Изображения страниц

merits of Christ, applied by faith, with eternal life. Christ himself lays this down as the great fundamental: * As Moses,' says he, lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life,' John iii. 14, 15. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life;' chap. v. 24. “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth, and believeth on me, shall never die;' John xi. 25, 26.

On the other hand, death, or damnation, is no less unquestionably and peremptorily threatened to unbelief; that is, to a want of faith in Christ, as already explained ; and no wonder; for, if life is the consequent or reward of faith, death, by the rule of opposites, must be the consequent or punishment of infidelity. He that believeth not,' saith Christ, John iii. 18, ‘is condemned already; because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life ; but the wrath of God abideth on him;' John iii. 36.

Here we see faith imputed to us for righteousness, and followed by the proper reward of righteousness, eternal life; and here also we see unbelief imputed to us for sin, and pursued with the proper punishment of sin, eternal death. To this not only the Deists, but the deistical Christians also, object, as a thing wholly unreasonable; for, say they, faith is not in our power; we neither choose nor refuse it; but always passively give it to that testimony which appears sufficient; and as passively withhold it, when the evidence appears defective. For this reason, we cannot look on it as matter of morality, nor consequently be persuaded, that God would declare it rewardable, or its opposite punishable, both being involuntary.

In answer to this, it must first be observed, that whereas the question is not about belief in general, but about Christian faith, which requiring an assent to certain mysteries, with a contempt whereof the pride man takes in his own conceitedly supposed wisdom, is oftentimes apt to fill him ; and the practice of certain virtues and austerities, which his

dissolute heart is still more averse to; the receiving, or rejecting it, may depend materially on the will of him to whom it is proposed. He who receives it, not only because he thinks it hath God for its voucher, but because he hopes it will subdue in him those sinful inclinations his nature delights in, and who, before he received it, did, for the latter reason, give the due attention to its evidence, was, in so doing, both voluntary and virtuous. On the contrary, he who, foreseeing the disagreeable restraints it must lay him under, if embraced, will not, for that reason, give the requisite attention to its evidence, lest he should, in the end, find himself convinced of its truth, bewrays a very vicious disposition. Nay, as in this case God is concerned, the conduct of a man, to whom the Christian evidence is offered, becomes, on that account, infinitely more delicate ; insomuch that if he refuses fully and fairly to examine, he adds impiety to his vice, even whether the evidence is qualified to stand the test or not; for it may, for aught he can judge, who will not properly inquire. Although the immediate seat of faith is in the understanding, it is nevertheless as much influenced by the will, as that is by the affections, and the heart. Hence it comes, that more evidence is requisite to convince a man of a truth he does not like, than is necessary for the conviction of another under no such bias. Experience even shews us, that where the bias is very prevalent, it averts the mind from all consideration of the proofs offered, or arms and hardens it against them, when they are obtruded. Piety, humility, self-diffidence, and integrity, which are all of them virtuous dispositions, are as so many preparatives to the faith of a Christian ; for they dispose him to a ready reception of his doctrines, in case his understanding shall be satisfied with the sufficiency of its vouchers. But negligence will not suffer a man to examine, because it is attended with trouble ; concupiscence, because conviction may lead to mortification; avarice, because it may inculcate restitution ; fear, because it may awaken guilt. "Woe unto him,' says the wise son of Sirach, that is faint-hearted ! for he believeth not.' Suspicion and jealousy seldom fail to produce incredulity; and as, generally speaking, they are but the imputation of a man's own falsehood to others, so they forbid his reposing a confidence in any, though reason should ever so strongly encourage it. Of all passions, pride is the greatest enemy to faith ; because it is always too wise to be taught; too sagacious to rely on reports; too wary to believe what it does not see; too sufficient to need assistance; so conscious of its own merit, as to need no Redeemer; so satisfied with its dignity, as to need no intercessor; and, in a word, so every way capable of directing itself, and dictating to the whole world, that if it hath not chanced to be born to Christianity, that religion must not presume to expect the honour of its assent. Our Saviour was well aware of this, when he spoke thus to such as despised his mission, notwithstanding the evidence of his miracles, wrought before their eyes to prove it; · How can ye believe, which receive honour of one another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?'

If our religion is from God, the arguments which support it must be sufficient to convince the rational, the candid, and the well-disposed, who, in case he closes with it, closes in opposition to all the corruptions and sinful dispositions of his nature; and, even in him, these may be enough, to make his faith a high and noble instance of virtue, in the sight of that Master, who will receive and reward every thing as such, that does honour to his Son.

If our religion is from God, its evidence must be sufficient; for God knew what was sufficient, and was too wise and good to leave the proofs of a religion defective, which cost him the life of his Son to introduce. If, nevertheless, any one shall resist this evidence, where are we to look for the source of his infidelity? Is it not in his will, corrupted and perverted by a bad heart, which either suffers him not sensibly to consider that evidence, or so blinds the eye of his judgment, as to leave him but a very faint perception of its light? St. Paul tells us, the Israelites,' who fell in the wilderness, could not enter into the promised rest, because of unbelief, Heb. iii. 18, 19; and, making use of them as an example, he says, ver. 12, · Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief.' Hence it evidently appears that the inspired apostle charges infidelity on the obliquity of the heart. Since this is the case, it is not without good reason that God threatens unbelief with damnation, thereby giving that sin a very high rank in the catalogue of immoralities; and no wonder; for all that God hath done to prove, and thereby to introduce and perpetuate, his religion, is trampled on by the infidel, who biassed by his corrupt dispositions, will neither be guided by his own reason, nor suffer it to listen to the word of God; and therefore is answerable for all the revelations communicated in order to his instruction, all the miracles performed for his conviction, and, what is more than all, for the blood of Christ spilt, in order to his pardon and salvation.

The objection thus answered, it will be now worth our while to consider, as life eternal is annexed to faith, and as faith is of different degrees, whether any degree might be sufficient. We may easily regulate our judgment on this point, if we know what is the end of faith. The end of faith is twofold; first, To call us to repentance and newness of life, by placing strongly before our eyes the great things of another world, that we may walk by faith, and not by sight,' 2 Cor. v. 7. as men who expect to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad, ver. 10. Secondly, To entitle us to salvation, through the sacrifice of our Saviour's blood. In respect to the first end, faith is the only efficacious instrument of our reformation, whereby a good life for the future may be secured. And, in respect to the last, it is the only means of applying to ourselves the benefits of Christ's death, in order to pardon for what is passed. Now if faith be not strong and operative, it can never reform our lives; because it hath the world, the devil, and the flesh, enemies not easily subdued, to contend with. And yet, if it fails as to the first end, it must, of consequence, fail also as to the second; because we can have no title to the benefits of Christ's death, but through the covenant, whereof repentance is one condition. As the body,' says St. James, ' without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,' James ii. 26. This divine grace, when it rises to a sufficient height and strength, never fails to reform the manners of him who is blessed with it; and then, as soon as it hath done this, ripens into a comfortable hope, which can never be well founded, but on reformation, the only fruit and proof of a saving faith. But in case this grace is de

VOL. 1.

[ocr errors]

fective, as it works no amendment, so it degenerates into fear and despair, which, if the person thus unhappily circumstanced can reflect at all, are in him the natural result of faith, and sin unreformed. The former is the faith of saints, which fills them with bright expectations, and heavenly raptures; the latter is the faith of devils, 'who believe and tremble,' James ii. 19.

Since it pleased Almighty God to bestow on us, who live under the light of the gospel, sufficient means of faith, we are guilty of a great and horrible sin, both against God, and our own souls, if we pass our days in ignorance of its fundamental articles; or even if, ascending a little above a state of mere ignorance, on a slight inquiry, we stop short in the region of doubts; because, in either case, the whole of divine revelation, with the blood of Christ, and eternity, are held by us at so low a price, as not to be deemed deserving of even a less anxious search, than we should readily enough bestow on a yet dubious title to a very inconsiderable estate. Nothing can be more indispensably our duty, than carefully to examine into the grounds and reasons of a religion, which, for aught we can possibly know, before we fairly try it, may give sufficient evidence of its truth, and prove itself a matter of infinitely higher concern to us, than all we can hope for, or even desire, irf this world. But if, on examination, Christianity should appear to be the true religion, it will be then our duty to inquire as carefully after its fundamental articles of faith and practice; because on them our attention ought chiefly to be turned, in order to secure the titles, and reap the benefits therein proposed to us by its author. Nothing we can do will so much contribute to the establishment of our faith, as inquiries of this nature, provided they set out with a hearty and honest desire to know the truth, and are conducted with due diligence and candour. However, as, on our own strength, we can proceed no farther than to a rational conviction, and as the Holy Spirit only can raise us to an active saving faith, it is our business earnestly to solicit his assistance, that we may neither in our researches miss the truth, nor, when we have found it, hold it in unrighteousness,' like men who carry a light that serves for no better purpose, than to shew others, that the bearers are out of their


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »