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the world are involved in gross and fatal moral darkness, did not the light of the gospel discover their deluded and perishing condition. Here then we see one important reason, why God has not caused the gospel to spread more extensively in the world, from the beginning to this day; and has left almost all nations to walk in their own way, and plunge themselves deeper and deeper in destructive errors and delusions. He has meant to set truth and error in contrast, and make them serve to illustrate each other. And this contrast has been producing this effect from age to age, and will continue to produce it to the end of
Truth and error under the Old Testament dispensation illustrated each other; and truth and error under the New Testament illustrate each other. And orthodoxy in the church illustrates heterodoxy in the church, and heterodoxy in the church illustrates orthodoxy in the church. The errors in the heathen world illustrate the truths believed and professed in the Christian world. The errors in the Romish church illustrate the truths believed and professed in the Protestant church. And the errors in the Episcopal, Congregational, Presbyterian, or any other particular church, illustrate the truths believed and professed in that particular church. Sabellianism, Arianism, Socinianism, and Unitarianism, all illustrate the truth of Trinitarianism. Arminianism illustrates the truth of Calvinism. Every error that opposes any essential doctrine of the gospel, illustrates that essential doctrine of the gospel which it opposes. It is now easy to see, why God should choose that errors, delusions and heresies should always be not only in the world, but in the church. He always has employed, and will continue to employ them, as means to distinguish truth from error, and to cause error to appear more criminal and dangerous, and truth more amiable and important.
2. God chooses that there should be heresies in the church, that true believers may be distinguished from false professors. This the apostle gives as a reason why there must be heresies in the church. 6 For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” We know that there were true and false professors in
" the church of Corinth. The true professors believed, and loved, and professed, the great and fundamental doctrines of the gospel which Paul preached and inculcated; but the false professors, who were carnal, and had itching ears, followed false teachers, and heartily embraced and propagated gross and fatal errors. The apostle asks, in the fifteenth chapter of this epistle, “ Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you, that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is VOL. VI.
Christ not risen. And if Christ be not risen, then is our preach. ing vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God, that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not. up, if so be the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also who are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” Such a great and fatal heresy as the denial of the resurrection of the dead, had sprung up in the great and flourishing church of Corinth, which Paul had planted and Apollos had watered. And it was necessary that this heresy should be in that church, that those who were approved might be made manifest among them. It was certainly calculated to produce this good effect. There can be no doubt but that the sincere and approved professors disbelieved and rejected this heresy, while the insincere believed and propagated it, to their own ruin and the ruin of others. Heresy has always had the same tendency to distinguish true believers from false professors. It had this effect in the Jewish church. In the days of Rehoboam, it distinguished the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin from the ten tribes of Israel, who embraced the fatal errors of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat. It had this effect till the coming of Christ, when it distinguished the Scribes and Pharisees from the few Israelites indeed. It had this effect in all the primitive churches, and distinguished true believers from Sabellians, Arians, Pelagians and other heretics. Heresy still serves to distinguish true believers from false professors in the Christian church in every part of the world. God has chosen that the present flood of errors, delusions and heresies should spread and prevail in the heathen and Christian world, that true churches might be made manifest, and the true professors in them be distinguished from false professors, who imbibe and propagate great and fatal heresies. The heterodox every where are a foil to the orthodox, and exhibit their characters in a beautiful and amiable light. Unitarians are a foil to Trinitarians, and Arminians are a foil to Calvinists. They are now distinguishing true professors from the false professors who are following the great and dangerous errors that they are so zealously propagating. And if they succeed in their proselyting scheme, there will soon be a wide and visible distinction between heterodox and orthodox churches in this land, and as visible a distinction between true and false professors. God is evidently making manifest those whom he approves, and those whom he disapproves, by the prevailing errors and heresies of the day. Professors of religion in all our churches are rapidly taking sides with the orthodox and heterodox, by which they will necessarily, though not per
haps intentionally, discover the sincerity and insincerity of their hearts; which is a desirable discovery. I must farther observe,
3. That God chooses that errors, delusions, and heresies should be in the world and in the Christian church, that mankind may have a fair opportunity of choosing the way to life, or the way to death. Truth is the way to life, and error is the way to death. It is through the medium of truth that God prepares men for salvation, and it is through the medium of error that he prepares men for destruction. Accordingly, it has always been his method to exhibit both truth and error before their minds, and give them opportunity of choosing the one or the other, that they may be saved, or that they may be damned. He gave a fair opportunity to the first generations of mankind, to hear and embrace the preaching of Enoch, or to follow their own delusions. He gave a fair opportunity to the Israelites, when they first entered into Canaan, to embrace the laws of Moses or to embrace the fatal errors of the ignorant and benighted heathens. Hear the proposal that Joshua made to them. “Now, therefore, fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve
the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose ye this day whom ye will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served, that were on the other side of the Alood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose lands ye dwell; but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” The same opportunity of choosing truth or error, life or death, God has given to all to whom he has sent the gospel. And all under the light of the gospel, have now a fair opportunity to embrace truth, or error; that is, to believe and love the great and essential doctrines of the gospel, or to believe and love destructive delusions and fatal heresies. Those who believe and cordially embrace the gospel, believe and love the great truths which make them wise unto salvation. But to those who disbelieve and reject the great and essential doctrines of the gospel, God sends a strong delusion, that they may believe a lie that they may be damned. For this great, glorious and awful purpose of saving and destroying the souls of men, God chooses that there should be fatal errors and heresies in the world and in the church. God compels no man to embrace truth, and no man to embrace error. He gives every one opportunity to embrace the one, or the other. This places mankind, in this world of error, in a most important and critical situation. They have life and death set before them, and they are commanded to choose life, and the way that leads to it. If it
be important that truth and error should be distinguished, or that true believers should be distinguished from false professors, or that mankind should have a fair opportunity of choosing the way of life rather than the way of death, then God has great and good reasons for choosing that there should be strong delusions and fatal heresies in the church and in the world, from age to age.
IMPROVEMENT. 1. If heresies consist in those errors which are opposite to, and subversive of, the great and essential doctrines of the gospel; then we have reason to think that they have had a long and extensive spread in the world. Ever since the gospel was first preached to mankind, the great majority of the human race who have had an opportunity to hear the great and essential truths contained in it, have been disposed to reject it, and have sought out many other ways of salvation. Though the seed of Abraham were numerous as the stars of heaven; yet amidst the greatest light they enjoyed, they were perpetually apostatizing from God, and falling into the grossest idolatries and delusions of the heathen nations. Though Christ has afforded the best means of instruction and edification to his churches, yet there have always been great and destructive heresies among them. Indeed, there have been as great errors and delusions among professed christians, as among heathens. And, considering the religious privileges and advantages which nominal christians have enjoyed, they have discovered a greater love to error, and a greater stupidity in embracing gross and fatal heresies, than the most ignorant and stupid heathens have done. The god of this world has reigned universally and triumphantly among all the heathen nations, and has seduced them into the most absurd and fatal heresies and delusions. And he has been very successful in blinding the minds and corrupting the hearts of nominal christians, and in leading them to reject the plainest and most important truths of the gospel. Heresy, which consists in fundamental and fatal errors, has done more than any other secondary cause whatever to destroy the souls of men. Heresy has blinded the minds of more than half of mankind, respecting the being, perfections, designs and government of God.' Heresy has blinded the minds of the great majority of those who have lived under the gospel, respecting their own sinful and perishing condition, and the way of salvation through the atonement of Christ and the special operations of the Holy Spirit. The way of the world is still as darkness; they know not at what they stumble. They are stupidly and insensibly pursuing the path that leads to darkness, disappointment, and everlasting despair. Though light shines, yet it shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not. For wise and holy reasons, God has chosen that the great deceiver should lead all the heathen world into idolatry, and a great part of the Christian world into heresy, and cause darkness to cover the earth, and thick darkness the people.
2. It appears from the nature and tendency of heresy, that a church composed of real christians ought to censure and reject any of their members who embrace it. Many suppose that a church have no right to censure and excommunicate professors of religion for mere heresy. They say that every one has the right of private judgment, and does not stand amenable for any religious sentiments which he chooses to adopt to any human tribunal. They say that no church can distinguish error from truth, and consequently cannot determine whether any man is a heretic or not. But these are groundless objections against censuring and condemning men for heresy. Heresy has been explained to consist in essential errors. And it is as easy to determine what essential errors are, as to determine what essential truths are. Any error is essential
opposes or denies an essential truth ; so that there may be as many essential errors as there are essential doctrines of the gospel. And if a Christian church can determine what are essential doctrines of the gospel, then they can determine what heresy is, which consists in the denial of the essential doctrines of the gospel. And though every member of a church has the right of private judgment, yet he has no right to judge wrong, and embrace errors which would pervert and destroy the gospel. Heresy is as plain and sure an index of a man's character as immorality. As immorality flows from a corrupt heart, so does heresy. Let a catalogue of essential truths be presented to one member of a church, and a catalogue of essential errors be presented to another member of the church; and, if the first embraces the catalogue of truths presented to him, and the second embraces the catalogue of errors presented to him, the church would then have as just ground to judge that he who embraced the catalogue of errors was an enemy to Christ and the gospel, as to judge that he who embraced the catalogue of truths was a friend to Christ and the gospel. It is with the heart that a man believes and loves the gospel, and it is with the heart that a man disbelieves and rejects the gospel. He that professes to believe and love the essential doctrines of the gospel, is a visible christian; and he that professes to disbelieve and hate the essential doctrines of the gospel, is a visible heretic; and such a visible heretic is a visible enemy to all righteousness, whom the church ought to censure, and exclude