« AnteriorContinuar »
a tender shoot,—the man on whose branches the continual dew of God's spirit ceases not to fall, from his unconscious years, needs not to be converted. Should he fall into presumptuous sin, he would, indeed, like Peter, after his fall, require to be converted, to have his soul restored to that peace and vigour of holiness from which he had fallen. But while he goes on in the strength of the Lord, confirming grace only is necessary. To conversion, consciousness is absolutely necessary; and, in ordinary circumstances, the recollection of the time and manner of it, is likely to be strong. Of regeneration, all who are saved, whether infants or adults, must be the subjects. Those only can be said to be converted, who had continued dead in trespasses and sins, till they arrived at the years of recollection; and who in this condition, were awakened to flee from the wrath to come, and were made to turn unto God, and to bring forth fruits meet for repentance.
The absolute necessity of regeneration, to a man's having a real interest in the blessings of the Gospel, is a consideration truly alarming to those persons, whose religion rises no higher than decency; and to those who substitute decorous manners, in the place of the love of God, and of universal holiness, which the law of God requires, but which the Gospel of Christ alone, by the ministry of his Spirit, can communicate. Without any regard to that principle of action, men of this kind take up their rest, in, what they call, habits of virtue; never reflecting that virtue, separated from the love of God, is like a branch cut off from its parent tree, dead and withered. Indeed, the indiscriminate application of the term virtue, to every kind of action which is not immediately hurtful to society, and destructive to individual health, is one of the greatest abuses in language, and attended with the most fatal consequences to the eternal interests of men. Deceived with a specious name, men are easily satisfied with themselves, contrive to keep one another in coun. tenance, and from the true knowledge of their character, a celebrated philosopher of our own country, has given broad shoulders and taper limbs the honour of ranking among the virtues.*
Every man of handsome person, thus finds himself to be a virtuous man. And, as fancy almost universally gives what nature has denied, there are few indeed who do not think themselves entitled to a considerable share of virtuous accomplishments. Easiness of carriage, and softness of manners, claim to themselves a distinguished place in the same temple of honour. Thus, the dancing master congratulates himself, that he is not only a virtuous character, but a teacher of virtue. Every female, who cannot be charged with prostitution, rejoices to think that she is a virtuous woman. Every man and woman, upon whom society has no claim for the reparation of wrongs, stands forth with a demand of right, to a niche in the sacred fane of virtue. Even the fool, who says in his heart, there is no God, presses up to the altar of virtue, and there consecrates his pretensions. But why, in justice to the nobler part of the brute creation, do we exclude them from this hallowed dome, which they seem equally qualified to fill and to a. dorn, with ourselves? The man and the horse may be fit companions at this shrine; or to use the words of the Satirist,t he may bring to it “ His horse's virtues and his own.” Even the heathen poet, Horace, finely exposes those pretensions to virtue that have no other leg upon which they can stand, than the mere absence of crime.
Having deceived themselves into the opinion of their being virtuous, and being yet conscious of defects not altogether reconcileable to virtue, the next step they take, is to strike the balance between their good actions and their faults. Taking credit to themselves for all the former, they set down the latter as so many debts; and, as the former is always supposed to be by much the larger sum, they find the balance to be in their favour. In this manner too, they suppose, the Almighty will proceed with the virtues and vices of men; that he will throw them into opposite scales; and that bliss or punishment will follow the heavier scale ; though even the weight of a grain might have turned them in the opposite direction. Having proceeded so far in settling the account, they sometimes see the necessity of providing &gainst any unexpected turn of the beam, in an unfavourable direction, by substracting largely from the punishment to which that turn might expose them. It must be some slight correction, intended for the good of him whose virtue is but a little defective. “ For, what is the surprising difference betwixt the moral character of the worst good man, and the best bad man, that the portion of the one should be endless life, and that of the other, endless death ?”* The phrases, good bad man, and bad good man, are rather strange, and yet the superlatives of those two qualities must greatly exceed their positives. Inaccurate expressions generally proceed from, and always lead to, inaccurate ideas. Let us put the question into proper language. What is the surprising difference between the moral character of the man,
Arguments of the Universalists in Mr. Evans's Sketch, p. 189, 10th Edition. who has been regenerated by the Spirit of God, and who yet has made the least comparative progress in Christian sanctity; and the man who has done many splendid actions, but never performed one of them from the love of God, or from a desire to please him? The difference is indeed great. The one has some real goodness because he has something of the image of God. The other has none at all.—Thus does the Christian doctrine of regeneration, call men from the pursuit of a shadow, and of an empty name, to seek that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. In natural religion, virtue never had any other foundation, than the love of God. Christian virtue is the practice of universal righteousness, produced by a lively faith in the Son of God, working by love to God and to man.*
JUSTIFICATION, in its most obvious sense, is nothing more than a legal acquittal from an accusation; a sentence pronouncing the person who had been accused, to be righteous and innocent. But in this primary sense it cannot apply to the decisions of God, with respect to the children of men, as all are sinners, and consequently chargeable with guilt. Pardon is always considered, in the Gospel, as an essential part of our justification. The
• Sce an admirable Treatise on Regeneration, by Dr. Witherspoon, in the first volume of his works.
justification of a sinner, therefore, consists of two things; the forgiveness of his past offences, and the acceptance of his person, or his being now treated as a being spotless and pure, and entitled to the reward of righteousness. The sentiments of men who are called Christians have, on the doctrine of justification, been extremely different, and even opposite; though, as this is a subject of the utmost possible importance, unanimity is in the highest degree desirable. The subject is one in which the best interests of every human being are deeply concerned. The question is neither more nor less than this, How shall man be delivered from the curse, and entitled to the favour of the God who made him, to whom he is responsible for all his actions, and from whose tribunal he must receive a sentence, the consequences of which will be eternal ? This then is no nice, speculative opinion, appended to a human system of divinity, as inconsiderate men have sometimes represented it; but a subject which comes home to the fears and hopes of the human heart, with a weight and importance, to which all other subjects are comparatively nothing.
Of the professors of Christianity, some believe justification to be wholly by works; others believe it to be by repentance and sincere obedience ; some hope for the blessing of justification by faith and works united ; some contend for sacramental justification; some by confounding justification and sanctification, place the ground of our acceptance upon our holiness and inherent goodnes ; and lastly, some believe justification to be wholly by faith, through grace.
Justification solely by works, is certainly a doctrine of natural religion, if, by natural religion be meant, the primary religion of man. Upon what should the hopes