« PreviousContinue »
18. Upon your own principles, therefore, you must allow us to be, at least, innocent. Do you find any difficulty in this? You speak inuch of prepossession and prejudice; beware you are not entangled therein yourselves. Are you not prejudiced against us, because we believe and strenuously defend that system of doctrines which you oppose ? Are you not enemies to us, because you take it for granted we are so to you? Nay, God forbid! I once saw one, who, from a plentiful fortune, was reduced to the lowest extremity. He was lying on a sick-bed, in violent pain, without even convenient food, or one friend to comfort him ; so that when his merciful landlord, to complete all, sent one to take his bed from under him, I was not surprised at his attempt to put an end to so miserable a life. Now, when I saw that poor man, weltering in his blood, could I be angry at him ? Surely no. No more can I at you. I can no more hate than I can envy you. I can only lift up my heart to God for you, (as I did then for him,) and with silent tears, beseech the Father of mercies, that he would look on you in your blood, and say unto
16. “Sir, (said that unhappy man, at my first interview with him,) I scorn to deceive you or any man. You must not tell me of your Bible ; for I don't believe one word of it. I know there is a God, and believe he is all and in all, the Anima Mundi, the
Vastam Mens agitans molem, et magno se corpore miscens.' But farther than this, I believe not; all is dark; my thought is lost. But I hear (added he) you preach to a great number of people every night and morning. Pray, what would you do with them? Whither would you lead them? What religion do you preach? What is it good for ?" I replied, “ I do preach to as many as desire to hear, every night and morning. You ask, “What I would do with them ? I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves, and useful to others. "Whither would I lead them ? To heaven, to God the Judge, the lover of all; and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant. •What religion do I preach?' The religion of love: the law of kindness brought to light by the gospel. What is this good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves : to make them like God; lovers of all; contented in their lives; and crying out at their death, in calm assurance, Ograve, where is thy victory! Thanks be unto God, who giveth me the victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ.'”
20. Will you object to such a religion as this; that it is not reasonable? Is it not reasonable then to love God ? Hath he not given you life, and breath, and all things? Does he not still continue his love to you, filling your heart with food and gladness? What have you which you have not received of him ? And does. not love demand a return of love? Whether, therefore, you do love' God or not, you cannot but own it is reasonable so to do; nay, seeing he is the Parent of all good, to love him with all your heart.
21. Is it not reasonable also to love our neighbour ? Every man
whom God hath made? Are we not brethren? The children of one Father? Ought we not then to love one another? And, should we only love them that love us? Is that acting like our' Father which is in heaven? He causeth the sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. And can there be a more equitable rule of our love, than “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself?” You will plead for the reasonableness of this ; as also for that golden rule, (the only adequate measure of brotherly love, in all our words and actions,) “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do unto them."
Is it not reasonable then, that “as we have opportunity, we should do good to all men ?" Not only friends, but enemies, not only to deserving, but likewise to the evil and unthankful. Is it not right that all our life should be one continued labour of love? If a day passes without doing good, may one not well say with Titus, * Amici, diem perdidi! And is it enough, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit those who are sick or in prison? Should we have no pity for those,
“Who sigh beneath guilt's horrid stain,
The worst confinement, and the heaviest chain ?" Should we shut up our compassion toward those who are of all men most miserable, because they are miserable by their own fault? I we have found a medicine to heal even that sickness, should we not, as we have freely received it, freely give? Should we not pluck them as brands out of the fire? The fire of lust, anger, malice, revenge? Your inmost soul answers, It should be done; it is reasonable in the highest degree. Well, this is the sum of our preaching, and of our lives, our enemies themselves being the judges. If therefore you allow, that it is reasonable to love God, to love mankind, and to do good to all men, you cannot but allow, that religion which we preach and live, to be agreeable to the highest reason.
23. Perhaps « all this you can bear. It is tolerable enough: and if we spoke only of being saved by love, you should have no great objection : but you do not comprehend what we say of being saved by faith.” I know you do not. You do not in any degree comprehend what we mean by that expression ; have patience then, and I will tell you yet again. By those words, we are saved by faith, we mean, that the moment a man receives that faith which is above described, he is saved from doubt and fear, and sorrow of heart, by a peace that passes all understanding; from the heaviness of a wounded spirit, by joy unspeakable; and from his sins, of whatsoever kind they were; from his vicious desires, as well as words and actions, by the love of God and of all mankind, then shed abroad in his heart.
24. We grant nothing is more unreasonable, than to imagine that such mighty effects as these can be wrought by that poor, empty, insignificant thing which the world calls faith. But supposing there be such a faith on the earth, as that which the Apostle speaks
My friends, I have lost a day!
of, such an intercourse between God and the soul, what is too hard for such a faith? You may easily conceive, that “all things are possible to him that thus believeth :” to him that thus walks with God, that is now a citizen of heaven, an inhabitant of eternity. If therefore you will contend with us, you must change the ground of your attack. You must flatly deny, there is any faith upon earth : but perhaps this you might think too large a step. You cannot do this, without a secret condemnation in your own breast. O that you would at length cry to God for that heavenly gift! whereby alone this truly reasonable religion, this beneficent love to God and man can be planted in your heart.
25. If you say, “But those that profess this faith, are the most unreasonable of all men ;" I ask, “Who are those that profess this faith ?” Perhaps you do not personally know such a man in the world.
Who are they that so much as profess to have this evidence of things not seen? That profess to see him that is invisible ? To hear the voice of God, and to have his Spirit ever “witnessing with their spirits, that they are the children of God ?” I fear you will find few that even profess this faith, among the large numbers of those who are called believers.
26. “ However, there are enough that profess themselves Christians.” Yea, too many, God knoweth; too many that confute their vain professions, by the whole tenor of their lives. I will allow all you can say on this head, and perhaps more than all. It is now some years since I was engaged unawares in a conversation with a strong reasoner, who at first urged the wickedness of the American Indians, as a bar to our hope of converting them to Christianity. But when I mentioned their temperance, justice, and veracity, (according to the accounts I had then received, it was asked, “Why, if those heathens are such men as these, what will they gain by being made Christians ? What would they gain by being such Christians as we see every where round about us?” I could not deny, they would lose, not gain, by such a Christianity as this. Upon which she added, “Why, what else do you mean by Christianity ?” My plain answer was, What do you apprehend to be more valuable than good sense, good nature, and good manners ? All these are contained, and that in the highest degree, in what I mean by Christianity. Good sense (so called) is but a poor dim shadow of what Christians call faith. Good nature is only a faint, distant resemblance of Christian charity. And good manners, if of the most finished kind that nature assisted by art can attain to, is but a dead picture of that holiness of conversation, which is the image of God visibly expressed. All these put together by the art of God, I call Christianity. “Sir,” if this be Christianity, (said my opponent in amaze,) I never saw a Christian in my life.”
27. Perhaps, the case is the same with you. If so, I am grieved for you, and can only wish, till you do see a living proof of this, that you would not say, see a Christian. For this is scriptural Christianity, and this alone. Whenever therefore you see an unreasonable man, you see one who perhaps calls himself by that name, but is no more a Christian than he is an angel. So far as he departs from true, genuine reason, so far he departs from Christianity. Do not say, this is only asserted, not proved. It is undeniably proved by the original charter of Christianity. We appeal to this, to the written word. If any man's temper, or words, or actions, are contradictory to right reason; it is evident to a demonstration, they are contradictory to this. Produce any possible or conceivable instance, and you will find the fact is so. The lives, therefore, of those who are called Christians, is no just objection to Christianity.
28. We join with you then in desiring a religion founded on reason, and every way agreeable thereto. But one question still remains to be asked, What do you mean by reason? I suppose you mean the eternal reason, or, the nature of things: the nature of God and the nature of man, with the relations necessarily subsisting between them. Why, this is the very religion we preach: a religion evidently founded on, and every way agreeable to eternal reason, to the essential nature of things. Its foundation stands on the nature of God and the nature of man, together with their mutual relations. And it is every way suitable thereto: to the nature of God; for it begins in knowing him, and where, but in the true knowledge of God, can you conceive true religion to begin? It goes on in loving him and all mankind, (for you cannot but imitate whom you love :) it ends in serving him ; in doing his will ; in obeying him whom we know and love.
29. It is every way suited to the nature of man: for it begins in man's knowing himself; knowing himself to be what he really is, foolish, vicious, miserable. "It goes on to point out the remedy for this, to make him truly wise, virtuous, and happy, as every thinking mind (perhaps from some implicit remembrance of what it originally was) longs to be.
It finishes all, by restoring the due relations between God and man; by uniting for ever the tender Father, and the grateful, obedient son; the great Lord of all, and the faithful servant, doing not his own will, but the will of him that sent him.
30. But perhaps by reason you mean, the faculty of reasoning, of inferring one thing from another. There are many, it is confessed, (particularly those who are styled Mystic Divines,) that utterly decry the use of reason, thus understood, in religion : nay, that condemn all reasoning concerning the things of God, as utterly destructive of true religion. But we can in nowise agree with this. We find no authority for it in holy writ. So far from it, that we find there both our Lord and his Apostles continually reasoning with their opposers. Neither do we know, in all the productions of ancient and modern times, such a chain of reasoning or argumentation, so close, so solid, so regularly connected, as the Epistle to the Hebrews. And the strongest reasoner whom we have ever observed (excepting only Jesus of Nazareth) was that Paul of Tarsus; the same who has left that plain direction for all Christians: “In ma.
lice," or wickedness, “ be ye children ; but in understanding,” or reason, “be ye men.”
31. We therefore not only allow, but earnestly exhort all who seek after true religion, to use all the reason which God hath given them, in searching out the things of God. But your reasoning justly, i not only on this, but on any subject whatsoever, presupposes a true judgment already formed, whereon to ground your argumentation. Else, you know, you will stumble at every step : because ex falso non sequitur verum. It is impossible, if your premises are false, to infer from them true conclusions.
32. You know likewise, that before it be possible for you to form a true judgment of them, it is absolutely necessary, that you should have a clear apprehension of the things of God, and that your ideas thereof should be all fixed, distinct, and determinate. And seeing our ideas are not innate, but must all originally come from our senses, it is certainly necessary that you have senses capable of discerning objects of this kind. Not those only which are called natural senses, which in this respect profit nothing, as being altogether incapable of discerning objects of a spiritual kind, but spiritual senses, exercised to discern spiritual good and evil. It is necessary that you have the hearing ear, and the seeing eye, emphatically so called; that you have a new class of senses opened in your soul, not depending on organs of flesh and blood, to be the evidence of things not seen, as your bodily senses are of visible things; to be the avenues to the invisible world, to discern spiritual objects, and to furnish you with ideas of what the outward «
hath not seen, neither the ear heard.” 33. And till you have these internal senses, till the eyes of your understanding are opened, you can have no proper apprehension of divine things, no just idea of them. Nor consequently, till then, can you either judge truly, or reason justly concerning them: seeing your reason has no ground whereon to stand, no materials to work upon.
34. To use the trite instance. As you cannot reason concerning colours, if you have no natural sight, because all the ideas received by your other senses are of a different kind; so that neither your hearing, nor any other sense, can supply your want of sight, or furnish your reason in this respect with matter to work upon : so you cannot reason concerning spiritual things, if you have no spiritual sight; because all your ideas received by your outward senses are of a different kind. Yea, far more different from those received by faith or internal sensation, than the idea of colour from that of sound. These are only different species of one genus, namely, sensible ideas, received by external sensation : whereas the ideas of faith differ toto genere from those of external sensation. So that it is not conceivable that external sensation should supply the want of internal senses ; or furnish your reason in this respect with matter to work upon.
35. What then will your reason do here? How will it pass from things natural to things spiritual! From the things that are seen to those that are not seen from the visible to the invisible world!