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ed works; and then to excuse his wicked works, he admits atheism in speculation. "The fool," the libertine, whose heart is fully set in him to do evil, "says in his heart, There is no God. He is corrupt, and does abominable works." He therefore wishes there were no God, and endeavors to persuade himself, there is none; or none who regards the actions, or will punish the iniquities of men."Through the pride of his countenance he will not seek after God. God is not in all his thoughts. He saith in his heart, God hath forgotten; he hideth his face, he will never see;" nor recompence what is done on earth.
Some perhaps will say, "Though we disbelieve the gospel, we are not atheists: We believe there is a God, as much as you Christians do."
But let me ask you, What kind of God do you believe?-You talk of a God as the creator and upholder of the natural world, because you know not how to account for the existence and continuance of nature without him. You make the same use of him, as you do of gravitation and attraction. You consider him as a kind of philosophical cause; for you think it more rational to say, There is a God who made and sustains the frame of nature, than to say, It had no cause, or created itself, or was eternal. Now if you stop here, you are atheists in a moral sense, as much as if you thought the world came into existence by chance. Do you believe that God is a moral governor-that he exercises a particular providence-that he inspects your heart and observes your conduct--that he will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, and will finally punish or reward you according to your character? You may then say, You believe there is a God. And if you thus believe in God, you will believe also in Christ. But if you deny your
accountableness-disbelieve all future punishment -discard the idea of a providence directing the af fairs of the world, and overruling the actions of men, you cannot pretend, that you believe there is a God in any rational and moral sense. Your God is noth. ing more than a natural cause of events, and in his hands the universe is nothing better than a system of mechanism. And such a belief will have no more influence on your heart and conduct, than a belief that the tides are caused by the moon, that a thunder storm is produced by electrical fire, or that the material system is held together by attraction. In short, the denial of all future punishment is atheism in effect; for he that disbelieves this, feels no ac countableness to God, fears nothing from him, is under no moral restraint, and is intitled to no man's confidence. This corruption of sentiment seems to have been one main cause of the unbelief of the Pharisees, when Christ came to them. Though they condemned the Gentile world to future punishment, yet they imagined all Jews, and be sure all who belonged to their sect would be saved. Hence they practised iniquity without restraint, and hated and persecuted the Savior, who reproved them for their sins, and urged them to repentance as the con> dition of salvation.
Our subject warns us of the awful danger of despising the gospel. There is a great difference, in respect of guilt, between those who reject the gospel, and those who have never known it. The lat ter "have no sin;" they are not chargeable with the sin of unbelief. The former "have no cloak for their sin;" for the gospel has been laid before them with its evidences, and they have hated it, and cast it from them. Their sin lies not in an error of judgment, but in perverseness of heart, and therefore admits of no excuse.
We are they to whom the gospel has come. We are not in the condition of heathens, nor can we put ourselves in their condition; and, consequently, we can never avail ourselves of the excuse which will be made for them. If we reject the gospel, still it remains a truth, that we have had it; but would not retain it, because we hated it. And this evil heart of unbelief disqualifies us for the blessings which it offers. And whatever hopes we may have for an honest heathen, who never has enjoyed this glorious dispensation, there is no ground to expect the salvation of an infidel; for there is in him a perverseness of heart inconsistent with salvation.
We see, that not only a belief of, but a conformity to the gospel is necessary to our being saved by it. If the guilt of unbelievers lies in their hatred of the gospel, all who hate it, are condemned by it, whether they profess to believe it or not. We pity the unhappy state of heathens, to whom the gospel has never been sent; and we condemn the perverseness of infidels, who will not receive it when it is brought to them. But if we profess to believe it, and yet practically oppose it, what are we better than heathens? Nay, better than infidels? We cannot plead the ignorance of the former. We are guilty of the perverseness of the latter. The same perverseness, which is the cause of professed infidelity, is also the cause of practical disobedience. The servant, who, when his Lord comes, shall not be found doing his Lord's will, but smiting his fellow servants, and drinking with the drunken, will have a portion appointed him with unbelievers.
It concerns us to inquire, whether we have in heart embraced this gospel. We would be thought to believe it. Have we felt its power, yielded to its authority, and complied with its design? Do we possess the temper, and maintain the works which
it requires? Have we been convinced of our guilt as transgressors of a holy law, realized our dependence on sovereign grace, renounced all confidence in ourselves and humbly consented to accept pardon as the gift of divine mercy and the purchase of a dying Savior? Have we, with godly sorrow, forsaken all the ways of sin, and devoted ourselves to God to serve him in newness of life? Conscious of our insufficiency to think any thing as of ourselves, have we placed our reliance on the sufficiency which is in Christ? And being, as we have supposed, renewed in the spirit of our mind, have we put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, which is created after the image of God? If we find this practical conformity to the gospel, we have believed it with the heart and received it with love. If our character is the reverse, whatever profession we make of faith in Christ, we in works deny him. We have seen, but hated him.
Our subject teaches us, how dangerous it is to depart from the truth. When we begin to deviate, we can set no bounds to our wandering. One error produces another; and a total rejection of religion may be the consequence of one perverse step. We have seen, that there is no rational medium between deism and atheism-no secure ground on which the man, who has advanced to the former stage, can ever make a stand, unless he will retreat. He is on the steep declivity of a precipice; and, instead of attempting to reascend, he will probably plunge downward, till he sinks in the dark gulph of absolute irreligion.
The same danger, in a degree, attends every deviation from the plain truths and duties of the gospel. There are few who become infidels at once. Progress in error, like progress in vice, is usually gradual. But the motion, like that of a body roll
ing down a hill, though gentle at first, is rapid toward the close. In the beginning, it may be checked or diverted by small obstructions; but near the bottom it bounds with violence over every impedi
Let the infidel review his steps. He will find, they began and proceeded after this manner. He first found himself.condemned by the strict rules of the gospel, either for his general manner of life, or for some particular transgression. Conscience rebuked him; common opinion censured him. He was solicitous to vindicate himself. He began to entertain more lax notions of morality he grew fond of loose company and licentious books-he acquired by degrees a contempt of the severer maxims of piety and virtue; he argued against them, and pleaded in defence of his own indulgences-he became indifferent to God's instituted worship, and spake lightly of it as a useless ceremony, or useful only in a secular and political view. But as this is expressly appointed in the gospel, he could not justify his contempt of it without condemning the gospel itself. It was, by this time, easy to entertain doubts; and doubts soon grew into opinions. If he read the scriptures, his principal aim was to start difficulties, make cavils, find inconsistencies. He fondly communicated his objections in company where they would make an impression, and eagerly listened to the objections which he heard. The relaxation of his principles emboldened the licentiousness of his manners, and this, in its turn, contribut ed to a farther corruption of his principles. Thus by the reciprocal operation of his sentiments on his manners, and of his manners on his sentiments, he threw by the gospel with indifference, and his indifference soon grew to enmity; and his enmity to the gospel naturally increased to a hatred of all re