« AnteriorContinuar »
ness, and glory, which insure the awe of the bad and the reverence of the good throughout his immense kingdom. What other being can claim even one of these attributes; or, without them all, can assume, but with equal arrogance and injustice, the prerogative of controlling the conscience, or prescribing rules for the moral practice of mankind.
At the same time, this law is furnished with all the sanctions necessary to enforce its acquisitions, so far as they can be enforced, upon such beings as men. To obedience is promised the favour of God in this life, together with all the blessings which can be expected to flow from it in our present state; blessings to be followed by immortal life in the world to come. To disobedience is threatened the anger of God in this world, and endless perdition beyond the grave. These are sanctions of the highest possible import ; such as none but God has a right to establish ; such as none but God can execute. That he will execute them, his unchangeable truth furnishes the most decisive and awful evidence. If, then, prescriptions, requiring of us virtuous, and forbidding sinful, conduct, will ever be obeyed, these, certainly, will ensure our obedience.
To prevent us from being at a loss, and of course perplexed and distressed, the Scriptures have distinguished those truths which are fundamental, from those which are of inferior importance. The suspense, therefore, in which philosophy leaves the mind concerning this all-interesting subject is here taken away. The promises of acceptance, and the threatenings of rejection are here specifically made; and every man knows, or may easily know, what that obedience is, and what that character, which will certainly secure his salvation.
Even this is not all. Nor is the most interesting part of the whole subject hitherto brought into consideration. To sinners the all-important concern is to obtain an expiation for their sins. Of such an expiation philosophers have never dreamed. This is a part of divine wisdom, absolutely hidden from the eyes of all living. But in the Scriptures such an expiation is provided, established, and in the clearest terms announced to mankind. It is an expiation, concerning the sufficiency of which to cover the sins of the chief of sinners, and
to ensure his acceptance with God, not a reasonable doubt can be entertained. It is an expiation devised by God himself, and therefore certainly such as he will accept. In consequence of it, he exhibited himself as seated upon a throne of grace, or forgiving love, and proclaims boldness of access to all returning sinners for the supplication of his mercy and the attainment of the justification of life. Without this mighty constituent, the best religious system would be lame in its provisions for the salvation of sinners, and inefficacious, so far as they were concerned, to the production of any real good.
In addition to all these things, the Scriptures announce to us what none but God could announce or imagine, that, to counteract the hardness of our hearts and the obstinacy of our sinful habits, he had sent his Holy Spirit into the world, a divine and almighty agent, to form the heart of man anew, to remove his rebellious disposition, and to implant in him a spirit of allegiance and duty. This is another requisite, without which no religious system can be of any avail to the virtue or well-being of man.
Here also truth and falsehood, virtue and sin, are separated by lines of distinction, so broad and so clear, as not to be unobserved or mistaken, unless from choice. Systems of philosophy have been endlessly various and contradictory. The errors of the same philosopher are perpetually blended with whatever truths he communicates; the precepts which enjoin virtue, with those which sanction vice. All these also are attended with exactly the same authority, and with substantially the same arguments. One philosophical system also possesses exactly the same authority, and substantially the same evidence as another; that which contradicts, as that which is contradicted. What plain man, nay, what man of learning, can here distinguish truth from falsehood; moral precepts from immoral; virtue from sin ? Infinitely distant from all this, the scheme of the Bible is
One living and true God is the foundation of it, laid by every writer and on every page. Obedience to him is a single, indivisible thing; the love, which is the fulfilling of the
law. The atonement is one: the character to which the blessings of it are given is one : the salvation promised is one. Amid the endless varieties of instruction, precept, and promise ; of admonition, reproof, and threatening, contained in the Scriptures, a single scheme runs through the whole volume, and is adopted with absolute exactness by every writer. Hence the way of holiness becomes a highway, and wayfaring men, though fools, need not err therein.
Finally, the Scriptures contain examples of real virtue, which in the happiest manner elucidate and enforce the nature and the importance of obedience to God. They elucidate these things by showing that virtue has in fact existed in this sinful world. Such is the exhibition given of them, that no person who reads it can doubt for a moment, that the examples which are presented to our view were possessed of real piety, or that they were genuine children of God. That this was the character of Abraham and Moses, of Paul and John, can be doubted by him only who is resolved to doubt concerning every moral subject. This fact, let it be remembered, is of high moment to such beings as we are. With all her boasts, philosophy had no such example to give, and was, at the best, compelled to leave unanswered the great question, Whether virtue ever existed in the present world ?
By these examples also we are taught the manner in which virtue operates in human minds, and in the progress of human life; the duties which it performs; the sins which it shuns, and the manner in which it believes, repents, and obeys. The value of this instruction cannot easily be estimated. Whatever is done is far more clearly understood, more deeply felt, and either more faithfully followed, or more cautiously shunned than that which is barely taught.
In all this the importance of a virtuous character is evident. Still more gloriously is it manifested in the rewards to which we see those who possess this happy disposition, regularly conducted. These rewards are immortal and divine, transcending every thought and every wish which can be formed by a created mind.
Among these examples there is one, like to which nothing ever existed in the present world, and nothing was ever formed by the power of human imagination. This is the example of Christ. Search all the books, beside the Scriptures, which have been written since the world began; and one of those little histories, which record his example, will be acknowledged
you are an honest man, to exhibit more clearly and comprehensively, the nature and excellence of real virtue, than all the immeasurable mass of philosophical instructions united.
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD.
MATTHEW III. 9.
" And think not to say within yourselves, . We have Abraham
“ to our father ; for I say unto you, that God is able of these 66 stones to raise up children unto Abraham.?"
The Jews were accustomed to pride themselves on their descent from Abraham. God, they thought, would never cast off the children of his friend and the people of his covenant. Both the existence and the danger of this error the Baptist perfectly well understood, and felt himself bound to guard them against its pernicious influence. While, therefore, he urged the absolute necessity of repentance to the remission of sins, he took effectual care to prevent the objections which he foresaw would arise in their minds against his injunctions. For this purpose he anticipated the reply which they were ready to make, and informed them, that their relation to Abraham would be of no avail towards their attainment of eternal life ; as they could not but see, if they considered, that God was able of the stones which lay before them, to raise up children unto Abraham. This declaration plainly cut off all the hopes which they derived from this source, and taught them irresistibly, that something, beside their kindred to the Patriarch, was necessary to secure the favour of God.
We, like the Jews, are prone to indulge expectations of future good on false grounds, if not on the same, yet on others equally indefensible and dangerous; and, like them, need to be taught the error, and warned of the danger. The declaration in the text is admirably fitted for this purpose. The con