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[Others cannot comprehend any one of the foregoing truths. If they should attempt to speak of them, they would only expose their own ignorance. Yea, though they may write well on the theory of religion, they are totally in the dark with respect to the nature of Christian experience. The poorest and meanest of God's people have incomparably greater penetration in these things than the wisest philosopher. This is plainly declared by the Apostle, “He that is spiritual judgeth all things; yet he himself is judged of no mani”. It is confirmed also by that expression of Solomon, " The rich man is wise in his own conceit; but the poor man that hath understanding searcheth him out k;” that is, discovers his ignorance, and is able to rectify his errors. As a man who has experienced any great pleasure or pain has a juster idea of what he has felt, than another has who only speaks of such things by hearsay; so, in a far higher degree, has the experienced Christian a clearer insight than others into divine truths, because he has the archetype and image of them in his own heart.] APPLICATION
1. Let none attempt to excuse their ignorance by saying that they are no scholars
[Nothing is more common among the lower classes of mankind than to offer this as an excuse for their ignorance. But such excuses are vain : God has told us that he has chosen them in preference to the rich and learned', and that he has revealed to them what he has hid from the wise and prudent m. Let the blind then pray that they may receive their sight; so shall they “understand all things "," and be made “wise unto salvation."]
2. Let us improve our conversation with each other for the purpose of spiritual edification
[Too apt are we to trifle away our precious hours. But the tongue of the wise is justly compared to choice silver that enriches, and to a tree of life that nourishes us with its precious fruits P. Our words, if rightly ordered, might“ administer grace" to each other. Let us then endeayour to obtain “ the tongue of the learned, that can speak a word in season unto him that is weary 9." Thus, we may “speak profitably out of the abundance of our hearts," and approve ourselves truly “wise by winning souls” to God'.]
i 1 Cor. ii. 15. m Matt. xi. 25. . P Prov. x. 20.
k Prov. xxviii. 11.
Prov. xxviii. 5.
1 1 Cor. i. 26–28.
DCCXCIV. ERRONEOUS VIEWS OF RELIGION REFUTED. Prov. xvi. 25. There is a way that seemeth right unto a man;
but the end thereof are the ways of death. THE testimony of an inspired prophet respecting the human heart is, that it “ is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” This testimony, as far as it respects the world at large, we all are ready to confirm. We see that in the great mass of mankind there is a propensity to deceive, not others only, but themselves also. They are often unconscious of principles by which they are manifestly actuated ; and as often take credit to themselves for virtues which they do not really possess. Persons who have made considerable attainments in self-knowledge, are yet by no means free from this infirmity: the Apostles themselves, on more occasions than one, betrayed by their conduct, that “they knew not what spirit they were of.” Nor does this proneness to self-deceit discover itself only in relation to individual acts, wherein men may be supposed to be biassed either by their interests or passions: it extends itself to men's whole character, and leads them to form a most erroneous judgment of their state: it leads them to “ call evil good, and good evil; to put darkness for light, and light for darkness; to put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” But it may be thought, that, if a man be deceived by his own heart, a less degree of criminality will attach to his actions, and he will have less reason to apprehend the displeasure of God. This however is not true: for we are responsible to God for the judgment we form of good and evil; and if we err, after all the means of information he has given us, we must be willingly deceived, and abide the consequences of our folly. To this effect Solomon speaks in the words before us : he concedes that “ a way may appear right to a man;" but he tells us, nevertheless, that “ the end thereof will be death."
This assertion of his is not to be understood of one particular way only: it is a general assertion, that is applicable to a great variety of cases, or rather, I should say, to every kind of way that is followed by man and condemned by God. Of course we cannot enter into all the cases which might be specified : it will be sufficient to notice two or three ways, which are the most commonly followed, and most fatal in their issue. I. The first way to which we would call your
attention is that of gay licentiousness. We cannot suppose any person so ignorant as really to think that licentious gaiety is right: but there are millions who do not think it materially wrong. Criminal excesses and indulgences are palliated by the mild appellations of conviviality and youthful indiscretion : and they are deemed necessary to the wellbeing of society. They are even made subjects of boasting; and persons who through age and infirmity are disabled from pursuing their former courses, will yet repeat them in effect, by glorying in the remembrance of them, and encouraging others in the same career. So far from condemning these things in their minds, the generality will laugh at those who are scrupulous enough to doubt the lawfulness of such courses: and if any one were bold enough to bear a decisive testimony against them, he would instantly be characterized by some opprobrious name. To suppose that such indulgences, if restrained within moderate bounds, would subject a man to the wrath of Almighty God, would be considered as bordering on insanity: and every one is encouraged to regard such innocent liberties (as they are called) as perfectly compatible with a well-grounded hope of salvation.
Let us then inquire what foundation there is for such a confidence. Does God say nothing in his word respecting the issue of such ways? or does he speak of them in the same gentle terms ? No: not a syllable of this kind is to be found in all the sacred records. A general caution is given us by Solomon in reference to carnal indulgences of every kind : “ Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes : but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgmenta.” The general warning given by St. Paul is plainer still; “ If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” Lest we should mistake his meaning, he frequently enumerates the works of the flesh: “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; these,” says he, “ are the sins, of the which I tell you before, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” But because men are ready to offer vain pleas and excuses for such things, he particularly guards us against laying the smallest stress on any surmises of our own, or any suggestions of others : “ Let no man,” says he, “ deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedienced." But Moses, and after him the Prophet Jeremiah, meet the case in the most pointed terms: “ It shall come to pass,” says Moses, “when a man shall hear the words of this curse, and shall bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace though I walk in the imagination of my heart; the Lord will not spare him ; but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man; and all the curses that are written in this book shall come upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heavene.”
Now permit me to ask, For what end are these things written ? is it merely to alarm and terrify us ? Can we conceive that God would falsify, in order to keep us within some decent bounds? Is there any necessity for him to resort to such an expedient; or could he do it in consistency with his own perfections?
Here then we are reduced to this dilemma; either to believe that the word of God is full of the most palpable falsehoods from one end to the other, or to acknowledge that the confidence of ungodly men is.
a Eccl. xi. 9. • Rom. viii. 13. c Gal. v. 19-21. d Eph. v. 6. e Deut. xxix. 19, VOL. VII.
unfounded, and their hope delusive. Choose ye the former alternative if ye please : but you must excuse me if I embrace the latter. Believing as I do the word of God to be true, I must believe, and must exhort you also to believe, that they who make light of sin “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” The drunkard, the swearer, the whoremonger, in short the careless sinner, may “ think his ways right;" but, if there be any truth in the word of God, they shall end in death. The express declaration of God concerning them is, “ The end of those things is death." II. The next way to which I would call your atten
tion, is that of proud unbelief. Associated with loose morality will be found, for the most part, a contemptuous disregard of the Gospel. Ungodly men feel no need of it; they see no excellency in it; they consider it as unworthy of their attention; and they leave it as a proper field for the discussion of angry disputants, or the contemplation of wild enthusiasts.
If any urge the necessity of faith in Christ, they either contend, that, having been educated in the belief of Christianity, they have all the faith that is necessary; or they cut the matter short, and tell us in a word, “ His faith cannot be wrong, whose life is in the right.” As to the idea of their salvation depending on the exercise of faith, they cannot for one moment endure it: nothing is too bad to be spoken of so preposterous an opinion: and all who maintain such a sentiment are set down as designing hypocrites, or as gloomy fanatics.
Thus confident are they that their way is right.
But what saith the Scripture to these things? Does God himself lay no stress on the exercise of faith? Does he leave us at liberty to embrace or reject his Gospel as we please ? Having given us his onlybegotten Son to die for us, and set him forth to be a propitiation for sin through faith in his blood, does he attach no guilt to unbelief? Does he represent the
i Rom. vi. 21.