TWENTY-FOUR SHORT SERMONS ON THE DOCTRINE OF UNIVERSAL SALVATION
By John Bovee Dods Pastor of the First Universalist Society, in Taunton, Massachusetts.
Boston: Printed By G. W. Bazin....Trumpet Office 1832.
"What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile; depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." Psalm xxxiv:12-14.
Self-preservation and the desire of protracting the momentary span of life is the first principle of our nature, or is at least so intimately interwoven with our constitution as to appear inherent. So powerful is this desire, that in defiance of pain and misery, it seldom quits us to the last moments of our existence. To endeavor to lengthen out our lives is not only desirable, but is a duty enjoined upon us in the scriptures, and is most beautifully and forcibly expressed in our text.
We might here introduce many observations of a philosophical character on air and climate, meat and drink, motion and rest, sleeping and watching, &c. and show how sensibly they contribute to health; and we might furnish many examples of long life, but we pass these, and proceed to notice the affections of the mind upon which our text is grounded.
The due regulation of the passions contributes more to health and longevity than climate, or even the observance of any course of diet. Our Creator has so constituted our natures, that duty, health, happiness and longevity are inseparably blended in the same cup. To suppress, and finally subdue all the passions of malice, anger, envy, jealousy, hatred and revenge, and to exercise (till they become familiar) all the noble passions of tenderness, compassion, love, hope and joy, is a duty that heaven solemnly enjoins upon us, and in the performance of which our years will be multiplied. But we must guard not only our moral natures from the ravages of the corroding and revengeful passions, but also our physical natures by observing the strictest rules of temperance in eating, drinking, cleanliness and exercise.
The book of God commands us to "be temperate in all things." The observance of this duty gives us a firm constitution, robust health, and prepares us to participate in all the innocent and rational enjoyments of life. Here we may witness the goodness of the Divine Being in uniting our duty, happiness and interest in one; and so firmly are they wedded together, and so absolutely does each depend upon the other that they cannot exist alone. They are alike laid in ruins the moment they are separated. If we trace this idea still further, we witness the same wise arrangement, and the same incomprehensible skill and goodness of the Author of our being in the constitution of our mental natures. In these also he has wholly united our duty, happiness and longevity in one. Jesus says, "Love your enemies; bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father in heaven." Paul says—"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice, and be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."
Here then is our duty plainly pointed out. If we will exercise this spirit of benignity to our enemies, subdue all our revengeful passions, and indulge a spirit of love and friendship, of meekness and cheerfulness towards our friends and neighbors, we shall not only be happy as our natures can bear, not only revel in all the rational enjoyments this life can impart, but we shall in the common course of providence live to old age. All those, with very few exceptions, who have lived to 80, 90, and 100 years, have been remarked for their equanimity. They were mild spirited, kind, cheerful, and of such a temperament, that neither misfortune, nor any outward circumstances, that agitated the world, could disturb their heaven-born repose.
Thus we see that the path of duty, enjoined in the sacred scriptures, is not only the path of peace and joy, but conducts to a good old age. The goodness of the Divine Being is most strikingly exemplified in uniting health and temperance, happiness and longevity, and our duty to our fellow creatures, all in one.
Long life and good days, however, depend more upon the state of our minds than upon almost any other circumstance. He who lives in fear and trouble arising from any cause whatever; whether from contemplation of endless misery in the future world, or from the apprehension that his earthly prospects will be blasted and his fortune laid in ruins—or if he is continually involved in quarrels, broils and tumults with his neighbors, has but little prospect of living to old age, and certainly no hope of seeing good days. He is in a constant hell. Here then we see the beauty and propriety of our text: "What man is he that desireth life and loveth many days that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips from speaking guile; depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."
The first condition for a long life is, "keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips from speaking guile." But the question arises, in what sense can the violation of that condition have any effect upon the length of life? The answer is at hand—the slanderer is ever a busy body in other men's matters. He is secretly endeavoring to injure his neighbors. He circulates falsehoods about them from house to house. One and another hears the reports put into circulation. They call upon the author for an explanation of his conduct. Involved in trouble, arising from fear, guilt and mortification, he tells a thousand falsehoods to clear up one. All this preys upon his inmost vitals, while perhaps with another, whom he has slandered, he is involved in a quarrel, and it terminates in a settled hatred; and a third case becomes an incurable distemper of rancour and revenge. Here is a man who by slander has rendered his existence wretched. He is like the troubled ocean whose waters find no rest.
There is but little hope of his reaching the common age of man. Instead of seeing good days he is walking in the regions of night and wo. Says the wise man, "where there is no fuel the fire goeth out, so where there is no tattler, strife ceaseth." Yes, "where there is envying and strife, there is confusion and every evil work."
Violent anger excites powerfully the caloric in the human system, boils the blood, and in this state throws it suddenly upon the brain. The powerful shock propels it instantly to the exterior surface, and torrent-like contracts it back again in redoubled fury upon the brain, and leaves the countenance pale and ghastly. It deranges in a great measure the mind, and unfits it for useful action. It darts its electric fire of vengeance along the optic nerve, expands the retina, and gives to every object a magnified and false appearance, while the very eye-balls by a wild and savage glare proclaim the dreadful storm that is raging within, and pouring the poisonous streams of premature death through all the healthful channels of existence! It suddenly braces the nervous system, and then on the opposite extreme leaves it depressed and weakened. It gradually brings on rheumatic complaints, and lays the whole system open to the most formidable and painful disorders that afflict the human race. It cannot have escaped medical observation that fevers and consumptions are much more frequent among persons who are very irritable and exercise little or no rule over their passions, than among those who are of a mild temperament, either naturally, or from early restraint and education.
There is a connexion between the mind and the body so subtle that it has hitherto eluded the eagle-eye of Physiology, and will perhaps remain inscrutible forever to human comprehension. But that this connexion exists is fully demonstrated by medical experience, and observation. Many bodily disorders derange the mind, and have in many instances totally destroyed it. So on the other hand diseases of the mind effect the body in return, and grief, despair and melancholy have so preyed upon the vitals as to emaciate the body, and bring it to the grave. It is not uncommon that consumptions are brought on by trouble of mind, by guilt, and by melancholy and grief. And many instances have occurred, where persons in excessive violent anger have dropped down dead. What is so dreadful, when carried to extreme, must be very injurious to health, and long life, when indulged frequently and even moderately.
There being then such an intimate connexion between the mind and body, and so many thousands of ways in which one alternately acts upon, and effects the other, and brings millions to an untimely grave, we see at once the propriety of not only guarding our health by temperance in eating and drinking, but more particularly by avoiding troubles of a mental character. These are generally brought upon individuals, families and neighborhoods, by the bad use of the tongue. Would you live long that you may see good days? Then keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile, seek peace and pursue it. Avoid every species of iniquity that would have a tendency to blast your own or the peace of others. Avoid it as you would the poisonous exhalations of the Bohon Upas, and fly it as you would the dreadful Samiel of the Arabian desert.
"What man is he that desireth life and loveth many days that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile; depart from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it." Psalm xxxiv:12-14.
We have shown in our last number that the truth of this text is based upon philosophy, and verified by experience and observation: that nothing is more destructive to health and longevity than to indulge in the revengeful passions of our nature; and that constant fear, grief and melancholy are also destructive to the human constitution, and withering to the dearest joys of life. We have shown that violent anger, revenge and most of the malignant passions originate from the bad use of the tongue; and that if we would live long and see good, we must give heed to our ways by following the injunctions of the text. We now propose a further discussion of this subject, addressed particularly to the young.
A single spark of fire has often wrapped a city in conflagration. Great effects not unfrequently flow from small causes. The apostle James says, see chap. iii—"Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet they are turned about with a very small helm whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind. But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly member full of deadly poison." The apostle, in the above quotation, has reference to those who have so long indulged in evil speaking that it has become, as it were, an incurable habit. If any man makes a practice of slandering his neighbors, and disturbing the peace of the community, it is immaterial to what church he may belong, or what os-tentatious professions he may make, he is, notwithstanding all this, destitute of christianity.
It is a painful fact that the religion of the present day is too much accommodated to the fashions and customs of the world. Let a man, for instance, use profane language, or get intoxicated, and he will readily be suspended from the communion of the church. But let him slander his neighbors, and little or no notice is taken of his conduct. And let him slander other denominations; and it becomes, as it were, a virtue; whereas the fact is that the latter, according to the book of God, is much the greatest crime. It is therefore wise to lay, in early youth, a foundation for a tranquil, virtuous and long life.
Thus you see my young friends that virtue and happiness, temperance, prosperity and longevity are inseparably connected by the Author of our being, who has made them to depend in a great measure upon our conduct. You have also seen that sin and misery, intemperance in body, and also intemperance in mind, such as evil speaking, violent anger, commotions, griefs and troubles, and a premature grave, are likewise inseparably and wisely connected.
And now, my young friends, which will you choose? If you love life and desire to see many days, let me exhort you to choose the former, and to drink freely out of that golden cup in which every earthly joy of unbroken felicity is mingled by the unerring hand of divine mercy; and let me warn you to reject the latter, for in it are mingled the bitter drugs of misery. Be temperate in eating and drinking. Be temperate in all your pursuits in life, and in all your desires. Be temperate in your conduct; and (as an able writer observes) pitch upon that course of life which is the most excellent, and habit will soon render it the most delightful. Avoid not only every word and action that may lead to discord and contention, but, as our text says, depart from evil and do good, seek peace, and pursue it. Let us do good to all our fellow creatures, and endeavor to overcome their hatred with love, and their evil with good.
Yes, my young friends, affectionately and solemnly would I urge you to begin early to curb your passions, and to study sweetness of disposition. It will soon become to you perfectly natural, and thus you will lay the foundation for a virtuous and tranquil old age. But, asks the youth, shall I live longer for subduing my passions and doing good, for seeking peace and pursuing it? Certainly. Our text teaches this; so does philosophy, and the scriptures generally. Jesus Christ says, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." That is, they shall long enjoy it. "Blessed are the peace-makers for they shall be called the children of God." The fifth Commandment says, "Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." By honoring our parents, we are to understand a filial and submissive obedience to their precepts by not departing from that way in which with many exhortations, prayers and tears, they sought to train us up. In this case, honoring them would of course require us to walk in the paths of virtue and temperance, and to live an honest, quiet and peaceable life which would ensure the promise, and give us many days.
Not only do the scriptures promise long life to the peaceable, temperate and meek, but they on the other hand just as solemnly declare that "the wicked shall not live out half their days." This passage has occasioned much dispute among religious denominations; one affirming that every man's time is appointed in the counsels of heaven by the decree of God, who "declares the end from the beginning;" and another affirming that it is not, for the above passage teaches that the life of man may be shortened. But there is no occasion for dispute on this point, for they are both right, as we have seen in the course of our remarks. This passage is but the counterpart of our text. It is the decree of God that the wicked, the abandoned shall not reach the extreme of human life, because they indulge in those very crimes, which, in the constitution of things, must inevitably carry them to an early tomb. Of the truth of this we see thousands of instances in the world. And God has decreed that the meek, the peaceable shall reach the extreme of life, because they pitch upon that happy course of conduct which naturally leads to it. All that we are to understand by his decree, is that he has inseparably connected the end with the means by so constituting our natures, and so ordering his providence that sin, dissipation, anger, and revenge shall not only destroy happiness, but shorten life, so certain as men pursue such a wretched course. And that the opposite course of conduct shall not only communicate happiness, but protract life so certain as they engage in it.
Here then, my young friends, you may readily perceive how God punishes vice and rewards virtue. He does not do it by any abstract law, or arbitrary mode of procedure, but lie has in infinite wisdom interwoven, the whole in the very constitution of our natures, so that the wicked cannot go unpunished, nor the righteous unrewarded. To teach that man can indulge in vice, and yet escape its punishment by future repentance, is not only dangerous to the morals of society, but is a direct impeachment of the divine administration, as it must in such case, be defective. And to teach that men may live righteously and godly and yet go unrewarded, is equally dangerous to the morals of the community, as it is but discouraging them from engaging in a virtuous course of conduct. To teach that men are to be rewarded in a future world for their goodness here, is but in substance saying that virtue is attended with mental misery, and so far as it fails of rewarding its possessor here, the balance is to be made up hereafter. And to teach that men are to be punished in a future state for their badness here, is but in substance saying, that vice is attended with some mental joys, and so far as it fails of punishing its possessor here, the balance is to be made up hereafter.
It is readily granted that the righteous may suffer. But we ought ever to make a plain distinction between afflictions and punishments, for the Bible does this. It is impossible in the nature of things that punishment can exist except in connexion with guilt. Paul and Silas were cast into prison and fastened in the stocks, on account of their religion. But nothing could disturb their mental peace—their heaven-born repose. They joyfully sung psalms, and lifted up their voices in prayer to God in the calm enjoyment of a pure unsullied conscience. They suffered afflictions that were, under the government of God, to work out for their good. There were no doubt others in that prison justly suffering for their crimes. To them it was punishment. Because the former were suffering affliction, the latter, punishment. The scriptures say, "Great peace have they that love thy law; and nothing shall offend them." "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked;" and he who says there is, contradicts Jehovah.
If you would, my young friends, avoid punishment, avoid sin. If you would be happy, and enjoy a long and tranquil life, follow carefully the directions of our text; for rest assured that a contrary course of conduct will not only involve you in misery and wretchedness, but bring you to a premature grave. Let us then take warning, and not become our own executioners. Let us make the most of life we may, and not turn our present existence, which is one of heaven's choicest blessings, into a curse. Let us do good in our day and generation, and render ourselves blessings to mankind, by living soberly, righteously and peaceably in the world? Let us do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God—visit the widow and the fatherless in their affliction, and keep ourselves unspotted from the world.
"And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of, men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." Daniel iv:32.
That reason, as well as revelation, teaches an overruling providence, very few deny. There must exist in nature an omnipotent and benevolent Being to keep all her works in harmony—to touch the most secret and subtle springs of the vast machinery of the universe—to regulate seed time and harvest, summer and winter, day and night; and to throw the enrapturing charms of countless variety not only over the landscape, but over all that we behold in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath. Globes roll in the paths assigned them, and by some unseen hand are wisely kept from interfering in their orbits, and disturbing each other's motions. These facts demonstrate the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, and Benevolent Being; and every event, transpiring in the government of the world, proclaims an omnipresent Jehovah.
He not only works in the majesty of the lightning, and in the grandeur of the storm regulating and directing the whole in its sublime career, but he notices the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the very hairs of our head. Events, the most trivial in their nature, are the objects of his notice, as well as those of the most momentous character. Were not this the case, universal disorder and ruin would soon find their way into his works, break the chain of events, and reduce all, that we now admire, from its present harmony and glory, down to its general confusion and chaos. This conclusion is unavoidable, because some of the greatest events that have transpired in the world, owe their existence to something of a very trivial nature.
If God did not, in the general government of the world, direct also small events, then he could not be the author of those great events which flow from them. On this principle there might transpire countless events of the greatest magnitude without the direction and superintendance of Deity. The admission of this is but practical Atheism. It is acknowledging a God in words, but in works denying him. It alike makes chance the governor of the world to those who acknowledge such a God, as to those who wholly deny his existence.
In our text a presiding Deity is solemnly recognized by the prophet Daniel, and his supremacy over the affairs of men is throughout the whole chapter most strikingly set forth before the Assyrian king. He had dreamed a dream which none of the wise men of Babylon were able to interpret. Daniel was called to him; who after making known to that proud monarch his destiny involved in that dream, expostulates with him on his conduct. He did not threaten him with endless punishment in tile immortal world, but informed him that there was a God that ruled the heavens, and presided over the affairs of men; and exhorted him to forsake his iniquities. This is his language: "And whereas they commanded to leave the stump of the tree roots, thy kingdom shall be sure unto thee, after thou shalt have known that the heavens do rule. Wherefore, O king! Let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity. All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months, he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of my kingdom, by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty? While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar! To thee it is spoken; the kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field; they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will."
Nebuchadnezzar was the Son of Nabopolasser, and the second king of Assyria. He was Regent with his father in the Empire 607 years before the birth of our Lord, and the next year, he raised a powerful army, marched against Jerusalem, and took Jehoiakim, king of Judah, prisoner. While making preparations to carry him and his subjects into captivity, in Babylon, Jehoiakim solemnly promised submission, and begged the privilege of holding his throne under the sceptre of Nebuchadnezzar. This favor was granted, and he was permitted to remain at Jerusalem. Three years after this, he made an unsuccessful attempt to throw off the Assyrian yoke and regain his former independence. This brought on the general captivity of the Jewish nation, which lasted 70 years.
Nebuchadnezzar extended his conquests till he subjugated the Ethiopians, Arabians, Idumeans, Philistines, Syrians, Persians, Medes, Assyrians, and nearly all Asia to his sceptre. These splendid conquests, and being now king of kings, lifted up his heart with pride, that he caused a golden image to be reared on the plains of Dura. He issued a royal edict, and commanded the princes and rulers of all these nations as well as their principal subjects to assemble; and being assembled, he commanded them to fall down and worship his golden god. Daniel's companions refused to do this, and were cast into the fiery furnace.
From this circumstance he was brought to acknowledge a Supreme Being, and even issued a decree that any one who spoke amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego should be cut in pieces. But as he was gazing upon the massy walls of Babylon—a work of gigantic achievement; as he was surveying, from the height of his palace, the hanging gardens and lofty towers, (an aerial world!) as he was admiring his own magnificence, by the sentence of that God whom he had glorified, he was driven from men, and in the Hebrew style of expression, is said to have eaten grass like oxen. By this we are to understand that he was suddenly seized with a disease called by the Greeks lycanthropy, and which is known among physicians at the present day by the name of hypochondria. It is a species of madness that causes persons to run into the fields and streets in the night, and sometimes to suppose themselves to have the heads of oxen, horses, dogs, or fancy themselves to be like some other animal, and doomed to fare like them. And some have imagined themselves to be made of glass. At the end of seven years Nebuchadnezzar's understanding returned to him, and he was restored to his throne and glory. He died 562 years before Christ in the 43rd year of his reign.
It is our intention to consider this text in a moral point of view, as applicable to all men of all ages, and in all conditions in life. While pursuing the various occupations to which our inclination, or fancy may lead, we are too apt to lose sight of that Being who holds our destinies in his hand; and more particularly so in seasons of prosperity, when blest with health and other sublunary enjoyments. Strange as it may seem, yet it is substantially true, that in proportion as man is successful in the accomplishment of his plans, he becomes arrogant and haughty in his feelings, and instead of acknowledging his dependence on God, and feeling the bursts of gratitude for the favors and enjoyments heaven scatters in his path, he loses sight of the benign hand that blesses him, and, like the proud Assyrian monarch, ascribes all his prosperity to his own plans, and to the effect of his own peculiar management. He surveys the lands he has purchased, the beautiful buildings he has erected, the wealth he has accumulated, and in view of these achievements of his hand, as he is floating on the full tide of prosperity, he is ready to breathe out in exultation,—"is not this great Babylon which I have built for the house of my kingdom, by the might of my power and for the honor of my majesty."
When success becomes common, man forgets his dependence on Him who rules in the armies of heaven, and over the affairs of men. It is our duty as intelligent creatures to exercise our reason in viewing things as they really are. He, who will not do this, but goes through life thoughtless, so far resigns the man, and assumes the brute. Even some, who bear the christian name, proclaim against reason, call her carnal, and prostrate her as it were at the shrine of enthusiasm. They lean upon certain frames and feelings of the animal nature. They are so far driven from men. I say it is our duty as rational intelligences to hold our station in the scale of being, and to exercise our reason in viewing things as they are. We ought candidly and solemnly to weigh the blessings of God, and consider the relation in which we stand to him as our Creator and Benefactor. Who can tell the value of existence, or number its countless joys? What a wonderful production is man! He has given us the most beautiful symmetry of parts,—has moulded our limbs with accuracy, and freely bestowed these admirable lineaments of form! He has formed the ear for sound, and awakened in its vocal chambers the flowing charms of music, the harmony of rejoicing nature, the dear voices of parents and children, and the sweet whisperings of love and friendship! He has moulded the transparent eye, bedded it in its bony socket, and on its retina painted the universe! He has bid it not only to disclose, all the varied passions of the soul, but to roll with softness and affection on the fond companion of our ways, on the countless beauties of nature, and bid it with infinite ease sweep the entire vault of heaven. He has set in motion the warm current of life that rolls through our veins, pouring nourishment, health and animation through all the channels of existence. It is he who throbs the heart, who heaves the lungs, and who bids the ten thousand complicated parts of this organized frame move on. In all this, his goodness is every moment felt, and yet we are thoughtless of these manifestations of his loving kindness. They are so common that we have ceased to prize them. When sickness and distress come upon us, it is then we learn the value of health and ease, and are often awakened to the reality that the Most High rules.
In view of the trials incident to life, we hear the Psalmist exclaim "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept thy word." This seems to be the lamentable condition of man. When rolling in the calm tide of uninterrupted prosperity, and rejoicing in the vigor of health, he forgets there is a God, or becomes thoughtless that the heavens do rule, and begins, like the king of Babylon, to ascribe all his success to his own power, foresight and management, and is practically an atheist. But however thoughtless men may be, yet there is a God who governs the world, and will so order and direct his providence, that every one who goes counter to the principles of rectitude is doomed, inevitably doomed, to suffer the consequences.
There is too much practical atheism in the world. By this we mean that there are too many of those who acknowledge a God in words, that deny him in conduct. Every one, who lives upon the bounties of heaven, who enjoys the sweets of existence, and remains thoughtless of God, is practically an atheist. As saith Paul, "They profess that they know God, but in works they deny him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." He, who goes on in the ways of transgression and multiplies his iniquities, must either believe there is no God, or else conclude that he does not rule over the affairs of men; and on this ground flatters himself that he shall escape punishment. And not only so, but in opposition to the express declaration of Jehovah, he believes that he shall enjoy a degree of happiness in the indulgence of sin. All such are driven from those rational reflections and moral principles, which virtually constitute the man, and have yet to learn, "that the heavens do rule."
"And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of, men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." Daniel iv:32.
Every man, who believes that the path of virtue is thorny, and that of vice is pleasurable, is not only deceived, but has not yet learned that the Most High holds the reins of government, and dispenses to his creatures their rewards and punishments. It is evident, if every man solemnly believed that a course of sin would bring upon him certain and unavoidable misery—and that every species of dishonesty would lessen his fortune in the world, he would abandon his course, and turn his feet to the testimonies of God. The transgressor is therefore deceiving himself, is resting under a strong delusion, and is yet ignorant that the Almighty rules throughout his vast dominions. Certain it is that a wicked man was never happy while remaining in that condition, and it is equally certain that no one ever yet went unpunished.
To this point we intend to invite your serious attention in this discourse. The expression in our text, "till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men," does not only imply a knowledge of the existence of a Supreme Intelligence, who governs the world, but an obedience to the moral laws of his empire. On this proposition we purpose to offer a few rational, and not only rational, but irresistible arguments. We will first notice the condition of those who are guilty of heinous crimes, and then come down to the common walks of life, and bestow a few remarks on those who are indifferent about their condition, and only guard their conduct so far as comports with the customs and manners of that portion of the community, who have no higher principle of action than to be considered respectable among men.
Though we come before the public to defend the doctrines of Christ, yet, my friends, you will bear in mind that it is also our duty to enforce his precepts, and exhort to the obedience of the gospel. That we should point out the road of sin, error and misery, and also endeavor to throw the light of heavenly truth on the pathway of human life.
We will begin with the murderer, who wantonly embrues his hands in the blood of his fellow. So far as he has violated the laws of his country, he is a subject for public execution, and has nothing to hope for, at the tribunal of human justice. His misery, whether it arise from the contemplation of an ignominious death, from the fear of detection, or from the consciousness of having violated the moral principles of his nature, is alike insupportable, as well as indescribable.
Is he detected? Shut out from the world and confined in his loathsome cell, he is left to his own reflections, and to all the horrors of the gathering storm. But even admitting that he should escape detection, and be left to his own meditations on his deed of blood, he would, like Cain, breathe out in agony of soul, "my punishment is greater than I can bear!" He might, indeed, mingle with the busy throng—he might even smile, and wear a face of pleasure, but behind this mantled mask he would conceal a heart of pain. He might, indeed, gaze upon the landscape, listen to the songs of the grove, and contemplate the glories of nature, but the charm, that once gave him ecstatic delight and solid joy, is vanished from his sight; and all, that once was fair and lovely, wears the frown of darkness and indignation. He gazes upon little children, and hears their artless and innocent prattle, reflects what he once was, and every joy, that sparkles in their eyes, sends a dagger to his heart. The rustling of a leaf strikes him with terror and alarm, and every passing breeze bears to his tormented soul the groans of the dying man, and conscience forces him to listen to the heart-rending tale of wo. Fain would he fly from himself, and enjoy one hour's repose; but alas! That God, who rules in the kingdom of men, has written a law in his heart, where he reads and feels his condemnation, and where conscience sits on the judgment seat, constantly holds him arraigned at her tribunal, and fans up in his bosom the burning flames of hell! He may lie down on his pillow, but spectres haunt his brain; and awake, asleep, at home, abroad, he finds that he has rendered his own existence a curse. He lives in misery, and in darkness expires.
Let us next notice the thief, who plunders our property. His crime is of less magnitude than the above, but his guilt is in proportion. No one by such means has ever enriched himself. He, who obtains property by dishonorable means, is ignorant of its value, and will dishonorably spend it. He has forgotten that God governs the world. Our state-prisons and penitentiaries not only (so far as human laws are concerned) reveal his fate, but speak his woes. But suppose he escape detection, and is only exposed to the naked and fearful grandeur of that law which God has written in the heart. He hears its thunders, and he feels its fires. He his taken from some fellow being his hard earnings; and sees him and perhaps his children mourning their misfortune and suffering the miseries of adversity. Guilt takes possession of his soul, and misery, which the hand of time cannot extinguish, rolls its dark waves of damnation upon him, and drowns his dearest joys, while poverty marks him for her own.
God has so constituted his plans in the government of the world that the plunderer cannot prosper. Inward horrors and fears of detection abstract his mind from the proper duties of life, so that misfortune and defeat find their way into his plans, which might otherwise by calm deliberation have succeeded, and disappointment and misery, satiety and disgust, and all the evils that are the offspring of his iniquity, commingling in a thousand ways, render his existence wretched. Relying upon dishonesty for support, he becomes but a midnight beggar. His slumbers are haunted by frightful dreams; and fear of detection, prisons and dungeons are torturing his imagination and incessantly sporting with his broken peace. He is a stranger to those solid joys arising from the practice of virtue, is doomed to encounter all the miseries that attend his ill-chosen career, and to drink every drug of wormwood and gall that heaven has mingled in the cup of dishonor. He lives a nuisance and pest to society, and dies covered with infamy.
In all this we shall see the truth of our text exemplified, that God rules in the kingdom of men, and brings punishment, not only upon a haughty monarch seated on the throne of nations, but upon every transgressor however obscure may be his condition in the walks of private life. The sovereign decree of his empire is—"THOUGH HAND JOIN IN HAND, YET SHALL THE WICKED NOT GO UNPUNISHED."
But we take our leave of flagitious crimes and proceed to notice men in the common walks of life. Every man who makes riches, or public honors the chief end of all his pursuits, and gives all his attention to the attainment of his object, and over-reaches in bargains whenever an opportunity offers, or sets various prices on his merchandise, according to the person with whom he deals—such a man will never feel himself filled with riches, nor satisfied with honors. The reasons are obvious. He commences his career under the impression that happiness, contentment and all the rational enjoyments of life consist in wealth, and in human greatness. He soon finds himself in possession of as large a fortune as he first supposed would make him happy. But his desires for more, having imperceptibly expanded, he finds within an increased restlessness, and even greater desires for more than when he first set out. He still believes, according to his original impression, that happiness lies in gold; and that the only reason why he has not obtained those solid joys in possession which he first anticipated, is because he still needs more. But though wealth may flow upon him in oceans, his cravings for more will ever swell beyond what earth can give, and leave him a more wretched being than he was at the commencement of his course. Here is his loss—here is his punishment. God has not placed happiness in wealth. "A competence is all we can enjoy, O, be content where heaven can give no more."
Or let him rise to that station of honor, which he now believes will satisfy him, and his ambition would aspire to one more exalted. Let him govern one kingdom, and he would desire to subjugate another till the whole world bowed to his nod. And were every star an inhabited world, and did he possess means to invade them, his ambition would continue to soar till he ruled the universe, and were there no object left to which he might still direct his ambition and continue to soar, he would set down in despair, and, like Alexander the Great, weep and sigh for more worlds to conquer.
All this restlessness and misery arise from false notions of: happiness—from not realizing that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men—and from a want of confidence in his word, which points the rich and the poor alike to that noble path of virtue and religion, where true happiness and unbroken peace forever reign. By men embracing virtue, and in their feelings and actions ever acknowledging the supremacy of Jehovah, inevitably leads to happiness and contentment. But in doing this we are not to deprive ourselves of the enjoyment of honest gotten wealth, nor of the rational pursuits and interchanges of social and domestic life. Religion was not given to deprive us of the common comforts and conveniences of life, but to sweeten them. Our Redeemer says, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Sin and misery in this world are inseparable: so are righteousness and happiness. If they are not, then it remains for the advocates for a future retribution to show how men are to be sufficiently rewarded and punished in the future world.
There is my friends no solid happiness, no permanent satisfaction only in the contemplation that God governs the world, and in the practice of pure and rational piety. This you may know by studying your own bosom. Have any of you thus far spent your days in striving to find perfect bliss in the various pursuits of life? Have you aspired to one object, abandoned it, and taken up another? If so, can you say that you have found the happiness you anticipated, and so earnestly sought? No! What is the reason? There is one thing needful. Whatever may be your pursuit, if you are thoughtless that God governs the world, and if instead of rendering him the homage of a grateful heart, you blaspheme his name, or are selfish and regardless of the happiness of your fellow creatures, you must, according to the established laws of his empire, remain in that same restless and dissatisfied condition till you know by experience that the heavens do rule—till you bow to the sublime requirements of his word. That dissatisfaction varied according to the condition of moral character is the punishment God sends upon us for our indifference. From this indifference we may rise to that unquenchable thirst for riches, already noticed, and our sufferings will receive new accessions according to our moral light. And from this we may rise to a desire for honour and power, till we are hurried on by ambition to conquest and slaughter where we are doomed to suffer all the miseries a Buonaparte endured. From this we may rise to dishonour, fraud and theft; and as we rise in crime, our miseries increase in degree, till we imbrue our hands in innocent blood, and thus render our bosoms a hell and our very existence a burthen.
Every man is in a condition of uneasiness, suffering, guilt, hardness of heart and blindness of mind exactly in proportion to his moral conduct. Let us then be wise;—and if we desire happiness, let us seek it in that course where the unerring word of God assures us it can alone be found. Let us acknowledge "that the heavens do rule," and rest assured that He, who notices the fall of a sparrow, will not wink at our evil doings.
"For what if some did not believe, shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid; yea let God be true, but every man a liar." Romans iii:3, 4.
The doctrine of salvation by Jesus Christ, is worthy the solemn consideration of all men. It is this, that rendered a revelation necessary. It is this that kindled the flame of transport in celestial bosoms, and raised that triumphant song, "glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men." Salvation is the doctrine of the Bible, and ought ever to be the theme of the pulpit. Salvation is the oracle of heaven around which all denominations assemble, receive their instructions, and believe according to the force of evidence.
Prefaced with these remarks, we will now proceed to state what we conceive to be the law and gospel—point out the distinction between them, and defend the gospel doctrine of salvation of faith.
The law was a conditional covenant between God and man. It was predicated on works. Under this covenant, if a man were strictly moral in his external deportment—if he lived up to its letter, he was considered righteous. This covenant was imperfect, because it could be kept externally without reaching the heart. They could exclaim like the young man, who came to Jesus—"all these things have I kept from my youth up," and still lack the one great point, charity. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh could be justified in the sight of God. The law, being temporary in its nature, had nothing to do with eternal things.
Paul says, "sin is the transgression of the law. Where there is no law there is not the knowledge of sin." From this it appears that sin, being a transgression of that law, which was given us for the regulation of our conduct in this life, can receive no punishment in the future world. If sin should be committed in the future state, then in the future state it would be punished. The same argument will apply to our obedience to the law, which can receive, for the same reason, no reward in that world. "No flesh shall be justified by the deeds of the law." "Eternal life is the gift of God." If so, then it cannot be "of works, lest any man should boast." God, being infinite in wisdom, could not have failed to enact a law so perfect, and so exactly adapted to the nature of man, that obedience would render him a rich reward, and disobedience a condign punishment. The wise man says that "the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the wicked and the sinner."
We now turn to the spirit of the law.—"To love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself is the fulfillment of the law;" and if we are not to be saved by the law, then our love to God and each other cannot save us; for that is the law. By what then are we to be saved? Answer: by the gospel, which is God's love manifested to his creatures. The conclusion then is that we are not to be saved by our love to God, but by God's love to us. This, I presume, no one will dispute. Here then we discern the difference between the law and the gospel. God's love is the cause of salvation—human love is the effect. "Herein (says John) is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us." "We love him because he first loved us." How many did he love? He so loved the world who were dead in trespasses and sins, that he freely delivered up his Son for us all—he by the grace of God tasted death for every man. This is the gospel-love that God commendeth towards us, and the love that will finally save us.
Many persons contend that we must love God and do certain duties, or we cannot be saved. This is preaching ourselves. It is preaching the love of man as the cause of his salvation, instead of the love of God. And while thus preaching, they will perhaps at the same time tell the sinner that God is his enemy. But will the sinner's love make God his friend—will it cause his Creator to love him? No; right the reverse of this is the doctrine of Christ. "We love God because he first loved us." If we deny God's first love to the sinner, we then destroy the very cause by which alone the sinner can be made to love God. If we make men believe that God is their enemy and hates them, then we use all the means in our power to drive them from the bosom of their Father, and keep them in darkness and sin.
The sinner, in this situation, can never be made to serve God, only by being driven to it by terror, the same as some wretched slave is made to cower and submit in fear and dread to some revengeful tyrant. But this is not the service God requires. He requires a service which is delightful, and in which his creature feels an abundant reward. We grant that men, under the first covenant, were called upon to fear God. The reason of this obvious, when we reflect that God had covenanted to bestow certain blessings upon them, providing they would do their duty. If they failed, then he would execute the temporal judgments upon them, which the law points out, and threatens. Under this covenant men had just as much reason to fear, as they were liable to transgress it.
But when an angel announced the dawn of a better covenant; he said "fear not, for behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy." In this is nothing to be feared. All the fear lies in the first, and thunders out to ever sinner, "cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the law to do them?" But John, speaking in view of the second covenant, says, "there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." The first covenant is founded on works, and is conditional;—but the second is founded on the immutable promise of God, and is unconditional. In the law, we are commanded to do according to the reasonableness of its requirements; but in the gospel we are exhorted to believe in view of evidence and fact. And as no man can believe, or disbelieve what he pleases, therefore conditions are excluded.
What is the meaning of gospel? It is good tidings of great joy. It is life and immortality brought to light at the appearing of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who has abolished death by giving us the assurance of a resurrection from corruption to incorruption and glory. It is news. In view of news, what is the first thing necessary? Answer, belief. It is impossible to work news; therefore the gospel is not of works. In the law, the first requirement is to do;—but in the gospel the first requirement is to believe. The law-covenant is therefore temporary, fallible and uncertain; but the gospel-covenant is eternal, infallible, and in all things well ordered and sure. The first rests on the obedience of the creature, but the second on the promises of Jehovah. Paul therefore calls it a better covenant established upon better promises.
Perhaps someone may feel disposed to ask—whether faith is all that is necessary? We reply that it is the cause which produces its effect. Paul answers this question thus—"We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law, Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea we establish the law." Here let the question be asked;—how do we establish the law by faith? Answer, "Faith will have its perfect work." But what is that perfect work, which faith produces? Ans. Faith works love in the soul; and if we love God, we will keep his commandments. And faith, love and keeping the commandments are the three exercises, that form the christian character. Faith is the foundation; works are not. We cannot begin to build on works. Instead of being the first, they are the last christian grace. They are the visible effects of an inward, living faith.
Faith and faith only is the seed rooted and grounded in the truth, and (to use a Bible figure) it becometh a tree, and produces all the fruits of the spirit-love, joy, meekness, temperance, long-suffering, forbearance. This is what the apostle calls the "righteousness of faith" in contradistinction to "the righteousness of the law," produced by fear. Paul compares faith to a good olive tree. "The Jews through unbelief were broken off," and "thou (the Gentile) standest by faith." Jesus says; "if ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove." Here, in parable, faith is represented as removing mountains of sin. He further says—"Thy faith hath made thee whole";—not thy works. Paul exclaims, "Faith works by love, purifies the heart and overcomes the world." John says, "and this is the victory that overcometh the world even our faith."
It is a certain fact, that none of these salutary effects are ascribed to human works. The apostles in no instance say, that works purify the heart, or overcome the world—or that this is the victory, even your works; The whole is ascribed to faith; because that is the living tree on which the good fruits grow. Works are, in scripture, called fruits. "By their fruits ye shall know them"—that is by their works. "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit." To carry out this figure, we would remark that, fruit can have no existence till the tree is first produced. Therefore in a gospel sense, no good works, acceptable to God, can be produced without a true and living faith. The apostle declares, "without faith it is impossible to please God." The gospel being good tidings, or news, are you satisfied that thing necessary? I presume all denominations will assent to the fact, that faith is the first religious exercise of the creature. We shall then obey the command of the apostle, and "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints."
But asks the reader, what matter is it which is first in order, whether love, faith or works? I reply that it is a matter of vast importance, and without understanding this fact, we cannot come to the knowledge of the truth, even though we should be ever learning. If these three christian graces faith, love and works, are preached in a confused and mixed manner, we cannot arrive at a true understanding of a gospel salvation, neither can we tell the difference between law and gospel. The law is of works, and the gospel is of faith. And no man can fulfill the spirit of the law without faith in the gospel. When the sinner exercises faith in the love and goodness of God in freely giving him eternal life, which infinitely transcends all other blessings—that moment faith works love in his heart, and causes him to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. He then loves God because God first loved him. And when the sinner loves God, he is passed from death unto life, and that love is the fulfillment of the law.
We are now led to see the consistency of faith being the first step. It is the very cause that produces love to God, and love induces us to keep the commandments. "Faith works by love," and "if ye love me," says Jesus, "ye will keep my commandments."
We will now introduce an example, which will plainly show the distinction between the law and gospel and in what manner they affect the sinner. Suppose a king sentences six of his subjects to imprisonment during life, and commands them to spend their days in hard labor. They are put in confinement, refuse to obey his commands— refuse to labor, and in the midst of their miseries curse his name. They are now in disobedience under the condemnation of the law.
The king says to his only Son, I love those subjects and I covenant with you to set them free in three years. The Son says, Father I delight to do thy will. Let me go and reveal to them, the glad tidings of this covenant promise. The king answers—my Son, in the fullness of time I will send you. Let them remain, one year, under the law. But says the Son, they are now transgressing your law, and need instruction. The king replies, I will send my servant to enforce that law. Let him go and inform the prisoners, that I am angry with them for their conduct; and if they will obey my commands, and labor faithfully, they shall have excellent food and good clothing as a reward. But if they will not comply, they shall be chained, and kept on bread and water as a punishment for their disobedience.
The servant goes and delivers to them this message. Three of those subjects, for fear of the punishment and in hope of the reward, obey the king, and outwardly respect his commands, but perhaps have little, or no love for him. (Here we see the righteousness of the law which is not acceptable to God.) They accordingly receive, day by day, the promised reward. But the other three prisoners despise these conditions and refuse to obey. They are chained, fed on bread and water, and meet their deserts.
Here, then, are six prisoners laboring under the law, and groaning in bondage with no hopes of deliverance. The law knows of no deliverance —no redemption. It simply serves as a school master to teach them the difference between right and wrong—to teach them the will of the king, and thus prepare them to receive a better covenant, which is to be revealed to them by the king's Son. But under the covenant they now are, they have no motives to prompt them to obedience, but the fear of punishment and the hope of reward. In our next, this will be fully illustrated.
"For what if some did not believe, shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid; yea let God be true, but every man a liar." Romans iii:3, 4.
We resume the argument, in this discourse, concerning those prisoners brought forward in our last. We left them in bondage under the sentence of the law with no hopes of deliverance. The first year rolls away. The king says, my son, the time has come—go, and reveal my love to the prisoners by bringing the promise of their redemption to light. The son flies on wings of love, enters the prison and exclaims—I bring you good tidings of great joy. My father, the king, is your friend. He loves you; and that love has induced him to proclaim your liberation as a free gift. He has promised (and he cannot lie) that in two years from this day you shall be free. This covenant, so far as concerns its fulfillment, is unconditional. Believe, and you will be saved, by faith in the promise, from your present fears, and condemnation under the law.
Those stubborn prisoners see a sufficiency of evidence to believe the promise. They exercise unshaken faith in this second covenant between the father and son. This faith works by love in their hearts, and purifies them from disobedience. Their souls melt in view of the love and goodness of the king revealed to them by his son. In fine, they love him because he first loved them. They are now saved by faith in his promise from not only all their miseries and sorrows, but from their disobedience, and look forward with joy to the day of redemption. Here we perceive the "righteousness of faith," which far exceeds the "righteousness of the law." They now delight to obey the king because they are under the influence of love.
Here let the question be asked—are these three men to be let out of prison at the appointed time because they believe the promise, or love and obey the king? They are not. Their redemption depended on the truth and faithfulness of the king's promise which he made to his son, and that promise would have been fulfilled, even if it had not been revealed to them till the day of their deliverance. They are not to be set free as a reward for their faith, love and obedience. They have great peace and joy in believing that promise. They are in the happy enjoyment of a salvation by faith, and that is all the reward they deserve, or have reason to expect. We here perceive that these three men are made to establish the law of their king by faith in the good news he sent them by his son, which is to them a gospel. We now see the propriety of the apostle's language—"We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea we establish the law." We also perceive that these three men are not to be liberated from prison because they believe the promise, or love and obey the king. But on the contrary it is the king's love and promise to them which sets them free.
Let us now notice the other three prisoners. One says I do not believe that we shall ever be released from prison. It is too good news to be true. Well, shall his unbelief make the king's promise of none effect? The king forbid; yea let the king be true, but that man a liar. But let it be remembered that he cannot be proved a liar unless he is liberated. Would you now go and tell that man-sir, because you will not believe, you shall never come forth from prison? But do you not perceive that by so doing you would give the king the lie? It would be saying that his promise was good for nothing unless the man would believe it. It would be contending that the unbelief of this prisoner will make the king's promise of none effect.
The other two prisoners exclaim—we believe this second covenant, but it must bear some resemblance to the first which is conditional. We believe that we shall get out of this prison if we continue to serve the king as, we have heretofore, by keeping his commandments.— Here are two men trusting in the first covenant for deliverance. They are trusting in the law. They are depending on their own love and faithfulness to the king for redemption, and not on the king's love, promise and faithfulness to them. Here then we see the righteousness of the law in those two prisoners; in another we see the effect of unbelief; and in those three who remained disobedient under the first covenant, we see the righteousness which is of faith when they heard the glad tidings of redemption in the second covenant.
At length the day of their redemption dawns. They are all brought to the knowledge of the truth. Those three prisoners, who were saved by faith in the promise during those two years of suspense, now find their faith lost in certainty. Their salvation, by faith has come to an end. And so has the unbelief, condemnation and doubtings of the other three prisoners. In one word—the belief and unbelief of the six are lost in knowledge, and they burst out in songs of deliverance So we perceive that a salvation by faith, and a condemnation in unbelief can last no longer than till we come to the knowledge of the truth.
Let us now apply this to the scriptures. Man sinned, and not only involved himself in guilt and misery, but was sentenced to that very death with which God threatened him—"Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return." Here was the end of the first covenant, and the termination of all the miseries of life. It is evident from revelation as well as reason that man at death drops to a state of insensibility, and knows no more till he is made alive in Christ, who is himself the second covenant. The language of scripture is, the dead know not any thing—they sleep—and the apostle (in 1 Cor. xv Chap.) reasons that if there be no resurrection, then there will be no future existence— that they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished—that preaching was vain—faith was also vain, and that the christians were yet in their sins. On such language as this, I can put no other construction than that the resurrection is our salvation and eternal life, our deliverance from sin and imperfection. Under the first covenant the resurrection in Christ was not revealed to the human family, and they remained of course under the sentence of condemnation with no hopes of a future existence. "By the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation." Obedience to the law was enforced by threatenings on the one hand, and promises of temporal rewards on the other, which were communicated to the fathers by the prophets.
But God has in these latter days spoken unto us by his Son, and through him revealed the second covenant in which he "gave him the heathen for an inheritance, and the utter most parts of the earth for a possession," and declared him to be the resurrection and life of the world. If in the divine counsels no Christ had been provided, the human family it appears would have remained in eternal slumber. They would have known but one covenant, which would have rewarded and punished them according to their deeds, and consigned them to the regions of the dead. "But since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead."
God saw fit to keep the human family for four thousand years under the first covenant, without the knowledge of eternal life through the resurrection of the dead. But it was, at length, "made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." Yes, he first brought it to light, and through his apostle declared "In hope of eternal life which God that cannot lie promised before the world began, but hath in due time manifested his word through preaching." This promise of eternal life, all men are called upon to believe. The moment they believe, they are saved by faith, and are at peace; and they that doubt are damned—they are already under condemnation. But shall their unbelief make God's promise of eternal life of none effect? God forbid; yea let God be true but every man a liar. "For he hath concluded them all in unbelief that he might have mercy upon all."
We have now noticed the two covenants—the law and gospel—have pointed out the distinction between them—shown that all conditions are confined to the law, and that the gospel is unconditional, and justly requires our faith and confidence. We will now bring to view the scripture doctrine of salvation by faith, and show that divine truth must have an existence before we can be called upon to believe.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is based upon eternal and unchanging truth. Truth is one of the attributes of Jehovah and the unshaken pillar that supports the throne of eternity. In truth and righteousness he governs the world, and by an omnipotent arm wields the destinies of men. Truth is the sun of divine revelation pouring its beams on intelligent creation and calling upon all men to believe. If a man assert that which does exist, it is a truth; but if he assert that which does not exist, it is a falsehood. Whatever has an existence in the compass of reality is a truth to be believed, and whatever has no such existence is a falsehood not to be believed. It is beyond the power of man to create one solitary divine truth. All that he can do is to declare the existence of that which may be hidden from others, or relate some circumstances respecting that which does absolutely exist. An absolute truth must, therefore, be presented to the understandings of men before they can be called upon to believe it, or before they can be called believers for embracing it, or unbelievers for rejecting it. No man can be an unbeliever for rejecting that which does not exist.
We now commence plain argument by using great plainness of speech. In preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ truth must be the foundation. If then truth must exist before men can be called upon to believe, the question arises what is that truth which the second covenant reveals for the belief of mankind? Answer, it is the record God hath given of his Son. But what is the record? Let John answer—"this is the record, God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." It then follows that we are to believe that God has given us eternal life in his Son before the world began, and unchangeably promised it. Paul says—"In hope of eternal life which God that cannot lie promised before the world began." If we believe the record, we are in the scriptures recognized as believers and are saved by faith, and will of course exhibit in our life and conversation the righteousness of faith.
The great error of any who read the Bible, consists in supposing there is but one salvation. But there are two. The first is a special salvation by belief in the promise, and the second is our eternal salvation beyond the grave, where we shall be brought to the knowledge of the truth involved in the promise, and to know shall be life eternal. Faith shall then be lost in certainty. Now if we disbelieve the record will that make it false? No; our unbelief cannot alter the fact. Let the record then be proclaimed to every creature—saying God has promised and given you eternal life in Christ before the world began, and calls upon all to believe it. But suppose they should all reject it saying we do not believe one word of it, would their unbelief make the promise or record false? No. Would not then the record prove true? It would. Then the whole world would, of course, receive that eternal life which is promised and given them in Christ. No, says the objector, they will not believe. But can their unbelief make God's promise of none effect? Can it put that truth out of existence and make it a falsehood? We would ask the objector, what will they not believe? Answer; they will not believe that God has given them eternal life in his Son. Very well,—then the whole amount of the objection is that God has given them eternal life in Christ, but they will not believe it, and because they will not believe it, they never shall obtain it! Then we must contend (if they never obtain it) that it was never given to them, and if not given, then the record is false; because the record declares that God has given them eternal life in his Son. It then follows that their unbelief can make the faithfulness of God without effect by rendering the word, he has given, false.
But says the objector it ought to be stated conditionally as follows— God first calls upon men to believe, and if they will believe, then Christ will become their Saviour, and then they will receive eternal life in him and not before. But does not the objector see that he has stated no fact for them to believe in order to make Christ their Saviour? I ask what does God call upon them to believe? There must be some truth presented before men can be called upon to believe. God calls upon men to believe, what—That Christ is their Saviour? But you said he was not their Saviour till after they believed. It then follows, according to the objector's statement, that he is not the Saviour of unbelievers. Now do you not perceive that if you should call upon them to believe that he was their Saviour, you would call upon them to believe a lie—that you would call upon them to believe what did not exist? And what does not exist cannot be true. Grant says the objector that he is the Saviour of the world, still as many as do not believe in him shall never be saved. But how can he be the Saviour of a man, he never saves? Two individuals are drowning in the water; you exert all your power to save them, but fail. Can you call yourself the saviour of those two men from temporal death? Impossible. In order for Christ to be called the Saviour of the world, he must save the world; otherwise there is not a shadow of propriety in giving him that name. And John says "We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."—"We know, indeed, that this is the Messiah the Saviour of the world."
In our next, we will conclude this subject, and trust we shall do it to the satisfaction of our readers.
"For what if some did not believe, shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid; yea let God be true, but every man a liar." Romans iii:3, 4.
We now resume the argument in reference to Christ the Saviour of men, as we proposed in our last. We here inquire of the objector—do you then grant that he is the Saviour of all men—the Saviour of the world as the scriptures declare? If so, we assure you that, he will save the number of whom he is declared to be the Saviour. But, replies the objector, he is not the Saviour of any man till he believes. We ask— till he believes what? Why, replies the objector, till he believes that Christ is his Saviour—if he believes so, it will be so. Let us understand this—you say he is not the Saviour of an unbeliever, still he must believe that he is, and that will make him so. Then he must first believe a lie and that will create a truth. This is (as Paul says) "turning the truth of God into a lie." But let us notice the record. "This is the record, God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." Do you grant, that God has given eternal life in Christ to every man? No, says the objector. Very well, then they cannot be called upon to believe it. Finally, says the objector, grant that he has. This being granted, we would ask, whether they will not come in possession of it, if God's promise stands? Certainly. But, replies the objector, it is not theirs, till they believe. Then the record is not true till they believe it; because, on this principle, they must first believe, that they have eternal life in Christ before it exists, and believing this lie will create it.
But, replies the objector, it is impossible that any man has eternal life given him in Christ, till he believes. We then ask, what truth do you wish him to believe, so that he may obtain this eternal life? The fact is, there is none. He must believe this truth, itself because it is the record, but this, you have taken from him. You cannot call upon a man to believe, till you admit the existence of that very truth you wish him to believe. In order fully to expose the inconsistency of this conditional salvation, we will introduce an example. Suppose a father tell his servant, I have a son in London, nineteen years of age, who is in poverty and distress. I have given him in my will five thousand dollars, and I promise that it shall be put into his possession in two years. It is recorded and that record is true. Go my servant, and proclaim to him glad tidings of great joy, and call upon him to believe, so that he may enjoy a salvation by faith during those two years of suspense, and be made happy even amidst his wants by looking forward to when it shall be put into his possession.
The servant sets out on his mission, and believes that he understands his errand. Being arrived, he addresses him as follows—Son, your father is very rich, and he has not willed you five thousand dollars, nor given it to you on record; and he never will, unless you first believe that he has. But, replies the son, according to your message, if I should believe that he has given me five thousand dollars, I should believe a lie. Let my father give the money, deposit it in some bank; send me evidence of the fact, and with joy I will believe him. Well replies the servant you are a disobedient, stubborn unbeliever! Because, if you would only believe so, it would be so, and you would have the money in two years.
You perceive (dear reader) that this servant has presented no truth for this son to believe. He wishes to give this son the impression that the obtaining of this fortune depends on his believing, and not on the testament record, and faithfulness of his father. In fact, he denies the existence of the father's will, and the record, and requires the son to believe a lie so as to create the truth. The servant does not understand his message, and the son does not know on what certainty to rest for the money.
In the same manner we are called upon to secure an interest—an eternal life in the Saviour. They will not admit its existence till we believe. Then belief must create it. But may we spend our last breath in convincing poor sinners that it is already secured in Christ for them, so that they may believe, and live by faith on the son of God.
This father sends another messenger. He tells this son of the goodness of his father, and that he has willed him five thousand dollars, that the will is put on record, and that this fortune will be put into his possession in two years. The son does not believe it. Now he is an unbeliever. But does his unbelief alter the truth of the will or of the record. No. The certainty, of his obtaining the money, rests on the faithfulness of his kind parent. This servant perseveres, uses convincing arguments and the son at length believes he is saved by faith from all his miseries, and he rejoices with joy unspeakable. But his believing does not make the record any more true than it was before he believed it. It simply alters his present condition by kindling in his bosom the joys arising from faith and anticipation.— We have now answered the objections that would naturally be brought forward by those who believe that our eternal salvation is predicated on conditions. As works are not the requirements of the gospel only so far as they flow from faith in the truth, and as faith must precede works, therefore the truth of our eternal life in Christ, must exist previous to our believing. Consequently all conditions are excluded from the gospel covenant.
We will now meet the objector on the doctrine of election and reprobation, the substance of which is as follows—After man fell, God was pleased to provide a Saviour for a part of the human family. That elect number he chose in Christ before the foundation of the world, gave them eternal life in him, and for them only he tasted death. The gospel is now to be preached to the whole world, and as long as they reject it, they are unbelievers. But the elect shall sooner, or later, all be brought to believe.
We will examine the foundation on which this statement rests. To bring it clearly before you, we will take an example. Suppose there is a congregation of one hundred persons. Fifty of them were elected to everlasting life before the foundation of the world—were secured by a Saviour, and the rest were reprobated to endless wo. For them no Saviour was designed, and no eternal life ever has, or ever will be given them in him. Suppose a sermon is preached to those one hundred; and the fifty, who are elected, believe the record of their eternal life, are brought to the obedience of faith, while the other fifty remain unmoved. The preacher turns upon them and pronounces them unbelievers. But In what sense are they unbelievers? There has been no truth presented to them, which they disbelieve. Must they believe that Christ is their Saviour, or that they have an eternal life in him? But they would in such case believe a lie. If they believed right the reverse of the elect,—believed that God was their enemy and that Christ was not their Saviour, they would be believers. But if they believed what the fifty converts did, they would be unbelievers. We here repeat one premise laid down in our last discourse—viz. In order for any man to be styled a believer or unbeliever, there must first be presented some truth for him to embrace or reject.
Now either God has given us eternal life in Christ before the world began, or he has not. If he has, then we are unbelievers if we reject it. If he has not given it, and should we still believe that he has, we would then believe a lie. But neither our belief, or unbelief can ever alter the fact.
God has "chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of his will." * * * "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself; that in the dispensation of the fullness of times, he might gather together, in one, all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in him." Some apply the above to the elect. But it embraces all things in heaven and earth, which are to be gathered together in Christ, and be new creatures. In addition to this we will introduce two more passages "Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began." In these scriptures we are assured first, that God chose us in Christ, before the foundation of the world—second, that he saved us according to his own purpose and grace before the world began, and third that he promised eternal life before the world began. These things being embraced in his original plan, and purpose, their performance is therefore certain as that the whole plan of God will be carried unto execution.
There is, in my humble opinion, a strange inconsistency in the common doctrine. They contend that on account of the transgression of our first parent, all mankind were fallen creatures and even came into existence totally depraved. To show the justice of God in the constitution of our nature, they contend that Adam was our covenant head, and had he maintained his original purity, we would also have stood perfect in holiness, and no one would have had any reason to complain. Now since Adam has fallen, and involved us in ruin, it is equally just in God that we should share the fate of our covenant head in the one instance as in the other. But if we make use of this same argument in relation to Christ, the second Adam—if we contend that he was the covenant head of every man, that the covenant was not made for this, but for the future world—that this covenant of grace being made between the Father and the Son, was to stand independent of man— that eternal life was promised and given us in him before the world began—that as our covenant head, he resisted all temptations, and perfectly fulfilled the law—that he died, and appeared alive beyond the tomb free from temptation, and in a holy and immortal constitution. If we contend for this, making use of their own arguments, saying that it is just as rational that we should appear in the image of Christ in the future world as that we should come into this world in the image of Adam, they will pronounce the argument so far as applicable to Adam, sound logic, but so far as this same argument of theirs is applied by Universalists to Christ, they pronounce it perfect jargon.
But, says the objector, there is one point you have not settled, and I will here rest the whole of my argument upon it. It is this—God has, in no instance, promised eternal to unbelievers; and unless you can prove that the promise does extend to them, your arguments must fall like rottenness to the ground. We have certainly proved this, and to attend to the objector's request would but be, in some measure, going over the ground already occupied. We will, however, just touch this point again. We will introduce the following words of Paul to Titus. "In hope of eternal life which God that cannot lie promised before the world began."
If God promised his creatures eternal life before the world began, will they not obtain it? They will for this passage says that he cannot lie. But says the objector, he has not promised it to the unbeliever. We would then inquire, what is it that constitutes him an unbeliever? Why do you call him an unbeliever? Do you say because he disbelieves the truth of God's promise? Then you must, of course, admit the truth of God's promise to him. If so, it must stand, for God cannot lie. You cannot call upon a sinner to believe, until you admit the existence of that very truth, you wish him to believe, God's promise of eternal life in Christ, is the gospel we are called upon to believe with a sincere heart. If you contend that it is promised to an elect number only, and not to the reprobates, then if they should all be brought to the knowledge of the truth, what would they believe? Ans. The elect would believe the promise of eternal life was made to them, the reprobates would believe right the reverse of the elect, and all would be believers. No, says the objector, the reprobates ought to believe just as the elect do. But in this case, they would believe that they also have the promise of eternal life. This would be believing a lie, because you say that God has not made them that promise? How would you preach to such persons? If you called upon them to believe the truth of the gospel, which is eternal life, you would call upon them to believe a lie. How can you extricate yourself from this difficulty? But inquires the objector, how do you know that God has promised eternal life to all? Ans. Because the scriptures do call all men either believers, or unbelievers, in view of the promise that God has made. Take away that promise and belief or unbelief respecting it can no longer have an existence— Believers and unbelievers would be no more.
But says the objector this is not proof that eternal life is promised to an unbeliever. Well I am surprised at this assertion of my opponent! First, I ask, what do you call a believer? Ans. One who believes that God has promised, and given him eternal life in Christ before the world began. Then, of course, an unbeliever must be one, to whom God has also promised and given eternal life in Christ before the world, but will not believe it. But says the objector this cannot be. I would then ask whether eternal life was not promised, and given in Christ to the believer before he believed it? Certainly. It must have been the truth before he could believe. Well, what was he at that time? An unbeliever of course. Then eternal [life] is promised to all, because it is the lack of faith in that never failing promise of Jehovah that constitutes an unbeliever. But says the objector—a man "must do so and so," or he cannot be saved. This is not correct; he must believe, or he cannot be saved. We are saved by faith in the promise and are permitted to look forward with satisfaction and joy to an immortal existence where we shall be free from sin, sorrow and pain. This faith and hope fill the soul with love to God, and induce us to break off our sins by righteousness. So a salvation by faith can only be enjoyed in this life, and is to end when faith and hope are lost in certainty and in joy. Though only few are saved by faith, yet all shall know the Lord from the greatest to the least, whom to know is life eternal.
"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." John iii. 3.
As we have in the last three sermons dwelt particularly on a salvation by faith, we will take the liberty to introduce the subject of the new birth next in order, as it will be, more readily, retained by the reader, in this connexion than otherwise. Indeed, it hears a strong resemblance to them so far as the subject of faith is concerned in our present exposition. But whoever is a careful reader of the New Testament, will discover that the subject of faith, and the genuine repentance which that faith produces, is not of trivial moment.
There is no subject of divine revelation, on which more has been said, preached and written than the one, which we are now about to consider. It has been brought forward by men of talents and erudition as an insuperable barrier against Universal Salvation, and their several adherents have taken it for granted, that it can never be explained in harmony with the sentiment, that all men shall eventually obtain eternal life through the Redeemer of men. But these impressions have arisen from the fact, that they have taken their own views and explanations to be scripturally correct, and from these premises, they have drawn conclusions utterly opposed to the final holiness and happiness of God's intelligent creation. They have supposed the new birth to be some mysterious change produced by some mysterious operation of the divine spirit on the mind, and that it is in substance a miracle.
One denomination has contended that if a man once obtained this change, he was safe, could never "finally fall from grace," but would eventually land in the kingdom of immortal glory. Several other denominations admit the new birth to be the same change already noticed, but contend that the subject may fall from grace, and be finally lost. Here then the man, who was, according to their views, born again, might still never see the kingdom of God beyond the grave. On this principle the new birth would be no security, that any one would obtain heaven. According to this sentiment, a man might be born again, fall away, and be born again "until seven times," and in the end not see the kingdom of God. Those, who advocate this sentiment, believe that faith and repentance prerequisites to the new birth, and also believe in the salvation of infants.
This being so, it will come to pass that half of the world will be saved, inasmuch as about that number die in what may be, justly termed an infant state. But of those, who come to years of accountability, they believe but few will be saved. So the greater proportion of those, who will finally surround the throne of God, will be those, who have never been born again according to their views. It will not, I presume, be contended, that infants who, they believe, are totally depraved, ever exercise faith, or experience the new birth in this life.
From the above views, I shall take the liberty to dissent, and may probably differ some from the expositions given by others. It is evident that Jesus Christ in his instructions frequently brought forward some natural facts plainly understood by those whom he addressed, in order more clearly to illustrate his subject, and then made his illustrations so nearly resemble that natural fact, that no man could possible misunderstand him, unless he had been led into tradition by blind guides. In the context, he makes allusion to natural birth, of which every man knows the meaning, and says to Nicodemus, "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit."
Natural birth pre-supposes the perfect formation of the human body by that secret energy of nature, God only can comprehend. But that formation, itself, is not birth. Birth is that operation, that introduced us into this world. We are now flesh and blood, which cannot inherit the kingdom. What is born of the flesh is flesh. We must now be born again from mortal to immortality, otherwise we could not see the kingdom of God.
Must not man be born of a woman in order to see this world? Can he look upon the beautiful objects of creation, or contemplate these countless wonders of the Almighty before he is born into being? He cannot. All without exception will admit, that it is impossible for any man to enter this natural world, in which we live, without birth. So it is equally impossible to enter the kingdom of God without being born again in the strictest sense of the word. A man cannot "be born again" ten, or twenty years, nor even one day before he sees the kingdom of God, any more than he could be born twenty days before he came forth out of the womb. As natural birth cannot take place any given time before we enter this world, but is the circumstance that introduces us, so a second birth cannot take place any given time before we enter the kingdom of God in the next world but is the very thing, that shall introduce us into it; and the moment we are born again, we shall see it,—we shall be spirit, and beyond the dominion of death and sin. He that is born of the flesh, is flesh, so long as he lives; and he that is born of the spirit is spirit. As we now "bear the image of the earthly" through a natural birth, "so we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" through a spiritual birth. And as no man in this world is a spirit, so no man has in reality passed the new birth. When we were born into this world, we were brought from insensibility to an existence entirely new. So in order to enter the kingdom of God, which is not of this world, we must be born again from the insensibility of death into a new and happy existence beyond the grave.