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THE EMPTINESS OF NATURAL VIRTUE.
JOHN V. 24.
“ But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you."
When it is said, in a former verse of the gospel, that Jesus knew what was in man, we feel, that it is a tribute of acknowledgment, rendered to his superior insight, into the secrecies of our constitution. It was not the mere faculty of perceiving what lay before him, that was ascribed to him by the Evanigelist. It was the faculty of perceiving what lay disguised under a semblance, that would have imposed on the understanding of other men. It was the faculty of detecting. It was a discerning of the spirit, and that not through the transparency of such unequivocal symptoms, as brought its character clearly home to the view of the observer. But it was a discerning of the spirit, as it lay wrapt in what, to an ordinary spectator, was a thick and impenetrable hiding place. It was a dicovery there of the real posture and habitude of the soul. It was a searching of it out, through all the recesses of duplicity, winding and counterwinding in such a way, as to elude altogether the eye of common acquaintanceship. It was the assigning to it of one attribute, at the time when it wore the guise of another attribute,-of utter antipathy to the nature and design of his mission, at the very time that multitudes were drawn around him, by the fame of his miracles,-of utter indifference about God, at the very time that they zealously asserted the sanctity of his sabbaths, and resented as blasphemous, whatever they felt to be an usurpation of the greatness which belonged to him only.
It was in the exercise of this faculty, that Jesus came forward
with the utterance of our text. The Jews, by whom he was surrounded, had charged him with the guilt of profanation, and sought even to avenge it by his death, because he had healed a man on the sabbath day. And their desire of vengeance was still more inflamed, by what they understood to be an assertion, on his part, of equality with God. And yet, under all this ap. pearance, and even with all this reality of a zeal about God, did he who knew what was in man pronounce of these his enemies, that the love of God was not in them. I know you says he,-as if at this instant he had put forth a stretch of penetration, in or. der to find his way through all the sounds of godliness which he heard, and through all the symptoms of godliness which he saw,-I know that there does not exist within you that princi. ple, which links to God, the whole of God's obedient creation, -I know that you do not love him, and that, therefore, you are utterly in want of that affection, which lies at the root of all real, and of all acceptable godliness.
It is mortifying to the man who possesses many accomplishments of character, to be told, that the greatest and most es. sential accomplishment of a moral being, is that of which he has no share,—that the principle on which we expatiated in our last discourses does not, in any of its varieties, belong to him, that, wanting it, he wants not merely obedience to the first and the greatest commandment, which is the love of God, but he wants what may be called the impregnating quality of all ac. ceptable obedience whatever,--the spirit which ought to ani. mate the performance of every other commandment, and with. out which the most laborious conformity to the law of Hea. ven, may do no more than impress upon his person the cold and lifeless image of loyalty, while in his mind there is not one of its essential attributes.
We know not a more useful exercise than that of carrying round this conviction amongst all the classes and conditions of humanity. In the days of our Saviour, the pride of the Phari. . sees stood opposed to such a demonstration ; and in our own days too, there are certain pretensions of worth, and of excellence, which must be disposted, ere we can hope to obtain ad. mittance for the humiliating doctrine of the gospel. For this
gospel, it must be observed, proceeds upon the basis, not of a partial, but of an entire and universal depravity among the men of the world. It assimilates all the varieties of the human character into one common condition of guilt, and need, and helplessness. It presumes the existence of such a moral dis. ease in every son and daughter of Adam, as renders the appli. cation of the same moral remedy indispensable to them all. The formalists of Judea did not like to be thus grouped with publicans and harlots, under one description of sinfulness. Nor do men of taste, and feeling, and graceful morality, in our pre. sent day, readily understand how they should require the same kind of treatment, in the work of preparing them for immortal. ity, with the most glaringly profligate and unrighteous of their neighbourhood. They look to the ostensible marks of distinc. tion between themselves and others; and what wider distinction, they think, can possibly be assigned, than that which ob. tains between the upright, or the kind-hearted on the one hand, and the ungenerous or dishonest, on the other? Now, what we propose, in the following discourse, is to lead them to look a little farther,--and then they will see at least one point of sim. ilarity between these two classes, the want of one common in. gredient with both, and which attaches to each of them a great moral defect, that can only be repaired by one and the same application,
It is well when we can find out an accordancy between the actual exhibition of human nature on the field of experience, and the representation that is given of this nature on the field of revelation. Now, the Bible every
the indivi. duals of our species, into two general and distinct classes, and assigns to each of them its appropriate designation. It tells us of the vessels of wrath, and of the vessels of mercy; of the travellers on a narrow path, and on a broad way; of the chil. dren of this world, and the children of light; and, lastly, of men who are carnally minded, and men who are spiritually minded. It employs these terms in a meaning so extensive, that by each couplet of them it embraces all individuals. There is no separate number of persons, forming of themselves a neu. tral class, and standing without the limits of the two others.
And were it possible to conceive, that human nature, as it est ists at present in the world, were laid in a map before us, you would see no intermediate ground between the two classes which are thus contrasted in the Bible,-but these thrown into two distinct regions, with one clear and vigorous line of demar. cation between them.
We often read of this line, and we often read of the transition from the one to the other side of it. But there is no trace of
any middle department to be met with in the New Testa. ment. The alternative has only two terms, and ours must be the one or the other of them. And as surely as a day is com. ing, when all the men of our assembled world shall be found on the right or on the left hand of the throne of judgment--so sure. ly do the carnal and the spiritual regions of human nature, stand apart from each other; and all the men who are now liv. ing on the surface of the world, are to be found on the right, or on the wrong side, of the line of demarcation.
We cannot conceive, then, a question of mightier interest, than the situation of this line,
,-a line which takes its own steady and unfaltering way through the thousand varieties of character that exist in the world ; and which reduces them all to two great, and awfully important divisions. It marks off one part of the species from the other. We are quite aware that the terms which are employed to characterize the two sets are extremely unfashionable; and, what is more, are painfully offen. sive to many a mind, whose taste, and whose habits, have not yet been brought under the overpowering controul of God's own message expressed in God's own language. They are such terms as would be rejected with a positive sensation of disgust by many a moralist, and would be thought by many more, to impart the blemish of a most hideous deformity, to his eloquent and philosophical pages. It is curious here to observe how much the Maker of the human mind, and the mere observer of the human mind, differ in their views and representations of the same object. But when told, on the highest of all authority, that to be carnally minded is death, and to be spiritually minded is life and peace, we are compelled to acknowledge with a feeling of earnestness, greater than mere curiosity can inspire,
that the application of these terms, is a question of all others the most deeply affecting to the fears, and the wishes of humanity.
In the prosecution of this question, let me attempt to bring a succession of characters before you, most of which must have met your own distinct and familiar observation; and of which, while exceedingly various in their complexion, we hope to suc. ceed in convincing you, that the love of God, at least, is not in them.--If this can be made out against them, it may be considered as experimentally fixing to which of the two great divisions of humanity they belong. All who love God, may have boldness when they think of the day of judgment, because, like unto God, who himself is love, they will be pronounced meet for the enjoyment, and the fellowship of him through eternity. And they who want this affection when they die shall be turned into hell. They shall be found to possess that carnal mind which is enmity against God.“ So that upon the single point of whether they possess this love or not, hinges the question which I have just now started—a question surely which it were better for every man to decide at the bar of conscience now, ere it comes under the review of that dread tribunal which is to award to him his everlasting habitation.
I. Let us first offer to your notice, a man living in the gross. ness of animal indulgence,-a man, the field of whose enjoy. ments is altogether sensual,--and who, therefore, in addition to the charge he brings down upon himself, of directly violating the law of God, is regarded by the admirers of what is tasteful and refined in the human character, as a loathsome object of contemplation. There is something more here than mere wickedness of character to excite the regret or detestation of the godly. There is sordidness of character to excite the disgust of the elegant. And let us just add one feature more to this por'trait of deformity. Let us suppose the man in question to have so abandoned himself to the impulses of selfishness, that no feeling and no principle whatever, restrains him from yielding to its temptations,--that to obtain the gratification he is in quest of, he can violate all the decencies, and bid away from him all the tendernesses of our common humanity,--that he has the