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with the maxim of Lord Bacon in his head at least, if not in his heart, that "by how much any divine mystery is more unpalatable and incredible, by so much "the more honour is given to God in believing, and "the victory of our faith is made more noble." (a)
Now to me it appears impossible, and I trust you will find it so, for any person attentively to read the Bible, and especially the New Testament, free from any previous bias, without coming to the conclusion that what distinguishes Christianity from all other religious systems is the circumstance of its being a restorative dispensation. The great dramatic poet, who, in one of his admirable descriptions of mercy, remarked that
"All the souls that are were forfeit once;
correctly expressed, whether he intended it or not, the most humbling fact, and most consoling doctrine, the Bible proclaims to us. Had not " all sinned and 66 come short of the glory of God," it would never have been declared that "Christ is the propitiation
for the sins of the whole world." (b) Nor can we imagine that our Lord would himself have declared, "I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance;" (c) or the Apostle Paul have affirmed, "it is worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came "into the world to SAVE sinners;" (d) had not the universal prevalence of iniquity, in all ages, called for the Divine invention of that stupendous scheme of
(a) Advancement of Learning, book ix. (c) Mark, ii. 17.
(b) 1 John, ii. 2.
(d) 1 Tim. i. 15.
mercy, whereby God should at once "be just, and yet "the justifier of the ungodly." (e)
Christianity, it is true, is distinguishable from all other systems by the purity, excellency, and extent of the morality it enforces; yet this is not, I conceive, its most prominent characteristic. It no where presents us with a connected scheme of ethics, but it does far better in advancing the most simple precepts relative to every part of moral duty, and accompanying them with the most powerful incentives to upright and holy conduct. Its grand peculiarity consists in assuming the fact that man is in a fallen state, that he has lost the image of God, that he is of himself incapable of regaining the favour of his Creator, and in providing a remedy by which man may be cured of his moral disorder; this remedy being no less than the gift of "the Son of God:" who, in relation to mankind, is not so frequently called their pattern, as "the "Physician of Souls," "the great Deliverer," "the "Saviour of the world."
The more intimately you become acquainted with Christianity, as depicted in the New Testament, the more forcibly will you be struck with the wisdom of its constitution. It does not, if I may so say, insult and triumph over man by prescribing him a code of laws which he cannot obey, by referring him to statutes every one of which he has broken, and commanding him to preserve them entire; but it takes man as he is, provides for his restoration, points out the means of salvation, invites him to embrace those means, and then (e) Rom. iii. 26. iv. 5.
presents him with precepts, by the observance of which he may "adorn the doctrine of God his Saviour in all "things."(f) The scheme by which all this is effected is, doubtless, extraordinary; but it is not less worthy of acceptance on that account. Had it not been far beyond human capacity, and human discovery, it need not have been transmitted from heaven. God need not make supernatural communications to reveal to us what might have been found out by a natural process. Having ascertained that the Bible is the word of God, it is our duty to receive all it makes known to us, (whether it coincide or not with our preconceived notions), without appeal to any other quarter. " I "cannot comprehend the reason of this," may an inquirer after scriptural truth often say, "but it is God "who declares it; I receive it on his authority, and I "humbly rely upon the promise, that what I know not "now, I shall know hereafter." (g)
It is of extreme importance to have right views of the Christian system in general, because our eternal safety depends upon it. Probably there is no communion, nor any individual, whose religious notions are in every point correct; because human explications even of the true religion are likely more or less to be affected by human imperfection. Still, we may rest assured, because God has promised it, that the devout, humble, and sincere inquirer, shall, in every thing that is essential to salvation, be preserved from error. Now, among the various sects into which the Christian world is divided, all except one embrace the hypothesis that (f) Titus, ii. 10. (g) John, xiii. 7.
Christianity is a provision of mercy for an apostaté and sinful world, through a divine Mediator. To determine whether the majority or the minority are wrong in this respect is of the utmost consequence: for they who adopt this hypothesis and they who reject it, "having different objects of worship, and different "grounds of confidence, must be allowed to be of religions essentially different." What, then, saith the Scriptures? for to them must be our ultimate appeal.
A man of plain understanding, who has no previously adopted system to favour, who reads for the sake of arriving at truth, and who therefore attaches to Scripture its most palpable and obvious meaning, being persuaded that it is incompatible with the character of a revelation from God to abound in enigmas, will soon find that the evangelical scheme is this:-God, foreseeing the fatal apostasy into which the whole human race would fall, did not determine to deal in a way of strict severity with us, so as to consign us over to universal ruin and inevitable damnation; but, on the contrary, determined to enter into a treaty of peace and reconciliation, and to publish to all whom the Gospel should reach, the express offers of life and glory, in a certain method which his infinite wisdom judged suitable to the purity of his nature, and the honour of his government. This method is so astonishing and peculiar, that for man to have proposed it, independent of Divine teaching, would have approached to blasphemy, and to have believed it on any other than divine authority, next to impossible. "God "so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son,
"that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, "but enjoy everlasting life." He sent into the world "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of "his person," (h) partaker of his own divine perfections and honours, to be not merely a teacher of righteousness, and a messenger of grace, but also a sacrifice for the sins of men. Accordingly, at such a time as infinite wisdom saw most fitted for the purpose, the Lord Jesus Christ, "when he took upon him to deliver 66 man did not abhor the virgin's womb," but was born "of a virgin,” (i) and appeared in human flesh: after he had fulfilled the whole law, gone through incessant fatigues, and borne all the injuries which the ingratitude and malice of men could inflict, he voluntarily "submitted himself to death, even the death of the "cross," and, having been "delivered for our offences, “was raised again for our justification." (k) "When "he had overcome the sharpness of death, he opened "the kingdom of heaven to all believers :" forty days after his resurrection he "ascended into heaven," in sight of his disciples, where he has become our Intercessor; and, agreeably to his promise, sent down his Spirit upon his apostles to enable them, in the most persuasive and authoritative manner, "to preach the "Gospel;" giving it in charge to them and their successors to publish it "to every creature ;" and declaring that all who repent and believe in that Gospel may be saved, may be released from punishment, and re
(h) John, iii. 16. Heb. i. 3.
(i) Is. vii. 14. Matt. i. 23. Luke, i. 31. (k) Rom. iv. 25.