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fidels of every description. Infidels, as you know, determine that the Scriptures are not a revelation from God. From the peremptoriness with which this determination is made, the confidence which they appear to place in their decisions, and the pretensions which some of them make to talents and learning, it is very frequently supposed that this important question has often passed in review before them, and undergone a very serious and thorough examination. Nothing, however, is, in most cases, farther from the truth. Very few even of those who are professed champions in this cause have investigated the subject with an attention remotely approximating to that which it deserves. When the question is concerning the existence of a revelation professedly disclosing the will of God concerning the future destiny of man, its very nature demands of all men the most solemn care, and the most critical inquiry. As all our interests are suspended on the decision, as annihilation and immortal existence form the first alternative, and the glories of heaven and the miseries of hell the second, in our answer to this question, common sense imperiously demands that we approach it with feelings of the highest solemnity, examine it with the most vigilant inquisition, and decide it with unimpeachable impartiality. Were we able, indeed, to change the state of things by our determinations, could we exist or be annihilated, could we be happy or miserable, at our pleasure, it would be sufficient that our decision should be peremptory. But since the change actually wrought is only made in ourselves, and not in the purposes of God, since we shall exist, or not exist, the heirs of endless glory, or endless perdition, as he pleases, it is evident, that, if we answer the question lightly, falsely, or without sufficient proof, we answer it at our peril. How plainly, then, ought it to be answered by every man, as one who shall give an account.
In violent opposition to all this, however, it has been customarily answered by confident assertions, by a sarcasm a sneer, a laugh, a profane oath, or even a curse. Men of the world, men of business, devotees to pleasure, persons uneducated, striplings, nay, even children decide this tremendous question, in the same categorical manner as if their answer
were the result of demonstration. Have they examined it? No. Have they read? No. Have they thought? No. Whence, then, do they boldly determine on a question so momentous? They trust in their own hearts. They were born with such capacities; their qualities are of a cast so superior to the common attributes of men that, without reading, conversation, or reflection, they can solve a question which demands more thought, learning, and knowledge than they can comprehend. All wise men who are acquainted with them, see that they are totally incompetent to the task which they have undertaken. But in their own view there are no abler judges. Ask them, and they are giants in intellect. Ask others, and they are embryos.
2dly, In this class are those arranged also who profess to believe that the Scriptures are a divine revelation, and yet, instead of making them the rule of their faith, invent and adopt a philosophical system of religion, and in pretence support it by the Scriptures.
These persons professedly believe, and some of them, I doubt not, persuade themselves that they actually believe, the Scriptures to be the word of God, and to contain his pleasure concerning the duty and salvation of men. Of course it would be naturally supposed they resort daily and diligently to this fountain of truth, in order to learn their duty and the way of life. Nothing can be further from the fact. Instead of betaking themselves to their Maker to learn the religion which he has revealed, they form a system of doctrines and precepts for themselves, and then resort to the Scriptures for texts to support it. Instead of coming to God to learn his pleasure, they first determine what his pleasure ought to be, and then compel his word, by perverting its meaning, to speak whatever they themselves please. Instead of receiving their religion from their Creator, they make a religion for him, and expect that he will conform to its dictates.
The true explanation, the real cause of this conduct is, that these men trust in their own hearts; that they rely their own ingenuity, their knowledge of moral subjects, their capa
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 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-suffi
ciency. 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.