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scriptures attribute the corruption of christian docs trine or worship.
There is an important difference between diversity and contrariety. The former belongs to men as men, which the latter does not. One man comprehends more of truth, another less; this has a talent for discovering one part of truth, and that another : but in all this there is nothing discordant, any more than in a diversity of features, or in the variegated face of the earth, which abounds in divers kinds of flowers, every one of which contributes to the beauty of the whole. It is not so with respect to truth and error, which are as opposite as right and wrong. True doctrines are the plants, and false doctrines the weeds of the church. They cannot both flourish in the same mind. The one must be rooted up, or the other will be overrun, and rendered unproductive.
The causes which the scriptures assign for the corruption of christian doctrine, are principally, if not entirely, of a moral nature. They represent evangelical truth as a holy doctrine, and as that which cannot be understood by an unholy mind. “The natural (or merely worldly-wise) man, receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” They are “hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes ;" and thus “it seemeth good in his sight,” whose mind it is to abase the pride of man.* If the gospel had been “ the wisdom of this world,” the “ spirit of this world” would have sufficed to understand it; and there would be no more errors concerning it, than what arise from the imbecility of the human mind on all other subjects; but it is not: it is the wisdom that is from above, and therefore requires a state of mind suited to it; or, as the apostle expresseth it, that “we receive not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, that we may know the things which are freely given
* 1 Cor. ii. 14
Matt. xxi. 25, 26.
to us of God. Now this being the case, so far as we attempt to judge, preach, or write of the gospel, under the influence of mere worldly wisdom, or in any other than its own spirit, we are morally certain in some way or other to pervert it.
Here then are opened to our view three grand sources of error; namely, the numbers of unconverted, or merely worldly-wise characters, who intrude themselves, or are intruded by others, into the christian ministry—the greater number of merely nominal christians, whose taste calls for anti-scriptural preaching and the large portion of unsanctified wisdom found even in godly men.
First: The great number of unconverted ministers. Far be it from me to judge of men otherwise than by what they manifest themselves to be. I abhor the spirit of our modern Antinomians, who would persuade us that they know good ministers from others, by a kind of spiritual physiognomy; but who, if the tree be known by the fruits, have much more reason to judge themselves. Yet the personal religion of many preachers must be allowed by charity itself to wear more than a suspicious appearance. Nor is it surprising that it should be so. If in the purest age of the church, when there were but few attractions for covetousness and ambition, there were “men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith ;” men who had “ the form of godliness, but denied the power thereof;" is it any wonder that there should be such in our times ? And as the introduction of almost every error amongst the primitive christians is attributed to this sort of characters, it is reasonable to expect that things should still move on in the same direction.
An unrenewed person, whatever be his education, talents, or natural temper, can never fall in with chris.. tianity, as it is taught in the new testamant. If, therefore, he occupy a station in the church, he will be almost certain to transform religion so as to suit himself. This, it is clear, was the grand source of the
Romish apostasy. No sooner was christianity adopted by the state, than it became the interest of worldly men to professit. Ecclesiastical offices were soon filled, in a great degree, by unbelievers in disguise. The effect was, as might have been expected, the doctrine, worship, discipline, and spirit of the gospel, were gradually lost, and a system of corruption was substituted in their place.
This has been a source of departure from the truth down to the present times; and that, in different degrees, amongst all denominations of christians. If we look into the establishments of Protestant-Europe, we shall find that, in spite of oaths and subscriptions, devised in former ages for the security of orthodoxy, worldly men have a system of their own, and will explain their articles and creeds according to it. Or if we look out of establishments, wherever worldly men are admitted to the work of the ministry, we shall find things much the same. Some of the greatest perverters of the gospel, during the last century, have descended from pious parents, who, fond of the idea of bringing up their children to the public service of God, overlooked the necessity of personal religion; presuming, as it would seem, that God would in due time supply that defect. The consequence was, the young men, finding evangelical truth sit uneasily upon them, threw it off, and embraced a system more suited to the state of their minds.
Observing these things among men of education, many serious people have contracted a prejudice against learning itself; and have preferred the preaching of the most illiterate for the sake of a pure
doctrine. But neither is this any security: for men of assurance and address, pretending to extraordinary light, and marvellous inspirations, will often obtrude themselves upon the people, and draw disciples after them, especially from amongst the unthinking and light-minded part of christian professors. In them have the words of Peter been eminently fulfilled ;
"Speaking great swelling words of vanity, they have allured, through the lusts of the flesh, those that for a while were escaped from them who live in error.”* Nor has their influence been confined to such characters : sincere people have frequently been misled by their specious pretences. When Judas, professing a solicitude for the poor, condemned an expression of love to Christ, as an unnecessary piece of wastefulness, he drew away the other disciples after him. In short, men who have not the spirit by which the gospel was dictated, will not cleave to it. Some may err on this side, and some on that; some, having greater talents, may do greater injury to it, and others less; but all, in one way or other, will pervert it: and where this is the case,“ many will follow their pernicious ways; and the way of truth,” being confounded with them, “ will be evil-spoken of.”
Secondly: The great number of merely nominal christians.-- In the present state of things, the bulk of mankind are not governed by principle, but by custom ; following the course of this world, whatever direction it may take. In one country they are Heathens, in another Mahometans, and in another Christians : in other words, they are of no religion. The effect of this is, that a large proportion of ministers are certain to be nominated and chosen by men who have no taste for the searching, humbling, and holy doctrine of the gospel; but are utterly averse from it: and where this is the case, it requires but little discernment to perceive what will be the general tone of preaching. Even in congregational churches, if the people, or the leading individuals amongst them, be worldly minded, ambitious, or in any respect loose livers, they will not be at a loss to find preachers after their own heart. Thus error is propagated, and thus it was propagated from a very early period. “The time will come (said Paul to Timothy) when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, after their own lusts
* 2 Pet. ü, 18.
shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears ; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."*
Thirdly: The large portion of unsanctified wisdom found even in godly men. --The wisdom of this world,” as opposed to “the wisdom of God,” is not confined to mere worldly men. The apostle, after speaking of spiritual men as “judging all things," and as “having the mind of Christ,” adds, “ And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal; even as unto babes in Christ.' And this, their carnality, is represented as rendering them unable to understand the great doctrines of christianity, which are compared to "meat;” and as leading them to build upon the gospel-foundation a mixture of "wood, and hay, and stubble;” all which shall be burnt up another day, though they themselves shall be saved.
There is a slowness of heart, even in good men, to believe what God hath revealed, especially if it clash with their pre-conceived ideas. Such was the state of mind of the apostles themselves, previous to the resurrection of their Lord ; and such is the state of mind of great numbers amongst us.
We often hear men in controversy talk of being open to conviction, and willing to retract their sentiments, if but fairly confuted: but such professions either mean but little, or at best indicate a great want of self-knowledge. Those who are the most open to conviction, will com. monly suspect themselves the most, and of course will not be very forward in the use of such language. If there were not a “slowness of heart” both in receiving truth, and relinquishing error, a large prat portion of our controversies would soon be at an end.
REASONS WHY ERROR IS PERMITTED.
The foregoing remarks may suffice to account for the prevalence of error, so far as man is concerned; but it may be farther enquired, Wherefore doth God
* 2 Tim. iv, 3, 4. † 1 Cor. ii, 6, 7, 12, 15, 16. iii, 1, 2, 12-17,