Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

does it not in anger, but in loving-kindness, either to the delinquent, or to other creatures in whose interests those of the sufferer are involved, in order to procure some good to both, greater than the suffering sustained: but endless suffering leaves no room for good to redound therefrom. We cannot certainly tell in what manner the sufferings of one creature operate to the benefit of another, but it seems to be by serving as an overbalance against the temptations urging to the like offence as drew them on, and we may be sure will be adequate to that purpose: but it does not from thence appear necessary, they must be infinite either in weight or duration.

And for the depravity of our nature, acknowledged to subject us to the actual wickedness we daily commit, we were made human creatures either by an immediate creation just before our birth, or by some law of Providence introducing us into these corporeal organizations we inhabit : and the same Power which for wise and gracious purposes has placed us here, is able to place us in a more favorable situation, where we may have strength of will to pursue invariably such portion of understanding, as he shall please to allot us. Nor since universal Nature, with all her courses and minutest motions, were planned out by the Almighty, can we deny that this improvement of our condition may be effected by stated laws of his establishment; neither that the same laws may have furnished us with the natural forces to work out that little pittance of righteousness it was his design we should attain in this life, without the supernatural assistance of his Holy Spirit ; of which, though we have many pretences, we have no certain or rational evidences among us, other than what are drawn from the sacred records.

Therefore I must rank the Redemption with all belonging to it, the Incarnation, the Intercession, effusions of the Holy Ghost, eternity and extremity of punishment, among those additions in the republication of the law of Nature which were not contained in the first edition; as being never discoverable by humam reason, nor could ever have been known otherwise than from Revelation, and those miraculous events that were the testimonials of it: so I must deliver over my Catechumen to the divines, to whose province it belongs to lay before him the positive proofs of a Revelation having been actually given, and of the truths recorded in sacred story: having first prepared him for their reception, by showing their credibility, and that they may be understood in a sense which carries no repugnance to human reason.

I would desire him to consider further, whether upon the foregoing representation it does not appear, that Christianity contains all that rectitude of sentiment and conduct, which it is the use and aim of the best Philosophy to lead men into; and then let him reflect, whether he can find examples in history of any system of Philosophy having answered its end so effectually among mankind: from whence he may discern it to be a beneficial thing, even before he sees it proved a true one. Some few sages of uncommon capacity and uninterrupted leisure, have run extraordinary lengths of knowledge and virtue, and spread them among their followers of the like contemplative turn : but who of them ever framed a system of general or national use, which could rouse the thoughtless, warm the phlegmatic, restrain the impetuous, discipline the unruly, bring the vulgar, the simple, the giddy, and the busy, to think of the things above, to look for an inheritance in a better country, and make preparation for the future health and vigor of their spiritual body?

As to us who were born in a Christian country, and had our education formed upon that plan, if we fancy ourselves able to do everything by our own skill and prowess, still it would become us to reflect from what sources this sufficiency was derived. Were Christianity to be universally discredited and exploded, perhaps my own morality and tenor of conduct would remain the same it is : but had that been exploded before I was born, I am far from thinking I should ever have attained the little judgment and philosophy for which I now am thankful. For that importance of right opinion and practice, inculcated into me by the nurse and the priest first made me a Search, and put me upon exerting my faculties with caution and industry in the discovery of some things they could not teach me.

Therefore to use a homely saying, we have reason to speak well of the bridge we have gone over : and it would be an unpardonable selfishness, if because we think ourselves safely landed upon firm ground, we should carelessly suffer the bridge to be broken down in prejudice of other passengers, who may be as little able as ourselves to stem the torrent of youthful passions and fashionable follies, or wade through the mud of indolence, with the slender staff of unripened reason. Having examined some of the principal arches of the bridge supporting the doctrinal part, I proceed next to the practical, composed of three principal compartments : for as the whole of moral philosophy has been usually divided into the cardinal Virtues, so all the duties of the Gospel are comprehended under the theological Virtues, styled Faith, Hope, and Charity.

CHAP. XV.

FAITH.

DESCEND, celestial Graces, sacred Triad, steadfast Faith, all-soothing Hope, and serenity-smiling Charity. Your passage now lies easy, since when the gates lift up their heads, the everlasting doors of heaven were opened, and the King of Glory came down to. succor lost mankind. He came in three distinguished characters : the Father awakening our slothful faculties, by signs and wonders; the Son opening a way to happiness, by setting a perfect pattern of endurance and forbearance; and the Holy Ghost invigorating our endeavors, by his imperceptible assistance, to copy the great example.

The almighty Agent, in this triple character, has rescued us from the thraldom of our nature, evidenced by Adam's transgression ; he has led captivity captive, and given gifts to men; he has subdued all our enemies under us: the last enemy subdued was Death, that king of terrors, whose grim aspect used to embitter all the joys of life. But now, O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory ? The sting of death is sin; but you, angelic sisters, brightest among the train of the King of Glory, when he passed the everlasting gates, choicest among the gifts he gave to men, shall shield us from the point of that sting.

You bear the panoply of God, proof against all assaults : for whomsoever you should fit therewith completely, he need not fear the approach of moral evil, nor pressure of what natural evil Providence shall judge needful for him to bear. It is by your enlivening energy alone, that we can become new creatures, that our affections can be raised from grovelling in the mire of sordid appetite, our understandings enlightened to discern the things above, our hearts united in perfect harmony to pursue one common interest as members of the same body, our views enlarged to regard ourselves as citizens of the universe, our mortal made to put on immortality, and our clay-built tabernacles sublimed into fit tabernacles of the Holy Ghost, wherein we have promise that the Father and the Redeemer will come unto us, and make their abode with us.

Draw near, ethereal Virtues, shed your benign influence upon me, purge my mental eye, dispel the mists of prejudice and error ; that I may behold distinctly your shapes and features, and faithfully describe them to such as will lend an attentive ear. Nor disdain to approach for that I have brought a train of earth-born VOL. III.

40

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

goddesses to receive you, natives of philosophic land, daughters of human Reason: for he too claims his descent from heaven, and bears the candle of the Lord, in testimony of his divine original. His fairest daughters these, the Virtues styled Cardinal, heretofore esteemed four, but in my searches by the light of nature appearing five. Is it presumption that I attempt to join heaven and earth in amicable concord ? for both were works of one almighty Power, both correspondent parts of the same allcomprehensive plan.

Behold the celestial Graces condescend to take hands with those of mortal growth! Behold how aptly they associate in the mingled dance! how firmly Prudence treads upon the solid ground that Faith has marked ! Prudence, whose features divided among the other sisters, make them all seem but her under various forms; and Faith, on whose strong shoulders the two other Graces lean. Fortitude and Temperance follow most steadily, where led by sure and certain Hope. Justice never quits the train of unreserved Charity, and Benevolence is her very likeness, as much as mortal production can approach divine.

But first, thee, Faith, introductress of thy companions, thee first let me survey: thy strong-knit muscles, capable of removing mountains, thy hardy constitution, unhurt by toils and labors, unappalled by dangers, unvanquished by the fiery trial. In thy mirror thou exhibitest the perfect image of things invisible to mortal ken ; with thy telescope thou bringest remotest objects near the eye. Thou evidence of things not seen, thou present sense of distant joys, and earnest of happiness kept in store for thy followers. Thou takest thy seat upon a rock; the solid ground of rational piety is the ground thou lovest to walk upon; honest Inquiry and sober Freedom are the pioneers to plane the way before thee; experience and contemplation of the Attributes the pavement whereon thou canst most securely tread.

The airy fabric of superstition and unthinking zeal will not support thy weight: there wanders there a phantom, awkward mimic of thy port and likeness, followed by, a fallacious Hope and narrowminded Charity : the hollow figure bears the semblance of thy vigor and robust complexion, but contains no nerves nor solid substance.

She feeds on dreams and fairy tales, old legends, juggling tricks, and such fantastic food: she talks in an imperious tone and confident air, but fails in time of trial: she stands ever at variance with Reason, whose piercing eye and potent grasp are her greatest dread; so she hoodwinks her zealots, that they may never meet his glance, and terrifies them with menaces, that they may fly from his approach.

This the dim-sighted Free-thinker mistakes for thee, whom he charges with her absurdities and follies : so he draws his keenedged weapon, ridicule, lays manfully about him, and thinks to make a merit with Reason, by an aid that does him no real service : for he is too eager of victory to distinguish friend from foe, or examine calmıly what it is that he attacks.

But let us proceed with better care and circumspection, observe attentively thy countenance and make, the construction of thy frame, the texture of thy joints, and ground thou standest upon, that we may neither draw thee disfigured by any foreign mixtures, nor give them an undeserved credit by being introduced as parts of thy composition.

2. In the current notion of Faith, it is apprehended to be an assent of the mind to some proposition, or a conviction of its truth : which whoever admits is deemed to have the virtue of Faith, and whoever denies is condemned as an infidel. The zealots of all sorts understand it so, which makes them value themselves upon their orthodoxy, and think hardly of every one who does not admit the distinguishing tenets of their particular religion or seet. The Free-thinker understands it so too, and therefore will not allow commendation due to anybody for his opinions : nor could we find fault with his inference, if his premises were right. For against the merit of faith, in this idea of it there lies a very just objection, namely, that it is no virtue at all : for virtue must be an act of our own, the work of our own industry, and consequence of our volition ; but assent is involuntary, it is an act of the understanding, not of the will, wherein the mind is purely passive, receiving such judgments as the objects exhibited cast upon her. For you cannot help seeing that two and two make four, nor can you assent to their making five by any power you possess; neither if you want clearness of thought to follow Éuclid in all the process of a theorem, can you assent to the demonstration, how justly soever it be carried on.

Therefore, if two heathens of equal capacity, but different ways of thinking, had the same arguinents laid before them proving Jesus to be the Christ; should one stand convinced and the other not, the former might be the more fortunate, but not the more virtuous man upon that account. This I think can hardly be denied by anybody, supposing both to come with the same honest desire of learning the truth, to consider the evidences produced fairly and impartially, and to have no wilful prejudice or passion casting their weights into the scale. But this is not always the case : what then if our unconverted heathen failed of conviction, because he shut his eyes against the evidences proposed, so that

« AnteriorContinuar »