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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 the 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 matters 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 etery 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 accommodate 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, becoming 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 before, so say I now again, if any 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, benighted 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 Saviour, 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, which 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 anong themselves ? Nay, inquire at the apostles' mouths : indeed, no. They would rather call their inspiration into question, than submit to their decision, Saint Paul found himself so vigorously opposed by false teachers among the Galatians, that with all his miracles, inspirations, and elaborate reasonings, he could not keep up the credit of his scheme, no, not even among his own converts, who once were ready to pluck out their eyes for him ; rather, in endeavouring to keep the truth up, his own credit sunk by the means. Gal.iv. 16. And a little before his death, after full experience of the nature of error and delusion, he plainly tells his son Timothy, that the case with some was really hopeless ; saying, Evil men and seducers shall war worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Tiin. iii. 13. And while the apostles were some of them yet living, numbers of their converts actually separated from their churches; numbers of their graceless converts, I mean. 1 John ii. 19. They went out from us, but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.'
Now it cannot be pretended there was any want of external light and evidence, needful to discern and ascertain the truth, in that age; and nevertheless, matters began to work then very much as they have all along since. It is not therefore, through want of light and evidence externally held forth, that men have gone into error, in one age and another, who have had the bible in their hands; but it has been entirely owing to the vicious state of their minds. And therefore saint Paul reckons heresies among the works of the flesh, and gives them a place along with adultery, fornication, witchcraft, murder, drunkenness, &c. as being criminal in the same sense with them. Gal. v. 19, 20, 21.
And indeed the sun and substance of the Gospel may be reduced to two or three points, which must be in a manner self-evident to a mind rightly disposed; or to use our Saviour's words, to those who have a good and honest heart. For as all Christians were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ; so right apprehensions of the character and offices of these three, is the sum of all Christian knowledge. For he who believes God the Father, the supreme Governor of the world, to be by nature God, an absolutely perfect, an infinitely glorious and amiable
Being, iofinitely worthy of that supreme love and honour, and universal obedience, which the Divine law requires at our hands, and that consequently bis law is holy, just, and good : and he who believes that God the Son, the express image of the Father, became incarnate, and died to do honour to the divine law, was set forth to be a propitiation to declare his Father's righteousness, that he might be just, and yet the justifier of the believer: and he who believes that God the Holy Ghost, is appointed to be an enlightener and sanctifier, to bring sinners to understand the truth, see it in its glory, believe, love, and obey it: he who understands and believes these points, cannot fail to understand and believe all the rest. For all doctrinal, experimental, and practical religion, natively results from these fundamental truths.-Besides,
These fundamental truths give light to each other. So that if once the glory of God, the supreme governor of the world, is seen, the reason and nature of his law will be plain. And if that is plain, the design of the incarnation and death of the Son of God will be evident. And then the whole Gospel-plan will naturally open to view, and appear to contain a complete system of religious sentiments, harmonious and consistent throughout, perfect in glory and beauty. And while we discern the opposition of this system of truths to every vicious bias in the human mind, the nature and necessity of the regenerating and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, to bring us rightly to understand the Gospel, see it in its glory, and love and practise it, will be easily discerned: And at the same time, every one, well acquainted with his own heart, may discern the true source of all the various errors which have been broached in the Christian world : For the root of them all is in the heart of every child of Adam.
To assist the candid inquisitive reader to look down into the bottom of truth and error, and see things in their original sources, and in their mutual connexions, that the true Scripture scheme may rise into clear view, and the first spring of all the chief errors now in vogue may be clearly discerned, is the design of the following sheets.