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WHY MEN RESIST AND PUT ASIDE THE
THOUGHTS OF RELIGION.
ST. JOHN III. 19, 20.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into
the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
Our Lord, two verses preceding these, states the momentous truth, that “God had sent his Son into the world, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” But in the works, no less than in the words of God, the intention is not always the same with the effect, but often of a nature entirely contrary. Who can doubt but that the intention of our Maker, in giving us the faculty
of speech, was mutual utility and pleasure ? Yet the faculty of speech often produces the very reverse of these, mutual annoyance and offence. Our joints and limbs were formed, without question, with a design of being instrumental to action and motion ; yet the effect not seldom is, that they are the seats of pain and disease. It fares in like manner with the Christian dispensation. Its intention was to redeem souls, to save them from sin, from the devil, and from death; to turn us from our sins; to lead us into the ways of life, and to conduct us in the paths of righteousness, which is the path to Heaven and to God. This was its intention, but far different its effects: its effects, in many instances, are altogether opposite; they are not unfrequently such as to increase the condemnation and punishment. “He that despised Moses' law died without mercy; of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the spirit of grace ?" It has been noticed, that this is no more than what happens in the gifts of nature: they are all intended for use, capable of abuse ; calculated for good, convertible to evil; designed and suited for our benefit, turned by ourselves to our prejudice, perhaps to our destruction. What is generally true of the endowments which we receive from the hands of our Creator, may be expected to be true of spiritual things, of the works and operations of grace, distinguished indeed from the course of nature, but proceeding from the same cause ; and more particularly true of those things which were meant and intended to be not only benefits but trials. Religion is a trial of character. The world we live in is a place, the life we live is a state, of trial and probation. Christianity itself is a part of this system. It is a trial to all, to whom it is proposed ; infinitely to their advantage, if accepted ; at their utmost peril, if put away and rejected. “ Ye put it from you,”
it from you,” says St. Paul, “and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life.” Therefore we are not to wonder as though it were any thing strange, that the intention of the Gospel is different from its effects. It is, in a certain degree, the case with all things which belong to us. It is more particularly true, as it was more particularly to be expected of every thing which partakes of the nature of a trial, which is the case with revealed religion.
And it may be observed, that it is not perhaps either a harsh or unauthorised interpretation of some prophetic descriptions of Christianity, to apply them to its character, spirit and intention, rather than to its effects, which are in so many other cases, as well as in this, contrary and opposite. “ The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” This, in the strong eastern manner, as ap