« PreviousContinue »
GOSPEL ITS OWN WITNESS, &c.
IN WHICH THE HOLY NATURE OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION IS CON TRASTED WITH THE IMMORALITY OF DEISM.
THE greatest enemies of Christianity would still be thought friendly to morality, and will plead for it as necessary to the well being of mankind. However immoral men may be in their prac tice, and to whatever lengths they may proceed in extenuating particular vices; yet they cannot plead for immorality in the gross. A sober, upright, humble, chaste, and generous character, is allowed, on all hands, to be preferable to one that is profligate, treacherous, proud, unchaste, or cruel. Such, indeed, is the sense which men possess of right and wrong, that, whenever they attempt to disparage the former, or vindicate the latter, they are reduced to the necessity of covering each with a false disguise. They cannot traduce good as good, or justify evil as evil. The love of God must be called fanaticism, and benevolence to men methodism, or some such opprobrious name, before they can depreciate them. Theft, cruelty, and murder, on the other hand, must assume the names of wisdom and good policy, ere a plea can be set up in their defence. Thus were the arguments for the abolition of the slave trade answered, and in this manner was that
iniquitous traffic defended in the British Parliament. Doubtless there is a woe hanging over the heads of those men who thus called evil good, and good evil; nevertheless, we see, even in their conduct, the amiableness of righteousness, and the impossibility of fairly opposing it.
CHRISTIANITY REVEALS A GOD GLORIOUS IN HOLINESS BUT DEISM, THOUGH IT ACKNOWLEDGES A GOD, YET DENIES OR OVERLOOKS HIS MORAL CHARACTER.
THERE are certain perfections which all who acknowledge a God agree in attributing to him: such are those of wisdom, power, immutability, &c. These, by Christian divines, are usually termed his natural perfections. There are others which no less evidently belong to deity, such as goodness, justice, veracity, &c. all which may be expressed in one word-holiness; and these are usually termed his moral perfections. Both natural and moral attributes tend to display the glory of the divine character, but especially the latter. Wisdom and power, in the Supreme Being, render him a proper object of admiration; but justice, veracity, and goodness, attract our love. No being is beloved for his greatness, but for his goodness. Moral excellence is the highest glory of an intelligent being, created or uncreated. Without this, wisdom would be subtilty, power tyranny, and immutability the same thing as being unchangeably wicked.
We account it the glory of revelation, that, while it displays the natural perfections of God in a way superior to any thing that has been called religion, it exhibits his moral excellence in a manner peculiar to itself. It was with good reason that Moses affirmed in behalf of Israel, Their rock is not as our Rock, our enemies themselves being judges. The God, or Rock, of Israel is constantly described as a being glorious in holiness, and as requiring pure and holy worship: The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and in truth.-The Lord our God is holy.-Holy and reverend is his name.-Glory ye in his holy name.—And one cried to another, and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.—He is of purer VOL. III.
eyes than to behold evil; and cannot look on iniquity.—A God of truth, and without iniquity just and right is he. Is any thing like this to be found in the writings of the ancient heathens? No. The generality of their deities were the patrons of vice, and their worship was accompanied with the foulest abominations that could disgrace the nature of man. Justice, benevolence, and veracity were not considered as necessary in any part of their religion, and a large proportion of it consisted in drunkenness, lewdness, and the offering up of human sacrifices.
The object of Christian adoration is JEHOVAH, the God of Israel; whose character for holiness, justice and goodness, is displayed in the doctrines and precepts of the gospel, in a more affecting light than by any of the peceding dispensations. But who or what is the God of Deists? It is true, that they have been shamed out of the polytheism of the heathens. They have reduced their thirty thousand deities into one: but what is his character? What attributes do they ascribe to him? For any thing that appears in their writings, he is far from the holy, the just, and the good, as those of their heathen predecessors. They enjoy a pleasure, it is allowed, in contemplating the productions of wisdom and power; but as to holiness, it is foreign from their inquiries: a holy God does not appear to be suited to their wishes.
Lord Bolingbroke acknowledges a God, but is for reducing all his attributes to wisdom and power; blaming divines for distinguishing between his physical and moral attributes; asserting, that "we cannot ascribe goodness and justice to God, according to our ideas of them, nor argue with any certainty about them; and that it is absurd to deduce moral obligations from the moral attributes of God, or to pretend to imitate him in those attributes."*
Voltaire admits a "supreme, eternal, incomprehensible Intelligence;" but passes over his moral character.†
Mr. Paine says, "I believe in one God, and more ;" and in the course of his work ascribes to him the natural perfections of wisdom and power; but is very sparing in what he says of his moral
* See Leland's Review, Let. XXIII.
+ Ignorant Philospher, Nos. XV. XVI. XVII.
Age of Reason, Part I. p. 1.
excellence, of his being the moral governor of the world, and of man's being an accountable creature. He affects, indeed, to be shocked at the impurity of the ideas and expressions of the Bible, and to feel for "the honour of his Creator in having such a book called after his name."* This is the only passage, that I recollect, in which he expresses any concern for the moral character of God; and whether this would have appeared but for the sake of giving an edge to reproach, let the reader judge.
How are we to account for these writers thus denying or overlooking the moral character of the Deity, but by supposing that a holy God is not suited to their inclinations? If we bear a sincere regard to moral excellence, we shall regard every being in proportion as he appears to possess it; and if we consider the Divine Being as possessing it supremely, and as the source of it to all other beings, it will be natural for us to love him supremely, and all other beings in subserviency to him. And if we love him supremely, on account of his moral character, it will be no less natural to take pleasure in contemplating him under that character.
On the other hand, if we be enemies to moral excellence, it will render every being who possesses it unlovely in our eyes. Virtuous or holy characters may indeed command our respect, and even admiration; but will not attract our affection. Whatever regard we may bear to them, it will not be on account of their virtue, but of other qualities of which they may be possessed. Virtuous characters may be also wise and mighty; and we may admire their ingenuity, be delighted with their splendour, and take pleasure in visiting them, that we may inspect their curiosities; but, in such cases, the more things of a moral nature are kept at a distance, the more agreeable will be our visit. Much the same may be said of the Supreme Being. If we be enemies to moral excellence, God, as a holy being, will possess no loveliness in our eyes. We may admire him with that kind of admiration which is paid to a great genius, and may feel a pleasure in tracing the grandeur and ingenuity of his operations; but the farther his moral character is kept out of sight, the more agreeable it will be to us.
Age of Reason, Part I p. 16.