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THE BIBLE CONTAINS INTERNAL EVIDENCE THAT ITS ORIGIN IS DIVINE.
As the Old and New Testaments are intimately connected, and form parts of the same system, it is unnecessary to make any distinction between them, in considering this branch of the evidence of divine revelation.
A late writer,4040 Dr. Chalmers. of great eminence and popularity, has represented this species of evidence as unsatisfactory; as not capable of being so treated, as to produce conviction in the minds of philosophical infidels; and as opening a door to their most specious objections to Christianity. But, certainly, this is not the most effectual method of supporting the credit of the Scriptures. Another popular writer4141 Soame Jenyns. has gone to the other extreme; and seems to set little value on the external evidences of Christianity, while be exhibits the internal, in a light so strong, that his argument assumes the appearance of demonstration.
But these two species of evidence, though distinct, are harmonious, and strengthen each other. There is, therefore, no propriety in disparaging the one, for the purpose of enhancing the value of the other. I believe, the fact is, however, that more instances have 174occurred of skeptical men being convinced of the truth of Christianity, by the internal, than the external evidences. It is the misfortune of most infidels, that they have no intimate acquaintance with the Bible; and even many of those who have undertaken to write against it, appear never to have read it, with any other view, than to find some ground of objection.
No doubt, it is necessary to come to the examination of this species of evidence, with a candid and docile disposition. If reason be permitted proudly to assume the seat of judgment, and to undertake to decide what a revelation ought to contain in particular; in what manner, and with what degree of light it should be communicated; whether it should be made perfectly at once, or gradually unfolded; and whether, from the beginning, it should be universal: no doubt, the result of an examination of the contents of the Bible, conducted on such principles, will prove unsatisfactory; and insuperable objections will occur .at every step in the progress. It was wise in Dr. Chalmers, to endeavor to discourage such a mode of investigation, as being most unreasonable; for how is it possible, that such a creature as man, should be able to know what is proper for the infinite God to do, or in what way he should deal with his creatures upon earth? To borrow the language of this powerful writer;4242 Chalmers’ Evidences. “We have experience of man, but we have no experience of God. We can reason Upon the procedure of man in given circumstances, because this is an accessible subject, and comes under the cognizance of observation; but we cannot reason on the procedure of the Almighty in given circumstances.” But when he speaks “of disclaiming 175all support from what is commonly understood by the internal evidence,” and “saving a vast deal of controversy, by proving that all this is superfluous and uncalled for,” I am constrained to think, that, instead of aiding the cause of Christianity, the excellent author has attempted to take away one of its firmest props. The internal evidence of revelation is analogous to the evidence of the being and perfections of God, from the works of creation: and the same mode of reasoning winch the deist adopts, relative to the doctrines and institutions of the Bible, the atheist may adopt, with equal force, against the existence of a God. If men will be so presumptuous as to determine, that if God makes a world, he will form it according to their idea of fitness, and that the apparent imperfections and incomprehensibilities in the material universe, could never have proceeded from a Being of infinite perfection, atheism must follow of course. But, if, notwithstanding all these apparent evils and obscurities, there is in the structure of the world, the most convincing evidence of the existence of an all-wise and all-powerful Being; why may we not expect to find the same kind of evidence, impressed on a revelation from God? Upon Dr. Chalmers’ principles, we ought to depend simply on historical testimony, for the fact, that God created this world; and “disclaim all support” from what. may, without, impropriety, be termed the internal evidence of the existence of God, derived from the contemplation of the work itself. The truth, however, is, that every thing which proceeds from God, whatever difficulties or obscurities accompany it, will contain and exhibit the impress of his character. As this is resplendently visible in the heavens and the earth, it is reasonable to. think that it will not be less manifest in his word. If 176the truths contained in a revelation be worthy of God, they will be stamped with his image; and if this can be, in any measure, discovered, undoubtedy it furnishes the most direct and convincing evidence of their divine origin. In fact this is, without being reduced to the form of a regular argument, precisely the evidence on which the faith of the great body of Christians has always rested. They are incapable of appreciating the force of the external evidence. It requires an extent, of learning, which plain laboring Christians, cannot be supposed commonly to posse.. But the internal evidence is within their reach: it acts directly upon their minds, whenever they read or hear a portion of the word of God. The belief of common, unlearned Christians, is not necessarily founded in the mere prejudice of education: it rests on the best possible evidence. And as there is a faith which is saving, and to which a purifying efficacy is ascribed; if we inquire, on what species of evidence this depends, it must be answered, on internal evidence: not, indeed, as perceived by the unaided intellect of man, but as it is. exhibited to the mind, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We cannot consent, therefore, to give up this species of evidence, as “superfluous and uncalled for,” but must consider it, if not the most effectual to silence gainsayers, yet certainly the most useful to the real Christian; and if unbelievers could be induced to attend to it, with docility and impartiality, there is reason to think, that they would experience its efficacy, in the gradual production of a firm conviction of the truth of Christianity. The internal evidence of the truth of the Scriptures, cannot be fully brought into view, in any other way, than by a careful study of the Bible. It cannot easily be put into the form, of logical argument, 177for it consists in moral fitness and beauty: in the adaptation of truth to the constitution of the human mind; in its astonishing power of penetrating and searching the heart, and affecting the conscience. There is a sublime sanctity in the doctrines and precepts of the Gospel; a devotional and heavenly spirit pervading the Scriptures; a purity and holy tendency, which cannot but be felt by the serious reader of the word of God; and a power to soothe and comfort the sorrowful mind: all which qualities may be perceived, and will have their effect, but cannot be embodied and presented, with their full force, in the form of argument. But, although this evidence, from the nature of the case, cannot be exhibited in its entire body, to any but those who study the Scriptures, and meditate on their truths, day and night, yet it is possible to select some prominent points, and present them to the reader, in such a light., as to produce a salutary impression. This is what will now be briefly attempted, in the following remarks, which might, without difficulty, be greatly enlarged:
1. The Scriptures speak of God and his attributes; in a way which accords with what right reason would lead us to expect, in a divine revelation. He is uniformly represented in the Bible, as ONE, and as a Being of infinite perfection; as eternal,—omnipotent,—omniscient,—omnipresent—and immutable. And it is truly remarkable, that these correct and sublime views of theology were entertained by those who possessed the Scriptures, when all other nations had fallen into the grossest polytheism, and most degrading idolatry. Other nations were more powerful, and greatly excelled the Israelites in human learning; but in the knowledge of God, all were in thick darkness, whilst this people 178enjoyed the light of truth. Learned men and philosophers arose in different countries, and obtained celebrity on account of their theories, but they effected no change in the popular opinions; indeed, they could not enlighten others, when they were destitute of the light of truth, themselves. However deists may deride and scoff at the Bible, it is a fact capable of the clearest proof, that had it not been for the Scriptures, there would, not, at this time, be such a thing as pure theist upon earth. There is not now in the world, an individual who believes in one infinitely perfect God, whose knowledge of this truth may not be traced, directly or indirectly, to the Bible.
How can it be accounted for, that the true theology should be found accompanying the Scriptures, in ages, while it was last, every where else, unless we admit that they are a revelation from God? If the knowledge of the true God, as received by the Jews, was the discovery of reason, why was it that other nations, advanced far beyond them in learning and mental culture, never arrived at the knowledge of his important truth?
It is true, indeed, that the Scriptures sometimes represent God as having bodily parts, and human passions; but a little consideration will show the attentive reader that all these expressions are used in accommodation to the manner of speaking among men. The truth is, that all human language is inadequate to express the attributes and operations of the Supreme Being. He is infinitely above our conceptions,. both in his essence; and mode of existence and acting. We can do no more than approximate towards just ideas, on this subject. When we speak of Him, we are under the necessity of conceiving of his perfections, with 179some relation to the operations of the human mind, and to employ language expressive of human acts, and feelings: for all other language would be unintelligible. The necessity of this accomodation extends much thriller than many seem to suppose: it exists not only in relation to words, which taken literally, convey the idea of bodily members and human passions, but also in regard to those which express the operations of will and intellect. This mode of speaking, therefore, instead of-being an objection against the Bible, is an argument of the wisdom of its Author, who has spoken to man in the only way in which he could be understood.
Again, it is seen by the most cursory reader, that truth is not taught in the Bible, in a scientific, or-systematic order. We have here no profound metaphysical disquisitions; no discussion of philosophical principles; no array of artificial dialectics; and no systematic arrangement of the subjects treated. In all this, there may be great wisdom, and whether we. can see the reason or not, the objection to revelation, on this ground, is not greater than the one which may be made to the natural world, because the materials for building, which it contains, are not found erected into houses; and because all its fields and forests, are not placed in the order of an artificial garden, or regular orchard.
The method of speaking of God, in the Sacred Scriptures, is at once most simple, and sublime. Few words are employed, but these are most significant., When Moses wished to receive an appropriate name, which he might mention to Pharaoh, to whom he was sent, he was directed to say, I am that I am hath sent me. And when, on another occasion, the name of the Most High was declared to Moses, it was in the following remarkable words, THE LORD, THE LORD 180 GOD, MERCIFUL AND GRACIOUS, LONG SUFFERING AND ABUNDANT IN GOODNESS AND TRUTH. KEEPING MERCY FOR THOUSANDS; FORGIVING INIQUITY, AND TRANSGRESSION AND SIN; AND THAT WILL BY NO MEANS CLEAR THE GUILTY. If the most perfect simplicity, united with the highest sublimity, would be received as a proof; that the writers of these books were inspired, we could adduce hundreds of passages of this description; but we mean not to lay any undue stress on the argument derived from this source.
The glory of the Scriptures is, the revelation which they contain of the moral attributes of God. These are manifested with but a feeble light, in the works of creation; but, in the Bible they shine with transcendent lustre. It would, by no means comport with the intended brevity of this work, to enter much into detail on this subject, but I must beg the indulgence of the reader, while I endeavor to bring distinctly into view, the account which the Scriptures give us, of the HOLINESS, and the GOODNESS of GOD.
These two attributes are stamped on the pages of the Bible, and form its grand characteristic. It is of no importance, whether we consider these as distinct, or as expressive of two aspects, in which the same infinite excellence is exhibited. Who can open this sacred book, without perceiving that the God of the Bible was Holy? All his laws, institutions, and dispensations, are holy; even those laws which are ceremonial, have this characteristic. Every person, edifice, and utensil, employed in his worship, must be solemnly consecrated; and all must approach God with caution and reverence, because he is Holy. The very ground where he occasionally makes himself known, is rendered holy. Every external sign and emblem of 181profound reverence, is required in them, who worship Him; and when he manifests himself with more than usual clearness, the holiest men are overwhelmed, and become as dead men, under a sense of their own vileness. And not only so, but even the heavenly hosts, who are free from every stain of sin, seem to be overwhelmed with the view of the HOLINESS of God: They not only cry to one another, as they worship around his august throne, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, but they are represented, as falling prostrate at his feet, and veiling their faces, in token of profound veneration. All those passages of Scripture, which speak of the WRATH, the INDIGNATION, the FURY, the JEALOUSY, or the ANGER of the Almighty, are no more than strong expressions of his infinite holiness. All his severe judgments and threatenings; all the misery which he ever inflicts on his creatures, in this world, or the next; and above all, the intense and ineffable sufferings of Christ, are exhibitions of the holiness of God.
Now, if there be a God, he must be holy; and if he make a revelation of himself, it will be marked with. this impress of character. But. wicked men would, never have made this attribute so prominent; they would rather have been disposed to keep it entirely out of view. There is no truth more evident to the attentive observer of human nature, than that men do not naturally love holiness, although they are obliged to acknowledge its worth. This, I believe, is the true reason, why the Scriptures, although they contain the highest excellence in composition, both in prose and poetry, of which a good taste cannot be insensible, are neglected by literary men; or rather studiously avoided. A mere fragment of any other book, if it could claim pp equal antiquity with. the Bible; and, especially, if it 182contained any thing like as much excellence of composition, would be sought after with avidity, by all men of taste; but the Bible remains almost as much unstudied by men of this description, as the Koran. This has often appeared to me paradoxical; but I am now persuaded, that the true reason is, the awful holiness of God, as exhibited in this book, and impressed on almost every page. This glares upon the conscience of an unholy man, as the meridian sun on diseased eyes. God is a consuming fire. But this common dislike of the Bible, even in men of refined taste and decent lives, furnishes a strong argument for its divine origin. The question before us, is, who composed this book—inspired men, or wicked impostors? The characteristic, which we have been considering, will accord perfectly with the former supposition, but never can be reconciled with the latter. There is a moral certainty, that base impostors never would have written a book, the most remarkable trait of which is HOLINESS.
The goodness of God, or that benevolence which he exercises towards his creatures, as it appears in the providence which sustains and feeds so great a multitude of creatures, and which is conspicuously manifested to the human family, is often celebrated in the Scriptures. Some of the most beautiful and sublime poems which were ever written, are employed in celebrating the praise of God, for his marvellous goodness. The reader is requested to turn to the xxxiv, the ciii, civ, cxlv, cxlvi, cxlvii, and cxlviii, Psalms, as an exemplification of this remark.
But there is another, and a peculiar view of the divine goodness, given in the Scriptures. It is that form of goodness, called MERCY. It is the love of creatures, 183who had forfeited all claim to any kindness. It is the bestowing of pardon and salvation on those, who are condemned to death by the righteous laws of God; and this, without showing himself less displeased with their sins, than if he had punished them forever. This is the view of divine goodness, which is peculiar to the Bible. Reason could not have formed a conjecture concerning it. It is the development of a trait in the divine character, before unknown. To reveal the mercy of God, may, with truth, be said, to be the principal object of the Bible. But our idea of this divine goodness is very imperfect, until we learn, in what way it was manifested. No words can express this so well, as those of Christ himself, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
To many, perhaps, it will appear, that this love is so extraordinary, that it rather forms an objection against the Bible, than an argument in its favor. If the wonderful and unparalleled nature of any thing were an objection to it, then I acknowledge, that there would be some ground for this opinion. But what is there which is not full of wonders, when we come to contemplate it attentively? It is wonderful that there should exist such a creature as man, or such a body of light as the sun; but shall we, therefore; refuse to believe in their existence? To conic nearer to the subject, what is there in the character of God, or his works, which is not calculated to fill the mind with surpassing wonder! His eternity—His omniscience—His omnipresence—His creating power, and universal providence, are so wonderful, that we are at a loss to say which is most wonderful; or whether any thing 184else can be more wonderful. But is this any argument against their reality? And if God is so wonderful in his other attributes, shall we expect to find nothing of this kind, in his LOVE, which is his highest glory? There is, indeed, no goodness of this sort among men; but shall we make our faint and limited shadow of perfection, the measure by which to judge of the character of the infinite God? How unreasonable such a procedure! The objection derived from the insignificance of man, the object of this wonderful love, is delusive; for the same objection would lie, if his powers were increased ever so much. in comparison with God, all creatures may be considered as on a level; in this view, all distinctions among them are, as it were, annihilated. How easy would it be to construct an argument against the providence of God, on the same principles! There are innumerable myriads of animalcules, invisible to man, all of which have a perfect organization, and no more than an ephemeral existence, It might be said, these minute creatures are too diminutive, to occupy the attention of an infinite Being. It might be said, that the display of so much skill in the organization of creatures of a day, was unsuitable to the wisdom of God. But however plausible such objections may be made to appear, they are all founded in a presumptuous intrusion into what does not appertain to us, and concerning which we have no ability to form any correct judgment. The truth is, that man has an infinitude below him, as well as above him, in the gradation of being. I do not mean to say, that creation is absolutely infinite, but that we can fix no bounds to the possibility of a continual existence of creatures in the scale of perpetual diminution, any more than we can to the possibility of creatures still 185increasing in magnitude above us. In this respect, as in others, we stand between two infinitudes, the great and the small, if I may so speak. A single drop of liquid contains myriads of perfectly organized creatures; and who knows but every particle of the blood of these invisible animalcules may contain other worlds of beings still more minute, without it being possible for us to fix any limit to the diminution in the size of creatures.
But, to return; unless it can be shown, that such love, as that exhibited in the Gospel, is impossible, which will not be pretended, or that it is repugnant to the moral attributes of God, its wonderful nature can never be properly used as an argument against its existence. Rather, it should be argued, the more wonderful, the more like God; the more wonderful, if no appearance of human weakness accompany it, the more unlikely to be the invention of man.
And, here, I would mention an idea, which, if correct, will shed light on the subject; namely, that wonder is congenial to the constitution of our minds. The soul of man never enjoys more elevated emotions, and more exalted pleasure, than in the contemplation of objects so great and vast, as to he perfectly incomprehensible. This is the foundation of that perpetual adoration which occupies the inhabitants of heaven. An incomprehensible God, is the object of contemplation and wonder to every creature.
2. The account which the Bible gives of the origin and character of man, accords, very exactly, with reason and experience.
Indeed, this is the only source of our knowledge respecting the circumstances in which man was placed, when he came from the hand of his Creator. Here 186we learn the origin of many things which we observe, but the reason of which we never could have discovered. The Bible teaches us, that the wickedness which has existed in all ages and among all people, originated in the apostacy of the first pair. It tells us the reason of covering the body with clothing, which is the custom of all nations, even where clothing is unnecessary to preserve the body from the effects of cold. Here, we learn the cause of the earth’s producing briers and thorns spontaneously, while useful grain and fruits must be cultivated. Here, we learn the origin of marriage, and, of the curse which has followed the female sex, through all ages. Moses has also given us the origin of that species of religious worship, which was anciently practised among all people, but of which, reason can teach us nothing. I mean the sacrifice of animals on an altar, and the offerings of grain, of incense, &c. He has also related the fact of a universal deluge, of which we have so many ocular proofs, in every country, and on every mountain, as well as so many ancient traditions.
The dispersion of the human family over the face of the earth, and the origin of the several nations of antiquity, are recorded in the Bible: and, although, this record is contained in a single short chapter, and has to us much obscurity, yet Bishop Watson declared, that if he had no other evidence of the authenticity of the Pentateuch, besides the tenth chapter of Genesis, he would deem that alone satisfactory.4343 See Watson’s Address to Scoffers.
The origin of the diversity of language, is also found in the Bible, and not learned from any other source. Indeed, the origin of language itself, concerning which 187philosophers have disputed so much, is very evident., from the history of Moses. Many learned men have thought, that alphabetical writing took its rise from the writing of the decalogue, by the finger of God, upon the tables of stone; and I believe, that it would be found very difficult to prove, by any authentic documents, that this art existed before. Be this as it may, it must be admitted, that the earliest specimen of alphabetical writing now extant, is contained in the Bible.
To these particulars it may be added, that we have an account in the Bible, of those nations and people, concerning whom the earliest profane historians treat, long before their histories commence; and when history comes down to that period when the affairs of nations are described by others, it receives ample corroboration from their narratives, as well as gives great light, to enable us to understand many things which they have imperfectly recorded.
But the account which the Bible gives of the moral condition of man, is that which is now most to our purpose. In all ages and circumstances, the human race are represented as exceedingly depraved and wicked. Every man is declared to be a transgressor, and the root of this depravity is placed in the heart. Many of the gross crimes, to which we all are inclined, and into the practice of which many fall, are enumerated; and where these are avoided and concealed, the heart is described as deceitful and desperately wicked; and that pride and hypocrisy, which spread a false covering over the true character of man, are denounced, as among the things most hateful to God. Now, if this picture is not taken from the life; if the character of man is entirely different from that delineated in the Scriptures; 188or, if the vices of our nature are exaggerated; however difficult it may be to account for such misrepresentation, still it would furnish a strong argument against the inspiration of the writers of the several books of which the Bible consists. But on the other hand, if the character of man, as- given in the Scriptures, is found exactly to correspond with universal experience and observation, it will be an incontestable proof, that the writers were guided by a strict regard to truth, in their compositions. To enter into a particular consideration of this subject, does not comport with the plan of this work; but for the truth of the representations of Scripture, I would appeal to all authentic history, and to every man’s own observation and experience. The description which the apostle Paul gives of the vices of the heathen world, in his time, is corroborated by all the historians and satirists who lived near that period. And who needs a labored proof, to show, that men have generally a tendency to be wicked? Every civil institution, and all the mist expensive provisions of civil government, are intended to set up barriers against the violence, injustice, and licentiousness of man. Indeed, civil government itself, originated in nothing else, than the necessity of protection against the wickedness of men. This, however, is a painful and mortifying conclusion; and it is not wonderful, that pride and self-flattery should render us reluctant to admit it; nevertheless, every impartial man must acknowledge, that our character is correctly drawn in the Bible.
There is something wonderful in the power, which the word of God possesses over the consciences of men. To those who never read or hear it, this fact must be 189unknown; but it is manifest to those who are conversant with the sacred volume, or who are in the habit of hearing it expounded. Why should this book, above all others, have the power of penetrating, and, as it were, searching, the inmost recesses of the soul, and shewing to a man, the multitude and enormity of the evils of his heart and life? This may, by some, be attributed to early education, but I believe, that if the experiment could be fairly tied, it would be found, that men who had never been brought up with any sentiments of reverence for the Bible, would experience its power over the conscience. The very best cure, therefore, for infidelity, would be, the serious perusal of the Holy Scriptures. “The entrance of thy word giveth light. The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”
3. It deserves our special attention, in considering the internal evidences of Christianity, that the Scriptures contain explicit information on those points, on which man stands most in need of instruction. These may be reduced to three: first., the doctrine of a future state of retribution; secondly, the assurance that sin may be pardoned, and the method by which this can consistently be done; and, thirdly, the means for restoring. the depraved nature of man, to a state of rectitude. We are not capable of determining, in particular, as we have before shown, what a revelation should contain, but it is reasonable to think, that if God gives a revelation, it will contain some instruction on these important points.
And when we examine what the Scriptures teach, on these subjects, it is found, that the doctrine is worthy of God, and so adapted to the necessities of man, that it affords a strong argument in favor of their inspiration.
The certainty of a future existence to man, is a 190prominent feature in the New Testament. The connexion between our present conduct and future condition, is clearly and expressly inculcated. Many interesting and momentous truths, connected with the world to come, are presented in a light, the best calculated to make a deep and salutary impression on the mind. It is revealed, that there will be a general judgment of all then and that God hath appointed a day when this event shall take place. It is, moreover, taught, in the New-Testament, that not only will every man be judged, but every action of every individual, whether it be good or bad, will be brought under review; and that the eternal destiny of all men will be fixed, agreeably to the judicial decision of this impartial trial. Some will be admitted to everlasting life, in the world above, while others shall go away into. everlasting misery, into that place, “prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Another interesting fact revealed in the New Testament, is, that there will be a general resurrection of the bodies of all men, previously to the final judgment. This fact, reason could never have conjectured: it must, from its nature, be a matter of pure revelation. We may, indeed, discover some remote analogy to the resurrection, in the apparent death and resuscitation of vegetables and some animals, but this could never have authorized, the conclusion that the bodies of men, after being mingled with the dust of the earth, would be reorganized and re-animated, by the same souls which were connected with them before their death. This doctrine, however, is very interesting; and to the pious, must be very pleasing and animating, as we may learn from the beautiful and striking description of the resurrection, given by Paul, “It is sown in corruption, 191 it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body;—For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
It is worthy of remark, that although the Scriptures express the joys of heaven, and the miseries of hell, by the strongest figures, they do not enter much into detail, respecting the condition of men, in the future world. There is true wisdom in this silence; because it is a subject, of which we are, at present, incapable. of forming any distinct conceptions. Paul, after being caught up “to paradise, and to the third heaven,” gave no account of what he saw and heard, when he returned. How different is this from the ridiculous description of the seven heavens, by Mohammed; and from the reveries of Emmanuel Swedenborg! The account of a future state, contained in the New Testament, is just that which is best suited to our present imperfect mode of conceiving; and at the same time, adapted to make the deepest impressions on the minds of men.
The method of obtaining the pardon of sin, which is made known in the Scriptures, is so extraordinary, and yet so perfectly calculated to reconcile the forgiveness of the sinner, with the justice and holiness of God, that it seems very improbable, that it is a mere human device. The mission from heaven, of a person called the Son of God; his miraculous assumption of human nature; his holy and benevolent. character; and his laying down his life as an expiation for the sins of men, are, indeed wonderful events, but on that account, not likely to be the invention of impostors. The death of Christ, may be considered the central point in the 192Christian system. This was so far from being an incidental thing, or an event occurring in the common course of nature, that it is, every where, represented to be the very purpose of Christ’s coming into the world. This, according to the Gospel, is the grand means of obtaining all blessings for sinners. It is the great vicarious sacrifice, offered up to God in behalf of the people, in consequence of which God can be just and the justifier of all who believe in Jesus. To know Christ crucified, therefore, is to know the whole Gospel;—to preach Christ crucified, is to preach the whole Gospel;—for all its doctrines are involved in this event. The plan of salvation revealed in the Scriptures, is founded on the principle of receiving satisfaction for the transgressions of the sinner, from another person, who is able to render to the law all that is required from the offender This satisfaction was made by the obedience of Christ unto death, and is accepted by the Judge of all, in place of a perfect obedience of the sinner, in behalf of all those to whom it shall be applied. This method of obtaining pardon is honorable to God, because, while he receives the transgressor into favor, he expresses his hatred of sin in the strongest manner, and requires that the demands of his holy law be perfectly fulfilled; and it is suited to man, for it comes down to his impotence and wretchedness, and offers him a finished and gratuitous salvation, without works or merit of his own. And that there may be no room for an abuse of this doctrine of FREE GRACE, it is provided, that all who hope for the benefits of this redemption, shall yield a sincere obedience to the Gospel; and thus evince their penitence for their sins, and their love to the Saviour. Ungodly men may pervert this doctrine, and turn the grace. of God into licentiousness, 193but this receives no encouragement from the principles of the Gospel: it is merely the effect of the perverseness of sinful men.
This leads me to speak of the third thing, which was mentioned as important to be known by man, which is the means by which a depraved nature may be restored to rectitude; or in other words, how the thorough reformation of a sinner may be effected. On this subject, philosophy has never been able to shed any light. And this is not wonderful; for the most that human wisdom if ever so perfect could effect, would be the direction and regulation of the natural principles and passions of men; but in this way no true reformation can be produced. Whatever changes are effected, will be only from one species of sin to another. In order to a radical restoration of the soul to moral rectitude, or to any degree of it, there is a necessity for the introduction, into the mind, of some new and powerful principle of action, sufficient to counteract or expel the principles of sin. It is in vain that men talk of producing a restoration to virtue, by reason: the mere perception of the right way will answer no purpose, unless there is some inclination to pursue it. Now, the want of virtuous affections, or to speak more correctly, of holy dispositions, is the great defect of our nature, in which our depravity radically consists; and the only way by which man can be led to lore and pursue the course of obedience to the law of God, is, by having love to God and to holiness excited, or implanted in his soul. But to effect this, is not in the power of any creature; it is a work which requires a divine energy—a creating power; and therefore a true conversion from the ways of sin, was never effected without supernatural aid. 194There may be an external reformation. There may be, and often is, a change of governing principles. The man who in his youth was under the predominant influence of the love of pleasure, may, in advanced years, fall completely under the control of avarice or ambition; but in every such case, the change is effected by one active principle becoming so strong, as to counteract or suppress another. It may be laid down as a universal maxim, that all changes of character are brought about by exciting, implanting, or strengthening, active principles, sufficient to overcome those which before governed the man.
Now let us inquire, what plan of reformation is proposed in the Scriptures. It is such a one, as precisely accords with the principles laid down. The necessity of regeneration, by the power of God, is taught almost in every variety of form, both in the Old and New Testament. The effect of the divine energy on the soul, is, A NEW HEART; or, new principles of moral action, the leading exercises of which are love to God, and love to man. Let a philosophical survey be taken of the nature of man, with his complete system of perceptions, passions, appetites, and affections; and then suppose this powerful and holy principle introduced into the soul, and it will be seen, that all the faculties and propensities of man, will be reduced to order; and the vices of our nature will be eradicated. Pretenders to reason and philosophy have often ridiculed this doctrine, as absurd; whereas, it is, in every respect, consistent with the soundest philosophy. It is the very thing which a wise philosopher, who should undertake to solve the problem, how depraved man might be restored to virtue, would demand. But like the foundation 195Archimedes required for his lever to raise the the principle necessary for a sinner’s reformation, which reason and philosophy cannot furnish.
The Bible is the only book which ever taught the method of purifying the soul from sin. A thousand actual devices have been tried by philosophers, and es of other systems. One of the most common een, to endeavour to extricate the soul from the nce of the body, by various methods of mortification, and purgation; but all these plans have adopted lse principle, that the body is the chief seat of rity, and therefore they have ever proved unsuccessful. The disease lies deeper, and is further removed ... the reach of their remedies, than they supposed. he Gospel which teaches the true philosophy regarding the seat of sin, and its cure. Out of the heart d all evils, according to the Bible. And if we make the fruit good, we must first make the od.
This necessity of divine agency to make men truly us, does not, however, supersede the use of means, lude the operation of rational motives. When a principle is introduced into a rational soul, in the e of this principle, the soul is governed by the general laws of understanding and choice, as be The principle of piety is pre-eminently a rational le, in its operation. God is loved, because he is viewed to be a most excellent and amiable being. n is preferred to earth, because it is seen to be a ter and more enduring inheritance; and so of all exercises.
naturally led, from the consideration of this t, to speak of the moral system of the New Testament. I confine my remarks here, to the New 196Testament, not because it teaches a different rule of moral duty, from the Old, but because it teaches it more clearly.
I need say nothing in general commendation of the moral precepts of the Gospel. They have extorted the highest praise from many of the most determined enemies of Christianity. No man has been able to show how they could be improved in any one point. It has sometimes, indeed, been objected, that this system was not suited to man, because it requires a purity and perfection to which he can never attain; but the objection concedes the very point which we wish to establish,—namely, the absolute perfection of the Gospel system of morality. It surely requires no argument to prove, that if God revealed a rule for the regulation of his creatures, it will be a perfect rule. It will never do to admit, that the law must be lowered in its demands, to adapt it to the imperfection of creatures. This would be destructive of all law.
It has again been objected, that in the precepts of the New Testament, many splendid virtues, acknowledged by the heathen moralists, have been omitted. Patriotism, friendship, bravery, &c., have been specified as be. longing to this class. To which we reply, that so far as patriotism and friendship are moral virtues, they are included in the general precepts of the Gospel, which require us to love our fellow men, and do them good; and in those which command us to think of “Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report;” but when the love of country, and the attachment to a friend, interfere with the general obligations of loving all men, they are no longer virtues, but vices.
The excellence of the moral system of the New Testament, will be manifest, if we consider,—197
1. Its simple, yet comprehensive character. All moral duties which can be conceived, as obligatory on man, are here reduced to two grand principles, the love of God, and the love of man. The measure of the first is, the full extent of our capacity; of the second, the love which we have for ourselves. On these two, says Christ, hang all the law and the prophets. The duties which relate to temperance and self-government, do not need any additional principle. If the soul be filled with love to God, and with love to man, self-love will be so regulated and directed, as to answer every purpose in moving us to perform what has been called our duty to ourselves.
2. The precepts of morality, in the New Testament; although sometimes expressed in comprehensive language, are often applied to the actual relations and various conditions of men. We are not left to infer particular duties from general principles, but the duties of individuals, according to their circumstances, are distinctly enjoined. Parents and children, husbands and wives, magistrates and subjects, ministers and people, the rich and the poor, the friend and the stranger, have all their respective duties clearly marked out.
3. Moral duties which have been overlooked, or misunderstood, by other teachers, are here prominently exhibited, and solemnly inculcated. The virtues of humility, meekness, forbearance, and the forgiveness of injuries were not acknowledged by the heathen moralists; but in the New Testament they are made to assume their proper place, and much of true goodness is made to consist in their exercise. At the time of the advent of Christ, many false principles of morality had gained currency. The duty of loving all men, had been circumscribed within narrow limits. Men charged with 198heresy, as the Samaritans, or notorious sinners, as the Publicans, were, by the Jews, considered as properly excluded from all participation in their kindness, or courtesy. The duty of subjection to a foreign power, by which they had been conquered; and especially, the duty of yielding obedience to a wicked tyrannical prince, was one on which it required much wisdom to decide aright. The people were divided among themselves on this point; it was therefore selected by a combination of both parties, as a fit subject to entangle our Lord, by obliging him to decide one way or the other, and thus expose himself to the opposition of one of the parties. But when they asked him whether it was lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar or not, he called for a denarius, and looking at the image stamped upon it, asked whose it was; and upon being answered, Cæsar’s, made the following remarkable reply, “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” By which he decided, that, inasmuch as they permitted the coin of Cæsar to circulate among them, which was an evidence of his sovereignty over them, and availed themselves of this money for purposes of trade, there could be no impropriety in rendering to Cæsar what properly belongs to him; and, also, that this was not incompatible with their allegiance to God. So that, virtually, in this answer, he reproved both the Pharisees and the Herodians; the former, of whom made their duty to God a pretext for refusing to pay tribute to the Emperor; and the latter, to secure the favor of the reigning powers, neglected their duty to God.
Paul, living under the government of Nero, prescribes obedience to the existing powers, not from fear of suffering their displeasure, but “for conscience sake.” 199This is the general rule of duty, on this difficult subject, than which none can be wiser; but it must not be considered, as inculcating passive obedience and nonresistance, in all cases. Yet, as long as a government has authority, so long we are bound to obey. Christianity is so constituted, as not to interfere with any civil institution. It takes men as it finds them, in all the relations of life, and teaches them their duty. It never can, therefore, be the cause of sedition, and opposition to existing governments. It considers all civil rulers, as the ministers of God, for the peace and good order of society, and for the punishment of those that do evil. It is made the duty of Christians, therefore, to be “subject unto the higher powers,” and “not to resist the ordinance of God.—To render to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”4444 Rom. xiii.—But when they who have the right to change the government, of a country, exercise it, and put down one set of rulers, and set up another, the principle of Christian duty remains the same. And if, in any country, Christians form a majority of the nation, there is no reason why they may not exercise this right of new modelling their government, or changing their rulers, as well as others.
4. The moral system of the New Testament traces all virtue to the heart, and sets no value on the most splendid and costly offerings, or the most punctilious discharge of religious duties, when the motives are not pure. The first inclination of the mind to an illicit object, is denounced to be a violation of the law; and words of reproach, and all idle words, are among the 200sins for which an account must be given in the Judgment. Prayers and alms, proceeding from vain glory, are represented as receiving no reward from God, however they may be applauded by men.
The love of this world, and the love of money, are represented as radical sins, from which many others proceed.
Pride and revenge are exhibited as not only odious, but incompatible with the divine favor. Purity of heart, and heavenly mindedness, with trust in God. and submission to his will, are; in this system, cardinal, virtues.
5. The moral precepts of the New Testament were exemplified in the lives of the apostles and primitive Christians; and especially, and to the utmost perfection, in the example of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to conceive a character more perfect than that given by the evangelists, of the Founder of the Christian religion; and it has already been observed, that this character, embracing every variety of excellence, often exhibited in delicate and difficult circumstances, is delineated by a simple narrative of facts. There is no panegyric; no effort or art to excite admiration; but the writers merely inform us what Jesus said, did, and suffered. From this narrative we learn, that he connected himself with no sect, and courted the favor of neither the rich nor the poor. He adopted none of the errors or prejudices of his nation; but by his discourses and his conduct, showed that he acted from far higher views than national prejudices. The apparent sanctity of the Pharisees, he denounced as hypocrisy;—the traditions of the elders, as subversive of the law of God;—the sceptical opinion of the Sadducees, as proceeding from ignorance of the true meaning of the Scriptures.201
Jesus Christ continually turned the attention of his hearers, from earthly to heavenly things, as alone worthy of their affections and pursuit. Although he flattered no class of men, his attention was particularly directed to the poor; their spiritual necessities and their bodily afflictions excited his most tender compassion; and to them he addressed many kind and encouraging declarations. But his healing power was exerted in behalf of all applicants, rich and pool; and without regard to their sect or nation. Jews, Samaritans, Heathens, Publicans, and sinners, were the objects of his compassion. He was not deterred by the proud prejudices of the Scribes and Pharisees, from associating with penitents, however vile and infamous they had before been. He graciously received returning sinners, comforted them with the assurance of pardon, and permitted them to manifest their grateful affection to his person; by, the most expressive signs and actions.
He manifested the kindest sympathy with his friends in their afflictions, weeping with those that wept, and often exerting his omnipotence in raising their dear relations from the bed of sickness, or from death. And although he often uttered severe rebukes against the incorrigibly wicked, and was sometimes grieved and angry with them, yet his compassion towards them never failed; and even when their day of grace was ended, he wept over them with the most affecting tenderness.
Jesus Christ was often brought into conflict with insidious, malignant, and learned adversaries. They attacked him with deliberate craft, and. proposed to him questions on delicate and difficult subjects, to which he was required to return an immediate answer; but in no case of this sort was he ever confounded, or even puzzled 202by the cunning craftiness of his enemies. His answers were so appropriate, and so fraught with wisdom, that his adversaries were commonly confounded, and the audience filled with admiration.
The parables of Christ are unparalleled for beauty and force, in the species of composition to which they belong. But this is the smallest part of their excellence. They contain so much important truth, and so happily adapted to the subject, and the occasion, that often, the. persons intended to be reproved by them, were constrained to give judgment against themselves. In these discourses, the leading doctrines of the Gospel are exhibited in a beautiful dress of allegory, which rivets the attention, and greatly aids us in understanding the. fulness and freeness of the grace of the. Gospel. They are also prophetical of the rejection of the Jews, and of the calling of the Gentiles; of the various reception of the Gospel by different classes, of hearers; of the mixture of sincere and unsound Christians, of which the Church should consist; of the cruel persecutions which the followers of Christ should endure; and of the final overthrow and destruction of his enemies.
Jesus Christ spake, in all his discourses; as never man spake. He removed the false glosses which had been put on the law, and set its precepts in their proper light. He mingled the dogmas of no philosophical system with his instructions. He entered into no metaphysical and abstruse disquisition, but taught the truth with simplicity and authority.
His zeal for the honor of God, and for the purity and sanctity of his worship, and his dislike of all human inventions and will-worship, are manifest, in all his conduct. A spirit of fervent and, elevated devotion, was a remarkable characteristic of Jesus of Nazareth. 203Whole nights he spent in prayer; and before day he would retire for the purposes of devotion. He was in the habit of praying and giving thanks on all occasions; but his devotion was free from all tincture of superstition, or enthusiasm. He taught, that not the. words, but the heart;—not the length of prayers, but their, spirit, was regarded.
His benevolence, meekness, and laborious diligence, in promoting the welfare of men, were manifested, every day of his life. But in his acts of mercy, and in his most extraordinary miracles, there was no appearance of parade or ostentation. “He went about doing good,” but he sought no glory from men. He was humble, retired, and contented with the lowest state of poverty.
When the people applauded him, he withdrew unto some other place. When they would have made him a king, he escaped from their hands. When they asked curious questions, he directed them to something important. When they uttered unmeaning expressions of praise, he took occasion to announce some important truth, or deliver some interesting discourse.
In nothing did he discover more profound wisdom,. than in declining to interfere, in any case, with temporal concerns, and disputes about earthly possessions. He showed by his conduct, what lie solemnly declared on his trial, that, “his kingdom was not of this world.”
In his intercourse with his disciples, we observe a sweet mixture of dignity and gentleness, of faithfulness and humble condescension to their weakness and prejudices.. No wonder that they should love such a Master. But his last discourses with them before his passion, and the remarkable prayer offered in their behalf, for affectionate tenderness, and the 204sweet spirit of consolation which pervade them, are altogether inimitable. How flat and unsatisfactory are the conversations of Socrates with his friends, when compared with those of Christ, recorded in the xiv, xv, and xvi chapters of the Gospel of St. John! Indeed, it would be impossible to refer to any discourses, in any language, which could bear a comparison with this valedictory of Christ: and that which should enhance our admiration of the pure benevolence of the author; is, that he was aware, that his own sufferings were near, and would be most cruel and ignominious; and vet his attention is turned to the case of his sorrowful disciples; and all that he says has relation to them. The institution of the Eucharistical Supper, intended to be commemorative of his death, was attended with circumstances, which exhibit the character of Jesus, in a very peculiar and interesting light. This scene will be best understood by a perusal of the simple and affecting narrative of the evangelists, to which the reader is referred.
The last thing in the character of Christ, which I shall bring into view at this time, is the patience and fortitude with which he endured sufferings, which were intense and overwhelming, beyond conception. There is something mysterious in this whole affair. The intense agonies which Jesus suffered, seem to have had no connexion with external circumstances. When he was betrayed, deserted, and arrested, he discovered no signs of fear or perturbation. He gave himself up, and submitted with unruffled composure, to every species of contumely and insult. While his trial was going on before the Sanhedrim, and before Pilate, he maintained, for the most part, a dignified silence, uttering no reproaches or complaints; not even speaking in his own 205defence. When particularly interrogated by the judges, he answered directly to the questions proposed, and avowed himself to be the Messiah, the Son of God, and the King of Israel. Under the mockery and insult which were heaped upon him, he remained perfectly composed, and uttered not a word indicative of impatience or resentment. “As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” When he was bewailed by the daughters of Jerusalem, as he ascended the hill of Calvary, bearing his cross, he requested them not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children, on account of the calamities that were coming on that devoted city. While suspended on the cross, he saw his beloved mother among the spectators, and knowing that she would need a friend and protector, he recommended her to the care of the. disciple he most tenderly loved. Although no compassion was mingled with the vindictive feelings with which he was persecuted, yet he set a glorious example of that most difficult duty, of loving our enemies: as says the apostle Peter, “Because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his month; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered; he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” Among his last words, before he expired, was a prayer for those that were then engaged in crucifying him;—“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” A penitent thief, who was crucified with him, implored his blessing and remembrance, when he should come to the possession of his kingdom, to whom he replied, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” And finally, he said, “Father, into thy 206 hands I commit my spirit,” and bowed his head, and died.
The moral excellence of the character of Christ is very remarkable, for uniting in perfection, qualities which among men are considered almost incompatible, He exhibited a complete indifference to the possessions and glory of the world, and a devout and heavenly temper, without the least mixture of austerity. He combined uniform dignity, with humility and condescension:—manifested strong indignation against all manner of sin, and against impenitent sinners, but the most affectionate tenderness, towards every humble penitent. He united the spirit of elevated devotion also, with a life of activity and incessant exertion. While he held free intercourse with men of all classes, he adopted the prejudices, and spared the vices of none. On this subject, I will take the liberty of quoting a passage from an excellent discourse of Dr. Charming, referred to already: “I will only observe,” says the eloquent author, speaking of the character of Christ, “that it had one distinction, which, more than any thing, forms a perfect character. It was made up of contrasts: in other words, it was a union of excellencies which are not easily reconciled, which seem at first sight incongruous, but which, when blended, and duly proportioned, constitute moral harmony, and attract with equal power, love, and veneration. For example, we discover in Jesus Christ an unparalleled dignity of character, a consciousness of greatness, never discovered or approached by any other individual in history; and yet this was blended with a condescension, loveliness, and unostentatious simplicity, which had never before been thought consistent with greatness. In like manner, he puked an utter superiority to the world, to its pleasures 207and ordinary interests, with suavity of manners, and freedom from austerity. He joined to strong feeling and self-possession, an indignant sensibility to sin, and compassion to the sinner; an intense devotion to his work, and calmness under opposition and ill success; a universal philanthropy, and a susceptibility of private attachments; the authority which became the Saviour of the world, and the tenderness and gratitude of a son.”
The salutary effects of Christianity on communities and individuals, open a wide field for important remarks; but it is a subject which we have not time to pursue; yet we must not pass it over in entire silence. The argument from this topic may, however, be reduced to a point. Take a survey of the whole world, at this time, and let an impartial judgment be formed, of the condition of all the nations; and let the question be answered, whether Christian nations are in a less favorable, or more favorable condition, than others. And again, whether among Christians, those nations who have the free use of the Bible, and are carefully instructed in the doctrines of Christianity, are in a better or worse condition, than those to whom the Scriptures are interdicted, and who are permitted to remain in ignorance of the religion which they profess? The answers to these questions are so obvious, that I cannot but presume, that all readers will be of the same mind. It may then be asked, would a vile imposture be the means of meliorating the condition of the world, and prove salutary in proportion as it is known and obeyed? “I speak as unto wise men judge ye what I say.”
We have, moreover, seen, in our own time, the wonderful effects of the Gospel, in civilizing some of the most barbarous people on the face of the earth. Men who seemed to be sunk to a level with the beasts, 208have been reclaimed, enlightened, and exalted, to a participation of the blessings of civilized life—their ferocious temper being completely subdued and softened. Look at Greenland, at Africa, at the islands in the Pacific; and nearer home, at the Cherokees, Choctaws, and other Indian tribes, and see what the Gospel can effect! I know not what infidels think of these things, but for my own part, I should not esteem one coming from the dead, or a voice of thunder from the heavens. so undoubted an evidence of the truth of .the Gospel, as these effects. Will a series of falsehoods produce such effects as these?
I know that it has been objected, that Christianity has been the cause of many bloody wars and cruel persecutions;—but this is impossible. That religion which breathes nothing but benevolence and peace, and which requires its disciples not to resist evil, but freely to forgive their most malignant enemies, never can be the cause of war and persecution. It may indeed be the occasion, and no doubt has been made the occasion. of such evils; but it would be absurd to attribute to Christianity, the evils of which it has been the innocent. occasion, when its own spirit is in direct opposition to those evils. As well might we charge civil government with all the wars and tumults which it has occasioned. As reasonably might we accuse liberty, as being the cause of all the atrocities of the French revolution. The truth is, that the wickedness of man is the cause of these evils; and the most excellent things in the universe, may be made the occasion of exciting, or calling it into exercise. Christ foretold that his religion would be an occasion of family discord; and to express the certainty of the event predicted, he said, “Think not not I am come to send peace on earth; I 209 came not to send peace, but a sword; which some superficial readers have strangely misconstrued, as though he had signified, that it was the tendency of his religion to produce strife among friends. No man can remain in error on this subject who will take the pains to read the New Testament. And I will venture to predict, or rather to publish what is already predicted, that as soon as the world shall sincerely embrace the Christian religion, wars will cease to the ends of the earth. Then shall men beat their swords into plough shares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and learn war no more.
But the salutary effects of the Gospel on those individuals who cordially embrace it, furnish the most manifest proof of its divinity. flow often, by the secret, powerful influence of the truths of the Bible, have the proud been humbled; the impure rendered chaste; the unjust, honest; the cruel and revengeful, meek and forgiving; the drunkard, temperate; the profane, reverent; and the false swearer and liar, conscientious in declaring nothing but the truth! Under the influence of what other system are such salutary changes effected? Will it be said, that many who profess to experience such a change, prove themselves to be hypocrites? Admitted; but does this evince that they who give evidence of sincerity by the most incontestible proofs, all their lives, are also hypocrites? All men wish to be thought honest; but if many are discovered to be knaves, does this prove that there is not an honest man in the world?
But however this argument may affect those who have had no experience of the power of the Gospel, it will have great weight with all those who have, by means of the truth, been converted from the error of 210their ways. There are thousands who can attest that they have experienced the salutary efficacy of the Bible, in turning them away from their iniquities and enkindling within them the love of God, and of virtue. They cannot but believe that the Christian religion is from God, and are persuaded that no imposture could so elevate and sanctify the mind:—that no human device could possess such a power over the conscience and the heart, as they have experienced from the Scriptures. These persons, therefore, may truly be said to have the witness of the truth in themselves.
But there is an efficacy in the truths of the Bible, not only to guide and santify, but also to afford consolation to the afflicted, in body or mind. Indeed, the Gospel brings peace into every bosom, where it is cordially received. When the conscience is pierced with the stings of guilt, and the soul writhes under a wound which no human medicine can heal, the promises of the Gospel are like the balm of Gilead, a sovereign cure for this intolerable and deeply seated malady. Under its cheering influence, the broken spirit is healed, and the burden of despair is removed far away. The Gospel, like an angel of mercy, can bring consolation into the darkest scenes of adversity; it can penetrate the dungeon, and soothe the sorrows of the penitent in his chains, and on his bed of straw. It has power to give courage to the heart, and to brighten the countenance of the man who meets death on the scaffold, or on the gibbet, if its precious invitations to the chief of sinners, be sincerely embraced. It mitigates the sorrows of the bereaved, and wipes away the bitter tears, occasioned by the painful separation of affectionate friends and relatives. By the bright prospects which it opens, and the lively hopes which it inspires, 211the darkness of the tomb is illumined; so that Christians are enabled, in faith of the resurrection of the body, to commit the remains of their dearest friends to the secure sepulchre, in confident hope, that after a short sleep, they will awake to life everlasting.
The cottages of the poor, are often blessed with the consolation of the Gospel, which is peculiarly adapted to the children of affliction and poverty. It was one of the signs of Jesus being the true Messiah, “that the poor had the Gospel preached unto them.” Here, it produces contentment, resignation, mutual kindness, and the longing after immortality. The aged and infirm, who, by the gradual failure of their faculties, or by disease and decrepitude are shut out from the business and enjoyments of this world, may find in the word of God, a fountain of consolation. They- may, while imbued with its celestial spirit, look upon the world without the least regard for its loss, and may rejoice in the prospect before them, with a joy unspeakable and full of glory. The Gospel can render tolerable, even the yoke of slavery, and the chains of the oppressor. How often is the pious slave, through the blessed influence of the word of God, a thousand Limes happier than his lordly master! He cares not for the short deprivation of liberty; he knows and feels that he is “Christ’s freeman,” and believes “that all things work together for his good,” and that “these light afflictions which are for a moment, will work out for him a fax more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!” But, moreover, this glorious gospel is an antidote to death itself. He that does the sayings of Christ shall never taste of death; that is, of death as a curse;—he shall never feel the envenomed sting of death. How 212often does it overspread the spirit of the departing saint, with serenity! How often does it elevate, and fill with celestial joy, the soul which is just leaving the earthly house of this tabernacle? It actually renders, in many instances, the bed of the dying, a place of sweet repose. No terrors hover over them;—no anxious care corrodes their spirit;—no burden oppresses their heart. All is light;—all is hope and assurance;—all is joy and triumph!
Now, the question to be decided is, whether a book which is replete with such sublime and correct views of theology;—which exhibits the true history and true character of man, without flattery, distortion, or exaggeration; and which possesses such an astonishing power of penetrating the human heart and affecting the conscience,—which gives us information on the very points, with which it is most important that we should be acquainted;—which opens to us the future world, and shows us how we may attain its felicity and glory;—which exhibits a perfect system of moral duty adapted to our nature and circumstances, and free from all the defects of other systems of morality; forbidding nothing which is innocent, and requiring nothing which is not reasonable and virtuous;—which reduces all duty to a few general principles, and yet illustrates the application of these principles by a multitude of particular precepts, addressed to persons in every relation of life, and exemplifies them, by setting before us the lives of holy men, who are portrayed according to truth, with such imperfections, as experience teaches us, belong to the best men;—which delineates the character of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, with such a perfection 213of moral excellencies, by simply relating his words, actions, and sufferings, that nothing can be taken from it, or added to it, without detracting from its worth;—and finally, which contains the true sources of consolation for every species of human suffering, and comfort in death itself. I say, is it reasonable to believe, that such a book is the production of vile impostors; and especially, of uneducated fishermen of Galilee?
Would such men have fallen into no palpable blunders in theology or morality? Could they have preserved so beautiful a harmony and consistency between all the parts? Could they have exhibited such a character as that of Jesus Christ? and while they introduce him acting and speaking so often, and in circumstances so peculiar and difficult, never ascribe to him any error or weakness, in word or deed? Would impostors have denounced all manner of falsehood and deceit, as is done in the New Testament? Would they have insisted so much on holiness, even in the thoughts and purposes of the heart? Could they have so perfectly adapted their forgery to the constitution of the human mind, and to the circumstances of men? Is it, probable that they would have possessed the wisdom to avoid all the prejudices of their nation, and all connexion with existing sects and civil institutions? And finally, could they have provided so effectually for the consolation of the afflicted? What man now upon earth could compose even the discourses, said by the evangelists to have been spoken by Christ?
If any man can bring himself, after an impartial examination of the Scriptures, to believe that they 214were written by unprincipled impostors, then he may believe, that au untutored savage might construct a ship of the line; that a child might have written the Iliad, or Paradise Lost: or even that the starry firmament was the work of mere creatures. No: it cannot be, that this is a forgery. No man or set of men ever had sufficient talents and knowledge, to forge such a book as the Bible. It evidently transcends all human effort. It has upon its face the impress of divinity. It shines with a light, which from its clearness and its splendor, shows itself to be celestial. It possesses the energy and penetrating influence which bespeak the omnipotence and omniscience of its Author. It has the effect of enlightening, elevating, purifying, directing, and comforting all those who cordially receive it. Surely, then, it is the word of God, and we will hold it fast, as the best blessing which God has vouchsafed to man.
O precious gospel! Will any merciless liana endeavor to tear away from our hearts this best, this last, this sweetest consolation? Would you darken the only avenue through which one ray of hope can enter? Would you tear from the aged and infirm poor, the only prop on which their souls can repose in peace? Would you deprive the dying of their only source of consolation? Would you rob the world of its richest treasure? Would you let loose the flood-gates of every vice, and bring back upon the earth, the horrors of superstition, or the atrocities of atheism? Then endeavor to subvert the Gospel—throw around you the fire-brands of infidelity—laugh at religion, and make a mock of futurity;—but be assured, that for all these things, God will bring you into judgment. But no; I will not 215believe, that any who reflect on what has been said in these pages, will ever cherish a thought so diabolical. 1 will persuade myself, that a regard for the welfare of their country, if no higher motive, will induce them to respect the Christian Religion. And every pious heart will say, RATHER LET THE SUN BE DARKENED IN THE HEAVENS, THAN THE PRECIOUS LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL BE EXTINGUISHED!216
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