« AnteriorContinuar »
while the Gentiles acquired those, which they previously had not. But, as the Gentiles were received into the church, on account of their attention and docility, and the Jews were rejected because of their prejudice and obduracy, the doctrine of the text will remain the same, whether this reception of the Gentiles, and exclusion of the Jews were, or were not, in our Saviour's view.
It may not be impertinent to inquire whether the text : For judgment I am come into the world, that they who see not, might see ; and that they, who see, might be made blind, means, that the object of our Lord's advent was as truly and directly the blinding of some, as the illumination of others.
I answer, that the negative of that is shown, not only by the general tenor of Scripture, but by particular and express declarations. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. The Son of Man came into the world not to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
The doctrine of our text is this, Though Christianity was designed for the instruction and salvation of men, and is well adapted to produce such effect, its consequences, in regard to some, will be an augmentation of prejudice, vice, and misery: or, in the words, already used, Those, whose minds are honest, docile, and humble, will obtain more clear and consistent views of religious truth; while the careless, the prejudiced, and the self-confident, will find themselves more disinclined either to receive or obey it.
This sentiment is not peculiar to the text, but is clearly conveyed in various parts of the inspired volume : If I had not come and spoken to them, said Christ, concerning the Jews, they had not had sin ; but now have they no cloak for their sin. (John 25: 22.) The profligate cities of Tyre and Sidon, we are assured, will experience a doom, at the day of judgment, more tolerable than the doom of those cities, where Jesus displayed divine power, and revealed the will and purposes of God. It were better, saith the apostle, not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after having known it, to turn from the holy commandment. That, to the minds of such, as are not reformed by the instructions of Christianity, less powerful influences of the divine Spirit are communicated, seems well to accord with many declarations in Scripture; but even if the truth be not taken into view, there will still be no difficulty in accounting for the fact, implied in our text.
Virtue requires of us feelings and actions, corresponding with the condition in which we are, and with the relations, which we sustain. Impenitence is a state always the reverse of this; it is incongruous with the condition of a creature under a government the most wise, rational and holy. This incongruity is greater, more striking, and criminal, in proportion, as our state and relation are clearly known to us. He, who is so unfavorably situated, as to obtain but a confused view of his duty, is doubtless criminal for neglecting that degree of light, which he enjoys. Moral obliquity is inconsistent with any condition, in which a rational being can be placed. But this inconsistency is more glaring and criminal, when the character of God, the purity of his law, and the tremendous nature of its penalties, are forcibly displayed. Besides, impenitence under such circumstances, implies a greater effort on the side of vice, a heart more determined on rebellion. If, when copious light is communicated, our relations and consequent duties are not acknowledged, we either neglect evidence or resist it. Such neglect or opposition eventually produces confirmed habits. The mind is gradually advancing to a state, in which it will not be difficult to believe without evidence, or disbelieve in opposition to it. For, it is not more easy for the artificer to acquire habits of doing his work slightly, than for the mind to form habits of viewing evidence so confusedly or superficially, as to receive no impression from it. A kind of aptness and dexterity at seizing on error, and rejecting the truth, may as well be acquired, as any motion of the body can be rendered habitual. They, who see, i. e. they who enjoy the ineans of religious knowledge, but are not solicitous to use them impartially, are thus made blind.
It will not be denied, 'I suppose, that blindness, thus contracted, is criminal. For, though we are bound to be very cautious, how we attribute the supposed errors of individuals to perverseness of heart, so long as they may originate from other causes, no person can rationally suppose it a matter of indifference, what use is made of our intellectual powers. While we are justly answerable to God for a right use of our agility or bodily strength, no one will assert that we may innocently abuse the far more noble power of comparing and judging.
But to all who remain irreligious in the enjoyment of Christian light, these observations do not apply. Some of this description are not guilty of forming a wrong conclusion as to the doctrines or duties of Christianity. They acknowledge, that unlimited obedience is the duty of man, and is therefore with good reason, required by the law of God. Believing the interminable duration of future rewards and punishments, they do not deny, that motives to become religious, are indescribably powerful. Still, by these motives of such acknowledged weight they are neither reformed nor greatly affected. As the persons of whom we have been speaking, render it easy for themselves to take such confused and superficial views of evidence, as to avoid the conclusion, to which it naturally leads; those of whom we now speak, habituate themselves to similar desultory views of those motives, by which they ought to be influenced. That persons who consider it doubtful, whether there be any future state, or if there be, whether that state will have any dependance on the present characters of men ; that such persons should not be very circumspect in their lives, or anxious concerning their future welfare, is by no means surprising ; but that
S those should be destitute of this circumspection and anxiety, who believe that the doctrine of eternal retribution is clearly taught in the divine oracles, can be accounted for op no other supposition, than that of habitual inattention to acknowledged truth. Let all the light, which is conveyed by the Christian religion, suddenly burst upon the mind of a pagan, carrying with it plenary conviction, let him at once perceive the splendor, Vol. II.
majesty and purity of the divine character, his own dependance and guilt, the justice of that law which condemns him, and the benignity of the Gospel which offers salvation, the endless felicity of saints, and the irremediable portion of the reprobate ;
let him be at once convinced of all this, and though his heart may not be renewed, his tranquillity will be disturbed. Perceiving himself surrounded by such objects, he will be filled with anxiety and perhaps with terror. The sensibility thus excited, may be followed by a change of character But, when men are so accustomed to these representations, as to contemplate them with neither anxiety or interest, when they have acquired the power of disregarding truth of the most solemn import, and of sinning at their ease in view of eternal punishment, their guilt is undeniably increased, and the probability of a reformation dimin
а ished. Nor is it easy to fix the limits, beyond which human obduracy may not pass. To a dying person, we are ready to imagine, motives to repentance must be overbearing and irresistible. Far otherwise. Those, who have had but a moderate experience in the Christian ministry, have witnessed individuals, dying without hope, and yet without alarm.
Thus it appears, that unyielding obstinacy in sin may be produced by strong motives to repentance, and that blindness may be increased by resplendent and copious light.
But, if Christianity be a divine religion, whatever consequences will, in fact, result from it, must have been distinctly foreseen by that Being, from whom it is derived. And to some it may appear incredible that a wise and benevolent God should, for the express purpose of enlightening and reforming mankind, bestow a religion which, it was foreseen, would with regard to any, produce the contrary effects.
In answer to this I observe, that if the argument proves that Christianity is not from God, it proves with equal certainty that God never has revealed himself to men, and that he never will. Nay further, it proves that it would be out of character for God to instruct mankind by reason, by philosophy, or the writings or discourses of wise and good men.
I. The objection would be as powerful against any conceivable revelation, as it is against Christianity. Where there is little light, there is comparatively little responsibility. Where there is clear and abundant light, responsibility is proportionably greater. This principle is no less the dictate of reason, than of revelation. Every rational parent considers that child as less excusable, who neglects his duty, when clearly and fully made known to him, than another, whose duty has been taught obscurely or imperfectly. Every instructor has the most gloomy forebodings concerning that pupil, on whom repeated and urgent persuasions have been lost. Every magistrate despairs concerning that citizen, whose crimes have been committed deliberately, and after a thorough acquaintance with the laws of his country. On the same principle are they more criminal, who, though instructed in the momentous doctrines of Christianity, still live as without God in the world. And, as Christianity is liable to abuse, so would be any other religion which God should see fit to communicate. At whatever time,
. or in whatever manner, such communication should be made, it would still be a communication of light, not previously enjoyed. This light might be improved, or rejected and abused; and those guilty of such abuse, would be thereby exposed to the greater condemnation.
II. We have observed, that if the objection, which we are now considering, prove any thing against the divine origin of Christianity, it will prove that Deity cannot, consistently with his character, instruct mankind by reason, philosophy, or the writings of wise and good men ; for these, no less than revelation, are liable to abuse. If men are well instructed in the great principles of religion, whatever be the source whence this instruction is derived, they are bound to regard it; and a life of inattention and vice is more criminal, than it would have been, had their knowledge and their privileges been less. Ten thousand persons habitually employ their accomplishments, their talents, and their knowledge, in such manner, as to render themselves more injurious, and more depraved. They employ