Page images

and gift remain, the pure genuine ideas of the text; and the association of time distinguisheth and varieth the systems.

A second class of expositors take the idea of relation, and one affirms, God and believers are to be considered in the relative light of governor and subjects; the characters of a perfect government are discernible in the giving of a Saviour, justice vindicates the honour of government by punishing some, mercy displays the benefit of government by pardoning others, and royal prerogative both disculpates and elevates the guilty. However, as the governor is a God, he retains and displays his absolute right of dispensing his favours as he pleases. A second says, God and believers are to be considered in the light of parent and children, and Christ is not given to believers according to mere maxims of exact governinent; but he is bestowed by God, the common Father, impartially on all his children. A third says, God and believers are to be considered in the light of master and servants, and God re: wards the imperfect services of his creatures with the rich benefits of Christianity. A fourth considers God and believers in the relation of King and consort, and says, God gave christianity as an inalienable dowry to his chosen associate. In all these systems, God, Christ, believers, and gift remain, the pure genuine ideas of the text; and the association of the idea of relation distinguishes and varies the systems.

In general, we form ideas of the Supreme Being, and we think, such a being ought to act so and so, and therefore we conclude he does act so and so God gives Christ to believers conditionally, says one, for so it becomes a holy being to bestow all his gifts. God gives Christ unconditionally, says another ; for so it becomes a merciful being to bestow his gifts on the miserable. I repeat it again, opposite as these may appear, they both retain the notions of the same God, the same Jesus, the same believers, the same giving; but an idea concerning the fittest way of bestowing the gift distinguishes and varies the systems. I call it the same giving, hecause all divines, even they, who go most into a scheme of conditional salvation, allow, that Christ is a blessing infinitely beyond all that is due to the conditions, which they perform in order to their enjoyment of him.

Let us for a moment suppose, that this propos sition, God gives Christ to believers, is the whole of revelation on this subject. A divine, who should affirm, that his ideas of time, relation, and condition, were necessarily contained in this scripture; that his whole thesis was a doctrine of christianity; and that the belief of it was essential to salvation, would affirm the most palpable absurdities; for, although the proposition does say, Christ is God's gift to believers, yet it does neither say, when God bestowed this gift, nor why he bestowed it, nor that a precise knowledge of the mode of donation is essentially requisite to salvation. That God gave the world a Saviour in the person of Jesus is a fact affirmed by Christ in this proposition, and therefore a christian doctrine. That he made the donation absolutely or conditionally, before the fall or after it, reversibly or irrevocably, the proposition doth not affirm; and therefore every proposition including any of these ideas is an article of belief containing a christian doctrine and an human explication, and consequently it lies before an examiner in different degrees of evidence and importance.

Suppose a man were required to believe this proposition, God


Jesus to believers absolutely; or this, God gave Jesus to believers conditionally; it is not impossible, the whole proposition might be proved original, genuine, primary doctrine of Jesus Christ. Our proposition in this text could not prove it, and were this the whole of our information on this article, conditionality and unconditionality would be human explications :' but, if Christ have given us in any other part of revelation, more instruction on this subject; if he any where affirm, either that he was given on certain conditions to be performed by believers, or that he was not given so, then indeed we might associate. the ideas of one text with those of another, and so form of the whole a genuine christian doctrine.

When we have thus selected the instructions of our divine Master from the opinions of our fellowpupils, we should suppose, these questions would naturally arise :-Is a belief of all the doctrines of

Christ essential to salvation ? *If not, which are • the essential truths ? If the parable of the talents

be allowed a part of his doctrine, and if the doctrine of proportion taught in that parable be true, it should seem, the belief of christian doctrines must be proportioned to exterior evidence and interior ability; and, on these principles, should a congregation of five hundred christians put these questions, they must receive five hundred different answers. Who is sufficient for these things ! Let us renounce our inclination to damn our fellow-creatures. Let us excite all to faith and repentance, and let us leave the decision of their destiny to Almighty God. When Christ cometh he will tell us all things. Till then let us wait; lest we should scatter fire-brands, arrows, and death, and make the hearts of the righteous sad, whom the Lord hath not made sad. How many doctrines are essential to salvation, seems to me exactly such a question, as how much food is essential to animal life?

We will venture to go a step further. Were we as capable of determining the exact ratio between any particular mind and a given number of ideas, as we are of determining how many feet of water a vessel of a given burden must draw; and were we able so to determine how much faith in how many doctrines was essential to the holiness, and so to the happiness of such a soul; we should not then entertain a vain notion of exacting by force these rights of God of his creature. For, first, the same proportion, which renders a certain number of ideas essential to the happiness of an intelligent mind, renders this number of ideas so clear, that they establish themselves and need no imposition. Secondly; the nature of faith does not admit of imposition; it signifies nothing to say, kings command it; if angels commanded it, they would require an impossibility, and exact that of me, which they themselves could not perform. Thirdly; God has appointed no means to enforce belief; he has nominated no vicegerents to do this; he has expressly forbidden the attempt. Fourthly; the means, that one man niust employ to impose his creed on another, are all nefarious, and damn a sinner to make a saint. Fifthly; imposition of human creeds has produced so much mischief in the world, so many divisions among christians, and so many execrable actions, attended with no one good end to religion, that the repetition of this crime would argue'a soul infested with the grossest ignorance, or the most stubborn obstinacy imaginable. Sixthly; dominion over conscience is that part of God's empire of which he is most jealous. The imposition of a human creed is a third action, and before any man can perform it, he must do two other exploits; he must usurp the throne, and claim the slave.

How many more might be added! From a cool examination of the nature of God—the nature of man—the nature of christianity—the nature of all powers within the compass of human thought to employ—the history of past times the state of the present in a word, of every idea, that belongs to the imposition of a human creed, we venture to affirm,


« EelmineJätka »