« ZurückWeiter »
cure tha happiness of each individual, and of the system as one great whole—that the laws of God were almost directly contrary to the leading maxims of morality which prevailed in the world—and that they struck at the root of all those principles of pride, ambition, revenge, and isit urity, which almost universally directed the conduct of individuals and of nations. Is, then, we find in a book which professes to be a revelation from heaven, a system of moral laws which can clearly be shown to be the basis of the inoral order of the universe, and which are calculated to secure the eternal happiness of all intellectual beings—it forms a strong presumptive proof, if not an unanswerable argument, that the contents of that book are of a celestial origin, and were dictated by Him who gave birth to the whole system of created beings. VII. From this subject we may learn the absurdity and pernicious tendency of Antinomianism. Of all the absurdities and abominations which have assumed the name of Religion, I know none more pernicious and atheistical in its tendency, than the sentiment which is tenaciously maintained by modern Antinomians, “That Christians are set free from the law of God as a rule of conduct.” That in the nineteenth century of the Christian era, amidst the rapid progress of physical and moral science, under the mask of a Christian profession, and with the moral precepts and injunctions of the prophets of Jesus Christ, and of his apostles, lying open before them, a set of men, calling themselves rational beings, should arise to maintain, that there is such a thing as “imputed sanctification,” that the moral law is not obligatory upon Christians, and that “whoever talks of progressive sanctification is guilty of high treason against the maJesty of heaven”—is a moral phenomenon truly humbling and astonishing ; and affords an additional proof, to the many other evidences which lie before us, of the folly and perversity of the human mind, and of its readiness to embrace the most wild and glaring absurdities ' If the leading train of sentiment which has been prorecuted in the preceding illustrations be admitted, there appears nothing else requisite in order to show the gross absurdity and the deadly malignity of the Antinomian system. If any system of religion be founded on the cancellation of every moral tie which connects man with man, and man with God—if its fundamental and distinguishing principles, when carried out to their legitimate consequences, would lead men to hate their Creator and to hate one another—if it can be shown, that the operation of such principles constitutes the chief ingredient of the misery which arises from “the worm that never dies,
* See Cottle's “Strictures on the Plymouth Antinomians.”
and the fire which is never quenched;” and that, if thiversally acted upon, they would overthrow all order in the intelligent system, and banish every species of happiness from the universe—it necessarily sollows, that such a system cannot be the religion prescribed by the All-wise and benevolent Creator, nor any part of that revelation which proclaims “peace on earth and goodwill among men,” and which enjoins us to “love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and our neighbour as ourselves.” The Antinomian, in following out his own principles, if no human laws or prudential considerations were to deter him, might run to every excess of profligacy and debauchery—might indulge in impiety, falsehood, and profanity—might commit theft, robbery, adultery, fraud, crue ly, injustice, and even murder, without considering himself as acting contrary to the spirit of his religious system. On his principles, the idea of heaven, or a state of perfect happiness, is a physical and moral impossibility; and the idea of hell a mere bugbear to frighten children and fools. For, wherever the moral law is generally observed, there can be no great portion of misery experienced under the arrangements of a benevolent Creator; and if this law be set aside, or its observance considered as a matter of indifference, the foundation of all the happiness of saints and angels is necessarily subverted. A heaven without love pervading the breasts of all its inhabitants, would be a contradiction in terms; but love, as we have already seen, is the foundation of every moral precept. I trust the moral conduct of the deluded mortals who have embraced this system is more respectable than that to which their principles naturally lead —but the consideration, that such absurd and dangerous opinions have been deduced from the Christian revelation, should act as a powerful stimulus on the Christian world, for directing their attention to a more minute and comprehensive illustration than has hither to been given, of the practical bearings of the Christian system, and of the eternal and immutable obligation of the law of God, which it is the great end of the gospel of Christ to enforce and demonstrate. For it is lamentable to reflect how many thousands of religionists, both in North and in South Britain, even in the present day, have their minds tinctured, in a greater or less degree, with the poison of Antinomianism, in consequence of the general strain of many of the doctrinal sermons they are accustomed to hear, and of the injudicious sentiments they have imbibed from the writings of the supralapsarian divines of the seventeeth centuary. VIII. Faith and repentance, as required in the Gospel, are absolutely necessary, in the present condition of man, in order to acceptable obedience to the divine law. “Without fairn it is impossible to please God; for he that cometh
to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him."— Faith, as the term is used in scripture, denotes considence in the moral character of God, founded on the belief we attach to the declarations of his word. It is defined, by the Apostle Paul, in the eleventh chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, to be “the confident expectation of things hoped for,” and “the conviction of things which are not seen.” Faith substantiates and realizes those objects which are invisible to the eye of sense, and which lie beyond the reach of our present comprehension. It recognises the existence and the omnipresence of an invisible Being, by whose agency the visible operations of nature are conducted; and views him as possessed of infinite wisdom, power, benevolence, faithfulness, rectitude, and eternal duration. It realizes the scenes of an invisible and eternal world—the destruction of the present fabric of our globe, the resurrection of the dead, the solemnities of the last judgment, the new heavens, and the new earth, the innumerable company of angels, and the grandeur and felicity of the heavenly world. These invisible realities it recognises, on the testimony of God exhibited in his word; and without a recognition of such objects, religion can have no existence in the mind.—In a particular manner, faith recognises the declarations of God in relation to the character and the condition of men as violators of his law, and as exposed to misery; and the exhibition which is made of the way of reconciliation, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, who is “set forth as a propitiation to declare the righteousness of God in the remission of sins.” The man in whose heart the principle of faith operates, convinced that he is guilty before God, and exposed to misery on account of sin, consides in the declarations of God respecting “the remission of sins through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus;”—he confides in the goodness, mercy, faithfulness, and power of God, which secure the accomplishment of his promises, and the supply of all requisite strength and consolation to support him amidst the dangers and afflictions of life; he confides in the wisdom and excellence of those precepts which are prescribed as the rule of his conduct, and which are fitted to guide him to the regions of happiness;–and in the exercise of this confidence, he “adds to his faith, fortitude and resolution, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity;” and prosecutes with courage this course of obedience, till at length “an entrance is abundantly adminlstered to him into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.” But, without a recognition of such objects, and an unshaken confidence in the declarations of God respecting them, it is obvious, from the nature of things,
* Doddridge's translation of Heb. xi 1.
that we “cannot please God,” nor yield to him an acceptable and “reasonable service.” In like manner it might be shown, that repentance is essentially requisite in order to acceptable obedience. Sin is directly opposed to the cha racter of God, and is the great nuisance of the moral universe. While the love of it predominates in any mind, it leads to every species of moral turpitude and depravity; and, consequently, completely unfits such a mind for yielding a cheerful obedience to the divine law. But repentance, which consists in haired of sin, and sorrow for having committed it, naturally fits and prepares the mind for the practice of universal holiness. It tends to withdraw the soul from the practice of sin, and warns it of the danger o. turning again to folly. It is the commencement of every course of virtuous conduct, and the avenue which ultimately leads to solid peace and tranquility of mind. It is intimately connected with humility and self-denial, and is directly opposed to pride, vanity, and self-gratulation. It must, therefore, be indispensably requisite to prepare us for conformity to the moral character of God, for universal obedience to his law, and for the enjoyment of substantial and never-ending felicity. Hence the importance which is attached to the exercise of repentance by our Saviour and his Apostles. In connexion with faith, it is uniformly represented as the first duty of a sinner, and the commencement of the Christian life. Repentance was the great duty to which the forerunner of the Messiah called the multitudes who flocked to his baptism, and on which the Messiah himself expatiated during the period of his public ministry. “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” And the apostles, in their instructions to every nation and to every class of men, laid down the following positions as the foundation of every moral duty. “Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.” IX. From the preceding illustrations we may learn, that no merit, in the sense in which that term is sometimes used, can be attached to human actions in the sight of God; and that the salvation, or ultimate happiness of sinners, is the effect of the grace or benevolence of God.— That the good works of men are meritorious in the sight of God, is a notion, as unphilosophical and absurd, as it is impious and unscriptural. They are requisite, and indispensably requisite, as qualifications, or preparations for the enjoyment of felicity, without which the attainment of true happiness either here or hereafter, is an absolute impossibility ; but the actions of no created being, not even the sublimest services and adorations of the angelic hosts, can have the least merit in the eyes of the Creator. “Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art, and thy righteousness may profit the son of man" but “if thou sinnest, what dost thou against God ; or, if thou be righteous, what givest thou him 2 and what receiveth he of thine hand?”* “Thy goodness extendeth not unto him,” and he that sinneth against him wronge h his own soul.”—What merit can there be in the exercise of love, and in the cultivation of benevolent affections, when we consider, that these affections are essentially requisite to our happiness, and that the very exercise of them is a privilege conferred by God, and one of the principal ingredients of bliss? What merit can be attached, in the presence of the Most High, to the noblest services we can perform, when we reflect, that we derived all the corporeal and intellectual faculties by which we perform these services, and all the means by which they are excited and directed, from our bountiful Creator? What merit can there be in obedience to his law, when disobedience must infallibly lead to destruction and misery 3 Is it considered as meritorious in a traveller, when he is properly directed, furnished with strength of body an i mind, and provided with every necessary for his journey, to move forward to the place of his wished for destination ? Our benevolent affections, and the active services to which they lead, may be meritorious in the eves of our fellow-men, in so far as they are the nueans of contributing to their enjoyment; but in the presence of Him who sits on the throne of the universe, dispensing blessings to all his offspring, we shall always have to acknowledge, that “we are unprofitable servants.” It is probable, that, if the great object of religion were represented in its native simplicity, if the nature of salvation were clearly understood, and is less were said on the subject of human merit in sermons, and systems of divinity, the idea which I am now combating, wouli seldom be entertained by any mind possessed of the least share of Christian knowledge, or of common sense. That the eternal salvation of men, is the effect of the iove and the grace of God, is also a necessary consequence from what has been now stated.
* Job xxxv. 6.8. Psalm xvi. 2 &c.
For every power, capacity, and privilege we possess, was derived from God. “What have we that we have not received 7” Even our very existence in the world of life, is an act of grure. We exerted no power in ushering ourselves into existence: We had no control over the events which deterimined that we should be born in Britain, and not in Africa; which determined the particular family with which we should be connected ; the education we should receive ; the particular objects towards which our minds should be directed, and the privileges we should enjoy. And, when we arrive at the close of our earthly career, when the spirit is hovering on the verge of life, and about to take its flight from this mortal scene, can it direct its course, by its own energies, through the world unknown 3 can it wing its way over a region it has never explored, to its kindred spirits in the mansions of bliss 7 can it furnish these mansions with the scenes and objects from which its happiness is to be derived 2 can it re-animate the body after it has long mouldered in the dust? can it re-unite itself with its long-lost partner ? can it transport the resurrection-body, to that distant world where it is destined to spend an endless existence 3 or can it create those scenes of glory and magnificence, and those ecstatic joys which will fill it with transport while eternity endures? If it cannot be supposed to accomplish such glorious objects by its own inherent powers, then, it must be indebted for every entertainment in the future world to the unbounded and unmerited love and mercy of God. To Him, therefore, who sits upon the throne of the heavens, and to the Lamb, who was slain and hath redeemed us to God by his blood, let all praise, honour, dominion, and power, be ascribed now and forever. Amen. Having now finished what I proposed in the illustration of the principles of love to God and to man, and of the precepts of the Decalogue, in the following chapter, I shall take a bird's eye view of the moral state of the world ; and endeavour to ascertain, to what extent these Principles and laws have been recognised and observed by the inhabitants of our globe.
A 1: RiFF SURVEY OF THE MORAL STATE OF THE WORLD ; OR, AN EXAMINATION OF THE GE. NERAL TRAIN OF HUMAN Actions, IN REFERENCE TO ITS CONFORMITY WITH THE PRINC1.
PLES AND LAWS NOW ILLUSTRATED.
THE discoveries of modern astronomy have led us infallibly to conclude, that the universe consists of an immense number of systems and worlds dispersed, at immeasurable distances from each other, throughout the regions of infinite space. When we take into consideration the Benevolence of the Deity, and that the happiness of the intelligent creation is the great object which his Wisdom and Omnipotence are enployed to accomplish—it appears highly probable, that the inhabitants of the whole, or at least of the greater part, of those worlds whose suns we behold twinkling from afar, are in a state of moral perfection, and consequently, in a state of happiness. At any rate, it is reasonable to conclude, that the exceptions which exist are not numerous. Perhaps this earth is the only material world where physical evil exists, where misery prevails, and where moral order is subverted; and these dismal effects may have been permitted to happen, under the government of God, in order to exhibit to other intelligences, a specimen of the terrible and destructive consequences of moral evil, as a warning of the danger of infringing, in the least degree, on those moral principles which form the bond of union among the intelligent system. Could we trace the series of events which have occurred, in any one of those happy worlds, where moral perfection prevails, ever since the period when it was replenished with inhabitants, and the objects to which their physical and rational powers have been directed, we should, doubtless, be highly delighted and enraptured with the moral scenery which the history of such a world would display. Its annals would uniformly record the transactions of bencvolence. We should hear nothing of the pomp of hostile armies, of the shouts of victory, of the exploits of heroes, of the conflagration of cities, of the storming of fortifications, of the avarice of merchants and courtiers, of the burning of heretics, or of the ambition of princes. The train of events, presented to our view, would be directly opposed to every object of this description, and to every thing which forms a prominent feature in the history of mankind. To beautify and adorn the scenery of mature around them, to extend their views of the operations of the Almighty, to explore the depths of his wisdom and intelligence, to admire the exuwerance of his goodness, to celebrate. in unison
the praises of the “King Eternal,” the Author of all their enjoyments, to make progressive advances in moral and intellectual attainments, to circulate joy from heart to heart, to exert their ingenuity in the invention of instruments by which their physical powers may be improved. and the wonders of creation more minutely explored; to widen the range of delightful contemplation, to expand their views of the Divine persections, and to increase the sum of happiness among all their fellow-intelligences, will doubtless form a part of the employments of the inhabitants of a world where moral purity universally prevails. One circumstance which may probably diversify the annals of such a world, and form so many eras in its history, may be the occasional visits of angelic or other messengers, from distant regions of creation, to announce the will of the Almighty on particular emergencies, to relate the progress of new creations in other parts of the Divine Empire, and to convey intelligence respecting the physical aspects, the moral arrangements, and the history of other worlds, and of other orders of intellectual beings. Such visits and occasional intercourses with celestial beings, would, undoubtedly, have been more srequent in our world, had not man rendered himself unqualified for such associations, by his grovelling affections, and by the moral pollutions with which his character is now stained.
When we turn our eyes from the transactions of such a world, to the world in which we live, how very different a scene is presented to the view! The history of all nations embraces little more than
A RECORD or THE opert Ations of MALEvo- Lence.
Every occurrence has been considered as tame and insipid, and scarcely worthy of being recorded, unles it has been associated with the confused noise of warriors, the shouts of conquerors, the plunder of provinces, the devastation of empires, the groans of mangled victims, the cries of widows and orphans, and with garments rolled in blood. When such malevolent operations cease for a little, in any part of the world, and the tumultuous passions which produced them, subside into a temporary calm. the historian is presented with a blank in the annals of the human race, the short interlude of peace and of apparent tranquility is passed over as unworthy of notice, till the restless passions of avarice and ambition be again roused into fury, and a new set of desperadoes arise, to carry slaughter and desolation through the nations. - For, during the short temporary periods of repose from the din of war, which the world has occasionally enjoyed, the malignant passions, which were only smothered, but not extinguished, prevented the operation of the benevolent affections; and, of course, no extensive plans for the counteraction of evil, and the improvement of mankind, worthy of being recorded by the annalist and the historian, were carried into effect. In doder to produce a definite impression of the moral state of the world, I shall endeavour, in this chapter, to give a rapid sketch of the prominent dispositions of mankind, as displayed in the general train of human actions—that we may be enabled to form a rude estimate of the degree in which the law of God has been recognised, and of the extent to which its violation has been carried, on the great theatre of the world, and in the ordinary transactions of general society. I shall, in the first place, take a rapid view of • the moral state of the world in ancient times, and then take a more particular survey of the present state of morals, among savage and civilized nations—in the Christian world—and among the various ranks and orders of society.
SECTION I. st ATE or MoRALs in the ANCIENT WORLD.
MAN was originally formed aster the moral image of his Maker. His understanding was quick and vigorous in its perceptions; his will subject to the divine law, and to the dictates of his reason ; his passions serene and uncontaminated with evil; his affections dignified and pure ; his love supremely fixed upon his Creator; and his joy unmingled with those sorrows which have so long been the bitter portion of his degenerate race. But the prim genitor of the human race did not iong continue in the holy and dignified station in which he was placed. Though he was placed in “a garden of delights,” surrounded with every thing that was delicious to the taste and pleasant to the eve, yet he dared to violate a positive command of his Maker, and to stretch forth his impious hand to pluck and to laste the fruit of the forbidden tree—a picture and a prelude of the conduct of millions of his degraded offspring who despise the lawful enjoyments which lie within their reach, and obstinately rush on sorbidden pleasures, which terminate in wretchedness and sorrow. The dismal effects of the depraved dispositions thus introduced among the human species, soon became apparent. Cain, the first-born son of Adam, had do sooner reached to the years
of maturity, than he gave vent to his revengeful passions, and imbrued his hands in his brother's blood. And ever since the perpetration of this horrid and unnatural deed, the earth has been drenched with the blood of thousands and of millions of human beings, and the stream of corruption has flowed without intermission, and in every direction around the globe. Of the state of mankind in the ages before the flood, the sacred history furnishes us with only a few brief and general descriptions. But those descriptions, short and general as they are, present to us a most dreadful and revolting picture of the pitch of depravity and wickedness to which the human race had arrived. We have the testimony of God himself to assure us, that, within 1600 years from the creation of the world, “the wickedness of man had become great upon the earth—that the earth was filled with violence” —yea, that “every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually, '—or, as it may more literally be rendered from the Hebrew, “the whole imagination, comprehending all the purposes and desires of the mind, was only evil from day to day.”—“God looked upon the earth; and behold it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.” A more comprehensive summary of the greatness and the extent of human wickedness it is scarcely possible to conceive. The mind is left to fill up the outline of this horrid picture with every thing that is degrading to the houman character, with every thing that is profligate and abominable in manners, with every thing that is base, salse, deceitful, licentious, and profane, and with every thing that is horrible and destructive in war, and ruinous to the interests of human happiness. The description now quoted, contains the following intimations:–1. That, previous to the deluge, wickedness had become universal. It was not merely the majority of mankind that had thus given unbounded scope to their licentious desires, while smaller societies were to be found in which the worship of the true God, and the precepts of his law were observed. For “all jlesh had corrupted their ways.” And, at this period the world is reckoned to have been much more populous than it has been in any succeeding age, and to have contained at least ten billions of inhabitants, or many thousands of times the amount of its present population. So that universal wickedness must have produced misery among human beings to an extent of which we can form no adequate conception. 2. The description implies, that every invention, and every purpose and scheme devised both by individuals and by communities, was of a malevolent nature. “The imagination of every man's heart was only evil continually.” The dreadful spectacles of misery and horror which the universal prevalence of such principles and practices which then