Imatges de pÓgina
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of religious knowledge. The impediment in the way of his even progress with the argument, and which led him to apprehend a failure in his efforts, was a want of that improvement and cultivation in sacred wisdom to which it was the privilege of his readers to have advanced. They were but babes when they should have been of full age—they could only receive and digest milk when they should have been able to feed on strong meat-they were unskilful in the word of righteousness and had need to be themselves instructed in the first rudiments of religion, when for the time they should have been able to discern good and evil and to be teachers in Christ. The same I think may be affirmed of the great body of christian professors in the present day. I may say, that the major portion of those who claim membership in the church of Christ, and have considered themselves christians for years, are as yet but babes, who have need of milk, and are not yet established in the first principles of the oracles of God. And that such is the fact may be seen in various particulars.

The blind zeal of many professors of religion, shows a state of distressing ignorance in the churches. As if names gave existence and character to things, how many are there, who are by far more concerned for the interests of a party or the success of a sect, than for their own personal holiness and the salvation of souls. How many who are more bent upon binding down the consciences of their fellows to certain dogmas and standards of piety, than to advance their spirits toward the lofty seats of glory. How many who are run completely mad upon certain tenets of faith and systems of speculative theology, whilst they continually outrage the more indispensable practical precepts of the word of God. How many who burn with an apostolic ardor and compass sea and land to make proselytes, though it be by the defamation of their brethren and at the expense of charity and truth. How many enthusiastic modern reformers have we, who are so struck with the magnitude of certain evils, and so filled with the grand purpose of their correction, as greatly to underrate the power of the Gospel, as well as to run into all the extremes of intemperance and fanaticism. What do these things argue, but ignorance of the nature of religion, and of that heavenly charity without which no soul can be saved.

Nor can any one accustomed to move among professing christians fail to be struck with the ignorance of the great mass respect

ing the scriptures and the doctrines therein taught. Though they theoretically adopt the old and new Testaments as their only and infallible rule of faith and practice, yet there are multitudes in the church who know so little about these heavenly documents, as to be unable to find a text though you tell them the chapter, verse and book. Others there are who are so entirely regardless and inconsistent as not even to have Bibles in their houses. Some who have them, value them so little as never to look into them but when they wish to see their ages, or to record the birth, death or marriage of a child. Some read them, but only for the purpose of seeking out difficulties, or to find passages which they think go on to establish some foolish notions which they have taken up. Enough there are who study the signs in their almanacs with a great deal more care and diligence than the high and holy messages of Divine truth. Many who understand the doctrines and opinions of every political party and the arguments by which every measure of state policy is supported far better than the first principles of the word of God. And if I were to ask each individual of this assembly personally what the gospel is, I fear that I should find few who would be able to give me a correct reply, much less give me a satisfactory account of its prominent features and practical requirements.— And when we consider that it is in the Scriptures we have eternal life, and that it is there that the way to heaven is revealed and all true piety kindled and kept alive, we are constrained to look upon this state of things as exhibiting the most distressing igno

rance.

The same may also be seen in the many superstitious notions in vogue in the church, which are entirely contrary to the spirit and letter of the Scriptures. Into the particulars of this matter it would be neither prudent nor necessary for me here to enter. But such is the fact, that in too many places, the heathen opinions respecting dreams, omens, ghosts, witches, apparitions, &c., &c., have received a credence from professing christians, which betrays a lamentable ignorance, not only of philosophy, but even of the nature of Divine Providence. And there are many other particulars which we might specify, which too plainly evince a want of cultivation and improvement in sacred knowledge, not much dissimilar to that with. which Paul reproached the Jews. Nor can we look upon this state of things in any other light than that in which the apostle regarded such

ignorance in his day. And though there may be mitigating circumstances in certain cases, we must nevertheless pronounce ignorance of the doctrines of the Bible in christians, reproachful and criminal. This will the more plainly appear, if we consider first, the nature of religion.

The foundation of all true piety is knowledge. Solomon invariably calls it wisdom. And whatever definition we give or in whatever terms we express our idea of the matter of man's piety toward his Maker, it will eventually resolve itself into knowledge. You may define religion to be supreme love to God. The Savior says that this is the sum of the law and the prophets. But how can man love an object without knowing something of its existence and character. Love is that emotion of the soul excited by the perception and contemplation of an object which presents itself to our judgment as amiable and worthy. Hence there must be knowledge as the very basis of love. You may define religion to be the sincere and faithful service of God. But who can serve God acceptably and intelligently without an acquaintance with his character and his will? Solomon says, the fear of God and obedience to his commandments is the whole duty of man. But how can we fear and obey a being of whom we have no knowledge? So that you perceive the fundamental element of religion to be knowledge. Not that cold and passive assent of the mind to certain propositions; but knowledge in its highest sense and highest objects, even that acquaintance with the being, attributes and wishes of the Deity which furnishes motive for honest and intelligent action. And all religion which is not based upon such knowledge, is no better than the blind rites of paganism and superstition. Ignorance of sacred things is entirely incompatible with scriptural piety. The great business of Christ's embassadors on earth is to teach. And the church itself is but one universal seminary, where immortal souls are educated in the theory and practice of those eternal principles of justice and right taught originally by the Savior. No man can become a christian without being first instructed. He must first have a knowledge of the character and government of God, of his relation to that government and his consequent obligations to obey the Deity, before he can feel himself a sinner. Then he must know something about Christ, the nature of his atonement, and his willingness and ability to save sinners, before he can properly venture on him for salva

tion. Then again he must have a correct conception of the conditions upon which Christ saves those who desire deliverance from sin at his hands, before he will be able to decide the question in his own case whether or not he is a child of God. And although there are those in the church who know but very little about these things, and yet are accounted good members; I must insist upon it, that no man can be a christian in the scriptural sense of the term without knowledge of these fundamental points. And that God in his mercy will overlook such ignorance, I am not authorized to say; following the example of Paul I cannot pass it without reproach.

And if knowledge be necessary to the existence of christian character, how much more indispensable to the perfect development of that character? Men may talk about christian perfection as they please, but God has linked together in eternal union sanctification and knowledge. And growth in grace always implies also growth "in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." When Jesus prayed for the sanctification of his people, he prayed that they might be sanctified "through the truth;" nor can the truth sanctify unless it be known. I do then most positively insist, that information and thorough scripture knowledge is utterly indispensable to a scriptural christian. Ignorance is of the devil, it is not of God, nor is it compatible with the spirit of his word. It is evil and ruinous in all its tendencies. And in those professing christianity and having the means of improvement, it is reproachful and criminal.

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You may feel here like asking me, how much knowledge it requires to make a christian? and why it is that many of our most intelligent people are not disciples of the Savior? To the first inquiry I may answer,--not a great deal if it be of the right kind; but in every case so much as will enable him to have a clear view of his obligations, his duties, his sinful condition, and the plan of salvation through Christ. To the other I may answer,—a man may be learned, he may travel all the rounds of science and literature, and yet not be educated in the things of God. There is a specific kind of schooling required to make an intelligent christian. Hence the most learned in the things of this world may yet be fools and babes as regards the facts of that higher philosophy of the Bible. There is also such a thing as being acquainted with religious subjects after the manner of a cold speculatism, without suffering those

truths to have their legitimate bearing upon the heart and conduct. But all this does not alter the position that knowledge of these things is essential to pure christian character, and that ignorance of them is censurable. We are enjoined by Peter to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh us a reason of the hope that is in us" but how are we to comply with this precept without knowing what christianity is, and upon what considerations we found our hope? Paul exhorts us to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints." But what success could we expect in carrying out the spirit of this direction, unless we had well acquainted ourselves with the nature of those articles of belief, and by what authority they are sustained. Nay, to be an efficient christian, there must be knowledge.

Negligence as to improvement in this particular will also appear reproachful, if we consider the nature of future happiness. Many curious notions have been and are yet held respecting the nature of the joys which await christians in eternity. It appears to me however very plain from the constitution of man and the general tenor of revelation, that the chief basis of future happiness will be knowledge. Moral purity and freedom from pain will of course be subjects of joy, but these are rather to be looked upon as means or qualifications for enjoyment than as elements entering into the nature of happiness. Sin and misery are now the great shackles which bind us down and hinder our spirits from entering the fields of true. pleasure, but when these are stricken off the free and intelligent soul will roam the wide creation of God, search out the history of the eternity that is past, and drink in--feed on-and praise the wisdom, goodness and power and glory of Jehovah through all the eternity that is yet to come. The christian's grief is now, that he only sees "through a glass darkly;" but his transporting hope is, that then, he "will know even as he is known." The farther then he advances in sacred wisdom in this life, the more he shall enjoy of heaven on earth. And if he fails to advance to the highest possible stage, it is to be laid down to his shame.

I conclude then from what has been said upon this point, that it is the duty of all christians to endeavor to cultivate their minds, and to improve themselves in the theory and practice of the principles of Divine philosophy. All that I have yet to say, relates to the practical question, how this is to be done?

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