Page images
PDF
EPUB

cal erudition, and becomes enabled to discourse or dispute on theology. But men, able to command their time, and competently furnished with ability fordeep and extensive investigation, are but a small number in the mass of mankind. That systematic or speculative treatise which may delight and instruct such men, in the cool shade of philosophical retirement, will have little effect on the minds of others who constitute the multitude of mortals, eagerly engaged in providing for the wants of the passing day, or warmly contending for the glittering prizes of secular ambition. Indeed, I never heard that the laborious proofs of Christianity, in the historical and argumentative mode, ever converted any of those celebrated authors on the side of infidelity, who have, from time to time, spread an alarm through Christendom, and drawn forth the defensive pens of every church and university in Europe. The infidel wits wrote on in the same cause; deriving fresh matter for cavil from the arguments of the defenders; and re-assailing the citadel with the very balls hurled from its battlements in superfluous profusion.

What, then, it may be justly asked, have I to offer? What is the sort of evidence which I attempt to display? It is an internal EVIDENCE of the truth of the gospel, consequent on OBEDIENCE to its precepts. It is a sort of evidence, the mode of obtaining which is pointed out by Jesus CHRIST himself, in the following declaration :: « If any man will do his will, he shall KNOW of the “ DOCTRINE whether it be of God*.” · But how shall he know? BY THE ILLUMINATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT OF God, which is promised by Christ, to those who do his will.

Therefore if any man seriously and earnestly desires to become a Christian, let him begin, whatever doubts

John vii. 17.

he may entertain of the truth of Christianity, by praerising those moral virtues, and cultivating those amiable dispositions, which the written gospel plainly requires, and the grace of God, will gradnally remove the veil from his eyes and from his heart, so as to enable him to see and to love the things which belong to his peace, and which are revealed in the gospel only. Let him make the experiment and persevere. The result will be the full conviction that Christianity is true. The sanctifying Spirit will precede, and the illuminating Spirit follow in consequence.

I take it for granted, that God has given all- men the means of knowing that which it imports all men to know; but if, in order to gain the knowledge requisite to become a Christian, it is necessary to read such authors as Grotius, Limborch, Clarke, Lardner, or Warburton, how few, in the great mass of mankind, can possibly acquire that knowledge and consequent faith which are necessary to their salvation?

But every human being is capable of the evidence which arises from the divine illumination. It is offered to all. And they who reject it, and seek orily the evidence which human means afford, shut out the sun, and content themselves either with total darkness or the fee. ble light of a taper.

“ There is” (says the excellent Bishop Sanderson) « to the outward tender of grace in the ministry of the “ gospel, annexed an inward offer of the same to the “ HEART, by the Spirit of God going along with his “ WORD, which some of the schoolmen call auxilium « gratiæ generale, sufficient of itself to convert the soul « of the hearer, if he do not resist the Holy Ghost, and « reject the grace offered; which, as it is grounded on. “ these words, Behold I stand at the door and knock, and “ upon very many passages of scripture beside, so it

standeth with reason that the offer, if accepted, should

« be sufficient, ex parte sua, to do the work, which, if « not accepted, is sufficient to leave the person, not ac“ cepting the same, inexcusable.”

* The outward testimony to the truth of the gospel, is certainly a very strong one; but yet it is found insufficient without the inward testimony. The best understandings have remained unconvinced by the outward testimony; while the meanest have been fully persuaded by the co-operation of the inward, the divine irradiation of the Holy Ghost shining upon and giving lustre to the letter of revelation. : But because the doctrine of divine influence on the human mind is obnoxious to obloquy, I think it necessary to support it by the authority of some of the best men and soundest divines of this nation. Such are the prejudices entertained by many against the doctrine of . divine influence and the witness of the Spirit, that I cannot proceed a step farther, with hope of success, till I have laid before my reader several passages in confirmation of it, from the writings of men who were the ornaments of their times, and who are at this day esteemed no less for their orthodoxy and powers of rea- . son than their eloquence. I make no apology to my reader for the length of the quotations from them, because I am sure he will be a gainer, if I keep silence that they may be heard in the interval. My object is to re-establish a declining opinion, which I think not only true, but of prime importance. I therefore withdraw myself occasionally, that I may introduce those advocates for it, whosé very names must command attention. If I can but be instrumental in reviving the true Spirit of Christianity, by citing their authority, their's be the praise, and mine the humble office of recommending and extending their salutary doctrine.

6 And if it shall be asked (to express myself nearly in the words of Archbishop Wake) why I so often chuse

the drudgery of a transcriber, the reason is shortly this: I hoped that quotations from departed writers of great and deserved fame would find a more general and unprejudiced acceptance with all sorts of men, than any thing that could be written by any one now living, who, if esteemed by some, is yet in danger of being despised by more; whose prejudice to his person will not suffer them to reap any benefit by any thing, however useful, that can come from him; while such passages as these which I cite, must excite respect and attention, unmixed (as the authors are dead) with any malignant senti. ment or prepossession against them, such as might close the eyes of the understanding against the radi. ance of truth."*

SECTION III.

On the prejudices entertained against this Sort of Evia

dence, and against all divine and supernatural Influence on the Mind of Man.

INCE the time of archbishop Laud, the most celebrated defenders of Christianity have thought it proper to expatiate, with peculiar zeal, on the excellence of natural religion. They probably had reasons for their conduct; but it must not be dissembled, that in extolling natural religion they have appeared to depreciate or supersede revelation. The doctrine of su

* The following text may, I think, confirm the opinion advanced in this Section, that the best evidence will arise from OBEDIENCE:

“And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the “ Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that OBEY « him.” Acts, v. 37.

pernatural assistance, the great privilege of Christianity, has been very little enforced by them, and indeed rather discountenanced, as savouring of enthusiasm, and claiming, if true, a decided superiority over their favourite religion of nature.

Upon this subject, a very sensible writer thus expresses his opinion:

** Towards making and forming a Christian, if supernatural assistance of the divine Spirit was necessary at “ the beginning of the gospel, I do not see what should “ render it less necessary at any time since, nor why it “ may not be expected now. Human learning and hu“ man wisdom have rashly and vainly usurped the place (6 of it.

“ It is observable that these old principles are still to be “ found among dissenters, in a good measure, which is “ the reason why their opponents have dropped the use 6 of them.

“ As these doctrines were the principles and language 66.of the dissenters, and others, who followed the stan6 dard of the Parliament against King Charles the First, 6 though they were not the particular motives of the war, 6 nor could contract any just blame from the unhappy “ issue of that war; yet, at the restoration of King “ Charles the Second, the resentment which took place “ against dissenters ran high, and I apprehend led the “ church clergy not only to be angry with the men, but “ to forsake their principles too, though right and inno“ cent in themselves, and aforetimé held in common « among all Protestants.”

This, the author thinks, gave rise to the excessive zeal forenforcing natural religion, and for mere moral preaching, to the exclusion of the distinguishing doctrines of Christ, and particularly those sublime mysteries respecting the operation of the Holy Ghost, the very life and soul of Christianity.

« PreviousContinue »