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III. The nature, and sources of that fatal selfdeception, into which numbers are in this respect betrayed.
IV. The contrast betwixt the mere hearer, and the practical student of scripture. 1. We consider the peculiar intent of revelation, and the purposes which it was evidently intended to answer.
“ The Lord made all things for himself;” that in different ways they might manifest his glory. The inanimate creation, in every part, proclaims his wisdom, power, and goodness, and demonstrates his being and perfections." The heavens declare the glory " of God, and the firmáment sheweth his handy" work." Each of the animal tribes answers the end of its creation, and enjoys all the felicity of which it is capable, except as involved in the consequences of our sins. But rational creatures should glorify their Maker in a higher manner; being formed capable of understanding the display he hath given of himself in his works, and of rendering him the reasonable service of adoration and obedience: in which, as connected with the ineffable enjoyment of his love, their genuine felicity consists. Yet, without at all considering the difference observable in men's characters, it is undeniable, that all “ have forsaken the Fountain of
living waters: and have hewn out for themselves " cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” This is the universal apostacy and idolatry of the human race: they are all “ alienated from the life of God." Vone seek their happiness in knowing, loving, obeying, and worshipping him; but all; if left to themselves, idolize the creatures, and expect felicity from the possession and enjoyment of them. It might easily be shewn that this is the prolifick source of all the vices and' miseries of mankind, however varied and multiplied. The idolized objects of their several pursuits are unsuitable and insufficient for their happiness; moderate possession and use give not the expected satisfaction; and hence spring intemperance and licentiousness, with all their dire effects. The devotees of riches, power, fame, or pleasure become rivals, and interfere with each other: thus their malignant passions are excited, and they are tempted to the most destructive and atrocious crimes. The departure from God makes way likewise for rebellion, enmity to his perfections and government, and direct opposition to his commands and cause: and hence spring impiety, infidelity, atheism, superstition, every species of false religion, and every form of virulent persecution.
Thus man hath forfeited his felicity in the favour of God, incurred his awful displeasure, lost his own capacity of enjoying a happiness adequate to his desires, and rendered himself the slave of the vilest affections. And, as happiness is in its own nature one and unchangcable; he could by no means have avoided the mest dreadful miseries, during the whole of his exist. ence, had not his offended God brought life and felicity, as well as immortality, to light by the gospel.
It is therefore the especial intent of revelation, to make the one living and true God known to bis apostate creatures, in the mysteries and perfections of his nature, as far as necessary; in the righteousness of his law and government; and in his readiness to show mercy and confer happiness even on rebellious man. It was evidently the design of the Lord to bring us back to himself; to provide for the pardon of our sins, and to give us a title to eternal life, in a way honourable to his perfections; to reduce us to'a proper disposition of mind, that we might thankfully receive these blessings and make due returns for them; to effect a cordial reconciliation between himself, the great and glorious Creator, and us rebellious creatures; and to teach us to love, reverence, worship, and obey him, that, being renewed to his holy image, we might enjoy true happiness for evermore in his favour and service.
Revelation was also intended to train up a people, who might be the instruments of God in promoting his cause among men; in alleviating and counteracting the miseries and mischiefs of the world; and in doing good to one another, till their removal to a state of perfect holiness and felicity. Finally it was designed to bring fallen men to that blessed state: that being made equal with the angels, they might for ever unite with them in the most sublime worship and delightful service of ther infinitely glorious Benefactor.
Now if these are special ends and purposes of revelation, as every impartial and diligent enquirer must be convinced they are; we may readily see,
II. The inefficacy of hearing without practising to accomplish any one of them.
But the importance of the subject is inexpressible, and demands a more particular investigation. The apostle supposes in the text, that the persons he addresscd did hear the word of truth, and not false docVOL. I.
trine: for the more deeply men are impressed by erroneous sentiments, and the more entirely these become practical principles, the greater mischief is done; as such deluded persons are inflated with pride, buoyed up in self-confidence, and encouraged in gratifying their corrupt passions even as a part of their religion. These are the produce of the tares, which the enemy sows in the field while the servants sleep: but the selfdeceivers, that abound where the good seed is sown, are such hearers as receive the doctrine of truth into a carnal mind by a dead faith, and pervert it through the artifice of Satan and the deceitfulness of their own hearts. Our present business therefore lies with those, who statedly, or occasionally, attend on the real gospel of Christ.
It may here be proper to make a digression in order to mention some descriptions of hearers only, and not doers: that we may hold the mirrour to every individual, and help him to discover what manner of man he is. Many persons form a part of our congregations, who come from habit or constraint. Children or domesticks belonging to religious families, and many
others in different situations, are accustomed to attend divine service, where the word of truth is preached. They know this is expected from them: and they submit to it, as a stated tax on their inclinations, which they pay for the sake of coincident advantages. Such persons commonly forget, that they are addressed by the preacher, and concerned in his instructions. They come and go, as it were, mechanically; but scarcely think of complying with the exhortations, which are most earnestly enforced. They receive the seed by the way-side; and “the devil takes “ it away, lest they should believe and be saved.”_If this observation should reach the ears of any persons who answer to the description: let them remember, that for once at least they were particularly addressed; that the subject comes home to their case; and that not only the preacher, but the apostle speaks to them, as if by name, saying, “ Be ye doers of the word, and “ not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
There are likewise speculating hearers, who study religion, as other men do mathematicks: either to gratify curiosity and love of discovery; or because they hope to render it súbservient to worldly interest and reputation; or vainly imagine that a sound creed is the one thing needful, the sure and the only passport to heaven. These men are often very severe on blind Pharisees, who think to be saved by a form of godliness: but they cannot see that a form of knowledge is equal. ly worthless, and far more dangerous; because it pro. duces a more desperate kind of pride and self-preserence, for “ knowledge puffeth up.” They consider hearing, speculating, disputing, and critizing preachers and doctrines, as the whole of religion. Inactive notions produce no change of character: even the apparent morality or piety, which is sometimes connected with them, results from other principles; while the spirit and conduct, in many respects, are diametrically opposite to the real tendency of the doctrines for which they contend. Such persons, however, seldom persevere in stated attendance, where the whole truth is preached: and as the completion of their system is the main object with them; they often grow weary of hcar.