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... Behold your reasons of dissent held up
in your places of worship to public view in characters of brass ! engraven with a pen of iron in the rock for ever!
But I have done. Pardon the weakness of speaking about myself. Accept my thanks for indulging me with your attention so long. Assure yourselves, that my aim is to conciliate christians to each other; and the means proposed to you in order to enable you to obtain this end, are gentleness, goodness, faith. Ah! why is not every party amongst us, why are we not all, building in God's temple as the Jews of old in Solomon's, where peither hammer, nor ax, nor any noise was heard in the building ? If this be not worth saying and doing any thing to obtain, I know not what is ; and, if any be insensible to this; I leave him to the laws of his country, the reproaches of his companions, the regret of his conscience, and the mercy of God.
CHRISTIANITY A SYSTEM OF HUMANITY.
Preached at Salter's Hall, London, March 3, 1779, in behalf
of the Protestant Dissenting Charity Schools at Horsly-Down, Southwark.
MATTHEW xxv. 36.
I was naked, and ye clothed me.
THE apostle Paul gave a very just and beautiful notion of christianity, and of the primitive manner of propagating it, when he said, I speak as to wise men, judge ye what I say,
Christianity, or that religion, which Christ taught, does not consist of the probable conjectures of attentive men exercising their reason; but it is a state of facts revealed by the supreme being, and spoken or written to mankind by persons, whose credentials attested beyond all reasonable doubt the divinity of their mission. I speak to wise men.
This religion is laid at the foot of all mankind, and the apostle requests an examination of it, judge ye what I say, see if there be any thing contained in it injurious to the known perfections of God, or to the allowed rights of his creatures. If there be,
I agree you should reject it; if not, I require you to admit and obey it.
Agreeably to this primitive notion of religion, we are going to-day to examine that argument for the religion of Jesus, which is taken from the BENEVOLENCE of it, and we shall endeavour to convince
you, that the gospel is highly fitted to relieve the miseries of mankind, and to procure their felicity. We are naturally led into this train of thought by seeing these charity children; the school is a precious monument of the piety and humanity of our ancestors, erected in the spirit of him, who said, I was naked and ye clothed me.
Our Lord proposes to our view in this discourse three principal objects. First, the infirmities and miseries of men; they are exposed to hunger, thirst, nakedness, sickness, imprisonment, and so on. Next, his own real character; he is a man (we glory in it) he is the best of men, the first born of every creature, and his good heart commiserates the distresses of all his fellow-creatures; he makes their case his own, it was I who was hungry, and thirsty, and naked, and ye ministered unto me. Lastly, he describes the principles and practices of his real disciples; as if he had said, a succession of my followers will adopt my principles, enter into my views, imitate my example, become workers together with me, and for my sake will administer consolation to the miserable, and to them I shall in some future period say, I was naked and ye clothed me.
To this future period the whole subject leads, to that day, when the Son of man shall come in his glory, gather all nations before him, separate them one from another, admit the righteous into life efernal, and send the wicked away into everlasting punishment. In view of this great day let us attend to the subject before us. Happy indeed could we realize the event, and act as if the time were at hand! O God! thou, who wilt judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to the gospel, assist us by thy good spirit to perform this service acceptably to thee.
In order to enter thoroughly into the design of our blessed master, let us make mankind pass before us in four different views; agreeably to the four popular meanings of the word naked, and let us deliberately inquire what the gospel, if we gave it its way, would operate in behalf of each class.
I. Let us consider our species coming out of the hands of the creator, multiplying into a tribe, and spreading themselves over a supposed district, a herd of naked uncultivated savages. I beg pardon for speaking of literal nakedness in this assembly: but, permit me to remind you, gentlemen, every historian of mankind, your own not excepted, is obliged to begin here. Our nation is well educated, we have had noble tutors in every art and science, and Britons, highly polished already, are yet improving: but the state, which I am describing, was that of your ancestors in the days of Jesus Christ.
I cannot help lamenting here (by the way) the general disingenuousness of controversy, particu
larly of that, which concerns the dignity of mari. We dispute for ever, and we scorn to settle the point in debate by defining our terms. Dignity of man is a vague expression. Is it fair to affirm that of a Hottentot, which is true only of a Briton Alas! what is the dignity of a thousand sunburnt animals, wandering for a scanty sustenance over ten thousand acres of desert, wild and uncultiva: ted as the wilderness itself! Their bodies are all unclothed, their appetites all ungoverned, their minds all unprincipled, their immortality doubted or unknown. Their lands lie all untilled, their mines unwrought, their animals undisciplined, all the powers of nature are unemployed, not a fire burns, nor a river runs, nor a breath of air works for these vagabond lords. Strangers to every arts except that of slaughter, unacquainted with every science, except that of feasting on the entrails of their foes, and carousing with the blood of the last slain in the scull of the first, they go on from age to age, like other animals crawling into existence, like them suffering hunger and hardships, inconveniences of condition and inclemencies of season, and like them sickening, struggling, dying, and sinking into oblivion beneath the shade of a bush or in the den of a beast.
Suppose some superior being, possessed of perfect wisdom and generous communicative sentiments, descending from heaven to earth to reside a while among this abandoned race; suppose this being Jesus Christ, how think ye? would not his own principles and feelings lead him to civilize