« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
“We think we can show you, that without the revelations of Scripture, the goodness of God would have been very doubtfully adumbrated or shadowed forth in nature; and that, without those revelations of his mercy to guilty man, we should have known nothing." It is true, indeed, that many who have acquired instruction from the book of God, guided by its light, can go to nature and providence and find in them many proofs both of his goodness and mercy.
But consider how partially they view the subjects presented to them. They take only one single class of the phenomena on which they profess to construct their system. They look, for instance, only at what are obviously the beauties of nature, and do not regard its apparent deformities. They look upon the shining sun, but they forget to look upon the devastating storm. They look at life in its enjoyments, but they forget to look at its miseries. They consider man in his pleasures, but they overlook him in agony, and disease, and death. They look at certain wonderful provisions by which God supplies the wants of his creatures, but they dwell not on those seeming contradictions which the administration of the affairs of the world is continually presenting. Now we, with our Scriptures, can account for all this. "We can harmonize all these phenomena, reconcile their existence with the divine character, and rejoice that the Lord is good; but, without revelation, this could not be done. But if, without revelation, our views of the divine goodness in exercising mercy, which implies pity for those who have reduced themselves to a state of misery by sin, would have been thus obscured and doubtful—then of mercy, which implies pardon for the guilty, we should have known nothing. Without this book, where should we go to find a single word to support the hope that God would forgive the sins of his creatures ? Certain it is that nature, so called, indicates nothing of this in any of her works. Nor is it indicated by that course of human events which passes before us. If God be favorable to the guilty, he must either waive his just rights altogether, or find some means to satisfy them without the actual punishment of the offender. In either case it is a matter to be determined by himself, and can only be known by us when he is pleased to reveal it. We should, therefore, untaught by this sacred volume, be so unacquainted with the things of God as to be ignorant of what he would do with the guilty. Take the question, “What must I do to be saved ?" Universal nature furnishes no reply; the oracle is completely silent; nor can our trembling spirits hear a single accent of mercy, encouraging grace, till revelation directs us to Calvary, and calls on us to “behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."*
If, therefore, reason is insufficient to discover the grand scheme of salvation so unequivocally unfolded in the Scriptures, so it is equally inadequate to ascertain other important truths of which the Bible furnishes an account; as, how we became sinners, and how we can cease to be such; that our spirits are immortal, and that there is a state of existence for the soul when separated from the body; that there will be a resurrection of the dead, a final judgment, and a state of eternal rewards and punishments; on all these points
* See Rev. Richard Watson's sermon entitled “Divinity of Christianity."
reason could furnish no satisfactory information whatever; and, without revelation, we must remain entirely ignorant of them.
Who, by studying the philosophy of Epicurus, Plato, Zeno, and Aristotle, has ever become acquainted with the great truths of the Bible? Indeed, their subtle disquisitions, their blending physics, metaphysics, and ethics together, and treating them dialectically, their absurd subtleties, and endless distinctions without differences, only served to perplex the mind without leading it nearer the great fountain of truth. Dr. Samuel Clark, though a great advocate for natural religion, when speaking of the heathen philosophers, says, “Some professed open immorality; others, by subtle distinctions, patronized particular vices. The better sort of them, who were the most celebrated, discoursed with the greater reason, yet with much uncertainty and doubtfulness, concerning things of the highest importance ;--the providence of God in governing the world, the immortality of the soul, and a future judgment.” Many modern philosophers were no better. Just so far as they rejected revelation they became sensual and immoral. The Bible, then, teaches us what reason has never been able to do. Here its superiority is clearly demonstrated.
3. Again, the superior claims of the Christian religion are strikingly manifest in its admirable adaptation to the capacities of men. The various schemes of religion which have no higher authority than human reason seem to be wanting in simplicity and adaptation. They seem better suited to another race of beings than for sinful man. The Platonists held that all things happened according to the divine providence; and yet they inform us that “God, fortune, and opportunity govern all the affairs of men.” The followers of Aristotle, who formed the peripatetic school, held that virtue consisted, in the mean, between two extremes ; but what these extremes exactly were was undefinable. The Stoical school inculcated the principle, that the best rule of life consisted in living according to nature ; but what they always meant by following nature is not easy to conceive. The doctrines of those contentious sects, the Realists and Nominalists, were equally absurd and inexplicable. Indeed, the whole of the scholastic ages, a period of a thousand years, seem to have been devoted to idle theories, vain speculations, and hair-splitting subtleties. What a religion for fallen man! But, with the dark ages, the absurd speculations of reason did not pass away. Subsequently, and even in our own times, men have been found who make religion consist in the vagaries of a distorted brain, and in the absurdities of a false philosophy. But, conceding the fact that the learned had a clear understanding of the mystical and sophisticated theories, yet they were far from the comprehension of the illiterate. In heathen countries the philosophers always derided the religion of the vulgar, while the vulgar understood nothing of the religion of the philosophers. Among those systems now extant which set aside revelation for reason, may be reckoned that of Socinus, denominated the Socinian system.* The true features of this system may be seen in a work entitled,
* It is true, Socinians do not reject the Bible nominally, but they rejeet all that it reveals as essential to man's salvation.
" Errors of Socinianism,” which my readers may peruse with much profit. But how unlike every other system, in this respect, is that revealed in the Scriptures? Here the doctrine of the unity of God; a distinction of persons in the Godhead ; the creation and conservation of all things by God; a general and particular providence ; a divine law fixing the distinctions of right and wrong; the fall and corruption, the guilt and danger of man; the doctrine of atonement through the voluntary and vicarious sufferings of the seed of the woman; the necessity of penitence and faith in that atonement, in order to forgiveness ; the accountability of man; the obligation and efficacy of prayer; the doctrine of direct influence; practical righteousness; the immortality of the soul; the resurrection of the body, and a heavenly and unfading inheritance ;-are clearly unfolded and brought down to the capacity of all.
That there are mysteries connected with revealed religion we admit; but this concession detracts nothing from its simplicity. “We cannot comprehend the common operations of nature; and if we ascend to higher departments of science-even to science of demonstration itself, the mathematics--we shall find that mysteries exist there."
"Mysteries in the Christian religion, instead of being suspected, should rather be regarded as a proof of its divine origin; for, if nothing more were contained in the New Testament than we previously knew, or nothing more than we could easily comprehend, we might justly doubt if it came from God, and whether it was not rather a work of man's device."
Though some of the truths revealed in the Scriptures are mysterious, yet the tendency of the most exalted of its mysteries is practical. If, for instance, we cannot explain the influence of the Spirit, happy will it be for us, nevertheless, if we experience that the 'fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.""*
In the Bible we are taught that God has revealed the most sublime truths even unto babes"—to those, not the wise and prudent' of this world, who are willing to learn at the feet of their Master. Indeed, all that is essential to man's salvation may be comprehended by the weakest intellect. Who, then, will set aside this heavenly light for the glimmerings of reason ?
4. Revealed religion exhibits clearly its superiority in the spirituality of its worship. The worship of other religions is extremely gross and sensual. To say nothing of the worship of those ignorant nations given to the grossest idolatry and superstition, let us, for a moment, examine the worship of those who, though unenlightened by revelation, have stood high in intellectual refinement and erudition.
The most enlightened of the heathen and philosophic world were extremely ignorant of divine worship. “They worshipped they knew not what.” It is true, they had their temples, their altars, and their images. Their temples were filled with splendid decorations and embellishments. Some of them had stated seasons of worshipping at the shrines of their imaginary deities. But their worship
* See “Horne's Introduction," p. 53.
consisted, chiefly, in symbolical pageantry and lifeless ceremonies. There was nothing spiritual in it; nothing that was calculated to elevate or tranquilize the mind. It was a mere exterior parade, empty and powerless. Under such worship their minds became more sensual, and their moral natures exhibited a constant deterio- , ration. This will not appear strange, when we consider that their gods were of the most profligate and demoralizing character.
It is said, by good authority, that some of the most enlightened heathen philosophers “worshipped” a class of spirits which were thought superior to the soul of man, but inferior to those intelligences which animated the sun, the moon, and the planets; and to whom were committed the government of the world, particular nations, &c. Though they were generally invisible, they were not supposed to be pure, disembodied spirits, but to have some kind of ethereal vehicle. They were of various orders, and, according to the situation over which they presided, had different names. Hence, the Greek and Roman poets talk of satyrs, dryads, nymphs, fawns, &c. These different orders of intelligences, which, though worshipped as gods or demigods, were yet believed to partake of human passions and appetites, led to the deification of departed heroes and other eminent benefactors of the human race; and from this latter probably arose the belief of natural and tutelar gods, as well as the practice of worshipping these gods through the medium of statues cut into a human figure."
Nor is this ignorance of true worship to be attributed to a want of intellectual cultivation. During a large proportion of the period of the oriental and Grecian philosophy, science had, in many respects, attained to as high a state of perfection as it had at any sub-, sequent age. Rhetoric, eloquence, poetry, and some of the other branches, were studied with a success which has scarcely since been surpassed. But, with all their erudition, their faculties, aside from revelation, have never taught them the nature and object of true worship. There was nothing in any system of heathen mythology from which they could obtain this information. And, whenever reason has taken the place of revelation, the proper knowledge of true worship has been wantingut
The Bible, alone, unfolds to us the character of divine worship. Said the Saviour to the woman of Samaria, “God is a spirit; and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Here the Divine Being is presented, not a god in human form, but the maker and upholder of all things; the only being worthy of man's affections. Here we are taught to worship and adore this Being “in spirit and in truth.” It is true, we do not here behold the trappings and ostentation of heathen worship, but we can mark the simplicity and spirituality of that in which thousands have taken sweet delight. With the sacred volume before us, unfolding the glories of immortality, we will continue to contemplate the character of our Infinite Preserver and Benefactor; our feet shall tread His “holy courts," and our private meditations of Him shall be
* See "Warburton's Divine Legation." + We are informed by Hesiod and Varro that the Greeks and Romans, though they made high claims to literature, and eulogized unassisted reason, yet worshipped no less than thirty thousand deities. How awfully corrupting to the mind!
sweet; so, by these delightful exercises, our minds shall become tran. quilized, devout, and spiritual, and ultimately prepared to join the “ blood-washed company” in the “better land.'
5. The superiority of revealed religion is again observable in its universal tendency to inspire and promote a spirit of benevolence. Here Christianity stands forth in its unrivalled glory. Where shall we look for the fountain of those streams of benevolence which are now pouring forth their healthful and resuscitating influences, and which are destined to renew and fertilize the moral world, except in Christianity? Benevolence is the very genius of the Christian religion. This is the soil in which it “lives, moves, and has its being." Look at the first abettors of the gospel. They were feeble, yet holy
In their public addresses we do not discover the charms of eloquence, or the refinement of erudition. Abundant labors and ex. tensive philanthropy were their prominent characteristics. They were content with nothing but the salvation of the world. In their hands the “heavenly treasure,” though in “ earthen yessels,” triumphed over all opposition. It went forth from “ conquering to conquer.” This treasure is still committed to the hands of a few undaunted and ener. getic men, who are resolved on conquering the world to Christ. This host of fearless sentinels, stationed on the outposts of the moral world, will soon witness the last contest, and hear the victory shout, “ Alle. luia, the Lord God omnipotent reigneth !"
But where, and when, has the religion of reason created in the heart the spirit and feelings of benevolence? When has it taught man the duties he owes to God and his fellow-creatures ? When has it produced in the heart a lively interest in those benevolent enterprises designed for the melioration of our race? When has it inspired that burning desire in the soul for the salvation of the world? We answer, Never ! Examine the history of heathen philosophy, and what do you behold? Do you there find the characters of those philan. thropic men,-such as Howard, Wilberforce, &c., whose labors were indefatigable in promoting the welfare and happiness of their species? Socrates, it is true, labored to benefit the youth of Athens, but his ob. ject seemed to be rather to correct certain errors of life, than to change and renew the heart. But whatever genuine benevolence he possessed, he was unquestionably indebted to revelation for it, and not to reason. But how few of the philosophers felt any interest in the reformation of their pupils ? Indeed, many of them taught the grossest inconsistencies, while their conduct was strikingly immoral. Such a man as Howard will stand like an imperishable monument as the benefactor of his race when renowned sages of antiquity, whose names throw a lustre around the history of philosophy, shall have been consigned to oblivion.
No sooner did the benign influence of Christianity begin to move the hearts of men, than the spirit of benevolence was manifest. Such were the feelings of those under its influence at the day of pentecost, that they “sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need.” St. Paul gave orders that the poor
be remem. bered, and that collections be made for them, &c. (1 Cor. xvi, 1.)
* He may have received some traditional notices of revelation.