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ON CHRISTIAN PRACTICE.
EVERY doctrine which comes into the system of truth, exhibited in divine revelation, and which has been brought into view, in the preceding work, is, in a greater or less degree, practical; and the whole, considered in a collective view, do lead to, and involve every thing essential in the whole system of christian exercise and practice, which consists wholly in practising the truth, or walking in the truth.497497 John iii. 21. 2 John 4. 3 John 3, 4. This will therefore serve as an help and guide in the brief delineation of this, which is now proposed.
The temper and exercises of a christian, which take place in the view of revealed truth, have been in some measure brought into view and described already. 362They consist summarily and most essentially in love: In loving God with all their heart; and loving their neighbour as themselves. Christian practice consists iii expressing and acting out this affection, on all occasions, in every suitable way, in obedience to all the holy laws of God. The christian owes perfect obedience at all times, as he always did before he was a christian and which all men do. His becoming a christian, and. obtaining pardon and the divine favour, is so far from freeing him from obligation to obey the laws of God perfectly, that his obligation to this is hereby greatly increased.
There is no real obedience, or any thing morally good or evil in mere words and external actions, considered as unconnected with the heart, and aside from the motives and affections of which they are the fruit a id expression; for all obedience and virtue consist in the disposition and exercises of the heart; and in the expressions and exertions of it, in words and external actions: And when the latter are not the fruit and genuine expressions of the former, whatever they may be, there is no holiness or moral good in them. And when they are the fruit and production of a wrong and sinful disposition, motives and exercises of heart, they are bad fruit, and, considered in this connection, are sinful. This is expressly asserted by Christ: “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt. A good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth good things: And an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.”498498 Matt. xii. 35, 35. The external appearances and expressions, in words and conduct, of both of them, in some, yea, many instances, may be the same, or so much alike, in the view of man, as not to be distinguished. But those of the one are good, as they proceed from a good heart, and are the proper expression of his true benevolence and goodness. Those of the other are evil, as they proceed from an evil heart, and are the fruit and effect of selfish motives, or of self love; and all the appearance they have of the contrary is nothing but falsehood and hypocrisy.363
Mankind in their state of depravity and blindness are liable to make great mistakes, not only with respect to real holiness of heart, in what it consists; but as to the way and manner in which an honest and good heart is to be expressed in words and actions; and therefore stand in need of particular instruction and direction with regard to this. God has been pleased to furnish man with direction, in the revelation which he has given, and has abundantly taught us how, and in what manner we are to express that love, in which all holiness consists, and what are the natural effects of it, in words and actions, on different occasions, and towards different objects. This is done more summarily in the ten commandments spoken from Mount Sinai by God himself, in the audience of all the people of Israel, and afterwards written by him on two tables of stone. But this is more particularly taught and explained, by numerous precepts respecting our conduct on various occasions, and towards different objects and persons; and by the history and example of good men; and especially by the precepts and example of Christ.
By these, the conduct which is a proper expression of love to God and to our neighbour, including ourselves, is so particularly delineated, that they who are under the influence of this love are not exposed to make any great mistakes; but will be directed and excited to all christian practice, in each branch of it.
I. Christian practice, as it more immediately respects God, and the things of the invisible world, which is the practice of piety, consists chiefly in the following things:
1. A public profession of a belief of the great, important truths and doctrines, contained in divine revelation, and sincere approbation of them; a profession of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ: and that we do dedicate and devote ourselves to his service, submitting to him as our Lord and Saviour; promising to obey all his commands, and attend upon all his ordinances: At the same time, professing love to the visible disciples of Christ, and a desire to join to a society of such, who are mutually engaged to promote the cause and kingdom of Christ in the world, and maintain his worship and ordinances, 364in a way which is agreeable to our judgment, and conscience. Such a public profession is due to God, and no man can properly honour Christ without it; and is therefore the natural expression of love to God, and the spirit of true piety. This therefore has been required and practised in all ages, under the Old Testament and the New, as the only way in which a visible church has existed in the world, or can exist. This is expressed in scripture in the following words: “Ye stand this day all of you, before the Lord your God; that thou shouldst enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day.”499499 Deut. xxix. 10, 12. I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring. And they shall spring up as among grass, as willows by water-courses. One shall say, lam the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob: And another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.”500500 Isa. xliv. 3, 4, 5. “Then they that gladly received the word were baptized: And the same day there were added unto them, about three thousand souls. And the Lord added to the church daily, such as should be saved. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes, both men and women. And much people was added unto the Lord. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”501501 Acts ii. 41, 47. v. 14. viii. 37. xi. 24. “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved.”502502 Mark xvi. 16. Baptism necessarily implies such a profession, and an express engagement to obey and serve Jesus Christ.
2. If a person has not been baptized in his infancy, a submission to this commanded rite is required of him, as a christian, without which no profession of faith and obedience to Christ, is to be considered as credible, or can constitute him a visible christian. If he has been baptized in his infancy, and so made a visible member of the church, in the sense explained above, his approbation of this, and of all that is implied in it, must be expressly or implicitly declared in the public profession which he makes. And when such a professor who is 365baptized, and a visible member of a church, has children, he is required to offer and dedicate them to Christ in baptism, and promise to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. This, and his faithful performance of his engagements in this transaction, is an important part of the practice of piety, and the duty which he owes to Christ, which at the same time is a duty which he owes to his children, and to the church.
3. A serious, devout, and constant attendance on all the religious institutions of Jesus Christ, is an important port of christian practice. These are public worship; consisting in prayer, singing praise to God, and hearing the word preached. Attending on the Lord’s supper, whenever it is administered in the church to which he belongs. A careful and strict observation of the christian Sabbath, in abstaining from all secular business, labour or recreation; except that which is of real necessity; and works of charity and mercy; and devoting the whole day to religious exercises, in public and more privately. This is an important part of the practice of christian piety; arid every branch of the christian’s exercise of piety will commonly keep pace with his observation of the Sabbath. If a christian feels in any good measure as he ought to do, this will be a high day with him, as in a peculiar manner consecrated to the honour and service of Christ. He is ready to welcome it, on every return of it, with peculiar satisfaction and joy; and be concerned to order his worldly circumstances and business, so as to have the least possible interruption, in the duties of the Sabbath. Thus he will turn away his foot from the Sabbath, from doing his worldly pleasure on God’s holy day; and will call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, and honourable; and will conscientiously honour him, not doing his own ways, nor finding his own pleasure, nor speaking his own words.503503 Isaiah lviii. 13.
4. A free and cheerful contribution for the support of the gospel and public religion, according to his ability, and opportunity, is a necessary part of the practice of a christian. This cannot be maintained and supported, according to the institution of Christ, without cost and 366expense, and the Lord Jesus Christ has ordained, that they who preach the gospel, should live of the gospel.504504 1 Cor. ix. 14. Love to God, and divine institutions, and a regard for the honour of Christ, will open the heart of a christian; and he will be ready to contribute liberally for the support of the gospel, and will much rather retrench his expenses in other things, than fall short of his duty in this, which he will consider as a privilege, rather than a burden. And it is the duty of every christian, to make all those exertions, and be at all the expense, which may be necessary to spread and propagate the gospel, to those who have not enjoyed it, according to his opportunity, capacity and ability, to promote such an important design.
5. A serious, pious manner of conversation, which is the proper effect and expression of a belief of the great truths of christianity, and a sense of their importance and excellence; being ready to speak and hear of the things of religion on all proper occasions; speaking of God, his works, and ways, and institutions, and the things of the invisible, eternal world, as being realities, and with becoming reverence and solemnity; and carefully avoiding all vain, trifling conversation. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”505505 Eph. iv. 29.
6. The christian ought to give great and constant attention to his Bible, reading and studying it daily, that he may know what is the will of God there revealed, and understand the important truths it contains, and that they may be more and more impressed on his mind, and be plain and familiar to him. “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”506506 Psal. i. 2. And he will be disposed to improve all the advantages and helps which are in his reach to understand the scriptures, and make advances in divine knowledge, both by reading the writings of those who have explained the scriptures, and inculcated the doctrines and duties of christianity; and by conversation with those from whom he may hope to get instruction. In this, and in his devotions, he spends all the time 367which can be spared from his particular worldly business and calling, and for which the Sabbath gives him special advantages.
7. The pious education of children, and of all who are under his care, is a duty comprehended in the practice of piety. This consists in family government, and giving them religious instruction, at all proper opportunities, and in advising, exhorting and admonishing them respecting their religious exercises and conduct. This was strictly enjoined on the children of Israel, as has been particularly observed in a former chapter; and is implied in St. Paul’s direction to christian parents to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
8. Prayer, or devotion, is a great and important branch of christian exercise and practice, and is the constant employ of a pious heart, and essential to true christianity. This comprehends, adoration, confession, petition, thanksgiving and praise; of all which God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is the immediate object. Adoration consists in thinking and speaking of the divine perfections, character and works, in devout addresses to Him. And as this is to be done with veneration, and a sense and acknowledgment of the divine worthiness, excellence, and glory, consisting and appearing in these, which is praise: Therefore, adoration and praise are not to be distinguished, so as to be considered distinct and separate from each other. Confession consists in an acknowledgment made to God of our sins, unworthiness, guilt and misery; and of our absolute dependance on God for every good. And profession may be considered as implied in this, of repentance, and dependance on God for pardon and all the good we want, in a belief and approbation of the truths contained in divine revelation. Petition, is making request to God, and asking for the good things which we want and desire for ourselves, or others, or for any good which appears to us desirable, and not contrary to the revealed will of God to grant or do. Which petitions are always to be made with an unreserved, absolute resignation to the will of God. Thanksgiving consists in expressing our gratitude to God, for all the expressions 368and exercises of his benevolence, which come within our view: For benevolence or goodness expressed is the only object or ground of true gratitude, wherever it. appears, and whoever be the subjects of it; and however it may be abused and perverted by individuals, and turned into the greatest evil to them.
Prayer, taken in this large sense, as comprehending all this, even the whole that is implied in addressing God and holding intercourse with him, in secret, private or public, is much spoken of in scripture, and recommended by many precepts, and examples of pious men, and of Jesus Christ himself. He spake a parable to show, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint, and to encourage them to do it.507507 Luke xviii. 1, &c. And we are commanded, in every things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, to let our requests be made known to God. “To pray without ceasing: To pray always, with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, watching thereunto with all perseverance.” And the greatest motives and encouragement to prayer that are possible, are exhibited in divine revelation, both by precept, example and promises; of which every one must be sensible who is well acquainted with the Bible. It is therefore thought needless to go into particulars to prove or illustrate this.
The christian is always near the throne of grace. God represents his ear as always open to the cry of them who look to him, and trust in him. The Mediator has opened the m ay of access to God, for sinners, and bid them ask all good things in his name; and promises that they shall be heard, and have their petitions granted. Therefore, we may have free access to God, on all occasions, and at all times, and we may pray always, with all prayer; and this is both the duty and interest of a christian. Wherever he is, whatever be his circumstances and business, his heart may rise to God in any part of devotion, petition, thanksgiving, praise, &c. in desultory ejaculations, and he pour out his heart before God, in groanings which cannot be uttered in words. With this sort of prayer, every christian is acquainted, 369and the higher he rises in the exercise of christianity, the more he practises it.
Set times of secret prayer, also, come into the practice of a christian; when he retires from the world, and out of the sight of men, and summonses his heart to attention to the worship of God in secret. Of this particular kind of prayer, Christ speaks in the following words: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”508508 Matt. vi. It is plain, that Christ speaks here of personal prayer, in distinction from that which is social. No christian can live comfortably or as he ought, without the daily practice of this sort of prayer. It is suited to keep religion alive in his heart. He has many wants and particular concerns between God and his soul, which cannot be expressed in social worship, which it is highly proper and greatly beneficial for him to express before God in secret, where he may do it with unrestrained freedom.
Social prayer is also a duty, in which christians join with each other in worshipping God, in a greater or less number, more publicly or less, according to their particular connections, and special occasions. It is highly proper, and greatly beneficial, that each family should practise social worship together, and as a family daily, and in a constant, uninterrupted course. They have many family wants, mercies and afflictions, which are changing, and may be renewed from day to day, and which call for particular acknowledgment, confessions and petitions, which cannot be so properly made in any other way, but by the family uniting together, morning and evening, in social worship. And this, when properly practised, tends to keep up a view and sense of the things of religion, in the members of the family, and to solemnize and quicken all of them. And it cannot be conceived how parents and heads of families can properly educate their children, and those of whom they have the care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and treat them in the best manner that tends to form them to piety and religion, if they do not pray daily with 370them and for them, in this social way; joining the serious reading of the scriptures with their devotions.509509 Devout singing in families seems to be a proper part of family worship. It has been, and now is, practised by many devout families. Christians are directed to sing psalms and hymns; and they doubtless did it in their families, as well as more publicly. They taught and admonished one another in psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in their hearts to the Lord. Col. iii. 16. Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God, when only they two worshipped together in prison. Where this is wholly neglected in families, their worship appears to be defective. And doubtless, when religion shall appear in the true spirit and lustre of it in families, singing in a sweet, harmonious manner, will be one part of their daily worship. It is owing to a defect in the education of children, that they are not all taught to sing when young. If proper attention were paid to this, there would be but few, if any, unable to sing so as to add to the music and harmony. And children would be trained up in families, so as to be able to join with others in this part of public worship, and render it more universal, beautiful and melodious, arid more becoming a christian, worshipping assembly. In the millennium, children will sing Hosannas to the Son of David, not only in public, but in families, when all will join with one heart, and one mouth, to sing praises unto God.
A number of instances of our Saviour’s praying with his disciples, which were his family, are mentioned; and there is no reason to think, these were the only instances; but they are so related, that it is reasonable to conclude, that this was his constant practice.510510 Luke ix. l8, 28. xi. l. The Apostle Paul, when he presents salutation to christians, frequently mentions and salutes the churches in their houses, by which he means the members of christian families. They are little churches, when they unite in daily worship, and reading the holy scriptures; and proper instruction, order and discipline are maintained: And are little nurseries, from whence more large and extensive churches are supplied and supported. But the families, in which there is no religious worship practised, make a contrary appearance, and have a contrary tendency, even to demolish the church and root out religion; and are too commonly the places of irreligion and vice.
It is also agreeable to the nature and dictates of the christian religion, that persons of different ages and sexes, should unite and form themselves into different societies, and meet together at times and places upon which they shall agree, as most convenient for prayer and religious conversation, or reading the word of God, or books suited to instruct and excite them to their duty. This tends to promote religion, to keep up a sense of it on the 371mind, and to unite the hearts of christians one to another, and direct and quicken them in relative duties. Thus young men may form themselves into a society, to meet frequently for those purposes; and young women by themselves. And elderly men, by themselves, and women apart by themselves. Or societies of males in general, older and younger, may meet by themselves, and females of every age apart in a distinct society: Or both males and females may meet together in different neighbourhoods, when it can be done under proper regulations, and may be found most convenient. It is easy to see that such societies, under good regulations, tend to promote religion, union and good order among christians. And it has been found by experience, that revivals of religion have actually produced this effect, and led people to form into praying societies of this kind; which, when properly conducted, have proved salutary and profitable.
The prayers and devotions of public worship are to be constantly attended with a serious and decent behaviour, so as not to disturb, but promote and assist others, in this part of public, solemn devotion. The constant practice of secret, family, and other social prayer, which has now been mentioned, is suited to prepare for this more public and solemn worship. “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to offer the sacrifice of fools.”511511 Eccl. v. 1. “Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: For mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.”512512 Isai. lvi. 7. “Now Peter and John went up together into the temple, at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.”513513 Acts iii. 1. “And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying. Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.”514514 Zech. viii. 21, 22.
9. Fasting is to be joined with prayer, at certain times, and on special occasions. Religious fasting consists in abstinence from common food and drink, for a certain time, longer or shorter, as shall be found most 372convenient, and best suited 10 answer the ends of fasting, which are to promote and express engagedness of mind in prayer and devotion: especially to express humiliation, contrition, and concern of mind, and a readiness to crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts, and mortify the body. This is to be practised, especially when under any particular and great calamity, spiritual or temporal; or when such calamity is threatened, and persons set themselves to seek of God deliverance from the evil that is upon them, or that the threatened evil may be averted. Also, when any great and special mercy is to be sought, it is proper to do it with fasting and prayer. This is a commanded duty; and there are many instances of it, as practised by pious persons, both in the Old and in the New Testament. There are many instances of personal fasting recorded in scripture, which is to be performed by single persons, and is to be done as secretly as circumstances will permit. Of this personal fasting Christ speaks, when he says, “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: And thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”515515 Matt. vi. 17, 18. Social fasting and prayer, is also a duty, in the practice of which particular families have sometimes a call to join; and more public societies, or whole churches, as the duty may be pointed out in divine providence. Our Saviour supposes it will frequently be the duty for christians to fast, and implicitly, at least, enjoins it, when he says of them, “The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.”516516 Matt. ix. 15.
Before this account of the devotion which is essential to the practice of christians is dismissed, it will be proper to consider the following question.
Question. It is granted, that the scripture reveals an omniscient and unchangeable God: And at the same time directs and commands men to pray. But how these are consistent, is not so readily seen. What encouragement or reason can there be to pray to an omniscient and unchangeable God?373
Answer 1. If there were no omniscient, unchangeable God, there could be no just ground, or reason for prayer. On this supposition, there would be no God; for none but an omniscient and unchangeable Being can be God. But if this were possible, and God were changeable, there would be no reason to trust in him for any thing; because what he would be disposed to do, and whether he would grant any petition made to him, or fulfil any of his promises, would be utterly uncertain; and, therefore, there would be no ground and encouragement for prayer. Bui if there could be any encouragement to pray to a changeable being, and we knew he was able to grant, and could give whatever we asked of him, and do as we desired, it would be the greatest presumption to ask him for anything, unless we knew it was for our own good, and for the general good, to have it granted: and so might set ourselves up as judges, directors, and governors of the universe. Therefore, the truly humble, pious person, would not dare to pray for any thing, if God were not omniscient and unchangeable. Hence it follows, that if there be any reason and encouragement to pray at all, it must be, because God is omniscient and unchangeable. The truly pious do not set up their own will, or desire any petition which they make should be granted, unless it be consistent with the infinitely wise, good and unchangeable will of God.—To this they refer all, and in this they trust, with the most pleasing confidence, and say implicitly or expressly, in all their petitions, “If it be consistent with thy unchangeable, wise and holy will: Not our will, but thine be done, whatever it may be.” Any petition which is put up with a disposition contrary to this, is an act of impiety, and enmity against God.
Answer 2. There is good reason, and all desirable or possible encouragement to pray to an omniscient, unchangeable God. For,
1. It is reasonable and proper that the pious should express their wants and desires to God, and their dependence on him, and trust in him for the supply of their wants. If they have such wants and such desires, and feel their dependence on God for a supply, and 374trust in him alone, and such feeling and desires be right and proper, it must be reasonable and proper that they should be expressed. And, indeed, the very existence and exercise of such feelings and desires are a kind and degree of expression of them before God, and therefore the expression of them is essential to their existence: And the more clear, strong and particular the expression of them is, the more properly and the better do they exist. But these are expressed in the most natural and best manner in prayer. It appears from what has been now observed, that such feelings and desires are themselves a sort of mental prayer; and it is therefore too late not to pray, when they exist. And the more particularly and distinctly, and with the greater strength they are acted out and expressed in thoughts and words, in particular and solemn addresses to God, the more reasonable and proper are these exercises of the mind. Besides, this is the only way in which pious christians in this world can, not only express their piety in the most proper manner, but also pay proper acknowledgments to God, and give him the honour due to his name.
2. Asking God for the favours they want is suited to prepare them to receive them, and fit them for the mercy he designs to bestow upon them, so as to render it the greater and better to them. Though God be unchangeable, the christian stands in need of being changed; the change is therefore to take place in him. And nothing can be more suited to prepare the christian to receive good things, than a proper asking for them, and the views and exercises implied in this. The expressing our wants and our desires to God, in a particular and solemn application to him. and our dependance on him for help, and trust in him, and our conviction and sense of his sufficiency for us, tends greatly to strengthen these views, feelings and exercises of the heart, and to excite and maintain the constant exercise of them; and to form the mind more and more to a preparedness to receive them, as a free gift from God, and to render the blessings which are asked more sweet, and of greater worth to the soul. In this view, the reasonableness 375of prayer, and the great encouragement to practise it, are evident.
3. From the foregoing, it appears, that prayer is a real, proper and necessary mean of obtaining and receiving blessings from God; and as much so, as if he were not omniscient and unchangeable. Though God has determined to bestow blessings on men, this docs not exclude the means by which they are to be received, but necessarily supposes and includes them; and prayer is one of them. Therefore, when God had declared by the prophet Ezekiel, what blessings he determined to bestow on his church and people, he nevertheless said, “I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.”517517 Ezek. xxxvi. 37.
4. Hence it appears, that God hears the prayers of his people, and regards them as much, and as really answers them, and they receive blessings as really and as much by this mean, and in answer to them, as if he were not unchangeable. Therefore, there is as much reason, and as great encouragement to pray, as if he were changeable: Yea, and much more; for it has been shown, that if he were not unchangeable, there could be no safety in trusting in him, or encouragement to pray to him.
5. The satisfaction and pleasure, that is to be enjoyed by the christian in prayer and devotion, is a sufficient reason for it, and encouragement to practise it, if there were no other. This is not performed by the pious christian, as a task and burdensome duty; but as a privilege and high enjoyment. The benevolent friends of God have great support, enjoyment and happiness in casting all their care upon him, and expressing the desires of their heart to him; and “by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, making known their requests to him.” They would pray, were it only for the enjoyment which they have in exercise, and say in their hearts, “I will call upon God as long as I live:” While others restrain prayer before God, and say, “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?” They are pleased with the way which is opened for sinners’ 376access to God by an infinitely worthy Mediator, and admire the divine condescension and grace in this. And though they be certain that God is unchangeable, this does not tend to prevent, or in the least abate the pleasure and enjoyment they have in making known their requests to God, or their desire constantly to practise it; but this truth gives them support and consolation, and increases their delight in calling upon God: And were not God unchangeable, they would see no reason, nor feel any encouragement to pray unto him, or even dare to ask any thing of him, as has been observed.
II. Christian practice consists, in part, in a proper conduct towards our fellow men, or in that conduct of which our neighbour is the more immediate object: and is employed in relative and social duties. And this consists wholly in obeying the law of love; in loving our neighbour is ourselves, and in expressing and. acting out this love, in the most natural and proper manner, in words and actions, on all occasions, and at all times. All this is comprised in the two following particulars:
1. In doing justice to all with whom we have any concern and connection: In giving to every one what is his due, what lie has a right to from us; which is opposed to every instance, and the least degree of dishonesty find injustice, whereby any person is injured by words or actions, in any of his interests, in his name, estate or person. The least violation of the rights of any person, by taking or withholding from him anything which is his due, and to which he has a right, is contrary to that comprehensive precept of Christ, of which every rational man cannot but approve in his conscience. “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”518518 Luke vi. 31.
2. Benevolence is expressed and acted out farther, in doing good to all men, and promoting their true interest and happiness, as far as we have opportunity, or according to our capacity, and the advantages we have to do it. This is necessarily included in loving our neighbour as ourselves; and in doing to others, as we would they should do unto us: And is expressly commanded 377in the following words: “As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men.”519519 Gal. vi. 10.
These two generals comprehend a great number of particulars, some of which must be mentioned.
1. Speaking the truth in all cases, and at all times, in opposition to every instance and degree of falsehood, and deceiving our neighbour. This includes a punctual fulfilment of all covenants and promises we make with men; and the cartful and exact payment of all just debts; honesty and uprightness in all our dealings with our neighbour; taking no advantage of his weakness, ignorance or necessity, and dependence on us. And we are not only to be concerned to conduct honestly, but to take special care and pains to appear in the view of others to do so, and guard to our utmost against all contrary appearance. Our love to Christ, to our neighbour, and ourselves, will lead to this; and it is commanded by the apostle Paul. He directs christians, “To provide for things honest in the sight of all men.”520520 Rom. xii. 17. And this he says he took care to do himself, “Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.”521521 2 Cor. viii. 21.
2. Taking great care and pains, and doing their utmost to live in peace with all men; and to preserve or make peace between others with whom they have any influence and connection as far as this is possible, consistent with truth and duty. Christians live in peace with all men as far as is possible, and are peace makers, so far as is in their power; and are disposed, when it is consistent with truth and duty, to give up their own right and interest, for the sake of peace. They are concerned, and study and endeavour to “Give no offence, neither to Jews nor Gentiles, nor to the church of God. But to please all men, in all things, not seeking their own profit, but the profit of many.”522522 1 Cor. x. 32, 33.
3. Giving all the assistance and relief in their power to others who are suffering under temporal bodily wants and distresses; being disposed to do good, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, and minister to the help and comfort of others, as far as they have ability and opportunity.523523 1 Tim. vi. 18. “Whoso hath this world’s goods 378and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”524524 1 John iii. 17.
4. As christian benevolence seeks the greatest good and happiness of all, so far as is consistent with the greatest general good; and considers man as capable of infinitely better and greater good, than any carnal or worldly comfort and happiness; and views him as infinitely miserable, unless he be renewed, and saved by Jesus Christ: the christian is disposed to do ail in his power to prevent the eternal destruction of men, and promote their salvation, by their becoming real christians. In this view he attempts, according to his ability, opportunity, and station in life, and connection with others, to instruct the ignorant, convince and reclaim the erroneous, reform the vicious, and awaken the attention of all to the great truths and important duties of christianity, “If by any means he may save some.” And he exercises a constant care and watchfulness with respect to all his words and conduct before others, not to say or do any thing which would tend to prejudice them against true religion, or be any way injurious to their souls; but, on the contrary, to speak and act so, on all occasions, as shall tend to remove prejudices against the truths and ways of Christ, and lead them cordially to embrace the gospel: and to cause his light so to shine before men, that they may see his good works, and glorify his Father which is in heaven.525525 Matt. v. 16. In this there is the exercise both of piety and humanity.
5. As christianity forms the true christian to a tender concern both for the temporal and eternal interest of all, and aims to conduct so as not to hurt it in any respect, but to promote it; so he is particularly tender of the character of others, and careful not to injure it, by backbiting, speaking evil of them, and slandering them. And this requires the more care and resolution, as the contrary is so common among men, and even many professing christians; and as the tongue cannot be properly bridled with respect to this, without constant care and watchfulness. christianity forbids all slander, backbiting, and speaking evil of others, as this is directly 379contrary to that charity or benevolence which is essential to a true christian. Therefore, he carefully avoids the practice of slander, and speaking evil of others, in the following instances:
First. He does not make or spread an evil report of others, which is not true; or which magnifies the faults of which they may be guilty, and represents them worse than they really are. This he avoids, as contrary to truth, and the highest kind of slander. He will not only, not make a false report, and spread it; but will not take up an evil report concerning others, and spread it; merely because he has heard it asserted by others, while he has no certain evidence of the truth of it. For this is contrary to- the law of love, and real slander, however commonly it may be practised by men.
Secondly. He will not speak of the evil conduct of any person, of which he knows him to be guilty, or divulge that to any one whomsoever, which is known to no one but himself, and the person who is guilty, and which therefore he cannot prove to be true. For this is contrary to loving our neighbour as ourselves; and is real slander. If we ourselves should be guilty of any action which is very wrong and odious, we should not be disposed to speak of it to others, or if we should do it, it would be wrong, and an addition to our crime. And though it should be done in the view of some one person, he would have no right to discover it to any one else; but is obliged to keep it an inviolable secret in his own breast, as he cannot speak of it to any other person, consistent with loving his neighbour as himself. And if he do speak of it, and spread this evil report of his neighbour, of the truth of which he is not able to give any evidence, but his own assertion, which is no proof, he is guilty of slandering his neighbour, and it is proper that he should suffer as a slanderer. At least, he ought to be considered as a slanderer, and is justly exposed to suffer as such.526526 If it should be asked, Whether the person who is really guilty of the evil deed, though there can be no legal proof of it, ought not to confess it, seeing he knows it to be true: And how can he deny it, consistent with truth? The answer is, The guilty person has no more call or right to confess and publish his fault, than if the other had not reported it, and therefore he cannot do it, consistent with his duty. The other person has declared what he cannot prove; and therefore has done it in his own wrong; and it really remains as much of a secret, as if he had not asserted it. Nor is his silence and refusing to say whether he be guilty or not, in any degree, denying the fact, or intimating that the report is not true; or that it is true, and he is guilty. The person, who is in this manner accused by a single evidence who reports it, without any circumstance sufficient to confirm what he asserts, ought not to have the question put to him. Whether the report be true, and he be really guilty? Because he has no right to answer in the affirmative, if he be really guilty, agreeable to the report; and he cannot answer in the negative consistent with the truth. But if any one, imprudently, and without any right, do question him; he has a right to refuse to give any answer, in the affirmative, or the contrary. His proper answer will be to this effect: “Since my neighbour, or brother, has reported that I have been guilty of such a crime, let him prove it. If he cannot, he ought not to be believed, but must bf» considered as a slanderer, and is liable to suffer as such. And lie who believes the report, and is disposed to treat me as if I were guilty, and takes up this report and spreads it yet farther, injures me, and is guilty of slander.”380
Thirdly. The christian is bound by his religion not to spread an evil report concerning his brother or neighbour, or make it more public than it already is, though there be good evidence that it is true. If he hear an ill report of his neighbour, or is a witness of some crime of which his brother is guilty, among other witnesses, he will be sorry to see, or hear such evil things: but will not go and spread them farther, by telling others of them. This would not be consistent with his loving his neighbour as himself. For if a christian be guilty of a fault, the more public it is, and the farther it is known, the more disagreeable it is to him. And it is contrary to his duty, as well as to his inclination, to publish his own faults, which otherwise might be kept more private. And he who is disposed to publish his neighbour’s faults, and makes them more known than otherwise they would be, is guilty of evil speaking, and real slander. But it must be here observed, that there is an exception from this rule, when it is necessary for the public safety and good, or the security of individuals, to have the more private evil deeds, or bad general character of our neighbour made public; or when persons are called to give evidence against men, and be witnesses of their crimes before civil authority, in order to their being brought to proper punishment, for the benefit of society, and the suppression of such evil deeds. Or when this is necessary to bring an offending brother before the church, that he 381may be brought to repentance, or rejected and cast out. And in that case the most private steps are first to be taken, in order to bring him to repentance more privately, as has been observed in the section on church discipline.
Fourthly. While a christian is disposed not to publish the faults of others, to make them known, or speak freely of them, but to hide and cover them, as far as consistently with the public good, and the safety of his neighbour, and his duty; he will be ready to say every thing, which he can with truth, and consistently with his duty, in the favour of those in whom he sees some, and perhaps many faults. He will be more ready to speak of the good part of their character, than of the bad, and of those things which are commendable in them. And will appear in their cause, and vindicate them, when they appear to be too severely censured, and unjustly condemned.
6. Christian practice includes the faithful and punctual performance of all relative duties, founded in the different relations and stations in which persons stand in this life. These are various, and call for different and various duties; but may be all comprehended in the different relations included in superiors, inferiors, and equals. Love will form the christian to the duties required in those different relations; and they all consist in expressing this love in all proper ways in those different relations.
The first relations which are the foundation of all Others, are those which commonly take place in a family, which require different duties. The heads of a family are generally the parents, husband and wife. It is the duty of the sexes in general, to enter into the marriage relation with each other, unless their circumstances be so ordered, in divine providence, as to be inconsistent with this. The standing command to mankind is, to multiply and fill the earth, in this way, with inhabitants. And the command is, “Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” And there is no marriage but this of one husband with one wife, consistent with the divine institution, or the good of mankind. This is a peculiar and near relation, 382suited to the comfort and happiness of human life; and real christianity exalts the enjoyment and happiness of this relation unspeakably, when it takes place in a proper degree in each party. The union consists in love. The husband is the superior, and the wife is the inferior. They are by love to serve each other, by mutually promoting each other’s comfort and usefulness, and everlasting happiness. The inferiority and submission of the wife, when expressed properly in the acts of love, will be in no respect disagreeable, but pleasing, and greatly contribute to the happiness of the relation. The superiority of the husband, expressed in the most tender love, in supporting, protecting, honouring and nourishing his wife, is suited to render the relation as complete and happy, as any can be in this life.
Their natural affections to their children will give them pleasure in ministering to them, and providing for them. But christian benevolence will operate strongly, to prompt them to give them a religious education, to govern, instruct, exhort, and persuade them to the exercise and practice of piety, training them up for Christ.
The children, as soon as they become pious, and are capable of expressing a christian spirit, will be all obedience and submission to their parents, and will delight to please, comfort and honour them in all proper ways. As brethren and sisters they will be united in the most sweet bonds of christian love, added to their natural affection to each other, living in the most happy peace and harmony, and striving to serve and please each other in constant acts of kindness. And if there be any other domestics, they will quietly, and with fidelity, prudence and cheerfulness, do the duty of their place, so as to be most useful and comfortable to every member of the family, taking care that nothing be wasted and lost; but that the best interest of the family is secured and promoted. Thus regulated and happy is every family, where the true spirit and practice of christianity take place in a proper manner and degree.
Different families, and the individual members of them, are connected with others by natural relation, near neighbourhood, &c. from whence arise a number of 383duties, which are to be practised towards them, according to their character, circumstances and stations in life, whether superiors, equals or inferiors; whether virtuous or vicious, friends or enemies. christianity requires such a conduct towards all, as shall express uprightness, humility, meekness, and good will to all, however different their relation to us, or their character may be. A forgiving spirit, and love of benevolence to enemies, are peculiar to a christian, and essential to his character. However they may hate him, and injure and abuse him, he will not be disposed to revenge himself, or do or wish them the least hurt; but will freely forgive them, and wish they may enjoy the highest good; and be as ready to do them good, and pray for them, as if they did not hate him and had not injured him. In the practice of this, christian benevolence appears in the true, distinguishing nature, beauty and excellence of it: and is, therefore, particularly and repeatedly enjoined by Christ on his disciples. He says, “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.”527527 Matt. v. 44. vi. 15.
christianity lays the best and only foundation for true friendship: by the influence, and in the exercise of this, friends may be formed, and the most endearing and happy friendship take place, and be cultivated. There is a peculiar friendship between christians. They love one another with a peculiar love of benevolence and complacency: and therefore are disposed, as they are commanded, to acts of beneficence and kindness to such especially, and in the first place.528528 Gal. vi. 10. But they who are most acquainted with each other will exercise and enjoy this friendship to a much higher degree. They take a peculiar pleasure in conversing with each other, in which they are under no restraint, opening to one another their sentiments, and their hearts, with great freedom. They put great confidence in each other, and are faithful in keeping the secrets which are between them, and in doing good to each other, and praying tor one another; and expressing their love and friendship 384in all proper ways, while it is iii a great measure concealed from the men of the world.
The christian, considered as a citizen, and a member of civil society, connected and supported by civil government, is a peaceable and useful member, sincerely seeking the public good, and ready to promote it in all proper ways, acting with fidelity and discretion, according to his ability, circumstances and station, whether he be a ruler or subject. As a subject he submits to civil authority, and obeys, and does what he can to support the laws of civil society, carefully performing every social duty, desiring “to lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.” And as a good and faithful member of the community, he will be ready to join with them in all necessary and proper ways to defend themselves from the unreasonable and violent assaults which others may make upon them, to destroy them.
Every christian is, or ought to be, a member of some particular church or society of christians, united in solemn covenant, to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, support and promote his cause and kingdom; maintain his worship and ordinances; and watch over, and assist each other, in christian love, and mutual forbearance, tenderness and faithfulness. The nature and design of such a church, have been considered above. This is a society distinct from civil or worldly communities, and independent of them, and there are relative duties peculiar to the members of such churches. They are to pay a particular respect to the elders of the churches, to esteem them very highly for the sake of their work; and give them double honour: not only by attending upon their ministry, and submitting to them, when they declare the truths and duties which Christ has revealed and commanded; but also by giving them a sufficient and decent support. They have much duty to do to one another, in faithfully attending to that discipline which Christ has instituted, and practising it with prudence, impartiality and resolution. They are also to provide liberally for the poor of the church, and freely to contribute for the supply of their bodily wants, so that none shall suffer for the want of the necessaries of life. 385And it is not only the duty of individuals to give relief to particular persons, when they see them to stand in need of their help; but they ought to contribute a sufficient sum, to be lodged in the hands of the deacons, to enable them to give full relief to all the needy of the church; whose duty it is to acquaint themselves with those who may want, and with prudence and faithfulness to distribute, so as in the best and most private manner to relieve and comfort them. If the institution and command of Christ with respect to this were in any good measure observed, every member of his churches would be so supplied with the necessaries for the body, that they would have no occasion to apply to the men of the world, or to any worldly society for help and relief.
These duties of christians, as members of churches, are expressions of piety, and have been mentioned as such; but they are also relative duties, of humanity and mercy:—while every one attends to the duties of his place and station, according to the grace which is given unto him, so as to promote the peace and comfort of every individual, and the edification of the whole body.
III. There are duties included in christian practice, in which a man has a more immediate respect to himself, his own person, while they have a more remote respect to God and his neighbour.
Universal, disinterested benevolence, which is opposed to selfishness, desires and seeks the highest happiness of all, and therefore of the benevolent person himself, so far as is consistent with the good of others, and the greatest general good. And as his individual person is more immediately under his care, and as he is under greater advantage to take care of his own personal interest, than others commonly are; and as there are certain exercises and duties which respect himself more immediately, which are necessary for his own personal comfort and greatest happiness, as well as for the greatest good of others; these are essential to the christian character, and necessarily implied, in loving our neighbour as ourselves. These duties may be ranked under the following heads.386
1. Temperance and frugality in eating and drinking. The body requires constant nourishment by food and drink; and what of this is necessary for health, and to preserve a person in a state most fit to answer the proper ends of life, is commonly taken with pleasure. But all excess and intemperance in eating or drinking is hurtful to the intemperate person, and injurious to others with whom he is connected. The christian therefore is bound by the law of love to be temperate in all things; and to eat and drink for strength and health, and so that he may be best fitted for the duties of his station, and promote his own greatest enjoyment and happiness, and that of others. In this he is obliged to consult his own constitution, experience and circumstances, that he may find what degree and kind of food and drink are best suited for his health and usefulness; and not to gratify and indulge his appetites any farther than is necessary to answer these ends; but to keep his body under, and bring it into subjection to these rules. And in this way alone he can eat and drink, not unto himself, but to the glory of God.
2. Frugality, decency and prudence in apparel. The christian is to put on nothing superfluous, or to gratify pride, or any lust; but only that which is necessary, and best suited to answer the ends of clothing, in which some regard is to be had to a person’s station, business and circumstances in life. The christian, whatever apparel he is obliged to wear, or thinks proper to put on, ought to take care to be, and appear neat and clean, as the contrary is indecent, and tends to injure the health of the body. The short, but comprehensive and important command of Christ, being strictly and judiciously observed, would regulate and fix the christian’s practice, both in eating and drinking, and in putting on apparel: “let nothing be lost.”
3. Chastity in thought, speech and behaviour, is an important christian duty. This is strictly commanded, and much insisted upon in the scripture. Christians are commanded to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness.”529529 Rom. xiii. 14. Gal. v. 19.387—“But fornication and all uncleanness, let it not be once named amongst you, as becometh saints. This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour.”530530 Eph. v. 3. 1 Thess. vi. 3, 4. The strictest chastity is most for the comfort and happiness and honour of those who practise it, and for the benefit of all with whom they are connected; and every thing contrary to this has the most pernicious and fatal tendency, and is injurious in a greater or less degree to those who indulge it, and those with whom they are concerned: Therefore strict chastity is obedience to the law of universal benevolence; and the contrary, and every thing which tends to it, is opposed to this. There is no virtue more recommended in scripture, than inviolable chastity and continence; and no vice more condemned, and the evil consequences more exposed, both in the historical and preceptive parts of scripture, than incontinence and uncleanness. This is particularly done by Solomon in his address to young persons in the first chapters of his Proverbs, which is proposed as a proper example for all parents, in their instructing and warning their children. Youth are most exposed to violate the rules of strict chastity: therefore, have need of instruction, warning and restraint on this head, and ought to keep at the greatest distance from the contrary vice, and carefully shun every temptation and snare, by which they may be decoyed, as thousands have been, and never have recovered from the evil consequences. Therefore, the young christian is under the greatest obligations to “Flee youthful lusts.”
4. A careful government and suppression of all those passions, which disturb and ruffle the mind, and unfit persons for duty, and make them uncomfortable to themselves and to others. As christians ought to govern their bodily inclinations and appetites; and not to gratify, but suppress and mortify all those, so far as they tend to hurt themselves or others; so they are under obligation to regulate and govern their mental passions; and so to rule their own spirits, as to suppress and lay aside all the angry, unruly passions, which are the production 388of selfishness and pride; and render themselves unhappy, so far as they are indulged: And, on the contrary, they are commanded to maintain and constantly to exercise a calm, gentle, meek, peaceable, patient spirit, which is the natural attendant and genuine fruit of benevolence, and necessary in order to the christian’s proper possession and enjoyment of himself, and attendance on the duties of christianity. “He that is slow to anger, is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city. He that hath no rule over his own spirit, is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”531531 Prov. xvi. 32. xxv. 28. Agreeable to this are the apostolic injunctions. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”532532 Eph. iv. 31, 32. “Let your moderation be known unto all men.”533533 Phil. vi. 5. “The wisdom that is from above, is peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated.”534534 James iii. 17. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; is not easily provoked; thinketh no evil.”535535 1 Cor. xiii. 4, 5.
5. A constant and careful cultivation and improvement of the mind, in seeking, pursuing and acquiring useful knowledge, and wisdom. Solomon says “It is not good that the soul be without knowledge.” This is the life and enjoyment of the mind; and is unspeakably the highest and most noble kind of enjoyment, of which a rational creature is capable. All the knowledge which a person of an honest and good heart obtains, is useful to him, and puts him under advantage to be more useful to others. This is not to be obtained, and a constant progress made in it, without labour, by diligent attention and inquiry, in the improvement of all those helps and advantages with which we are furnished. The objects of knowledge are various and infinite; and the knowledge of any of them is not useless to a mind well disposed, and every branch and degree of knowledge is suited to improve such a mind; it really adds to its existence, and increases true wisdom, in a wise 389and benevolent heart. Some objects are more important, grand and excellent than others, and men have more concern and connection with some, than with others; and therefore the knowledge of them is proportionably more excellent, important and useful. And that knowledge which is of the moral kind, and implies a good taste and right exercises of heart; and is therefore the knowledge of the great objects and truths which respect the moral world, and belong to that, is the most important and excellent kind of knowledge, and does most enlarge the soul, and gives the highest degree of enjoyment. This kind of knowledge is therefore to be sought in the first place, and with the greatest thirst and engagedness of mind.
And as God is infinitely the greatest part of existence, and includes the sum of all the natural and moral world, and the knowledge of his moral character includes the knowledge of his laws, moral government, and kingdom, and of all morality, and of every thing necessary to be known in the moral world; the knowledge of God is in scripture considered, as comprehending the whole.—“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”536536 John xvii. 3. “Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”537537 Phil. iii. 8. “If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding: If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her, as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord; and find the knowledge of God.”538538 Prov. ii. 3, 4, 5. “Let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord, which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: For in these things I delight, saith the Lord.”539539 Jer. ix. 24. This is the knowledge which includes true understanding and wisdom, of which Solomon speaks so much in his writings. It is the duty and interest of every christian to make advances in this knowledge, and in all kinds of knowledge and speculations for which he has opportunity; as subservient and advantageous to this. In this way he is to 390“grow in grace, and in the knowledge of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
And this is one end which the christian ought to have in view, among others, in his devotions and prayers, and in his daily reading and studying the “holy scriptures, which are able to make them wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus, being profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”540540 2 Tim. ii. 15, 16, 17. This is one end of his constant attendance on public instruction, and the preaching of the gospel, that by hearing the word, he may understand it, and bring forth fruit. For this end, he is to meditate, read and study, as he has opportunity, that he may improve and advance in useful knowledge: “Trying all things, and holding fast that which is good.” And this ought to be one end in his conversing with his neighbours, and christian friends. He ought not only to study to speak to their benefit and edification, but to converse in order to get instruction himself, and improve his own mind in knowledge and understanding; and will, therefore, “be swift to hear, and slow to speak.” And, in this view, he will avoid, as much as may be, ail trifling and vain company, as well as that which is worse; and he will be ready to obey the command given by Solomon, “Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.”541541 Prov. xiv. 7. And, on the contrary, he will seek the company of the serious and wise, from whom he may hope to get instruction. “For he that walketh with wise men, shall be wise: But a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”542542 Prov. xiii. 20.
6. The christian is diligent and faithful in attending to, and prosecuting the business of his particular calling, in which he is fixed by divine providence, in opposition to sloth, idleness, and mispense of time. He attends to his own proper calling and business, and pursues that with industry, prudence and diligence, and is not a busy body in other men’s matters; not an idle tattler, and brawler, going from house to house, and spending his time in idle chat, which is of no advantage to himself 391or to any one else, but the contrary: But abides in his own calling, steadily prosecuting his business, doing every thing in the proper time and season. He does not sit up late, when there is no particular and extraordinary call to it, which tends to injure his health, and unfit him for his proper business, or prevent his rising early to attend in the proper season on the duties of his calling. Thus, he conscientiously and with care obeys the command, “Not to be slothful in his business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; abiding with diligence in die same calling, wherein he is called.”543543 Rom. xii. 11. 1 Cor. vii. 20.
1. FROM the above brief sketch of christian practice, and the character of a true christian, it appears that christianity is in the best manner suited to make those happy in this world, and forever, who cordially embrace and practise it; and to render society, whether public, or more private, beautiful and happy.
So far as the true spirit and proper practice of christianity take place, it delivers each subject of it from those passions and lusts, which war against the soul, and contain evil and unhappiness, even in the indulgence of them; and it forms them to those views and exercises, respecting the most grand and excellent objects, and that practice in which they enjoy peace of mind, and conscience, and have the best and highest kind of enjoyment of which the human nature is capable, which never can cloy or cease; but is in the nature of it reasonable, pure and permanent. And it forms the christian to the highest and most excellent kind of social felicity. It constitutes the best, most perfect and happy society that can be imagined, or that is possible. It spreads the most happy peace through the whole community, however large it may be, fixes every one in his proper place, and makes him useful to the whole; and at the same time gives each individual the highest satisfaction and pleasure, in being a member of such a society, composed of the most excellent friends to each other, and to him: 392and lie as a friend to every member of the society, and to the whole, enjoys the good and happiness of the whole, to the extent of his capacity. christianity forms society to the strongest, most permanent and happy union, so far as the true spirit of it is imbibed, and carried into practice. It binds them together by the strong, everlasting and most perfect bond, charity, or christian love.
And it must appear to all who properly use their reason, that piety, and the practice of it, is essential to the best good and greatest happiness of society, and of individuals in this world. It is that love which unites men to God and the Redeemer, and forms them to all the acts of piety, and gives them the highest enjoyment; which at the same time unites them to each other, and forms them to all social duties and enjoyments. The latter cannot exist without the former. Where there is no piety, there may be a sort of union in society, and a degree of enjoyment, in imitation of christian social virtues and duties; but it must be a low, mean thing, without any real benevolence, or proper, lasting foundation; and therefore not to be depended upon.
How greatly mistaken then are they, who do not consider the exercise and practice of piety, as any part of social happiness, or in the least advantageous to it, and leave christianity wholly out of their idea and scheme of public virtue and social happiness! It is impossible there should be any great degree of personal or public social happiness, without christian piety and morality, founded, on christian principles: And so far only, as these take place, personal and public happiness is secured and promoted. And they must certainly have a low, debased, and corrupt taste for enjoyment and happiness, who think they can be more happy, both personally, and in society, without real christianity than with it; and are expecting and seeking it for themselves and the public, in opposition to christian practice, and in disregard to the laws of Christ, and by an open violation of them. Their enjoyment, considered personally and by themselves, or in society, must be mean and low at best, and very unworthy of man, who is made capable of unspeakably higher and more noble happiness in his own mind, 393independent of others, or in society, in the exercise and practice of christianity, and the social virtues and conduct which it prescribes.
It will be asked by some, whether all this be not confuted by fact and experience, since christianity has not rendered societies and kingdoms happy, where it has been generally received and professed; and has been the means of the contrary, and produced contentions, cruel persecutions, and wars: And christians have contended with christians, and persecuted and destroyed each other?
Answer. That christianity has had no better and no more happy effect where it has been in a sense received and professed, has not been owing to the nature and tendency of it; but to the abuse of it, and opposition to it, and a refusal cordially to receive it, and practise agreeable to the spirit, and revealed laws of it. By this it has been perverted to very bad purposes, and made the occasion of great mischief and unhappiness among men. Any one may be certain of this, by attending to the Bible, and well observing what are the principles, rules and practice there inculcated and prescribed; and what would be the certain effect, if they were cordially received and obeyed. We must consult the Bible if we would know what christianity is; what are the truths there revealed, and what disposition, exercises and practices it does recommend and enjoin. And in this way alone can we learn, and be able to judge of the nature and tendency of it, and see how far it has been abused and perverted by men. He who will attend to the Bible with impartiality, candour and discerning, will be sure that whenever the truths and religion there revealed shall be properly received, and reduced to practice by all the people; and christianity shall have a genuine and complete effect, it will effectually banish all the evils which now take place in society among men, whether more private or public, by putting an end to all unrighteousness and oppression, unfaithfulness and fraud; to all contention and war, pride, ambition and selfishness, and to the indulgence of every lust, in word or conduct, which tends to evil, or to hurt any one. And on the contrary, it will introduce that uprightness, and 394universal righteousness in practice, that benevolence and beneficence to all, every one taking his proper place, and doing the duties of it, so as to advance the good of the whole; which will spread universal peace, prosperity and happiness, through the whole society, nation or kingdom: And that nothing can destroy or disturb the peace, good order and happiness of society, but a deviation from the truths and duties inculcated in the holy scriptures.
The scripture foretels the evils of which the gospel would be the occasion, by the abuse of it; and the opposition which would be made to it; and the corruption and apostasy, both in doctrine and practice, which should take place among the professors of christianity, which would be the occasion of persecution, and innumerable calamities. And these having actually taken place as they were predicted, is so far from being an objection to the truth and excellency of christianity, that hereby is exhibited a standing evidence of its divine original; and may justly be considered, as a pledge of the advantage and happiness which it shall produce in this world, in the last days, when it shall have its proper effect on the hearts and lives of mankind, which is also foretold.
The salutary influence christianity has had already in the world, forming men to be peaceable, harmless, and useful members of society, in the practice of righteousness and goodness, where the dictates of it have been in any measure properly regarded and obeyed, of which there have been many instances, is sufficient to convince every candid mind, that when it shall be no longer abused and perverted to evil purposes, by men of perverse minds, but universally understood, embraced and practised; it will render mankind and society unspeakably more happy than they have ever yet been, or can be, while men are ignorant of it, or refuse to regard and obey its dictates. That there is such a happy era coming, is abundantly foretold in the divine oracles, when by the influence and power of the gospel, in the hand of the exalted Redeemer, he will reign universally in the hearts of men, and they shall obey him; and the happy effect of christianity shall be seen in fact and experience, in extirpating all unrighteousness and violence from the 395earth, and introducing universal peace, love and beneficence, when men shall learn war no more; but practise all the social virtues, each one in his proper sphere; honestly and widely seeking and promoting the greatest public good, and the happiness of every individual, so far as he has ability and advantage.
But the most complete and happy effect of christianity will take place, and appear in the fulness, importance, and glory of it, when the kingdom of Christ shall be brought to perfection in the future state; when the most beautiful, harmonious and happy society will be formed by it, in the exercise of love to God and to one another, by which the most perfect union, and the highest possible happiness shall exist forever. Here then we are to look, to see what is the nature and genuine tendency of christianity; and what will be the happy effect of it to individuals, and to society, when it has overcome all opposition, and shall reign in perfection, in the heart and practice of every member of the kingdom of Christ.
II. From this view of christian practice, and it being thus in ail respects suited to promote the good of mankind, and the welfare and happiness of society in this world, arises a strong and forcible argument that the Bible is from God, and christianity has a divine original.
They who reject the Bible as a revelation from God do generally confess that the rules of moral conduct contained in it are suited to promote the good of society, and the peace and happiness of mankind in this world: And that christian morality, and attendance on the institutions of the christian religion, public worship and instruction, tend to promote civility and good order among men, and the political good of society. In this they appear to be really inconsistent with themselves, and confute their own creed. For this being granted, (and grant it they must, or deny what is evident from reason and fact) the inference is clear and strong, that the Bible is a revelation from heaven.
Were the Bible a contrivance of man, of one man, or any number of men, who joined to form a plan to promote the good of society, it cannot be reasonably supposed 356there would be no gross mistakes in it; or that it would be suited to promote the good of society in every age. and different nations of the world, and in ail the various and different circumstances of mankind, under all the different forms of civil government, as it really is. Much less can this be supposed, when it is written by different men, unknown to each other, in various ages and nations, and widely differing in their education, and particular tastes, habits and customs. That a book should be written by these men, in such circumstances, on so many different occasions, which, when carefully examined, contains one consistent system of rules for moral life, suited to the comfort and happiness of every individual, and the greatest good of ail human societies; and in this respect far exceeding the best code of civil laws that was ever invented, without any light and assistance from this book, is the most incredible position that can be asserted.
HAVING diligently and with care examined the holy scriptures to find what is that system of doctrines, truths and duties revealed there; and endeavoured to state them, and set them in a proper and clear light; and having at length finished what was proposed and undertaken, we may now look back, and upon a general review of the whole, it is presumed that the following conclusions may be deduced with clear and abundant evidence.
I. That there is a connection, consistence, and harmony in the system of truths, taken from the holy scriptures, stated and explained in the foregoing work.
Care and pains have been taken to support and prove each by the sacred oracles; but it is hoped that all these considered collectively, and the whole put together, and joined in one system, will, “like an arch, add strength and firmness to each part,” and increase the evidence that every doctrine that has been advanced as important truth, is indeed contained in the Bible, and so essential to the whole, that it cannot be excluded and rejected 397without marring, and in a sense rejecting all the rest which are connected with it, and really implied in it. It is certain, that doctrines, inconsistent with each other, are not to be found in divine revelation. if any two or more truths are plainly revealed, between which we cannot see the consistence, we may be sure they are consistent with each other, and that it is owing to our ignorance, and to some mistake we are making, that we do not see them to agree perfectly. But when the agreement and consistence of every important doctrine revealed in the Bible is discerned, this gives satisfaction to the mind, and casts a lustre of light and beauty over the whole. No pains therefore ought to be spared in examining the Bible with this view, that we may learn what are the doctrines there revealed; and be able to see their connection and consistence.
There is one chain, or consistent scheme of truth, which runs through the whole of the Bible. And every doctrine contained in this divine plan is not only consistent with the rest, but as much a part of the whole, as is each link of a chain, so that not one can be broken or taken out, without spoiling, or at least injuring the chain. In this view, the foregoing system is offered to the examination of all, who are willing to search the Bible daily, and in the light of that, to try every doctrine that has been advanced, that they may find, whether they be agreeable to the scripture, and consistent with each other, or not; and accordingly receive or reject them. It is not pretended, that every particular article which has been mentioned, as matter of conjecture or probable, of which there are some instances, or that is considered as more evident from scripture, than the opposite, is essential to the system. If it be consistent with the whole, it may be received, though it be not essential; and if it should be thought by any, not worthy to be received, or not so evident from scripture as the contrary, it may be rejected, and the contrary believed, perhaps, as consistent with the system of connected truth. Of this every one will judge for himself. And though persons may differ in their judgment on some sentiments of this description, which have been mentioned; yet they may agree in receiving every doctrine which is essential 398to a system of truth, which is harmonious in every part, and forms one connected, consistent plan of divine truth. But if any doctrine be denied and rejected, which is a necessary part of the system of truth revealed in the scripture, or which is really implied in it, the connection is hereby broken, and the whole system is destroyed; and every truth contained in it is implicitly given up and denied: As a chain is broken and spoiled by taking away one link of it; and a well cemented and strong arch is broken down and demolished, by removing a small, but necessary part of it. From this it follows,
II. That there is no other scheme, or system of supposed truth, which is connected and consistent with itself, through the whole of it.
This follows as a necessary conclusion from the foregoing. If that be true, therefore, this must be also true. There is but one consistent plan of religious truth, which is revealed in the scripture; and another cannot be invented, or exist, which is consistent with itself in every part. Therefore, if we can find what is the system of doctrines revealed in the Bible, (and this we may and shall do, if it be not wholly our own fault) we may be sure no other, which is throughout consistent, can be found or is possible. As every divine revealed truth is perfectly consistent with the whole truth; and every doctrine comes in, to make and complete one whole, and is so connected as to make one uniform system, which is not capable of any alteration, without rendering it imperfect: So error and false doctrine, is always necessarily inconsistent with itself; and no system of error can be invented, which is not inconsistent, and does not imply a contradiction. Thus error is always crooked, and cannot be made straight. False doctrines may be, and often have been advanced, and formed into a sort of a system, and have a degree of connection and agreement with each other, and may be joined with some truths; and be made to appear plausible, and even consistent with all truth, to a superficial, undiscerning eye; and especially to a mind filled with prejudices against the truth, and real disgust of it. But when these doctrines, or this system of errors, are critically examined 399 by a discerning mind, they will be found to imply gross inconsistencies and contradictions. And a mind thus prejudiced, and disaffected with the great truths of divine revelation, may view them as inconsistent with reason, and with each other, and think he finds innumerable contradictions in the Bible: and consequently reject it, and embrace what appears to him a more consistent, or at least a more pleasing scheme. But nothing is obtained by this, but a temporary pleasing dream, and delusion; which when properly; examined will appear to consist in confusion and self contradiction, and if followed in the natural and genuine tendency of it, will land the infidel in total darkness, and universal scepticism, the greatest of all contradictions and absurdities. This has been verified by numerous facts in the christian world; and instances of it are multiplying at this day.
Those doctrines, which are inconsistent with the absolute supremacy and independence of God; his omniscience, unchangeableness, and infinite felicity; his infinite wisdom, rectitude and goodness, must be false doctrines; and all that are connected with them, and follow from them, must be also contrary to the truth, and are an implicit denial of the being of the true God, and inconsistent with any proper acknowledgment of him. The denial of the decrees of God, and that he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, and all those doctrines which are implied in this, and follow from it, are inconsistent with this true character of God, and therefore are false doctrines, and an implicit denial of the being of the only true God, and inconsistent with all true piety, and if followed in their true consequences, will lead to universal scepticism, darkness and delusion.
Those tenets relating to human liberty, and that moral agency of man, necessary in order to render him capable of virtue or vice, praise or blame, which are inconsistent with the decrees of God fixing all events, and all the actions of men, are inconsistent with the divine character, and even with the existence of God; are inconsistent with the holy scripture; and are inconsistent with themselves, implying self contradiction, and the greatest absurdity; which, it is supposed, has been in some measure made manifest in the foregoing work; 400And without mentioning more particulars, it is left to the candid, considerate reader to examine every doctrine which has been proposed in this view; and it is presumed that he m ill find the whole, and especially all the leading sentiments, not only consistent with each other, but with the being, perfections and character of God, revealed in the scripture; and that no other scheme of doctrine can be consistent with these, or with itself; but tends to infidelity, and to remove all important, religious truth: And if so, and he be disposed to receive the truth in the love of it, his mind will by this be more established in the truth, and know it, and that no he is of the truth; but that this is the true God, and eternal life.544544 1 John ii. 21. v. 20. And the tardier he proceeds in the line of truth, and the more clear and comprehensive view he obtains of it, the greater will be his confidence and assurance that this is the only system of doctrines, which is agreeable to the divine perfections, the word of God, and with itself; and that these are the doctrines which are according to godliness: And the greater satisfaction and joy will he have, in contemplating, loving and obeying them.
III. it appears from the whole of the foregoing, that it is of great importance, that the doctrines and truths contained in divine revelation, should be understood, believed and loved; that this is necessarily implied in the exercise and practice of true religion, without which there is no salvation.
If this were not important and necessary, there would be little or no need of a divine revelation. This is a revelation of a system of truth, and of duty; the foundation and reason of which is the revealed truth; and all obedience consists in knowing, loving and obeying the truth. Therefore, were there no doctrines, no truth and articles of faith revealed, no duty or obedience could be enjoined, or know n. The Bible reveals a system of truth: It reveals the being and character of God; his works and designs; the state and character of man; the person and character of the Redeemer; his work and designs, and the way of salvation by him; what God does, and what man must be and do, in order to his 401salvation: The Bible opens the invisible world to men, and sets before them the great, important truths relating to the invisible eternal kingdom of Christ: And there cannot be one exercise of piety or charity, or any duty of either of these performed by any man, unless it be in the view of those revealed truths, or in conformity to them.
The holy scripture, therefore, represents the knowledge and belief of the truth, as necessary to salvation: That faith, without which men cannot be saved, is “the belief of the truth.” “He that believeth shall be saved.” This supposes some truth to be believed; and what can this be but the truths of the gospel; the truth to which Christ came to bear witness? Were there no revealed truths, there would be nothing to be believed; no objects of faith; for faith is a belief of the truth. Surely none will say, saving faith consists in believing nothing, or in believing a lie! Christ speaks of the knowledge of the truth, as necessary in order to salvation, and peculiar to his followers. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”545545 John vii. 17. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”546546 John viii. 32. “Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth.”547547 John xvii. 17. “When the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth.”548548 John xvi. 13. The apostle Paul represents the great design of the gospel to be, to bring christians to a union in knowledge and faith, or a belief and practice of truth. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”549549 Eph. iv. 14, 15. He speaks of the doctrine which is according to godliness, as necessary to be known and obeyed by every christian.550550 1 Tim. vi. 3. He directs Timothy to “Hold fast the form of sound 402words,” which he had heard of him.551551 2 Tim. i. 13. By the form of sound words, nothing can be meant, but the system of gospel doctrines, which the apostle taught, and in which he had instructed Timothy. And he was to hold fast those sound words, those wholesome, important, solid truths, by meditating upon them, and maintaining and preaching them. Which is the same with holding and preaching sound doctrines, and being sound in the faith, which he repeatedly mentions.
And the knowledge and belief of the truth revealed in the Bible is so important and essential to a christian, that all christian practice is denoted by obeying the truth, “Obeying from the heart the form of doctrine which has been delivered to them.”552552 Rom. vi. 17. Doing the truth, and walking in the truth.553553 John iii. 21. 3 John 4. And christians are exhorted to “Contend earnestly for the faith, which was once delivered unto the saints.”554554 Jude 3. The faith which had been delivered to the church can be nothing but the system of doctrines contained in divine revelation; the truths implied and exhibited in the gospel, which were to be believed and maintained by christians. The apostle Paul, in all his epistles, shews how important the doctrines and truths of the gospel are, and the necessity of their being understood and embraced, in order to be saved: That the gospel consists essentially in these; which therefore is overthrown and destroyed, by embracing and promoting the opposite errors. Christ says to Pilate, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.”555555 John xviii. 37. By the truth here, is not meant one particular truth, but all the truths and doctrines of divine revelation; the system of truth, in which the gospel consists. This sets the importance of the doctrines of the gospel, and the necessity of understanding, believing and practising them, in a striking light. For to oppose, or neglect and live in ignorance of these, is to oppose or slight that, which Christ came into the world to establish and promote. If the doctrines of the gospel be rejected, or overlooked and not understood, the only foundation of christian faith and practice is removed, and 403there remains nothing to be believed, and no duty to be done.
Hence it appears, how contrary to reason and scripture, and to common sense, that position is, which has been espoused and maintained by many, either expressly or by implication, viz. That it is of no importance what men believe, or whether they believe the truths contained in divine revelation, or not, if their external conduct be regular and good. This position is of the most dangerous and evil tendency: For it wholly sets the gospel aside, and excludes that as altogether needless, which Christ says he came into the world to establish and promote. According to this it is of no importance whether christians act from principle, or not, or from what principle they act, if they act from any; or whether they believe or understand one truth contained in the gospel; or disbelieve and reject all. This makes all creeds and confessions of faith, or bearing witness to the truth, entirely useless and vain: And according to this, no candidate for admission into a church, or to the work of the ministry, ought to be examined as to his understanding and knowledge, or belief of any doctrine contained in divine revelation, as any qualification necessary in order to his being admitted: For however ignorant he may be of the principles of Christ, or whatever he believes, he may be as good a christian, and as fit for an officer and teacher in the church, as any other person whatever.
And the directions and commands which the apostle Paul gave to Timothy and Titus, respecting the sound doctrines of the gospel, were highly improper; or, at least, are out of date now. Such are the following:—“I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine. Take heed to thyself, and to thy doctrine. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing. Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. The things which thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to 404faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”556556 1 Tim. i.3. iv. 16. vi. 3, 4. 2 Tim. i. 13, ii. 2. “A bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God, holding fast the faithful word, as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convince gainsayers, whose mouths must be stopped. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith. But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine. In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: In doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity; sound speech that cannot be condemned.”557557 Tit. i. 7, 9, 11, 13. ii. 1, 7, 8.
The consequence and evil tendency of the sentiment now under consideration appears from fact. That which is now called liberality of sentiment, and catholicism, which is spreading far and wide, and is celebrated by multitudes, as a most excellent, noble way of thinking, has its foundation in this. This liberality and catholicism discards all attachment to any particular system of truth, or belief of any distinguishing doctrines of the gospel, as useless and hurtful; and holds that it is no matter what a man’s religious creed or practice is, or whether he regards any, or not; as he may be a good man, and go to heaven without any thing of this kind. This really renounces the Bible, and paves the way to infidelity: And this leads on to the darkness and horrors of atheism itself.
IV. From the foregoing system of truths and duties, which is contained in the Bible, and taken wholly from it, arises the most clear and satisfying evidence that it is a revelation from God, and no human invention: “But holy men of God have spoken and written it, as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
The evidence that the Bible contains a divine revelation has been in some measure exhibited and considered, in the first chapter of this System: especially what is called the external evidence. And some of the internal evidence was mentioned: And it was observed, that this would be made to appear in the clearest arid most advantageous light, by prosecuting the inquiry concerning the doctrines and duties revealed and inculcated in this book; which was then proposed. This is now 405 finished. And upon a careful review of the whole, must it not be evident to every attentive, honest, candid mind, that in this book only is to be found such a system of truth, which could not be contrived, or even thought of by man; but must be from God: That it contains a system of doctrines and commands, which man’s wisdom does not teach, and never can; but which the Holy Ghost alone teacheth?
Here the true God is represented in his glorious character, subsisting in a manner infinitely above our comprehension; yet suited, so far as we can conceive, most perfectly to accomplish his revealed designs, and to raise creatures, the objects of his love, to the highest happiness. He is clothed with unlimited power, wisdom and goodness, absolutely independent, self-sufficient, and all-sufficient; and has fixed on a plan of operation, which is wise and good, like himself; including all his works, and every event that shall ever take place, suited in the highest degree to glorify himself, and effect the highest good and happiness of the creation: And they must be blessed who love and trust in him. His law is perfectly right, wise and excellent, and expresses the moral character and perfections of God; is infinitely important, and must stand forever, as the only rule of moral rectitude: And every one must be happy so far as he is conformed to it. Here rebellion against God, and violation of this law, is represented in the infinitely evil and malignant nature of it; and all the dispensations and works of God, and his conduct towards his creatures, are suited and designed to make the clearest and most lasting display of this. Here is revealed the way in which mankind are become universally sinful, mortal and miserable; and the infinite guilt and misery of their state is discovered; and that they are totally ruined and lost in themselves. This lays the only foundation for the discovery of infinite benevolence and sovereign grace in the redemption of man; and is the ground of the existence and revelation of the person, character and works of the Redeemer, and salvation by him. And every thing relating to redemption, is in the highest degree suited to make the brightest and most glorious manifestation of the power, wisdom, righteousness, 406goodness, truth and faithfulness of God, and his infinite displeasure with the sinner, to humble man, and shew his absolute and entire dependance on God, consistent with the infinite vileness and criminality of the least deviation, even in heart, from perfect obedience to his law; to discover the infinite evil of the just consequence of sin; and set before creatures the reasonableness and importance of obedience, and the strongest motives that are possible, to avoid every sin, and fear and obey God. And every truth of divine revelation is levelled against the sin and rebellion of man; and every thing included in redemption, is perfectly suited to form the redeemed to the most beautiful, sweet, perfect holiness, and to raise them to the highest happiness and glory. And while eternal happiness, on the one hand, and endless misery on the other, are set before men, and one or the other must be the certain portion of every one, according to his conduct in this life, in embracing the gospel and obeying the Redeemer, or rejecting him, and living in sin; this tends to solemnize every mind and fill every one with the greatest concern, and awaken him to the utmost exertions to escape the one, and obtain the other; and “work out his own salvation with fear and trembling.”
And the exercise and practice of piety, righteousness and benevolence in all the branches of religion and christian morality, which consist in conformity of heart and life, to the doctrines and precepts contained in the scripture, is the only way to render every man happy in this life, in their various connections, and proper business, and in the use and enjoyment of the things of this world. And were this to take place universally, it would necessarily form men into the most happy society that can take place in this state; and at the same time rectify and enlarge their hearts, and raise their pleasing hope and prospect of glory and honour, and immortality, in the favour of God, and the society of all his friends, in the everlasting kingdom of the Redeemer, in consequence of their patient continuance in well doing.
When all this, and more, which might be mentioned, and will naturally come into the view of him who properly attends to the subject, is well considered, together 407with the external evidence, that the scripture was formed by divine inspiration, mentioned in the first chapter, it must produce a conviction and fixed persuasion that the Bible contains a divine revelation of a system of important saving truth, which is not to be found any where else, and never could have been known, or invented by the reason of man, in his present corrupt state, had it not been thus revealed from heaven; unless the mind be greatly biassed and prejudiced against the truth by the false taste and evil propensities of the heart, by which the reason of man may be so perverted and abused, and the mind so greatly blinded, as to reject the plainest, most consistent and important truth, as gross error and absurdity; and imbibe the most inconsistent and erroneous sentiments, in opposition to the truth.
It is true, indeed, that in order to discern the internal evidence of the truth of the holy scriptures, and see it in its true, clearest and most convincing light, the mind must possess a right taste, and be friendly to true wisdom; for the great and leading truths of divine revelation are more objects of taste, than of mere speculative reason, and cannot be discerned in a true light, in their true beauty, excellence and importance, without the former, and by the latter only. Wisdom is seen and justified only by the children of wisdom; and not by the children of folly and vice, who are under the power of a false taste and disposition of mind, which necessarily blinds the mind to the beauty, excellence and consistence of the things and truths of the highest concern in the moral world. But he who has a true and proper moral taste and discerning, whose heart is disposed to be friendly to heavenly wisdom, is prepared to see the divine original of the Bible, from the system of truths it contains, and the exercises and duties there required, conformable to the doctrines revealed; and to perceive, with a peculiar satisfaction and pleasure, the all convincing evidence, that what the scripture reveals is divine, and comes from God. He believes, and has the witness within himself, that this is the testimony of God. He has an understanding to know him that is true; and that this is the true God, and eternal life.558558 1 John v. 9, 10, 20. This is expressly asserted by Christ, “He that is of 408God, heareth God’s words. Ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: As a shepherd goeth before the sheep, and they follow him; for they know his voice, and a stranger they will not follow.”559559 John viii. 47. x. 4, 5, 27. And the apostle John says, “We are of God: He that knoweth God, heareth us: He that is not of God, heareth not us.”560560 1 John iv. 6. The same is asserted by the apostle Paul, in plain and strong language. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: For they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things.”561561 1 Cor. ii. 14, 15. “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.”562562 2 Cor. iv. 3, 4, 6.
Nevertheless, persons who are destitute of this right taste, and are at heart, and in practice unfriendly to the dictates of true wisdom, and enemies to it, maybe rationally convinced, and in this sense believe, that the Bible is a revelation from God. They may be so persuaded of the external evidence of this, and see so much of the internal evidence in a degree, as to assent to it in their reason and judgment. They may attend to it so much as to be in a degree convinced of their moral blindness, and their want of a new heart, and right taste; and that it is wholly owing to this, that they do not see, and are not pleased and charmed with the glory of the gospel; and that this is altogether their own fault: and that they are, on this account, in a very miserable condition: Yea, they may be in their reason and judgment, in a measure convinced of all the truths contained in the Bible, while they have no relish for them; and they are in their hearts real enemies to them.
And where this conviction does not take place, it is owing to ignorance or prejudices, which take place by a 409bad education, or from the want of a good one, together with the strong, evil and corrupt biasses of their hearts, and the indulgence of various foolish and hurtful lusts, and to many other things of this kind, by which many have been led to conclude, that the real and true doctrines of divine revelation are inconsistent and absurd, and to embrace contrary doctrines, more agreeable to the selfishness, pride, and other lusts of men. While others have, from the same evil biasses, been prejudiced against the scriptures, and rejected the Bible, as so fabulous, inconsistent and absurd, as not to be worthy of the regard of a rational man; and have hereby plunged themselves into an abyss of darkness and uncertainty, while they have boasted that they were following the infallible dictates of their own reason.
All these of every class, however distinguished in some respects, are wholly answerable and blameable for their ignorance, incredulity and error, and that they do not discern, relish, and love the truths of divine revelation, in a view of their beauty, consistence and glory, and are not pleased and charmed with the divine character, and that of the Redeemer, displayed in the Bible. For this is as really owing to a shutting the mental eye against the light shining in the scriptures, and a refusing to come to it, and see it, as is a person’s shutting his bodily eyes and refusing to admit the light of the sun, when it shines in its meridian brightness; and is as really a voluntary exercise of the governing taste and propensity of the heart, opposing the light of the truth, as any other exercise of heart of which man is capable, though there may be a difference in many respects. How criminal then is all infidelity, and turning away from the truth revealed in the scriptures, in all those who live under the gospel! And how awful the consequence!410411
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