« AnteriorContinuar »
that, if we consider religion in its general and most comprehensive sense, or as it respects the sentiments of mankind, concerning the existence, demands, and powers, of superior Beings, it is a very potent principle of action; whatever may be the opinions concerning the specific duties imposed. This principle is universally acknowledged to possess a momentum, far exceeding every consideration of a sublunary influence. Hence it is, that erroneous opinions in religion have been productive of so many evils. We have also proved, that the conceptions of religion most favourable to virtue, most conducive to human happiness, which destroy the opposition naturally subsisting between self-interest and the social duties, are founded on a solid basis; and they are not to be confounded with those wild and extravagant notions which pervaded the pagan world. They arise from principles perfectly consonant with the dictates of the purest reason; although reason was not able, at a period of universal blindness and degeneracy, to perceive and adopt them.
We have also attempted to prove, that the leading object of the Jewish Dispensation, was to protect the dictates of pure Morality, and the principles of pure Religion, from being
totally lost to mankind, through the prevalence of paganism ;' and gradually to disseminate a knowledge of them among the Gentiles. These appeared to us to be the grand characteristics of that dispensation; and to furnish the most satisfactory proofs that it was of a divine origin; although it was so limited in its operations and influence. In the Christian Dispensation we behold the moral duties, personal and social, still more accurately defined, and enforced by far superior motives. Worldly prosperity alone was promised to the Jews as the reward of their obedience, whereas to the true Christian is opened the joyful prospect of IMMORTALITY ; the possession of an eternal inheritance in the presence of their reconciled father! They are “become the heirs of God, and joint heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ !” Let the utmost stretch of the most vigorous imagination, attempt to exceed this so great a recompense of reward ! : Such are the primary characteristic excellences of our holy religion. They are acknowledged by all those who profess to be Christians; and they will be enjoyed by every true believer. They are not articles of Speculation, in which one Christian may think differently from another; they are not the doctrines of Inference, but of
immediate Revelation ; nor can they be rejected, without the rejection of Christianity itself.
Whatever sentiments we may form concerning the precise nature of the mediatorial office; concerning the physical nature of Christ; concerning the nature, object, and duration of future punishments ; notwithstanding the importance of these subjects, they are still the opinions of inference; and our opinions may be very different, without enfeebling those clearer principles, those grand doctrines of revelation; the divine mission of Jesus ; that he is the Mesa sialı - that his doctrines and character were perfect;--that his death was unjust and ignominious;--that the grave had no dominion over him ;--that he was appointed to be the Prince and the Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins ;-and that because he lives, we shall live also. These doctrines contain the strongest, most influential motives to virtue and piety. These doctrines remain untouched ; nor can their moral. influence be diminished; by our particular sentiments - concerning the precise manner in which the death of our divine leader was rendered efficient to the pardon of our sins; the precise nature of the punishment from which he may have liberated every true believer ; or the extent of the punishment which still awaits the impenitent.
We have stated our opinions upon these con. troverted points, with freedom, precision, and, we think, with force. Our statements appear to us to be most scriptural, and perfectly ra. tional. They not only coincide with the whole current of scriptural language, but they seem to require its peculiar phraseology to render them explicit.* They are free from those interpretations, on the one hand, which appear defective or evasive ; and they most happily es.cape those dreadful systems, against which the reason of men, and the feelings of men, instantly take the alarm. We have amply given our reasons for entertaining such sentiments, and they are submitted to the scrutiny of our readers.
It cannot be expected that these, or other parts of so extensive a work, which peculiarly. demands an accumulation of admitted facts, accurate arrangements, and legitimate infe rences, should be free from various errors. But a detection of such occasional errors will not be a confutation of our principles. This can alone be accomplished by instituting analytical enquiries alşq; pursuing them with similar dili
* See Note R.
gence, similar attempts at precision, with superior perspicuity, and with a contrary result. · As an apology for the great extent of this work, the author begs leave to remark, that in its unity, it is an aggregate of distinct treatises, upon subjects which are not unfrequently investigated by the philosopher, moralist, and divine, in a separate and insolated manner. This distinct and insolated contemplation of each subject, has often occupied the mind so intensely, that their intimate relation to each other has remained unnoticed; and the influence of the whole has been greatly enfeebled, if not totally forgotten. It has, therefore, been our desire to pay such an attention to each branch, as should enable us to form clear conceptions of its leading constituent principles, while we pursued our enquiries in such a manner as might point out the connection of each with a whole, an important whole ; upon which the happiness of all the rational creatures of God immediately depends.
In our analytical pursuits, it was not in our power to be concise. But we are not under the necessity of being prolix, in our application of the principles advanced, to their various moral and