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short of this is true religion. Religion demands the affections: “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” “My son, give me thy heart.” Here then appears the necessity of divine grace, and the efficacy of its operation. It actually produces this change in the affections, and thus the work proves itself to be of God.
ON THE PRINCIPLE OF FRIENDSHIP. The principle of friendship is an indication of the dignity for which we were designed. We sigh for union with other intelligent beings--seek a commerce of hearts—cannot realize our ideas and wishes here below-human friendships and unions deceive our expectations---to find what we want, we must ascend to God himself.
ON THE LOVE OF VIRTUE. INFIDELS talk much of the love of virtue. And why then do they not love the bible ? Let any man read the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians; the preceptive parts of all the apostolic epistles; our Lord's sermon on the mount, &c. Was ever so amiable and perfect a scheme of virtue presented to the world? Surely, a virtuous man would wish such a religion to be true, though he could not think it so! He would see it to be of so much importance to the peace and good order of society, and to the welfare of all mankind individually, that he would rejoice if other men believed it, though he could not. He would do nothing to impede its reception, but rather would promote its influence to the utmost of his power. Nay, more, he would practise it himself, in spite of his unbelief. If a good rule be given us, that will promote our own happiness and that of others, we ought to embrace and follow it, whoever be the author, and whatever its authority. Our own interest is obligation enough. Is it not plain, that every man, who acts contrarily to these maxims, deceives himself, when he supposes that he loves Virtue, while, in truth, he only talks of it?
ON VITAL RELIGION. That vital religion is a blessed reality needs no better proof than the exact coincidence of judgment, taste, principles, and habits, which prevails amongst its professors. Papists and Protestants, men in the wilds of America, and in the cultivated countries of Europe, persons who lived under the Jewish economy, and multitudes who live under the christian institution now, have all spoken, in spite of their several peculiarities, one common language of the heart about God and Christ, sin and holiness, time and eternity. Their religious hopes and fears, their joys and their sorrows, have been the same. They have, in a word, perfectly understood one another's sentiments, and entered into one another's feelings, (though mysterious and unintelligible to all the world beside), on every subject essentially related to salvation. For eighteen centuries, christians, for example, have thought, and sung, and prayed with David, a Jewish king who reigned about
three thousand years ago. Scarcely have they had a sentiment, - a wish, or a feeling, that he has not anticipated. Whence this
agreement? How happens it, that persons so distant in time and place, in speculative theories of religion, and in outward modes of worship, from each other, should notwithstanding so exactly harmonize? Will it be ascribed to chance? Can imagination, enthusiasm, fancy, explain it? Do but consider how men's tastes and sentiments differ upon almost every subject, even where they live at the same time, are brought up in the same place, and trained to the same habits. And how then can imagination, the most capricious and uncertain of all causes, account for a similarity of effect, which no course of education, nor early prepossessions themselves, (strong as these usually are), are competent to produce?
Take a true christian from any parish in England, and let him meet one of the converted Indians of America. Find them but a common language in which they may convey their meaning to one another, in an instant they will perfectly comprehend each other's views and feelings, on every topic in religion; their hearts will be laid open, so to speak, to each other's discernment; they will « love each other with a pure heart fervently,” as brethren, united in one sentiment and in one interest, who accidentally meet together after a long and painful separation. How will you account for this Indian so well understanding the Englishman, when perhaps there is not a man living in his his own town or parish, to whom he is not an absolute barbarian, when he attempts to speak what he thinks and feels about a Saviour and a life to come, about the beauty of holiness, or the deformity of sin? Surely, there must be reality, where, without any previous communication, there is so much coincidence and agreement!
Had you lived at the day of Pentecost, and had heard the first disciples speaking to men of every nation under heaven in the language wherein they were born, you would have bowed to the reality of their pretensions, and confessed a miracle. Behold,
then, the counterpart of this miracle; equally astonishing, and unaccountable upon any natural principles! all the difference is, that in that case, one person spake many languages; in this, many persons of every kindred and nation, and tongue and people, whither the gospel hath come, speak one language.
ON REASON AND REVELATION. The greater part of those who set up the claims of Reason against those of Revelation, seem to forget that reason is a faculty, not like intuition, that sees the true natures, relations, or consequences of things, at a glance; but which requires nice and accurate management, with assiduous labour and cultivation, to make it a useful and safe guide to us, in avoiding error, and arriving at truth. It is not, like the senses of the body, perfect at once; but, like a diamond in its natural state, it is put rough into our hands to polish and improve by art and care. So much is this the case, that the improvement of our reason is taught by rule, and learnt as a science.
Nothing more than the application of this remark is needful to confound our common infidels. Do they talk of their reason not suffering them to embrace christianity? Let us ask them, whether they have made a right use of reason in determining the question. Have they practised all the rules which logicians lay down for the government of the understanding in its inquiries after truth? Have they cautiously guarded, in particular, against the influence of the passions in this business; and that more esespecially, because here more than any where, it may be expected to prevail unless great care be taken? Have they turned the subject on all sides, and considered it in all its parts; not satisfying themselves with a hasty, irregular and partial examination? These questions could not fail to silence them, if they had either sense or modesty. The general run of infidels are no logicians, and of those who are, how few, speaking honestly, will say, that they have as seriously, cautiously, and impartially applied the laws of sound reasoning to the examination of this subject, as they are conscious that they have done to other matters of science ?
It certainly affords a presumption in favour of christianity, that those men who have been most famous in the world for the cultivation of their intellectual powers, and are acknowledged on all sides to have carried the improvement of them to the greatest height, have been sincere believers, and warm defenders of this religion.
ON SIN, AS AN OFFENCE AGAINST GOD. How little perception is there, even in the christian world, of the evil of sin, as it is a transgression of God's law! The authority of God is little contemplated. If a man's conscience reprove him for some vicious act, it is because of the irregularity and turpitude he sees in it, or on account of the injury which it may do to society ; but that which is the grand aggravation of the crime, its being done against the will and authority of God, and therefore an act of rebellion, is little thought of, and little affects the conscience. That this is really the case, appears from hence, that many of these people who pass for good moral characters in the world, commonly regulate their conduct by considerations of moral fitness or unfitness, which are wholly independent of the divine command or prohibition. What merely stands on God's authority they see little evil in, and have no great scruple about doing or not doing. Their own ease or humour, the least possible present convenience or advantage, determines their conduct, and becomes a law to them, in preference to the bare motive of obeying or disobeying God. Hence, to most persons, Adam's sin seems a trifle, because committed only against a positive command; and the neglect of religious ordinances, or the breach of the sabbath, for the same reason, gives little uneasiness to their consciences. In the presence of temptation they are not restrained by Joseph's consideration, “How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” And in their repentance, if they ever do repent of any thing they have done, they are far from the sentiment and feeling of David, “ Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” David had sinned against man as well as God; but the thought of his sin as an act of daring impiety and rebellion against God, swallowed up, at the moment, every other consideration. His crime was thus seen in its highest aggravation, and painted to his mind in colours so black and hideous, as to conceal the lighter shades of the sad picture, and prevent, so to speak, his perceiving them.
ON THE CONDUCT, AS AN INDEX TO THE HEART. When we exhort men to examine themselves by their conduct, it is only as that is an index to the state of the heart. The state and disposition of the heart determines the character, and being visible to God, is that by which his judgment of us is formed. We can judge of others only by external appearances, but of ourselves our judgment should be, as much as possible, guided by that of God. External actions are not always true indexes to the
state of the mind, because good actions may proceed from bad principles. With other men's principles indeed, we have comparatively little to do. While their actions are good, and society sustains no injury, from a charitable though erroneous judgment of them, little inconvenience can result; but in our own case, a mistake is fatal.
How great then is the folly of those who judge of themselves only by their outward conduct ! Preach against drunkenness, or other overt acts of sin, and every one who, from whatever cause, can acquit himself of the practice condemned, presently concludes in farour of his general character. In like manner, when specific duties and virtues are inculcated, if, so far as concerns the outward matter and form of them, the man think himself blameless, the same flattering conclusion follows. Hence it is, that so many persons dislike close appeals to the heart, and are ready to oppose such as use them with, “ He that doeth righteousness is righteous :" “ By their fruits ye shall know them,” &c. “ If,” say they, “ the fruit be good, is not the tree good? Can you know the quality of the tree by any other sign?” No! and no better test need be required, provided you understand the terms you make use of. What do you mean by good fruit? Such as is fair and beautiful on the outside only? Then you might chance to find your death in acting upon this principle; for there are many poisonous trees in the world, which bear a beautiful and tempting fruit, pleasant to the eyes, and grateful to the smell, perhaps, also to the taste; but it is not unfrequently found, that the same fruit which looks well, on being cut up, turns out to be corrupted and bad within. Just so it is with moral fruit. Examine it skilfully, see whether it be sound within, employ the proper means for ascertaining whether it be really as good as it appears to be; and if it abide the trial, we allow, that, being good, it demonstrates the tree to be good also.
When our Lord says, “ By their fruits ye shall know them," he cannot surely be supposed to intend the mere outward appearance, any more than a naturalist would, who was applying the same rule to the productions of the orchard or the garden. A fruit corrupt within, and beautiful without, is the emblem of a hypocrite.
ON THE TRUE DIGNITY OF MAN, It has been objected against christianity, that it exhibits degrading views of human nature, injurious to virtue, inasinuch as they generate a mean and abject state of mind, and extinguish.