« AnteriorContinuar »
from heaven in flaming fire, to take vengeance on them who know him not, and obey not the Gospel:" that "the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God:" that " they shall be punished with eternal destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power:" and that "they all shall be damned who believe not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness," Heb. x, 31; xii, 29; Rom. ii, 9; 2 Thess. i, 8; ii, 12; Psalm ix, 17.
Nor does our Lord, who is both the fountain and pattern of true charity, speak a different language. He bids us "fear him, who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell," Luke xii, 5. He solemnly charges us to oppose corrupt nature with the utmost resolution, lest we be "cast into hell, where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched," Mark ix, 43. With tenderness he informs us, that "whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool! shall be in danger of hell fire;" that not only the wicked, but "the unprofitable servant shall be cast into outer darkness, where will be weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth;" and that he himself, far from conniving at sin, will fix the doom of all impenitent sinners, by this dreadful sentence, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels," Matt, v, 22; xxv, 30, 41.
II. I flatter myself that the doctrine which we are to try by the touchstone of reason, has been already sufficiently established from Scripture. Nevertheless, that the reader may have the fullest view of so momentous a subject, I shall yet present him with a recapitulation of the whole, in the words of-our pious reformers, taken out of the articles, homilies, and liturgy of the Church of England.
The ninth article thus describes our depravity and danger: "Original or birth sin is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore, in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation."
"Hie thirty-fifth article gives sanction to the homilies in the following words:—" The book of homilies contains a good and wholesome doctrine, and therefore we judge them to be read in churches, by ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understood by the people." Let us then see how they set forth the good and wholesome, though lamentable and humbling doctrine of our lost estate.
The title of the second homily is, "A Sermon of the Misery of Mankind, and of his Condemnation to Death Everlasting by his Sin." In the close of it, the contents are summed up in these words:—" We have heard how evil we are of ourselves; how of ourselves, and by ourselves, we have no goodness, help, or salvation; but, on the contrary, sin, damnation, and death everlasting."
Our Church is uniform in her woful accounts of man's misery. Hear her in the first homily for Whit-Sunday: "Man of his own nature (since the fall) is fleshly and carnal, corrupt and naught, sinful and disobedient to God, without any spark of goodness in him, without any virtuous or godly motion, only given to evil thoughts and wicked deeds."
In the homily on the nativity, she speaks thus: "He (disobedient man) was now cursed and abhorred. Instead of the image of God, he was now become the image of the devil, the bond slave of hell: altogether spotted and defiled, he seemed to be nothing else but a lump of sin; and therefore, by the just judgment of God, he was condemned to everlasting death. Thus, in Adam, all men became universally mortal, having in themselves nothing but everlasting damnation* of body and b.souj." we embrace the senseless opinion of the Materialists, who deny the being of a God; or admit the ridiculous creed of the Manichees, who adore two gods; the one the gracious Author of all the good, and tbo other the mischievous principle of all the evil in the world, we must conclude with Moses, that every thing which God made was at first "very good;" or, in other words, that order and beauty, harmony and happiness, were stamped upon every part of the creation, and especially on man, the masterpiece of Creatmg Power in this sublunary world. On this axiom I raise my
'Die same doctrine is delivered with the same plainness in the second part of the homily on the passion. "Adam died the death, that is, became mortal, lost the favour of God, and was cast out of paradise, being no longer a citizen of heaven, but a firebrand of hell, and a bond slave of the devil. And St. Paul bears witness, that by Adam's offence 'death came upon all men to condemnation,' who became plain reprobates and castaways, being perpetually damned to the everlasting pains of hell fire."
Agreeably to this we are taught, in the second part of the homily on repentance, that "part of that virtue consists in an unfeigned acknowledgment of our sins to God, whom by them we have so grievously offended, that if he should deal with us according to his justice, we deserve a thousand hells, if there were so many."
The same vein of wholesome though unpleasant doctrine runs through the liturgy of our Church. She opens her service by exhorting us "not to dissemble nor cloak our manifold sins and wickedness." She acknowledges, in her confessions, that "we have erred and strayed from God's ways like lost sheep,"—that "there is no health in us,"—that we are " miserable sinners, miserable offenders, to whom our sins are grievous," and "the burden of them is intolerable."
She begins her baptismal office by reminding us that "all men are conceived and born in sin." She teaches in her catechism that "we are by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath." She confesses in the collect before the general thanksgiving, that "we are tied and bound with the chain of our sins," and entreats God to "let the pitifulness of his great mercy loose us:" and in her suffrages she beseeches him to "have mercy upon us," to "spare us," and "make speed to save us; a language that can suit none but condemned sinners.
Duly sensible of our extreme danger till we have secured an interest in Christ, at the grave she supplicates the "most holy God not to deliver us into the bitter pains of eternal death:" and in the litany she beseeches our Lord Jesus Christ, "by his agony and bloody sweat, by his cross and passion," to "deliver us from his wrath and everlasting damnation." Thus is our Church every where consistent with herself, and with the oracles of God, in representing us as corrupt, condemned creatures in Adam, till we are penitent, absolved believers in Jesus Christ.
* Prejudiced persons, who, instead of considering the entire system of truth, run away with a part detached from the whole, will be offended here, as if our CImrch "damned every body." But the candid reader will easily observe, that, instead of dooming any one to destruction, she only declares, that the Saviour finds all men in a state of condemnation and misery, where they would eternally remain, were it not for the compassionate equity of our gracious God, which doe not permit him to sentence to a consciousness of eternal torments, any ono ot ni* creatures, for a sin of which they never were personally guilty; and of whic . ^onsequentty, they can never have any consciousness.
The doctrine to be demonstrated in this treatise being thus fully stated, in the consentaneous words of the sacred writers, and our pious reformers, I shall close this part by an appeal to the reader's candour and common sense. If such are the sentiments of our Church, are those Churchmen reasonable, who intimate that all the maintainers of them are either her open or secret enemies 1 And may they rank with modest, humble Christians, who, instead of the self-abasing Scripture doctrine here la. 1 down, boldly substitute pompous, Pharisaic descriptions of the present dignity and rectitude of human nature? Without waiting for the obvious answer, I pass to the first class of arguments on which the truth of this mortifying doctrine is established.
As no man is bound to believe what is contrary to common sense, if the above stated doctrine appears irrational, Scriptures, articles, homilies, and liturgy, are quoted in vain. When men of parts are pressed with their authority, they start from it as an imposition on their reason, and make as honourable a retreat as they possibly can.
Some, to extricate themselves at once, set the Bible aside, as full of incredible assertions. Others, with more modesty, plead that the Scriptures have been frequently misunderstood, and are so in the present case. They put grammar, criticism, and common sense to the rack, to show that when the inspired writers say the human "heart is desperately wicked," they mean that it is extremely good; or at least like blank paper, ready to receive either the characters of virtue or vice. With respect to the testimony of our reformers, they would have you to understand that in this enlightened age we must leave their harsh, uncharitable sentiments to the old Puritans, and the present Methodists.
That such objectors may subscribe as a solemn truth what they have hitherto rejected as a dangerous error; and that humbled sinners may see the propriety of a heartfelt repentance, and the absolute need of an almighty Redeemer, they are here presented with some proofs of our depravity, taken from the astonishing severity of God's dispensations toward mankind.
If we consider the Supbeme Being as creating a world for the manifestation of his glory, the display of his perfections, and the communication of his happiness to an intelligent creature, whom he would attach to himself by the strongest ties of gratitude and love; we at once perceive, that he never could form this earth, and man, in their present disordered, deplorable condition. It is not so absurd to suppose the meridian sun productive of darkness, as to imagine that Infinite Goodness ever produced any kind or degree of evil.
Infinite Holiness and Wisdom having assisted Infinite Goodness to draw the original plan of the world, it could not but be entirely worthy of its glorious Author, absolutely free from every moral defilement and natural disorder: nor could Infinite Power possibly be at a loss to execute what the other Divine attributes had contrived. Therefore, unless
Vol. III. 17
Does not the natural state of the earth cast a light upon the spiritual condition of its inhabitants? Amidst a thousand beauties that indicate what it was when God pronounced it "very good," and as the original imports, extremely beautiful; amidst the elegant and grand ruins which form the variety of our smiling landscapes and romantic prospects, can an impartial inquirer help taking notice of a thousand striking proofs, that a multiplied curse rests upon this globe; and that man, who inhabits it, is now disgraced by the God of nature and providence?
Here, deceitful morasses, or faithless quicksands, obstruct our way; there, miry, impassable roads, or inhospitable, sandy deserts, endanger our life. In one place we arc stopped by stupendous chains of rocky mountains, broken into frightful precipices, or hideous caverns; and in another we meet with ruinous valleys, cut deep by torrents and waterfalls, whose tremendous roar stuns the astonished traveller. Many of the hills are stony, rude, and waste; and most of the plainsTire covered over with strata of barren sand, stiff clay, or infertile gravel.
Thorns, thistles, and noxious weeds,* grow spontaneously every where, and yield a troublesome, never-failing crop; while the best soil, carefully ploughed by the laborious husbandman, and sown with precious seed, frequently repays his expensive toil with light sheaves or a blasted harvest.
Consider that immense part of the globe which lies between the tropics: it is parched up by the scorching beams of the vertical sun. There the tawny inhabitants fan themselves in vain; they pant, they melt, they faint on the sultry couch; and, like the birds of night, dare not appear abroad till evening shades temper the insufferable blaze of day. View the frozen countries around the poles: in summer the sun just glances upon them by his feeble, horizontal rays: in winter he totally deserts them, and they lie bound with rigorous frosts, and buried in continual night . There the torpid inhabitants know neither harvest nor vintage; the ocean seems a boundless plain of ice, and the continent immense hills of snow.
The temperate zones are indeed blessed with climates: but even here how irregular are the seasons! To go no farther than this favoured
* Those who oppose the doctrine of the fell, say that "weeds have their use" I grant they are serviceable to thousands of people, who earn their bread by putl' iing the general nuisance out of our fields and gardens: but till our objectors hare proved that thistles are more useful, and therefore grow more spontaneously, and multiply more abundantly, than corn, we shall discover the badness of their cauie through the slightness of their objection.
island, what means the strange foresight by which the ice of January is laid in to temper the ardours of July; and the burning mineral is stored up in June to mitigate the frost in December? But notwithstanding these precautions, what continual complaints are heard about the intenseness of the heat, the severity of the cold, or the sudden pernicious change from the one to the other.
Let us descend to particulars. In winter, how often do drifts of snow bury the starved sheep, and entomb the frozen traveller! In summer, how frequently do dreadful storms of hail cut down, or incessant showers of rain wash away the fruits of the earth! Perhaps, to complete the desolation, water pours down from all the neighbouring hills; and the swelling streams, joining with overflowing rivers, cause sudden inundations, lay waste their richest pastures, and carry off the swimming flocks; while the frighted inhabitants of the vale* either retire to the top of their deluged houses, or by the timely assistance of boats, fly from the imminent and increasing danger.
If heaven seems to dissolve into water in one place, in another it is like brass; it yields neither fruitful rains nor cooling dews; the earth is like iron under it, and the perishing cattle loll out their parched tongues, where they once drank the refreshing stream. Suppose a few happy districts escape these dreadful scourges for a number of years, are they not at last visited with redoubled severity 1 And, while abused affluence vanishes as a dream before the intolerable dearth, do not a starving, riotous populace,f leave their wretched cottages to plunder the houses of their wealthy neighbours, desperately venturing the gallows for a morsel of bread?
When some, secure from the attacks of water, quietly enjoy the comforts of plenty, fire perhaps surprises them in an instant: they awake involved in smoke and surrounded by crackling flames, through which (if it is not too late) they fly naked, at the hazard of their necks, and think themselves happy if, while they leave behind them young children or aged parents burning in the blaze of all their goods, they escape themselves with dislocated joints or broken bones. Their piercing shrieks, and the fall of their house, seem to portend a general conflagration; loud confusion increases; disastrous ruin spreads; and perhaps, before they can be stopped, a street, a suburb, a whole city, is reduced to ashes.
Turn your imagination from the smoking ruins, to fix it upon the terrifying effects of the air, agitated into roaring tempests and boisterous hurricanes. Before their impetuous blast, masts of ships, and cedars of Lebanon, are like broken reeds; men of war, and solid buildings, like the driven chaff. Here, they strip the groaning forests, tear the bosom of the earth, and obscure the sky with clouds of whirling sand: and there, they plough up the liquid, foaming plains, and with sportive fury turn up mountains for ridges, or cut valleys instead of furrows. As they pass along, the confounded elements dreadfully roar under the mighty scourge, the rolling sea tosses herself up to heaven, and solid land is "swept with the besom of destruction."
To heighten the horrors of the scene, thunder, the majestic voice of an angry God, and the awful artillery of heaven, bursts in loud claps
* Thin was the case of several families in the author's parish, November, 1770. f This happened some years ago in this neighbourhood