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at random. If believers prefer the revelation of Christ before the phi. losophy of infidels, it is because the most enlightened reason influences their choice.
The true believer is not afraid of pleading against modern philoso. phers before the tribunal of reason. “ You accuse me,” he may say, “ of superstition ; because in pursuing those honours, riches, and pleasures which are eternal, I have chosen the rough and uncomfortable path of piety. But, while I act thus, I act in no less conformity to the principles of reason, than the man who, to expel a sweet poison, receives a bitter antidote, and cheerfully submits to a disagreeable regimen, till he be restored to perfect health. If the sacrifice of a few trifling enjoy. ments for the present will secure to me the possession of everlasting felicity, I do but imitate the prudent husbandman, who deprives himself to-day of a few bushels of grain, that, after a few months of patient expectation, he may reap from his trivial loss an abundant harvest. And is it unreasonable in me to adopt such a mode of conduct; espe. cially when the sweet hope of promised blessings affords me, even now, a joy as solid and constant as yours is transitory and vain ?”
Ye men of boasted wisdom! we dare assert, that the secret springs of your morality are weak and gross in comparison with ours. You maintain that, in order to bind a rational creature to the practice of morality, nothing farther is requisite than the consideration of his own interests. You affirm, moreover, with equal confidence, that all attempts to urge mankind to the exercise of virtue, by the consideration of evangelical motives, is but depending upon the force of ties which are too feeble to be binding. But you perceive not that the method upon which you proceed with so much self-approbation, is entirely unworthy of true moralists, since it merely opposes one eyil by means of another full as detestable, in giving that to pride which it wrests from other vicious propensities. And you, undiscerning instructer of Emilius and Sophia ! you, who say in your confession of faith, “ Unkgowing how to determine, I neither admit revelation nor reject it; rejecting only the obligation to receive it:"-if you have removed those powerful motives to true virtue, which are drawn from the Gospel, what have you given us in exchange? “Love, that you may be loved again. Become amiable, that you may be happy. Make yourself esteemed, that you may be obeyed. What greater felicity can a noble soul possess, than that which flows from the pride of virtue, joined with beauty.” How puerile and insufficient are these motives, when compared with those which the Gospel presents! Leading mankind to virtue by such a route as this, is it not to inspire them, at once, with all a Pharisee's pride, and a Jezebel's vanity?
When we draw a veil over the sublime objects of faith, and place before men the mere consideration of some present advantage, in order to influence their conduct; then we actually treat the rational part of the creation as we are accustomed to deal with the most brutish animals. Behold that swine making up to a heap of corn. Throw but a single handful of that heap in his way, and he will pass on no farther; since fifty grains of corn, scattered immediately before his face, will attract him more forcibly than as many bushels piled up at a distance. Were it possible to make him an offer of all the harvests in the universe, after
a single hour ; yet he would not sacrifice, for them all, the poor enjoyment of the present moment. He who thus fixes his attention upon temporal and sensible objects, forgets that his soul is immaterial and immortal. He who cannot be engaged to the practice of virtue but by means of such unworthy motives, may be said to infuse morality in the cup of Circe lest he should be constrained to receive it at the hand of Christ.
Why are infidel and unstable Christians observed to fall before temptation? The only reason that can be given is, that being affected in too lively a manner with the things that are immediately before them, they are in no condition to contemplate those objects which are more remote, of how great importance soever they may be. Hence the ines. timable objects of faith appear to them as the fixed stars discover themselves to the vulgar, despoiled of their real magnitude and glory, and apparently of too little consequence to merit much attention. With the sincere Christian the case is wholly different. His faith, which is a gift from God, may be compared to a Divine telescope, by which the most distant objects are brought within his ken. And of this sacred help he happily avails himself, till wholly certified of the nature and importance of celestial things, he necessarily acquires ideas suitable to so grand a discovery.
Observe here the ground of St. Paul's definition of faith, Eph. ii, 8; Heb. xi, 1. Destitute of the same assistance, what wonder is it that the infidel should remain a perfect stranger to the Christian's sacred views and exalted sentiments? He foolishly rests contented with the naked eye of his reason, regardless of that ignorance and those prejudices with which it is too frequently obscured. Thus, self deluded, he despises the Divine instrument above described, and scoffs at those who are known to use it; just as the illiterate were formerly accustomed to set at nought the most profound astronomers, and to look with derision upon their mysterious apparatus.
As to the power of this faith, by which alone any spiritual discovery can be made, it is too wonderful to be credited, either by the ignorant or the impious. It “ removes mountains ;” and, to the possessor of it, “nothing is impossible,” Matt. xvii, 20. It affords the believer a perfect “victory” over the present world, 1 John v, 4, by putting into his hand a “shield,” which is impenetrable to s all the fiery darts of the wicked," Eph. vi, 16. Here is the Christian's security! Behind this buckler of celestial temper he remains in undisturbed tranquillity, while the incredulous philosopher, together with the abandoned sensualist, are hurling against it the feeble darts of ridicule and malice.
It must be acknowledged, that many excellent precepts of morality are found in the Koran, and in the works of modern philosophers: but it must be asserted, at the same time, that the enemies of Christ are chiefly indebted to revelation for every just conception of religious truth. The authors of the Koran, of Emilius, and the Philosophical Dictionary, before ever they began to dogmatize, were apprized that there is a God, whom it is our duty to love above all things, and who has commanded us to love our neighbour as ourselves. It is, therefore, matter of little surprise, that a lovely sentiment of this kind should here and there brighten a page of their gloomy volumes. Their false coin could never have become current in the world, unless they had artfully mingled with it some little quantity of the pure gold of Scriptural truth.
We shall conclude this chapter with a beautiful passage from Tertullian, in which he points out the difference between a true Christian and a philosopher, so called. After having spoken of the vices with which the Greek philosophers were infected, he makes the following reply to a very common objection. “It is objected, that some also among us are guilty of violating the laws of virtue. But it must be remembered, that such offenders pass no longer with us for Christians : while, among you, after the commission of many vicious actions, philosophers still preserve their reputation, and continue to be had in honour. What resemblance then is there between the Christian and the philosopher ? The one is a disciple of Greece ; the other of Heaven. The one seeks to establish a fair reputation ; the other aspires to work out his salva. tion. The one speaks admirable words; the other performs good actions. The one destroys, and the other builds up. The one deals in error, and the other in truth.” (Apolog. chap. 46.)
CHAPTER II. The doctrines of natural religion and philosophy are insufficient to produce
true charity in the heart. The doctrines of natural religion, such as the being of a God, an overruling providence, and a judgment to come, are the first doctrines of the Gospel : but, hitherto, they have never been found sufficient to lead men into the love and practice of solid virtue.
As the earth, deprived of its primitive fecundity, requires not only the genial influence of the sun, but must be enriched and assisted by many other means, in order to recover its lost fertility; so the truths of natural religion can never restore the degenerate soul to its lost perfection, without the powerful assistance of a revealed Gospel. On this account, the Father of mankind has condescended to instruct us in doctrines more efficacious than those which unassisted nature can discover, and abundantly better suited to our weakness; that the tree of morality, having more numerous and vigorous roots, might be assisted to throw out fruit of a more exquisite kind, and in greater abundance, than it was formerly known to produce. “What the law,” says St. Paul, “could not do, [the natural or Mosaic law,] in that it was weak through the flesh, [that is, our corrupted nature, which stands in need of greater helps than those which the law can afford,] God, sending his own Son, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” by a power derived from him, Rom. viii, 3, 4. Hence this promised Saviour was spoken of as “the desire of all nations,” Hag. ii, 7. And hence that public declaration of Christ concerning the nature of his mission to the children of men: “I am come, that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” John x, 20.
Without revelation, we are left a prey to the most cruel uncertainty. The Almighty created man that he might partake of his own felicity: and, after having placed in his heart an ardent desire after the sovereign good, he made a benign discovery of himself, as the one only and inex
haustible source of true blessedness. But since the darkness of sin has overspread our understanding, we have lost sight of this sovereign good, and are seeking it where it cannot possibly be found. Like Ixion in the fable, while we embrace a cloud, we imagine ourselves in possession of a sublime reality. And even after repeated convictions of our folly, uninstructed by disappointment, we set out again in pursuit of objects full as frivolous as those by which we have been already beguiled. Philosophers, unable to guide mankind to true happiness, are vainly searching after it themselves in darkness and uncertainty. Divided into a variety of sects, they maintain a hundred different opinions upon a subject of so great importance. So that after all the researches of its professors, philosophy has left the world in a state of equal perplexity with a man who, having but one arrow to level at the mark, has a hundred different marks proposed to him at the same time.
In all this uncertainty, how happy is it to discover a volume which decides the momentous question in so clear a manner, that reason itself can object nothing to the decision! This book, the most ancient that can be produced, informs us that Jehovah once appeared to the father of the faithful, “ and said unto him, I am the mighty,* all-sufficient God : walk before me, and be thou perfect.” So “will I make my covenant between me and thee :" and thou shalt become a joyful possessor of the sovereign good, Gen. xvii, 1, 2. When these truths are once cordially assented to, the perplexity of the believer is then sweetly terminated, and his high vocation completely pointed out. From this time he feels the importance of those doctrines which, like steady lights, eclipse a thousand glimmering meteors, and discover, amid surrounding dangers, a sure though narrow road to happiness. And here it is to be observed, that upon these important truths, as well as upon every other essential point, Christians of all denominations are perfectly agreed.
What is meant by “walking before God in perfection,” is fully explained in the following terms : “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself,” Matt. xxi, 37, 39. Now unregenerate man, far from filling up these duties, neglects the Supreme Being, and prefers his own particular interest to that of society in general; affording the strongest proof that he possesses neither genuine piety nor undissembled charity. Hence, before such a man can become truly virtuous, it is evident that his principles must be improved and his inclinations rectified. And till these salutary changes take place in his soul, always vicious, restless, and selfish, he will continually be making some addition to his external errors and his internal misery.
Deists, while they acknowledge that we are bound to love both God and man, presume upon the sufficiency of their own ability for the due performance of these extensive duties. Were they, however, truly anxious to practise these virtues in as unreserved a manner as even na. tural religion requires, they would quickly perceive the weakness of humanity, and acknowledge the deepest need of Divine assistance. But so long as the piety of these persons consists in “honouring God with their lips, while their hearts are far from him,” Isaiah xxix, 13; and while they boast of manifesting toward mankind a love so universal, that none but their enemies are excluded from it, Matt. v, 43; so long they will need no other assistance for the performance of these wretched services, than that which corrupted nature can amply afford.
* See the original.
It is frequently asserted, that the mysteries of redemption are utterly useless with respect to morality, and that the benignity of God, as exemplified in our creation and preservation, is a sufficient motive to affection and obedience on the part of man. But since man has become a sinful and disobedient creature, every motive to rectitude that can possibly be drawn from his creation and preservation, has lost much of its former constraining influence. How many persons may we find in the world, who, instead of being penetrated with gratitude on account of these blessings, lament, with despairing Job and Jeremiab, that ever they were born! And when the miseries of life have rendered it almost insupport. able, can we reasonably imagine its repining possessor to be glowing with love to the Deity, merely as the author and preserver of his unhappy existence? Surely nothing can be more absurd than such a supposition. Yet how many boasted reasoners confidently maintain, that the very same gift, which wretched sufferers, in every age, have thrown back to the giver with anguish and contempt, is nevertheless a motive sufficiently powerful to engage every transgressor of the Almighty's law to love him with all their heart, and serve him with all their power!
But let us suppose that man, unassisted by the doctrines of the Gospel, has some knowledge of the sovereign good, and the means by which it may be obtained. Yet how superficial is this knowledge! We might here produce a gloomy catalogue of those capital errors into which the ancient philosophers have fallen, with regard to these important points. It must, indeed, be allowed that modern professors have corrected many of those errors : but it must be lamented, at the same time, that they have unhappily adopted others, not a whit less glaring or fatal. Passing over, in silence, the horrible systems of atheistical writers, let us listen to philosophers of greater estimation, among whom Rousseau and Voltaire may rank as the most conspicuous characters. The former of these acquired considerable reputation by his observations upon the education of youth, and the latter, by the courage with which he contended for toleration.
“ Let it be laid down,” says Rousseau, “ as an incontestable maxim, that the first movements of nature are always right; and that there is no such thing as original sin in the human heart.” How large a stride is here toward the sentiments of La Metrie ; all whose morality was wrapped up in this single sentence, “Satisfy thy desires; they are the voice of God and of nature.” To enlarge this little quotation from J. J. Rousseau would be a superfluous task. It must appear evident to every unprejudiced reader, from the above assertion, that the maxims of this admired philosopher have a greater tendency to advance self gratification than to promote universal benevolence in the world.
Turn we now to the toleration of M. de Voltaire. In his epistle to Boileau, we find him writing thus: “I have consecrated my voice to sing the praises of virtue ; overcoming those prejudices which are idolized by the ignorant, I dare to preach toleration to persecutors."* Now
* A chanter la virtu j'ai consecre ma voix ;
Vainquer des prejuges que l'imbecile essence, J'ose aux persecuteurs precher la tolerance.