« PreviousContinue »
almost every town and neighbourhood, persons capable of informing you in the main evidences of Christianity, and of answering such scruples against it as unlearned minds may have met with. Set yourself, then, in the name of God, immediately to consider the matter. If you study at all, bend your studies close this way,
and trifle not with mathematics, or poetry, or history, or law, or physic, which are all comparatively light as a feather, while you neglect this. Study the arguments as for your life; for much more than life depends on it. See how far you are satisfied, and why that satisfaction reaches no farther. Compare evidences on both sides. And, above all, consider the design and tendency of the New Testament. See to what it will lead you, and all them that cordially obey it; and then say, whether it be not good. And consider, how naturally its truth is connected with its goodness. Trace the character and sentiments of its authors, whose living image, if I may be allowed the expression, is still preserved in their writings; and then ask your heart, can you think this was a forgery, an impious, cruel forgery? For such it must have been, if it were a forgery at all: a scheme to mock God, and to ruin men, even the best of men, such as reverenced conscience, and would abide all extremities for what they apprehended to be truth. Put the question to your own heart, Can I in my conscience believe it to be such an imposture? Can I look up to an Omniscient God, and say, « O Lord, thou knowest that it is in reverence to thee, and in love to truth and virtue, that I reject this book, and the method to happiness here laid down.'”
4. But there are difficulties in the way. And what then? Have those difficulties never been cleared ? Go to the living advocates for Christianity, to those of whose abilities, candour, and piety, you have the best opinion, if your prejudices will give you leave to have a good opinion of any such; tell them your difficulties; hear their solutions; weigh them seriously, as those who know they must answer it to God; and while doubts continue, follow the truth as far as it will lead you, and take heed that you
do pot "imprison it in unrighteousness.” Rom. i. 18. No
thing appears more inconsistent and absurd, than for a man solemnly to pretend dissatisfaction in the evidences of the Gospel, as a reason why he cannot in conscience be a thorough Christian ; when at the same time he violates the most apparent dictates of reason and conscience, and lives in vices condemned even by the heathen. O sirs ! Christ has judged concerning such, and judged most righteously and most wisely : “ They do evil, and therefore they hate the light, neither come they to the light, lest their deeds should be made manifest, and be reproved.” John, iïi. 20. But there is a light that will make manifest and reprove their works, to which they will be compelled to come, and the painful scrutiny of which they shall be forced to abide.
5. In the mean time, if you are determined to inquire no farther into the matter now, give me leave, at least, from a sincere concern that you may not heap upon your head more aggravated ruin, to entreat you that you would be cautious how you expose yourself to yet greater danger, by what you must yourself own to be unnecessary; I mean attempts to prevent others from believing the truth of the Gospel. Leave them, for God's sake, and for your own, in possession of those pleasures and those hopes, which nothing but Christianity can give them; and act not
if you were solicitous to add to the guilt of an infidel the tenfold damnation, which they, who have been the perverters and destroyers of the souls of others, must expect to meet, if that Gospel, which they have so adventurously opposed, shall prove, as it certainly will, a serious, and to them a dreadful truth.
6. If I cannot prevail here, (but the pride of displaying a superiority of understanding should bear on such a reader, even in opposition to his own favourite maxims of the innocence of error, and the equality of all religions consistent with social virtue, to do his utmost to trample down the Gospel with contempt,) I would, however, dismiss him with one proposal, which I think the importance of the affair may fully justify. If you have done with your examination into Christianity, and determine to live and con
duct yourself as if it were assuredly false, sit down, then, and make a memorandum of that determination. Write it down:
“On such a day of such a year, I deliberately resolved that I would live and die rejecting Christianity myself
, and doing all I could to overthrow it. This day I determined, not only to renounce all subjection to, and expectation from, Jesus of Nazareth, but also to make it a serious part of the business of my life, to destroy, as far as I possibly can, all regard to him in the minds of others, and to exert my most vigorous efforts, in the way of reasoning or of ridicule, to sink the credit of his religion, and, if it be possible, to root it out of the world ; in calm, steady defiance of that day, when his followers say, He shall appear in so much majesty and terror, to execute the vengeance threatened to his enemies."
Dare you write this, and sign it? I firmly believe, that many a man, who would be thought a deist, and endeavours to increase the number, would not. And if you in particular dare not do it, whence does that small reinainder of caution arise ? The cause is plain. There is in your conscience some secret apprehension, that this rejected, this opposed, this derided Gospel, may, after all, prove true. And if there be such an apprehension, then let conscience do its office, and convict you of the impious madness of acting as if it were most certainly and demonstrably false. Let it tell you at large, how possible it is, that “haply you may be found fighting against God;" (Acts, v. 39.) that, bold as you are in defying the terrors of the Lord, you may possibly fall into his hands; may chance to hear that despised sentence, which, when you hear it from the mouth of the eternal Judge, you will not be able to despise. I will repeat it again, in spite of all your scorn : you may hear the King say to you, “ Depart, accursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. Matt. xxv. 41. And now, go and pervert, and burlesque the Scripture, go and satirize the character of its heroes, and ridicule the sublime discourses of its prophets and its apostles, as some have done, who have left behind them
but the short-lived monuments of their ignorance, their profaneness, and their malice. Go, and spread, like them, the banners of infidelity, and pride thyself in the number of credulous creatures listed under them. But take heed, lest the insulted Galilean direct a secret arrow to thine heart, and stop thy licentious breath, before it has finished the next sentence thou wouldst utter against him.
7. I will turn myself from the deist or the sceptic, and direct
address to the nominal Christian ; if he may upon any terms be called a Christian, who feels not, after all I have pleaded, a disposition to subject himself to the government and the grace of that Saviour whose name he bears. O sinner, thou art turning away from my Lord, in whose cause I speak; but let me earnestly entreat thee seriously to consider why thou art turning away; and “to whom thou wilt go,” from him whom thou acknowledgest “to have the words of eternal life." John, vi. 68. You call yourself a Christian, and yet will not by any means be persuaded to seek salvation in good earnest from and through Jesus Christ, whom you call your Master and Lord. How do you for a moment excuse this negligence to your own conscience? If I had urged you on any controverted point, it might have altered the case. If I had laboured hard to make you the disciple of any particular party of Christians, your delay might have been more reasonable; nay, perhaps your refusing to acquiesce might have been an act of apprehended duty to our common Master. But is it matter of controversy among Christians, whether there be a great, holy and righteous God; and whether such a Being, whom we agree to own, should be reverenced and loved, or neglected or dishonoured ? Is it matter of controversy, whether a sinner should deeply and seriously repent of his sins, or whether he should go on in them? Is it a disputed point amongst us, whether Jesus became incarnate, and died upon the cross, for the redemption of sinners, or not? And if it be not, can it be disputed by them who believe him to be the Son of God and the Saviour of men, whether a sinner should seek to him, or neglect him; or whether one who professes to be
a Christian should depart from iniquity, or give himself up to the practice of it? Are the precepts of our great Master written so obscurely in his word, that there should be room seriously to question, whether he require a devout, holy, humble, spiritual, watchful, self-denying life, or whether he allow the contrary? Has Christ, after all his pretensions of bringing life and immortality to light, left it more uncertain than he found it, whether there be any future state of happiness and misery, or for whom these states are respectively intended? Is it a matter of controversy, whether God will, or will not, “ bring every work into judgement, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil ?" (Eccles. xii. 14.) or whether, at the conclusion of that judgement, “ the wicked shall
go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal ?” Matt. xxv. 46. You will not, I am sure, for very shame, pretend any doubt about these things, and yet call yourself a Christian. Why then will you not be persuaded to lay them to heart, and to act as duty and interest so evidently require? O sinner, the cause is too obvious, a cause indeed quite unworthy of being called a
It is because thou art blinded and besotted with thy vanities and thy lusts. It is because thou hast some perishing trifle, which charms thy imagination and thy senses, so that it is dearer to thee than God and Christ, than thy own soul and its salvation. It is, in a word, because thou art still under the influence of that carnal mind, which, whatever pious forms it may sometimes admit and pretend, “is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Rom. viii. 7. And therefore thou art in the very case of those wretches, concerning whom our Lord said in the days of his flesh, “Ye will not come unto me, that’ye might have life,” (John, v. 40.) and therefore " ye shall die in your sins." John, viii. 24.
8. In this case I see not what it can signify, to renew those expostulations and addresses which I have made in the former chapters. As our blessed Redeemer says of those who reject his Gospel, “ Ye have both seen and