For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.
The great lawgiver, forbidden to enter the promised land, takes a leave the most affectionate of those whom he had led through the wilderness; and bequeaths them, as his best legacy, exhortations to steadfastness in obeying the true Jehovah. There were gathered within the range of his vision the future fortunes of Israel; and he alternately rejoiced and lamented, as with prophetic gaze he marked the advancement and depression of God's chosen people. Nothing but their own waywardness and rebellion could interfere with their prosperity and happiness; and therefore, when he observed how the imagery of disaster crowded the yet distant scene, he brake into the exclamation: "How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them and the Lord had shut them up?" He saw that in place of carrying themselves successfully in the battle, the Israelites would yield to an inconsiderable force, but why was this, unless because wickedness had provoked God to withdraw His protection and His strength? Was it because the false deities of the heathens were mightier than the Jehovah of Israel? Indeed, the very adversaries themselves did not advance such an assertion. They knew, and they confessed, that their sources of strength were inferior to those to which the Israelites might apply, and would not therefore themselves refer their success to the greater prowess of the power they adored. "Their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges." And well then might the lawgiver, whilst just on the point of being gathered to his fathers, expostulate indignantly with Israel on the madness of that idolatry into which he foresaw they would run. We regard as emphatically the enemies of Christianity those who absolutely reject revelation, and those who (professedly receiving it) explain away its chief mysteries. The first is the Deist, who will have nothing but what he is pleased to call natural religion, and who denies that God has mane any disclosure to His creatures but what is given in the universe or on the tablet of conscience; the second is the philosophising Christian, whether he style himself the Arian or the Socinian or the Unitarian, who in some way or other impugns the doctrine of a Trinity, and therefore removes from the Bible the great article of an atonement for sin. We say these are the chief enemies of Christianity, and it is from these we are to seek a testimony to the excellence of that creed which we ourselves profess to have adopted. And therefore through the remainder of our discourse there will be two great truths at whose illustration we must labour — the first, that the rock of the Deist "is not as our Rock," the Deist "himself being judge"; and the second, that the rock of the Unitarian "is not as our Rock," the Unitarian "himself being judge."
1. Now, we shall begin with an argument which is applicable to every species of infidelity, whether it take the form of a total or only of a partial rejection of Scripture. We should have no Deism, if the contents of revelation were not designed to humble us and produce self-denial; we should have no Socinianism, if the doctrine of a Trinity in unity demanded not the unqualified submission of our reason. But then it ought to be evident, that no religious system would be adapted to our nature and condition which did not set itself vigorously against our pride and our passions; it ought to be evident, that without some great moral renovation, a thorough change in the dispositions and tendencies with which we are born, we cannot be fitted for intercourse with such a Being as God must necessarily be, nor for the enjoyment of such happiness as can alone be looked for as His gift to His creatures. It ought therefore to commend itself to us as an incontrovertible truth, that Christianity is worthy our credence and our veneration, in exact proportion as it tends to the production of humility and of holiness; and if in any way, whether direct or indirect, there be put forth a confession that Christianity is more adapted than some other system to the subduing the haughtiness and corruption of our nature, we may affirm of such confession that it amounts to a direct testimony of the superiority of our religion. And we maintain that this very confession is furnished by the rejection of Christianity. We find the causes of rejection in the humiliating and sanctifying tendencies of the religion. We trace Deism and Socinianism, and under these every form of infidelity, to a cherished dislike to truth, which demands the subjugation of self and the prostration of reason. What, then, does the rejection prove, but that the embraced system is more complacent to pride and more indulgent to passion? And if it prove this, it is itself nothing less than a testimony on the side of Christianity. We can challenge the very adversaries to bear testimony; we can wring a witness for the superiority of Christianity as an engine adapted for the exigencies of a disorganised creation, from the secret, yet discernible, reasons which cause a land to be deformed by so many shapes of infidelity. Oh! knowing that those reasons have to do with the humbling, the sanctifying tendencies of the religion of Jesus, and that consequently what is substituted for this religion must less tend to humble and less tend to sanctify, and therefore be less fitted for such beings as ourselves, we can triumphantly look our opponents in the face, and unflinchingly declare that "their rock is not as our Rock, our enemies themselves being judges." We draw, then, a contrast between what was effected towards the amelioration of human condition while heathenism had the world to itself, and what has been done since Christianity gained partial sway. We are not afraid to refer it to the decision of the most inveterate opponent of Christianity, whether civilisation has not advanced with a most rapid march wheresoever the Gospel has gained a footing, and whether the institutions of a country professedly Christian could be exchanged for those of the most renowned in heathen times, without the loss of what we hold dearest in our charter and the surrender of what sheds its best beauty around our homes. We have never heard of so thorough and consistent an advocate of the sufficiency of reason, that he would contend for the superior civilisation, the finer jurisprudence, the greater civil liberty, the purer domestic happiness, attained to whilst reason was not interfered with by communications which avouched themselves from God. And this is enough to warrant our claiming him as a witness to the superiority of our Rock. We contend that in the possession of Christianity alone lies the difference between ourselves and the nations whom we have vastly outstripped. We do not excel them in the fire of genius and the vigour of intellect. The agency of reason alone is in no degree comparable to that of revelation, when the ends proposed are those eagerly sought by every foe of evil and every friend of man. And oh! then, is it not a confession which warrants us in affirming when opposing such as reject the Gospel of Christ — "Their rock is not as our Rock, our enemies themselves being judges"?
2. But we are aware that in this last argument we have not taken the highest ground which we are entitled to occupy. We have striven to show you that an acknowledgment may be wrung from the Deist to the worth of Christianity, considered in regard to its power to promote the well being of society; but this is not the most important point of view under which we have to consider Christianity. The excellence of a religion should be tried by its power of preparing man for death; it is in directing us how to provide for the future that a religious system is valuable; and though it may confer collateral benefits and improve the temporal condition of a people, we can form no estimate of its worth as a religion till we have examined it as a guide for immortality. And if Deism and Christianity are to be compared on a deathbed, we shall readily gain the testimony which is asserted in our text. It will not then be denied, that persons of every age and of every rank in life are continually meeting death with calmness and even with joy, the principles of Christianity being those by which they are sustained, and its /lopes those by which they are animated. There are few histories more thrilling or fuller of horror than those of the last hours of Paine or Voltaire. And where there has been neither affected indifference nor excruciating dread, there has been an utter want of tranquillity and gladness. Oh! we shall wait in vain to have these produced from the deathbed of the Deist. We are willing that the records of Deism should be searched; but we are confident that not an instance can be found in which the dying unbeliever could exclaim with rapture or even with serenity — "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory. And therefore is the Deist a witness to the worth of Christianity; therefore do we appeal to him, in evidence that the religion of reason is not to be compared with the religion of revelation.
3. Now, we consider that most, if not all, of this latter reasoning is as applicable to the case of the Unitarian as that of the Deist. We believe that, where there has been rejection of the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, the doctrine of an atonement for sin, there is never any of that calmness and confidence in dying which may continually be seen where the trust rests on the great Propitiation. "The rock" of the Unitarian "is not as our Rock," the Unitarian "himself being judge"; for the man who thinks to be his own peacemaker with God can exhibit none of that assurance when passing into eternity which the very weakest possess who know that their sins have been laid on a Surety. The Unitarian looks to be saved by his repentance and obedience, no respect being had to the merits of a Mediator. Now, repentance and obedience are an important part of our system, as well as that of the Unitarian; we hold, as well as he, that no man can be saved unless he repent and do "works meet for repentance"; and it were absurd to say that the motive to good living is not at the least as strong to those who trust in Christ, as to those who trust in themselves; so that our system embraces all which that of the Unitarian embraces, whilst it adds doctrines which, if true, cannot be omitted without ruin, and which, if false, serve only to strengthen us in that system on which our acceptance is to rest. If then the Unitarian be right, he has no advantage over us — repentance and obedience being presented at least equally under both systems; but if the Unitarian be wrong, we have unspeakably the advantage over him; we have a Surety, in whose perfect satisfaction to find refuge when the worthlessness of all that man can effect for himself is being proved before the Judge of quick and dead. What then has the Unitarian to say of our Rock, except that it is stronger than his own? We have been engaged in showing you how arguments in favour of Christianity may be wrested from our adversaries; it behoves us to take heed that arguments against it be not derivable from ourselves.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.