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XLIV.] CHRISTIANITY NOT INCREDIBLE, &c. 461,
the unfeigned simplicity and humility of Christ, that our hearts may be open to the true wisdom of his gospel, and that we may be among those happy poor, to whom it is preached in its full beauty and power. Grant us this, blessed Lord, we most humbly beseech thee, for the sake of Christ Jesus our Saviour; to whom, with Thee, and the Holy Spirit, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now, and for evermore. Amen.
CHRISTIANITY NOT INCREDIBLE BECAUSE
St. John XVII. 25.
O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee.
As, in order to know any particular man, it is not enough to know, that there is a man of such a name or character, but we must also have some intercourse and intimacy with him, and some personal knowledge of him; so merely to know that there is a Being, who made and governs all things, who is infinitely wise, just, powerful, and good, is only to know that there is a God; it is not to know God.
He only knows God, agreeably to the ends and purposes of religion, who compels his low and narrow prejudices to give way, and enlarges his understanding, to make room for a great and exalted idea of the divine Being; who cleanses and opens his heart, that it may, with all possible love and reverence, receive an amiable and awful impression of him; and who, setting wide the gates' of his mind, that the King of glory may come in,' feels him entering that living temple, and possessing himself of an absolute power of all the faculties of his soul, and all the passions of his heart. When God is truly known, the understanding must be convinced, that his nature is incomprehensible, and his majesty incon
ceivable; and the heart must be deeply engaged to him, inasmuch as he is the most amiable and excellent of all beings.
It is plain, therefore, that the vicious person and the libertine know not God; for, if they did, they would fear and love him; they would consider him as a being infinitely glorious and incomprehensible, and would be afraid to make free with him, by presumptuous reasonings about him; they would consider him as always present with them, as a sure witness and just judge, and would not suffer their unruly passions to rebel against him.
What we know of God is spiritually discerned, and not in the common way of knowledge, by our senses or experience. The worldly-minded therefore cannot know God; because, while they follow the track of those false opinions and corrupt passions that govern the world, they can never meet with God, whose paths lie another way, and are past finding out to such minds. The way of God is far above, out of their sight; which is turned downward on the ways of the world, and too intent on the affairs of this life, to consider the nature of an visible and incomprehensible being.
But, to the mind that attends to the voice of religion, and is disposed to receive its instruction, so much of the divine nature discovers itself, as is necessary to the purposes of religion, and the happiness of such a mind.
If even the most spiritual mind should pry farther, or attempt a deeper inquiry into the divine nature, it would quickly find, that“ such knowledge is too wonderful for it,' and that it could not attain unto it,' no, not with the assistance of revelation itself; which only lets us so far into the knowledge of God, as is requisiste to our own salvation; but affords neither encouragement or satisfaction to vain inquiries into what we are neither concerned in, nor capable of. The knowledge which our religion affords us of God, is the utmost our narrow faculties can contain, when barely proposed, and infinitely more than they can account for by reason, in its highest improvement.
Our libertines, however, cry out for what they call a rational religion. But is nothing rational which reason cannot perfectly account for ? Reason and common sense tell us, God is incomprehensible. Can it be common sense,
or reason, then, that leads some men to disbelieve certain points concerning God, which are delivered and proved to us by the best authority, and never yet shewn to imply the least absurdity, merely because they cannot clearly account for them ? If this be reason, then reason is far more inconsistent with itself, than any revealed doctrine concerning God can even seem to be.
But it is not to be supposed, that reason, truly such, should engage in so great an inconsistency. These instances of impiety and absurdity proceed rather from pride, and other worldly passions ; which the mysteries of our religion would humble, if believed ; and the more practical doctrines that are inseparately united to them, would restrain. But, as it would not look decent to cavil at the practical and moral part of our religion, they make their attack on the mysterious; in hopss that, if that should be once brought into discredit, or suspicion, contempt might be thence reAected on what they think the severities of Christianity.
It is to be presumed, that had our religion, like Mahometism, indulged the desires, and favoured the pleasures, of its believers, it had neither at first, nor in succeeding ages, met with so much distaste and opposition from men of loose dispositions ; they would, in return, have indulged all its mysteries. We see this experimentally proved to us by popery; among whose professors there are those of as great penetration, and as strongly engaged to worldly interests, and sensual pleasures, as any, who set up to despise religion among us; yet these men will swallow mysteries by the bundle, will wink at manifest impositions, nay, and contentedly divide their fortunes with their clergy. But then for this they have their consciences, which they could not themselves so effectually keep in order, made easy, and all kept quiet within, be their lives ever so corrupt and dissolute. But our religion, not being calculated for this sort of men, and proposing no absurdities to be believed, hath provided no indulgences to purchase either the faith, or outward conformity, of such persons.
It is undoubtedly by their aversion to all religion, that men are led to dispute the mysteries of the true; for those mysteries contain in them nothing hard to be conceived, or shocking to reason, Every one knows what is understood
by the doctrine of the Trinity, and the incarnation of our Saviour. Now it cannot be shewn, that either the one or the other is at all inconsistent with the divine nature ; because no man knows, or possibly can know, so much of God, as to make out the least appearance of such an inconsistency.
Yet these are the only mysteries peculiar to Christianity, at which the very delicate faith of our libertines would seem to stumble. They cannot conceive, how even the power of God should unite the nature of man to his own, nor how the unity of the divine nature should admit of a personal distinction, though they acknowledge the nature of God to be utterly incomprehensible.
Unfortunately for these men, there is a profound mystery in deism, and in natural religion, which it is impossible even to clear up, or reconcile to reason, without admitting the doctrines of the personal distinction, and of the incarnation. It is admitted on all hands, by deists as well as others, that God is both infinitely just, and infinitely merciful. Now, as he is infinitely just, reason tells us he will punish every offender; yet, as he is infinitely merciful, the same reason tells us he will pardon all offences. The light of natural reason can never disengage itself from this great difficulty. Christianity alone can clear it up : for it is impossible for us to conceive any other way of satisfying the justice of God for sin, in order that mercy may take place, but by an atonement; and it is most absurd to suppose, that a sufficient atonement could be made, but by the suffering of a divine person, distinct from him, to whom this atonement ought to be made. Now, a divine person, as such, cannot suffer at all; but a person consisting of the divine and human nature may, and Christians believe he did ; and that they • have remission of sins through his blood.'
All other schemes of religion, but the Christian, set the very attributes of God at eternal variance with each other, and hang a millstone about their own necks; which, as human reason put it on, so it is impossible it should ever take it off. The angels desired to look into this mystery, but were not able to comprehend it, till the wisdom and power of God laid it open in the gospel, and made it intelligible even to men.
This wonderful dispensation, so admirably fitted to satisfy the justice of God, to save the souls of men, to take away the great difficulty that lay on religion, and answer all its excellent ends, is represented by libertines as too mysterious to be conceived, and too inconsistent with reason to be believed. But the truth is, it is too inconsistent with vanity, with sensuality, with avarice, and ambition, to gain admittance among such men. Self-sufficiency, and the god of this world, hath blinded the minds of them which believe not; left the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. It is not reason, but pride and worldly-mindedness, that make all the apostates from Christianity. Some men are so highly conceited of their own abilities as to think they want neither God nor man to instruct them. Their reason is sufficient, and, of itself, gives them a perfect knowledge of all they have occasion to know, even of God himself. How vastly superior are they in the faculties of the mind to the rest of mankind, and, I may add, to the great philosophers of former ages; who have never been able to go much beyond their teachers, in the knowledge of divine things!
But, with all their boasted sufficiency, which was never yet found attended in the same mind with much- real wisdom, they know no more of God than other men; nay, so far as they forsake the assistance of revelation, just so far, it is plain, they know less. Socrates, who was the greatest uninspired man that ever lived, said, he knew but one thing, and that was, that he knew nothing. The truth is, the human faculties are too narrow and weak to arrive at a perfect knowledge of any thing in nature; so far are they from being able to afford us a perfect, or, merely by their own strength, any reasonable knowledge of God, the author of nature ; between whom and man there is an infinite distance.
Between us and the brute creation there is, in comparison, but a very small and inconsiderable difference; and yet, to a brute, a man is a very incomprehensible being. Nay, what is more, a brute is a composition of unintelligible mysteries to a man; insomuch that he hath been a god to some men, and is a pattern to the libertine, who at once eats and imitates him, desiring to live as he does, without religion, and die without hope.