« ForrigeFortsæt »
weaknesses, their wants, and their destination; nor is it easy to conceive the possible purpose of a revelation, which, instead of strengthening the motives to godliness, should consist of doctrines which were contradictory to our natural notions of morality, or had no practical influu nce in the promotion of it. It would require strong evidence to make us believe that the Deity has interposed, not with the merciful purpose of relieving the mind of his creatures struggling with the difficulties which the contemplation of his nature and his ways presents, but to give them impossibilities for difficulties, and contradictions for obscurities: or that he has sent his messenger into the world to recall us from the error of believing him so merciful and benignant, as the infant simplicity of unassisted reason had taught us to believe that the universal parent must be. Men may vaunt of the sublimity which religion derives from unintelligible mysteries, or the value of the homage rendered to God by the prostration of the understanding in receiving doctrines to which no meaning can be attached; but the ultimate standard by which the truth and worth of revelation are estimated, will be and must be its tendency to promote practical holiness. No doctrines that are not according to godliness can long be
held as parts of religion, in an age of freedom and reflection; they may be imposed by force, but without it they must be modified or renounced. The same criterion which distins guishes the pure gold of the gospel from the spurious fabrications of impostors, serves also to determine which of the different systems which pass as Christianity contains the largest share of uncorrupted truth. We shall not, therefore, I trust, be employed in a manner unsuitable to the object to which this day's services are professedly devoted, if I briefly review those doctrines of Christianity which make it deserve the title of the doctrine according to yodliness," and endeavour to ascertain which contains the strongest marks of truth-those views which the great majority profess, or our own simple, reviled, and, if the arm of bigotry were as powerful as its passions are malignant, I might still add, our persecuted creed.
1. Christianity is a doctrine according to godliness, because it teaches THE UNITY OF GOD. Although the world, from the first, had not been left without a witness of the eternal power and godhead of its Creator, yet mankind soon lost the idea of his being one, spiritual, undivided essence; degraded him by assimilation to human or even brutal forms;
ascribed to him the sinful passions of humanity; substituted the likeness of corruptible things, for his incorruptible nature; and divided his sole prerogative of dominion and providence among a multitude of deities, who peopled the elements and carried on the affairs of the world. He did not, however, give up the whole earth to be deluged by the torrent of idolatry, polytheism, and their attendant abominations; one little spot listed its head above the waters of the flood, and afforded a refuge and a resting-place to the doctrines of pure religion, while error and iniquity prevailed and increased upon the rest of the earth. In the bosom of the family of Abraham, settled in the land of Canaan, under the Mosaic dispensation, and kept from coalescing with its idolatrous neighbours by a peculiar system of laws and institutions, the great truth of the Divine Unity was professed and cherished, being taught in the most positive and solemn manner in the commandments, and guarded froin corruption by the exclusion of every practice which could lead the people away from their belief in it. The occasional relapses of the Israelites into idolatry showed more strongly the power of their institutions, and the wisdom of God who watched over their history, since they could thus be called
back from the seducing doctrines and rites of their heathen neighbours, to their own purer faith and more rigid laws. Many changes in the political condition of the world were necessary, uniting its distant parts in a bond of reciprocal communication and dependence, before the doctrine of the Unity of God, and the other truths which are inseparably connected with it, could be generally diffused ; and till that time arrived they remained within the protecting fence of Judaism. The river which at first flowed only around the garden of God, and watered its sacred inclosure, issued forth at last, divided into four mighty streams to visit every quarter of the globe; and thus, in the fullness of time, the doctrine of the Divine Unity, incorporated with the more comprehensive system of Christianity, established itself in all the civilized parts of the world, marking the progress of its triumph over existing superstitions, by altars overthrown and temples deserted by their worshippers.
Need I undertake to prove that Christianity, in teaching the unity of God and exterminating polytheism, has shown itself preemihently " a doctrine according to godliness ?" Rather, let those who would maintain the contrary show me the nation of ancient or modern times, which has worshipped a multi
plicity of gods, without debasing itself by the puerilities, and defiling itself with the horrors and pollutions, of superstition. The mythology of the Greeks and Romans may be called elegant by him, who contemplates it only in the breathing marbles which embodied the forms of their divinities, or in the poetry to which their agency gives inajesty and animation; but he would revoke the strange epithet could he see it as it was, inflaming the brutal appetites of the vulgar, exercising no moral influence over the minds of the majority, and secretly despised by the lettered and reflecting few. And could the dark grottos of Hindoo idolatry utter forth their sepulchral voice to tell us what rites honour and what sacrifices propitiate the dæmons whose monstrous images are carved upon their walls, we should see what a doctrine of ungodliness polytheism still continues to be. If you once begin to divide the attributes of the one God among a multitude of deities, you lower them to the human standard, and prepare the way for ascribing to him not the figure only, but the weaknesses, the passions and the vices of mortals. At the same time you enfeeble and distract the devotional feelings : for one God only can be worshipped with all the heart and with all the mind and with all the strength.