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SERMON X XII.
THE HOPELESS STATE OF THE HEATHEN.
TAE wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God
PSALM ix 17.
The time was, when all the nations of the earth knew and acknowledged the only living and true God. This time, however, was of short duration. The nations were soon divided and scattered over the four quarters of the globe. Soon after their separation from each other, they lost their religious traditions, grew vain in their imaginations, and degenerated into all kinds of idolatry. The true religion would have become entirely extinct, had not God selected one nation from all the rest, and given them a written and standing revelation. Of this nation David was both a king and a prophet. As the king of God's peculiar people, he viewed all the heathen nations as his personal enemies; and as a prophet of the true church, he viewed all the heathen nations as enemies to the true God and the true religion. Hence it is, that he so often blends his enemies with the enemies of God, and speaks of both as exposed to both temporal and eternal ruin. This mode of speaking runs through this psalm. He begins with praising God for the overthrow of his enemies. “I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will show forth all thy marvellous works. I will be glad and rejoice in thee; I will sing praise to thy name, O) thou most High. When mine enemies are turned back they shall fall and perish at thy presence. For thou hast maintained my right and my cause: thou sattest in the throne judging right. Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked.” From God's past conduct, he proceeds,
under the influence of a true prophetic spirit, to foretell his future conduct towards the wicked, and especially the heathen, whom he considered as such. “ The heathen are sunk down into the pit that they made : in the net which they hid is their own foot taken." It follows in the next verse but one, wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." This is not a mere threatening, but a plain prediction; and therefore the veracity of God stands pledged to fulfil it. The prediction is, that all the finally wicked shall be destroyed, and among these, all nations that forget God. This is a description of all the heathen world, who are destitute of divine revelation. For it was common among the Jews, as well as among us, to call all nations heathen who were left to the mere light of nature. It is true that in David's day all nations were heathen except the Jews; but now, by the heathen, we mean only those nations who never enjoyed the gospel. To these nations the prediction in the text still extends, and assures us that it is God's fixed determination to destroy them, as well as the unbelievers of the gospel. The text contains this solemn truth,
That all the heathen will finally perish.
Since this is a subject upon which both the learned and unlearned differ in their opinions, I shall endeavor to treat it as thoroughly and plainly as I can. To make it appear that the heathen will be finally lost, I would observe,
1. That God, many years ago, gave them up to judicial blindness and hardness of heart. The first heathen nations might have known God, but they chose to forget him. And from this circumstance they are justly called, The nations that forget God. The first families and nations after the Deluge, were instructed by their pious progenitors in the knowledge of God, and of true religion. And it is highly probable that when the nations were divided, and sent to the various parts of the earth to which God directed them, there were some pious and intelligent persons in each nation, who would have gladly instructed them, if they had been willing to receive divine instruction. But the body of each nation chose to forget and forsake their Creator, and sink into a state of gross ignorance and impiety. This was highly displeasing to God; and for this he gave them up to judicial blindness and stupidity. Paul, speaking of the heathen, says,
“ Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind.” And Paul and Barnabas both say, “God in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways."
Both these passages plainly imply that the heathen had then long been given up to judicial blindness. And it seems natural to conclude that this
heavy curse fell upon them at the time of the calling of Abraham. As all the nations had then become idolaters, so they then deserved to be given up; and as God's peculiar covenant with Abraham included all religious privileges, so it seemed to cut off all nations from those peculiar blessings. At that time, however, or soon after, God actually withheld the means of grace from the heathen world. He did not speak to them by dreams, or visions, or face to face, as he did to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their posterity. And when God withheld all special communications from the heathen nations, then they were certainly devoted to ruin. In this forlorn condition the heathen nations have been, for more than four thousand years. God has left them to walk in their own ways, without sending them angels, or prophets, or Christ, or apostles, or ministers, to teach the way of salvation. He has denied them the means of grace, and therefore there is reason to conclude that he never will make them the subjects of his grace, until he sends them the gospel. He has declared, by his
word and providence, that he has given them up to judicial blindness and ignorance, which plainly implies that they, with the rest of the finally wicked, shall be turned into hell.
2. When God formed the seed of Abraham into a distinct nation and visible church, he shut the door against the heathen nations. At Mount Sinai, God avouched the Israelites to be his people; and they avouched him to be their God, and promised to pay a universal obedience to his commands. By some of these commands he separated them from all intercourse with the heathen nations; forbidding them to make treaties, or intermarriages with them, or to follow any of their peculiar customs and manners. They might neither worship their gods, nor eat, nor drink in their temples, nor at their tables. They were directed to consider all the heathen world, or all nations but their own, as out of the pale of the church, and out of the favor of God. And this is confirmed by the very permission which God gave to the heathen to become Jews; that is, to become circumcised, to live among the Jews, and to unite with them in their modes of religious worship. God declared that Jerusalem was the only place where men could worship acceptably; and by this, excommunicated the whole heathen world. When God erected Israel into a visible church, he virtually excluded all other nations from it. But can we suppose that God would excommunicate all the heathen nations from the privileges of the true church, if he did not mean to cast them off for ever? Why should he expressly separate those on earth, whom he intended to unite in heaven? All the heathen nations are prop. erly outcasts; and so long as God continues them in this situation, there is no reason to think that he means to save them. The present heathen nations are as ignorant and wicked as the ancient heathen nations were; and there is no more reason to imagine that the present heathen nations, as such, will be saved, than that those ancient heathen nations were ; but, on the other hand, that as the ancient heathens were destroyed, so the present heathen nations will meet with the same awful doom.
3. When God sent Christ into the world to bring life and immortality to light, he directed him to preach to the Jews, and not to the Gentiles. Hence we read, “ He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” By his own are meant his own people, the Jews. They were God's peculiar people, in distinction from all the heathen nations; and they alone God meant to favor with the means of grace, which he had denied to all the heathen, whom he had given up to destruction. Upon this ground Christ himself declares, “ I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Though he preached to many cities and villages in Judea, yet he never went to the Gentiles. And no reason can be given for this, but that God meant to leave the heathen in their ignorant and perishing condition. It was a prevailing opinion in our Saviour's day, that * salvation is of the Jews; that is, confined to them. Nor did Christ contradict this opinion, though he predicted that the Gentiles should, in some future time, worship the true God in spirit and in truth. His whole conduct and preaching carried the idea that God did not design to bestow his grace, where he denied the means of grace.
4. When God sent the apostles to preach to heathens, he sent them to turn them from heathenism to Christianity. They durst not go to the Gentiles, till they were expressly and divinely directed to go. They looked upon them as given over to ruin, and supposed that God intended to destroy them without remedy. When Cornelius, the Gentile, sent for Peter to preach to him, he durst not go until he received a vision from God, in which he was commanded to go. And though he was successful in preaching, yet his brethren blamed him for his conduct, until he convinced them that God had meant to save some of the Gentiles. For this purpose, Peter and Paul, and the other apostles, were sent to the heathen. This, Paul declares with respect to his own mission. He says, when Christ converted him he addressed him in these terms: “ Rise, and stand on thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles,
unto whom I now send thee, to open their eyes, and tum them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive the forgiveness of sins, and inheritance
hich are sanctified by faith that is in me." This commission plainly implies that the heathen, to whom Paul was sent, were in a state of condemnation, and exposed to endless destruction. It was a great mystery to Paul and others, until it was revealed that salvation should be extended to the Gentiles. Hence he says to the Ephesians, " For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God, which is given me to you ward : how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery — which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto us the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel. — Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” It was also a great mystery to the Jewish converts that the apostle should preach to the Gentiles, and that with success. The church at Jerusalem were astonished, when Peter told them of his success at the house of Cornelius. When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, “ Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” Paul and Barnabas related their success among the Gentiles to the church at Antioch, as a matter of admiration. “And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that the Lord had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles." And Peter mentions it to the council at Jerusalem, as something very extraordinary, that he should be appointed to preach the gospel to Gentiles, in order to their salvation. “And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among you, that the Gentiles by my mouih should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.” Thus the apostles declare that they were sent to the heathen, that they might believe and be saved; which implies that without the gospel they were perishing for lack of knowledge. And, indeed, the apostle Paul expressly tells the believers at Ephesus, that before the gospel came to them, they were in a state of total ignorance and despair. “ Wherefore remember that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called uncircumcision by that which is called the circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth