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them, to have been under the direction of the Holy Ghost,
On the conviction, which this apology carried with it, the world became Christian. But in process of time, and after a course of many ages, it might be doubted whether those books had been transmitted pure and uncorrupted. And under these circumstances the answer, being somewhat enlarged, stands thus: “That “ the hope of a Christian is founded on the < authority of the sacred canon, composed by
inspired men, as was universally allowed in “ the first ages of Christianity, and not mate
rially altered, as we have reason to believe, “ to this day.”
The answer given in these three periods, is, you see, very general, because the question is, on what grounds of reason a plain man could justify his profession of Christianity: and the answer, in each case, is a proper one, and of real weight. But the answer of knowing and skilful men is more particular, may indeed be infinitely varied and extended according to the abilities of the answerer; and, from such minute, and laboured apologies much additional light and conviction hath been derived. Still you see the subject of inquiry, is, the #VIDENCES of Christianity, how different, soever in different ages,vand in the view of different persons in the same age. All that ung believers have a right, to ask, iş, on what grounds we asfirm, the truth and; divinity our religion: and the sole duty which the text imposes upon rys, is to satisfy that guestion, Their curiosity, and our labour, should not, at least needs not be extended beyond those bounds. But: nur 104.965) ?
trid : 10wwi Juraitinin yoo Thirdly, what if inquisitive men should go farther, and, when they have set forth the evidences of Christianity to their owní satisfaetion, and that of others, should proceed to give us a rationale of its doctrines: Would not their pains be useful, as tending very much to promote the honour of our divine religion
1 Perhaps, they might;' if soberly employed, and if inquiters would set out with a resolution of stopping in their curious researches, when they had no ideas, or no clear or distinct ones.. .W? I
But, even with this restriction, Itteo things are, further, to be observed. One is, that no Christian is bound to make this solicitous inquiry into the doctrinal, no, nor into the moral
part of the Gospel. It is enough that his faith and life be regulated by its doctrines and precepts, whether he do, or do not, see the grounds in reason, on which they stand. Nay, possibly his conduct is then most acceptable, when he looks no' farther than to the authority of the Gospel ; 'agreeably to that well-known decision of our Lord himself-blessed is he, who hath not seen, and yet hath believed: not, that he expects any man to believe or to obey him, without reason: but he most approves the ingenuous turn of that man's mind, who admits his divine mission, on a sufficient indeed, but not the highest, degree of evidence; and much more, therefore, who yields obedience to his laws, acknowledged on such evidence to be divine, without inquiring further into the reasons of them. Indeed, to what purpose do I scrupulously ask a reason of that, which I already know to be just and fit, bem cause reasonably admitted to proceed from divine authority
The OTHER observation I would make, is, That, if after the most diligent inquiry, we should not, yet, be able to penetrate the reasons of many things, or to give ourselves entire satisfaction about them, this unacceptable experience should not in the least affect
our belief and esteem of the Gospel. Por all that follows from such disappointed curiosity is only this, That we are weak and blind; and not that the things themselves are either false or unreasonable. Our duty, therefore, is to confide in the revealed word; not questioning its authority, or torturing its language; but accepting with thankfulness, what we do understand, and with reverence, what we do not.
When these two conditions are inviolably observed, the way of minute inquiry into the doctrines of Christianity, so far forth as they are the objects of inquiry, at all, may be usefully and commendably employed. For then none but men of leisure and ability will think themselves concerned in making such inquiry: and even these, if they should not obtain all the satisfaction they propose to themselves, will neither attempt to disturb the faith of others, nor suffer their own faith to be disturbed by their curious speculations. Still: when learned men are taken up in those profound inquiries, and seem most confident that they have penetrated far into the reasons of many things which are kept secret from others, they should especially remember (and that is the Fourth, and last observation I shall make on the text), to present their answer or ápology to mankind, with meekness and fear.
1. With MEEKNESS, or a soft and gentle spirit, breathing in words, neither passionate, nor assuming; that so they may gain as many, and exasperate as few, as they can. This was a caution more than commonly necessary to the first apologists for Christianity, who had to plead its cause at the tribunal of Kings, at that time, their enemies and persecutors. But the rule is always a good one to be observed by the advocates of the Gospel, who never serve it better, than when its prime virtue, CHARITY, corrects, or rather consecrates, their zeal.
2. The reason of the hope, that is in them, should, also, be given with Fear: that is, not only with a fear of giving needless offence to those, to whom they address their apology, but chiefly with a reverential dwe of that transcendantly great Being, whose ways they desire to contemplate, and some part of whose councils it is their ambition to unfold. For, when we speak of God, farther than we are authorized by himself to speak, we are in constant danger of ascribing to him our own weaknesses, and of degrading his ineffable wisdom, when we think to exalt it most.