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generally the real importance of externals; and upon grounds which may manifest the antecedent probabilities in favour of some such annexation of benefits to the Christian. sacraments.
The consideration of these, indeed, might under any circumstances be a not unappropriate introduction to our more particular inquiry; but in the actual state of the question, in which the unreasonableness of the general expectation is not unfrequently assumed, if not as a sufficient answer to what may be urged on the opposite side, yet as a satisfactory excuse for declining altogether any serious investigation of the subject, some notice of them seems almost unavoidable. The conclusions at which we may hence arrive, will, it is confessed, furnish but presumptive arguments in favour of the annexation of benefits to the sacraments : but where a stand is made against the admission of any, it is important to shew how strong that presumption is; and therefore, though the main object of our present undertaking is to ascertain and to establish the specific benefits, an inquiry into the an
tecedent probabilities in favour of some, cannot fairly be deemed either useless or inexpedient. To this then I shall in the first instance proceed.
The inquiry itself into the probabilities of the case, it is to be observed, supposes, that there is nothing impossible in the thing itself; nothing at all events sufficient to de- : cide at once the question, against the admission of such benefits. Nor is there any thing of the kind alleged. It clearly is not impossible, that to the institutions in question God should attach specific blessings : whether he has done so, or not, is the point to be examined. Now the probabilities, if any,
in favour of the existence of such benefits, must arise from the consistency of the expectation to which they refer, either with the general reason of mankind deduced from our experience independent of revelation, or with our more particular experience under systems confessedly divine in their origin. That expectation cannot be deemed unreasonable, nor the thing itself to which it relates improbable, which falls in, on the one
hand, with the universal practice of mankind; or, on the other, with the previous instances of divine interposition of which we possess authentic records. Still less can it be so deemed, should it be found in a like correspondence with both of these.
It will therefore be my first business, and the particular object of the present Lecture, to shew, that the expectation of benefits from the sacraments is thus consistent with our experience, both general in nature, and particular in revelation; and that in both it has a real foundation.
That external religion has, universally, both in revelation and in systems independent of it, made a part of the service paid to the Supreme Being, is an undeniable fact. It constituted the very essence of that service in the pagan superstitions; and in every æra of revelation antecedent to the promulgation of Christianity, it occupied an important station. From the introduction of our first parents into the garden of Eden, to the birth of Him, who came to restore us to the blissful seats forfeited by their transgression, revelation proposes to our
view the observance of external religion as no less indispensable to him, who under its various dispensations was desirous of fulfilling all righteousness, than an obedience to the moral law itself.
It is unnecessary, as it would be endless, to dwell in any detail on the instances of the importance attached to externals in the Gentile superstitions; and our limits will allow us but an imperfect reference to the authority of revelation itself upon the point. A very cursory glance, however, at the volume of the Old Testament, will be sufficient to satisfy us generally, of the value set upon
externals in the earlier dispensations of God's will.
The most important trial to which man was ever subjected, the result of which has been attended with the most momentous consequences, and which was in effect the very cardinal point upon which the whole future fortunes of the race of man, and the dispensation of redemption itself were suspended, was made in a precept of external religion. By the breach of the commandment, in a matter of outward observance, sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and in the consequences of that breach originated the occasion for the display of wisdom and goodness made in the incarnation of the Son of God; which but for this had been unnecessary.
Again, the most important information which after the entrance of transgression revelation could afford to mankind, the assurance of the existence within our reach of a means of propitiating the divine favour, was first given in the institution of sacrifice.
On the establishment of the covenant with Abraham, again, an external rite was made the very test and sign of adoption into the church of God; and so peremptorily was its observance, even in that early period, enforced, that the uncircumcised man child was declared to be cut off from his people, to have broken the covenant".
And, lastly, upon their observance of a burdensome ritual depended the prosperity of the Israelites, both individual and national. Individually, they owed their very
b Gen. xvii. 14.