« ÎnapoiContinuați »
PRODUCES BELIEF, AND VICE
John, vii. 17.
If any man will do His will, he shall know of
the doctrine, whether it be of God. IT
T does not, I think, at first sight appear
why our behaviour should influence our belief, or how any particular course of action, good or bad, should affect our assent to any particular propositions which are offered to us; for truth or probability can never depend upon our conduct; the credibility or incredibility of religion is the same, whether we act well or ill, whe-, ther we obey its laws or disobey them. Nor is it very manifest, how even our perception of evidence or credibility should be affected by our virtues or vices : because conduct is immediately voluntary, belief is not: one is an act of the will under the
power of motives; the other is an act of the understanding, upon
which motives do not, primarily at least, operate, nor ought to operate at all. Yet our Lord, in the text, affirms this to be the case, namely, that our behaviour does influence our belief, and to have been the case from the beginning, that is, even during his own ministery upon earth.
any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” It becomes, therefore, a subject of serious and religious inquiry, how, why, and to what extent, the declaration of the text may be maintained.
Now the first and most striking observation is, that it corresponds with experience. The fact, so far as can be observed, is as the text represents it to be. I speak of the general course of human conduct, which is the thing to be considered. Good men are generally believers : bad men are generally unbelievers. This is the general state of the case ; not without exceptions; for, on the one hand, there may be men of regular external morals, who are yet unbelievers, because though immorality be one
cause of unbelief, it is not the only cause : and, on the other hand, there are undoubtedly many, who, although they believe and tremble, yet go on in their sins, because their faith doth not regulate their practice. But, having respect to the ordinary course and state of human conduct, what our Saviour hath declared is verified by experience. He that doeth the will of God, cometh to believe, that Jesus Christ is of God, namely a messenger from God. A process, some how or other, takes place in the understanding, which brings the mind of him who acts rightly to this conclusion. A conviction is formed, and every day made stronger and stronger. No man ever comprehended the value of Christian precepts, but by conducting his life according to them. When, by so doing, he is brought to know their excellency, their perfection, I had almost said their divinity, he is necessarily also brought to think well of the religion itself. Hear St. Paul : -" The night is far spent : the day is at hand: let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light'; let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting
and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying ; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof;" Rom. xiii. 11. It is recorded of this text, that it was the means of the conversion of a very eminent father of the church, St. Austin; for which reason I quote it as an instance to my present purpose, since I apprehend it must have wrought with him in the manner here represented. I have no doubt but that others have been affected in like manner by this or other particular portions of Scripture; and that still greater numbers have been drawn to Christianity by the general impression which our Lord's discourses, and the speeches and letters of his apostles, have left upon their minds. This is sometimes called the internal evidence of our religion ; and it is very strong. But inasmuch as it is a species of evidence which applies itself to the knowledge, love, and practice of virtue, it will operate most powerfully where it finds these qualities, or even these tendencies and dispositions subsisting. If this be the effect of virtuous conduct, and in some proportion, the effect also of each separate act of virtue, the contrary effect must necessarily follow from a contrary course of behaviour. And perhaps it may assist us in unfolding the subject, to take up the inquiry in this order; because if it can be shewn why, and in what manner, vice tends to obstruct; impair, and, at length, destroy our faith, it will not be difficult to allow, that virtue must facilitate, support, and confirm it: that, at least, it will deliver us, or keep us free, from that weight of prejudice and resistance which is produced in the mind by vice, and which acts against the reception of religious truth. 1
Now the case appears to me to be no other than this': A great many persons, before they proceed upon an act of known transgression, do expressly state to them, selves the question, whether religion be true or not; and in order to get at the object of their desire (for the real matter to be determined is, whether they shall have their desire gratified or not), in order, I say, to get at the pleasure in some cases,