Page images


There is not a more important question than that which the Jailor at Philippi put to Paul and Silas—“What must I do to be saved ? Nor is there one which has drawn forth so many and such contradictory answers. With one, outward morality, and the practice of those external duties which bind society together, is all that is required. With another, certain abstract feelings, independent of any outward act, are the only things necessary. One class of men consider faith as possessing little or no value :-another, insist upon

“ faith alone” as the great condition of salvation, and look upon charity and good works as holding merely a secondary place. We will remark upon each of these systems in their order.

And, first, we notice the opinion which makes salvation hang upon the mere performance of outward duty. There is not any thing more certain in Christianity, than that it is a religion which applies to the mind, and only approves of outward acts so far as those acts proceed from good affections, and a wellregulated feeling: and without this regulation of the mind, however proper the outward conduct may be in itself, it is sinful and corrupt in the sight of God. The reason of this is obvious: every outward performance must arise from some internal affection; for no man can act without a motive. It is true, some actions are performed from habit, but habit itself is only the prevalence of certain ideas, which are at length so fixed in the mind, that their recurrence is scarcely noticed.-Now, there are only two principal affections which Christianity sanctions-Love to God, and love to man. These are, it is

[ocr errors]

true, varied in different individuals, and assume an infinite diversity of form; but in all who possess true religion they are essentially the same: and he who does not act from these motives, or in whose mind they do not operate, whatever pretensions he may have to the title of a moral man, has no claim to that of a Christian. It is therefore the motive, the ruling love, which stamps the character of an action: and consequently, as good actions must proceed from a good motive, it is not the action alone upon which salvation depends. This will appear still more clearly, if we consider that the same action may be performed in the same manner by two individuals, and yet in one that action may be good and heavenly, while in the other it may

be " sensual and devilish.” Let us take the case of two persons, who equally make it their business to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked. Of these, the first acts from a principle of love to his fellows, and of gratitude to his Maker; the other, from a motive of pride and ostentation, a wish to be thought well of by those around him. In both the action is the same; but in one it is good and consistent with Christianity; in the other it is evil, and consistent only with the love of self, and the love of the world. Or, to make the case still clearer, we will choose another illustration : a man falls into the sea, and is in imminent danger of being drowned. Two persons rush in at once to save him. The outward act is in both exactly the same, yet in one that act is evil, while in the other it is good; for the first was stimulated only by a principle of covetousness, in the hope of a promised reward; while the latter had no other motive than the love of his brother, and a wish to preserve him. Outward actions, therefore, are effects which take their character from motives as their causes; and as the cause is more important than the effect, so motive is more important in religion than outward action.

When we say, however, that motive is more important than outward action, we by no means wish to assert that such action is not essentially necessary. The importance of right feeling is (as we have just observed) that of a cause, and the inferiority of outward work is that which arises from its being an effect. Both are absolutely required in real religion :—the effect must proceed from a proper cause, and the cause must produce its proper effect: or, in other words, actions must proceed from proper motives ; and those motives must produce outward

actions, before any man can become a religious character.Hence the system which destroys the operation of works in religion, is equally erroneous with the one just named. Propriety of outward conduct is the fruit of righteousness : and as the man must indeed be ignorant, who should declare that a plant can come to perfection though it neither grows nor bears fruit, so he must be equally destitute of spiritual knowledge, who maintains, that proper feelings in the mind are all that are necessary in religion; and that religion may rise to maturity without any outward works. Christian motives and feelings are the principles of life which animate the spiritual seed; outward actions are the visible forms of that seed, when nourished and springing up; and to constitute the heavenly plant, the outward form is as necessary as the inward power.

But both these erroneous systems argue upon grounds which properly have no existence. Really good works cannot be produced without an inward affection, from which, as the


of religion, they spring. And on the other hand, where this heavenly affection exists in the soul, and is suffered to operate, it invariably produces corresponding works in the outward conduct. The one cannot possibly exist without the other. Right feelings, and propriety of life, are therefore both essential to salvation.

As the above systems differ respecting a spiritual cause and an outward effect, so the other two disagree as to the real nature of the cause itself. The first, which asserts that faith is of little or no value in religion, springs out of an unchristian and affected liberality. Though absolutely professed by no entire sect, it has found its way into most; and the general opinion is expressed by Pope:

o For modes of faith let furious zealots fight,,

His can't be wrong, whose life is in the right.” There is, as we have noticed, an affectation of liberality in this sentiment, which is, however, most completely at variance with true Christian charity. Whenever the opinions of a man are really approved of by his understanding, they will influence his conduct, either in a greater or a less degree. If those opinions be right, the influence will be beneficial; if they be wrong, their influence will be of an opposite nature; while the man who is unstable in opinion, will always be vacillating in his

every man's

moral conduct. Now it is impossible for any one to be destitute of opinion. Every man has some idea of God, revelation, a future state, and eternity. Every man, in a Christian country, has some opinions of the Saviour, his office, and salvation.--Every man, therefore, is operated upon by his opinions, and according to their nature, is either under a good or an evil influence, which, as affecting his conduct, must materially affect his salvation. We have already said, that works are only good as they proceed from a proper motive; and that the very same action may be good or evil, as it proceeds from a heavenly or a corrupt affection. An individual, therefore, may appear outwardly moral, and perform his duty as a member of civil society, and so far as the power of man can trace, his life may be" in the right;" while yet he has no religion, and properly speaking, no good works; since his whole conduct may proceed from selfish and corrupt motives, and be influenced by false and absurd opinions. It does not then follow, that faith is right, whose conduct is outwardly moral.

Again. It is really necessary to a Christian, that he should have just and proper ideas of his Creator. The love which he bears to God, will be exactly in proportion to the ideas which he has formed of his character. If, according to these ideas, God is a loving, beneficent, and wise being, he will, of course, love and admire him; and the strength of his love and admiration will keep pace with the extent of his knowledge. If, on the contrary, he believes him to be wrathful, furious, or capricious, he may fear, but he cannot love him. Now love to God is necessary to salvation.

“ He that loveth not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed,” says the Apostle. But this love can only exist where there is a proper knowledge of his character. This knowledge (or faith) is therefore absolutely necessary in religion. We might go through the whole of the principal doctrines of Christianity, and phew, that a firm and entire belief in them is essential to constitute the character of a Christian, since without such belief, it is impossible that they can produce their proper effect upon the heart.

Yet, perhaps, we may be told,“ that man is not, and cannot be, accountable for his belief :" but we ask, why is he not ?why cannot he be? And if he is not accountable for his belief, for what is he accountable? There are three distinct essentials in man-will, understanding, and operation. The first in

cludes all the affections; the second, all the thoughts and ideas; the third, every outward act of tbe body. This last, however, considered in itself, and as a mere series of bodily acts, is neither good nor evil. The body is merely the passive instrument of the mind, and can never be considered as a moral agent, any more than other combinations of matter. The mind alone is accountable; and the actions of this mind are affections and ideas, or love and faith. It cannot be then merely for the outward actions of life that man has to give an account, but for the motives which prompted, and the causes which produced, those actions. We have already said, that the nature of our faith gives a character to our conduct, and that the life of a man, whether considered in a public or private capacity, depends, in a great measure, on the ideas which he entertains of his Creator, of revelation, aud of a future state of being: these ideas are faith, and this faith is the spring of action.

But if the complexion of man's outward conduct be derived from his opinions, then for those opinions, as the principles of conduct, he is responsible to God. If he be not responsible for these, he is not responsible at all; for a mere exertion of the body, abstracted from a governing principle of the mind, is no subject either of reward or punishment, any more than the involuntary movements of an automaton. Words, considered in themselves, are merely a succession of sounds, and separated fronr ideas, are neither good nor evil. For mere bodily motion, and mere bodily sound, man cannot therefore be

responsible : it is for action, as the expression of principle; for words, as the signs of ideas--or in plain language, for these principles and ideas themselves, that he is accountable to God. These principles and ideas, seated in his understanding, constitute his faith; and for this faith he is either accountable, or else he is not accountable at all, seeing that he cannot be judged for action without faith.

A right faith is therefore necessary to a proper performance of duty. He who does not properly understand what he has to perform, can never accomplish it in a proper manner. He who has false ideas respecting the way of salvation, will necessarily seek it in a manner consonant to those ideas; that is, in an improper line of conduct, because dictated by a false rule of action. For these false ideas respecting the grand doctrines of

« EelmineJätka »