Imatges de pÓgina
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arguments, or excuses, they had not be fore thought of; or with objections to any rules of life differing from those by which they guide themselves: which objections they often judge the only defence their own practice stands in need of.

I am sure, Sir, that to one of your understanding, the absurdity of such a way of proceeding can want no proof; and that your bare attention to it is your sufficient guard against it.

Religion is either founded wholly on the fears and fancies of mankind, or it is, of all matters, the most serious, the weightiest, the most worthy of our regard. There is no mean. Is it a dream, and no more? Let the human race abandon, then, all pretences to reason. What we call such is but the more exquisite sense of upright, unclad, two-legged brutes; and that is the best you can say of us. We then are brutes, and so much more wretched than other brutes, as destined to the miseries they feel not, and deprived of the happiness they enjoy; by our foresight anticipating our calamities, by our reflection recalling them-Our being is without an aim; we can have no purpose, no design, but what we ourselves must sooner or later despise. We are formed either to drudge for a life, that, upon such a condition, is not worth our preserving; or to run a circle of enjoyments, the censure of all which is, that we cannot long be pleased with any one of them. Disinterested ness, generosity, public spirit, are idle, empty sounds; terms, which imply no more, than that we should neglect our own happiness to promote that of others.

What Tully has observed on the connexion there is between religion, and the virtues which are the chief support of society, is, I am persuaded, well known to

you.

A proper regard to social duties wholly depends on the influence that religion has upon us. Destroy, in mankind, all hopes and fears, respecting any future state; you instantly let them loose to all the methods likely to promote their immediate convenience. They, who think they have only the present hour to trust to, will not be withheld, by any refined considerations, from doing what appears to them certain to make it pass with greater satis. faction.

Now, methinks, a calm and impartial inquirer could never determine that to be a visionary scheme, the full persuasion of

the truth of which approves our exist. ence a wise design gives order and regularity to our life-places an end in our view, confessedly the noblest that can engage it-raises our nature-exempts us from a servitude to our passions, equally debasing and tormenting us affords us the truest enjoyment of ourselves-puts us on the due improvement of our facultiescorrects our selfishness-calls us to be of use to our fellow creatures, to become public blessings-inspires us with true courage, with sentiments of real honour and generosity-inclines us to be such, in every relation, as suits the peace and prosperity of society-derives an uniformity to our whole conduct, and makes satisfaction its inseparable attendant-directs us to a course of action pleasing when it employs us, and equally pleasing when we either look back upon it, or attend to the expectations we entertain from it.

If the source of so many and such vast advantages can be supposed a dream of the superstitious, or an invention of the crafty, we may take our leave of certainty; we may suppose every thing, within and without us, conspiring to deceive us.

That there should be difficulties in any scheme of religion which can be offered us, is no more than what a thorough acquaintance with our limited capacities would induce us to expect, were we strangers to the several religions that prevailed in the world, and purposed, upon inquiry into their respective merits, to embrace that which can be best recommended to our belief.

But all objections of difficulties must be highly absurd in either of these cases —

When the creed you oppose, on account of its difficulties, is attended with fewer than that which you would advance in its stead: or

When the whole of the practical doetrines of a religion are such, as, undeniably, contribute to the happiness of mankind, in whatever state, or under whatsoever relations, you can consider them.

To reject a religion thus circumstanced, for some points in its scheme less level to our apprehension, appears to me, I confess, quite as unreasonable, as it would be to abstain from food, till we could be satisfied about the origin, insertion, and action of the muscles that enable us to swallow it.

I would, in no case, have you rest upon mere authority; yet, as authority will

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have its weight, allow me to take notice, that men of the greatest penetration, the acutest reasoning, and the most solid judgment, have been on the side of Christianity-have expressed the firmest persuasion of its truth.

I cannot forgive myself, for having so long overlooked Lord Bacon's Philosophical Works. It was but lately I began to read them; and one part of them I laid down, when I took my pen to write this. The more I know of that extraordinary man, the more I admire him; and cannot but think his understanding as much of a size beyond that of the rest of mankind, as Virgil makes the stature of Musæus, with respect to that of the multitude surrounding him

Medium nam plurima turba

Hunc habet, atque humeris extantem suspicit

altis.

En. I. vi. 667, 8.

or as Homer represents Diana's height among the nymphs sporting with her

Πασάων δ' ύπερ ἤγε κάρη έχει ἠδὲ μέτωπα.

Od. 1. vi. 107.

Throughout his writings there runs a vein of piety: you can hardly open them, but you find some or other testimony of the full conviction entertained by him, that Christianity had an especial claim to our regard. He, who so clearly saw the defects in every science-saw from whence they proceeded, and had such amazing sagacity, as to discover how they might be remedied, and to point out those very methods, the pursuit of which has been the remedy of many of them-He, who could discern thus much, left it to the witlings of the following age, to discover any weakness in the foundation of religion.

To him and Sir Isaac Newton I might add many others, of eminent both natural and acquired endowments, the most unsuspected favourers of the Christian religion; but those two, as they may be considered standing at the head of mankind, would really be dishonoured, were we to seek for any weight, from mere authority, to the opinions they had jointly patronized, to the opinions they had maintained, after the strictest inquiry what ground there was for them.

That the grounds of Christianity were thus inquired into by them, is certain: for the one appears, by the quotations from the Bible interspersed throughout his works, to have read it with an uncommon care: and it is well known, that the other made

it his chief study in the latter part of his life.

It may, indeed, appear very idle, to produce authorities on one side, when there are none who deserve the name of such on the other. Whatever else may have rendered the writers in favour of infidelity remarkable, they, certainly, have not been so for their sagacity or science-for any superior either natural or acquired endowments. And I cannot but think, that he who takes up his pen, in order to deprive the world of the advantages which would accrue to it were the Christian religion generally received, shews so wrong a head in the very design of his work, as would leave no room for doubt, how little credit he could gain by the conduct of it.

Is there a just foundation for our assent to the Christian doctrine? Nothing should then be more carefully considered by us, or have a more immediate and extensive

influence upon our practice.

Shall I be told, that if this were a right consequence, there is a profession, in which quite different persons would be found, than we at present meet with?

I have too many failings myself, to be willing to censure others; and too much love for truth, to attempt an excuse for what admits of none. But let me say, that consequences are not the less true, for their truth being disregarded, Lucian's description of the philosophers of his age is more odious, than can belong to any set of men in our time: and as it was never thought, that the precepts of philosophy ought to be slighted, because they who inculcated, disgraced them; neither can it be any reflection on nobler rules, that they are recommended by persons who do not observe them.

Of this I am as certain as I can be of any thing, That our practice is no infallible test of our principles; and that we may do religion no injury by our speculations, when we do it a great deal by our manners. I should be very unwilling to rely on the strength of my own virtue in so many instances, that it exceedingly mortifies me to reflect on their numbers: yet, in whichsoever of them I offended, it would not be for want of conviction, how excellent a precept, or precepts, I had transgressed-it would not be because I did not think, that a life throughout agreeable to the commands of the religion I profess ought to be constantly my care.

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How frequently we act contrary to the

obligations, which we readily admit ourselves to be under, can scarcely be otherwise than matter of every one's notice; and if none of us infer from those pursuits, which tend to destroy our health, or our understanding, or our reputation, that he, who engages in them, is persuaded that disease, or infamy, or a second childhood, deserves his choice; neither should it be taken for granted, that he is not inwardly convinced of the worth of religion, who appears, at some times, very different from what a due regard thereto ought to make him.

Inconsistency is, through the whole compass of our acting, so much our reproach, that it would be great injustice towards us, to charge each defect in our morals upon corrupt and bad principles. For a proof of the injustice of such a charge, I am confident, none need look beyond themselves. Each will find the complaint of Medea in the poet, very proper to be made his own-I see and approve of what is right, at the same time that I do what is wrong.

Don't think, that I would justify the faults of any, and much less theirs, who, professing themselves set apart to promote the interests of religion and virtue, and having a large revenue assigned them, both that they may be more at leisure for so noble a work, and that their pains in it may be properly recompensed, are, certainly, extremely blameable, not only when they countenance the immoral and irreligious; but even, when they take no care to reform them.

All I aim at, is, That the cause may not suffer by its advocates --That you may be just to it, whatever you may dislike in them-That their failures may have the allowance, to which the frailty of human nature is entitled-That you may not, by their manners, when worst, be prejudiced against their doctrine; as you would not censure philosophy, for the faults of philosophers.

The prevalency of any practice cannot make it to be either safe, or prudent; and I would fain have your's and mine such as may alike credit our religion, and understanding: without the great reproach of both, we cannot profess to believe that rule of life to be from God, which, yet, we model to our passions and interests.

Whether such a particular is my duty, ought to be the first consideration; and when it is found so,common sense suggests the next-How it may be performed.

But I must not proceed. A letter of two that you should sheets! How can I expect, give it the reading? If you can persuade yourself to do it, from the conviction of the sincere affection towards you, that has drawn me into this length; I promise you, never again to make such a demand on your patience.-I will never again give you so troublesome a proof of my friendship. I have here begun a subject, which I am very desirous to prosecute; and every letter, you may hereafter receive from me upon it, whatever other recommendation it may want, shall, certainly, not be without that of brevity.

CATECHETICAL LECTURES.

§ 99. Introduction to the Catechism.

The Catechism begins with a recital of our baptismal vow, as a kind of preface to the whole. It then lays down the great Christian principle of faith; and leaving all mysterious inquiries, in which this subject is involved, it passes on to the rules of practice. Having briefly recited these, it very intelliconcludes with a simple, and gible explanation of baptism, and the Lord's Supper,

The catechism then begins, very properly, with a recital of our baptismal vow, as the best preface to that belief, and those rules of practice, in which that vow engaged us. But before we examine the vow itself, two appendages of it require explanation-the use of sponsors-and the addition of a name.

With regard to the sponsor, the church probably imitates the appointment of the legal guardian, making the best provision it can for the pious education of orphans, and deserted children. The temporal and the spiritual guardian may equally betray their trust: both are culpable: both accountable: but surely the latter breaks the more sacred engagement.

As to promising and vowing in the name of another (which seems to carry so harsh a sound) the sponsor only engages for the child, as any one would engage for another, in a matter which is manifestly for his advantage: and on a supposition, that the child hereafter will see it to be so

that is, he promises, as he takes it for granted, the child itself would have promised, if it had been able.

With regard to the name, it is no part of the sacrament; nor pretends to scriptural authority. It rests merely on ancient

usage. A custom had generally obtained, of giving a new name, upon adopting a new member into a family. We find it common among the Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews; nay, we read that even God himself, when he received Abram into covenant, giving an early sanction to this usage, changed his name to Abraham. In imitation of this common practice, the old Christians gave baptismal names to their children, which were intended to point out their heavenly adoption, as their surnames distinguished their temporal alliance.

From considering the use of sponsors, and of the name in baptism, we proceed next to the vow itself, which is thus expressed. "My godfathers did promise three things in my name: 1st, That I "should renounce the devil, and all his "works, the pomps and vanities of this "wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of "the flesh. 2dly, That I should believe "all the articles of the Christian faith; and "3dly, That I should keep God's holy will, and commandments, and walk in "the same all the days of my life."

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66 renounce

First, then, we promise to "the devil, and all his works, the pomps "and vanities of this wicked world, and "all the sinful lusts of the flesh." "The "devil, the world, and the flesh," is a comprehensive mode of expressing every species of sin, however distinguished; and from whatever source derived: all which we can only engage to renounce as far as we are able; but also to take pains in tracing the labyrinths of our own hearts; and in removing the glosses of self-deceit. Without this, all renunciation of sin is pretence.

Being thus enjoined to renounce our gross, habitual sins, and those bad inclinations, which lead us into them; we are required next to "believe all the articles "of the Christian faith." This is a natural progression. When we are thoroughly convinced of the malignity of sin, we in course wish to avoid the ill consequences of it; and are prepared to give a fair hearing to the evidence of religion. There is a close connexion between vice and infidelity. They mutually support each other. The same connexion subsists between a well-disposed mind, and the truths of religion: and faith perhaps is not so involuntary an act, as many of our modern philosophers would persuade us.

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After "believing the articles of the "Christian faith," we are lastly enjoined "to keep God's holy will and commandHere too is the same natural progression. As the renunciation of sin prepares the way of faith, so does faith lead directly to obedience. They seem related to each other, as the mean and the end. "The end of the commandment," saith the apostle, "is charity out of a pure "heart, and of a good conscience, and of "faith unfeigned." Faith (which is the act of believing upon rational evidence) is the great fountain, from which all Christian virtues spring. No man will obey a law, till he hath informed himself whether it be properly authorized: or, in other words, till he believes in the jurisdiction that enacted it.-If our faith in Christ doth not lead us to obey him, it is what the Scriptures call a dead faith, in opposition to a saving one.

To this inseparable connexion between faith and obedience, St. Paul's doctrine may be objected, where he seems to lay the whole stress on faith, in opposition to works*. But it is plain, that St. Paul's argument requires him to mean by faith, the whole system of the Christian religion (which is indeed the meaning of the word in many other parts of Scripture); and by works, which he sets in opposition to it, the moral law. So that, in fact, the apostle's argument relates not to the present question; but tends only to establish the superiority of Christianity. The moral law, argues the apostle, which claimed on the righteousness of works, makes no provision for the deficiencies of man. Christianity alone, by opening the door of mercy, gave him hopes of that salvation, which the other could not pretend to give.

Upon renouncing sin, believing the articles of the Christian faith, and keeping God's holy commandments, as far as sinful man can keep them, we are entitled by promise to all the privileges of the gospel. We "become members of Christ, children "of God, and inheritors of the kingdom "of heaven." We are redeemed through the merits of Christ; pardoned through the mercies of God; and rewarded with a blessed immortality.

This account of our baptismal vow concludes with a question, leading us to acknowledge the necessity of observing this vow; and to declare our belief, that our

*See Rom. iii. 28., and indeed great part of the epistle.

only hope of keeping it rests upon the assistance of God. Gilpin.

§ 100. On the Creed-the Belief of God. The creed begins with a profession of our belief in "God the Father Almighty, "maker of heaven and earth."

The being of God is one of those 'truths, which scarce require proof. A proof seems rather an injury, as it supposes doubt. However, as young minds, though not sceptical, are uninformed, it may not be improper to select, out of the variety of arguments which evince this great truth, two or three of the most simple.

'The existence of a Deity, we prove from the light of nature. For his attributes, at least in any perfection, we must look into Scripture.

A few plain and simple arguments drawn from the creation of the world the preservation of it-and the general consent of mankind, strike us with more conviction, than all the subtilties of metaphysical deduction.

We prove the being of a God, first from the creation of the world.

The world must have been produced either by design or by chance. No other mode of origin can be supposed. Let us see then with which of these characters it is impressed.

The characteristic of the works of design, is a relation of parts, in order to produce an end-The characteristic of the works of chance is just the reverse.When we see stones answering each other, laid in the form of a regular building, we immediately say, they were put together by design: but when we see them thrown about in a disorderly heap, we say as confidently, they have been thrown so by chance.

Now, in the world, and all its appendages, there is plainly this appearance of design. One part relates to another; and the whole together produces an end. The sun, for instance, is connected with the earth, by warming it into a proper heat, for the production of its fruits; and furnishing it with rain and dew. The earth again is connected with all the vegetables which it produces, by providing them with proper soils, and juices for their nourishment. These again are connected with animals, by supplying them with food. And the whole together produces the great

end of sustaining the lives of innumerable creatures.

Nor is design shewn only in the grand fabric of the world, and all its relative appendages: it is equally shewn in every part. It is seen in every animal, adapted in all its peculiarities to its proper mode of life. It is seen in every vegetable, furnished with parts exactly suited to its situation. In the least, as well as in the greatest of nature's productions, it is every where apparent. The little creeper upon the wall, extending its tenacious fibres, draws nourishment from the crannies of the stones; and flourishes where no other plant could live.

If then the world, and every part of it, are thus marked with the characters of design, there can be no difficulty in acknowledging the Author of such designof such amazing contrivance and variety, to be a Being of infinite wisdom and power. We call a man ingenious, who makes even a common globe, with all the parts of the earth delineated upon it. What shall we say then of the Author of the great original itself, in all its grandeur, and furnished with all its various inhabitants?

The argument drawn from the preservation of the world, is indeed rather the last argument advanced a step farther.

If chance could be supposed to produce a regular form, yet it is certainly beyond the highest degree of credulity, to suppose it could continue this regularity for any time. But we find it has been continued; we find, that near 6000 years have made no change in the order and harmony of the world. The sun's action upon the earth hath. ever been regular. The production of trees, plants, and herbs, hath ever been uniform. Every seed produces. now the same fruit it ever did. Every species of animal life is still the same. Could chance continue this regular arrangement? Could any thing continue it, but the hand of an omnipotent God?

Lastly, we see this great truth, the being of a God, witnessed by the general consent of mankind. This general consent must arise either from tradition, or it must be the result of men's own reasoning. Upon either supposition, it is an argument equally strong. If the first supposition be allowed, it will be difficult to assign any source of this tradition, but God himself. If the second, it can scarce be supposed that all mankind, in different parts of the

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