« EdellinenJatka »
piness on the pardon of sin, the eternal favour of God, and the everlasting glories of heaven, be less efficacious? This was the faith which was so triumphant in the days of our Lord and his Apostles; and which, thanks to God, we believe is at this day the treasure, and support, and joy, of unnumbered disciples. With this faith, if we may not remove mountains, we may do that which is infinitely more for our interest and happiness; we may overturn our habits of vice, and destroy their very foundations. If it will not shield us from the natural evils of life, it will do more. It will enable us to bear them without a murmur. It will prepare us for moral enjoyments, pure, substantial, and eternal.
2. From this view of the nature of that faith, to which the gospel promises its great rewards, it is apparent, why the belief of the doctrines of our religion is so often without influence upon those who receive them. The truth is, many believe these doctrines, as the rise and fall of the tides is believed by those, whose business is not concerned in them; and who consequently feel no immediate interest in them. Their hearts have little or no concern in their faith. Their affections are on other objects than the favour of God, and the salvation of their souls; and where their hearts are, thither will tend all their actions. This is so plainly a law of our nature, that if our religion had taught us nothing more of faith, than that it must be a principle of holy living, to secure its acceptance in the sight of God, the inference would have been as clear as is the expression, WITH THE HEART, MAN BELIEVETH UNTO
3. In this view of the subject we have a rule, by which we may ascertain whether ours is a living, a sanctifying, and a purifying faith. If it be, our treasure is with God in beaven, and there are our best affections. If it be, then the objects of our faith, at the same time, are the objects of our highest interest. Then we believe, and therefore endure and enjoy, as seeing Him, who is invisible. Faith sanctifies the heart, by bringing the affections into the service of God; and the affections, strongly fastened upon the objects of faith, secure its influence upon all our dispositions and conduct. Then only is ours a living faith, when it works by love; for then only will it possess the power, by which we shall be enabled to overcome the world.
Reader, would you possess this faith? Give your affections then to the objects, to which reason, if its voice be heard, not less than religion will excite you. Dwell upon these objects, till your soul kindles with desire of possessing them; till you
feel how comparatively worthless is every possession, every promise of this world. Survey them, as they are seen by the bright light of the word of God; and while you read his word, feel that its interests, its promises, may be yours, if you will obey him. In communion with God, raise your soul to that happy world, in which He resides in his glory; and fix your attention upon his character, upon the character of the friend and saviour of repenting sinners, upon the holy and happy society of the blessed, upon an eternal enjoyment of God and heaven. How can you doubt in what consists the treasure, the supreme good of an accountable and immortal being? How can you give up your heart to the uncertain, the perishable interests of this world, while God, and Christ, and heaven, and eternity, are soliciting your cares, your affections, and your labours! Come Faith, and open the eyes of the blind, and shew them the regions of immortal blessedness. Pour upon their minds thy celestial light, and warm their hearts with thy holy fire. Come Faith, and take possession of our hearts, and be the guide of our affections, till, having accomplished thy work, the vision of God will open upon our souls; and what we now believe, will be known, and possessed, and enjoyed for
WHAT IS RELIGION?
WHY has God spoken to man by authorized messengers, at sundry times and in divers manners, from the first ages of the world to the promulgation of Christianity? What has been the object of the communications which we have received from the Deity? What is the design of Revelation? Or, to put the question in the form in which we shall attempt to answer it, what is Religion? We shall found our reply upon two propositions, which we may readily take for granted, as few will feel a disposition to dispute them, or acknowledge it if they do. The first is, that God created us to be happy. The second is, that the highest, truest, and only source of constant happiness, is virtue. If either of these fundamental propositions be denied, we can proceed no further. If they can be proved to our satisfaction to be false, we shall be obliged to renounce all our opinions and views concerning God, religion and human nature, and adopt entirely new ones, though we cannot at present even conjecture what they would be. At present, therefore, taking them as the foundation of our sentiments respecting New Series, Vol. I. 2
the nature and operations of religion, we proceed to those considerations, which may lead to an answer of the important question, What is Religion?
In the first, bare, generic signification of religion, it means the mutual and known relations between God and man. There may be relations between us which neither God has revealed, nor we have discovered. Religion does not include these, from the obvious reason that we cannot at present have any concern with the design or the consequences of that, about which we have no knowledge. Our mutual relations therefore must be known. We are creatures; God is our creator. We are governed; God is our King. We hold nothing by our own power; we are dependent upon some one for life, breath, and support; God is our preserver. We do right and wrong, and are accountable for our actions; God is our Judge. God is almighty, and infinite in wisdom, justice and goodness; we owe him the highest fear, reverence, love, gratitude and obedience. The inductions of our unassisted reason are alone insufficient to direct and guide us in our knowledge of God and of our duty toward him; and God has, at sundry times and in divers manners, revealed to us his character, his will, our pros pects, and our duty. Now if religion does not mean these relations, these duties and these communications, what does it mean?
The nature of these relations, these duties and communications, must be determined from the design of God in creating us, and from our capacity and ability of answering that design. This leads us to the proposition, that God created us to be happy. The Deity had certainly some design in giving us life and placing us in this world. Was that design good or evil? Did God create us to be happy or miserable? If he did not create us to be happy, what did he create us for? These questions come home to the good feelings and the common sense of every individual, and return us the answer. He created us to be happy. It follows that all his dealings, all his communications, all his relations with us, must be productive, either immediately or ultimately, of our happiness.
The next question is, in what does our happiness consist? We mean permanent happiness, happiness as a character of being, that happiness which such a Being as God would choose. I know, and I rejoice, it is ordered by our beneficent Creator, that sources of happiness should spring up without number in the regions of every sense, throughout the wide empire of mind, and in all the stages of our existence. But what constitutes the grand, the pervading, the fundamental pleasure of
life, what is that without which there can be no true enjoyment, no genuine happiness? Ask it of any one. Ask it of your neighbours, of yourselves, of your own observation, of your own convictions and your own consciences. Ask it of the good, and they will tell you that it is virtue; ask it of the bad, and they will tell you that it is virtue. Virtue, virtue it is, which constitutes the peace of individuals, the safety of states, the order of society, the happiness of mankind. Now if God created us to be happy, if all his dealings and communications with us have a regard to our happiness, and if our happiness is identified with our virtue, it follows that the object of all his dealings and communications with us, is the assistance, the increase, the confirmation of our virtue. Every thing that God has declared to man at sundry times and in divers manners, by the fathers, the prophets, and his Son, concerning his nature, his character, his purposes, his will, our situation, our prospects, and our duty, or upon any other subject whatever, if there be any other subject of revelation not embraced under these heads, every thing which God has made known to us at any time, in any manner, and by any instrument or means, points to our moral condition and improvement as to its great and eternal end. In short, virtue is the object of all revelation; the only object which we can admit, for it is the only object of which we can conceive.
Let it be observed, however, that by virtue, as we use the word, we do not mean those qualities to which that term is often confined by the world; that honesty, decency, and well seeming, which are imposed by the constitution of society, and which are just sufficient to keep a man within the pale of decorum, and out of the reach of human laws. But we mean by the word virtue, what the sacred writers mean by the word holiness or righteousness; we mean the exercise of that love to man, of which love to God is the basis; that performance of duty, of which habitual principle and pious feelings are the source; that steady course of well-doing which begins in a deep and grateful sense of obligation to the Almighty, and never turns aside from any meaner consideration; extending the word to the state of the HEART, as well as the manner of the life. This is the virtue, righteousness, holiness, which we say is the object of revelation; and we desire that this explanation should be kept in mind during the whole train of our remarks.
The manner in which revelation effects this object, becomes the next step in our inquiry. And here the answer appears to be as plain, direct, and natural, as any which has been given. If before any revelation, mankind had discovered by
the light of their reason the whole nature of this virtue, and knew exactly what it was to be virtuous, but still were so limited in foresight and so assailed by temptation, that their conduct was not only often wrong, but that their principles became corrupt and their characters depraved, then the manner of effecting the object of revelation would be, to offer such powerful reasons and inducements to the constant pursuit of a right course, that the evil tendencies of the above mentioned influences would be counteracted, if not entirely and univer sally, yet generally and in a great degree. But if they were destitute, both of an accurate knowledge of right and wrong, and of motives to induce them to adopt the one and avoid the other, then the manner of effecting the object of revelation would certainly be, to furnish them with both, to enlighten their ignorance and to assist their weakness. In such a condition as this last, the world had long remained before the revelation of Christianity, and to such a condition was that revelation adapted. We speak of the revelation of Christianity alone, both because it contains all that was of universal importance in the Jewish dispensation, and because it is the only one which has been made to all mankind. Before it was made to them, they were exceedingly corrupt; they were deeply sunk in ignorance and sin. What was to be the remedy? Why, no other certainly than the proposition of a plain and perfect system of duty, which if pursued would make them virtuous and happy, accompanied by certain assistances, motives, and sanctions, sufficiently powerful to lead them to pursue it. Now if we open the New Testament, which is the only source from which we can derive our knowledge of the revelation of God through Jesus Christ, what do we find contained and revealed there? If we leave out the history, the great body of the remainder consists of moral precepts, which inculcate the most uniform and unbending virtue. To these are added certain doctrines, which are always connected with the precepts in their design, and which serve them either separately as assistances, motives, and sanctions, or in all these capacities together. It will be allowed by all, that if the moral precepts of the gospel be obeyed, such an obedience will make us virtuous and happy, that is to say, accomplish the design of the Almighty in creating us; and to our view nothing can be more clear, than that the purpose of every single doctrine of the same revelation is to enable us to render that obedience and fulfil that design. Aquaint us with a higher, nobler, and more rational purpose, and we will embrace it with joy; prove to us that another purpose is expressly declared in