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THE EVIDENCE OF THE TRUTH OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.
But 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. 2 Cor. iv. 3, 4.
IN discoursing of the evidence of our Saviour’s Divine authority, I proposed the considering three things.
First, What evidence they had who heard the doctrine of the gospel immediately from our Saviour.
Secondly, What evidence they had who received this doctrine by the preaching of the apostles.
Thirdly, What evidence after-ages have until the present time.
The first of these I have handled at large; and now proceed to the
Second, viz. To consider what assurance those who heard the doctrine of Christ from the apostles were capable of having concerning his Divine authority: and of this I shall give you an account in these three particulars:
First, They had all the assurance concerning this matter which men can have of any thing from the testimony of credible eye and ear-witnesses.
Secondly, They had this testimony confirmed by miracles.545
Thirdly, They had yet a farther evidence of the divinity of this doctrine, from the wonderful prevalency and success of it, by such improbable and unlikely means.
First, Those who received the doctrine of Christ from the apostles, had all the assurance of Christ’s Divine authority that men can have of any thing from the testimony of credible eye and ear-witnesses. The apostles who immediately conversed with our Saviour, and heard his doctrine, and saw his miracles, they had the testimony of their own senses for his Divine authority; they heard and saw the attestations which God gave to him; and those to whom the apostles preached, received all this from them, as from eye and ear-witnesses. So that those who received the doctrine of Christ from the apostles, had all the arguments which the apostles had, to satisfy them concerning Christ’s Divine authority, only they were not conveyed to them in so immediate a manner. The apostles saw and heard those things themselves, which gave them satisfaction that Jesus Christ came from God: those to whom the apostles preached, received these things from their testimony.
And this also was a sufficient ground of assurance, as will clearly appear, if we can make out these two things.
I. That the apostles were credible witnesses. And,
II. That if they were so, then their testimony was sufficient to persuade belief.
I. That the apostles were credible witnesses. Of their knowledge there can be no question, because they gave testimony only of what themselves had seen and heard: so that if they falsified in any 546thing, it could not be for want of sufficient knowledge, but for want of fidelity. Now those who heard them, had all the arguments that could be to satisfy them of their fidelity. They delivered things plainly, and without artificial insinuations; they all agreed in their testimony, and were always constant to themselves in the same relation; there was no visible interest to sway them in the least to falsify against their knowledge; they gained nothing by it; nay, so far were they from that, that they run themselves hereby upon the greatest hazards and disadvantages; and, which is the high est evidence that this world can give of any man’s sincerity, they ventured their lives for this testimony, and sealed it with their blood. For though martyrdom be no sufficient argument of the truth of that for which a man lays down his life, yet it is a very good argument of a man’s sincerity; it signifies that a man is in earnest, and believes him self; and if the thing be not true, yet that he thinks it to be so, otherwise he would not have died for it: so that if we have no reason to doubt of the knowledge of those witnesses, (as certainly we have no reason, the things which they testified being plain matters, what they saw and heard, in which every man knows whether he speaks truth or not; I say, if we have no reason to doubt of their knowledge) we cannot question their integrity and sincerity, having the highest evidence of that which this world can afford; for there cannot be a better argument of the integrity of witnesses, than to lay down their lives for their testimony.
II. If the apostles were credible witnesses, then was their testimony sufficient to persuade belief. For what greater evidence can any man have of 547any thing which himself has not seen, than to receive it from credible eye-witnesses; that is, from such persons as we have all the reason in the world to judge worthy of credit? This evidence men are contented to accept in other cases, as sufficient to induce belief; and if we will not accept it in matters of religion, we are very partial and unjust. We find that upon the evidence of credible witnesses men generally proceed with good assurance in human affairs: the chief temporal interests of men, of their estates and reputation, and lives, are determined upon no better evidence than this. Now if in matters of religion we will reject the evidence which shall be sufficient to sway our assent in other things, it is a plain sign that we have less mind to religion than to other things; that we have some interest or pique against it; otherwise we would not refuse to yield an equal assent, where the evidence is equal.
This reason tells us; and our Saviour in effect says the same thing, when he chargeth those who rejected this evidence of credible witnesses with the sin of unbelief: (Mark xvi. 14.) “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven, as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” But now if the testimony of credible witnesses be not sufficient ground of faith, it could have been no sin in the disciples, not to believe those who had seen Christ risen from the dead.
Secondly, Those who received the doctrine of Christ from the apostles, had not only the testimony of credible witnesses, but they had this testimony confirmed by miracles. Because the apostles 548were to go abroad into the world, and to preach to many who never saw nor knew them before, and consequently had no reason at first to believe their testimony, till they were satisfied of the value of the witnesses; and this would require long time and frequent conversation, so that the gospel must have made but a very slow progress at this rate: and be cause they were like to meet with great opposition from the powers and wits of the world, from the prejudices of education, and from the lusts and interests of men; therefore, for the speedier and more effectual propagation of the gospel, God was pleased to confirm this testimony by miracles, to endue those who were to preach the gospel to the world, with miraculous powers and gifts, of speaking all languages, and healing diseases, and casting out devils; of foretelling things to come, and raising the dead; that, being accompanied with these visible and sensible signs of the Divine presence and power, their testimony might more easily be believed.
And that this was the end of those miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, the Scripture frequently tells us. Hence it is that our Saviour forbade them to preach the gospel abroad, till they were furnished with this power, (Luke xxiv. 49.) “But tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” And (Acts i. 8 ) our Saviour tells the apostles before his ascension, “But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the utmost parts of the earth.” This was that which qualified them to be witnesses to Christ, and which gave confirmation to their testimony. So 549St. Mark tells us, (Mark xvi. 20.) “And they went forth and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.” To the same purpose the apostle to the Hebrews, (chap. ii. 3, 4.) speaking of the publishing of the gospel, “How shall we escape, (says he) if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him?” What was the confirmation that was given to it? It follows in the next words, “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost.” The apostles bare witness of Christ, and God bare witness to them, by those miraculous powers and gifts, that their testimony was true.
Thirdly, Those who received the doctrine of Christ from the apostles, had yet a farther evidence of the divinity of this doctrine, from the wonderful success and prevalency of it, by such improbable and unlikely means. Had the doctrine of Christ’s religion been suited to the corruptions of men, and stolen insensibly into the world, and prevailed by degrees in the revolution of many ages, as the heathen superstition and idolatry did, which met with no opposition from the lusts and interests of men, it then had been no strange thing: or had it been planted by power and force of arms, as the religion of Mahomet was, then indeed the success of it had been no argument that it was from God. Had it been set off with all imaginable advantages of wit and eloquence, as the philosophy of the heathens was; and had it been entertained by a few more sublime spirits, and those who were more studious and contemplative, and whose understandings were 550elevated above the common pitch, this might have been looked upon but as human and ordinary, and according to the common and usual course of things. But that a doctrine which was so opposite to the lusts and inclinations of men, which was persecuted and opposed by all the powers of the world, and despised and condemned by the witty part of man kind; that a doctrine, the profession whereof did expose men to so many worldly inconveniences, to so many dangers and sufferings, to derision and to death, should be planted by a few mean and inconsiderable men, destitute of all secular power, and advantages of human learning and eloquence; and in so short a time be so vastly propagated, and so generally entertained by all sorts of men, rich and poor, philosophers and illiterate; this was extraordinary, and can be attributed to nothing else but a Divine power accompanying it, and bearing it up against the power and malice of men. That the doctrine of the gospel, delivered to the world by mean persons, with so much simplicity and plainness, should so strangely affect the hearts of men, and be of so admirable a force to stir up and inflame men to piety and virtue, seems to me a very plain argument of its divinity: for we do not find that any doctrine that was merely human, had ever any considerable power upon the minds of men, where it was not set off with the arts of speech and charms of eloquence; and then it only produceth some present motions and heats; but seldom hath any lasting and permanent effect, such as the Christian religion hath had in the world.
Thus I have shewn what assurance those who received the doctrine of the gospel from the apostles were capable of having, concerning the divinity of 551this doctrine, and the Divine authority of the persons who declared it to the world.
Thirdly, I am to consider, what assurance after-ages, down to this day, are capable of having concerning this matter: and this principally concerns us who live at the distance of so many ages from the first revelation of the gospel. Of this I shall give you an account in these two particulars:
First, We have an authentic and credible account of this doctrine, and of the confirmation which was in the first ages given to it, transmitted down to us.
Secondly, The effects of this doctrine still remain in the world.
First, We have a credible and authentic account of this doctrine, and of the confirmation which in the first ages was given to it, transmitted down to us. I told you at first, that there are but these three ways whereby we can be assured of matters of fact.
1. By the immediate testimony of our own senses, if we ourselves be present when the thing is done or spoken, and see and hear it.
2. By the testimony of credible eye or ear-witnesses of it. Or,
3. By a credible account or i-elation of it transmitted to us. And all these ways, in (heir kind, are accounted sufficient to give men an undoubted assurance of matter of fact. No man doubts of what he himself sees or hears: men generally believe many things which they have not opportunity of seeing themselves, if they be attested to them by credible eye-witnesses: and for things that were done long ago, and which no man now alive was witness of, men are abundantly satisfied by a credible 552relation transmitted down to them. Upon this account men do firmly believe, that Alexander about two thousand years ago conquered a great part of the world; and that there was such a person as Julius Cæsar, who seventeen hundred years ago conquered England; and the like. Now if we have the doctrine and history of the gospel, and all the evidences of our Saviour’s Divine authority, conveyed down to us, in as credible a manner as any of these ancient matters of fact are, which mankind do most firmly believe, then we have sufficient ground to be assured of it.
Now there are but two ways imaginable whereby the doctrine of Christ’s religion and the evidences of its divinity can be conveyed down to us—either by oral report and tradition, or by books and writing. The former of these the experience of the world hath shewn to be very uncertain, and in the succession of many ages liable to great changes and hazard. Hence it is that the prudence of mankind, and the necessity of human affairs, have introduced the latter way of conveying the memory of things to after-ages, namely, by writing and records: and the good God likewise in his wise providence hath taken care, that those who were eye and ear-witnesses of our Saviour’s doctrine and life, should commit to writing the history and relation of those matters, that so the memory of them might be preserved to all generations; and these books, which we call the Holy Scriptures, are the authentic records of our religion, without which Christian religion in probability had long since either been strangely corrupted or wholly lost out of the world. For that oral report would not have preserved it, there is this evidence, sufficient to convince any man that is not 553obstinately resolved to the contrary that, of all the persons that formerly lived in the world, and the great actions that have been done, besides what are recorded in history, and of the innumerable miracles of our Saviour, which were not written in the books of the gospel: I say, of all these, oral tradition hath preserved nothing; so that, if the doctrine of the Christian religion, and the history of the life and actions of our Saviour and the apostles, had not been put into a surer way of conveyance than that of oral tradition, in all probability before this time there would have been left no certain monuments of them in the world.
And, that we may understand how much these latter ages are indebted to the wisdom and goodness of God, that he hath furnished us with so fixed and certain a way of being acquainted with his will, with the doctrine and grounds of our religion, I might represent to you what advantages this standing revelation of the Scripture hath above that way of oral tradition; yea, though the revelation of the gospel had been renewed every two or three ages, But this has been done in some former discourses.1818 See Sermons CXXVI. and CXXVII. vol. vi. p. 213, &c. I therefore proceed to the other ground of assurance, which the ages after the apostles are capable of having; viz.
Secondly, The effect of this doctrine still remains in the world. Christian religion is still professed in several nations, and is entertained by a considerable part of the world: and allowing for the difference between the extraordinary assistance which at first accompanied the gospel, and was necessary for the planting of it, and the more human and ordinary554ways whereby it is now propagated, it hath considerable effects upon the hearts and lives of men.
It might justly indeed be expected, considering the reasonableness of the Christian religion, and the great evidence we have of the truth and divinity of it, that it should have a greater force and power upon men, than it hath in most parts of Christendom; but we cannot reasonably expect in a prosperous state of Christianity, those extraordinary heats and fervours which the primitive Christians had whilst they were under continual persecution: we cannot reasonably expect that unity among Christians, and that they should be so generally and universally good, as they were under a state of persecution; for common sufferings have a strange force to unite men, and to endear them to one another: in times of persecution it might be expected that all or most of those who profess themselves Christians, should be really so: when a profession is dangerous to those that make it, and at tended with persecutions, then there will be but few pretenders to it; scarce any man will dissemble to the hazard of his life: but when any religion flourisheth, and is prosperous, when it is an odious thing, and against a man’s interest, not to profess it, then it may justly be feared that there will be great numbers of hypocrites, of those who, in compliance with the fashion, and the prevailing interest, will take upon them the outward profession of it.
But, however, we see the same effects of Christianity still remain in the world: Christ is still owned as the true Messias and the Son of God; his doctrine acknowledged to be true, and to have been from God; so that thus far his promise hath been made good of “building his church upon a rock,” and that “the gates of hell should not prevail 555against it.” That Christianity hath uninterruptedly continued for above sixteen hundred years, is an additional evidence of the divinity of this doctrine, which the first ages of the world could not have: only this is sadly to be bewailed, that this religion, which hath all imaginable confirmation given to the truth of it, should have no greater effect upon the lives of men; that when we have so much reason to assent to it, yet so few can be persuaded to practise it; that when we make so many solemn professions of our belief of the truth of it, yet, by the actions of our lives, we should so visibly contradict the articles of our belief.
Thus I have gone through the first thing I proposed to be considered in my text, viz. the full and clear evidence which we have of the truth of the gospel, and particularly of the Divine authority of that person who declared the Christian religion to the world. There are two other general heads which the text would lead us to consider, which I shall but briefly treat of, and so conclude this subject.
The second thing considerable in the words is, the cause of the infidelity of men, notwithstanding all the evidence which the gospel carries along with it; which the apostle expresseth in these words: “But 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.”
In speaking to this, I shall do these four things:
First, Shew why the infidelity of men is attributed to the devil, as the cause of it.
Secondly, Shew more particularly what influence 556the devil hath upon the minds of men to keep them in unbelief.
Thirdly, That this doth not excuse the infidelity of men.
Fourthly, Shew the wickedness and unreasonableness of infidelity.
First, Why the infidelity of men is attributed to the devil, as the cause of it. There are two principles that bear sway in the world, and have a more immediate influence upon the mind of man; the Holy Spirit of God, and the devil. The former of these is continually moving and inclining them to good: the latter swaying and tempting them to evil; and these two principles share mankind between them. Hence it is that in Scripture the Spirit of God is said to dwell in good men; and the wicked and vicious part of mankind (whom the Scripture frequently calls the world) are said to be in the possession of the devil, and to belong to his share and lot. Upon this account the devil is called in the text “the god of this world.” Accordingly St. John frequently rangeth mankind under these two heads; those that belong to God, and those that belong to the devil, (1 John iii. 8.) “He that committeth sin is of the devil: but he that committeth not sin, is born of God.” In the next verse he calleth them the children of God, and the children of the devil: “in this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil.” So likewise chap. v. 19. “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” Or, as the words may be rendered more suitably to the opposition which the apostle aims at, “the whole world is subject to the wicked one; we are of God, but the rest of the world is subject to the devil.” Upon this account it is, that in the constant 557phrase of Scripture all good motions and inclinations, and all good graces and virtues, are ascribed to the Spirit of God, as the author and worker of them; and all wicked and vicious inclinations, all the sins and vices of men, are attributed to the devil, as in some sort the author and worker of them: and because faith is the root of all other graces and virtues, as infidelity is of sin and wickedness, therefore faith is in a peculiar manner said to be the work of the Holy Ghost; and infidelity the work of the devil. And as the Spirit of God is said “to enlighten the understandings” of men, and “to open their hearts that they may believe:” so the devil is said “to blind the minds of them that believe not.” As the Spirit of God is said * to work in them that believe;” so the devil is said “to work in the children of unbelief.” (Eph. ii. 2.) He is called “the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience,” ἀπειθείας, of unbelief. This is one of the principal designs which the devil hath always carried on in the world, to bring men to unbelief, and to keep them in it. As it is the great work of the Spirit of truth “to lead men into truth,” and bring them to the belief of it: so the great business of the devil is to seduce men from the truth. Upon this account he is said (John viii. 44.) to be “a murderer from the beginning, because he abode not in the truth;” which refers to the first temptation, whereby he ruined and destroyed our first parents, by seducing them to unbelief; “Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree in the garden?” And because he found this attempt so successful, he still pursues mankind with the same temptation of unbelief. This for the first; why infidelity is attributed to the devil, as the cause of it.558
I come, in the second place, to shew more particularly, what influence the devil hath upon the minds of men, to keep them in unbelief; how, and in what manner “he blinds the minds of them that believe not.” These two ways chiefly; by false principles, and by vicious and corrupt habits.
I. By false principles, which, when they have once got possession of the understanding, like so many enemies, they defend it, and hold out against the truth. By this means the devil kept a great part of the Jews and of the heathen world in unbelief; and their minds were so blinded by these false principles which they had entertained, that they could not see “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.” As for the Jews, he had, with a great deal of art, conveyed false principles into them, whereby they were extremely prejudiced against Christ and his doctrine, so that when he, who was “the Desire of all nations,” and whom the Jews had looked for, with so longing an expectation, was come, they could “see no beauty in him, wherefore he should be desired.” The devil, no doubt, understood very well by the prophecies of the Old Testament, that the Messias was to come, who would give a terrible blow to his kingdom: and therefore, to provide against this storm which he saw coming upon him, he possessed the Jews a great while before with false apprehensions of the Messias, that he was to be a great temporal prince, and to deliver Israel from all their enemies, and to subdue all nations to them; and he played his game so well, that the most learned among the Jews were generally possessed with this apprehension, under the notion of a Divine doctrine, which had been brought down to them by tradition from Moses and the prophets: 559so that when the Messias came, and they saw no thing of the outward glory and splendour which they expected, they would not know him, but despised and rejected him as a counterfeit and impostor.
As for the idolatrous gentiles, he had, for many ages together, blinded them with false notions of God and his worship, and with principles of a false philosophy, by which, when they came to measure the doctrine of Christ, the plain truths of the Christian religion seemed foolish and ridiculous to them, and by these prejudices the devil kept many of them, especially of the philosophers, from believing the gospel.
And proportionably in every age, suitably to the temper of it, he endeavours to possess men with false principles, either to keep them in unbelief, or to drive them to it.
II. The second way whereby the devil “blinds the minds of them that believe not,” is by vicious and corrupt habits; which, though they do not possess the understanding, yet they have a bad influence upon it; as fumes and vapours from the lower parts of the body affect the head. The vices and lusts of men darken the understanding, and fill the mind with gross and sensual apprehensions of things, and render men unfit to discern those truths that are of a spiritual nature and tendency, and indisposed to receive them. When men’s “deeds are evil, they do not love the light,” lest it should reprove their vices, “and make them manifest.” Truth is offensive and grievous to a corrupt mind, as the light of the sun is to sore eyes. A vicious man is not free to entertain those truths which would check and cross him in his way; he looks upon them as enemies, and therefore thinks himself concerned to 560oppose them. Every lust makes a man partial in his judgment, and lays a false bias upon his under standing, which carries it off from truth, and makes it lean towards that side of the question which is most agreeable to the interest of his lusts.
And by this means the devil kept many, both of the Jews and gentiles, in unbelief: he had tempted them to those sins which did indispose them for the receiving of that doctrine which enjoins “the denying of ungodliness and worldly lusts,” and chargeth men so strictly with all manner of holiness and purity. The pharisees, under a mask of religion, were guilty of great wickedness and impiety; and the heathens were monstrously degenerated into all manner of vice. So that it was not only the false principles, but likewise the vicious lives of men, which were opposite to the doctrine of the gospel, “and blinded their minds, that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ did not shine unto them.”
And the devil still makes use of this means to bring men to infidelity, and keep them in it; as knowing that the shortest way to atheism and infidelity, is to debauch them in their lives. Therefore the apostle seems to give this as the reason of the infidelity of some in his time, (2 Thess. ii. 12.) “That they all may be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” When men once take pleasure in wickedness, then infidelity becomes their interest; for they cannot otherwise defend and excuse a wicked life, but in denying the truth which opposeth it. That man only stands fair for the entertaining of truth, who is under the power of no lust, because he hath nothing to seduce him, and draw him aside in his inquiry after truth; he hath no interest but to find truth; he hath the 561indifference of a traveller, who is not inclined to one way more than another, but is only concerned to know the right way. Such indifferency of mind every good man hath; he is ready to receive truth, when sufficient evidence is offered to him, because he is not concerned that the contrary proposition should be true; if a man be addicted to any lust, he is not likely to judge impartially of things: and therefore our Saviour doth with great reason require this disposition to qualify a man for the discerning of truth, (John vii. 17.) “If any man will do God’s will, he shall know the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” He that is desirous to do the will of God, he is likely to judge indifferently concerning any doctrine that pretends to be from God: for if there be not good evidence for it, he hath no reason to deceive himself, by entertaining that as from God, which he hath no assurance that it is so: and if there be good evidence for it, he hath no interest to reject it: but if a man be enslaved to any vice or lust, he is not free to judge of those matters which touch upon his interest; but is under a great temptation to infidelity, because he must needs be unwilling to acknowledge the truth of that doctrine which lies so cross to his interest.
Thirdly, This does not excuse the infidelity of men, that the devil is in some sort the cause of it; because he cannot blind our minds, unless we consent to it: he can only suggest false principles to us, but we may choose whether we will entertain them; he can only tempt us to be wicked, he can not force us to be so whether we will or not: as we may resist the dictates, and quench the blessed motions and suggestions of God’s Spirit, and too often 562do; so may we “resist the devil,” and repel or quench those fiery darts which he casts into our minds, though we do not do it so often as we should. We cannot resist the motions of God’s Spirit with out injury to ourselves; but we may safely oppose the suggestions of the devil; and we may do it with success, if we sincerely endeavour it. So God hath promised, that if we resist the devil, he shall flee from us: but if we voluntarily consent to his temptations, and suffer ourselves to be blinded by him, the fault is our own, as well as his, and we are guilty of that infidelity which we suffer him to tempt us into. And this will appear, if we consider,
Fourthly, The wickedness and unreasonableness of infidelity. The Scripture every where gives it a bad character, calling it, “an evil heart of unbelief, to depart from the living God.” Not to believe those revelations of God, which are sufficiently propounded to us, is “an apostacy from the living God,” a kind of atheism, and an argument of a very evil temper and disposition. And therefore St. John speaks of infidelity as the highest affront to God imaginable, and as it were a giving God the lie; (1 John v. 10.) “He that believeth not the record which God hath given of his Son,” is said to make God a liar.
The greatest and clearest testimonies that ever God gave to any person in the world were to Jesus Christ, and yet how full of infidelity were the Jews, to whom these testimonies were given! They are the great patterns of infidelity, who resisted such immediate evidence; and by the characters which the New Testament gives us of them, we may judge of the evil and unreasonableness of infidelity: and if we consult the history of the New Testament, we (shall find infidelity described by such character 563and properties, and accompanied with such qualities, as shew it to be a very evil and unreasonable spirit. The principal of them are these:
1. Monstrous partiality in denying that which had greater evidence than other matters which they did believe.
2. Unreasonable and groundless prejudice.
3. A childish kind of perverseness.
4. Obstinacy and pertinacious persisting in error.
5. Want of patience to consider and examine what can be said for the truth.
6. Rudeness, and boisterous falling into uncivil terms.
7. Fury, and outrageous passion.
The third and last thing contained in the text is, the dangerous state of those who, having the gospel propounded to them, yet do not entertain and believe it; the apostle tells us they are in a lost and perishing condition; “If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost.”
I say of those who have the gospel propounded to them. As for those to whom the gospel was never offered, they shall not be condemned for their unbelief of it: God will not punish them for not believing the revelation which was never propounded to them, but for sinning against “the law written in their hearts.” So the apostle hath stated this matter; (Rom. ii. 12, 14, 15.) they that have a law revealed to them by God, shall “be judged by that law;” but they that are without such a law, shall be l judged without the law, by the law which is written 564in their hearts.” Those persons and nations in the world, to whom the gospel was not revealed, shall not be condemned for not believing it; but for sins committed by them against the light of nature, and the law which is written in every man’s breast.
But those who have the gospel propounded to them, and yet continue in unbelief, their case is the most dangerous of any persons in the world, whether they be speculative or practical infidels.
1. For speculative infidels (of whom I have been principally speaking) we may guess how great their condemnation shall be, by the greatness of their sin, which I have endeavoured fully to describe to you, with all its aggravations. It is called, (Heb. iii. 12.) “an evil heart of unbelief, to depart from the living God,” ἐν τῷ ἀποστηναι ἀπὸ Θεοῦ ζῶντος. Infidelity is a kind of “apostacy from God;” it is said to be the giving of God the lie, (1 John v. 10.) “He that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in him self: he that believeth not God, hath made him a liar;” and we cannot but think that God will severely punish those who put such affronts upon him: it is but equal, that they who resist the clearest light, should “have their portion in utter darkness.”
2. For the practical infidels, those who in words acknowledge the gospel to be true, but “in works deny it;” their condition is every whit as bad as the others; nay, I had almost said, that it shall be more tolerable at the day of judgment for the speculative infidel than for them. He who denies the truth of the Christian religion, and lives contrary to the precepts of it, he acts suitably to his principles; but he that owns the truth of the gospel, and lives a wicked life, offers violence to those principles which he hath entertained.565
For if we profess ourselves Christians, by this profession we declare to the world, that we believe that the Son of God hath delivered that doctrine to the world which we call the gospel, and hath promised to be “the author of eternal salvation to them that obey him,” and hath threatened men with eternal misery in case of disobedience; and that we make not the least doubt, but that both in his promises and threatenings God will be as good as his word: but if in the midst of this profession, we live contrary to the holy precepts of the gospel, in “ungodliness and worldly lusts,” in profane swearing, by a trifling and irreverent use of the great and glorious name of God, in the neglect of God, and of the duties of religion, in the profanation of his day, in drunkenness and filthy lusts, in fraud and oppression, in lying and perjury, in wrath and malice, in enmity and uncharitableness one towards another; this very thing, that we have made profession of the gospel, will be an aggravation of our condemnation. Do we think, that, at the day of judgment, we shall escape by pleading this for ourselves, that we believed the gospel, and made profession of it? No, out of our own mouths we shall be condemned; for it seems “we knew our Master’s will, and yet did it not;” we were convinced that we ought not to do such things, and yet we did them; we believed the glorious promises of the gospel, and yet we “neglected this great salvation,” as a thing not worthy the looking after; we were verily persuaded of the intolerable and endless torments of hell, and yet we would leap into those flames.
Nothing can make more against us, than such an apology as this; our very excuse will be the highest accusation and charge that can be brought against 566us, and out of our own confession we shall be condemned.
All that now remains is, to make some application of this discourse which I have made to you concerning the truth of the Christian religion; which I should do in these two particulars,
First, To persuade us to a firm belief of the Christian religion. And,567
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