Page images
PDF
EPUB

engaged, by his exact knowledge of the story which he undertook to write, in all its circumstances, from the very beginning. It is said, indeed, by a writer of the very first antiquity, and high in credit, that his Gospel was composed from St. Paul's sermons. “ Luke, the attendant of St. Paul,” says Irenæus, “put into his book the Gospel preached by that apostle.” This being premised, attend, I beseech you, to the account which Șt. Luke gives of his own undertaking. “ It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee, in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed.” The last verse might be more literally rendered, “ That thou mightest know the exact truth of those doctrines wherein thou hast been CaTECHISED." — St. Luke's Gospel, therefore, if the writer's own word may be taken about his own work, is an historical ex. position of the catechism which Theophilus had learnt when he was first made a Christian. The two first articles in this historical exposition are, — the history of the Baptist's birth, and that of Mary's miraculous impregnation. We have much more, therefore, than the testimony of St. Luke, in addition to that of St. Matthew, to the truth of the fact of the miraculous conception: we have the testimony of St. Luke that this fact was a part of the earliest catechetical instruction, - a part of the catechism, no doubt, which St. Paul's converts learnt of the apostle. Let this, then, be your answer, if any man shall ask you a reason of this part of your faith, — tell him you have been learning St. Paul's catechism.

From what hath been said, you will easily perceive,

that the evidence of the fact of our Lord's miraculous conception is answerable to the great importance of the doctrine ; and you will esteem it an objection of little weight, that the modern advocates of the Unitarian tenets cannot otherwise give a colour to their wretched cause than by denying the inspiration of the sacred historians, that they may seem to themselves at liberty to reject their testimony. You will remember, that the doctrines of the Christian revelation were not originally delivered in a system, but interwoven in the history of our Saviour's life. To say, therefore, that the first preachers were not inspired in the composition of the narratives in which their doctrine is conveyed, is nearly the same thing as to deny their inspiration in general. You will, perhaps, think it incredible, that they who were assisted by the Divine Spirit when they preached, should be deserted by that Spirit when they committed what they had preached to writing. You will think it improbable, that they who were endowed with the gift of discerning spirits, should be endowed with no gift of discerning the truth of facts. You will recollect one instance upon record, in which St. Peter detected a falsehood by the light of inspiration ; and you will perhaps be inclined to think, that it could be of no less importance to the church, that the apostles and evangelists should be enabled to detect falsehoods in the history of our Saviour's life, than that St. Peter should be enabled to detect Ananias's lie about the sale of his estate. You will think it unlikely, that they who were led by the Spirit into all truth, should be permitted to lead the whole church for many ages into error, — that they should be permitted to leave behind them, as authentic memoirs of their Master's

life, narratives compiled with little judgment or selection, from the stories of the day, from facts and fictions in promiscuous circulation. The credulity which swallows these contradictions, while it strains at mysteries, is not the faith which will remove mountains. The Ebionites of antiquity, little as they were famed for penetration and discernment, managed, however, the affairs of the sect with more discretion than our modern Unitarians : they questioned not the inspiration of the books which they received ; but they received only one book, — a spurious copy of St. Matthew's Gospel, curtailed of the two first chapters. You will think it no inconsiderable confirmation of the doctrine in question, that the sect which first denied it, to palliate their infidelity, found it necessary to reject three of the Gospels, and to mutilate the fourth.

Not in words, therefore, and in form, but with hearts full of faith and gratitude, you will join in the solemn service of the day, and return thanks to God, “ who gave his only begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and, as at this time, to be born of a pure virgin.” You will always remember, that it is the great use of a sound faith, that it furnishes the most effectual motives to a good life. You will, therefore, not rest in the merit of a speculative faith ; you will make it your constant endeavour that your lives may adorn your profession, - that “ your light may so shine before men, that they, seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

SERMON XXXV.

DEUTERONOMY, xv. 11.

For the poor shall never cease out of the land :

therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor and to thy needy in thy land.

Since civilised society is unquestionably the life which Providence designs for man, formed, as he evidently is, with powers to derive his proper happiness from what he may contribute to the public good, nor less formed to be miserable in solitude, by want of employment for the faculties which something of a natural instinct prompts him to exert, — since what are commonly called the artificial distinctions of society, the inequalities of rank, wealth, and power, must, in truth, be a part of God's design, when he designs man to a life in which the variety of occupations and pursuits, arising from those discriminations of condition, is no less essential to the public weal, than the diversity of members in the natural body, and the different functions of its various parts are essential to the health and vigour of the individual, by his powers and capacities, no less than by his wants and infirmities, to seek his happiness in civil life, it is ordained that every rank furnish the individual with the means, not only of subsistence, but of comfort and enjoyment, (for although the pleasures of the different degrees of men are drawn from different sources, and differ greatly in the elegance and lustre of their exterior form and show, yet the quantity of real happiness within the reach of the individual will be found, upon a fair and just comparison, in all the ranks of life the same,) - upon this view of the Divine original of civil society, with the inequalities of condition which obtain in it, and the provision which is equally made in all conditions for the happiness of the individual, — it may seem perhaps unreasonable, — it may seem a presumptuous deviation from the Creator's plan, that any should become suitors to the public charity for a better subsistence than their own labour might procure. Poverty, it may seem, can be nothing more than an imaginary evil ; of which the modest never will complain, which the intelligent never will commiserate, and the politic never will relieve. And the complaint, it may seem, can never be more indecent, or less worthy of regard, than when it is used by those who profess to be strangers and pilgrims upon the earth, and to have a balm for all the evils of the present world in the certainty of their prospects in a better country.

since, in harmony with this design of driving man

* Preached at the Anniversary Meeting of the Sons of the Clergy, May 18. 1786.

Shocking as I trust these conclusions must be to the feelings of a Christian assembly, it may nevertheless be useful to demonstrate, that they have no real connection with the principles from which they seem to be drawn, that they are not less contrary

« PreviousContinue »