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SERMONS ON REVELATION.
MAN CANNOT FIND OUT A RELIGION WHICH WILL RENDER
HIM ACCEPTABLE TO GOD.
JOB XXVIII. 20, 21. “ Whence then cometh wisdom ; and where is the piace of
understanding ? seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living.
The meaning of the word wisdom, as it is used here and elsewhere in the Scriptures, is given to us in the 28th verse of the context. And unto man he said, “ Behold, the fear of the “ Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, is understand
Without any comment, it will be seen that the fear of the Lord, and departure from evil, constitute what is meant originally by the religion of the Scriptures. By this I intend that reverence and obedience to God, without which no intelligent being can be supposed to please him, or be accepted by, him. This is the religion of angels, this was the religion of Adam in a state of innocence.
The context is almost wholly a panegyric upon this moral character ; and with a force and truth unrivalled, it is exhibited successively as undiscoverable by man ; superior to all things which he has discovered ; incomparable and inestimable in its value ; and so glorious in its excellence and importance, that its fame has extended to the regions of destruction,
and reached the ears of the destroyer. It is exhibited as the mighty and supreme concern of God himself; as peculiarly occupying his thoughts and engrossing his attention, amid all his wonderful works of creation and providence ; and, in the end, as solemnly announced by him in a public proclamation to the children of men.
In the text this religion is declared to be hidden from the eyes of all living. In other words, it is incapable of being discovered by man. This doctrine I propose to make the theme of the present discourse, and shall express it in the following terms, viz.—That man cannot find out a religion which will render him acceptable to God.
In support of the truth contained in this declaration, I observe-
I. That man, without the aid of revelation, is ignorant of God.
I shall not here discuss the question, whether, in the physical sense, it is possible for man to discover the existence and attributes of his Maker.
The investigation would occupy more time than I am at present able to devote to it; nor is it all
my present purpose. It will be sufficient to show, at the present time, that man never would make this discovery. The fact, that these things are hidden from the eyes of all living, so far as an original discovery is concerned, will be all that is necessary
for my design ; and the inquiry, whether the ignorance in question proceeds from a moral or physical source, will, here at least, be nugatory.
That mankind would have never originally discovered the existence and attributes of God is, in a very high degree, probable, because ancient history furnishes no instance of this nature. Amid all the inquiries and discussions on this subject which have prevailed in former periods of the world, and indeed in every period, it is incredible, if an individual has been so happy as to alight on so important a discovery, that no record or hint concerning it should have been transmitted to succeeding ages.
But no such record, no such hint exists.
Every discussion, every observation concerning this subject, is evidently founded on acknowledged preceding information. Such a fact could scarcely have existed had men derived their knowledge merely from the employment of their own faculties.
The same truth is evident also from the consideration, that certain nations have finally lost all knowledge and all belief concerning the existence of a God. It must, I think, be admitted on the testimony of respectable missionaries, that several tribes of Caffres are entirely ignorant of the existence of any superintendent being. The same thing is ascertained concerning various other nations. I shall not here inquire into the truth of the assertion. The case specified is sufficient.
It will not be denied that the idea of God is the most important and distinguished among all those which are received by the human mind, and therefore, so far, the most difficult to be lost. The only explanation which can be given of the fact, that it has been actually lost, must be sought for in the indisposition of man to retain it. Nothing is more evident than that beings who voluntarily lose the idea of God, would never regain it after it was once lost.
The same truth is further evident from the universal declension of mankind into polytheism. Every polytheistic system contains, of course, the idea of a being who superintends, in some manner, the affairs of this world, and unites with him in this station or employment a greater or less number of others. But these beings, in every such system, are infinitely different "from the real God. Polytheists cannot be said absolutely to have lost the knowledge of God; but they must be said to have lost absolutely his true character. All the gods of Gentilism have been imperfect and immoral; characteristics directly contradictory to the perfection of Jehovah. As this fact has been invariably true of that system, in every age and country, it furnishes unanswerable proof that the mind of man has, upon the whole, no tendency to retain the true God, but is perpetually prone to wander from the knowledge of his character, until it is finally lost in the absolute ignorance of his being.
The efforts of philosophy yield strong additional evidence of the same truth. Men, addicted to philosophy in ancient times,
and frequently possessed of superior talents, studied and discoursed very extensively concerning this subject; and, to make their discourses able, ingenious, and satisfactory to their readers, they employed vigorously their time, talents, and labours. What was the result? Most of them were polytheists, some were sceptics, and the rest were atheists. Those who were polytheists acknowledged universally the gods of their countrymen ; limited in their powers and operations, odious by their vices, and contemptible by their follies. Not a virtuous being was found in their number. Their enjoyments were the gratification of pride, passion, and appetite ; and their moral conduct such as a sober man must regard with disgust and hor
When they spoke of God in the singular number, they declared that he was fire; a compound of the four elements ; the sun; the soul of the world; the universe ; the ether; and heaven.
On the doctrines of the sceptical and atheistical philosophers it will be unnecessary to expatiate.
Such were the opinions which the mind of man, uninspired, and employing its most vigorous powers in the contemplation of this subject, has adopted concerning its Maker. Who will not readily believe, that the true reason why such opinions were adopted by intelligent men was, that they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.
Another fact, connected with these, and evidential of the same truth, is this, the descendants of men, who once had just apprehensions of the Creator, became universally polytheists.
Noah and his family knew and worshipped the true God, yet
all their descendants were polytheists ; the Jews partially, and at times, the rest, within a moderate period, absolutely. The subjects of Melchizedeck, and the first Pharaoh mentioned in the Scriptures, were acquainted with the true God; as were also Job and his friends, and undoubtedly those around them. The people of the Thebais, also, at a much later period, worshipped one God. But all who followed these, at a little distance of time, became polytheists. Whence could this fact be derived, unless from the indisposition of man to retain the knowledge of his Maker.
The Jews, Mahommedans, and Christians, have all, as it is well known, obtained all their just apprehensions concerning this subject from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.
From the same source, modern deists have acquired all their knowledge of this subject. Whenever these men have departed, as they have ever been disposed to do, from the scriptural doctrines concerning it, they have invariably invaded and diminished the infinite perfections of Jehovah. He who reads the things which have been said by Herbert, Tindall, Chubb, Hume, and others, particularly by Bolingbroke, whether directly or indirectly, concerning the Creator, will find satisfactory reasons for believing, that were the Scriptures once removed out of the way, infidels would, within a short time, revive the superintendency and worship of the Greek and Roman deities. Gibbon directly censures the Jews for not uniting their worship with that of Jehovah, and Taylor has publicly professed himself a polytheist.
From each of the facts it is strongly evident, and from all of them together unanswerably certain, that mankind receive the existence and character of God universally with reluctance; lose it, unless continually forced upon them, regularly, as well as easily; and as regularly embrace polytheism, atheism, or nihilism. Without revelation, therefore, they become of course ignorant of God.
As all religion has its foundation in the existence and character of a god, and all true religion in the existence and character of the true God, it is perfectly clear that, in these circumstances, men are incapable of forming a religion which will render them acceptable to God.
II. Mankind are incapable of devising a system of duty which will render them acceptable to God.
The decisive proof of this proposition is found in the fact, that hitherto they have never devised such a system. The ancient philosophers applied themselves to this subject with intense labour, in a vast multitude of instances, and through a long series of ages. The men who most diligently occupied