Page images
PDF
EPUB

purpose ; and which, for this very reason, is called, “ the sword of the Spirit.”

It appears, then, that the divine word is productive of two most salutary effects on the human kind; the first on the understanding, the second on the heart. The first introduces the light of knowledge, the second the lustre of holiness. The one makes us wise, the other makes us good. This may suffice for the general explanation of the text.

But it may be proper farther to premise, that revealed truth may gain an entrance into the mind, by several modes or methods of introduction. Sometimes by reading or hearing it attentively, just as it is recorded in the Bible ; sometimes by listening to it when faithfully preached-since preaching is nothing more than declaring, explaining, and enforcing the truths of Scripture ; sometimes by reading pious books—by which means: revealed truth is admitted by the eye, as in preaching it is communicated by the ear; sometimes by catechetical instruction, and familiar conversation, by which, not only children, and the heathen, but the uninformed generally, may most advantageously be imbued with the lifegiving truths of the sacred oracles.

In all these ways then, or by all these means, the word of God is made to enter, both into the understanding and the hearts of men. Words are but the arbitrary signs of thought—the vehicle by which truth and knowledge are communicated : and by whatever words, or other intelligible signs, they are communicated, if the leading ideas, the principal facts, doctrines, and information of Holy Scripture, are clearly presented to the view of the mind, light is introduced ; and, under the influence of divine grace, the heart may be transformed and rendered holy.

I shall now proceed to show, in two or three particulars, how the text has been, and still is, verified in fact-verified in producing both the effects to which we consider it as having reference.

1. By the entrance of revealed truth into the world, all the just knowledge of God, and of our duty to him, which has ever existed among mankind, has been imparted. The Deity manifested himself, and made known his will to our first parents, at their creation in innocence. By the fall they lost the moral image of their Maker; but they certainly did not lose all speculative knowledge of his being and attributes. This knowledge they must, in some good degree, have retained ; and there can be no reasonable doubt that they imparted it, as fully as they could, to their descendants. Without this traditionary revealed information, some have maintained that the posterity of Adam never could have had any idea whatever of a spirit, nor any right notions of a Supreme Being. The advocates of this opinion must of course believe, that the apostle Paul presupposes this traditionary revelation to have reached all mankind, when he says" The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are

as it

made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. Be this may, the truth is, as the apostle asserts, that “ they did not like to retain God in their knowledge;" and therefore, the aid of tradition notwithstanding—they lost all just and accurate conceptions of the true God, and of their duty to him. For it is a fact beyond reasonable controversy, that there is not now, and within the memory of history there never was, a people, who were not given up to gross idolatry, or totally ignorant of God, and destitute of all religious worship, except those who have manifestly been saved from this dreadful state of ignorance and error, by the light of revelation. Yes—this Holy Bible is demonstrably the sun of the moral system. Take it from any people, and that people is in darkness ; take it from the world, and the world is blind. “ God said let there be light, and there was light.”-It is as true of revelation, as of the radiance that beamed

upon

chaos. The entrance of thy word” into the world “ giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple.” It enlightens, elevates, and purifies society, wherever it is introduced.

2. The text is often remarkably verified in men, who are at length induced to attend carefully to the revealed will of God, after having long neglected or refused to show it regard. The entrance of divine truth into their minds, brings light into their understandings, and holiness into their hearts.

As truth and light resemble each other in many respects, so in this, that all their benefits may be refused and lost, by those who are placed in the midst of them. A man may madly put out his own eyes, or he may wilfully shut them when surrounded by the splendours of noon-day : and so, in regard to spiritual things, men may “ love darkness rather than light;" and may close their minds against the effulgence of gospel day, while it is shining all around them. In both cases, indeed, the exclusion is commonly not so complete as to prevent all consciousness that light is present ; but still it is such as to prevent the distinct vision of any object.

My Brethren, it is a melancholy fact, often witnessed, that men live a great part of their lives, and sometimes the whole of life, among Christian institutions and privileges of every kind-among Bibles, and sabbaths, and sermons, and sacraments, and religious books, and religious conversation-and, after all, these men have scarcely any more distinct and definite knowledge of the great truths of religion, than a man blind from his birth has of colours.--Of the moral glory of the revealed system they are as totally without ideas as the blind man is of the beauty of an exquisite painting. They may have heard others speak of it with delight ; but perceptions of their own they have absolutely none.

Now let us suppose, that one who has been thus accustomed to neglect the contents of the Sacred Volume, is at length roused, by whatever cause, to inquire into them, diligently and perseveringly. Such a man till experience and exemplify the truth of the text, in a striking and wonderful manner. He will himself be surprised to find how light is poured in upon his mind. One new perception after another he will rapidly gain, of spiritual and eternal realities of the truths which God bas revealed ; of the requisitions he has made ; of the doctrines he has taught; of the duties he has enjoined ; of the hopes and expectations he has set before us ; of the reasonableness of his commands ; of the sinfulness and awful danger of disobeying them; and of the importance and the ineffably happy consequences of yielding to them a cordial obedience. These things will excite and interest him deeply; and every addition of light will only make him solicitous to obtain more. He will. perceive some difficulties, and he will be greatly anxious to have them explained and removed. Hence he will read more, and with more care and closeness. He will reflect and meditate much, and listen earnestly to all discourse on the subject of religion. The preaching of the word, conversation with judicious and candid Christians, and the perusal of well written treatises on the chief points of doctrinal and practical piety, will be sources of knowledge and improvement which he will highly prize, and to which he will zealously resort. In pursuing this. course, one obscurity after another will be removed; one difficulty after another will vanish ; the beauty and fair proportions of the revealed system will begin to rise to his view; and he will have no small sense both of astonishment and shame, that he should have passed so much of his life with these important objects offered to his consideration, and yet that he should never have known what they were till now.

It must not be overlooked, that, long before the process which we have been tracing has reached the point to which we have carried it, he vho has been concerned in it will have begun to pray. He cannot have gone half the length to which we have followed him, without much and very earnest prayer. He will have seen something of his guilt, and misery, and danger; and he will have cried to God for mercy and forgiveness. He will also have felt his ignorance, and blindness, and absolute dependence, and will have asked counsel, and help, and direction from on high. He will have entreated importunately for divine aid ; and, although he may not have been very sensible of it at the time, he will have received this aid. God shines on his word in answer to prayer, and the word becomes luminous. Then, emphatically, the entrance of his word gives light, and understanding, and guidance to the benighted soul.

Brethren, it is not easy for me to say it is not easy, nor perhaps practicable for any one to say-low far the train of exercises we have considered, may go on, while as yet the understanding only has been entered be the light of truth, and the heart in no degree changed---while the

man is only better instructed, and not in any measure renewed. - I say it is not easy, and I am sure it is not necessary, to ascertain and mark the precise confines of illumination and regeneration. It is clear, that there is a difference between knowledge and sanctification, and it is very important to make and keep up the distinction ; but it is not important to know exactly the limits and boundaries of each. Men are enlightened before they are sanctified; but they are still more enlightened after they are sanctified; and when the mind is passing from knowledge to holiness, who shall draw the line and say-all on this side was mere speculation, or the exercise of intellect only; but on that side the affections followed the dictates of the understanding, and the heart was formed to holiness.

But let us more distinctly consider how the text is verified, in the renovation of a sinner, through the instrumentality of revealed truthThrough the instrumentality of truth, I repeat it; for it must never be dost sight of, that revealed truth itself, is only the instrument by whick the Holy Spirit, as the great efficient Agent, transforms the human heart. What is strictly denominated regeneration, is, indeed, represented in Scripture as a new creation, and consequently as the effect of Almighty power, and it may be made a question, whether, in this, any secondary cause is, or can be employed. Be this as it may-and for myself, I am not fond of refining much in regard to a change, which the sure word of revelation tells us is produced, like the effects of the wind, by an invisible and inexplicable, but yet a resistless Agent-it is not to be questioned, that knowledge, in adult age, usually precedes renovation, and always follows it; and that the first actings of the new born soul are ever put forth in the view of some divine truth, by which those actings seem to be prompted, and on which they centre. It is however by no means to be understood, that the mind always opens to the reception of trath, exactly in the same manner. The statement which has been given, is to be considered but as the exhibition of an individual case, taken for the purpose of illustration. There is great variety and diversity, in the manner in which men are enlightened and renewed. Many also there are, who acquire no inconsiderable share of religious knowledge; and yet, so far as we can judge, it never has a lasting influence on their hearts. For years in succession, they read and study the Bible, in much the same manner as they do any other book of science, and with no more than a similar effect. The knowledge they acquire is only intellectual. If their affections are occasionally a little moved, the current of them is never changed. Thus they live and thus, alas! we have reason to fear, they die-well read in the Scriptures, but never savingly profited by them.--From this fearful issue, even learned critics and commentators on the sacred volume may not be exempted. Others, who receive saving benefit from the word of God, make a much more rapid advance in knowledge than that of which the detail has been given : and others again, appear to have their hearts touched, almost as soon as divine truth dawns on their intellectual powers.

Holiness, nevertheless, is, in all cases, connected with the perception and love of what God has revealed in his holy word. The process here, as in that which relates to the understanding, is various; but it may be illustrated in a single instance, thus :-While the truths of Scripture are in the view of the mind, and the person concerned is pondering and musing upon them, he becomes--perhaps he knows not at the time, how or why-but so it is, he becomes greatly pleased and affected with these truths. Objections to them which he had long felt, have now all vanished ; risings of heart against them are all gone ; obscurities that veiled them, have given place to clear and most impressive views of their reality, importance, and excellence; so that while he contemplates these truths, his mind approves and assents to them, with all its powers; and their practical importance also—the importance of having his heart and life confirmed to them-is most sensibly perceived. He therefore looks to God for assistance, and resolves to attempt this conformity.

The man whose case we are here considering has learned from his Bible the evil of sin ; and he now finds that he is chargeable with it in every act of his life, and that its pollution has reached to every part and power of his nature.

He sees himself to be unspeakably guilty and vile; and he is humbled, and mourns, and abases himself, and repents in dust and ashes. But his Bible tells him that there is salvation for sinners, although their guilt be of a crimson colour and a scarlet die : that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became a Substitute for sinners, and perfectly obeyed the law of God, and endured, in all its extent, the penalty of that law in their behalf; and that any convinced and humbled sinner, even if he be the very chief of sinners, may now be pardoned, justified, sanctified, and saved, by trusting in this blessed, and all-sufficient Saviour, who freely offers himself to the guilty, and even commands them to conie to him and receive salvation ; and that God may, in this way, be glorified and honoured in their eternal salvation, more than in their condemnation and everlasting perdition. In the view of these glorious Bible truths, the man whom we contemplate, is filled with gratitude, admiration, and delight; and his soul is joyfully carried out to Christ, in faith, and trust, and love, making him “all in all the chief among ten thousand, and one altogether lovely."

He who is thus brought to the Saviour, will, as the natural consequence, have great and augmented pleasure, in reading, hearing, and meditating on all the doctrines and truths of Holy Scripture, that he may apply them all to himself ; that he may learn his whole duty both to God and man---that, in a word, he may continually grow wiser and better,

« PreviousContinue »