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Review of Wilks on the Influence of a Moral Life.
Daniel Wilson, from this text; a passage which, though it seems to relate more directly to the acknowledgment of our Lord's character and mission, may, without impropriety, be viewed in the larger acceptation given to it by Mr. Wilson, as including generally a disposition of ingenuous obedience to the Divine commands. In this view also the proposers of the St. David's Premium seem to construe it; though they have somewhat narrowed their ground, and abridged the evangelical import of the passage, by the wording of their thesis. The expression, 66 a moral life," is by no means tantamount, in the ordinary signification of the term, to "doing the will of God," which includes, among other things, the exercise of those regenerate and holy dispositions implanted in the soul by the Holy Spirit, from which alone true morality, that is Christian morality, can proceed.
In the Essay before us, the author, though taking his thesis as he found it, has, in the course of his argument, almost necessarily been led to enlarge its more obvious signification. His Essay might be entitled, "The influence of an ingenuous desire to know and perform the will of God, and of those devout habits which accompany such a desire, upon the judgment in matters of faith." We shall cite a few passages illustrative of the manner in which he has endeavoured to prove his position; referring our readers to our review of Mr. Wilson's discourse, already mentioned, for our own opinions on the general subject, which it will not be necessary to repeat on the present occasion,
The Essay is introduced by the following preparatory remarks.
"In tracing the origin and progress of religion in the human soul, it is impossible to reduce it to a series of precise and invariable operations, and to allot to each of our faculties and powers its definite share in the general process. it seems indeed to be the ordinary
course of the Holy Spirit, in his agency on the heart and mind of man, first to illuminate and convince-then to convert-then to sanctify;-or, in other of their natural condition, and of the words, first to lead men to a perception their sinfulness and spiritual inability; character of the Gospel; to teach them and to pour into their hearts the grace of contrition and penitence; then to guide them as conscious transgressors to the Great Sacrifice of Calvary, to repose by faith in the death and merits of the Saviour alone for pardon and acceptance with God; and then to bestow upon them that peace which accompanies a true and lively faith-to sanc tify them by his gracious influencesand to render them fruitful in every good word and work, as becometh those who being bought with a price are not their own, but are bound in point of duty, and are also anxious in conformity with their renewed nature, to live no longer unto themselves, but unto Him who loved them, and gave Himself for spiritual process do not always follow them. But the successive stages of this each other in the strict order assigned gy: sometimes the understanding, someto them by artificial systems of theolotimes the will, sometimes the affections, seem to take the lead. The graces of love, joy, faith, zeal, humility, vigilance, knowledge, though co-existing in the heart of every true Christian, do not always unite in equal proportions, fined intervals. They mutually act and or follow each other at accurately dere-act, augmenting each other by their reciprocal influence; so that what was originally an effect, becomes in its turn a cause, and gives birth to new causes and effects in perpetual succession.
"These remarks apply in an especial manner to the three Christian graces of Knowledge, Faith, and Obedience. Strictly speaking, there must be some degree of knowledge before there can
be faith: he that cometh to God must first know that He exists, and that He seek Him.' There must also be faith is a rewarder of them that diligently before there can be genuine obedience; for faith is the only true source of Christian virtue. Yet, on the other hand, our Lord teaches us, that if any mau will do the will of God,'—that is, will genuous obedience, he shall know of commence a course of humble and inthe doctrine :' his practical attention to duty shall prove the harbinger of new
accessions of spiritual information: and not of information only, but of faith also; for the Scriptures accurately trace up the want of faith to a moral as well as merely mental obliquity: they speak of an evil heart of unbelief,'—an expression which, however peculiar it may seem, will, upon investigation, be found perfectly philosophical, and consistent with the phenomena of daily fact
"We shall illustrate the subject under consideration, by a series of remarks bearing upon the two following propositions:
"First, That unholiness either of heart or life has a powerful influence in depraving the judgment in matters of religion; and
"Secondly, That a humble and conscientions endeavour to do the will of God,' is eminently conducive to the progress both of faith and spiritual understanding." pp. 1-4.
The writer begins with the grosser instances of moral turpitude, as connected with infidel principles. But these are not the only sources of infidelity; for as there are vices of less revolting aspect than treason and assassination, so there are various approaches towards a rejection of the Gospel, of a more specious character than the open blasphemies of a profligate Atheism.
"There is not an anti-christian or an unchristian principle, which may not lead to a corresponding anti-christian or unchristian creed. The more malignant passions will have this effect; as we find from Acts xiii. where we are informed (ver. 48), that the Gentiles 'were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord, and believed;' but the Jews (ver. 15), being filled with envy, spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming.'-The selfish passions also may produce the same effect. Thus the Pharisees, who were covetous, heard all these things, and derided him.' (Luke xvi. 14.)—The proud and vain and ambitious passions also may have the same effect. They did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.' 'How can ye believe that have honour one of another?-Thus enmity, covetousness,
vain-glory, to which various other evil principles might be added, are proved by scriptural testimony to be capable of subverting faith, and even of conducting men to the awful extremes of contradiction, derision, and blasphemy." pp. 7, 8.
The next stage of the argument applies to those less obvious approaches to infidelity which sometimes display themselves in Antinomianism, Socinianism, and kindred heresies; and to those more decorous sins-sins of the heart, or sins of the intellect-which may greatly impede the spiritual perceptions, and vitiate the spiritual taste, even where there is no temptation to palliate the grosser enormities of a profligate life. Stubborn pertinacity, presumption, levity, self-confidence, and a proud dictatorial and dogmatical spirit, are all hostile, both to a reverential submission to scriptural authority and to the formation of just conclusions from scriptural premises. Pride, in particular, is specified as having ever been at war with a devout admission of the peculiar doctrines, and a practical obedience to the precepts of the Gospel.
"How often do we find, even in the case of persons who are not vicious in their lives, nay, who perhaps preserve a respectable decorum of couduct,that the heart is prejudiced against a practical admission of Divine Truth, at least of its more peculiar and mysterious doctrines, on account of the Scriptures not making their appeal to mankind in such a manner as to gratify the pride of the intellect! They find themselves required to believe promptly and implicitly upon the strength of a Divine declaration; they are enjoined to admit, without hesitation or scruple, many things that they cannot fully understand; and they are invited, yea, commanded, on pain of eternal condemnation, to embrace exactly the same faith which has been professed by thousands of the most illiterate of mankind;-in common, it is true, with men of the highest order of thought, and the most extensive range of literature; but still a faith which owns no submission to human intellect, and refuses to bow its
lofty claims before the tribunal of any created mind, however wide its grasp or exalted its powers. A mind vain of its intellectual superiority, and unsub dned by the grace of God, will not easily be persuaded to submit to this; it will recoil from such an unreserved self-dedication; it will demand something more conciliating to the pride of the buman heart; and will venture peremptorily to set down as false, what ever cannot be inferred by the deductions of uninspired reason, or, at least, which, when revealed, cannot be fathomed and fortified by human phi losophy." pp. 11–13.
This position is thus illustrated:
“To what but to this cause, com bining indeed with some other subordi nate oues, must we attribute the vehe
ment opposition which has always been carried on against that fundamental article of the Christian system, and of our Protestant Church-the doctrine
of justification solely by faith? The Lumble practical Christian, whether poor or rich, illiterate or learned, discovers no moral danger attending this doctrine: so far from it, he feels it to be in his own case, and observes it to be in the case of others, not only very full of comfort,' but a powerful motive to love, to gratitude, and to good works; and he is perfectly convinced, that if any persons would so far abuse it as to say, Let us sin that grace may abound,' they understand not its real nature - much less are they among those who have a scriptural right to take to themselves the blessings which it exhibits. But the mere intellectual reasoner, experiencing nothing of the practical effects of the Gospel in his own soul, affectedly recoils at such a doctrine. It is not enough to prove that it is revealed in the sacred scriptures; it must also comport with his long-cherished prejudices and prepos. sessions, or, as he considers them, bis reasonable deductions: he must see that the doctrine has some other basis to rest upon than mere authority, even though that authority be the anthority of God himself; for till he can fully demonstrate the propriety of this Di vine arrangement, and solve every difficulty which a presumptuous intellect may consider as flowing from it (which he is least of all likely to do while he remaius in his present attitude
of mind), he will not submit to the doctrines of the Cross of Christ, or adore that mystery of godliness' which is involved in every part of the disclo sures of Revelation." pp. 13, 14.
The author next proceeds to shew that gross vices, on the one band, and mental sins, on the other, (to which two classes of impediments the preceding remarks chiefly apply,) are not the only forms of moral evil which may cloud the judgment in matters of faith; for that even the ordinary habits in which the great body of mankind pass their lives, without any suspicion of their evil tendency, may powerfully exert the same influence; nay, that the sincere Christian himself may often discover, within his own bosom, strong proofs of the effect of unholiness of heart or conduct, in obscuring his spiritual understanding and weakening his faith.
"No sooner does he relax in his Christian vigilance, no sooner does he become secularized in his temper,no sooner does he grieve the Holy Spirit by pride, or lukewarmness, or the neglect of prayer, or inattention to any known duty, or indulgence in any known sin,--than he finds that he cannot realize, as at more devout moments, the sentiments which become his holy profession; he perhaps feels inclined to harbour a secret wish that he may have too strictly construed the selfdenying character of the Gospel; his mind begins at times to waver respecting some of its essential truths; and while thus under the influence of temptation, he may even venture for a moment to question its Divine authority." pp. 15, 16.
for receiving instruction; and because the teaching of the Holy Spirit, by whose guidance alone we can have a right knowledge in the concerns of our salvation, will not be afforded to any but the meek and honest inquirer. The
moral inaptitude of a corrupt heart for estimating aright the character of the Gospel, is thus illustrated:
"How is it possible that a dispensation of which the prominent feature is righteousness and true holiness,' should approve itself either to the judg ment or the heart of a being whose perceptions are clouded by moral prejudice and the love of sin? For example; the Scriptures every where exhibit to us the excellency of the law of God: but how can this excellency be duly felt by one who regards that law with abhor rence, on account of the restraints which it imposes npon his unbridled appetites? The Scriptures again constantly speak of the happiness of a life
of devotion to God: but how can this
be admitted by one who places his happiness exclusively in earthly gratifications? The Scriptures declare that' to be carnally minded is death, bat to be spiritually minded is life and peace: but how can this be credited by one whose whole practice proceeds upon quite a contrary estimate? The Scriptures speak throughout of sin, in all its modifications, as an evil of enormous magnitude: but to such a person no evil is apparent, except indeed so far as the temporal interests of society are concerned. The Scriptures describe the equity of God in visiting every breach of his laws with the severest infliction of judgment: but to a man in the state of mind we are describing, such a proceeding appears far from equitable: and he even ventures perhaps to think it nothing short of tyranny to inflict punishment for what he calls the 'innocent propensities' of the human ebaracter. The Scriptures speak of whatever is holy, whatever resembles 'God, as excellent and lovely: bat the individual in question perceives no loveliness in any thing of the kind on the contrary, he views a life of piety as both morbid and misanthropical; and would gladly prefer the vain pleasures of a sinful, as well as a transitory, existence to what he is pleased to consider the gloom and austerity of seriptural
devotion. In short, while his whole constitution remains under the dominion of sin, there must necessarily be a corresponding inaptitude for attaining a right judgment on religious subjects; for such subjects, it must ever be remembered, are not, like the deductions of mathematical or physical science, merely speculative;-no-they powerfully affect the life and actions; they involve the operation of the will and affections; and therefore the study of them can be entered upon with advantage only where there is a suitable ' preparation of heart;' and such a preparation, it is obvious, can never exist where a preference for the ways of sin is deliberately cherished." pp. 21-23.
The narratives of Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch are dwelt upon in corroboration of the fore going arguments. The testimony of these memorable instances is also adduced in reply to somné of the principal objections which may be alleged against the positions on which the Essay is founded.
Should it be urged, for example, on the one hand, by any systematic doctrinalist, that an endeavour, however ingenuous, to obey the commands of God, while there still remains · great doctrinal ignorance in the mind, is not likely to lead beyond mere formalism or pharisaism; nay, is even less favourable to a humble reception of the Gospel, than a state of allowed vice; these remarkable instances, in which the Almighty was pleased to honour such a teachable disposition of mind with peculiar approbation, and to gratify the desires of these penitent inquirers by miraculously sending to them the knowledge of the truth, will prove the fallacy of so unscriptural an hypothesis. The case of the Scribes and Pharisees, of whom our Lord said that publicans and sinners should enter the kingdom of God before them, was of a very different kind. In those hanghty self-justifiaries there was no disposition conscientiously to perform even the ordinary duties of morality: they subverted the Divine Law by vain traditions and superstitions; and far from exhibiting any tenderness of conscience, any disposition to practise what they already knew, and to look humbly for further instruction, they were perfectly con
tented with their own attainments, and even made use of their knowledge in order to relax by disingenuous glosses the obligations of the system which they professed. It is obvious that such characters possessed nothing in common with the devout and diffident inquirer to whom exclusively the promises of Divine illumination are made.
"Or should it be urged, on the other hand, by a far more numerous class of objectors, that moral conduct is all that is necessary for human salvation; should it be said, in contradiction to the declarations of Scripture, and the language of our established church, that 'every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law, and the light of nature;' we have here two remarkable cases in which God saw fit in a most conspicuous manner to evince the necessity of Divine revelation in general, and particularly of faith in the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the other distinguishing doctrines of the Gospel, by sending chosen servants expressly to instruct Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch in points of this nature, notwithstanding their previous devoutness and moral deportment. "In short, should it be argued that, upon the hypothesis which it has been the object of these pages to enforce, any point of Christian faith or practice is rendered unnecessary, we may confidently appeal to the two examples under consideration to prove the contrary. Should it be doubted, for example, whether an ingenuous desire to obey the will of God, even before we are fully acquainted with it, is an important and characteristic mark of incipient conversion, we may adduce the history of Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, to shew how conspicuous a place such a disposition occupied in the first stages of their religious inquiries. Or should it be urged, that if practical obedience be of so much importance, there is no great uecessity for prayer or sacred study, we may remind the objector that it was while the Roman Centurion was fasting and praying, and the Ethiopian Treasurer was diligently reading the Scriptures, that God was pleased to mark his approval of their conduct by sending them the means of further instruction. Or should it be objected that the preceding remarks would reduce religion to mere ingenuousness of
principle, thus superceding the neces sity for correctness of religious doctrine and faith, we may shew that these very narratives teach quite a different lesson; for Philip expressly said, 'If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest be baptized;' and he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And lastly, should it be urged that if practical obedience have such a tendency to lead to scriptural knowledge, the agency of the Holy Spirit is rendered unnecessary, it is obvions to reply from the same narratives, that it was the Holy Spirit who, though unseen by mortal eyes, implanted and fostered the rising graces of Cornelins and the Ethiopian Eunuch, who further provided the means for their instruction, who opened their hearts to receive it, and who is expressly mentioned as having been present by his Divine influences with both these devout men at their baptism; thus shewing throughout the whole process of their conversion, the need of his own all-powerful agency, even while he saw fit to employ the ordinary means of prayer, and fasting, and preparatory dispositions, and the study of the Scriptures, and the Christian ministry and sacraments, to effect his gracious purposes." pp. 33-38
Upon the whole review of this subject, we are inclined to think that some religious persons attribute far too little importance to those devout affections, those teachable dispositions, and that moral integrity of deportment, which often characterise the first stages of true conversion to God; especially where the temper is naturally amiable and the conduct exempt from vicious habits. Hence the bruised reed is often broken, and the smoking flax quenched. An ingenuous inquirer, if he fall into the society of such persons, instead of being taken by the hand as a brother, and “shewn the way of God more perfectly," is at once proclaimed a pharisee, and a deliberate impugner of the essential doctrines of the Gospel; doctrines for the humble and practical reception of which his heart may have been prepared by the Holy Spirit long before he has attained. clear views of their relative-bear