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ON SIN, AS AN OFFENCE AGAINST GOD. How little perception is there, even in the christian world, of the evil of sin, as it is a transgression of God's law! The authority of God is little contemplated. If a man's conscience reprove him for some vicious act, it is because of the irregularity and turpitude he sees in it, or on account of the injury which it may do to society; but that which is the grand aggravation of the crime, its being done against the will and authority of God, and therefore an act of rebellion, is little thought of, and little affects the conscience. That this is really the case, appears from hence, that many of these people who pass for good moral characters in the world, commonly regulate their conduct by considerations of moral fitness or unfitness, which are wholly independent of the divine command or prohibition. What merely stands on God's authority they see little evil in, and have no great scruple about doing or not doing. Their own ease or humour, the least possible present convenience or advantage, determines their conduct, and becomes a law to them, in preference to the bare motive of obeying or disobeying God. Hence, to most persons, Adam's sin seems a trifle, because committed only against a positive command; and the neglect of religious ordinances, or the breach of the sabbath, for the same reason, gives little uneasiness to their consciences. In the presence of temptation they are not restrained by Joseph's consideration, “How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” And in their repentance, if they ever do repent of any thing they have done, they are far from the sentiment and feeling of David, “ Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight." David had sinned against man as well as God; but the thought of his sin as an act of daring impiety and rebellion against God, swallowed up, at the moment, every other consideration. His crime was thus seen in its highest aggravation, and painted to his mind in colours so black and hideous, as to conceal the lighter shades of the sad picture, and prevent, so to speak, his perceiving them.
ON THE CONDUCT, AS AN INDEX TO THE HEART. When we exhort men to examine themselves by their conduct, it is only as that is an index to the state of the heart. The state and disposition of the heart determines the character, and being visible to God, is that by which his judgment of us is formed. We can judge of others only by external appearances, but of ourselves our judgment should be, as much as possible, guided by that of God. External actions are not always true indexes to the
state of the mind, because good actions may proceed from bad principles. With other men's principles indeed, we have comparatively little to do. While their actions are good, and society sustains no injury, from a charitable though erroneous judgment of them, little inconvenience can result; but in our own case, a mistake is fatal.
How great then is the folly of those who judge of themselves only by their outward conduct! Preach against drunkenness, or other overt acts of sin, and every one who, from whatever cause, can acquit himself of the practice condemned, presently concludes in favour of his general character. In like manner, when specific duties and virtues are inculcated, if, so far as concerns the outward matter and form of them, the man think himself blameless, the same flattering conclusion follows. Hence it is, that so many persons dislike close appeals to the heart, and are ready to oppose such as use them with, “ He that doeth righteousness is righteous :" “ By their fruits ye shall know them,” &c. “ If,” say they, “ the fruit be good, is not the tree good? Can you know the quality of the tree by any other sign?” No! and no better test need be required, provided you understand the terms you make use of. What do you mean by good fruit? Such as is fair and beautiful on the outside only? Then you might chance to find your death in acting upon this principle; for there are many poisonous trees in the world, which bear a beautiful and tempting fruit, pleasant to the eyes, and grateful to the smell, perhaps, also to the taste; but it is not unfrequently found, that the same fruit which looks well, on being cut up, turns out to be corrupted and bad within. Just so it is with moral fruit. Examine it skilfully, see whether it be sound within, employ the proper means for ascertaining whether it be really as good as it appears to be; and if it abide the trial, we allow, that, being good, it demonstrates the tree to be good also.
When our Lord says, “ By their fruits ye shall know them," he cannot surely be supposed to intend the mere outward appearance, any more than a naturalist would, who was applying the same rule to the productions of the orchard or the garden. A fruit corrupt within, and beautiful without, is the emblem of a hypocrite.
It has been objected against christianity, that it exhibits degrading views of human nature, injurious to virtue, inasmuch as they generate a mean and abject state of mind, and extinguish. VOL. II.
that generous pride, as it is called, which is the incentive to worthy actions. This is one proof, among many, that christianity is little understood by those who oppose it. A small part of it only is known; and from hence conclusions are drawn as if it formed the whole.
It is true that christianity exhibits man as fallen very low; but is it not also true, that its proper end is highly to exalt him? It represents him, indeed, as degraded even unto hell; but does it not propose, as its very object, to raise him up to heaven? How dignified do the scriptures describe him to have been in his origin! His soul inspired by the breath of the Almighty! This beauteous globe contrived and fashioned for his habitation! Every other order of creatures subjected to him as lord of all! He himself made capable of holding converse with his God, and actually admitted to his familar intimacy and friendship! Are not these grand ideas? But one, unspeakably more grand, is yet to be mentioned. “ God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life.” Astonishing and dignifying consideration ! The eternal Son of God, equal with the Father, assumes our nature! values us so highly, as thus to humble himself, that we might be exalted; and submits to death, that we might live! rises again from the dead ; ascends to heaven, and seats human nature on the very throne of God! In that nature receives the adoration of all the heavenly hosts; and officiates as our advocate in the court of heaven! entitles us to be called, like himself, sons of God; and, sending forth his divine Spirit, purifies our fallen nature, and makes it meet for an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away! To these contemplations let every meaner thought give way; and if we boast, let us boast of that which constitutes our real dignity; let us boast of our religion, and of our Redeemer.
The unbeliever may perhaps call all this enthusiasm, and deem it no better than a visionary fable. But this being christianity, he is bound either to shew us that human nature is more exalted on some other scheme, or to renounce his objection
[To be continued.]
ON ABSTAINING FROM THE LORD'S SUPPER.
MR. EDITOR, I THINK you will promote one of the objects to which your magazine is devoted, by inserting in your next number, the following communication from a respectable clergyman, to one of his parishoners, on a subject deeply interesting to every christian. The excuses which are alleged for abstaining from the Lord's supper, are very many and various, according to the different dispositions and characters of men; but of all excuses which are ever offered, by persons inclining to a religious life, none perhaps are more common, or urged with more effect, than the one which is stated and answered in this epistle.
I. DEAR SIR, After the explanations which you have given me of the motives of your conduct, I shall certainly not accuse you of absenting yourself from the Lord's table through negligence or indifference. You assure me that you earnestly desire to partake of that ordinance, but that you have scruples of conscience which you cannot overcome. You think that persons who live in open sin are in the number of the communicants at the parish church,, and that with such you are forbidden to communicate, by the word of God. 1 Cor. v. 11. “ I have written to you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one no not to eat."
I have diligently considered this cbjection, and am satisfied that your conclusion is not warranted by the injunction of the apostle to which you refer. You take it for granted, that the expression no not to eat, relates to the Lord's supper. But the phrase frequently means nothing more than familiar intercourse. Thus it was said to our Lord, why doth your master eat with publicans and sinners? which has no relation to sacramental eating. It is true that we are required, by all lawful methods, to shun and avoid disorderly brethren, lest we should seem 10 countenance their transgression, or should be infected by their example. But it cannot be allowed, as one of these lawful methods, to withdraw yourself from the means of grace; for that is to disobey the express command of Christ.
But suppose the phrase to relate, not only to common meals, but to the Lord's supper; to whom is it addressed? To them who have rule in the church, whose duty it is to exclude such disorderly persons from an ordinance which they profane, v. 13.
“ Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” The duty of private christians is to aim at the reformation of such persons, by admonishing them in the spirit of love, and if that does not avail, to desist from keeping company with them, but by no means to separate from the communion of the church. In the Corinthian church there were many corrupt members, guilty of fornication, incest, eating at the idol's table, i Cor. viii. 10. and drinking to excess at the table of the Lord, 1 Cor. xi. 21. Does the apostle exhort the Corinthian christians, on this account, to desert the holy communion ? No: Just the contrary. “ Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup,” i Cor. xi. 28. i. e. Let private christians, when they see abuses and disorderly behaviour in any of their brethren, take care not to fall into the same practices, but redouble their self-examination, and so partake of the Lord's supper.
If the attendance of some offenders were a good reason why persons properly qualified should withdraw, it is not easy to say to what lengths the argument might be extended. We are forbidden to keep company with fornicators, 1 Cor. v. 9. Now one way of doing so is by joining with them in public worship: does it follow then, that we are to forsake the public worship because some of the pretended worshippers are profane or sensual? Yet this argument is exactly similar to that which you offer, to excuse your non-attendance at the sacrament of the Lord's supper.
I actually knew a very ingenious and learned man, and once highly esteemed for his piety, who acted upon this principle, and would associate with no congregation of worshippers, because he could find none sufficiently pure. This man is now become a most pernicious character, employing all his talents in corrupting the principles of his readers.
An argument should be well weighed, and strongly suspect. ed, which leads to this awful consequence, that a man may lawfully withdraw himself from any of the means of grace, especially that which was appointed by the authority of our dying Redeem. er. He said to all his disciples, take ye and eat, take and drink ye all of this; do this in remembrance of me.
Let me, then, intreat you, my dear friend, not to depart from the Lord's table, from your brethren, from your heavenly food, though some fulse brethren may partake with you. Our blessed Lord well knew that Peter would presently deny him, and that Judas was actually deliberating how he might betray him, yet he