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tions. Superstitious we justly call them, because this epithet is properly applied to the inventions of men in the service of God; and we reject them, because we know that he guards his own institutions with jealous care, and is offended at the presumption which deteriorates, under the pretext of improving them.
A third particular which distinguishes the Christian dispensation, is a more abundant communication of heavenly influences. I observed in the last lecture, that it would be a very great error to suppose that the Spirit was not given prior to the coming of Christ, because there could in this case have been no genuine religion, no acceptable worship,-faith, and repentance, and holiness, which are essential to it, being the effects of his operations on the soul; and the Jews might as safely have wanted an external revelation, as have been denied the supernatural grace by which only they could be enabled to understand and believe it. We hear Wisdom saying, in the days of Solomon, and to sinners of that age, Behold, I pour out my Spirit upon you." But there were promises of another and a more copious effusion at a future period, or in the last days, which means the times of the gospel. It may be supposed, indeed, that these promises refer to miraculous gifts, which were liberally communicated in the apostolic age; and that some of them may be so explained, is evident from the application of the following prophecy of Joel, to the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, when the apostles began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance: " It shall come to pass in the last days, (saith God,) I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants, and on my hand-maidens, I will pour out in those days of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy." But it is impossible to understand, in this limited sense, all those passages of Scripture which speak of heavenly influences falling in the days of the Messiah as rain and dew on the grass, breaking forth as streams and rivers in the wilderness, and flowing through barren land to convert it into a fruitful field. They are rightly interpreted of those ordinary operations of grace, by which men are endowed with holy dispositions, and rendered active in the service of God. That they foretell the enjoyment of a more ample measure of grace, is evident not only from the terms in which they are expressed, but from many specific declarations in the Christian Scriptures, in which we are informed that the Holy Ghost was not given while Jesus was not glorified; that the great promise which he made to his disciples to comfort them in the view of his departure, was the mission of the Spirit; that on his ascension he received him from his Father, and then poured him out on his disciples; and that the gospel is more glorious than the law, because it is the ministration of the Spirit. "If the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away; how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious?" It is imported in this description of the new economy, that the Spirit is given in greater abundance than under any former dispensation.
If we take into the account the superior clearness of the Christian revelation, and the more liberal communication of heavenly influences, is it not a natural inference, that as the privileges and advantages of the people of God are now greater, their attainments also are higher? Considered in a collective capacity, the Jews will not bear a comparison with Christians; the Scripture speaks of the former as children, and of the latter as men. From the difference of their circumstances, there must be a degree of knowledge, and consequently of faith and holiness, among Christians, which could not be expected among the Jews. It may be objected, that of the ancient saints some rose to great Joel ii. 28. Acts ii. 17, 18. + 2 Cor. iii. 7, 8.
eminence in piety, and are proposed to us as examples, and that they are models which we may faintly imitate, but cannot hope to equal. We acknowledge their excellence, we admire their virtues, but we deny that it is impossible to rise to their level, and know of no ground on which such an idea should be entertained. It is a mere prejudice, which will not bear to be canvassed. I have no doubt that they have been often equalled, and I will venture to add, have perhaps been excelled by not a few in the Christian church. Why should it seem incredible that the holiness of many a believer, who had a nobler example before his eyes than that of Abraham, or Job, or David, the perfect example of our Lord Jesus Christ; who enjoyed clearer discoveries of life and immortality, and was animated by the spirit of liberty and love; why should it seem incredible that the holiness of many a believer, thus advantageously situated, has even surpassed the holiness of patriarchs and prophets, been less mingled with the infirmities of the flesh, and less sullied with stains and blemishes? Have the superior privileges of the present dispensation been bestowed in vain? If Christians behold the glory of the Lord with uncovered face, do they attain no higher degree of conformity to his image than those by whom it was dimly seen through a veil? While they have gained so much in knowledge, have they gained nothing in purity, which is the end of knowledge? Whatever opinion may be formed with respect to individuals of former times, it is unquestionable that Christians in general claim the pre-eminence above those who preceded them. The spirit of the law was a spirit of bondage; but the Spirit of the Gospel is a spirit of liberty, elevating the faith of the people of God, inflaming their love, brightening their hopes, and powerfully but delightfully impelling them forward to perfection. The days of the Messiah are come, in which it was foretold that the righteous should flourish, and abundance of peace should be enjoyed.
The last particular which characterizes the new dispensation, is its universality, of which frequent notices were given in ancient prophecy; as when it was foretold, that " from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, the name of God should be great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense should be offered, and a pure offering;" that "his dominion should be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth;" that "all kings should fall down before him, and all nations should serve him;" and that "men should be blessed in him, and all nations should call him blessed." In the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah, the comprehension in the dispensation of grace, of those who had hitherto been excluded from it, is described in language suited to that age, and by images which were then familiar. To the "sons of the stranger," or to the Gentiles, who are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, it is announced, that "God would bring them to his holy mountain, and make them joyful in his house of prayer." There is an evident allusion to the mountain or elevated ground on which the temple was erected, and to the temple itself, in which the solemn services of the ancient worship were performed, and which, as we learn from the words of Solomon at its dedication, was in particular intended to be a place in which supplications should be presented to God. It is implied in the promise" to bring the sons of the stranger to his holy mountain, and make them joyful in his house of prayer," that he would call them to the knowledge of salvation by the gospel, and confer upon them all the privileges of the new dispensation: "Then their burnt-offerings and sacrifices would be accepted on his altar." Such sacrifices as were enjoined by the law of Moses, would no longer be offered; but by this figure, which it was so natural to a Jew to employ, the worship of the Christian church is described. The time would then be, when "neither in Jerusalem nor in Mount Gerizzim men should worship the Father, but the true worshippers should worship him in spirit and in truth."+
* Mal. i. 11. Zech. ix. 10. Ps. lxxii. 11, 17.
† John iv. 21, 23.
It was the design of God, who had long distinguished the seed of the patriarchs as his peculiar people, to extend his favour to other nations. It is in reference to the universality of the new dispensation, that he is said to have loved the world, and John calls Christ "the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world;"* meaning, not every individual from the beginning to the end of time, but the human race in general, as distinguished from the Jews, to whom divine mercy had been hitherto confined, and for whom exclusively the ancient sacrifices were offered. The commission given to the apostles was unlimited, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature ;" and the apostles acted upon it, to the great displeasure of many of their countrymen, who, not entering into the benevolent views of prophecy, wished to continue the monopoly of the gifts of heaven which they had enjoyed for ages.
It is evident, from the nature of the former dispensation, that it was intended solely for a particular people. As the obvious design of some of its institutions was to prevent them from associating with other nations, so its system of worship was not practicable but in a country of limited extent. There was only one altar on which sacrifices could be offered; and there were three annual festivals at which all the males were commanded to appear in the capital, and were therefore supposed to be living within a reasonable distance. These things are changed under the Christian economy. There are now no sacred places to which it is necessary to repair, because in them alone God is to be found; but his people may assemble any where to serve him, and their prayers and praises are equally acceptable to him in the open air as in a magnificent building.
Thus the church is opened to all the families of the human race. The distinction of circumcised and uncircumcised is abolished. They are no more twain, but "one new man in Christ, who has broken down the middle wall of partition, and made peace by the blood of his cross." It is the glory of Christianity, that it has united-those who were long and, in appearance, for ever separated, and that, by its influence, many nations have been turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven. The establishment of the religion of the Messiah in a single nation would not have been an adequate reward of his humiliation and sufferings, something greater was promised to him, and something greater has in part been accomplished. "It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth."‡
As the new dispensation is universal in intention, no part of the human race being excepted in the apostolic commission, so we believe that it will be universal in fact. However improbable it may seem that the whole world should be christianized, we know that God is able to perform what he has promised. The great revolution commenced immediately after our Saviour's ascension; and although for ages it was stationary, or rather retrograde, it has been advancing since the era of the Reformation, and is going on in our days with renovated vigour. A future generation will witness the rapidity of its progress; and long before the end of time," the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea." Christianity will gain a complete triumph over all false religions; and the visible kingdom of Satan will be destroyed, or reduced within narrow limits, during the happy period when, in the figurative language of the Apocalypse, "he shall be bound.”
Here we close our survey of the dispensation of religion. It will be commensurate with time, and then cometh the end, when Christ shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father, and God shall be all in all."§
* 1 John ii. 2.
Mark xvi. 15.
Is. xlix. 6.
1 Cor. xv. 24, 28.
DOCTRINES OF THEOLOGY.
I Now proceed to enquire into the contents of the Sacred Records, or to give in detail a summary account of the religion taught in the Old and New Testament. Of its doctrines, some are discoverable, or at least demonstrable by reason, and others are matters of pure revelation, truths which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived. To the former class belong what are called the doctrines of Natural Religion; the existence and perfections of God, providence, the rules of duty, and a future state of rewards and punishments. Without inquiring what knowledge of these articles may be acquired by the unassisted efforts of the human mind, with the Scriptures in our hands, it is our wisdom to consider them as they are there exhibited with far superior evidence and authority. The doctrines of pure revelation are those which relate to the scheme of redemption, which, being founded on a free act of the Divine will, and on a new state of things superinduced upon the primitive arrangement, is necessarily placed beyond the sphere of human speculation.
The natural order requires that we should begin with God, his attributes, the distinctions in his essence, with his immanent acts, or the purposes which he formed in himself while he existed alone. From these, we proceed to his transitive acts, or his external operations; and here a wide field opens to our view. We see the universe rising out of nothing at his command, and arranged in admirable order by his wisdom; and we see man occupying the chief place in this world, adorned with the image of his Maker, and happy in the enjoyment of his favour. But the scene is suddenly changed, and man, fallen from his high estate, appears degraded, miserable, and pursued by the vengeance of his Creator. From this melancholy spectacle, our attention is summoned to the contemplation of that wonderful expedient by which he is recovered from guilt, and reinstated in happiness; and here it is necessary to consider the original plan, the person appointed to execute it, the means by which he has effected his design, and the benefits resulting from it, which embrace a history of the proceedings of Divine grace, from its first exercise to the sinner to the completion of its work in the perfection of the heavenly state. This is only a general sketch, and does not comprehend a great variety of particulars which are connected with the main subject, and hold an important place in the system. Let us humbly pray that the Divine Spirit may lead us into all the truth; and that while our understandings are enlightened, our hearts may feel the holy emotions which the diversified views of the Divine character and conduct are calculated to excite. And let us not forget that it is life eternal, spiritually to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.
His Existence-Belief of it universal-Dr. Clarke's argument a priori: its fallacy-Idea of God— Argument for his Being founded on the idea of Him; estimate of its force-Argument from the existence of a material Universe-Argument from the marks of Design in the Universe.
THE primary article of Natural and Revealed Religion is the existence of God. If there is such a being, he is the proper object of the reverence, adoration, thanksgiving, and confidence of his intelligent creatures, and of all the other exercises and duties which are implied in the notion of religion. If there is no such Being, men have nothing to hope or to fear beyond the passing events of time, are subject to no law but that of blind and stern necessity, and can rationally propose no higher end, during their fugitive existence, than to take care of themselves, and secure their happiness by every expedient in their power. Virtue and vice are words without meaning, and the only foundation of a distinction of actions is prudence, or a selfish regard to their present interests, which are paramount to beings who know that they shall soon cease to think and feel.
The belief of the existence of God may be said to be natural to man. Were the reason of a human being matured, it may be presumed, that on contemplating the objects around him, he would be led to the conclusion that there is an intelligent Power which created the universe, or at least sustains and governs it; and this idea seems to be favoured by the words of an inspired writer, that "the invisible things of God, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made."* But as this point has been disputed, we may affirm, that the notion of a First Cause, the Author of life, and motion, and order, is so agreeable to the dictates of reason, and so exactly accords with the appearances of nature, that as soon as it is proposed, it will meet with the cordial assent of every person who is not prejudiced. Hence it may be deemed unnecessary to enter upon a proof of the existence of God; and to some it may appear to be presumptuous and irreverent, because it seems, in the first instance, to call in question a truth of which it is impiety to doubt. But there are two considerations which justify our procedure.
Let it be remarked, that although men, with a very few exceptions, have in all ages admitted the existence of God, yet many have paid little attention to the subject, and having received it upon authority, without exercising their own thoughts, would be much perplexed if they were called to give a reason of their faith. They may be regarded as children in religion, who require to be taught to read the characters of their Maker's glory, which are stamped upon his works; and those upon whom the office of teaching them devolves, should be previously furnished with the requisite knowledge. Besides, a review of the argument may be eminently useful to such as are already convinced. It is impossible that a truth so important and sublime, on which the hopes and fears, the duty and the happiness of mankind are suspended, can occupy their attention too much, or be too deeply impressed upon their minds. We have all to lament that the impression is so faint, and the obvious remedy for this evil, is frequent and attentive meditation on the signatures of the power and majesty of the Divine Being with which we are surrounded. I may add, that however firm our belief may at present be, we cannot tell to what trials it may be exposed, and with what objections it may be assailed. Some of the most devout
* Rom. i. 20.