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effects, it ought to be clearly understood, that mere pretenders to Christianity have little or no connexion with our argument -that our views must be directed exclusively to those persons who have received revealed truth with cordiality, and who, without making reserves in favour of their own perverse inclinations, have readily submitted their hearts to its sanctifying and saving influence. Such persons were the primitive Christians, whose firm faith and devoted and innocent lives have been declared and recorded, even by their enemies : vid. Plinii Epist. lib. x, ep. 97. And such also, whatsoever be their peculiar denomination, and notwithstanding their many infirmities, are the humble, peaceable, and unobtrusive, followers of a crucified Redeemer, even in the present day.
That it is at once fair and necessary to premise this distinctión, a very slight degree of reflection may convince us. If the wheels of my watch are clogged with dust—if an untutored workman, in his ill-directed attempts to repair it, has added to it some fresh spring 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 progress 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 and 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 op
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 believe, that Christianity has proceeded from a Being of persect benevolence and skill.
Let us then proceed to examine a few of the principal particulars which appertain to this branch of evidence. I. Chris. tianity 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 exis. lence 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 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. Wo 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 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 66 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 di. vine character, the natural consequence is, that he loves God. But, low is our love for the Deity inflamed and strengthened, how is it invested with the holy ardor 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 thanks. giving 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, éven 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. Finally, while he is fully aware that to himself belong shame and confusion of face, the true Christian heartily desires and earnestly promotes that good and great énd, for which he was created the glory of God.
II. Christianity is the instrument by which mankind are brought into a conformity with the moral attributes of God.
Whatsoever plausible theories may be formed among men, respecting the virtue and excellence of their own nature, the sober voice of history and of experience declares, with a clearness which to the impartial mind can scarcely fail to be convincing, that man without divine grace is, to a very considerable degree, an immoral being. While he neglects those duties which are more immediately required towards God birnself, he is lamentably prone to be unjust, untrue, impure, or unmerciful. In the fall of our first parents from that moral image of God, in which they were created, the Scriptures reveal to us the cause of this general depravation; but, without any further consideration, at present, of the source of the evil, let it be remembered that Christianity-unsullied and vital Christianity--is the means by which that evil is remedied, and the moral image of God restored to mankind..
A full acknowledgment of the infinite disparity between God and man-of the perfection of the former, and of the innumerable infirmities of the latter must indeed form a fea. ture in every sound system of ethics and theology; but moral qualities will ever be found to maintain their own unvarying tendencies. Holiness, justice, truth, and benevolence, whether they are regarded as the essential attributes of the Crea. tor, or as the borrowed excellences of the creature, are still the same in their nature. As, then, the face of a man is seen reflected in the mirror, so are the moral attributes of the Deity seen reflected in the conduct and deportment of the real Christian. Unworthy and fallible as he is, and liable as he knows himself to be to fall into some of the many snares which are placed around him by his spiritual enemy, he has, nevertheless, submitted with sincerity to the operation of that Gospel, which is, " the power of God unto salvation.” And now, notwithstanding his remaining corruptions, the general effect produced in him by the work of religion is this—that, in the purity of his heart, in the holiness of his life and conversation, in the integrity of his words and actions, in the activity of his benevolence, in his gentleness, kindness, long-suffering and forbearance, in his love towards the whole family of man-he presents to our view a real and beautiful conformity with the moral characteristics of that omnipresent Deity, whom he fears, loves, and serves.
It must indeed be acknowledged that a cloud is too often cast over the two propositions which I have now ventured to state, by the lamentable imperfections even of sincere Chris. tians. So easily do we yield to the temptations with which we are surrounded, and so prone are we to be superficial in the pursuit of our religious duties, that the pure light of truth,