« PreviousContinue »
is that indissoluble connection, that will justify the inference, that where the one is, there we may with great probability look for the other.
But the search for error requires no humility, and no prayer. He who forms his system out of his own heart, and goes to the Bible to have it sustained, will be too proud to let the testimony of inspiration alter it. He feels no need of light and asks none: would be afraid to pray, lest God should convince him that his favorite system is a lie. Hence inquire, would you know what truth is, what are the doctrines that men learn on their knees; feeling themselves ignorant, and poor, and blind, and naked, and in need of all things. And would you know what is not truth, inquire what doctrines are brought to the Bible to be compared with it, with a pride and a self-sufficiency, that scruple not to hew down any section of that book that will not quadrate with the favorite system; and prepared to proscribe the whole, if it assume any authority over the decisions of human reason. Do you still ask, “ What is truth?" I answer,
III. Truth is that which produces changes of character for the better. God has told us plainly what is the design of his word. It was given to teach us, “ that denying ungodliness, and every worldly lust, we should live soberly and righteously, and godly in this present evil world." Such then is the effect, that it is to be expected truth will have upon the human character; hence that which has this effect is truth. It was the prayer of our Lord for his disciples, “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.” And who will deny, that men are fitted for heaven, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth. This fact admitted, if we can ascertain what doctrines have been the means of making men better, we shall have learned what the truth is.
Where then do we look for the most frequent conversions ? under what system ? and under what men ? The question amounts to this, What doctrines have been preached, and believed, where the Spirit of God has the most frequently and the most powerfully operated, in producing revivals? The men who have been the most favored, in seeing the work of God prosper under their ministrations, and have turned many to righteousness, what is their creed? Do they deny the atonement ? or do they place it at the foundation of all human hopes? Do they acknowledge the Divine nature of Jesus Christ ? Do they consider man so depraved, that his sacrifices are an abomination to the Lord; and his obstinacy such, that God must take away the heart of stone, and give a heart of flesh, or there will be no repentance, and no obedience ? Do they believe, or not, that God is a Sovereign, and worketh all things after the counsel of his own will? Do they credit the fact that God has prepared a quenchless fire, and a never-dying worm, • for the punishment of the finally, impenitent?
We do not deny that in some instances congregations have become acquainted with the truth, by other means than through the ministry placed over them, and that the truth thus acquired has produced awakenings; nor yet, that the Bible alone has been the means of saving men, notwithstanding the opposing influence of a false gospel. We ask what are the doctrines that have generated alarm, and have induced men to fly for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them in the gospel!
Will it be denied that these revivals, so called, have made men better. It will be admitted, that they have made some men worse, that the truth long and daringly resisted, has produced not a few of the most hard and desperate men, that have ever lived. There have been sore and alarming instances of relapse, that have cast whole Churches into deep distress.
But, this admitted, have not revivals produced very noted and numerous cases of reform ? Have not the profane, the intemperate, the proud, and the false, been rendered virtuous, by some power that operated at these seasons? Now if it was God who wrought, it was truth he used : and whether you own or not, that the power of God produced the changes witnessed, you will hardly deny that the truth was the means: for it is not more unscriptural, than unphilosophical, to believe that falsehood will generate virtue.
Ascertain then whether the reception or the rejection of any given doctrine, or system of doctrines, is more generally attended by a change of character for the better, producing sobriety, morality, and benevolence, and the fact will aid you in your search after truth. I know there is much boast of morality, where doctrines are current, that are plainly at war with what the Bible seems very clearly to teach, but I know too that such boast is vain. The virtue that thrives under error is proud, and selfish, and cold, and often very malignant, and cruel ; makes but few and small sacrifices, and is at the best a mere polished and civilized idolatry. It may drop a tear over the sufferings of the body, and be prompt to cure temporary distress; but can look with the indifference of a statue at the ruins of the moral world, and feels not a pang nor utters a groan, at the sight of six hundred millions of souls sinking to perdition, and degraded and miserable all the way thither. It cares not who suffers through ignorance of God, nor is miserable through the lack of vision. We do not deny, if they like this picture, that such a morality does prevail where men have turned the truth of God into a lie.
But let us make a high regard to the best interests of men, the leading feature of morality, and then inquire where we find it. Does such a morality thrive under what is termed evangelical truth, or where this system is scouted, and libelled, and proscribed ? If we see men, on embracing these doctrines become better, then believe them true, but if worse, then you may believe them a lie. Do
you ask me still, “ What is truth ?" I answer,
IV. Truth is that which distresses, and often offends ungodly men. The character of God, and his people as far as they are like him, is built on the truth. But unholy beings, men and devils, have a character bottomed upon falsehood. They feel and act as they do, because in their esteem a lie is the truth. Hence the truth is at war with their character, their conscience, their pleasures, and their hopes. It holds before them a mirror in which they appear ugly to themselves, and see their need of a better character, in order to be accepted of God. It shows them that their stronghold is a house of straw. It exhibits them as playing the fool with their own best interests. A mad man, who in a paroxysm of his disease has butchered his family, and half dispatched himself, and has waked to consciousness in the very act of suicide, is scarcely a sorer picture of wretchedness and ruin, than a sinner
whose conscience there has been poured suddenly the light of truth. It shows him that he is laboring hard to fit himself for irrecoverable ruin; and is heaping treasure together for the last days. His character must be altered, or the light shut out that shows him its deformity.
Now assure yourselves what doctrines bring ungodly men into this condition of distress, and you learn what is truth. On the other hand, if you will ascertain what doctrines offend and grieve the good man, you will learn what is not truth. Let me appeal to that part of my audience, who have yet no hope that they are born of God, but who have frequently felt alarm. On that night when you went home so unhappy from the place of worship, and wet your couch with tears, and roared, and was in anguish all night, what doctrine had been exhibited ? Was it the entire depravity of the heart? or was it an attempt to prove, that you are not that lost and ruined being, which this pitiless orthodoxy would render you? Was it Divine sovereignty? or a discourse that went to show, that when God had built the world he placed it without the limits of his empire, and left it to govern and watch over itself? Was it the doctrine of decrees? or an attempt to show that a sparrow may fall to the ground, and God not know it, and that the hairs of our head are not numbered ? Was it election ? or was it an effort to prove that the Father has not given any of our race to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that if he has, they may not come to him, and that many who do come to him may be cast out? Was it the doctrine of ever-during future punishment ? or a train of reasonings that went to prove that the great gulf had been bridged over ?
Go on, my audience, and apply this rule to other doctrines, to whatever extent you please, it will help you greatly in determining what is truth. Let us suppose a case, or rather state one that has happened. A sinner lies on the dying bed. There goes to him one in the character of a minister of Jesus Christ. But he tells the dying man, that he has no occasion to be much alarmed, that his heart is not radically polluted, that he must receive baptism, and forgive his enemies, and be willing to die, and all will be well. He is baptized!! The minister goes on; God is merciful, and Christ has died for sinners: there can be no doubt but the dying man will be soon in Abraham's bosom.—He retires, and another man, with far other views, takes his chair by the dying bed. He assures
poor man, that he has probably come to his last hours with a heart of enmity with God, and so obstinate in its enmity, that none but a power divine can subdue it ; and that it must be sanctified very soon, or he perishes for ever. Still God has made no promise that lays him under obligation to effect this change, hence the man's eternal life hangs upon uncovenanted mercy. True a Savior has died for sinners, and God is merciful, infinitely merciful, but that atonement and that mercy, have conditions annexed, which must be complied with, or they avail nothing. The sinner must repent and believe in Jesus Christ; and God will give repentance unto life to whom he will, whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
I have thus given the substance of the instruction administered by the two legates. The dying man continues impenitent. Now who of the two gives him comfort, and who alarms and distresses him? He who gives comfort to one who is out of Christ, must deal in lies; he who distresses him, though he may not use the mildest, best language, has the presumption in his favor, that he pours in truth upon an ungodly mind. God requires that we say to the wicked, that it shall be ill with them, and a message like this will not give them comfort, unless it prove the means of their conversion. Hence the irresistible presumption is, that he who gives pain to the dying sinner, and not he who gives comfort, makes use of truth.
And what thus gives pain, is very liable to give offence. Men are proud, and when the truth, from the necessity of the case, bears against their character and conduct, they scowl. You can. not offer them mercy in the style of Scripture, but you convey to them a threatening, if they believe not. The gospel intrudes upon the sioner's pleasures, and pours unwelcome light upon his con science, and, as he esteems it, degrades his character ; tells him of a judgment he is loth to think of, and predicts a doom he hates to anticipate, a hell whose fires he would gladly put out, where there await him weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Ah, the truth tears from the sinner all his hopes of heaven, pulls down about his head his refuge of lies, breaks his covenant with death, and annuls his agreement with hell, and leaves him the prey of despair, till he raises one believing look to the hills whence his help cometh ; and sure as life, all this, if it does not save him, will offend him.
If, then, you would test the truth of a doctrine, propose it to ungodly men, and watch if it gives offence. What effect has divine sovereignty, decrees, and election, upon such men? offend, the presumption is that they are true. Go to that man standing in the door of that grog-shop, reeling and cursing, with a glass in his hand, and name one of these doctrines; will it please or offend him ? will it calm or enrage him ?
Let me take another view. Christians have been much of their life ungodly. Did they generally love these hard doctrines before conversion or since? The doctrine of universal salvation ; do men more generally believe this doctrine before they are regenerated, or afterward? You may thus bring to the test any
doctrine or system of doctrines. That individual truth, or system of truths, which pleases more generally unsanctified men, is more likely to be false than otherwise. Error loves its child, depravity, and the child its mother.
I know that to make this experiment fairly, you must arrest attention. Men may be too stupid to be distressed by the truth, and may hold the truth in unrighteousness. The mass of impeni