« PoprzedniaDalej »
saved from a great apostasy, will feel bis soul deeply moved, and will utter corresponding confession, supplication, and praise. "God be merciful to me a sinner!” “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sins." "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song into my mouth, even praise unto our God." While the man who views himself as having possessed a measure of holiness before, and as having that holiness simply increased by visitations from above, will give utterance to a different strain. "God, I thank thee that Í am not as other men are. .. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." Which of these two men manifest feelings most in accordance with the Bible, you will judge, which is most commended by our Saviour.' I adduce them as examples to illustrate the connection of religious doctrines, and to show how the denial of one leads to the denial of others, or to such modification of them as altogether changes their character.
It follows, moreover, from the denial of human depravity, in the sense mentioned, that there is, and can be, no radical essential distinction between good and bad men. The Bible everywhere sup: poses such distinction. It denominates then respectively, saints and sinners, righteous and wicked, believers and unbelievers, penitent and impenitent, those that fear God and those that fear him nol, those who walk the narrow path that leadeth unto life, and those who travel the broad way that leadeth unto death. But, the doctrine of depravity denied, there is no just foundation for these representations. Sinners have a measure of holiness. And saints, alas! have yet a measure of sin. The difference, therefore, consists only in degree. And who shall decide what degrees of difference shall place those between whom they exist in different classes ? Shall ten degrees of holiness render their possessor a good man, and the possessor of nine degrees be placed among the bad? Shall the former enter through the gates into the eternal city, and the latter be shut out from its pure abodes? On what principle shall the judgment be conducted, 'if this view of the case be admitted? Where shall the line be drawn? But further, does not the Bible promise that the least measure of true grace shall increase and unfold into eternal life? that Israel's great Restorer "shall not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, till he send forth judgment unto victory?" And how shali this be accounted for, except on the supposition that good men have a character which differs in kind from that of bad men ? that they have a measure of holiness, exerting a prevailing influence over their hearts and lives, while others have no holiness at all! There is no other rational solution of the matter but this. The doctrine of human depravity, then, humiliating though it be, yet, lying at the foundation of the Christian system-being, in fact, the very occasion in view of which the whole plan of redemption was devised, and without which that plan had not been needed—cannot be denied, or even modified, without sending disorder through the whole circle of subjects with which it is connected. This doctrine, therefore, must stand, or the whole Christian system is entirely changed in its character; becomes, indeed, a measure for which there was no occasion, and for which there is now no use. The gospel was given to "save the lost.” If men are not "lost," the salvation proffered is not needed, and the system which proposes it crumbles into ruins.
VII. See the same thing illustrated in reference to another doctrine,--that of the supreme divinity of Jesus Christ. Christ is "the Saviour of the world.” But who is Christ? Is he placed among
created natures ? or does he possess a nature that is uncreated ? The views which we entertain of his character, must necessary modify our views of the whole work of mediation which he performs of the whole system of grace which he administers. Deny, then, his divinity. Make him a mere man, or a mere creature of any grade. What will follow ?
It will follow, in the first place, that the love of God in giving him to be our Saviour is greatly diminished. We now read, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!" But if Christ is a mere man,
mere creature, there would seem not to be occasion for these expressions of wonder. The love is not so amazing after all. God so loved the world, that he gave—Moses, gave John, gave Paul, for it! If Christ is but a mere creature like us, here is the measure of the love. It is when we make Christ the Father's EQUAL, sharing with him in his glory before the world was—it is then, that we WONDER AT THE LOVE WHICII GAVE HIM TO BE OUR SAVIOUR.
Deny Christ his divinity, and it follows, in the second place, that the glory of his works is greatly diminished. We cannot, of course ascribe to him works above what the attributes he possesses will enable him to perform. If he is a mere creature, then he is no longer the Creator of the universe, nor its Sustainer, and is not to be honored as such. All the passages of Scripture, therefore, which declare that "by him were all things created," and that he "upholdeth all things by the word of his power;" and all which teach that “men should honor the Son even as they did the Father; are swept away at a stroke, or reduced in their meaning infinitely from their obvious import. If Christ be not divine, then must all these ascriptions be withheld from him, and the teachings of the sacred Record be mutilated into a conformity with the low views entertained of his character.
Equally derogatory is such denial, to the work of Christ as a Saviour. If Christ be not divine, then there can be no atonement for the sins of men effected by his sufferings and death. One creature, however exalted, can never make atonement for the sins of another creature. All that he can render, is due to God on his own account. If Christ is a mere creature, therefore, no benefit can flow from him to the world in this respect. If men are ever saved, they must be saved without the shedding of atoning blood. They must be saved by their own works on the ground of their own worthiness before God, or through mercy irrespective of an atoning Mediator. And this changes the whole ground of obligation, and the whole song of heaven. No more is it to be said of Christians below, that they are “ redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.” . And no more is it to be sung above, “ Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” No man would speak of being redeemed by the blood of Moses, the blood of John, the blood of Paul; nor of being washed from his sins in their blood. Nor can we reasonably speak thus of the blood of Christ, if he be but a creature. No more can the herald of the cross point to him, and exclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world!" No more can he lift his eye and his hand upward toward him in his glory, and say, "Who is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” These, and all similar passages of the Bible, are to be set aside, or deprived of the truth" they contain, the moment Christ is denied his divine and glorious character.
Another consequence of such denial is, Christ can no more be their portion in eternity. No creature is worthy of such confidence. “Cursed be he," says the prophet, “who trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from Jehovah." All those passages of the inspired oracles, therefore, which invite the living and the dying to trust in Christ for salvation, and which promise that the heaven of believers shall consist much in the presence of Christ, must be struck from their places and cast away; or, at least, be subjected to frittering interpretations which amount to essentially the same thing. If Christ is a mere creature, he can perform only the works of a creature. In this world, and in heaven, he is but a frail being, having no overflowing grace for others, but needing himself to be sustained by the unseen arm.
In a word, a denial of the divinity of Jesus Christ, carried out in its appropriate influence on other doctrines, changes, radically and entirely, the whole system of Christianity. The extraordinary character of Christ, of course, is discarded. The extraordinary foundation for hope, laid in his blood, is done away. The assistance which he proffers, in a life and in death, is no longer to be relied on. Heaven is no longer to receive its light from his presence. And what is there left which we may speak of as Christianity, in distinction from mere natural religion? All the bright glories of the Gospel, the wonder of the universe, beaming from the sacred page, and all the warm gushing sympathies of heaven towards a lost
race, there disclosed, vanish in an instant, and we are left to the chill of a few moral precepts uttered by a creature, commissioned indeed for that purpose, to his fellow creatures. A teacher Christ may still be. But he is no longer a SAVIOUR. He is no longer the Hope of the world, and the Joy of the world to come. All this follows from denying him his divine and glorious character. Tear away this foundation, and the whole system of Christianity disappears along with it, and is seen no more.
VIII. An illustration of the same general principles may be seen in respect to the doctrine of the Spirit's influence in the salvation of man. The Bible teaches the necessity of that influence. “Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." The state in which the gospel finds man, lays the foundation for this necessity. It finds him dead in trespasses and sins;" "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him ;" with the moral tendencies of his nature downward, and not upward. In the moral dispositions of man, while in a state of sin, there is no motion towards God, but all from him. The heart of man, therefore, will never be awakened to move in a right direction, except through the influence of the Holy Ghost. It it included in the doctrine of the Spirit also, that God is a sovereign in the dispensation of his favors of this description. There is a sense, indeed, in which the world is full of the Spirit, as of the air we breathe. But there is another sense in which the Spirit is given, or withheld, at different times, and in respect to different individuals and communities. So we are expressly assured. "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.' Even this, however, is not such sovereignty as to exclude human responsibility in this most weighty matter. They who are left of God, are left for their sin. "Because they do not like to retain God in their knowledge, therefore do they eat of the fruit of their own way, and are filled with their own devices.”
Now let this doctrine of the Spirit be denied. Let it be asserted that man has tendencies in himself toward God, and that he can become holy, and gain heaven, without the Spirit's influence. Will the adoption of this sentiment produce no injurious effect on the other doctrines of religion? If man can gain heaven in his own strength, or imagines he can do it, will he not lightly esteem the heavenly Helper? If he fancies that the Spirit's agency is not necessary to its conversion, but that he has the event within his own power, will he not be likely to tread in the paths of presumption, unmindful of the dangers of resisting the merciful Agent, in whom, in fact, is all his hope ? Manifestly the whole doctrine of the Spirit's agency will be deemed of very small consequence by him who feels that he is sufficient of himself for the purposes of his salvation. The mercy which bestowed the Spirit, and made his agency a part of the economy of the gospel, will be underval. ued. The genuine fruits of the Spirit's influence will be but little appreciated. If we might suppose them to be possessed, the possessor would thank himself for them, and not the grace of God. The warnings against resistance of the Spirit, will be deemed but trifles. The whole aspect of the gospel, indeed, as a dispensation of the Spirit,—this richest feature in it to a dying world, this crowning glory of the system,—will all be sunk, and lost. Such is the devastation which will flow from the rejection of the single doctrine of man's dependence on the Spirit for eternal life. The contagion spreads. The whole circle of doctrines pertaining to the Holy Ghost, and his gracious influences in the salvation of men, is tarnished, is dishonored, is virtually discarded. And can the Christian system otherwise than become "another gospel," after such a. change as this? How dangerous is one step in error. It prepares the way for another, and another. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." "Their word will eat as doth a canker."
Suppose the true doctrine of the Spirit's influence be invaded in another respect. Suppose it be asserted that the Spirit's work consists in giving man spiritual life, without any concern or agency of his own; that man is a mere machine, and has it not in his power to do otherwise than he does. What will follow legitimately from this position? In the first place, it will follow; that man, destitute of religion though he is, and whatever enormities he may practise, is yet the subject of no blame. Moral responsibility does not, and cannot, attach to him. In the second place it will follow, that God is chargeable with all the wrong there is in the universe. He has constructed different orders of mere machines, and set them in motion, and they cannot go otherwise than according to the impulse he has given them. If they go wrong, the wrong belongs to the prime and irresistible Mover. In the third place, it will follow, that God is very unreasonable and unjust in condemning any of his creatures. What could be more unreasonable, or unjust
, than to condemn them, when, from the very constitution he has given them, they could not do otherwise than they have done? All this follows legitimately from so viewing the Spirit's work as to exclude the agency of man. How different from the teachings of the Bible on this subject. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." See the connexion of religious doctrines. When you destroy one, how the derangement spreads, and draws others in its train.
The same thing might be illustrated in reference to every fundamental doctrine of the Christian system.
And often doctrines of less note, and which seem little more than accidental, by being wrongly viewed, introduce great disorder. It was a sentiment of some ancient philosophers, and introduced somewhat into the early church, that matter is intrinsically evil, and the seat and origin of all the evil that exists. From this arose an un