« AnteriorContinuar »
what shame and confusion of face should follow sueh proofs of the depravity of our nature, and especially when we reflect how much the government of God over us is opposed hereby !
The conscience, or that moral sense of the soul which answers to feeling in the body, and which, unless seared and blunted by long habits of sin, gives sudden and plain notices of what is morally evil to the soul, that it may shun it, or if committed, a deep consciousness of the danger.incurred by disobedience. This is, in general, regulated by its rule of judgment: if it has mere human rules to proceed by, it is erroneous; and while it teaches the soul to strain, or filtre a gnat; for a gnat, it permits it to swallow a camel. If it profess to observe the Divine law, yet if it have not a right knowledge even of this, it will be a doubtful one: and if it sees and knows its spiritual nature, and acts not accordingly, it is an evil conscience, and leads the soul into all evil and danger. How few pay that attention to the conscience which they ought! How few care to have it set right, or when it is, in some respects, enlightened, how few abide by its dictates! And if we must accuse ourselves of neglecting good, and doing evil, much more must he, who knows per. fectly what we are, and what we do, and who cannot possibly be deceived. He has seen us burst through all the alarms occasioned by temptation, and the approach of those sins by which we have fallen. He has remarked how often we have indulged desire after objects which had stolen our hearts, but at which we trembled, and, for fear of consequences, we durst not possess. He has seen our endeavours to palliate or explain away what disturbed and harrassed us in our favourite pursuits; all which, should we be brought to sound conversion, will appear with the clearest evidence, Oh what opposition is this to the Holy Spirit, and his gracious strivings! Nearly allied to this is
The judgment, or that power of the mind by which we study, reason, and compare, previous to the decisive actions of the will in objccting, choosing, retaining, resolving, &c. on any subject about which the mind is concerned; by which it may be influenced; or in whatever it may be nearly or remotely interested. This power, or capacity, is strangely defective in spiritual matters, or things pertaining to God. Here good is put for evil, and evil for good. When right is clearly discerned, sentence is frequently given in favour of wrong. The empty trash of worldly vanities is preferred to the substantial pleasures of piety; and sin, though the reverse of all that is wise, just, holy, and good in God, his laws and government, is countenanced and caressed; while the grace of God is turned to wantonness, or received in vain. This may, in a great measure, be attributed to the want of a pure intention in the search of truth: if truth be not desired for its own sake, and when discovered, embraced, having no proper standard to judge by, the mind is easily misled, the reasonings false and inconclusive, the comparing of words and things defective, and hence superstition is taken for religion, fanaticism for zeal, form for power, and error for truth, in general. Can the mind, thus confused and irregular in its procedures, be in any other state than that of opposition to the designs of God ?
The imagination. This fertile and active faculty, which illustrates, combines, or decomposes our ideas, requires to be regulated by a clear and sound understanding, or it will be soon filled with extravagant notions, and wild conceits. Our excessive curiosity and love of novelty are ever presenting new subjects, or images, or new-modelling old ones, and presenting them to this fanciful mirror, till the mind is perplexed and confused with the immense variety; and conceives and produces strange births of vain suppositions, romantic schemes, jarring sentiments, unsound opinions, and a motley assemblage of foolish opinions, haughty, ridiculous, and trifling thoughts, almost continually. Since, then, the understandings of men are so much darkened by their opposition to the truths and light of God, we may easily judge of their bewildered state of mind from these circumstances; and how little regard is paid to the voice of him “ that speaketh to us from heaven.” We are so completely swallowed up in the study and pursuits of the world, that we have little inclination “to hear the voice of the (heavenly) charmer, though he charm never so wisely.”
In this short view of the faculties and actions of the immortal soul, our departure from God may be descried without much difficulty, and we may also perceive the absolute necessity of returning to him before we remove to a future state; or, with views and inclinations like these, we shall be disqualified to enter the realms of unclouded and unpolluted day. Instead of searching with such care and assiduity after our supposed mental or personal excellences, let us seek to understand our weaknesses and defects, that we may turn our attention to the acquirement of that knowledge of God, and his Christ, on which depends our eternal life. All other knowledge, exclusive of this, will only tend to increase our sorrow, and leave us a prey to disappointment and de. spair.
If we reflect upon what has been already advanced concerning the natural bias of the mind to sin, and the manner in which it stands opposed to God, we shall see that some preponderating cause, not in ourselves, is necessary to remove it; for it would be a strange circumstance indeed, if, out of that very opposition, a principle should arise sufficiently powerful to turn the whole inclination of the mind back again to him. What mode of reasoning would admit of such a conclusion? “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to to do evil.” When habits are formed, and the stream of our desires are after evil, or what is made so by abuse, who can stop the current, or change habits of vice and carnality into those of virtue and religion? The at. tempt is not likely to be made in these circumstances, or if made would prove fruitless, for the good they would do, would not be done, and the evil they would not do, would be done, Rom. vii. 19. Such would be the situation of all, if left entirely to their own wisdom and exertions. Many who boast of the dignity of human nature, and its all-sufficiency to practise all virtues without Divine assistance, little dream of the effects of restraining-grace towards them, while they affect to despise it, and without which, they would have long since been punished for their pride and rashness, in not giving glory to God, from whom alone
every good and perfect gift cometh.” We may notice
1. Common observation.- What change appears for the better in persons who frequent no place of worship, and who, we have reason to think, approach not the throne of grace in prayer? For should any pray, it supposes that they cannot change themselves, and therefore call upon God for assistance; these persons strengthen the assertion, that we cannot turn of ourselves. Look at habitual drunkards, lewd persons, swearers, and such like characters; they continue the same, year after year. If you reprove them, they are no better; if you advise them, they will sometimes tell you plainly, that sin has taken such hold upon them, they cannot extricate themselves from its tyranny. And many persist in their transgressions till they plunge themselves, and such as are unfortunately dependant upon them, into misery, dis. ease, poverty, and various evils; and even in these circumstances, as far as they have ability for it, indulge their criminal propensities to the uttermost; and this, observe, where it is supposed that the Spirit of God has strove. What then would they have been, if his restraints had not been upon them? Truly, “it is not in man that walketh to direct his way.”
2. Pious men acknowledge it. This they have done in their solemn addresses to God; in their conversations one with another; in their writings; and by freely confessing the same on many occasions. Thus the psalmist, “My heart is smitten down, and withered like grass," expressive of the deep sense he entertained of his weakness and feebleness of mind : and, in another place, “So foolish was I and ignorant, I was as a beast before thee.” Thus acknowledging his want of wisdom. How often do we hear persons of this description say, “Without thee we can do nothing.-We are poor, wretched, miserable, blind and naked.” This state is also compared to sleep, in which the utmost indifferency and insensibility of what is passing around them prevail : and to death, which expresses the same thing in much stronger language. In short, sin has so completely paralized the soul, that it is too much enfeebled to overcome evil, and to practise good by the mere exertion of its own power and wisdom. The way of holiness is too narrow, its duties too hard to be performed; and insurmountable difficulties present themselves where experimental and practical religion are enforced. It may, it is true, have boasted an hundred times what it can, and what it is resolved to do ; but its not being done proves that these are only vain boastings, and afford it no relief.
3. From the nature of things. The provision made for our salvation points it out in the clearest manner. are not sick, why have we such a Physician prepared for us If not lost, why must the great Shepherd come to seek us? If we are not dead, why must we be quickened? If not dreadfully depraved, why must such a change pass upon us as to deserve the name of a new birth? Why must our surety be seized, if we are not insolvent? Would there be such a spiritual feast prepared, and we invited to partake of it, but froin the consideration of our famished and wretched condition ? To a reflective mind, the sad state of man by nature is, from these circumstances, readily inferred ; and the wisdom, and compassion of the Lord Jehovah most thankfully acknowledged. But, without admitting the former, what can we think of the numerous scriptural declarations which speak of the latter ? The whole is a useless parade of unmeaning words, which carries no conviction with it, and is unworthy of our notice. Such is the consequence of foolishly separating what God has joined !