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however we may deprecate the fulfilment of the prediction, we can found no just exception upon the event. We cannot dispute the divine authority of a scheme, because it has not done what it never professed to do, because it has not invariably nor universally influenced and improved the affections and conduct of mankind.
Let therefore the unbeliever cease to triumph in the corruptions of the Christian Church, and let the faithful have consolation in the unfailing living evidence which the gradual fulfilment of prophecy is every day bearing to the truth. The persecutions, the apostasies, the heresies and schisms of the Church, every thing which has brought disgrace upon the Christian name where it is known, or obstructed its progress where it is not known, have been foretold from the beginning. The predictions of failure have been consolidated with the articles of our faith and the motives of our obedience, and the one can hardly be received where the other are unknown. The policy of the human philosopher might have led him to conceal the futility of his endeavours, or his
ambition might have prevented him from anticipating such futility; but the Christian Teacher, with the wisdom, ingenuousness, and truth, which mark his character, hath not feared to foretell the inefficacy of his doctrine, and hath left a testimony to all nations, of the persecutions and trials which should form the edifying discipline of his Church.
I. There is no man so void of experience, or so partial in his estimate of human frail. ty, as to doubt the prevalence of error in the world. It exists according to the prophecy, and in every variety of shape does it arrest our attention. It assumes the robe of an angel of light, and men must be wise as serpents, who would avoid its contaminating embrace. It entwines itself in our hearts and affections, it embarrasses our faculties and judgment, and penetrates the most secret recesses of the soul. It meets the hermit in his cell, and excites the evil communications of social festivity; it obscures the midnight lamp of the student, and faulters on the lips of the preacher and the missionary. If we retire from the world, our hearts will feel and betray its influence, nor shall we find exemption in the pursuit of the purest pleasures, in the practice of the most exalted virtues, in the contemplation of the profoundest systems of philosophy, or in the converse of the wisest, and best, and holiest of men.
It is to the consciousness of this universal prevalence of error that we must attribute the frequent cautions and admonitions of the sacred writers, even when the simplest truths' and the most obvious virtues are concerned. " Take heed that no man “ deceive you." 6 Be not deceived.”. « Let “no man deceive you with vain wordsa." Such exhortations imply both the existence of erroneous principles, and the power and duty of avoiding them. While we are in the world, the suggestions of our own hearts, or the evil communications of others, will expose us to corruption in thought, word, and deed; and it will require all our vigilance and care to keep the straight path, all our courage and sagacity to secure our
a Matt. xxiv. 4. 1 Cor. vi. 9. Eph. v. 6. 2. Thess. ii. 3.
selves from the attempts of robbers that would spoil, and of officious guides that would mislead us.
In the language which the Scriptures use concerning man, they address him as a being fluctuating in his choice between good and evil, possessing discernment to perceive the one, but wanting fortitude and settled resolution to pursue the other. He is not of that angelic order, whose will is the will of God, nor is he a mere machine or instrument, that can only execute the purpose for which it is made. His capacity and relative condition are considered, and he is warned of danger, that he may
avoid it, and informed of duty, that he may perform it. The whole counsel of God concerning him is laid open to his view, and he is taught what he must do to be saved. Truth and error, virtue and vice, are exhibited in their plain and natural colours, and he is not left to draw fanciful systems and nice distinctions concerning them, but to determine whether he will have tribulation and anguish as the recompence of contention and disobedience to the truth, or whe
ther, through " patient continuance in well
doing,” he will seek for glory, and honour, and immortality b.”
The injunction to pray that we may not be led nor fall into temptation', and the promised assistance of the Holy Spirit d to help our infirmities, while they suppose our liability to fall, are no motive of vain security. In the innumerable variations of error, faith may
be elevated into presumption, and we may tempt and offend God by an unbecoming reliance on his promises, not less than by a distrust of his goodness and his truth. The hope of the faithful is, that they may obtain mercy, and find
to help “ in time of neede;” that with the temptation may be made “ a way to escape, that " they may be able to bear it;” and that they may be endued with such strength, as shall enable them to stand against the wiles of the Devil, to “ withstand in the evil day, “ and having done all, to stand g." But to
: b Rom. ii. 7.8 cMatt. xxvi. 41. vi. 13. Luke xi. 4. d Luke xi. 13. e Hebrews iv, 16. fi Cor. x. 13. 3 Ephes, vi, 11. 13.