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lost their former zeal,”and rendered their christianity a matter of “doubt,” as needing to have “ Christ again formed in them :” and it is strongly intimated that they were guilty of “ biting,” and as it were
devouring” one another; of “ fulfilling the lusts of the flesh," and of coveting" vain-glory, provoking one another, and envying one another."**
If the Hebrews had not, in turning aside from the truth, been injured in their spirit and conduct, it is very improbable that such language as the following would have been addressed to them : “ Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith, To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years: wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their hearts, and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into
rest. -Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God! Exhort one another daily while it is called to day, lest
of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin !"-Neither is it likely that they would have been exhorted to “ look diligently, lest any man should fail of the grace of God'; lest any root of bitterness springing up should trouble them, and thereby many be defiled ; lest there should be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birth-right;” if no such symptoms had appeared amongst them. Finally: It is not probable that so solemn a warning against “whoredom and adultery” would have been introduced, and the offenders cited as it were to the tribunal of God, if there' had been no occasion for it in their own conduct. +
Whether these instances of the pernicious effects of error in the primitive churches, be not in direct
* See ch. iii. 1. iv. 11, 19, 20. v.7, 15, 16, 26.
† Ch. ii. 7-13. xii. 12, 13, 15, 16. xii. 4,
opposition to the modern notions before stated, let the reader judge. Nor are such things peculiar to the primitive churches. If you see men desert the principles before stated, or hold them in a corrupted sense, you may commonly perceive a change in their spirit, They may retain what is called character, in the eyes of the world, but the savour of godliness is departed. They may retain their zeal ; but it will be confined to some little peculiarity, to the neglect of the common faith. There will be a want of that lovely proportion which constitutes the true beauty of holiness. A man who chews opium, or tobacco, may prefer them to the most wholesome food, and may derive from them pleasure, and even vigour for a time; but his pale countenance, and debilitated constitution, will soon bear witness to the folly of spending his money for that which is not bread.
Fourthly: The love which the primitive christians bore to one another was FOR THE TRUTH'S SAKE.*-Now, that for the sake of which we love a person, is considered as of greater importance than any thing else pertaining to him. It is that which constitutes his value in our esteem; and which, if he abandon, we should no longer esteem him.
Here we may perceive what is essential to the true legitimate charily of the primitive christians. Instead of regarding men irrespectively of their principles, they * knew no man after the flesh.” John, who was the most loving, or charitable, perhaps, of all the disciples of Christ, is so far from considering a departure from the truth as a light matter, and the subject of it as entitled to the same christian affection as hereto. fore, that he expressly writes as follows:-" Whoso, ever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, HATH NOT GOD--If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed; for he that biddeth
* * John i. 2, 3 John 1.
him God-speed, is partaker of his evil deeds.". Would not such language, I ask, in our days be reckoned very uncharitable? It would. But this proves, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the common ideas of charity are anti-scriptural. Charity will not take it for granted that whosoever deviates from our views must needs deviate from the doctrine of Christ; but will carefully enquire at the oracles of God, what is truth. Yet there is no need of being ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of it. The lady whom John addressed was supposed to be able to distinguish between those who“ brought the doctrine of Christ," and those who came without it; and so are christians in the present day. Charity "hopeth all things,” and will always put the most favourable construction upon the motives of others that truth will admit: but without truth, as its ground and guide, it will not proceed.
Here also we may see the nature of christian unity. It is not merely for two or more persons to be agreed; for this they may be in evil. This is mere party-attachment. It is natural for men to love those who think and act like themselves, and that for their own sake. But christian unity is to love one another for Christ's sake, and for the truth's sake that dwelleth in them. Christ, as revealed in the gospel, forms the great point of union. A number of minds are drawn towards this point; and the nearer they approximate to it, the nearer they approach to an union with one another. If all true christians were nearer to the mind of Christ, their differences would soon subside; and they would feel themselves, as they approached it, to be of one heart, and of one soul.
Lastly: Truth is the only solid foundation of peace and happiness. There are cases, it is granted, in which the mind may rejoice in error, or be distressed by truth. False doctrine will operate like opium, filling the imagination with pleasing dreams: but all is transient and delusive. Truth, on the other hand, when it barely commendeth itself to the conscience of a
sinner, may render him extremely unhappy. Such was the effect of Judas's conviction of Christ's innocence; and such is the effect of similar convictions in the present times. But where truth takes possession of the heart; or, as the scriptures express it, where we “ receive the love of the truth,” peace and joy accompany it. This is a fact established by history and experience, and is easily accounted for. Revealed truth carries in it a message of pardon, reconciliation, and eternal life; and all in a way honourable to the divine character and government. This, in itself, is good news; and to every one who, as a sinner ready to perish, receiveth it, is a source of solid and lasting happiness. Truth also pours light upon all the dark and mysterious events of time, and teaches us, while weep+ ing over human misery, not to despond or repine ; but, viewing things on a large scale, to rejoice in whatever is. It exhibits God upon the throne of the universe, ordering every thing for the best; and thus reconciles the mind to present ill, by pointing it to the good that shall ultimately rise out of it.
Contrast with this the horrible complaints of an infidel. “ Who can, without horror, consider the whole earth as the empire of destruction? It abounds in wonders; it abounds also in victims, it is a vast field of carnage and contagion ! Every species is, without pity, pursued and torn to pieces, through the earth, and air, and water ! In man there is more wretchedness than in all other animals put together. He smarts continually under two sources, which other animals never feel; anxiety, and listlessness in'appetence, which make him weary of himself. He loves life, and yet he knows that he must die. If he enjoy some transient good, for which he is thankful to hea. ven, he suffers various evils, and is at last devoured by worms. This knowledge is his fatal prerogative. Other animals have it not. He feels it every moment rankling and corroding in his breast. Yet he spends the transient moment of his existence in diffusing the
misery which he suffers; in cutting the throats of his fellow-creatures for pay; in cheating, and being cheated; in robbing, and being robbed ; in serving, that he may command ; and in repenting of all that he does. The bulk of mankind are nothing more than a crowd of wretches, equally criminal and unfortunate; and the globe contains rather carcases than men. I tremble upon a review of this dreadful picture, to find that it implies a complaint against PROVIDENCE; and I wish that I had never been born!”* Such is the boasted happiness of unbelievers !
And though we should not go these lengths, yet if we forsake truth, by deviating materially from any of the great doctrines of the gospel, it will affect our peace. Error is the wandering of the mind, when it thinks without a guide; the issue of which is “stumbling upon the dark mountains.” It is possible in such circumstances that the stupor of insensibility may be mistaken for the peace of God: but if the soul be once roused from its slumber, especially if it be the subject of any true religion, it will find itself miserable. As soon might we expect to find happiness in the mind of one who has lost his way, and knoweth not whither he goeth, as in a mind that has devi. ated from evangelical truth.
CAUSES OF ERROR. If truth be of this importance, it may be enquired, How are we to account for the great diversity of sentiment in the religious world? Whence is it that professing christians, even the wise and the good amongst them, should be so divided ?
It certainly is not owing to any thing in christianity itself. This will be found, on the strictest enquiry, to be one consistent whole; and all its precepts tend to unity of judgment, as well as of affection. To this end were all the epistles addressed to the primitive churches. In some, the writers labour to establish
* Voltaire : See Simpson's Plea, p, 180. note,