« 上一頁繼續 »
an angel can be nothing more than wholly good. Neither can any one be so bad as not to have something good attached to him; if he could, he would be a very devil; for a devil can be nothing more than wholly bad, totally depraved. Every character is therefore mixed. But they are considered holy in the scriptures, who sincerely endeavour to regulate their hearts and lives by the word of God, although still guilty of many sins. And they are considered wicked, who pay no sincere regard to the divine law, although still possessed of some good qualities. And the time when a person begins a religious life, is when he begins to act from christian motives and principles. To some, this time is known; to others equally good, it is unknown. Some have many experiences to relate; others equally pious, have none. There are divers operations, but all of the same spirit. It is therefore of little or no consequence whether this time be known to any one, or unknown, or by what means he was first excited to reform his heart and life, provided he is careful in avoiding all he knows to be wrong, and faithful in performing all he knows to be right. Neither is it necessary to fix upon any age as the most proper for beginning a christian life. Life itself is given as a season of preparation for heaven. This preparation consists in the formation of a christian character; and as the future happiness of any individual will be proportioned to the degrees of his christian goodness, he is urged by every consideration of hope and of fear, of interest, gratitude, and love, to begin to live holily instantly and earnestly, let his age be what it may.
But, if a man's future happiness depends on his christian goodness, how, it may be asked, can salvation be properly called a free gift?—If it can be received by none but the good, and if goodness is to be acquired by one's own exertions, how is it free? I reply, that salvation is still a free gift on the part of God. Even temporal blessings are his free gifts. From him are received life, support, friends; all civil, social, and domestic blessings. We do not, receive them, however, without continual exertions on our part. But they are not less the free gifts of God on that account. For he receives nothing from us in return, nor ever can; because he is a perfect being,—the perfect creator of all things; and the love and worship and obedience we render to God, redound to our own benefit, increase our own happiness, not the happiness of a perfectly happy being. So too, the salvation of our souls is his free gift; and not only in this, but in a peculiar sense. For it was He that sent Jesus Christ into the world to save men from ignorance, error, superstition, sin, and death; and he did all that was necessary for this purpose. He exhibited the paternal character of God, and his designs respecting his human children. He left for our instruction and consolation, the blessed gospel, and for our imitation a spotless example. He died to seal the truth of his declarations, and arose from the dead to assure us of the certainty of our immortality. All this has God caused to be done for man's salvation, without his having done any thing to merit such favors; without his having it in his power to make any return. Is not salvation then a free gift on the part of God, although we cannot secure it without holiness?
Suppose an earthly parent leaves to an only son his whole estate, on condition that the son will give a part of it to a friend. If the son complies with the condition, he receives the legacy; if not, he forfeits the gift. Now whether the son complies or not, is not the legacy a free gift on the part of the father? So with salvation. God offers it to all on the condition of their becoming holy, with which all have the power to comply. Whether it be complied with or not, is not salvation a free gift on the part of God? Most certainly it is. If man accepts the condition, all he can do, all he is required to do, is to qualify himself for the enjoyment of a free, unmerited, unpurchased gift. There is, therefore, no inconsistency in calling salvation a free gift, although we receive it only when by our own exertions we become holy.
But why can we not attain salvation, without possessing christian goodness? I answer that the nature of the soul is such that it must be holy before it can be happy. All our knowledge of the soul must be derived from its operations, and from revelation. From experience we learn that there is a principle within us, which thinks, reasons, judges, remembers, and imagines. This we call the soul. We also learn that it can be expanded by discipline and cultivation; make unlimited acquisitions in knowledge ; form habits of thinking, of feeling, and of acting; enjoy exquisite happiness, or suffer the keenest misery. We likewise learn that its present happiness or misery depends, in a very great degree, on its moral state; on its goodness or wickedness. If we cherish proper motives, virtuous thoughts, christian feelings and dispositions, pious desires and affections, we are happy; these are joyful states of the soul; the happiness
vol. III.—No. vI. 58
results from their being holy states; holiness is happiness. On the contrary, if we cherish unhallowed motives, evil and sensual thoughts, sinful desires, and unholy affections, we are miserable; these are tormenting states of the soul; the misery results from their being wicked states; wickedness is misery. The soul, then, was made for goodness, and we infer from its very nature, that it must be holy before it can be happy even here.
Revelation teaches that the soul is immortal, and there is good reason to believe that it enters the next world as it leaves this; with all its habits of thought and feeling and affection as here formed; with all its moral character as here decided. For if the soul, when it enters the other world, loses its remembrance of a former state, it in effect is not the same soul; it is not immortal; and this world has no connexion with another. But all this is contradicted by both reason and revelation, and it seems morally certain that on beginning another existence, the soul will be the same, and bear the same character as when it leaves this. If so, and its happiness here depends almost wholly on its goodness, then its happiness must depend on the same cause there. Holiness must produce happiness, and sin misery. For God, being unchangeable, will remain the same; the principles of his government, being eternal, will remain unchanged; the soul, being immortal, will remain unaltered in its nature, and in its capacity for suffering and enjoyment, and the distinction between right and wrong, holiness and sin, will be as lasting as eternity.
Again ; the nature of heavenly happiness is such that it cannot be enjoyed without holiness. Heaven is a stale of purity; the abode of the spirits of just men made perfect, of an innumerable company of angels, of Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and of God, the Judge of all. To enjoy such society, to be happy with such beings, we must be in some degree like them; we must have similar dispositions and desires; we must be qualified for their employments and pleasures. If we live a life of active goodness, we shall be, in some humble degree, like them, and have the most ardent desires to become still more perfect. But if we pay no sincere regard to goodness, or to God, in this world, how can we find happiness in practising goodness and loving God at our entrance into the future world? How can a wicked person enjoy spiritual and heavenly society? If a man loves himself and earthly objects supremely till his very entrance into eternity, can he then immediately transfer his affections to the Saviour and to God? Can he then immediately change all his habits of thought, feeling, and action, and bring himself, at once, to delight in the purity and occupations of heaven? Or can he, with selfish desires, earthly propensities, undisciplined passions, and evil habits, be a proper companion for those holy spirits, who love God supremely, and their associated spirits as themselves? No. Before he can be happy in the society of pure and holy spirits, he must himself be pure and holy.
The foregoing arguments are confirmed by the general scope and object of the New Testament. The most careless perusal must convince any one, that all things there contained; all the doctrines and truths there revealed; all the entreaties, exhortations, warnings, promises there given; all the instructions, labors, and sufferings of Jesus and his apostles there recorded, were designed to effect one great purpose; that of turning mankind from ignorance, error, and wickedness, to knowledge, truth, and goodness. And all this is intended, not certainly for the benefit of God, for he is a perfect being and cannot be benefited by his creatures, but for the benefit of his rational children; because ignorance, error, and sin make them miserable; punish them; while knowledge, truth, and holiness make them happy; reward them.
God is no respecter of persons, but will render unto every man according to his deeds. But is this the case in the present life? Is there an equal distribution of the means of improvement and happiness? This no one will pretend. Then there is not an equal distribution of rewards and punishments; for christian rewards consist in knowledge and goodness, and these cannot be acquired without the means. If, then, there is justice in God, if he is an impartial parent of all his children, as the scriptures assert, he will rectify these inequalities in a future existence, where sin will receive its just punishment, holiness its just reward. This impression will be left on the mind of every candid reader of the New Testament. It is therefore unnecessary to quote particular passages to confirm this statement. It is sufficient to repeat the apostolic declaration, that without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
Perhaps it may be asked, how is future misery consistent with the known benevolence of God? God, it may be said, is perfectly benevolent; he wills the happiness of all his children; he is a perfect being; his will must therefore be accomplished; and his rational offspring saved from any future punishment. This is not a legitimate conclusion. That God is perfectly benevolent, I grant; he is infinite love. That he wills the salvation or happiness of his children, 1 also grant; his perfections do not permit him to will any thing but happiness. That all his children are happy here, or will be so at their entrance into eternity, I do not grant; for the following reasons. He wills our temporal happiness as much, and in the same manner, as he wills our eternal happiness. Yet we are not all happy in this world. There are many whom sin renders miserable. They are not so because God so willed, or so made them; but because they have made themselves so; have abused their moral freedom; have followed their own perverse wills, to the neglect of the revealed will of God. Their temporal happiness, then, does not depend wholly on the will of God; but they have wills of their own, which are free; free to choose and act; and if they do not will to be holy, and consequently happy, God does not compel them to be holy and happy. But did happiness depend wholly on the will of God; were men mere machines to be moved only at his will; then I grant we should be continually happy; for a God of love wills nothing but happiness. This however is not the case. I feel that 1 am a free agent. My happiness or misery depends chiefly on myself; on my willing to be righteous or wicked. And I see no reason to believe that my will, which is nothing but a particular state of my mind, is to be changed by the dissolution of my body. Even if it should, my sinful habits would still remain to torment me; the remembrance of my past ingratitude and sinfulness would produce punishment. But if my character remains unaffected by death, and my soul enters the other world, as many leave this, impenitent, unreformed, unholy, what is to give me happiness? What is to save me from the punishment of my sins? Shall I not suffer so long as they remain on the soul?' Perhaps it will be said, he that is dead, is freed from sin. But what is the meaning of the apostle? He that is dead to sin, is freed from sin, the power of sin, the punishment of sin, the hell of sin. This is precisely the doctrine of the apostle; and precisely the doctrine I am advocating. When the scriptures speak of God as willing the salvation of all, let it be remembered that he first wills they should come to a knowledge of the truth, to repentance, holiness; and whenever they repent, and form christian characters, they will be saved, and not