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unregencrate, in matters of religion ; nor any reason why they should think it in vain to pay attention to divine instruction, because of the blindness of their hearts. They are not altogether like the horse and mule, which have no widerstanding. A rational conviction they may get, or may be given them, of God's all-seeing eye that is upon them, of his power and justice to punish them, and of his grace and mercy to save them; and such a conviction is one thing necessary, in order to their conversion and salvation.
2. It hence appears that the incapacity of sinners, while unrenewed, to come to the saving knowledge of God, is of such a nature as cannot render them at all excusable, in this kind of ignorance. It is owing merely to their total want of a benevolent disposition : and this is what we always condemn in others, and ought to condemn in ourselves. Yet,
3. It is evident from our text, and the things now said upon it, that the incapacity of those who have not becn born again, to know God so as to love him, is such as can be removed by nothing but a radical change of heart. Did natural men only labor under misapprehensions concerning God, rectifying their mistakes would be enough to reconcile them to him, Were their blindness to his glory, owing to any weakness or disorder in their intellectual powers ; a physical operation on the brain might be sufficient ; or, if any thing supernatural were necessary, it would be cnly to give them beiter beads. But if the bottom of the difficulty with them, lies in their not being of a benevolent disposition ; a better heart must be given them, before they can be brought out of darkness into God's marvelious light, or have any spiritual discernment of divine things.
4. From what has been said of the evidences sct before us, that God is love, we may be helped to
judge where the truth lies, respecting the sufficiency of the light of nature, in matters of religion.
Infidel writers have often labored to prove, that the visible works of God teach us, with sufficient clearness, all that is needful to be known concerning him : whence they conclude, that the Bible is unnecessary; and therefore, not from God.
In opposition to this, some of late have advanced, that from the light of nature, there is no reason to believe the moral perfections of God; or to think that he is a good being.
The first of these opinions ought to be rejected, I apprehend, as utterly unfounded and false : but yet the last, it appears to me, is carrying the matter too far : farther than is needful, or safe, or true. The Bible itself, as hath now been observed, seems plainly to assert, that the glory of God is declared, by his works of creation and common Providence : and that the heathen were without excuse, because that when they knew God, by these means, or might have known him, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful. Does not then asserting that, from the things which are seen, there is no reason to think that God is worthy to be glorified, or that we have any reason to be thankful to him, look like contradicting the scriptures, to show the necessity of them, and to induce men to believe them?
And if we attend to the works of nature ourselves, as holy men of old have done, will it not be rational to acknowledge, that all objections to the goodness of God, arising from apparent evils, amount to no more than difficulties, which reason alone would not be able to solve ? But how often is it the case respecting most demonstrable truths, that there are things which seem irreconcilable with them? Even after revelation, and in revelation itself, there are some things hard to be reconciled. We must fall. into very universal scepticism, if we will believe nothing till all difficulties can be removed. In the
case before us, as the preponderating evidences from all nature, are in favor of the goodness of its divine Author; so, I am apprehensive that the cause of religion will be rather injured than promoted, by any attempts to invalidate those evidences. Such attempts, I am afraid, will be more likely to drive deists into atheism, than to bring them to believe the scriptures.
Nor do I see any occasion we have for taking this ground, in our disputes with unbelievers. Admitting that the light of nature would give some knowledge of the true God, were men perfectly well disposed, and thoroughly attentive ; still it is certain that fallen depraved men, have not hitherto felt after him and found him, groping in this glimmering light alone : and from the long trial made, it is strongly to be presumed they never would.
Certain also it is, that there are things concerning God, of the last importance to be understood by sinners, which, without a divine revelation, never could have been known at all, by men or angels. If the light of nature might huve taught us that God is good ; yet how could any creature have known by it, that he was ready to forgive, or that with him was plenteous redemption ? Redeeming love, renew. ing grace, pardoning mercy, and giving eternal life to the ungodly, are parts of the glory of God, which the heavens do not declare. What a sinner must do to be saved, or whether he can be saved at all, the firmament showeth not. Though their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world; yet, on these all-interesting subjects, they have nothing to say. These breadths and depths, are far beyond their line.
Now, what broader or better ground do we want, for asserting the necessity of revelation ? Why should we wish to depreciate the light of nature any further ? Let it be enough to leave men without ex
Let it be sufficient, if any please, for guiding attentive sinless beings, into all necessary truth. For us, fallen, stupid, guilty creatures, certainly, it is altogether insufficient.
5. Let us then look to the word of God, and not rely upon our own reasoning from his goodness, for our conclusions respecting the salvation of sinners.
Because the Most High is called the Parent of the universe, and is said to be good unto all, some will hastily conclude, that he hath no wrath for the workers of iniquity to fear ; nor need they seek his grace. They conceive of him under the fond idea of an indulgent father of our flesh, who will suffer his children to abuse one another, and to treat him with all possible irreverence and disobedience; and will only say, “ My sons, why do ye these things ?” without ever restraining or punishing them. * Be not deceived; God is not mocked.” He hath said to the sinner, after enumerating his evil deeds, “ These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself; but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. Now, consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.” It is written, “Men shall fear the Lord, , and his goodness, in the latter days.” And indeed, when his goodness comes to be rightly understood, it must lead men to stand in awe, and not sin. The more perfectly benevolent we believe the almighty Governor of the world, the more reason have saints to venerate him, and sinners to tremble before him. That he will punish sin, as far as is necessary for righting the injured, for restraining iniquity, and for promoting the greatest general good, we may thence be certain. And whether, for these good ends, judgment must not be laid to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, in all cases, we could never have known, without a revelation from Him. That all men will be saved, or that any sinner will escape deserved punishment; is a bold inference for the reason of man, from the mere perfections of God. Arguing thus, is to exercise ourselves in great matters, and in things too high for us. But when we are assured by the pen of inspiration, that God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself, the vilest sinner need not fear, as some have been ready to do, that their sins are too great to be forgiven. Infinite goodness may then be a safe ground of confidence, that where sin hath abounded, if we repent and believe the gospel, grace will much more abound.
Hearken, then, to the gracious proclamation from heaven; Isa. lv. 7-9, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."