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Let us now apply this, as our SAVIOUR undoubtedly meant it should be applied, to the case of man in respect to his spiritual condition. There is a certain spiritual faculty, which is, to the whole moral man, much what the faculty of the eye is to the whole body. We mean, that there is a certain power of perceiving and distinguishing what is morally right and morally wrong, and what is morally true and morally false, without which our moral conduct cannot be made right. If a man be used to "call evil, good; and good, evil;"" to put darkness for light, and light for darkness ;"* if he be blind to all moral excellency; if he have no taste for spiritual things; if truth and uprightness, if purity and holiness, if religion and godliness have no beauty in his eyes, it is in vain to talk of his moral conduct being made right. It is true, there may be an external morality; there may be certain acts done, which, in themselves, are moral and right; and which may pass for virtues, in the eyes of men: but they are no virtues in the sight of GOD, who considers the moral quality of the act, as determined by the moral state of the mind and heart.
In order, therefore, to do any one action aright, the heart, in the first place, must be turned to the love of true holiness. The eyes of the understanding must be enlightened; the reason, which is in man, must be sanctified; the natural blindness, and prejudice against religious truth must be removed; the faculty of discerning spiritual things must be acquired; otherwise, the man, in spite of all his boasted reason, will only grope in darkness in respect to spiritual hings. He may do by chance, it is true, some things which in themselves are right; since even a blind man may chance to walk for a while in the right path: but, in general, he will take the wrong course; though ignorant that he does so; and it is not his own eyesight, which will lead him in any one instance aright: his whole body is full of darkness.
* Isaiah, v. 20.
A few remarks shall now be made on the subject, which will serve further to illustrate it.
And, first, we may learn from hence the reason why so many neglect or reject the Gospel of CHRIST; and among them not a few who possess much human wisdom and learning. They want that spiritual light in the mind, of which our SAVIOUR here speaks. They choose to themselves some principle of morals, or some system of what they may call religion, less holy than the principle and system of the Gospel, and which better suits the unholiness of their hearts. 66 Light is come into the world," said our SAVIOUR, "and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."* All indisposition to receive either the Gospel in general, or its peculiar doctrines, is resolved in Scripture into blindness, and hardness of heart, and want of spiritual discernment. For, "the natural man,” says St. Paul, "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." And, again, "But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of CHRIST, who is the image of GoD, should shine unto them."‡ So, also, it is said by St. John, of him who wants the particular grace of charity, or love, that "he walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth."Ş
Again, secondly, let us cease to wonder that there is so much self-confidence, self-righteousness, and self-complacency, as there is in men; and as there is in those men in particular, who are more than commonly depraved. The light that is in them is darkness:—the faculty of discerning spiritual and moral truth is corrupted and diseased. Hence multitudes are continually doing evil, who think that they are
* St. John, iii. 19.
† 1 Cor. ii. 14.
2 Cor. iv. 4.
doing good. They dress themselves out in certain fancied virtues, which, in the sight of GOD, are sins. But woe be unto them, the prophet seems to say, "who compass themselves with sparks of their own kindling."* Woe be to those who create to themselves virtues which God never made to be such; and then trust to their performance of these for their acceptance with Him. It has often been remarked, by some of the most accurate observers of mankind, that the persons, who trust most to their own good works for salvation, are commonly those who have the least of these to trust to. And this is a paradox, to the solution of which we ought carefully to attend. The solution is easy, if we do but take into consideration the saying of CHRIST of which we are now treating. The light, which is in these persons, is darkness; and all the virtues, in which they trust, are false virtues. How gross, indeed, is the self-deceit of man in this respect! For if the light which should be in them, "be darkness, now great is that darkness !"† Who is there, for instance, however distinguished by the profligacy of his life, who has not some sort of morality, or virtue, or religion, or honour, some substitute for true goodness, of which he boasts ? This false and spurious goodness is made the theme of the wicked man's conversation. It is the sort of goodness, which he tells you that he approves in others, and that he is not defective in practising himself. This false goodness becomes the rival and competitor of the true: and, being thus preferred from a predilection for it, which is not insincere, and being also thus practised, (for it is most easy to be practised,) it commonly also is considered as meritorious in its nature; and is trusted to, as the ground of salvation. That man, on the other hand, whose eyes it has pleased God to open, so that he sees clearly into the nature of real holiness, is sure to see also, how exceedingly defective in it he is: he is glad to accept of an interest in his SAVIOUR'S
sacrifice; being, on account of his ten thousand deficiencies, humbled to the very dust before his God.
Again, thirdly, let us beware of the error of those who think, that it is only necessary for a man to act according to his conscience, in order to make sure that his conduct shall be right. It ought, first, to be inquired, whether it be an enlightened conscience which he follows. For there certainly is such a thing as a blinded conscience; and, also, a sleepy conscience, a corrupted conscience, a hardened conscience, a "conscience seared as with a hot iron."* There have been those who have even thought, that in killing the best servants of GOD, they did God service.f More than half, perhaps, of the common sins of men, are committed by them without the least violence to conscience and, for this reason,—the "light that is in them is darkness." If the mind and conscience are truly enlightened, so as to discern religious truth, and error, and good, and evil; and so as to know the whole nature and extent of religious and moral duty; then, indeed, to follow conscience is to follow a single or clear-sighted eye; and the eye being "single," the general conduct will be right:the whole body will be full of light. But if the " eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness;" and if "the light, that is in thee, be darkness, how great is that darkness." Let us then dread an ignorant and blinded conscience: it is the source of ten thousand sins, of which we are not at all aware. Let us dread it as we would a diseased eye, which, if it see at all, yet sees falsely.
But how, it will be said, are we to obtain this spiritual faculty which has been so much spoken of? Our answer is, that it is to be obtained by prayer, and also by the use of all those means which God hath appointed for the attainment of it. The HOLY SPIRIT is the author of all spiritual light; and our SAVIOUR hath assured us, that God will "give the HOLY SPIRIT to them that ask Him." Would St. Matt. vi. 23.
† St. John, xvi. 2.
* 1 Tim. iv. 2.
we know the first principles of our religion, would we be instructed aright respecting GoD THE FATHER, and his Son JESUS CHRIST ;—the same GOD, who said in the beginning, "Let there be light, and there was light;"*—the same GOD, who then "commanded the light to shine out of darkness," must shine into our hearts, "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."t open thou David prayed thus for the divine illumination: “ mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." Saint Paul prayed for his converts thus: "the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints."§
Let us pray to GOD for the same gift: let us pray also, that we may "be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding."
To prayer, however, we must add other means. We must take all measures for detecting in ourselves every religious error: we must avoid prejudice; we must inquire, examine, reflect, observe. We must read the Scriptures with great attention we must make honest use of the little light which we have: "for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not" (that is, makes no use of what he hath)" from him shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have."¶
But it may, also, be asked, How are we to know whether we have the spiritual faculty or not? We answer, “to the law, and to the testimony, "** examine what the Scripture testifies on this subject. A taste for the Scriptures is, indeed, of itself, a sign of our possessing some degree of this spiritual light: we mean, provided it be a taste for the entire and unadulterated word of God, and not for a few favourite or perverted parts of it.
We will only add the following caution.
Some are apt
Ps. cxix. 18.
¶ St. Luke viii. 18.