« PreviousContinue »
LEST, BEING LIFTED UP WITH PRIDE, HE
FALL INTO THE CONDEMNATION OF THE
CONVERTS of little experience in the Christian Faith were disposed to be vain, when they were exalted above their brethren: and as vanity never fails to weaken the judgment, and put men out of humour with truth, error in doctrine soon follows, when pride has got possession of the imagination. The Tempter defrauds men of truth, as the artful defraud the simple of their money, by flattering them, and suggesting great ideas of their talents and qualifications.
By the condemnation of the devil, in the words of the text, so far as mencan fall into it in
this life, we must understand that kind of sin, for which the devil himself is under sentence of condemnation. In the prophecy of Isaiah, his crime is specified, as an aspiring to be equal with God. Amongst other presumptuous expressions to the same effect, he said in his heart, I will be like the Most High. He suggested the same presumptuous thought to our first parents, tempting them to expect, that they might be like Gods, knowing good and evil. The good of the understanding is truth ; its evil is falsehood ; and if so they were tempted to seek the knowledge of good and evil, that is, of truth and falsehood, independent of God; consequently, in opposition to him. The desire of that independence, by which the creature becomes a law to himself against the Creator, was the root of sin in Lucifer: he tried the same temptation upon man, and it succeeded. It hath prevailed ever since, and will prevail to the end of the world. What was the whole religion of paganism, but a system of faith and worship invented by those who did not like to retain God in their knowledge ? They became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. They became fools, by professing themselves to be wise ; and knew nothing of divine things, by pre
tending to have a source of knowledge within themselves. Whence came all the heresies that infested the Christian church ? Not so much from any obscurity in the Gospel, as from the vain reasonings of those, who were too proud to receive it : If any man (says the Apostle) teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing. If we look to the present age, whence comes all the modern opposition against the doctrines of Christianity, but from human philosophy, judging of good and evil by its own light, and proposing new sources of information, with new principles, new duties, and new obligations ?
From this view of the text, it offers a very important fact to our consideration ; namely, that there is a peculiar sort of wickedness, in which man may be a partaker with the devil. And if so, it is of infinite consequence that we should define it clearly, and explain it in such a manner as to guard our hearers against it: especially, as there is a dangerous mistake gone abroad amongst us, and of which the enemies of our faith are always prepared to take advantage. It has been very falsely sup
posed, that people may secure to themselves the favour of God, and be in a state of salvation, if they do but observe moral honesty in their words and actions. Some through art, and others through ignorance, flatter men in this error ; assuring them, that if they do but lead good lives, all articles of faith are no more than matters of opinion, and they need not trouble themselves about their creed. To correct this error, and demonstrate the malignity of it, is the principle object of this discourse. In order to which, it is obvious, as a first argument, that as a good life is the fruit of a good faith, it can no more grow from a wrong belief, than grapes can grow upon thistles. To every seed the Creator gives its own proper body; whatever we sow, the same we shall reap: and therefore it must be a strange, unnatural philosophy which expects to gather the fruit of Christian godliness from the seeds of infidelity.
Then again, it is manifest that a good life is an ambiguous expression, the vulgar use of which betrays great ignorance in those who confine it to the practice of social duties. For the Christian life, properly so called, comprehends two great branches of duty: the first, towards God, the second, towards our neigh
bour. God has an undoubted claim to the first place ; our neighbour has the next. In regard to the latter, we have a plain rule to direct us : we do well, if we treat our neighbour as we wish to be treated by him. But then, what are we to do in respect to God? Here the rule fails us ; for we cannot do to God as he doth to us : we have nothing to give him, but obedience and resignation to his will. It is he that must approve and reward us for our duty toward our neighbour; and it would be presumptuous to expect, that he will reward those, who put an immediate affront
himself. If we look to the positive rule of our duty in the ten commandments, we find that the four first relate immediately to God himself; the others relate to our neighbour į and if we should observe the latter, to the neglect, and perhaps the contempt, of the former, and yet be thought to lead good lives ; then we may deny the true God, worship idols, take God's name in vain, profane the sabbath, and commit many other dreadful crimes, and, after all, expect to be rewarded by God Almighty for leading a good life. But this is a supposition too shocking to be admitted by any but those, who are either desperately ignorant, or desperately wicked. If we fail in the principal part of our duty, and offend against God himself,