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RELIGION THE PRIMARY CONSTITUENT OF
There are two opinions in the religious world respecting the divine intention in the works of creation, particularly in the creation of man, and both depend upon, and originate in, the views specifically entertained of the Divine Nature. The one regards the Creator as calling into being conscious existences for the display of his omnipotence, and as producing all the wonders which surround us, that man might see his glory and render adoration and worship, for which end alone he is endowed with a capability of tracing outward effects to a First Cause. The same party form similar opinions in regard to Redemption, a work which they say was performed to display the Divine Sovereignty. Another sentiments, concerning the Divine Origin, and Inspiration of the Scriptures. And as in my Letter 'to Dr. W. I had declared myself a sincere Christian, and repeated the same declaration in my Defence of it; so I had reason to expect that however free and offensive any of my expressions might appear to some, whom a narrow circle of life and studies had rendered stiff in par. ticular habits and opinions, yet in virtue of such a declaration, my belief in an article so fundamental would have been presumed and taken for granted, and that I should have been safe at least from the groundless and spiteful chargo of infidelity ; since in the character of a Christian I take to be necessarily included a general belief of the Divine Origin and Inspiration of the Books of the Old and New Testament: a doctrine too clearly delivered in the Scriptures, to be doubted of and called in question by any one who lays claim to that title. And as to the particular character and case of Moses; I take him to have been a great prophet and lawgiver, who in an extraordinary and miraculous manner was favoured, assisted, and inspired by God in the institution of his Laws and Religion, and consequently had a Divine Authority, which is frequently appealed to and confirmed in the New Testament.”
He then explains what he understands by the inspiration of the Scriptures, in two quotations from Archbishop Tillotson and Grotins, whose views of the subject were indeed lax and partial, but were the same as are now generally received, both among the Church of England and the Dissenters. The member of the New Church, then, cannot approve Dr. Middleton's sentiments upon Inspiration : but I apprehend few members of the Old Church bave any right to object to him on that score; and if, in the face of the above declaration of his sentiments, it is at all fair to charge him with infidelity, then, certainly, the charge is applicable to the greater part of the professing Cbristian world.
party, entertaining more rational ideas of the Divine Nature, contemplate the works of creation as emanating from the Divine Benevolence, operating to render conscious beings happy. This view is perhaps the noblest which natural religion is capable of attaining, but it is defective as far as it leads a man to regard the enjoyment of created things as the chief or only end designed by his Creator in calling him into existence. It is the object of reason and revealed religion to rectify this impression, the former by moral, the latter by spiritual considerations.
That the Divine Being creatod man in order that he miglit render him happy, will readily be granted by all, except those eccentric reasoners who cannot see in their God a Being of unbounded benevolence; but then the interesting question arises, how, and by what means, the Creator intended mankind to realize his gracious design. Revelation distinctly warns us, at least in the New Testament, that we must seek in vain for true and permanent happiness in worldly things; and reason, finding the enjoyments of sense pall upon the appetite at the best, and that sickness and the various contingencies of life, render them transient and uncertain, conclades, that there must be a means of procaring happiness of a more lasting kind; and frequently considers, that the exercise of the intellectual powers in acquiring knowledge, and the practice of moral duties, is the way to attain. man's destined felicity. This also is good as far as it goes; it serves to elevate a man above the merely animal and sensual appetites of his nature; it teaches him by experience, that the more refined the principles are from which he acts, the more refined will be the pleasures of which they are productive. But until religion comes to our aid, the noblest powers of our constitution are in a latent'state, and we are, as yet, far from that happiness designed for us by our Heavenly Father. Religion, while it raises us to a nearer connexion with Him, who is the Fountain of bliss, as well as the Source of life and existence, descends into all our actions, and into all the activities of our understandings, directing, and sanctifying them, and animating them with a divine virtue, the blessed consequence of our communication with the Author of all good. Knowledge, then, becomes wisdom by being directed to the purposes for which we received a capacity of procuring it; and moral virtues become heavenly charities, by the adjunction of a new principle of judgment and action.
But nature, nourished and strengthened in our earlier years, before the more refined pleasures of knowledge and reason can be enjoyed, contends for an inordinate share of our attention in procuring its gratifications. Jealous of the growing interest we take in spiritual, and, as yet, unseen realities, it either raises a conflict within us, or leads captive our fickle and yielding hearts. This is the cause why religion does not always procure the peace and blessedness it is capable of attaining. While worldly things are deliberately permitted in any particular respect to share the sovereignty of the governing affection, religion can only bestow the satisfaction of its promises,-the flattering prospect of a good to come: it is only where she reigns supreme, that she dispenses the heavenly privileges and blessings which she is commissioned to distribute.
How insane it appears in the eye of enlightened reason, to seek for happiness of such a kind as is worth the possessing, in any other, or from any other fountain, than the supreme and only Being, who is, in his own nature, essential blessedness! Outward things are, indeed, as being faint images of their Great Original, capable of yielding a degree of pleasure, which appears inherent in them; but who in his senses would seek light from the borrowed and sickly beams of the moon, rather than from the true and original rays of the sun? Yet such is man: If he cannot find full happiness in earthly things,-in the gratification of the lasts of the flesh, he has recourse to the institutions of man, to the pleasures attendant on what are truly called the “ pomps and vanities of this wicked world;" he enters himself a member of that wretched body which agrees mutually and reciprocally to worship each other, in order to receive worship in return: they flatter each others talents ; they admire each others tastes; they praise each others entertainments; they vie with each others expenditure, and emulate each others splendour: and for what?that the bed of death may remind them of time wasted, and the end and design of their existence defeated.
But are the social institutions of polished society injurious in themselves ? Certainly not; but they are rendered so by the absence of a purifying and guiding principle, and by the presence of an impure and misleading one. Religion alone can render them a real blessing in this life, and profitable to life eternal. No. III.-VOL. I.
The first source of happiness which religion opens is the contemplation of the Divine Nature; of the creation as the work of God, and in its connection with him and his spiritual designs therein; of redemption; and of the beautiful order established by infinite goodness and wisdom as the medium of human happiness, into which order man is to be introduced by regeneration. The contemplation of this spiritual class of subjects affords a higher satisfaction than the contemplation of the works of nature, inasmuch as they elevate the mind nearer to the Source of all intelligence, and exercise the faculties upon the ultimate designs and objects, dearer (if the expression may be allowed) to the Divine Mind, than the outward works of nature, which are only intended as instrumental mediums of bringing those designs into accomplishment.
Another source of happiness opened by religion, is that which attends upon the devout worship of the Lord in private and in public. This operation of religion is more excellent than the former, inasmuch as while the other opens the understanding to the entrance of the divine influx, this
opens the affections, and procures a more intimate and perfect sense of the Divine Presence.
A third source of happiness is the sense of the Divine Providence watching and presiding over all the events of orr lives, all the exertions of our hands, and all the consequences which may result from them. Our desires of worldly advancement being moderated by the accurate judgment we are enabled to form of the value of worldly goods, we are relieved from the excessive anxiety attendant on the unbounded hopes, and harassing fears of the worldly minded. Should misfortune befal us, the consolations of a future state of happiness are presented for our encodragement, and the knowledge of the intention of the Divine Providence in all its dispensations to prepare us for that state, can more than reconcile us to our affliction. In prosperity, the common and fatal mischiefs of it are averted by the consideration, that we hold all things as stewards who must one day give an account. Under the influence of this consideration, how much happiness is to be procured from the
of our wealth and influence to uses,-to the advancement of the natural, but especially of the spiritual happiness of our fellow-mortals.
To enjoy completely the pleasures religion can afford, we must live in the society of those whose minds are enlightened by divine truth, and whose hearts are warmed by divine love: this would be indeed bringing down heaven upon earth; and if a man cannot feel pleasure in possessing such a privilege, or if his heart does not burn within him, when he looks forward to it in another life, he has reason to enquire with much seriousness into the cause of the absence of so leading a characteristic of the angelic life.
But, probably, the attainment of the happiness just noticed, can, in this life, only be realized to a very limited extent; it is then sufficient, that we so regulate our minds and lives as to fit us for it when we can procure it, and to keep alive within us the hope of it in a more perfect stage of existence. There is, however, a feature of the angelic life, wbich, while it affords an object for our imitation, opens to us sources of real and refined happiness ; but that happiness is capable of being realized, only in proportion as we subdue those selfish principles within us, which are the only obstacles to our becoming angels, even while we dwell upon earth. These sources of happiness are opened by a desire to benefit all with whom we associate, according to their capacity of receiving benefit, and a desire to extend and keep up a communication with all to whom there is a probability of our being able to render an essential, that is an immortal service: and this purely for His sake who “ went about doing good.”
From these few considerations it is evident, that the highest privileges of religion are to be enjoyed in society, and not in seclusion ;-in society with the good and wise, or with those who are desirous of becoming good and wise; or in society with all whom circumstances connect with us, with a view to promote, as far as we are able, their goodnoss and wisdom. The true relish of the former will best us for the duties of the latter; for to relish the society of the wise and good, implies a previous desire to become ourselres wiser and better; and if we are not in this desire, we are altogether incompetent to assist others. It is possible to be very zealous for the improvement of others, and very little so for our own; it is possible for a man, while he preaches to others, himself to become, what the Apostle calls“ a cast-away.” But every man has the Lord of infinite wisdom for his guide, when he desires to search out and shun all his evils as sins against Him: this man will be gifted with a principle of humble and active love, which will keep him steadily moving in the stream of Divine Providence.