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The Jews, who rebelled against God in the wilderness, were destroyed by various judgments, because of their unbelief. They saw the mighty works, which God wrought for their salvation; but they sinned against him, tempted him in their hearts, and provoked him by their disobedience; and therefore it is said, “They believed not in God, nor trusted in his salvation."
We wonder, perhaps, at those, who heard the gospel from the mouth of Jesus and his apostles, and yet treated it as a fiction and imposture. It is said, that Jesus himself marvelled, because of their unbelief.
They, however, are not the only unbelievers. The gospel, which Christ and his apostles preached, is transmitted to our age.--Have we received it ? It cannot be said, we have all obeyed it. There are many who live in the allowed practice of the sins, which this manifestly condemns. They are unjust and oppressive to their neighbours; vain and impious in their language; wild and extravagant in their diversions ; intemperate and irregular in their indulgences. Do they believe the report, that because of these things the wrath of God is coming on the children of disobedience ?
Many are under a spirit of slumber. They have eyes, but see not; ears have they, but they hear not, neither do they understand. They feel no solicitude about their eternal salvation ; no concern to understand the terms of it, or to ascertain their interest in it. They do not even profess the gospel, or attend with constancy on its institutions. Do they believe that there is before them an eternal state of retribution ?-Do they believe that by the law of God they are condemned already, and that only the divine patience suspends the execution of the sentence which is gone forth against them ?Do they believe that Jesus the Son of God came
down from heaven to call them to repentance, and that on this repentance their eternal happiness depends ?-What? believe these things, and yet neg. lect the means of their salvation ? neglect prayer, selfexamination and attendance on divine worship? What inconsistency is here !
There are some who attend on the external forms of religion, and yet practically renounce it. They come before God as his people, and hear his words; but they will not do them. The interests of the world are supreme in their thoughts. They are cumbered about these things; but the one thing, which is needful, finds no place in their hearts. They have been warned that many, like them, will stand before the Judge at the last day, and plead, Lord, Lord, we have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets; but he will say, I know you not; depart from me ye workers of iniquity.” Do they believe this report?
There are some, who pay little regard to the power of Godliness. They believe, in general that there is such a thing as religion; but have very partial and superficial conceptions of it. They keep, or seem to keep some of the commandments. They cannot be charged with any of the
of the gross violations of the rules of godliness, sobriety, truth and righteousness; and they hope they shall stand approved. Do they believe that God looks on the heart, and requires truth in the inward parts ?-Do they believe that love to God, faith in the Mediator, and benevolence to mankind are essential to religion ?Do not doctrines of this kind seem like idle reports ?
If, besides speculative infidels, all who carelessly neglect divine ordinances, all who are ignorant of, and uninfluenced by divine truths, all who live unconcerned about, and inattentive to their eternal salvation, all who regard the interests of the world in preference to heaven and future happiness, if all
these are found in the list of unbelievers, may not the old complaint be renewed, “Who hath believ . ed our report ?”
If the report, which is sent among us, is so im. portant and interesting, so rational and credible, as has been represented, Whence is it, that so many disregard it? Is it because they have not capacity to understand its design, or to examine its evi. dence? They have reason sufficient for their worldly purposes. They are wise for their temporal in. terest. But there is in them an evil heart of unbe. lief. Our Saviour says, “ This is the condemna. tion, that light has come into the world, but they have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil ; for every one, that doth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh he to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
By way of improvement then, 1. Let us reflect on the great guilt of unbeliev. ers in a gospel land, and the awful condemnation, to which they stand exposed.
When we view, with serious attention, the plan of the gospel, it appears to be perfectly adapted to our real necessities, and fully to correspond with our reasonable wishes. Herein God has abounded to us in all wisdom and prudence. Here is a sure foundation laid to support our hope, clear and complete evidence given to gain our faith, the most powerful arguments used to command our consent, and the most suitable assistances offered to animate our resolution. They who perish under these ad. vantages, must impute to themselves their own destruction.
If sin by the commandment becomes exceedingly sinful, by the gospel it becomes exceedingly
If they who despised the law of Moses, died without mercy, how severe will be the punishment of those who trample on the grace
Christ. We lament the unhappy condition of the heathens, who have not heard the report of the
gospel : But how much more deplorable will be the condition of those who have heard, and will not believe? We are they to whom this report has come. It will not pass by us with indifference, and leave us as it found us. If we will not receive it, or will not be influenced by it; if we reject it, as if it were not true, or disregard it, as if it were not important, it will, beyond all conception, aggravate our present guilt, and augment our future punishment. The time is just at hand, when mortals will know what is the issue and result of the gospel with respect to them.
them. It will be a savour of life, or of death. O, hear, that your souls may live. Know in this your day, the things which belong to your peace, before they are hidden from your eyes.
2. If there are many who hear the report of the gospel, and yet believe it not, each one should be solicitous for himself.
We are warned that many will be lost. Let us not be high minded, but fear. “ Enter in at the strait gate,” says our Lord, “ for wide is the gate and broad is the way, which leads to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. . Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leads to life, and few there are who find it.” The apostle to the Hebrews
urges the same argument. God pronounced concerning the generation which came out of Egypt, that, because of their unbelief, they should not enter into his rest. “ Let us therefore fear,” says the apostle, “ lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of us should seem to come short of it."
When Christ said to his disciples, shall betray me ;” struck with a general astonishment, they felt a solemn anxiety, each one for him. self. They said to him, one and all, “Lord, is it VOL. II.
“ One of you
I ?”—“Lord, is it I ?”—Even Judas joined in the enquiry. It was a just concern. How much greater reason have we to be solicitous for ourselves, when we are often warned, that, of the many who are called, few are chosen ?
We believe, in general, that many will perish from among those who enjoy the gospel. We allow that their doom will be awful. But we flatter ourselves, that we shall escape it. Let us enquire, what is the ground of our hope.
Do we think, that the temper of the gospel is formed in us, and that our title to heaven is already secured ? Happy indeed are we, if this is our state and character. But in a matter of such consequence, let us proceed cautiously and hope humbly. Peter, when his Lord asked him, “Lovest thou me?" answered boldly. “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” But Jesus renewed the question ; and, on receiving the same answer, repeated the question again. He has taught us, that we should not be too hasty in our conclusions, or too confident in our hopes. The gospel instructs us, that we must examine ourselves, whether we are in the faith, that we must prove our own selves, that we must give diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end.
Let us examine the foundation of our hope. Does it rest wholly on the gracious promise of God in Je. sus Christ? If our hope leans on any other support, it must fall. Guilty creatures have no ground but this, on which they can stand.
Let us examine whether we have complied with the terms of the promise. Have we been careful to understand them? Do we feel our hearts consenting to them ? Do we find that hatred of sin ; that tenderness of conscience ; that watchfulness against temptations; that delight in duty ; and that steady concern to approve ourselves to God, which are the fruits of gospel faith and repentance ?