« AnteriorContinuar »
As a Whole and Unimpaired. [Ess. IV. or pivot, foreign to the true principles of its structure, and has thus destroyed the order and beauty of the machine, and prevented the useful regularity of its movements in such case, the effects produced by the instrument will afford a very imperfect proof, or no proof at all, of the skill of its original fabricator. But let the wheels be cleansed from the dust, and let all extraneous additions be removed, and the nice precision with which it will now indicate the
of time will immediately afford an ample and unanswerable evidence, that he was indeed skilful. And thus it is also with Christianity. Like every other moral or civil institution, this great scheme of righteousness is liable, in the hands of man, to very considerable abuse. If we are to look at its effects where it has a merely nominal operation, or where it is obstructed with prejudice, loaded with superstition, or perverted by selfishness and passion, there can be no probability of our being able to trace in those effects any thing more than very partial indications of the wisdom from which it originated. . Much less shall we form any just apprehension of that wisdom, if we follow the example of Gibbon and other modern infidels, who appear to try Christianity, not by the consequences of its genuine principles, but solely by the fruits of many depraved affections and superstitions, which, although they may have found a place among the professors of our religion, are in fact totally opposed to those principles, and are known to have no other origin than the folly and wickedness of the human heart. But, if we consider the Christian system in its genuine purity, and in its native and unimpeded operation-if we reflect on its principles, as they stand recorded in the unsophisticated volume of Scripture, and trace the effects of them where they are really received into the heart—then indeed we shall find abundant cause to
65 believe, that Christianity has proceeded from a Being of perfect benevolence and skill.
Let us then proceed to examine a few of the principal particulars which appertain to this branch of evidence. I. Christianity is the instrument by which mankind are brought into the exercise of those dispositions and duties which reason teaches us to be especially required towards the Almighty himself.
It is generally allowed by such persons as confess the existence and unity of God (whether they are believers in the Christian revelation or otherwise,) that he is a Being not only of infinite knowledge, wisdom, and power, but of the highest moral perfections. A comprehensive view even of merely natural religion leads to an easy admission of the declarations of Scripture, that God is just, holy, true, benevolent, and bounteous. Justice is, in many respects, legibly imprinted on the course of providence, as are benevolence and bounty on the contrivances of nature; and the truth and holiness of the Deity are powerfully evinced (even where the knowledge of an outward revelation has never penetrated) by the internal operations of that universal principle, which condemns man for iniquity, and is found to be a true and swift witness for God, in the souls of his reasonable creatures. Certain it is, however, that these moral attributes of the Creator and Governor of men may be traced in some of the declarations of ancient heathen philosophy, as well as in the frequent confessions of the champions of modern infidelity.
Such, then, being the acknowledged characteristics of our heavenly Father, it is unquestionably our reasonable service to trust in his goodness, to live in his fear, to love him with the whole heart, to worship him with true devotion of spirit, to obey his law, and to seek to promote his glory: and yet it is a fact, to
[Ess. iv. which the history of past ages and present observation bear alike the most decisive testimony, that by mankind, in their unregenerate condition, this reasonable service is, to a very great extent, set aside and neglected. We are prone to depend upon many a broken reed--but in an omnipresent and merciful Deity we place no real confidence. We are surrounded by numerous objects of our fear; but among these objects a very subordinate place is occupied by Him who searches the hearts and the reins, and who punishes for iniquity. Our affections towards the creatures of God are fervent and often inordinate, but towards the munificent Creator, from whom all beauty and loveliness spring, our feelings are very generally those of cold and careless indifference. We may be so civilized as to be delivered from the senseless adoration of images of wood and stone; but we still find idols to worship, on which are fixed the covetousness, pride, evil concupiscence, and other depraved passions of our own hearts. Finally, in the eager pursuit after our own glory (as we fondly imagine it to be), we are accustomed to forget that infinite Being, from whom we have received all our talents—from whom all true glory emanates, and in whom alone it must ever centre. Such are the dispositions, and such is the conduct of unregenerate man towards Him, in whom he lives and moves, and has his being. But Christianity, considered as a system consisting of both doctrines and precepts, and applied by faith to the heart--that is to say, comprehensive and vital Christianity—is the means of so transforming him, that, in the frame of his soul, as well as in the regulation of his conduct, he is brought to "render unto God the things that are God's."
Let us briefly examine, in this point of view, the character and deportment of the devout yet unpretending Christian. Not only is his understanding
67 convinced that God exists, and that he is “a rewarder of them that diligently seek him," but he lives in habitual dependence of soul upon the fidelity, the care, and the mercy, of his Heavenly Father. It is by faith that he draws near to God, and receives all the benefits of a divinely-authorized religion; and on the other hand, the more that religion operates upon him, the more is his faith in God enlarged and confirmed; the more entirely is he prepared to obey the exhortation of the prophet, “Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah there is everlasting strength."
The man who is brought by the operation of vital religion to a just apprehension of the purity and justice of the Deity, as well as of his own sinfulness, is prepared to offer to the Lord the acceptable sacrifice of a humble and penitent spirit. While he is preserved in this condition of sensibility and humiliation, there is nothing which he so much dreads as to offend against the law, and to expose himself to the judgments of the God of holiness. Thus is he brought to walk with vigilance in the fear of the Lord, which is described by the sacred writers, as "clean," as "the beginning of wisdom," and as “a fountain of life.”
Yet, this fear is accompanied by an ardent love towards the Supreme Being. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind."
Such was the first and greatest commandment promulgated by the law, and confirmed by the Gospel -a commandment which, in itself, forms one of the most glorious and distinguishing features of the religion of the Bible—and to this commandment the true Christian is enabled to render a ready and effective obedience. When he becomes impressed, through the medium of revealed religion, with a sense of the intrinsic perfections and absolute loveliness of the divine
[Ess. Iv. character, the natural consequence is, that he loves God. But, how is our love for the Deity inflamed and strengthened, how is it invested with the holy ardour of gratitude, when Christianity has taught us the lesson, that “God hath first loved us"--that innumerable blessings are showered down upon us from the Author of all good, and that the Son of God himself condescended to assume our nature, and die on the cross, in order that we might live?
The faith, fear, and love, of which we have spoken, are the true preparation for the duties of worship. The Christian who is brought under the influence of these dispositions towards his Creator will ever be found to worship God in spirit and in truth. While he is careful not to neglect those outward duties of worship, which he may consider to be prescribed, he is no longer satisfied either with the bare performance of appointed ceremony, or with the services of the lip which have no corresponding feelings in the heart. He communes with God in spirit. He offers himself a living sacrifice to his Lord. He withholds not the heart-felt tribute of thanksgiving and praise, and, above all, he lives the life of prayer. Nor is the spiritual worship of the true Christian confined to those acts of devotion, in which he now experiences a delight, and exercises a diligence, foreign from all his former habits and dispositions. For such acts are but one connected part of that steady and practical allegiance towards God, which now distinguishes his whole life and conversation. Under a sense of the providential goodness of the Deity he is taught, even in the most painful circumstances, to submit with pious resignation to the will of God. And in the settled conviction that he is not his own, but " bought with a price," he devotes himself with simple and diligent obedience to the service of his divine Master.