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presumes to make the following declaration: "I believe not in God the Creator: I trust not in any Mediator, nor acknowledge any sanctifying Spirit. And, as I believe not in God, so I believe not in what is called his Church; nor do I look upon the communion of those who worship him in any other light than that of a mere chimera. I believe not in the remission of sins. I look for no resurrection, nor indulge any hope of everlasting life. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." Were any man seriously to repeat in your hearing such a confession of his faith, would you fix upon such a one for the management of your estate? Would you intrust him with the charge of your wife, or choose him for the guardian of your children? Would it be possible for you to depend upon his word, or confide in his honesty? Now, imagine this very infidel, in some future season, convinced of his former errors, and firmly persuaded that he acts under the eye of an omniscient God, who will bring "every work into judgment, with every secret thing," Eccles. xii, 14: suppose him smiting upon his breast with the penitent publican, and determining, with St. Paul, to know nothing "among men save Jesus Christ and him crucified," 1 Cor. ii, 2: would you not indulge a better opinion of this man, in his believing state, than when he rejected, with modern philosophers, the doctrines of Christianity? It could not possibly be otherwise: so true it is, that, in certain cases, your conduct will give the lie to your arguments against the utility of evangelical doctrines.
J. J. Rousseau professes to have hated bad maxims less than evil actions: when, as a wise man, he should have detested the former as the cause of the latter. It is not sufficient that we profess to make the principles of virtue the ground of our conduct, unless that basis be established upon an immovable foundation. Without attending to this rule, we resemble those Indians, who suppose the world to be founded upon the back of an elephant, while that elephant is supported by the shell of a tortoise; and who, perfectly satisfied with such a discovery, attempt not to understand any more of the matter.
A system of morality, how beautiful soever it may appear, unless it be supported by doctrines of the utmost consistency and firmness, may be compared to a splendid palace erected upon the sands: in some unexpected storm it will assuredly be swept away, proving, at once, the disgrace of its builder, and the ruin of its inhabitant.
EXPERIENCE goes far in the decision of many difficult questions, and before it the most subtle sophism cannot long maintain its ground. To this, therefore, we cheerfully appeal for the happy effects of the Gospel. Ye incredulous sages of the day, show us a single enemy to the doctrines of revelation, who may truly be called an humble man, conducting himself soberly, justly, and religiously, in all the trying circumstances of life. Through the whole circle of your infidel acquaintance, you will swk such a one in vain.
If it be said that J. J. Rousseau, though a professed skeptic, presented us with the portrait of a perfectly honest man: we answer, in the first place, that J. J. Rousseau rejected not the Gospel as an obstinate enemy; but rather counted it an affliction that he was unable to embrace its doctrines. And, secondly, that this philosopher was equally destitute of humility and religion.
It must be confessed that there are multitudes of inconsistent persons in the world, who constantly deceive themselves, and who frequently delude others, by their fallacious notions of faith and incredulity. We meet with many, who, while they rank themselves in the number of believers, are usually employed in the works of infidels. And, on the other hand, we observe divers penitent worshippers, who, through an excess of humility, account themselves no better than infidels, while they manifest in their conduct the fidelity of Christians. But these particular exceptions are insufficient to destroy the general rule here contended for: since the former must be looked upon as believers, and the latter as infidels, only in appearance. The first have not sincerity enough to acknowledge their secret incredulity; and the last have not light sufficient to determine their exact advancement in the Christian faith. The latter deserve our pity, while the former merit our indignation.
But turn your eyes upon an enlightened believer. Behold St. Paul, after his memorable submission to the persecuted Jesus! The love of God possesses his soul, and he consecrates all his powers to the service of his exalted Master. Appointed to instruct the ignorant, he discharges his important commission with indefatigable zeal. Carrying to the afflicted both spiritual and temporal succours, he appears to be borne from east to west, as upon the wings of an eagle. He is ready to spend and be spent for the common interests of mankind. He proves his fidelity and gratitude to Christ at the hazard of his life. His magnanimity and fortitude, his resignation and patience, his generosity and candour, his benevolence and constancy, are at once, the amazement of his enemies and the glory of his followers. Behold this converted Pharisee, and acknowledge the wondrous efficacy of evangelical doctrines.
Ye slaves of philosophical prejudice! how long will you mistake the nature of doctrines so happily adapted to humble supercilious man, so perfectly calculated to destroy both presumption and despair; to bend the most hardened under the tender pressure of mercy, and carry up grateful believers to the sublimest summit of virtue? Behold three thousand Jews submitting, at the same instant, to the constraining power of these doctrines. Through their transcendent efficacy, innumerable miracles are still daily operated among us. They dispel the mists of ignorance, they destroy the seeds of injustice, they extinguish irregular desires, and open in the heart a source of universal charity! Thus, "the multitude of them that [formerly] believed were of one heart and one soul," &c. Enjoying together the sovereign Good, it was not possible for them to contend with each other for the trifling enjoyments of time and sense. God had given them his only begotten Son; how then could they refuse any thing to their indigent brethren!
Long after St. Luke had borne testimony to the unexampled charity of Christians, we find Tertullian citing the following testimony, which his heathen cotemporaries were constrained to bear in favour of the same Christian virtue. "Behold," say they, "how these Christians love, and are prepared to die for each other!" "Yes," adds this celebrated Christian father, "we who have but one heart and one soul are not afraid to have one purse. Among us all things are common, except our wives."*
If the testimony here produced should be disregarded, because drawn from the writings of a professed advocate for Christianity, we will readily come to another test. Pliny bears witness to the pure conversation of the persecuted Christians of his time. And the Emperor Julian himself, one of the most enlightened, as well as implacable enemies of Christianity, exhorted his heathen subjects to practise among themselves the duties of charity, after the example of Christians, "who abound," said he, "in acts of benevolence." And as to the joy, with which they sacrificed their lives, when occasion so required, "they go," continues he, "to death as bees swarm to the hive." Such influence have the doctrines of our holy religion upon the conduct of its sincere professors, even by the confession of their inveterate enemies.
It appears, then, that St. Paul was employed like an experienced moralist, while he was engaged in erecting the sacred edifice of morality upon the solid foundation of evangelical truths. And the doctrines he made choice of, as peculiarly suited to this purpose, were those which respect the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Upon these he laid the greatest stress, and from these he drew his most persuasive arguments to virtue and piety. Witness that memorable exhortation delivered to his Roman converts: "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service," Rom. xii, 1.
To withhold from the degenerate this cheering truth that "they are bought with a price," 1 Cor. vi, 20, is to deny them one of the most powerful motives to love and glorify " God in their bodies and in their souls," which appertain to him by the endearing right of redemption, as well as by that original right of creation, to which they are generally rendered insensible by the afflictions and disappointments of life. Instruct them concerning the sanctity of the Divine law; set before them the guilt of their innumerable offences, and the just fears to which such discoveries must naturally give rise, will make existence itself an intolerable burden. But when the Gospel of our redemption begins to dissipate their doubts, and allay the anguish of their remorse, they will bo enabled to go on their way rejoicing through the strictest paths of obedience and morality.
• Vide, inquitmt [gentet] ut [isti Chrietiani] invieem te diligunt, et ut pro alterutro mori sunt parati. Qui animoammaque miscemur, nihit de rei communicatione dvbitamus. Omnia indiscreta twit apud not, prater uxores. Apologeticus, cliap. 39.
An objection answered, which maybe drawn from tlie ill conduct of unholy Christians, to prove the inutility of the doctrines of the Gospel.
THEY who exalt philosophy against revelation, imagine that, to invalidate the preceding reflections, they need only make the following reply: "All Christians receive the apostles' creed; but their faith is unattended with the happy eflects you have been recounting. Crimes of every kind are committed by the disciples of Jesus; and their doctrines, instead of producing charity, engender little else than dispute and persecution!" The serious nature of this objection demands a suitable reply.
A true Christian was never known to be a persecutor. The cruel disputes which have arisen among faithless Christians have not necessarily sprung from the nature of Scriptural doctrines, but rather from the pride of those tyrannical doctors, who have contended for their particular explications of such doctrines. To insinuate, then, that the doctrines of the Gospel should be utterly rejected, because some Churchmen have taken occasion from them to stir up vehement contests, would scarcely be less absurd, than to contend that anarchy is to be preferred before an excellent code of laws, because unprincipled lawyers are accustomed to foment strife, and have it always in their power to protract a cause. As to the extravagant explications, which the subtilty or power of men has substituted in the place of evangelical doctrines, they can no more be said to prove the falsity or unprofitableness of such doctrines, than the detested policy of tyrants can weaken the force of that apostolic precept, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers," Rom. xiii. But let us come to the main knot of the difficulty.
They who have unfeignedly embraced the doctrines of Christ, far from indulging in any species of vice, have carried every virtue to a degree of perfection, surpassing almost the conception of other men. Rousseau and Montesquieu acknowledge, that even in those countries where the Gospel has but imperfectly taken root, rebellions have been less frequent than in other places. The same acknowledgment must be made by every unprejudiced observer, with regard to crimes of every kind. Many offences, it must be owned, are every where common among the professors of Christianity; but they would have been abundantly more frequent if antichristian philosophers had been able to take from them the little respect they still retain for a revealed Gospel. Moreover, there are many rare virtues which chiefly flourish in secret: and they who deserve the name of Christians, might astonish incredulity itself, had not Christ commanded them to perform their best services in so private a manner, that the left hand might not know how the right was engaged.
Nothing can be more unjust than to impute those evils to the Christian religion, which evidently flow from incredulity and superstition, fanaticism, and hypocrisy. Jesus Christ requires of his followers an ardent love both to God and man; such a love as was exemplified in the whole of his own conduct through life. The incredulous deny, either wholly or in part, the debt of grateful love, which the innumerable mercies of God impose upon them; since while the Atheist refuses to acknowledge him as the Creator and Preserver of man, the Deist rejects him as the Author of our redemption and sanctification. The superstitious, indeed, acknowledge these immense debts; but they pretend to pay them with idle ceremonies and vain repetitions of tedious forms. The fanatic attempts to discharge them with unfruitful fervours, and the hypocrite with studied grimace. But these errors cannot reasonably be considered in common with our holy religion, which exposes and condemns them all.
The life of a Christian, so called, must necessarily become pure, when he is actually possessed of Christian faith, i. e. when he is strongly persuaded that he walks in the presence of the Almighty, who, being his Father by creation, becomes so in a still more affectionate and effectual manner, by the mysterious exertions of his redeeming and sanctifying grace. These three astonishing operations of the Supreme Being are undoubtedly three grand evidences of his love to man, and must be considered as so many abundant sources of Christian charity, among the members of his Church. Hence the man, who acknowledges but one of these proofs, cannot possibly be united either to his brethren, or to his God, with so ardent an affection as he who admits and experiences all the three. The Divine charity here spoken of is produced in the heart by means of faith, and from it proceeds every social virtue, with every praiseworthy action.
All this is conformable both to reason and experience. A weak subject will fear to disobey a powerful king, whose eye is actually fixed upon him: at least, so long as he is penetrated with this thought, "The king observes me." A son will never exalt himself against a good father, while he believes that his father, in every possible sense, is good with respect to him. Brethren, who cordially acknowledge each other as such, will not dare to abuse one another in the presence of a father who is infinitely powerful. And while he leads them to take possession of a kingdom, which his generosity has divided among them, they will not threaten to murder each other, under the eyes of their parent, for the possession of any little enjoyment that presents itself upon the road. The sons of Jacob had never sold their brother Joseph, if they had been firmly persuaded that Israel would one day discover their crime: and they would have conceived the greatest horror, had they really believed that their heavenly Father was present at the impious action, resolving to call them, at some future season, to a severe account, in the face of the world. A faith, which has no influence upon the conduct, is no other than the faith of hypocrites, upon whom our Lord denounces the most terrible judgments, threatening them with everlasting banishment from his presence, into that outer darkness, where shall be "weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. I will show thee my faith," *M> St . James, "by my works," James ii, 18. "If any man say," continues St. John, "I believe in God, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar," 1 John iv, 20. The same principles, which in the present moment gain the ascendency in man, give rise to the words and actions of the moment. And hence that saying of the apostle, "Whosoever abideth in him [Christ] sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him," through the medium of a true and lively faith, 1 John iii, 6.