Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

these. The laws and government of the Egyptians appear to have been wise, and deserving of respect; while their religious philosophy was puerile and contemptible.

Should it be said, that the Persian and Ilindoo writings are, in some instances, prior in time to those of Job and Moses ; Tanswer, that this is said gratuitously, without the least support from evidence. But should it be granted, it will not at all affect the point in debate. The Brahminical and Persian systems are even more absurd and childish, than those of the Egyptians and Greeks. All of them contain some just and sublime doctrines : but they are blended with such a mass of despicable rublishi, as 10 prove, on the one band, the immeasurable superiority of the Scriptural system to them all; and, on the other, that those who have delivered the superior parts of them to us, were not the discoverers of these just and sublime doctrines; but received them traditionarily, from revclusions, communicated to nien of preceding ages.

It is here to be observed that these Philosophers, of every Counlry, and of every age, differed endlessly from rach other, concerning those parts of their respective systeins, which were of primary importance, as well as concerning others. The two most importani of all subjects of contemplation are God and the Supreme Good. Concerning the former of these, Farro, who probably knew belter than any other ancient, declares, that there were three hundred different opinions. In other words, tere nare three lindred different gods of the philosophy, with zehich he mus acquainted. Concerning the latter, the diversilies of opinions, among the same man, werc. as he asserts, tro humeired and eighty-eight. If they differed in this manner concerning these ali-important objects; it will be easily believer, that in forming a system, into every part of which these must enter as constituent materials, they must diller in a similer manucr. Accordingly, they difter, coniend, and contra dict each other, with respect to almost every thing, which has been called philosophy. Nor is this discordance found in different sects of Philosopliers only; but in different members also of the same sect, and in different discourses of the same writer.

How opposite to all this is the appearance of the Scriptures ! They were wriilen, during the wliole progress of fifteen centuries, with no considerable interval, excepe that between Malachi and Matthew; and were, therefore, liable to all the diversities of opinion, which could be supposed to arise during this long period, in a single nation, from any source whatever. There were at least one hundred writers, and speakers, concerned in them, as teachers of Divine truth. They were of all classes of society, from the Prince to the Peasant. The modes, in which they wrote, may be considered as involving all those, in which men have thought it desirable to write, except such, as are professedly fictitious. The states of society, and the spheres of life, in which the writers lived, and the occasions which called forth their several compositions,

Vol. IV,

[ocr errors]

were at least equally numerous, and diverse. Still, an entire harmony runs through them all. Amos the herdsman, Matthew the toll-gatherer, and John the fisherman, exhibit the same just, clear, extensive, pure, and exalied views of Divine subjects, the same religion, the same morality, and the same scheme of salvation, with those of Moses and Paul, not withstanding all their learning, and those of Daniel and Isaiah, Datid and Solomon, not withstanding the high rank, which they held in human socicir.

It is further to be observed, thai the Scriptural writers hate taug it all, which mankind al present know, concerning morals and religion. There is no rule of faith, and no rule of practice, known by men at the present time, and fairly defensible, which is not either expressly declared, or unquestionably implied, in the Scriptures.

It cannot here be said, that these dejects of Philosophy arose from the wani of sufficient numbers, engaged in the pursuit of this great object; or of sufficient zeal, industry, and exertion, on the part of Those, who were engaged. The number of men embarked in this pursuit was prodigious. Success in it was a source of distinction, coveted by Kings and Emperors. The zeal, with which it was prosecuted, was accordingly intense; and the labours, employed in it, extended through a long succession of ages.

For this mighty difference between the schemes of Philosophy, and the system of the Scriptures, no Infidel has hitherto accounted; and no rational account, it is presumed, can be given, not involving a cause, which, if adequate to the effect, will be more difficult of admission, more miraculous, than Inspiration.

SERMON CLXXIII.

CONCLUSION.- GENERAL REMARKS.

PROVERBS Viii. 6.—Hear! for I will speak of excellent things ; and the opening of

my lips shall be right things.

IN the preceding part of this discourse, after recapitulating the great subjects, adopted as parts of a Theological System in the series of sermons, then brought to a close, and making a few observations on the import of the text, I proceeded to make some general Remarks on the subject at large.

In the first, I considered the superiority of the Moral Scheme of the Scriptures, which I had so long been employed in unfolding to this audience, to the moral schemes of Philosophy. ''

In the second, I mentioned, that this view of Theology furnished powerful evidence of the Revelation of the Scriptures.

I shall now proceed to finish the discourse with two other remarks, which I had not then sufficient time to consider; and.observe,

III. How well does the Theology of the Scriptures merit the diligent investigation of every man, furnished with an enlightened education.

In periods, not long past, a great proportion of those, who were liberally educated in this country, regarded extensive attainments in Theology as being of the highest importance to the completion of their literary character. Nor is the date very distant, when the same views prevailed among the Protestant nations on the eastern side of the Atlantic. Many Laymen may be mentioned, whose theological acquisitions would have highly adorned the desk; and might justly have been coveted by clergymen of distinguished reputation. It is hoped that the spirit which gave birth to these attainments is reviving.

But it must be confessed, that for a considerable period the disposition to become versed in Theology has declined; and for a period of indefinite length has been too low, not to excite a serious regret in the mind of a wise and good man. Clergymen are often censured, and, it is to be feared, in too many instances justly, for their want of sufficient knowledge in this science. Almost all laymen, even those of enlightened minds, and extensive acquisitions, are lamentably defective in their acquaintance with Theology. Perhaps I should not wander far from ihe truth, were I to observe, that among the judicious farmers of this country, particularly among those most addicted to reading, there is a more extensive, and a more accurate, knowledge of the doctrines and precepts of Christianity, than among most men, who have enjoyed the advantages of a superior education.

Many causes have undoubtedly operated to the production of the ignorance of which I complain. Among these I shall at the present time specify the three following.

1. The want of that customary application to Theological science among learned men, which would of course recommend it to those who followed them.

The neglect which has been specified above, and which has grown out of many co-operating causes, has itself become a powerful cause of generating similar negligence. Every rising generation is, to a great extent, controlled by that which went before. Peculiarly is it true, that customary opinions and practices possess this control. Whatever is generally adopted, especially by enlightened men, is naturally supposed by such as are young, to he founded in wisdom and truth; and is, therefore, customarily followed, with little examination. The youths of the present generation, seeing their superiors in age, and understanding, negligent of Theological science, easily believe, that it merits little attention from themselves. The subject they do not examine ; but are satisfied with merely following this example. Persons destined to the ministry, are supposed to addict themselves to this science, because it is indispensable to their future profession, and to the rcputation, and even the subsistence, which it is expected to furnish. The example of these persons has, therefore, no influence on others. Clergymen, also, are supposed to commend their own science, either from necessity, or decency; and, however able judges, are regarded as being interested, and therefore partial. Hence their recommendations have comparatively little weight. Were liberally educated laymen, generally, to make extensive altainments in Theology, an important part of their acquisitions ; there can be no reason to doubt, that those who succeeded them, would addict themselves to this science with a good degree of zeal and industry. The truth of this opinion has been amply supported by experience. In the former times, to which I have alluded, the customary application of men in all the liberal professions, adopted in enlightened countries, to divine knowledge, forced the same application on such as followed them; and that, through a long period. Nor could even the progress of licentiousness exterminate the custom, except by insensible degrees.

2. The same evil has been extended, and prolonged, not a little by the ridicule, so assiduously thrown upon this subject by Infidels.

These men have long arrayed themselves against Christianity. Their warfare they have carried on in every manner which has promised them the least success; and with a spirit, worthy of the

best cause. Arguments, learning, and facts, they resorted to, until they became hopeless. When these failed; they had recourse to ridicule, sneers, and other expressions of contempt: clearly discerning, that on young minds, especially, these weapons would prevail, where more honourable modes of attack would be pow, erless. “Ridicule," says Voltaire, a perfectly competent judge of this subject, “ will do every thing; it is the strongest of all weapons. A bon mot is as good a thing, as a good book." Whatever is ridiculed, young minds are prone to think ridiculous : and nothing has been so much ridiculed as Christianity. Its Author was styled by the Infidels to whom he preached, a glutlonous man, and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners; and the system of doctrines and precepts, which he taught, has in modern times been loaded with epithets, equally destilute of justice and decency. In truth, there is no employment, more absolutely without any foundation in good sense ; none more sottish; none more contemptible; than that of ridiculing Christianity. Still it has had, and. will hereafter have, its wretched influence on giddy, puerile minds. The sting will be felt, dreaded, and shanned; and the least effect which it can be supposed to have on such minds, will be to discourage them from studying the doctrines, and embracing the precepts of the Scriptures. .

3. The introduction of ignorant and separatical Preachers into the Desk has had, extensively, the same unhappy influence.

Among all absurdities there is none perhaps more preposterous, than that, presented to us, when we see ignorance and vulgarity, enthusiasm and vociferation, seated in that desk, which ought to be exclusively appropriated to dignity and learning, wisdom and piety. Law, it is true, has its pettifoggers; and medicine, its empirics; and both are means of deeply degrading the professions in which they appear. But these men are never employed in unfolding the truth of God, nor in pointing out the path to Heaven. The sense of their unfitness for the business in which they act, though strong, is less deeply felt; their appearance, less public and regular; and the association of them in the mind with the sciences, into which they intrude, less uniform, alloying, and offensive. The knowledge which Ignorance is publicly employed to teach, will of course be believed to be narrow indeed. The employment in which vulgarity is summoned to preside, will be regarded as possessing a strong tincture of debasement. The application of these remarks to the case in hand is sufficiently melancholy, and the more so, because the situation of this country, at least, holds out no immediate, or adequate remedy. So long as men will rather hear bad preachers, than support good ones ; so long as they choose to drag out the hours of public worship in hearing folly, instead of learning wis. dom ; so long as deplorable avarice induces them to resign the Desk into the hands of ignorance, and impudence; the evil will exist; and must be borne.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »