21. ON THE CAUSE OF
What a multitude of opinions we find in the religious world! How many
different sects and parties! each walling themselves round with their own
peculiar tenets, and maintaining their own views of doctrine as the only
standard of truth. But, in the midst of all this diversity of sentiment, how
busy is the great enemy of souls in sowing the tares of uncharitableness,
angry zeal, violent passions, and every unchristian temper in the Gospel
field. The visible church has too long been the arena for combats which have
ended in deluges of blood. Witness those many persecutions which have been
carried on by Christians against Christians in almost every age.
"Oh Almighty God, look down upon your church, the vine which your own right
hand has planted, that the boar out of the woods may not waste it, nor the
wild beast of the field devour it. Return, we beseech you, Oh God of hosts;
look down from heaven, behold, and visit this vine."
It may be useful to inquire, from where arises all this angry disputation in
the professing Christian world? It arises, chiefly, from the pride of our
hearts. To contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, is
a duty; "to give place, no, not for an hour," to those who seek to destroy
the foundation of our faith, is a duty. There is, however, an existing evil
of great magnitude, and which springs from that pride of intellect, which
seeks to be wise above what is written.
Man is not willing to act upon the plain, revealed command of Heaven. He
must search and pry into the secret counsels of Jehovah. He wishes to
ascertain why the Almighty issues such and such commands. He endeavors to
bring every revelation from God to the rule and standard of his own peculiar
mode of reasoning; and when two declarations present themselves before him,
apparently opposed to each other, though practically leading to the same
point, that is, the glory of God and the salvation of the soul; instead of
humbly receiving both, as stated in the word of truth, and seeking to draw
from each the practical improvement intended by them, he cannot rest until
he has filled up the seeming chasm with his own confused ideas, thinking
thereby to vindicate the ways of God to man!
Now, as each inquirer claims an equal right to fill up this chasm in his own
way, and as very few will entirely submit to the system of another; so on
this account it is, that the Christian world is filled with such heterodox
opinions. Thus, leaving the sure path of revealed truth, men plunge into an
ocean of inexplicable difficulties, and, by laboring to be wise above what
is written, become very fools in divine things.
"Lord, grant that I may never exercise myself in matters which are too high
for me; which you did never intend should be fully known in this present
state; no, which I cannot comprehend, until the natural blindness of my
understanding be wholly removed. In heaven, all darkness will be excluded.
Here, I know but in part; there, if admitted by your grace, I shall know,
even as also I am known. Make my soul then, Oh Lord, as a weaned child. Give
me that simplicity of faith which cheerfully receives, as truth, all that
you have revealed, though mystery surround me on every side."
I find many plain and clear declarations, which nothing but a willful hatred
of the truth can misrepresent and pervert. On these I would continually
dwell; from them I would draw all the sweetness and comfort, wisdom and
strength, which they were mercifully designed to convey. As a newborn babe,
may I desire the sincere milk of the word, that I may grow thereby.
I find other declarations high and sublime; far surpassing man's
understanding. From these, I would learn humility. To these, I would submit
my reason with humble reverence. By these, I would exercise my faith, and
place implicit confidence in the word of truth, although many things therein
be difficult to comprehend, and many past finding out.
While Peter acknowledges that, in the epistles of his beloved brother Paul,
are some things hard to be understood; he also declares, that the unlearned
and unstable twist them, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their
own destruction. From these considerations, I perceive how wonderfully the
holy Scriptures are calculated to instruct the humble believer, while they
bewilder the proud skeptic. Like the cloud in the wilderness, they afford
light to the Israel of God, while "the disputer of this world" is left in
darkness. "Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He
will understand them. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in
them, but the rebellious stumble in them." Hosea 14:9.
All theological and practical errors originate in the unbelief and pride of
our hearts. We are continually pained with instances illustrative of this
truth. Many who, to all outward appearance, set out well, holding the grand
essentials of Christianity, and exhibiting the humble walk of the Christian,
have, by degrees, got so high in doctrines, as to pass over the limits of
the precepts, considering every enforcement of the moral law as derogatory
to the freeness and liberty of the Gospel. The promises are to them like the
manna for sweetness, while the precepts resemble the bitter waters of Marah.
By this perverted view of the Gospel of grace, which makes provision for the
holiness, as well as the acceptance, of the believer, they endeavor to
disunite what God has inseparably joined together.
Advancing in their career of bold inquiry and daring investigation; leaving
the precincts of the written word, and soaring into the interminable region
of wild conjecture; they fall at length, giddy with their flight, into the
fatal revelries of fanatical delusion, skeptical indifference, Socinian
heresy, or deistical profaneness. Such wandering stars, leaving their proper
orbit, afford an awful warning to the church of Christ; and happy is he who
learns wisdom from their end, and thereby resists the first risings of pride
and unhallowed speculation.
Some, indeed, are restored by that sovereign grace which they have abused;
while others are left to the misery of their own delusions, according to
Jude, who denominates them "wandering stars, to whom is reserved the
blackness of darkness forever." In the midst of surrounding darkness and
abounding iniquity; in the midst of distracting opinions and guilty fears:
Where must we look for saving help?
To whom for refuge fly?
Who dare presume to plead our cause
Before the throne on high?
It is Jesus pleads his people's cause,
Before the eternal throne;
Presents the merit of his blood,
And claims them for his own.
Oh! for a lively, vigorous faith,
To feel this blessing mine;
Make me, Oh Lord, of saving grace
A monument divine.
On you, a helpless worm I fall,
On you alone depend;
I'll trust your grace— 'tis infinite,
And knows nor bound nor end.
Father! behold me in your Son;
Oh! send your Spirit down,
To fit me for eternal joys,
And seal me for your own.