« ZurückWeiter »
their reality and importance, as will bring the whole man under their government.
3. These Ephesians, were alienated in their Heathen state, from the life of God, through the ignorance that was in them, because of the blindness, or hardness, of their heart.
By the life of God is intended a holy and spirituel life. This is called the life of God, because it consists in a conformity to his character, and leads to the enjoyment of his favor. The Christian, renewed after the image of God, lives no longer to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. He fashions not himself ac. cording to his former lusts in his ignorance, but as God, who has called him is holy, so is he holy in all manner of conversation.
These Ephesians were once alienated from such a life, and their unconverted neighbors were so still. They walked according to the course of the world's suot according to the will of God. They fulfilled the desires of the flesh ; not the dictates of the Spirit.
This part of the character of the Heathen world is applicable to every habitual sitner. Our apostle says to the Romans, "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor, indeed, can be."-" They, who are in the Aesh," under the government of fleshly lusts,' and vicious habits, ' cannot please God.” To the Collossians he says, " You, who were sometime alienated, and enemies in your minds by wicked works, he hath now reconcil. ed.” St. James says, “The friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God.”
True religion consists in the conformity, wicked. ness in the contrariety of the soul to the character and will of God. Every habitual sinner is alienated from, and an enemy to God: He possesses those tempers, and does those works, which are opposite to the divine nature ; and condemned by the divine law. In this
alienation from God greatly consists the evil of sin; and from this also principally arises its danger. Hence appears the importance of an immediate repentance ; for as long as the sinner continues in the love and prac. tice of iniquity, he is an enemy to God, lies under his displeasure, and is exposed to his wrath. By the actual turning of the heart from sin to God, and by the subsequent works of holiness, the Christian must judge of the sincerity of his repentance, and the reality of his pardon. The true penitent loves and follows that life of God, to which once he was disaffected, and from which he was alienated.
This alienation, the apostle says, was. “ through the ignorance, which proceeded from the blindness, or hardness of the heart," Particular wrong
many cases, be excused on the ground of unavoidable ignorance. But that ignorance which is the effect of hardness of heart cannot be admitted as an excuse. The apostle here mentions ignorance as an aggravation; not as an ex tenuation of the guilt of these Gentiles : for this ignorance had its foundation in the obstinacy and perverseness of the mind. Such a kind of ignorance, being in itself criminal, will not excuse the sins which follow from it.
Though ignorance may be pleaded in excuse or extenuation of some particular actions, yet an habitual alienation from virtue, and a customary devotedness to a vicious life can never avail itself of this plea. ). An honest man may misjudge concerning the propriety of certain instances of conduct : But the difference between virtue and vice in general is obvious to the reason, and palpable to the conscience of every man, who is not grossly blinded by his lusts, and hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The apostle says concerning the Gentiles in general, “These, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also beare' .ing witness, and their thoughts, the mean while, accusing, or else excusing one another."
Now if their alienation from a virtuous life was without excuse, what excuse will be found for those, who, under the gospel, walk as the Gentiles walked ? If they, who sinned against the law of nature, could not plead ignorance in bar of punishment ; what will those plead who have sinned against the gospel ? If the ignorance of the former was imputed to the hardness
of their hearts; to what more favorable cause can be 9 imputed the ignorance of some, and the disobedience
of others, under the purest light of revelation ? The Heathens had some apprehension of the judgment of God against many of the sins which they practised ; but by the gospel the wrath of God'is clearly revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteous. ness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness. God will finally judge all men according to the works which they have done, and the light which they have enjoyed. They who have sinned without law, shall perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law; and such as have rejected the gospel, shall be condemned by the gospel. They who have known, and yet have not obeyed it, will be punished with everlasting destruction from the glory of God's almighty power.
4. It is added, They were become past feeling. This same temper is elsewhere expressed by a con. science seared with a hot iron.
There is in all men a principle of conscience, which, when doctrinally enlightened, approves virtue and condemns vice. This principle will operate, in a greater or less degree, until, by repeated opposition, it is silenced and subdued. In the first stages of wickedness, the sinner, reflecting on his guilty life, feels shame and remorse, selfcondemnation and the fear of punishment. A dreadful sound is in his ears; destruction from the Lord is a terror to him. There is no peace to the
wicked ; he is often a terror to himself. Cain, Herod and Judas felt the power of this inward principle.
There is, however, such a thing as a sinner's being past feeling. By a course of iniquity he acquires strong habits of vice: As vicious habits gain strength, fear, shame and remorse abate, Repeated violations of conscience blunt its sensibility and break its power. The sinner, bent on a wicked course, eagerly embraces licentious opinions, which flatter him in the pursuit. He may, at length, so pervert his judgment, as to confound the difference between moral good and evil, and explode the idea of a future punishment. He says, in his heart, “God will not see it. How doth he know? Can he judge through the dark cloud!" When corrupt principles combine with vicious habits, they extinguish the sense of conscience. We read of some, who declare their sin as Sodom, who are not ashamed when they commit abomination, and whose glory is in their shame.
In opposition to this unfeeling mind, the renewed Christian has a tender, sensible conscience. The heart of stone is removed, and a heart of flesh is put within him. He is shocked with the deformity of vice---pleased with the beauty of holiness--affected with the remembrance of iniquity--wed by the authority--alarmed by the threatenings, and enlivened by the promises of God-studious to know what is right-cautious not to offend-watchful against temp tations-afraid even of small transgressions--and careful, in cases of doubt, to choose the innocent side.
5. The Gentiles, being past feeling, gave themselves over to lascidousness, to work all uncleannness with greediness.
There are in men certain natural principles, such as fear, shame, a sense of honor and an apprehension of futurity, which operate as a check and restraint from vice. These, though in themselves too impotent to control the corrupt propensities of our fallen nature, yet
are of use to set some bounds to iniquity, and to keep the world in order; and, when they are aided and directed by a superior principle of holiness, they are great helps to the religious life. Let these principles be extinguished, or perverted, and what restraint will the sinner be under ?" He will commit iniquity with. greediness. Thus St. Peter deseribes the character of the Gentiles, “They walked in lascivousness, lusts,, excess of wine, revellings and abominable idolatries;
and thought it strange that Christians ran not with ¿ them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of " them." --St Pául says, “They were filled with all un..
righteousness, uncleanness,.covetousness and wickedness; and though they knew the judgment of God, that they who did such things were worthy of death, they not only did the same, but consented to, and had pleasure in those who did them.”
The gospel sets before us far more powerful arguments against a wicked life, thian nature could suggest to the Heathens. If we break over the restraints which the gospel lays upon us, and mock the terrors which it holds up to our view, we not only discover a greater vitiosity of mind than they, but shall run to greater lengths in the practice of iniquity.
As. water, when it has broken through its mounds, rushes on with more impetuous force, than the natural stream, so the corruptions of the human heart, when they have borne down the restraints of religion, press forward with more violent rapidity, and make more awful devastation in the soul, than where these restraints. had never been known. Sih takes oceasion by the commandment to work all manner of concupiscence.
Where the gospel has no salutary effect, it is a savour of death unto death. The apostle speaks of such uncleanness among the Christians in Corinth, as had not been known among the Heathens. The greater knowledge in religion men acquire, while their hearts are set in them to do evil, the more capable are