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disorderly passions of man the most powerful restraint; and that they afford a proportionable encouragement to virtue. All civil laws make their appeal to our self love. They design to make it for our interest to demean ouselves as good members of the state. Punishment is an evil, designed to overbalance the supposed advantages of doing wrong. But the sanctions of human laws are far less impulsive, than those of the divine law. No present good is so great, but that hell is a greater evil. No present sufferings are so great, but that heaven is a greater good. In view of christianity, therefore, there can be no possible case, in which the offender will not eventually sustain a loss; there being in the divine government, no want, either of perspicuousness to detect crimes, or of power to punish them.
This reasoning, you may imagine, is ineffectual by prov ing too much for it seems to prove, that where revelation is enjoyed, no crimes will be committed,-a conclusion, sufficiently refuted by observation. I answer, that we should be no more authorised in concluding, that the motives, exhibited in scripture, have no influence in preventing vice, because they do not prevent all vices, than in concluding that human laws have no tendency to suppress crimes, because all the members of civil society are not innocent. The fact is, that men, enslaved by present feelings, do not act according to what they are habitually convinced would best promote their own advantage. Whatever reason we may have to be surprised at the prevalence of vice, in countries, where the divine law, with its tremendous sanctions, has been clearly revealed, it is far from being true, that its restraining influence is inconsiderable. If christianity does not make all men good members of the state, it prevents them at least, from being as injurious, as they would be without it. By any, who have been attentive in the observation of facts, this will not be called in question. Let public worship and public instruction be suspended in any town or village, for the space of a quarter of a century, and you will not fail to perceive a very disadvantageous change in
the state of morals. If, for another period of equal duration, copies of the scripture should become scarce, and those which remained, should be little regarded, the current of moral corruption, already strong, would become impetuous and overbearing. It cannot have cscaped the notice of any one, that when profligate men are attempting to ensnare those, who are younger or less criminal, than themselves, they sedulously abstract them from all those places and occasions, with which are connected ideas of a future state or day of judgment.
We should hazard nothing in asserting, that, were a nation to lose all its civil institutions, still retaining rational, genuine, and deep views of religion, its happiness and safety would be far better secured, than they could be, under the best political constitution and the wisest laws, with an entire oblivion of God and a future state.
Some opinion may be formed of the consequences, which would now result from the loss of religion, by adverting to that memorable period in the history of the Jews, when their sacred writings lay hid in the temple. During this time, idolatry and national disorders rapidly increased. In the guilt of these disorders, men of every rank and station appear to have been involved. When at length the scriptures were discovered, the king, in great consternation, ex. claimed, "Go ye, and inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah concerning the words of this book, that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord, that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of the book, to do according to all that, which is written concerning us." The message of God to the nation was this, "Behold I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book, which the king of Judah hath read, because they have forsaken me, and have burnt incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands: therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and it shall not be quenched."
We will now consider the requirements of revelation, first in general, and then in regard to particular precepts.
As to the general requirements of revelation, they are these, To make a right use of our intellectual powers; to estimate objects according to their value: and to form a character, comprehending feelings and actions, corresponding with such estimation.
Revelation makes its first appeal to the reason of man: it offers evidence; and it requires him to proportion his belief precisely to that evidence: it does not permit, that his assent should be either greater, or less, than may be supported on solid ground. "If I do not the works of my Father," said our Saviour," believe me not." "Now, I tell you, before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass ye may believe, that I am he." "I speak as unto wise men," saith the apostle, "judge ye what I say." God requires us to believe nothing, which, on an impartial consideration of the evidence afforded, it would not be irrational to reject. Reason teaches us, that a religion, founded on miracles and the accomplishment of prophecy, must be true. It then teaches us, that every doctrine, certainly contained in such a religion, must likewise be true. Limited as our reason is, there are many things in the scriptures, beyond its grasp: many which, without supernatural aid, it could not have discovered; many, the manner of whose existence is still incomprehensible. Such is the doctrine of a resurrection, and that of our Lord's incarnation. Neither of these is inconsistent with reason; but both are unquestionably above it: i.e. reason, unaided by revelation, can form no opinion on these subjects. Were the doctrines casually suggested to the mind, the understanding could neither affirm, nor deny. What then has reason to do with them? Plainly this, to determine whether they are taught in those scriptures, which are given by inspiration of God. If they are, it is irrational to call them in question; because reason will not permit us to doubt the truth of the Almighty.
But revelation requires not only, that we proportion our
assent to the evidence exhibited, but that we estimate objects according to their importance. If it forbids us to covet riches, it is because there is nothing, which" a man can give in exchange for his soul." If the scriptures enjoin it as a duty to love God with all the heart, soul, stength and mind, it is because of the infinite splendour of his moral perfections, and because of those "rivers of pleasure, which flow at his right hand." If it directs us not to "set our affections on things below, but on those, which are above," it is because "the things, which are seen, are temporal; and the things, which are not seen, are eternal."
As revelation teaches us to esteem objects according to their importance, it demands, that our deportment should correspond with such estimation: by consequence, when there is competition between the favor of God and the approbation of men, between our future inheritance and our present advantage, it is made our duty, in both cases, to give to the former a willing and decided preference.
Now, even without taking into consideration what, in particular, that course is, which religion prescribes, it would be exceedingly obvious, that the influence of these general principles is conducive to the well being of civil society. How effectually would this be secured, were all men to make a right use of their understanding;-estimate all objects according to their importance ;—and cherish feelings and character, corresponding with such estimation !
To throw additional light on the subject, we will notice distinctly a few of the moral precepts contained in the the volume of inspiration; "Render to all men their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Recompense no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, teacheth, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." In the
decalogue is contained a solid compend of moral prohibi tions; and our Lord has, in a few words, enjoined every duty, which belongs to man, as a social being. "Whatsoever things, ye would that men should do unto you, do ye the same to them."
From that view of the subject, which has now been taken, does it not appear evident, beyond contradiction, that, in proportion as the principles of revelation are known, and practically adopted, the condition of man in a social and civil state, must be immensely improved? Would not these principles diffuse integrity and benevolence through all ranks of a community, making subjects virtuous and happy, and rulers wise and lenient? When, therefore, the mass of the people in any nation, shall be " taught of the Lord," i.e. live under the influence of revealed religion, "great will be their peace. In righteousness will they be established; they will be far from oppression, for they shall not fear; and from terror, for they shall not be afraid."
For the enforcing of christian principles, and the observance of christian institutions, we have, therefore, exhibited a motive, to which no person, not wholly indifferent to the present condition of his fellow men, can be insensible. But there is another view of the subject, which ought, in a much higher degree, to engage our attention. Though civil society is a very interesting state of human existence, there is another, which, in point of importance and duration, is infinitely more so. In less than a century, we ourselves, our families, and connexions, together with the present population of our country, and the world, shall, with enlarged capacities for enjoyment or suffering, be transferred to another state. As to the existence and duration of this state, christianity is the only religion on earth, which gives us authentic and satisfactory instruction. Neither from any other source, can we be informed, on what conditions its pains may be avoided, and its bliss obtained. Jesus Christ is himself" the resurrection and the life. Whosoever liveth and believeth on him, though he die, yet shall be live." The bible