Page images

of human ingenuity, in higher esteem than myself; I look up to them with affection and admiration. But after all, and however perfect and beautiful they may be, they are but human, the product of poor, short-lived, fallible mortals. Whatever comes from the Father of lights, from him who made that mind which is capable of learning and science, must deserve more attention and honour than can possibly be due to the most beautiful and stupendous works of human ingenuity. These are not to be slighted, but beloved, pursued, rewarded. But I am a mortal. Every moment is bringing me nearer to that period when the curtain shall fall, and all these things be hidden from my eyes.' My first attention and warmest affection therefore ought to be fixed on things spiritual and eternal.

All arts, all sciences, must be secondary and instrumental to the attainment of divine illumination. 'I am the light of the world,' says Jesus Christ. Can any reasonable man rest satisfied without coming to the light after such a declaration ? Will he be contented with the radiance of dim lights and false lights, when he is invited to approach the brilliant and the true ?

Learning is necessary for the purposes of this life; it is an ornament and a defence. It is highly useful in religious investigation. It furnishes arguments to enforce morality, to persuade to all that is good and great, and to deter from folly and vice. But let it ever keep to its own office, which is certainly, in religious matters, ministerial. It can amuse; it can inform; but it cannot supply the summum bonum, it cannot raise fallen man to bis original state, Grace only can restore man to

God's image. If learning could have done it, why were the heathens unrestored ? are not the infidels often learned ? and would not the advent of our Lord and Saviour have been superfluous, if learning could have repaired the ruins of the fall ?

Few (as I have already said) in the mass of mankind are learned. They are perhaps as one to a million. What is to become of the millions then, if the gospel of Jesus Christ, by which alone they can live in the sweet tranquillity of a state of grace, and die with religious hope and confidence, cannot be received, with sufficient evidence, without deep learning, logical and metaphysical disputation? What is to prove it to them, who have neither books, leisure or ability to study, if God himself do not teach them by his Spirit ? Blessed be his name, he has taught them, and continues to teach them. It is among the learned chiefly that infidelity prevails. She inhabits libraries, and walks abroad in academic groves, but is rarely seen in the cottage, in the field, or in the manufactory. The poor and the unlearned do in general believe in the gospel most firmly. What is the evidence which convinces them? It is the witness of the Spirit; and thanks be to him who said my grace is sufficient for thee.' He that believeth on the Son of God hath this witness in himself ?'

The opinion of a man like Dr. Isaac Watts on the true nature of Christianity, is almost of itself decisive. He was not only a devout and zealous Christian, but a profound scholar, a natural philosopher, a logician, and a metaphysician. His life and conversation exhibited a pattern of every Christian virtue. Let us hear him.

“ Every true Christian,” says he, “ has a sufficient argument and evidence to support his faith, without being able to prove the authority of any of the canonical writings. He may hold fast his religion, and be assured that it is divine, though he cannot bring any learned proof that the book that contains it is divine too; nay, though the book itself should even happen to be lost or destroyed : and this will appear, with open and easy conviction, by asking a few such questions as these :

“ Was not this same gospel preached with glorious success before the New Testament was written ?

Were not the same doctrines of salvation by Jesus Christ published to the world by the ministry of the apostles, and made effectual to convert thousands, before they set themselves to commit these doctrines to writing ?

And had not every sincere believer, every true convert, this blessed witness in himself, that Christi. anity was from God ?

.“ Eight or ten years had passed away, after the ascension of Christ, before any part of the New Testament was written; and what multitudes of Christian converts were born again by the preaching of the word, and raised to a divine and heavenly life, long ere this book was half finished or known, and that among the heathens as well as Jews. Great numbers of the Gentile world became holy believers, each of them having the

epistle of Christ written in the heart,' and bearing about within them a noble and convincing proof that this religion was divine; and that without a written gospel, without epistles, and without a Bible.

“ In the first ages of Christianity, for several hundred years together, how few among the common people were able to read ? How few could get the possession or the use of a Bible, when all sacred as well as profane books were of necessity copied by writing? How few of the populace, in any large town or city, could obtain or could use any small part of Scripture, before the art of printing made the word of God so common? And yet millions of these were regenerated, sanctified, and saved by the ministration of the gospel.

“Be convinced then that Christianity has a more noble inward witness belonging to it than is derived from ink and paper, from precise letters and syllables. And though God, in his great wisdom and goodness, saw it necessary that the New Testament should be written, to preserve these holy doctrines uncorrupted through all ages; and though he has been pleased that it should be the invariable and authentic rule of our faith and practice, and made it a glorious instrument of instructing ministers and leading men to salvation in all these latter times; yet Christianity has a secret witness in the hearts of believers, that does not depend on their knowledge and proof of the authority of the Scriptures, nor of any of the controversies that in latter ages have attended the several manuscript copies and different readings and translations of the Bible.

“ Now this is of admirable use and importance in the Christian life, upon several accounts. First, if we consider how few poor unlearned Christians there are who are capable of taking in the arguments which are necessary to prove the divine authority of the sacred writings; and how few, even

among the learned, can well adjust and determine many of the different readings or different translations of particular passages in Scripture. Now a wise Christian does not build his faith or hope merely upon any one or two single texts, but upon the general scope, sum and substance of the gospel. By this he feels a spiritual life of peace and piety begun in him. And here lies his evidence that Christianity is divine, and that these doctrines are from heaven, though a text or two may be falsely written or wrong translated, and though a whole book or two may be hard to be proved authentic.

“ The learned well know what need there is of turning over the histories of ancient times, of the traditions and writings of the fathers, and all authors pious and profane; what need of critical skill in the holy languages and in ancient manuscripts; what a wide survey of various circumstances of fact, time, place, style, diction, is necessary to confirm one or another book or verse of the New Testament, and to answer the doubts of the scrupulous, and the bold objections of the infidel. Now how few of the common rank of Christians, whose hearts are inlaid with true faith in the Son of God, and with real holiness, have leisure, books, instruction, advantages, and judgment sufficient to make a thorough search into these matters, and to determine, upon a just view of argument, that these books were written by the sacred authors whose names they bear, and that these authors were under an immediate inspiration in writing them. What a glorious advantage is it then to have such an infallible testimony to the truth of the gospel, wrought and written in the heart by

« PreviousContinue »