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conscience, ye sin against Christ. If a christian is injured, when his body is wounded, why not when his conscience is wounded? But whoso shall offend one of these little ones, who believe in me, says our Savior, it were better for him that a mill stone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. If the crime here mentioned is so great, then the damage caused by the criminal, must be great in proportion. Those who are in a condition to receive the plain truths of the gospel, might be filled with darkness, and doubts, in consequence of the inculcation of deep mysteries; and instead of being edified they would be puzzled, confounded, and well nigh distracted.
Our subject leads us to some reflections, the first of which is, that if we are opposed to things in religion, which are hard to be understood; to the hidden mystery of which the apostle speaks; our opposition must arise from our carnality. The apostle fed the Corinthians with milk, because they were not able to bear meat; and the reason why they were not able was, that they were carnal. The carnal mind is enmity against God; and against his way of salvation. The world has always been in arms against the truth. God sent his prophets to proclaim the truth, and carnal men, exasperated at the message, put the messengers to death. Jesus Christ came, in the fulness of time, and he was treated in the same way. It was in vain for Pilate to inquire, Why; what evil hath he done? He had borne witness to the truth, in public, and upon all occasions. To this end was he born, and for this cause came he into the world. The apostles followed their Lord: and with the same doctrine provoked the same wrath, and shared with scarcely an exception, the same fate. The martyrs all suffered in the same cause. Let us not undertake to justify our opposition. It admits of no justification. If we allow the scriptures to be a revelation from heaven, where is our consistency, in denying any thing that they contain?
Though it appears evident, that all opposition, to deep and mysterious things in religion arises from carnality in the heart, it does not follow, that the heart is wholly carnal, which opposes these things. St. Paul's address to the
Corinthians is, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth; and he says to them, I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual; but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. He did not think it impossible for them to be in Christ, and at the same time carnal, for he knew, that carnality is but another name for sin, and that as all men are imperfect in the present world, there will be more or less carnality, or sin, in every christian. He had a standard by which to estimate the degrees of carnality, and by that standard, indeed, he found the Corinthian church to be carnal, in a very high, and an uncommon degree. But though we find the apostle dealing much in reproof, he no where uses any uncharitable language. He was as good a judge of the human heart and of the change which grace causes in it, as we can expect any where to find. His example we should endeavor to follow. If our brethren do not see with us, or withstand us in things of an abstruse nature, we should not on that account withdraw our charity from them, and conclude they cannot be brethren of the Lord, but rather look back to the Corinthian church, which was fed with milk, because in such an infantile and carnal state as to be unable to receive any thing beside.
Those who entertain a hope, that they are the children of God, and are yet against hearing any thing but the simplest truths, would do well, frequently, and attentively, to read those scriptures which treat upon mysterious matters; particularly the epistle to the Romans, and consider what is meant by the terms used. When you read of election, or of predestination, you must suppose, that something is intended. What is it? Make up an opinion for yourselves; but be careful to take such materials as the Holy Ghost has furnished.
Apparent as it is, that nothing but carnality in the heart opposes the difficult doctrines of the Bible, we must not too hastily conclude, that we are not carnal, if those are the doctrines which we wish ever to have brought into view. There were those who were for Paul at Corinth, and they, for ought that appears, were as carnal as the others. From his own mouth, or in some other way, individuals might gain some idea of the mysterious doctrines which he embra
ced, though he did not broach them generally at Corinth. From the apostle's inode of address to that church we infer, that he would have been more acceptable, had he dealt more in mysteries. It may be thought impossible, that carnal men should be both opposed to mysteries and in favor of them. But we are told that the law is good if a man use it lawfully. May there not then be an unlawful use of the law? We read also, But Israel which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. May not persons therefore opposed to the law, make it their object, and study, as Saul of Tarsus did, with Gamaliel? However it may be accounted for, I could refer you to men notoriously intemperate, who are great sticklers for the stoutest orthodoxy of the Calvinistic creed.
One reflection more shall conclude this discourse. There are different opinions respecting what is the proper, and profitable, method of preaching. Paul observed in his last interview with the elders of Ephesus, I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. It has been inferred from this, that every thing which is true, and especially, such truths, as are most difficult to be understood, should be brought by the ministers of the gospel before their congregations. If this is a fair inference, was not the apostle, in his preaching at Corinth, as much to be blamed as any one who ever undertook the business of preaching; for according to his own statement he fed them with milk, and not with meat; and when he spoke of the hidden wisdom, it was before such as were perfect. He probably considered the elders of Ephesus to be capable of understanding the hidden wisdom, so far as was necessary to make a proper improvement of it; and for this reason, he declared to them the whole counsel of God. Since those who are carnal, can bear nothing but milk, or the first principles of religion, and since in every congregation, there are, probably, many persons of this description, what shall the ministers of the gospel do, to conform to the practice of Paul, and to be able to say, like him, when parting with their people, I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men?
Your present pastor, though he has always doubted the expediency of dwelling, largely, upon the wisdom of God in a mystery, or the hidden wisdom, before a mixed assembly, has had many an anxious hour, to find so many persons in this place, and particularly, in this church, apparently opposed to the very language of the scriptures used in reference to this subject. Milk is as necessary here as it ever was at Corinth; and for the same reason. My predecessor, for ought that I know, might have spent his days here had he been less urgent, upon some points; and whoever may succeed me, may leave you as he did, should he pursue the same course. Let me improve this opportunity to enter my solemn protest against every scheme of religious doctrine which makes the salvation of man, in any measure, to depend upon himself; which leaves out of view the great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh, and which supposes divine agency unnecessary to renew and sanctify the heart, that it may be prepared for the service and enjoyment of God on earth and in heaven.
THE SECOND COMING OF THE LORD.
I. THESSALONIANS iv. 16, 17.
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout; with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive, and remain, shall be caught up together with them, in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
THESE words were designed for comfort to the believers at Thessalonica, in their seasons of bereavement and sorrow; and they are precious words to all believers, and in all circumstances; especially when trials are so great, that nature is ready to sink under them.
The apostle did not intend to forbid, or discountenance sorrow of every kind, but only that which has no hope connected with it; for sorrow may be so indulged, as to be very proper, and very profitable. If we part with our friends, expecting never to see them again, the scene will be sorrowful, in proportion to the strength of our attachment; but if we realize a future state, we shall anticipate a future meeting; and one attended with peculiar advantages to the children of God; so that instead of gloom there will be much comfort in parting.
Upon the religion contained in the word of God we are dependant for an extensive prospect. When the Sun of righteousness shines upon the soul, the effect is the same as when the natural sun appears, and scatters the fog which, concealing distant objects, made the circle of vision narrow.