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Again, the Antinomians make void the commandment of God, by setting it aside as a rule of action. Antinomian is a compound word signifying without law. The sect originated in the days of the apostles. Their peculiarity lies in supposing that the gospel was designed to release Christians from their obligation to obey the moral law, it grew out of a perversion of the doctrine of justification by faith. The Jewish doctors had taught that men were to be saved only by yielding a perfect outward conformity to the moral and ceremonial laws. In opposition to this, Paul taught, that by the works of the law, no flesh can be justified; for two reasons, first, because all men had broken the law already, and secondly, because no subsequent obedience however perfect, could make restitution for past disobedience. That all men are, therefore, already condemned by the law. Justification, in the New Testament, is synonimous with pardonand acceptance. The atonement of Christ, is therefore, the only ground of pardon, and those who are saved, are justified, solely, by faith in Christ, irrespective of any real righteousness of their own. This sentiment was soon perverted by the Antinomians who maintained that if men are justified by faith alone without the works of the law, that good works were unnecessary, that faith in Christ is substituted for obedience to the law of God; overlooking the fact, that without personal holiness no man shall see the Lord.
Multitudes of this sect, have existed in different ages of the world, and in almost all parts of the Church; they have not indeed always been known by this name, but thousands have and still do manifest their peculiarities of belief, and practice. They may in general be known by the fact, that when holiness of heart and life are strongly insisted on, they complain that they are not fed, that this is legal preaching, that it is not the gospel, but that it is going back to the law. They seem to entertain the vain imagination, that the gospel is designed to repeal the moral law; not only to set aside the execution of its penalty, in the case of believers in Christ; but also to discharge them from the obligation to obey the law, they render the commandment of no effect. They array Christ, and his gospel against the moral government of God, settle down in their self-righteousness, render it impossible for either law or gospel to sanctify them, and "utterly perish in their own corruption." For it is manifest, that if a person professing faith in Christ, do not live as holily and unblameably as if he expected to be saved by his works. In other words, if he is less strict in life, and indulges in more sin than if he were to be saved by the law, he is turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, making Christ the minister of sin--perverting and abusing the gospel, and is virtually, and in heart, an Antinomian This is making the gospel a license to sin and to break the law, and thus Christ is set forth as the apologist for sin, as saving those who make his gospel the ground of encouragement for committing those sins which they would not dare to commit did they depend upon their own obedience for justification.
Again, others make void the law of God, and render it of no effect, by denying its penalty. There are two kinds of Universalists, who hold traditions that nullify the power of moral government. The penalty of a law, is the motive held out by the lawgiver, to induce obedience to the precept; the greater the penalty, the more weighty, and influential is the motive to obedience. The less the penalty, the feebler, and the more inoperative are the motives. Destroy the penalty entirely, and you destroy all motive to obedience, except what is contained in the nature of the precept. If indeed the penalty is destroyed or taken away, it is no longer a law; it is a virtual repeal of the law, for the precept without a penalty is only advice, which may be received or rejected at pleasure.
The two kinds of Universalists, to which I have adverted, are, no hell-ites, and limitarians, or restorationists. The former maintain, that men neither deserve, nor receive, any other punishment for sin, than what they receive in this life. The latter, that there will be a limited punishment in a future world; that when they have been punished according to their sins, they will be translated from hell to heaven. Both sects, agreeing in the alleged fact, that all mankind will be saved. The no hell-ites set aside entirely the penalty of the law of God, and regard the sufferings of this life as the natural and only evil consequences of sin to man. The latter fritter away the penalty, and reduce it to an indefinable something, the amount or duration of which they do not pretend to know. If it be not eternal, however, it is but a finite, instead of an infinite sanction. However long it may be, if it has an end, it is infinitely less than eternal. If it be but temporary, it is infinitely less solemn, awful, impressive, commanding, and influential, than an eternal penalty.
The sanctions of moral law, I have said, are designed to hold the same place in the moral, that the law of gravitation does in the material world. The mode of their operation is not the same, for gravitation acts by force, it is the law of matter, and can only be administered by force. Moral law is the law of mind; its sanctions act not by force, but are designed and calculated, to secure a voluntary obedience; and as the law of gravitation holds the sun, moon, and planetary system in their stations and courses; so the motives of moral government are designed to preserve in their stations and in obedience, the voluntary agents under the government of God. Thus while the reality of the threatened penalty was kept steadily before the mind of Adam, he persevered in obedience; he stood like the stars and planets in their station, balanced by the universal law of gravitation. But as soon as his confidence in that was lost, he fell. Annihilate the law of gravitation, and suns, and moons, and planets, rushing form their orbits, would run lawless through the universe; universal disorder, and confusion would be the instantaneous consequence; wave after wave of desolation would roll over the universe of God. So Adam, standing at the head of moral beings, as it regards this world, stood fast, while the deep conviction of the threatened penalty weighed upon his mind. But, alas, in an evil hour, the penalty was doubted, and lost its influence; and like the sun rushing from his orbit, and filling the universe with dismay and death; so, he, as soon as the force of moral government was broken, rushed from the orbit of his obedience, and filled the world, with crimes, and groans, and desolation.
The Universalists, seem desirous to relieve the world of its anxieties, either by wholly denying or infinitely mitigating the penalty of the law of God. But it is most manifest that could they succeed in producing universal conviction of the truth of their sentiments, they would completely annihilate the power of moral government. Could they convince the world, that God never threatened men with eternal death; that the sufferings of this world are all, or nearly all that sin deserves; that God never designed to punish in a future world; is this sentiment calculated to promote obedience to the law of God? As well might you say, that to take away the penalties of human laws is calculated to secure obedience to their precepts. Is annihilating the motives to obedience, calculated, as a matter of philosophy, to secure obedience? Suppose a statesman should go through the country, maintaining that penalties attached to laws were wholly unnecessary, that it was quite as well or better not to threaten men with evil in case of disobedience. That to exhibit the amiableness of virtue, the mildness and humanity of the government, was all that was required. That the penalty against murder was entirely unnecessary; and that the accusations of his own conscience, and the pains, and trouble, and distresses, that the remembrance of a crime would bring upon its perpetrator, were as much as the crime deserved: that to exhibit other penalties was wholly unnecessary, inexpedient, and unjust. Would he not be regarded as a madman, as a fit subject for bedlam? Would not every man regard his doctrine as dangerous, or, if innocent, only so, because it was incredible and ridiculous? Would he do the world a favor by persuading them to act upon this principle; to strike out the penalties of all their laws? Would he not rather be regarded as the common enemy of man, as aiming to open the flood-gates of iniquity, and inundate the world with crime.
It is a notorious fact that even the penalty of death is not in all cases sufficient to prevent the perpetration of murder; and is it philosophy, is it common sense, is it to be believed, is it possible, that to do away this penalty, or to mitigate its pain, or to substitute a less motive in its place, would be sufficient to prevent the crime? So it is seen to be a naked matter of fact, that the penalty of eternal death, does not, in those cases where it is admitted to be eternal, restrain from sin. This infinite penalty has not sufficient weight and power to counteract the selfishness of the human heart. And now by what mad logic of earth or hell, do these men arrive at the sage conclusion, that to do away this penalty, would have a tendency to promote obedience to God? It is in vain to say, that the excellence and blessedness of the precept, is a sufficient motive to secure obedience; this is not only contrary to fact, but contrary to all philosophy. It is admitted that there is a high and powerful motive, held out in the precept itself; the happiness of virtue is of itself a great inducement to be virtuous; but still this is only one part of the sanction of the law; from the nature of mind it is indispensable, not only that rewards to obedience should be offered, but that evil should be threatened to disobedience; and especially is this most manifest in a universe, where virtue is to be tested by temptation. Is it not certain, then, that could they succeed in establishing the doctrine of the old serpent, that the wicked shall not die; they would make the commandment of God of no effect, and introduce universal rebellion and misrule into the empire of Jehovah. If an infinite penalty does not sufficiently restrain the selfishness of the human heart; what delirious babble is it to say, that a finiteone would do it. If the threatened pains of eternal death, be not sufficient to stay the overflowings of sin; shall the simple consideration of the pains of this short life, roll back the insurgent waves of rebellion against high heaven, and beget peace on earth, and good-will to men? It cannot be.
Will it here be said, that the penalty of eternal death, only appeals to the fears of men; that men cannot be frightened into obedience to God? The truth is, that both fear and hope, are innate in the human mind, and are both implanted there as principles upon which moral government can act. Self-love, or the love of happiness, and dread of misery, differs entirely in its nature from selfishness. To these, to both hope and fear, both law and gospel continually make their appeals.
We have before us a striking illustration of the death-blow given by Universalist sentiments to the law of God. Their preaching universal salvation never makes men holier and better; never convinces of sin and promotes revivals of religion; never engages men in prayer, and effort for the enlightening of the world, and the salvation of immortal souls. Who ever knew the law of God, robbed of its penalty as exhibited by the Universalists, to reform a drunkard, rebuke and reclaim a debauchee; to bring the high- handed sinner upon his knees, and humble him as a little child. Who has not seen a case of this kind. A member of an orthodox church had been a praying man; attended church, was sober, honest, virtuous, and apparently religious. But by-and-by, he absented himself from the meetings for prayer, next he fled the sanctuary on the Sabbath; on inquiry, it was found that he neglected prayer in his family; on further search it was found he drank too much; he began to doubt whether there was an eternal hell; and on being excommunicated he became a Universalist.
Now who ever saw the reverse of this? A Universalist, a man of prayer? of sober, prayerful, religious life, who attended Universalist prayer meetings, and tried to promote revivals of religious among them, who kept up family, and closet prayer, to by-and-by relax in his exertions, grow cold in zeal, neglect their prayer meetings, stay away from the house of God, drink too much, embrace the sentiment of an eternal hell, and on being excommunicated from the Universalists, join the orthodox? I say who ever saw this? not one. There is no tendency in their sentiments to reform mankind. This is plain in philosophy, and abundantly established by facts. They may exhibit their traditions till the day of judgment, and so far from promoting holiness among men, they will only open the flood-gates of iniquity.
But 2dly. The GOSPEL has been made of no effect by the traditions of men. This has been done by overlooking its two-fold design. It is designed first to establish the law. It lays down the same rule of action, requires the same holiness of heart and life, and aims at restoring men to perfect obedience to the moral law. It does not abrogate or repeal the law, but enforces obedience, by exhibiting not only the original sanctions of the law, but by adding the peculiar, solemn, moving, melting ones of the gospel.
Its second design is, to provide a substitute for the execution of its penalty, to offer pardon on terms that are consistent with the honor of the moral governor, and calculated to promote the stability and influence of his government. To lose sight of either of these designs, is manifestly to render the gospel of no effect.
Some have viewed the gospel, as merely a system of mercy, as offering a pardon for sin, irrespective of its design and tendency to make men holy. They have talked, and preached and prayed about the mercy of God; they have exhibited it as a remedy, without convincing the sinner that he was diseased; have urged him to accept a pardon without convincing him of sin; and thus by overlooking the holiness which the gospel inculcates, and enjoins; exhibiting the pardon of the gospel without requiring its duties, they have made the gospel of no effect. The gospel, thus perverted, has no tendency to save mankind, overlooking its morality, its mercy and its pardon can never save the souls of men; justification without sanctification, forgiveness without holiness, is not only absurd, but salvation upon such conditions is impossible. These, to be sure, lay great stress upon the atonement, admit the divinity of Jesus Christ, and exalt a dead faith even above obedience to the law of God. This class of professors may in general be known by their great zeal for what they term sound doctrine, and at the same time a manifest reluctance to hearing the self-denying duties of the gospel forcibly inculcated. The doctrines of God's sovereignty, the perseverance of the saints, and their kindred doctrines, are the only truth which they relish, and only a distorted and perverted view of these can feed them. They lay much more stress on doctrine than on that practice which it is the sole object of doctrine to produce. It is clear that they rest on the shadow and reject the substance. They are only hearers, but not doers of the word, deceiving their own selves, who shall utterly perish in their own corruption.
There is another tradition over and against this, that professes to recognize the morality of the gospel, but denies, and nullifies its most moving motives to obedience. They preach good works, but deny the power of faith, and the atonement of the Son of God. But here, the power of the gospel is as sadly marred as in the other case, professedly admitting its morality, but denying its sanctions, annihilates its power. The most moving motive of the gospel is presented in the doctrine of atonement. Blot out this, and the gospel has no power to save and reclaim, as facts abundantly testify. The fact is, that these parties, are at an equal remove from the truth. The one denies the morality, and the other rejects the leading motives, and thus the power of the blessed gospel is destroyed, and the abettors of both these systems are yet in their sins. That which admits the morality, but rejects the atonement, is a system of self-righteousness. While on the other hand that which admits the atonement, but overlooks the necessity of personal holiness, turns the grace of God into lasciviousness.
3dly. Others have nullified and broken the power of the gospel by introducing traditions, having a direct tendency to prevent its being accepted. One of these is, the doctrine of physical depravity. This tradition inculcates that depravity is constitutional; that it enters into the very substance of the human soul. Something created in them. A natural appetite or craving for sin, like the appetite for food in the body.
Immediately attached to this, growing out of it, and founded upon it, is the tradition of inability on the part of the sinner to accept the gospel. These maintain that the sinner is not more able to embrace the gospel, than he is to make a world. Some of this class call on sinners to repent, but are careful to tell them they cannot repent: call on them to believe, but are sure to remind them that they are unable to believe: and thus as some have humorously and truly said, they preach
You can, and you can't.
You shall, and you shan't
You will, and you won't.
You'll be damned if you don't.
Tacked on to this, is the dogma of physical regeneration, another death dealing tradition of the elders. This is a necessary part of the same system, for if the nature itself be depraved; if depravity is constitutional, and something created with the mind itself; then regeneration must be physical. It must remedy the defect in the constitution. It must be the destroying of the constitutional craving for sin, and such an alteration of the powers of moral agency, as, to say the least, will render obedience, and holiness possible. Now it is clear, that no greater obstacles could be presented to the reception of the gospel than are found in these three dogmas just named viz. physical depravity, consequent inability and constitutional regeneration. They all lead inevitably, and logically to the exercise of a spirit of self-justification. A man has no right to blame himself for his depravity if it be constitutional. If it be something created in him, and born with him, the irresistible inference is, that it is something for which he is not to blame. If this notion of depravity be true, he must, and ought to justify himself. To repent of such depravity is impossible. A man might as well be called upon to repent of the color of his skin, of the color of his eyes, or for any of the bodily senses which he possesses. Nor if his depravity be constitutional, is it any more just, reasonable or possible for him to repent of his actual transgressions. If they are the natural results of a depraved and defective constitution, he is no more to blame for them, than for the effects of any bodily disease, with which he may be born. Now in what light must the gospel be regarded, that calls upon man to repent of constitutional depravity under pain of eternal death; and to complete the absurdity, and the insult, informs him at the same time, that he has no power to repent. To suspend salvation upon impossible conditions; at once insults his understanding and mocks his hopes. Is this the gospel of the blessed God? Impossible! It is a libel upon Almighty God!