Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

marked, to exterminate Christianity, attempted the suppression of literature among Christians. Luther and his illustrious coadjutors, in order that long established error might yield to sound doctrine, awakened the powers of latent intellect, by infusing light into the public mind. Agreeably to this, the Huguenot, i. e. protestant churches, which, for many years after the reformation, existed and flourished in France, consecrated a portion of their annual income to the object of publicly educating youth for the ministry. It is impossible that knowledge, whether found in the teachers of religion, or diffused through the mass of the community, should be otherwise than favorable to the progress of truth, or that truth should be otherwise than favorable to piety. If, therefore, we desire that the words of God, and his Spirit should remain with our descendants and successors, provision should be made for the present and future prevalence of good learning. The influence of common schools, when judiciously superintended, and committed to the care of such as have competency of knowledge, and a pure, moral character, especially, if to these, piety be added, is of incalculable value, not only to the civil State, but to the church of Christ. The fuel, which feeds fanaticism and disorder, is hereby diminished, and in some instances, entirely removed. · This system of common education, so well meriting to be assiduously cherished, does by no means supersede institutions of a different kind, and such as shall aim at higher objects. The existence of public seminaries has an intimate connexion with the honor of religion, and the welfare of the church. Every good man is, therefore, bound to favor the cause of literature and science: That wisdom and knowledge may be the stability of our times, and the fear of the Lord our treasure.

We might, indeed, proceed much further in mentioning particulars, connected with the moral character of posterity.-Enough has been said, it is believed, to show that our relation to them is attended with duties of no light obligation, or trifling moment. To discharge these duties with constancy and active zeal, we have, at present, many encouragements; we are coVOL. II.

41

operating with thousands; we have the countenance of almost the whole Christian world. To form and execute designs of Christian benevolence is the distinguishing habit of our times. To the astonishment of every mind, inured either to piety or contemplation, God has, within a few years, renewed the face of the Christian world. We are justified in cherishing animating hopes as to the condition of posterity. When we shall have fallen asleep, not being permitted to continue by reason of death, our children will not be left to pass their trial in a nation of infidels. They will not, we confidently hope, be taught that death is an everlasting sleep, or to deny that God, “who, at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake to the fathers of the Jewish nation by the prophets, hath in these last ages, spoken to the world by Jesus Christ.” They will find objects and institutions at once indicating, and promoting, reverence for God and revealed religion.

Such is the present prospect. But, whether this prospect shall brighten or be obscured, will depend on the continuance of that general system of active beneficence, which has been so extensively and successfully adopted; and on the adoption, it is humbly conceived, of particular means, of which some have been enumerated in this discourse. Our ancestors did much for us. In numerous respects, we now enjoy the result of their piety and foresight. It remains to be seen, whether we are willing to acknowledge our debt of gratitude to God and them, by similar attention to our successors. Let us not be wanting to our offspring, and their descendants; but animated by that precious promise contained in the text, relative to the seed of God's prosessing people, let us transmit to others, what our ancestors conveyed to us : He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers; that they should make them known to their children ; that the generations to come may know them, even the children which shall be born, who shall arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget his works, but keep his commandments.

SERMON X V.

ON CONSCIENCE.

Romans 2: 15.- Their conscience also bearing witness, and their

thoughts, the mean while, accusing, or else excusing, one another.

These words are part of a sentence, in which St. Paul describes the character and condition of pagans. He shows, that though destitute of supernatural revelation, they have, in common with all men, certain degrees of light communicated to them, relating to God and moral obligation : The invisible things of God from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things, that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.—Again : When the Gentiles, who have not the law, do, by nature, the things, contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves. Which show the works of the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while, accusing or else excusing one another. By the light, communicated to the Gentiles, are meant their rational powers, taken in connexion with all those objects of nature, in contemplating which these powers may be employed.

The apostle may, therefore, be considered as affirming, that Gentiles, to whom no special revelation has been made, are yet furnished with a power of moral discernment;—a rule, which is actually applied in a greater or less degree, both to their own behavior, and to that of others. That it was applied to their own actions, appears from these words, “Their consciences also bearing them witness ;” and that it was applied to the actions of others, is shown in what immediately follows,“ Their thoughts, the mean while accusing, or else excusing one another.” By praising some actions as virtuous, and condemning others as vicious, they implicitly acknowledge a difference between virtue and vice,-and that the one was of good, and the other of ill desert.

My present object is to consider the nature and power of that principle in man, which is usually denomioated conscience or the moral sense.

First, we shall inquire into the nature of this principle. That we may do this the more successfully, let me request you to direct your attention, for a few moments, to that difference, which is acknowledged to exist in human actions.

Some actions, you well know, are thought worthy of approbation; and others, of blame. This difference does not depend on the casual result of such actions; but on the intention with which they are supposed to be performed. Were a person to exert himself for a long time, and with much industry, to advance the interest of his neighbors, or that of the public, and should be frustrated in his designs, by some casualty, which no sagacity could foresee, he could never blame himself for the event, nor reflect on his intentions and efforts with other feelings than those of approbation; in both which respects, the feelings and judgment of all persons of sober reflection would correspond with his own.

They could not but feel, that his endeavors had been such as to entitle him to esteem. And, as for the unforeseen issue, they could no more contemplate that with censure, than he could with remorse. On the other hand, should a man form purposes, either of treachery, or treason, and, by a seasonable discovery, or some unexpected occurrence, real good should result to those who were to have been the victims of his crime, his own character, both to himself and others, must appear precisely the same, as if his purposes had been executed. The emotions with which the mind contemplates virtue or vice, are entirely different from those, with which it contemplates advantage or disadvantage, pleasure or pain. Men never feel remorse for misfortunes, as such, or for things which are unavoidable. But, consequent on the perpetration of a crime, there is remorse, shame, self-reproach, a sense of unworthiness. No man is afraid to meet himself, because he has been unfortunate; but thousands have dreaded solitude, after the performance of an impious, dishonest, cruel, or malignant action. Misfortunes may produce grief; but nothing but the consciousness of crime is followed by remorse.

The existence of these facts, as they fall within the observation of all men, will hardly be denied. From the rational nature which God has given us, we perceive a difference between virtue and vice, as readily and as unavoidably, as between a mountain and a valley, between a crooked line and a straight one, between the light of day and the darkness of midnight. You never can bring the mind to judge of falsehood, injustice, ingratitude, and selfishness in general, as right, and worthy of praise ; nor of kindness, benevolence, and honesty, as wrong. This moral discernment of a difference in human actions; this judgment which we form of human conduct, whether our own or that of others, requires neither long deliberation, extraordinary intellectual powers, nor a high degree of mental refinement. That ingratitude towards benefactors, and a cold indifference to the wants and sufferings of others, are qualities of ill desert and character, is as clearly apparent to the mind of a cottager, as to the apprehension of a statesman or prince.

Though the general distinction between virtue and vice may be considered as intuitively apparent, and universally acknowledged, there may, doubtless, be an individual action, whose circumstances and relations are such as to render questionable its moral denomination. Such in the apostolic age, was the eating of meats, which had been offered to idols; and the observance of particular days. So likewise may passion, or selfinterest, prevent men from judging rightly of their own deportment, on particular occasions, when the case itself involves no real difficulty.

That king David's moral discernment, as it respected human actions in general, was not impaired during the time of his apostasy and impenitence, appears by the prompt decision, which be made in reference to the unfeeling oppressor, whose cruelty

« AnteriorContinuar »