Page images
PDF
EPUB

blank: so that it is a most malignant dishonesty which those persons commit who having been enlightened by the rays of revealed truth, and thereby enabled to perceive the import of Nature's recondite communications, have laboured in requital to quench those rays by fixing on the scriptures the brand of a pernicious or useless imposture.

But the scriptures were not useless, even if the assumption that the advocates of Natural religion are in no degree indebted to them for their discoveries, were as we have proved it not to be well founded and true. For, should we admit, that man would have studied and understood the book of Nature without having been summoned to, and assisted in prosecuting the task, by Revelation ; should we even grant that of himself he would have scanned the whole creation, and among all the works of God, left no trace of the divine wisdom and goodness unperceived or misapprehended; that without any assistance, he would have perfectly learnt every lesson that Nature teaches ;still we should not concede enough to render Revelation superfluous and obtrusive.

Nature, much as she may teach, does not teach one of those things which belong to our peace, as fallen and guilty creatures. We have gone to the utmost length of truth in regard to the power of her instructions when we have said that they are sufficient both as to matter and manner to establish the inexcusableness of all human disobedience; and that they would have served to perpetuate man's original happiness, had he retained his original purity of heart. But man has lost his original purity, and is now to be considered not as a pure and perfect being, but as a being involved in all the inconveniences and disasters of apostacy from God. Between what would have sufficed for man in the former estate, and what he needs in the latter, it would evince little penetration to assert, that the difference is either imaginary or small. It is man in the latter estate that we now contemplate ; and in this view of him we maintain that though the method of instruction by the light of Nature were, as it surely is not, entirely suitable and efficient, yet among all the things disclosed by that light, there is not a single thing adapted to the exigencies of that deplorable condition into which his apostacy has brought him.

Man in his original condition was already happy; and being sustained in rational existence needed only the means of knowing his duty, in order to his continuance in happiness. His heart then being pure, there was nothing in his moral constitution to prevent him from improving all his opportunities of acquiring knowledge and discharging the obligations which knowledge imposed: and while he did this, the divine benevolence would suffer no evil to befal him. But of what avail are the mere means of knowing his duty, to man in his fallen condition? It is not the sole effect of the Fall, that man has thereby involved himself in darkness; he has likewise made himself averse to the light : so that with whatever means of information we may suppose him possessed, if there be a necessary connexion between happiness and the performance of duty, and if duty must be known before it can be performed; he is as far from happiness in possession of those means as if he existed in a region of the universe void of every object which might impart one idea to his mind.

But man, since the fall, is not merely averse to knowledge : he is averse to duty, after knowledge has been acquired. When he knows God he will not glorify him as God; nor are there any motives which of themselves can induce him to obey the will of his Maker. In proof of this, we can refer to no decisive case among the heathen, because we know of no case among them in which both knowledge was possessed in a suffcient degree, and motives applied with sufficient authority and energy. The concession of Socrates and Plato, that human instruction was incompetent to the reformation of human manners, after labouring most arduously to that end, is not conclusive; since pre-eminent as were the genius and attainments of those philosophers, it will not be pretended that they were perfectly acquainted either with the requirements or sanctions of morality. But this matter has not been left in uncertainty. In Christendom, experiments have been made on human nature under circumstances which preclude all reasonable doubt. For here, the scriptures, whether true or false, have put it in the power even of “the way-faring man though a fool” to know all his moral obligations. And here too, men are duly urged with motives ; with motives which resting on the bare possibility of being true, make it madness to disobey. If that life and immortality, or that quenchless fire and never dying worm of which the scriptures tell, be put on the hypothesis of possibility onlyif supreme love to God may be graciously rewarded by the one, and love to the world avenged by the other, reason rules not the man who lives in impenitence. But when by some means, by invisible visitations from the Holy Spirit or otherwise, the mind of a sinner is brought to a sober and steadfast contemplation of these amazing motives, with the perfections and claims of God, at the same time fully in view—the most favourable condition for evincing the quality of his moral temper, in which we can imagine him to be placed--what is the feeling that predominates within him ? Does he now find himself pliant to motive? Are the affections of his heart coincident with his intellectual perceptions? Does he love, or does he hate, in proportion as he knows? He who affirms that he does the former, not

only makes false the testimony of St. Paul that the carnal mind is enmity against God, but the experience of every one who has been brought to the trial we have mentioned. It is a fact with the evidence of which all Christendom teems, that man in his natural state bears enmity to his Maker and his Maker's will, which no intelligence, no motive, of itself, is sufficient to subdue.

Now to what does the light of Nature refer us, as more efficacious than knowledge or motive? Is there any power within the whole compass of creation, that can pluck up the deep rooted hatred to God and holiness which the fall has engendered in the human heart? Has Nature a laver of regeneration? Where is the fountain that she has ever opened for the cleansing away of sin and uncleanness? Which of her rivers or seas can wash out the invisible stains of moral pollution ? Tell us not of her treasures of wisdom and knowledge--treasures whose existence would be unknown but for Revelation-but tell us of her remedy for that malignant plague, that furious madness of the heart, which makes the greatest knowledge but the means of aggravating our guilt and wretchedness. Do you wish the sacred scriptures banished from the earth ? Spare us at least that Renovating Spirit of which they alone inform us, and without which there is no more room to hope for our restoration from the fall than if our habitation were already the world of despair.

But when we have regarded fallen man as thus morally deranged, thus dead in trespasses and sins, we have taken but a partial view of the effects of his apostacy. That event plunged him no deeper into depravity, than it did into guilt; and cast him no farther from holiness than it did from the complacency of his Maker. It made the divine character no more disagreeable to his polluted eye, than it made his own character loathsome to the eye of Infinite Purity. And this is one of the instructions of Nature. If Nature do not present a partial or distorted exhibition of her Author's moral perfection, she must exhibit him as a Being infinitely free from sin himself, and infinitely averse to it in others. For since, while it pours contempt upon him, and aims “to cast him down from his excellency,” its obvious tendency is to produce universal anarchy and ruin ; it were to make the Great Supreme an enemy to himself and to his boundless empire, to represent Him as in the least degree indulgent towards this infinite evil. Nor is it possible that Nature, which is but another name for his own conduct, should thus represent Him. Let Nature for one moment be interrogated on this subject. Whence is it, that the whole creation, made subject to vanity, groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now? Whence is it, that man is so familiar with disease and famine and pestilence and earthquakes, and warring elements, and shrieks of frightened, sighs of suffering, and groans of dying fellow creatures ? Whence is it that the earth's surface has become as one vast Aceldama, and its bowels but a receptacle for the carcases of its inhabitants ?

“ For what, gay friend, is this escutcheon'd world,
Which hangs out Death in one eternal night?
A night that glooms us in the noon-tide ray,
And wraps our thoughts, at banquets, in the shroud."

To these questions Nature has no tongue to give an audible response; but “ Reason's ear” no such response requires. To every dispassionate mind, the truth comes with conviction which needs not the confirmation of a voice from heaven, that “there is wrath gone out from the Lord,--against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” And he who will not admit this truth is condemned of himself for rejecting it, by that shuddering recoil from contact with the spiritual world, of which doubtless he is sufficiently conscious. For if he believe not God to be angry he must feel secure; and why then shiver at the thought of entering that world.

But while the light of Nature shows the divine displeasure against sin, what are its discoveries with respect to the divine intentions concerning the fate of the sincere ? On this point, where the most unequivocal information is necessary to preclude torture from the thinking sensible mind, Nature leaves us in perfect suspense. For while on the one hand she encourages us to hope, by displaying the proofs of divine goodness, of which the earth, the air and the sea are so full, and by not contradicting the inference that He whose forbearance is so great, will never utterly destroy; she promotes our despondence, on the other, by exhibiting the most terrific tokens of the divine indignation, and pointing us to blessings taking their eternal flight, or turned into dreadful curses. While therefore she teaches that God is just that man is a sinner, and that sin is the object of the divine vengeance, and gives no assurance that this vengeance will not be executed, what foundation does Nature afford for the hope of forgiveness ? All that she does is not to shut us up in absolute despair.

If it be alleged as proof of her doing more than this, that the custom of offering animals in sacrifice which pervades the whole heathen world, supposes an impression innate in man, that God may by this means, be made propitious towards him, the reply is, that the inference proceeds upon an assumption demonstrably untrue. The custom of sacrificing, although universal among the gentiles, is plainly no part of natural religion ; nor can it be accounted for, on any other hypothesis, than that God, soon after the fall, appointed that rite, as a standing type of that great sacrifice which is the theme of Revelation from beginning

to end; some erroneous notions of which appointment, tradition has conveyed to all nations and generations of mankind.

Nature then, while by disclosing the divine perfections, and thus laying man under obligation to love and serve his Maker, she leaves him without excuse for his sins, and affords him sufficient grounds for the most pungent conviction and remorse ; gives him no intimation, that there is forgiveness with God. If by any means, he be made conscious of his guilt and wretchedness, she leaves him to try his own expedients for relief; which, after costing him perhaps his substance, his life, and the lives of his children, always prove worse than unavailing. It would harrow up every tender feeling of the soul, to recount the cruel practices, by which sin-burdened heathen have endeavoured to mitigate the tortures of conscience, or purchase the favour of their idols. What if these infatuated mortals, could have beheld the glory of that propitiatory sacrifice which God hath set forth, in order to declare his righteousness in the remission of sins ?

But to complete a provision for the necessities of fallen man, something more must be made known to him, even than that divine propitiation. For when we have supposed a man renewed and accepted in Christ, we have not allowed him to be like a “saint in light" entirely pure from moral defilement. Still is he the subject of great imperfection; and moreover while he remains in this world, is ever encompassed with adversaries to his soul. Still has he to maintain a contest, not only with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, with the rulers of the darkness of this world, and with spiritual wickednesses in high places. Can Nature furnish him for this arduous contest? Can she supply him with that wisdom and strength, that courage and patience, which are essential to his coming off more than a conqueror? Does Nature assure him, that the shield of the Almighty will defend him to the last; that when he passes through the waters God will be with him, and through the rivers they shall not overflow him; that when he walks through the fire, he shall not be burnt; neither shall the flame kindle upon him? Does Nature declare to him that whom the Lord loveth, he loveth to the end; enabling him to triumph on the very brink of the grave, and defy death himself to injure one hair of his head ?-Promises like these are among the things which belong to our peace; and no one can prove Revelation superfluous until he can point us to that page in Nature's volume in which these promises are recorded. Until then, if he rob us of the sacred scriptures he leaves us in temptation without support, in fear without encouragement, and in sorrow with no means of consolation.

T. H. S.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »