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Now, it should be observed, that the original term here rendered “Labour," is precisely the same which occurs in the subsequent inquiry, “What shall we do that we may work,” or LABOUR “the works of God?” The auditors of Obrist thus appear to have seized with something like avidity, on the word “labour” or “work," as if they deemed it favourable to their own views respecting the nature and requirements of religion. What those views were, we all very well know. The Pharisees con- . ceived, that nothing more was necessary to obtain the divine favour, than a strict observance of the Levitical institutions, conjoined with such a conformity to the moral law, as fallen man is capable of rendering. Hence the language in which the young ruler addressed the Messiah: “ Good master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
Human nature is essentially the same in every age, The erroneous apprehensions entertained by the Jews eighteen hundred years ago, in respect to the proper mode of securing the approbation of Deity, are virtually embraced by not a few in our own day. Nothing is more common than to hear men talk as if they deemed religion a work which might be performed at any time, and with comparatively little effort. They do not, indeed, agree with the Pharisees of old, in looking upon forms and ceremonies as of much moment. On the contrary, they are entirely at issue with them in regard to this matter. They are far from thinking it necessary to fast twice in the week, and to give tithes of all that they possess. Nor are they so sanctimonious as to stop at the corners of the public streets, and engage in devotional exercises. But they are thoroughly persuaded, that if they only lead an upright and a temperate life, and cultivate benevolent feelings towards all around them, they cannot fail of
attaining happiness beyond the grave. While they admit that the morality inculcated in the New Testament is of a lofty and an attractive kind—fitted to promote the best interests of man, both as an individual and as a social being—while they grant all this, they must confess that they are at an utter loss to discern, why it is that so much importance is attached to a certain vague, and, as it would seem to them, involuntary act of the mind called faith. In other words, they do not relish the principles of the Christian economy, so far as such principles are not to be identified with bare ethical precepts. They go to church; but then they have no taste for dry theological discussions like those which are ever and anon delivered from our orthodox pulpits. They like to hear what they are pleased to style, “ a good moral discourse.” They are decidedly of the opinion, that no sort of preaching is so well calculated to benefit an audience, as that in which little or nothing is said about doctrines, and much stress is laid upon practice. For their parts, they think the often-quoted maxim of the poet an excellent one
"For modes of faith let senseless zealots fight;
His can't be wrong, whose life is in the right.” Brethren, there is nothing more uniformly characteristic of what the New Testament denominates the “ carnal mind,” than a disposition to rely on mere moral virtues as a sufficient ground of salvation. Fallen man, in his unrenewed state, is obstinately wedded to the notion, that he is competent to save himself. The experience of every Christian can point him to a period in his history, when, whatever may have been his theoretical views, he felt the practical influence of such a notion on his heart and conduct. Thus it was with the apostle Paul. He tells us, that, prior to his conversion, he was, as he expresses it, “ alive without the law.” He thought that he was then
living in all good conscience before God." He plamed bimself not a little on certain advantages, to which many others could lay no claim. He was “circumcised the eighth day;" had descended from the stock of Israel;": was of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” But so soon as his soul was brought under the power of divine grace, the things which had previously been gain to him, he counted loss. Yes, and all his hopes of heaven thenceforth rested on the merits of his Redeemer, which he appropriated to himself in the exercise of faith.
We may therefore venture to affirm, that the natural corruption of the human heart, is the real source of that disrelish for the peculiar doctrines of the gospel to which we have alluded. The simple fact, that “the carnal mind is enmity against God,” abundantly explains the aversion so generally manifested to pure, evangelical truth-an aversion which pervades all orders of society, but exerts a stronger sway in the circles of literature and in the ranks of fashion. The grand excellence of the Christian system consists in its tendency to bumble the pride of man, by teaching him his utter inability to render suitable obedience to his Maker's will, and thus leading him to a meek and an implicit confidence in the divine Mediator. A revolution, at once radical and entire, must therefore be effected in all his views, and feel. ings, and habits, before he can contemplate this system with any other emotions than those of dislike and positive opposition. Hence it is that the minister of the gospel, who commands the respectful attention and cordial assent of all his hearers, so long as he expatiates on the beauty and advantages of virtue, and denounces those vices
which militate against the dignity of man, the happiness of families, and the general good of society-has the mortification to discover, that, no sooner does he rise above the province of a mere lecturer on moral science, and bring into distinct and prominent view the topics which distinguish the religion of the New Testament from a well-fabricated scheme of ethics, than his addresses, however sensible, and sound, and fervent, are accounted, by some at least of his audience, enthusiastic and comparatively unprofitable. They consider faith as a useless theme; and simply because theirs are hearts “ deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”
The answer of our Lord to the question of the Jews, exhibits, in one short sentence, an elementary view of evangelical religion: “ This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Of a similar pur.
: port is the language of John in his first general Epistle : “And this is his (God's] commandment, that ye believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” Many are the passages of the New Testament, in which faith is enjoined as the one great and paramount duty which Jehovah requires of man. When the jailer of Philippi exclaimed, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” the reply of Paul and Silas was, “ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
We have already intimated, that it is the doctrine of salvation entirely by faith, which renders the gospel so unacceptable to the majority of those to whom it is preached. Against this doctrine, which constitutes the grand peculiarity of the Christian system, philosophy has opened all its batteries-wit bas exhausted all its resources of ridicule and satire. The sage politician, too, has gravely told us, how much the cause of morality is injured, and the welfare of society jeoparded, by the in:
culcation of a tenet which represents the mere 'metaphysical act of believing, as sufficient to insure the future and eternal felicity of man. To the general adoption of such a tenet, some writers wise in their own conceit, have referred many of the disorders which have prevailed in communities, while it is a fact, in support of which we may appeal to the unerring testimony of history, that a higher standard of virtue, and a greater measure of tem. poral happiness, have always obtained in proportion as the very doctrine in question has acquired an ascendency over the minds of men. Tell us of any order of individuals, who, with all their extravagance and all their absurdities, achieved so real and noble a victory over the dominion of evil habits, and the contagion of vicious examples, as the memorable Puritans. And to what did they owe such victory-a triumph more splendid than the rout of armies, or the capture of cities? We answer witbout hesitancy, that they owed it to their practical conviction of the great truth inculcated in our text, that, 6 the work of God," is to believe on bim whom he hath sent."
We may here remark, that they who dislike this leading principle of the gospel, are wholly incompetent to decide upon its merits, because they bring to the investigation of the subject, minds obscured and perverted by ignorance and prejudice. They have not experienced the benign effects of faith, in their own hearts and on their own conduct; and, therefore, the views which they have formed in respect to the nature of this evangelical duty, are essentially erroneous. Who does not see, that under such circumstances, they are no more entitled to pronounce the Christian system fanatical and absurd, than the individual who is unacquainted with mathematical science, would have a right to reject the Newtonian theory of the universe as unfounded and preposteroas.