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Here let me adopt the words of Mr. Prior, which will serve my purpose as well as his :
“That cruel something unpossest
Corrodes and leavens all the rest." Nor is it, though more soothing, less noxious when possessed. Our attention is so much engrossed in the pursuit of this something, that we mistake, neglect, and despise the simple report of the gospel; so cannot find the comfort which it yields to every one who understands and holds it for true. And, indeed, a cruel something it is; for it stings to death all who covet, and all who have it; all who bewail the want, and all who rejoice in the possession of it. The former it leads through a tiresome and gloomy path unto utter darkness; the latter it lulls asleep on the top of a precipice, soothes them awhile with pleasing dreams, then throws them down headlong at last. Those of the former class have no ear to give to any thing that can be said of the truth and certainty of the gospel, and the grand things of God reported there. Every thing about it appears dark, lifeless, and insipid, for want of the wished for something. And, indeed, they seldom meet with any teachers but such as sympathize with, and so encourage them in their impious complaining and murmuring against God, for want of a righteousness, as if this were the exercise of godliness. With respect to the other class, who presume they have got something that turns the balance in their our, we may accommodate the distich thus :
That fav'rite something, when possest,
Spreads light and joy o'er all the rest. So they walk in the light of this something. The whole gospel now appears to them a very lovely and joyful scheme; because they find some reason why all its comforts should bear a peculiar direction or respect towards them, in distinction from others. So we may find them talking, in a very high strain, of the gospel, with very great satisfaction and delight, and even in raptures about it. Not that they are much concerned about the truth or certainty of it; for as this is not the source of their joy, they scarce know what it is to have any doubt about it
. They are generally satisfied to hold this as they received it, by tradition from their fathers. And who could move any doubt about this, but Infidels and Atheists? But let their favourite distinction be once called in question, and they will immediately remonstrate against this, as razing the foundation. And in this respect, it must
be owned, they speak with great propriety; for this is indeed the foundation, light, and life of their whole religion. No sooner are they possessed of this, but they begin to look down, with a solemn pride, upon the rest of mankind as profane, and to complain aloud of the prevalency of infidelity and irreligion; regretting, no doubt
, that that for which they value themselves, is not sufficiently esteemed by the rest of mankind. This is, indeed, the great centre of the popular doctrine, the very axis on which it turns. Here all its lines are united; all the Divine attributes, works, and words, are introduced as handmaids subservient to this favourite distinction. The power and cunning of Satan is to be guarded against, chiefly, as opposed to this. But if we turn our eyes to the Scripture, it will appear that this something is the great engine employed to blind the minds of men, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ
, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. It will appear, that if we imagine we possess or desire to attain any requisite to our acceptance with God, either aside from, or in connection with the bare work of Christ, Christ is become of no effect unto us, Christ shall profit us nothing.
The Jewish and Christian teachers, then, have agreed thus far, that they have both taught their disciples to become followers after righteousness. But what shall we say, if it should
appear from the Scripture, that all who attain to righteousness, are such as were not seeking after it? ture indeed asserts it; but I am not obliged to account for it. Paul himself
, while he plainly asserts it as a certain matter of fact, introduces it with a question of solemn surprise. What shall we say then? That the Gentilės, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith :* But Israel, which fol
* It is plain, from this passage, that that form of expression which occurs so often in Paul's epistles, the righteousness of faith, or the righteousness which is of faith, must denote rather the way how righteousness comes unto us, than how we came to it, seeing they who followed not after it, are said to attain to it. And indeed nothing is more frequent in cominon life, than the conveyance of joy or sorrow to us by unexpected news, accordingly, we find it to be the current and familiar style of the Scripture, concerning the conveyance of righteousness, salvation, or blessedness to men, or, which is the same thing, the word of God concerning it, that it comes or is sent to them. So it is compared to the rain and the snow coming down from heaven; and it as effectually produces hearing and understanding, as these produce moisture in the perched earth. The Divine report, and the hearing of faith, are so closely connected together, that the same Greek expression (acon) seems
lowed, hath not attained. And he calls Isaiah very bold for declaring the same truth :- I was found of them that sought me not ; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me, Rom. ix, x. Aspasio's friend, Mr. Erskine, not choosing to deny this altogether, has fallen upon a most ingenious method to extract from it an argument, a fortiori, for encouraging his disciples in their labour, thus:' " He is sometimes found of them that seek him not, as Paul, Zaccheus :-.much more will he be found of them that seek him in the his appointment."* It is not my business to dispute the fineness of this reasoning. Let it avail with whom it
may avail. Paul, in the words i have quoted, is not reasoning, but declaring a surprising matter of fact, which happened in his own time, quite contrary to his prejudice, which was strong in favour of Israel. Times and sentiments have greatly changed since. I doubt not but our modern teacher reasoned, according to the general appearance of the fact in his time; only let the difference of facts, likened to one another, be well attended to. Thus, I am ready to allow it consisted with his experience, that his hearers generally succeeded best in following the course which anciently proved unsuccessful to Israel. Moreover, his argument has this advantage, that it removes all occasion of surprise. For what can be more natural or rational than to say, If God, sometimes,
to be used in the New Testament for both ; at least our translators have thought so; for they sometimes render it by hearing, and sometimes by report. And, by either of these, it may with great propriety be said, that faith comes to us; for we cannot consider them separately. When one gives tokens of satisfaction at the unexpected approach of agreeable music, as I can be at no loss to perceive what gives him pleasure, I would think it impertinent to suspend his attention, by inquiries about the motion produced in the air, conveying the sound, ind its action on the organs of hearing, and thence on his mind, at a time when he is much more agreeably entertained.
We can have no clearer notion of a free gift, than in the conveyance of a comfortable point of knowledge to one who knows nothing at present but what makes him unhappy; especially if the encouraging truth or report be conveyed by the voice of him who performed the generous deed reported; By his knowledge shall my righteous serrant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities. And must it not be highly encouraging to one who considered the Divine justice as an unsurmountable objection to his hope, to understand how the unchangeable God can appear unexceptionably just in receiving him into favour, guilty as he stands ! But what signifies all this, says the proud devotee, unless I can find some reason about myself why the Deity should distinguish me as his favourite beyond other men ? and thus he treats the bare truth of the gospel with scorn and contempt.
* See a volume of sermons published, Edinburgh, 1755, p. 129.
out of royal prerogative, issues out a pardon to a hardened criminal, how much more will he be kind and beneficent to the righteous, or those who are seriously disposed to be so. But if we are for a scheme of religion quite equal, rational, and suitable to our own good dispositions, we may soon find as able masters of reasoning as the popular teachers, who will conduct us by a shorter and more expeditious process of reasoning than they generally do, without retarding our course by entangling us among texts of Scripture; and in that case, indeed, we had much better lay aside the gospel altogether. For even some of our best philosophers, who pretend to believe it, make a most childish figure when they begin to measure it with their scale.
On the whole, I think there is more excuse to be made for the Jewish than for the Christian teachers in this respect. The former endeavoured to lower the high demand of the divine law, so as sinful men might have some hope to come up to it; the latter labour to set at a distance the heavenly gift
, which the gospel brings near or home to the most profane, in order to give full room for the pride of the devotee to avail itself in making the approach, and so as to render the matter as difficult to an awakened conscience, as it is to love righteousness and hate iniquity, or to fulfil the law. So their doctrine serves to elevate the proud, and to crush the poor and needy: and, I must say, it required no small energy of deceit to darken the clearest and most comfortable revelation that ever God made to men, to change the gospel of the glory of the blessed God into a doctrine of self-dependence.
I shall now close my remarks on the zealous Jews, by taking notice of the reason the Apostle gives why they came short of righteousness, or acceptance with God. He tells us, that while they sought it, as it were, by the works of the law, they stumbled at that stumbling-stone; as it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling-stone and rock of offence; and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. They considered the bare report concerning Christ crucified, as too weak a bottom to stand on before God; they were disgusted at it, as one would be at the proposal to venture his life on the water in a basket. They would willingly have followed a Messiah that would have given them some employment in the matter; and they would have given a ready ear to him, teaching thein how they might work the works of God; but they could not bear the thought, that all their good notions and desires should be utterly set at nought; so they could neither understand nor believe that Jesus came down from
heaven to work the work of God for men, by himself alone. The same disgust is evidently to be seen still among
those who have the greatest repute for Christian orthodoxy and piety. But if it be necessary that I should be still more plain, I am very willing to avoid all ambiguity, and freely own, I have nowhere observed the Jewish disgust at the bare truth, or, which is the same thing, the bare work of Christ, more evident than among the admirers of the doctrine of Messrs. Marshall, Boston, Erskines, Whitefield, Wesley, and such like. I am far from denying, that there are some among these, who, not knowing the depths of such doctrine, find all their comfort in the simple truth; even as I am far from denying, that when the Messiah was born, there were some even among the sect of the Pharisees, who waited for the consolation of Israel, and avoided the pernicious maxims of
I am, &c.
When I thought of proceeding to a more particular ex. amination of Aspasio's sentiments, I found it needful to explain myself on some points further than I have hitherto done, to prevent my being misunderstood. I shall, there. fore, occupy this letter with reflections on Mystery, on Reason, and on Spirit.
As perhaps it may be thought I have not used this scriptural expression with sufficient respect on some occasions, i am content to bestow some time in considering what use the Scripture makes of it, and how it has been used by Christian teachers.
Since Christianity has been formed into a capital science