Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

sign of God not to give more light than was adapted to the circumstances of mankind. You will perceive that his wisdom required that a clear and minute statement of future things should not be given, for various reasons, and particularly that there might be no interference with the free agency of men, who were to be instruments, and, in many cases, the unconscious instruments, of fulfilling his will. But these obscurities, and particularly those which relate to the Messiah, are cleared up in other parts of revelation ; for what was formerly the subject of prediction, is now the subject of history. The incongruities which seemed to be in his character, while at one time he was described as a man of sorrows, and at another as a mighty conqueror; at one time as dying, and at another as enjoying immortal life, are explained in the gospels, and are seen to harmonize in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. " These are the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me.”* There are obscurities, too, which arise from the nature of the subject. We cannot understand the doctrine of the Trinity, of the union of two natures in Christ, and of the operations of the Holy Ghost upon the soul; we cannot give an answer to several questions which are proposed with respect to the divine decrees, the agency of Providence, and the origin of evil. But before we make our ignorance an objection against the perfection of revelation, we should be certain that it proceeds from the suppression of information which might have been communicated, and not from our want of capacity. Of this, however, we are not certain ; or rather, we have reason to believe that some of those subjects are beyond the comprehension of any created intellect, and that none of them could have been rendered intelligible to us in the present state of our faculties. The obscurity, therefore, which attends them, is no reproach to our Teacher, who has adapted his lessons to the ability of his scholars. He could have given a full explanation of them, for to him they are not mysteries ; but to whom should he have addressed it? Not, surely, to us, in whose minds his words would have excited no ideas, and who should have been in the same situation with the prophet Daniel, who said, when in answer to his question the man clothed in linen declared the time of the end of the wonders, “ I heard, but I understood not.”

It is worthy of attention, that although in such cases the interior of the doctrines is enveloped in darkness which no eye can penetrate, the doctrines themselves are clearly revealed. No person who reads the Scriptures with attention and candour can doubt that there is a plurality of persons in the Godhead; that our nature and the divine are united in our Saviour; that God has fore-ordained all things which come to pass ; and that men and all their actions are subject to the controul of his providence. It is not necessary that we should be able to show how these things are, nor is it possible to conceive any moral purpose which such knowledge would promote ; religion is concerned only with the facts; and these are stated in such a manner, that ingenuity is required, not to find, but to avoid finding them in the Scriptures. If it be true that the facts alone are of practical utility, and that a more intimate acquaintance with them would contribute nothing to their effect, our Lord has been sufficiently explicit; and, with respect even to these points, has fulfilled his duty as a prophet.

With regard to revelation, considered as a whole, and as intended to instruct us in religion, no man can reasonably complain of want of perspicuity. What is more plain, than that there is one God, possessed of every natural and moral perfection ?—that he is the Creator, and Governor, and Judge of the hu

• Luke xxiv. 44.

man race ?—that we are sinners, and his Son is our Saviour ?—that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and now intercedes for us in heaven?--that we are justified through faith in his blood, and sanctified by his Spirit ?—that we are bound to yield obedience to his law ?—that he will raise the dead, pronounce sentence upon the righteous and the wicked, and receive his faithful followers into his everlasting kingdom? These, and similar topics, which constitute the essence of religion, are expressed in the plainest manner, and are level to the lowest capacity. The unlearned may understand them—and even children may attain such a measure of knowledge as shall awaken the feelings and exercises of piety. No man can be a scholar or philosopher without superior talents, and many years spent in reading, and observation, and reflection ; but to a disciple of Christ, nothing more is required than attention, humility, and prayer.

A third character of the instructions of Christ, is the authority with which they are delivered. The manner is not that of an ordinary teacher, who feels it incumbent upon him to prove what he says, but of a legislator, who commands. The first chapter of the Bible (for you will remember that the whole Scripture is the revelation of Christ, as I showed in my last lecture) furnishes a specimen. An event is there recorded, of which there could be no human witness, and about which, therefore, the ingenuity of men has displayed itself in the invention of a variety of theories. The history of the creation is not submitted by Moses to the judgment of the learned, but propounded as unquestionably true ; not a single argument is advanced in support of the narrative ; coming from the Creator himself, who revealed it to his servant, it demands the assent of all to whom it is published. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The same authoritative manner is apparent throughout the whole Scripture. It is seen in the ministry of the succeeding prophets. No hesitation is expressed, whether they foretell future events, or tender reproofs, or denounce threatenings, or inculcate duties. Their personal authority, indeed, was nothing, but they speak in the name of God; bearing his commission, they demand implicit obedience; and, if they ever condescend to reason, it is solely with a view to give greater force to their admonitions and intreaties. The Scriptures every where suggest the idea of a law, accompanied with many manifestations of grace, but speaking in the tone of command, and requiring submission as our duty.

The authoritative manner, however, is more fully displayed in the personal instructions of our Lord. There was necessarily some abatement in those of the prophets, who, being only his messengers, were under the necessity of appealing to their commission ; but, in him, authority assumed its most dig. nified character. While they spake in the name of God, he spake in his own name. It is true, that he also was the messenger of the Lord of Hosts; but he was of a different rank from all who had preceded him. He was the Son, as well as the servant of JehoyAH, and, therefore, entitled to address mankind in a style which would have been unbecoming and presumptuous in a mere mortal ; and, accordingly, if on some occasions he referred to his commission as attested by miracles, on others he spake as the oracle of truth. “ Verily, verily, I say unto you," was the only argument which he usually assigned for his doctrines—the only reason v hich he alleged for demanding ihe assent and obedience of his hearers. “The people,” we are told, “ were astonished at his doctrine ; for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes. This remark is made at the close of his sermon on the mount, throughout which he had spoken in a strain which might well astonish the hearers, because it was different from any thing to which they had been ac

• Matt. vii, 28, 29.

customed. The Scribes were regarded as persons of superior wisdom, and the people listened with reverence to these expounders of the law. Ile treated them as his inferiors, and, without hesitation or ceremony, set aside their maxims as false and licentious. To their instructions, supported as they were by the traditions of the elders, which they pretended to be of equal weight with the written word; to their instructions, which no man hitherto ventured to dispute, he opposed his simple affirmation : “ It hath been said,” or, “ ye have heard that it was said to them of old," but I tell you the contrary.'

It is in consequence of the authority with which the instructions of Christ are delivered, that faith is prescribed as a duty. They are not exhibited as matters of speculation, to which we may assent or not, as we feel ourselves disposed. We are bound to believe them and to act upon them, from respect for him, as well as from a regard to dur own interest. The gospel is called a law, because it is the will of a superior, and faith is called the obedience of faith. Unbelievers are guilty, not only of rejecting his proffered grace, but also of despising his authority. Hence, the commission which he gives to his apostles, and which authorises the ministry of the word to the end of the world, was enforced by this awful sanction: “ He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned."

"* The last particular which I shall mention, is the efficacy of his instructions. A power accompanies them which was never exerted by human eloquence. “ Is not my word as a fire ? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces ?”?+ We have a remarkable instance, in the effect produced upon the servants of the Jewish Sanhedrim, who were sent to apprehend our Saviour. They had, no doubt, imbibed the prejudices of their employers against him, and, at any rate, would have executed their commission in order to please them. When they came to the place, Jesus was addressing the people. But their attention was arrested by the sound of his voice; as they listened, their admiration was excited, and, forgetting the purpose for which they had come, they returned, exclaiming, to the no small mortification of the rulers, “ Never man spake like this man !"The efficacy of his instructions appears in the success which attended the preaching of his gospel in the primitive ages. Notwithstanding the obstacles which were opposed to it, it spread with such rapidity during the lives of the apostles, that it reached almost every part of the Roman empire, and even some nations lying beyond its frontiers; and, after their decease, it continued to make progress, although its path was marked with blood, till the whole civilized world submitted to its sway. The historian Gibbon has assigned five secondary causes, as he calls them, of its success; meaning, however, that they are the primary or only causes. His causes are obviously inadequate to the production of the effect, and every Christian must view, with triumph, this abortive attempt to rob his religion of the honour of having established its dominion solely by the power of the truth. Its success is a fulfilment of the prophecy: “The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine ene. mies. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power."'S

Human eloquence, by moving the passions, may lead men to adopt new resolutions, and rouse them to sudden efforts of vigour; it may produce per, manent effects in politics, in religious profession, and moral conduct, although, in the latter case, it must be acknowledged, that it has few triumphs to boast, The history of ancient times furnishes only one or two instances, which, if examined by a proper standard, would be found to be of no value. Shall these be brought into comparison with the innumerable trophies which the

# John vii. 46.

$ Ps, cx, 2, 3,

• Mark. xvi. 16. VOL. II.-6

+ Jer. xxiii. 29.

D 2

eloquence of our Divine Teacher has won ?-with the thousands who, in obedience to his command, have renounced their prejudices, their pleasures, their gains, and their honours, and have submitted to a life of self-denial and suffering ? Let us remember, that the word of Christ has prevailed to induce men, not only to embrace a new system of opinions, but to adopt a new manner of living ; that it has purified them from their sins, and from sins which once seemed to be essential to their happiness; that it has effected such a revolution in their hearts, that the objects of their love and hatred are exchanged, and new tastes, and tempers, and feelings are displayed, as if they had been created again. As in the days of his flesh, when he said to any man, “ Follow thou me,” he forsook all and became his disciple, so it is now; the proudest humbly bow to his command; the most abject slave of the world, bursting his fetters, enters into his service ; even the dead hear him and live; for the following words are verified in every age of the Church: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. For, as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself."*

The efficacy of the instructions of Christ is connected with the operations of grace ; and this naturally leads me to remark, that as he teaches men by his word, so he also executes his prophetical office by the agency of the Holy Ghost on their minds. “ He reveals to us,” our Chureh says, “ by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.”+ Of this double teaching there is an illustrious promise in the Old Testament: “ As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord: My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever."I The promise of the Spirit which our Lord made to his disciples, relates primarily to them, but authorises the expectation of his presence and gracious operation in every age of the Church. Hence he is called the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ ;S and the example of Paul, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, encourages otherg to pray for his enlightening influences.

But if the Scriptures are a perfect rule of faith and manners, and are ex pressed with such perspicuity on all subjects essential to salvation, that ever the illiterate may understand them, of what use is the Spirit ?

In the first place, I remark, that it is not the office of the Spirit to give new revelations. Some, from mere ignorance conceiving that this is understood to be his office, and judging rightly that he is not wanted for any such purpose, have rejected the common doctrine of his operation in the soul. They may have been encouraged in their error by enthusiasts, who, boasting of the Spirit, have pretended to be favoured with supernatural discoveries, and have retailed their extravagant fancies as heavenly visions. But we expressly disclaim this view of the subject, and maintain that he is not sent to teach any thing new, but to enable us to understand in a spiritual manner the truths which are already revealed. In fact, we could hold no other opinion consistently with the principle which we avow, that the canon of Scripture is completed, and that all things are taught in it which are necessary to salvation. Whether God may not, for some important purpose, make known to individuals by his Spirit things secret and future, is a question which we presume not to decide ; but such revelations are appropriated to the use of those individuals, and have no claim to the attention of others, unless they were authenticated by miracles; and wanting this attestation, are no more a part of the rule of faith and obedience than any mere human speculation.

• John v. 25, 26.

† Shorter Cat. Q. 24.

# Is. lix. 21.

$ Eph. i, 17.

In the second place, It is not the office of the Spirit to discover to us mysteries and recondite meanings of Scripture, which would have eluded the research of our unassisted faculties. I acknowledge that a man who has received the Holy Ghost, will understand many parts of the Scriptures better than those who have not received him; that he will perceive a beauty, and glory, and goodness in subjects which others regard with the greatest indifference; but I affirm at the same time, that there is no doctrine of religion, of which an unregenerated man may not acquire a speculative notion, by the exercise of his natural understanding. The practice of allegorizing the Scriptures, and affixing senses to them which do not present themselves to ordinary readers, have resulted rather from an affectation of ingenuity, than from any pretension to supernatural · illumination. But some persons, mistaking the wild reveries of imagination for the motions of the Divine Spirit, have pretended to sublime discoveries, and brought to light concealed wonders ; so that, if any credit were due to them, we should conclude, that truth indeed lies at the bottom of a well, dark and deep, where it must have for ever remained, if they had not been furnished with extraordinary means for drawing it up. There are mysteries in the Scriptures, which no man can explain; there are passages which it requires acuteness of intellect to explore ; but in general they are expressed in simple terms, which are to be understood in their usual sense ; and the only requisites for the successful study of them are attention and a moderate capacity.

The Holy Ghost teaches, by enabling the mind to perceive the truth, and excellence, and interesting nature of the doctrines of revelation. That his agency is needed for this purpose, none will deny but those who choose to give the lie direct to the Scriptures, and entertain an extravagant idea of the power of reason, which is at variance with the xperience of all ages; for, whatever perspicacity reason has discovered in matters of science, it has shown itself to be blind as a mole in religion. “ The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” There has been much disputing about the true sense of “the natural man,"— LUXIRAS Qv8p670s ;-—and an evident wish has been sometimes discovered to give such an explanation as should not represent the mind as wholly incapable, without divine assistance, of forming just views of supernatural truths. The man, of whom the Apostle speaks, has been called the sensual man, the animal man, the man who makes his senses, and passions, and prejudices the standard of judgment; and the character has been supposed to be realized in the heathen philosophers, who rejected the Gospel because it did not accord with their speculations. Whatever English term we may use in translating tuxıros, the meaning is obvious to every person who is willing to see it. The natural is opposed to the spiritual man in the next verse; ψυχικος το πνευματικός. The same contrast is stated in the epistle of Jude, who says of some, that they are fuxixos, “ having not the Spirit.”+ The natural man and the spiritual man are opposed to each other. They belong to different classes, and are distinguished by different qualities. The former has only the powers of nature, improved, it may be, by culture; the latter has received a supernatural gift. If you inquire, then, why the natural man cannot discover the things of the Spirit, or the truths of religion ? the reason is, that he has not received the Spirit; whence it follows, that the agency of the Holy Ghost is necessary to the illumination of the mind; and this the Apostle plainly signifies when he adds, that the things of the Spirit are spiritually discerned, or can be rightly perceived only by a spiritual man. This single passage is sufficient to prove the necessity of the teaching

"**

[blocks in formation]
« ÎnapoiContinuați »