Page images
PDF
EPUB

pompously boasts of his philosophy,“ That it affords certain direction to life; investigates virtue; banishes vice; prescribes right conduct; and that without it human life can partake of no substantial good:"" "that it adds ornament to prosperity, and yields solace and refuge to adverse circumstances.” It does much more. It inspires comfort and joy, even when death displays his terrors. For, it has accomplished what no philosophy, and no antecedent revelation had ever achieved. It “ hath brought life and immortality to light,”e not barely assuring a future state of existence, but also removing, to all who sincerely believe, embrace, and practise it, the grand obstacles both to present comfort and to future felicity,--the guilt and the dominion of sin.

When all this is duly considered, it was natural to expect, that wherever Christianity was received and embracel, it would have produced the most salutary effects on manners and conduct; that it would have arrested the progress and poison of vice, have restored the power and the health of virtue, and have no longer allowed the golden age to exist solely in poetical picture, but have exhibited its beautiful reality in the habitations of men.

Nor can it be justly asserted, that this expectation has never been realized. For, turning

a Tusc. Quæst. y. 2.

b Pro Arch. Poet.

C 2 Tim. i. 10.

our eyes to the first disciples and followers of Christ, we shall, with admiration, discover the complete effect of Christian religion, in the reformation of morals, in the practice of all that dignifies and ennobles human nature. We there behold the most regenerating conversions from idolatry to the one true God; from superstition to genuine unaffected piety; from profligacy to sanctity of life. What reverence towards the Supreme Being; what patience, constancy, and fortitude in the most excruciating sufferings ; what meekness, gentleness, and charity; what self-command and moderation; what magnanimity and contempt of worldly pleasure, splendour, and power; what ardent desire, and unwearied pursuit of spiritual and celestial objects ; what resignation to the divine will ; what unshaken faith in the doctrines, promises, and aids of the gospel ; what firm and undoubting expectation of a blessed immortality, influenced, illumined, and exalted to heaven, those holy and heroic characters !

Apiety so sublime, yet so tempered and rational; a fortitude so undaunted, yet so free from temerity; an indifference to the world so immoved, yet so distant from austerity ; 'a zeal so ardent, yet so unmixed with fanaticism,—these illustrious, amiable, and exalted qualities would have preached the gospel though the tongues of their possessors had been silent, and converted the world by the irresistible energy of heaven-born virtue, living, and acting upon earth. They were moral miracles.

When from this delightful and magnificent spectacle of virtue, we turn to that moral state of Christendom, which has continued during so long a course of ages, what a contrast is exhibited! The primitive Christians seem to have entered into the generous contest of adorning, by their practice, their common faith. Their successors appear,

in

many instances, to have strained their endeavours to reach the utmost point of departure from its native purity of morals, and to disgrace it by their conduct. The absurdity and perversion of moral opinion, the meanness of sentiment, the duplicity of pretension, the hypocrisy of religious parade, the savage ferocity of real conduct, which are often observable, cast a horrible shade over the Christian profession. It is consequently difficult to determine, whether the excellence of the gospel, or the corruption of Christians, is the greater object of surprise.

From this view of things arises a question, the solution of which is attended with considerable difficulty. For, if it be admitted, as it certainly must be, that the great end of divine revelation is to improve the morals of mankind, and to lead them through the path of virtue to higher degrees of felicity; the Christian religion mist, in this respect, have a peculiar efficacy. Whence, then, proceeds the profligacy of so many of its professors ? Whence the corruption so general among them, that, in certain senses, it may be doubted if it was exceeded in the heathen world? If it be replied that the moral efficacy of Christianity was peculiarly conspicuous in the primitive disciples of Christ, another difficulty, equally great, recurs; how it comes to pass that this result no longer exists to the same extent ? If the early Christians were induced, by their religion, to lead pure and holy lives, why do not all those who still profess the same faith, pursue the same virtuous course ? The doctrines, the precepts, the motives, the original institutions, the whole tenor and complexion of that religion still remain the same. Why produces it not the same moral effects ?

It is of high importance to the interests of Christianity, that some satisfactory answers should be given to these, and to similar inquiries. The enemies of our faith have availed themselves of the deplorable corruption of the Christian world, in order to attack Christianity itself. Their argument, drawn from this quarter, has, it must be admitted, no small appearance of strength. For, if the main end of true religion be to reform and renovate mankind, any religion which produces not this effect, can have little to recommend it to the reflecting mind. To those who judge solely by external appearances, its recommendation will be still more feeble. I entertain not the smallest doubt that the wickedness, rapacity, and cruelty, by which the Christian name has frequently been, and still is so ignominiously distinguished, has contributed more than any other cause whatever to prevent the conversion of heathens, of Jews, and Mahomedans. Till this direful obstacle is removed, or at least greatly diminished, I strongly suspect that missions, and tenders of the sacred scriptures, will have an effect, comparatively small for the attainment of the grand object in view, however desirable it may be. Before Christians attempt to reform others, they must reform themselves. They must evince by their practice, that the religion which they profess, inculcate, and endeavour to spread, has taken complete possession of their hearts, and regulates their lives. Although hypocrisy is one of the most prevalent of vices, none is more generally reprobated; nor is the suspicion of any more detrimental to the success of any cause to which it is attached. What hypocrisy can be greater than to pretend to disseminate Christianity among heathen nations, and to embellish it with every species of commendation; and, at the same time, to exhibit a conduct directly contra. dictory to every precept of the gospel ? to assert its excellence and divine origin ; ard to unite with it avarice, fraud, debauchery, rapine, violence, devastation, and carnage ? to maintain

« PreviousContinue »