« PreviousContinue »
from a literal to a figurative meaning, more easily and naturally, than these.
Christians are represented as born of God, and of course, they must have their infancy, their childhood, their youth, and manhood; every thing that denotes progress in human life, with an exemption from the imbecility, and decline, of old age. The same method of treatment therefore, is expedient, and necessary, with respect to the spiritual man, or the christian in the different stages of his new life, that is practised with respect to the natural man, or the body as it advances from one stage to another. The period of infancy, and childhood, will be longer or shorter in the spiritual life, according as circumstances promote, or retard advancement, and thus he who has been a believer many years, may be in a condition to receive little or no nourishment, from any thing but that which was first administered to him, after he began to live by faith. There must be some progress with every one, for in such a case there is no such thing as standing still; but the progress may be so slow as to be scarcely perceptible; and the utmost point ever reached in the present world may be but a dwarfish elevation.
If we take the apostle's own definitions, we shall not be liable to misapprehend his meaning. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, he says in his epistle to the Hebrews, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. By milk therefore, he intended, the first principles of religion, which he supposed every child of God, having a capacity to understand, however young, and inexperienced he might be, would be able to receive, as the infant receives milk as soon as it is born.
To know what these first principles are, which are so easy of digestion, we must turn to another part of this epistle to the Hebrews. Therefore, having the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God; of the doctrine of baptisms; and of laying on of hands; and of resurrection of the dead; and of eternal judgment. Those things, though they are hard
sayings to the men of the world, are obvious matters to the youngest christian, which he can no more be expected to refuse, than the infant can be expected to refuse the milk which is its natural, and necessary food.
Dead works are such as those persons who are alive without the law, perform. St. Paul was well qualified to judge of works of this description, for he had made such works the business of the early part of his life, when ignorant of God's righteousness, he went about to establish a righteousness of his own. How strangely altered was his view of things, when looking back upon his life, he found that those very acts of external obedience, upon which he had placed his dependance, having originated from no principle of life in his heart, from no love to God, but from a motive of selfishness, were dead works, and of course acts of sin, calling for repentance.
Some may suppose that if all the works of an unbeliever are dead works, and if such works are to be repented of, the christian reviewing the conduct in which he was concerned while in a state of unbelief, will be sorry for all those things which he did which in appearance, were right, and in their tendency useful. If so it must be a matter of lamentation to him, that instead of paying his debts, he did not defraud his creditors; that instead of feeding the hungry, he did not drive every beggar from his door; that instead of calling upon God in his family, he did not live altogether prayerless; that instead of reading his Bible, he did not leave it neglected on the shelf; that instead of going to a place of public worship, he did not spend the sabbath in his worldly business; that instead of bridling his tongue, he did not employ it in profane, and libidinous discourse; that instead of a decent deportment, he did not indulge in riot, and debauchery. The bare mention of the consequences is sufficient, to show the absurdity of such a sentiment, Amaziah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart. Had he ever repented, he could not have repented of that which was right in the sight of the Lord; but he must have repented, that what he did, right in itself, was not done from a perfect heart, or from a desire to glorify God. If the motive and the act are two distinct things, then
there is something to repent of, in dead works even when the works themselves are commendable. If to disregard
the law is criminal; is it not more criminal to disregard the lawgiver; and is not that compliance with the law, virtually, noncompliance, which sets aside the authority of him who gave the law, as a rule of life, and put his own sanction upon it?
From dead works therefore, however profitable they may be to others, no profit can, ultimately, result to him who performs them. God cannot accept that as done to honor him, which was done without any such intention. Dead works will never be rewarded in another world, but unrepented of, they will bring condemnation, and misery, upon the soul.
How strange is it, that men, and even men of sense, and general information, and reflection, are desirous to have a system of morality inculcated from the desk, as the foundation of hope and happiness, which, to say the best of it, does not exceed the righteousness of the scribes, and pharisees; and which, if the scriptures give us correct information will as certainly, and as directly lead to misery, all those who depend upon it for acceptance with God, as any course of sin that ever yet was pursued. Ahab acknowledged that he hated Micaiah, because he did not prophesy good concerning him, but evil. It would have been much more agreeable to the prophet, to communicate good tidings to the king than evil, but he was under indispensable obligations to tell him the truth, and in the truth there could be nothing welcome to such a man. Micaiah must have known that there were some things in the conduct of Ahab externally right; but he considered them to be what they were, dead works; and for that reason he could not, in faithfulness encourage him to expect good. Ahab did right to comply with the direction of Elijah to assemble the people of Israel, and the prophets of Baal, at mount Carmel; he did right also to obey the prophet, who told him how to order his army in the battle with Benhadad; and a still better thing is recorded of him, for he rent his clothes, and put sack-cloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sack-cloth, and went softly, in consequence of the message
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. commission with which the Apostles were clothed in that early day, was designed to be a warrant to the ministers of