« PoprzedniaDalej »
nor can this be any surprise to a considering man, who daily sees the same truth confirmed: this point enlarged on. Leaving then these curious inquiries, let us be content that God should be wiser than man; considering that, although he has concealed from us the secrets of his wisdom, he has manifested his love towards us, and that his mercy shines forth unclouded in every page of the gospel. These advantages so correspond to the sentiments of nature within us, that it is strange to find the pretensions of nature opposed to the Christian revelation : this point enlarged on to the end.
I TIMOTHY, CHAP. 1.-VERSE 15.
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ
Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
THESE words contain the great charter of the Christian church, and are the title by which we claim all the benefits and promises of the gospel. If you inquire on what pretence we proclaim the peace of God to mankind, on whạt confidence we offer pardon to sinners, who according to the terms of natural justice are • vessels of wrath fitted for destruction ;' we answer in the words of the text, “That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners :' and that in his name we preach salvation, and peace, and pardon to offenders.
This is the doctrine which, together with the principles on which it is founded, and the consequences naturally flowing from it, distinguishes the Christian religion from all other religions whatever. The hopes peculiar to believers are built on this great article ; and whatever advantages and favors we pretend to under the gospel, more than can be claimed on the terms of justice and natural religion, are to be ascribed to this only, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.'
Whoever therefore rejects this article, he does indeed reject the Christian religion : I mean not that such a one must necessarily reject all the religion contained in the books of the gospel ; for the moral duties of the gospel are the very duties of natural religion, improved and carried into perfection; and the man who receives not Christ for his Saviour and Redeemer, may yet' receive the doctrines of morality, as taught and explained by him, because he finds them agreeable to the light of his own reason and understanding.
The difference then between a true Deist and the Christian arises from the doctrine contained in the text. They both equally believe the being and providence of God; and the obligations of morality are equally admitted on both sides. The necessity of a virtuous life, in obedience to these obligations, is no matter of dispute: at least there is no reason why it should be matter of dispute between them. The Deist has no room to doubt in this case; for he has no other hope than in his obedience, which of necessity therefore must be so perfect as to render him acceptable in the sight of his equitable Judge: and if the Christian builds so far on other hopes as to neglect the weighty matters of the law, he deceives himself, and abuses the gospel of his Saviour.
But then in other respects they differ widely : the Deist reckons himself and the rest of mankind to be in that state of nature in which God created them, and therefore capable of obtaining, by the present powers of nature, the end designed by God for man.
In consequence of this, as he owns the duty of obeying God, so in right of his obedience he claims his favor and protection. The Christian is persuaded that man has fallen from the state of innocence in which he was created ; that being a sinner, he has no claim on God by his obedience, but stands in need of pardon; and that being now weak, through sin, he stands in need of grace and assistance to enable him to perform the conditions on which the pardon of God is offered : and he believes that God has indeed pardoned mankind, and granted them reconciliation, being thereunto moved by the obedience and sufferings of his Son Christ Jesus ; and that he hath promised, and will surely give his grace and assistance to all true believers in Christ, to enable them to perform the conditions of his pardon.
What the Christian thus believes, the gospel plainly teaches : and these are the great points to be made good; and they are briefly comprehended in the words of the text, “That Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.'
To illustrate and confirm this proposition, it will be proper to show,
First, what reason we have to believe that men were sinners, and stood in need of pardon and salvation.
Secondly, by what means Christ perfected their redemption and salvation.
The first question is, what reason have we to believe that men were sinners, and stood in need of pardon ?
It is a saying of St. Austin's, Si non periisset homo, non venisset Christus ; * If man had not fallen, Christ had not come:' and our Lord speaks to the same sense when he tells us,
• The son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost:' and his answer to those who reproached him with conversing with publicans and sinners stands on the same ground:
They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.' Had man continued in innocence, the religion of nature would have answered all the ends of his creation; he wanted no redeemer in his natural state; for it would be absurd to suppose that Christ came to redeem man from the state and condition in which God made him. After the works of the creation were finished, God liked them all, and saw every thing that he had made;
and behold it was very good :' in this state therefore nothing was wanting to the perfection of the creature : God was pleased with all his works, and with man especially, to whom he gave dominion over the rest of the world. In this state therefore there was no want of a reconciler between God and man; nor would there ever have been any such want, had this happy state continued.
That innocence and virtue shall be rewarded, guilt and iniquity punished, is no more than what natural sense and reason have always taught the considering part of mankind: for the voice of reason and of the law are in this respect the
same, • This do, and thou shalt live.' And though man is altered and changed, yet the nature of things is still the same; and he is no ill reasoner, who, from the abstracted consideration of virtue and vicé, concludes that virtue has a just title to reward, and vice deserves punishment: and it is no wonder that they who argue on these general views only, should imagine that moral virtue may
still exalt a man to all the degrees of happiness that his nature is capable of.
In the celebrated question concerning the merit of good works, there has arose much confusion, for want of distinguishing between good works, simply and in their own nature considered, and considered as done or performed by the sons of men.
The first is a single question: whether virtue in its own nature has a title to reward ? And who will deny it? For as sure as God is just, as sure as there is a difference between good and evil, he will, he must reward the one, and punish the other. But when you ask, whether the good works of men deserve and merit reward ? you strangely alter the state of the question ; for here not only the nature of good works, but the nature and condition of man must be considered too. If he has already concluded himself, if sentence is gone out against him, and his case be irretrievable, your question must be impertinent; because you ask, whether he who is already under condemnation for his evil works, may be rewarded for his good works?
Put the case, that a man ten years ago committed a secret and barbarous murder : that since he has lived in an unblameable submission and obedience to the government; ask then the question, whether submission and obedience to the government have a right and title to protection and defence in life and fortune ? Every man will answer, yes. But ask again, whether this man's obedience and submission have the same right and title ? Every man will answer, no: because the villany committed long since puts him out of protection of the government, and justice is still indebted to him for the horrid fact ; and whenever it meets him, will execute on him wrath and vengeance.
I intend not to press this instance to a parallel with our case : but thus much at least it shows, that virtue and morality may, in their own nature, and in themselves considered, deserve reward from a just and righteous Being ; and yet the virtue and morality of man may not deserve it. And this is the parting point between the patrons of natural and revealed religion; the not considering which has made some imagine that, whilst we defend the authority of revelation, we give up the principles of reason and nature. Is there not, say they, an essential difference between virtue and vice? True, there is. Is not justice the attribute of God ? and must not a just God reward virtue and punish vice? True still. Is not this then, say they, a suf