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BY REV. L. F. DIMMICK,
THE CONNECTION OF RELIGIOUS DOCTRINES.
“ In doctrine showing uncorruptness.”—Titus ii. 7. No subject surpasses, in importance, that of religious doctrine.. Religious doctrine may be defined, the science of eternal life. If eternal life is the greatest of all interests, then is the doctrine pertaining to this subject the greatest of all themes. Hence the directions and warnings of the Bible in regard to this matter. "I give you good doctrine: forsake not my law." "Speak thou the things which become sound doctrine." “ Take heed unto thyself, and unto thy doctrine." And the text, “In doctrine showing uncorruptness.” Doctrine is important as it influences practice
, and practice influences destiny. Great care, therefore, should be taken to cherish the doctrines of religion in their purity.
There is another consideration to be taken into the account. The doctrines of religion have an intimate connection with each other, and lend each other mutual aid and support. No doctrine of religion stands alone, or can be viewed alone, and appear in its true light. It must be viewed in its just connection with the other doctrines, and in the light which this connection sheds upon it. The doctrines of religion comprise one grand, systematic, and harmonious whole; every part of which borrows some feature of its character from its connection with the other parts, and the whole being always more or less affected by the treatment which any part receives.
That there is such connection existing between the doctrines of religion; that they are one grand harmonious system, with mutual dependences and relationships; might be presumed beforehand, from
the character of God from whom they come. God is a God of order, and not of confusion. And, in no department of his works should we expect order, system, more strikingly to exist, than in the assemblage of doctrines which he communicates to his intelligent creatures to guide them to eternal life. It is very true, that the order here mentioned is not always apparent in the outward form of these doctrines; in the time and manner of stating them in the Bible: any more than order is always observable in the outward appearance of things in nature. In both cases, there might be an intention on the part of God-probably was--to leave some subjects in a measure of obscurity with the express view of calling forth the activity and research of his creatures to understand them. “It is the glory of God to conceal athing;" and the honor and happiness of man to search out the wisdom of his works. And in both nature and revelation, as the search goes forward, there will be found, lying at the bottom, a deep principle of order; a universal regard to system, symmetry, proportion; a connection, or linking things together in mutual relationships; a making them to depend on each other, and to lend a combined influence to the accomplishment of a common and grand result.
See this in the natural world. Look at the members of the human body; What proportion they bear to each other. And how are they all adopted to act together for the accomplishment of the great purposes of life. And who can touch one of these members to injure it, but the others share in the injury? As the Apostle expresses it, “ If one member suffer, all the members suffer with it." "Look at the different parts of the solar system. How do they all mutually act upon each other, and conspire together to a common end. And who could tear away one part, without sending disorder through the whole? Blot out the sun, and there would be no center of attraction to hold the rest together. Blot out any planet, and the general balance will be destroyed, irregularity be introduced, and the end of the whole defeated.
Now just so is it with the doctrines of religion. They comprise a well-balanced and harmonious whole, with mutual relationships and dependences, acting together towards a common and grand result; and no one of them can be touched, but the others will feel the deranging influence, and the whole suffer a diminution of its power, and perhaps an entire loss of its power, to accomplish the ends for which these doctrines were revealed. As the doctrine of the physical universe, therefore, should be accurately understood, and every part of it allowed its just place, so is the doctrine of the . spiritual universe entitled to the same treatment. And even more so, as the interests of our spiritual being are greater than any other. The ancient caution in regard to the tabernacle and its furniture, shows the mind of God on this subject, and was designed to beget in the minds of his creatures habits of carefulness and accuracy in respect to all religious matters. “See," saith he, “that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount.” The
mind of God is the leading mind of the universe. It is all-comprehending. The views of God, therefore, are all right views. And the wisdom of his creatures is to follow whither he leads; to apprehend things exactly in the light in which he exhibits them. So his injunction a little subsequently. "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shåll ye diminish aught from it.” And also at the close of the Sacred volume. "If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” God here warns his creatures, in the most impressive manner, to let the system of religious doctrines stand exactly as he has revealed it, and to imbibe and cherish all its parts in their purity. No one can add, or take away, without introducing an inHuence that tends to derange the whole system, and defeat the high and momentous ends it was revealed to accomplish.
Take several specific points for the illustration of the subject here stated.
I. Suppose a man denies the existence of a God. This denial, it needs no argument to show, will derange, -nay, even destroy, all religious doctrines, of every description whatever, along with it. This is blotting the sun from the center: and, this done, whatever of beauty and brilliancy has existed around it, disappears, and is seen no more.
II. Suppose a man denies the Bible to be the word of God. Here also, of course, he sweeps away at a stroke all the doctrines which it is the peculiar province and glory of the Bible to teach. The foundation gone, the superstructure perishes with it.
These, it is true, are extreme cases. Others may not be so sweeping. Still others are not without their deleterious influence of this description.
III. Take the doctrine of the universal providence of God. The Bible teaches it. “Not a sparrow falleth on the ground without your father. The very hairs of your head are all numbered." Let this doctrine be denied. Let the position be assumed, that God concerns himself only with greater events, while with smaller occurrences he has no connection. What will follow? It will follow, first, that there is a large class of benefits daily coming in upon us, for which we are under no obligation to God. What comes to us through channels with which God has no connection, imposes upon us no obligation with respect to him. In respect to a large part of our means of existence, therefore,-all that part which is made up of incidents beneath divine notice, -we may live as atheists, and be blameless. It will follow, secondly, that no confidence can be placed in the providential government of God. Every one knows that small events are often productive of very serious and momentous consequences. “Behold,” says a sacred writer, “how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” Now if this first kindling is not noticed by God, if it belongs to parts of his creation over which his province does not extend, who shall assure us that, in its progress, it will not lay waste many precious, invaluable interests? Who shall assure us that thousands of such fires will not break out at the same moment, and the universe be wrapped in one grand conflagration before the time? Deny a universal providence, and you deny the only agency that can guide the universe in safety, and open the way for universal derangement and ruin. A foundation-stone in the temple of truth is removed, and quickly the entire splendid edifice is prostrate in the dust.
IV. The same might be said of the sovereignty of God: by which is meant, not an arbitrary proceeding, in disregard of the dictates of justice, and wisdom, and love; but a proceeding dictated by the very highest perfection which God possesses. The sovereignty of God is, his acting from the resources of his own infinite mind; his doing, in every case, what his all-comprehending intelligence, his all. pervading wisdom, and his all abounding goodness, determine to be best. Suppose God were to act on any other principle than this, what would be the result? Suppose he were to consult
any created mind, and follow its wishes, would the universe be safe? Where would be the doctrine of confidence in God, and the stability of his affairs ? Where would be the doctrine, that, “Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things : to whom be glory for ever?”
The sovereignty of God injures no creature: but on the contrary, renders every virtuous creature safe; and further still, gives eternal life to countless millions of ill-deserving. The sovereignty of God interferes with the moral freedom of no creature: but on the contrary, first ordained and constituted that freedom, and will guard it while the universe endures. The sovereignty of God denied, the worship of God is destroyed, and all that clusters around the Divine Being, rendering him an object of praise, disappears.
V. Take the doctrine of the immortality of the human soul. Let this be denied. Who does not see that the denial makes the whole system of one's religious views altogether different from what it would be were this doctrine admitted ? If man has no soul, and has before him no hereafter, what is there left worthy the name of religion? Ile may, indeed, allow that there is a God, and that it is his duty to pay him some passing regard. But man, reduced to an insect of a day, all those duties and observances which have reference to a future and endless state of being, are to him of no use. They fall from his mind, and constitute no more any part of his religious system, if religious system he may be said yet to possess. No soul, no care of the soul, of course, is needful. Man, but a more splendid brute, may live, and may die, like the brute. No longer immortal, provisions for his immortality no longer have place. The rejection of this one doctrine, therefore,-man's immortality,--destroys, essentially and for ever, the whole system of
religion contained in the Bible. This one stone removed from the arch, the whole structure quickly lies in ruins.
VI. See the same thing in respect to another point. I allude to the doctrine of human depravity :-the doctrine of a universal and total depravity-an entire extinction of holiness in the heart, an entire alienation of the mind from God. This is what the Bible teaches. “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Let this doctrine be denied. Let it be asserted, on the contrary, that all men have yet a measure of holiness within them: nay, that even the worst of men have yet about them much more of good than of evil. What will be the influence of this position on the other doctrines of the Christian system.
Its first effect will be to destroy the doctrine of regeneration. If man is not "dead," he has no need to be made alive." He is alive already. If that which is "born of the flesh " is pure, it has no need to be “born of the Spirit” in order to purity. The robe of purity it wears already. If man has not entirely lost love to God, he has no need that the love of God be shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, given unto him.” That love is already there. If man is not entirely destitute of holiness, and under the influence of contrary affections, it cannot be said, he that "is in Christ is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.” It is not so. He that is in Christ, has nothing new in kind; but only a greater degree, perhaps, of that which he had before. The doctrine of regeneration, then, -of a "new heart and a new spirit,”—of "passing from death unto life,"—of being “a new creature in Christ," —perishes at once with the denial of human depravity, deep, and radical, and entire.
Another effect of such denial is greatly to impair and weaken all those sentiments
which may be expected to arise in the heart in view of salvation. If man has something of holiness by nature remaining within him,—nay, much more of holiness than of sinthen has he something in which to glory before God, and is not wholly indebted to grace for acceptance. If man is not wholly sinful, then his humiliation before God, on account of sin, liis selfcondemnation, his repentance, his sense of gratitude in view of forgiveness, will all be immensely different from what they would have been, had he felt himself drawn up from the deep waters of entire depravity, and a corresponding condemnation. These graces, it is manifest, will all be exceedingly slight, compared with the vigor they would have possessed in view of deliverance from a more deplorable condition. “A certain creditor had two debtors; the one owed him five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most? ” Do you doubt the correctness of the answer, "He to whom he forgave most ?" And just so with the case before us. The man who views himself