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Whether any of those who know not the gospel will ever obtain salvation, some have doubted. But Christain benevolence inclines us to hope, they are not absolutely and universally doomed to destruction. Before any written revelation was given, there were some, who, by the secret aids afforded them, made such an improvement of their natural advantages and traditionary communications as to attain to an acceptable piety. The atonement of the Redeemer is sufficient to expiate the sins of the world, God can, by special discoveries, supply the want of external means. The same grace, which applies the benefits of the atonement to infants, who have not a capacity for actual faith, can apply these benefits to adults, who have not the ordinary means of faith. "In every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him." "Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world ;" or of all nations, whether Jews or Gentiles. We cannot then absolutely conclude, that none among the unenlightened nations of the earth are admitted to a share in the great salvation purchased by the Redeemer.
But whatever may be their final condition, it is certain, they will not be condemned for rejecting a gospel, which was never brought to them, nor for want of faith in a Savior of whom they never heard. They who among them perish," will perish without law." Their guilt will arise from, and their condemnation will be grounded upon the violation of those moral obligations, which by the light of nature and the dictates of conscience, they had, or might have known. The Judge of all the earth will do right. His judgment will be according to truth, In his presence every mouth will be stopped. None will have cause to complain, that his ways are unequal.
But this is a case which little concerns us. Whatever hopes we may entertain concerning those, who have never known the gospel, our Savior plainly signifies, that for those who have known, and yet have finally rejected it, there remains no hope.They have no cloak for their sin." Their sin is great and inexcusable, because the gospel which they reject is infinitely important; and the evidence against which they reject it, is clear and decisive.
1. The gospel, in its nature and design, is infinitely important.
It comes to us in the name of God, and declares itself to be a revelation from him. As such it demands our attention and obedience. The things, in which it instructs us, are of the most serious concern. That we are intelligent beings, we know from our own consciousness; and that we are soon to be removed from this world, we are taught by daily observation. Whether death will terminate our existence, or bring us to a new manner of existence in another world, is a question, in which every serious mind will wish to be satisfied. By the gospel, life and immortality are brought to light. A future existence, a righteous judgment and an equitable distribution of rewards and punishments, are doctrines which it teaches with convincing perspicuity, and on which it dwells with an affecting solemnity.
If there is a state of happiness, and a state of misery, which await different characters, it infinitely concerns us to know, how we may obtain the one, and escape the other. Here the gospel comes in to our relief. It instructs us, that, as God is rich in mercy to pardon offenders, so he exercises his mercy toward them through a sacrifice offered by his own son to expiate the guilt of sin-that the terms, on which pardon will be granted, are repentance to
ward God, and faith toward his Son Jesus Christthat his gracious spirit is ready to our assistance, not only in the work of repentance, but in all the subsequent duties of a holy life.
Is not a revelation, which makes such discoveries as these, worthy of all acceptation? If we are not convinced that it is divine, yet, at least, we ought to examine it; for it professes to be divine: And if it really is so, its importance is infinite. Whatever may be its real merits, the man who will not so much as inquire into its merits, betrays a moral infatuation. He acts contrary to all those rules of prudence, which govern men in the smaller concerns of common life. If a husbandman, contemplating a removal, hears of an inviting situation to be purchased on advantageous terms, he will, at least, pay so much attention to the information, as to make inquiry concerning the truth of it. If a merchant hears of a lucrative source of traffic, opened near at hand, he will immediately examine, whether the report is well founded. The gospel comes to us with the words of eternal life; an object of more value, than all the interest of this perishing world. If we will not so much as inquire, whether this gospel be true, and whether the object which it proposes be attainable, we renounce, in relation to the future world, all that prudence, which guides us in the concerns of this world; we treat everlasting happiness with an indifference, which we should condemn in the smallest of our temporal affairs.As inattention to the gospel is a great sin, because the gospel is. important; so,
2. Unbelief is an inexcuseable sin, because the gospel is credible. "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners."
When God sends men a revelation, he sends with it such proofs of its divinity, as may not only justify them in receiving it, but render them inexcu seable in rejecting it. The evidence which attends the gospel is superior to that, which was given in favor of any preceding revelation. Christ did such works, as no other man had done; and such as no man could do, except God were with him. From the perfection of God's character we are sure, he would not miraculously interpose to give such evidence in favor of a false religion, that men, examining fairly, and judging rationally, must believe it to be true. Such evidence as this has attended the mission of Jesus; and this evidence must be conclusive.
The works which Jesus wrought, were to them who saw the works, sufficient demonstration of his divine authority. The witnesses of his miracles were numerous. Several of these witnesses soon published their testimony to the world. They would not have published it, if they had not known it to be true, because they foresaw, that it could procure them no worldly emoluments, but must expose them to innumerable dangers. Their testimony has never been confuted, though they had many powerful and zealous enemies, who wished to confute it, if they could, and could have confuted it, if it had been false. This testimony has been regularly transmitted to us by an uninterrupted series of vouchers from the beginning to the present day. We have therefore all the external evidence of the truth of the gospel, which the nature of the case will admit. The miracles of Christ and his disciples, as far as we have evidence that such miracles were performed, are to us as good proofs of the divinity of the gospel, as they were to those who saw them. And we have much fuller historical evidence of their reality, than we have of almost any other facts equally ancient.
In addition to this, we have evidence of the truth of the gospel from its propagation and continuance in the world. For it did not prevail by fraud, or by force, as impostures have always done; but by the testimony of a number of sensible, but artless men to plain facts to which they constantly appeal as proofs of their masters divine authority, and which, if they never existed, could easily have been disproved. It is manifest, then, that a divine power has been employed in the support and spread of the gospel; and we are sure, this power would never have accompanied a wicked and dangerous fraud.
We have farther evidence from the accomplishment of many predictions contained in the gospel. Whoever attentively reads some of the prophecies of the New Testament, and compares them with events recorded in history, will see such a córrespondence between them, as cannot be accounted for, but upon the supposition, that the latter were providential fulfilments of the former.
The purity and benevolence of the gospel, the sublimity of its doctrines, the grandeur of its scheme, its tendency to render men virtuous and happy, and its useful effects, wherever its genuine influence prevails, afford still farther demonstration of its truth. The plan of it is too great for the invention of man, and the design of it too holy and benevolent for the fabrication of wicked and malicious spirits.
When the gospel comes to men with such strong and various evidence, and declares to them matters of such high and lasting importance, their unbelief and inattention must be a sin, which nothing can equal, and for which no excuse can be made. And hence we may conclude, that, whatever may be the condition of heathens, for these enlightened infidels there is no hope in the future world, unless they repent and embrace the truth in this. Repentance on