« AnteriorContinuar »
respect to God, and a greater command over our appetites and passions in general?
We should ever bear in mind, that superior knowledge implies superior obligations. As to believe in a God, and yet live as without God in the world, is worse than being an atheist; so to profess Christianity, while its principles have no influence upon us, not improving our dispositions and conduct, is much worse than not to believe it at all. A profligate unbeliever is much more excusable than a worldlyminded, immoral Christian, a Christian destitute of candor and benevolence.
Christians surrounded by unbelievers, perhaps without any opportunity of attending public worship, and the received custom of the times excluding the mention of any thing relating to religion in conversation, should be careful to confirm and strengthen their own faith by a voluntary attention to the principles and evidences of it. Faith, as Dr. Hartley has shown, admits of degrees; and between a merely rational faith (or the simple assent of the mind to a speculative truth), and practical faith (or that cordial reception of it which warms the heart and influences the conduct), the difference is almost infinite. The former, as it respects Christianity, is of very little value, as we see in the generality of Christians, who being wholly immersed in the affairs of the world, and giving little or no attention to their Christian principles, are little, if at all, the better for them. Nay, they are the more criminal on this account; being possessed of so great a treasure, and making no proper use of it. The latter only is that faith which the apostle says, works by love, which purifies the heart and reforms the life; and it cannot be formed and kept up in the actual circumstances of life, without great and unremitted attention.
A person, therefore, who wishes to be a Christian to any good purpose, must make it his daily practice to read the Scriptures, and other books which tend to interest him in their contents. Much of the time that his necessary business, whatever it be, allows for reading, he will with peculiar satisfaction devote to this; and he will not satisfy himself with saying that, having once read the Scriptures and well enough remembering their general contents, he has no occasion to look into them any more. The consequence of the frequent reading of the Scriptures, and books relating to Christianity, will be, that his religion, or something relating to it, will be the subject to which his thoughts will naturally turn, whenever the business of life does not call them another way; and even in the midst of business he will have many moments of pleasing and serious reflection, which will have a happy effect in preserving that equanimity which is so desirable amidst the vicissitudes of this life, preventing undue elation in prosperity, and depression in adversity; from that sense of the wise and impartial providence of God superintending all events, and the happy termination to which all things are tending, which this practice will naturally impress upon his mind.
If a Christian have any friends, whose views of things are similar to his own, he will naturally resort to them, and they will strengthen each other's faith, hope, and joy, by conversing on the subject of religion; as persons of the same sentiments and views in politics, inflame their ardor in a common cause by frequent intercourse and conversations. I am even not altogether without hope, that this open rejection of Christianity by such great numbers, and the contempt with which it is treated by them, will operate like persecution of other kinds, and animate the zeal of its rational and steady friends; and also, that this zeal may lead to methods of extending the knowledge of Christianity and its evidences, to others who are but imperfectly acquainted with them, which may end in the rechristianizing of the world, and that on principles better founded, and therefore more stable than ever.
But to effect this desirable end, it is necessary, that Christians make their religion a primary object, and consider every thing relating to this life as subordinate to it; as, if there be a future life, of so much more value than this, they reasonably ought to do. Let "the children of this world," as our Saviour calls them, give their whole attention, as they do, to the perishable things of it; but let "the children of light," the heirs of immortality, habitually look above and beyond it, to that " treasure in heaven which faileth not," that "inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and which fadeth not away," not indeed the object of sense, but of faith, and surely reserved in heaven for us.
There is no great danger of leading any person by these representations to make his religion too much an object, so as to neglect the proper business of this life; though, with some persons of a peculiarly melancholy turn of mind, and especially after meeting with misfortunes in life, this has been the case. The constant presence of things seen and temporal, gives them a decided advantage over things unseen, though eternal, especially in these times, in which all monkish maxims are justly exploded, and the duties of all intelligent Christians connect them with the world and the business of it; so that we cannot have any serious apprehension of this inconvenience, which, however, it is proper to guard against. Indeed, I cannot conceive that any of those whom I call rational Christians, whose religion is free from the gross absurdities that have long prevailed in the Christian world, and which have brought it into the state of discredit in which it now is, are in any danger of this extreme; and these are the only persons by whom I have any expectation that an address from me will be attended to.
Lastly, let the rational Christian, who justly disclaims such doctrines as those of original sin, arbitrary predestination, the Trinity, and vicarious satisfaction, as the grossest corruptions of his religion, and the principal cause of its present rejection, (and which on this account his regard for Christianity requires that he should take every opportunity of exposing,) be equally prepared to meet the too vehement zeal of the defenders of these doctrines (who are at present the great majority of the nominally Christian world), persons who will not scruple to treat him as a deist or atheist; and also the hatred of the real deists and atheists of the age. For if he be zealous and active in promoting what he deems to be pure Christianity, their sentiments concerning him will not deserve a softer name. However the malignity of both are alike insignificant, considering the great object we have in view, and they are infinitely overbalanced by the solid satisfaction which arises from the cordial esteem of a small number of judicious Christian friends, who will approve of our conduct, and join us in it; to say nothing of the exquisite delight which arises from the consciousness of a steady and undaunted pursuit of what is true and right, the hope we- entertain of the approbation of our Maker, and the glorious reward of immortality*
SUPERIOR VALUE OF REVEALED RELIGION.
So little of religion, properly so called, have men ever derived from the light of Nature, and so little are those who reject Revelation really influenced by any religious principle, that the true state of the question, in fact, is, whether it be better for man to have the religion that is taught in the Scriptures, or none at all. They who reject revelation may not absolutely, and in words, reject the belief of a God and of a providence; (though we see in the example of the French philosophers, and many others, that this is generally the case ;) they are not influenced by that belief. Nor can we wonder at this, when they certainly have not, in fact, any expectation of a future state, which, as I shall shew, was never taught to any useful purpose but by revelation. Religion implies the belief of the being and providence of God, and such a respect for the will of God as will effectually control a man's natural inclinations, and direct his conduct; restraining him from irregularities to which he is naturally prone, and exciting him to actions to which he is naturally averse. But as men in general are governed either by strong natural appetites, or a view to their interest, it cannot be expected that virtue alone, without any hope of future reward or punishment, can have such charms for them, that they will abandon their pleasure, their ease, or their advantage, for the pure love of it. Supposing that men might arrive at a knowledge of the will of God with respect to their conduct in life; they would not feel any sufficient obligation to conform to it, without the great sanction of future rewards and punishments. Mere authority, as that of a pa