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of the other is irrational ? Would it not be presump-' tuous in an ignorant man to deny, in opposition to i the authority of those instructed observers, whose knowledge he has reason to admit, that Saturn is surrounded with a ring, merely because, with his naked eye, he has in vain tried to discover such an appearance ? Though it is not improbable, that this man, in some future and far remote stage of his existence, may be transported to this distant sphere, and actually observe this circle, which he will not now credit on the testimony of the astronomer, yet can he be justified in continuing incredulous, because he hopes for this enlargement of his powers ? Further, if this man should invariably neglect every opportunity, which was presented to him, of looking through a telescope, or should obstinately persist in his incredulity, after the laws of vision, the operation of glasses, and nature of the planetary system had been sufficiently explained to him, should we hesitate to pronounce him presumptuous or mad ? Should we not leave him to his ignorance and self-sufficiency; and smile to find such a man undertaking to pour contempt upon the credulous astronomer, who believes in the gross absurdity of a circle round a planet, which, this skeptic might safely say, nobody had ever seen?
Thus we may fairly conclude, that it is one of the highest acts of reason to believe, upon proper authority, many truths, which we cannot directly deduce from our former knowledge, or which we find it difficult to connect with any of our customary conclusions. It is to be expected, that revelation should furnish us with many propositions, of which we had not before conceived, for revelation is to the world at large, what education is to the individual. A child must receive a thousand truths upon authority, which may be the subject of future explanation, or which may answer their purpose, even without
any explanation. He sees not, it is true, the necessity of learning rules, of which he cannot understand the reason; but the instructer well knows, that, in order to make any progress in his studies, he must receive, at first, certain statements implicitly, and wait for higher advances in knowledge, before the reason and importance of this elementary faith can be discovered to his understanding. And what are we, my friends, in view of the comprehensive wisdom of God, but children in the earliest stages of being? What is the great community of chris. tians, but one of the innumerable schools in the vast plan, which God has instituted for 'the education of various intelligences ? The law of Moses, we are told by the apostle, was but a schoolmaster to teach a single nation the alphabet of religious knowledge; and what is christianity, but another, though a more advanced elementary system, adapted to the comprehension and improvement of the whole human race ? Faith alone gains us admission to its advantages; and though there are doctrines in its pages, which at present baffle much of the inquisitiveness of an active mind, and appear extraordinary to an intel-lect, proud of its partial discoveries, yet beware of rejecting them, lest those very portions of your religion, which now most excruciate your understand ing, and exercise your faith, should prove essential to your improvement in the higher courses of spir. itual and intellectual instruction. Jesus is not a master, who requires you to believe any thing, of which you see clearly the absurdity; though his candid disciples receive much, of which they know not the reason, and of which, at first, they did not see all the applications, the tendencies, and the importance.
Having thus seen, that faith is a principle, on which we act in all the affairs of common prudence, a principle, which lies at the root of every species of
education, scientific, moral and religious, a principle, without which the business of human life could not go on for a single day, we will now venture to assert, that, of every species of incredulity, religious unbelief is infinitely the most irrational. And why? Because the stake is so immense. Between the two propositions, that the gospel is true, and that it is
false, what a fearful chasm! The unsettled - reason ' hovers-over it in dismay. I say, that religious faith
is infinitely reasonable, because the objects it em. braces are of such unparalleled grandeur and consequence. Whenever, in the course of your business, a prospect of extraordinary gain presents itself, you are fairly authorized to make immediate provision to avail yourself of it, upon a degree of probability, which, in common cases, and for common profits, would be called, at least, uncertainty. Here, however, your faith would be wise in verging strongly towards presumption. Again, if you had received a hint of the possible approach of some dreadful evil, would you not think yourself justified in using the utmost care and labour to avoid it, upon a degree of information and assurance, which, in ordinary cases, you would hardly think worthy of your consideration? What think you, then, of the loss of an immortal soul? And what think you of the gain of eternity? Is it impossible, is it incredible, nay, is it improba. ble? If it is even supposable, that there is any thing beyond these objects of our senses--if our faith has led us so far as to conclude, that there is a God, and waits to believe, that this God has interposed to as. sure us, that the relation of accountableness to him shall never be dissolved, not even by a change, dreadful as death itself,-if it is supposable, that a world, which is now invisible, may one day burst upon our vision, and if in that world our ultimate happiness or misery are to be found, surely it is an act of the highest reason, as well as of the most
sure us, to be dissolved, if it is supposeday burst
ordinary prudence, to determine, in relation to a world of such inconceivable interest, even upon, much less evidence than we usụally require in those.ordi. nary transactions, whose consequences terminate in this life. For we have already shown you, that the principle of faith, on which we frame our conduct, with reference to the futurities of this earthly scene, is, in its nature, the same with that on which we would persuade you to act, with respect to the grand futurities of a life to come. . If, indeed, your belief or unbelief could, for a moment, affect the sublime truths and these approaching events, it would per. haps, be lawful to hesitate long and ponder deeply; but, standing as we do, on the brink of eterni. ty, if there is any evidence of facts and doctrines relating to it, it is madness to continue to reject the system, which contains them, merely because they have not the evidence of sense and consciousness, when the very nature of the case admits nothing þụt probability and faith.
HEB. X1. 1.
NOW FAITH 18 THE SUBSTANCE OF THINGS MOPED FOR, THZ EVIDENCE OF THINGS
Having considered the objects, and the reasonableness of religious faith, it now remains to say something of its IMPORTANCE.
The value of religious faith principally results from two circumstances—from the fears it excites, and from the consolations it affords.
In the ordinary conduct of government, and to the well-being of society, some kind of faith is essential. Belief in the superintendence of invisible powers is not peculiar to religion. It is found in every man, who conscientiously submits to the government under which he lives ; for how few of the subjects of any extensive empire have ever seen their rulers ? Their authority, their edicts, their measures, nay, their very existence, are almost exclusively objects of faith. Suppose the assassin were to fear nothing but the instrument of punishment, or the thief were permitted to demand a strict demonstration of the authority of the officer who arrested him, think you society would long sustain the consequences of so great incredulity ? Every man would become his own avenger, and we should revert to the barbarous independence of uni