Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

of every other religion in the world, as containing the only way of duty and the only foundation of a sinner's hope of salvation; so that you may be enabled to answer satisfactorily to your own consciences, ani to all who may ask a reason for your belief, this groal question: Is the religion of Jesus Christ as exhib. ited in the New Testament, a revelation from God, and consequently possessed of a sovereign right to universal faith and obedience?

There are considerations intrinsically belonging to this question, which place it in an aspect of unrivalled importance.

We must have the religion of Christ, or none A very little reflection will make it apparent, that the question as to the truth of Christianity is not one of preference between two rival systems of doctrine, having conflicting claims and nearly balanced argu. ments and benefits. It is not whether the gospel is more true and salutary than some other mode of religion, which, though inferior, would still secure many of the most essential and substantial benefits for which religion is desirable. But it is no other than the plain and solemn question, Shall we believe in the faith of Christ, or in none? Shall we receive. and be comforted by the light which the gospel has thrown over all our present interests and future pros. pects; or shall our condition in this life--our relation to the future—what we are to be, and what we are to receive hereafter and for ever, be left in appalling, impenetrable darkness? Such is the real question when we inquire whether Christianity is a revelation

from God. Do any ask the reason? Because, if such be the divine origin and authority of the religion of Christ, there can be no other religion. It claims not only to stand, but to stand alone. It demands not only that we believe it, but that in doing so we consider ourselves as denying the truth of every other system of faith. Like the one living and true God, whose seal and character it bears, it is jealous, and will not share its honor with another; but requires us to believe, that as there is but one Lord, so there is but one faith-the truth as it is in Jesus. On the other hand, if Christianity be not of divine origin, it is no religion; its essential doctrines must be false; its whole structure baseless. Suppose then for a moment that such were the case, what could we substitute for the gospel? We must either plunge into the abyss of Atheism, or find something in the regions of Paganism that would answer; or be content with the religion of Mohammed; or else find what our nature wants in that which is unjustly distinguished as the Religion of Nature. In other words, we must become Deists. But is there a creed among the countless absurdities of Pagan belief and worship which any of us could be persuaded to adopt? Could we be convinced of the prophetic character of the Arabian impostor, and receive as of divine authority the professed revelations and unrighteous features of the Koran, after having rejected such a book as the New Testament, and such evidences as those of Jesus? Where else could we flee? To Atheism? But that is the gulf in which all religions are lost. Darkness is

[blocks in formation]

on the face of the deep. Nothing remains that does not acknowledge the divine revelation of Christianity, but the self-styled religion of natureDeism. And what shall be said of this? I am unable to give an account of it more definite, than that it is the denial of Christianity on the one hand, and of Atheism on th: sther, and is to be found somewhere between these twc infinitely distant extremes; never stationary, changing place with the times; accommodating its character to the disposition of every disciple, and permitting any one to assume the name of Deist who will only believe these two articles of faiththat there is a God, and that Christianity is untrue. Such is the religion which, according to Paine, “teaches us. without the possibility of being mistaken, all that is necessary or proper to be known.” And yet, notwithsianding this boasted fulness and infallibility of instruction, there is no agreement among Deists as to what their natural religion consists in, or as to the truth of what some of them consider its most funda. mental doctrines. Their chief writers are altogether at variance as to whether there is any distinction be. tween right and wrong, other than in the law of the land or the customs of society; whether there is a Providence; whether God is to be worshipped in prayer and praise, or the practice of virtue is not the only worship required; whether the practice of virtue forbids or encourages deceit, suicide, revenge, adul. tery, and all uncleanness; whether the soul is mortal or immortal; whether God has any concern with human conduct.

Now, without spending a moment upon the question as to what evidence or what adaptation to the wants of men and of sinners Deism could pretend te, after the rejection of evidence and excellence such as those of the gospel, let me ask whether Deism cai with any propriety be called religion? Does that deserve the name of a system of religious faith which has no settled doctrine upon the most essential points of belief and practice—which may acknowledge as many contradictory forms, at the same moment, as it has disciples, and never could remain long enough in one position or under one countenance for the most skilful pencil to take its portrait? But aside from all this, it is too notorious to be argued, that whatever pretensions may have been advanced by Deists to something like a theory of religious belief, it is at best a mere theory; utterly powerless in practice, except to liberate its disciples from all conscientious restraint upon their passions, and promote in the public mind the wildest licentiousness as to all moral obligation.

Substitute Deism for Christianity, and none acquainted with the nature or history of man can help acknowledging, that as to all the beneficial influence of religion upon the heart and life, in promoting either the moral purity of individuals or the happiness of society, we shall have no religion at all When have Deists ever maintained a habit of private, family, or public worship? Attempts have been inade among them to keep up some mode of congregational service, but total failure, in every instance,

has proved how forced was the effort, and how little it would have been thought of, had it not been for the surrounding influence of Christianity. The first attempt was by a man in England, who styled himself the Priest of Nature. He relapsed from being a dis. sonting preacher of an orthodox creed to Socinianism, thence to Deism; after which he set up in London a house of worship, formed a liturgy, was patronized by some persons of influence, preached, and collected some disciples. But most of his people became Atheists; and after an experiment of four years, the congregation was reduced to nothing, funds failed, and the effort was abandoned. The most formidable enterprise in this way took place in France during the revolution. Having found by some experience, that to acknowledge no God was to have no law, and to be without religious institutions was to want civilization and peace, certain persons distinguished for learning, and calling themselves Theophilanthropists, set up a society for the worship of God on the principles of Deism. The desolated churches of Paris were given for their object. A directory of deistical worship was published, containing prayers and hymns. Lectures were substituted for sermons. The ceremonies were simple, tasteful, and classical Music added its charms. The form of worship was sent into al

. parts of the country, and great exertions were made by the powers of the state to get up this religion in every town. Circumstances were exceedingly propitious to the enterprise. Christianity had been bar. ished. Her witnesses were in sackcloth. She had

a

« AnteriorContinua »