« PreviousContinue »
let no man deceive you : he that doeth righteousness is righteous; he that committeth sin is of the devil. Whoso is born of God, sinneth not, whosoever doth not righteousness, is not of God. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this—to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
It were easy to cite a great many more passages of the same moral importance; but the written gospel is in the hands of all, and there no one can search, with a fair and candid mind, without finding the purest virtue enforced on the strongest motives that can possibly actuate a human creature.
The truth is, that the very same care and caution, the same virtuous exertions, are necessary to Christians, as if there were no supernatural and auxiliary interposition. Our endeavours must not be relaxed in the smallest degree. The difference and advantage lies in the result and effect of our endeavours. Under the divine influence, they will certainly be attended with success. They will promote our happiness infallibly. The choice of our conduct must be voluntary, and the perseverance and labour must be directed by the purest motives, and the most steady, regular, and careful diligence, just as if we depended on ourselves; while, at the same time, they are animated and supported by humble confidence in heavenly
favour. No remissness is allowed on our part, in consequence of God's favour. We are to work out our salvation with the utmost solicitude, knowing that he who gives us his grace, may, upon failure of our best endeavours, withdraw it, and leave us in a state of woeful desertion. Libertinism can avail itself of no such doctrines as these, which, in the very first instance, most emphatically recommend purity of heart, the fountain of all external action.
It is remarkable of the gospel, that it teaches obedience to human law, and every moral virtue, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
Unbelievers not to be addressed merely with subtle
Reasoning, which they always oppose in its own way, not to be ridiculed, not to be treated with severity, but to be tenderly and affectionately exhorted to prepare their hearts for the reception of the inward Witness, and to relume the Light of Life, which they have extinguished, or rendered faint, through Pride, Vice, or total Neglect.
Facts have evinced that mere human disputation has little effect in converting the infidel. The infidel has often been remarkable for sagacity, and richly furnished with all human learning, though little acquainted with divine knowledge. I never knew any of them retract their errors, after the publication of the most ingenious and laborious books which claimed the honour of completely refuting them. It is time to try another method, since none can be more unsuccessful than that which has been hitherto used. It is time to trust less in human means, and rely on the power of God, which will manifest itself in the hearts of all men who persevere with earnestness in seeking divine illumination.
I deem it extremely imprudent and indecent to ridicule the unbeliever. It is setting him an example, which he may follow to the great injury of all that is serious and truly valuable both in morals and religion. It argues a levity and disregard for his happiness, very unbecoming any man who knows the value of a human soul, or who professes a solicitude to save it alive. Though it cause no conversion, it will produce retaliation.
Still more unchristian is it to treat him with severity. I have read books professing to recommend the benign religion of Christ, and to refute all objections to it, yet written in the very gall of bitterness, displaying a pride and malignity of heart which may justly prompt the unbeliever to say, “ If your religion, of which you profess to be a believer, and which you describe as teaching charity or benevolence in its fullest extent, can produce no better a specimen than your own temper and disposition, let me preserve my good-nature, and you may keep your Christianity, with all the advantages you boast that it contains, in your own exclusive possession.”
The late bishop Warburton treated infidels with a haughty asperity scarcely proper to be shown to thieves and murderers, or any, the most abandoned, members of society. Many have doubted, from the tenour of his writings, whether he was a believer; or whether he only thought it sufficient, for the sake of rising in the church, to support religion by argument as a state engine. Certain it is, that the spirit which he shows towards his opponents' is not the Spirit of grace; that spirit which is loving, gentle, and easy to be entreated. His spirit is singularly proud and acrimonious; and so has been the spirit of many of his predecessors and successors.
How amiable and gentle, on comparison, the language and sentiments of Voltaire and Rousseau ! Those men would have loved Christianity, and probably believed it, if it had not been distorted and disfigured by the malignant passions of angry, polemical defenders of it, who showed their love of Christ, by hating their brother.
Religion is beautiful. Full of grace are her lips. She shall speak for herself to the hearts of unbelievers, and the world :
“ Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. I call you, not for the sake of promoting any worldly interest, not for political purposes, not for an ecclesiastical
"The following is a specimen of the temper with which bishop Warburton wrote his book on the Doctrine of Grace. In the fifth chapter, where he is speaking of the office and operations of the Holy Spirit, he has the following note on Mr. William Law, who, if mistaken, is allowed to have been a sincere Christian, and a very good as well as ingenious man.
“ This poor man,” (says the great prelate,) " whether misled by his fanaticism or his spleen, has here fallen into a trap which his folly laid for his malice.”
There is then no malice in this observation, no pride, no revenge!
party, not to maintain the riches or grandeur of any establishment; but that I may make you happy; that I may dispel the clouds of trouble and doubt which darken your paths, and show you the sunshine of heaven. Mine is a spirit of love. I am a lover of men. I seek to do you good. I bring the glad tidings of the gospel ; that is, I disclose to you that God Almighty, in pity to suffering and erring mortals, sends a comforter, the Holy Ghost, descending like a dove, all peaceable, gentle, lovely. I fill you with hope; and hope is a cheerful passion. It will tranquillize your agitated bosoms, and lead you rejoicing on your way to the silent grave, whither you must go, whether you make your journey to it gay and pleasant, as you may, under my guidance, or dismally dark, as it will ever be when I withdraw my lustre.”
Would not such a mode of address be more likely to conciliate men who oppose themselves while they reject Christianity, than all the angry, taunting language which has been used, not only against professed infidels, but against believers who differed a little, in matters of indifference. South, Bentley, Warburton, and some able writers in recent times, have shown, in their zealous defences, the pride of pedantry, the fierceness of barbarians, the subtlety of politicians, but quite forgot the gentleness which characterizes the wisdom from heaven, and which alone can win souls by the charms of soft persuasion, assisted by the holy spirit of love.
It is said of Dr. Johnson, that he used to declare, he loved a good hater. Many polemical divines have shown themselves capable of this passion of hatred in its highest perfection. But hatred begets hatred ; and Dr. Johnson's declaration is among