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that is, without being offended at it, is a truth as discernible by the principles of reason as by the authority of revelation. The world then being in a state of corruption, men were manifestly become the children of wrath. To redeem it therefore, it was necessary that God should be reconciled to sinners, and should pardon the offences which could not be recalled, or through infirmity could not be avoided; to consider redemption otherwise, would be an attempt to rescue sinners from God's anger, whether he would or no.
Look now into the
gospel, and you will find that the only-begotten Son of God took our nature on him, and by a perfect obedience to his Father, and a voluntary death on the cross, completed this reconciliation, and obtained our pardon, in which properly consists the work of redemption. But to redeem men from God's displeasure, only that they might draw it on themselves afresh every day, would have been useless and unworthy of the Redeemer. To secure therefore the benefits of redemption to men, it was necessary for him to render them such as God might be pleased with; which he did by the powerful methods prescribed in the gospel for rectifying their depraved wills; and to render this effectual, he promised and bestowed on them the aid of his Holy Spirit, by which they might lay hold of eternal life. This is a short account of what Christ has done to save sinners; and in this what has any man to complain of? You have no reason to complain, you say you are willing to be pardoned, but you cannot see how the death of Christ can reconcile God to sinners. But do you consider that you are the sinner, the person to be pardoned? Is it your's, or your offended Master's business, to judge of the proper means of reconciliation? Surely it is his: why then debate a point in which you have no farther interest than to accept the blessing granted on any motives? If we cannot fully comprehend the reason of these means, there is but one just consequence, viz. that the counsels of God are unfathomable by human reason:
nor can this be any surprise to a considering man, who daily sees the same truth confirmed: this point enlarged on. Leaving then these curious inquiries, let us be content that God should be wiser than man; considering that, although he has concealed from us the secrets of his wisdom, he has manifested his love towards us, and that his mercy shines forth unclouded in every page of the gospel. These advantages so correspond to the sentiments of nature within us, that it is strange to find the pretensions of nature opposed to the Christian revelation: this point enlarged on to the end.
I TIMOTHY, CHAP. I.-VERSE 15.
This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
THESE words contain the great charter of the Christian church, and are the title by which we claim all the benefits and promises of the gospel. If you inquire on what pretence we proclaim the peace of God to mankind, on what confidence we offer pardon to sinners, who according to the terms of natural justice are ' vessels of wrath fitted for destruction;' we answer in the words of the text, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners' and that in his name we preach salvation, and peace, and pardon to offenders.
This is the doctrine which, together with the principles on which it is founded, and the consequences naturally flowing from it, distinguishes the Christian religion from all other religions whatever. The hopes peculiar to believers are built on this great article; and whatever advantages and favors we pretend to under the gospel, more than can be claimed on the terms of justice and natural religion, are to be ascribed to this only, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.'
Whoever therefore rejects this article, he does indeed reject the Christian religion: I mean not that such a one must necessarily reject all the religion contained in the books of the gospel; for the moral duties of the gospel are the very duties of natural religion, improved and carried into perfection; and the man who receives not Christ for his Saviour and Redeemer, may yet receive the doctrines of morality, as taught and explained
by him, because he finds them agreeable to the light of his own reason and understanding.
The difference then between a true Deist and the Christian arises from the doctrine contained in the text. They both equally believe the being and providence of God: and the obligations of morality are equally admitted on both sides. The necessity of a virtuous life, in obedience to these obligations, is no matter of dispute: at least there is no reason why it should be matter of dispute between them. The Deist has no room to doubt in this case; for he has no other hope than in his obedience, which of necessity therefore must be so perfect as to render him acceptable in the sight of his equitable Judge: and if the Christian builds so far on other hopes as to neglect the weighty matters of the law, he deceives himself, and abuses the gospel of his Saviour.
But then in other respects they differ widely: the Deist reckons himself and the rest of mankind to be in that state of nature in which God created them, and therefore capable of obtaining, by the present powers of nature, the end designed by God for man. In consequence of this, as he owns the duty of obeying God, so in right of his obedience he claims his favor and protection. The Christian is persuaded that man has fallen from the state of innocence in which he was created; that being a sinner, he has no claim on God by his obedience, but stands in need of pardon; and that being now weak, through sin, he stands in need of grace and assistance to enable him to perform the conditions on which the pardon of God is offered : and he believes that God has indeed pardoned mankind, and granted them reconciliation, being thereunto moved by the obedience and sufferings of his Son Christ Jesus; and that he hath promised, and will surely give his grace and assistance to all true believers in Christ, to enable them to perform the conditions of his pardon.
What the Christian thus believes, the gospel plainly teaches: and these are the great points to be made good; and they are briefly comprehended in the words of the text, 'That Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.'
To illustrate and confirm this proposition, it will be proper to show,
First, what reason we have to believe that men were sinners, and stood in need of pardon and salvation.
Secondly, by what means Christ perfected their redemption and salvation.
The first question is, what reason have we to believe that men were sinners, and stood in need of pardon?
It is a saying of St. Austin's, Si non periisset homo, non venisset Christus ; ' If man had not fallen, Christ had not come :' and our Lord speaks to the same sense when he tells us, 'The son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost :' and his answer to those who reproached him with conversing with publicans and sinners stands on the same ground: 'They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.' Had man continued in innocence, the religion of nature would have answered all the ends of his creation; he wanted no redeemer in his natural state; for it would be absurd to suppose that Christ came to redeem man from the state and condition in which God made him. After the works of the creation were finished, God liked them all, and saw every thing that he had made; and behold it was very good:' in this state therefore nothing was wanting to the perfection of the creature: God was pleased with all his works, and with man especially, to whom he gave dominion over the rest of the world. In this state therefore there was no want of a reconciler between God and man; nor would there ever have been any such want, had this happy state continued.
That innocence and virtue shall be rewarded, guilt and iniquity punished, is no more than what natural sense and reason have always taught the considering part of mankind: for the voice of reason and of the law are in this respect the same, "This do, and thou shalt live.' And though man is altered and changed, yet the nature of things is still the same; and he is no ill reasoner, who, from the abstracted consideration of virtue and vice, concludes that virtue has a just title to reward, and vice deserves punishment: and it is no wonder that they who argue on these general views only, should imagine that moral virtue may still exalt a man to all the degrees of happiness that his nature is capable of.
In the celebrated question concerning the merit of good works,