Imatges de pÓgina
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nant, or that he is indeed, “ all mercy,” to the utter exclusion of his other attributes of perfect holiness, purity, and justice.

It is a dangerous folly to rest on these vague and general notions of indefinite mercy; and nothing can be more delusive than this indefinite trust in being forgiven in our own way, after God has clearly re. vealed to us that he will only forgive us in his way. Besides, is there not something singularly base in sinning against God because he is merciful ?

But the truth is, no one does truly trust in God, who does not endeavour to obey him. For to break his laws, and yet to depend on his favour; to live in opposition to his will, and yet in expectation of his mercy; to violate his commands, and yet look for his acceptance, would not, in any other instance, be thought a reasonable ground of conduct; and yet it is by no means as uncommon as it is inconsistent.

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CHAP. VII.

View of those who acknowledge Christianity as a perfect System of Morals, but deny its Divine Authority.-Morality not the Whole of Religion,

As in the preceding chapter notice was taken of that description of persons who profess to receive Christianity with great reverence as a matter of faith, who yet do not pretend to adopt it is a rule of conduct; I shall conclude these slight remarks with some short animadversions on another set of

men,

and that not a small one, among the decent and the fashionable, who profess to think it exhibits an admirable system of morals, while they deny its divine authority ; though that authority alone can make the necessity of obeying its precepts binding on the consciences of men.

This is a very discreet scheme; for such persons at once save themselves from the discredit of having their understanding imposed upon by a supposed blind submission to evidences and authorities; and yet, prudently enough, secure to themselves, in no small degree, the reputation of good men. By steering this middle kind of course, they contrive to be reckoned liberal by the philosophers, and decent by the believers.

But we are not to expect to see the pure morality of the Gospel very carefully transfused into the lives

of

of such objectors. And indeed it would be unjust to imagine that the precepts should be most scrupulously observed by those who reject the authority. The influence of divine truth must necessarily best prepare the heart for an unreserved obedience to its laws. If we do not depend on the offers of the Gospel, we shall want the best motive to the actions and performances which it enjoins. A lively belief must therefore precede a hearty obedience. Let those who think otherwise hear what the Saviour of the World has said : “ For this end was I born, and for this 46

cause came I into the world, that I might bear wit

ness unto the truth.” Those who reject the Gospel, therefore, reject the power of performing good actions. That command, for instance, to set “our “ affections on things above,” will operate but faintly, till that spirit from which the command proceeds touches the heart, and convinces it that no human good is worthy of the entire affection of an immortal creature. And unreserved faith in the promiser must precede our acceptable perforinance of any duty to which the promise is annexed,

But as to a set of duties enforced by no other motive than a bare acquiescence in their beauty, and a cold conviction of their propriety, but impelled by no obedience to his authority who imposes them; though we know not how well they might be performed by pure and impeccable beings, yet we know how they commonly are performed by frail and disorderly creatures, fallen from their innocence, and corrupt in their

very natures. Nothing but a conviction of the truth of Christianity can reconcile thinking beings to the extraordinary appearances of things in the Creator's moral government of the world. The works of God are an enigma, of which his word alone is the solution. The dark veil which is thrown over the divine dispen

sations

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sation in this lower world, must naturally shock those who consider only the single scene which is acting on the present stage ; but is reconcileable to him who, baving learnt from revelation the nature of the laws by which the great Author acts, trusts confidently that the catastrophe will set all to rights. The confusion which sin and the passions have introduced; the triumph of wickedness; the seemingly arbitrary, disproportion of human conditions, accountable on no scheme but that which the Gospel has opened to us have all a natural tendency to withdraw from the love of God the hearts of those who erect themselves into critics on the divine conduct, and yet will not study the plan, and get acquainted with the rules, so far as it has pleased the Supreme Disposer to reveal them.

Till therefore the word of God is used as “a lamp " to their paths,” men can neither truly discern the crookedness of their own ways, nor the perfection of that light by which they are directed to walk. And this light can only be seen by its own proper brightness: it has no other medium. Until therefore " the 6 secret of the Lord” is' with men, they will not truly “ fear him ;” until he has “ enlarged their hearts" with the knowledge and belief of his word, they will not very vigorously run “ the way of his command« ments." Until they have

Until they have acquired that “ faith, without which it is impossible to please God," they will not attain that “ holiness, without which no man

can see him."

And indeed if God has thought fit to make the Gospel an instrument of salvation, we must own the necessity of receiving it as a divine institution, before it is likely to operate very effectually on the buman conduct. The great Creator, if we may judge by analogy from natural things, is so just and wise an economist, that he always adapts, with the most accurate precision, the instrument to the work; and never lavishes more means than are necessary to accomplish the proposed end. If therefore Christianity had been intended for nothing more than a mere system of ethics, such a system surely might have been produced at an infinitely less expence. The long chain of prophecy; the succession of miracles, the labours of apostles, the blood of the saints, to say nothing of the great and costly sacrifice which the Gospel records, might surely have been spared. Lessons of mere human virtue might have been delivered by some suitable instrument of human wisdom, strengthened by the visible authority of human power. A bare system of morals might have been communicated to mankind with a more reasonable prospect of advantage, by means not so repugnant to human pride. A mere scheme of conduct might have been delivered with far greater probability of the success of its reception by Antoninus the emperor, or Plato the philosopher, than by Paul the tent-maker, or Peter the fisherman.

accurate

Christianity, then, must be embraced entirely, if it be received at all. It must be taken, without mutilation, as a perfect scheme, in the way in which God has been pleased to reveal it. It must be accepted, not as exhibiting beautiful parts, but as presenting one consummate whole, of which the perfection arises from coherence and dependence, from relation and consistency. Its power will be weakened, and its energy destroyed, if every caviller pulls out a pin, or obstructs a spring with the presimptuous view oi being modelling the divine work and making it go to his own mind. There must be no breaking this system into portions of which we are at liberty to choose one and reject another There is no separating the evidences from the doctrines, the doctrines from the precepts, belief from

obedience,

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