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in truth as it relates to philosophy, history, politics, or any other branch of science, inasmuch as it affects the present happiness of mankind: but what is this when compared with that which involves their everlasting salvation? To be furnished with an answer to the question, “ What shall I do to be saved ?” is of infinitely greater account, than to be able to decide whether the Ptolemaic or Copernican system be that of nature. The temporal salvation of a nation, great as it is, and greatly as it interests the minds of men, is nothing when compared with the eternal salvation of a single individual.
But many, who would not deny the superior valy of eternal salvation to all other things, have yet gorte about to depreciate the importance of divine truth, and to represent it as having no necessary connexion with either present holiness or future happiness. Such appears to have been the design of those well-known lines of Pope:
• For modes of faith let graceless zealots fight :
His can't be wrong whose life is in the right.” And to the same purpose we have often been told in prose, that we shall not be judged at the last day by our opinions, but by our works. If truth and error existed in the mind merely as opinions, or objects of speculation, they might possibly have but little influence upon us : but if they be principles of action, they enter into the essence of all we do. Such is the influence of living faith, otherwise it could not be shewn by our works: and such is that of the belief of falsehood, else we had not read of the word of false teachers cat. ing as doth (yayypaivée) a gangrene.* The works by which we shall be judged cannot mean actions in distinction from their principles ; for as such they would contain neither good nor evil, but as connected with them. All pretences, therefore, to separate the one from the other, are as contrary to reason as they are to scripture.
* James ii, 18. 2 Tim. ii. 17.
To render this subject more evident, let the following particulars be duly considered.
First: It is by the belief of truth that sinners are brought into a state of salvation.-Great things are ascribed in the scriptures to faith: but faith could have no existence without revealed truth as its foundation. Whatever importance, therefore, attaches to the one attaches to the other. The great blessing of justification is constantly ascribed to faith; not as the reward of a virtue, but as that by which we become one with Christ, and so partakers of his benefits. While unbelievers, we have no revealed interest in the divine favour; but are declared to be under condemnation : but believing in him, we are no longer “ under the law," as a term of life and death; but “under grace. Hence it is, that in the gospel, as "heard and received,” we are said to “stand.” Take away evangelical truth, and you take away the standing of a christian. Bereaved of this, the best man upon earth must despair of salvation.
Secondly: Truth is the model and standard of true religion in the mind. That doctrines, whether true or false, if really believed, become principles of action ; that they are a mould into which the mind is cast, and from which it receives its impression, is evident both from scripture and experience. An observant eye will easily perceive a spirit which attaches to different species of religion; and which, over and above the diversities arising from natural temper, will manifest itself in their respective followers. Paganism, Mahometism, Deism, Apostate-Judaism, and various systems which have appeared under the name of Christianity, have each discovered a spirit of their own. Thus also it was from the beginning. Those who received “ other doctrine,” received with it“ another spirit:" and hence we read of “ the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” He that had the one is said to be “of God," and he that had the other “not of God.” *
* 2 Cor. xi. 4.
1 John iv, a
Is it a
Revealed truth is represented as "a form of doctrine into which believers are delivered.”* melted substance, cast into a mould, receives its form from it, and every line in the one corresponds with that of the other; so true religion in the soul accords with true religion in the scriptures. Without this standard, we shall either model our faith by our own pre-conceived notions of what is fit and reasonable, or be carried away by our feelings, and lose ourselves among the extravagant vagaries of enthusiasm. Our views may seem to us very rational, or our feelings may be singularly ardent; and yet we may be far from being in the right. The question is, Whether they agree line to line with the divine model? God saith in his word,“ Seek ye my face." If our hearts say unto him, “Thy face, Lord, will we seek," then does line answer to line; and this is true religion. leading feature of evangelical truth, that it honours the divine character and government? It is the same with true religion in the mind. Does that manifest love even to enemies ? So does this. Is it the object of the former to abase the pride of man? It is no less the nature of the latter to rejoice in lying low. Finally: Is the one averse to all iniquity, and friendly to universal holiness? The other, dissatisfied with present attainments, presseth towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,
Thirdly: Truth is that which furnishes the motive for every exercise of true holiness. If once we are enabled to behold its glory, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, it changes us into the same image, begets and excites holy affections, and every kind of gracious exercise. Hence we are said to“ know the truth, and the truth to make us free;" to be “ sanctified through” it, and “ begotten by” it.+
It is not denied, that there is much of what is called morality in persons who know and believe nothing to
Rom. vi. 17. t Juhn viü, 32. xvii, 17. James i. 18.
purpose of evangelical truth. Honour, interest, and the habits of education, will indyce men to 'shun open immoralities, and to comply with things which are reputable and praise-worthy. But though there be great cause for thankfulness to God, who by his providence thus restrains mankind from much evil; yet this is not holiness. Holiness is the love of God and one another; whereas this is mere self-love. All works and worship of this kind are no better than the offering of Cain, which, being without faith, could not please God.
And as there may be a semblance of holiness without faith, so there may be a semblance of faith without holiness. The doctrines of the bible, though in themselves practical, yet may be treated as mere speculations, and frequently are so by men who profess to believe them; and where this is the case, instead of producing holiness, they may have a contrary effect: but this is owing to their being perverted. God's words do good to the upright. There is not a sentiment in the living oracles but what, if received in the true spirit and intent of it, will contribute to the sanctification of the mind.
True religion is with great beauty and propriety called, ""Walking in the truth."* A life of sobriety, righteousness, and godliness, is christian principle reduced to practice. Truth is a system of love, an overflow of the divine blessedness, as is intimated by its being called, “The glorious gospel of the blessed God:" a system of reconciliation, peace, and forgiveness; full of the most amazing condescension, and of spotless rectitude. To walk in truth like this is to walk in love, to be tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven us ; to be of the same mind with him who made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant; and to be holy in all manner of conversation.
Such were the fruits of truth which were actually brought forth by the primitive believers; and such, in
* S John 4.
different degrées, notwithstanding the many defects and scandals which abound amongst us, are the fruits of it in true christians to this day. Thousands of examples, both in earlier and later times, might be produced, in which men who previously walked according to the course of this world, in rioting and drunkenness, in chambering and wantonness, in strife and envying, on embracing the doctrine of Christ crucified, have put off all these, and become, as it were, new creatures.
It is also worthy of special notice, that in every instance in which the primitive churches deviated from the doctrine of the apostles, they appear to have degenerated as to zeal and practical godliness. A careful review of the epistles to the Corinthians, the Galatians, and the Hebrews, who departed more than any other churches from the simplicity of the gospel, would furnish proof of the justness of this remark. It was not without reason that Paul observed to the Corinthians, “ Evil communications corrupt good manners;" by which he appears to have meant the communications of false teachers, who endeavoured to undermine the resurrection, and other important truths. And such was the “ corruption of manners' which accompanied these notions, that, degenerate as we consider ourselves, compared with the primitive christians, if any one of our churches tolerated the same things, we should be almost ready to pronounce it a synagogue of Satan. Among other things, they divided into parties, boasted of the talents of their preachers, connived 'at the most unnatural kind of fornication, went to law with one another, communed with idolaters at their temples, and profaned the sup: per of the Lord, by appropriating it to purposes of sensual indulgence! Such were the fruits of error.
If we look into the epistle to the Galatians, who had been turned aside from the apostolic doctrine of justification, we shall find fruits of the same kind. They are described as “not obeying the truth,” as “ foolish,” as in a manner "bewitched,” as having