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THE EXCELLENCY AND UNIVERSALITY OF THE CHRISTIAN REVELATION, WITH THE SIN AND DANGER OF REJECTING IT.
And this is Ike condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.—John iii. 19.
WHEN I began to discourse on these words, I observed in them several particulars. As,
First, The description which is here given of our Saviour and his doctrine, by the metaphor of light. “Light is come.”
Secondly, The universal influence of this light. “Light is come into the world.”
Thirdly, The excellency and advantages of the doctrine of the gospel, above any other doctrine or institution, even that of the Jewish religion, which was likewise immediately from God. They are all but darkness, in comparison with this: “Light is come into the world; and men loved darkness.”
These three I have dispatched, and have entered upon the fourth particular observable in my text; namely,
The great unreasonableness of rejecting this doctrine of the gospel. It is to make the absurdest judgment and choice that is possible, to prefer darkness before light. “Men loved darkness rather than light.” The difference between the Christian religion and all others is so very plain, that our Saviour had great reason to speak thus severely of the 602infidelity of the Jews. And because the Jews are the great Scripture pattern of perverse infidelity, I proposed the taking an estimate of the unreasonableness of this spirit and temper, from the characters which we find of it in that people, most of which do still inseparably attend the spirit of infidelity, wherever it is. I shall therefore take notice of some of the chief of those characters, as I find them dispersed up and down in the history of the New Testament; and they are these which follow:—
I. Monstrous partiality, in denying and rejecting that revelation, which had not only as great, but greater evidence, than other things which they did believe, and were ready enough to entertain. They believed Moses and the prophets: and the great confirmation which was given to them, was by the miracles which God wrought by them. Those miracles they did not see themselves, but received them from the testimony of their forefathers, being brought down to them by a very credible and uncontrolled revelation, which they had no reason to doubt of the truth of; but they themselves saw the miracles which our Saviour wrought, which were more and greater than the miracles of Moses and all the prophets, so that they were eye-witnesses of that Divine power which accompanied our Saviour; and yet they rejected him and his doctrine: nay, so unequally did they deal with him, that, after they had rejected him, notwithstanding all the evidence which he gave that he came from God, they greedily received and ran after false prophets who gave no such testimony. So our Saviour foretells concerning them, (John v. 43.) and so afterwards it came to pass, “I am come (saith he) in my Father’s name, that is, have given sufficient evidence that he sent me, 603and “ye received me not; if another shall come in his own name, him will ye receive.”—“In his own name,” that is, without any miracles to prove that he comes from God.
And to shew their horrible partiality yet more, after they had refused the clearest testimony that God could give of him, they were contented to accept of the disagreeing testimony of two witnesses against him, and upon that uncertain evidence to put him to death.
And this hath been the temper of those that oppose the truth, in all ages, and in all kind of matters. Thus the church of Rome will needs understand those words of our Saviour, “This is my body,” in the sense of transubstantiation, contrary to the plain intention of them, and in contradiction to the reason and senses of all mankind; and yet they will not understand the plain institution of the sacrament in both kinds. And thus the atheists, who will not believe that there is a God, who made the world, can yet swallow things ten times harder to be believed; as, that either the world was eternal of itself, or the matter of it; and that the parts of this matter, being in perpetual motion, did, after infinite trials and attempts, at last happen to settle in this order in which we now are; that is, that this admirable frame of the world, which hath all the characters upon it of deep wisdom and contrivance, was made merely by chance, and without direction and design of any intelligent author: so partial is infidelity, as to assent to the most absurd things, rather than believe the revelations of God, or to own those principles, which are naturally imprinted upon the minds of men, and have the general consent of man kind.604
II. Another usual concomitant of infidelity is, unreasonable and groundless prejudice. The Jews were strangely prejudiced against our Saviour, and that upon the weakest and slightest ground; as, that his original was known amongst them. (John vii. 27.) “Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is.” Surely they were very ready to take exceptions against him, that would urge this for an objection; for what if his original were known, might he not be from God for all that? Moses was a great prophet, and yet it was very well known from whence he was; and it was no where said in the Old Testament that his original should be unknown; nay, on the contrary, it was plainly declared, that he was to be of the tribe of Judah, of the lineage of David, and to come out of Bethlehem.
Another prejudice against him was the meanness of his parents, and of the manner of his education. (Matt. xiii. 54.) “Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him.” And so, likewise, (John vii. 15.) “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” A strange kind of unreasonable prejudice! They could not believe him to be an extraordinary person, because his parents and relations, his birth and manner of breeding, were so mean; because he had been brought up to a trade, and not bred up like one of their scribes and rabbies; as if God could not inspire a man with all those gifts, which men ordinarily acquire by study 605and pains: and as if it had not been reasonable to expect, that the Messias, who they believed was to be the greatest prophet that ever was, should be thus inspired. Now in all reason the argument is strong the other way that sure he was an extraordinary prophet, who all on a sudden gave such evidence of his great knowledge and wisdom, and did such mighty works; because this could not be imputed to his breeding and education, since that was so mean, and therefore there must be something extraordinary and divine in it; thus another man, who had been free from prejudice, would have been apt to reason.
Another unreasonable prejudice was grounded upon a spiteful and malicious proverb, concerning the country where our Saviour was brought up, namely Galilee, (John i. 46.) “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” And, (John vii. 41.) “Shall Christ (that is, the Messias,) come out of Galilee?” And, (ver. 52.) “Search and look, for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” Nathanael, indeed, who was a sincere good man, was easily wrought off from this prejudice, and was contented to be convinced of the contrary by plain evidence, when Philip desired him “to come and see.” (John i. 46.) But the Jews it seems laid great weight upon it, as if this one thing had been enough to confute all our Saviour’s miracles, and, after they had shot this bolt at him, the matter had been clearly concluded against him.
But wise and unprejudiced men do not use to be swayed and carried away with ill-natured proverbs; nor do they believe the bad characters which are given of a country, to be universally true without exception, as if every country did not yield some brave spirits, and excellent persons, whatever the 606general temper and disposition of the inhabitants may be observed to be; or as if a man could not be an inspired prophet, unless he were bred in a good air; nor be sent by God, unless men approved the place from whence he came. The Bœotians among the Greeks were a heavy and dull people, even to a proverb; and yet Pindar, a great poet and wit, was born in that country. The Scythians were so barbarous, that one would have thought surely no good could come from thence; and yet they yielded Anacharsis, none of the meanest of the philosophers. The Idumeans were “aliens and strangers from the commonwealth of Israel;” and yet Job, one of the most excellent persons that ever lived, was born among them. God can bring forth eminent instruments out of any place and nation he pleases, “out of stones raise up children unto Abraham.” Our conceits are no rule to him, nor does he govern the world by our foolish proverbs; “His ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts.”
And thus some in our days have endeavoured to slur the Reformation, by calling it “the northern heresy;” as if the light of truth were at as great a distance from these northern parts, as that of the sun, and nothing but error and heresy could come thence; which is just such a conceit, and grounded upon as wise a reason, as that of the Donatists, who would needs have truth and the catholic church confined to Africa, because that was the southern part of the world, and because it is said in the Song of Solomon, concerning the church, “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, and where thou makest thy flocks to rest at noon.”
Another mighty prejudice against our Saviour we find mentioned John vii. 48. “Have any of the 607rulers or pharisees believed on him?” For this there seems to be some better colour than for the other; because the example of superiors and of persons thought to be more knowing, is considerable indeed in a doubtful case, and a good rule of action, when we have no better; but ought to be of no force to sway our judgment against clear and convincing evidence. Zedekiah and the princes of Judah would not hearken to Jeremiah: yet was he a true prophet for all that, though it was not their pleasure to think so. Sometimes there is a gross and palpable corruption in those who ought to be guides to others, and they have a visible interest in opposing and rejecting the truth. And this was the case of the pharisees and rulers among the Jews in our Saviour’s time. Any one that had known them, and judged impartially concerning them, would rather have chosen to have followed any example than theirs. Religion may sometimes be in greatest danger, from those who ought to understand it best, and to be the greatest supports of it. So it was of old among the Jews, when the prophet complains, that “their leaders had caused them to err:” and so it hath been among Christians, in the great degeneracy of the Roman church; their popes and their general councils, as they call them, have been the great corrupters of Christianity, and seducers of Christendom; which made Luther to say, with truth and sharpness enough, Religio nunquam magis periclitatur quam inter reverendissimos; “Religion is never in greater danger than among the most reverend;” meaning the pope and the cardinals: when those who ought to teach and reform others, are guilty of the greatest errors and corruptions themselves.
I will mention but one prejudice more, which we find John ix. 16, “This man (say the Jews concerning 608our Saviour) is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath-day.” This indeed had been a considerable exception, if it had been true; and therefore our Saviour takes great care to vindicate himself from this aspersion; he shews, that the law of the sabbath did not oblige in all cases, and that, being a positive precept, it ought to give place to moral duties, which are of perpetual obligation, and therefore he bids them “go and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice; and the plain meaning of that saying was, that when positive institutions interfere with any moral duty, they cease to oblige in that case; that the sabbath was designed for the ease and benefit of men, and not for their grievance and burden: and therefore, where the life of man is concerned, the law of the sabbath ceaseth; as in case of necessity, “David did eat of the show-bread, and was blameless,” though by a positive law it was forbidden for any man to eat of it but the priests only. Lastly, from a general practice in a common case among themselves, it being allowed by their own law, to take an ox or an ass out of a pit on the sabbath-day; and therefore much more to heal one on the sabbath-day and “to loose a daughter of Abraham, that had been bound eighteen years,” as our Saviour invincibly argues.
Upon the like prejudice several churches and communions in the world will not allow others to be good Christians, and in a state of salvation, because they do not lay the same weight that they do upon positive institutions, not of Divine, but of mere ecclesiastical authority, in which they are more unreasonable than the Jews.2424 Of this see more, Sermons CXVI. CXVII. and CXVIII. vols. v. and vi. But I proceed to a609
III. Third concomitant of their infidelity, and this was, a childish kind of perverseness. Being strongly prejudiced against our Saviour, they were so peevish and froward, that nothing would satisfy them. And of this he himself gives us a remarkable instance; (Matt. xi. 16, 17.) “But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.” The business was this: the Jews found fault with John the Baptist, because his habit and conversation were so rough and severe; and yet our Saviour could not please them neither, who was of a quite different temper. “John the Baptist came in the way of righteousness, and they received him not;” his way was very strict and severe, “he came neither eating nor drinking,” was very strict in his diet, and manner of living, of a coarse carriage and melancholy temper, and “they said he had a devil.” He was to be a preacher of repentance, and his garb was suitable to his employment. Our Saviour was of a more easy and familiar and conversable temper, suitable to a preacher of pardon and forgiveness: “the Son of man came eating and drinking; and they said, Behold a wine-bibber and a glutton, a friend of publicans and sinners.” Now what could be more childish and perverse than to be pleased with nothing? By this it plainly appeared, that whatever garb he had put on, whatever his carriage had been, they would have found fault with it, and have made some exception against it; at this rate it was impossible for him to escape the censure of men so perversely disposed; and therefore our Saviour fitly compares them to “children playing in 610the markets,” who were neither pleased with mourning nor dancing.
And this is the humour of infidelity, and of those who oppose the truth, to cavil and make exceptions at every thing, and to argue against religion and the principles of it, from contrary topics, and arguments that are inconsistent with one another.
There are other instances of this perverseness in the Jews; as, that when they believed Moses, and had a mighty veneration for him, yet they would not believe him when he testified concerning the Messias. So likewise they looked upon John the Baptist as a prophet; but yet would give no credit to his testimony concerning Christ. Nay, so froward were they, that when our Saviour had wrought the greatest and plainest miracle that could be, in feeding five thousand persons with five loaves and two little fishes; yet, as if this had been nothing, they still call upon him to work a miracle; (John vi. 30.) “What sign workest thou, that we may see and believe?”
IV. Another usual concomitant of infidelity, is obstinacy, and pertinacious persisting in error. This likewise was the temper of the Jews, not to be convinced by any evidence that could be offered to them. When our Saviour had several times put them to silence, so that they were not able to answer him, yet they obstinately persisted in their former conceit, and stiffly held the conclusion, though they were not able to make good the premises. (Matt. xxii.) Our Saviour confuted the Sadducees about the resurrection, and put them to silence; and then undertook the pharisees, and they could not answer him neither; both of them continued in their opinion, though each of them thought the other to be clearly baffled and confuted.611
This obstinacy of theirs our Saviour makes a great aggravation of their infidelity; (Matt. xxi. 31, 32.) “Verily, I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you by the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him. And ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.”
Nay, which was the most unreasonable of all, when they could not answer his arguments, nor deny the miracles which he wrought, yet they were resolved not to believe on him, nor to suffer others to confess him. (John xi. 47, 48.) After he had wrought that great miracle, in raising Lazarus from the dead, after he had lain four days in the grave, they were so far from owning themselves convinced by it, that hereupon they took counsel to put him to death. So the text tells us, that “many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus had done (namely, the raising of Lazarus), believed on him: but some of them went their way to the pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.” And now one would have thought, that either they should not have acknowledged this mighty miracle, or, if they had, that they should have been convinced by it that he was from God: but the miracle was so notorious, that they could not deny it; and they were so obstinately set against him, that they would not be convinced by it; they granted the premises, and yet denied the conclusion; (ver. 47.) “Then gathered the chief priests and pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles; if we let him alone all men will believe on him.” And it follows, (ver. 53.) “From that day forth they took counsel together to put him to death.”
And after he was risen from the dead, and those that bare witness to his resurrection had their testimony confirmed by miracles, yet the Jews continued in the same obstinacy, as if they were resolved to oppose the gospel in despite of all evidence that could be brought for it. So we find (Acts iv. 15, 16.) that when the rulers and scribes beheld the man whom the apostles had healed, standing by them, it is said, “They could say nothing against it.” But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, u saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them, is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it: but, that it spread no farther among the people, let us straight) y threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.” What could be more unreasonable, than to own the miracle, and yet to reject the testimony?
V. Another quality which accompanied this spirit of infidelity and opposition to the truth in the Jews, was want of patience to consider and examine what could be said for the truth; a hastiness to pronounce and pass sentence, before they had heard what could be said for it. Thus the pharisees, when they saw our Saviour cast out devils, they presently, without any farther consideration, pronounce, that he did it “by the prince of devils,” (Matt. xii. 24.) Had they not been headily carried on by passion and prejudice, they would never have passed this rash sentence. Had they but had patience to have considered matters, they could 613not have believed, that the devil was confederate with Christ against himself, and the interest of his own kingdom.
And as it was then, so it is at this day; many continue in unbelief and error, not because there is not evidence enough for the things proposed to their belief, but because they have not patience enough to consider what may be said for them. Nay, in the church of Rome, that they may retain their people in their communion, they strictly forbid all examination of their religion, or so much as to hear or read what can be said against it; because this is doubting, and doubting is next to infidelity, a mortal sin, and a temptation of the devil. There is but one season and nick of time, wherein they will allow any of the people to examine and inquire into matters of religion, and that is, when they would gain a man to their religion, and they allow it then only because they cannot help it. Some reasons they must offer to persuade men to be of their church; and when they offer them, they must allow them to consider them, and judge of the force of them, though they had much rather they would take their words for the strength and goodness of them; for they do what they can to hinder them from advising with those that will dispute the matter with them: or if they cannot prevent examination, yet they divert them as much as they can from any particular inquiry into their doctrines and practices; this they pretend is a tedious and endless course, and therefore they commonly direct them to a shorter way, which is, not to inquire first into the truth of their doctrines, and the goodness of their worship and practice; but first to find out the true church, and then learn of her what doctrines 614and practices are truly Christian; and by this means they get their religion swallowed whole, without any particular examination of their doctrines and practices, which will not bear the trial; and therefore, to make the work short, they take it for granted, that there is always a visible catholic church; that this church is infallible in all matters of faith; and that the Roman church is this visible infallible catholic church, because no other church pretends to be so; as indeed there is no reason why any particular church should pretend to be catholic, or universal; or, to speak plainer, why a part should pretend to be the whole: and all this being admitted, there is nothing more now to be done, but to receive all the doctrines which this church teacheth, without any further examination of them, be cause this church being supposed to be infallible, all that she says must be true, though it appears to be never so contrary to Scripture, or reason, or sense. But now, in this way of proceeding, there are two or three things which seem to be very odd:—
1. That men must take their religion in a lump, and not be allowed to examine the particular doctrines and practices of it: which is to say, they have an excellent religion, but men must by no means examine it, nor look into it. This looks so suspiciously, that a wise man, for this very reason, if there were no other, would reject it, because they are so afraid to bring it to a trial.
2. It seems likewise very strange, that when they go to make proselytes, they should take so many things which are in question and controversy between us, for granted; as, that the church in every age is infallible, and that the church of Rome is the 615infallible and catholic church. They meet indeed sometimes with some easy and willing converts, that will meet them thus far; that is, more than half way: but what if a man will not take all this for granted, but will put them to the proof of it? Why then he is not so civil as they hoped and expected; and commonly they give over tempting him, or at least depart from him for a season, until they can find him in a more pliable temper; for it is a long work, and requires a great deal of time, to prove some things, especially to the dull capacity of a northern heretic: besides that, some things are stubborn, and will not be proved, though never so much pains be taken to do it; and so are the propositions now mentioned, towards the proof where of I never saw any argument offered, that is within distance, or indeed within sight, of the conclusion. And then,
3. It seems a very strange method of coming to know what the true doctrines of Christianity are, by first knowing which is the true church: for it is not the church which makes the doctrines of Christianity to be true, but the profession of the true Christian doctrine which makes the true church; and therefore we must first know which are the true doctrines of Christianity, the profession whereof makes the true church, before we can possibly know which is the true church; but which are the true doctrines of Christianity is not to be known but by a particular examination of them, and comparing them with the rule of the Christian faith, “the word of God.” But they that have a mind to delude men, and keep them in error, must never admit their religion to be tried by this rule. But to proceed.616
VI. Another quality which accompanies infidelity and opposition to the truth, is rudeness and boisterousness, falling into uncivil terms and reproachful names. Such was the carriage of the Jews towards our Saviour; when they were not able to reason with him, they fell to railing at him, (John viii. 48.) When he argued against their infidelity in the calmest manner, and, by the strongest and clear est arguments, endeavoured to convince them of the unreasonableness of it: “Which of you (saith he) convinceth me of sin? And if I speak the truth, why do you not believe? He that is of God, heareth God’s words; ye, therefore, hear them not, be cause ye are not of God. Then answered the Jews, Say we not well, that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” They presently call him heretic; for so the Jews esteemed the Samaritans.
VII. Another quality near akin to this, is fury and outrageous passion. (John vii. 23.) The Jews were in a great passion against our Saviour, for healing on the sabbath-day. When the apostles wrought miracles, it is said, that “the high priest, and they that were with him, were filled with indignation.” And when St. Stephen preached to them, it is said, “They gnashed on him with their teeth.” And St. Paul acknowledged of himself, while he opposed the truth of Christianity, he was “mad against all that were of that way.”
VIII. And lastly, to mention no more, infidelity and opposition to the truth, is usually attended with bloody and inhuman persecution; a certain argument of a weak cause, and which wants better means of conviction. Thus the Jews treated our Saviour; when they could not deal with him by reason, they persecuted him, and “sought to kill him.” (John v. 16. and chap. viii. 59.) When our Saviour had answered all their objections, and they had nothing to reply unto him, “they took up stones to cast at him;” a sign their reasons were spent, and that their arguments were at an end. Thus infidelity and error betrays its own weakness, and want of reason on its side, by making use of such brutish and unreasonable weapons in its own defence. Our blessed Saviour and his apostles never thought of propagating their religion by these inhuman and barbarous ways. These methods are proper to the destroyer, but not to the Lamb of God, and Saviour of men. “The Son of man came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them;” to do good to the bodies, and to the souls of men; and not to destroy their bodies, no, not in order to the saving of their souls. All the means that he or his apostles used, were teaching and persuading, and that with great meekness: “Learn of me, for I am meek,” saith our Lord: and the apostles every where command the teachers of this religion, “to shew all gentleness to all men,” and “in meekness to instruct those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.” They did not go about to convert men by armed force, and ways of violence and cruelty. It is a sign that reason runs very low with that religion, which hath no better arguments to persuade men to it, than dragoons and the galleys; these are carnal, and therefore not Christian weapons. So St. Paul tells us, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal,” and yet they were “mighty through God, to subdue” a great part of the world to the belief and obedience of the Christian religion. Thus I have done with the fourth particular in the text—the unreasonableness 618of infidelity and opposition to the truth. The two remaining ones I shall dispatch in a few words.
Fifthly, therefore, I observed the true reason and account of men’s opposition to the truth, and rejection of it; “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” And, indeed darkness is more suitable to a wicked and vicious life, because the deformity of it is not so easily discovered as in the light; this makes the evil of men’s actions more manifest, and their faults more inexcusable. Men may pretend other reasons for their infidelity and opposition of the truth, and may seem to argue against the principles of religion in good earnest, and against the reasonableness and truth of Christianity, from a real contrary persuasion: but no man that hath these things fairly proposed to him, and with all the advantages they are capable of, and hath the patience to consider the true nature and design of the Christian doctrine, but must acknowledge it, not only to be the most reasonable, but the most Divine, most likely to come from God, and to make men like God, of any religion that ever yet appeared in the world. If any man reject it, it is not because he hath good and sufficient reasons against it; but because he is swayed by some unreasonable prejudice and passion, or biassed by some lust or interest, which he is strongly addicted to, and loath to part with, and yet he must part with it, if he entertain this religion, and submit himself to the terms and rules of it. This is that which commonly lies at the bottom of infidelity, and is the true reason of their opposition to the truth—that “their deeds are evil.” And it is natural for every man to defend himself, and justify his doings, as well as he can; and if religion 619be clearly against him, to set himself with all the despite and malice he can against religion; and to hate, and with all his might to oppose, that which contradicts that course which he is in love with, and is resolved to continue in: for, as our Saviour reasons in a like case, “No man can serve two masters; but either he will hate the one, and love the other; or he will cleave to the one, and quit the other.” Men cannot entertain the truth, and retain their lusts; and, therefore, as our Saviour tells us immediately after the text, “Every one that doeth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh he to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” The light of truth is as grievous to a bad man, as the light of the sun is to sore eyes: because it lays open and discovers the faults and vices of men, and if they entertain it, will urge them, and put them upon a necessity of reforming their wicked lives; and because they have no mind to this, therefore they resist the light, and endeavour to keep it out. The vices and lusts of men are so many diseases; and men naturally loath physic, and put it off as long as they can: and this makes many inconsiderate and wilful men to favour their disease, and take part with it against all counsel and advice; and when the great Physician of souls comes and offers them a remedy, they slight and reject him, and will rather perish than follow his prescriptions.
And this was the true reason why the Jews rejected the gospel: they were vicious in their lives, and loath to undergo the severity of a cure; they were not willing to be saved by so sharp and unpleasant a remedy. And this is still the true reason at this day, of men’s enmity and opposition to religion, because it declares against their evil deeds, and proclaims open war against those vices and lusts 620which they love, and are resolved to live in; so that they have no other way to justify themselves and their actions, but by condemning and rejecting that which reproves and finds fault with them.
And here I might shew more particularly, that there are two accounts to be given why bad men are so apt to resist and reject the Divine truth, even when it is revealed and proposed to them in the fairest manner, and with the clearest evidence.
1. Because their minds are not so rightly prepared and disposed for the receiving of Divine truth. And,
2. Because they have an interest against it, their designs and deeds are evil, they have some worldly interest to carry on, or they are in love with some vice or lust which they cannot reconcile with the truths of God and religion. But this I have done at large elsewhere.2525 See Sermons LXXXVI. LXXXVII. LXXXVIII. vol. v. p. 19, &c. I proceed, therefore, to the
Sixth and last particular in the text, namely, The great guilt of those who reject the doctrine of the gospel. By this very act of theirs they are condemned, nay, they condemn themselves; because they reject the only means of their salvation. “This is the condemnation,” this very thing argues the height of their folly and guilt, that “when light is come,” they prefer darkness before it. If any thing will condemn men, this will; and if any thing will aggravate their condemnation, and make it above measure heavy and intolerable, this will. If it were in a doubtful matter that men made so ill and foolish a choice, the thing would admit of some excuse: but the dispute is between light and darkness. If the Christian religion had not so plainly the advantage 621of any other institution that ever was; if that holiness which the gospel commands, and that happiness which it promiseth, were not infinitely to be preferred before the ways of sin and death, the unbeliever and the disobedient might have something to say for themselves; but the case is plainly other wise: so that whoever, having the Christian religion fairly and fully proposed to him, doth not believe it; or, professing to believe it, doth not live according to it, “hath no cloak for his sin;” neither the one for his infidelity, nor the other for his disobedience: and if any thing will aggravate the condemnation of men, this will; for the greater light men sin against, the greater is their guilt; and the greater any man’s guilt is, the heavier will be his doom. The heathen world, that lived for many ages in “darkness and the shadow of death,” shall be condemned for sinning against that imperfect knowledge of their duty, which they had from the glimmering of natural light; but they shall be “beaten with few stripes,” their punishment shall be gentle in comparison; but what punishment can be severe enough for those obstinate infidels that reject the light, and prefer darkness before it? for those impudent offenders, who admit the light of the gospel, and yet rebel against it; who do the works of darkness in the midst of this light, at noon-day, and in the face of the sun? This consideration the Scripture frequently urgeth upon those who enjoy the light of the gospel. “I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, for Sodom and Gomorrah, (the very worst and wickedest of the heathens) than for you.” “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” If either we reject the knowledge of the truth, or sin wilfully after we have received it, (that is, apostatize 622either to infidelity or impiety of life) there remains no more sacrifice for sin, nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, to consume the adversary, that is, such implacable enemies of God and his truth; in so doing, we resist and reject our last remedy; and after God hath sent and sacrificed his only Son for our salvation, we cannot in reason think there remains any more sacrifice for sin.—I have gone over the several particulars in the text: I shall only make two or three inferences.
First, If the great design of the Son of God was to enlighten the world with the knowledge of Divine truth, what shall we think of those, who make it their great endeavour to stifle and suppress this light, and to hinder the free communication of it? who conceal the word of life from the people, and lock up the knowledge of salvation, contained in the Holy Scriptures, in an unknown tongue?
Secondly, Having represented the unreasonableness of infidelity, and the evil concomitants of it in the Jews, “Let us take heed lest there be in any of us an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God, and lest any of us fall after the same example of infidelity.” Let us not reject the principles of religion, because they are inconsistent with our practices, but let us rather endeavour to reconcile our lives to the rules of religion, and resolve to reform those faults which religion reproves, and which the reason of our own minds, if we would at tend to it, reproves as much as religion; a clear evidence that we are in the wrong, and religion in the right, because it hath the best and soberest reason of mankind on its side.
Let us then, with all readiness of mind, entertain that light which God hath afforded to us, to conduct 623us and shew us the way to happiness, whether by the principles of natural religion, or by the revelation of the gospel in its primitive purity and lustre, and not as it hath been muffled and disguised by the ignorance and superstition which prevailed in after-ages, till the light of the Reformation sprang out, and restored a new day to us, and “called us again out of darkness into a marvellous light,” which, by the blessing of God, we have now enjoyed for many years, and which we cannot go about to quench, without incurring the condemnation in the text.
Thirdly, and lastly, Let us take heed of practical infidelity, of opposing and contradicting the Christian religion by our wicked lives and actions. Though we profess to believe the gospel, yet if our “deeds be evil,” we do in effect and by interpretation reject it, and “love darkness rather than light;” though we assent to the truth of it, yet we “withhold it in unrighteousness,” we resist the virtue and efficacy of it, and do oppose and blaspheme it by our lives; nay, we do as much as in us lies to make others atheists, by exposing religion to the contempt and scorn of such persons, and by opening their mouths against it; as either not containing the laws of a good life, or as destitute of power and efficacy to persuade men to the obedience of those laws. Where (will they say) is this excellent religion, so much boasted of? how does it appear? Look into the lives of Christians, and there you will best see the admirable effects of this doctrine, the mighty force of this institution! And what a shameful reproach is this to us! What a scandal and disparagement to our holy religion, to see some of the worst of men wearing the badge and livery of the 624best religion and institution that ever was in the world!
I shall conclude all with the words of the apostle, (Phil. i. 27.) “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ;” and “stand fast with one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
END OF VOL. IX.
J. F. DOVE, Printer, St. John’s Square.
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