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view of Gospel truth : And this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.20 He, therefore, who lives an unholy, or a careless, and unprofitable life, who does not manifest, in his conduct, the workings of an honest and good heart, has not yet heard the words of God, as they must be heard by those who desire to find them the words of everlasting salvation.
The conclusion to be drawn from this reasoning, is evident. We must all come unto God in his Word, if we would be saved: but we cannot so come unto him, unless we be drawn of him; and if we are so drawn of him, we shall be doers of the Word, and not hearers only. Let us, therefore, as the first and most indispensable step towards all religious knowledge, and all spiritual strength, seek to be thoroughly convinced of our own inability and unworthiness. Let us lament our insensibility to divine truth, and long for a more perfect instruction in the way of godliness, turning to God, and saying, Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth. Let us endeavour to discern within our hearts those first movements of grace, which manifest themselves in secret misgivings of conscience, holy thoughts, and anxious musings upon things eternal. Let
20 1 John v. 3.
us carefully improve them, and earnestly pray, that they may be enlarged and multiplied within
Let us remember, that during the whole process of illumination God worketh in us, and with us.
But if it be so, our works will be consistent with our wishes; we shall not, while we pray for grace, give way unresistingly to sin; nor mingle without reserve in that world, out of which we have been called, and are seeking to be chosen. It is only by the diligent improvement of the strength which God has given us, and by the diligent use of those means which he has appointed for our obtaining more, that we can emancipate ourselves from the thraldom of a practical unbelief; such an unbelief as, we fear, possesses the hearts of thousands who live in the outward profession of the Gospel.
Thus may we arrive through many stages and gradations of spiritual light and strength, at the fulness of religious conviction, and an experimental knowledge of Gospel truth; being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long suffering, with joyfulness. 21
21 Col. i. 10, 11.
INFIDELITY CAUSED BY IGNORANCE AND
1 TIMOTHY I. 19.
Holding faith and a good conscience: which some having
put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck. The persons, against whose errors St. Paul cautions his young disciple, are said, in the next verse, to be Hymenæus and Alexander, whom, says the Apostle, I have delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme. We learn from the second Epistle to Timothy, that Hymenæus overthrew the faith of others, when he had made shipwreck of his own, by calling in question the resurrection of the dead. It appears then, that while he professed to be a Christian, he rejected the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, and was no better than a Sadducee. Of these miserable men the Apostle says, that
SERM. II.] INFIDELITY CAUSED BY IGNORANCE.
concerning faith they had made shipwreck ; a very descriptive expression, whether we refer it to the breaking up of their Christian belief, or to that entire dissolution of the moral system, that utter destruction of principle, which usually mark the rejection, or abandonment of the truth as it is in Jesus. But if it be true, that a dissolution of the moral system is a necessary consequence of the want of a true religious faith, it is also true, that a deficiency of moral principle is often the cause, as well as the effect of unbelief and apostasy. Those who concerning faith made shipwreck, had first put away a good conscience.
An evil conscience frequently lies at the root of infidelity. One of the strongest inducements to disbelieve a divine revelation, is the consciousness that we have already incurred the penalties which it denounces against sin. The love of present indulgence, the horror of future retribution, plead vehemently against the plainest and most forcible arguments of reason. It cannot be doubted, but that many persons are deterred from thinking seriously about religion, by an apprehension of the restraints which, if laid to heart, it would impose upon their appetites or ambition ; and that many persons fall away from the Christian faith, not through any deliberate conviction of its falsehood, but from an unconquerable habit of disobedience to its precepts. Besides those vicious propensities, which rise up in rebellion against the law of holiness, and prompt mankind to wish that it were not binding upon them, a natural consequence of the continued violation, or disregard of any law, is a doubt, or denial of its authority. And perhaps it is the constant resistance, which is made by the flesh to the claims of a spiritual religion, and the consequent disinclination to a full and firm belief, which render faith so eminent a Christian virtue ; a true faith being absolutely inconsistent with an ungodly life. As the Gospel is attractive to the sincere and humble soul, so is it repulsive to the sensualist and the worldly-minded. The one will be predisposed to receive, the other to reject it; and seldom, if ever, does it happen, that a young person institutes his first inquiries in the great question of religion, with a heart perfectly unoccupied, and a judgment wholly unbiassed. In almost every case, he has contracted some habits, both of thought and action, which are either favourable, or adverse, to his reception of religious truth.