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knew God they glorified him not as God, &c. Socrates, the best of them, when accused of despising, and of teaching the Athenian youth to despise, the gods of his country, acknowleged himself an idolater in the court of Areopagus, and made his observance of sacrificial rites on the Pagan altars a part of his defence. But how different was the defence of St. Paul, accused in the same court and of the same crime, when he made his appeal to the ALTAR OF THE UNKNOWN GOD! The very death of Socrates shows that he did not dissemble his opinions through, fear : was it then possible for any one to oppose heathen idolatry on his authority ? Moreover, the character of Socrates, as well as of his accusers, was afterwards put in a true light; his memory was held in reverence; and his doctrines were published by his great and philosophic pupils; yet for the space of near four hundred years to the birth of Christ, what was the effect produced thereby on the morals of mankind ? The manner and effect of St. Paul's preaching at Athens, and of other Apostles in various parts of the world, contrasted with those of Socrates and his school. Concluding observations :
I. If during so many ages reason was unable to reform the world, let us not be so vain as to imagine we could have done. more in similar circumstances, &c.
II. When we consider the means used by God in restoring true religion, and pretend to judge of their fitness, let us avoid being misled by the conceit of some, who think themselves wise enough to give such directions in so momentous a matter, &c.
III. Since we see how unable human reason is to struggle against the inveterate follies of superstition, and also how much it is indebted to the light of the gospel, let us be careful to preserve this light, for fear of falling back again into the wretched state from which it delivered us, &c.
I CORINTHIANS, CHAP. 1.–VERSE 21.
For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew
not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
• In the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God.' There is some difficulty in ascertaining the precise meaning of the first words, in the wisdom of God.' Some understand the meaning to be, that since the world, in the wisdom of God,' i. e. by contemplating the wisdom of God in the great works of the creation, had not ' by wisdom,’i. e. by the exercise of their reason, arrived to the true knowlege of God, it pleased God to take another method, and · by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. But since this difficulty does not affect the main assertions of the Apostle in the text, I will not spend time in inquiring what has been, or may be, said on this point.
The main assertions of the Apostle in the text are two :
Secondly, That it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save believers.
The language made use of here by St. Paul may want explaining ; for it may seem strange that the preaching of the gospel should by an Apostle of Christ be called the foolishness of preaching. But the meaning and language of St. Paul will be accounted for by considering what led him to this kind of expression.
The doctrine of the cross, and of the redemption of the world by the death and passion of Christ, was received by the great
pretenders to wisdom and reason with scorn and contempt : * The Greeks,' says the Apostle, seek after wisdom-and Christ crucified is to the Greeks foolishness. The pride of learning and philosophy had so possessed the polite parts of the heathen world, that they could not submit to a method of sal. vation which was above the reach of their philosophy, and which refused to be tried by the disputes and subtilties of their schools. The Apostle, verse 17, says,
• Christ sent him to preach the gospel, not with the wisdom of words.' The wisdom of the world, thus discarded, took its revenge of the gospel, and called it the foolishness of preaching. Be it so, says the Apostle; yet by this 'foolishness' of preaching God intends to save them who believe; for this method is of God, and not of man; “ and the foolishness of God is wiser than men.' You see what led St. Paul to use this expression, and to call the preaching of the gospel the foolishness of preaching.' The great and the learned so esteemed it, and so called it : the Apostle speaks to them in their own language, and calls on them in the text to compare their much-boasted wisdom with this foolishness of preaching, and to judge of them by their effects : the world by wisdom knew not God ;' but the ' foolishness' of preaching is ' salvation' to every
believer. Whether this charge of ignorance imputed to the gentile world be true or no, is a matter depending on the evidence of history: if it be not true, there can be no difficulty in disproving it: the time and place may be named, when and where the true knowlege of God prevailed, and religion in its purity was professed by the people. But this has not been attempted, nor will it be, by any one who is acquainted with the history of the ancient world. It may
be hard perhaps to account for the general corruption of religion which prevailed in the world; especially when we consider how absolutely absurd, and contrary to common sense, many of the superstitious rites were, which had spread themselves over the heathen world. We can scarcely conceive what should move men to consecrate birds and beasts, stocks and stones, and to fall down and worship them. But these follies being once introduced, and propagated from father to son, it is easy to account for the great difficulty of removing
them. Custom and education, and the reverence which men naturally have for what they esteem to be religion, were foundations too strong to be removed by the reasoning and speculations of a few who were something wiser than the rest, and saw perhaps many and great absurdities in the common practice ; and though there did appear in the heathen world some such great and good men, who were as lights shining in a dark place; yet was there not one found able to extricate himself from all the superstition of his country, much less to reduce the people to a practice consonant to the pure principles of natural religion. And it is an observation true in itself, and of great weight in this case, that not one country, nay, not one city, ever embraced the principles of pure natural religion on the strength of their own reason, or on conviction from the reason and wisdom of others. And since the world continued under idolatry for many ages together before the coming of Christ, notwithstanding that they had as much sense and reason in those days as we have in ours, what pretence is there to imagine that they would not have continued in the same state to this day, if the light of the gospel had not appeared ?
Whoever considers this matter seriously and fairly, cannot but be convinced of the truth of the Apostle's assertion, that • by wisdom the world knew not God.'
As to the second proposition, “That it hath pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.;' as far as true notions of God and religion are necessary means of salvation, the truth of the assertion will be admitted.
The enemies of revelation will of themselves, and in spite of themselves, bear witness so far to this truth. They now see clearly the great truths of religion ; they can now demonstrate the being and attributes of God, and from the relation we bear to him deduce the duties owing to him, the worship, and the purity of the worship, that is to be paid him. Are they wiser than all who lived before them ? or do they owe this new degree of light and knowlege to some advantage which others before them had not? They will hardly say they are wiser than all who lived when learning and arts and sciences flourished in the East, in Greece, and at Rome; and should they say it, it will be harder still to believe them: and yet
what one advantage have they above the others, this only excepted, that in their days the light of the gospel has been spread over the world ?
But, however, this comparison between the wise and learned of different ages will not determine the case before us; for religion is not made for scholars only: the use of it is to govern and direct the world, and to influence the practice of mankind. And the great question lies between the religion of the world in general before the coming of Christ, and since ; and the influence which religion in one state and the other naturally had, or may be supposed to have had, by just consequence, on the morality of mankind. To give you an account of the religion and divinity of the vulgar in the days of heathenism, would be to entertain you with a history of folly and superstition; some parts of which for the barbarity of them, and some for the lewdness of them, are very unfit to be related in a Christian congregation. The people thought of their gods much after the rate that the poets write of them; and their sacred history was an account of the battles and quarrels, and of the loves and amours of their deities. Their practice in religion was agreeable to their articles of belief: their impure deities were worshipped in acts of impurity or barbarity: and how could it be otherwise ? for when vice itself was consecrated, and had temples dedicated to it, how could the worshippers be untainted ?
But consider now how the case stands in countries where the gospel is preached in any tolerable degree of purity. The common people now are no greater reasoners than they were formerly: yet go into our villages, you will find there a firm persuasion of the unity of God, who made heaven and earth, and all things in them : the meanest of the people will tell you that an honest heart is the only acceptable sacrifice to God, and that there is no way to please him but by doing justly and righteously.
Let me ask now, whence comes this change? Is it for the better or no? If it is, surely the world is greatly indebted to the hand that wrought this change, that rooted out all the false notions destructive of virtue and the happiness of mankind, and planted in the room thereof principles which do so