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An Illuftration of Part of the Seventh Chapter of the Epiftle to the Romans, from verfe 14, to the end of the Chapter.
By JAMES SMITH, Minifter in DUMFERMLINE.
INCE the days of Auguftine, down to the prefent age,
many have been of opinion, that St. Paul's account of the carnal man, in the feventh chapter of his epifle to the Romans, is a true account of his condition even after his converfion. Accordingly this paffage hath become the stan dard, by which Chriftians are directed to try their interest in Chrift; and the illustration of a good man's character is frequently taken from it. According to that opinion, every part in this paffage is, at all times, applicable to the most eminent in the family of God, and the whole paffage, from the 14th verfe to the end of the chapter, contains the cleareft marks of a true Chriftian. This is the prefent opinion of the generality of Prefbyterians in Scotland.
Though I am perfectly fatisfied as to the general scope of the paffage; yet, I'dare not be so confident as to the sense of particular expreffions; and therefore beg the reader would not hastily reject the opinion, though fome parts of the illuftration be unexceptionable.
Nothing is more difficult than to convince men that any of their religious opinions are erroneous. The more implicitly mankind receive their principles, the more tenaciously they generally maintain them; and the lefs they are understood, the more are fuch profeffors irritated to hear them called in queftion.
In this attempt, therefore, to illustrate a portion of scripture contrary to a received opinion, I have realon to expect from many violent opposition and keen reproach. And nothing but a full conviction of the truth and importance of this opinion, could induce me to fupport it.
Unconscious of any other motives than the interefts of religion, and good of mankind, I only beg to be heard without prejudice, and oppofed with candour.
As the faults of an individual are more visible to another than to himself; fo the errors of any religious denomination are better discovered by those who differ from them than by themselves. Were men humble enough to receive instruction from their opponents, different opinions might advance the interefts of truth. But the pride and prejudices of the human mind often prevent men from profiting by the observations of opponents: these are frequently rejected without examination, or weighed with prejudice. On this account, I am afraid, that my opinion of this paffage, will be ill received by my Christian brethren; however, the question is not, by whom it is maintained, but is it true?
Different opinions may be embraced with fafety, if they do not lead to dangerous confequences; but when the interpre tation of any paffage of fcripture endangers the interefts of religion, then ought we to lift up our voice against it.
We cannot well conceive two opinions more contrary to one another than those which have been maintained by commentators concerning the fignification of this paffage. That the subject is interesting, and the right understanding of it of vast importance, is generally granted: but as the opinion, that St. Paul is here defcribing his ftate of grace, hath taken deep root in the prefent generation, and is not likely to be easily fhaken, I earnestly befeech my Chriftian brethren, deliberately to weigh the certain confequences, if that opinion be ill founded. And,
Such as embrace an opinion fo contrary to the sense of the text, can have no benefit by this part of revelation: it is to them as if it were blotted out of the book of God. We only profit by the scriptures, fo far as we understand them: what we totally misunderstand, is as if it were fealed up from us: this is the least injury we can fuftain. That teacher, who, by totally mifreprefenting this, or any one paffage of fcripture, so as to hide its real fignification from the church, is guilty of taking that much of God's word from those whom he thus deceiveth.
1. This tends to blend together two characters effentially diftinct from one another. Thofe, who interpret the characteristic marks of an unregenerate man, as clearly described by an inspired apostle, to be evidences of an eminent faint, do great differvice to religion. The injury is not lefs fatal, because done ignorantly.
2. This interpretation of the paffage goes far to invalidate the apostle's teftimony as a witness for Jefus, The apoftle's uprightness, after he embraced the gospel of Jefus, is of great importance to Chriftianity. But, if we afcribe to him that temper and conduct which is characteristic of the wicked, we thereby invalidate his teftimony. He urged his own conduct as an example to the churches, and declared, "That he was in nothing behind the very chief apoftles." If St. Paul had been an impoftor, fo were the other apostles. No traits could better fuit the character of an impoftor, than fome parts of this
paffage. We cannot defcribe his character better, than by faying of him, "He is fold under fin:" the criminal paffions, with which he is actuated, war against the law of his confcience, and carry him captive to the law of fin: his confcience often fmites him; he then would do good, but his evil paffions are ftill present with him and prevail. There is no good dwelling in the man: how to do that which is good he finds not, but practiseth evil, in oppofition both to his light and conscience. Such, however, is the character which many have long given to the apoftle of the Gentiles, and the followers of Jesus. 3. This opinion hath become a dreadful fnare to the fouls of men: 66 Go, fay the teachers of Chriftianity, to people ever apt to flatter and deceive their own fouls; go, try your hearts and lives by these infallible evidences of faintship: if ye are what St. Paul was, your falvation is fure: that ye may not be difcouraged because of remaining corruption, we affure you, though ye be carnal, fold under fin; though no good dwell in you; though ye cannot do good; though ye pra&tife evil; though your lufts war against the inclinations of your mind, and carry you captive to the law of fin; though ye outwardly with the flesh serve the law of fin; yet if ye defire to act otherwife, though ye do it not, and with the inward man delight in the law which ye thus transgress, and confent to it that it is good; then ye are in a fituation per fectly the fame with the chief of faints!"
Whoever attends to the principles and practices of profeffors in general, will find, that there is no paffage in fcripture, with which they are better acquainted than this: the greater number can repeat the fubftance of this portion of fcripture; and those, whofe conduct is very blameable, excuse themselves by repeating fome of the expreffions here used; hence that which was intended by the Spirit of God to become the means of conviction to fuch, by this mifreprefentation tends
to harden them in vice.
[To be continued.]
We walk by faith, not by fight.
W fhort is this description of real Chriftians! And
yet how exceeding full! It comprehends, it sums up the whole experience of those that are truly fuch, from the time they are born of God, till they remove into Abraham's bofom. For, who are the we that are here fpoken of? All that are true Chriftian believers. I fay, Chriftian, not Jewish believers. All that are not only fervants but children of God. All that have the Spirit of adoption, crying in their hearts, Abba, Father. All that have the Spirit of God witneffing with their Spirits, that they are the fons of God.
2. All these, and these alone can lay, We walk by faith, and not by fight. But before we can poffibly walk by faith, we muft live by faith, and not by fight. And to all real Christians our Lord faith, Because I live, ye live alfo: ye live a life. which the world, whether learned or unlearned, know not of. You that, like the world, were dead in trefpaffes and fins, hath he quickened, and made alive; given you new fenfes, fpiritual fenfes: fenfes exercifed to difcern fpiritual good
3. In order throughly to understand this important truth, it may be proper to confider the whole matter. All the children of men that are not born of God, walk by fight, having no higher principle. By fight, that is, by fenfe: a part being put for the whole; the fight for all the fenfes: the rather, because it is more noble and more extensive than any, or all the reft. There are but few objects which we can difcern by the three inferior fenfes of tafte, fmell, and feeling and none of thefe can take any cognizance of its object, unless it be brought