« PreviousContinue »
ble? Yet this is a consequence inevitably attached to the doctrine of eternal and irreversible decrees.
Or if we believe him to sustain the relation of a Father, should we think it right, if a Father, without regard to the moral disposition and behavivur of his children, should capriciously single out some as the objects of favour, and cast off the rest as devoted to poverty and wretchedness ? Surely parental affertion in God, and that which his own hand hath ingrafted in the heart of man, cannot differ so widely. Consider him as a wise and impartial legislator, who, for the honour of his government and the happiness of his subjects, has enforced the observance of his laws by suitable sanctions_ran it be believed that he would subvert every fundamental rule of rectitude, by selecting the most innocent and excellent of all characters as an object of the most rigorous punishment for the offences of the guilty, and acquit them on account, or by the imputation of the obedience of the guiltless? What code of human laws was ever constructed on such a plan? Or what human authority which should dare to plead such a precedent for its proceedings, would not have the universal voice of the civilized world raised against it, as having abandoned the most obvious and acknowledged principles of justice. Or if we suppose that what has been called justice, but more properly vengeance, has been satisfied to the very last mite of its demands by the sufferings of a substitute, what becomes of the god-like attribute of pardoning mercy, which every well-framed constitution vests in the hands of the Supreme Magistrate, to be exercised whenever there appears any thing in the circumstances or disposition of the offender to make it expedient? Now that the Almighty should
as Creator, Father, Lawgiver, or Governor, act upon such maxims as must necessarily render him the object of servile dread, and yet that it should be his first and great commandment that we love him with all the heart and soul and strength and mind, are things as utterly opposed to each other in our unprejudiced judgment, as the lustre of noon and the shadows of midnight are in our eyes. And if the word of God authorises us, as most certainly it does, to determine upon such differences according to our implanted sense of right and wrong, of good and evil, it follows that with respect to these matters there must have been some unhappy mistakes, which, for the honour of God and his law, and the comfort of many worthy and pious Christians, we cannot but wish to see rectified. And to this end we surely need do little more, after such an inquiry, than to ask ourselves whether it be possible that sentiments in which there is such a prevailing mixture of gloom, of mystery, of that which must tend to entangle, to depress, and discourage the timid, but sincere and upright mind, can be compatible with that still clearer light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ which Paul declares had shone into his heart? And if we only cast back our view to the manner in which our blessed Lord discharged his commission, we shall find it perfectly becoming the representative of him whose tender mercies are over all his works, and who is no respecter of persons, for upon whom doth not his light arise and his rain descend ? When did he confine those rich blessings, with the communication of which he was intrusted, to a favoured few? Or turn away from any, as doomed to perish, who implored his aid? When did he
cast out any who were disposed to come unto him ? His offers and invitations were without limitation or exception; and how tenderly and pathetically did he lament the impenitence and obstinacy of those who refused to hearken to them! It was in the hearing of all the publicans and sinners that he displayed the abundant compassions of the Father of mercies in the parable of the repenting and returning prodigal. And if he represented him as a creditor, it was not as one who seized upon the miserable insolvent with that harsh demand-o pay me that thou owest”. but, whether the debt were greater or smaller, when there was not wherewith to pay, he “ frankly forgave all." 6. Be ye merciful,” said he, was your Father in heaven is merciful” -" forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Such was the strain of his preaching who came to be the light of the world. And do we not here, my friends, behold, with open face, the glory of God as manifested in the gift of his Son? Does it not warm and fill our hearts with gratitude, hope, consolation, joy, and every pleasing affection ? Is it not indeed a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path?
One thing, however, it may not be amiss to notice, and which, upon a slight view, might appear to be inconsistent with the position that in God there is no darkness at all.” He is sometimes represented as actuated by passions of the angry kind, and such, in terms at least, as we are forbidden to indulge. But it is easy to see that in their nature they are widely different. In what is called the “ wrath of God” there is nothing (as frequently in that of man) of malice, hatred, and revenge-its effects are only what, as a wise and just Governor, he has annexed
to the wilful violation of his laws, and is therefore entirely consistent with perfect benevolence. « With him is forgiveness that he may be feared.” To the sinner, the hand of mercy is ever extended, intreating him to be reconciled to God. To the pure and contrite heart he looks with favour, expecting no other sacrifice-no other offering to render him propitious. The careless, the obstinate, and the impenitent, must abide the consequences of their own misconduct-they bave only themselves to blanc.
Let us then, my friends, if we would enjoy the advantages and pleasures of Christianity in all their excellence and sweetness, entertain liigli, honourable and consistent thoughts of God. Let us beware of disparaging the character of the greatest and best of beings, with whom evil or imperfection cannot dwell, by the admission of any thing which, in ourselves or others, we should view with pain or disapprobation. It is lawful—it is laudable, to aspire after a resemblance to our Maker-to an imitation of his unspotted rectitude to be possessed of that righteousness which the righteous Lord loveth; and of which, as a God of truth, he cannot accept the imputation instead of the reality; and to look around us with an unconfined benevolence, such as he extendeth to every thing that his hand hath made; yea, as children of the Most High, to be kind even to the unthankful and the evil. God, in his nature and perfections, is light, without the slightest tincture of obscurity. In the exercise of those perfections he is consuminate love. When we walk in love, we are his followers as dear children. When we love our brother, “ we abide in the light,” and “there is none occasion of stumbling in us."
Happy is our lot, fellow Christians, that we live in times when so much of gospel light and liberty prevails, as to afford the blissful prospect of their shining more and more unto the perfect day-that it is in retrospect only, we behold « darkness covering the earth, and gross darkness the people.” When we reflect what was the state of the heathen world before the coming of Christ, as to idolatry, superstition, cruelty, lust, intemperance, and such like vices, even of those nations most removed from barbarism, and the savage and uncivilised condition of the rest, we may be convinced that nothing less than almighty interposition could have rescued it from the grasp of the power of darkness. Alas! in what deeper shades of horror must it not now have been involved, had not that interposition been afforded! Yet might the sun of righteousness, which had arisen with healing in his wings, have been lost in total obscurity, but that the gloom was in part dispersed by the stormy times of the Reformation. It was not, however, to be expected that a work, commenced in such circumstances, and under such auspices, could be all at once carried to perfection; and we perceive, but too plainly, the prevalence of such opinions and dispositions among Christians, as will not warrant the belief that the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ hath as yet shone into their hearts in its full and genuine lustre. With as much reason, however, might we apprehend that the morning light should become fainter and fainter instead of brightening towards meridian glory, as that the counsels of almighty power, infinite love, unchanging truth, and everlasting mercy, after having begun to operate, shall fail of accomplishing all their purposes.