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except that of teaching us to regulate our principles, and govern our actions, in a manner more suited to-the perfection of our nature, than is customary with those who are led by prejudice and passion?
From all these observations it may justly be argued, that to insist upon having religious doctrines without obscurity, and a revelation without mystery, is to destroy the design of the Supreme Being, who hath placed us here in a state of trial. It is to confound the goal with the course, the conflict with the triumph, and earth with heaven. Nay more: it is to confound the creature with the Creator. That which is finite must never hope to comprehend the heights and depths of infinity. Archangels themselves, though endued with inconceivable degrees of wisdom and purity, will continually find unfathomable abysses in the Divine nature. And if so, is it not to abjure good sense, as well as revelation, to turn our backs upon the temple of truth, because there is found in it "a most holy place," where the profane are never suffered to enter, and the furniture of which even true worshippers can neither clearly explain nor fully comprehend?
In answer to the grand objection of philosophers against the doctrines of the Gospel, it is argued, that the advantages of the redemption are extended, in different degrees, to all mankind, through every period of the world.
As sophistical reasoners had a hundred objections to propose against the doctrine of Socrates, who was a true philosopher, so the philosophers of this age are industriously framing objections to the doctrines of that Gospel which unerring Wisdom has announced to the world. To determine, whether or not those objections are just and unanswerable, we shall here consider that which appears to be the most weighty in the balance of those two companions in error, Mons. de Voltaire and J. J. Rousseau. "If your doctrine of the redemption," say they, " is really as important as you represent it, why has it been preached only for these last eighteen centuries? If it was of so much consequence to mankind, God, without doubt, would have published it sooner, and more universally."*
ANSWER. The doctrine of the redemption was not primarily necessary to mankind: since there was a time when unoffending man stood in no greater need of a Redeemer, than a healthy person stands in need of a physician. At that time natural religion was suitable to the state of man, and the doctrines of Deism were the spiritual food of his soul. But, as medicine is not less necessary than nutriment to a sick person, so fallen man stands in need of the Gospel, as well as of natural religion.
* Mons. do Voltaire, in his Philosophical Dictionary, attacks Christianity, under the name of Mohammedanism, in the following words:—" If it had been necessary to the world, it would have existed from the beginning of the world; it would have existed in every place. The Mohammedan religion therefore cannot be essentially necessary to man." J. J. Rousseau was perfectly of the same opinion. "I deny," says this writer, in his Emilius, "the necessity of receiving revelation, because this pretended obligation is incompatible with the justice of God. Should there be found in the universe a single person to whom Christ had never been preached, the objection would be as forcible on the part of that neglected individual, as for the fourth part of the human race."
And as strong nourishment would be a species of poison to a man enerrated by a raging fever, so the tenets of Theism, administered alone to a sinner, who burns with the disorderly fervours of pride, must inevitably prove fatal to the health of his soul. Thus the presumption of some philosophers is increased by the doctrines of Deism, as the fever of a debilitated patient is redoubled by those very cordials which would increase the strength of a vigorous person. And this may serve as a proof, that the natural religion of sinless man is as little adapted to man in his corrupt estate, as the sweet familiarity of an affectionate infant is suitable to the character of a daring and disobedient son.
It is necessary here to observe, that there are two kinds of Deism; that of the humble sinner, who is not yet acquainted with the Gospel, and that of the presumptuous reasoner, who rejects it with contempt. The Centurion Cornelius, who lived in the practice of piety before he was perfectly acquainted with Christ, and the penitent publican alluded to by our Lord, were Deists of the first class, and such as might well be esteemed the younger brothers of Christians. The second class is made up of those Theists who trample revelation under their feet, and who may properly be called the presumptuous Pharisees of the present day. It is the haughty Deism of these men that a false philosophy would substitute in the place of the Gospel. The judicious author of The New Theological Dictionary has characterized these two kinds of Deism with an accuracy peculiar to himself. "Deism," says he, "was once on the high way from Atheism to Christianity; but to-day it is usually found upon the road from Christianity to Atheism."
To assert that the doctrine of the redemption has been announced for no more than eighteen centuries, is to suppose there can be no appearance of light till the sun has risen above the horizon. So soon as the work of redemption became necessary, in that very day it was announced to man. When our first parents had received from their merciful Judge the sentence that condemned them to misery and death, he immediately gave them a promise, that in some future day a repairer of their evils should be born of woman, who should "bruise the head of the serpent," that is, who should crush, at once, all the power of the tempter, and the pride of the sinner. In consequence of this gracious covenant, which was, indeed, the first promulgation of the Gospel, God implanted in man an interior principle of redemption, a seed of regenerating grace, which should, in the end, spring up to everlasting life. Now this principle was nothing less than a ray from that living Word, which was afterward to be visibly united with our nature, in order to raise man from his dishonourable fall, and, finally, to procure for him a state superior to that which he originally enjoyed. Nothing can be more explicit upon this point than the following declaration of St. John: "In Him [the living Word] was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shined in darkness; and the darkness [in general] comprehended it not. This was [however] the true light, which lighteth [more or less] every man that cometh into the world," John i, 4, 9. When, therefore, a conceited free thinker superciliously exclaims, " If the doctrine of the redemption had been necessary it would have been published in the earliest ages of the world," such objection should serve as a manifest token of his ignorance in this matter, since that important doctrine was mercifully an- the very first offender. If that doctrine was afterward corrupted by tradition; if rebellious man began to exalt himself as his own saviour; or if, through impatience, he set up false mediators, instead of patiently expecting the fulfilment of Jehovah's promise: all this evidently proves his extreme need of a Redeemer. In short, if the greater part of the Jewish nation rejected this Divine Saviour in the days of his outward manifestation, and if prejudiced Deists still continue to reject his offered assistance, all that can be proved by their unrelenting obstinacy is the greatness of their guilt, and the depth of their depravity: just as the conduct of a patient, who abuses his physician, suffices only to demonstrate the excess of his delirium.
% 232 THE PORTR.MT OF* ST. PAUL.
Several reasons may be here produced, which might have engaged the Father of mercies to defer the external manifestation of our promised Redeemer for a period of four thousand years.
1. It is probable, that as every thing is discovered to operate gradually in the natural world, the same order might be established in the moral world. Even since the time of Christ's outward manifestation, the influence of his redeeming power has but gradually discovered itself in our yet benighted world. He himself compared the Gospel to a little leaven, which spreads itself by slow degrees over a bulky mass of meal; and to a small seed, from which a noble plant is produced. To this we may add, that a portion of time, which appears long and tedious to us, appears wholly different in the eyes of the everlasting I AM, before whom a thousand years are no more than a fleeting day.
2. If, immediately after the commission of sin, God had sent forth his Son into the world to raise us from our fall, before we had experienced the melancholy effects of that fall; such a hasty act, instead of manifesting the perfections of the Deity, would have drawn a veil of obscurity between us and them. The Divine mercy, discovered in Jesus Christ, might then have appeared as insignificant to us as to the arrogant Deist, who, notwithstanding the crimes with which the world has been polluted for near six thousand years, and in spite of those which he himself has added to the prodigious sum, has yet the audacity to assert, that there is no necessity for a Redeemer, that man is good in his present state, and that he may conduct himself honourably through it, without the assistance of regenerating grace. Hence it appears, that the outward manifestation of the Messiah was wisely deferred to a period of time far removed from the commencement of the fall.
3. While the visible manifestation of Jesus was delayed, all things were put in a state of due preparation for so great an event. And in the meantime the seed of regeneration, which was received by man, after God had pronounced the first evangelical promise, was as sufficient to save every penitent sinner, as the dawn of day is sufficient to direct every erring traveller.
This merits an explanation. The first man, to whom the promise of redemption was made, contained in himself the whole of his posterity: and this promise, wonderfully powerful, as being the "word of God," Heb. iv, 12, had an indescribable effect upon the whole human race, implanting in man a seed of regeneration, a Logos, a reason, a conscience, a light, in short, a good principle, which, in every sincere inquirer after truth, has been nourished by the grace of God, and seconded by the pious traditions of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, evangelists, or true philosophers. Unhappy is it for those, who, stifling in themselves every gracious sentiment, have treated this internal principle as the Jews once treated their condescending Lord, and as obstinate sinners still continue to treat a preached Gospel. If such are not saved it is not through the want of an offered Saviour, but because they have wilfully shut their eyes against the twilight, the opening dawn, or the meridian brightness of the Gospel day.
Nothing can be more unreasonable than the objection to which we now return an answer. To argue that God would be unjust, if having given a Saviour to the world, he should not reveal that Saviour in an equal degree to all mankind, is to argue that God is unjust, because, having given a sun to the earth, he has not ordained that sun equally to enlighten and cheer every part of the globe. Again: to insinuate that Christ cannot properly be regarded as the Saviour of mankind, because innumerable multitudes of men are not even acquainted with his name, is to insinuate that the sun is utterly useless to the deaf, because they have never heard the properties of that sun described, and to the blind, because they have never seen his cheering beams. Lastly: to conclude that the Gospel is false, because it has not rapidly spre^itself over the whole world, or because it is not observed to opera^Hh a more hasty manner the happy changes it is said to produce—thflR tqjsirgue, is to reason as inconclusively as a man who should say, The tree that produces Jesuits' bark is an insignificant and useless tree: for, (1.) It grows not in every country. (2.) It has not always been known. (3.) There are persons in the country where it grows, who look upon it as no ex-. Inordinary thing: and, (4.) Many, who have apparently given this medicine a proper trial, have found it unattended with those salutary effects so generally boasted of.
Turning the arguments of our philosophers against their own system, we affirm, that the Messiah was manifested in a time and place peculiarly suited to so great an event. With respect to the time, he lived and died when the human species had arrived at the utmost pitch of refinement and learning. Had he appeared two or three thousand years sooner, he must have visited the world in its infant state, while ignorance and barbarity reigned among the nations: but in the days of Augustus and Tiberius, mankind may be said to have reached the highest degree of maturity, with respect to knowledge and civilization. Now, as it is necessary that he who bears testimony to any memorable transaction should be a man and not a child, so it is equally necessary that Christ should have appeared in the most polished period of the world, as the one Mediator between God and man.
Deists sometimes tell us that the force of historic evidence is greatly diminished by lapse of time, as a taper placed at too great a distance loses much of its brightness. If Christ, then, had offered himself a ransom for all many ages sooner than unerring Wisdom had ordained, the incredulous might have urged that the history of a miraculous event, reported to have happened in so remote a period of time, was most probably corrupted by uncertain tradition, and rendered unworthy of credit.
On the other hand, if the accomplishment of the promise had been delayed some thousands of years longer, the faith and patience of believers would have been called to a proof incompatible with the weakness of humanity. And the pious might have said, concerning the first coming of Christ, what they have long ago tauntingly spoken of his second: "Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation," 2 Pet. iii, 4.
What is here observed with respect to the age in which the Messiah was cut off, is no less true of the season, the day, and the hour. He offered himself a sacrifice for the sins of the people in the noonday, at the solemn feast of the passover, and at that season of the year which naturally invited the dispersed Jews to visit the holy city. The place was, like the time, peculiarly adapted to such an event; a country in which the promise of Christ's coming had been frequently repeated. Moreover, he became obedient unto death in the time predicted by the prophets; before a people who possessed the oracles of God; under the eyes of the high priest; before Herod the king, together with the grand council of the nation; before Pilate, who was lieutenant of the greatest prince on earth; at the gates of Jerusalem, in the centre of Juden, and nearly in the centre of the then known world. Thus the external manifestation oflpr glorious Redeemer may be compared to a sun, whose rising wafrl»w;eded by a dawn, which benignly opened upon the first inhabitants of the earth; and whose setting is followed by a lovely twilight, which must necessarily continue till he shall again ascend above our horizon, to go down no more. In this point of view the Scriptures uniformly represent the sacrifice of Christ. St. Paul expressly declares that, "by one offering, he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified:" that is, all those in every nation who fear God and work righteousness, Heb. x, 14; Acts x, 35. We argue, therefore, with this apostle, that "as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life," Rom. v, 18.
From these observations we conclude, First, That the Gospel has been more or less clearly announced ever since the time in which a Redeemer became necessary to man. Secondly, That Jesus Christ openly manifested himself in a time most proper for such a discovery. Thirdly, That the work of redemption is as necessary to mankind as the assistance of medicine is necessary to those who are struggling under some dangerous disease. Fourthly, That an explicit knowledge of the Redeemer and his salvation is as desirable to those who feel themselves ruined by sin, as the certain knowledge of a physician, possessed of sovereign remedies, is consoling to the patient who apprehends his life in imminent danger. Fifthly, As languishing infants may be restored by the medicines of a physician with whom they are totally unacquainted, so Jews, Mohammedans, and heathens, provided they walk according to the light they enjoy, are undoubtedly saved by Jesus Christ, though they have no clear conception of the astonishing means employed to secure them from perdition. And lastly, That the grand argument advanced against the Gospel by Mons. de Voltaire and J. J. Rousseau, is abundantly more specious than solid.