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in his search after divine truth, may powerfully obstruct its reception, if they be previously engaged in the cause of libertinism and sensuality. Above all, they are awful warnings, which may serve to admonish us, that when man, proud and impious man, abuses, to the ends of sin, those faculties which the Almighty Source of Wisdom gave him for the instruction and improvement of mankind, he is oftentimes abandoned in judgment, to the misgovernment of his own perverted reason, and suffered to be tossed to and fro by every gust of passion, without consistency or respect in this world, and without hope in that which is to come. A more melancholy and awful spectacle can hardly be presented to the mind, than that of a reasonable being, made in the likeness of his Creator, for the purposes of God's glory and his own eternal happiness, misled by practical ungodliness, and wilful ignorance, into the mazes of unbelief; not only forsaking God who made him, and lightly esteeming the rock of his salvation,' but treading underfoot the Son of God, and doing despite unto the Spirit of grace; not only neglecting the revealed will of God, but ridiculing and reviling it; not only indulging, without remorse, in every sinful
Deut. xxxii. 15.
2 Heb. x. 29.
pleasure which the Gospel forbids; but infusing the poison of immorality into the minds of others; labouring to vitiate the source of public principle, to weaken all the ties of virtue, and to pave the way for infidelity and atheism, by familiarizing the minds of thousands to the profane and impure effusions of a perverted imagination and a corrupt heart; to see him, deriding, with bitter sarcasms, the commerce of Christian society, and the softening intercourse of domestic life; casting around him, as in sport, firebrands, arrows, and death; and exulting in the moral destruction which he has wrought.
This is indeed a melancholy sight: but mark the result. The God, whom he insults, and affects to disbelieve, at length forsakes him, and gives him up to the hardness of an impenitent heart. Then conscience is utterly extinguished and put away; the light that is in him becomes darkness; he is precipitated, by a restless and insatiable love of sin, from one degree of wickedness to another; his peace of mind destroyed; and by degrees his bodily strength decayed; the respect of all good men forfeited; admiration succeeded by pity and contempt; conversion seems to be hopeless, condemnation unavoidable;
and at last, perhaps in the midst of his unholy and mischievous career, the decree of the Almighty goes forth, and the wretched man is suddenly taken away, to abide the coming of his eternal Judge.
This picture may perhaps seem to be highly coloured. We have even in our own time seen, in more than one instance, its horrors embodied in reality. It is not indeed in every case that infidelity runs the same career: there are many shades and varieties of wickedness, according to the tempers and opportunities of men; but in its main feature, the almost inseparable connexion between unbelief and ungodliness, this delineation will be found generally applicable. I have described a remarkable case, in the hope that it may teach the younger of my hearers the following lessons; in the first place, not to trust implicitly to their own reason and sagacity, in the most important of all questions, the truth or falsehood of the religion which they profess; till they have satisfied themselves, that they are possessed of that qualification, so necessary to an impartial decision, the answer of a good conscience towards God: and yet, in the second place, not to be misled by the splendour of
1 Pet. iii. 21.
extraordinary talent in others, to forsake the guidance of their own conscience and reason. Even if the authority of others ought in such a case to influence our belief, yet eminent ability, a fertile fancy, and a brilliant wit, are of themselves so far from qualifying a man to decide upon the evidences of revealed religion, that they may, and often do disqualify him for the task, when there is wanting the foundation of a humble and teachable mind, a sincere and earnest heart. We must receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save our souls.*
If you would escape making shipwreck of your faith, endeavour not to put away a good conscience: avoid placing yourself in such a condition, as must of necessity lead you to wish that the Gospel were not true. The wish will soon be succeeded by the opinion; and when once you have begun to search for grounds of doubt, there will not be wanting the enemies of your salvation, to address abundance of arguments to your reason, through the medium of inclinations and desires.
I am not now about to consider the grounds, upon which the religion of Jesus Christ asserts its right of dominion over the hearts and con
4 James i. 21.
sciences of men: but let me press one argument in its behalf. If God has ever been pleased to make a revelation to mankind, he has made it in the Gospel. This even the unbeliever must allow; for no scheme of religion, which pretends to be a revelation, can bear a moment's comparison with the Gospel. Further, we know that the Gospel, when embraced with sincerity, is thoroughly effectual to the purposes of a holy life, and an assurance of acceptance with God; that it communicates to the mind a serenity and peace which nothing else can give; and opens a prospect of eternity which satisfies all our hopes and desires. Were there no other ground for our adherence to the faith of Christ crucified, yet these, with every prudent man, would be quite sufficient. What equivalent for these advantages is offered to us by the champions of infidelity? What substitute for that hope, which we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast ?3 Is there any thing in their own conduct, in their lives, or in their death, which should tempt us to embrace their principles, and to abandon the religion in which we have been brought up? A life of unrestrained excess; a career of mischief; a course of enervating debauchery; a
Heb. vi. 19.