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Here it may be observed, that this inward work of the Spirit ought not to be confounded with the operation of the conscience. The two things are separately mentioned by the apostle; and I would submit that they are, in fact, totally distinct. The law written on the heart is a divine illumination: the conscience is a natural faculty, by which a man judges of his own conduct. It is through the conscience that the law operates. The law informs the conscience. The law is the light : the conscience is the eye. The light reveals the beauty of any given object: the eye "bears witness" to that beauty: it beholds and approves. The light is of a uniform character; for, when not interrupted, it never fails to make things manifest as they really are; but the eye may be obscured or destroyed by disease, or it may be deceived by the influence of surrounding substances. So the law written on the heart, although capable of being hindered in its operation, is of an unchangeable nature, and would guide invariably into righteousness and truth: but the conscience may be darkened by ignorance, deadened by sin, or perverted by an illusive education. The conscience indeed, like every other natural faculty of the human mind, is prone to perversion, and the law written in the heart is given not only to enlighten but to rectify it. Those only have “a good conscience" who obey that law.
measures of such illumination are described in the very same terms, as one of the choicest blessings of the Christian dispensation; Jer. xxxi, 33. The word quos appears to refer to that natural condition of the Gentiles, by which they were distinguished from the Jews-a condition of comparative darkness, and one in which they did not enjoy the superadded help of a written law, or outward revelation. Not having a law, they performed the works of righteousness by nature, i. e.“ without the law.” Just on the same principles, in verse 27, the uncircumcised Gentile in his naturat con-dition, and fulfilling the law, is compared with the Jew, who possesses the letter and the external rite, and nevertheless infringes the law. In both passages, the state of nature is placed in opposition, not to a state of grace, but only to one of outward light and instruction.
As the Gentiles to whom the apostle was here alluding were, according to their measure of light, sanctified through the Spirit, and when sanctified accepted; so, I think, every Christian must allow that they were accepted, not because of their own righteousness, but through the merits, and mediation of the Son of God. Now, the benefit of those merits and that mediation is offered, according to the declarations of Scripture, only to those who believe; for “ without faith it is impossible to please God.” The doctrine, that we are justified by faith, and that without faith none can obtain salvation, is to be freely admitted as a doctrine revealed to mankind on the authority of God himself. Let it, however, be carefully kept in view, that God is equal. It is unquestionably true, in great as well as in little things, that “if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not;" II Cor. viii, 12. The extent of faith required in man, in order that he may be accepted with the Supreme Being, will ever be proportioned to the extent of light communicated. Those to whom the merits and mediation of the Son of God are made known, are undoubtedly required to believe in the merits and mediation of the Son of God. Those from whom the plan of redemption is concealed, and to whom the Deity is manifest only by his outward works, and by his law written on the heart, may nevertheless so believe in God that it shall be counted to them “ for righteousness."
The reader will observe that I have already deduced the universality of saving light from the declarations of Scripture, that God's tender mercies are over all his works, and that Christ died for all men. The most plausible objection to this inference arises from the notion, so prevalent amongst some Christians, that the Spirit of God operates on the heart of man only in connexion with the outward knowledge of the Scriptures and of Christ, and that, consequently, such outward knowledge is indispensable to salvation. Having, therefore, endeavoured to remove this objection, and to show, on apostolick authority, that there were individuals in the Gentile world who had no acquaintance with the truths of religion, as they are revealed in the Holy Scriptures, but who were nevertheless enabled to fear God and work righteousness, I consider there is nothing in the way to prevent our coming to a sound conclusion, that, as, on the one hand, God is merciful to all men, and Christ is a sacrifice for all men, so, on the other hand, all men have received a measure of that spiritual influence, through which alone they can permanently enjoy the mercy of God, or participate in the benefits of the death of Christ.
In confirmation of this conclusion, it remains for me to adduce the apostle's memorable declaration respecting the Son or Word of God, that he was the true light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world;" · John i, 9. In order to apprehend the true force of these expressions, it will be desirable to cite the entire passage of which it forms a part. 1. “In the beginning," says the inspired apostle, "was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2. The same was in the beginning with God. 3. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.. 4. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended (or received) it not. 6. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7. The same
came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe. 8. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light. 9. That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe (or believed) on his name. 16. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt
among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the onlybegotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."
In this solemn and emphatic preface to his gospel history, John has unfolded the character and attributes of the Word of God; that is, of the Son in his original and divine nature. That this is the true meaning of that title, is almost universally allowed by Christian commentators, both ancient and modern; and is, in my opinion, amply proved by the known theology of the Jews, at the time when the apostle wrote. At the conclusion of the passage, we are informed that this divine Word was made flesh (i. e. man), and dwelt amongst us; and that so his glory, as the glory of the only-begotten Son of God, became visible. But the order in which the apostle has treated his subject plainly leads us to suppose that, in the previous verses, he is speaking of Christ in his condition of preexistence, or at least solely with reference to this original and divine nature. I would suggest that the declarations respecting the Word contained in verses 10 and 11, that he was “in the world” and “ came unto his own," form no exception to this observation; for these declarations may very properly be explained of the
appearances and visitations of the Son of God (whether visible or merely spiritual) before his incarnation. But, even if we interpret these verses as connected with verse 14, and as forming a part of the apostle's account of the incarnation, it certainly appears most probable that the preceding doctrine, respecting Christ, relates to his operations only in that glorious and unchangeable character in which he was with God in the beginning, and in which he was God.
Accordingly, it is declared, first, that by him all things were made ; and, secondly, that in him, (or by him was life, and that the life was the light of men. Let us then inquire in what sense the eternal Word of God was thus described as the author or medium of life and light. Since all things were made by him, he is undoubtedly the origin of their natural life, and the bountiful giver of those intellectual faculties by which man is distinguished from the inferiour animals ; but those who take a comprehensive view of the writings of the apostle John can scarcely suppose that he is here speaking only of the natural life and of the light of reason. The “ life,” of which in every part of his works he makes such frequent mention, is the life of which they only avail themselves who are the true children of God—that spiritual life, in the first place, by which the souls of men are quickened in this world, and that eternal life, in the second place, which is laid up for them in the world to come; see John iii, 15; v, 24. 40; vi, 33. 63; viii, 12; xiv, 6; &c. That such is here the apostle's meaning is confirmed by a comparison with the opening passage of his first epistle, in which Jesus Christ, in reference to his preexistence, is expressly denominated that “ eternal life" (i.e. that source of eternal life) “which was with the Father.” So, also, the word light is no where used by the apo