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yond itself, but as a complete, universal, and unchangeable religion. "Last of all," says Jesus, " he sent unto them his Son, saying, they will reverence my Son." We behold here every circumstance, which is fitted to rouse attention, and which can render inattention unpardonable. That the most exalted Spirit should refuse to listen to any thing which bears the name of a message from his Creator, is presumption. But, that a feeble imperfect creature, who is conscious that he has offended God, should precipitately reject a religion which brings the offers of mercy, is madness. It might be expected, that, even although he doubted of its truth, he would eagerly examine it, because, if it be true, it brings him the most joyful tidings, and, if it be true, to reject it is to reject the counsel of God against himself, and to exclude himself from all future hope of mercy. For you will notice, and it is an awful consideration which places the importance of Christianity in the strongest light, that, however men might flatter themselves, under the simple religion of nature, with general reasonings concerning divine mercy, the moment that a special revelation is published, promising the mercy of God upon certain terms, and disclosing a particular manner of dispensing pardon to those who repent, these general reasonings are at an end. If every one must admit that God knows better than we do, what is becoming his nature and consistent with his administration, it follows undeniably that it is most presumptuous in those who acknowledge that pardon is necessary, to reject the particular method of dispensing pardon that is revealed, and yet still to build upon uncertain reasonings an expectation that it will be dispensed. If the words which Jesus uttered be true, the hopes of nature are included in the hopes of the Gospel, and no hope is left to those who, neglecting the great salvation spoken by the Lord," betake themselves to the religion of nature.
"This," then, "is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." It is supposed by your profession that you understand and acknowledge the infinite importance of Christianity considered in this view; and it will be your peculiar business to impress upon the minds of others a sense of that importance. For this purpose you must "be
ready always to give an answer to every one that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you;" you must show, by your manner of defending Christianity, that you are not afraid of the light, and that you consider the evidences of Christianity as capable of bearing the narrowest scrutiny, and those whom you call to receive it as entitled to examine into the truth. But your chief difficulty will be to bring them to this examination with a fair unprejudiced mind. You will meet with many who ascribe to want of evidence, or to a peculiarity in their understanding, what does in fact proceed from an evil heart. You have to encounter that pride which refuses to submit to the righteousness of God, and those evil passions, which, because they do not expect to receive indulgence under the Gospel, create a secret wish that it were false. If your labours, performed with good intention, with diligence, with prudence, and with ability, shall, through the blessing of God, overcome these obstacles, shall form in the minds of your hearers what our Lord calls a good and honest heart, and shall establish their faith upon a rational foundation, you will not only promote the welfare of society by teaching in the most effectual manner the great duties of morality, but you will be the instruments in the hand of God of saving the souls of men from death, and so carrying forward the great purpose for which this dispensation of grace was given.
I have chosen throughout this chapter to avoid a phrase which you often hear, the necessity of the Christian revelation, because that phrase, when unguardedly used, is apt to convey improper notions. It may be conceived to imply, that God was in justice bound to grant this revelation; whereas it should always be remembered, in theological discussions, that sinners have no claim to any thing, and that the Gospel is a free gift proceeding from the unmerited grace of God, for the bestowing or withholding of which He is in no degree accountable to any of his creatures. The phrase, necessity of the Christian revelation, may also be conceived to imply, that it was impossible for God, in any other way, to save the world; whereas we have no principles that can enable us to judge what it is possible for God to do. We investigate, according to the measure of our understanding, the fitness of
that which he has done. But there is an irreverence in our saying confidently, that infinite wisdom could not have devised other ways of accomplishing the same end. I have chosen rather to speak of the desirableness and the importance of Christianity, which imply all that should be meant by the necessity of it, viz. that it republishes with clearness and authority the religion of nature; that it gives the penitent that assurance of pardon which the religion of nature did not afford them; that it brings along with it an indispensable obligation upon those to whom it is made known to examine its evidence; and that it leaves those who wantonly reject it to perish in their sins.
I have spoken of this subject with an earnestness and seriousness suited to its nature. You often hear it stated from the pulpit, and there are many printed sermons where it is fully illustrated. It enters into most of the books which treat of the evidences of Christianity. But it requires from you a particular study; and when you have leisure to bestow close attention upon it, I would recommend to you to read the ablest book that ever was written against the importance of Christianity. I mean Tindal's book, entitled, Christianity as old as the Creation. The object of the book is to show that the law given to man at his creation was complete; that it is published in the most perfect manner; that it does not admit of amendment; and that the additions, which succeeding revelations profess to make to it, are a proof that these revelations are spurious. The positions of this book, then, if they be true, completely annihilate the importance of Christianity; for they go thus far to show that there is nothing in the Gospel true, but what was from the beginning contained in the religion of nature, and published more universally, and with much less danger of error, by being written on the heart of man, than by being recorded in the books of the New Testament. I would not advise you to read this book, which is written with great art, without at the same time reading some of the answers to it. Leland, on the Advantages of the Christian Revelation, has given a full picture of the religious and moral state of the world, when the Gospel was published, which demonstrates that there is much false colouring in Tindal's book. Foster also, the author of Sermons and Discourses on Natural Religion, has written against Tindal. But the most complete an
swer, which ought to be read by every student who reads Tindal, is Conybeare's Defence of Revealed Religion. There have been few abler divines than Bishop Conybeare. He had a clear logical understanding, and his talents were whetted and called forth by very formidable antagonists. He was contemporary with Lord Bolingbroke, whose numerous writings against Christianity are replete with false philosophy, malicious misrepresentations of facts, and keen satire. Lord Bolingbroke used to say, that it cost more trouble to demolish Conybeare's outworks, than to take the citadel of any of his other opponents; an expression which implies that this divine took always strong ground, and knew well where to rest his defence. Accordingly in his answer to Tindal's book, he has detected all its sophisms and equivocations: he has affixed a precise meaning to his words, and has shewn, in a train of the most convincing and masterly reasoning, that that republication of the religion of nature, and that method of redemption which the Gospel contains, were most desirable; and that these views of the importance of Christianity are not inconsistent with the original perfection which every sound theist ascribes to the law of nature. Bishop Conybeare's book is a complete illustration of the importance of Christianity. But there are three other names which cannot be omitted at this time. Clarke, in his Evidences, has stated fully what is commonly called the necessity of revelation. In the first volume of Sherlock's Discourses, which is almost wholly occupied with this subject, you find those luminous views which distinguish the writings of that eminent prelate and Bishop Butler, in the first chapter of the second part of his Analogy of Natural and Revealed Religion, with rather less obscurity than is found in other chapters of that precious treatise, but with no less depth of thought, has stated, in a short compass, the importance of Christianity.
Leland on the Christian Revelation.
Conybeare's Defence of Revealed Religion
Halyburton on Deism.
DIFFICULTIES IN THE SCRIPTURE SYSTEM.
A SECOND general observation arising out of the short account of the Scripture system is this, that we may expect to find in that system many things which we do not fully comprehend. Deistical writers urge this as an objection against the Gospel. They say that it is the very character of revelation to make every thing plain, but that a system which contains mysteries, leaves us still in the dark, and, therefore, that the mysteries, with which the Gospel abounds, are a convincing evidence that it did not proceed from the God of light and truth. The same word, mysteries, which generally enters into the statement of this objection, occurs often in the writings and the discourses of many pious Christians, who mean to speak of the Gospel with the highest reverence. And yet, there is reason to think, that neither the former class of writers, nor the latter, has paid a proper attention to the Scripture use of the word. Upon this account, before I proceed to answer the objection by illustrating my second observation, I shall state the sense in which the Scriptures use the word mystery, and in so doing shall explain the reason why I choose to avoid that word upon this subject. The ceremonies of the ancient heathen worship were of two kinds. Some were public, performed openly in the temple, before the great body of the people who were supposed to join in them. Others were private, performed in a retired place, often in the night, far from the view of the multitude; and they were never divulged to the crowd, but were communicated only to a few enlightened worshippers. The persons to whom these secret rites were made known were said to be initiated; and the rites them