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city to devise a system of moral truth, no less than professed infidels.
If we profess to believe the Scriptures as a revelation from God, there can be no greater absurdity, there can be no greater indecency than not to receive his declarations just as we find them. Who hath known the mind of Jehovah ? or who hath been his counsellor ? Shall a worm of the dust instruct his Maker, pervert his truth, substitute for it his own errors, and by annexing to it meanings which He never intended, change it, as did the philosophers of old, into a lie?
A system of religion involves in it the character, government, and designs of God; the nature, interests, and duty of men; a future existence and its mighty concerns; the means of pardon, justification, and final acceptance, and the means also of perseverance in our duty unto the end. How plain is it, that no mind less than infinite is able to comprehend these immeasurable subjects? Who besides God can understand his nature? Whose eye can penetrate into the secret recesses of the uncreated mind, and discern his views of moral objects ? The manner in which he regards holiness and sin? The rewards which he will render to those who are the subjects of the opposite attributes ? The terms on which he will accept, and the manner in which he will restore sinners ? Or whether he will accept or restore them at all? Who can determine whether God will accept any worship from sinners ? Who, independently of his declarations, can tell whether there is any future reward, or even any future being ?
How obvious is it, that after all the expectations, labours, and boasts of man on these mighty subjects of investigation, the utmost which he has hitherto done, and therefore the utmost which he ever will do, is merely to form ingenious conjectures ? But is the soul of man to be set afloat upon a guess? Who that was not a fair candidate for bedlam would hazard even his property, nay, his pleasure, upon an absolute uncertainty? Who, bound upon a voyage in which he was to venture himself and all his interests, would launch into an illimitable ocean upon a plank?
But were all this less obvious, it should seem impossible for mankind not to learn the truth for which I contend from the voice of experience. Innumerable attempts have been continually made, both by those who professedly believe, and those who openly disbelieve, the Scriptures. Hitherto they have only made shipwreck of the moral system. In all the schemes of doctrine which they have contrived, they have furnished nothing on which a sober man could for a moment venture his salvation. Not one of them has discovered any means of expiating sin, obtaining justification for sinners, or securing, or even rendering probable, their admission into the favour of God. All the reliance of these men has been placed on undefined, unsupported, and absolutely uncertain hopes of mercy, of which neither experience, reason, nor analogy has hitherto been able to produce the least evidence. To commit his soul to such a refuge, to lean for safety on such a reed, is to put our all at hazard with a spirit of desperation.
But what men, so numerous, ingenious, laborious, and persevering, have never been able to do, will never be done by any man. He who will not admit this conclusion from premises which so obviously involve it, rejects it not from conviction, nor even from plausible arguments, but from mere self-sufficiency. Nothing else will persuade him that he is able to accomplish a work, to which the powers of all his fellow-men have been unequal. Nothing else, indeed, could induce him even to enter upon an employment so absolutely and so evidently hopeless.
Thirdly, Another specimen of trusting in our own hearts is confiding in the goodness of our moral character.
This exercise of self-sufficiency is manifested in many forms and varieties. Of these the
First which I shall mention is believing more favourably concerning ourselves than truth will warrant.
This unhappy error is not confined to sinners; it is found but too frequently in men who present us many reasons to acknowledge them as Christians.
Wicked men often believe themselves to be virtuous, not only without but against evidence, and from mere self-sufficiency. Were they to examine themselves with either care or candour, they would find nothing on which, in their own view, this opinion could rest even with plausibility. Reason demands, the Scriptures demand, their own eternal interests loudly demand, that they should search both their hearts and lives with unceasing diligence, deep solicitude, and entire impartiality; that they should anxiously consult others, especially men of acknowledged wisdom and goodness concerning their moral condition ; and above all, that they should bring their character for trial to the Gospel, the great touchstone of righteousness. Whatever they do or can do short of this is merely the result of confidence in their own hearts. Until this is done, they will only deceive themselves. Until this is done, they may indeed, in their own view, have a name to live, but they will be really dead. Were it effectually done, the delusion would vanish, and one ground of hope would be actually gained, that they might hereafter change both their condition and their character for the better.
With the same conduct good men, to an extent which is not small, are chargeable also. I wish it were in our power to deny the humiliating position. But if we adhere to truth we shall be obliged to confess that even such men often believe themselves to be much better than they really are.
Young converts, true converts, possessing real and evangelical worth, are in this respect frequently unhappy. Their feelings are warm and vigorous, their imaginations active, and their religious experience almost nothing. The dictates of their imaginations they easily and not unwillingly mistake for the decisions of sound judgment, and the impulse of their passions for the glow of evangelical love. On these sands they build their hopes and estimates of their religious character. Of such dictates and impulses they indeed have many, and were they sound evidence of this great point, the true character of the persons in question would, in a less degree, be misapprehended by themselves. But alas ! these things have nothing to do with religion. They are pressed into the service, and are made to evince that to which they have no reference, and can have no application.
What is true of these converts is true of multitudes of religious men who possess the same vigour of fancy, and the same warmth of feeling. Particularly is it the case with ignorant Christians. In them often feeling is neither balanced nor regulated by those sound rational views of the evangelical system which more knowledge of it, and a superior capacity of judging, would furnish. The real evidences of piety they imperfectly collect, imperfectly compare, and, of course, imperfectly understand. Thus situated, they remain in a sense young converts while they live. Yet in numerous instances they prove, by their conversation and behaviour, that they think themselves strong men in Christ, while all the discerning Christians around them clearly perceive that they are mere babes. Often they discuss and decide upon subjects of high import, which lie beyond their reach. Often they dictate religious measures to those who are greatly their superiors in every evangelical attainment. Sometimes they undertake to lead the devotions of public assemblies, from a persuasion, not unfrequently awakened and cherished by other ignorant men, that they are endowed with extraordinary gifts, and have acquired an eminent degree of holiness. Nay, numbers of such men enter the desk without any preparation for an office so solemn and so difficult as that of a minister of the Gospel. Here, unlearned and unstable as they are, they frequently wrest the Scriptures to the very serious injury of themselves and the destruction of others. “command every man among you,” says St. Paul, “ not to “ think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to “ think soberly,” (or with a sound judgment) “ according as “ God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” “ Love “ vaunteth not itself, and is not puffed up.” “ If a man think“eth himself something when he is nothing, he deceiveth him“ self. But let every man prove his own work,” (that is, examine what he has done, and from that trial, not from his feelings, learn his true character,) “ and then,” says the Apostle, “ he shall have rejoicing in himself, and not in another.”
“ My brethren,” says St. James, “ be not many teachers, “ knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation." In
other words, this is the way to expose ourselves to that greater condemnation.
It deserves to be remarked, that all superstitious persons and all enthusiasts have ever been of this character, and pursued this unhappy conduct. This certainly ought to be enough, and more than enough, to warn every Christian of his danger from this source, especially when it is remembered, on the other hand, that the best and wisest Christians who have lived. have uniformly been the most humble and self-denying.
2dly, To expect justification before God on account of our own righteousness is another specimen of the same character.
Such an expectation cannot be derived either from reason or revelation. Revelation declares such a justification to be impossible; and as if aware that we should hardly be satisfied with the bare testimony even of God himself, condescends to prove the point by arguments which are irresistible. there shown to have violated the law of God, and to be condemned by its irreversible sentence to suffer its penalty. With equal clearness is it proved, that no means of expiation are in our power. The very services to which we should naturally resort as such means are declared to be so far from constituting an expiation, that they are in themselves sinful, and therefore need to be expiated. Instead of becoming means of our deliverance, therefore, they only plunge us deeper into guilt.
To this unanswerable proof reason subjoins her testimony. She acknowledges both the sin and the condemnation, and confesses that the
way for our escape is for ever barred. With sighs and tears she mourns over our miserable apostacy, and exclaims, “ We are all as an unclean thing, and all our right
eousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf, “ and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away."
But self-sufficiency sees the way clear to the attainment of this mighty object, and the proofs which she summons to her aid, miserable as they are, are yet strong enough to satisfy her wishes, to minister to the soul comfort and hope, and to prevent it from seeking the justification disclosed in the Gospel.
3dly, Another example of the same character is exhibited in