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The Gospel, in this age, has acquired a considerable degree of popularity; so that, wherever it is preached, it is attended by multitudes who previously had shewn no regard whatever for religion : yea, to such a degree does it interest many, that their whole souls appear to be engaged in an attention to it. Yet of these, not a few may be characterized by the words before us: they are “ever learning," losing no opportunity, whether in public or in private, of gratifying their thirst for spiritual instruction, and “yet never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” either in principle or in practice. 1. In principle
[Of those who indulge a spirit of scepticism, and who make all that they hear an occasion for calling in question the truth of God, it is not my intention to speak. The persons alluded to in my text are rather those who take partial views of the Gospel ; insisting on some particular truth, to the exclusion of many others; or espousing some great error, to the utter subversion of the whole Gospel. Such are they who deny the corruption of human nature, the necessity of an atonement, the divinity of our blessed Lord, and the influences of the Holy Spirit. Persons of this description find pleasure in nothing which does not foster their heretical opinions : and to diffuse their principles is as much their labour, as it was the labour of the Pharisees of old; who “ compassed sea and land to make one proselyte," whom, by their hostility to the truth, they reduced to a still more abject condition than themselves.
Nor are Antinomian heretics less zealous, or less pernicious, than they. They can hear of nothing, and talk of nothing, but God's decrees; whilst all the fruits of Christianity upon the spirit and temper are as much overlooked as if they were of no importance whatever to the soul.
But, not to speak of those who magnify any peculiar tenet to the neglect or exclusion of other truths, a great multitude of those who hear the Gospel get only a vague and indistinct view of it; discerning nothing of its transcendent excellency, as displaying the glory of the Divine perfections, or as suiting the necessities of fallen man: so that, amidst all their zeal for the Gospel, they never get their souls duly impressed with it as “ the wisdom of God in a mystery," or " the power of God unto salvation.” I grant that a truly correct and systematic view of Christianity is not to be expected of those who are altogether illiterate, and whose opportunities of investigating truth are very contracted: but still, the crude notions which many form of it clearly prove that they have never received the Gospel aright; because, if they had really been taught of God, they could not but discern its fundamental truths; since, “ what God has hid from the wise and prudent, he does clearly and most intelligibly reveal to babes."] 2. In practice
[Truly it is very humiliating to see how little the preached Gospel answers the end for which it is delivered. It is intended to transform men into “ the image of their God in righteousness and true holiness :" but on how few does it produce this saving change! Many love the preaching of the truth, like Ezekiel's hearers, who heard him with delight, “ as one that played well upon a musical instrument:" but, like them, they still retain all their former lusts; “their heart goes after their covetousness” and worldly-mindedness as much as ever; and their tempers are as unsubdued as ever. See them year after year; their besetting sins are still their besetting sins, with very little, if any, diminution in their power and ascendency. It is painful to think how many satisfy themselves with embracing the doctrines of Christianity, without experiencing its sanctifying effects. Would to God there were no room for this complaint! but indeed it is so: and there are many professors of religion who are as much under the dominion of unhallowed tempers as if they were utter strangers to divine truth : and, in speaking peace to themselves, they fearfully “ deceive their own souls:" for, whatever they may think, “their religion is altogether vain."
But there are others, who, though not left under the dominion of any particular sin, are still obnoxious to the censure in my text; because they never attain that knowledge of the truth which would introduce them into the full liberty of the children of God. They have heard and learned of men: but they have never “ heard and learned of the Father, as the truth is in Jesus d.” See what the truth is, as it was revealed by the Lord Jesus, and as exemplified in his life and conversation : such is that which we also ought to receive and experience: and it is a shame to us, if, after having been instructed in the Gospel for months and years, we do not, in some good measure at least, attain unto it. But many, “who, for the time that they have been instructed, ought to have been capable of instructing others, yet need again to be initiated into the very first principles of the oracles of God e,” and “to be fed with milk, rather than with meat?,” which their feeble powers are not able to digest.] c Jam. i. 26.
d Eph. iv. 20, 21. John vi. 45. e Heb. v. 12–14. fi Cor. iii. 1—4.
Let me, then, go on to shew,
Many more reasons might be assigned for it than we shall have time to notice. All the different classes which we have mentioned may trace their ignorance to causes in some respect peculiar to the class to which they belong. On the other hand, there are some causes common to them all, which therefore it will be more proper for me to specify.
Men come not to the knowledge of the truth,
1. Because the obstacles to knowledge are not removed from their minds
[The love of this world, and of the things thereof, casts a thick veil over the human mind, and incapacitates it for the reception of divine truth. It is like a film over the eyes, which either distorts objects, or renders the vision of them very indistinct. Our blessed Lord says, “ How can ye believe who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh of God only 8?" In the parable of the Sower, the cares and pleasures of life are represented as choking the word, and rendering it unfruitfulhand, till the ground has been in a measure cleared from thorns and briers, it is in vain to hope that any instruction can avail for the renovation and salvation of the soul.]
2. Because the means of attaining it are only partially used
[Men will hear the Gospel with an almost insatiable avidity: but if you follow them to their own homes, you will not find them meditating upon what they have heard, with an application of it to their own souls; nor praying to God to render it effectual for the ends for which it has been delivered. When they have heard the word, they think they have done their duty: but meditation and prayer are not a whit less necessary for the improvement of the mind, than either written or oral instruction. This is particularly noticed by Solomon, who tells us, that we must add prayer to study; and not only search, but “ lift up our voice for understanding," if ever we would attain iti: and if we will not use every effort to improve what we have heard, it is no wonder that the instruction we have received fails of conveying any saving benefit to our souls.]
3. Because the knowledge acquired is not conscientiously improved
[Men, under the word, are made to see their own faces in a glass : but, having no desire to comply with its requisitions, they soon “ forget what manner of persons they arek." If they would follow the instruction which they receive, and take it as a light to search the inmost recesses of their souls, and as a touchstone whereby to try their experience before God, what progress would they make in the divine life! How clear would their views become! how eminent their attainments! But they hear not for this end. The Gospel is not contemplated by them in this view. The ordinances are attended by them more for the amusement of their minds than for the edification of their souls. And hence, though they are “ever learning," they never acquire that self-knowledge that shall abase them in the dust, or that knowledge of God that shall assimilate them to his likeness.] ADDRESS —
1. Those who have not yet attained the knowledge of the truth
[Consider your responsibility for so abusing the privileges you enjoy. Were it an earthly science which you could not dive into or comprehend, you might plead your incapacity to understand the things submitted to you. But no man is too weak to comprehend divine truth, if God “open the eyes of his understanding to understand it.” Seek, then, to be taught of God; and you shall not be left in darkness. There are, indeed, two keys of knowledge, which you must obtain ; and they are, integrity and contrition. Get but “ a honest and good heart," with a soul truly humbled before God; and you shall be “guided into all truth," and " be made wise unto everlasting salvation.”] 2. Those who think they have acquired it
[Remember, it is not by its clearness, but by its efficacy, that you are to judge of the knowledge you have acquired --- Remember, too, that you are still to be “ ever learning.” Never, in this world, will you have arrived at a full knowledge of the truth: your views of it will be increasing through all eternity. Of its sanctifying efficacy, also, you must have a progressive experience, to the latest hour of your lives. Be careful, then, that you “grow in grace, as well as in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ;" so shall you, ere long, “ see him as he is, and be like him for ever."]
his God; and you of knowled ition. Ga before
k Jam. i. 23, 24.
CHARACTER OF ST. PAUL. 2 Tim. iii. 10. Thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of
life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience. IN every age of the world there have been persons adverse to the truth of God, and actively engaged in frustrating his designs for the salvation of men. In the days of Moses, Jannes and Jambres sought to harden the heart of Pharaoh : and in the apostolic age, many seducers arose to draw away from the faith those who had embraced the Gospel of Christ. Against their influence St. Paul guards his son Timothy: and that this young minister might be the better able to distinguish them, the Apostle reminds him of “all that he had heard and seen in him.”
The word which, in the text, is translated, “thou hast fully known," is in the margin translated, “thou hast been a diligent follower of.” And from this little diversity of construction, I shall take occasion to propose to you the character of the Apostle, for your investigation, that you may “ fully know it ;" and for your imitation, that you may “diligently follow it."
I propose it, then,
Take notice, then, what was,
[This was uniformly an exhibition of the Lord Jesus Christ, as crucified for the sins of men, and as effecting thereby our reconciliation with God --- On this subject he maintained the utmost jealousy; suffering nothing, either in himself or others, to obscure it. When St. Peter himself had, by undue concessions, endangered the purity of this doctrine, St. Paul reproved him before the whole Church. And, if an angel from heaven had attempted to establish any doctrine in opposition to this, he was prepared to denounce him as accursed b. All that he preached, either led to this doctrine, or
a Gal. ii. 14.
• Gal. i. 8, 9.