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DOING GOD'S WILL, THE GUIDE TO DISCOVERING IT.
PREACHED ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON, SEPTEMBER 19, 1858,
BY THE REV. HENRY MELVILL, B.D.,
IN THE CATHEDRAL CHURCH OF ST. PAUL, LONDON.
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”—John vii. 17.
“ If any man will do his will"-rather, in the original, if any man be willing to do his will. A readiness to perform God's will, supposing it ascertained, is given by our Blessed Saviour as the qualification which will ensure discovery; here is a most interesting field of Christian meditation. Generally, when we speak of the evidences of Christianity, we refer to the proofs which are only to be discovered by the studious, or appreciated by the educated. What, then, are the poor and the uneducated to do? Have thoy no sufficient reason for receiving the Bible as God's word, none at least beyond the fact that it has been long so received by the church of which they are members, or in the country of which they are natives ! This, indeed, would be to place the faith of the common people on a most precarious foundation, rather on no foundation at all, and we know from abundant experience that this is very far from the truth ; we know that whatever have been the sources whence our cottagers and our mechanics fetch their weapons and their strength, they have been just as well able to withstand scepticism as the wise and prudent. In fact, blessed be God, however shrewdly it may adapt itself to the circumstances of the lower orders, it has not won more triumphs in the hovels of our peasants than in the schools of our philosophers; and this shows that, although the poor may know nothing of the argument from analogy or the proof from history, some evidence there must be which lies quite within their reach, and our text furnishes a satisfactory account of the matter, by declar. ing that a readiness to do the will of God shall be followed by a discovery of the origin of the doctrine. It sets before us a method of demonstration which may be tried by the ignorant as well as by the learned, and, which, forasmuch as it must be worked out by the heart rather than by the head, is not more at the disposal of the most finished scholar than the most illiterate mechanic. Why, in the first place, should the being ready to perform God's will ensure the ascertaining whether a doctrine be from God? This is not difficult to answer.
Observe, first of all, that this readiness marks honesty of character and freedom from those prejudices and prepossessions which are sure fatally to impede a search after truth. A man, when he sets himself to investigate a doctrine may see that if established, it will entail upon him duties which he has no wish to perform, and what chance is there of his deciding that the doctrine is true when he enters on the inquiry with an equal desire of proving it false? The understanding biassed by the inclination will be quite unable to sit in calm and deliberate judgment on the evidences brought to its tribunal ; its very process will be hindered by the interference of affections, clamourous for a verdict in their favour, and the decision which the will pronounced before the investigation commenced is almost sure to be ratified when the investigation concludes. If, in enumerating the works of the flesh-St. Paul mentions, as he does, heresies, as well as murders and drunkenness, it may be that infidelity should be referred to the lusts of the carnal, rather than to the decisions of the intellectual part of man. I have no wish to deny that many an infidel has brought a vast amount of intellect and industry to bear on the examination of the evidences of Christianity. I have no wish to confound all scepticism with that of which modern times have been prolific in specimens—the scepticism of young men who scarce ever opened a Bible, who are profoundly ignorant of the nature of its credentials, and who, having furnished themselves with a few second hand objections, and raked together a few antiquated sophistries, consider themselves qualified to disprore what has defied the assaults of eighteen centuries, and count it a fine thing to ridicule what has drawn homage from the learning, and genius, and philosophy of ages. I take no pains to account for such scepticism as this, we will hardly dignify it with the name of infidelity, it is ignorance, ignorance exposing itself through the desire of being notorious. A sceptic is a rarer thing than a believer, and therefore he who craves fame, and is not careful of its quality, may easily be a disciple of Deism rather than of Christ. But there is a better scepticism than this, if it may be allowed to speak of better where all are so bad; there is a scepticism which has at least been preceded by inquiry, and which is therefore more dignified than that meanest of all determinations, the meanest both intellectually and morally, the taking the dust which another has collected and scattering it over the objects of a people's veneration. We will admit that there are men who have investigated the evidences of Christianity, and yet have reached the conclusion that Christianity is not divine ; but what account are we to give of such scepticism as this ? on what principles are we to explain how it comes to pass, that, where truth has been sought for it has not been found ? Nay, we may seem to give an uncharitable answer; this we must not mind, so long as we give a scriptural answer. Our text, if it stood alone, would be sufficient to prove that in every case infidelity must be traced to the wilful fault of the inquirer. You should remember that it would be greatly for the interests of a worldly man, to prove Christianity false; he would thereby get rid of much which menaces him in his pleasures, and secure himself, in great measure, against the pleadings of conscience. And the probabilities are that the unbeliever has been biassed throughout his investigation by the felt advantage it would be to him
if he could come to a decision against Christianity; that, as he has passed along the series of evidence which constitute together the very mightiest of demonstrations, he has been pained whenever they wore to him an aspect of strength, and pleased when he thought he could discover a flaw. His disposition has been just the opposite of that described in our text; in place of a readiness to do God's will, whatever that will may be, there has been an eagerness to keep that will out of sight, wherever it might possibly be at variance with his own; how then was it to be expected that a mind thus prejudiced against Christianity, with inclinations thus set on its rejection, could be a fair judge of evidences, or hold the scales evenly between counter testimonies
But take the more direct way of proving our text : suppose a man ready to do God's will, anxious to discover, in order that, he may perform it ; we may be sure of such a man, that he is already striving to be obedient, up to the full measure of his knowledge. There could not be the supposed readiness if the conduct were not regulated by such portions of the Divine will as have been already ascertained, and it follows from this that whatever his acquaintance with natural or revealed religion, he will have his passions in check, that he will not be the slave of depraved inclinations, and that, therefore, he will search after truth with the clear headedness of one whose understanding is not darkened by the mists which always rise from a heart in love with vice. And further, it is evident, that forasmuch as he is quite prepared to obey, provided he can only determine what is truth, he will not be swayed by any partialities ; his simple object is "to know of the doctrine;" he has no private interest to serve by hiding or perverting it, and we may therefore calculate on his conducting his inquiry with that fairness, that integrity of purpose, and that freedom from bias which almost ensure that his conclusions will be sound. Is it likely that a man thus sincerely desirous of obeying the will of God, should fall into fatal error or mistake on any matter of religion? Likely! I dare pronounce it impossible, for you must add to considerations drawn from the structure of the human mind, that the special assistance of God may be expected to attend the man who searches after truth, in the temper thus described. The attributes and the word of God equally pledge him to the communicating a knowledge of his will wherever it is faithfully sought. No supposition should be more completely at variance with all that either Christianity or reason ascribes to God, than that of his leaving a sincere inquirer uninformed, or failing to guard from all dangerous delusions any one who is honestly inquiring after truth. If it be a principle in the Divine dealings, to give over to a reprobate mind those who like not to retain God in their knowledge, and allow the understanding to be so darkened that men shall believe a lie, when they have long shown that they have pleasure in unrighteousness, it must be equally a principle with God to guide the meek in judgment, and to teach the meek his way, so that they who heartily seek shall assuredly discover what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God : therefore do we believe that the Holy Spirit will assist any and every man, as with full readiness to obey, he sets himself to examine the Bible. That Spirit will certainly guide him in his search and lead him on towards truth, seeing that there is freedom from those prejudices, those perversities and hostilities which grieve the Holy Spirit, impede his rations, and provoke his withdrawal. Why, then, should we not give as our text gives, a simple readiness to do the will of God, as the great qualification for the acquisition of knowledge, the great security against falling into error? As the man in whom there is a repugnance to the doing God's will, would be unable to judge the force of evidence, to balance testimonies, to unravel perplexities; the man, on the contrary, in whom there is the readiness, has all those probabilities-might we not say certainties :-in his favour, which result from the human mind being healthful in its workings and the Divine Spirit prompt in its assistance. We set, then, the illiterate man, the poor mechanic or countryman, in whom there is the readiness, against the acutest and best informed, in whom there is not the readiness. We give the Bible into the hand of each, and set each to the ascertaining whether it be indeed the word of God. The one shall surround himself with the ponderous volumes into which the learned bare gathered the vast credentials of Christianity; he shall busy himself in the demonstrations of Paley and Butler, and he shall sit in judgment on the testimony of miracles; and history shall pass before him teeming with the accomplishment of prophecy; but the other, the poor and illiterate man, shall be unable thus to search out the external evidences on which Christianity rests; he shall have no witness for the Bible but the Bible itself ; his only equipment in the prosecution of his inquiry shall be just that sincerity of purpose in which the other is wanting; and we shall be quite prepared to find that the man whose only weapon was the readiness to obey, wholly distanced the other, who, without that readiness, handled all the stores of the intellectual armory. Whatever be that property in Scripture—and such a property there isthrough which it manifests itself as truth to the human conscience, we should expect to find the manifestation withholden in the one case, and vouchsafed in the other. The disposition towards obedience has put the mind of the one into the precise attitude which is fitted for the admission of truth; the want of such a disposition has fenced up that of the other against the entrance of the simplest of its elements. If, then, we see the illiterate outstrip the man of great reasoning powers and ample erudition, reaching the conclusion of the Divine authority of the Bible, and reposing there with thorough satisfaction, whilst the other is driven to and fro on the broad waste of uncertainty, and at last left in confirmed infidelity; why, we shall feel that we only behold what was to have been fully expected, for there is the strict connection of cause and effect, as well as the assertion of an inspired teacher in the words of our text—"If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself."
What does all this assume? Why it assumes that the Bible is its own witness, that the Bible can prove of itself and by itself, that it came from God. If the readiness to perform what is written in the Bible insure of itself the discovering the author of the Bible; if, as you find Christ elsewhere affirming, the eye being single be enough to make it certain that the whole body shall be full of light; if according to the Psalmist, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him;" and according to the Evangelist, “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself" — why, we necessarily conclude that there is an evidence of God speaking in the Bible, which is only to be found and appreciated where certain moral qualities are possessed, but which nevertheless is to the full as convincing as the combined testimony for miracle and prophecy. And is there not? I take the case of a pious but uneducated man who has never been instrueted in what are called the evidences of Christianity, and who would hardly comprehend them were they spread out before him. We declare of this man-and I trust the experience of some of you goes along with the declaration-that as he peruses the Bible it commends itself to him as "the word of the living God," and that too with a force and distinctness which leave him in no doubt as to the source whence it came. What he reads so tallies with what he knows of himself, of his nature, and his wants that he cannot doubt its truth, nor question that a more than human wisdom had to do with its authorship. Let me show you this in regard of what the Bible says, first of our sinful condition, and, secondly, our salvation through Christ.
The Bible sets out with a broad statement of human corruption, exempting no one from the charge of radical enmity to that gracious being who giveth us richly all things to enjoy. And this charge is not made only in the general, for then very possibly it would be evaded or overlooked—it descends into particulars. The deceitful heart is spoken of ; and the tendency of the affections to fasten on any object rather than God is broadly affirmed ; a disposition constantly preferring what is finite and perishable to the unbounded and everlasting is continually asserted. And as the man of honest mind peruses a book which thus professes to give him a picture of himself, and that, too, a picture so stern and revolting, he compares what is written with what he finds in himself, and the comparison does but assure him of the thorough accuracy of the delineation. This is one great mode in which the Bible evi. dences itself to be the word of the Almighty. We defy a man to bring it to the bar of his own experience, and not give a verdict in favour of its Divinity. It may be said to lay man open to himself, to dissect with the most searching moral anatomy the very thoughts and devices of his heart, to give such account of all that goes on in the soul's netrable solitudes that one would have supposed that the writer must have descended into those solitudes, have observed what was moving there and ivspected what was done there. This is much ; and it is a mighty argument for God speaking in the Bible, that comparing what it says we are, with what we find ourselves to be, we discover an agreement or concurrence too close and circumstantial to be accounted for by mere human sagacity.
But we can go further. This self-evidencing power of the Bible is to be seen in what it says of our salvation, just as well as what it says of our condition by nature. It may be that the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, because, not having searched out their own moral acquire. ments, they must necessarily be blind to the precision with which the gospel meets them all. But the man who has felt himself a sinner, and who has therefore assented to all that Scripture tells him of his condition by nature, will be conscious of such a suitableness in the whole scheme of redemption, as will of itself be an almost irresistible argument in favour of its truth. There is not a particular which his own reasonings may have suggested to him of the hatred of sin, of the necessity for its punishment under such a government as the Divine, of the difficulties therefore, which must lie in the way of his forgiveness—there is not, I say, a single particular which has not evidently entered into the mind of the author of the gospel, and been taken account of in the wondrous arrangement.
And if he pass from his reasonings and forebodings to all that Scripture affirms of the relation in which a sinful creature stands to the righteous