« PreviousContinue »
secret; and they who deserve the name of Christians might astonish incredulity itself, had not Christ commanded them to perform their best services in so private a manner, that the left hand might not know how the right was engaged.
Nothing can be more unjust than to impute those evils to the Christian religion which evidently flow from incredulity and superstition, fanaticism and hypocrisy. Jesus Christ requires of his followers an ardent love both to God and man, such a love as was exemplified in the whole of his own conduct through life. The incredulous deny, either wholly or in part, the debt of grateful love which the innumerable mercies of God impose upon them; since while the atheist refuses to acknowledge him as the Creator and Preserver of man, the deist rejects him as the author of our redemption and sanctification. The superstitious, indeed, acknowledge these immense debts, but they pretend to pay them with idle ceremonies, and vain repetitions of tedious forms. The fanatic attempts to discharge them with unfruitful fervours, and the hypocrite with studied grimace. But these errors cannot reasonably be considered in common with our holy religion, which exposes and condemns them all.
The life of a Christian, so called, must necessarily become pure when he is actually possessed of Christian faith, that is, when he is strongly persuaded, that he walks in the presence of the Almighty, who, being his Father by creation, becomes so in a still more affectionate and effectual manner by the mysterious exertions of his redeeming and sanctifying grace. These three astonishing operations of the supreme Being are undoubtedly three grand evidences of his love to man, and must be considered as so many abundant sources of Christian charity among the members of his church. Hence the man who acknowledges but one of these proofs cannot possibly be united, either to his brethren or to his God, with so ardent an affection as he who admits and experiences all the three. The divine charity here spoken of is produced in the heart by means of faith ; and from it proceeds every social virtue, with every praiseworthy action.
All this is conformable both to reason and experience. A weak subject will fear to disobey a powerful king, whose eye is actually fixed upon him, at least, so long as he is penetrated with this thought, “The king observes me." A son will never exalt himself against a good father, while he believes that his father, in every possible sense, is good with respect to him. Brethren who cordially acknowledge each other as such will not dare to abuse one another in the presence of a father who is infinitely powerful; and while he leads them to take possession of a kingdom which his generosity has divided among them, they will not threaten to murder each other under the eyes of their parent for the possession of any little enjoyment that presents itself upon the road. The
acob had never sold their brother Joseph, if they had been firmly persuaded that Israel would one day discover their crime ; and they would have conceived the greatest horror, had they really believed that their heavenly Father was present at the impious transaction, resolving to call them, at some future season, to a severe account, in the face of the world. A faith which has no influence upon the conduct is no other than the faith of hypocrites, upon whom our Lord denounces the most terrible judgments, threatening them with everlasting banishment from his presence into that outer darkness where “shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.” “I will show thee my faith,” saith St. James, “ by my works.” James ii. 18. “If any man say," continues St. John, “I believe in God, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar.” 1 John iv. 20. The same principles which, in the present moment, gain the ascendancy in man, give rise to the words and actions of the moment; and hence that saying of the apostle, " Whosoever abideth in him" (Christ ) “ sinneth not : whosoever sinneth hath not seen him," through the medium of a true and lively faith. 1 John iii. 6.
If there are found professors of Christianity in whom the truths of the gospel have failed to produce a holy conversation, we may take it for granted, that such persons are infidels in disguise, and totally unacquainted with the
gospel, except it be in theory. The faith which is common to these nominal Christians is purely speculative, not differing less from the solid faith of a true believer than a sun upon canvass differs from that which spreads light and heat among surrounding worlds. As a plant cannot be nourished by the superficial application of strange sap to its rind, but by a sap peculiar to its own nature, which, flowing beneath its bark, penetrates, enlivens, and nourishes every part of the plant; so the conduct of a man cannot possibly be reformed by notions or doctrines collected from books, but by those which, penetrating beyond his judgment, insinuate themselves into his heart, and become incorporated with his very being.
This answer cannot justly be regarded as a vain subterfuge. To be convinced of its solidity, it will be sufficient to consider how the soul is affected according to the different degrees of any impression that is made upon it. While Jacob was still lamenting the supposed death of Joseph, Reuben informed him that his beloved son was yet alive, and enjoying the second place of dignity in Egypt. These tidings at first appeared delusive to the good old man, who was no otherwise affected by them, than by some extravagant relation. But when the affirmations of Reuben were seconded by the joint testimony of his other sons, his earnest attention was immediately excited, his incredulity was gradually overcome, and his fainting heart began to revive. The waggons and presents of Joseph now appearing, in confirmation of his children's report, his doubts were entirely dissipated : “My son," cried he, “is yet alive. I will go and see him before I die." This animating persuasion, "Joseph is yet alive," seemed to restore the languishing patriarch to all the vigour of former years. He renounced a terrestrial Canaan, he turned his back upon the tombs of Isaac and Rachel, and, with all the courage of youth, set forward to embrace his newly-discovered son in Egypt. So certain it is, that a truth in which we are deeply interested will change, in some degree, our very nature, and modify the soul itself.
Thus the gospel of God our Saviour affects every true believer. And why should Egypt have greater charms than heaven? Or why should an invitation from the virtuous son of Rachel have greater weight than that which comes from the divine Son of Mary? Were the fruits which Joseph sent his father to be preferred before those of the Spirit with which Christ replenishes his favoured Israel? Gal. v. 22, 23. Or did the dissembling sons of Jacob merit greater credit than the apostles of our exalted Lord, though seconded by that noble army of martyrs who have sealed with their blood the truths of the gospel ? Alas! if the fundamental doctrines of this gospel (for we speak not here of those human additions by which it is too frequently disfigured and weakened) had but deeply penetrated our hearts, we should bear testimony by our conduct to the truth of the following assertion :—“If any man be” indeed a Christian, “he is a new creature ; old things are passed away; all things are become new.” 2 Cor. v. 17.
But why should we go back to the times of Jacob to prove, that doctrines have an influence upon the conduct of men in proportion to the degree of faith with which they are received ? Let us return, and cast a retrospective view upon the various circumstances of our past life. If we have at any time felt a lively persuasion of the truth of the gospel ; if, at our first approaching the sacramental table, or after hearing some pathetic sermon, we have really believed that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself," 2 Cor. v. 19, and promising his people, in return for their temporary labours, everlasting rewards ; have we not, at such a moment, perceived the love of God and man springing up in our hearts ? Now, if this partial persuasion had spread itself through the whole soul, would not our devotion, our humility, and our charity, have been carried to a much higher degree of perfection than we have hitherto experienced ? Would not our good works of every kind have been abundantly more excellent and numerous, than we can now possibly pretend to ?
On the other hand, let us look back to the days of youth, and we shall recollect a time in which the doc
trines of the gospel began to lose the little influence they had once maintained over our conduct; we shall remember, at least, when the licentious principles of worldly men, and the false maxims of infidel philosophers, insinuated themselves into our corrupted hearts. And have we not, since that time, experienced, that the strictest connexion subsists between those maxims and immorality ? Have we not, from that unhappy period, become more debauched in sentiment, less circumspect in our outward behaviour, and more disposed to trample upon the principles of natural religion, as well as upon evangelical precepts? From these observations we shall proceed to draw the following inferences :
1. If morality may be compared to a tree whose fruit is for the nourishment of mankind, true doctrines may
be considered as the roots of this tree. Take
these doctrines, under pretence that they embarrass morality, and you ridiculously cut away the roots of this sacred plant, lest they should prove an impediment to its rising perfection. Now he who thus seeks the morality of the gospel by reprobating evangelical doctrines would act entirely consistent with his character, was he to plant his orchard with trees deprived of their roots, in order that they might produce the more excellent fruit.
2. As in the vegetable kingdom, fruits are nourished and matured by that vegetative energy which draws the sap from the root, refining and distributing it among the several branches ; so in the moral world, charity and good works can only be produced by that living faith which first receives the doctrines of truth, and then becomes a kind of vehicle to their invigorating virtue. This faith was rightly characterized by Christ and his apostles, when they represented it as the grace by which we are principally saved, since this grace alone is capable of producing in us that lively hope, that ardent charity, and that universal obedience which will ever distinguish the believer from the infidel. He, therefore, who declaims against this scriptural faith, whether he be a novice or a philosopher, indirectly pleads the cause of vice, and gives sufficient proof of his spiritual ignorance.