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Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.”
EPHESIANS iv, 18.
The apostle, in the foregoing context, exhorted the Christians at Ephesus, to walk worthy of the vocation, wherewith they were called, that by their life and conversation, they might show forth the holy nature, and benevolent tendency of the religion which they professed. He exhibits the importance of their living together, “ With all lowliness, and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” And this he urges upon them, both as appropriate, and requisite, because “ There is one body, and one Spirit, even as they are called, in one hope of their calling.” He appears, also, to invite them, to a diligent improvement of the means of instruction and knowledge, with which Jesus Christ had furnished his church ; and presents, as an excitement to persevering effort, the end for whicha their Lord had furnished his people with these important
advantages : “ And he gave some, apostles, and some, prophets, and some, evangelists, and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that we, henceforth, be no more children, tossed to, and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ.” Looking, therefore, at the nature of your obligations, at the character of him who hath called you, at the high and holy end of your vocation, and the adaptedness of the corstituted means to the end contemplated, “I say and testify in the Lord,” adds the apostle, “ that ye, henceforth, walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind : Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart."
In these words, the apostle clearly teaches, that the renewed Gentiles had a discerning of religious truth, and moral obligation, which the unrenewed Gentiles had not: That the understanding of the former was enlightened, and the understanding of the latter darkened.
The text may be resolved into the following proposition. SINNERS, BY REASON OF THE MORAL CORRUPTION OF THEIR
HEARTS, VOLUNTARILY DARKEN THEIR OWN UNDERSTANDING.
In discussing this proposition, I shall attempt to show
1. THAT SINNERS VOLUNTARILY DARKEN THEIR OWN VN
II. THAT THEY DO THIS, THROUGH THE BLINDNESS, OR
In comtemplating this branch of our proposition, I would remark
1. That there is no defect of intellectual capacity in sinners. Religion does not impart intellect. A man of very wicked principles, may, nevertheless, be a man of great original endowment, and great mental improvement. Religion respects the heart; and although a good heart, by regulating those appetites, in the indulgence of which, men often impair their minds, is of great service in the investigation of truth, and will not unfrequently lead a man to discover moral relations, and duties, which would be unnoticed by one who feels no regard for religion, yet wicked men are capable of making large advances, in the various departments of the sciences and the arts. They may be great philosophers, profound jurists, skilful metaphysicians, eloquent orators, and fine poets and painters. They have abundant capacity, to reach any reasonable height, in intellectual attainment, by proper application, and when circumstances are favourable.
Their capacity for improvement in physical science, and in political and social economy, qualifies them, if they felt disposed to apply their powers to the subject, for the discovery of moral truth, also, and of the nature of their obligations to
God. They are as capable as any other men, of the same measure of endowment, of learning what God is, and what he does, and what he requires. THESE SUBJECTS stand connected with their proper elements, as well as those that exclusively command the efforts of the men of the world : And men are as capable of premising, deducing, and concluding with regard to them, as any other subjects that address a claim to their attention.
"Tis not for want of a capacity to know God, that men are ignorant of him. This they have in common with those of their fellow men, who have attained to the knowledge of God.. They are fully capable of coming to the conclusion, by applying their minds to the subject, that God exists; and that he is a being of moral rectitude. Intellectually, they know much of God. That he is a holy God; that he is wise, and benevolent; that he is the universal moral Governour: And although their hearts are opposed to him, when they contemplate the uncontrolable sovereignty of his administration, yet, their natural understanding teaches them, that he cannot be God, if he has no wise plan of operation before him, or if, in any instance, his holy and benevolent purposes may be frustrated. Their natural capacities qualify them to see, that God must be of one mind; that he establishes the succession of events, during the revolving periods of endless progression and being; and that with him, there can be nothing like chance, or contingency.
As they are able to discover, by a proper improvement of their powers, what God is, and does; so are they capable of
discovering, the relations they sustain to him, and the obligations that result from them. They know that God is their Maker; that he holds their life in his hand ; that his provia dence sustains them, from day, to day; that his character is such, as challenges their approbation, their confidence and esteem; and that he is pleased with holiness, and displeased with sin. Knowing all this ; how can they be indifferent to the interests and claims of truth, without giving just cause of offence to their Almighty Creator?
2. There is no natural deficiency of moral feeling, or consciousness of obligation in sinners. They are, not only, capable of perceiving the righteousness of God's claims, upon their obedience and love, but they are, also, capable of feeling the force of his claims, if they will open their minds to the conviction of truth. God has endowed them, both with intellectual capacities, and moral feelings. He has given them the power of discovering truth, and of being influenced by it. The mind perceives, and the conscience feels. Thus, in our physical and moral constitution, God has two witnesses, that will support his cause, against every impenitent sinner, in the day when he shall come to judge the world.
There are very few sinners, who are not ready to acknowledge that they know their duty, and who do not, occasionally, deeply feel their guilt for neglecting it. But multitudes have made such acknowledgments, and yet, have never been influenced to the love and obedience of God; and have gone down to the dead, with enmity against him, in their hearts. and it is not at all improbable, that some of those who hear