Chapter III. Remarks on the Doctrines of Revelation.
The limits of this little work will not admit of further arguments in proof of the truth of our religion, which the sincere and diligent enquirer may see at large, in publications that treat expressly on the subject. Neither is it deemed requisite for the present purpose; since, as it has been before hinted, the indifference or dislike, which men evince for revelation, arises in general far more from the state of the heart, than from any deficiency of information.
For by those, who do at all pretend to receive the Bible as a revelation from God, it must certainly be thought reasonable and necessary to abide by the doctrines, and obey the precepts it contains; agreeably to the words of the apostle, who tells us that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Now it is certain, that most of these doctrines are as opposite to the opinions we naturally embrace, as the precepts are disagreeable to our inclinations, and contrary to our pursuits. What for instance can be more offensive to our self-complacency, than the doctrine of human depravity, and our universal apostacy from God? what more repugnant to the fancied dignity of our nature, than those passages of scripture which declare “that the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth:” that “the heart is deceitful above all thins, and desperately wicked:” and that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, &c?” whereas, so little do we know our own characters, that it is common for us all to think ourselves naturally well disposed, and to say of many a one, who not only neglects his duty to God, but violates almost every moral obligation to his neighbor, that, with all his faults poor man! he has upon the whole a very good heart!!
Some indeed would persuade us that the human mind is at first, but as a sheet of blank paper, alike susceptible of good, or evil impressions. But though this indeed is true respecting innate ideas, it does not necessarily follow, that it must be so too of innate propensities. Alas! do not facts too plainly prove the contrary? We shall still find that whether men be natives of Athens, Rome, Paris, or Hindostan, they are in great measure enslaved by the same selfish principles; and prove the executioners and tormentors of each other. No sooner does the infant mind begin to dawn, than the seeds of evil begin to spring up; and anger, envy, pride and perverseness require the timely hand of correction and restraint to prevent the most dangerous consequences. And how is this to be accounted for, and whence is it, that so vast a proportion of moral evil universally prevails, if the heart of man be equally inclined to what is good?
The scriptures alone afford us any elucidation of this truth; a truth, which though acknowledged by many of the greatest men both of ancient and modern times, has never in any other way been satisfactorily accounted for. Proud infidelity may indeed object to the simple narrative contained in the word of God; and pretend to oppose insurmountable difficulties to the plain declarations of the inspired writers. But then, these difficulties are equally inexplicable on every other plan; since the first entrance and existence of moral and physical evil can no more be accounted for by the Deist than by the Christian. Nor are such investigations at all suited to our capacities. St. Paul tells us, that “through one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men for that all have sinned.” Facts fully prove the mournful assertion. The earth is filled with various miseries, the very existence of which declare, that there must be in sin a far greater evil, than, from ignorance of the holy character of God, and our various obligations to him, we are apt to conceive. And how can we reply better, than in the words of the same apostle “O! the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!”
That all mankind are sinners, and have transgressed the law of perfect love to God and man, which was given as the condition of our obtaining eternal life, cannot surely be denied. Temporal death and all the train of evils, to which human nature is exposed, are the consequences of transgression, in this world; eternal death everlasting punishment, is threatened in that to come. And is it not far more rational and becoming, for us to enquire, how this awful doom may be averted, than presumptuously to argue against the justice of God’s dealings with his creatures, of which we are utterly incompetent to judge?
Such a beautiful order and harmony subsists between the great and essential principles of Christianity, that, where it is truly received and properly understood, each doctrine is clearly seen to be intimately connected with the rest, in a manner which could not be conceived on a superficial acquaintance with divine truth. For example, were the doctrine of human depravity, and the strict requirements of God’s holy law, really felt and acknowledged; the Saviour in whom we all profess to believe, could be no longer thought of with indifference, and almost discarded from modern pulpits; nor would the morality of Socrates and Plato be substituted for the divinity of St. Paul. For alas! why is this, but because men are ignorant of the great end for which the Son of God became incarnate; and unconscious how greatly they stand in need of the salvation which he died to purchase, and which he is now exalted to bestow?
The condemnation to which we all are exposed by our innumerable offences against an infinitely just and holy God, cannot be averted by any obedience of our’s; since our best duties are defective, and in every thing we fall inconceivably short of the unerring rule by which we are to be judged. And yet, nothing less than perfect obedience is required of us for, say the apostles, “cursed in every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them” – and be that offendeth in one point is guilty of all.” But alas! instead of offending in one point, “in many things we offend all;” and far from discharging, are continually augmenting, the enormous debt we owe. Who will have the temerity to assert that he has never broken the commands of God in thought, word, or deed? Nay, who will venture to affirm that he can observe them without any deviation only for a single day? And yet, were it possible for us so to do, during the remainder of our lives, this could not be sufficient to atone for what is past, any more than the future good behavior of a criminal, who had but in one instance transgressed the laws of the land, could exculpate him from guilt; or than a person could discharge a debt he had contracted, by ever after paying ready money for what he purchased.
One great source of mistakes in this matter is, that men regard only the second table of the law; and think, if they do but outwardly observe the duties they owe their neighbours, their state is as safe as their character appears respectable. They forget that infidelity, self-exaltation, contempt or neglect of God, though not directly injurious to society, may, in the sight of the Almighty, be as heinous as the most scandalous immoralities. But if we impartially examine our own hearts, and consider the holiness of that God who is “of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity,” and the spirituality and extent of his law, which takes cognizance of the inmost desires and imagination so of the heart: we shall form a very different estimate of our characters. Let us call to mind only the vain and incoherent thoughts that mix even with our religious duties; the corrupt and selfish motives from which many of our most specious actions spring; the numerous instances in which we have transgressed the third commandment, and used those awful words, god! lord! christ! in common conversation without once adverting to their sacred import—Let us reflect on our frequent profanation of the Sabbath, and the various emotions of pride, anger, envy and resentment, that have at different times arisen in our minds, and which, though perhaps long since forgotten by us, are as present to God’s all-seeing eye, as if they were this moment committed: and surely we shall be constrained to say with the Psalmist, “if thou Lord shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” On such a review it must be obvious, that none of the sinful sons of men could find acceptance with their Creator, if it were not for that stupendous love which appointed a way, wherein mercy might be exercised consistently with justice, and guilt removed without the offender suffering condign punishment. If that Saviour, through whom alone peace and pardon can be obtained, had not come down to earth and expired on the cross for our redemption.
The sacrifices under the old Testament dispensation were chiefly intended to typify and shadow forth this great design. The apostle tells us that “without shedding of blood there is no remission;” and likewise that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin;” but that “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many.” “He was wounded for our transgressions” says the prophet, “he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all:” and in a correspondent passage St. Peter declares, that “he bare our sins in his own body on the tree.”
The same prophet and apostles that speak thus strongly concerning the sufferings and humiliation of the Messiah, who stooped so low for the recovery of fallen man; abound also, with testimonies to the dignity of his character. Isaiah tells us even, that he was no less than “the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace:” and St. John, that “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God – by whom all things were made, and without whom was not any thing made, and without whom was not any thing made that was made.” And can we suppose, that, as some assert, this divine Person “whom “all the angels of God worship,” exercised such astonishing condescension for no other purpose, than to instruct us in moral duties, and to set us an example of holy obedience! Reason alone, might suffice to shew the absurdity of such an opinion; and revelation plainly declares, that this great event was designed for a far more important purpose. Through the mediation of Christ alone it is, that they who repent and believe the gospel can be restored to the favour of their offended Judge; while the punishment, being thus transferred from the criminal to so great and glorious a victim, affords a brighter display of God’s holy abhorrence of sin, than would have resulted from the destruction of the whole human race. And thus the character He gave of himself to his servant Moses is most strikingly illustrated: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.”
This astonishing display of the divine perfections, in the character and humiliation of the Saviour, was doubtless that which rendered him so excellent in the eye of apostles and primitive Christians; while to those, who feel little or nothing of their own guilt and danger, there appears “no beauty or comeliness that they should desire him.”
It is certain that the doctrine of human depravity and our absolute need of a Mediator, is of all others the most offensive to the pride and self sufficiency of our hearts; and therefore the atonement and intercession of Christ were not more necessary to bring us into reconciliation with God, than are the influences of the Holy Ghost to convince us of our true state and character, and to make us willing to accept of the salvation proposed to us. It is only by divine grace that we are enabled to exercise that genuine repentance, which consists in unfeigned sorrow for sin, and abhorrence of every evil way: and that living faith, which realizes invisible and eternal things, and renounces all dependence on ourselves, to rely entirely on the sacrifice and merits of Jesus Christ; though at the same time it is always productive of good works and heavenly tempers, which must be considered as the only indubitable evidence of our sincerity.
The scriptures throughout abound with assertions to this effect; and the language of our articles and church service strongly inculcates our need of divine assistance, for the attainment of any truly good and gracious dispositions. But though many outwardly assent to this important truth, it is too often the custom to contradict in the pulpit what has been delivered in the desk. And after the congregation have just been confessing themselves ‘miserable sinners;’ imploring forgiveness through “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world,” and beseeching God to ‘cleanse the thoughts of their hearts by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit,’ they will perhaps, hear much of moral rectitude, the dignity of human nature, and the ability we possess of rendering ourselves good and virtuous: and thus numbers go away under the impression that they are such amiable meritorious persons, as need neither conversion, pardon, nor sanctification!
This is a melancholy and frequent delusion. Any yet the nature of things, as well as the declaration of scripture, might convince us that a very material change must take place in our judgments and affections, before we can serve God in the way that He requires.
We are told by Solomon, who had made ample trial of very earthly enjoyment, that “Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths peace;” and by the apostle John, that to those who love God “his commandments are not grievous.” But does this indeed appear to be the sentiment of the most of those who are called Christians? In respect of such as are living in open violation of moral duties, or altogether neglecting the outward forms of worship; there certainly can need little to prove, that if the Bible be right they must be wrong. But even with numbers whose conduct in society entitles them to respect and esteem; the worship of God, if considered as somewhat necessary to their safety, is deemed wearisome and insipid, and that in which of all things they are perhaps most afraid to exceed.
In almost every other cause than religion, in every other relation than that of man to his Creator, fervency of affection, fidelity, zeal, alacrity, and love are not only allowed but admired. Who ever complained of a person’s being too grateful to his benefactor, or too faithful to his friend? Of a child that was too dutiful to his parent, or a patriot too devoted to his country? And yet how common is it to hear people censured for too much devotedness to their God! ‘The Almighty,’ say they, ‘does not expect such strictness, nor require so much of our time to be employed in his service; and if we do but perform our duties to our fellow creatures, it is of little moment what we think in matters of religion.’ As if our behavior to our fellow worms were of more importance, than the disposition of our hearts towards the glorious Author of our being! – as if it were possible to love too much, or serve too diligently, Him, who is infinitely wise and good, and who hath this claim above all on our affections – that “he sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins!” Surely, as the poet observes,
‘On such a theme ’t were impious to be calm,
‘Passion is reason, transport temper here.’
‘But to him,’ as an admired writer of the present day observes, ‘who acts from the nobler motives of love, and the animating power of the christian hope, the exercise is the reward, the permission the privilege, and the work the wages. He does not carve out some miserable pleasure, and stipulate for some meagre diversion to pay himself for the hard performance of his duty, who, in that very performance experiences the highest pleasure, and feels the truest gratification of which his nature is capable.’ And surely, whatever men may think, no services, that spring from any other source than this, can be at all acceptable to that God, who requires us to “give him our hearts;” and in whose sight many of those actions, which are admirable in the world’s esteem, being performed from corrupt and selfish motives, appear no better than splendid sins.
We should perhaps be highly offended with any one, who expressed a doubt of our loving God. But let us beware of self deception on this most important subject; and consider how little we should value the services of a child or domestick, however frequent and assiduous, (a recommendation not now very common in religious worship) did we know at the same time, that he looked forward with impatience to the hour that would emancipate him from these duties; and that he returned to them with reluctance and disgust.
The felicity of heaven is represented, as consisting in the continual service of God and in the society of holy angelick spirits. And can it be doubted that a great revolution must take place in the minds of most men, to fit them for the enjoyment of a state like this? Can it be supposed, that they who seek for happiness in earthly pursuits, would be delighted with such employment and society? or that those who have hitherto said of the Lord’s day, “what a weariness it is!” would rejoice to keep an eternal sabbath in heaven? It is true indeed that we all naturally desire exemption from suffering, and must be pleased with the thoughts of eternal felicity; but then every one will imagine a heaven adapted to his prevailing inclination. The ambitious will amuse himself with ideas of splendour and exaltation; the dissipated and licentious would, with Mahomet, desire a paradise replete with the gratifications of sense; and the philosophic, perhaps with peculiar self complacency, and proud contempt of the former, will look forward to a state where, emancipated from the narrow limits by which he is now confined, he shall range without restraint through the unbounded fields of science, and be continually making new acquisitions in the discovery of truth. The weight of misery and oppression too, under which numbers groan, may extort a sigh for that land, where the “wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.” But the Christian only, taught by divine grace to see the vanity and insufficiency of all sublunary enjoyments, the glory of the divine perfections, and the beauty of holiness, really desires the heaven described in the scripture, for what it is in its own nature; and conceives aright of the happiness that is to be found in the presence and service of God.
Hence it is said by Him who cannot err, Unless ye be converted, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of God:’ – that is, unless an entire change be produced in our dispositions and affections here, we cannot be fitted for that blissful state hereafter. The unlimited exercise of evil passions is alone
sufficient to render the subjects of them miserable; and we find that even in this life, where men are under various restraints of education and human laws which will not exist in another world, sin is the chief source of the miseries with which the earth abounds. In the breast where pride, resentment, and ambition harbor, peace will never dwell. Heaven itself could not afford felicity to an unholy heart; while on the contrary, virtue may be deemed its own reward in another sense than is commonly intended: for besides that complacency which naturally arises from the consciousness of doing right; the very exercise of holy affections – love to God, benevolence to man, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness – is inseparably connected with inward tranquillity, being, as it were, the very health of the soul. Is it not then, our obvious duty, and our highest interest, to implore the aid of that divine Spirit, who is graciously promised to all who ask for Him; to subdue our evil propensities, to teach us the knowledge of God and of ourselves; and to create in us a real taste for those sublime and refined enjoyments, which will not only be the portion of sincere Christians in a future state, but are in some measure to be experienced while her on earth?
We are baptized into the sacred name of the father, the son, and the holy ghost. But, it is to be feared, according to the religion most prevalent in the present day, that the character and offices of the Son and of the Spirit are almost entirely neglected and overlooked; and this by persons who do not avowedly deny the deity of either. It was far otherwise with the primitive Christians.—While we find the disciples of old, often expressing their gratitude to God the Father for having provided the way of salvation, we may observe them also declaring their reliance on the atonement and merits of the Son, with a high sense of his love and condescension:—“unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; unto Him be glory and dominion for ever.” – And their dependence on the Holy Spirit as the Author of all grace and consolation: “The Spirit helpeth our infirmities, for we know not what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us.” “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.” These, with other instances, too numerous to adduce, may suffice to shew the ideas that were entertained in the apostles’ days on this momentous subject.
Let no one deem it a matter of indifference, what he thinks on so important a part of divine truth. If the infinite God has indeed vouchsafed to give us a revelation of himself, He most certainly requires us to receive his testimony with submission and simplicity. And it cannot reasonably be supposed, that, when we are favoured with every means of instruction, the Almighty will accept the worship which is offered up to Him under a notion of his character and attributes, that is essentially erroneous. This is not to adore the God of the Bible, but a being formed by our own imagination: and we are told that “all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father;” and, that “whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father.”|
Throughout the new Testament we find the same divine attributes of omnipresence, omniscience, and almighty power ascribed to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; the same supreme love and obedience required from us by Jesus Christ, as is declared to be due to God alone. And therefore it must certainly be inferred that not only are we, in order to our acceptance, bound to acknowledge this important mystery; but really to glorify God – as Father, Son, and Spirit, by our habitual dependence on each, in the great concern of our salvation; and by constantly living to the praise of this incomprehensible Being, to whom we are under such inexpressible obligations.
Notes [all notes below were added by Mary Egerton Scott]
 Leland on the Deistical Writers. Doddridge’s Sermons on the Evidences of the Gospel. Paley’s Evidences.
 Gen. viii. 21.
 Jer. xvii. 9. Matt. xv. 19.
 Rom. xi.33.
 Gal. iii. 10.
 Jam., ii. 10.
 Heb. ix. 22.
 Heb. x. 4
 Heb. ix. 28
 Isai. liii. 5, 6.
 I Pet. ii. 24.
 Isai. ix.6.
 John i. i.3.
 Heb. i. 6
 Exod. xxxiv.6.
 Prov. iii.17.
 I John v. 3.
 I John iv. 10
 Miss H. [Hannah] More
 Matt. xviii. 3.
 Luke xi. 13.
 Rev. i. 5, 6.
 Rom. viii. 26. xv. 13.
 John x. 23
 I John i. 23.