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Advantages of Christianity to the World.
ROMANS i. 22.
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.
HERE is no one project to which the whole
as to that of being thought wise; and the affectation of it is so visible, in men of all complexions, that you every day see some one or other so very solicitous to establish the character, as not to allow himself leisure to do the things which fairly win it; expending more art and stratagem to appear so in the eyes of the world, than what would suffice to make him so in truth.
It is owing to the force of this desire, that you see, in general, there is no injury touches a man so sensibly, as an insult upon his parts and capacity. Tell a man of other defects,—that he wants learning, industry, or application, he will hear your reproof with patience.-Nay, you may go farther: Take him in a proper season, you may tax his morals; you may tell him he is irregular in his conduct, passionate or revengeful in his nature, loose in his principles: Deliver it with the gentleness of a friend, possibly he will not only bear with you, but, if ingenuous, he will thank you for your lecture, and promise a reformation; but hint-hint but at a defect in his intellectuals,— touch but that sore place,—from that moment you are looked upon as an enemy sent to torment him before his time, and, in return, may reckon upon his resentment and ill will for ever; so that, in general, you will find it safer to tell a man that he is a knave, than a fool; and stand a better chance of being forgiven, for proving he has been wanting in a point of common honesty, than in a point of common sense.
Strange souls that we are!-as if, to live well, was not the greatest argument of wisdom ;-and, as if what reflected upon our morals, did not most of all reflect upon our understandings!
This, however, is a reflection we make a shift to overlook in the heat of this pursuit; and tho' we all covet this great character of wisdom, there is scarce any point wherein we betray more folly our judgments concerning it; rarely bringing this precious ore either to the test or the balance; and tho' it is of the last consequence not to be deceived in it, we generally take it upon trust; seldom suspect the quality, but never the quantity of what has fallen to our lot. So that, however inconsistent a man shall be in his opinions of this, and what absurd measures soever he takes in consequence of it, in the conduct of his life, he still speaks comfort to his soul; and, like Solomon, when he had least pretence for it, in the midst of his nonsense, will cry out and say, That all my wisdom remaineth with me.
Where then, is wisdom to be found? and where is the place of understanding?
The politicians of this world, professing themselves wise admit of no other claims of wisdom, but the knowledge of men and business; the understanding the interests of states; the intrigues of courts; the finding out the passions and weaknes ses of foreign ministers; and turning them, and all events, to their country's glory and advantage.
Not so the little man of the world, who thinks the main point of wisdom is, to take care of himself; to be wise in his generation; to make use of the opportunity, whilst he has it, of raising a fortune, and heraldizing a name. Far wide is the speculative and studious man (whose office is in the clouds) from such little ideas ::-Wisdom dwells, with him, in finding out the secrets of nature; sounding the depths of arts and sciences;
measuring the heavens; telling the number of the stars, and calling them all by their names :— So that, when, in our busy imaginations, we have built and unbuilt again GoD's stories in the heavens, and fancy we have found out the point whereon to fix the foundations of the earth, and, in the language of the book of Job, have searched out the corner-stone thereof,-we think our titles to wisdom built upon the same basis with those of our knowledge, and that they will continue for ever.
The mistake of these pretenders is shown at large by the apostle, in the chapter from which the text is taken-Professing themselves WISE,in which expression (by the way) St. Paul is thought to allude to the vanity of the Greeks and Romans, who, being great encouragers of arts and learning, which they had carried to extraordinary heights, considered all other nations as Barbarians, in respect of themselves; and amongst whom, particularly the Greeks, the men of study and inquiry, had assumed to themselves, with great indecorum, the title of the Wise Men.
With what parade and ostentation soever this was made out, it had the fate to be attended with one of the most mortifying abasements which could happen to wisdom; and that was, an ignorance of those points which most concerned man to know.
This he shows from the general state of the Gentile world, in the great article of their misconceptions of the Deity; and, as wrong notions produce wrong actions,-of the duties and services they owed to him, and, in course, of what they owed to one another.
For, tho' as he argues in the foregoing verses, The invisible things of him from the creation of the world, might be clearly seen and understood, by the things that are made; that is, tho' GoD, by the clearest discovery of himself, had ever laid before
mankind such evident proofs of his eternal Being, -his infinite powers and perfections, so that, what is to be known of his invisible nature, might all along be traced by the marks of his goodness, and the visible frame and order of the world: Yet, so utterly were they without excuse,that,tho' they knew God, and saw his image and superscription in every part of his works, yet they glorified him not. So bad a use did they make of the powers given them from this great discovery, that, instead of adoring the Being thus manifested to them, in purity and truth, they fell into the most gross and absurd delusions; changed the glory of the incorrup tible God, into an image made like unto corruptible men, to birds, to four-footed beasts and creeping things :Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. All their specious wisdom was but a more glittering kind of ignorance, and ended in the most dishonorable of all mistakes, in setting up fictitious gods, to receive the tribute of their adoration and thanks.
The fountain of religion being thus poisoned, no wonder the stream showed its effects, which are charged upon them in the following words, where he describes the heathen world as full of unrighteousness, fornication, covetousness, maliciousness, full of murder, envy, debate, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of GoD, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful!GOD in heaven defend us from such a catalogue!
But these disorders, if fairly considered, you will say, have, in no age, arisen so much from want of light, as a want of disposition to follow the light which God has ever imparted : That the law written in their hearts, was clear and express enough for any reasonable creatures, and would have directed them, had they not suffered their
passions more forcibly to direct them otherwise : That if we are to judge from this effect, namely, the corruption of the world, the same prejudice will recur even against the Christian religion; since mankind have at least been as wicked in latter days, as in the more remote and simple, ages of the world: And that, if we may trust to facts, there are no vices which the apostle fixes upon the heathen world, before the preaching of the gospel, which may not be paralleled by as black a catalogue of vices in the Christian world since.
This necessarily brings us to an inquiry, Whether Christianity has done the world any service? and, How far the morals of it have been made better since the system has been embraced?
In litigating this, one might oppose facts to facts, to the end of the world, without coming one jot nearer the point. Let us see how far their mistakes concerning the Deity, will throw light upon the subject.
That there was one supreme Being, who made this world, and who ought to be worshipped by his creatures, is the foundation of all religion, and so obvious a truth in nature, that reason, as the apostle acknowledges, was always able to discover it: And yet it seems strange, that the same faculty which made the discovery, should be so little able to keep true to its own judgment, and support it long against the prejudices of wrong heads, and the propensity of weak ones towards idolatry and a multiplicity of gods.
For want of something to have gone hand in hand with reason, and fixed the persuasion for ever upon their minds, that there was in truth but one GoD, the maker and supporter of heaven and earth,-infinite in wisdom and knowledge, and all perfections ;-how soon was this simple idea lost, and mankind led to dispose of those attributes inherent in the Godhead, and divide and sub