« PreviousContinue »
may cultivate those dispositions which are generous, humane, and magnanimous. And 0, that such virtues were more general, and that they might abound in all. They would appear the most interesting and their beauty shine in the most lively colours, if we should only contrast the deformities of immorality and ungodliness. But is not such a religion complete ? Is it essentially defective, and insufficient to crown mortals with a glorious immortality? Hear the declaration of eternal truth: Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Now the one who takes morality as a substitute for the renovating influences of the Holy Spirit; and who trusts in it as the foundation of his hopes and salvation, is a stranger to the renewing grace and pardoning mercy of God; and like Nicodemus, wonders How can these things be. If a person see not the plague, the awful depravity of his own heart, and feel himself in a state of alienation and apostacy from God, he will seek to be justified by works and not by grace. But compared with the divine law, how is the religion of any man too short, too narrow, and essentially defective. How must uneasiness and distress seize the soul, when it considers the solemn denunciation, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them. The moralist walks in his own light, and not according to the light of the gospel. He may have a lively imagination, but still he rejects Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. Hear the saying of the prophet, Isaiah : Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks; walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of my hand, ye shall lie down in sorrow. Then how will morality fail its votaries in the great day of trial and final decision. Perhaps the inquiry will be made, Has not the Saviour abundantly inculcated all the duties of morality; and have not the prophets
and apostles interwoven it in all their writings ? They certainly have, and every minister of the
gospel ought to follow their example. And surely it is commendable for any people to be moral; but they should take heed and beware, that they do not neglect the other important and essential duties of Christianity. The deist or moralist may say, He has à full belief of the existence of a supreme Being. To such an one the reply of St. James is applicable: Thou believest there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble. Yes, they do inore; they believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the only possible medium of salvation for lost man. Morality is essential in order to a Christian walk; but a person may be very moral and not
, be a follower of Christ, and not obtain salvation. What will it avail to honour and serve men, if we do not honour and serve our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ? We should not only be moral, but godly; and our chief study should be to know and do the will of our Father, which is in heaven. Unless we become reconciled to him, and be his servants through the light of the gospel and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, our death-bed will be anguish to our souls; our entrance into the invisible world, terrour and dismay; and eternity will only serve to render our existence most wretched.
3d. Knowledge, or any natural attainments are entirely insufficient as a ground or means of obtaining the favour of God, and as a religion to secure the salvation of the soul. The acquisition of useful knowledge is both the privilege and duty of man. And so far as any have opportunities of acquiring worthy attainments, they cannot néglect them without contracting guilt. Activity and improvement should appear manifest in the lives of those who are come to the years of understanding; and should be a witness for them, to testify that they have improved their natural talents. Extensively varied are the
situations, pursuits, and prospects of mankind; but whatever be their talents or privileges, they are to improve them; or they will fall under the reproof and condemnation of the idle and slothful servant. And we behold some whose minds are refined, their manners polished, and, from their excellent attainments, their station is elevated. They have extensive information in those things which respect the present life, and which renders them agreeable and interesting companions, and useful members in society. Moreover, the minds of some are well stored with a knowledge of the Scriptures; and their reasonings concerning the important doctrines and duties of revelation are forcible and conclusive. Such knowledge and attainments are truly desirable, and demand suitable and seasonable attention. Still one thing may be lacking, which will render all essentially defective in the last decisive day.
A saving knowledge of the true God may be wanting, whom to know aright is lite eternal. Such acquirements are far too short, compared with the one thing needful; and a covering infinitely too narrow for the soul, when contrasted with the spotless robe of Christ's righteousness. They all dwindle into nothing and appear mere vanity, in comparison with the love of God shed abroad in the heart. The apostle Paul comes directly to the point, when he says, Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Then whatever we know, or whatever we do, if we have not been translated from the kingdom of sin and satan, and brought to love God supremely, and walk in newness of life, we are no better than whitened sepulchres which are filled with all manner of impurity. Mankind may know much, and do much, and for which they are worthy of respect and esteem among their fellow men, and yet be wholly destitute of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord, or be able to stand in the day of final decision.
4th. The manifestation of much zeal in the things of religion, for a time, will not be sufficient to give peace in a dying hour, and to secure the everlasting rewards of the righteous. We sometimes behold persons who are all engagedness in the things of religion, and whose whole souls apparently are devoted to the cause of Christ. Their conversation and walk appear marked with zeal for the defence of truth; and like David, they may pray seven times a day. In the view of their devotedness and eminently pious lives, even old professors, who are persevering Christians, are ashamed of themselves and their deficient performances. But, suppose such persons draw back, and forsake all their religious ways; and perhaps lead a life of evident insensibility? What shall we conclude concerning persons of such a character? The Saviour has said concerning such, No man having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven. However serious minded any person may be; and however animated may be his conduct in the things of religion, if he persevere not in the ways of well-doing, he is essentially defective. His piety is far too short, and greatly straitened.
Concerning every one that turneth back from attention to religious duties, the Lord declares, My soul shall have no pleasure in him. Moreover, the scriptures do make mention of some, who draw back unto perdition. From the parable concerning the way-side and stony ground hearers of the word, we are taught, That some give attention to the things of religion for a while, whose hearts are never renewed by grace. And it is possible for such
to go great lengths both in their feelings and in the external duties of religion, and yet not be the children of God. Persons deceiving, or being themselves deceived, may engage in all the active forms of religion, as well as those who are the true disciples of Christ. Where a good work is begun in the heart, such an one's religion is not for a week, month, or year, but for life; yea, and for eternity. Hence we are taught, He that persevereth unto the end, the same shall be saved. To forsake evil ways, is well; and to attend to external duties, is well. But the question, Whether we have passed from death unto life? is an infinitely important one.
Unless this be the case, we are unprepared for a dying hour and to enjoy the company of the blessed for eternity. Delusion, false religion, or a heated imagination is temporary: and the end is uneasiness and distress. But true religion is peaceable, permanent, and purifying; and its reward, is glory, honour, immortality, and eternal life. May not our religion be like the morning cloud and early dew, which soon pass away. May it be like that of the just, which groweth brighter and brighter onto the perfect day; and which will be perfected until the day of Jesus Christ.
1st. In the light of this subject we may sce how vain are all our attainments and enjoyments, if we embrace a false religion. What will it avail to be surrounded with friends and relatives, to be raised to eminence on the account of abilities and qualifications, and to be crowned with prosperity and affluence all our days, if we live without God and a well grounded hope in the world ; and after death, be wretched for ever? If any one should gain the whole world and lose his soul, would he be a gainer,or rather would he not be an infinite loser? Health and wealth, pleasure and honour, refinement and grandeur, are mere vanity and snares to our souls, if for