Page images
PDF
EPUB

with any definite portion of the sins of those whom he has been instrumental in corrupting-and though we might be altogether unable to estimate the extent to which he has contributed to the amount of abounding iniquity; yet, to God, who is intimately acquainted with every possible combination of events, and can assign to every separate cause its precise share of the influence by which these events are brought about, every action of every individual must be perfectly known, both as it is in itself, and as it affects those who

may

be directly or indirectly subjected to its influence. And who does not perceive that His all-seeing eye may be tracing the consequences of a guilty deed, at the distance of ages from the moment at which it was committed, and connecting the ruin of multitudes with an action which the perpetrator himself perhaps dismissed from his recollection with as little concern as he did the worthless gratification that led to it? The man who, in the pride of his fancied intellectual superiority, awakens in the mind of another, one serious doubt on the subject of divine truth, or he who, in the pursuit of ungodly pleasure, allures a fellow-creature into a participation of his own profligacy, thereby opens a flood-gate which Omnipotence alone can shut; and were a prophetic eye to take a survey of the future consequences of one.such action, it might see there the commencement of a train of evils, as appalling in their nature, and as interminable in their duration, as those which Ahijah foresaw when he uttered the prediction in the text. The instant such a man has succeeded in effacing the religious impressions, or corrupting the moral principles of another, he has put a principle of evil in operation, which it is utterly beyond his power to control; he has inflicted an injury which the wealth of worlds, if it were at his command, could not repair, and an injury too, of which he can neither see the termination nor calculate the extent. The victim of his own artifice is prepared to perpetrate the same crimes, and to entail upon others the same ruin; and thus may the effects of his sin continue to be perpetuated and felt when he him. self is forgotten, or when his memory lives only in the book of that remembrance, where his guilt has been recorded in connexion with its consequences. To the truth of these remarks, the experience of every day bears melancholy and decisive evidence; for who has not known them exemplified, and to a fearful extent too, even within the sphere of his own observation? Yet, how little, how very little of these consequences can come under our notice, compared with what they really are, and must appear, therefore, in the sight of God! And how fearful must the judgement-seat be to the man who is there to be reckoned with for unforgiven guilt like this,—who shall then be compelled to read the faithful record, not only of his personal offences, but of their pestilential effects,- who shall be made to see the full extent to which the withering influence of his crimes has affected the moral well-being of his fellow-men--and shall be confronted with the multitudes whose impenitence he was instrumental in sealing, and to whose ruin, therefore, he has in reality contributed !'

pp. 57-58. Dr. Gordon remarks, that one of the bitterest and most agonizing reflections of a mind awakened to its guilt will be, that the individual has contributed to corrupt or to harden others, without the possibility of repairing the injury that he has done them. We believe that this will be found, moreover, a consideration best adapted to awaken a sense of guilt. In dealing with the heart that is dead to the enormity of sin as an offence against God, some effective use may often be made of what good feeling may yet remain; by attacking this vulnerable point. The idea which keeps back men from real repentance, is the mistaken notion that sin is reparable, that repen. tance can atone for it, that a simple act of mercy on the part of God can do away all the consequences of disobedience. This is not the fact, as respects the individual himself; but it is much easier to shew, that repentance can avail nothing as an atonement or reparation with regard to the consequences of sin on others. This thought, Dr. Gordon has very forcibly pressed home upon the conscience.

• But neither is the application of the subject to be confined to such as have, either by deliberate attempts, or the influence of a vicious example, succeeded in corrupting others, and have thus given a new impulse as it were to the strength of prevailing iniquity Upon the principle which is laid down in the text, and which we have now endeavoured to illustrate, it is evident that from every unholy action that is performed, and every unsanctified expression that is uttered, there must be going forth a corrupting and debasing influence; that though the effects of this influence may not be immediately perceived, it may, nevertheless, have left impressions that will never again be effaced ; and that if it has once taken effect, no human wisdom can estimate or foretell the consequences. And if this principle be admitted, then where is the man, let his past life have been as free from flagrant transgressions, and the sphere of his influence as limited as it may, who will venture to allege that he has never contributed to the moral and spiritual injury of his fellow-men--that none have ever imbibed from him an unholy sentiment—or that none have been encouraged by his example to persevere in the ways of sin ! So long as he is a stranger to the power of the gospel, there will be something in his character, which, in spite of all the decencies of an external profession, will indicate a spirit of hostility to vital godliness; and though the symptoms of this hostility may seldom or never be perceived by those with whom he holds only a slight or occasional intercourse, yet they will manifest themselves in a thousand ways to his more intimate associates, and may be exercising an influence over shem which, though unseen by others, and scarcely felt by themselves, will as effectually estrange them from divine things, as if they were exposed to an apparently stronger and more dangerous temptation. The very tone and manner in which divine truth is spoken of, may weaken the impression of reverence that was once felt for its authority. One expression of levity, or a single profane allusion, may

lessen the abhorrence that was entertained for the deformity of sin -and a conversation, which to him might appear too trifling to be remembered, may have made a fearful inroad on the moral principles of others, and loosened the salutary restraints which conscience imposes on the sinful propensities of the heart. In all this, indeed, he may see nothing wherewith to upbraid himself; and while he is not chargeable with having deliberately attempted to draw others into the actual commission of gross and flagrant immoralities, he may flatter himself that he has never incurred the guilt of injuring the spiritual interests of any. Very different, however, is his character in the sight of God, and very different will it be in his own estimation, should be ever be awakened from his dream of self-security. He will then see that it is no light thing to have ministered to the delusion of a fellow-sinner, and contributed to strengthen him in his alienation from God; that the life, which he once thought so blame. less, has not only been unprofitable but positively mischievous ; that every day which he spent in a state of estrangement from his Maker, was productive of injury to others as well as to himself; and that the amount of this injury is such as he cannot estimate, and never will be able to repair.

• These, I think, are reflections which can hardly fail to occur to the Christian, on looking back to that period of his life when he was living without God and without hope in the world; and though he may never have made any deliberate effort to corrupt or mislead a fellow-sinner, yet he will still have enough to lament on the retrospect of that period, and enough to remind him how unprofitable it was to himself, and how injurious it must have been to others, . He knows that in all the intercourse which he then held with his fellow. men, he was as little inclined as he was qualified to attempt advancing their spiritual interests ; and though it is but comparatively little of that intercourse that he can now remember, he cannot doubt that much of it was calculated to efface, rather than to strengthen, their impressions of divine things; and that the influence of many a sentiment and action which he has long ago forgotten, may yet be operating on the life and character of those with whom he associated. And while these reflections awaken feelings of the deepest humiliation and self-abasement, need I urge upon believers the powerful motive which they suggsst, to be active and diligent in labouring to counteract that principle of evil which is so fearfully prevalent, and which they themselves have been instrumental in strengthening! Were their own unaided efforts, indeed, the only agency

that is to be to looked for to give success to such an attempt, it would assuredly prove a very hopeless enterprise, as the very subject which we have been considering does abundantly testify; and they might be ready to resign themselves to the desponding reflection, that while every sinful action of their lives may have contributed to strengthen the opposition of others to the government of God, they will never be able to effect any thing in the way of disarming that opposition. They are not abandoned, however, to the feebleness of their own strength, nor left to dwell with unavailing complaints on their own VoL, XXV. N.S.

Y

helplessness. The Spirit of God has himself undertaken to counteract thiş malignant principle : their own deliverance from the dominion of a depraved heart is itself a proof that his agency is at work; and if sinners, in their unregenerate state, do mutually minister to one another's spiritual debasement, they are employed as instruments also in effecting one another's spiritual regeneration. And can believers reflect on the unsearchable wisdom and the marvellous condescension of such an order of things, without feeling, and habitually acting under a sense of the obligations hereby laid on them, to labour for the spiritual welfare of others ? Though the infectious example of moral evil among creatures already depraved, is more chan sufficient to resist the efforts, and counteract the influence even of the holiest of the children of God, yet, the Spirit can impart to the latter a power and an energy before which that resistance will give way. The Christian is encouraged to believe that through this divine influence he may carry with him a purifying, as he once did a corrupting influence among his brethren around him. Opportunities are thus afforded him of redeeming the time that he misspent, and remedying, in some measure, the evils which he occasioned; and while the Scriptures tell him of the retribution that awaits those who have not only sinned but also made others to sin, they tell him likewise that “ they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”,

The twelfth sermon is an admirable vindication of the practical tendency of the doctrines of grace. The general principle might have been followed out with advantage, in its application to the several parts of Christian obedience, and in its bearings upon different stages of religious experience and diversities of character. There is, perhaps, more breadth and vigour than discrimination in Dr. Gordon's style of treating his subject. He fixes upon one simple prominent idea, and he pursues it without turning to either the right or the left, without pause or flagging ; by which means he succeeds in concentrating the attention on a single point, and in giving to his sermons a singular unity. Still, we could sometimes wish for more of detail and illustration. Or if we are disposed to dispense with this in Dr. Gordon's sermons, we must guard against their being considered as, in this respect, any more than precisely in their construction, an unexceptionable model. Pulpit-teaching is an experimental science, the object of which is less to prove the truth of general principles, than to instruct men how to make use of them. It is made up, like medical science, greatly of practical cases, the knowledge and study of which is to the full as important as an acquaintance with system. It is one great defect in the writings of many estimable divines, that they seem to overlook the almost intinite modifications of which the common facts and general course and order of religious exs perience are susceptible in individuals. They dwell upon faith, repentance, peace, and other exercises and dispositions of mind in general terms, as if they not only were substantially the same in their nature and source in the heart of every man, but as if, too, the minds of men, were less variously constituted than their bodies, -as if moral health and disease did not respective ly assume a character and complexion altogether different in individuals of various temperament,--and as if the history of religion in the soul of man were not as full of anomalies con. tradictory to all system, of exceptions and varieties, as the history of bodily disease. It is of the highest importance never to lose sight of the grand scriptural distribution of mankind into the two classes,--believers and unbelievers,--the justified and the unjustified. On this broad distinction, salvation hinges ; and it can never be made too prominent. But still, it should be remembered, that the sinner, or the believer, is not a specific character, but a generic one; and preaching, we feel persuaded, while it clearly upholds as all-important the broad generic disa tinctions of religious state and character, must be specific in order to be practically efficient.

But we have wandered from the immediate subject of the sermon which suggested this train of remark, and which we have already intimated to be an able and striking vindication of the Author's thesis. We transcribe the concluding paragraphs.

• It has sometimes indeed been alleged, that the doctrines of free grace have a contrary tendency, and that, instead of giving an impulse to new obedience, they are calculated to lull the singer into indolence and sloth. But the assertion is as palpably at variance with the known principles of our constitution, as it is calumnious towards the gospel itself." It was the experience of the Psalmist, that when his heart was enlarged, he ran the way of the divine commandments ; and such also has been the experience of believers in every subsequent age. Nay, we do not hesitate to appeal to these, whether it is not true, that till they understood and believed the gospel proclamation of a free remission through the blood of Christill they saw that full permission was given them to repose on his finished mediatorial work -and till they began to taste the blessedness of being reconciled to God, they never knew what it was to perform one act of cheerful or willing obedience ; that till they felt something of that change of relation towards their maker, whereby the dread of a slave was diso" placed by the reverential and affectionate fear of a child, they were perpetually haunted by certain suspicions and misgivings which were utterly incompatible with filial obedience; and that every effort which they had till then made in the way of compliance with the requirements of divine law, was little else than a constrained act of

« PreviousContinue »