Page images
PDF
EPUB

a

the gospel uniformly proceeds, and on this it must be judged. Three things, necessary to be done for a sinner in order to restore him to eternal life, considered : 1st, that God be reconciled to him : 2dly, that he be purged from the impurity of sin: 3dly, that for the future he be enabled to obey God's holy laws: necessity of these conditions briefly shown. Allowing them to be necessary, and likewise that religion must contain the words or means of eternal life, it follows that the sinner's religion must contain the means of fulfilling these conditions : our notion therefore of such a religion is very imperfect, when we consider it only as a rule of action : as far as a rule of action is necessary, the gospel is shown to have it in the strictest sense of the words, and in the purest form : but a rule of life is not the only notion of religion : according to the other ideas which belong to it, it is not necessarily absurd if supposed mysterious : examined in this point of view with reference to the first of the three conditions above-mentioned, or as containing the means by which God is reconciled to sinners. Though we cannot practise a law without understanding it, yet God may be reconciled to us without our comprehending every thing done for that purpose, as a malefactor may receive and profit by a pardon, without knowing what induced his prince to grant it: if a sinner could not receive mercy unless he comprehended all the reasons of it, then only would it be necessary for religion to exclude all mysteries : since the knowlege of the essence of things, and that of the existence of things, are quite distinct, our ignorance of the latter can be no argument against our belief in the former : this explained more fully. The argument carried still further; it being shown that this part of religion must necessarily be mysterious, and the means of reconcilement such as reason and nature cannot comprehend. Reason challenged to discover any means of reconcilement, if these certain and allowed principles be laid down-viz, that it is just for God to punish sinners, and that God can do nothing

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

but what is just : difficulty must ever remain as long as we attempt to scan the divine justice by our narrow conceptions of it: and this it is which occasions many things in the gospel to be mysterious. To redeem the world is the work of God only: he alone could find the means, and apply them: religion founded on redemption must consist of two parts—viz., an account of the redemption wrought by God, and instructions to men on what terms they may reap its benefits : as far as our own part in the gospel goes there is nothing mysterious; we know how to act: as to the other parts of it, we are not required to comprehend and account for the means of salvation, but only to accept them : mysteries of God in redemption compared with his wonderful and mysterious works of creation, in which his ways are past finding out: strange that salvation should be the only instance in which men refuse mercy

because they cannot understand the methods of obtaining it. The other two points, viz., the cleansing sinners from their iniquity, and the enabling them to live virtuously for the future, are omitted, because the same arguments will apply to them, mutatis mutandis. Conclusion—the only fair way of appreciating the gospel, is to consider the true state of mankind in the world.

3

DISCOURSE I.

JOHN, CHAP. VI.—VERSES 67–69.

Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then

Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast th words of eternal life. And we believe, and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

PART I. In the foregoing part of this chapter we read that the doctrine of our Saviour had given such offence to his hearers, that many even of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him: on which occasion our Saviour put this question to the twelve, Will

ye

also go away ? To which St. Peter, in the name of all, made answer, · Lord, to whom shall we go ? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe, and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.' In this answer there are three things expressed, or implied, as the ground of their constancy and adherence to Christ..

I. The first is, The miserable condition they should be in, if they did forsake him, having no other in whom they could trust:

Lord, to whom shall we go ?' · II. The second is, The excellency of his religion, and the certain means it afforded of obtaining that which is the great end of religion, a blessed life after this : • Thou hast the words of eternal life.'

III. The third is, The authority and divine commission of Christ, on which their faith and confidence were built : · We believe, and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

living God.' To believe, because we have sufficient reason to determine our belief, is a rational faith; and this is what is meant in the word éyvókauer, 'we believe;- because we have, from the things we have heard and seen of you, determined with ourselves, “That thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.'

These three reasons, which St. Peter gives for adherence to Christ, refer to as many general principles or maxims :

As first, That religion, the only means by which men can arrive at true happiness, by which they can attain to the last perfection and dignity of their nature, does not, in the present circumstances of the world, depend on human reasoning or inventions : for, was this the case, we need not to go from home for religion, or to seek farther than our own breast for the means of reconciling ourselves to God, and obtaining his favor, and, in consequence of it, life eternal. On such supposition St. Peter argued very weakly, in saying, “To whom shall we go?' for to whom need they go to learn that which they were well able to teach themselves ?

The second principle referred to is, That the great end of religion is future happiness; and consequently the best religion is . that which will most surely direct us to eternal life. On this ground St. Peter prefers the gospel of Christ, “Thou hast the words of eternal life.'

The third thing is, That the authority and word of God is the only sure foundation of religion, and the only reasonable ground for us to build our hopes on. Thus St. Peter accounts for his confidence in the religion which Christ taught : We know, and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.'

In this state of the case, the necessity of religion in general is supposed ; and the only question is, from what fountain we must derive it? The dispute can only lie between natural and revealed religion : if nature be able to direct us, it will be hard to justify the wisdom of God in giving us a revelation, since the revelation can only serve the same purpose which nature alone could well supply.

Since the light of the gospel has shone throughout the world, nature has been much improving; we see many things clearly, many things which reason readily embraces, which nevertheless

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

the world before was generally a stranger to. The gospel has given us true notions of God and of ourselves; right conceptions of his holiness and purity, and of the nature of divine worship: it has taught us a religion, in the practice of which our present ease and comfort, and our hopes of future happiness and glory consist; it has rooted out idolatry and superstition, and, by instructing us in the nature of God, and discovering to us his unity, his omnipresence, and infinite knowlege, it has furnished us even with principles of reason, by which we reject and condemn the rites and ceremonies of heathenism and idolatry, and discover wherein the beauty and holiness of divine worship consist: for the nature of divine worship must be deduced from the nature of God; and it is impossible for men to pay a reasonable service to God, till they have just and reasonable notions of him. But it seems, this is all become pure natural religion; and it is to our own reason and understanding that we are indebted for the notion of God, and of divine worship; and whatever else in religion is agreeable to our reason, is reckoned to proceed entirely from it: and, had the unbelievers of this age heard St. Peter's piteous complaint, · Lord, to whom shall we go?' they would have bid him go to himself, and consult his own reason, and there he should find all that was worth finding in religion.

But let us, if you please, examine this pretence, and see on what ground this plea of natural religion can be maintained. If nature can instruct us sufficiently in religion, we have indeed no reason to go any where else; so far we are agreed : but whether nature can or 'no, is, in truth, rather a question of fact than mere speculation ; for the way to know wbat nature can do, is to take nature by itself and try its strength alone. There was a time when men had little else but nature to go to ; and that is the proper time to look into, to see what mere and unassisted nature can do in religion : nay, there are still nations under the sun, who are, as to religion, in a mere state of nature : the glad tidings of the gospel have not reached them, nor have they been blessed, or (to speak in the modern phrase) prejudiced with divine revelations, which we, less worthy of them than they, so much complain of: in other matters they are polite and civilized; they are cunning traders, fine artificers, and in many arts and sciences not unskilful. Here, then, we may

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »