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THE NATURE AND GLORY
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST :
AS ALSO ON
THE NATURE AND CONSEQUENCES OF SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS,
NATURE AND EFFECTS OF DIVINE ILLUMINATION.
DESIGNED AS A SUPPLEMENT TO THE AUTHOR'S
LETTERS AND DIALOGUES,
ON THE NATURE OF
LOVE TO GOD, FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST, AND ASSURANCE
A TITLE TO ETERNAL LIFE.
« We all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord “ are changed into the same image.”
" But if our Gospel is hid, it is bid to them that are lost.” St. Paul.
There are, perhaps, few, if any, among the various sects and parties of professing Christians, but that will readily give their assent to this proposition; " He who understands thé Gospel of Jesus Christ aright, sees it in its glory, believes it to be true with all his heart, and is affected and acts accordingly, is a true Christian, and will finally inherit eternal life.” But put the question, what is the Gospel of Christ ? and let each one for himself, learned and unlearned, throughout Christendom, prepare and give in an answer, and it will be found that there is a great variety of opinions; and that the learned differ as much as the unlearned ; and that the seemingly devout and religious differ, as much as the more loose and profane. The more any man acquaints himself with the state of the Christian world, at home and abroad, the more he converses with men and books, the more clearly will he discern this to be the true state of the case. And now, what shall be done?
To say, in this case, “ That notwithstanding circumstantial differences, the body of professing Christians agree in the main; and we must not be so exact, metaphysical, and nice," is the same as to say, “Let your ideas be so general, confused, and indeterminate about matters of religion, as that you may not distinctly discern the differences which do in fact take place: and be so very unconcerned about your eternal interest, as not to think it worth your while to look things to the bottom. Go on easy in this way, and cry out against, and condemn all exact thinking and clear reasoning in maiters of religion, as metaphysics: an hocus pocus word, to blacken an inquiring disposition, and to justify an astonishing inattention, in a “matter of infinite, of everlasting concern.” And this, while all men of sense agree to commend, the most exact, thinking, and clear reasoning, on any other subject, but that of religion.
To say, “it is no matter what men's principles be, if their lives are but good;" is the same as to say, “ Paganism and Mahometanism are as safe ways to heaven, as Christianity, which is downright infidelity.
To say, “good men may differ : there are more ways to heaven than one, all equally safe : it is needless to be at pains to look things to the bottom:" is much the same as to say, “Let every one sincerely live up to his own scheme, and he will be safe.” Which again will land one on the shores of infidelity.
When our blessed Saviour sent his apostles abroad into the world, it was with this commission : Go, preach the Gospel to every creature, and he that believeth, (the very Gospel I send you to preach,) and is baptized, shall be saved. But he that believeth not, (the very gospel I send you to preach,) shall be damned. And according to this commission, they went and preached, and gathered Churches, and then said, not from an uncharitable disposition, but merely viewing things in the light of their Master's words ; We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. And when false teachers arose, and endeavoured to accominodate the Gospelscheme a little better to the taste, the natural taste of mankind; the very chief of the apostles, as it were, stepped forth into the view of the whole Christian world, and with an assurance and solemnity, becoining one inspired by heaven, said, but though we or an angel from heaven preach uny other Gospel unto you, than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said b<fore, so say I now again, if ány man preach any other Gospel unto you, than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Gal. 8, 9. « But what shall I do ?” says a poor, ignorant, benighied soul, anxious for his eternal welfare. “ Were all learned religious sort of men agreed, I should think I might safely believe as they believe; but now I am perfectly disconcerted and confounded. And is it likely such a poor, ignorant creature as I am, should ever find the truth, and see to the bottom, of these controversies, so as to know what is right, and what is wrong? What shall I do?"
Were the differences subsisting in the Christian world really owing to any obscurity in divine revelation itself, I do not see how poor, ignorant people could be to blame in being thus at a loss. Or indeed, if after all they should happen to believe wrong, to mistake some false Gospel for the true one, I do not see how they could be to blame, much less so much, SO very much to blame, as to merit eternal damnation. When, therefore, our blessed Saviour so 'peremptorily declares, He that believeth not shall be damned, let him be who he will among all mankind, who shall hear the Gospel, it is a complete demonstration, that in the judgment of our blessed Savionr, the Gospel-revelation is quite plain enough, upon a level even with vulgar capacities ; so that it cannot be misunderstood or misbelieved, by any individual, unless the fault is in himself : yea, unless he is so greatly to blame in the affair, as justly to merit eternal damnation. To say otherwise, is to charge our Saviour with injustice, in denouncing eternal damnation against every unbeliever. Which again, is no better than downright infidelity.
“But how can these things be?” may an inquisitive reader say. “For if the true Gospel of Christ were so clearly revealed in the sacred writings, how unaccountable is it, that the Christian world so greatly differ ?” Not unaccountable at all, only granting what must be granted, or Christianity be given up, that the true Gospel of Christ contains a system of sentiments diametrically opposite to every vicious bias in the human heart. Such a system it contains, or it did not come from God. And if it does contain such a system, then, so long as the generality of mankind are under the influence of their vicious biasses, they will naturally seek darkness rather than light; self-justifying error, rather than self-condemning truth ; and it is well known how apt men are to believe that to be true, wbich they wish to have so in other matters besides that of religion. Besides,
Tell me whence was it, that, in the apostolic age; whence was it, that, in the very days of miracles and inspiration, professed Christians began to differ? Was it because the sacred writings were obscure? Why then did they not inquire at the mouths of the apostles, who were yet alive, and who all agreed among themselves? Nay, inquire at the apostles' mouths : indeed, no. They would rather call their inspiration into question, than submit to their decision.