« EelmineJätka »
deserveth God's wrath and damnation.” “ The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will.”
Nothing less than a lively conviction of the corruption, weakness, and misery described in these confessions of faith, can properly dispose a: man for evangelical repentance.
Without erangelical repentance, a lively faith in Christ, or regeneration
by the Holy Spirit, will appear not only unnecessary, but absurd. As the knowledge of our depravity is the source from whence evan. gelical repentance and Christian humility flow, so it is the only neces. sary preparation for that living faith, by which we are both justified and sanctified. He who obstinately closes his eyes upon his own wretchedDess, shuts himself up in circumstances which will not suffer him to receive any advantage from that glorious Redeemer, whom “ God hath anointed to preach the Gospel to the poor;” to heal the “ broken hearted; to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind; to set at liberty them that are bruised ; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord,” Luke iv, 18, 19. Reason itself declares, that if sin. fal man is possessed of sufficient ability to secure his own salvation, he needs no other Saviour, and “ Christ is dead in vain,” Gal. ii, 21. In short, so far as we are unacquainted with our degenerate estate, so far the important doctrine of regeneration must necessarily appear superfluous and absurd.
Here we may perceive one grand reason why the ministers of the present day, who are but superficially acquainted with the depravity of the human heart, discourse upon this mysterious subject in a slight and unsatisfactory manner.
The true minister, on the contrary, following the example of his great Master, speaks upon this momentous change with affection and power. Observe the terms in which our Lord himself declares this neglected doctrine : “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” John mi, 5. As though he should say, The natural man, how beautiful an appearance soever he may make, is possessed of a heart so desperately wicked, that unless it be broken by the repentance which John the Baptist preached, and regenerated by the faith which I declare, he can never become a citizen of heaven. For the doors of my kingdom must remain everlastingly barred against those "ravening wolves," who disguise themselves as sheep, Matt. vii, 15; and those painted hypocrites, who salute me as their Lord, without embracing my doctrines, and observing my commands. Verily,” therefore, “ I say unto you,” my first disciples and friends, “ Except ye be converted, and become as little children,” who are strangers to envious, ambitious, or impure thoughts, “ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. xviii, 3.
Such is the doctrine that is still able to convert every inquiring Nicodemus. At first it may perplex and confound them; but, at length,
submitting to the wisdom of their heavenly Teacher, they will cry, “ Im. part to us, Lord, this regenerating faith :” and when once they have obtained their request, they will adopt the prayer of the disciples, Luke xvii, 5, and proceed, like them, from faith to faith, till all things in their regenerate hearts are become new.
But if this doctrine is a savour of life unto some, it is also a savour of death unto others. It gives offence to blinded bigots, while modern infi. dels strengthen themselves against it, as Pharaoh once strengthened himself against the authority of Jehovah. “ Thus saith the Lord," said Moses to that obstinate monarch, "Let my people go, that they may serve me,” Exod. viii, 1; and the haughty infidel replied, “ Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go,” Exod. v, 2. Come up out of mystic Egypt, saith the Son of God to every sinful soul : “Follow me in the regeneration,” Matt. xix, 28, and I will teach you to “worship God in spirit and in truth," John iv, 24. “And who is the Son of God ?” replies some petty Pharaoh : “I know neither him nor his Father, nor conceive myself in any wise obliged to obey his commands.”
Impious as this language may appear, the conduct of every irreligious Christian must be considered as equivalent to it, according to those words of our Lord, “He that despiseth” my servants, and my doctrines, “despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me, Luke x, 16. Whatever mask such a Pharisaical professor may wear, he“ loves the world :" therefore “the love of the Father is not in him," 1 John ii, 15. He hates both Christ and his Father, John xv, 24, his repentance is superficial, his faith is vain, and, sooner or later, his actions or his words will testify that he is an utter enemy to Christ and his members.
How the faithful pastor leads sinners to repentance. What was spoken by God to Jeremiah, may in some sort be applied to the true minister : “I have set thee to root out and to plant, to pull down and to build,” Jer. i, 10. For before the sacred vine can be planted, the thorns of sin must be rooted up, together with the thistles of counterfeit righteousness. And before the strong tower of salvation can be erected, that spiritual Babel must be overthrown, by which presumptuous men are still exalting themselves against heaven.
To lead sinners into a state of evangelical repentance, the true minister discovers to their view the corruption of the heart, with all the melan. choly effects it produces in the character and conversation of unregenerate men. After he has denounced the anathemas of the law against particular vices, such as swearing, lying, evil speaking, extortion, drunkenness, &c, he points out the magnitude of two general or primitive sins. The greatest offence, according to the law, he declares to be that by which its first and great command is violated : consequently, those who love not God beyond all created beings, he charges with living in the habit of damnable sin; since they transgress that most sacred of all laws, which binds us to love the Deity with all our heart, Matt. xxii, 37, 38. Hence he goes on to convict those of violating a command like unto the first, who love not their neighbour as themselves, Matt. xxii, 32; and to these
two sins, as to their deadly sources, he traces all the crimes which are forbidden in the law and in the prophets, Matt. xxii, 40.
And now he proceeds to lay open, before the eyes of professing Chris. tians, the two greatest sins which are committed under the Gospel dispensation. If the two great commands of God, under the new cove. nant, are to this effect, that we believe on his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, 1 John iii, 23, it is evident that the two greatest sins under the Gospel are, the want of that living faith which unites us to Christ, and that ardent charity, which binds us to mankind in general, as well as to believers in particular, with the bands of cordial affection. As dark. ness proceeds from the absence of the sun and moon, so from these two sins of omission flow all the various offences which are prohibited by the evangelical law. And if those who are immersed in these primitive sins be withheld from the actual commission of enormous offences, they are not on this account to be esteemed radically holy, since they are possessed of that very nature from which every crime is produced. Sooner or later temptation and opportunity may cause some baneful shoots to spring forth in their outward conduct, in testimony that a root of bitterness lies deep within, and that the least impious of men carry about them a degene. rate nature, a body of sin and death.
To give more weight to these observations, he sets forth the greatness of the Supreme Being, enlarges on his justice, and displays the severity of his laws. He tramples under foot the Pharisaical holiness of sinners, that he may bring into estimation the real virtues of the “new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” To awaken those who are sleeping in a state of carnal security, he denounces the most alarming maledictions, calling forth against them the thunders of Mount Sinai, till they are constrained to turn their faces Zion ward; till they seek for safety in the Mediator of the new covenant, and hasten to the sprinkling of that blood, which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel,” Heb. xii, 24.
By this method, he conducts his wandering flock to the very point where ancient Israel stood, when God had prepared them to receive the law by his servant Moses. Now, after the people had heard the thunderings, and the noise of the trumpet ;” after they had seen the light. ning, and the mountain smoking,” Exod. xx, 18; when, unable any longer to gaze on the dreadful scene, "they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us and we will hear; but let not God speak unto us, without a Mediator, lest we die,” Exod. xx, 19. Then it was that Moses began to console them in the following words : “ Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not,” Exod. xx, 20. So in the present day, they only who are brought to this poverty of spirit are properly disposed to receive the riches of Divine mercy,
As soon, therefore, as the evangelical minister has sufficiently alarmed a sinner with the terrors discovered upon Mount Sinai, he anxiously prepares him for the consolations of the Gospel, by a sight of the suffering scene upon Calvary.
Many pious divines have supposed that by preaching the cross of Christ alone, mankind might be brought to true repentance. What the fathers of the Synod of Berne have said upon this point deserves the attention of those who desire successfully to use that spiritual weapon which is "sharper than any two-edged sword,” Heb. iv, 12.
“ The knowledge of sin,” say they, “must of necessity be drawn from Jesus Christ. The apostle writes thus: “God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us,' Rom. v, 8. It follows, that sin must have made us abominable and extremely hateful, since the Son of God could no other way deliver us from the burden of it, than by dying in our stead. Hence we may conceive what a depth of misery and corruption there is in the heart, since it was not able to be purified, but by the sacrifice of so precious a victim, and by the sprinkling of the blood of God,” that is, of a man miraculously formed, in whom dwelt “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” Colos. i, 9. “ The apostles have clearly manifested the sinfulness of our nature by the death of Christ; whereas the Jews, after all their painful researches, were not convinced of sin by the law of Moses. After a solid knowledge of sin has been drawn from the passion of our Lord, there will naturally flow from this knowledge a true repentance; that is, a lively sorrow for sin, mingled with the hope of future pardon. To this necessary work the Holy Spirit also powerfully contributes, bringing more and more to the light, by its mysterious operations, the hidden evils and unsuspected corruptions of the heart; daily purifying it from the filthiness of sin, as silver is purified by the fire.” (Acts of Synod, chap. viii, ix, xiv.)
How the prophets, Jesus Christ, his forerunner, and his apostles, prepared
sinners for repentance. EVER faithful to the word of God, the minister of the Gospel endeavours to humble the impenitent, by appealing to the sacred writers, and particularly to the declarations of Jesus Christ.
The corruption of the heart is the most ancient and dreadful malady of the human race. Man had no sooner made trial of sin, but he was driven by it from an earthly paradise, Gen. iii, 24. And so terrible were its first effects, that the second man was seen to assassinate the third, Gen. iv, 8. This moral contagion increased through every age, to so astonishing a degree, that, before the deluge, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually," Gen. yi, 5.. “After the flood God still declared the imagination of man's heart to be evil from his youth,” Gen. viii, 21. “ The heart of man,” saith he again, long after that time, “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins," Jer. xvii, 9, 10.
Our Lord himself, who perfectly “ knew what was in man,” John ü, 25, being the Physician who alone is able to heal us, and the Judge who will render to every one according to his works,-our Lord has described mankind alienated from the chief good, filled with aversion to his people, and enemies to God himself. “ I send you forth,” saith he to his disci. ples, “as lambs among wolves,” Luke x, 3. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because I have chosen you out of the world,” that ye should walk in my steps, “therefore the world hateth you. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you,” John
xv, 18, 19, 20. “ All these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because,” notwithstanding their Deism and Polytheism,“ they know not him that sent me. For he that hateth me hateth my Father also,” John xv, 21, 23. “ These things have I told you, that, when” they shall chase you from their Churches, as demons would chase an angel of light, “ye may remember that I told you of them,” John xvi, 4.
The Jews were, doubtless, in one sense, the most enlightened of all people ; seeing they offered the true God a public worship unmixed with idolatry, were in possession of the Law of Moses, the Psalms of David, together with the writings of the other prophets, in which the duties required of man, both with respect to God and his neighbour, are traced out in the most accurate manner.
Nevertheless, Jesus Christ represents this enlightened people as universally corrupted, in spite of all these advantages.
“ Did not Moses,” saith he to them, “ give you the law ? And yet none of you keepeth the law," John vii, 19.
What appears most extraordinary in the sermons of our Lord, is the zeal with which he bore his testimony against the virtues of those Jews who were reputed men of uncommon devotion. Although they piqued themselves upon being eminently righteous, he declared to his disciples that, unless their righteousness should “exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees,” they should “in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven,” Matt. v, 20. And observe the manner in which he generally addressed those religious impostors : “Wo unto you, scribes and Phari sees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess [full of covetous desires and disorderly passions.] Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within, that the outside may be clean also," Matt. xxiii, 25, 26.
Nothing is more common than that blindness which suffers a man to esteem himself better than he really is, and this blindness is, in every period, and in every place, the distinguishing characteristic of a Pharisee. This species of hypocrisy, with which St. Paul was once elated, agrees perfectly well with the ordinary sincerity of nominal Christians, who blindly regard amusements the most trifling and expensive as allowable and innocent pleasures ; who look upon theatres as schools of virtue ; intrigue and deceit as prudence and fashion ; pomp and profusion as generosity and decorum ; avarice as frugality ; pride as delicacy of sentiment; adultery as gallantry; and murder as an affair of honour.
To all such modern Christians may we not, with propriety, repeat what our Lord once openly addressed to their predecessors? Without doubt,
we are authorized to cry out against them, with a holy zeal, “Wo unto you, hypocrites ! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness,” Matt. xxiii, 27. “ Ye outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." Of hypocrisy, because your virtues have more of appearance than solidity; and of injustice, because you render not that which is due to God, to Cesar, or to your fellow creatures, whether it be adoration, fear
, honour, support, or good will, Matt. xxiii, 28. But if the depravity of the Jews in general, and of the Pharisees in particular, appears abundantly evident ; must we suppose there were no happy exceptions among them? It is true the royal prophet declares,