Ichabod Smith Spencer.

Sermons of Ichabod S. Spencer, Volume 2 online

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The Law of the Lord Ib peTfeot, conyerting the boqI.— FkiXM liz. 7.

fTlHEBE is something not a little remarkable in the
■*- manner in which this expression is introduced by
the inspired author. He had been up on the mount of
contemplation. Standing on its loftiness, his mind felt
the grandeur of the things around him. He was wrapped
in the study of the stupendous works of God ; and on
that lofty eminence, where every breath must be poetry,
he breathes forth a strain of sublimities and beauties,
like one of the fondest admirers of the works of nature.
The very first thought is poetry ; it is the genius rush
of a lofty imagination. Hear him : The heavens declare
the glory of Ood, and the firmament showeth his handy work.
His mind took in the compass of the heavens. It roved
among the worlds of light hung out on the firmament
above him. These worlds, their order, beauty, and
movement, were instructive. They told him something:
day unto day utHsreth speech, and night unto night showeth
knowledge. They told every body. These heavens, these
illuminated worlds above us, suns and stars, carry their
tuition to every child of mortality : there is no speech nor
language where their voice is not heard. Their line (of in-
straction, their lucid lesson) is gone out trough aU the eaaihf

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aitd their words to the end of the vxyrld. Yes, for in them
hath he set a tabernacle for the sun^ which is as a bridegroom
coming out of his chamber^ and rgoiceth as a strong rrum to
run a race. His going forth is from the end of heaven, and
his circuit unto the ends of it, and there is nothing hid from
the heat thereof Thus he talks about the heavens. He
is moved by their sublimity; and commends their in-
struction in a style of impassioned ardor, which that
Deism, that so much extols the light of nature, can very
well afford to admire.

But he was no Deist. After all this poetry about
nature, the heavens, the tabernacle of the sun, he knew
what it was all good for, and knew where its utility
stopped. He comes back from this venturesome flight
to read a lesson in another place: The law of the
Lord is perfect, converting the said. It was not in the
material heavens, with all their grandeur, that he found
the lesson of perfection. He turned from them to the
Law of the Lord, and there he found it This LAW is
perfect : it converts ffie soul. This is the remarkable con-
nection and instructive sense of-4lie text.

History furnishes us with many remarkable confirma-
tions of its accuracy. Among all that poetic excursive-
ness, which has delighted to roam over the '* works of
Nature" (as they are called) ; and all that sedate philos-
ophizing, which has often boasted of its pure reason-
ableness and its practical utility, there have been no well-
attested instances of a regenerated spirit in the poet or
the philosopher, coming from the influences of the mere
book of Nature. Poetry could sing in life and health ;
but her voice fiiltered and her lip quivered in death I
Philosophy could speculate, and then expire in despair I
Huinaii nature never took a promise from even the toier-

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node of the sun, that would do any good to a dying man.
The damps of the sepulcher put out its light; neither
poetry nor philosophy can make it bum and shed light
on that dark pathway by which a mortal travels to an*
other world.

The truth is, these " works of Nature" were not
made to last: they shall be burnt up ; and a reasonable
man ought not, therefore, to eocpect them to teach him
lessons for his immortality. They may furnish him use-
ful hints while here ; but they never put into his hand
or his heart a promise to carry out of the world with
him. They may aid his piety, too, if he has gone to
the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, and, by
yielding to Divine truth and seeking the Holy Spirit, has
got his sovi converted. But without this, the " Ught of
Nature" will never cultivate piety. It never did. Hope
has ransacked history for an example. So has Deism.
So has a proud philosophy. But they have found none.
The world has been barren of piety wherever there has
been no revelation of God, or none of its light remaining
among the glimmerings of tradition. Man needs the
Bible to convert him to God and fit him to die.

This is our theme : the absolute necessity of special
communications from God himself, to teach human
nature those truths about God, about man's self, his
duties, and his destination, which are necessary to his
virtue, peace, happiness, and stable hope.

God's Word, as sole authority and guide in religion,
is, in some places around us, getting jostled out of its
place; and religion is judged of, its regeneration ^nd
cast of character, not by inspired thoughts, so much as
by something to tickle human fancy and please human
pride. Among statesmen, politicians, there seems to be

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a growing disposition to forget Divine Eevelation, the
JTist foundation of law and obligation, and to exalt
human wisdom and dreams about human progress into
its place. Our scientific and literary institutions, not
always destitute of pride, nor always superior to a passion
for novelty which endangers truth, fond of speculation,
and fond of talking about " the progress of the human
mind," have some of them too much forgotten the
difference betwixt human science and divine teaching
— forgotten where the one ends and tiie other begins
—forgotten, too, that religion is not a human science,
and can not, therefore, be improved like all human

A growing error seems to be rapidly creeping into
many writings, professedly religious, and which, formed
for youthful minds, are tiie more perilous to truth and
the salvation of souls. " The Light o/NicUure^^ is an idea
that beams out largely in some of these modem produc-
tions. Their authors do not, indeed, all of them, aflarm
its sufficiency to save men without the Bible ; but they
represent it as teaching many fundamental truths, and
their mode of thought is such es to invite us to study re-
ligion in the Bible, only so fer as Nature confirms it ; —
while they are so much afraid of offending a disguised
infidelity, or half-infidel philosophizing, that they will
not tell the truth about reason's pretended "discov-
eries," and plainly call them what they are,— ^prc-
tences, impositions, every one. The danger is, that our
delicate, and gentle, and illustrative, and what is called
" philosophical and natural" method of teaching Chris-
tianity, will utterly undermine her foundations, and con-
vert her so-called disciples into a race of Deists.

We maintain that the Light of Nature is insufficient:

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Eeason reading it will not do. Man needs an immediate
revelation beyond Nature. Let us see.

We know of only three great sources of proof to bear
on this proposition. Let us examine them, and decide
the question.

L The first is Fact^ History. We call your attention
to what men have done in studying religion by the
Light of Nature, through the powers of their own reason
and without any special revelation from God.

Glance at the heathen world. Let travelers tell you.
Ask the missionaries of the Cross now scattered round
the world. What will all these tell you? Do they say
that the heathen know God ? that they have any just
ideas of his providence, of his government, or their own
duty ? that they have any tolerable system of morals ?
nay, that they have any tolerable notions of those very
works of nature, which are so much relied upon as going
far to teach them religion? It is all contrary to this.
These people are in gross darhness. And, what is very
noticeable, that which they call religion is the very worst
thing there is among them I (not universally, I admi*,
but generally.) Their religion is baseness ! It is cruelty 1
It is crime 1 Their very gods have the attributes of
devils ! And this is the " religion of Nature !"

Now travel back into heathen antiqwUy. It has always
been so. Not a nation can be named, among all those
that have come up in the long march of centuries, who
ever had any clear ideas of the living and true God,
or the 'duties they owed their Creator. What could
any one of them tell you about the soul . of man ?
Had they found out whether it was mortal or immortal?
Did they know what holiness is ? what is " the chief
end of man" ? Not one I Your child tljat answers th^

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first question in the Catechism knows more theology
than they.

.The plain matter of fact is, these nations without the
Eevelation of God never had any natural rdigion I Their
religion was aU tmnatural, monstrous, absurd, as distant
from the teachings of the Light of Nature, as it was from
the meekness and sweet hopes of a blessed Christianity.
Eeason has failed^ there ; always failed, and every where I
The light of Nature has been no better than nothing !
Not a'people can be found, on the wide map of nations
and during the long roll of centuries, whose religion,
without the Bible, ever did them any good; made
them any better to live, or any happier in dying. Be
it remembered, they had no natural religion. Their
religion was all t^nnatural, unreasonable, superstition,
vanity, and lies, which never could make men any

One thing more. Scholars have been accustomed to
extol some of the sages of heathen antiquity. I will not
say too highly. There were master-minds among them.
Aristotle, Plato, Euclid, Cicero, deserve still their stand-
ing in the libraries of the learned. But mark: When
they studied science, they excelled ; when they studied
religion, they were fools I They could not take a step
rightly. They stumbled and fell at the very threshold.
Cicero says, in his celebrated treatise, " Concerning the
nature of the Gods," " those who aflSrm that there are
such beings as Gods, have such strange varieties and
contradictions of opinion, that it is impossible to claasify
them." On the primary article of natural religion, there-
fore, the very being of a God, these master-spirits were
full of absurdities, conjectures, and confusion. They
]^new npthing, certainly; not an artiole; not t^ single

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truth. K heathenism eoer had a creed, it was a creed of
follies, absurdities, and contradictions.

But still, scholars will call to mind some of the digni-
fied sentiments scattered through the classics ; express-
ions of high morality, as they call them, and some ex-
pressions which sound like piety ; and modem religious
literature is making a foolish use of them. True, there
are such expressions. In reference to them, we have
these sevea things to say ; and scholars will allow us to
condense when we answer their assumption.

1. All these expressions put together, all that scholars
can cake up, are not worth so much for the religion of
man, as these four words in the Bible, — there is one God.

2. Most of these ideas so much commended came, prob-
ably, not from the light of Nature, but from tradition,
handed down from Noah or Abraham; or they were
derived from intercourse with the Jews. They could
have been so derived ; they probably were. The advo-
cate for natural religion has no right to assume that they
were deductions of reason made from the Light of Nature.
It is more probable that they were derived from the
Jews. Pythagoras traveled much in the East. He
lived for years on Mount Lebanon, where surely he
must have learnt much about religion from the people of
Grod. Herodotus, the father of history, traveled. Plato
traveled. The Jews themselves were scattered the world
over, and carried their religion along with them. Horace
sneers at their credulity ; " credat Judeus, non ego."
And it is a matter of astonishment to any good scholar,
how it could have come to pass, that the learned, at least
among the heathen, were as ignorant of religious truth
as they were. The Christian knows very well how it
came to pass ; he knows they did not like to retain God in

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their knowledge. (Rom. i. 21.) They lost as sinners wliat
they had learnt as scholars, by testimony and tradition,

8. The knowledge which men need to have of God, if
it had been gained (as it was not) by the scholars and
sages among the heathen, and gained from the Light of
Nature by reason, would not prove that to be a sufficient
light for the religion of man. All men need to know
God. It would not be enough, when we are inquiring,
for the sake of the whole race of humanity, after some
sufficient guide in religion, if you should be able to hunt
up some instances of great men, of great minds, great
leisure, great opportunities, who have found such a
guide. Little men die, as well as great ones. A man
does not need to be a scholar in order to have a soul.
You must not, then, bring up your scholars as examples.
Here every human being has an equal interest If there
lives a man, or ever did, who, by the common exercise
of his powers, cannot attain the knowledge of God, that
feet is fatal to the scheme of a natural religion. Such
knowledge needs to be as universal as souls. It needs
to be clear to the weakest understanding.

4. It needs to be well proved. A guess is bad foot-hold
for an immortal soul I And if you could make it out
(as you cannot) that some of your sages guessed right,
that will not do; that will not demonstrate the suffi-
ciency of the Light of Nature.

6. On a matter of so much moment as our chief interests,
our duties, our destiny in another world, and how our
God will judge us, we can not aflford to have a single
lingering particle of uncertainty on vital points. If we
have, it may be fatal to us. We may imagine we are
pleasing God when we are displeasing him. We may
think we are going in the way of life while we are only on

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the down-hill of perdition. The uncertainty, the lack of
proof among your sages, makes chaflF of their speculations.

6. Our knowledge needs to be extensive. A hint or
two flung out in the dark cannot answer our purpose.
Those other points, of which we are ignorant, may be the
tntal ones ; the very points essential to our duty and our
everlasting peace.

7. If scholars will search a little, they will find dem-
onstrations, thick and dark enough, of the entire ineffi"
cacy of all this boasted knowledge of heathen sages and
scholars, to turn them from the grossest indecencies and
immoralities ; things so gross, that there is not a promis-
cuous assembly in Christendom that would endure even
the mention of them. The light which only leads to such
a religion cannot claim any excellence or even efficacy.

These seven ideas are enough to silence every word
that can be spoken about some of the expressions of
ancient heathens, which sound like religion, and which
are taken to prove the great extent to which nature can
conduct men in the knowledge of God and their own
duties and destinies.

Now let us gather up the substance of all this, and
bring this argument to a conclusion. The substance is
Fact — Hjotoby — ^the record of himian nature. And it
is this: Tnankind never HAVE learnt any thing about true
religion from ike Idgkt of Nature — ^not an article, not the
very being of a God, not the most necessary vital truths.
This is the premises. The conclusion is irresistible ; they
never can learn in that way. It is folly to maintain, that
men in all ages, and of all degrees of intellectual
advancement, can learn what no man ever yet did. The
revelation of God is, therefore, indispensable, and indis-
pensable every where. The sage, the scholar among his

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books, needs it, as really and as mucli, as the boor over
his mattock. All fact — ^the history of haman nature,
proves that men can learn nothing at all of religion by
the light of Nature alone.

n. The second source of proof is the Scriptures them-
selves. We call your attention to the fellacy of those
ideas about the Light of Nature, into which so many of
the well-meaning, but weak, (in the Church and out of
it,) have fallen. K we have in one article corrected their
history, let us have a second to correct their Scripture

These men open the Bible and read, — the heavens
declare the glory of God. But they forget^ while they
thus summon Scripture witness, two very important
matters. One is, that the Scriptures do not say that
men are converted by the declaration of these heavens.
They attribute conversion, all religion, to the Divine
revelatioti, accompanied by the Divine Spirit The other
is, that the Scriptures never say that men see and under-
stand what these visible heavens declare. Our stripling
philosophers, and poet Christians, proud of their so-called
" Light of Nature," and disposed to teach Christianity
to men very much as they would teach botany or
astronomy, must not think to press the Bible into their
service, to make it countenance their errors. It neither
says that Nature's light converts men, (makes them relig-
ious,) nor that men understand nature.

The fallacy of the conclusions drawn fix)m Scripture
by these dreamy natural religionists, may be detected by
any example. How often is that passage in the Epistle
to the Eomans quoted, only to be perverted for bolster-
ing up a conclusion directly the opposite of its own. The
invisible things ofhim^ from the creaiion of the toorld, are

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dearly seen, even his external power and godhead. What is
the Bible conclusion ? It is this : so, then, they are wiih'
out excuse. Excuse for what? For having a knowl-
edge of God? That would make the apostle talk like a
a madman I No. WUhoitt excuse for not knowing God.
But what is the conclusion of our poetic and naturaliz-
ing Ghristians? It is that the Light of Nature, the
creation, the things that are made, are quite sufficient to
give men a knowledge of God I And this conclusion
thej take as a foundation for theories, and songs, and
lectures; though directly in the face of the conclusion
stated in the text itsel£ The text plainly affirms the
practical inefficacy of the works of God to teach men
religious truth. It says they are not taught — ^they are
without excuse. They are only condemned, instead of
being enlightened and saved. They do not read nature

This text and its misinterpretation may stand as an
example of all the passages in the Bible which have
been pressed into this bad and mistaken service. Every
one of them has been perverted. The case is simply
this : the Bible tells us of the evidences of himself which
God hath imprinted upon the works of his hands. It
does not tell us, that men, unaided by another revelation,
have ever read one of these evidences rightly, o^ ever can.
It does not tell us that man, corrupted, fallen, blinded by
sin and in love with darkness, can ever read and under-
stand those lessoDS of light, which illuminate the
heavens, and lie, more or less clear, over all the works of
God. Mistaken men have concluded that, because there
is light in Nature, therefore men could see it. They for-
got that men had no eyes I The Scriptures, and God
their author, did not forget it. This Bible came out

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jfrom beliind the curtain which hides invisibles, to cpm
the eyes of the blinds and teach men how to read those

Online LibraryIchabod Smith SpencerSermons of Ichabod S. Spencer, Volume 2 → online text (page 1 of 35)