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of course their opinions and views of religion will not suit the present age.” -I know also, that it has been said by those who have chosen to depart from the old paths, and it is the principal argument on which they rest their own justification : “That in every science, not excepting the science of theology, there is a natural progress to perfection ; that of course every succeeding age is wiser than that which went before; aïd that from this consideration, * is ground to expect, that with proper encouragement, revelation will soon be purged from every thing foreign and adventitious, and be reduced, at iást, to a rational system, foundcd on the unerring principles of well interpreted scripture and truth.” . . . . . . . . * * To the objection and argument now stated, the following reply is offered. The parallel so often drawn by some men between sacred and profane literature, will not by any means generally hold. Human sciences 6f every kind, it is readily admitted, are progressive. It is not till after much labour and research, and many unsuccessful attempts, that they arrive at any considerable degree of perfection: But that the same propression obtains with regard to the great, distinguishing doctrincs, which constitute the science of theology, no sober believer will hastily affirm. Chris*ianity was introduced into the world by its divine Author in its full maturity and vigour, in “a state of utmost perfection. It Thad no state of infancy and weak‘ness to pass through before its -genius could be perfectly discovcred. As it descended innine
diately from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness or shadow of turning, it was like its divine Founder complete in all its parts, incapable of receiving any improvement from human learning, or the discoveries of any future age. At the period of its first promulgation, it contained an entire system in itself, to which nothing can be added, from which nothing can be taken without rendering it less perfect.” Its rich treasures are deposited in one volume, which was complete in its first edition, published by its inspired authors, and which has been carefully copied, (with some various readings indeed of no essential importance) in the millions of editions since published. Christrans in the first ages of the church were as capable of understanding its essential doctrines, as in any subsequent age. This sacred volume has ever been open to the inspection of all men, to which, as to a perennial fountain, all the learned and the - unlearned are invited to come and take freely of the water of life. But the absurdity of a progressive religion may be argued not only from the difference between sacred and profane learning, but also from the obvious design of revelation. The Christian religion was intended to benefit the whole human race. Its divine and merciful Author, therefore, in whose eyes the soul of the meanest rustic, and of the rudest savage is equally precious with that of the most profound philosopher, has so accommodated its truths, as that
* See Rev. xxii. 18, 19.
they are intelligible and obvious to the most ordinary person, who studies them diligently, and with an honest mind. It is readily admitted, that there are many things in the sacred books, and particularly in the mysteries, and some of the doctrines necessarily connected with and dependent on them, which we cannot explain, which elude our most anxious inquiries, and refuse to be brought under the test of our severest reason. So there are many things in natural religion, relating to the divine existence, the creation and moral government of the world, and the origin of moral evil, concerning which it is easy for the weakest man to ask questions, which the wisest may find it difficult to answer. Perhaps clearer knowledge of what is now concealed is unattainable in our present state ; or it might be hurtful to us in a variety of ways, of which we have now no conception. God knoweth how much it is best to disclose to us in the present state. On subjects of this mysterious nature, it is not expected that we comprehend, but that we believe ; where we cannot unriddle, we are to learn to trust ; where our faculties are too weak to penetrate, we are to check our curiosity, and adore. The doctrines of Christianity being all comprehended in the Bible, when once we have admitted that this book was written by men divinely secured from error, it follows, that from this book there lies no appeal ; and that whatever is clearly recorded here is the truth of God, though it may be beyond our reason to comprehend or ex
plain. Excellent to this purpose are the words of the learned yet modest Chillingworth ; “Propose me any thing out of . this book, and ask me whether or not I believe it, and seem it. ever so incomprehensible to human reason, I will subscribe it hand and heart, as knowing no demonstration can be stronger. than this, God hath said so, , therefore it is true.” I shall conclude my observations with a pertinent passage . from the pious and eloquent Saurin. “All doctrines that are in-. comprehensible are not divine, nor ought we to embrace any opinion merely because it is beyond our knowledge. But when a religion, in other respects, hath good guarantees, when we have good arguments to prove that such a revelation comes from heaven, when we certainly know that it is God who speaks, ought we to be surprised if ideas of
God, which come so fully au
thenticated, absorb and confound us I freely grant, that had I consulted my own reason only, I could not have discovered some mysteries of the gospel. Nevertheless, when I think on the immensity of God, when I cast my eyes on that vast ocean, when I consider that immense all, nothing astonishes me, nothing stumbles me, nothing seems to me inadmissible, how incomprehensible soever it may be. When the subject is divine, I am ready to believe all, to admit all, to receive all ; provided I be convinced that it is God himself who speaks to me, or any one on his part. After this I am no more astonished that there are three distinct persons in one divine
essence ; one God, and yet a FATHER, a SoN, and a Holy Ghost. After this, I am no more astonished that God foresees all without forcing any ; permits sin without forcing the sinner ; ordains free and intelligent creatures to such and such ends, yet without destroying their intelligence, or their liberty. After this I am no more astonished, that the justice of God required a satisfaction proportional to his greatness, that his own love hath provided that satisfaction, and that God, from the abundance of his compassion, designed the mystery of an incarnate God ; a mystery, which angels admire, while sceptics oppose ; a mystery which absorbs human reason, but which fills all heaven with songs of praise ; a mystery which is the great mystery, by excellence, I Tim. iii. 16, but the greatness of which nothing should make us reject, since religion proposeth it as the grand effort of the wisdom of the incomprehensible God, and commandeth us to receive it on the testimony of the incomprehensible God himself. Either religion must tell us nothing about God, or what it tells us must be beyond our capacities ; and in discovering even the borders of this immense ocean, it must needs exhibit a vast extent, in which our feeble eyes are lost. But what surprises me, what stumbles me, what frightens me, is, to see a diminutive creature, a contemptible man, a little ray of light glimmering through a few feeble organs, controvert a point with the Supreme Being, oppose that Intelligence, who sits at the helm of the world ; question
what he affirms, dispute what he determines, appeal from his decisions, and, even after God bath given evidence, reject all doctrines that are beyond his capacity. Enter into thy nothingness, mortal creature. What madness animates thee 2 How darest thou pretend, thou, who art but a point, thou, whose essence is but an atom, to measure thyself with the Supreme Being, with him, who fills heaven and earth, with him whom heaven, the heaven of heavens cannot contain 1 Kings viii. 27. “Canst thou by searching find out God 2 Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection ? high as heaven what canst thou do 2 deeper than hell what canst thou know 2° Job xi. 7. “ He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds, the pillars of heaven tremble, and are astonished at his reproof. Lo these are parts of his ways, but how little a portion is heard of him but the thunder of his power, who can understand? Gird up now thy loins like a man, for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth 2 declare, if thou hast understanding, ch. xxvi. 7, 1 1, 14. Who hath laid the measures thereof 2 Who hath stretched the line upon it 2 whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened 2 Who laid the corner stone thereof, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy: Who shut up the sea with doors, when I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddling band for it When I brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors, and said, Hitherto shalt thou come and no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed 2 xxxviii. 1, 2, 3, &c. He that reproveth God, let him answer this, xi. 2, O Lord, such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is too high, I cannot attain unto it !”
on IGINAL LETTERS FROM AN AGED. MINISTER TO A YOUNG STUDENT IN DIVINITY. Dear Sir, No. 9. Ax uncommon series of avocations has postponed those attentions to you by way of letter, which, when at liberty, I always find a pleasure in paying. You, in the mean time, if my information is correct, have entered a new world in a manner ; and shall I congratulate you, that to you it is given “to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.” For what a “grace” is this, my friend, to you and to me ! I wish to recal my own mind more and more to this thought, and seek with redoubled importunity everything in spirit and life, in gift and grace, which suits so high a calling, of which none of us can pretend to be worthy. Shall we pray and labour that we may obtain mercy to do something for our Master's honour, for the advancement of his truth and all-interesting cause among men 2 My wishes will not cease to follow you, that his presence may be with you always. Gracious Master how he remembers his poor servants, who go
forth with fear and trembling, knowing that without him they can do nothing ! Our strength, my young brother, will always lie in taking hold on his all-sufficiency, and there reposing our hopes for all preparation, all courage, and all conduct. When we forget this, and begin to feel strong in our own abilities and acquirements, we are at once weak as water, and at once in imminent danger. I shall still proceed in hints which occur to me, because you have desired it. There are many which I am not to suppose have escaped you. Your own thoughts have suggested the expediency of engaging early some judicious and faithful remarker upon every thing in manner, which might be amended; or if there be any thing of a higher nature which requires variation. Very possibly you are before me in the best things I shall mention ; but their occurring to another may the more confirm you that they are founded in nature. It is of great importance to ourselves and others, that we come with the true air to the exercises of the sanctuary. Deep reverence and awe of the Majes. ty we worship, and in whose name we speak, should forever go with us; but not such a dread as prevents the free acting of our faculties, in prayer or sermon. We are not come to the mount which burned with fire, &c." Together with the reverence and godly fear which must still be maintained,t let a sense of the dispensation we are under, and of our approaching the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, and
• Heb. xii. 18. see v. 28.
under his sheltering wing, give us a glow of filial hope and joy ; that it shall be difficult to say whether we are more awed or animated. A reverence is likewise due to a Christian assembly ; but it should not be a slavish fear of man. St. Paul's modest sensibility should indeed be prominent in every preacher ; Unto me who am less than the least, &c.; But we ought to derive a courage [a parrësia] as he did, by considering in whose name we speak, whose protection is promised to us in the line of our duty, and who is able to make his strength perfect in the weakness of his servants. We should have a confidence in the word we deliver—when we are sure it is scriptural, and deeply interesting to the souls of men ; when we are conscious that “ we preach not ourselves;” that it is not our own honour we are seek
ing, but the honour of our di
vine Lord, and the eternal benefit of our fellow men. Such was the boldness of Peter and John before the Jewish council ;” and such the sources from which it sprung. And such are the views which must relieve us under the consciousness of not performing, as highly as we wish, in all respects.
Specially let us beware of carrying into the sacred desk the anxieties of pride and ambition ; or a too great solicitude respecting the brilliancy of composition, or other externals of preaching. If indeed there be a consciousness of not having applied ourselves to be scriptural, to be per
spicuous, to be interesting, to express the divine truth according to its nature, and bring it home to the consciences and hearts of the hearers; or if with all our diligence in some things, our. hearts have not been employed in due manner, nor our prayers ascending for divine help, and divine success ; then indeed we may justly feel a misgiving ; and no confidence of being divinely assisted in such a way, ought to relieve us, or ought to be indulged ; for this would be rather tempting our Maker than trusting in him. But when we have religiously endeavoured, according to our time and means, to come prepared according to the preparations of the sanctuary ; in this case the preacher ought to be at rest in a good measure. respecting his preparations; and, quite at liberty to look up for a blessing to feel his subject, and to speak “as a dying man to dying men.”
In short, the same sentiment should actuate us in regard to the externals of sermonizing, as with respect to dress, when we are going to the sanctuary. We have a care to go decent ; not with a view to be admired, but to be at liberty from every thought about our aft/learance ; and have nothing to do in that sacred place, but to realize and feel the great subjects before us. Without such previous care we, cannot be so at liberty. If we dress for admiration, dress will still take us off as effectually, as being ragged and dirty. In both cases, humility, and not ambition, is the best directress of our preparations, and the best preservative from improper anx1Clics.