Imágenes de páginas



'T'HE noxious disease of indifference to religion in any society, is always greatly cherished and promoted by a factious and divisive spirit in others, by ill-placed and intemperate zeal about points of lesser importance, and of a doubtful nature. Scepticism and bigotry, how opposite soever to one another, yet are often similar in their in«fluence, and productive of the fame effects; they are both equally repugnant to the true spirit of religion. They agree in taking away all distinction between the primary and secondary truths ■of religion; the one by depressing the former into the obscurity of the latter; the other by exalting the latter to the dignity and importance of the former. The seeptic assaults the system of religion by undermining its foundation; the bigot by erecting an unwieldy superstructure of perishing materials.

It would be extremely improper for me, at present, to make a dissertation on the various sects and factions which enjoy a legal indulgence amongst us, and far more to enter into a discussion of their separating principles. Perhaps it might justly be thought to favour of that very spirit of animosity which we condemn as so prejudicial to the moral influence of true religion. But in general one might venture to affirm, without offending the most angry disputant, that the far greater number of controversial points among Protestants are carried to a much greater height, and prosecuted with a keener zeal, than their weight and importance will bear; that amidst so many questions agitated with so much uncharitable humour, the essential points of religion seem to be but little understood, and still less regarded j and that its most facred laws are often trampled on in the rage of disputation.

What manifold mischiefs doth not this factious and turbulent spirit produce? Particularly in causing many superficial enquirers to think that religion is merely a subject of dispute and opinion, without any relation to lise and manners; that its tendency is so far from promoting peace on earth, that it serves only to divide mankind more and more. Thus it is that proseifing Christians, by their unchristian animosities, have furnished infidels with the most plausible objections against our holy religion: whereas was this truly amiable institution but fairly delineated, as taught by our Saviour and his Apostles, and its exalted virtues exhibited in the lives of its votaries; it could not fail to gain more profelytes than the most excellent apologies that were ever written in its desence. These may convince the judgment by displaying its evidence; but this would reach the heart, and captivate the affections to its love and obedience. Happy, indeed, were it, for Protestant members of churches, that are called reformed, if the experience of past: ages taught them wisdom to differ in peace and charity, and to unite their influence against the adverfaries of their common faith. Was this the case, our religious controversies would even become sewer in number, because the minds of men would be better disposed for seeing and embracing the truth, which prejudice and passion are so apt to disfigure and conceal from our view.

To conclude, let us carefully suppress a spirit of faction and party, so destructive of our mutual union; and amidst unavoidable differences of opinion, let us still preserve the unity of the sfilrit in the bond of peace.

Sermon before the General Assembly, 1767.

[ocr errors]


rT"'HE most candid method of judging of Chris. tianity, is to consider it as one scheme which will be found to be all consistent, wherein the several parts, as the stones of an arch, are connected with and support each other. Some separate points may give occasion for debates, and be attended with some difficulty; but we ought not to judge of the strength of particular objections, till we have impartially considered revelation in its full extent and natural simplicity, What Lord Bacon fays of science in general, may be well applied to Christianity: " Were it not better (fays he) m order to take a full view of a noble hall, to set up one great light than with a small lamp to look into every separate corner ?"—Many of the objections that have been proposed against the Christian religion, is attentively considered, and candidly examined, may indeed be turned into arguments iri its favour. For instance, can that be called an imposture that proposes no motives . of worldly honours, riches, or sensual pleasure, to attract our esteem, or invite our choice? Does that religion bear any marks of enthusiasm, which regulates our zeal by reason and prudence, calms our furious passions, enlightens our minds with knowledge, dispels our melancholy thoughts, and diffuses a well-grounded joy? Is it the cause of superstition? It is the best, and I may venture to affirm the only security against it, as it gives us the most just and amiable notions of the Supreme Being, as it relieves the conscience from its guilt and sears, reduces the form of religion to great simplicity, and inspires the foul with a rational and steady fortitude. Y ea, the danger of superstition is rather increased than diminished by infidelity and irreligion; for it is not possible to divest mankind of that fear which arises from frailty and guilt; and if they should be bereaved of a rational and benevolent religion, it would be easy to. graft upon that fear any superstition their own folly might devise, or the craft and policy of designing men might impose. Is Christianity an enemy to learning? Where have the sciences flourished so much as in Christian countries, or been so much improved as by learned Christians? The reading of the scriptures, and the reformation of religion, enlarged the minds of men, and encouraged a spirit of free inquiry. Is it a friend to slavery? On the contrary, it delivers the mind from the tyranny of passion, and from the sears of guilt; it calls upon us to prove all things, and to holdfast that which is good. The spirit of the gospel is a spirit of liberty, abhors oppression of every kind, civilizes our nature, and teaches us humanity even to our enemies. It was Christian.. ity, when fully established, that abolished slavery, the cruelty of masters to their servants, of parents to their children, the barbarous custom of exposing infants, and the bloody shews of gladiators, which were so common in heathen Rome in its most civilized state, but were prohibited by laws of Christian emperors. Does it excite seditions, and kindle wars? These have taken their rise in every age from the lusts and paffions of men, which first war against rhe soul, and which religion subdues and calms. Often has it been the occasion, never the cause of persecution ; for nothing rs more contrary to the genius of it, when well understood, and not perverted by false glosses.

« AnteriorContinuar »