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THE GREAT OBJECT OF CHRISTIANITY, &c. 297
plete school of morality ever opened to the world.
THE GREAT OBJECT OF CHRISTIANITY IS THE MORAL RENOVATION OF MAN, OR HIS SANCTIFICATION.
THE essence of true religion must ever be the same in every period of the world, and in every situation in which man can be placed. Its peculiar modes and forms may vary according to times and circumstances. This complex term, religion, denoting the affections which are dictated by the relation in which the rational creature stands to its Creator, and the appropriate expressions of these in external acts, it is evident, that, abstractly considered, it must necessarily imply a temper and disposition of soul adapted to the rational nature and to the right apprehension of the divine perfections. Had man continued in a state of innocence, this species of religion was all that he could require. But, having violated
the divine law which was written in his hearta and become obnoxious to the penalty of this violation, religious sentiments were necessarily accompanied by a consciousness of guilt,—by confession of it,-by supplications for pardon,—and by external acts of devotion, expressive of these feelings of contrition,—of hopes of forgiveness, and professions of amendment, as far as was compatible with a fallen state and debilitated nature. When the Deity condescended to afford assurances of final deliverance and restoration to the human race, religion must, in consequence, have dictated gratitude for these, the joyous acceptance of them, a compliance with those appointed ordinances which were intended to remind man of his guilty condition, and of his Creator's mercy, and to prompt him to such conduct as was both the most expressive testimony. of his gratitude and repentance, and the best qualification for his being restored to the favour and enjoyment of God.
To produce these becoming sentiments in the minds of those to whom the divine revelations were subsequently addressed, and to form them to the practice of pure religion and virtue, which are synonymous, was the grand object of the Patriarchal and Mosaical economies. But
a Rom. ii. 15.
both these, while they inculcated the unity of the Supreme Being, and rejected polytheism and every species of idolatry, as well as dictated purity of morals, from religious motives, also directed the views of those who lived under them, to that grand consummation of the whole scheme of religion which was to be completed by the gospel, and to bring to its highest perfection all that religion can confer on mankind, both for time and for eternity.
I. The great object of the gospel is the salvation of mankind, and this object it pursues by alleviating their greatest misery, and by promoting their highest happiness. Moral corruption is man's most mortal bane in itself, and draws after it a series of other evils which affect every circumstance of his condition here below. It produces immediately the degradation of his exalted nature, remorse, shame, and dread of the vengeance of an offended Creator. It disqualifies him for acting that distinguished part which was allotted him in the scale of being, and for contributing his just proportion to the general happiness. It incapacitates him for his true enjoyments, and obscures his understanding while it hardens his heart. Beside these direct and immediate effects of moral corruption, or sin, it impairs and often destroys the health and vigour of his body; contracts and enfeebles those efforts by which his external condition would be
rendered infinitely more comfortable than it really is; and, instead of society's being his principal refuge and security, often converts it into his greatest curse, by the distrust, the contention, the rancour, the malice, the secret ambuscades, or the open hostility which it places around him. The prophet, describing the blessings of the kingdom of Christ, uses this beautiful and energetic language: "A man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." All this is reversed by moral corruption, inherent now in the guilty nature of our species. Man often rouses round man the merciless tempest, and deprives him of the little shelter he possesses. He often dashes from his brother's hand even the cup of cold water which he was carrying to his lip, to slake the burning thirst of the fever rioting in his veins.
Till this desolating evil be removed, or at least alleviated in as great a degree as is consistent with our present fallen condition, no solid happiness can be obtained, and no well-grounded hope of everlasting felicity, which I shall soon show can be nothing else but the highest perfection of all our faculties both intellectual and moral, through all the stages of interminable existence, can be rationally cherished.
a Isaiah xxxii. 2.
Now, if the gospel removes not entirely all the misery resulting from moral corruption, which man's present state renders impossible, it certainly alleviates it in a wonderful manner, and prepares it for perfect cure. It insures to the sinner pardon and reconciliation with God, and ascertains the ground on which these rest. It shows that, by the atonement of Christ, who assumed human nature, both that he might be capable of suffering, and that he might instruct the human race, and set before them a perfect example of universal virtue, a sufficient provision is made for the support of the divine law, and such testimony of the Deity's displeasure with transgression afforded, as renders it unnecessary to inflict punishment on penitent and amending offenders. Besides, the whole of our Saviour's humiliation manifests the most striking proof of the clemency of the Father, and of the overflowing love of the Son, towards the human race; and is therefore calculated to inspire the most implicit confidence in God's willingness to receive into favour even the chief of sinners, on his sincere repentance. Hence, every possible assurance is given that "there is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Our Sa
a Rom. viii. 1.