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salvation--a firm belief in his perfections and qualifications as a Savior—and a resolution to adhere to him as their Savior and LORD.
I. In this reply of the apostles is implied A CONVICTION OF THE INSUFFICIENCY OF ALL HUMAN MEANS FOR THE ATTAINMENT OF SALVATION. “LORD, to whom shall we go ?" Shall we apply to the Scribes and Pharisees ? Shall we inquire of the ceremonial or moral law ? Shall we submit to the decisions of reason ?
1. The Scribes and Pharisees, and other doctors of the law among the Jews, at that period, were blind, leaders of the blind. Their corruptions had darkened their minds, and thrown a veil over the sacred writings; so that the plainest prophecies were misunderstood, and the most important doctrines perverted by them. The "weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith,” were overlooked or contemned; while particular and proud attention was given to the trifling duties of paying tithes for “mint, anise, and cummin.” By their explications of the Holy Scriptures that which was plain became obscure ; that which was of the first importance became indifferent; that which spoke of spiritual glories was construed to mean worldly splendors: and even Messiah, the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer from Sin, the Conqueror of Death, was, through the strange perverseness of their minds, expected under the character of an earthly monarch, who, for the salvation of the Jews, should become the conqueror of all the nations of the earth. To these absurd sentiments was superadded a higher veneration for the traditions of men than for the oracles of God: as is evident from the declaration of our Savior, “ Ye have made the word of God of none effect by your traditions." Such being the character, and such the doctrines of the Jewish teachers, the apostles were convinced that from them no spiritual instruction could be derived.
2. Equally convinced were they that life and salvation could not be obtained from an observance of the ceremonial or moral law.
With respect to the former they knew that the tabernacle service was chiefly typical, and, under various representations, sha
dowed forth good things to come. They knew that the sacrifice of a beast could never be accepted by God, as a real atonement for iniquity; and, therefore, that being sprinkled with the blood of the victim, was neither to be cleansed from the impurity, nor freed from the guilt of sin. Nor did they dare to rely upon the moral law, for acceptance with God, and a right to eternal life. Even if they could not recollect that they had been guilty of any gross immorality; if they were conscious that they deserved the character of peaceable and good citizens; yet they knew that they were far from that perfection which the law demands that they were conceived in sin—that their hearts were by nature corrupt—and that God required truth in the inward parts. They heard Moses, as well as the Lord Jesus, declare “ Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind : This is the first great commandment : And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Here they could not but see their awful deficiency, and be terribly alarmed, when they heard the voice of eternal truth declare, " The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” The law, then, so far from promising life, denounces death ; so far from encouraging the hope of reward for our imperfect righteousness, for the imperfection of our righteousness threatens us with the wrath of God.
3. But could not reason have pointed out to them the path of life? The apostles do not hesitate on this subject. They are persuaded of the entire insufficiency of reason to effect this great end. They do not entertain the faintest hope that their reason, or the combined reason of mankind, is able, by all the light it can furnish, to conduct them to eternal felicity. And we are bold to maintain that this opinion is uniformly prevalent in those who have justly considered the immense importance of eternal things; who accurately appreciate their own powers; and who have enjoyed the common light of the Gospel.
Untaught by revelation, to what knowledge can we obtain respecting the salvation of a sinner ? Can human reason discover whether it is even possible for sin VOL. II.-6
to be pardoned, consistently with the truth and majesty of God, and with the good of the universe ? Before it can come to a certain determination on this profound and awful subject, it should clearly understand the nature and extent of moral evil : the relation subsisting between the different orders of intelligent beings; and how they are affected, if any one order sustain so great a change as sin must occasion.-Besides, it would require a high and comprehensive knowledge of the Deity in his nature and attributes. Now, can reason inform us what shock is communicated to the chain of intellectual being-what inroad is made upon the system of order-what degree of misery is introduced into the universe, when a world falls into sin ? Or, can it declare how such an event is viewed by the eternal mind ? Every one who weighs these questions, must be convinced that reason is entirely unable to determine even the possibility of salvation.
Besides, if the possibility were admitted or proved, who, from his own reason, or the reason of all men, would be able to point out the means by which so great a good as redemption from sin could be effected? What finite intellect can disclose how the breach upon the system of order could be fully repaired ? how all intelligences should understand that it is a terrible evil for the creature to break the laws of God? how the sanction of that law should be so enforced as to deter others from transgression ? how the divine justice could be satisfied ? and how God could maintain, without imputation, his essential character as a righteous Governor, who gives to every one his due ? In what way all these momentous objects can be accomplished, and yet the sinner be justified and restored to the divine favor, human reason might as well pretend to discover, as we to mete out the heavens with our span, or measure the waters of the ocean in the hollow of our palm,
Again, though we should know what was necessary to be done in order to effect our redemption-can reason inform us whether God will execute the gracious and momentous work? Has reason been admitted to the counsels-bas it discovered the secret plans of the ALMIGHTY? Does it perceive the evidences of pardoning mercy, in the corrupt affections of the heart; in the perverse bias of the will; or in the reprehensions and remorse of
an awakened conscience? Are 'the benificent designs of grace intimated, in the various infirmities, disappointments, and pains of this mortal life; in the fears and agonies of death; in the apprehensions of future judgment ? Do they beam forth in the boundless splendors of nature, which declare the majesty and glory of God? Does this shaking of the earth, does this raging of the tempest, does this voice of the thunder, proclaim, in Reason's ear, JEHOVAH to be the "the LORD God, merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin ?" For an answer we might refer you to the schools of Greece and Rome, or to the untaught Indian. In every age-in every clime-among civilized and barbarous nations—the uniform and distinct voice of reason has been, I know not hoo sin can be pardoned ; I am entirely ignorant of any way of salvation. In vain, then, do those pretend to be her votaries, who are deaf to her salutary admonitions ; who trample upon that solemn law which she utters in her loudest note. The disciples of our blessed LORD, though tempted by a general defection to desert him, were not under such strong delusion as to imagine that they could be saved by their imperfect obedience, or by the instrumentality of reason. They saw that all human means, and all possible efforts of created strength, were inadequate to accomplish their salvation ; and, therefore, they reply to the affecting address of their LORD, “To whom shall we go ?"
II. The text implies that they had A FIRM BELIEF IN HIS PERFECTIONS AND QUALIFICATIONS AS A SAVIOR: “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Thou hast communicated, in thy discourses, truths which refreshed and animated our souls. Thou hast not called our attention to the vain and perishing enjoyments of this transitory state, but hast spoken to us of spiritual blessings, of immortal honors, of eternal life. Thou alone canst direct our feet into the path of peace, and teach us the way of salvation. Though tempted to join the multitude of false disciples who have forsaken thee, though our own faith was beginning to fail ;—yet, Lord, to whom, if we leave thee, can we go for comfort ? Where can we find a master so affectionate -a friend so faithful ?
Where shall we hear such words of
mercy-such doctrines of wisdom, as have flowed from thy blessed lips ?
1. This is the language of faith, and expresses the sentiments and exercises of every soul that flees to the Savior for refuge. The apostles, then, by this confession, acknowledge their belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah. They knew that God, by the mouth of his holy prophets, "at sundry times and in divers manners," had spoken of the great salvation to be accomplished by his Son. They knew, from the truth and faithfulness of God, that this promise could not fail, but would be fulfilled in its proper season; that the Savior was to be born in the city of Bethlehem, of the tribe of Judah and family of David ; that he should appear during the continuance of the second temple, and by his presence make it more glorious than the first; that the expected period had arrived ; and that the whole Jewish nation, rulers as well as people, were anxiously waiting for the manifestation of this illustrious personage to Israel. They saw Jesus of Nazareth : They learned the circumstances of his birth and parentage: They heard him speak with great authority, and instruct with superior wisdom: They beheld the works of almighty power which he performed, the incontestible proofs of his mission, and seal of his divine ministry: And, seeing all these evidences, which none but God could give, in favor of the high and glorious character he assumed, they believed him to be that Prince and Savior, who should save his people from their sins.
2. In their confession they acknowledge, also, a belief in his ability effectually to instruct men in the way of life. The human mind is, by nature, enveloped in darkness. Ignorant of God, and of the truths necessary to lead it into the way of peace, it wanders in the labyrinths of error ; experiences the disquietudes of doubt; and can enjoy no stable hope, until it receives illumination from on high. Jesus is that divine instructer who, by his word and Spirit, shines into the benighted soul, to give it "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God" respecting the plan and means of salvation. Then the most interesting realities rise in all their importance, and appear in their true colors. Then are seen the justice, the holiness, the benignity of God; the evil of sin; the condition of the sinner, exposed to the divine wrath,