صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

none to oppose themselves to the scheme of her enemies. The country was sick of the horrors of Atheism. Some religion was demanded by public feeling. This contrivance had nothing in it offensive to the sinner, while it seemed to be skilfully adapted to the people and the times. Moreover, it was patronized by government, and conformed to by the learned. The ceremonies were well performed; the musical accompaniments excellent. But all would not do. No sooner had novelty ceased, than the assemblies were thinned. The trifling expenses of music and apparatus could not be raised out of the liberality of the people. The society was split up with dissensions, some refusing the manual of worship; others complaining against the lecturers as aiming at too much power; others demanding that the creed of the society should be more liberal, and allow a greater latitude of belief. None at last could be got to lecture. To keep up the popular interest, and to escape the charge of bigotry, religious festivals were appointed, in which a union of service was attempted between Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Deists, and Atheists. There were festivals in honor of Socrates, of Rousseau, and of Washington. At one of these, a banner inscribed with the name Morality was carried by a man notorious as a professor of Atheism. But all would not do. The great principle of religion was wanting. There was no devotional spirit. The body was dead, and therefore soon tumbled to dust. A short time after, a counsellor of France in a public address, declared the result of the experiment in these

words: "For want of a religious education for the last ten years, our children are without any ideas of a Divinity, without any notion of what is just and unjust; hence arise barbarous manners, hence a people become ferocious. Alas, what have we gained by deviating from the path pointed out by our ancestors? What have we gained by substituting vain and abstract doctrines for the creed which actuated the minds of Turenne, Fenelon, and Pascal?"*

I cannot omit, in connection with these striking confessions, the description given by one of the most famous infidels in those times, of all that class of philosophers whose views and schemes we have been noticing. Thus writes Rousseau: "I have consulted our philosophers, I have perused their books, I have examined their several opinions, I have found them all proud, positive, and dogmatizing even in their pretended scepticism, knowing every thing, proving nothing, and ridiculing one another; and this is the only point in which they concur, and in which they are right. If you count their number, each one is reduced to himself; they never unite but to dispute. I conceived that the insufficiency of the human understanding was the first cause of this prodigious diversity of sentiment, and that pride was the second. If our philosophers were able to discover truth, which of them would interest himself about it? Where is the philosopher who for his own glory would not willingly deceive the whole human race? Where is he

* For more particulars, see Alexander's Evidences and Dwight's Sermons, vol. 1, 191.

who in the secret of his heart proposes any other object than his own distinction? The great thing for him is to think differently from other people. Under pretence of being themselves the only people enlightened, they imperiously subject us to their magisterial decisions, and would fain palm upon us, for the true causes of things, the unintelligible systems they have erected in their own heads; while they overturn, destroy, and trample under foot all that mankind reveres; snatch from the afflicted the only comfort left them in their misery, from the rich and great the only curb that can restrain their passions; tear from the heart all remorse of vice, all hopes of virtue; and still boast themselves the benefactors of mankind.

Truth,' they say, 'is never hurtful to man.' I believe that, as well as they; and the same, in my opinion, is a proof that what they teach is not the truth."* Such are the singular expressions of a noted infidel, into whose mind the truth sometimes forced an entrance, in spite of all his levity of mind and profligacy of life. They are the confessions of one of the chief actors in the farce of natural religion, and by leading us behind the scenes, display in a most impressive light, that if deism be the only substitute for Christianity, we must have no religion or that of Jesus.

So that, in examining the evidences of Christianity, we should solemnly feel that the question before us is of no less magnitude than whether life and

*

[ocr errors]

Gandolphy's Defence of the Ancient Faith: quoted in Gregory's Letters, vol. 1, pp. 6, 7.

immortality have been brought to light by the gospel, or they are still involved in deep and confounding darkness; whether religion is revealed in the Bible, or every thing on earth under the name of religion is false and impotent. Now, when it is considered what desolation would sweep at once over all the interests of society, were the restraint of religion withdrawn from the floodgates of human corruption; what immense benefits have ensued, and must ensue, even by the confession of some of its most violent opposers, from the diffusion of the gospel; what happy effects upon the character and present happiness of its genuine disciples it has always produced, reforming their lives, purifying their hearts, elevating their affections, healing the wounds of the guilty, taking away the sting of death, and lighting even the sepulchre with a hope full of glory; when it is considered what high claims the gospel asserts to an unlimited sovereignty over all our affections and faculties, requiring our entire submission, promising to every devout believer eternal life, and to all that refuse its claims everlasting woe, it must at once be evident that the subject before us is no matter of mere intellectual interest, but one in which every expectant of eternity has an immeasurable stake. No mind has any right to indifference here. Without the most wonderful folly no mind can be indifferent here. Whether the claims of the gospel are the claims of God, is a question to which in point of importance no other can pretend a comparison, except this one: Believing in those claims, have I,

in my heart, embraced the gospel, for peace with God?

But I speak to a great many who have no difficulty on this head, being fully satisfied that the gospel of Christ is a divine revelation. What concern have they with the investigation before us? "Much every way." The question for them to ask is, On what grounds are we satisfied? Are we believers in Christianity because we were born of believing parents, and have always lived in a Christian country; or because we have considered the excellence and weighed the proofs of this religion, and are intelligently persuaded that it deserves our reliance? I am well aware that there are many truly devoted followers of Christ who have never made the evidences of Christianity their study, and in argument with an infidel would be easily confounded by superior skill and information; but whose belief nevertheless is, in the highest degree, that of rational conviction, since they possess in themselves the best of all evidence that the gospel of Christ is "the power and wisdom of God," having experienced its transforming, purifying, elevating, and enlightening efficacy upon their own hearts and characters. such believers abound, Christianity would be much less in need of other evidence. Were all that call themselves Christians thus experimentally convinced of the preciousness of the gospel, I would still urge upon them the duty and advantage of studying as far as possible the various arguments which illustrate the divinity of its origin. I would urge it on con

Did

« السابقةمتابعة »