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and their comfortable standing with the civil government destroyed; -until, on their whole state, was written-" Ichabod, the glory is departed !” And, to the present day, their glory has never been restored. As they went on to sink lower and lower in error, they became also more and more depressed in every thing that constitutes the true excellence and happiness of a church.
No less instructive on this subject is the history of the churches of Geneva and England. As long as simple gospel truth continued to be preached, and generally received in those churches, the effect was uniformly benign. “The word of God had free course and was glorified.” Sinners were convinced and converted; saints were edified and comforted; and the churches “walked together in the fear of the Lord, and in the consolations of the Holy Ghost." But just in proportion as doctrinal error, gained ground among them, every thing good declined. Discord, strife, division, and moral desolation became more and more prevalent, and held a gloomy reign, until evangelical truth was again revived. But why should we dwell, in detail, on particular cases? The fact is, the principle of which we speak is universal in its application. Never, it may be safely asserted, did an exception occur. The prevalence of doctrinal error, and the decline of practical religion, have always gone hand in hand. And there is another fact, equally remarkable and instructive. When false doctrines have begun to appear in any church, the course has too commonly been from one degree of heterodoxy to another, until the lowest point of depression was reached. And this, however the fact may be explained, is more peculiarly apt to be the case, when those who once professed to stand upon orthodox ground, suffer themselves to be enticed into error. Those who were originally bred in some moderate doctrinal error, often remain, during their whole lives, at the same position. But when men apostatize from a scriptural creed, they, with deplorable frequency, have been found to continue in the downward course, until they reached the bottom of the declining .plane. A late excellent and judicious writer never penned a more plain and melancholy truth, than when he saidThe progress is easy and almost unavoidable, from controversial opposition to personal election, to the explaining away of original sin, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, justification by faith alone, and even of the atonement and deity of Jesus Christ."* All history attests the truth of this humiliating and alarming statement.
If ever, therefore, the Presbyterian church shall begin to be infected with Semi-pelagian and Arminian errors; her case will be far more threatening, and the probable result far more deplorable, than those of churches which have, from the beginning, uniformly occupied Arminian ground. The individuals who may take the lead in such defection, will probably continue to the end of
• Dr. SCOTT's preface to lie translation of the Arts of the Synod of Dort.
life, to rank themselves with evangelical men; nay, they may, possibly, affect peculiar zeal and fidelity, and claim to be preeminently, the friends of Revivals:" but both the title and the claim will, eventually, be found equally delusive. Their immediate successors, will, probably, throw off the mask, and fulfil, perhaps, the worst predictions of the faithful watchmen on the walls of Zion. The principle is by no means obscure, which renders it as natural in theory, as it is certain in fact, that apostates are ever apt to sink to a lower point in doctrinal and moral degeneracy, than those who never held & high place in the scale of profession.
From the foregoing discussion a variety of important inferences may be deduceu.
1. The first is, that DOCTRINAL PREACHING IS OF EXCEEDING GREAT IMPORTANCE IN PROMOTING THE INTERESTS OF TRUE RELIGION. There is, I am aware, in the minds of very many professing Chris'ians, a strong prejudice against dwelling much on doctrine in the pulpit, as being, alınost necessarily, dry and unprofitable; nay, as being adapted to repress rather than excite pious affection. This is a delusion as irrational as it is deplorable. It cannot be denied, indeed, that doctrinal preaching may be, and has been conducted, sometimes in such a dry, speculative, and spiritless manner; and, at other times, so much in the spirit of angry controversy, as to prevent all sanctifying influence. But this abuse is no argument against its use. If men are regenerated and sanctified by the truth;—if “the priest's lips ought ever to keep knowledge;"> if it be the duty of every preacher to “ feed the people with knowledge and with understanding;"_and if none are so likely to be brought either to a saving acquaintance with the truth, or more thoroughly and affectionately under the power of truth, as those who have it constantly exhibited to them in a clear, discriminating and powerful manner;—then, surely, that minister of the gospel whose sermons do not contain a large portion of doctrinal and practical truth, clearly defined, adequately defended, rightly divided, and faithfully applied.--applied not merely to the understanding, but also to the conscience and the heart—is chargeable with essential deficiency in his official work. He may, possibly, be instrumental in producing temporary feeling, and even strong excitement; but not, without a miracle, in extensively promoting intelligent and solid piety. Men become Christians, as you have heard, by receiving, loving and obeying the great and precious doctrines of Christianity. Can it require evidence, then, to prove that gospel hearers are never so likely to become enlightened and genuine Christians, as when these doctrines are distinctly, strongly and solemnly presented to their view; and that believers are never so likely to be built up in faith and holiness, as when that which is the daily food of the spiritual life, is most plentifully set before them? All reasoning, and all experience go to establish the position, that that minister who does not habitually instrtoct, as well as exhort his hearers, cannot be, long together, to the same people, or to any people, a weighty, powerful, and edifying preacher.
2. If the foregoing representation be correct, then THE DILIGENT STUDY OF GOSPEL TRUTH IS INCUMBENT ON EVERY CHRISTIAN, AND IS A DUTY OF GREAT PRACTICAL IMPORTANCE. It is truly humiliating to think how great and general is the neglect of this duty! Among those who bear the Christian name, how small is the number of those who are able to“ give a satisfactory answer to any one who asketh a reason af the hope that is in them!" But I fear the number of those who have
taken any intelligent pains to study the faith and order of Christ's house-who, in any good measure understand the nature, genius and essential doctrines of his religion; who would be able, even in a private circle, to defend the doctrines which they profess to hold against the most common-place caviller; or to instruct and counsel an anxious inquirer,-is smaller-far smaller still! But does not every professing Christian owe to himself, to the Church, and to his God, to be able and ready to do all this? Does not his own growth in grace depend on his growth in knowledge? Can he have any security that he will not be carried about by every wind of doctrine;" that he will not become the prey of every plausible pretender or errorist who'passes along, unless he be - grounded and settled in the faith?". Can he instruct his children and dependents in gospel truth, when he does not under. stand it himself? Can he hold fast the form of sound words," which the church has received, and “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," if he have no enlightened acquaintance with the great doctrines which he is to "hold fast," and for which he is bound to “contend ?" To attempt a formal proof that all this is impossible, would be to insult the understanding of the reader. How shall we account, then, for the melancholy fact, that, when every Christian is bound by so many solemn considerations to be established in the faith, and to grow daily in scriptural knowledge, so many who bear the Christian name, content themselves with continuing all their lives " babes” in knowledge, and, of course, wholly unqualified for some of the most important duties of the spiritual life, as well as griev. ously defective in one of the most important requisites to their own edification and comfort?
3. If the doctrine of our text be correct, then NO ERROR CAN BE INNOCENT; and especially no error relating to the great system of salvation by grace. If it be by the instrumentality of truth alone that the great work of sanctification is begun and carried on; it certainly requires no formal demonstration to satisfy any reasonable mån, that falsehood can benefit no one; but that its effect, so far as it is embraced and acted on, can be mischievous
only. It is not contended, indeed, that all errors are alike mischievous. There are, doubtless, fundamental truths, and others of minor importance. But all truth is precious. The innocence of error,-nay, the entire innocence of any error,-is one of the dreams of infidelity, and is a sentiment which ought to be abhorred by every Christian. Sanctification may, and no doubt, actually does co-exist with some error. But, in such cases, men are sanctified in spite of their errors, in virtue of the truth, and only in proportion to the truth which they embrace.
We cannot, it is true, undertake to pronounce how much knowledge of sound doctrine is necessary to salvation; or how much error is sufficient to destroy the soul. But we know from the nature of the case, and especially from the word of God, that all error, like poison, is mischievous, and, of course, ought to be avoided. I know not how large a quantity of a given deleterious drug might be necessary, in a particular case, to take away life. Probably more would be necessary in some cases than in others.
But of one thing there can be no doubt; that it is madness to sport with poison; and that the less we take of it the better. As nothing but nutritious food can support the animal body; so nothing but Zion's provision, which is truth, can be the means of either commencing or sustaining the life of God in the soul of man."
4. In the light of this subject we may see THE DUTY AND IMPORTANCE OF CONSTANT CARE ON THE PART OF THE CHURCH TO MAINTAIN THE PURITY OF GOSPEL TRUTH. One great end for which the church was instituted, was that she might be, at once, a depository and a witness of the truth in the midst of an ungodly world. It is, therefore, incumbent upon her, from age to age, to resist all the encroachments of error; to bear a decided and faithful testimony in favor of all the peculiar and most precious doctrines of the gospel; and to maintain in their simplicity, all the institutions of Christ. When the Church fails of doing this:--when she allows important doctrines to be denied and opposed by those within her pale, and especially by her teachers and rulers:--when she knowingly and deliberately permits the truth and order entrusted to her keeping, to be trampled upon by those who are subject to her control, without bearing testimony against offenders, by the exercise of discipline;- she forgets her duty as a "witness for God;" she is grossly unfaithful to her trust; and must expect the frowns and the heavy judgments of the King of Zion. The New Testament abounds with both precepts and threatenings which import all this. If it be asked, how the church can fulfil the duty thus solemnly enjoined? The answer is-by publishing, from time to time, as exigencies may demand, her testimony to the truth, in the form of Creeds and Confessions; by requiring her members, and especially her leaders and guides, to “ witness a good confession,” when they enter on the enjoyment of their privileges; by admonishing, or otherwise censuring, those who depart in any material degree from the form of sound words” which
she is pledged to sustain; and by excluding from her communion those who become radically and incorrigibly erroneous. In this way the apostolic church bore a firm testimony in favor of the truth, and contended earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints." This duty is, no doubt, always a self-denying and arduous one; and is sometimes rendered peculiarly self-denying and painful by the multiplied arts to which the corrupters of the truth are wont to recur, for the purpose of escaping mérited discipline. Sometimes they plead, that they differ very little, if at ally from the orthodox faith, and, if any, chiefly in words. They conceal, cover up, and equivocate; and make it extremely difficult to ascertain what they really do believe. At other times, they insist, that their solemn subscription to an orthodox creed, was intended by them to mean no more than that they adopted it, “ as far as they considered it as agreeing with the scriptures;" as if the worst heretic on earth might not, in this sense, subscribe to any creed that ever was framed; and thus, by a solemn perjury, defeat the acknowledged design of the whole transaction! Such are some of the base and criminal arts by which those who " depart from the faith," render it difficult to exercise upon them the discipline which they merit; and, of course, increase the arduousness of the church's duty. Still her duty remains: nor can she acquit herself to her Master in heaven without faithfully discharging it.
5. This subject AFFORDS A SAFE CRITERION FOR DECIDING ON THE CHARACTER OF GENUINE REVIVALS OF RELIGION. By a genuine revival of religion is, of course, meant a revival in which“ pure defiled religion" is truly promoted and extended. Now, whether that which claims to be such a revival be really such or not, may be brought to a very obvious, fair and decisive test. Is it produced by a blessing on the Truth, plainly and faithfully preached? And do its professed subjects manifest a general and cordial love of gospel truth? Are their views of the character of God, of his law, of sin, of Christ, of the ground of acceptance, and of Christian hope, such as, in the main, harmonize with the Bible doctrine in reference to these great subjects? If so, we may hail the work with joy, and bid God-speed to those who are instrumental in commencing and giving it direction. If not, it is a spurious excitement, adapted to bring genuine revivals into disrepute, and to send a blast instead of a blessing on the church of God, and, of course, the more extended and powerful, the the more to be deplored.
It is no uncommon or difficult thing to work upon the animal feelings of assembled multitudes, by stirring addresses, by music, by a great variety of instrumentalities in which the Truth has no presentment or share. Those who are aware what a fearfully and wonderfully made machinery human nature is, and especially how susceptible of strong and diversified impression are the nerves and sympathies of that nature, will be at no loss about facts of the kind referred to, however the philosophy of those facts may sometimes