THE CAUSE OF DA GEROUS ERRORS. REV. DAVID TAPPA , d. d.
The Want of a practical Regard to religious Truth, the Cause of dangerous speculative Errors.
2 Tkessalonians ii. 10, 11, and 12. Because they recehednot the love of the truths that th^y might be sanded; far this cause God shall send them strong dehisioUy that they should believe a lie ; that they all might be damned ^ %vho believed not the truths but had pleasure in unrighteousness. HE apostle, in this chapter, predicts a grand aposta&y in the Christian church ; which, from small beginnings, should grow up to a monstrous height, so as to form an unparalleled system of rehgious tyranny, fraud, and corruption. The description given of this apostate antichristian power, of its rise, its rule, its subjects, and its fall, so exactly and exclusively agree to the papal usurpation or the bishop of Rome, that little reasonable doubt can remain, that ?A?> power is '' the man of sin," the " son of perdition,'* whom the spirit of prophesy here characterizes and devotes to destruction. The text describes the persons, who voluntarily submit to this corrupt power, and shall perish with it. They are such, as never cordially love the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness; and hence were easily seduced from those sound doctrines, which they always secretly disliked, into such false principles as suited their depraved inclinations and practice. Hence God, by a righteous judicial act, giv^es them up to delusion and mckedness, and thus seals their
SrR.XI.] THE CAUSE OF DA GEROUS ERRORS. 129 Though the words before us primarily refer to tlie willing subjects of antichrist, they will fairly admit of a much larger application, and may be reduced to the following genei-al proposition ; viz. that the want of a sincere practical regard to religious truth has both a natural and moral tendency to lead men into the most dangerous speculative errors. The great sin, for which the persons in the text are so severely condemned, is designated by their not receiving the love of the truth. This designation applies, in a greater or less degree, to all, who profess or enjoy the Christian religion, but whose hearts are not reconciled to its pure, self denying doctrines and laws. Their understandings, perhaps, are constrained by evidence to admit these doctrines, as true ; but their wills and affections rise up against them, as severe, as inimical to their favourite pursuits and gratifications. Their haughty and sensual, their sordid or revengeful spirits disrelish and spurn a system of religion and morals, so holy and humble, so generous and forgiving, so meek and peaceable, as that of the gospel ; a system, which not only forbids and seeks to exterminate their dearest lusts, but threatens all the votaries of these idols with everlasting punishment. As the thief or midnight assassin abhors the light of day, not because light is in itself odious to him, but because he views it as menacing him with pubhc detection and ignominious punishment; so the sinner hates the light of gospel truth, because it exposes, and affixes disgrace and ruin to per-
sons of his dark, iniquitous character. His enmity to religious truth is therefore rather consequential, than direct ; that is, he opposes it not as truth, but as a mortal foe to his comfort and security in a sinful course. There is such a natural correspondence between the human understanding and truth, that the mmd of man
130 O THE CAUSE [Ser.XL cannot reject truth, or embrace falsehood as sue he When therefore the text represents wicked men, as not receiving the truth, and as beUeving a he ; the meaning is, that the opposition of their wills and practice to the pure maxims of divine truth induces such disorder and blindness upon their understandings, that they come to view religious objects in an inverted shape ; they view moral and evangelical truth under the odious garb, which belongs to falsehood, and a lie under the alluring aspect, which is proper to truth. Thus the infidelity of their hearts and lives at length gains over their judgment to its side, and produces a harmony between their inclinations and principles; which brings us to point out more distincdy how the want of a practical love to the truth naturally leads to a speculative rejection of it. In the first place, it draws away the understanding fi'om a close attention to it, and thus hinders it from perceiving its evidence, certainty, and importance. Deep, reiterated, and earnest inquiry after religious truth is necessary to a clear and unwavering reception of it. But those, who cherish corrupt aifections, which are averse to the purity of divine truth, will, by natural consequence, turn away their thoughts from an object so unpleasing, to some more agreeable topic. They will not suffer their minds to dwell upon the evidence or reality of these things, which they heartily wish were neither evident nor real. And when they have thus
expelled these unwelcome ideas, the contrary and more pleasing notions find an easy admittance into their naked, unguarded understandings. Secondly. A heart opposed to strict religion fills the mind with prejudice and partiality in all its inquiries and reasonings upon it. A man of this description has really prejudged the cause ; has previously determined
Ser. XL] DA GEROUS ERRORS. 131 to find the Christian doctrine to be either false or pernicious, or at best a needless and contemptible system. The influence of corrupt prejudice to pervert and darken the mental eye is beautifully illustrated by our Saviour, vi^hen he says, '* If thine eye be single,' thy whole body shall be full of light," that is, nothing extraneous must cleave to the eye in the act of seeing ; it must be single, that is, pure, simple, unmixed, be left entirely to itself and its object; then thy whole body will be full of light. But if the eye be obstructed either by some covering, mote, disease, or injurious accident, the light is either shut out or obscured, and the object beheld in a very partial and erroneous manner. All this is easily applied to intellectual vision. Every act of sin, 'especially the habitual love and practice of it, is a mote or disease in the eye of the mind. For instance, sensual affections and indulgences send up, if I may so speak,, such gross, defiling vapours from the lower regions of the soul into the upper, as effectually obstruct a clear, impartial view of spiritual truth. Agreeably, an inspired prophet tells us, that whoredom and wine take away the heart ; that is, they weaken and gradually destroy the intellectual and moral powers. Covetous affections and pursuits have likewise a very blinding influence on the understanding ; insomuch that the most avaricious miser cannot see, cannot admit
the conviction that he is covetous; the sordid vice, which absorbs and devours him, and which strikes every spectator with contempt and abhorrence, appears to himself a necessary, useful, and perhaps virtuous habit ; and every measure, which coincides^^vith his mercenary view^s, however fraudulent or oppressive, is beheld by him in a favourable light. In a w^ord, there is perhaps no vicious passion, which confounds and infatuates the reasoning and judging faculty even of the greatest, Y
132 THE CAUSE OF [Ser. XI. and in other respects the best minds, so completely as this. Accordingly, we read that a gift or a bribe blindeth the eyes of the wise, and perverteth the words of ^ the righteous ; yea, that a gift destroyeth the heart. Pride and ambition have likewise a deceptive influence upon the human understanding. As covetousness stupifies the mind by sinking it too low, so ambition dazzles it by raising it above itself. I might enumerate many other corrupt affections and habits ; but the three just mentioned seem to be the most comprehensive and powerful, as corresponding to those three grand objects of .the depraved heart, pleasure, profit, and honour, which form a mighty threefold cord, by which the tempter draws the world along aftc? him ; draws it in a manner so rapid and fascinating, as in some degree subverts the very understandings of his votaries ; so as to make them believe a lie, believe that they may, yea, ought to worship these idols as their gods, embrace and pursue them as their chief good, and sacrifice every thing to the enjoymient of them. o wonder then that the devotees of these idols disrelish, and gradually bring themselves to reject the pure, self-
denying, and humbling truths of the gospel, which forbid and condemn their favourite pursuits and enjoyments, and substitute some flattering scheme of falsehood in their place. As a vicious heart and life are thus a natural and fruitful source of speculative error ; so they have a moral tendency to the same pernicious effect ; in other words, they often provoke God to give men up to fatal delusions. This is expressly asserted in the text, respecting a particular description of sinners. But here a formidable objection lies in our way. It is asked, how God, who is light and truth in the abstract, can send darkness or delusion into the minds of his crea-
SiER. XL] DA GEROUS ERRORS. 133 tures ; how an effect, so impure and malignant, can proceed front a cause, which is peifectly holy and good? For the solution of this difficulty, I might introduce the general opinion of metaphysical writers respecting the nature of moral evil, as radically consisting in the privation of good. On this principle we may easily explain in what sense God may be said to send delusion into the minds of men, consistently with his moral perfections. He may do it, in the first place, by withdrawing from their understandings and hearts his enlightening and regulating influence. Both Scripture and reason prove, that the human soul, especially in its present weak and corrupted state, is constantly dependent on the concur- ^ ring assistance of the first cause for the due exercise, and e^^en the continued existence of its various powers. This being granted, how natural, how congruous to reason is it to suppose, that God, as a just punishment of the sinner's criminal neglect or perversion of his own intellectual and moral powers, withdraws from these faculties his gracious assistance ; withholds that light
from his understanding, and those restraints from his passions and will, which he has ungratefully resisted and forfeited, but without which he will immediately plunge still deeper into the darkness of error and guilt. It is easy to see that such a divine withdrawment is perfectly righteous and holy on God's part ; for it is only leaving the sinner to his own chosen blindness and folly. It is equally easy to see that the departure of God from this offending creature will be certainly followed with increasing delusion as well, as wickedness on the part of the sinner ! for his imderstanding is liereby left open and prepared for the greatest errors ; while the evil affections and prejudices of his heart are lefl to operate upon his perception and judgment with united, unrestrained force. Further, God may be said to send men delusions, when he providentially orders out to them such circum-
134 THE CAUSE OF [Ser.XI. stances, or presents to them such objects, as he knows will eventually, though not efficiently or necessarily, lead them^ into dangerous error. The Bible is remarkable for directly ascribing to God every thing, which takes place in the course of his providence, even such events as imply or result from the greatest freedom and wickedness on the part of the immediate actors or subjects. Accordingly, when men, who have long practically opposed the truth, are providentially cast among such books, companions, or teachers, as are exactly fitted to seduce persons of their loose inclinations and morals from sti^ict religious principles into flattering and destructive errors, and when their seduction is in fact the consequence of such a combination of circumstances ; both scripture and true philosophy authorise us to say, that God has sent strong delusion, and that herein he has acted with untainted purity and exemplar}^ justice, subjecting offenders to a punishment suited to their
previous character, without violating their liberty or participating in their criminality. In a manner similar to this, are we to understand the account given in Scripture, of God's putting a lying spirit in the mouth of Ahab's prophets. The meaning of that figurative representation is, that when Ahab, by his idolatry and wickedness, had made himself fully ripe for destruction, God permitted, and in this way employed the lying spirit, which actuated the prophets of Baal to deceive him to his ruin. In like manner when Pharaoh had resolutely hardened his own heart, against the express, repeated command of Jehovah, enforced by evident miracles; God righteously permitted him to be confirmed in his delusion by the lying wonders of the magician as well, as left him to grow more obstinate in sin by means of those very dispensations, which ought to have been improved to an opposite purpose. Agreeably, one method
# Ser. XL] DA GEROUS ERRORS. I35 in which God has sent delusion upon the subjects of antichrist, has been by permitting that apostate power to deceive its votaries by a false pretence and a specious imitation of miracles ; Mhich, have been no better than the impudent boast and juggling tricks of impostors, or at jnost the operations of Satan, judicially permitted by Heaven, to strengthen the delusion of those, who had previously and wickedly subjected their understandings and conduct to that system of falsehood and abomination. Accordingly, in the verse preceding the text, the man of sin is described as appearing imth all pom)er, and signSy and lying wonders, and %mth all deceheableness of unrighteousness. By providentially ordering, or permitting these wicked artifices to be successfully practised upon those, who were predisposed to yield to their influence, God righteously gave them up to fatal delusion.
This judicial procedure of divine providence is here mentioned as a very dreadful dispensation. It will appear to be so, if we consider that it not only immediately affects the soul, the vital part of man, the centre of his happiness or miser}^, but it strikes at this nobler part in its most distinguishing perfection, by subjecting its guiding faculty to delusion and blindness. Hereby the main office of the understanding and conscience is destroyed. The intellectual and judging faculty becomes a blind leader of the blind. The very light tliat is in us becomes darkness ! How gi*eat then must that darkness be ! A person in this situation is constantly exposed to stumble, yea, to fall into the foulest ditch, into die most defiling and destructive enormities, and in the end, to fall into the pit of endless perdition. This is the final issue of error, sinfully cherished and retained. God shall send them delusion, that they all might be damned, ^^ ho believed not the truth. The native and ultimate tendency of every religious error is dangerous tg the health
136 THE CAUSE OF [Ser.XI. and life of the soul, and will actually produce fatal effects, if suffered to exert and diffuse itself unchecked. Some errors are immediately destructive. Great mistakes in speculation, indeed, may be so counteracted in their influence by strong habits and dispositions of goodness, as not to destroy the virtue and final happiness of their subjects ; while smaller errors, embraced by light or vicious minds, are in many instances eventually fatal, as they insensibly lead on to greater, and thus betray their soul into an Inextricable labyrinth of delusion, irregularity and mischief ; the natural termination of w hich is irretrievable, everlasting ruin. In reviewing our subject,^ we are led to this important inference, that the only sure method to establish our faith in the truths of religion, is to cherish a cordial love and obedience to them. W^
have seen that the ^vant of this practical regard to the ti'uth is the main source of speculative unbelief and delusion. Would we then continue stedfast in the infinitely momentous truths of Christianity, in this giddy, sceptical, and licentious age ? Let pur affections and practice embrace and steadily adhere to these divine principles : let us supremely love and delight in them on account of their transcendent purity, let us cheerfully and steadily regulate our conduct by them. Let us rejoice with our whole hearts, that there is such a salvation, and such terms prescribed for the enjoyment of it, as the Bible reveals. If our affections and practice thus cleave to the truth, our understanding and moral sense will natur- . ally see more and more of its beauty, will be more candid, diligent, and successful in their inquiries after it, and thus be led into more comprehensive views, and a more full, stedfast, and impressive belief of it. God has likewise promised and actually affords peculiar light and direction to such as sincerely love and practise religious tiiith. In a w^ord,. the specious arguments of subtle ob^
ser.xi.] dangerous errors. 137 jectors against natural or revealed religion derive their greatest charm and seductive influence upon mankind, from their own corruptions, from their secret willingness to be deceived. A heart and life, therefore, truly pious and good, would be the shortest and most satisfactory method of answering all these objections; this would give us an experimental, and delightful, and immoveable assurance of the truth and excellence of religion. Further, our subject enables us to account, in an easy and satisfying manner, for the principal errors, both in opinion and practice, which have prevailed in the world. For example, we plainly perceive the main root of modern infidelity and atheism. The leading doctrines of natural and revealed religion are so necessary and suitable, so beneficial and comforting to a crea-
ture, so framed, circumstanced, and related as man, that every good and considerate mind must at least wish to find them true, and accordingly must carefully attend and readily yield to the abundant evidence by which they are confirmed. The disbelief of these principles, therefore, especially in enlightened protestant countries, must in general be traced to a depraved heart or profligate life, which leads them first to dread and hate, and at length to renounce those truths, which stand in the way of their favourite propensities. The same account may be given of the errors of Poper}^ which have so long and so extensively prevailed in the world, and to which our text immediately refers. It seems very strange at first view, that creatures, enlightened at once by reason and revelation, should be capable of believing such an assemblage of absurdities and lies, as the Romish religion contains. But when we consider how exactly that system falls in with the corrupt inclinations o£ the human heart ; how admirably it gratifies the a\^arice and ambition of their priests, especially in higher orders,
138 THE CAUSE OF [Ser. XL by giving them the command both of the purses and consciences of the people ; and how entirely it suits and flatters the licentious appetites and passions of mankind at large, by allowing them every vicious indulgence here, and yet assuring them, on very easy conditions, of final absolution and blessedness, we may readily see the reason why so great a part of the worlds especially in the dark ages, were induced to believe and hold fast so pleasing a delusion. At the same time we doubt not that many individuals in popish countries, of the best hearts and morals, have by the force of education and example, and the want of better means of information, been led to believe and to sacredly observe the peculiarities of that apostate church. We might easily account, in a similar manner, for the prevalence^ of certain dan-
gerous errors in the Protestant world. For instance, how gratifying must it be to those, who are devoted to vicious pleasures and pursuits, and who have long practically defied the threatenings of future punishment, how gratifying to such persons to hear that these threatenings will never be executed, that they have already spent their force upon Jesus Christ, as the head and surety of mankind ; in consequence of which the most abandoned sinners are placed on as fair ground, and have the same unconditional promise of everlasting life, with the most exemplary saints. How pleasing to proud and carnal hypocrites is the doctrine, which teaches them to regard certain transient internal feelings, joined with an orthodox belief, as a sure evidence of saving faith, conversion, and fellowship with God ; while they are led to view a life of strict virtue and holiness as a comparatively low and needless attainment ? How pleasing also to tiie depraved heart is the opposite idea, that exterior civility, morality, or devotion, without a corresponding sanctified temper of mind, will recommend us to the
Ser. XL] THE CAUSE OF DA GEROUS ERRORS. 139 final acceptance of Heaven ! These and similar schemes of religious falsehood naturally engage the approbation and warm attachment of tliose, w ho hate strict practical godliness, because they lend effectual aid to that great effort of our degenerate nature, which aims to reconcile conscience and lust, or the hope of future happiness with the present indulgence of sin. On the whole, it would be easy to show, if time permitted, that all the fashionable errors of the present day are the natural growdi as well, as just punishment of its licentious taste and manners. Let us then be humble under a sense of those sottish and dreadful delusions, at \^^hich human nature is capable of arriving ; let us biess that divine goodness, which has preserved us so far from these evils ; let us constantly watch and pray against them, let us
beware of that giddy spirit, those itching ears, that extreme liberality and freedom of inquiry, which have ensnared so many ; let us prize and search the Scripture, receive its truths into an honest, unbiassed heart, and practise them in a holy, obedient life ; this only will keep us stedfast to the end.
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