« PreviousContinue »
FROM THE MOST
EMINENT PROSE WRITERS.
RELIGIOUS. PART II.
INTERNAL EVIDENCE OF THE CHRISTIAN
First, the morality of the gospel gives it an infinite superiority over all systems of doctrine that ever were devised by man. Were our lives and opinions to be regulated as it prescribes, nothing would be wanting to make us happy: there would be no injustice, no impiety, no disorderly passions, harmony and love would universally prevail; every man, content with his lot, resigned to the divine will, and fully persuaded that a happy eternity, is before him, would pass his days in tranquillity and joy, to which neither anxiety, nor pain, nor even the fear of death, could ever give any interruption. The best systems of pagan
ethics are very imperfect, and not free from absurdity; and in them are recommended modes of thinking unsuitable to human nature, and modes of conduct which, though they might have been useful in a political view, did not tend to virtue and happiness universal. But of all our Lord's institutions the end and aim is, to promote the happiness, by promoting the virtue, of all mankind.
And, secondly, his peculiar doctrines are not like any thing of human contrivance. Never man spake like this man. One of the first names given to that dispensation of things which he came to introduce, was the kingdom, or the reign, of heaven. It was justly so called ; being thus distinguished, not only from the religion of Moses, the sanctions whereof related to the present life, but also from every human scheme of moral, polical, or ecclesiastical legislation.
The views of the beathen moralist extended not beyond this world; those of the Christian are fixed on that which is to come. The former was concerned for his own country only, or chiefly; the latter takes concern in the happiness of all men, of all nations, conditions, and capacities. A few, and but a few, of the ancient philosophers spoke of a future state of retribution as a thing desirable, and not improbable: revelation speaks of it as certain; and of the present life as a state of trial, wherein virtue or holiness is necessary, not only to entitle us to that salvation which, through the mercy of God and the merits of his Son, Christians are taught to look for, but also to prepare us, by habits of piety and benevolence, for a reward, which none but the pure in heart can receive, or could relish.
The duties of piety, as far as the heart is concerned, were not much attended to by the heathen lawgiver. Cicero coldly ranks them with the social virtues, and says very little about them. The sacrifices were mere ceremony. And what the Stoics taught of resignation to the will of heaven, or to the decrees of fate, was so repugnant to some of their other tenets, that little good could be expected from it. But of every Christian virtue piety is an essential part. The love and the fear of God must every moment prevail in the heart of a follower of Jesus; and whether he eat or drink, or whatever he do, it must all be to the glory of the Creator. How different this from the philosophy of Greece and Rome!
In a word, the heathen morality, even in its best form, that is, as two or three of their best philosophers taught it, amounts to little more than this : Be useful to yourselves, your friends, and your country; $0 shall ye be respectable while ye iive, and honoured when ye die; and it is to be hoped ye may receive reward in another life. The language of the Christian lawgiver is diffe. rent. The world is not worthy of the ambition of an immortal being. Its honours and pleasures have a tendency to debase the mind, and disqualify it for future happiness. Set therefore your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth. Let it be your supreme desire to obtain. God's favour : and, by a course of discipline, begun here, and to be completed hereafter, prepare yourselves for a re-admission into that rank which was forfeited by the fall, and for again being but a little lower than the angels, and crowned with glory and honour everlasting.
What an idea is here! Is there any thing like this in Xenophon or Plato, in Cicero, Seneca, or Epictetus ? Whence had this man these things ? What wisdom is this that was given him ? Surely man gave it not; for man had it not to give. This is an idea which never occurred to human imagidation, till it was taught by a poor carpenter of Galilee, and by a few fishermen, who followed him. Yet to the native dignity, and undeniable degeneracy, of human nature, no other moral theory was ever so well adapted; and no other has so direct a tendency to promote the glory of God, and the real good of mankind. Is it possible to explain this upon the principles that usually regulate human affairs? Is it possible for us to believe, that teachers so holy, so benevolent, and so pious, so stiperior to the world, and so thoroughly disengaged from its allurements, were not taught of God? As easy almost it is to believe, that this world was not made by him. Is it possible for us to imagine, that persons of such a character could have employed their lives in the promulgation of a lie, and willingly encountered persecution and death in support of it? As well may we imagine, that an evil tree brings forth good fruit, and that men gather grapes from thorns, and figs from thistles.”
THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION FURNISHES THE MOST
ELEVATED CONCEPTIONS OF THE DEITY. What an elevation must it give to our pious affections, to contemplate the supreme Being and bis Providence, as revealed to us in scripture ! We are there taught, that man was created in the image of God, innocent and happy; and that he had no sooner fallen into sin, than his Creator, instead of abandoning him and his offspring to the natural consequences of his disobedience, and of their hereditary depravity, was pleased to begin a wonderful dispensation of grace, in order to rescue from perdition, and raise again to happiness, as many as should acquiesce in the terms of the offered salvation, and regulate their lives accordingly.
By the sacred books that contain the history of this dispensation we are further taught, that God is a spirit, unchangeable, and eternal, universally present, and absolutely perfect; that it is our duty to fear him, as a being of consummate purity and inflexible justice, and to love him as the father of mercies, and the God of all consolation; to trust in him as the friend, the comforter, and the almighty guardian, of all who believe and obey him; to rejoice in him as the best of beings, and adore him as the greatest:-we are taught, that he will make allowance for the frailties of our nature, and pardon the sins of those who repent:-and, that we may see, in the strongest light, his peculiar benignity to the human race, we are taught, that he gave his only Son as our ransom and deliverer; and we are not