Sermon 58

Sermon 58.

THE REJECTION OF GOSPEL-LIGHT THE CONDEMNATION OF

MEN.

John III. 19. And this is the condemnation, that light is come «to the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because [or for] their deeds were evil.

WHAT a strange, alarming declaration is this! Light is come into the world: the Sun of Righteousness is risen upon this region of darkness ; therefore it is enlightened; therefore it is bright intellectual day with all its rational inhabitants: therefore they will no longer grope and stumble in darkness, but all find their way into the world of eternal light and glory. These would be natural inferences: this event we would be apt to expect from the entrance of light into the world- But hear and tremble, ye inhabitants of the enlightened parts of the earth I hear and tfcmble. ye sons of Nassau-Hall, and inhabitants of Princeton! The benevolent Jesus, the Friend of human nature, the Saviour of men, whose lips never dropped an over-severe word, or gave a false alarm: Jesus himself proclaims, This it the condemnation, thai Bght is come into the world, tfr.

This is the condemnation; that is, this is the great occasion of more aggravated condemnation at the final judgment, and of more severe and terrible punishments in the eternal world ; or, this is the cause of men's condemning themselves even now at the bar of their own consciences.

That light is come into the world—Jesus, the Sun of the moral world, is risen, and darts his beams around him in the gospel. And this furnishes guilty minds with materials for self-condemnation ; and their obstinate resistance of the light enhances their guilt, and will render their condemnation the more aggravated; and the reason is, that

Men love darkness rather than light. They choose ignorance rather than knowledge! The Sun of righteousness is not agreeable to them, but shines as a baleful, ill-boding luminary. IfIU

Aid but love the light, its entrance into the world would be their salvation ; but now it is their condemnation. But why do they hate the light? Truly, light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing to the eyes to see the sun: and no light so sweet as this from heaven: no sun so bright and reviving as the Sun of righteousness: and why then do they not love it? Alas ! there is no reason for it, but this wretched one,

Because their deeds are evil. And evil deeds always excite uneasiness in the light, and afford the conscience matter of self-accusation, therefore they wrap up themselves in darkness, and avoid the painful discoveries of the light.

The text directs us to the following inquiries:

What is that light which is come into the world? What is the darkness that is opposed to it? What are the evidences of .men's loving darkness rather than light? What is the reason of it? And in what respects the light's coming into the world, and men's loving darkness rather than light, is their condemnation? :-.;i!. What is that light which is come into the world?

The answer to this, and the other questions, I shall endeavour to accommodate to our own times and circumstances, that we may the-more readily apply it to ourselves.

The light of reason entered our world as soon as the soul of man was created; and, though it is greatly obscured by the grand apostasy, yet some sparks of it still remain.

To supply its defects the light of revelation soon darted its beams through the clouds of ignorance, which involved the human mind, on its flying off to so great a distance from the Father Tof lights. This heavenly day began feebly to dawn upon the first pair of sinners, in that early promise concerning the seed of the woman: and it grew brighter and brighter in the successive revelations made to the patriarchs, to Moses, and the prophets, till at length the Messiah- appeared, as an illustrious sun after a gradual, tedious twilight of the opening dawn.

The light of human literature has also come into the world, and shines with unusual splendours upon our age and nation; and lo ! it illuminates this little village, and extends its beams through the land.

But it is not light in any of these senses that our Lord principally intends, but himself and his blessed gospel; a more clear and divine light than any of the former.

He often represents himself under the strong and agreeable metaphor of light. I am the light of the world, says he: he that followeth me shall not -walk in darkness. John viii. 12. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth in me, should not abide in darkness. John xii. 46. Light is a strong and beautiful metaphor for knowledge, prosperity, comfort, and happiness; and these are the rays which the blessed Jesus diffuses around him :—but, wherever he does not shine, all is sullen and dismal darkness. Hell is the blackness of darkness forever, because he does not extend to it the light of his countenance.. That country where he does not shine, is the land of darkness and the shadow of death; and that heart which is not illuminated with the light of the knowledge of his glory, is the gloomy dungeon of infernal spirits; but wherever he shines, there is intellectual day, the bright meridian of glory and blessedness.

His gospel also is frequently represented as a great light; and no metaphor was ever used with more emphasis and propriety. It is the medium through which we discover the glory of the Deity, the beauties of holiness, the evil of sin, and the reality and infinite importance of eternal, invisible things. This is the light that reveals the secrets of the heart, and discovers ourselves to ourselves. It is this that gives us a just and full view of our duty to God and man, which is but imperfectly or falsely represented in every other system of religion and morality in the world. It is this that discovers and ascertains a method in which rebels may be reconciled to their offended Sovereign, and exhibits a Saviour in full view to perishing sinners. Hail! sacred heaven-born light! welcome to our eyes, thou brightest and fairest effulgence of the divine perfections! May this day sfinag from on high, visit all the regions of this benighted world, and overwhelm it as with a deluge of celestial light! Blessed be Cod, its vital rays have reached to us in these ends of the earth ; and if any of us remain ignorant of the important discoveries it makes, it is because we love darkness rather than light .' Which leads me to inquire,

II. What is that darkness that is opposed to this heavenly light?

Darkness is a word of gloomy import; and there is hardly anything dismal or destructive, but what is expressed by it in sacred language. But the precise sense of the word in my text, h> a state of ignorance, and the absense of the means of conviction. Men love darkness rather than light ; that is, they choose to be ignorant, rather than well-informed: ignorant particularly of such things as will give them uneasiness to know ; as their sin, and the danger to which it exposes them They are wilfully ignorant: and hence they hate the means that would alarm them 'with the mortifying discovery. They wouM rather be flattered than told the honest truth, and know their own character and condition ; and hence they shut their eyes against the light of the gospel, that would flash the painful conviction upon them. Though the light of the gospel shines round you, yet are not some of you involved in this darkness? This you may know by the next inquiry.

III. What are the evidences of men's loving darkness rather than light?

The general evidence, which comprehends all the rest, is their avoiding the means of conviction, and using all the artifices in their power to render them ineffectual.

It is not impossible to characterize such of you as love darkness rather than light, though you may be so much upon your guard against the discovery, as not to perceive your own character.

Though you may have a turn for speculation, and perhaps delight in every other branch of knowledge, yet the knowledge of yourselves, the knowledge of disagreeable duties, the discovery of your sin and danger, of your miserable condition as under the condemnation of the divine law, this kind of self-knowledge you carefully shun; and, when it irresistibly flashes upon you, you endeavour to shut up all the avenues of your mind, through which it might break upon you, and you avoid those means of conviction, from which it proceeds.

You set yourselves upon an attempt very preposterous and absurd in a rational being, and that is, Not to think. When the illboding surmise rises within, " All is not well: 1 am not prepared for the eternal world : if I should die in this condition I am undone forever:" I say, when conscience thus whispers your doom, it may make you sad and pensive for a minute or two, but you soon forget it: you designedly labour to cast it out of your thoughts, and to recover your former negligent serenity. Th$ . vol. II. 63

light of conviction is a painful glare to a guilty eye; arid yoir wrapup yourselves in darkness, lest it should break in upon you.

When your thoughts ave like to fix upon this ungrateful subject, do you not labour to divert them into another channel? Yot. immerse yourselves in business, you mingle in company, you indulge and cherish a thoughtless levity of mind, you break out oi retiremem into the wide world, that theatre of folly, trifling, and donation ; and all this to scatter the gloom of conviction that hangs over your ill-boding minds, and silence the clamours of an exasperated conscience! You laugh, or talk, or work, or study away these fit* Of seriousness 1 You endeavour to prejudice yourselves agamst them by giving them ill names ; as Melancholy, Spleen, and I know not what ; whereas they are indeed the honest struggles of an oppressed conscience to obtain a fair hearing, and give you faithful warning of approaching ruin: they are the benevolent efforts of the Spirit of grace to save a lost soul. And O . it would be happy for you if you had yielded to them, and cher.shed the

serious hour: . .

For the same reason also, you love a soft representation of Christianity, as an easy, indolent, inactive thing ; requiring no vigorous exertion, and attended with no dubious eonfl.ct, but encour»jring your hopes of heaven in a course of sloth, carelessness, and indulgence. Those are the favourite sermons and favourite books which flatter you with smooth things, putting the most favourable construction upon your wickedness, and represent.ng the way to heaven as smooth and easy.

Or if you have an unaccountable fondness for faithful and alarming preaching, as it must be owned some self-flatterers have, ,t is not with a view to apply it to yourselves, but to others. If ymi love the light, it is not that you may see yourselves, but other objects: and- whenever it forces upon you a glance of yourselves, y6tf irnmeuiutely turn from it, and hate it.

Hatred of the light, perhaps, is the reason why so many among us are so impatient of public worship ; so fond of their own homes on the sacred hours consecrated to divine service ; and so reluctant, so late, or so inconstant in their attendance. It is darkness perhaps, at home; but the house of God is filled with light, which

they do not love. ..-...,, -xc ^

This also is one reason why the conversation of zealous communicative christians, who are not ashamed to talk of what lies jiearest their hearts, I mean their Religion, their Saviour, and their God, and to express an abhorrence of what they so sincerely bate, I mean the vices of mankind, and every appearance of evil; J say, this is one reason why their conversation is such a heavy burden, such a painful restraint to many. Such men reflect the beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and the beauties of holiness all around them :—they carry light with them whithersoever they .go, and strike conviction to the guilty. The strictness, the warm .devotion and spirituality of their lives, pass a sentence of condemnation upon sinners; a sentence which they cannot but feel, and ..which therefore renders them uneasy. Hence it is that such live- ly and circumspect christians are not at all popular in the world; .but the favourites of the world are your pliable, temporizing, cora. plaisant christians, that never carry their religion with them into polite company, but conform themselves to the taste of those they converse with. These give no man's conscience uneasiness, they reflect no heavenly light, but thicken the darkness of every company in which they appear; therefore they are acceptable to the lovers of darkness.

Another expedient that has often been used, and which some of you perhaps have attempted, to avoid the light, is, to endeavour to work up yourselves to a disbelief of the christian revela- tion. If you could banish that heavenly light out of the world, ^qr substitute darkness in its place, then you might perpetrate the works of darkness with more confidence and licentiousness. Therefore you eagerly listen to the laughs, the jeers, the railleries and sophisms of loose wits against it; and you are afraid to give a fair,hearing to the many satisfactory evidences in its favour. Thus you cherish that hideous monster, Infidelity; your own offspring, not Satan's, though the father of lies; for he believe* and trembles. James ii. 19.

These artifices and the like, are the effects, and consequently the evidences and indications of men's loving darkness rather than light. And instead of a larger illustration, I shall conclude this head with a plain honest appeal to my hearers.

As in the presence of the heart-searching God, I solemnly appeal to your consciences, whether you do not deal partially with yourselves, and refuse pursuing those hints of your dangerous condition,' till you make a full discovery? Do not your hearts 3mitt; you* because you have suppressed evidence, when it was against you, and shut your eyes against conviction i When the glass of the divine law has been held up before you, and shewn you your own hideous image, t»ave you not gone away, and soon forgot what manner of men you were? Do you not know in your consciences, that the hopes you entertain of future happiness are not the result of severe repealed trial, but on the other hand, owe their strength and even their being to a superficial examination, or none at all, to blind self-flattery and excessive self-love, which. tempt you to believe things as you would have them? Is it censoriousness, or is it evidence and faithfulness, that constrains me to cry out, O '. how rare are well-grounded, well attested hopes among us? Hopes that have not been slightly entertained, nor retained without good evidence, after impartial repeated trials; hopes that have risen and fallen, gathered strength or languished, been embraced or abandoned, perhaps a thousand times, according to the various degrees of evidence; and after a series of such vicissitudes, attended with a variety of correspondent passions, of joys and fears, of discouraging anxieties and transporting prospects, have at length arrived at a settled, confirmed state, supported by that only sufficient proof, conspicuous holiness of heart and life. For the decision of this important doubt, I appeal from my own judgment, from the judgment of a censorious spirit and a blind charity, from every judgment but that of your own hearts: at that tribunal I lodge the appeal; and there I insist the matter should be tried. And remember this, if your hearts condemn you, much more does God, the Supreme Judge: for he U greater than your hearts, and knoweth all things; knoweth many causes of condemnation, unknown and perhaps unsuspected by you. But, brethren, if your hearts condemn you not, then you have confidence towards God. 1 John iii. 20, 21. I proceed to inquire,

IV. What is the reason of this absurd preference, that men love darkness rather than light?

The melancholy reason of this is easily discovered, and has been partly anticipated; and it is this, that men love ease and security of mind, rather than fear and anxiety. They are really obnoxious sinners, under the terrible displeasure of almighty God, and on the slippery brink of everlasting destruction. Now to have a full conviction of this would alarm their fears, imbitter their pleasures, damp their eager pursuits, and cast their minds into a ferment of anxiety and terror. But to be blind to all these miserable prospects, to be elated with sanguine expectations of the contrary, to have all serene and calm within, to be charmed with all the fine chimeras of a flattering imagination; to be fearless of danger, and pleased with themselves; this is a state they naturally delight in: in this state they will lull themselves asleep at all adventures, regardless of the consequence; and as darkness is the most proper attendant of sleep, therefore they choose it. But the light of the gospel let into the conscience would give them quite another view of things, would overturn all their towering hopes, and set the terrors of the Lord in array against them; would open such shocking prospects in the ways of sin, that they could no longer dare to walk in them; would constrain them to indulge the sorrows of a broken heart, and to long, and pant, and look, and cry for a Saviour. This would be a very painful exercise to them ; and therefore they hate and shun the light, which would force the unwelcome conviction upon them.

This is the reason which Christ himself assigns for some men's loving darkness rather than light. Every one that doth the truth vometh unto the tight, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. Such a one is willing to be searched: the presumption is in his favour, and the trial will turn out to his honour. But he that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh he I a the light, lest his evil deeds should be refiroved. John iii. 20, 21. It is the fear of this reproof that makes him afraid of the light; for be cannot but be conscious that his evil deeds deserve it: and to be thus reproved will yield him pain.

M But since they have such favourable thoughts of themselves, and entertain such high hopes, why are they afraid of the light? must they not rather presume its discoveries will be in their favour I And if so, why do they hate it ?" I answer, that, notwithstanding all their high sentiments of themselves, they have often a secret suspicion they are not well grounded, and that the light would make some terrible discoveries concerning them; and hence they will not venture to trust themselves in the light, lest their secret suspicion should be confirmed, and rise into a full conviction. It is really so evident that they are guilty, unholy creatures, unfit for heaven, and their consciences sometimes give them such hints of this alarming secret, that they cannot keep themselves altogether ignorant of it. They therefore try to evade the trial, lest the sentence should go against them. I appeal to your own breasts, my brethren, whether .this be not the true reason why you are so unwilling to examine yourselves, and submit to the severe scrutiny of the light of revelation? why you are averse to self-knowledge, and the means that would obtrude it upon you? Is it not because you cannot but pre-judge the matter even against yourselves, in spite of all the arts of self-flattery? And if there are such strong presumptions against you, that even yourselves cannot but dread a trial at the tribunal of your consciences, is it not evident, that chosen darkness is your only guard against conviction, and that your case is really bad? And if so, bow sorry a relief is it to avoid the discovery ! since all your preposterous care to avoid it will but aggravate your condemnation! Which naturally introduces the last inquiry:

V. In what respects the light's coming into the world, and men's loving darkness rather than light, is their condem* nation. <..._ -,.,..,

Here I have only to illustrate two particulars already.hinted; that this furnishes them with matter for self-condemnation now, and will be the occasion of their more aggravated condemnation in the eternal world.

I. This furnishes them with matter of self-condemnation in the present state. It is hard, perhaps impossible, for sinners under the meridian light of the gospel, to avoid all conviction of their guilt and danger. That light is very penetrating, and; will dart its rays through the thickest glooms of ignorance : it is -vital and fiowerful, sharfier than a two-edged sword; fiiercing and dividing asunder the tout and sfiirit, the joint* and marrow; and ia a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Heb. iv. 12. Such of you, my brethren, as are resolved to shun the mortification of self knowledge, live in a situation very unfavourable to your design. You have had " burning and shining lights" among you ;* who I doubt not, shine as the sun, and as the stars in the firmament forever and ever; but, when they are translated to a higher sphere, the gospel has not left you, but still shines around you; and you will find it very difficult, I hope, impossible, to wrap up yourselves in Egyptian darkness in such a Goshen, such a land of vision. In Tartary or Japan, or some savage region of darkness, you might have lived in contented ignorance, and avoid

• Mr. Burr and Mr. Edwards, Presidents of the Cellege at Nawau-Kall, before Mr. Da vies.

ed those unacceptable glares of light which will now break in upon you, in spite of all your vigilance; for under the faithful and solemn preaching of the gospel, your consciences will often be disturbed, and you will find yourselves unable to go on in sin bold and intrepid. And though in the thoughtless gaiety of health, and the hurry and din of business, you may drown the clamours of conscience, yet in a retired hour, upon a sick bed, flnd in the near views of death and eternity, conscience will speak, and constrain you to hear: and thus you will live unhappy, selfcondemned creatures in this world, till you are condemned by the righteous sentence of God in the world to come. Therefore consider,

II. Your loving darkness rather than light, will occasion your more aggravated condemnation in the eternal world. It was in - your power to receive warning, and discover your danger in time ; nay, it cost you some pains to avoid the discovery, and make light of the warning. And what a fruitful source of selftormenting reflections will this be! How will you fret, and vex, and accuse, and condemn yourselves, for acting so foolish a part! How will you exhaust and spend yourselves in eager, fruitless wishes, that you had admitted conviction while the danger was avoidable ! But, O! it will then be too late! Hell is a region of darkness too, but not of that soothing, peaceful darkness of ignorance, which you now prefer to the light of the gospel, but a lowering, tremendous, tormenting darkness, that will forever hide every bright and pleasing prospect from your eyes, and yet be the proper medium for discovering sights of wo and terror: a thick darkness, occasioned by the everlasting eclipse of the Sun of Righteousness and the light of God's countenance, who will never dart one ray of comfort or of hope through the sullen gloom. In this blackness of darkness you must dwell forever, who now love darkness rather than light. And O! how will your consciences haunt and terrify you, in that cheerless and stormy night! Your guilt will also appear great in the sight of God, as well as to your own consciences, and therefore he Will inflict the greater punishment upon you. You have despised the richest blessings that even infinite goodness could bestow upon the children of men; I mean, his gospel and his Son : you have made light of his authority in the most open and audacious manner. He knows you were even afraid to discover your doty towards him; he knows you would not regard your own consciences when they were his advocates, and that you were unwilling to admit so much conviction as would render you sorry for your offences against him Nay, he knows that your being convinced that this or that was an offence against Him, was no restraint to you from the commission of it. In short, heknows you spent your lives either in sinning against knowledge, or in avoiding that knowledge which would have prevented your sinning.—And while he views you in this light, what obstinate, ■wilful, daring offenders must you appear in his eyes? And what aggravated punishment must he judge your due! He also knows you reluctated and struggled against your own salvation, and hated that light which would have shewn you the way to everlasting life. And must he not think you worthy of that destruction you have voluntarily chosen, and refuse you admittance to that happiness which you wilfully refused?

This is the representation which the scriptures uniformly give us of the doom of such as love darkness rather than light. If I had not tome and sfieken to them, says the blessed Jesus, they would not have had sin : but now they have no cloak for their tin. John xv. 22. iir shall be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah, for Tyre and Sidon, though most notorious for all manner of wickedness and debauchery, than for Chorazin, Bethsaida and Cafiernaum, in which Christ's mighty works were done, and the light of his gospel shone so bright. Matt. xi. 21, 24. And this is agreeable to the eternal rules of righteousness, that much should be required where much has been given; and that the degree of guilt should be estimated by the degrees of obligation and advantages for obedience.

And now, my dear hearers, upon a review of this subject, you see your own circumstances; the light is come among you; it shines all around you; and, I doubt not but at times it finds some openings through which it forces its way even into unwilling minds. You have light to distinguish between truth and error; between sin and duty; between the way to heaven, and the way to hell; you are warned, admonished and instructed; you have the strongest inducements to a life of religion, and the strongest dissuasives from a course of sin. I leave you therefore to determine what your guilt and punishment must be if you choose darkness rather than light; light so clear, so reviving, so salutary, so divine! This alarming subject is very pertinent to us all, and we should all apply it to ourselves; but it is so peculiarly adapted to the residents of this house, that I cannot but direct my address particularly to you, my dear pupils, who are the children of the light in more respects than one.

There is not one in a thousand of the sons of men that enjoys your advantages. Light, human and divine, natural and supernatural, ancient and modern; that is, knowledge Of every kind shines upon you, and you are ever^ day basking under its rays. YoU have nothing to do but to polish your minds, and, as it were, render them luminous. But let me put you in mind, that unless you admit the light of the glorious gospel of Christ to shine in your hearts, you will Still be the children of darkness, and confined in the blackness of darkness forever/ This is intolerably shocking, even in supposition. Suppose any of you should be surrounded with more light than others, for no other purpose but that you may have a stronger conflict with conviction, and that your consciences may with greater force raise tumults and insurrections within you; suppose your sins should be the sins of men of learning and knowledge, the most daring and gigantic sins on this side hell: suppose you should turn out sinners of great parts, fine geniuses, like the fallen angels, those vast intellects ; wise but wicked ; wise to do evil, but without knowledge to do good ; suppose it should be your highest character that you can harangue well, that you know a few dead languages, that you have passed through a course of philosophy; but as to that knowledge which sanctifies all the rest, and renders them useful to yourselves or others; tha■t knowledge which alone can make you wise to salvation, and guide you to avoid the paths of destruction, you shun it, you hate it, and choose to remain contentedly ignorant in this important respect; suppose your parents, who have been at the expense of your education ; ,your friends who have entertained such high and pleasing expectations concerning you; church and state, that look to you for help, and depend upon you to fill stations of importanae in the world, and your careful instructors, who observe your growing improvements with proportional pleasure ;—suppose, that after all this generous labour, and all these pleasing prospects, they should see you at last doomed to everlasting darkness, for your voluntary abuse of the light you now enjoy ;—suppose these things, VOL. II. 64

and - but the consequences of these suppositions are so terrible, that I am not hardy enough to mention them. And, 0! shall they ever become matters of fact!

Therefore, my dear youth, admit the light, love it, and pursue it, though at first it should make such discoveries as may be painful to you; for the pain will prove medicinal. By discovering your danger in time, you may be able to escape it; but never expect to remove it by the silly expedient of shutting yonr eyes. fie impartial inquirers after truth as to yourselves, as vdl as other things, and no longer attempt to put a cheat upon yourselves. Alas! how childish and foolish, as well as tricked and ruinous, would such an imposture be ! The gospel, in this particular, only requires you to be honest men; and surely this is a most moderate and reasonable demand. Therefore, be ye children of the light and of the day, and walk as such, and then it will be a blessing to the world and to yourselves, that ever you were born.

Finally, Let us all remember the terror of this friendly warning, That this is the condemnation, that light it come into the •mortd, tad men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.