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think it cannot be accounted for without the supposition of Divine communications. In point of genius, the Greeks seem to have been evidently superior, and they were certainly possessed of the art of composition in much greater perfection. Whence, then, could arise so manifest an inferiority in th’s respect 1 It must have been because the Jewish theology gave that nation ideas of a Being infinitely superior to themselves, the contemplation of which, with that of his works and of his providence, would tend to improve and exalt their faculties; whereas, the heathen theology gave them no ideas of beings much superior to the race of man. In general, the gods of the Greeks and Romans were supposed to have been mere men, beings of the same rank and condition with themselves; and, though their powers were supposed to be enlarged upon their deification, their passions and morals were not at all improved, but continued just the same as before, so that their greater powers were employed about the gratification of the lowest appetites. This theology, therefore, could not infuse that noble enthusiasm which was inspired by the Jewish religion, but must rather have tended to debase their faculties. That extensive and perfect benevolence, which is so strongly inculcated in the New Testament, implies more enlarged sentiments, and greater perfection of the intellectual faculties, than that more limited benevolence, which is treated of by the heathen moralists, which was hardly ever thought to extend farther than to a love of one's own countrymen, and which admitted slaves to none of the privileges of men, but considered them as no other than the property of their masters. But, in the eye of a Christian, Jew and Gentile, Barbarian, Scythian, bond and free, are all equal. The boasted attachments of private friendship are not more endearing than that mutual love which Christ recommends to his disciples. But, whereas private friendship was, with the Greeks and Romans, the perfection and almost the end of all virtue, the brotherly love of Christians is only considered
as a branch of a more extensive benevolence, and leads to the love of all the human race. It is evident that the duties of contentment, trust in Divine Providence, meekness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness of injuries, are more insisted on by Christ and his apostles, than by any of the heathen philosophers; and these virtues certainly require a greater comprehension of mind than any other social duties. Children are quick in their resentments, their anger is presently excited, and they are unable to conceal what little malice or revenge they are capable of; but in proportion as men advance in age, in experience, and consequently in intellect, they are able to overlook affronts, and to suspend, or wholly to stifle their resentments; because they are able to take in more distant consequences of passions and actions; and the sentiments which are suggested by these extensive views, moderate and overpower those which are prompted by their present sensations. Christianity, therefore, by extending these duties, supposes, and thereby favors and promotes a still greater advance in intellectual perfection. To act like a Christian, a man must be possessed of true greatness of mind, a self-command, fortitude, or magnanimity, which is infinitely more superior to the disguised revenge of which some are capable, and which they can brood over for years, than this is superior to the quick resentments of children. It requires a more just knowledge of things, more experience, and more foresight. Thus does the Christian scheme appear to be perfectly consonant to nature. It supposes a series of dispensations, in which the human mind is operated upon, and its improvement promoted in a manner analogous to that in which it is actually operated upon, and its improvement promoted every day. As the one, therefore, is conducted according to the ordinary providence of the Divine Being, the other is what might be expected from his extraordinary dispensations. Both these schemes have the same great object in view, and in both of them the same end is gained by the same methods.
THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER, HOW FORMED.
Such is the importance of religion (being, in fact, the great business of human life), and such the fascination of the cares of this world, that it behoves us to be continually upon our guard, lest the scenes through which we must necessarily pass, draw off our attention from things of infinitely more moment, though more distant; and thus the great end and purpose of our being be sacrificed to what is merely accidental or instrumental to it.
It is our consolation, however, that almost all our difficulties in the conduct of life, as it respects futurity, have no other source than want of attention of mind to the subject. For, so absolutely inconsiderable are the things of this life, in comparison with that which is to succeed it, that even an imperfect apprehension of the nature of our situation (if, in consequence of being sufficiently impressed and attended to, it be allowed to have its proper influence on our minds) would be sufficient to keep us in the path of our duty. But without attention and consideration, no motives, however just and weighty, can have any effect.
In reality, men miscarry, and miss the great end of their being, only in consequence of acting precipitately, and without attending to the necessary consequences of their actions. In other words, it is when they act irrationally, like brute beasts, governed by mere appetite and passion. And when they act in this manner, is it to be wondered at, that they do not attain the proper happiness of rational and intelligent beings?
It is with great propriety, therefore, that faith is represented in the Scriptures as the great principle of the Christian life; that it was by faith, or in consequence of a firm belief in futurity, depending upon the promise of God, that all the worthies of the Old Testament were enabled to distinguish themselves as they did; and that it is still by faith that we Christians are to overcome the world. Now this efficacious faith is not a single act, or effort of the mind, or a simple conviction that a future event will take place, (for then every man who, if he were interrogated, would answer that he was a Christian, would be a good man,) but it is such a full persuasion of mind, and such a lively apprehension of a distant event, as shall give it its just influence, the same that it would have near at hand; and this can only be acquired by frequent attention to it, and meditation upon it. Could this great end be attained, were truly Christian principles and prospects sufficiently impressed on our minds, it would be impossible for us to be guilty of any base or criminal action; and the great motives to the love of God and of our fellow-creatures, not being counteracted by any foreign influence, but having their natural and uncontroled effect upon the mind, we should “love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and our neighbour as ourselves.” And when those governing principles had taken deep root in our minds, they would lead to the practice of the whole of our duty; and, our hearts and affections being engaged, every thing right and good would be easy and pleasant to us. If these maxims be true, a great deal must be done by a man before he can be a Christian in the proper sense of the word, that is, “not in name and profession only, but in deed and in truth; ” because a habit and temper is to be formed, which can only be produced by the long continuance of proper actions. A truly Christian character is not to be formed but by a course of discipline and exercise, calculated to keep the mind continually impressed with a lively sense of the great truths of Christianity; so as to overpower the influence of the objects which surround us, and which are continually soliciting our attention. If there be any one error in religion more dangerous in its tendency than others, it is the opinion which, in some form or other (and it is capable of endless modifications) has existed almost from the commencement of Christianity, viz. that religion properly so called, or that which renders a man acceptable in the sight of God, and fits him for heaven, is not a habit or disposition of mind, such as I have now mentioned, which evidently requires time and care to form; but some single act, or effort, whether proceeding from a man's self, or from God. If this be the case, the whole may commence and terminate in the shortest space of time, and it may as well take place at the last hour of life, as at any other. Consequently, in the prospect of this, men may continue to live in sin, secretly flattering themselves with the hope of a late but effectual repentance. But if repentance consist of a change of disposition and conduct, it is not even possible that a late, or what we call a death-bed, repentance, can be an effectual one. For true repentance can only take place in consequence of just views of things, sufficiently impressed upon the mind by careful reflection; and since it is not a momentary operation, but a fixed character that is wanted, it is, in reality, but very little that can be done at any one particular time. A man, for instance, may at any time resolve to change his conduct; but that does not amount to an actual change. He may perform any single action; but a single action, though it may lead to, does not constitute a habit; and even a habit, or course of actions, must be continued a considerable time before it can be quite easy and familiar to him, so that his heart and affections shall be engaged in it; and then only is the character properly formed. Again, this character, arising from a fixed attachment of mind to our duty, ad