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1 COR. xii. 1.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
THERE is this great and fundamental difficulty in religion, generally, that it is a life of faith as opposed to sight; that we have to combat the world and its allurements, objects present and visible, by acting on the belief of things distant and invisible ; that our hopes are directed to future rewards, and our fears to future punishments; and that the aid which we are offered against the temptations that so importunately assail us, is the aid of an unseen Being, and therefore only to be trusted in through the medium of faith which confidently relies on the revealed promises of God. But since we believe in the scriptures, which con
tain these promises, why should we create difficulties in calculating on their fulfilment? Why should we interpose our weak reason as affording an argument against the truth of them? In fact, whatever be the difficulties, we have but this choice, either to receive the whole gospel, or to reject the whole gospel. We are not at liberty to select for ourselves what seems most reasonable, or worthy of our belief? all vain reasoning about spiritual things is unbecoming in such ignorant mortals, who in such matters have only to believe what God has been pleased to communicate, without setting up their own knowledge or understanding as a test of the truth.
That the scriptures inform us of the absolute necessity of the operation of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts to teach them heavenly truths, to purify them from sin, to dispose them to the service of God, and to the practice of all the virtues of the christian life, we cannot deny, for nothing is more plain; we must therefore believe and act upon this doctrine, or away with the hope of our calling altogether. You say you do not perceive the necessity of a supernatural influence upon your minds, nor can men possibly be assured that their thoughts and feelings do not originate in their own bosoms. But is that an answer to the word of God, which says that the “ carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be," and that if we would attain unto life, we must “ through the spirit, mortify the deeds of the body?” And suppose we do not feel this influence in such a palpable way, as to be able immediately to refer every good thought to its divine origin, suppose God works upon our minds in a gentle and imperceptible manner, not by any violent manifestation of supernatural power,-what of that? Will you therefore deny him the praise and gratitude which are due to his favours, merely because you do not understand how they are bestowed ? For instance, will you deny that he supports your life, merely because
you do not see the operation of his secret energies? Or that he rules the world, sustains the whole creation, and guides its several parts in such harmonious order, merely because you are not admitted (as it were) behind the scene, nor allowed to observe how he sets the springs in motion, and regulates all the movements of the vast fabric ? You know not how your own minds act upon your own bodies. You cannot explain how your members are so readily obedient to the invisible will which actuates them; and surely it is Do greater mystery that an invisible Spirit should mingle with the essence of an invisible soul, and make what impression He pleases upon its thoughts and affections.
But I must have done with presumptuous reasonings about the truths that God has revealed. I am a christian minister, and am addressing a christian audience; to the law therefore, and the testimony, we must appeal. We can know nothing, in this earthly and imperfect state, of spiritual beings, or of spiritual operations, but what we are informed of by him, by whom alone, both his own nature and ours are thoroughly understood; and if we pretend to be christians at all, well would it be if we were humble-minded christians, conscious of our own consummate ignorance, and ready to receive such instruction from the mouth of God, as he may in his wisdom see fit to impart. And one would have thought that compassed as we are with infirmities, and beset with strong temptations to sin, even against our own better knowledge, and exposed moreover (as we are informed by those scriptures, “in which we think we have eternal life,") to the crafty seductions and most subtle arts of a malicious enemy, we should be overjoyed to find the gospel so abounding in offers of divine encouragement and support, and hastily run to embrace and take advantage of them, instead of doubting and endeavouring to disprove the reality of the heavenly aid, which we must feel that we so greatly need.
My brethren, do we not greatly need it?Who can have become acquainted with the state of his own heart, and compared its natural desires and affections with what God in the gospel requires of christians, without deeply feeling his sinfulness and helplessness, and being ready to exclaim “ O wretched man, that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?” I grant that men really indifferent to religion, if they attend to its outward forms, and avoid the scandal of any notorious vice, and study to maintain a decent respectability of character, I grant that such men may find it easy to go through the world without much interruption to the practice of such religion as this ;-I grant that there is no difficulty in being baptized, in professing the christian faith, in attending on the public worship of God, in participating in the ceremony of the Lord's supper, in
supper, in talking occasionally on religious subjects, in arguing justly about disputed parts of scripture, in repeating formal prayers, in reading the bible, nay, in entertaining some vague and undefined hope of salvation ;-I grant that the human mind and human strength and human resolution alone are equal to all these things, and