Page images
PDF
EPUB

goodness to effect its purpose, and secures its rights to justice. There may still be difficulties in the case which we cannot fully explain ; but upon the whole, this interposition in behalf of our fallen race appears worthy of our merciful and righteous Governor; and it has been found to be the only expedient which can give relief to the conscious sinner, condemned by himself and trembling in the presence of his Judge.

Again, revealed religion gives the only distinct and satisfactory account of the future destiny of man. It has been the general expectation that he will survive the stroke of death. Men have believed that there was a principle in them distinct from the body, called the soul, the mind, or the spirit, which will exist in another state. Yet this belief, as we have seen, was disturbed by doubt, and the most profound speculations could never give rise to certainty. Philosophers affirmed and denied, and declared with their last breath, that they did not know whether they were to sink into an eternal sleep or to retain conscious existence. The first thing which must strike an attentive reader of the sacred volume, is the confidence of the writers in speaking of this subject. There is no hesitation, no comparison of probabilities, no argumentation, but strong, positive assertion. The immortality of the soul is assumed as an unquestionable fact, is authoritatively announced. How do we account for this difference? Were the writers persons of greater sagacity than other inquirers ? Or did they, considered as men, enjoy any peculiar advantages for ihe discovery of truth? Infidels will not admit their superiority in these respects; nor can we contend for it, who know that, with a few exceptions, they were illiterate men, and belonged to a nation by no means distinguished for intellectual accomplishments. How then did they come to speak, in the most decisive tone, about a point which had perplexed the mightiest geniuses of the heathen world? If any other reason can be assigned but their inspiration, let it be produced, and we will attend to it; but till then we must be permitted to say, that their wisdom descended from the Father of lights. Observe, too, how different are their representations of the future state from those of heathen authors. The latter divided it into two regions, the one of happiness and the other of misery; but in assigning their respective inhabitants, it is not to be supposed, that with their imperfect ideas of morality they would make a proper allotment. The place of punishment was peopled by persons guilty of such crimes as are universally condemned; but who were admitted into Elysium ? It seems to have been reserved chiefly for heroes, poets, philosophers, and statesmen; as if courage, genius, and political wisdom were above all things pleasing to the gods. We know, however, that these have no necessary connexion with virtue, and are often disjoined from it; and no man who is but slightly imbued with the doctrines of revelation would admit the thought, that such qualifications entitle their possessors to future felicity, or in any degree prepare them for it. It proves the superiority of the Christian scheme, that while it holds out the hope of happiness to the mean as well as to the illustrions, to the illiterate as well as to the learned, it promises it only to the morally good, without any respect to intellectual accomplishment. The future state of the Scriptures is manifestly calculated to serve the only purpose for which it ought to have a place in a religious system,-to advance the interests of virtue, to promote the perfection of human nature, to excite men to the duties of piety, charity, and justice, and not to tempt them to the pursuits of ambition and vain-glory. And its tendency to these effects recommends it as a doctrine of truth, as a communication from the Governor of the universe, of whose administration we must conceive it to be the ultimate end, to establish the authority of his moral laws over mankind. In short, as the hell of revelation is appointed for the guilty and impenitent, its heaven is the abode of those alone who have mortified their passions, and obeyed the voice of their Maker; or, to use its own language, have lived "soberly, and righteously, and godly." It is beyond the limits of probability, that the sacred writers should of their own accord have thought of such a heaven; that, having naturally the same views and feelings with other men, who are so much influenced by their senses, and devoted to the pleasures of the world, they should have conceived the happiness of the future state to consist solely in spiritual enjoyments. The Elysium of the ancients bore no resemblance to it, and nothing is more different from it than the paradise of Mahomet. It is not therefore a conjecture, or a creation of fancy, but a reality, the knowledge of which they derived from a supernatural source. There is another peculiarity in the Christian doctrine of immortality, namely, that it relates to the body as well as to the soul. This part of man was left out of the theories of the heathens. It was disposed of after death according to the funeral rites of each nation, and then forgotten. This was a capital defect in their system. The body being an essential part of human nature, it may reasonably be expected to share the fate of the individual to whom it belonged, and whose instrument it was in his virtuous or vicious deeds. It is incredible that it should have been created for a temporary purpose; it would seem, a priori, that it would be preserved as long as the soul. Experience, indeed, shows us that it dies, and to all appearance is lost; but to him who reflected upon its intimate connexion with the soul, and their harmonious co-operation for a long series of years, the natural desire of all men to continue the union, and the violence with which it is dissolved, its resurrection would not be so improbable as it was pronounced to be by the Gentiles, who were prejudiced by absurd notions of the malignity of matter. The Christian doctrine of immortality is complete. It provides for the future existence of man; and while it is more consonant to reason than the partial system of heathenism, it excites attention by its novelty, and may be justly regarded as an intimation from Him who does nothing in vain, and having created man will preserve him for ever as a monument of his goodness or his justice.

Once more, we may found an argument for the truth of revealed religion upon its precepts, the general excellence of which even some infidels have been compelled to admit. Had not our religion been, to a certain extent, a moral system,—had it not enjoined the great duties which we owe to God and to man, -we could not have acknowledged it as a divine revelation. The dictates of reason and conscience in favour of piety, justice, and fidelity, prove that these are agreeable to the will of God; and, consequently, we are justified in rejecting any system in which they are discarded or not inculcated, as bearing upon its face the character of imposture. But it is not because our religion teaches morality that we receive it as a revelation, but because it teaches such morality as is found in it. The Christian law is perfect; it embraces all the duties of man, and lays the foundation of the highest attainments in virtue ; and were it universally obeyed, the innocence of the golden age would be revived, and the earth would be an unvaried scene of peace and good will. Now, let it be observed by whom this law was given to the world. It was never alleged that they were distinguished by eminence in intellectual vigour, by literary accomplishments, by metaphysical acumen, or by large experience of human life. The greater part of them, confessedly, could lay no claim to these qualifications. Yet they have delivered a code which far surpasses the most celebrated laws and precepts of the legislators and wise men of the heathen world. To what cause can we ascribe their superiority? If their wisdom was more than human, it must have been derived from a superhuman source. Since infidels will not admit this inference, let them substitute a better one. It is certain that the moral law of the Scriptures excels every other law in its injunctions and prohibitions, and in its motives. It inculcates duties which were omitted

heart."*

in other systems, and condemns practices which they tolerated and approved. Among duties, it prescribes humility, meekness, the forgiveness of injuries, and the love of our enemies, which had been considered as indications of a mean and dastardly spirit; and it restrains the sensual appetites, to which the best of the philosophers gave ample encouragement, both by their precept and by their example. It requires us to renounce the world as a source of happiness; not like the Stoics, in a fit of pride and self-sufficiency, but from a deliberate conviction of its vanity, and a decided preference of heavenly things. So great is the contrast, that the virtuous man of the heathen world, as described by themselves, would now be regarded as a monster, and those who think otherwise, either know nothing of the matter, or voluntarily shut their eyes; whereas the virtuous man of revelation, when compared with him, is a being of a superior order, pure, benevolent, and devout, happy in himself, and a blessing to others. Such, at least, is the pattern which every Christian is called to imitate, and all the doctrines and promises of religion tend to promote his conformity to it. Human laws are concerned only with our actions, but the law of the Scriptures extends its authority to the heart, and regulates its movements. The sinful act is not condemned with greater severity than the principle from which it proceeded. The law of man says only, “ Thou shalt not steal ;"' but the law of Scripture goes farther, and says, “ Thou shalt not covet.' The law of man forbids adultery; but this law forbids the first emotion of criminal desire: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his

There is one remark still to be made, that the sacred writers. placed duty upon its proper basis, the principle of piety, unlike other moralists, who found it upon the deductions of reason, the fitness of things, and views of private and public good. Thus they sanctify our duty, by rendering it obedience to the Author of our being, and take the most effectual measure to enforce the performance of it by interposing his paramount authority. It is the will of God which they call us to obey ; it is the hope of his approbation which they propose as the animating motive, and his glory as the end. Separated from pieiy, morality is merely a matter of decorum or of interest; in connexion with it, it is the homage of creatures to their Creator.

Suppose it to have been possible for the sacred writers to have invented this code of morality, would they have done so ? Would impostors have laboured to subject the world to a law so holy; a law which, in the first place, condemned themselves for presuming to use the name of God with a design to deceive their fellow-men ? Would they who set out with a gross violation of truth and of charity, have been anxious to guard others against evil thoughts and contrivances ? Would men, who retained no reverence for the Supreme Being, have placed him at the head of the system, and discovered a jealous care of his honour, a desire to make him the object of universal respect and love? The precepts of our religion are an irresistible proof that it did not emanate from bad men ; and good men would not have passed it on the world as divine, if it had originated from themselves. They might have presented it to the public as their view of a subject, about which so many have delivered their sentiments; but they would have given it in such a form, and accompanied it with such declarations, as would have satisfied all that it was a work of their own.

There are some other internal evidences which I shall briefly mention, as our limits will not permit me to enlarge upon them.

The character of the Founder of our religion is not a human invention, it

Matt. v. 27, 28.

must have been drawn from actual observation. It exhibits the union of properties and qualities which were never associated before; qualities so unlike, that it was apparently impossible that they should meet in the same individual, the attributes of Godhead, and the infirmities of humanity. Had an attempt been made to delineate such a character from fancy, it would have failed; the one class of properties would have been obscured or destroyed by the other. But in the New Testament this singular character is supported throughout, in a great diversity of scenes, and on the most trying occasions; in so much that, in whatever point of view.we contemplate it, we perceive a perfect accordance of all its parts. The sacred writers had seen it; and if the Son of God appeared in our nature, the religion of the Scriptures is true.

The manner in which the books are composed furnishes another argument. I have already remarked upon their artlessness, as a strong presumption of their truth, and upon the simplicity with which they relate the most wonderful facts, which can be accounted for only by the supposition that they had no design to deceive, and that, being convinced themselves, they deem nothing more necessary than to act the part of faithful historians. In many parts of Scripture we meet with instances of sublimity which throw all examples of it in profane authors into the shade. The taste and judgment of that man who should think of placing them upon a level, would not be envied. They are found in both the Old and the New Testament, and the most sublime book in the world is the Revelation of John. The true account of this superiority is, that the prophets and apostles did not speak of themselves.

I call your attention, in the next place, to the harmony of all the parts of revelation. I do not here consider the objection founded on the discrepancies which have been pointed out, particularly in the historical books, because these do not affect the present argument, which relates to the system unfolded in the Scriptures. From the age of Moses to the days of our Saviour, there was an interval of fifteen hundred years; and how much the manners and religion of other nations have changed in a shorter space, every person knows. The Jews had passed through all the vicissitudes of liberty and servitude, of peace and war. They must have made progress in knowledge and arts, and were, in many respects, a different people, at the close of that long period, from their fathers immediately after their deliverance from Egypt: yet we find the same scheme pursued throughout their successive generations, and the followers of Christ appealing to the testimony of Moses in favour of their doctrine. "The Christ of the New Testament is, in all points, the Messiah of the Old; the character of God is the same; and so also are the moral laws, the doctrines and the promises, with no other difference but the greater clearness and fulness of the last revelation. There is, indeed, a great dissimilarity between the two dispensations, but they are not opposed to each other; the former prefigured what was accomplished in the latter; they are parts of one whole : different modes employed by the wisdom of God for revealing his will, and communicating his blessings lo mankind. Here, then, is a surprising phenomenon; an unanimity where there was no concert, kept up for fifteen centuries amidst many revolutions in external affairs, and in customs and opinions. During the interval, new religions had arisen, and old ones had disappeared ; systems of philosophy had flourished and decayed ; but the public creed of one people had undergone no alteration. Whai can we say, but that error is evanescent, while truth is eternal ? Do we not perceive a proof of divine interference in overruling the minds of so many individuals, and making them think the same thoughts and speak the same words?

Lastly, we may deduce an argument for our religion from its effects. It has changed the state of those nations which have embraced it, and introduced a degree of knowledge, of morality, of civilization, and of domestic happiness, VOL. I.-13

I

of which there was no experience before its appearance. It has humanized the general manners, and produced many individual examples of virtue, to which no other religion can present a parallel. Is that an imposture which has reclaimed the nations from idolatry, and raised peasants to a rank in the moral scale far above Socrates or Antoninus ? Put the question to unprejudiced reason, and she will answer in the negative.

These are some of the internal evidences of the truth of our religion ; evidences which would present themselves to a competent inquirer on examining the religion viewed by itself, independently of the external proof arising from miracles and prophecy. Put the volume in which it is contained, into the hands of a person previously acquainted with the scanty and dubious discoveries of unassisted reason, and having no object in view but to discover the truth, and although I do not say that he would be immediately convinced of the justness of its claim to a supernatural origin, yet I have no doubt that he would deem the subject worthy of farther inquiry, would admit that the claim possessed a considerable degree of probability, and would yield to it, in its full extent, as soon as any part of the external evidence was laid before him.

LECTURE X.

EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.

Objections considered : That the Light of Nature is sufficient: That the diffusion of Christi

anity is partial: That Revelation contains. Mysteries and Doctrines contrary to Reason: That the Scriptures relate trivial and absurd Facts Give false Ideas of God-And abound with Contradictions.

The evidence with which revelation is accompanied, is sufficient to satisfy a candid mind. It is not indeed irresistible, that is, so overpowering that every person to whom it is presented is necessarily convinced; but it affords a rational ground of belief. We do not ask, and it is impossible to obtain the highest evidence in the conduct of our worldly affairs; we are obliged to act upon probabilities, and often upon a mere presumption, and yet we do not consider this as a reason why we should fold our arms, and passively wait for events. I do not mean that the evidence in favour of revelation is of this low kind. It is far superior to the evidence which we have for the success of any of our worldly enterprises; if carefully examined and impartially weighed, it will be found to leave no room for reasonable doubt; and accordingly, it has produced a firm persuasion in the minds of thousands, among whom were not a few of the most distinguished talents. Still, however, it is moral evidence, which requires to be canvassed with a mind freed from prejudice, and prepared to admit the conclusion to which the premises shall lead. It is evidence which may not be perceived, if only a superficial glance is taken of it; and which may appear defective, if viewed through the medium of misrepresentation, or under the influence of a state of mind unfavourable to the discovery of religious truth. If these things be taken into the account, it will not be surprising that Christianity, although bearing the clear marks of a heavenly origin, has not met with universal reception. Even miracles failed, in some instances, to convince those before whose eyes they were wrought; not because the miracles were suspected to be false, but because the persons, being unwilling to embrace the religion which they attested, contrived to evade the evidence by theories

« PreviousContinue »