« 前へ次へ »
of, so well deserves to be contended for, because on the purity and firmness of this faith all our title to forgiveness of sins, to peace with God, and to the eternal enjoyment of him and heaven, is founded. This is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.' By this our affections are raised from things on earth,' from the vain and vexatious things which are under the sun; and placed on things above, on rivers of pleasure,' and on that glory which shall be revealed,' when we shall be able to comprehend, and fit to receive it. If the things above so infinitely surpass those below, it must be our highest wisdom and our greatest happiness, 'to walk by faith, and not by sight; to look, not at the temporal things which are seen but through the eye of faith at the eternal, which are not seen.'
But that we through the eye of faith may have the clearer view of the happiness and glory promised, and that we may walk more steadily, or run more swiftly towards them, it is requisite this eye should itself be clear and sharp, not dazzled by any fundamental errors, nor darkened by the interposition of this world between it and the light of God's word. It is on this account, but not on this alone, that we are so earnestly called on by the Holy Spirit to watch against those errors, as distempers of the eye itself, and against the world as too apt to eclipse that eye by coming between the sun of righteousness and the soul. There is, I say, another reason for the earnestness of this call.
We have an enemy, incessantly employed to pervert our faith, and turn our whole attention, through our senses, our appetites, and our passions, on the things of this present world. To work us to one or other of these ends, or perhaps both, he employs such arts and instruments as it is very difficult to guard against.
As the points to be believed, whether in regard to the past or future, are, in a great measure, mysterious, incomprehensible, and wonderful, he applies to our reason, or rather to the pride we take in a supposed superiority of our reason, to persuade us, that men of understandings so uncommonly refined and delicate, ought not to submit to the belief of facts, contrary to the course of nature, or of doctrines, above the comprehension of the most elevated thinkers; and by this artifice, so extremely fit to flatter our vanity, tries to fill us with a contempt for the whole of our faith in revelation.
If through the assistance of Almighty God, and our own humble reflections on the narrowness of our understandings, which cannot possibly comprehend either God, or his unsearchable ways, we escape this snare, and still think it but reasonable to believe some things, for which we cannot account, on the testimony of him who is truth itself, and will not deceive us; his next attempt, is to corrupt that faith in our minds, which he cannot totally destroy. And here also he pleads with our vanity, that if we will not entirely relinquish the word of God, we ought not at least to swallow in the lump all the constructions put on it by men who pretend to the sole right of interpretation.
On this rational foundation he builds another principle, more plausible than true, that in matters so mysterious as some articles of faith are acknowledged to be, no particular construction can be necessary, and therefore, as to such articles, different men may safely hold different or opposite opinions. This once admitted, the believer grown bold with the word of God, as if God could not, or would not, make himself intelligible on any subject he thought proper to reveal, gives himself an unbounded liberty of interpretation, even on points of the greatest consequence.
Thus, under the pretence of interpreting for themselves, some among us wrest the Scriptures to a sense agreeable to their own prejudices, but directly opposite to the express and manifest meaning of the Holy Spirit. For instance, we meet with numbers every day, who in conversation, through the press, and even from the pulpit, endeavour to prove by Scripture, that we ought to worship more gods than one; that Christ did not suffer for the sins of men ; that the grace of God is but a mere invention of the learned ; and that the torments of hell will not be eternal, either in respect to the devils, or the souls of wicked men.
But in case the enemy fails in this attempt also, and we cannot be prevailed with so grossly to abuse our own understandings, or impudently to put what constructions we please on the word of God; his last art of this kind is then employed to turn aside our attention from the object of faith ; from God, from beaven, and consequently from the
exercise of meditation, devotion, and religious vigilance, to the pleasures of the flesh, to the profits and pomps of this world, and consequently to such a scheme of life as is fitted to the pursuit of these alone. By this means that faith which can neither be wholly overthrown, nor in part corrupted, may be rendered absolutely useles ; and this will serve the purposes of our enemy more fully than absolute infidelity could do, because it is worse to act against faith and conviction than not to believe at all.
Besides these, the enemy hath another method of attack, whereby he gives a deeper wound to our faith, than by those, and at the same time greatly promotes these artful drifts in the minds of men. He knows, it is not vanity alone that makes men wish to have no other governors, but themselves. He knows, we have sensual desires, and furious passions, extremely impatient of restraint. To these he offers liberty, but under a mask of reason, as to men who think themselyes more rational than all other men. Why,' whispers he, to a dissolute heart, 'will you believe that God could have forbidden you a full enjoyment of those sensible pleasures, which he hath fitted the world to yield you, and you to receive? How can you suppose he hath planted a tree so beautiful, with fruit so fair and inviting, just before you, for no other purpose but to try your obedience, in case he shall forbid you to touch it? Can God forbid by religion, what he invites you to by nature? But farther, are you not a free being? Is not your nature ennobled with moral dispositions, with a love for virtue on account of its own beauty, and an abhorrence of vice on account of its own deformity? As this is the case, surely it is altogether slavish in you to submit to, and arbitrary in your master to impose on you a set of duties, wholly mercenary, as those must be, which are to be rewarded, if performed, with endless happiness. Is it the property of a free being to stand in fear of extreme misery, for every transgression ? Is that virtue, which is performed through hope of reward, or dread of punishment? of endless punishment, to be inflicted for the temporary lapses of a weak nature ? If you consult your reason, and every thing else within you, that hath any sense of feeling, you cannot imagine an indulgent God could ever lay on you so severe a law, a law, too tyrannical to be obeyed by a free, and accompanied by a history of facts, too extraordinary, and requiring faith in mysteries, too incredible to be believed by a rational-being. Be not afraid to think freely, and then you will not fear to act as freely, for what is the use of thought, but to direct the will? Or of the will, but to resolve what shall be done?'
Here are the very 'depths of Satan.' Here is the doctrine, which his instruments print and preach up in all places to (the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,' who greedily listen to them with every desire of a corrupt heart, and all the conviction of a wrong head, which will not stay to consider there are no distinctions made here between moderate enjoyments, which God permits, and such as are excessive, which he may possibly forbid as hurtful to human nature, and destructive of human happiness; no distinctions between that degree of liberty, which may be safely allowed to a bounded, nay to a corrupt and dissolute nature, and that licentiousness, which such a nature is by no means to be trusted with ; no regard had to the violence of our passions, which the natural love of virtue and abhorrence of vice are utterly unable even in the best minds, nay, which the hope of heaven and the fear of hell, added to those moral dispositions, cannot always restrain in any one mind; so far are they from laying too great a bias on the side of virtue. No, enjoyment without check, liberty without bounds, and natural morality, though so feeble in itself, without a future judgment, without rewards and punishments, are pleaded for; and therefore, because the corrective part of religion is not agreeable to a mind that is, or wishes to be, lawless, the doctrinal part must be false; for if a free being ought not to admit of confinement, neither ought a rational one ever to believe what he cannot account for. It is true, the neighbours of one, who holds these opinions know to their cost, that he ought to lie for ever in chains; but what is that to him ? He will not chain himself, nor suffer even his maker to do it, unless by force. He himself knows, he can neither perfectly comprehend nor account for any one thing in nature. And what then? Is he therefore to believe in God and Christianity, because they are both unaccountable to him? Does he not swallow the unaccountable in lower things because they tend to the gratification of his desires ?
But will it follow that he ought as readily to believe in God, when he orders a bridle for those desires ? This is a consequence he cannot digest. Would God be pleased to give this man a religion peculiar to him alone, and tell him, he had made it his duty to follow his own inclinations in all things, and to as great lengths as he pleased, to possess himself by fraud, or otherwise, of all the wealth he could lay his hands on, or to get drunk twice a day, or to make as free with every woman he met, as if she were his own wife, according to the particular turn of his mind; though I cannot help thinking, this would be the most incomprehensible of all religions, and that he himself, on some occasions, might think so too, yet we can hardly imagine he would make any objections to it, either on that account, or because it was imposed by way of command. No, he would say, God knows best what every one should do. not to examine the fitness of his dispensations, but to take it for granted, that every thing he prescribes is right, though never so irreconcilable to our notions of right and wrong. Thus, I verily believe, would Christianity be vindicated in all its miracles, mysteries, rewards, and punishments, by the generality of those who now object to it, could it, in any consistency with the purity of its principles, make one mystery more, and indulge their inclinations.
The arts of the enemy to destroy the faith, to prevent, or defeat the good ends it aims at, are seconded by others of a like nature, which his instruments employ in undermining all its most necessary articles. To stand right with the world, they make large professions of sincerity, warmly declare for an honest freedom and candour, in religious inquiries, and even call on God to attest the purity and disinterestedness of their intentions, nay, to assist them in their labours. And yet, if you hear or read them out, you will find, all they say is made up of artifice and sophistry, too gross to pass on people of any discernment, but well enough fitted to blind and mislead the ignorant or unsuspicious. When a conduct so full of low design and deceit is compared with their canting professions and hypocritical prayers, just now mentioned, the wretch, who is capable of being staggered in his faith by such detected impostors, must, we may conclude, have wished to be deceived, before