Page images
PDF
EPUB

nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.”! Upon this clear and striking passage of Scripture, it may be observed, first, that the law here mentioned is not the ceremonial law, as the whole tenor of the apostle's argument plainly shews; but the moral law of God, which was revealed to the Jews, and was with still greater completeness unfolded under the Christian dispensation : secondly, that the Gentiles, here brought into a comparison with the Jews, were not these converts to Christianity; (for, of these it could not, with any truth, be asserted that they had not the law ;) but they were persons, who had received no outward revelation of the moral law of God; thirdly, that the work of the law was nevertheless written on their hearts, and that many of them (according to the apostle's obvious supposition) were thereby actually enabled to become doers of the law; and, lastly, that these persons were justified or accepted of the Father.

1 Rom. ii. 13-15.

? A curious exemplification of the apostle's doctrine respecting the practical excellence of some of those Gentiles, who are destitute of any knowledge either of the Jewish law or of the Christian revelation, will be found in the following extract from an account of the Sauds, a moral sect of the Hindoos, who dwell in the northwestern part of Hindoostan. It has been kindly communicated to me by W. H. Trant, a gentleman of great respectability, who once occupied an important post in the civil service of the East India Company, and who personally visited this singular people.

“In March, 1816, I went with two other gentlemen from Futtehgurgh, on the invitation of the principal persons of the Saud sect, to witness an assemblage of them for the purpose of religious worship in the city of Furrukhabad; the general meeting of the sect being held that year in that city. The assembly took place within the court-yard (dalan) of a large house. The number of men, women, and children, was considerable: we were received with great attention, and chairs were placed for us in the front of the deorkee or hall. After some time, when the place was quite full of people, the worship commenced. It consisted solely in the chanting of a hymn: this being the only mode of public worship used by the Sauds.

“ The Sauds utterly reject and abhor all kinds of idolatry; and the Ganges is considered by them with no greater veneration than by Christians; although the converts are made chiefly, if not entirely, from among the Those who accede to this view of the passage before us (and such a view is surely just and reasonable) will probably find no difficulty in admitting another point-namely, that the work of the

Hindoos, whom they resemble in outward appearance. Their name for God is Sutgur; and Saud, the appellation of the sect, means servant of God; they are pure theists, and their form of worship is most simple, as I have already stated.

“The Sauds resemble the Quakers in their customs, to a remarkable de gree. Ornaments and gay apparel of every kind are strictly prohibited; their dress is always white; they never make any obeisance or salaam; they will not take an oath, and they are exempted in the courts of justicetheir asseveration, as that of the Quakers, being considered equivalent. The Sauds profess to abstain from all luxuries, such as tobacco, pawn, opium, and wine; they never have nautches or dances. All attack on man or beast is forbidden; but in self-defence resistance is allowable. Industry is strongly enjoined. The Sauds, like the Quakers, take great care of their poor and infirm people; to receive assistance out of the punt or tribe would be reckoned disgraceful, and render the offender liable to excommunication. All parade of worship is forbidden; secret prayer is commended; alms should be unostentatious; they are not to be done that they should be seen of men. The due regulation of the tongue is a principal duty.

“ The chief seats of the Saud sect are Delhi, Agra, Jypoor, and Furrukhabad; but there are several of the sect scattered over the country. An annual meeting takes place at one or other of the cities abovementioned, at which the concerns of the sect are settled.

“The magistrate of Furrukhabad informed me that he had found the Sauds an orderly and well-conducted people. They are chiefly engaged in trade.

“Bhuivanee Dos (one of their leaders) was anxious to become acquainted with the Christian religion, and I gave him some copies of the New Testament in Persian and Hindoostanee, which he said he had read and shown to his people, and much approved. I had no copy of the Old Testament in any language which he understood well; but, as he expressed a strong desire to know the account of the creation, as given in it, I explained it to him from an Arabic version of which he knew a little. I promised to procure him a Persian or Hindoostanee Old Testament, if possible. I am of opinion that the Sauds are a very interesting people and that some intelligent and zealous missionary would find great facility in communicating with them.

(Signed) Calcutta, 2 Aug. 1819.

“ W. H. Trant." W. H. Trant informs me that, previously to the adoption of their present views, the Sauds do not appear to have received any Christian instruction. The head of their tribe assured him that they knew nothing of Christianity.

law written on the hearts of these Gentiles, through which they were thus enabled to bear the fruits of righteousness, was nothing less than the inward operation of the Spirit of truth; for Christianity plainly teaches us that, without such an influence, there can be no acceptable obedience to the moral law of God.' Here it may be observed, that this inward work of the Spirit ought not to be confounded with the operation of the conscience. The two things are separately mentioned by the apostle; and I would submit that they are, in fact, totally distinct. The law written on the heart is a divine illumination; the conscience is a natural faculty, by which a man judges of his own conduct. It is through the conscience that the law operates. The law informs the conscience. The law is the light ; the conscience is the eye. The light reveals the beauty of any given object: the eye “bears witness” to that beauty; it beholds and approves. The light is of a uniform character ; for, when not interrupted, it never fails to make things manifest as they really are ; but the eye may be obscured or destroyed

This consideration is strong and palpable enough to afford, in itself, a sufficient evidence that, when the apostle makes mention of their performing the works of righteousness by nature,” he cannot be understood as alluding to nature unassisted by divine grace. The fruits of the flesh-that is, of the carnal and unregenerate state of man--are not righteousness; but, as the apostle himself declares, “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry," &c., Gal. v. 19; and, when speaking of men in their fallen condition, without grace, he expressly asserts that they are the “children of wrath,” Eph. ii. 3; " that there is none that doeth good, no not one:” Rom. iii. 12. Besides, after using this expression, he goes on to attribute the righteousness of the Gentiles, not to their natural reason or acquired wisdom, but to the “law written in their hearts.” Now this law of God written in the heart can be nothing less than a divine illumination; and the larger measures of such illumination are described in the very same terms, as one of the choicest blessings of the Christian dispensation : Jer. xxxi. 33. The word púoer appears to refer to that natural condition of the Gentiles, by which they were distinguished from the Jews-a condition of comparative darkness, and one in which they did not enjoy the superadded help of a written law, or qutward revelation. Not having a law, they performed the works of righteousness by nature, i. e. “without the law.” Just on the principles, in verse 27, the uncircumcised Gentile, in his natural condition, and fulfilling the law, is compared with the Jew, who possesses the letter and the external rite, and nevertheless infringes the law. In both passages, the state of nature is placed in opposition, not to a state of grace, but only to one of outward light and instruction.

by disease, or it may be deceived by the influence of surrounding substances.' So the law written on the heart, although capable of being hindered in its operation, is of an unchangeable nature, and would guide invariably into righteousness and truth; but the conscience may be darkened by ignorance, deadened by sin, or perverted by a wrong education. The conscience indeed, like every other natural faculty of the human mind, is prone to perversion, and the law written on the heart is given not only to enlighten but to rectify it. Those only have “a good conscience” who obey that law

As the Gentiles, to whom the apostle was here alluding were, according to their measure of light, sanctified through the Spirit, and when sanctified accepted, so, I think, every Christian must allow that they were accepted, not because of their own righteousness, but through the merits and mediation of the Son of God. Now the benefit of those merits and that mediation is offered, according to the declarations of Scripture, only to those who believe; for “ without faith it is impossible to please God.” The doctrine that we are justified by faith, and that without faith none can obtain salvation, is to be freely admitted as a truth revealed to mankind on the authority of God himself. Let it, however, be carefully kept in view, that God is equal. It is unquestionably true, in great as well as in little things, that “if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” The extent of faith required in man, in order that he may be accepted with the Supreme Being, will ever be proportioned to the extent of light communicated. Those to whom the merits and mediation of the Son of God are made known, are plainly required to believe in the merits and mediation of the Son of God. Those from whom the plan of redemption is hidden, and to whom the Deity is manifested only by his outward works and by his law written on the heart, may nevertheless so believe in God that it shall be counted to them "for righteousness."

The reader will observe that I have already inferred the universality of a moral and spiritual light from the declarations of Scripture, that God's tender mercies are over all his works, and that Christ died for all men. The most plausible objection to this inference arises from the notion, so prevalent among some Christians, that the Spirit of God operates on the heart of man only in connexion with the outward knowledge of the Scriptures and of Christ, and that, consequently, such outward knowledge is indispensable to salvation. Having therefore, endeavoured to remove this objection, and to show, on apostolic authority, that there were individuals in the Gentile world who had no acquaintance with the truths of religion, as they are revealed in the Holy Scriptures, but who were nevertheless enabled to fear God and work righteousness, I consider there is nothing in the way to prevent our coming to a sound conclusion, that, as, on the one hand, God is merciful to all men, and Christ is a sacrifice for all men, so, on the other hand, all men have received a measure of that divine influence, through which alone they can permanently enjoy the mercy of God, or partake in the benefits of the death of Christ.

1 2 Cor. viii. 12.

In confirmation of this conclusion, it remains for me to adduce the apostle's memorable declaration that the Son or Word of God, was "the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." In order to perceive the true force of these expressions, it will be desirable to cite the entire passage of which it forms part. 1. “In the beginning,” says the inspired apostle," was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2. The same was in the beginning with God. 3. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended (or received) it not. 6. There was a man sent from God, whose name

as John. 7. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe. 8. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light. 9. That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe (or believed) on his name. 13. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we

1 John i. 9.

« PreviousContinue »