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THE TRANSFORMATIONS EFFECTED BY RELIGION.
BY F. A. Cox, LL.D.
1 Cor. xv. 49.-As we have borne the image of the earthy, we
shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
CHRISTIANITY finds man every where in a state of degeneracy and debasement: every where, it elevates him to purity, dignity, and bliss. The experiments which have been tried upon human nature without the aid of this great instrument of moral renovation, have failed, and left their advocates to inquire after some other and better principle; but this inquiry can never be satisfied, till the dreams of fancy, the illusions of conjecture, and the speculations of philosophy, are discarded, for “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.”
The alteration which the religion of Jesus aims to accomplish, does not refer to the secular and temporal interests of society, but to the amelioration of individual character, the change of the heart, the renewal of the soul, the training up of the mind, by the sanctification of its faculties and principles, for a higher mode of existence, and an eternal state of being Christianity does not interfere with the economy of worldly institutions, or with the political customs of mankind. It professes too high and noble a purpose to contend about forms of government, or the artificial distinctions of life ; and whether it finds men rich or poor, elevated or obscure, the subjects of a monarchy or of a republic—there it leaves them. Its prerogative and design is to reveal the true means of happiness under every form of government, and in every condition of society ; to render its possessors independent of circumstances; to confer an infinite good and an unfading glory,
commensurate with the capacities and duration of their being-a good that shall make them superior to the vicissitudes and miseries of this world, and raise them to true and lasting honour when its distinctions have passed into decay. This good, begun on earth and to be completed in heaven, constitutes the divine image in the soul, with all its corresponding excellencies, which is to be substituted for the image at present worn, and will attain its predestined glory hereafter, at the resurrection of the dead. This is not the image of Adam, but of Christ; its origin is divine, and its appropriate sphere of manifestation is the celestial state. For it does not belong to the material world, but to the immaterial; and though it exists here in an incipient degree, and is faintly traced upon the new-born soul, it is so beclouded by sense, and so distorted by the mediums through which it is seen, that its grandeur cannot be discovered till the shadows of time have disappearedthen that which is elementary will become mature, and that which is indistinct will brighten into vivid and perfected character.
The transformations which will become so obvious in a future world are beautifully represented in the context. In speaking of the “resurrection of the dead," after reproving the ignorant and presumptuous objections of unbelievers against the fact, the apostle thus proceeds: “It is sown [the body] in corruption; it is raised in incorruption : it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power : it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” Then, adverting to the first man, and to Christ, the second Adam, he remarks, " that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural ; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly." There is a correspondence between the cause and effect, the fountain and the streams, the principle and the character; “and as we have borne" originally, and by our natural descent, as well as by our subsequent degeneracy, "the image of the earthy, we shall also," being renewed by grace, and sanctified by the probationary discipline through which we pass, "bear the image of the heavenly."
Some of the most obvious illustrations of this fact, as applied to real Christians, upon whom this new image of moral and spiritual excellence is superinduced, shall now be brought under consideration.
I. The image of the earthy is an image of sin; the image of the heavenly is an image of Holiness.
That we have borne " the image of the earthy” in respect to sin, is but too obvious; and whatever change the grace of God accomplishes, it will ever be lamentably traceable in man during his abode on earth. This image stamps every individual as one of the fallen family-one of the sons or daughters of Adam : it constitutes that strong and general resemblance which cannot be mistaken.
This was not, however, originally characteristic of human nature. Our first parent was created in " the image of God," a pure, immaculate being; and it has become a subject of inquiry, how a being so upright and holy could have departed from God, and thus have degraded his nature. In what manner, it has been asked, could the first idea of doing evil obtain an influence over a mind that had no sympathies with temptation, no leaning or tendency to what was contrary to the revealed will of God ? How could an impure desire or feeling gain even the temporary occupation of a soul pure as the light, filled with divine love, inspired by the purest and sublimest motives, and conversant only with unpolluted spirits, and the infinite Creator himself ? It would seem as if there were nothing in such a mind upon which pollution could fix itself, no hold for a tempter, no ground in which the seed of rebellion could be sown.
On the contrary, the very idea of wrong,--the slightest suggestion leading to a departure from rectitude, and the transgression of a divine command,—the least intimation of a desire to induce a violation of existing order, and thus endangering that perfect enjoyment which arose from the flow of all the affections to God as their only centre and rest, must be supposed to have excited unutterable abhorrence, and to have incurred an instant and indignant rejection.
While Scripture is silent upon a subject so difficult and delicate, it becomes us to suppress an unnecessary and unhallowed curiosity. Whether we can or cannot account for the introduction of sin into our world, is immaterial, the fact is undeniable, and as melancholy as undeniable; and the simple, solemn, and plain asseverations of the word of God are the best form in which we can receive and proclaim it. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin :" “ God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions." It is a truth, which does not admit of a cavil, which does not require explanation, and which is attested by the personal condition and consciousness of every human being.
Another question has arisen-how has depravity become entailed upon our race ? In what manner are we to conceive that it has descended from father to son, from generation to generation, from the first created man to all the myriads of his posterity, so that not only the individual but the species fell, and became through him obnoxious to the displeasure of Heaven? Here again it is not necessary or possible for us to fathom the profundities of the divine government; or to determine either how it could arise, or why it should have been permitted. It is sufficient to know from Scripture, that Adam was constituted the representative of a numerous family, the head in covenant of his posterity; and that the very condition of his being was that his children should participate of their father's deeds. This has indeed evidently been the principle of the divine administration ever since the creation, and it might not be difficult to shew, not only that there is no injustice in it, but an absolute necessity. At present, however, we have to consider the fact-man is fallen; he is “ born in sin and shapen in iniquity;" “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
In some cases of natural deformity, that which constitutes in the view of others so great a blemish, is but little, if at all, regarded by the individual himself. Whatever might have been his feelings, or however circumstances may occasionally revive his sensibility to this disadvantage, long habit and familiarity diminish, and even destroy the impression. A sense of the real enormity of sin is lost by a similar delusion. The vices which are sufficiently obvious to every other person, are often denied or palliated by the individual himself; and this is the fact, not only with regard to those of comparatively inferior moment, but to those which are most offensive and flagrant. Excuses are framed, invidious comparisons instituted, and self-flattering epithets invented, to conceal the real truth, and sear the conscience, so that “all men think all men sinners but themselves.”
But those whose understandings have been enlightened, and whose hearts have been affected by genuine repentance, form a far different estimate. They are deeply convinced of sin,-its hateful nature, its degrading influence, and its ruinous tendency; they mourn over it with bitter lamentations, and own, with unutterable grief, its effect upon their thoughts as well as actions. With reiterated and solemn acknowledgments of guilt, they exclaim, “ God be merciful to me a sinner!" Continually conscious of its polluting, debasing, and destructive power, they repair to the blood of atonement, “ the fountain open for sin and uncleanness.” It is the very evil with which they have constantly to struggle, the great enemy with which they contend, the detested principle which they bitterly feel counteracting their heavenly aspirations, injuring their peace, darkening their religious evidences, interrupting their spiritual progress, drawing them downward to sense and the world, and thus extorting from their grieved and anxious spirits the frequent excla
mation, “ O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death !" While they weep over the state of mankind in general, they are still more affected at the imperfect transformation and the remaining corruptions of their own hearts. They are distressed, deed, to observe the manner in which God is dishonoured in his own world, when they observe the vices, idolatries, and superstitions of mankind; when they see the usurpations of iniquity, and the awful, far-extended, and fast-rooted dominion of Satan in human minds; and their excited and powerful sympathies impel them to use their utmost efforts to spread the gospel, and to "bring men from darkness, and from the power of sin and Satan, to the living God;" but more poignant are their feelings when they reflect on the mischief that works within—the guilt they have themselves contracted, and the unhallowed principles that still exist in their own bosoms, disorganizing the springs of action, and polluting the fountains of thought. And long and universal experience assures them, these are not temporary evils, operating only for a short time or in a feeble degree; but they know, on the contrary, that while in the body they are likely to "groan, being burdened," and that, notwithstanding all their struggles to be free, they cannot wholly divest themselves of this load of infirmity and corruption. But having once passed the gloomy boundaries of the grave, delightful anticipation ! "as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly,” —sin, that great deformity of human character, will be annihilated, and the image of God restored. Adam fell, and we all bear his image ; but the Lord from heaven was “ holy, harmless, undefiled,” and in his resemblance, through grace, believers are destined to rise. The traces of their earthly parentage will be obliterated, and those of their heavenly origin will be deepened and brought into prominent display; so that the mind which has been debased by sin will be renewed in holiness, and moulded into celestial beauty.
Be it recollected, however, that the future and perfect transformation of the Christian will be the completion of a process already begun. We are not to conceive of an instantaneous transition from sin to holiness, from depravity and alienation from God, to the perfect resemblance of his moral glory; for this would be to suppose no essential difference between the righteous and the wicked, and might lead to the vain expectation of all equally attaining to the ultimate bliss of paradise. The Scriptures plainly state, and the essential distinction of principle and character apparent amongst men evinces, that the outlines of the heavenly image are now drawn upon the soul, and that in the progress of religion is to be discerned