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The Law Of God, Written In The Hearts Of All Men, Convinces Them That On The Day Of Judgment They Will Be Without Excuse.
When the Gentiles ... do the things contained in the law ... they shew the work of the law written in their hearts.—Rom. 2:14, 15.
When God created man in his own image, in righteousness and holiness, and endowed him with exalted virtues and gifts, he impressed three qualities on the human conscience so deeply, that they can never be effaced: First, the natural testimony that there is a God. Secondly, a testimony that a day of Judgment will come. Rom. 2:15. Thirdly, the law of nature, or natural righteousness, by which man is enabled to distinguish between honor and shame, and to experience joy and sorrow.
2. For no nation has ever been discovered so wild and barbarous, as to deny that a God exists, inasmuch as nature furnishes internal and external evidence of this fact. Indeed, men have not only acknowledged the being of a God, of which they were assured by their consciences; but they have also been affected with a sense of his justice, as an avenger of evil, and a rewarder of good; and this persuasion arose from the consciousness, that, on some occasions, they were harassed with fearful apprehensions; while, on others, they felt a certain measure of peace and joy. By this knowledge, they even proceeded farther, and discovered the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, as appears from Plato, who most amply discussed this subject. And, lastly, they gathered from this inward law, that God was the author and source of all that was good in nature, and therefore ought to be worshipped by an assiduous attention to virtue, and with a pure heart. Hence, they defined virtue to be man's chief good; and schools of moral virtue were accordingly instituted by Socrates, and by other heathen philosophers. This may be sufficient to convince us, that God, even since the fall, has allowed a spark of natural light to remain in men, in order that they might be admonished of their heavenly origin, and be assured, that 20 it was only by following these footsteps of divinity, that they could be restored to their former perfection. Some of the heathens themselves, have not been unacquainted with this truth; among whom is Aratus, the poet, quoted by St. Paul, who declares that “we are God's offspring.” Acts 17:28.
3. The Gentiles, however, stifling the testimony of conscience, contemned the light of nature, and “the work of the law written in their hearts” (Rom. 2:15); so that it cannot but be their own fault, that they are condemned and lost; and they are, as St. Paul argues, left altogether without excuse. Rom. 1:19, 20. And as the Gentiles knew, by nature, the justice of God, and that such as did evil were worthy of death; and yet not only committed evil but had pleasure in it; it follows, that they thereby condemned themselves, whilst “their thoughts accusing or excusing one another,” convinced them of the certainty of the day of judgment. Rom. 1:32; 2:15. But if the Gentiles shall be “inexcusable,” because, though endued with the natural knowledge of God, they sought him not, as was their duty; what shall they plead in their own behalf, to whom God hath given his Holy Word, and whom he hath so earnestly invited to repentance, by Jesus Christ his beloved Son; in order that, forsaking the corruptions of the world, they might, by faith, apprehend the merits of the Saviour, and obtain eternal life and salvation?
4. Therefore, every false Christian shall, in the day of judgment, be condemned by two mighty witnesses: by his own conscience or the law of nature, and likewise by the revealed Word of God, which will then judge him. In that day, “it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom,” than for such false pretenders to religion. Matt. 11:24.
5. Their anguish and torment shall be without end; since God has made the soul immortal and planted the conscience in it, to be both a witness and a judge. The conscience can never throw off the recollection of God, and yet cannot of itself approach him; which must be attended with unutterable pain to the soul, and expose it to the worm that dieth not, and to the fire that cannot be quenched. And the more the wicked have, through impenitence of heart, treasured up to themselves “wrath against the day of wrath” (Rom. 2:5), the more severe will this inward and eternal suffering be. For as God, in the exercise of his righteous judgment, gave up the Gentiles to a reprobate mind, because they sinned against their own consciences, and “the work of the law written in their hearts;” so that they became blind in their understandings, and rushed into every kind of filthy and abominable pollution; thus drawing down upon themselves the wrath of God, denounced against all crimes that are committed against the light of knowledge: so the same doom (yea, and a far heavier one) will be inflicted upon those who rest in the mere profession of the Christian faith, and deny the life and the power of godliness. The reason of this is obvious: such persons have contemned the inward as well as the outward word and testimony of God, and have not only persevered in a state of impenitence, but have resisted the Divine Spirit, and blasphemed Him who favored them with the light of his Gospel. On this account, God gives them up to a reprobate mind, so that they become worse than heathens and infidels. He sends 21 them “strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thess. 2:11, 12.
6. This is the true reason why vices of so detestable a nature universally abound among Christians; many of which were not so much as known among the Pagan nations. What satanical pride, what insatiable covetousness, what unheard-of intemperance, what bestial lust; in a word, what inhuman wickedness, is not practised by those who call themselves Christians! And whence does all this arise, but from that blindness and hardness of heart, which they have contracted by confirmed habits of iniquity. When those who are called Christians disdain to imitate the meek and lowly Jesus in their manners and their conversation; when they are scandalized at him, and consider it disgraceful to look to him whom God has appointed to be the light of the world, and our great example (John 8:12); then the righteous God gives them up to follow Satan; to take upon them the life of the devil, his abominable impiety, wickedness, and lies; that they may execute with him all the works of darkness, inasmuch as they refuse to walk in the light. For thus saith the Lord, “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you.” John 12:35.
7. Finally, if God gave up the heathen to so terrible a blindness and so reprobate a mind; and this because they proved disobedient to the glimmering light of nature; or, as St. Paul expresses it, “because they did not like to retain God in their knowledge,” in order to be preserved by him (Rom. 1:28); how much more shall those be banished from life and salvation, to whom the truth of God has come not only by natural light, but by means of his revealed word, and the new covenant, and who yet haughtily despise these special tenders of divine mercy! Of which new covenant, God thus speaks: “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jer. 31:33, 34; John 6:45.
8. And here, let us also attend to that which the Apostle says, concerning those who offend wilfully. “If,” says he, “we sin wilfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law,” continues the Apostle, “died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Heb. 10:26-31. These words, however, are not pronounced in reference to those who fall through natural infirmity, but against them who sin wilfully and against knowledge, and who persevere to the end in a state of impenitence.
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