« PreviousContinue »
of Elijah to him, that the Lord would bring evil upon him, and take away his posterity. For this humiliation of Ahab, though it was not the humiliation of his heart, the judgment threatened to his posterity, was suspended until after his death. As temporary repentance may be followed with a temporary reward, so dead works may answer a good purpose for the present life, but the benefits of them can extend no farther.
Faith towards God is reckoned among first principles in religion. Faith, thus generally expressed, must be understood to refer to various things, and to be a belief in every thing, that respects God. We do not describe a christian when we say he acknowledges the existence of some being to whom he would allow adoration and obedience to be due, for the infidel, who denies revelation, acknowledges the same; and so do the savages of the wilderness. We learn from the scriptures, as well as from other sources of information, that there are gods many and lords many. But the God of the christian is essentially different from all local, and tutelary deities; from all those objects of worship which exist only in the imagination.
The true God must unite in himself all those things which are necessary to perfection; and the true God is the only one in whom the christian believes. He is, alike, God of the hills, and of the plains; for he is every where; his knowledge is infinite, for every thing is under his immediate inspection; his power is unbounded, for all the power of creatures, is derived from him, and contributed by him; his mercy, and his justice are equal to his other attributes, for to suppose the contrary would be to suppose an impossibility: and he is so the God of truth, that he is truth itself. The threatenings and promises of such a God must be depended upon by every one whom faith makes acquainted with him.
Now, faith towards God, embracing many important particulars, is not only a perception of the understanding, but an exercise of the heart. He must be disposed to jesting, rather than to a serious, and proper discussion of the subject, who would deny the being of a God, or who would deny that any attribute belongs to him, which is
essential to perfection. But, we are not to consider every one as possessed of faith, who concedes, verbally, what he cannot deny consistently, nor without bringing reproach upon himself. When the infidel yields, it is for want of weapons to carry on the warfare. If we have genuine faith we shall approve of, and delight in, what we believe; and instead of refusing to grant for truth what is above our comprehensions, we shall see, that if an understanding of every thing had been made our duty, faith would never have been required of us, for faith, and knowledge, are terms which signify different kinds of perception.
Faith towards God therefore, is a belief that he exists in such a manner as he has described, and under such names as he has taken to himself. The doctrine of the Trinity, one God in three persons, puzzles and confounds human reason; and those are the most puzzled, and confounded, who dwell upon it the most, attempting with their own powers and by their own light, to fathom what is more out of their reach than the bottom of the sea, or the most distant star which appears in the firmament. Yet this very doctrine is embraced in that faith which is a first principle, for how can he believe in God, who knows not by what name to address him.
It will be granted that all those who are received as new converts into the church, by the initiating seal, or ordinance, of baptism, are to be viewed as in the infancy of spiritual life, and as capable of receiving no instruction, but what is simple and adapted to a state of inexperience. But it is a well known fact, that our Lord just before he ascended to glory, commissioning his Apostles to go out into the world upon the business to which they were set apart, directed them to mention, among the first things to their hearers, the great mystery of godliness, or what we call the doctrine of the Trinity; for he said, Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The commission with which the Apostles were clothed in that early day, was designed to be a warrant to the ministers of
the gospel, in all parts of the world, and in all ages of time; and it has been their universal practice to administer baptism in this way.
The doctrine which we are now attending to, meets us in the first chapter of the bible; and in the last; and comes up in a multitude of other places. Much as it is complained of, it is clearly one of the letters of the christian alphabet; and how he who has never learned it can call himself a christian, is quite unintelligible. Upon this subject the declarations of Christ, and of his inspired servants, are very plain. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man, speaking by the spirit of God, calleth Jesus accursed; and that no man can say, that Jesus is the Christ, but by the Holy Ghost. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. Whosoever shall confess, that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life. Every one who attentively hears, will make his own comments upon these passages.
The doctrine of baptism, and of laying on of hands, are external things, and of less importance, mentioned here among first principles, or rudiments of christian knowledge. There has been much disputing with respect to baptism; as to the proper mode, and as to the proper subjects; and many have asserted that John's baptism was christian baptism, and many have denied it. But that baptism is an institution of heaven, the weakest christian can understand; and it is equally clear, that since through the laying on of the Apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, it is proper to lay on hands in the ordination of ministers.
The resurrection of the dead is another first principle of religion. So universal is death, that men of all persuasions, expect to die, though few so think about it as to realize it. But the resurrection of the dead is a matter not generally, cvidenced in the same way; and we know that the sect of the Sadducees denied it, however it may have been with other sects and classes of sinners. Paul inquired before the mag
nificent assembly which he addressed when Agrippa was present, Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? Surely that power which was exerted to bring man into being at first, is sufficient to restore to life a dead body. Many dead bodies have been raised to life, and their death and resurrection have been made manifest to many witnesses, beyond all possibility of doubt. It is true the days of miracles are past, and we cannot expect to have such proof of this matter as they had who saw Lazarus after he was raised; or the saints who rose at the time when our Savior was crucified. But we see such changes every year in the natural world, as properly improved, will lead us to conclude, that the dead may rise, and, that if there is an uniformity in the works of God, they will. The winter is the death of nature, and the spring its resurrection. Our sleep, every night, resembles death, and when we wake in our beds, it is very much like waking in the grave.
In the scriptures the subject is represented in this light. So man lieth down, says Job, and riseth not; till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth, we read in Daniel, shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame, and everlasting contempt. Our friend Lazarus, said Jesus to his disciples, sleepeth; and he observed with respect to the daughter of Jairus, who was dead, The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. Them also which sleep in Jesus, said St. Paul to the Thessalonians, will God bring with him. There would be no propriety in using such terms with reference to death and the resurrection, if there were not some striking resemblance between sleeping and dying; between waking and rising from the dead; and if so, what we experience here, may instruct us in regard to what we shall experience hereafter.
Of a future state it may be observed, there has been a general expectation, though the ideas of the mind, unassisted upon this subject, have always been quite vague, and incoherent. If the monumental inscription of ancient, and modern Saducees, has been eternal sleep, in the places where the dead were buried, those better informed, because
better disposed; and those not informed at all, have entertained a more correct opinion. The doctrine of the resurrection however, is not a first principle in religion, easily recieved by the christian, because easily comprehended; but since life, and immortality, are brought to light through the gospel, every one, who in heart believes the gospel, sees the doctrine of the resurrection in the light which the gospel reflects upon it. The christian leaves it to the wise man, whom Paul calls a fool, to inquire, How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come; sensible, that the husbandman expects a crop where he sows his seed, though he does not expect ever to gather again the seed which he has scattered. Since the body is continually varying, and from infancy to old age experiences many changes, very perceptible, it is impossible to determine what appearance it will assume at the resurrection. As to the grain, God gives it a body as it pleases him, and to every seed his own body; and he will take care, that his people be furnished with bodies by which they will be known, bodies suited to their condition.
Eternal judgment is the last thing in this Apostolic list of first principles. This is an affair which should never be out of mind. He who believes in eternal judgment, believes that all judgment is committed to the Son; and expects to see him come with the clouds of heaven, in his own mediatorial glory, in the glory of his father; and of the holy angels. Great assemblies have been collected upon different occasions, but at the day of judgment there will be an assembly of all nations, and kindreds, and tongues, and people; the dead, small and great, of every generation, will stand before God. As justice must be done to every one, the conduct of all will be found recorded in the books, or as accurately recited, as if written down particularly; and all the motives, or secret springs of action will be laid open. If the wicked conduct of any shall not be made public, it shall be the wicked conduct of those whose sins are covered over by the atonement.
This is called eternal judgment, principally, because the consequences will be of endless duration. So prone are we to expect good, that no one supposes there will be an end to the happiness of the righteous; while many forced to ad