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II. Let us see what are man's thoughts with regard to religion, and the concerns of a future life.
It might be expected that if in any thing they be other than vanity, it is in this. The thoughts of a rational and immortal creature, upon its eternal interests, one would think, must be serious and solemn. When the objects of thought are-God-our accountableness to him-our sin against him—our salvation from it-or condemnation for it: surely we shall not trifle, and deceive ourselves! Yet, alas, so far is man from excelling in this solemn department, that there is nothing on which he thinks to so little purpose. The truth of this remark will appear from the following questions
1. What are the thoughts of the heathen world about religion?-In them we see what the thoughts of man, left to himself, amount to. To call them vanity, is to call them by a tender name. I speak not merely of the common people, who are inveloped in ignorance and superstition, but of their wisest philosophers. To what do all their enquiries about God, the chief good, amount? To nothing at all. All is vanity! A babe in the christian religion, with a page of God's word in his hand, knows more than they have been able to discover in the space of three thousand years.
2. What are all the thoughts of the christian world, where God's thoughts are neglected?-Men who have the bible in their hands, but who, instead of learning the mind of God in it, and there resting contented, are ever bent on curious speculations, prying into things beyond their reach, vainly puffed up with a fleshly mind; to what do their thoughts amount? Nothing. They may presently lose themselves, and perplex others; they may obtain the flattery of unbelievers, and compliment one another with the epithets of candid and liberal; they may comfort themselves in the idea of being moderate men, and not like those bigots who refuse to yield, or make any concessions to the objections of unbelievers: but all that
they gain is, the friendship of the world, which is enmity to God. Were a monument erected to the memory of all those who have perished, by falling from the precipice of unscriptural speculation, it could not have a more appropriate motto than this: Vain man would be wise.' 3. What is all that practical atheism, which induces multitudes to act as if there were no God?-Great numbers of people in every part of the world, whatever they may call themselves, are practical atheists. They 'work iniquity in the dark, and say in their hearts, The Lord seeth us not: the Lord hath forsaken the earth.'* The Lord, they think, takes no cognizance of the world now, whatever he may have done formerly; but leaves us to shift for ourselves, and do as well as we can.-Such characters there were in the times of David; and whose presumptuous folly seems to have given occasion for the words on which these reflections are founded. They are denominated 'proud;' described as 'triumphing and boasting' in their wickedness; as uttering hard things;' as 'breaking in pieces God's people, and afflicting his heritage;' as 'slaying the widow and the stranger, and murdering the fatherless:' yet, as saying, 'The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard.' Well did the psalmist admonish them, saying 'Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth the heathen (who are without the light of revelation) shall not he correct those who possess and despise it? The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.'
4. What are all the unbelieving self-flattering imaginations of wicked men, as though God were not in earnest, in his declarations and threatenings?—Nothing is more solemnly declared than that, Except we be converted, and become as little children, we cannot enter the kingdom
* Ezek. viii. 12.
of God-That whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap-That neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God-and that without faith it is impossible to please God.'* Yet the bulk of mankind do not seem to believe these things, but flatter themselves that they shall have peace, though they add drunkenness to thirst; that to talk of a man, born in a christian land, requiring to be born again, is enthusiastical; that God is merciful, and will not be strict to mark iniquity; and that if we do as well as we can, that is, as well as we can find in our hearts to do, the Almighty will desire no more. The vanity of these thoughts, prevalent as they are in the world, will appear, if not before, when God shall judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ.
5. What are the conceits of the self-righteous, by which they buoy up their minds with vain hopes, and refuse to submit to the righteousness of God?-Of the two firstborn sons of man who presented their offerings to God, one came without a sacrifice; and the greater part of professed worshippers in all ages, it is to be feared, have followed his example. It is deeply rooted in every human heart,that if the displeasure of God be appeased towards us, or if he show us any favour, it must be on account of some worthiness found in us. To go to God as utterly unworthy, pleading the worthiness of a Mediator, and building all our hope of acceptance on his obedience and sacrifice, is a hard lesson for a proud spirit, Yet, till we learn this, we in effect learn nothing; nor will God accept our offering, any more than he accepted the offering of Cain.
Such is the vanity of man's thoughts, in things of everlasting moment. But it may be asked, Are all the thoughts of men of this description? No: the charge is directed
*Matt. xviii. 3. Gal. vi. 6.
1 Cor. vi. 9, 10. Heb. xi. 6.
against men as depraved, and not as renewed: for though there be much vanity in the thoughts of the best of men, yet it is not mainly so. There are thoughts, which, though we are not sufficient of ourselves to obtain them, yet being imparted to us by Him in whom is all our sufficiency, are not vanity. If we think of God with approbation, of sin with contrition, of ourselves as nothing, of Christ as all, of earth as the house of our pilgrimage, and of heaven as our home; this is thinking justly, as we ought to think. Such thoughts also are an earnest of that state, where themes of unutterable glory shall for ever present themselves; and where all our powers, being corrected and sanctified, shall ever be employed in exploring the wonders of grace.
THE MORAL EXCELLENCY OF FAITH.
A letter to Dr. Stuart of Edinburgh, May 1797.
I THINK I can perceive, that Mr. M'Lean's great object is to cut up self-righteousness, and hence it is that he disapproves of Mr. Simeon's statement.* Faith, according to Mr. M'Lean, must not only have no moral efficacy towards our acceptance with God, but there must be no fitness between faith and salvation, or in God's bestowing salvation upon believers rather than unbelievers. Yea, lest we should at last be justified by our own moral
*The Rev. Mr. Simeon of Cambridge delivered a sermon at Edinburgh, which was afterwards printed. Mr. M'Lean published some strictures upon it, in a pamphlet entitled "David and Jonathan," which was transmitted by Dr. Stuart to Mr. Fuller, accompanied with his own reflections. The above reply to this letter, produced an elaborate epistle from Mr. M'Lean, the answer to which has already appeared in Morris's MEMOIRS of Mr. Fuller, pp. 317, 318, second edition. ED.
excellency, faith is considered as having nothing of moral excellence in it; but to be a mere assent of the understanding, in which the will has no concern.
But I would
1. If faith be a mere assent of the understanding, and have nothing of moral good in it, how can it be an object of command? How can it be a duty, and how can unbelief be a sin? I know of no better criterions than these, by which to distinguish things natural from things moral. Tell me of something else, as well as faith, which is a mere exercise of the intellectual faculty, in which the will has no concern, and which notwithstanding is a duty, and the omission of it a sin. Is it not the completest contradiction of which we can conceive, to speak of a commanded duty which has nothing moral in it? To me it appears, that nothing can be the object of command but what is moral.
2. May not faith include the acquiescence of the heart in God's way of salvation, and so be a moral excellency; and may there not be a fitness in God's justifying persons who thus acquiesce, without any foundation being laid for boasting? Though faith be a moral exercise, yet I do not consider that it is on account of its morality, but its relation to Christ, that justification is ascribed to it. For this reason it is, as I suppose, that we are said to be justified by faith, rather than by repentance, or love, or hope. Faith bears such a relation to Christ, that, in being justified by it, we are accepted in the beloved.'
3. I imagine you consider me as confounding faith and love, faith and the fruits of it. Mr. M'Lean, when at Kettering, observed on this subject, "that the scriptures speak of faith, hope, and charity as three; but you appear to me to confound them," To this I answered, and do still answer, that faith, hope, and charity are three in some respects, but not in all. They are three, considered with respect to their objects. The object of the first is revealed truth, of the second a future good, and of the last the holy amiableness of God, or whatever bears his image. But your argument requires them to be so distinct, as that no