« AnteriorContinuar »
have addressed the word to the rudest of heathens, have manifested how little the Gospel dependeth for its success upon the previous culture of the mind. There is, indeed, no error more fatal to the heathen world, than that we must wait the previous culture of literature and science before preaching the Gospel unto them: and at home there is an error fast encroaching upon our schools, and shewing itself in our school-books, that years must be waited for, and the ripening of understanding, before the faith can be received. And, among the many errors which adult baptism tendeth to, it is none of the least that it should favour this notion, that men are not competent to faith from their earliest youth, but must wait for maturity of years. But, to put all this beyond a doubt, our Lord hath said, when speaking of the reception and rejection of his word, that it was “ hid from the wise and the prudent, and revealed unto babes : " which St. Paul hath confirmed in these words, “ Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.”
This want of understanding, which rejecteth the word so soon as it is sown in the heart, not therefore proceeding from any natural want of faculties or years, must be sought for in other causes; of which four suggest themselves to my mind as containing the whole. First, Those in whom the spiritual and moral faculty, which comprehendeth the invisible things of the word of God, is darkened, deafened, and engrossed; so that it is dead in trespasses and sins, in worldliness and disbelief. Secondly, Those in whom the spiritual and moral faculty for perceiving the obligation of invisible things still liveth, but can take in no more than the dispensation of natural Law: who feel
their responsibility, and make an endeavour to fulfil it, but never come to the knowledge of original sin and creature infirmity, and therefore cannot receive the word of Christ's righteousness and mediatorial kingdom. These reject the word, as the Pharisees did, on account of their attachment to the dispensation of natural conscience, and their ignorance of the bondage of the will. Thirdly, The schismatic, who maketh divisions in the truth, and, running with wild enthusiasm after a part, neglecteth the rest, and is deaf to it. Fourthly, The heretic, who, instead of the truth, hath set ир and exalted some other thing, with the love of which Satan deludes him to reject the word of God. These four-the blinded sensualist, who cannot believe ; the self-sufficient moralist, who will not believe; the schismatic, who will believe only a favourite part; and the heretic, who preferreth to believe a falsehood-I perceive are all led by Satan promptly to reject and cast away the truth declared unto them ; Satan assuming a distinct character to each: to the first appearing as the prince of this world; to the second, as a minister of righteousness; to the third, as a proud and subtle spirit of knowledge; to the fourth, as a liar and murderer, which he was from the beginning. To each of those let us attend in order.
I. THE BLIND SENSUALIST. That want of understanding which is the cause of the rejection of the word, our Lord hath himself explained to arise from moral causes,--the depravation of the heart by vice, and the engrossment of the mind with the much study of sensible and visible matters; quoting, in St. Matthew's account of the parable, these words of the Prophet Isaiah: “ By hearing, ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing, ye shall see, and shall not perceive : for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed ; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them." This is that fearful want of understanding, or rather incapacity of understanding, upon which the word of the Lord falleth powerless; that fearful state of the mind, when in the wrath of God it hath been left in a condition of powerlessness; which visitation becoming general, doth constitute a crisis in a people, and bring on a speedy judgment. It was so with Israel in Isaiah's time, and judgment soon followed. It was so with Judah in our Lord's time, before the fall of Jerusalem; and Paul found it so at Rome with the emigrant Jews, with whom, after he had reasoned from morning until evening out of the Scriptures, and could make them to understand nothing, he concluded with those very words of Isaiah the Prophet to which our Lord referreth in the parable. Now, as I conceive this to be exactly the state of mind to which our lettered people, reputed wise and prudent, with all the hosts who drink of their polluted streams of thought, have arrived, and which is drawing on the crisis, not only of this nation, but of Christendom in general, I hold it good to open its causes a little, and shew you how, from the very nature of things, such men are unable to receive the word of the kingdom of Christ.
For the word of God addresseth itself to the spiritual wants of man, and proposeth to redress them; setting itself against the bodily appetites and carnal affections, it proposeth to restrain them from being masters, and constrain them to the service of God; setting itself against the vain distinctions and ornaments of life, it proposeth to establish the solid distinctions of moral duty in our several relations, and of heavenly honours in the world to come; and finally, setting itself against malice and enmity and pride, it proposeth to establish such a spirit of love and such a community of interests as that a man shall love his neighbour as himself. The first word of the kingdom of Christ is, that we must be born again; and the second is, that we must forsake father, and mother, and brother, and sister, and our own life, to become Christ's disciples; and the third, that if we love the world, and the things of the world, the love of the Father is not in us—and so forth, through an infinite number of self-denying, inexpedient, unworldly notes, doth the strain of the Gospel prolong itself. Perceive you not, then, that there must be multitudes upon multitudes who cannot hear nor understand this strain at all; which is to them, like the music of the spheres, either a fiction and fallacy, or else so subtle and refined as to be to their ears all inaudible, and as if it were not ? For, what myriads are there whose God is their belly and its lusts; and what myriads who glory in their shame, and will not endure any blame or contradiction ! what multitudes who cherish revenge ; who call pleasure the best, and money the most needful of all things; who hold nothing to be good save as it is profitable-base burden-bearers, sordid money-makers, slaves of every sense, and idolaters of every passion! You might sooner look for verdure upon the sands of the sea-shore, or fields of corn in the Lapland snows, than expect the word of God to take root in such a soil.
Along with these there be icy men of the intellect, hard of heart, sharp of wit, and dogmatical in knowledge: who will have every thing proved to their understanding, before they will give it ear; a demand which is merely impossible in spiritual things delivered from faith to faith; and who despise the natural motions of their spirit towards purity and honesty and goodness; holding all such emotions, which are the cravings of the reason of man after the revelation of God, to be no better than womanish weakness; and the truths which God hath ministered to them, to be no better than oldwives' fables. But the Lord saith, “No! I will not plead my cause before your partial and divided being. Ye shall not scorn the spirit that I have put within you, por expect me to speak to your sense as a piece of matter doth, or to your understanding as doth a phenomenon of the material world. I will take no part with, and give no countenance to, such self-murder in my creatures. I ama Spirit, and will speak to your spirit concerning righteousness and truth, and love and mercy and fearful holiness; but if ye will not suffer your spirit to hear, then, Behold, ye despisers, and perish : I work a work, and ye see not; I speak a word, and ye hear not. Ye will not hear me in that way in which I reveal my mind : then prepare to see my hand and to feel my power in making you desolate, until your cities be without inhabitants, and the land without men to sow it and to reap it.'-In our Lord's time, one said to the invitation, I have