Page images
PDF
EPUB

the prophet delivers in the name of God, is this: “ When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father; neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son ; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.Verse 19, 20.

In the preceding part of the chapter, the prophet has dilated a good deal, and very expressly indeed, upon the same subject, all to confirm the great truth which he lays down : Behold, all souls are mine, as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine ; the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Now apply this to the second commandment; and the only way of reconciling them together is by supposing that the second commandment related solely to temporal or rather family adversity and prosperity, and Ezekiel's chapter to the rewards and punishments of a future state.— When to this is added, what hath been observed, that the threat in the second commandment belongs to the crime forbidden in that commandment, namely, the going over to false gods, and deserting the one true God; and that it also formed a part or branch of the Mosaic system, which dealt throughout in temporal rewards and punishments, at that time dispensed by a particular Provi. dence; when these considerations are laid together, much of the difficulty and much of the objection, which our own minds may have raised against this commandment, will, I hope, be removed.

XIV.

HOW VIRTUE PRODUCES BELIEF, AND VICE UNBELIEF.

John, vii. 17. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doc

trine whether it be of God. It does not, I think, at first sight, appear why our behaviour should influence our belief, or how any particular course of action, good or bad, should affect our assent to any particular propositions which are offered to us; for truth or probability can never depend upon our conduct; the credibility or incredibility of religion is the same, whether we act well or ill, whether we obey its laws or disobey them. Nor is it very manifest, how even our perception of evidence or credibility should be affected by our virtues or vices; because conduct is immediately voluntary, belief is not: one is an act of the will, under the power of motives; the other is an act of the understanding, upon which motives do not, primarily at least, operate, nor ought to operate at all. Yet our Lord, in the text, affirms this to be the case, namely, that our behaviour does influence our belief, and to have been the case from the beginning, that is, even during his own ministry upon earth. “ If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.” It becomes, therefore, a subject of serious and religious inquiry, how, why, and to what extent, the declaration of the text may be maintained.

Now the first and most striking observation is, that it corresponds with experience. The fact so far as

VOL. V.

K

ence.

can be observed, is as the text represents it to be.

I speak of the general course of human conduct, which is the thing to be considered. Good men are generally believers; bad men are generally unbelievers. This is the general state of the case : not without exceptions; for, on the one hand, there may be men of regular external morals who are yet unbelievers, because, though immorality be one cause of unbelief, it is not the only cause : and, on the other hand, there are undoubtedly many who, although they believe and tremble, yet go on in their sins, because their faith doth not regulate their practice. But, having respect to the ordinary course and state of human conduct, what our Saviour hath declared is verified by experi

He that doeth the will of God cometh to believe that Jesus Christ is of God, namely, a messenger from God. A process, some how or other, takes place in the understanding which brings the mind of him who acts rightly to this conclusion. A conviction is formed, and every day made stronger and stronger. No man ever comprehended the value of Christian precepts but by conducting his life according to them. When by so doing he is brought to know their excellency, their perfection, I had almost said their divinity, he is necessarily also brought to think well of the religion itself. Hear Saint Paul :-“ The night is far spent: the day is at hand: let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light; let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying ; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ ; and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Rom. xiii. 11.) It is recorded of this text that it was the means of conversion of a very eminent father of the church, Saint Austin ; for which reason I quote it as an instance to

my present purpose, since I apprehend it must have wrought with him in the manner here represented. I have no doubt but that others have been affected in like manner by this or other particular portions of Scripture; and that still greater numbers have been drawn to Christianity by the general impression which our Lord's discourses, and the speeches and letters of his apostles, have left upon their minds. This is sometimes called the internal evidence of our religion ; and it is very strong. But, inasmuch as it is a species of evidence which applies itself to the knowledge, love, and practice, of virtue, it will operate most powerfully where it finds these qualities, or even these tendencies and dispositions, subsisting. If this be the effect of virtuous conduct, and, in some proportion, the effect also of each separate act of virtue, the contrary effect must nécessarily follow from a contrary course of behaviour. And perhaps it may assist us in unfolding the subject to take up the inquiry in this order ; because, if it can be shown why, and in what manner, vice tends to obstruct, impair, and at length destroy, our faith, it will not be difficult to allow that virtue must facilitate, support, and confirm it: that at least it will deliver us, or keep us free, from that weight of prejudice and resistance which is produced in the mind by vice, and which acts against the reception of religious truth.

Now the case appears to me to be no other than this: A great many persons, before they proceed upon an act of known transgression, do expressly state to themselves the question, whether religion be true or not; and, in order to get at the object of their desire (for the real matter to be determined is whether they shall have their desire gratified or not), in order, I say, to get at the pleasure in some cases; or, in other cases, the point of interest upon which they have set their hearts, they choose to decide ; and they do in fact decide with themselves that these things are not so certain as to be a reason for them to give up the pleasure which lies before them, or the advantage which is now, and which may never be again, in their power to compass. This conclusion does actually take place, and, at various times, must almost necessarily take place, in the minds of men of bad morals. And now remark the effect which it has upon their thoughts afterward. When they come at some future time to reflect upon religion, they reflect upon it as upon what they had before adjudged to be unfounded, and too uncertain to be acted upon, or to be depended upon : and reflections accompanied with this adverse and unfavourable impression naturally lead to infidelity. Herein, therefore, is seen the fallacious operation of sin ; first, in the circumstances under which men form their opinion and their conclusions concerning religion ; and, secondly, in the effect which conclusions, which doubts, so formed have upon their judgment afterward. First, what is the situation of mind in which they decide concerning religion? and what can be expected from such a situation? Some magnified and alluring pleasure has stirred their desires and passions. It cannot be enjoyed without sin. Here is religion denouncing and forbidding it on one side : there is opportunity drawing and pulling on the other. With this drag and bias upon their thoughts, they pronounce and decide concerning the most important of all subjects and of all questions. If they should determine for the truth and reality of religion, they must sit down disappointed of a gratification upon which they had set their hearts, and of using an opportunity which may never come again. Nevertheless they must determine one way or other. And this process, viz. a similar deliberation and a similar

« PreviousContinue »