« PreviousContinue »
spirit, and governed by its dictates; and I would ask, appealing to infidels themselves, would not a scene be produced, the most lovely, the most glorious, the most beneficial ? Would not the language of prophecy be immediately realized ? “ the wilderness and the solita
ry place shall be made glad for them : and the des66 ert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. It shall ** blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and
singing ; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, “the excellency of Carmel and Sharon : they shall see " the GLORY of the Lord, and the EXCELLENCY of “our God.” Thus, whether we consider the gospel with regard to man in his individual, or social existence; as an inhabitant of time, or an heir of eternity; it is a universal benefactor ; it is of the highest importance; and as it demands, so it deserves all his attention—“ If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.'
III. It is an appeal to IMPARTIAL CONSIDERATION. And the demand supposes the subject to be accessible ; that there is no secrecy in the case ; nothing to be concealed. In heathenisin there were many mysteries, from a knowledge of which, the common people, the mass of mankind, were always excluded. We read of men who shall “privily bring in damnable heresies.” For error needs disguise. Truth glories in exposure. And the gospel has this character of truth. The Founder of our religion declared, “in secret have I “ said nothing." The apostle of the Gentiles could affirm, “ this thing was not done in a corner.” These everlasting records lie open for inspection ; they challenge examination ; it is 'not necessary to conceal any
thing; the cause will derive advantage from publicity; it is a system of truth and evidence; and you are not only allowed, but commanded to consider its claims, and to examine its contents.
The duty our Saviour enjoins, excludes force, and supposes every thing to be free'; all dominion over conscience is forbidden by it. Mahometanism was enforced by the sword; soldiers were the apostles of the Koran ; Popery began and was maintained by means of spiritual usurpation. They knew the danger of free inquiry, and shewed their wisdom in not 'suffering it ; they destroyed the right of private judg. ment, took away the Scriptures, and made ignorance the mother of THEIR devotion. The blind MUST de pend upon a guide. And has not too much of this disposition been discovered in succeeding ages, and by persons who have come much nearer the truth ? Have they not refused to others a liberty which they had nobly taken themselves ? After scorning to be slaves, have they never proposed to be tyrants ? And though they would not call any man master, have they not desired to be called so by many? But “one is our “ Master, even Christ, and all we are brethren." No one has dominion over the faith of another. No coercive influence, however exercised, has the least countenance from the nature of the gospel, or manner in which it was established. The Bereans are com. mended for “ searching the Scriptures daily ;” and comparing the preaching of Paul and Silas with the testimonies of the law and the prophets. Hear the language of a man who well knew there was no virtue in the effects of compulsion : “ Prove all things,
“ and hold fast that which is good;" “ I speak as un. “ to wise men, judge ye what I say.” The gospel per. suades by informing ; even regeneration does not destroy the natural order of operation in the faculties of the mind. God enlightens in order to govern; we follow him from choice, this choice is founded in conviction, and this conviction is produced by evidence.
If you would comply with our Lord's demand, remember it is the gospel you have to consider, and nothing else. Separate from it whatever is adventitious and human ; and during this investigation keep the subject before you pure and unmixed. Be carçful that it is christianity you are surveying ; not any corruptions and errors which have blended with it; not any modifications and arrangements which fallible men have made of it. Ask for a bible, and see that no spiritual legerdemain slip on the table in the room of it, popery or protestantism, Arminianism or Calvinism, or any human creed or system. These may be true, or they may be false ; they are not standards; they are all to be tried themselves. Ask for the things of God, “not in the words which man's wisdom “teacheth, but in the words the Holy Ghost teach“eth.” Distinguish between Scripture, and explana. tions of Scripture ; see with your own eyes; explore the good land for yourselves, and before you enter, suffer none to require from you a promise, that when you return, you shall think precisely with them concerning every thing you may discover there. This preacher calls you to come and hear him; if another should step in to prepossess you as you are going; if he should say,
“ remember This will be his meaning, thoug?
many of his words will seem to have another fense ; “ some things will require great qualifications ; fomeu times there will be a difference between his secret and “ his revealed will," and so on-say, “I will hear him “ for myself; he speaks to be understood; I have under
standing as well as you ; what I borrow is not mine 4 own.”
But nothing is more adverse to our Saviour's de. mand than dissipation. Attention is absolutely necessary, and in order to this we must call in our thoughts, and fix them. The more finite and contracted our powers are, the more loose and roving our minds, the more averse we feel to reflection; the more intellectual and spiritual the subject, and the less there is in it adapted to the senses, the more necessary, and the more difficult application becomes. But labour and diligence will be amply rewarded in the pleasure of progress, and the glory of success; “ If thou incline « thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to un“
derstanding; if thou criest after knowledge, and “ liftest up thy voice for understanding ; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid “ treasure; then shalt thou understand the fear of the “ Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the “ Lord giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh “ knowledge and understanding."
But it is of little use to apply a mind already biassed; we are therefore to guard against prejudice. This will always make us partial; it will keep us from doing juştice to any sentiment we dislike ; while it will lead us to seize with greediness whatever is capable of giving evidence or importance to the opinions we have espoused, No prejudices are more simple, than those which are derived from“our fathers worshipped in this moun“tain.” But none are so awful as those which spring from sinful luşts and passions. These will affect practical subjects ; entangle the plainest duties, and perplex every rule by which we are unwilling to walk. In this case, a man, before he weighs evidences will examine consequences. • Why if I own this, I must - renounce the world ; I must pluck out a right eye, “ and cut off a right hand; I must take up the cross ; “ be serious and circumspect in my conversation.” Such inferences are arguments ; and they easily pre. vail with unholy minds, as we see in the case of family worship, and the reception of the Lord's Supper.
Impatience disqualifies us for religious investigation. If we review life, we shall find that many of our mistakes and errors have been occasioned by a hasty judgment. How changed have things appeared when the mind has returned to them at another time, and from a different quarter !
We shall only add that nothing is so unfavourable to fair and successful inquiry, as pride. We should come to the gospel, not full, but to be filled : not to cavil, but to learn ; sensible of our ignorance, and praying for divine direction, and receiving “the king" dom of God as a little child.” “ With the lowly is " wisdom." “ The meek will he guide in judgment, " and the meek will he teach his way.” Gather up all these ; here is the gospel unveiled and exposed ; you need not be afraid to approach it, no authority can restrain you; be sure it is the gospel only you investigate ; banish dissipation, prejudice, impatience, and