Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

fore they neglect that, which is really so, it is because they need to be shown, in what their greatest happiness, or their highest interest consists. Whenever this is shewn, they will pursue it. 2. If men do not love Deity, whose character is perfectly amiable, it must be, that they do not know it to be such. When this ignorance is removed, God wil become an object of their love. That these arguments are inadequate to the purpose, for which they are adduced, even on supposition, that virtue or piety implies nothing but external obedience, it will not be difficult to show. Does the intemperate man correct his habits, as soon as he is convinced, that his own interest requires such correction ? So far from this, there is an avowed conflict between his inclination and appetite. He knows what his health, and interest, and happiness require. Can it be believed, for a moment, that all profligate men consid. er vice, as conducive to permanent good, and virtue conducive to evil? Nothing is more common, than to hear them confess the contrary. But you inquire, Do not men choose the greatest apparent good? I answer, that men do not always choose what in their settled judgment, is the greatest good. But if the question be, whether the good, expected from a sinful action, does not, at the moment, when the will consents, appear greater, than the good, arising from abstinence, it is a ques. tion of so much difficulty, that I would not, with confidence, make a decision. In any event, the determination of an inquiry, so very abstruse and metaphysical, can have little weight in opposition to numerous and obvious facts. But let it be conceded, if you please, that the affirmative is true, namely, that at the moment, when the will consents to a sinful action, the good, thence resulting, appears greater, than the good, accruing from abstinence; still the action is against light-it is against the settled judgment: The reason, why the advantage of sinning appears greater, than the

advantage of abstinence, is, that the offender perversely chooses at that moment to look exclusively on the arguments for one side: he keeps his mind steadily fixed on the pleasure or advantage of the crime, but will not consider the advantages or pleasures of a quiet conscience. It appears then, that a knowledge of our duty does not infallibly engage us to perform it, even so far as external actions are concerned: by consequence, increasing light will not certainly produce even outward reformation: much less will it produce that inward affection for moral rectitude and the divine character, which is implied in true virtue. Indeed, whoever speaks of loving virtue, or the Deity, because the possession of such affections would be for our personal advantage, will find difficulty, either in explaining his language, or in defending his opinions. What kind of love for the Deity is that which proceeds from love to personal interest? Or how does it differ from that love, which an ambitious man has for those, who are the instruments of his elevation;–a love, which is commensurate only with their subserviency to that end. Further, the opinion, that nothing but more light or instruction is necessary to render wicked men pleased with the divine character, implies that they are not wicked. It implies, that they are now pleased with what the character of God really is; and are disgusted only with some false ideas, which they have, by some misfortune, imbibed concerning him. Were you in company with the best man on earth, supposing him to be the worst, your aversion from him, considered in the latter character, would prove in you no want of uprightness, no indisposition to virtue; it would even afford a presumption of your own correct moral feelings. Neither would he, after knowing your mistake, feel the least resentment; but acknowledge, that, under existing circumstances, your feelings, and your treatment of him were precisely what they should have been. If any further arguments were necessary, I would resort to the following fact, namely, that nations have been attach

ed to the service of their deities, not according as the character of the latter has been pure, but the reverse. The Jews, no doubt had more just views of God, than any con temporary nation. Yet was there no prevailing inclination among their neighbors to embrace the Jewish religion; but a strong propensity in the Jews to embrace theirs. The Moabites and Zidonians had no fondness for the worship of Jehovah; but Israel was perpetually enamoured with Chemosh, Astaroth, and Baal-peor. It is now, we believe, sufficiently evident, that the cause, why men do not love the true God and obey his law, is not the want of light, but of relish for that which is morally good. If so, something more than increased light is wanting to produce a radical change of character. II. Our next inquiry is, whether that divine influence, necessary to produce this change, is always bestowed accord. ing to previous character. Sin, or moral cvil is that alone, which removes men to a distance from their Maker. Besides this, there is nothing in man, which excites the divine displeasure. Of course, if there be, as we have endeavored to show, any difference in the real demerit of unrenewed men, some are less offensive to him, than others. Now, when all other things are equal, it cannot, I think, be doubted, that those, who are less, will receive the grace of conversion in preference to those, who are more offensive. But though I humbly conceive this to be the way of God's proceeding, when other things are equal; there may be ten thousand circumstances, unknown to us, rendering it highly suitable for Deity to depart from it. And there are many facts, by which such a departure is proved. When it is said, that God distributes his favor, as a sovereign, it is not meant, at least it ought not to be meant, that he acts either from caprice, or without reason. He never has done, and he never will do an unreasonable action; though many of the circumstances, which render particular

dispensations necessary, may far exceed human comprehension. Paul, before his conversion, breathed out threatnings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord: being exceedingly mad against them, he persecuted them oft unto strange cities, and compelled them to blaspheme Christ. Now though, in all this he was less guilty, than if he had not done it, as he did, ignorantly in unbelief, he speaks in the strongest terms of his demerit, and declares this as one of the causes, why he obtained mercy, that “Jesus Christ might in him, show forth all long suffering, as a pattern to those, who should afterwards believe on his name to eternal life.” Some of the Corinthian disciples, he informs us, “who were washed, justified, and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of God,” had been “thieves, revilers, and extortioners.” With regard to such persons, we cannot easily imagine, that they received mercy because of their comparative innocence, i. e. the smallness of their crimes. We have had personal knowledge of individuals, who were to all appearance unusually far from the kingdom of God, afterwards reduced to a willing subjection. We should not be justified, therefore in asserting, that divine influence is always proportionate to previous character. Should this in the view of any appear unjust, a few moments' consideration will correct the error. , No injustice is done to him, whose rights are not violated. But that no person, who has violated a just law, has a right to exemption from its penalty, is a proposition, than which none can be more evident, either in government, or morals. Nor can such right be created by the bestowment of pardon on another, whose demerits are equal, or even greater. If punishment would have been just before, it is just at present. Whatever favor is bestowed on one, the punishment of another is not rendered greater, nor his crimes less. The relation between his crime and punishment remains the Salile,

As God is under no obligation to grant pardon to any, so neither is he bound to communicate that celestial influence, which qualifies men to receive pardon. He does indeed bestow both; and exercises his mercy agreeably to his wisdom, i. e. in such manner, as is most conducive to the order and happiness of the intelligent universe.

But because some distinguished offenders have obtained mercy, while some others, apparently less criminal, have passed through life without piety, we can by no means conclude, that such is the usual course of divine proceeding. That it is perfectly immaterial, whether unrenewed men restrain their appetites, or give them full liberty; that the most impious unblushing profligates are no more unlikely, in general, to receive that grace, which shall fit them for eternal life, than those, who, under the influence of conscience maintain a decent sobriety, is a doctrine, which surely looks with very ill aspect on morality, and derives no support from the oracles of God.

IU. We are next to inquire, whether any means or efforts, used by the impenitent, render their conversion more probable. That certain religious means have been divinely ordained, for the instruction and conversion of the wicked, admits no doubt. Christ delivered his message," that men might believe, and that believing, they might have life through his name;" and Paul was sent to the Gentiles “ to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.”

It never has been, and I suppose never can be doubted, that the great design of God in communicating the gospel to the world, and in the directions, which he gave, that this gospel should be preached to every creature, was the conversion and future salvation of sinners. Now, if means are ordained with reference to a particular end, that end is more likely to be accomplished, when means are used, than when they are not. If God has been pleased to appoint, that the Gospel should be preached for the instruction

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »