« AnteriorContinuar »
the borrower is responsible to the lender, the steward is responsible to his master, the captain of a vessel is responsible for the cargo to the owners of that cargo. It is thus -only in a more exalted and inuch more impressive sense--that we may say that the soul of man is responsible, or that men are responsible, to God, for their religious opinions; that is, that for the principles of our faith, as well as for the actions of our life, each of us must give an account of himself to God—that as these give complexion to our character and direction to our course, so they shall materially affect our final destiny and stamp with an indelible impress the ages of eternity:
Now this responsibility, thus attaching to us, is the great thing we are anxious to-night to keep in mind, and to have deeply and definitely impressed on your hearts; because if that be not kept in view, as the great result of all our religious feelings and all our religious practices, those feelings and those practices cannot possess a proper character in themselves, or issue (as they ought, and as otherwise they would,) in practical benefit to us.
II. Let me, in the second place, having thus noticed the import of the terms employed, direct your attention to some of the objections which will be urged against this truth.
And in the first place, I imagine, objections may be urged against it, by a re. ference to the ignorance that prevails in the world on most moral, and on nearly all religious subjects. Whenever there is a disposition to evade or to forget the application of this great moral truth, men very readily and easily refer to the ignorance, the delusion and superstition of the heathen world ; to a question confessedly difficult in itself, regarding their present position and their future prospects, seeing they have not the means of obtaining a knowledge of Christian truth, and scarcely of delivering themselves from the bondage of the most degrading superstition. Now our religious responsibility, as well as every other, will of course be modified by the circumstances in which we are placed, and the opportunities with which we have been indulged. The axiom of the Saviour will stand good here, as every where else—" To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.” The language He employed in His day is applicable to all, who in the present day are in similar circumstances : “ Woe unto thee, Chorazin; woe unto thee, Bethsaida; for if the mighty works which have been done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in dust and ashes; it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for you." It is not imagined, that those who never heard of Christ will be condemned for rejecting Him; any more than it is affirmed, that they who have never accredited His truth or felt His Spirit will participate the honours and the glories He has to bestow. Yet it is not true, that the heathen are not subject to certain religious responsibilities; because it is by no means obvious, that they are not furnished with the means of attaining to that measure of religious information, which would go far to purify their hearts and to regulate their lives. The psalmist expressly tells us- The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handy-work; day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge; there is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” Yet more distinctly, the apostle Paul informs us, that "the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.” It is true, that they may be darkened in their understandings and prejudiced in their hearts; but so are all men, who pursue an improper course. Therefore the apostle decides, that “they are without excuse ;' and that they " who have sinned without law shall perish without law.” If their religious superstitions are found to be indulged and to be pursued by them, only because they flatter their vanity and foster their sins, and are agreeable to those grosser propensities, which their better feelings and convictions do condemn, and which the decision of their minds, if rightly applied on the evidence before them, would not fail to denounce, then they must stand as guilty, and will be found at last amenable to that bar, which takes cognisance of all sins, whether perpetrated against the dictates of nature, the laws of Moses, or the grace of Christ. That their superstitious feelings and practices are not beyond
the reach of the punitive hand of the Deity, is obvious from the numerous and disastrous consequences, which those superstitions are found in this life and under the government of an all-wise God to entail. How numerous and how frightful are the physical, the social and the mental calamities, which the superstitions of the heathen do involve! What distressing evils are they found incessantly inflicting, the one upon the other ! What sacrifices of effort and feeling and property do they make---and that for nothing except for delusion! What terrors and pains do they continually undergo! What debasement and besottedness, what mental slavery and degradation, do they still realise--and must continue to realise, by the operation of the most fixed laws in the universe, so long as their superstitions shall con: tinue what they are! You perceive, that these evils are inflicted upon them as the results of their superstition, under the government of the same God before whom we stand responsible ; and that they are inflicted by the operation of laws, which as man did not originate, so man can neither control nor disturb nor remove. The appeal, therefore, to the ignorance of the heathen, instead of furnishing a relief from religious responsibility, only binds that responsibility more forcibly upon us, by showing the consequences which false religion already entails--and that at the bidding and under the direction of God.
But, secondly, I can conceive of objections being urged against this doctrine, on the score of the supposed impossibility of settling, amongst all the contradictory and multifarious religious opinions and practices that prevail in the world, which are the true ; if it be regarded as impracticable, that any man should ascertain which is the true, it is thought to be very absurd to imagine, that he shall ever be condemned or injured for adopting that which is false. Now it is somewhat strange
and we regret it—that they who urge this objection, seldom or never evince any disposition seriously to compare the claims of any religions whatever; much less do they evince any solicitude, to reduce the number of the discrepancies and contradictions, of which they are so ready to complain. Nay, you will generally observe, that they seem eager to multiply them; they seem to find a delight in assuming and asserting, that they are even greater than they are. A course, more calculated to beget suspicion, than to excite either our confidence or our applause. In all honesty and simplicity, if the objection be felt to be oppressive, and if there be any serious desire to obviate and to meet it, the differences complained of should certainly be reduced to the limits of truth. When that has been done, it will be found, that of all existing and contradictory religions there are but two, the Mahometan and the Christian, that profess at all to lay claim to universality--that profess to be in any sense at once the universal duty and patrimony of man. Now it would be no great task of difficulty, for an individual to decide between the comparative claims of Mahometanism and Christianity. And then, when the iniud settles down upon the firm and broad basis of Christianity, it will be found that the great bulk of practical Christians are agreed on all the fundamental doctrines of religious faith; that the points of difference are for the most part matters of opinion, and that they do not vitiate the essentials of the truth--much less overturn the foundations of hope. But even supposing, for the sake of argument, that the diversities and contradictions of religious opinions and practice were even more numerous than they are, that would go a very little way to prove that we are subject to no religious responsibility at all. It is well known, that the differences of opinion, which prevail in reference to general knowledge, to social rights, and to the moral law, are even more numerous and more irreconcilable than those which prevail in reference to religion itself; yet that man would be treated as insane, or scouted as incurably vicious, who should therefore determine, that he would despise all knowledge, that he would trample on all rights, or that he would disregard all moral law. Therefore as there is no such conclusion to be founded on these contrarieties, so there is no enfeeblement, much less destruction of our religious responsibility, in the endless diversities of religious opinions and practice that prevail in the world. Nay, in reference to Christianity, the case is unique and simple. It professes to rest its claims and character upon the opinions or the conduct of no party; it links itself with no human schemes. The principles which it approves and enforces are to be found in one Book, accessible to all; and on the ground of their own merit, not on the ground of speculations concerning them or interpretations of them, it asks a decision to be arrived at. And if thus the claims of Christianity are to be decided by their own grounds, it is irrelevant and can prove nothing to allege these differences, though endlessly multiplied and continually brought under our view.
But, thirdly, it is sometimes objected against this doctrine, that it cannot be true because it is supposed to be quite impossible that we should in any sense controul our religious belief. It is a sentiment of the Infidel school-often echoed by those who know not whence it comes nor exactly what it means—that faith arises in the mind as directly and as necessarily on the presentation of appropriate evidence, as the falling of a stone is secured by the laws of gravitation; and as you would not think of blaming a man, who accidentally fell from the top of a house, so you should not think of blaming him, who should entertain opinions which the constitution of his nature rendered it impossible he should resist. Now we shall have an opportunity presently to show that the cases are by no means parallel, and that there is a latent sophistry, which vitiates the whole argument. But even supposing that the previous portions of the argument were logically sound, the inference derived from that argument would not by any means be secured. In all religious and moral questions, we should recollect, that constituted as our nature is, our opinions can never be deemed correct, except whe: they correspond to all the claims and faculties of our nature. The mere dictates of our animal propensities would lead us to adopt the habits and character of the brutes, and urge us to seek and find the end of our nature in their gross and grovelling pursuits. The dictates of our mere moral and religious faculties might perhaps lead us to seek the retirement of the hermit or the monk. The mere decision of our logical or mental faculties might also lead us to Stoicism, immorality and profaneness. When rightly considered, it will be found, that there are many truths, which cannot be comprehended-much less applied-by the mere abstractions of reason; that they require to be qualified and regulated by the decisions of the moral faculties. Hume himself once confessed?" When I would follow out the conclusions of my reason to their lawful consequences, I arrive at results, which I should neither own nor act upon amongst my fellow-men:"-an acknowledgment of the fact, that mere logical decisions for moral agents are by no means satisfactory, much less exclusive guides; that consequently, if we would on these subjects arrive at a correct conclusion, we must take in the testimony of the whole of our nature. And therefore I conclude, that even though the veniality of a false religion, or of being without one, should be intellectually true, yet it would be no difficult thing to show, that morally and practically it is delusive and false.
One from among many other arguments to show this, may be furnished; it is that derived from the obvious and necessary consequences of the doctrine I have named. It would prove too much ; it would prove much more indeed, than they who advocate it would be prepared to admit. It would be quite easy to show, that all the actions men perform arise from the operation of causes as direct and as necessary as those which operate to the production of conviction in our minds; and that therefore universal irresponsibility might on the same basis be proclaimed. But to affirm universal irresponsibility is to run counter to the constitution of nature-to overturn the foundations of reason to annihilate the distinction between right and wrong-to mingle our moral feelings and our social rights in irretrievable confusion and ruin. Nay, the very parties often arguing thus, are by no means prepared to admit the general doctrine, although their own logical argumentation would naturally lead them to it. Thus, Mr. Bentham runs a parallel between these physical and moral causes. He says, “ On the proportion between the impelling and restraining forces depends whether the waggon moves or not, and at what rate it moves; and on the proportion between the mendacity-impelling and the mendacity-restraining forces it depends whether mendacity is produced or not, and in what quantity or degree.” That is to say, that the action of moral causes and of physical is precisely the same, and that there is no more responsibility in the one case than in the other. Yet, I say, many persons using the argument in the first application, would shrink from it in the second. They indeed are amongst the first to allow or to urge the necessity of religion or superstition to restrain and
BY THE REV. JOHN ALDIS.
govern the mass ; only they claim for themselves a singular exception--the proud distinction of not being amenable to God. As if they are so ineffably exalted, that they cannot brook the idea, but must regard it as an insult--that they cannot be trusted with the uncontrolled employment of their intelligence, or that He who gave that intelligence should over dare to think of calling them to account for the manner in which it has been employed. As if because no human interests are at stake, and no human arm can interfere to punish, therefore they will claim the right of exclusive independence. They seem eager to resist Him, because He is infinite; and to insult the majesty of heaven, simply because it does not immediately avenge the crime. If, however, they shrink from asserting universal irresponsibility from a fear of the consequences, or from a revulsion of moral feeling they must also for the same reason shrink or be driven from the assertion of partial irresponsibility, in reference to the religious opinions and practices, in which they may be pleased to indulge.
III. In the third place, we shall notice some arguments, which go directly to enforce and establish this proposition—that the soul is responsible to God for its religious opinions.
And first we may notice the very obvious and universal decisions of revelation itself. This is manifestly one of the truths, that stand in the forefront of the declarations of Christianity. When the Redeemer came, it was as "a Teacher sent from God;" He came therefore attested by the predictions of the prophets, by the songs of angels, by the testimony of John the Baptist, by supernatural voices of approval from heaven, and by the number and variety and splendour and Divine character of the miracles He performed; yet He was different from all other teachers in this-that He taught as one “having authority, and not as the Scribes." When He had communicated the message He came into this world to impart, He immediately guarded it, unlike any who had gone įbefore Him, by the strange announcement-(which, though varied in phraseology, was ever in essence the same)—" He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life; and lie that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” He affirmed particularly the doctrine of His Messiahship, and guarded it by a threatening, extreme in severity, when He said—“If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins, and whither I go ye cannot come.” When He had received “all power in heaven and in earth,' and designed to set up His kingdom among the children of men, He sent forth His servants, the apostles, as the heralds of His truth to the whole world, and He gave them this commission—" Goye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be condemned.” Therefore the apostle Paul expounded the general character and application of Christianity thus: “Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? The Word is very nigh thee, that is, the word of faith which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” The conduct of Simon Magus involved no social outrage—no overt act of immorality; it was merely that he entertained the opinion, that “the gift of God might be purchased with money;" yet as the result of it the apostle said. “I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” They were only religious doctrines, that Paul and Barnabas preached to the Jews at Antioch ; yet the rejection of them was regarded as tantamount to a choice of perdition ; for, said the apostle in addressing them, “ It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken unto you, but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." The apostle John refers to this, as the specific indication of character, although it is obvious that there is no reference but to the rejection or reception of certain religious truths. “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God;" 11 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God :" “ He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son." Yes, whatever may be the decisions of philosophy, whatever may be the desires of an unthinking and unbelieving world, it is obvious that the Author of revelation will not allow compromise or indifference on so vital a point, but is prepared to deal with His creatures in accordance with the proposition, that for their principles of religion as well as for the practice of their lives they shall ultimately be amenable to His bar.
But, secondly, it is obvious that the soul is responsible to God for its religious opinions, if you reflect on the avowed character of religious truth, as the test of our moral sentiments in this world. It is a truth too obvious in itself, and too generally admitted and felt, to require much illustration or proof in order to establish it—that on all moral subjects our belief is very much affected by the dispositions we are accustomed to indulge. It is manifest to those, who notice the operations of the human mind in connection with the feelings of the human heart, that whenever any thing is unpalatable it is rejected because it is so; although the mind soon learns to sophisticate, and ultimately brings itself to believe, that the thing rejected was so rejected because it was either bad or unimportant. No man can loug pursue a course disapproved by his conscience or his friends, but he will sooner or later learn to argue himself into the belief, that the course he is pursuing is at least venial, if not positively good. Thus the great evil ultimately shows itself in this, that the delusion prevents the deluded perceiving the existence of it; and as it is not perceived, so it is not rejected; and its existence is rendered the more permanent and injurious, on account of the specific character it thus sustains. Allow the general principle, and you will at once perceive, that the truths of religion not only are, but must be, the test of character, wheresoever those truths are proclaimed. Hence the Redeemer was prophesied of as “a re: finer's fire," and as one who should " sit and purify the sons of Levi.” John the Baptist changed the phraseology, but adopted the same sentiment, when he said, “ His fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquienchable fire.” When He had told His message, and men rejected it, He said, without hesitation and without surprise, “ This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light.” When He stood amongst the conceited and the rebellious, He did not hesitate to avow this sentiment: “For judgment am I come into this world; that they which see not, might see; and that they which see, might be made blind.” Very little different from this is the sentiment expressed by the apostle, when he quotes the language of an ancient prophet, and applies it to the character and operations of the Christian faith : “ Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner-stone, elect, precious, and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded; but unto them which be disobedient, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.” The “ seed of the kingdom,” brethren, is, when brought into proper contact with our affections, all vital; but obduracy may prevent the contact that is desirable, worldliness may choke the incipient growth, or else the scorching sun may sear up into death or the violent tempest may bear entirely away, that where there “is but little earth,” whilst wherever it falls into “good ground” it brings forth fruit, “in some thirty, in some sixty, and in some an hundred fold." Our religious opinions, therefore-the rejection and the reception of certain religious opinions are moral acts; and therefore of them we must give account to our moral Governor. As they determine our character here, so to a very great extent they will determine our destiny hereafter.
Thirdly; this is also proved by the fact, that the character of our actions must be materially affected by the religious opinions we entertain. I assume, that those who deny that the soul is responsible for its religious opinions, are nevertheless prepared to admit the general responsibility of man in reference to the actions he performs. Admitting this, we come at once into contact with a very favourite and oft-repeated couplet, containing, however, a very large proportion of illusion and sophistry ; I refer to the lines of Pope
« For forms of faith let graceless bigots fight;
His can't be wrong, whose life is in the right.” You will perceive in this, not only the general sophistry which would confound the forms of faith with the essential principles and doctrines of it, but another which