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Unbelievers are commonly men of the world; fascinated by its pomps and vanities. Is it the most likely means to overcome their prejudices, and teach them to bow the knee to Jesus, thus to lower bis personal dignity ? Was there any occasion for it? Do not the prophets, as I have just now observed, exalt him above every name? Why call him peasant? The term I think by no means appropriate to him, supposing that it were not an injudicious degradation of his character in the eyes of unthinking worldlings, and malignant unbelievers. There is something peculiarly disgusting in hearing dignified ecclesiastics, living in splendour and affluence entirely in consequence of the religion of Jesus Christ, speaking of him in their defences of his religion, as a peasant, as a person compared to themselves vile and despicable. Such arguments as this appellation is meant to support, will never render service to Christianity. The representation becomes a stumbling-block, and a rock of offence. I might however produce several other instances of great writers who have afforded precedents for such degrading appellations of Jesus Christ. But neither the infidel nor the Christian will easily believe, that the man who calls his Saviour a peasant, after the glorious representations of him which the prophets give, feels that awe and veneration which is due to the Son of God, the Lord of life, the Saviour and Redeemer. I forbear to specify them. One instance is sufficient to point out my meaning, and show the reason why some ingenious apologies for Christianity are totally ineffectual.
Dry argumentation and dull disquisition unanimated by the spirit of piety and devotion, will never avail to convert unbelievers, and to diffuse the doctrines of Christianity. Life, death, heaven, and hell, are subjects of too much importance to be treated by a sincere mind, duly impressed by them, with the coolness of a lawyer giving an opinion on a statute or case, in which another's property or privileges are concerned. The spirit of piety seems to have been wanting in some of the most logical and metaphysical defenders of Christianity. They speak of Christ, when they are examining the truth of the doctrine, with calm indifference, as if they were dull virtuosos discussing the genuineness of a medal, or the authenticity of a manuscript, valuable only as an amusing curiosity. If St. Paul had been no warmer an advocate than certain famous apologists for Christ's doctrine, he would never have prevailed with the Gentiles to relinquish their polytheism, and we of this island should, at this day, have remained in the darkness of idolatry. Without the spirit of piety, all proofs and defences of Christianity are a dead letter. The multitude will not even read them; and infidels, if they do not despise them too much to attend to them at all, will only read to find fresh matter for cavil and objection.
I may be wrong in my theory. I therefore appeal to fact. The fact is evident, that, notwithstanding all that has been written to demonstrate Christianity, by argument drawn from reasoning and history, infidelity has increased, and is every day increasing more and more. Let those who think the dry argumentative apologies irresistibly convincing, now bring them forward, and silence the gainsayers at once. The demonstrations of a Huet, the evidences of a Clarke, the reasonings of a Locke, a Grotius, a Hartley, should be presented in the most striking manner, by public authority; and if they are really efficacious in producing conviction, we may be assured that infidelity will vanish at their appearance, like the mists of an autumnal morning, when the meridian sun breaks forth in full splendour. But the truth is, they are already very much diffused, and yet the Christian religion is said to be rapidly on the decline.
Therefore it cannot be blameable to attempt some other method of calling back the attention of erring mortals to the momentous truths of revelation.
I have conceived an idea that our old English divines were great adepts in genuine Christianity, and that their method of recommending it was judicious, because I know it was successful. There was much more piety in the last century than in the present; and there is every reason to believe that infidelity was rare. Bishop Hall appears to me to have been animated with the true spirit of Christianity; and I beg leave to convey my own ideas on the best method of diffusing that spirit, in his pleasingly-pious and simple language.
“There is not,” says the venerable prelate, “so much need of learning as of grace to apprehend those things which concern our everlasting peace; neither is it our brain that must be set to work, but our hearts. However excellent the use of scholarship in all the sacred employments of divinity; yet, in the main act, which imports salvation, skill must give place to affection. Happy is the soul that is possessed of Christ, how poor soever in all inferior endowments. Ye are wide, 0 ye great wits, while ye spend yourselves in curious questions and learned extravagances. Ye shall find one touch of Christ more worth to your souls, than all your deep and laborious disquisitions. In vain shall ye seek for this in your books, if you miss it in your bosoms. If you know all things, and cannot say “I know whom I have believed, you have but knowledge enough to know yourselves completely miserable. The deep mysteries of godliness, which, to the great clerks of the world, are as a book clasped and sealed up, lie open before him, (the pious and devout man,) fair and legible; and while those book-men know whom they have heard of, ' he knows whom he hath believed.'”
Christianity indeed, like the sun, discovers itself by its own lustre. It shines with unborrowed light on the devout heart. It wants little external proof, but carries its own evidence to him that is regenerate and born of the Spirit. “ The truth of Christianity," says a pious author,“is the Spirit of God living and working in it; and when this Spirit is not the life of it, there the outward form is but like the carcass of a departed soul.”
Divinity has certainly been confused and perplexed by the learned. It requires to be disentangled and simplified. It appears to me to consist in this single point, the restoration of the divine life, the image of God, (lost and defaced at the fall,) by the operation of the Holy Ghost.
When this is restored, every other advantage of Christianity follows in course. Pure morals are absolutely necessary to the reception of the Holy Ghost, and an unavoidable consequence of his continuance. The attainment of grace is then the unum necessarium. It includes in it all gospel comfort, it teaches all virtue, and infallibly leads to light, life, and immortality.
On the sort of Evidence chiefly recommended and
attempted to be displayed in this Treatise.
Quid est fideliter Christo credere ? Est fideliter Dei mandata servare. -SALVIAN. de. Gub. lib. iii.
I THINK it right to apprize my reader, on the very threshold, that if he expects a recapitulation of the external and historical evidence of Christianity, he will be disappointed. For all such evidence I must refer him to the great and illustrious names of voluminous theologists, who have filled with honour the professional chairs of universities, and splendidly adorned the annals of literature. I revere their virtuous characters; I highly appreciate their learned labours; I think the student who is abstracted from active life, and possesses leisure, may derive from them much amusement, while he increases his stores of critical erudition, and becomes enabled to discourse or dispute on theology. But men, able to command their time, and com
1“ In what consists a faithful belief in Christ? It consists in a faithful obedience to his commandments.”