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Christianity Originally Perfect, [Ess. iv. medium of vital Christianity would be short and inadequate indeed, did we exclude from it that eternal felicity, which is represented to us in the Scriptures as “the gift of God through Jesus Christ,” and in comparison with which both the sorrows and the joys of this period of our probation sink into an almost total insignificance.
We cannot, indeed, make a full use of this branch of the subject, in the present argument, because our assurance of the reality of this eternal future depends on the truth of Christianity; and the truth of Christianity is that which we are endeavouring to prove. Nevertheless, it is a powerful internal evidence of the divine origin of our religion, that the heavenly state of being, of which it offers us the prospect, is no elysium of sensual delights, such as superstition has proposed, and such as it is perfectly natural for man to imagine ; but a condition of absolute purity and spiri. tuality, which may be described as the proper element of the refined and renovated soul, and into which the soundest reason must convince us that nothing defiled can ever enter,
Such then are the effects produced on mankind by vital Christianity ; but before I venture on an inference from these premises, I must request the reader's attention to a few general observations, which have an important connexion with our course of reasoning.
It is, in the first place, a very striking and confirming circumstance, that, since its promulgation by Jesus Christ and his apostles, that efficacious moral system which we have now been contemplating has continued absolutely unimproved. Sciences which ori ginate in the exertion of human intellect, although probably never brought to perfection, are for the most part distinguished by a perpetual series of progressive changes. As the powers of man are enlarged by
Ess. iv.] Novel, and Extraordinary.
75 advancing cultivation, new discoveries are added to those of former days, and every succeeding generation finds, in the recorded acquirements of its predecessor, a vantage ground, by standing on which it is the better prepared for yet farther extending the boundaries of knowledge. But Christianity, regarded as a moral science, was promulgated by its divine author and his disciples, in a condition of perfection. To all the ends which it proposes, it is so exactly adapted, as to be capable (as far as appears to our limited comprehension) of no amelioration; and, although probably there is no subject in the world which has engaged the thoughts of so great a multitude of wise and serious persons, including many gifted with the highest intellectual powers, this science alone, of all those which have claimed the attention of mankind, has continued entirely stationary. I am aware that the rude hand of man has, at various times, either disfigured the sacred fabric of divine truth by unsightly and incongruous ornaments, or has endeavoured to deprive it of some of those fundamental parts which are essential to its maintenance; but, to that pure and unsophisticated system of religion and morals which was taught to mankind by the Son of God and his apostles, the profoundest reflections of a thousand uninspired theologians have added no improvement.
Perfect as original Christianity appears to be, considered as a system directed to the production of moral consequences, its perfection, in the second place, is the more indicative of a divine origin, because many of the parts of which it consists are extraordinary, novel, and such as human philosophy could never have imagined. This observation applies with irresistible force to the whole doctrine of the redemption of mankind, through the incarnation, sufferings, death, resurrection, ascension, and intercession of the Son of God;
Universally Applicable [Ess. iv. as well as to the application of that doctrine to practice, through the medium of faith working by love. These very leading points in our religion are placed far beyond the compass of mere human invention; and yet they are the very points on which, above all others, depends the practical and moral efficacy of the whole system.
Let it be observed, in the third place, that the Christian religion is of universal applicability to mankind. The conditions, characters, and circumstances of men present to our view an almost infinite diversity; but to the spiritual wants of them all our religion is perfectly suited. Whatever station we may occupy, whatever natural character we may possess, and in whatever circumstances we may be placed, true Christianity will ever be effectual in bringing us to a real peace with God, and to a just performance of all our personal and relative duties.
If it be objected that even nominal Christianity is at present spread over a very limited portion of the globe, the reply is obvious that this fact is to be attributed, not to any want of suitableness in the Christian system to those who receive it, but to extrinsic causes, which have hitherto prevented or opposed its diffusion. And if it be further objected, that even in those parts of the world which are denominated Christian, the vital influence of our religion is manifested in comparatively few persons; we may remark again, that this fact is plainly to be ascribed, not to any defect either in the love of God or in the plan which he has instituted for our salvation, but to the depravity and perverseness of men, who are prone to cleave to their diseased condition, and who prefer darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. Were there discovered a medicine, which, when taken, would cure every species of bodily disease in men of every pos
77 sible description, it is evident that this remedy might justly be described as of universal applicability to mankind, although it might be known only to a few, and although it might be heartily received and carried into use by fewer still. Such a panacea for every species of spiritual disease, and for all sorts of men, is the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour; and, although we may mourn over the obstructions which impede its dissemination, and counteract its influence, yet, if we reason aright on the subject, we cannot refuse to allow that it is free from all exclusive tendencies—that, in its scope, purpose, and practical operation, it is entirely and equally adapted to the whole human race.
As it is true, in the last place, that the practical consequences detailed in the present Essay never fail to be the result of genuine Christianity, so it is also true, to a very great extent, that they are the result of Christianity alone. Evident it must be, to every candid and serious observer, that neither heathenism, nor Mahometanism can pretend, with the least colour of truth, to the production of these admirable effects; for the former has been very generally accompanied by the grossest absurdities and corruptions; and the latter is so far from being morally curative in its tendency, that, under particular circumstances, it openly fans both the violent and the voluptuous passions of our fallen nature. Neither can we perceive in the comparatively pure religion of the Jews (now they have rejected their own Messiah) the practical operation of those powerful principles, by which many of them were once enabled to glorify the God of their fathers, and to exalt among men the standard of true piety and virtue. In reference to that remarkable people, whatever allowance we may be disposed to make for them, it is impossible not to perceive that the stream of vital religion has left its old channel dry,
Christianity Unrivalled. [Ess. iy. and has now diffused itself
Gentile nations, which have received the Gospel of their Redeemer.
It is by no means my intention to assert that, in the various moral and religious systems with which I am now comparing Christianity, there is to be found.no portion of truth or rectitude. It is to be remembered, that mankind enjoyed an original revelation from God, of which faint traces are still very generally to be observed that the spirit of the Lord, by which his law is written on the hearts of his creatures, is not confined in its operations, and may communicate light to the souls of men, independently of any external revelation-and lastly, that where Christianity is not received, it may still have obtained an indirect influence, and may be the real source of many correct and useful sentiments.
On these several grounds, therefore, we are not to be surprised when we trace, among some uncivilized heathen tribes, a plain recognition of the existence and unity of the Deity; nor when, among the most corrupt idolators, we mark an acknowledgment of sin, and a pervading sense of their need of an atonement; nor when, in the pages of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, we meet with some true theology, and with many moral principles which Christians approve as their own; nor when we find modern infidels proclaiming a pure theism, and Mahomet and his followers teaching the unity of God, and the doctrine of future retribution.
In all these cases, the actual moral effect produced will be found to bear an analogy to the proportions of truth and error, of good and evil, of which the several systems in question are composed. In the purest of them, such as those of the ancient Platonic philosophers, and of the untutored American Indians,