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LUKE XIU. 23, 24. THE SAID OlfS U TO RIM, LORD, ARE THERE FEW THAT BE SAVED ? A D BE SAID U TO THEM, STRIVE TO E TER I AT THE STRAIT GATE ; FOR MA Y, I BAT U TO TOU, WILL SEEK TO E TER I A D SHALL OT BE ABLE.
Reliqion is a subject of so interesting a nature, that it would seem next to impossible for any rational being to be entirely indifferent with regard to it. Indeed, few can be found, who have no curiosity in this matter* Introduce the subject among the most illiterate, and they, as well as the more cultivated, are found not to have neglected entirely the consideration of religious topics. If they have thought nothing of the spirit of the gospel, if they have failed to discharge its duties, yet they have not been able, perhaps not willing, to close their minds against all speculative knowledge. The various theories existing in the Christian world, the different explanations of the records and doctrines of our religion, have more or less occupied the thoughts of most men, who have been educated where the gospel is known. If they have not been interested in inquiring what they shall do to be saved, most are disposed to know something of the fashion of 31
242 IDLE CURIOSITY religious speculation. Hence the practical Christian is often distressed by the apprehension, that, while many are able to dispute, comparatively few are disposed to feel, upon the subjects which Christianity suggests. . He may
frequently hear the inquiry made, Art there few that be saved? while he will seldom find those, who, with fear and trembling, are endeavoring to work out their salvation. It may be too, that he will often meet those, who are particularly pleased with his views of religious truth as opposed to those of a rival sect, and who will be loud in their commendation, while they in fact feel no practical interest in any religious subject. They may extol this theory, and condemn that, while in truth they are both viewed without any reference to their bearing upon the heart or the life. What must be the emotions of a man, who feels deeply upon religious subjects, who is decided in his theory, and equally so in his practice, when he encounters the applause of the mere speculatist ? Can he derive pleasure from the commendation bestowed upon his particular views, by a man who is entirely indifferent to the spirit of religion ? Will he not feel impressed with the conviction, that a man may be a very learned and acute disputant, who is hurrying to the retributions of eternity without a single religious habit, which Christ will acknowledge and approve as his own work ? Under such circumstances, will not the controversies of Christians sink into insignificance? Will he not forget that the man agrees with him in speculation, and feel deeply for his peril as a sinner ? With him he cannot gratify even a laudable curiosity with any degree of satisfaction. To all his curious inquiries, he will be disposed to answer by urging the practical spirit of the gospel. Thus Jesus, when the speculatist approached him with the question, Lord^ are there few that be saved 7 refused to give any direct answer to the inquiry, but replied : Strive to enter in at the strait gate ; for manj/y I say unto yott, will seelc to enter in^ and shall not be able.
I MATTERS OF RELIGIO . 243 1. The present period is not less distinguished, than was that of the promulgation of our religion, by a disposition to inquire, rather than to practise ; to exercise a bold
curiosity, rather than to cultivate a spirit of piety. There is to be sure no crime in the possession of an inquisitive mind, nor will any rational advocate for revelation discourage the spirit of free inquiry. It is a distinguishing feature of our religion, that it courts examination, commands us to scrutinize its merits, and hopes for success only with those who will endeavor to understand its character. either ought that curiosity to be condemned, which is desirous of penetrating beyond the mere surface of revealed truth, of digging deep into the mine, and drawing thence treasures concealed from the superficial observer. But then it may be expected, that, when a man has satisfied his mind upon the divine origin of revelation, he should approach its teachings with reverence. He is to learn, and not to dictate. He is to be satisfied with the knowledge imparted, and not to reject it because his curiosity is not satisfied. Least of all, does it become him, in the impatient pursuit of new truths, and of truths too, which it may not be deemed suitable to communicate to him, to neglect the spirit and design of the revelation which is before him. It is this spirit of speculative wisdom and practical atheism, which our Saviour discouraged, and which should be discountenanced by every humble inquirer for the truth as it is in Jesus. This spirit, we have too much reason to fear, is now in operation, and exerting an influence unfriendly to practical godliness. Let us then for a moment glance at a few facts, which may have some weight in determining whether there be any ground for fear upon this subject. There is, undoubtedly, a principle in the human mind, which prompts to the pursuit of knowledge, and which renders the acquisition of information pleasant. This principle is often in a great degree rendered ineffectual by natural indolence, or by a base subjection to sensual lusts.
244 IDLE CURIOSITY But yet it exists with some power in most minds. Should
a new train of thought or a new view upon any subject of interest be produced in the mind of the most indolent and sensual man, you would see his countenance lighted up for the moment, as if he felt conscious of the possession of powers, which give dignity to his character ; and, while conversing upon the subject, he would feel a sensible satisfaction. ow there is no subject, which so often suggests itself as religion ; and there is no subject better fitted to give employment to the intellectual powers. It interests the attention, and keeps the thoughts busy. It is intimately connected with all our inquiries respecting the works and dispensations of God, our own existence, and our final destiny. Particularly attractive in this point of view is the religion of Jesus. But while it offers the highest and best occupation to the understanding, and is fitted to employ and exalt the mind, it has a moral purpose to accomplish, which in the scriptures is not sufiered to lay concealed for a moment. If it teaches the character of God, it is not that men may be amused by the knowledge thus communicated, but that they may be transformed into the divine image, and become partakers of a divine nature. If it lays open the counsels of heaven respecting the redemption of our race, it is not simply to raise our admiration of the divine purposes, but to fill our hearts with the love of God, to crucify our sinful passions and lusts, and, by purging away our sins, to prepare us for heavenly happiness. Is man a being who loves to be disciplined, who willingly yields to self-denial, who is easily induced to sacrifice present pleasure for an unseen and distant good ? Can he be brought at once to love moral purity, and to labor with perseverance and diligence for a crown, which is withheld' till after he has closed his eyes upon the world ? If not, then he may push his inquiries fiir in speculative knowledge, and be gratified with intellectual views, while his
I MATTERS OF RELIGIO . 245 heart is unacquainted with the spirit of the Gospel. He
may be inquiring, Are there few, that be saved 1 and asking with impatient curiosity what in this, or that respect are the purposes of God, while he is at heart an enemy to the cross of Christ. Again, what is the testimony of experience upon this subject ? There is undoubtedly in the Christian world too little of the spirit of religious inquiry ; too little information on the subject of religion. Thousands are willing to pass through life, with hardly sufficient knowledge of this kind to render even the public preaching of the gospel intelligible to them. But yet is there not more knowledge in the world than piety ? Put the inquiry within your own circle. Are there not more, who are able to talk, than there are who are disposed to feel on religious subjects ? However imperfect the speculations of those, with whom you associate, do you not less frequently find those, who seem to be earnestly engaged in preparing for heaven, than those who are willing and able to speculate ? I ask those who have not made a profession of religious faith, if they are not conscious of habits of mind, which prompt inquiries like that of the text. Do you not, when you hear religion introduced in a practical way, though you may be gratified by religious discussion in general, feel a disposition to raise some inquiry, which may keep religion from coming in contact vnth your heart ? Do you not feel a degree of satis&ction, if, by some intricate question, you can embarrass the man, who is mainly concerned that you should possess the spirit of the gospel ? Why should you or any human being feel the workings of so perverse a temper, and at the same time acknowledge a belief in the gospel and an interest in its truths ? Is it not because it is more pleasant to speculate than to practise ? If the experience of those, who are sincerely endeavoring to understand the gospel, and to comply with the conditions of salvation, be consulted, the same result will be
246 IDLE CURIOSITY obtained. Ask them what difficulties they have to encounter, when they are striving for personal improvement ; and they will number among the chief a disposition to push their inquiries beyond the limits^ to which revelation has confined them. They will tell you that at times they feel their confidence beginning to fail, because they are unable to account for some fact which God has not seen proper to explain, or to answer some curious inquiry which he has not answered. In straying beyond the bounds of legitimate research, they have experienced a temporary suspension of the operation of the spirit of the gospel ; and an effort has been necessary to rouse them from the dream of fruitless speculation, and to bring them back to a fruitful and cheerful piety. ' Ask them what they have had to encounter in their endeavors to awaken in society a practical regard to Christian truth ; and they will not forget to mention, that they have found among a large class of mankind such an inveterate habit of speculating, that they could not by ordinary means be rendered sensible of their personal concern in cultivating a spirit of holiness. One will say, that God has selected those who are to be the heirs of life, and that he need feel no particular interest in working out his own salvation. This he will say, not because he believes a word about any man's being by a divine decree excluded from heaven, but because he feels indisposed to cherish the temper of the gospel, and is gratified when, by bringing forward a suiyect of speculation, he can parry off the stroke, which is aimed at his heart* Another, when urged to embrace by an active faith the Saviour of sinners, will discuss with apparent interest the difierent topics, which are usually brought forward in serious conversation. He will produce the conviction, that he is no stranger to religious reflection. But there are certain questions which must be answered, before he puts himself entirely under the control of Christ. Difierent classes of Christians hold difierent tenets. He must know precisely
I MATTERS OF RELIGIO . 247 bow much error is consistent with a man's future happiness. He must be satisfied whether the followers of this or that human guide can find salvation, and what are the different chances of success in striving for an immortal crown in the different sects into which the Christian world is divided, before he is prepared to give Christ an influence over his affections. In the gratification of a busy curiosity, he seems to forget, that the very thing which is urged upon him, that is, the necessity of imbibing the spirit of Christ, is maintained and urged by every sincere Christian of every party. A third has heard, that all men without regard to moral qualifications will meet in heaven and enjoy its happiness. He is urged to become like God. He declaims upon* the divine goodness, and with much ingenuity vindicates a system, on which alone he can have any hope. His heart in the mean time is at enmity with the God whom he extols, and his. life manifests the blackest ingratitude to him. So entirely is he occupied with his speculations, that he seems to forget, that, on his own theory, his character must be odious to every good being. Others again perhaps will be found, who seem to take a satisfaction in dwelling upon those representations of the government of God, which seem necessarily to consign almost the whole human race to destruction. This they do, not because they believe a single word which they advance ; but because the extravagance of their speculation leaves room for doubt concerning the sanctions of religion, or because they think, that if, on some received interpretations of revelation, almost the whole human race will perish, they may, by increasing the number who are travelling the road to ruin, make so formidable a party as to oblige God for the honor of his government to grant universal pardon. I might extend illustrations of this sort ; but enough has been said, I trust, to produce the conviction, that many now exist, who are ever learning, and yet never come to a saving knowledge of the truth. While the mind speculates, the heart is not
248 IDLE CURIOBITr Buffered to feel the holy influence of the gospel^ and the life exhibits not the fruits of righteousness. 2. We pass then to remark, secondly, that the principal concern of roan is not to gratify a vain curiosity, but to conform to the will of God. There are some inquiries, which must be answered, in order to lay the foundation of religious confidence and obedience. It is absolutely necessary to settle the questions, whether God has made a revelation to man, and whether our scriptures contain that revelation ; whether salvation is offered to sinners, and on what terms the offer is made; whether man is able to comply with these terms, and in what way he can hope to gain the divine approbation. These are all inquiries of the utmost consequence, and they may all be answered without difficulty. The proof of revelation may be made out like the proof of any other similar fact ; and God has guarded with special care the materials, necessary to convince the mind, that Jesus was commissioned by him to instruct and save mankind. That salvation is offered to sinners there can be no doubt, and that abundant provision is made for the salvation of all is equally plain ; for God is no respecter of persons. There need be little embarrassment in determining the conditions of this inestimable blessing. The qunlifications for heaven are as plainly taught, as the character of Jesus, to which Christians are to conform, is described. Few would assert that there is any doubt respecting the moral character of the Saviour, or the precepts given by him. These precepts are to be observed, he is to be received by a fidth working by love, and his spirit is to dwell within us. All the means of religion, and every act of obedience, together with a divine influence promised to all who sincerely strive for the crown of immortality, are to conspire to form us to holiness, and to give us the hope of heaven. Being satisfied upon these subjects, does it become us to neglect the in-
fluence which they ought to produce, for vain inquiries.
I MATTERS OF RELIGIO . 249 which our religion never was designed to answer^ and which, if answered, would have no practical effect ? Do you inquire why God proposes to save mankind i» the particular way prescribed by the gospel, in preference to any other? I am not bound to answer the inquiry, for the very reason that it is not answered by the revelation coro^ municated to form our faith. We can say, that, this: being the method chosen by divine wisdom, we have every reason to regard it as the best possible method. Do you ask why this religion was not before communicated to man, aotl why, when communicated, its light did not strike* at once upon every human mind ? We feel not a^ all Embarrassed, because we are unable to give a satisfactory answer to these interrogatories. Do you inquire how human agency can be consistent with the sovereignty of God l We say that our religion has taught both, but has not explained the manner in which they may be reconciled, nor do we attempt to go beyond our guide in this matter. Do you ask, Are there few that be saved 1 We answer,, that all men may be saved, but that we cannot say how many will comply with the conditions of salvation ; for our heavenly instructer has not informed us. A thousand other intricate questions meet us in every attempt to gain a practical influence for our Lord. If answered, they would probably have no influence upon our lives or hopes. They are too ojflen, it is to be feared, brought forward mainly as a concealed excuse for a practical neglect of Jesus, and they may succeed in barring the heart against his every attempt to gain authority there ; but the Christian is under no more obligation to answer them, than he is to explain the systems of philosophy, which have at different periods occupied the attention of mankind. We have a reply furnished by our Lord for every speculatist, who is at the same disposed to embarrass us by curious questions, and to resist every
practical religious impression. Strive to enter in at the strait gate. You may speculate, and yet remain the en32
250 IDLE CURIOSITY emies of the cross of Christ. You may be wise in the knowledge of the schools, and yet lose your souls. Your duty is to inquire, but not simply for the purpose of gratifying curiosity. You are to inquire, that you may be transformed into the divine nature, that you may by the knowledge of the truth be renewed in the spirit and temper of your minds. Knowledge without practice will but increase your guilt, and aggravate your condemnation. What advantage will it be to you, when you stand before your judge, to be able to say that you have made yourselves familiar with the speculations of every sect in religion and philosophy, if you are then found destitute of the spirit of your Master and Judge ? What advantage would it be to a criminal, arraigned before a human tribunal to answer to an indictment for a capital crime, to be able to describe the different forms of government which exist in different nations, to recapitulate the different penalties affixed in different states to the same offence, and to show how differently wise men have speculated upon the laws and policy of civil society ? What good would it do him to raise curious questions, and to confound those who heard him by a display of eloquence ? He has sinned against the acknowledged principles of every good government. He has forfeited the protection of the laws. He is condemned, and, notwithstanding the ingenuity of his speculations, he meets the punishment which his crimes deserve. or will it avail us any more at the bar of Jesus to understand all mysteries, if we have neglected obedience to the laws of God. Our principal concern is then, not to gratify a vain curiosity, but to conform to the divine will. The time is short. We may, by wasting our opportunities
for improvement in vain speculation, so close our hearts against what is practical in our religion, as to find the strait gate shut against us. Though this gate be wide enough for the admission of all, who seasonably and carefully endeavor to enter it, yet we may miss the opportunity
I HATTERS OF RELIGIO . 251 for gaining admission to the happiness to which it conducts. Our Saviour does not say, that any failed of gaining admission because there was no room, but because they came too late. With us, the moments of life are fast hastening away. The retributions of eternity are rapidly approaching. Let us then be admonished both by the exhortation and the warning of Jesus. Let us strive to enter in at the strait gate^ fearing lest we be among the maniff who shall seek to enter m, and shaU not be able.
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