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If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God. — John, vii., 17. The language of the text does not convey precisely the idea of the Savior, and there is, perhaps, no passage in the ew Testament, not incorrectly translated, which gives so feebly the import of the original. The " will do" of the text does not mean future action, but voluntary and earnest action, and the " shall know" might, with more propriety, be rendered shall ascertain. Thus understood, and herein nearly all commentators concur, our text teaches that, in its highest and best sense, religion is an exjierimental science, arid that the knoivledge of it, so attained, is satisfactory and certain. The Gospel, without abating any thing from its demands to be received as a divine revelation of God's only way of saving sinners, claims the benefit of a simple and practical test, and puts its disciples upon the true, philosophic method for ascertaining its truth and power. For this purpose, and to this extent, it descends into the common arena of human investigations, and calls upon us to proceed in the settlement of its pretensions upon the same principles which, at a much M2
274 O DOI G god'
later period, Bacon adopted as the only proper and safe guide in scientific inquiries, and to which seekers of truth in every
department, physical, intellectual, and moral, now profess their adhesion and their homage. I carefully and distinctly announce that the experimental is not the only method of proof which belongs to the Gospel, nor is it adapted to all, but only to a special class of its revelations. The divine mission and character of the adorable Savior were demonstrated by miracles. Many of the facts of the evangelical records rest upon historical testimony, while the divine authority of the holy Scriptures may, perhaps, be most satisfactorily established by internal and intrinsic evidence. It is chiefly, perhaps exclusively, the morals and the inward experience of our religion which appeal to this practical test as their appropriate means of demonstration. The progress of Christianity, and the entire history of the Church, may well be considered in the light of a great experiment, testing the character and tendencies of the system. The Gospel was at first received with distrust, and even hostility. This was natural, for it did violence to the religion, laws, customs, literature, and prejudices of men ; was exclusive in its claims ; threatened universal change, and so excited the fears and enmity of rulers and people, of good and bad men. These w^ere its avowed tendencies — it was " a sword," not " peace." It struggled against opposition, amid storms of persecution, into a manifestation of its true genius. Its revolutions were blessings. It elevated the debased — reformed the vicious — taught the ignorant — comforted the mourner — restrained the tyrant — liberated the bondman — introduced reforms into the public administration, and purity and harmony into the domestic circle. The result of the great experiment was, that it triumphed ovei its foes, and won a place in the world's confidence, and v/as embraced and loved as the best of the gifts which God has bestowed upon the race.
O DOI G god's WILL. 275
A similar illustration has been uniformly afforded by the history of the various evangelical sects which now constitute the general Christian Church. Universally the introduction of new usages — the reform of old abuses — the revival of neglected doctrines — new modes, names, or forms, awaken the apprehensions of the cautious, and provoke the contempt and opposition of the masses. Universally, too, these hostile manifestations have been found to subside in proportion as the rising sect gives demonstration of its real Christian character and objects. The history of the great revival, under the labors of Whitefield and Wesley, affords a memorable example ; nor ought we to doubt that the opposition, and even persecutions, which those good and great men every where encountered, proceeded often, perhaps generally, from honest fears or misapprehensions. Their novel and wonderful career seemed to threaten old establishments, opinions, and usages with an utter overthrow. o wonder that their great, fundamental, and eternally iterated doctrine of "justification by faith alone," was denounced, by a formal and legal Church, as likely to discourage good works, and bring in an inundation of vice and immorality. o wonder that strong Antinomians saw, in their stern demand for obedience and holy living as indispensable conditions of salvation, the advent of all hypocrisy and Pharisaism. It was natural for a learned and stately hierarchy to look with horror upon lay-preaching — on the admission to the ministerial office of those who had never learned Greek or Hebrew. We accordingly find them every where opposed as dangerous, and denounced as hereticaL All the churches were closed against them, and all pulpits and presses vocal with warnings and anathemas They, however, prosecuted their mission as those who must give account to God — as manifest in his sight, and in the consciences of the spiritually enhghtened. The effects of their ministry became apparent in the reformation and civiL ization of the lower orders. The blessed fruits of the G-ospei
276 O DOI G god's will.
were manifested in the holy lives and happy deaths of their converts. Prejudice itself was compelled to admit that these were legitimate manifestations of a true Christianity ; and bigotry grew ashamed of denouncing the new sect, when it had become to all the world as " a city set on a hill," a " light shining in a dark place." And it has resulted from this great experiment in England as well as in this country, that the Christian character and evangelical spirit of the new sect are acknowledged. By common consent, it has taken its place quietly in the great family of Churches, claiming to be no better, and not often asserted to be worse, than the average Christianity of the land. If, now and then, an eccentric or an over-zealous man feels constrained to assail our creed, or usages, or ministry, or modes of administration, it is usually accompanied with a concession of all we ought to care for — an admission of our general sincerity and substantial piety. There is scarcely a neighborhood or a parish in all the land where this great experiment has not been exhibited on a larger or smaller scale. There have been the new doctrines, and usages, and extravagances, it may be — the hostility, the denunciation, and the polemic fray, and then the subsidence of passion — the reluctant toleration — the dawning of bland charity — then the brotherly salutation, and the blessed fellowship of Christian love, of prayer, and of good works. The same great principle finds illustration in the history of nearly every good man. Let him remove into an irreligious neighborhood, or begin to live up to the high standard of the Gospel any where. What obloquy — what contempt — what jeering I His motives, words, actions, are misunderstood, misrepresented, contemned. He pursues the tenor of his way — does right — is kind, humble, hvppy in God — holds forth " the word of life." In time the storm subsides ; the clamor dies away, and he is let alone. By-and-by the more bold suspect he is not so bad as he seemed ; only odd and
O DOI G god's WILL. 277
over-Strict, but well-meaning. Still later, his piety is perceived — his good morals, and even manners, appreciated. In the end, he is the peace-maker of his vicinity ; and when men are on their death-beds, they will have him pray with them, and leave him the guardian of their children. Thus it is that the divine religion of Jesus has commended itself to the favor and confidence of man in a way which strikingly illustrates, as it avowedly obeys, the great philosophic principle of Bacon and his followers. The children of God, while working out their own salvation with fear and trembling, are at the same time unconsciously carrying forward a vast, sublime experiment, in the presence of the whole world — an experiment which has silently undermined the foundations of false religion and philosophy — has put to shame the persecutor and the scorner — won the confidence of the infidel, and the respect even of the profligate. Without acknowledging or perceiving the influence, all classes of men, all sects, every individual, are mightily afiected by it. Sentiments, usages, modes of operation, which, even twenty years ago, were generally denounced, now that experience has shown them harmless or of salutary tendencies, are freely adopted. Other opinions and practices, which, twenty years since, were reverenced as part and parcel of Christianity, have been stamped as worthless by the same ordeal of experiment, and on that account have been rejected. As these teachings of experience are found to concur always with the word of God when fairly interpreted, though they were perhaps the first to suggest that fair interpretation, we ought probably to expect still greater advancement in knowledge and sound theology from this agency. As the Church advances in piety aud zeal, she will occupy a better position for understanding more fully the genius of the Gospel and her own " high calling of God in Christ Jesus." It is within the memory of the middle-aged that the best Christians thought nothing of the duty of preaching the Gospel to the heathen.
278 O DOI G god's will. The children of our Sabbath-schools can well remember when the temperance reformation commenced. The progress already made in these great enterprises may be said to have written new articles in our creeds — to have given us new eyes for reading God's Word. o one can imagine that Christians will ever dare to slumber again over these interests. They will henceforth be recognized parts of Christ's cause and kingdom. The progress of the great experiment will not fail to enlarge still farther the yet narrow horizon of our piety, and we shall yet read of glorious truths, privileges, and duties which we do not now suspect to be in our Bibles. By doing God's will, we shall know more and more of his doctrine. I sometimes rejoice in the confident hope that this outspreading of zeal and piety of the Church may ultimately work out a creed in which we may all agree — may throw up a common ground for the harmonious meeting of all sects — may bring into prominence and visibility the really essential doctrines and moralities of the Gospel, and sink out of our view or push away into the back-ground such as have only a minor or imaginary importance. I am sure that this is the constant tendency of the great experiment, and that the blessed consummation would be realized if we were baptized into a larger faith and charity — if we would look and learn more reverently from God's administration — if the pulpit, and the press, and the general Church would become a little more humble, and forbearing, and kind. It would hardly be possible to appreciate too highly the general influences which I have described as flowing from examples of individual piety, and from the exhibition, on a larger scale, by the Church, of the character and tendencies of the Gospel. It has resulted from these influences, that the population of Christian lands are Christians in their faith, though not in their doings and aftections. By looking on as spectators upon the great experiment of the Gospel ; by seeing the beautiful examples of virtue and piety which every
O DOI G god's WILL. 279 where thrust themselves upon their notice, if they will but open their eyes ; by breathing the common atmosphere which religion has purified, the common mind has been brought, with no effort of its own, but merely by the unsuspected and irresistible agencies here referred to, to acknowledge the truth and the divinity of the Gospel. Thns far have the irreligious been led on by the benignant genius of Christianity. The general truths of an orthodox creed have been successfully inculcated upon them by influences which they did not invite, and which they could not elude. Other lessons of still more vital import they can learn only by voluntary efforts — by becoming themselves the experimenters. The attainment of a living faith in Christ, the forgiveness of sins through his blessed atonement, of sanctification through the Holy Spirit ; these are achievements left to personal effort and agency, aided by the divine grace. They can not be wrought out by substitutes. It is only when each individual arouses himself to the high purpose of doing God's will, that he can know — fully ascertain — of these doctrines whether they be of God. Even these most spiritual, personal, and indispensable doctrines are so demonstrated by the general experience of the Church, as, in theory, to be generally admitted and believed by the unconverted. Though lot subject to common observation, nor appreciable, like the more general and social tendencies of Christianity, the testimony of the multitude of obedient and believing disciples, who have made the experiment for themselves, and realized the great results in their own hearts, has won upon human belief, and gained for the most spiritual parts of Christianity the fullest credence of the unconverted. And it is impossible to reject such testimony. The witnesses are numerous, intelligent, respectable, harmonious, diverse in time, place, habits, education. They affirm of facts that belong to their consciousness. ot to speak of the witness of the Spirit — though no testimony could be more distinct or appreciable
280 O DOI G god's WILL. to an intellectual moral being — can men be supposed to be mistaken as to whether they love or not ? What would be thought of it should I approach a parent — a child — and express doubts about the reality of their love to a son or a mother ? The Christian is no more liable to mistake as to the inward testimony of his love to God, his gratitude, his trust, his peace. One may err, but all can not, and the general verdict is and must be believed. Unconverted men believe that a great spiritual work is going on in their neighbors. They do not once doubt its reahty. They trust to experience it, and believe it to be a condition of acceptance and salvation. Under the gracious influences often upon them, they feel the moral obligation of possessing the boon. They at times desire it — are ready to reach out a hand to seize it-rto open the door and admit its transforming energy. Though they acknowledge the power to be of God, they yet feel impelled to a movement that they think indispensable to salvation. So far God, as a sovereign, has brought them on. He has wrought out the demonstrations of his truth before their eyes. He has implanted all the elements of faith in their minds. Whether they will or not, they believe his word. They know they must be born of the Spirit. They know they must submit to Christ. They feel they must love God filially. Christ must be formed within them. They must live to Christ, or die forever. The glorious prize is full in view. The gates of heaven open wide. They stand upon the verge of the purifying fountain. *' Come, come unto me," is the invitation that woos them onward. Oh, why is the sinner motionless — stationary ? Why not go in at the open door ? Why not grasp the dazzling prize ? The appeal is now to the sinner's ov/n agency. God has brought him to a barrier which he must remove with his own hand, or no more progress will be made. That barrier is within himself One heroic effort of the will now, and the crisis is
O DOI G god's WILL, 281 passed — the barrier scaled. " If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." An absolute renunciation of self — an unreserved casting of himself on Christ, to be led, governed, saved as He will, in a moment opens the door of acceptance, and brings in upon the soul all the agencies and attributes of the new birth. Here I take my stand on the line which divides between the children of God and aliens. The difficulty is palpable, though so simple. It is one — an unyielding will. It is vincible. One step — one struggle — one great resolve, and by the grace of God the victory is won. All obstacles, all deficiencies not already removed and provided for by Christ are centered in this one of a perverse volition. The sinner is perfectly prepared for the transformation. He believes in God — in his own guilt and helplessness — in the Gospel — in Christ as the only Savior, as a sufficient, willing Savior, What is now required of him is to act on this faith, and commit his soul to these provisions. He needs no more repentance preparatory to the work, but only one great effi)rt of self-renunciation, sin and all. Repentance ? Of what ? Why, this stubbornness of the will is the substance and the sum — the fundamental, central idea of all sin. To clear away this difficulty is to become a Christian ; not to do it is to cling to perdition. It savors of madness to talk about repentance, and yet not to spend a thought upon this chief mystery of iniquity. or can I see what prayer is likely to effect, so long as the mind is stubborn against God. Ask pardon — rehgion — life of Him, against whom we voluntarily stand arrayed in incurable enmity ? He bids the sinner bow to Him. o, you will have the Eternal yield, and accept your terms I Almost the same thing may be said of reformation. Till
the heart's consent is had to do God's will, there is no basis for reformation. The motive is false. It is a cheat upon the soul, and an insult to Jehovah, to think of such a thing.
262 O DOI G god's will. It is saying to the Most High, " I'll do as I please, and work on my own account. I am content to make some parade about religion, but I will not be religious. I'll whiten the sepulchre, but I will not cleanse it." Generally, it may be said that the postponement of this first step in religion for any cause is the highest possible offense, and the essence of all offenses against God. Until that previous question is disposed of, the sinner does, and can do nothing but " treasure up wrath against the day of wrath." There is often something very painful in the exhibitions brought out by pressing this point upon the consciences of men. o man can or dare directly reject the appeal, for the question hes plainly between conscience and God ; and the voice of the accuser is not in the preacher, but in the sinner's own heart. Still, he who will not submit must make some shift, for there is no such thing as looking calmly from such a position. The mind seeks subterfuge and evasion. Resolved not to obey God in this urgent call for the homage of the will, the sinner seeks a controversy about some minor ques tion, and makes up an issue on a collateral point. When we call for the present doing of the only act which at this stage of the business he can do or God accept, he tells us, perhaps, that the Bible is a dark book to him — that he has diiKcnlties about the doctrine of election or the atonement, that he can not credit our notions about Christian perfection, or he does not like our Church government. o wonder if these and other questions puzzle him. He has nothing to do with them now — he has but one duty, to give himself up to God with all his heart. He closes the door of knowledge if he refuses to comply with the condition on which it is offered. " If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine." Obe-
dience is the condition on which all knowledge is promised. He who rejects the process, of course, fails in his object. A man doubts or cavils at the truths of science, and yet has not studied. He does not understand, forsooth, how that the sun
O DOI G god's WILL. 283 is larger than it seems, or how it is that the earth moves. We say, fool ! you must learn arithmetic, and use the telescope. Precisely such is the moral attitude of the impenitent. God says, do my will, which is the way to all knowledge. o, says the sinner, I call for light before I will move. Solve this mystery, explain this doctrine, reconcile these apparent contradictions. Will God teach such an one ? Will he listen to such calls ? o ! The sinner has light enough for the first step in rehgion. He does not need, and will not obtain now what he may want by-and-by. He has one talent — enough for present use. He must use it if he would obtain ten when needed. It is of the essence of faith to move at God's bidding, trusting him for the result and for the future. It is often said that faith regulates practice. It is about equally true that practice modifies faith. We learn God's truth by doing his will, and thus spontaneously grow up believers. On the other hand, we darken and pervert our own belief by disobedience and sin. Men decide against conscience, and try to doubt, and at length learn to doubt, of obligations which they mean to violate. By this process they become, to an extent, infidel. If they return to sobriety and thoughtfulness after success, or disappointment, or satiety, they revert again to Christian ground without argument, as they left it without ; but they seldom are converted. The young should remember and shun this danger. All resistance to God, and departure from virtue or truth, pervert the faith as well as morals ; and, on the other hand, obe-
dience necessarily and always leads on to faith and knowledge, for " If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God."
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