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CHAPTER XV. Reflections upon the danger to which modern Deists expose themselves.
IN refuting the objection of superficial moralists, proposed in the preceding chapter, we may, perhaps, have afforded them ground for another, full as specious and solid.
Orsection. "If it be allowed that in every age salvation has been extended to all the true worshippers of God, whether they have been pious Jews, such as Joseph, Hezekiah, and Josiah: just men among the Gentiles, such as Melchisedec and Aristides; or heathen philosophers who have walked in the fear of God, such as Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato: and if these virtuous men have been saved without subscribing to the doctrines of the Gospel, why may not Deists and modern philosophers be permitted to enjoy the same salvation while they reject those doctrines?"
Answer. There are three grand dispensations of grace. Under the first every heathenish and unenlightened nation must be ranked; the Jews under the second; and Christians under the third, which is a dispensation abundantly more perfect than either of the former. The followers of Mohammed may be classed with modern Jews, since they are Deists of the same rank, and have equally deceived themselves with respect to that great Prophet who came for the restoration of Israel.
Those Jews, Mohammedans, and heathens, who " fear God and work righteousness," are actually saved by Jesus Christ. Christ is the Truth and the Light; and these sincere worshippers, receiving all the rays of truth with which they are visited, afford sufficient proof that they would affectionately admire and adore the Sun of righteousness himself, were the intervening mists removed by which he is concealed from their view. But it is wholly different with those who, beholding this Divine Sun, as he is revealed in the Gospel, determinately close their eyes against him, and contemptuously raise a cloud of objections to veil him, if possible, from the view of others. Every virtuous heathen has manifested a love for truth, while many of our philosophers, in the pride of their hearts, reject and despise it. The former wrought out their salvation, though favoured only with the glimmering dawn of an evangelical day: the latter, surrounded with the meridian brightness of that day, are anxiously seeking the shadowy coverts of uncertainty and error. The former were saved according to that apostolic declaration: "Glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the [Christian and the] Jew first, and also to the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God," Rom. ii, 10,11. And of this number was the Apostle Paul, who "obtained mercy" because he was ignorantly a persecutor of the truth, living, at the same time, "in all good conscience before God," 1 Tim. i, 13. Nor can it be doubted, but the same grace with which St. Paul was visited in these circumstances, will, in various degrees, illumine and purify every soul that resembles him in uprightness and sincerity. The latter will be condemned by virtue of the following declarations: "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil," John iii, 19. "God will render unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the [Christian and the] Jew first, and also of the Gentile," Rom. ii, 5, 9.
From these citations we may infer, that, in several proportions, the salvation of virtuous heathens will difler as greatly from the salvation of faithful Christians, as the brilliancy of an agate is different from that of a diamond. "Many mansions," and different degrees of glory, are prepared " in the house of our Father," John xiv, 1. "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also will it be in the resurrection of the dead, when God will render unto every man according to his works," 1 Cor. xv, 41.
The highest degrees of glory are reserved by the righteous Judge of all the earth for the most faithful of his servants. The honourable privilege of being seated at the right hand of Christ will be conferred upon those who have trodden in their Master's footsteps, through the narrowest and most difficult paths of resignation and obedience. On the other hand, God will display the most terrible eflects of his righteous anger upon those who have trampled under foot the greatest and most frequent offers of Divine grace, according to that exclamation of the apostle, " How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation f Heb, ii, 3; since thus obstinately to despise the highest degrees of glory which may be attained under the Gospel, and daringly to brave the threatemngs denounced against those who reject that Gospel, discovers in the heart a cold indifference to real virtue, together with a sovereign contempt for the Divine Author of it.
As true virtue, like a beautiful plant, is continually rising to a state of maturity; so true philosophy is constantly aspiring after the highest attainable degrees of wisdom and purity. If any man neglects those means which conduce to the perfection of virtue, when they are once proposed to him, he gives evident proof that he has neither that instinct of virtue, nor that true philosophy, which cannot but choose the most excellent end, together with the surest means of obtaining it. What would our philosophers say to a man, who, affecting to aspire after riches, and being called to receive a large quantity of gold, should inconsistently refuse it in the following terms: "Many persons have been rich enough with a little money to prevent them from starving, and I have no inclination to exceed them in point of fortune!" The objection proposed in this chapter is founded upon a like sophism, and amounts but to an equal argument: "Jews and virtuous heathens have received assistance sufficient effectually to secure their salvation, and we have not presumption enough to desire any extraordinary advantage above them."
It is difficult to form a just idea of the conceitedness of those boasted moralists, who despise every help afforded by the Gospel, because some heathens, without such assistance, have been acceptable to God. We may compare it to the supposed self sufficiency of a contemptible subaltern officer, who, being presented with a more honourable commission from his prince, should reject it, and cry out, "The commission is false, and they who present it are no better than deceivers. I have no anxiety to quit my present post. I aspire after no greater honours than those I possess. Many thousands have faithfully served his majesty in the capacity of subalterns: nay, common soldiers themselves have received testimonies of his royal approbation: and why should my services afford him less satisfaction than theirs?" Were a corporal, in my hearing, thus to excuse his rejection of a monarch's offered kindness, I should suppose either that he had no just conceptions of the honour intended him, or that he was withheld from accepting that honour, by motives too unworthy to be avowed. But this excuse would be insolent as well as pitiful, had the terms of the commission run thus: "Either serve your prince with fidelity in the post to which he exalts you, or expect to be treated with the utmost severity."
Now such is the case with all those who obstinately reject the Gospel, and perseveringly trample under foot the richest offers of unmerited grace. They either reject the truths of revelation through haughtiness of spirit, or they are held back from embracing them through the secret gratification of some inordinate appetite. Observe here the ground of those memorable declarations of our blessed Lord: "Preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned," Mark xvi, 15, 16. He that believeth not the Son, [after hearing him evangelically announced,] shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. He is condemned already: for every one that (loot11 evil hateth the light [of the Gospel,] neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved," John iii, 18, 36.
Upon this principle, as conformable to experience as to sound reason, the Gospel is not absolutely rejected, except by those who are either visibly corrupted, as Pilate and Felix, or secretly depraved, as Judas and Caiaphas. And it was to persons of this character that Christ addressed himself in the following terms: "How can ye believe, who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only ?" John v, 44. "If any man will do the will of him that *tutme, [and follow the light that is imparted to him,] he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself," John vii, 17. Hence, when any who have been consecrated to Christ by baptism, are seen withdrawing from the footstool of their Master to the schools of philosophy, or, at least, making no advances in true holiness; we may rest assured that their decline is caused, or their spiritual growth prevented, by the secret indulgence of some vicious inclination. These philosophizing moralists, and these lukewarm disciples, may be compared to the fruit that falls before it has attained to the perfection of its species: examine such fruit, and you will find, under a beautiful appearance, either a destructive worm, or loathsome rottenness. Such is the apostatizing Deist under the most specious forms he can possibly assume.
When J. J. Rousseau expressed himself in the following terms: "If Isod judges of faith by works, then to be a good man is to be a real believer ;" he was not far beside the truth, provided that by a good man, he intended one who lives in temperance, justice, and the fear of God; since every man, in whom these virtues are discoverable, is assuredly princip'ed in the true faith. Such a one is a real believer, according to that economy of grace, under which Job, Josiah, and Socrates, shone out to the glory of God; men, who either possessed principles of faith, or whose best actions are no more to be admired than those of our domestic animals.
This writer had less distinct views of truth, when he added, "The true Christian is the just man; unbelievers are the wicked:" since there are just men who are not yet Christians; as there are studious persons who cannot yet be accounted profound scholars. Moreover, there are many, who, like the Centurion Cornelius, do not yet believe the Gospel, because they have never heard that Gospel explained with precision and fidelity; and surely such deserve not to be termed absolutely unjust men. The latter proposition approaches indeed nearer the truth, "unbelievers are the wicked:" yet this is false; except the term unbeliever be taken for one who obstinately disbelieves the Gospel, since a good man, who receives the first part of the apostles' creed, may yet, like Nathanael and Nicodemus, be so forcibly held back by involuntary prejudice, with respect to the other parts of the same creed, that he may fluctuate long between truth and error. It is by propositions so vague and insidious that our philosophers delude themselves and beguile their disciples.
"But," replies J. J. Rousseau, " have we power to believe, or not to believe? Is the not being able to argue well imputed to us as a crime? Conscience informs us not what we are to think, but what we are to do: it teaches us not to reason well, but to act well." And are all the faculties of man, except his conscience, to be considered as utterly useless with regard to this important matter? Let it, however, be granted that a wicked and haughty person has it not in his power to believe; yet it is highly necessary that he should fear the truth, so long as he gives himself up either to actions or inclinations that are manifestly evil. Thus, the conscious robber can never overcome his fear of justice so long as he is disposed to continue his iniquitous practices. But if, after making full restitution, he should become sincerely upright, maintaining a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man, he will tremble no more at the idea of judges, tribunals, or executions.
If it be asked, what secret vice it was that would not suffer so honest a man as J. J. Rousseau to embrace the Gospel? Without searching into the aneedotes of his life, we may rest satisfied with the discovery he has made of his own heart in a single sentence: "What can be more transporting to a noble soul than the pride of virtue!" Such was the pride which made him vainly presume that he had power sufficient to conquer himself, without invoking the assistance of God; and by which he was encouraged to assert that the doctrines of the Gospel were such as " no sensible man could either conceive or admit." Such was the " virtuous pride" which would not suffer the Pharisees to receive the humiliating truths of the Gospel, and which filled the heart of Caiaphas with jealousy and hatred against Christ.
There is no species of pride more insolent than that which gives rise to the following language: "It is asserted that 'God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' These tidings, whether they be true or false, are highly acceptable to many; but, for my own part, I openly declare, that I reject with contempt the idea of such a favour. I read with attention those writings which tend to unfold the mysteries of nature, but resolve never to turn over those authors who vainly attempt to establish the truth of the Gospel. This subject, though it has occupied the thoughts, and engaged the pens of inquiring students for these seventeen hundred years, I shall ever regard as unworthy my attention. I leave it to the vulgar, who are easily persuaded of its importance. My virtues are sufficient to expiate my crimes, and on these I will resolutely depend, as my sole mediators before God." If this be implicitly the language of every man who obstinately rejects the doctrines of the Gospel, what heights of presumption, and what depths of depravity, must lie open, in the souls of such, to the eye of Omniscience! Reason and revelation agree to condemn them. Behold the ground of their sentence: "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall he exalted: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble," Luke xiv, 11; 1 Pet. v, 5.
Reason itself is sufficient to discover that, before the Supreme Being, nothing can appear more detestable than the pride of a degenerate and ungrateful creature. And if so, the Deists of Socrates' time must have been far less culpable than those of the present day. The former, conscious of the uncertainty with which they were encompassed, made use of every help they could procure, in the pursuit of truth, with unwearied assiduity. The latter, presuming upon their own sufficiency, decide against doctrines of the utmost importance, without impartially considering the evidences produced in their favour. The former, by carefully examining every system of morality proposed to their deliberation, discovered a candour and liberality becoming those who were anxiously "feeling after God, if haply they might find him," Acts xvii, 27. The latter, by condemning revelation, without calmly attending to the arguments of its advocates, manifest a degree of prejudice that would be unpardonable in a judge, but which becomes execrable in a criminal who is pressed by the strongest reasons to search out the truth.
Plato, in the sixth book of his Republic, introduces his master marking out the dispositions necessary to a virtuous man. "Let us begin," says Socrates, "by recounting what qualities are necessary to him who would one day become an honest man and a true philosopher. The first quality is the love of truth, which he ought to seek after in every thing and by every mean; true philosophy being absolutely incompatible with the spirit of delusion. He who has a sincere desire to obtain wisdom, cannot confine himself to things that are here below, of which he can acquire but an uncertain knowledge. He is born for truth, and he tends to it with an ardour which nothing is able to restrain." Ye who oppose philosophy to revelation, and reject, without thoroughly investigating, the doctrines of the Gospel, can you be said to discover an attachment to truth as sincere as that of Socrates? Do ye not rather esteem that an excessive fondness for truth, or even a dangerous species of enthusiasm, which the wisest heathens have looked upon as the first disposition requisite to an honest man 1
Plato and his master, who scrupulously acknowledged the truth wherever they discovered it, were assuredly in a state of acceptance before God, without an explicit acquaintance with Jesus Christ: for where the Almighty hath not strewed, there will he never expect to