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The Condemnation of Unbelievers [Ess. XII.
that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be condemned:" Mark xvi, 16. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life :" 1 John v, 12. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him:" John iii, 36.
These awful passages of Scripture may be regarded as the plain and positive enunciations of a divine decree; and this decree will, I believe, be found, on examination, to be both reasonable and just.
That it is reasonable will presently appear, from the consideration of the actual condition of unregenerate man. We are by nature the children of wrath. Prone to iniquity, and transgressors from the womb, we are alienated from God who is the source of all happiness; and, in the world to come, eternal separation from him, and, therefore, eternal misery, is the appointed consequence of our evil doings. Now, God has ordained a plan of divine mercy and wisdom for our redemption-a plan through which we may be reconciled to his favour, and delivered from guilt and sin; and faith is that principie in the human mind, by which alone, (according to the known constitution of our nature) this plan can be accepted and applied. Since, then, the believer accepts the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, and applies it to his own condition, it follows in reason, that the believer is saved; and, on the other hand, since the unbeliever rejects it, and refuses to avail himself of its provisions, it equally follows in reason, that the unbeliever is not saved. He is subject, like other men, by nature, to the wrath of God: and, since he neglects or refuses to avail himself of the only means by which that wrath can be removed, the consequence is plain and inevitable-the wrath of God abideth (or continueth) on him.
When the halt, the withered, the sick, and the blind, surrounded the Son of God on earth, those of them who believed in his mercy and power, drew near to him that they might be healed; and the capacity of receiving the desired blessing was, in every one of them, in exact proportion to the measure of his faith. "According to thy faith be it unto thee," was the natural, the necessary law, upon which the Saviour uniformly acted in dispensing these external benefits; and, in the order of God's providence, where there was no faith, there could also be no cure. And thus it is with all mankind. In a moral and spiritual point of view we are, without a single exception, corrupt and diseased; and except we are healed, eternal death is our inevitable allotment. Now, the Redeemer of men is our only physician, and his Gospel our only remedy. If, then, we are destitute of faith in himthat is to say, if we are destitute of the motive of action, by which alone we can draw near to the physician, and accept his remedy-we must abide by the consequence; we must, in the very nature of things, die of our disease.
And, secondly, the divine decree which we are now engaged in contemplating is in its nature moral, and, therefore, in its principle, undeniably just. It is not the helpless and the ignorant-it is not those who have never been visited with the clear light of revelation-who are the objects of its condemning clauses. Much less is it to be imagined, that these awful declarations are directed against a class of persons, who, though for a time encompassed with darkness, and vexed with doubts on the subject of religion, are honestly and earnestly engaged in pursuit of the truth; or who, being convinced of it, are nevertheless so painfully sensible of their lost condition, that they venture not to appropriate its glorious promises. Such
[Ess. XII. persons may surely be encouraged, with all prayer and supplication, to persevere in their course—" to follow on to know the Lord,"-for "the meek will (God) guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way," Ps. xxv, 9; and, while from those who are "wise and prudent” he hides the secrets of his redeeming love, he is still graciously pleased to reveal them "unto babes:" Luke x, 21. That which the Scripture so peremptorily condemns, is neither the unenlightened intellect, nor the infirm and morbid Spirit, but “ AN EVIL HEART OF UNBELIEF IN DEPARTING FROM THE LIVING GOD:" Heb. iii, 12. Now, this evil heart of unbelief is distinguished by certain plain characteristics, which afford an ample evidence of the immorality of the unbeliever, and, therefore, of the moral nature-the essential justice-of the decree by which he is condemned. These characteristics are pride, negligence, and a love of darkness as a cover for sin.
Of all the evil propensities which infect our fallen nature, none are more prevalent than pride; and, since man is naturally proud, he is also naturally infidel. He believes not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because he is too much occupied with himself, and too well satisfied with his own wisdom and righteousness, to be capable of any just apprehension of the suitableness of that Gospel to his own condition. Conceiving himself to be "rich and increased with goods," and in "need of nothing, Rev. iii, 17; he is exalted against the knowledge of God, and spurns the humiliating tidings of his own vileness, and of salvation only through a crucified Redeemer. And this condition of proud unbelief is inseparably connected with the spirit of rebellion-the spirit which determines us to be our own masters, and to reject the government of our almighty Creator. "Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and
be horribly afraid; be ye very desolate, saith the Lord; for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water!" Jer. ii, 12, 13.
The lofty and rebellious spirit of the unbeliever, in the second place, is evinced by nothing more commonly or more clearly, than by his negligence of religion. The information communicated, and the proposals made to us, by divine revelation, are, if authentic, of infinite importance; and no man can with reason deny, that they are accompanied with evidences of their celestial origin, which are, at least, strong enough to demand a diligent and serious examination. But he who is actuated by "an evil heart of unbelief," is, for the most part destitute of any regard for these matters. He passes them by: he searches not into them. Or, if, in any degree, he directs his attention to the evidences of revelation, he approaches not the subject in that teachable and impartial spirit, and with that earnest desire for divine illumination, which are absolutely essential to the comprehension and reception of divine truth.
The unbeliever is, therefore, justly condemned as an immoral being-as one who sins against God-as one who is guilty of pride, rebellion, and culpable negligence. Lastly, the evil heart of unbelief is abominable in the sight of God, and is justly condemned, because it prefers darkness to light, and because this preference has no other root than a pertinacious adherence to a corrupt and sinful condition. The infidel secretly cleaves to his iniquities, and, therefore, covets the darkness by which they are concealed, "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil :" John iii, 18, 19.
Those, therefore, who would enjoy the privileges promised to believers in the present life, and lay hold of their eternal reward in the life to come, must strive to avoid, in every respect, the character which has now been depicted. If we take a just view of our own lost condition, humble ourselves in the sight of God, trust in his mercy and power, and submit to his spiritual government-if we give diligent heed to the word of his truth, as well as to the evidences on which it rests -if, above all, we freely open our hearts to that pure light of heaven, which condemns for iniquity, and leads into all honour, glory, virtue, and peace-we shall never be numbered amongst those who believe not, and who, therefore, perish. Although we may be sometimes harassed with doubts, and cast down, for the trial of our faith, into mental darkness and distress, that faith will, nevertheless, be found a substantial, inherent, principle, and will never be destoyed. Finally, since faith is a moral qualification-a Christian grace-a fruit of the Spirit—and, therefore, unquestionably, a divine gift-let us seek it where it may be found, at the throne of mercy-let us not cease to pray, that, together with hope and charity, it may more and more abound in us, to our own peace, and to the glory of God our Saviour!
Since God is the Author of our existence, and of every mental and bodily faculty of which we are in