Page images
PDF
EPUB

sufficient that we profess to make the principles of virtue the ground of our conduct, unless that basis be established upon an immoveable foundation. Without attending to this rule we resemble those Indians who suppose the world to be founded upon the back of an elephant, while that elephant is supported by the shell of a tortoise; and who, perfectly satisfied with such a discovery, attempt not to understand any more of the matter.

A system of morality, how beautiful soever it may appear, unless it be supported by doctrines of the utmost consistency and firmness, may be compared to a splendid palace erected

upon

the sands ; in some unexpected storm it will assuredly be swept away, proving, at once, the disgrace

of its builder and the ruin of its inhabitant.

CHAPTER IX.

AN APPEAL TO EXPERIENCE.

EXPERIENCE goes far in the decision of many difficult questions, and before it the most subtile sophism cannot long maintain its ground. To this, therefore, we cheerfully appeal for the happy effects of the gospel. Ye incredulous sages of the day, show us a single enemy to the doctrines of revelation, who may truly be called an humble man, conducting himself soberly, justly, and religiously, in all the trying circumstances of life. Through the whole circle of your infidel acquaintance you will seek such a one in vain.

If it be said, that J. J. Rousseau, though a professed sceptic, presented us with the portrait of a perfectly honest man; we answer, in the first place, that J. J. Rousseau rejected not the gospel as an obstinate enemy, but rather counted it an affliction that he was unable to embrace its doctrines ; and, secondly, that this philosopher was equally destitute of humility and religion.

It must be confessed, that there are multitudes of inconsistent persons in the world who constantly deceive them

selves, and who frequently delude others, hy their fallacious notions of faith and incredulity. We meet with many who, while they rank themselves in the number of believers, are usually employed in the work of infidels ; and, on the other hand, we observe divers penitent worshippers who, through an excess of humility, account themselves no better than infidels, while they manifest in their conduct the fidelity of Christians. But these particular exceptions are insufficient to destroy the general rule here contended for, since the former must be looked upon as believers, and the latter as infidels, only in appearance. The first have not sincerity enough to acknowledge their secret incredulity; and the last have not light sufficient to determine the exact degree of their advancement in the Christian faith. The latter deserve our pity, while the former merit our indignation.

But turn your eyes upon an enlightened believer. Behold St. Paul, after his memorable submission to the persecuted Jesus. The love of God possesses his soul, and he consecrates all his powers to the service of his exalted Master. Appointed to instruct the ignorant, he discharges his important commission with indefatigable zeal; carrying to the afflicted both spiritual and temporal succours, he appears to be borne from east to west as upon the wings of an eagle. He is ready to spend and be spent for the common interests of mankind. He proves his fidelity and gratitude to Christ at the hazard of his life. His magnanimity and fortitude, his resignation and patience, his generosity and candour, his benevolence and constancy, are, at once, the amazement of his enemies, and the glory of his followers. Behold this converted pharisee, and acknowledge the wondrous efficacy of evangelical doctrines.

Ye slaves of philosophical prejudice, how long will you mistake the nature of doctrines so happily adapted to humble supercilious man, so perfectly calculated to destroy both presumption and despair, to bend the most hardened under the tender pressure of mercy, and carry up grateful believers to the sublimest summit of virtue? Behold three thousand Jews submitting, at the same instant, to

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

the constraining power of these doctrines. Through their transcendent efficacy, innumerable miracles are still daily operated among us. They dispel the mists of ignorance; they destroy the seeds of injustice ; they extinguish irregular desire ; and

open

in the heart a source of universal charity. Thus “the multitude of them that” formerly “believed were of one heart and one soul,” &c. Enjoying together the sovereign good, it was not possible for them to contend with each other for the trifling enjoyments of time and sense. God had given them lis onlybegotten Son; how then could they refuse any thing to their indigent brethren?

Long after St. Luke had borne testimony to the unexampled charity of Christians, we find Tertullian citing the following testimony which his heathen contemporaries were constrained to bear in favour of the same Christian virtue. Behold,' say they, “how these Christians love, and are prepared to die for, each other.' Yes,” adds this celebrated Christian father, “ we, who have but one heart and one soul, are not afraid to have one purse. Among us all things are common, except our wives.”*

If the testimony here produced should be disregarded because drawn from the writings of a professed advocate for Christianity, we will readily come to another test. Pliny bears witness to the pure conversation of the persecuted Christians of his time. And the emperor Julian himself, one of the most enlightened as well as implacable enemies of Christianity, exhorted his heathen subjects to practise among

themselves the duties of charity, after the example of Christians, “ who abound,” saith he, “ in acts of benevolence.” And as to the joy with which they sacrificed their lives, when occasion so required, “they go," continues he, “to death as bees swarm to the hive." Such influence have the doctrines of our holy religion upon the conduct of its sincere professors, even by the confession of their inveterate enemies.

[ocr errors]

Vide, inquiunt (gentes) ut (isti Christiani) invicem se diligunt, et ut pro alterutro mori sunt parati! Qui animo animaque miscemur, nihil de rei communicatione dubitamus. Omnia indiscreta sunt apud nos, præter uxores.-Apologeticus, cap. xxxix.

It appears, then, that St. Paul was employed like an experienced moralist, while he was engaged in erecting the sacred edifice of morality upon the solid foundation of evangelical truths. And the doctrines he made choice of, as peculiarly suited to this purpose, were those which respect the

mercy of God in Christ Jesus. Upon these he laid the greatest stress, and from these he drew his most persilasive arguments to virtue and piety. Witness that memorable exhortation delivered to his Roman converts : “I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Rom. xii. 1.

To withhold from the degenerate this cheering truth, “ Ye are bought with a price," 1 Cor. vi. 20, is to deny the one of the most powerful motives to love and glorify God in their bodies and in their souls, which appertain to him by the endearing right of redemption, as well as by that origintal right of creation to which they are generally rendered insensible, through the afflictions and disappointments of life. Instruct them concerning the sanctity of the divine law, set before them the guilt of their innumerable offences; and the just fears to which such discoveries must naturally give rise will make existence itself an intolerable burden. But when the gospel of our redemption begins to dissipate their doubts, and allay the anguish of their remorse, they will be enabled to go on their way rejoicing, through the strictest paths of obedience and morality.

CHAPTER X.

AN OBJECTION ANSWERED WHICH MAY BE DRAWN FROM

THE ILL CONDUCT OF UNHOLY CHRISTIANS TO PROVE

THE INUTILITY OF THE DOCTRINES OF THE GOSPEL.

They who exalt philosophy against revelation imagine, that, to invalidate the preceding reflections, they need only make the following reply :—“ All Christians receive the apostles' creed; but their faith is, in general, unattended with the happy effects you have been recounting. Crimes of every kind are committed by the disciples of Jesus ; and their doctrines, instead of producing charity, engender little else than dispute and persecution." The serious nature of this objection demands a suitable reply.

A true Christian was never known to be a persecutor. The cruel disputes which have arisen among faithless Christians have not necessarily sprung from the nature of scriptural doctrines, but rather from the pride of those tyrannical doctors who have contended for their particular explications of such doctrines. To insinuate, then, that the doctrines of the gospel should be utterly rejected, because some churchmen have taken occasion from them to stir up vehement contests, would scarcely be less absurd than to contend that anarchy is to be preferred before an excellent code of laws, because unprincipled lawyers are accustomed to foment strife, and have it always in their power to protract a cause. As to the extravagant explications which the subtilty or power of man has substituted in the place of evangelical doctrines, they can no more be said to prove the falsity or unprofitableness of such doctrines, than the detested policy of tyrants can weaken the force of that apostolic precept, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.” Rom. xiii. 1. But let us come to the main knot of the difficulty.

They who have unfeignedly embraced the doctrines of Christ, far from indulging in any species of vice, have carried every virtue to a degree of perfection surpassing almost the conception of other men. Rousseau and Mon.tesquieu acknowledge, that, even in those countries where the gospel has but imperfectly taken root, rebellions have been less frequent than in other places.

The same acknowledgment must be made by every unprejudiced observer with regard to crimes of every kind. Many offences, it must be owned, are every where common among the professors of Christianity; but they would have been abundantly more frequent if antichristian philosophers had been able to take from them the little respect they still retain for a revealed gospel. Moreover, there are many rare virtues which chiefly flourish in

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »