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human character, should perfect and ennoble every natural sentiment which tends to make man cooperate with his fellow-creatures for good. So does the religion of the Bible.
A religion that comes from Heaven may naturally be expected to contain new precepts, such as obviously correspond with the object of it. So does the religion of the Bible, and especially that of the perfective dispensation of the New Testament, where the precepts tend in an especial manner to “ prepare us for the kingdom of Heaven.” Here the new precepts point to poorness of spirit, humility, self-abasement, detachment from the world, repentance, faith, forgiveness of injuries, charity. All these were unknown to the Pagan moralists.
A religion that comes from Heaven may be expected to rest upon some such scheme or plan as would never have entered the mind of man. So does the Christian religion. Its Founder made his own sufferings and death a requisite part of his original plan, essential to his mission, and necessary to the salvation of his followers. This infinitely surpassed all human conceptions, inventions, or expectations.
A religion that comes from Heaven should teach the purest and most rational worship. So does the Chris. lian religion. It teaches us that “ God is a Spirit, and that they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” These two words exclude formality, hypocrisy, and deadness in devotion; and teach us that God requires of us the sincere homage of the heart.
A religion that comes from Heaven will incessantly invite men thither. So does the Christian religion,
22 To this effect, Theodoret, writing against the Gentiles, in favour of the excellency of Christian precepts.compared with those of the philosophers, gives various instances of whole nations which were converted from the most brutish, savage, and lewd manners, to mildness, gentleness, benevolence, and chastity, by the power of Christianity. See Theod. De Curand. Græc. Affectib. Serm. 9, de Leg.; or Cave's Primitive Christianity, part i. ch. 3, p. 58, &c.
A religion that comes from Heaven, and that is constituted to be universal, should meet man in all directions, and come in contact with him at every point. So does the religion of the Gospel. Its precepts and doctrines are adapted to our advantage in all circumstances of life and conduct. Like the stars “ in the glorious firmament of the sky,” the precepts and promises applicable to human life are universally scattered over the face of the Scriptures; though, like the stars, they are more thickly grouped, and shine with more beauty and refulgence in some places than in others. Still the one and the other exist for our good, and both may be contemplated as
“For ever singing as they shine,
The hand that made us is divine." Examining the various portions of the word of God under these impressions, and with this view, we shall find that there is a mutual connexion and harmony between them. Thus, every precept will be found to have its exemplification; every command its corresponding benefit; every want its corresponding prayer ; and the aids of the Spirit uniformly offered. Thus, also, every duty is urged by an appropriate motive; every blessing has its dependent duty; every trial its adequate support; every temptation its peculiar “way of escape” from it; every affiction its commensurate consolation; every situation has suggested its suitable religious employments; every period in life, and every relation in society, brings with it vocations and difficulties peculiar to itself, all of which are provided for in the richness and exuberance of Scripture. Nay, even in the last great and solemn change, when the friends of a dying Christian show, by their aching hearts and streaming eyes, that earthly hopes are at an end, when a human creature most needs the consolations and supports of religion, then does the Christian religion often most manifest its power-enabling the weeping relatives to endure the acuteness without the bitterness of grief, and “ sorrow not as those who are without hope," --and, at the same time, plucking away the sting of death, and giving the departing saint to feel that when “flesh and heart fail, God is the strength of his heart, and his portion for ever23.” Such are the benefits, the blessings, and the aids of the Christian religion. It fills the minds of its genuine disciples with true light, it reforms their hearts, it rightly disposes them towards God and their fellow-creatures: it teaches them how to bear prosperity without highmindedness, adversity without murmuring; how humility may exist without meanness, and dignity without pride; it makes them more reasonable in all their actions; and inspires them with fortitude, contentment, devotion, and contempt of the world : it communicates correct notions of its own supreme value, of the sanctity of morality, the vanity of earthly passions, the misery and corruption of our nature, the littleness of every thing but God : it delivers its disciples from the greatest, that is, from moral evils; teaches them the proper use of temporal mercies; and provides for them an inexhaustible and eternal store of intellectual and moral good. If the religion which accomplishes all this be false, where can we seek for truth? If the inestimable advantages it promises are to be despised and rejected, what is there upon or under the earth (and on this hypothesis there is nothing above it) that is worth retaining ?
Be it recollected, however, and with this remark I shall conclude the present letter, that the enjoyments of the Christian religion are confined exclusively to sincere Christians. “To these enjoyments, therefore, you will necessarily continue a stranger unless you resign yourself wholly to its power: for the consolations of religion are reserved to reward, to sweeten, and to stimulate obedience. Many, without renouncing the profession of Christianity, without formally rejecting its distinguishing doctrines, live in such an habitual violation of its laws, and contradiction to its spirit, that, conscious they have more to fear than to hope from its truth, they
23 Ps. lxxiii. 26.
are never able to contemplate it without terror. It haunts their imagination instead of tranquillizing their hearts, and hangs with depressing weight on all their enjoyments and pursuits. Their religion, instead of comforting them under their troubles, is itself their greatest trouble, from which they seek refuge in the dissipation and vanity of the world, until the throbs and tumults of conscience force them back upon gion. Thus suspended between opposite powers, the sport of contradictory influences, they are disqualified for the happiness of both worlds, and neither enjoy the pleasures of sin, nor the peace of piety. Is it surprising to find a mind thus bewildered in uncertainty, and dissatisfied with itself, court deception, and embrace with eagerness every pretext to mutilate the claims, and enervate the authority of Christianity; forgetting that it is of the very essence of the religious principle to preside and control, and that it is impossible to serve God and mammon?? It is this class of persons who are chiefly in danger of being entangled in the snares of infidelity. Yet the champions of infidelity have much more reason to be ashamed than to boast of such converts 24.”
I am, &c. 24 See a very profound and eloquent discourse entitled, “ Modern Infidelity considered with respect to its Influence on Society,” by my highly esteemed friend, Robert Hall, A. M. This author, in the preface to the valuable publication just quoted, pledged himself" to enter into a fuller and more particular examination of the Infidel Philosophy, both with respect to its speculative principles, and its practical effects; its influence on society and the individual:” and every one who has resigned himself to the splendour, and magic, and force of bis eloquence, an eloquence, which, like the solar light, warms while it illuminates, and is alike calculated to delight the imagination, to enrich the understanding, and to amend the heart-must lament that he has not long before now redeemed this pledge. O! why will the most captivating, energetic, and profound preacher and religious writer now living, rest satisfied with giving to the world scarcely auy but fugitive publications of temporary interest, the whole of which it is already difficult to collect; — when all who know him, or who are able to appreciate the value of his efforts, have been long and anxiously anticipating the period when he will favour the public with some work of respectable magnitude and permanent interest, which shall enlighten and instruct its successive readers for ages to come ?
On the Inspiration of Scripture. The various trains of argument and observation laid open to you in my former letters have, I hope, fully convinced
you that the several books of Scripture deserve credence as genuine and authentic; but, in order that the truths and doctrines which they contain may press upon your mind with their full weight, it is necessary you should have a conviction of their Divine authority. A firm and cordial belief of the INSPIRATION of the Bible is, indeed, of the highest moment; for unless you are persuaded that those who were employed in the composition of the respective books were entirely preserved from error, a conviction of their honesty and integrity will be but of little avail. Honest men may err, may point out the wrong track, however unwilling they may be to deceive; and if those who have penned what we receive as revelation are thus open to mistakes, we are still left to make the voyage of life in the midst of rocks and shelves and quicksands, with a compass vacillating and useless, and our pole-star enveloped in mists and obscurity.
But some of these writers assure us that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God';” meaning, at least, the Jewish Scriptures; a declaration which deserves attention on the score of the general veracity by which we have already shown their assertions are always marked. Still, as a like claim is made by writers who, it has been ascertained, were wicked and designing, let us inquire on what grounds and to what extent the divine inspiration of the Bible ought to be admitted.
Theologians have enumerated several kinds of Inspiration, such as an inspiration of superintendency, in which God so influences and directs the mind of any person as to keep him more secure from error in some complex discourse, than he would have been merely by the use of his natural faculties: plenary superin
1 2 Tim. iii. 16.