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SERMON LVIII

The rejection of gospel-light the condemnation of men.

SERMON LVIII.

THE REJECTION OF GOSPEL-LIGHT THE CONDEMNATION OF MEN.

John iii. 19. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light; because [or for} their deeds are 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 sind 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! hear and tremble, 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 is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, &c.

This is the condemnation; that is, This is the great occasion of more aggravated condemnation at the sinal judgment, and of more severe and terrible punishment in the eternal world; or, this is the cause of mens 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 mines as a baleful, ill-boding luminary. If they did 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 fee the fun: and no light so sweet as this from heaven: no fun 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 mens loving darkness rather than light? What is the reason of it? And in what respects the light's coming into the world, and mens loving darkness rather than light, is their condemnation?

I. What is that light which is come into the world?

The

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 foul of man was created; and, though it is greatly obscured by the grand apostacy, 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 of lights. This heavenly day began feebly to dawn upon the sirst 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 fun after a gradual, tedious twilight of the opening dawn.

The light of human literature has also come into the world, and shines with unusual splendors 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. / am the light os the world, says he: he that solloweth me shall not walk in darkness. John viii. 12. / 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 for ever, because he does not extend to it the light of his countenance. That country try where he does not shine, is the land os darkness and the shadow os 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 mines, 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 insinite 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 falsly 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 dayspring from on high, visit all the regions of this benighted world, and overwhelm it as with a deluge of celestial light! Blessed be God, 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 any thing dismal or destructive, but what is expressed by it in sacred language. But the precise sense of the word in my text, is, a state of ignorance, and the absence of the means of conviction. Men love darkness rather than light; that is, they choose to be ignorant, rather than well-informed:

ignorant 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 would 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. Tho' 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 mens loving darkness rather than liq-ht?

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

It is not impoflible to characterize such of you as love darkness rather than lights 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 selfknowledge 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 ill-boding surmise rises within, " All is not well: I am not prepared for the eternal world: if I should die in this condition I am undone for ever:" I fay, when conscience thus whispers pers your doom, it may make you fad 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. The light of conviction is a painful glare to a guilty eye; and you wrap up yourselves in darkness, lest it should break in upon you.

When your thoughts are like to six upon this ungrateful subject, do you not labour to divert them into another channel? You immerse yourselves in business, you mingle in company, you indulge and cherish a thoughtless levity of mind, you break out of retirement into the wide world, that theatre of folly, trifling, and dissipation; and all this to scatter the gloom of conviction that hangs over your ill-boding minds, and filence the clamours of an exasperated conscience! You laugh, or talk, or work, or study away these sits of seriousness! You endeavour to prejudice yourselves against 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 cherished the serious hour!

For the fame reason also, you love a soft representation of christianity, as an easy, indolent, inactive thing; requiring no vigorous exertion, and attended with no dubious conflict, but encouraging your hopes of heaven in a course of sloth, carelessness, and indulgence. Those are the favourite sermons and fa

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vourite books which flatter you with smooth things, putting the most favourable construction upon your wickedness, and representing 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

Vol. III. S s selfself-flatterers have, it is not with a view to apply it to yourselves, but to others. If you love the light, it is not that you may fee yourselves, but other objects: and, whenever it forces upon you a glance of yourselves, you immediately 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 silled with light, which they do not love.

This also is one reason why the conversation of zealous communicative christians, who are not ashamed to talk of what lies nearest their hearts, I mean their Religion, their Saviour, and their God, and to express an abhorrence of what they so sincerely hate, I mean the vices of mankind, and every appearance of evil; I fay, 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 Tenders them uneasy. Hence it is that such lively and circumspect christians are not at all popular in the world; but the favourites of the world are your pliable, temporizing, complaisant christians, that never carry their religion with them into posite 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.

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Another expedient that has been often 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 revelation. If you could banish that heavenly light out of the world, or substitute darkness in its place, then you might perpetrate the works of darkness with more considence and licentiousness. Therefore you eagerly listen to the laughs, the jeers, the railleries and sophisms of loose wits against it j and you are afraid to give a fair hearing to the many satisfactory evidences in its favour. Thus you cherish that hideous monster, Insidelity; your own offspring, not Satan's, though the father of lies; for he believes and trembles. James ii. 19. These artisices and the like, are the effects, and consequently the evidences and indications of mens 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 smite you, because you have suppressed evidence, when it was against you, and shut your eyes against conviction? When the glass of the divinelawhas been held upbefore you, and Ihewn you your own hideous image, have 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 repeated trial, but, on the other hand, owe their strength and even their being to a supersicial 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 wellgrounded, well-attested hopes among us L 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, consirmed state, supported by that only sufficient proof, conspicuous holiness of heart and life. For the decifion 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 heart: at that tribunal 1 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 is 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 eafily 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 sine chimeras of flattering imagination j 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 mens loving darkness rather than light. Every one that doth the truth comesi unto the light, 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 to the light, lest his evil deeds should be reproved. John iii. 20, 21. It is the fear of this reproof that makes him afraid of the light; for he cannot but be conscious that his evil deeds deserve it: and to be thus reproved will yield him pain.

"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? 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 consirmed, and rise into a

full

full conviction. It is really so evident that they are guilty, unholy creatures, unsit 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, left the sentence should go against them. F 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 prejudge 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 bv; 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, how sorry a relief is it to avoid the discovery! since all your preposterouscare 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 mens loving darkness rather than light, is their condemnation?

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 im'possible, 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: // « vital and powersul, sharper than a two-edged sword; piercing and dividing asunder the soul and spirit, the joints and marrow; and is a discerner of the thoughts

and -and intents of the heart. Heb. iv. 12. Such of you, my brethren, as are resolved to shun the mortisicatiori.es 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 fun, and as the stars in the firmament for ever 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 sind it very difficult, I hope, impossible, to wrap up yourselves in Egyptian darkness in such a Goshen, such a land of vifion. In Tartary or Japan, or some savage region of darkness, you might have lived in contented ignorance, and avoided those unacceptable glares of light which now will 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 sind 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, and in the near views of death and eternity, conscience will speak, and constrain you to hear: and thus you will live unhappy, scifcodemned 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 warring, 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 self-tormenting reslections 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

* Mr. Burr and Mr. Edwards, Presidents of the College at NifTm-Hall, before Mr. Davits.

that you had admitted conviction while the danger was avoidable! But, O! it will then be too late I 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 for ever hide every bright and pleasing prospect from your eyes, and yet be the proper medium for discovering sights of woe 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 for ever, 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 insinite 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 duty 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, he knows 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 come and spoken to them, fays the blessed Jesus, they would not have had fin; but now they have no cloak for their fin. John xv. 22. It Jloall 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, Bethfaida and Capernaum, 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 sinds some openings thro' 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,

Vol. in. T t my my dear pupils, who are the children of the light ia 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 every 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 Ihine in your hearts, you will still be the children of darkness, and consined in the blackness of darkness for ever. This is intolerably shocking, even in supposition. Suppose any of you mould 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, sine 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 sanctisies all the rest, and renders them useful to yourselves or others; that knowledge which alone can make you wise to salvation, and guide you to avoid the paths of destruction, you Ihun it, you hate it, and choose to remain contentedly ignorant in this important respect; suppose your parents, who have been at the expence 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 sill stations of importance in the world, and your careful instructors, tors, who observe your growing improvements with proportional pleasure ;—suppose, that after all this generous labour, and all these pleasing prospects, they should fee you at last doomed to everlasting darkness, for your voluntary abuse of the light you now enjoy ;—suppose these things, and but the consequences of these suppositions are so terrible, that I am not liardy enough to mention them. And, O I shall they ever become matters of fact!

Therefore, my dear youth, admit the light, love it, and pursue it, though at sirst 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 filly expedient of shutting your eyes. Be impartial inquirers after truth as to yourselves, as well as other things, and no longer attempt to put a cheat upon yourselves. Alas! how childish and foolish, as well as wicked 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 is come into the world, arid men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.