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creature ; he that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved, and he that believeth not, shall be condemned.”
That which is the object of a command from God is obedience in moral and accountable creatures. Can we charge the righteous Lord and Ruler of all with demanding from us more than is meet, or, that which we are physically incapable of rendering? Do not his warnings, threatenings, and admonitions, imply that man is accountable for his belief, and that he is just as much bound to believe what God reveals, as to do what God commands? Were it otherwise, why should he be exhorted, to search the Seriptures, to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good? Why should the Jews have been criminated by our Lord for not believing his word, and threatened, as the consequence of unbelief, with heavy judgments both in this life, and in that which is to come? Why should unbelief in the Gospel be represented as the greatest crime, as incurring the most aggravated guilt, and the most fearful condemnation?
II. The duties of believing what God reveals, and of receiving it in the manner which he prescribes, are the natural and immediate effects of love to him ; so that, if it be a duty to love God, it is a duty equally obvious and binding to believe his word. We are bound to love God supremely, because he is infinitely worthy of being beloved; but the attributes of infinite moral excellency which he possesses, and which render us criminal should we refuse him the love of our heart, render is not less criminal should we disbelieve
and reject his testimony. If, as a Being of perfect moral excellence, he is more than worthy of our love, he is, as a Being of perfect moral excellence, more than worthy of our credit and confidence; and on no principle can it be proved, that it is the duty of man to love God, without proving at the same time, and by the same arguments, that it is the duty of man to believe the whole truth of God.
To be consistent, therefore, those who deny faith to be a moral duty, due as an act of obedience from man to his Maker, must deny it to be a duty in man supremely to love Him that made him; and, consequently, must deny the reasonableness and authority of the law of God, and the moral agency of man.
III. That man is accountable for his belief, and is physically capable of rendering this act of obedience to God, is implied in the greater part of the intercourse of life. It is implied in courts of law, in the eagerness which is shewn in presenting evidence on both sides of a question, in such a way as to influence the opinions, that is, the belief of the jurors. It is implied in the fact, that mankind regard the slanderer as culpable. But why should he be reckoned culpable, if he is not accountable for his belief, since he may, and perhaps with truth, allege, that he thought and spoke under the conviction that what he uttered was true? Is it not daily taken for granted, in the transactions of human life, that man is bound to form his judgments according to truth; that is, that as a being possessed of understanding and will, he is accountable to God for the use which he makes of these faculties in the opinions which he entertains ?
IV. Every man is conscious that he is a free agent in believing or in disbelieving, and, consequently, feels that belief in the testimony of God is an act of obedience which he is bound to render. As we are in no case required to believe beyond the weight of evidence, so are we capable, in every case in which our faith is required, of weighing the sufficiency of evidence. More especially does this remark hold true, in regard to the varied and ample testimony which attests divine revelation. The majority of mankind, indeed, cannot, from want of opportunity, investigate the body of evidence on which the truth and divine authority of christianity rests; but they are quite capable of knowing, from their excellency, suitableness, and tendency, whether the doctrines be of God. They may also discover from the rich
provision which the gospel makes for their spiritual necessities, whether it has proceeded from the Father of lights, from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift. In this way they may have the witness in themselves.
Is not every man, whatever be his talents or opportunities, bound to bring the gospel to this experimental test! If this be the duty of all, it must be the duty of all to believe. Capable as they are of distinguishing the truth and divine authority of revelation, they are capable of receiving it, and consequently of giving it that entertainment which God demands for it.
V. The mind in believing or disbelieving, wherever the passions are concerned, is very much influenced by the state of the heart. We know from history,
observation, and experience, that it yields or withholds assent, in every such case, not so much according to the weight of evidence, as according to the dispositions called into exercise. But surely it will not be denied by any, save those who degrade the nature of man into the level of a mere mechanical contrivance, that we are accountable to God for the dispositions which we entertain ; and that should we allow our feelings and wishes so far to influence us in a case of deep and of eternal moment, as to bias the understanding against the light of truth, or against the use of those means by which this light might shine into our hearts, we are chargeable with great guilt before God, and in the estimation of our own conscience.
Is it not, however, to an evil state of heart, and even to enmity against God, that the Scriptures ascribe the unbelief of sinners in the glorious gospel ? Do they not affirm that the will is disinclined to give it a favourable reception, and, therefore, the mind makes choice of darkness rather than light ? " Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life. How can ye believe, who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? The carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be *.”
VI. Faith, as an act of the human mind, is represented throughout the Scripture as in a high degree virtuous and praiseworthy, and unbelief in the testimony of God as extremely criminal. Faith is there set forth as an act of obedience, as the confidence of the heart given to God,-as a principle which is essential to the exercise of true virtue,—which controls and regulates the affections and desires, and gives to what is yet future and unseen the reality of what is present and observed. But unbelief is exhibited as the opposite of this, as a withholding from God the love and confidence of the heart, as a denial of the truth of God, and direct rebellion against his authority.
* St. John, v. 44. Rom. viii, 8.
All its criminality it is impossible for us to estimate. It sets aside as unworthy of credit and of confidence the testimony which God has given of his Son, and, therefore, to use the language of Scripture, makes God a liar. It is the act and indication of a mind in immediate hostility to his character, his truth, and purposes. It is a wilful, and therefore most wicked, rejection of an unspeakable gift, the expression of infinite wisdom, love, and power. Its immediate effect is, to shut out the light of God from the mind, to exclude from the efficacy of the propitiation of Christ, to bar the heart against the influences which can soften and renew it, and to prepare for a final and eternal separation from the gracious presence of God.
Section III.-Obedience to God considered as an
act of cordial submission.
This form of obedience to the will of God is expressed by the words submission, and resignation : a duty peculiarly required from sinful creatures, whose mortal career is characterized as of few days, and full of trouble.