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2. Why have our pious clergy made such a mistake, and why have they been so wrapt up in this superstitious notion, that virtue is not rewarded, nor vice punished in this world, as long as the scriptures, reason, and experience all teach to the contrary? Reply: The clergy have erred in sitting up something for righteousness, which is nothing but a round of ceremonies, rites, and religious formularies, and condemning every one as nothing more than good moralists, who do not conform to these rites. They attend to them with great punctuality, and they think that this is righteousness. They look on the good moralist, who neglects these rites, and find him as happy a man, at least, in this world as they are; and as they think that something is due to them, more than their neighhours are to receive, and as they do not obtain it in this world, they feel sure that they must in the world to come. We are, therefore, to make a distinction between the religious and the moral, which is an unnatural distinction, but one which is made by the superstition which we have considered. When all shall be convinced that to refrain the tongue from evil, and the lips that they speak no guile; to shun evil and do good ; to seek peace and follow it, is the righteousness which God requires, and which hath the promise of a rich reward of rational happiness, in the present life, it is expected that all will thus obey God's commandments and enjoy life and see good days.
THE SINNER MEETS WITH DESERVED PUNISHMENT.
DELIVERED ON THE THIRD SABBATH IN DECEMBER, 1819.
1 PETER IV. 17, 18.
“For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God;
and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear ?”
Perhaps there are but a few passages of scripture, in the whole of the sacred volume, which contains more of weighty and important matter, in 80 few words, than is expressed in the one just read in your hearing, as the foundation of our present labours. While contemplating the vast extent of subject, the great variety of matter, and the important and solemn nature of the whole, the speaker feels, very sensibly, the impotency of his powers to do his subject justice, by dividing the word of truth in such a manner, as to give a suitable encouragement to the virtues of our religion, and at the same time, judicial discouragement and terror to evil doers, preserving a due regard to the dictates of divine authority, especially in those cases wherein human traditions are preposterously opposed to the divine testimony.
Human invention and ecclesiastical authority have established a tradition concerning this text, which we feel bound to oppose; because they have extended, by the use of this passage, the severity of the divine judgments infinitely beyond the plain and most definite denunciations of the divine law, which is certainly deserving of more respect than
it receives from those erroneous doctrines by which it is so directly opposed.
It is well known by you all, that this passage is generally used in support of the doctrine of future endless misery, and so explained as to indicate that the ungodly and sinner, who obey not the gospel, must suffer in a future state, and to all eternity, the indignation and wrath of Almighty God.
If this use of our text was only known as a piece of ancient history, of some opinion entertained in the dark ages of popery, the necessity of considering and disproving it now could hardly be maintained; but, my brethren, it is the present efforts which are now making to perpetuate this use of this and many other passages, which calls for our careful attention, that what may be done to do away this superstition, so dishonourable to our heavenly Father, should by no means be omitted. But the moment we open our mouth to plead for the mercy of our heavenly Father, in opposition to the endless unmerciful punishment contended for by tradition, a mighty host of superstition presents a most formidable and imposing front, and raises its terrific voice, denouncing vengeance upon us for heresy, and accusing us of denying the validity of the divine threatenings. With a confidence which defies all reason, and a pertinacity which is blind to truth and deaf to argument, the advocate of the ungracious doctrine of never-ending punishment will allow no chastisement for the crimes of the wicked, unless we subscribe to the popular creed, which annihilates divine charity, and dooms the erring offspring of the Father of spirits to the regions of despair, beyond the reach of the Redeemer's grace. But standing firm on the never-failing rock of unalterable truth, we may venture to take a more reasonable position, contend for the judg. nents of God to the extent of the divine severity, and yet allow that where sin abounds, grace .bounds much more.
Our labours, therefore, on the subject before ne, will be directed to set the several parts of our test before the hearer, in their own true sense, without an attempt to restrain any part from its most natural application. The following particulars require to be distinctly considered:
1. The house of God in distinction from those who obey not the gospel.
2. The judgments of God on both, and their relative severity.
3. The nature of that salvation which is indicated in our text by the following words: “If the righteous scarcely be saved.” And
4. Ascertain the meaning of the words, “Where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?”
By house of God, we are to understand the bro therhood of believers in Christ Jesus, who were united as children of one family, and were faithful to the laws and ordinances of God. Jesus called his disciples the house of his Father, in John xiv. “Let not your hearts be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” St. Paul very clearly expresses this subject in the following passages: Heb. iii. “And Moses verily was faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony oi those things which were to be spoken after; but Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” Here we learn that believers belong to this house as long as they hold fast their confidence. Gal, vi, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” This household of faith is the house of God. Ephes, ii. Speaking to Gentile believers, the Apostle says, “Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the
apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”
By the passages here noticed, we learn that the church of believers in the gospel were called the house of God, the household of faith, &c. in distinction from those who believed not.
But we must make a distinction even among those who were unbelievers, who did not obey the gospel of God. Those of whom the apostle speaks in our text, as not obeying the gospel, must, of necessity, be those who had rejected it; for people in remote parts of the earth, who had had no opportunity of hearing of Christ or his doctrine, could not be justly denominated disobedient to its laws. This distinction you will all allow is a very natural one; for surely to speak of the judgments of God on people for not believing and obeying the gospel of which they had had no knowledge, would be a most unreasonable thing.
Our minds are therefore directed toward those who had heard the gospel, who had seen the wonderful and miraculous works of God, designed as evidences of its divinity. In a word, it is perfectly consistent with all circumstances relative to our subject, to fix the words of our text, “What shall the end be of them who obey not the gospel of God,” on the Jewish nation, and particularly on Jerusalem, the sect of those authorities, which perpetually persecuted the believers in Jesus, and especially those who taught in his name,
It seems that we have the two classes mentioned in our text, clearly designated before us. The persecuted church of believers in Jesus on the one hand, and the Jews, who rejected the Messiah, persecuted and put hiin to death, and continued to persecute and vex his disciples, on the other.
The attention of the audience is now invited to the consideration of that judgment mentioned in our text, which began with the house of God, but ended on that wickel and adulterous generation, on whom Jesus denounced all the biood which was