« PreviousContinue »
ten, How beautiful upon the mountains are the “ feet of them that preach the gospel of peace,
and “bring glad tidings of good things! So then faith “cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of “God.” And “without faith it is impossible to
please God.” But, if this were not their view of the subject, their whole conduct is perfectly unaccountable : if they erred in judgment, they were left to act in a manner suited to mislead all men, through successive generations, who should look up to them as declaring the will of God to man, and illustrating it by their example. And who can help perceiving that this sentiment both represents the apostles as enthusiasts and bigots; and impeaches the wisdom of Christ himself in sending them forth into the world :
That avowed infidels should admit these conclusions, is not at all wonderful : but that an opinion so derogatory to the honour of Christ, and even if carried to its consequences, subversive of Christianity, should obtain favour among the friends of our holy religion, and influence their practice, can be ascribed to nothing but the extreme deceitfulness of the human heart, and the deep subtlety of Satan, who thus endeavours to retain his destructive sway, without disturbance from the disciples of him who came to destroy his works and subvert his kingdom.
Before we proceed to examine the judgment of the apostle, I would make a few remarks on the charge of uncharitableness, and even malevolence, which is brought against those who in this respect undoubtedly “speak according to the oracles of “God.” Our opinions concerning the eternal con
dition of our fellow men will not alter that condition, whether we groundlessly presume that they are safe, or needlessly tremble lest they should perish everlastingly: but our judgment in many cases will influence our conduct: and groundless confidence may induce a ruinous inactivity, while needless fears can only prompt us to self-denying exertions, which in that case might have been spared. Nor do our opinions necessarily accord to our desires and wishes ; nay they are very commonly at direct variance with them. Jeremiah was most deeply convinced that the terrible vengeance of God was about to be poured out on his country; and he was accused as an enemy to his nation, and a traitor to his prince, because he faithfully shewed them their danger : yet he could appeal to the Searcher of hearts, that he “had not desired the “woful day:" "he wept in secret places for their “pride ;” he continued to pray for them after repeated interdictions from God; he seemed to dread nothing more than to see his character as a true prophet completely proved ; and after all his sufferings from his ungrateful people, he preferred a lot among the impoverished remains of them, to the proffered favour of Babylon's victorious monarch.
The time would fail to insist on the judgment and conduct of St. Paul respecting the unbelieving Jews, whose doom he constantly predicted, while he declared that he “ could wish himself accursed “ from Christ,” (or after the manner of Christ,) to prevent it!-But the example of our Lord himself, weeping over the very city, the awful destruc tion of which he foretold and denounced, might, one would have supposed, have for ever silenced Christians from charging the opinions of their brethren, respecting the lost condition either of their neighbours or of the heathen, on the want of charity; and ascribing the opposite sentiment to an excess of benevolence and candour! Yet we risk nothing in avowing that, not only do almost all exertions to promote the gospel originate with such as hold the uncharitable sentiment, and owe their principal support to them ; but that these persons do far more than their proportion, according to their ability, in relieving the temporal distresses of mankind!
Whatever we may hope or fcat, the heathen either are “perishing for lack of knowledge,” or they are not: and it is very strange, that love should in this instance lead men to that very conduct, which, if adopted by a parent towards a child supposed to be in urgent danger, would be ascribed to brutal selfishness and want of natural affection! and that malevolence should dictate these anxious fears, and expensive self-denying exertions, which, in any case immediately affecting the health or temporal safety of others, would be looked upon as indubitable proofs of strong affection and tender solicitude !
These hints premised, I proceed to shew,
I. The judgment of the apostle concerning the state of the heathen, as it may be gathered from the text; with illustrations of the subject, and remarks upon it :
II. To consider the duties incumbent on us in this respect, and to inquire how far we have criminally neglected them :
III. To suggest some hints respecting the performance of these duties : and
IV. To conclude with a few particulars respecting this Society
1. I would shew the judgment of the apostle concerning the state of the heathen, as it may be gathered from the text : with illustrations of the subject, and remarks upon it.
In the preceding part of the chapter, the apostle shews the character and condition of unconverted sinners in general. “You hath he quickened, “ who were dead in trespasses and sins ; wherein “ in time past ye walked, according to the course “ of this world, according to the prince of the
power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in “ the children of disobedience. Among whom “ also we all had our conversation in times past, in “ the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the “flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the “ children of wrath, éven as others.” In this passage he evidently includes both Jews and Gentiles, and the whole body of the Christian church, as considered in themselves, before that “God, “who is rich in mercy, for his great love where “ with he loved them, even when dead in sin, had quickened them together with Christ.” But he afterwards thus addresses, in particular, the converts made from among the heathen: “Where“ fore remember that ye, being in time passed “ Gentiles in the flesh, who are called the uncir. “cumcision by that which is called the circumci“sion in the flesh made by hands : that at that “time ye were without Christ, being aliens from
“the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from “ the covenants of promise, having no hope and “ without God in the world.” They had been, in their external situation, under vastly greater disadvantages, and at a much further distance from God and salvation, than the Jews. “ But now, in “ Christ Jesus, ye who were sometime far off are “ made nigh by the blood of Jesus." And it is evident that a similar difference subsists at this day, between professed Christians and those who have not the external means of grace and salvation.
The Messiah had been promised from the very first entrance of sin, as “ the Seed of the woman, “ who should bruise the serpent's head :” but this promise, at least in its spiritual meaning, was little known, except among the remnant that adhered to the worship of the true God; and in a short time after the deluge idolatry became almost universal. To check in some degree its destructive progress, God was pleased to call Abraham, and to enter into covenant with him and his posterity by Isaac and Jacob; especially in respect of the promised Saviour, in whom all nations were at length to be blessed : but the rest of the human race, with but few exceptions, seem very soon to have lost, almost entirely, even that traditional recollection of the promise concerning him, which they might have derived from Adam and Noah : for that confused expectation of a Messiah, which prevailed near the time of his coming, evidently appears to have been gathered from the Jewish scriptures, that had been translated into the Greek language some time before, and widely disseminated in the adjacent countries, which, we may observe,