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Positive assurances are given us in God's Word, that appeals for mercy may come too late. "Because I have called, and ye refused; but have set at nought my counsel, and would have none of my reproof: I will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh. When distress and anguish come, they shall call on me, but I will not answer: they shall seek me, but shall not find me, for they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat the fruit of their own doings." Proverbs i. 24-32. "Ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins." John viii. 21. "Then came the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered, Verily I say, I know you not." Matthew xxv. 11. "Not every one that saith, Lord, Lord, shall enter into heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew vii. 21. "I give every one according to his work." Revelation xxii. 12. "Who will render to every one according to his deeds." Matthew xvi. 27. "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die." Romans viii. 13. "When God taketh away his soul, will God hear his cry?" Job xxvii. 8.
Objections to this Doctrine.
1. The case of the thief on the cross.
Several considerations must be regarded as to this event. It is the only instance in all Holy Writ of salvation obtained in the last hours; and is, therefore, in the highest degree an exceptional case. One instance among all mankind in thousands of years. What is more, this case bears no resemblance to that of a person brought up in a Christian land, and therefore acquainted with the way of salvation. It cannot, therefore, with the least plausibility be brought to bear on the subject here discussed. It is impossible that the like should ever happen, for no one can ever be placed in similar circumstances. That man may never before have heard Christ or seen him. He believed on a Saviour whose own disciples had fled, bewailing their disappointment as to his real Messiahship. "We hoped it had been he," said they. There hung a man bleeding, scorned, hated, and mockingly told to come down from the cross and prove his mission. A man whose own disciples had abandoned with disappointment. He believed that he was the Son of God, and shared his infamy and scorn; and heroically, in the hearing of that infuriated mob, praying to Jesus as divine, and rebuking his fellow malefactor for his railings, and declaring Christ's innocence. He thus proved his faith by his works. How dare we class this case with that of those who, surrounded with evidences of Christianity, have persistently refused to believe on Jesus, and spent a whole life in rebellion even against their conscience, till, unable any longer to cleave to their idols, they cast themselves helplessly on the mercy they had rejected?
2. The case of the men in the parable, who went into the vineyard at the eleventh hour, and received full wages.
Here again the case is utterly unlike that of the man supposed to be converted in the immediate prospect of death. The parable describes men who had waited all day for an offer of work, and had none. The custom of the country, as is the case in some countries now, is for persons who desire work to show themselves in a certain place, where those who sought laborers resorted to find them. The parable represents the men as accepting the first opportunity of going to work, and working faithfully as long as wanted. Can this case encourage those who have all their life refused God's service? Can it authorize the expectation of wages when they have not worked at all,—and "the night has come in which no man can work?"
3. It is pleaded that God is able to convert sinners at any time. Certainly. But the question is, does he convert men in their last hours? He can make true believers out of stones. Matt. iii. 8, 9. He could have sent one from the dead to warn the rich man's brethren to keep out of hell; but he chose to consign them to the warnings of Moses and the prophets. Luke xvi. 30. He could have softened Pharaoh's heart, instead of letting him be drowned in the Red Sea. He can do anything but deny himself. We are to govern ourselves by his commands as given in his revealed Word. Does that Word anywhere intimate that he takes to heaven those who hate him, and are his open enemies till they can resist no longer?
4. This belief would drive the dying sinner to despair.
Perhaps so. It would then only begin his eternal despair but a few minutes sooner. But were this doctrine generally believed, it would save millions from despair here or hereafter, by quickening their acceptance of the grace of God. But it does not compel even the dying to despair. God only knows when we are dying, and " he now commands all men, everywhere, to repent." Thousands recover, all hope of life is extinguished, and even the sickness may De blessed to conversion.
If even our doctrine be erroneous, Christians should abstain from expressions of confidence as to the salvation of those who never sought God till every occupation, every pleasure was gone, and they had no alternative. Were a death-bed repentance certainly safe and sufficient, we must remember that a vast number leave the world without a chance even for that. What hosts die in battle, shipwreck, war, tempest, accident, earthquake, and otherwise, suddenly! Let not him who audaciously defers his duty without the shadow of a pretext, quarrel with this doctrine. Why will he not obey his Maker? Why treat with insulting disregard the blood and mediation of Jesus? Do you say you respect religion, and will yet be a Christian? You do not respect religion. God himself pronounces you his enemy. Do you mean to repent? Of what? Of all your sins, of course. Then you are deliberately and persistently doing what you intend to repent of, and thus dodge the penalty. Is God thus to be cheated of all your service, while you at last are to be rewarded with the faithful? Can there be greater folly than to procrastinate what you intend to deplore with bitter remorse your doing so? Risking the eternal torments of hell, in the mere hope of a chance to grasp heaven at the close of life? The approach of death furnishes no motive for yielding to the voice of mercy, which does not exist in full force every minute through life. If it did, who knows when death is near ?" In the midst of life we are in death."
BAPTISM A POSITIVE, INFLEXIBLE LAW.
HEN searching the revealed Word of God, to learn our obligations to him, we meet with two distinct classes of precepts; one growing out of the very nature of things, denominated the "moral law; " the other depending entirely on the will of the Lawgiver, called "positive precepts." The distinction is obvious and strongly marked.
The moral law is not dependent for its force on engrossment and promulgation; it is inherent in the constitution of society. Long before God's finger traced its principles on tables of stone, and, amid the thunders of Sinai, gave them into the hands of Moses, they were acknowledged as the standard of human accountability. They are written in the heart of man, and his conscience confesses to their force, accusing or excusing as he squares his life by their dictation.
This form of law grew out of man's fallen condition, and is mostly prohibitory. In this state there would be a constant tendency to do certain things inimical to the authority and glory of God, and prejudical to the general good of mankind, which must be restrained by adequate penalties. This very depravity would lead to the anticipation of such legal proscriptives in the general, leaving to times and circumstances the breadth of their application. Hence all men would form the same general conception of their import without the aid of minute specifications in their setting forth. Indeed, it required no formal promulgation to give validity to these moral principles. Where there is no law, there can be no transgression. Yet the guilty soul acknowledged the law through all the years of its unwritten history from Adam to Moses. God, on Sinai, only recorded on stone what he had long before written in the living heart of man. Cain felt the guilt and terrors of the murderer, when he shed the blood of his brother, though no Divine warning had then been hung up, "Thou shalt not kill!" And Lamech trembled before its seventy and seven fold terrors. Man feels instinctively that he has no right to take that which he cannot bestow, and for which he has not labored, nor to dictate to the Almighty as to the manner in which his gifts shall be bestowed, or his person accepted. This law of moral relationship exists in a more or less marked degree in all nations. The heathen who have not the written law, are a law unto themselves. They acknowledge the general principles of the written law, and bow to their force. Their more perfect development and application has been the chief study of philosophers and statemen; to this they have pointed the people and excited their emulation. In a proper understanding and application of these great moral principles is wrapped up all that is dear to man,—his life, his character, property, and social relations. Looking no higher to search out its spiritual enforcements, so long as these objects are dear to a human heart, the moral law will have a sanctity and force. Yet in this very aspect there is found a sanction for waiving a too strict application of its technical injunctions, when occasions shall arise where the best good of the race will be enhanced by their temporary suspension. The law was ordained for good; but when a greater good will be secured by a partial ignoring of its exact stipulations, it does not insist upon its literal claims. Thus the law requires that the Sabbath should be kept holy, free from secular employments; but "the priests in the temple do profane the Sabbath, and are guiltless." Here the occasion justifies the act. To devoutly love and worship God, is the chief end of man's existence, and his highest personal good. To call him from his secular cares, which so engross the largest share of his thoughts and time that he is prone to forget his obligations to his Creator, the Sabbath was instituted. The holy day was set apart for man, not man for the day. The bare recognition of its sacred character would, in a large degree, serve to call back his wandering thoughts, and inspire devoutness; but how much more impressive the influence of its holy hours would be, if filled up with acts of worship and inculcations of sacred truths, where all the surroundings would aid in impressing the soul with a sense of the Divine presence and goodness. A temple dedicated to the worship of God, the reading of his