liberty of opinion, the moral sense, right of pri

judgment, with other novel and refined notions, by which the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are overborne and superseded : and these have been repeated, till some have nearly lost the idea of impiety, and can see no wickedness in the nation, but such as is condemned in a common court of justice. It is true, the thief, the murderer, the adulterer, will all appear before the tribunal of Christ: but then, the heretic, the idolater, the blasphemer, the sabbathbreaker will be there too; and they will then discover, that what they call moral honesty, however excellent in its proper place, will be no excuse for despising articles of faith, and neglecting the ordinances of the gospel. Immorality is bad enough, and will undoubtedly exclude men from the kingdom of heaven; but contumacy is worse; because it strikes at the authority of God. Sensuality places man among the beasts; but infidelity gives him an alliance with evil spirits. The mind is better than the body in itself; and consequently, according to an established proverb, worse in its corruption. No obedience can be acceptable to God, without that which is best of all, and first in order, the obedience of the understanding: no courage is so valuable, as that which

« EelmineJätka »