« AnteriorContinuar »
One other difficulty remains to be noticed. It may be objected to the general position inculcated in this discourse, and matter of fact seems to add weight to the objection, that persons are sometimes to be found who appear both to apprehend and to approve of the doctrine of the Scriptures, whilst they too clearly evince that they have never been concerned to do God's will. This objection I will not attempt to silence by observing, that exceptions, or apparent exceptions, to every general statement, and especially on moral and religious topics, perpetually occur, without however being considered as in the least affecting the validity of the position in question. Nor will I content myself with remarking that the knowledge, which is thus acquired, is frequently not so correct, after all, as the objector may imagine; but that on the contrary it is generally intermingled with fatal errors; so that it cannot be said to amount, even in a speculative point of view, to a comprehensive and accurate knowledge of the doctrine. I will give the objection its full weight. I will allow that, where a man has been surrounded with external advantages, where just views of religious truth have been recommended to his esteem, and in a manner forced upon his notice, from his earliest days, and where circumstances have
afterwards concurred rather to favour, than to discourage, his profession of it, he may possibly, so far as we can discern, discover and acknowledge all the various and important doctrines, with their mutual dependencies, which compose the grand scheme of the Gospel. His convictions, in this case, will be on the side of truth, whilst his heart is opposed to it. Some transient alarms of conscience, some warm movements of his affections, motives of interest or convenience, the love of fame, the ambitious desire of acquiring power or influence with a party, may combine at length to fix him as the advocate of perfectly correct opinions, and to leave him under the fatal delusion of conceiving that the zealous support of them will be a sufficient substitute for a life of devotedness to God. Thus, by an anomaly in religion, for which however the corrupt state of human nature will but too well account, he may maintain positions which in fact condemn his whole spirit and conduct; and dispute for truths, which his state of heart forbids him to love, and which, if his external circumstances had been different, he would have despised, rejected, and opposed. But even to this exempt case, however perplexing it may at first appear, the grand principle of my text is applicable. The knowledge of which we treat is not merely
speculative, but practical. The person therefore before us shall not know of the doctrine. He may have collected the outlines of it in his memory; but, not having received it into his heart, he shall not know of the doctrine in its influence and benefits. On the contrary, if, from his continued neglect of the injunction of my text, his notions remain barren and unproductive, they shall become to him a savour of death unto death; they shall increase his final condemnation; they shall proclaim, as it were, to all the world, when considered in connection with the disobedience of his life, that his damnation is just. Such characters then, so far from furnishing a valid objection to the principle of my discourse, afford it, as we have seen, a strong additional confirmation. It still remains true in its full extent, that if any one who has hitherto been negligent of religion, is really anxious to discover its genuine doctrines, he has only one resource, an obedient submission of heart to God. In this way, and this way only, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, can he enter upon a successful investigation of the momentous subject.
Permit me then finally to address myself to those persons, if such should be here present,
62 Cor. ii. 16.
7 Rom. iii. 8.
who have hitherto neglected to pay serious attention to religion, who have neglected to do the will of God, and consequently have not known of the doctrine; and to press upon their consciences the obligation of entering without delay on that course of piety which my text enjoins. You have every encouragement before you. You have the means of grace provided. You have the word of God in your hands. You have the sabbath to dedicate to the concerns of eternity. The influences of the Holy Spirit, without which we can do nothing in religion, are vouchsafed to every supplicant. God has even promised to take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and give you an heart of flesh. All things are thus prepared. If you perish, the guilt is purely your own. I am now referring to the elementary duties of religion, and I use great plainness of speech. Begin to withdraw yourselves from temptation. Begin to withstand corrupt example; to avoid every known sin, and practise every known duty. Begin to pray. Begin to read the holy Scriptures. Begin to consider your state as transgressors. These are the very first steps towards heaven. He that neglects to take these steps contemns God, and will in vain attempt to excuse his ignorance of the higher principles of
Christianity. You have been careless long enough; think now with solemnity of an eternal state. The time past of your life may suffice you to have wrought the will of men1; regard now the will of God. You have as yet been attracted by the vanities of this world; now turn your eyes to the realities of another. So far as you have exerted yourselves hitherto, you have relied on your own talents and accomplishments, and you have relied on them in vain; acknowledge now their insufficiency, and make them subordinate to the grace of God. If you thirst for knowledge, what knowledge is so important as that of the word of life? If you thirst for fame, what pursuit is so ennobling, as the investigation of divine truth? If you pant for honour, what honour can be compared with that which cometh from God? If you can be allured by interest, what gain can be even mentioned in comparison with the salvation of your souls? Without this indeed, what is every other acquisition? If our taste were the most correct, our learning the most profound, our information the most enlarged, and our fame the most illustrious that the world ever saw; if we could comprehend all the curiosities of science, and all the treasures of literature were poured at our feet; if we could
11 Pet. iv, 3.