« AnteriorContinuar »
preached to their hearers: to them they said, Repent, and believe the gospel.
St. Paul places in the same class, secondly, the doctrine of baptisms, that is, the confession of faith that was required of such as had resolved to profess christianity and to be baptized. Of such persons a confession was required, and their answers to certain questions were demanded. The formularies, that have been used on this occasion, have been extremely diversified at different places and in different times, but the most ancient are the shortest, and the most determinate. One question, that was put to the catechumen, was, Dost thou renounce the devil ? to which he answered, I renounce him. Another was, Dost thou believe in Jesus Christ ? to which he replied, I believe in him. St. Cyprian calls these questions the baptismal interrogatory; and the answers are called by Tertullian the answer of salvation : and we have a passage upon this article in an author still more respectable, I mean St. Peter, who says, Baptism doth also now save us, not the putting away the filth of the Aesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God, 1 Epist. iii. 21. that is, the answer which was given by the catechumen before his baptism.
Thirdly, Among the rudiments or first principles of christianity, St.
Paul puts the laying on of hands, by which we understand the gift of miracles, which the apostles communicated by imposition of hands to those who embraced the gospel. We have seyeral instances of this in scripture, and a particular account of it in the eighth chapter of Acts. It is there said, that Philip, having undeceived many of the Samaritans, whom Simon the sorcerer had of a long time bewitched baptized, both men and women, ver. 11, 12, 14, 17. and that the apostles, Peter and
John, laid their hands on them, and by that ceremony communicated to them the gift of the holy Ghost.
The resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment, are two other articles which St. Paul places in the same class : Articles believed by the weakest christians, received by the greatest part of the Jews, and admitted by even many of the heathens. Now the apostle wishes that the Hebrews, leaving these principles, would aspire to be perfect. Let us go on unto perfection, says he, let us proceed from the catechumen state to a thorough acquaintance with that religion, which is wisdom among them that are perfect ; that is, a system of doctrine which cannot be well understood by any except by such as the heathens call perfect. They denominated those perfect, who did not rest in a superficial knowledge of a science, but who endeavored thoroughly to understand the whole. This was the design of St. Paul in writing to the Hebrews: and this is ours in addressing you.
We will endeavor, first, to give you as exact and adequate a notion as we can of christian divinity and morality, and from thence to infer, that you can neither see the beauty, nor reap the benefit of either of them, while you confine yourselves, as most of you do, to a few loose principles, and continue unacquainted with the whole system or body of religion.
Secondly, We will inquire, why so many of us do confine our attention to these first truths, and never proceed to the rest.
Lastly, We will give you some directions how to increase your knowledge, and to attain that perfection, to which St. Paul endeavored to conduct the Hebrews. This is the whole we propose to treat of in this discourse.
I. It is evident from the nature of Christianity, that you can neither see its beauties, nor reap its benefits, while
you attend only to some loose principles, and do not consider the whole system : for the truths of religion form a system, a body of coherent doctrines, closely connected, and in perfect harmony. Nothing better distinguisheth the accurate judgment of an orator, or a philosopher, than the connection of his orations or systems. Unconnected systems, orations, in which the author is determined only by caprice and chance, as it were, to place the proposition which follows after that which precedes, and that which precedes before that which follows; such orations and systems are less worthy of rational beings, than of creatures destitute of intelligence, whom nature has formed capable of uttering sounds indeed, but not of forming ideas. Orations and systems should be connected; each part should occupy the place, which order and accuracy, not caprice and chance, assign it. They should resemble buildings constructed according to the rules of art; the laws of which are never arbitrary, but fixed and inviolable, founded on the nature of regularity and proportion : or, to use St. Paul's expression, each should be a body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, Eph. iv. 16.
Let us apply this to the subject in hand. Nothing better proves the divinity of religion, than the connection, the harmony, the agreement of its component parts. I am aware that this grand characteristic of christianity hath occasioned many mistakes among mankind. Under pretence that a religion proceeding from God must harmonize in its component parts, men have licentiously contrived a chain of propositions to please themselves. They have substituted a phantom of their own imagination, for that body of doctrine which God hath given us in the holy scriptures-Hence so much obstinacy in maintaining, after so much rashness and presumption in advancing such phantoms. For, my brethren, of all obstinate people, none excel more in their dreadful kind, than those who are prejudiced in favor of certain systems. A man who does not think himself capable of forming a connected system, can bear contradiction, because, if he be obliged to give up some of the propositions which he hath advanced, some others which he embraces will not be disputed, and what remain may indemnify him for what he surrenders. But a man prepossessed with an imaginary system of his own has seldom so much teachableness. He knows, that if one link be taken away his chain falls to pieces; and that there is no removing a single stone from his building without destroying the whole edifice : he considers the upper skins which covered the tabernacle, as typical as the ark in the holy place, or the mercyseat itself. The staff, with which Jacob passed over the Euphrates, and of which he said with my staff I passed over this river, seems to him as much designed by the Spirit of God to typify the cross on which Jesus Christ redeemed the church, as the serpent of brass which was lifted up in the desart by the express command of God himself.
But if infatuation with systems hath occasioned so many disorders in the church, the opposite disposition, I mean, the obstinate rejection of all, or the careless composition of some, hath been equally hurtful: for it is no less dangerous, in a system of religion, to omit what really belongs to it, than to incorporate any thing foreign from it.
Let us be more explicit. There are two sorts of truths in religion; truths of speculation, and truths of practice. Each truth is connected not only with
other truths in its own class, but truths of the first class are connected with those of the second, and of these parts thus united is composed that admirable body of doctrine which forms the system of religion.
There are in religion some truths of speculation, there is a chain of doctrines. God is holy: this is the first truth. A holy God can have no intimate communion with unholy creatures : this is a second truth which follows from the first. God, who can have no communion with unholy creatures, can have no communion with men who are unholy creatures : this is a third truth which follows from the second. Men, who are unholy creatures, being incapable as such of communion with the happy God, must on that very account be entirely miserable: this a fourth truth which follows from the third. Men, who must be absolutely miserable, because they can have no communion with the holy, happy God, become objects of the compassion of that God, who is as loving and merciful as he is happy and holy: this is a fifth truth which follows from the fourth. This loving and merciful God is naturally inclined to relieve a multitude of his creatures, who are ready to be plunged into the deepest miseries: this is a sixth truth which follows from the fifth.
Thus follow the thread of Jesus Christ's theology, and you will find, as I said, each part that composeth it depending on another, and every one giving another the hand. For, from the loving and merciful inclination of God to relieve a multitude of his creatures from a threatening
abyss of the deepest miseries, follows the mission of Jesus Christ; because it was fit that the remedy chosen of God to relieve the miseries of men should bear a proportion to the causes which produced it. From the doctrine of Jesus Christ's mission follows the necessity of the spirit of God: because it would have been impossi