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conversion—it is vain for them to read the gospel, or hear it preached—there is no possibility of their gaining any religious knowledge before their conversion, and it is preposterous to seek any. Reason has nothing to do in matters of religion, and revelation, indeed, but very little : But men must wait for immediate dictates from on high.
Farther, if none but gracious persons understand the scriptures, then a right understanding of them is an evidence of grace. Well-every man who has formed any opinion at all, naturally concludes, that his own opinion is right; consequently he will conclude himself in a state of grace, because he knows the truth. And if we make this a test of grace in the heart, we shall condemn every man as a sinner, who thinks not precisely as we do. Our minds wilt be fast closed against farther light. We shall be obstinately tenacious of our own sentiments, right or wrong. If we fall into an error, we shall never part with it. Arguments from scripture will avail nothing to our conviction; for we are spiritual
---we judge all things, and will be judged of no man.
But here it will probably be alledged ; The apostle Paul himself, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, ü. chap. 14 verse, says, “ The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are fool. ishness to him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned ; but he that is spririt. ual judgeth all things.”—From this passage some have inferred, that no unregeneráte man can have a right understanding of the doctrines of the gospel. But this inference so palpably contradicts the plain texts already adduced, that it can by no means be admitted. Only attend to the scope and connexion of the apostle's discourse in this chapter, and his meaning will no longer be doubtful. He is speaking of the necessity of revelation, in order to our understanding the nature of the gospel-dispen
sation, which was a mystery hidden from former ages, but was now made known to the apostles by the Spirit, and by them was plainly preached to mankind. In confirmation of the necessity of reve. lation, he says, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God.”—The man, in a state of nature, he who has nothing to guide him but na. tural reason and human wisdom, “He receiveth not the things of the spirit;" the things revealed in the gospel by that spirit, which was communicated to the apostles; “ For they are foolishness to him ;" being destitute of that pomp and parade of human wisdom, by which the wise men of the world captivated their hearers ; “neither can he know them," by any sagacity or study of his own," because they are spiritually discerned ;" they are above the discovery of human reason, and discovered only by revelation. He does not say, a natural man cannot know them when they are discovered ; but he cannot know them before they are discovered by that revelation, which the spirit communicated to the apostles, and which they preached to others.
Yea, further, the doctrines of Jesus Christ seemed foolishness to many, because they were not taught according to the wisdom of the world, by de. ductions of human reason. The apostle says, “ The Greeks seek after wisdom--we preach Christ crucified-to the Greeks foolishness, but to them who are saved the wisdom of God.” A man under the power of a carnal mind, and filled with a vain conceit of his own superior knowledge and good. ness, discerns not in the gospel-scheme of salvation, that heavenly wisdom and excellence, which a humble, penitent soul perceives and admires. His spec. ulative opinions of the gospel may be right; but the pride and corruption of his heart prevent hini from receiving it with approbation and love. The unregenerate and the regenerate may both unitere
stand the doctrines of the gospel alike-may quite agree in their speculative sentiments about them may be equally sound and orthodox in their opinions ; and yet they have a different relish and af. fection for these doctrines. The former, opposed to them in the temper of his heart, discerns no such excellence in them, as to yield to their power and influence. The latter loves, embraces and obeys them. The essential discriminating difference between them lies not in their knowledge of, and opinions. about religion ; but in their practical regard and affection to it.
4. Our subject teaches us the true method of preaching the gospel.
The preacher, after the example of the apostles, must use great plainness of speech, and by manifesto ation of the truth, commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God; lay before his hearers divine truths, with convincing perspicuity; reason with them out of the scriptures; and, from the principles of natural religion, open to them the doctrines and precepts of revelation by a judicious collection, and fair illustration of pertinent passages ; and urge them home on the conscience by wellchosen arguments.
The method of some declaimers, to allegorize the plainest passages, and turn every literal text to a mystical sense, however it may amuse the igno. rant and injudicious, and raise in their minds an admiration of the speaker's knowledge and grace, contributes nothing to improve the understanding, or to mend the heart. It is a criminal abuse and perversion of the divine word, adapted only to mislead the blind, and beguile unstable souls. Such preachers“ turn away from the truth, and are turned unto fables.”
5. You learn from the preceding observations, in what manner you ought to hear the word.
The gospel is written with a plainness suited to common understandings. Hear the preaching of it, not with implicit credulity, but with honest attention, judging for yourselves what is truth. What is agreeable to the sacred oracles, receive with read. iness, and obey with cheerfulness. What appears doubtful bring to the testimony. What this condemns you must reject. Examine obscure texts by those which are plain ; prove speculative opin, ions by practical precepts.
To conclude: It concerns you to be well settled in your religious principles, that you may not be carried about with every wind of doctrine. To this end search the scriptures diligently and humbly, applying, in your inquiries, all proper assistances. Revere the scriptures as a revelation from heaven, given to instruct you, what you ought to believe, to be, and to practise. Make these the standard by which to try every doctrine and every spirit. Bear in mind this thought, that religion is a rational thing, designed to make men wise, good and happy. Remember that it consists not in wild sallies of im. agination, or vehement transports of passion ; but in a calm, steady view of divine truths, influencing the temper and life ; and whenever it takes possession of men's hearts, renders them like to God in holiness ; gives them approving apprehensions of his character; directs them to a uniform love of him, hope in him and obedience to him; disposes then to justice, peace, candor and beneficence toward mankind ; subdues their lusts and worldly affections; forms them to sobriety, meekness and purity; and makes them better men in all changes of - condition, and in all relations of life. In short, consider, that religion is a solid, and an amiable thing: and they who possess it, are really excellent and substantially good.
Guided by these sentiments, you will easily disa tinguish between truth and error. Let the plain sense of scripture, not the suggestions of fancy, or the opinions of men, be your directory. Enquire with humility and integrity, with a desire to know, and resolution to do the will of God, fervently imploring the guidance of his good spirit. Thus will your inquiries be successful; for, “the meek he will guide in judgment; the meek he will teach his way.”