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SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XLVI.
JOHN, CHAP. III.-VERSE 19.
It is shown that man being a reasonable creature, and enabled to choose for himself in all cases, it is contrary to nature to suppose that there should be any thing absolutely or necessarily good to him; since the advantage to be drawn from any thing depends on the right use of it. Wholesome food is good for the sound; but taken in undue measure, it creates disease. Physic is proper for the sick; but if not properly regulated, it might destroy instead of curing. As it is with the body, so it is with the mind. The best instructions are of no use unless attended to. If there were any system of religion pretending by uncontrollable power to make men righteous, it might be considered as a good piece of spiritual mechanism, but not as a rule of virtue, since there can be no morality without free will. Hence it follows that the religion designed for us as free agents, can only instruct us in such a manner that we may not err through ignorance, and so aid us that it may be in our power, whenever it is in our will, to obey. That religion must therefore be the best, which most fully enlightens our understanding, and is best calculated to remove those impediments to liberty and freedom which arise from the corruption of our nature. There are but two sorts of men that can hope to escape punishment: the righteous, who have no reason to fear judgment, and the sinners who offend through ignorance. The declaration in the text therefore is only a natural consequence drawn from the excellency of the gospel and the perverseness of men. If the gospel were less perfect or less known, sinners would have more
to plead in their own behalf; as it is, they have no excuse for disobedience if it were only a matter of advice, they might be pardoned for neglecting it. But as it is a law given by God to his creatures, if we do not walk in the light of it, we shall be condemned for seeking darkness rather than light. This meaning of the text is confirmed by other parts of Scripture: it will be shown that men continue in darkness rather than light, only because their deeds are evil. The declaration of our Saviour, Mark xvi. 16. having reference to the preaching of the gospel throughout the world, it is evident that the believers and unbelievers there spoken of are such only as have had the gospel preached to them. St. Paul speaks to the same purpose, Acts xvii. 30; where the command to repent being opposed to God's winking at the times of ignorance, shows that now it is at every man's peril if he refuses to hearken to the heavenly call. The same is to be learned from Rom. i. 16. 18.: so that revelation, as it affords help to those who embrace it, at the same time renders all ungodliness inexcusable. There are many texts in Scripture to this effect, and our Saviour, in Luke x., speaks so clearly of those who despise the gospel, that his words can only be thus explained. It is not left to our choice whether we will be subject to the gospel or no; and this is not peculiar to the gospel, but is the case with regard to the laws of the realm, and all laws founded on sufficient authority and if this be the case in human laws, it is much more so in those of divine origin: for the greater the authority of the lawgiver, the more absolute must be our obedience. Hence appears the insufficiency of that argument for Deism which men make who affect to discard the gospel, in order to preserve the moral law of reason and nature: for they manifestly reject the authority of God, and refuse that obedience which reason teaches to be due to the Lawgiver of the world. Such pretences are of little weight, since the gospel being the true light to direct us, the only reason for forsaking it must be that assigned in the text.
The avowed design of our Saviour's coming was to destroy the works of the devil, and to restore religion, as it respects God and man, to its native purity. His first lesson to the world was the necessity of repentance: the laws of his gospel are declaratory of the original law of reason and nature: the mysteries therein revealed to us are intended only to give us the assurance of his pardon and mercy, and raise us to a lively hope of life and immortality through faith and obedience. The institutions of the gospel, as baptism, the Lord's supper, &c. are set before us as the proper means to enable us to make our calling and election sure, by continuing steadfast in holiness; and what is it that can tempt a man to reject a religion so well adapted to serve all the good ends of living here, and to support our hopes of happiness hereafter? We cannot pretend to forsake the gospel, in order to secure an obedience to the moral law by better hopes or stronger fears; since the gospel has taken in all the hopes and fears of nature, and confirmed them by the irreversible decree of God, who hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world by the man Christ Jesus. Do we recur to the light of nature in order to learn what is acceptable to God, and what are the relative duties between man and man? In the gospel we shall find all the moral duties deduced from the two great principles of nature, love of God and of our neighbor. There is no precept of virtue laid down in the gospel which nature can reject; and none in nature that has not been enforced in the gospel. Many have complained that the terrors of the Lord, set forth in the gospel, are too rigid and severe ; and many have lamented the strictness of the gospel morality: but did any one ever forsake the gospel, that he might become more perfect than the laws of Christ required he should be? If not, we may judge what purposes he serves who endeavors to bring down the precepts of morality from the strictness of the gospel, to give mankind greater licence; and to weaken the restraint laid on us by the terrors of the Christian law, by discarding the fears of per
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE XLVI.
petual punishment. Is it likely that the world will become better when less holiness is required, or when the danger of sinning is lessened? and yet this is pretended by those who forsake the gospel in search, as they say, of a better, but in reality of an easier form of religion. The reason assigned in the text is the only true cause of their aversion to the light which is held forth to them. Some have made objections to the mysteries of the gospel; and to those institutions of it which cannot reasonably be considered a part of true religion. It is true the gospel has taught us many things which by nature we could not know; but they are all designed to strengthen our hope and assurance of God's mercy: and those institutions, which in their own nature are not constituent parts of religion, are necessary to supply us with spiritual strength; and they were given by our Saviour, who, seeing, from the weakness of our nature, that we could not alone resist evil, mercifully granted us the assistance of his holy spirit. The gospel being recommended to us as founded in the express revelation of God, carries with it such authority as cannot with safety be either despised or neglected. We must therefore consider the necessity of impartially examining its claims to divine authority: since if it be the word of God, it is death to forsake it. Religion, properly so called, admits of no choice; in all the essential parts of it we must either obey or perish. But the corruption of man making it necessary for God to interpose by a new declaration of his will, the only dispute is of the truth of this revelation. If it indeed comes from God, it cannot be safe to reject it. This matter therefore, of all others, requires our most serious consideration; for if we wantonly or perversely refuse the gift of God, the words of the text will be our condemnation.
JOHN, CHAP. III.-VERSE 19.
This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
MAN being a reasonable creature, and endued with faculties to judge and choose for himself in all cases, it is contrary to nature to suppose that there should be any thing absolutely or necessarily good to him; since the advantage to be drawn from any thing whatever depends on the right use and application of that thing to its proper ends and purposes. Wholesome food is good for the sound; but if taken in undue measure, it grows into a disease. Physic is proper for the sick; but if the patient will not submit to proper regulations, that which might have been his cure will certainly be his destruction.
As it is with respect to the body, so is it likewise with respect to the mind; there is no such thing as an absolute or necessary cure for the frailties and infirmities of it; but the properest method for attaining that end must still depend on the proper use and application of it. The best instructions are of no use whilst not attended to; and the greatest helps and assistances yield no profit as long as they are rejected and despised.
Were the case otherwise, that is, were there any system of religion pretending, in virtue of some uncontrollable power, to make men righteous, such a system might be valued as a good piece of spiritual mechanism; but it could never be considered as a rule of virtue and morality, since the operation of the will being excluded, the morality of all human actions would be exIcluded with it.
And hence it follows that the utmost that can be done for