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Difficulties of the Christian Religion.
1 COR. xiii. 9.
We know in part.
THE systems of Pagan theology, have in general affected an air of mystery: they have evaded the lustre of fair investigation; and favoured, by I know not what charm of sacred obscurity, they have given full effect to error and immorality. On this subject, the enemies of Christianity have had the presumption to confound it with the Pagan superstition. They have said, that it has, according to our own confession, impenetrable mysteries; that it is wishful to evade investigation and research; and that they have but to remove the veil to discover its weakness. It is our design to expose the injustice of this reproach by investigating all the cases, in which mysteries can excite any doubts concerning the doctrines they contain, and to demonstrate on this head, as on every other, that the religion of Jesus Christ is superior to every other religion in the world. It is solely in this point of view, that we proceed to contemplate this avowal of our apostle, and in all its principal bearings. We know in part.
There are chiefly four cases in which mysteries render a religion doubtful.
I. When they so conceal the origin of a religion that we cannot examine whether it has proceeded from the spirit of error, or from the spirit of truth. For example, Mahomet, secluded himself from his followers; he affected to hold conversations with God, concealed from the public, and he has refused to adduce the evidence. In this view, there is nothing mysterious in the Christian religion: it permits you to trace its origin, and to weigh the authenticity of its proofs.
II. Mysteries should render a religion doubtful, when they imply an absurdity. For example, the Roman Catholic religion establishes one doctrine which avowedly revolts common sense, and annihilates every motive of credibility. But the mysteries of our faith have nothing which originated in the human mind, and which our frail reason can in equity reject.
III. Mysteries should render a religion doubtful, when they tend to promote a practice contrary to virtue, and to purity of morals. For example, the Pagan theology had mysteries of iniquity; and under the sanction of religious concealment, it favoured practices the most enormous, and the foulest of vices. But the mysteries of the gospel, are mysteries of godliness. 1 Tim. iii. 15.
IV. In a word, mysteries should render a religion doubtful when we find a system less encumbered with difficulties than the one we attack: but when the difficulties of the system we propose surpass those of
our religion, then it ought still to have the preference. For example, the system of infidelity and of atheism, is exempt from the difficulties of Christianity; but, its whole mass is a fertile source of incomprehensible absurdities, and of difficulties which cannot be resolved.
The whole of these propositions, my brethren, claim the most careful investigation. If heaven shall succeed our efforts, we shall have a new class of arguments for the support of our faith. We shall have a new motive to console ourselves within the limits God has prescribed to our knowledge, and await with ardour and patience, the happy period, till that which is perfect shall come; till that which is in part shall be done away; till we shall behold the Lord with open face, and be changed into glory by his Spirit. So be it. Amen.
I. Mysteries should render a religion doubtful when we cannot examine whether that religion proceed from the spirit of truth, or from the spirit of error. Mankind neither can, nor ought to receive any religion as divine, unless it bear the marks of divine authority, and produce its documents of credibility.
For example, if you should require Mahomet to produce the proofs of his mission, he would say that it had a peculiar character, and a singular sort of privilege; that till his call, all the sent of God were obliged to prove the divinity of their mission; that the prophets gave signs by which they might be known;
* See the Alcoran, chap. on the lin. of Joach. chap. on gratifications. chap. on Jonah. chap. on thunder, chap, on the nocturnal journey: chap. on the Creator. chap. on the spider.
that Jesus Christ gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, and life to the dead : but on his part, he had received authority to consign over to eternal torments every one who shall dare to doubt the truth of his doctrine; and anticipating the punishment, he put every one to the sword who presumed to question the divine authority of his religion. But if you require of Jesus Christ the proofs of his mission, he will give you evidence the most obvious and satisfactory. Though ye believe not me, believe the works. If I had not come and spoken unto them; if I had not done among them the works which no other man did, they had not had sin. But now are they without excuse. The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. John x. 25, 38. xv. 22, 24.
If you ask the followers of Mahomet, how they know that the Alcoran was really transmitted by the prophet, they will confess that he knew neither how to read nor write; and that the name of prophet is often assumed by men ignorant of letters: but they will add, that he conversed for twenty years with the angel Gabriel; that this celestial spirit revealed to him from time to time certain passages of the Alcoran; that Mahomet dictated to his disciples* the subjects of his revelation; that they carefully collected whatever dropped from his lips; and that the collection so made constitutes the subject of the Alcoran. But, if you wish to penetrate farther, and to trace the book to its source, you will find that after the death of Mahomet, his pretended revelations, were preserved merely on fugitive scrolls, or in the recollection of * See Maraccio on the Alcoran, page 36.