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Such are some of the grounds on which it is apparent that the gospel is a system altogether original, and unborrowed from any human source ; and that its fundamental principles are such that it is impossible to suppose they should have proceeded from one under the circumstances of our Saviour, unless God had been with him. This, it is to be remembered, is a view of the evidences of christianity from but a single point ; and one which has been but little noticed. If then the argument appears so strong when rested on this single ground, how great must be the accumulated evidences from history, from its prophecies, its miracles, its internal marks of credibility, and its universal conformity to the wants and feelings of mankind. If a single and almost neglected pillar of this temple be so strong, how vast, how august, how eternal must be the foundation on which it reposes !
ACTS, X. 34, 35.
Then Peter opened his mouth and said, of a truth I
perceive that God is no respecter of persons ; but in every nation, he that feareth Him, and worketh
righteousness, is accepted with Him. We have here one proof, from among many, of the slowness with which the minds of the first disciples of our Lord were opened to the liberal and comprehensive spirit of his gospel. Educated with all the prejudices of a Jew, Peter had supposed that his own nation was the peculiar object of that divine favour, from which all others were entirely removed. The prayers and alms of an uncircumcised Roman must be, he had supposed, an abomination in the sight of God. He had thought, in all the pride of his nation's bigotry, that the universal Father of mankind had no grace to bestow on any, who had not the happiness to be born among the children of Abraham. He never had dreamed that the privileges and hopes of the gospel were to be extended to those who had not subscribed to the creed, and conformed to the ritual, of the great Legislator of Judea. But his prejudices had not closed his mind to conviction; and God was pleased to grant him a proof, which he could not resist, that he was not the God of the Jews only—that he was not a partial respecter of persons or any peculiar people; but the just, the equal Parent of all the creatures of his hand. He now perceived that Cornelius, though born amidst the darkness of idolatry, and nursed in the lap of ignorance and error, yet, having used with fidelity the means and opportunities put into his hands, having reverenced the Divinity according to the best conceptions which he could form of his character, and having acted in conformity to the convictions of his conscience that this pagan Cornelius was heard by the Supreme, and that his alms were had in remembrance before him. The Apostle was led by this proof of the impartial benignity of the Most High, to the great conclusion of our text; “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter
persons; but in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” The doctrine of the text evidently supposes,
that in every nation and age, there exist the means of forming some idea of a God, and of the distinctions
of right and wrong. There is no human being to whom these great privileges are wholly denied. The image of a Power above us, to which we are responsible, exists under some form or other in every mind. The authority of conscience is felt in every breast. There is no speech nor language where its voice is not heard. Now the Apostle teaches us, that every one, in every nation, who faithfully uses the measure of light and knowledge imparted to him, however limited and imperfect it may be, will yet be finally accepted. A man will be judged according to that which he hath, and not according to that which he hath not. Those nations of the earth on whom the light of the gospel never shone, will not suffer from not complying with conditions of salvation of which they never heard. The Gentiles without the law of christianity are a law to themselves; and by their obedience or disobedience to the light which is given them, will they stand or fall at the great day of account.
However mysterious, then, may be that dispensation of Providence, by which so much inequality exists among the members of the human race, still we are sure that there is no injustice with God; He will condemn none for necessary ignorance, and He will punish none for involuntary error.
The poor heathen, and the privileged christian will both stand before their Maker on equal terms ; and each will be required to give an account of the talents—and of those talents only, which his God has confided to him.
But it is not my present purpose to dwell on a point, which I am persuaded must be so clear to you all, as that God, the common Parent, is not less merciful and just to those of his children from whom he has withheld the gospel, than to those to whom be has given it. It is rather my desire to apply the principle of the text to the christian world. It seems to me that it may unfold some views which are consoling, under a sense of the fallibility and ignorance from which not even christians are exempt; and may lend some aid to our charity, as well as some light to our faith.
Whoever surveys, even slightly, the face of christendom, must be struck with observing the variety of opinions, which exist on many subjects connected with the gospel. He sees indeed some transcendent truths, which all alike unite in believing. But on many others, and those certainly most interesting ones, this unanimity vanishes. He sees the great communities of christendom arrayed under different banners, and the cries of those, who exclaim,“ We are of Paul, and we of Apollos, and we of Cephas,” overpower the milder accents of those, who profess that “ they are of Christ alone.” He finds almost every one of the principal sects laying the greatest stress on its own peculiarity. From the seven hills of Rome he hears it proclaimed, that within her Catholic and Apostolic