Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven; and what that holiness is, without which no man shall see the Lord. By the due use of reason, we come to know, what are the tempers implied in inward holiness; and what it is to be outwardly holy; holy in all manner of conversation : in other words, what is the mind that was in Christ; and what it is to walk as Christ walked.

7. Many particular causes will occur, with respect to several of the foregoing articles, in which we shall have occasion for all our understanding, if we would keep a conscience void of offence. Many cases of conscience are not to be sulved, without the utmost exercise of our reason. The same is requisite in order to understand, and to discharge our ordinary relative duties; the duties of parents and children, of husbands and wives, and (to name no more) of masters and servants. In all these respects, and in all the duties of common life, God has given us our reason for a guide. And it is only by acting up to the dictates of it, by using all the understanding which God hath given us, that we can have a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man.

8. Here then there is a large field indeed, wherein reason may expatiate and exercise all its powers. And if reason can do all this, both in civil and religious things, what is it that it cannot do?

We have, hitherto, endeavoured to lay aside all prejudice, and to weigh the matter calmly and impartially. The same course let us take still : let us now coolly consider, without prepossession on any side, what it is, according to the best light we have, that reason cannot do?

II. 1. And, first, reason cannot produce faith. Although it is always consistent with reason, yet reason cannot produce faith, in the scriptural sense of the word. Faith, according to Scripture, is “an evidence, nr conviction, “ of things not seen.” It is a divine evidence, bringing a full conviction, of an invisible eternal world. It is true, there was a kind of shadowy persuasion of this, even among the wiser heathens ; probably from tradition, or from some gleams of light, reflected from ihe Israelites. Hence many hundred years before our Lord was born, the Greek poet uttered that great truth:

“ Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth

Unseen, whether we wake, or if we sleep." But this was little more than faint conjecture : it was far from a firm conviction : which reason, in its highest state of improvement, could nerer produce in any child of man.

2. Nany years ago I found the truth of this by sad experience. After carefully heaping up the strongest arguments which I could find, either in ancient or modern authors, for the very being of a God, and (which is nearly connected with it) the existence of an invisible world; I have wandered up and down, musing with myself;“What if all these things which I see around me, this earth and heaven, this universal frame, has existed from eternity? What if that melancholy supposition of the old poet be the real case ?

'Οιη περ φυλλων γενεη, αοιησε και ανρων: What if the generation of men be exactly parallel with the generation of leaves ? If the earth drops its successive inhabitants, just as the tree drops its leaves ? What if that saying of a great man be really true;

Post mortem nihil est ; ipsaque mors nihil ?

Death is nothing, and nothing is after death? VOL. II

9

How am I sure that this is not the case; that I have not followed cunningly devised fables ?”—And I have pursued the thought, till there was no spirit in me; and I was ready to choose strangling rather than life.

3. But in a point of such unspeakable importance, do not depend upon the word of another ; but retire for a while from the busy world, and make the experiment yourself. Try whether your reason will give you a clear satisfactory evidence of ihe invisible world. After the prejudices of education are laid aside, produce your strong reasons for the existence of this. Set them all in array; silence all objections; and put all your doubts to flight. Alas, you cannot, with all your understanding. You may repress them for a season. But how quickly will they rally again, and attack you with redoubled violence!' And what can poor reason do for your deliverance? The more vehemently you struggle, the more deeply you are entangled in the toils; and you find no way to escape.

4. How was the case with that great admirer of reason, the author of the maxim above cited ? I mean, the famous Mr. Hobbes. None will deny that he had a strong understanding. But did it produce in him a full and satisfactory conviction of an invisible world ? Did it open the eyes of his understanding, to see

“ Beyond the bounds of this diurnal sphere?" Oh no! Far from it! His dying words ought never to be forgotten. “Where are you going, sir !" said one of his friends. He answered, “I am taking a leap in the dark !" and died. Just such an evidence of the invisible world can bare reason give to the wisest of men !

5. Secondly, reason alone cannot produce hope in any child of man: I mean, scriptural hope, whereby we“ rejoice in hope of the glory of God:” that hope which St. Paul in one place terms, “ tasting the powers of the world to come;" in another, the “ sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus :" that which enables us to say, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a lively hope ;-to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away; which is reserved in heaven for us." This hope can only spring from Christian faith: therefore, where there is not faith, there is not hope. Consequently, reason, being unable to produce faith, must be equally unable to produce hope. Experience confirms this likewise. How often have I laboured, and that with my might, to beget this hope in myself! But it was lost labour : I could no more acquire this hope of heaven, than I could touch heaven with my hand. And whoever of you makes the same attempt will find it attended with the same success. I do not deny, that a self deceiving enthusiast may work in himself a kind of hope: he may work himself up into a lively imagination; into a sort of pleasing dream: he may “compass bimself about;" as the prophet speaks,“ with sparks of his own kindling :" but this cannot be of long continuance: in a little while the bubble will surely break. And what will follow ? “ This shall ye have at my hand, saith the Lord, ye shall lie down in sorrow."

6. If reason could have produced a hope full of immortality in any child of man, it might have produced it in that great man, whom Justin Martyr scruples not to call, “ a Christian before Christ.” For who that was not favoured with the written word of God, ever excelled, yea, or equalled Socrates ? In what other heathen can we find so strong an understanding, joined with so consummate virtue ? But had he really this hope ? Let him answer for himself. What is the conclusion of that noble apology, which he made before his unrighteous judges ? “And now, oh judges ! ye are going hence to live; and I am going hence to die: which of these is best, the gods know; but, I suppose, no man does.” No man knows! How far is this from the language of the little Benjamite ? “I desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far , better.” And how many thousands are there at this day, even in our own nation, young men and maidens, old men and children, who are able to witness the same good confession ?

7. But who is able to do this, by the force of his reason, be it ever so highly improved ? One of the most sensible and most amiable heathens that have lived since our Lord died, even though he governed the greatest empire in the world, was the emperor Adrian. It is his well known saying: “A prince ought to resemble the sun: he ought to shine on every part of his dominion; and in diffuse his salutary rays in every place where he comes.” And his life was a comment upon his word: wherever he went, he was executing justice, and showing mercy: Was not he then, at the close of a long life, full of immortal hope? We are able to answer this from unquestionable authority; from his own dying words. How inimitably pathetic !

Adriani morientis ad animam suam.
Tying Adrian to his soul :-

Animula, vagula, blandula,
Hospes, comesque corporis,
Quæ nunc abibis in loca,
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,

Nec, ut soles, dabis jocos! Which the English reader may see translated into our own language, with all the spirit of the original.

“ Poor, littlo, pretty, fluttering thing,

Must we no longer live together?
And dost thou prune thy trembling wing,

To take thy fight, thou know'st not whither?
Thy pleasing vein, thy humorous fully,

Lies all neglected, all forgot!
And pensive, wavering, melancholy,

Thou hop'st, and fear'st, thou know'st not what.” 8. Thirdly, Reason, however cultivated and improved, cannot produce the love of God; which is plain from hence: it cannot produce either faith or hope ; from which alone this love can flow. It is then only, when we“ behold” by faith," what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us,” in giving his only Son, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life, that “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." It is only then, when we "rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” that "we love him, because he first loved us. But what can cold reason do in this matter It may present us with fair ideas; it can draw a fine picture of love; but this is only a painted fire. And farther than this, reason cannot go. I made the trial for many years. I collected the finest hymns, prayers, and meditations, which I could find in any language, and I said, sung,

or read them over and over, with all possible seriousness and attention But still I was like the bones in Ezekiel's vision : “the skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them.”

9. And as reason cannot produce the love of God, so neither can it produce the love of our neighbour: a calm, generous, disinterested benevolence to every child of man. This earnest, steady good will to our fellow creatures, never flowed from any fountain, but gratitude to our Creator. And if this be (as a very ingenious man supposes) the very essence of virtue, it follows that virtue can have no being, unless it spring from the love of God. Therefore, as reason cannot produce this love so neither can it produce virtue

10. And as it cannot give either faith, hope, love, or virtue, so it cannot give happiness; since, separate from these, there can be no happiness for any intelligent creature. It is true, those who are void of all virtue, may have pleasures, such as they are; but happiness they have not, cannot have. No:

"Their joy is all sadness; their mirth is all vain;

Their daughter is madness; their pleasure is pain!" Pleasures! shadows ! dreams! Aleeting as the wind ! unsubstantial as the rainbow! As unsatisfying to the poor gasping soul,

As the gay colours of an eastern cloud.” None of these will stand the test of reflection : if thought comes the bubble breaks!

Suffer me now to add a few plain words, first to you who undervalue reason. Never more declaim in that wild, loose, ranting manner, against this precious gift of God. Acknowledge" the candle of the Lord,” which he hath fixed in our souls for excellent purposes. You see how many admirable ends it answers, were it only in the things of this life: of what unspeakable use is even a moderate share of reason, in all our worldly employments, from the lowest and meanest offices of life, through all the intermediate branches of business ; till we ascend to those that are of the highest importance and the greatest difficulty.

When, therefore, you despise or depreciate reason, you must not imagine you are doing God service: least of all, are you promoting the cause of God, when you are endeavouring to exclude reason out of reljgion. Unless you wilfully shut your eyes, you cannot but see of what service it is both in laying the foundation of true religion, under the guidance of the Spirit of God, and in raising the superstructure.

You see it directs us in every point, both of faith and practice: it guides us with regard to every branch both of inward and outward holiness. Do we not glory in this, that the whole of our religion is a “reasonable service?" Yea, and that every part of it, when it is duly performed, is the highest exercise of our understanding ?

Permit me to add a few words to you, likewise, who overvalue reason. Why should you run from one extreme to the other? Is not the middle way best ? Let reason do all that reason can: employ it as far as it will go. But, at the same time, acknowledge it is utterly incapable of giving either faith, or hope, or love; and, consequently, of producing either real virtue, or substantial happiness. Expect these from a higher source, even from the Father of the spirits of all Aesh. Seek and receive them, not as your own acquisition; but as the gift of God. Lift up your hearts to him who "giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not."

[ocr errors]

He alone can give that faith which is “the evidence" and conviction “ of things not seen;" he alone can“ beget you unto a lively hope” of an inheritance eternal in the heavens; and he alone can “shed his love abroad in your heart, by the Holy Ghost given unto you.” Ask, therefore, and it shall be given you! Cry unto him, and you shall not cry in vain! How can you doubt ? “If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven, give the Holy Ghost unto them that ask him ?” So shall you be living witnesses, that wisdom, holiness, and happiness, are one ; are inseparably united ; and are, indeed, the beginning of that eternal life, which God hath given us in his Son.

SERMON LXXVI.-Of Good Angels. " Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" Heb. i, 14.

1. MANY of the ancient heathens had (probably from tradition) some notion of good and evil angels. They had some conception of a superior order of beings, between men and God, whom the Greeks generally termed demons, (knowing ones,) and the Romans, genii. Some of these they supposed to be kind and benevolent, delighting in doing good; others, to be malicious and cruel, delighting in doing evil

. But their conceptions both of one and the other, were crude, imperfect, and confused; being only fragments of truth, partly delivered down by their forefathers, and partly borrowed from the inspired writings.

2. Of the former, the benevolent kind, seems to have been the celebrated demon of Socrates; concerning which so many and so various conjectures have been made in succeeding ages. This gives me notice,” said he, “ every morning, of any evil which will befall me that day.” A late writer, indeed, (I suppose one that hardly believes the existence of either angel or spirit) has published a dissertation, wherein he labours to prove, that the demon of Socrates was only his reason. But it was not the manner of Socrates to speak in such obscure and ambiguous terms. If he had meant his reason, he would, doubtless, have said so. But this could not be his meaning: for it was impossible his reason should give him notice every morning, of every evil which would befall him in that day. It does not lie within the province of reason, to give such notice of future contingencies. Neither does this odd interpretation in any wise

agree with the inference which he himself draws from it. “My demon,” says he, “did not give me notice this morning of any evil that was to befall me to day. Therefore I cannot regard as any evil, my being condemned to die." Undoubtedly it was some spiritual being: probably one of these ministering spirits.

3. An ancient poet, one who lived several ages before Socrates, speaks more determinately on this subject. Hesiod does not scruple

to say,

“Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen." Hence, it is probable, arose the numerous tales about the exploits of their demi-gods : minorum gentium. Hence their satyrs, fauns, nymphs of every kind; wherewith they supposed both the sea and land to be

« FöregåendeFortsätt »