Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

creation and providence! into the abyss of almighty love exemplified in the condescension of a suffering and assisting God, for his eternal salvation, for his salvation, who had corrupted his own nature, proved ungrateful for all other blessings, and even persecuted his benefactor! Crucified his divine Redeemer !

What a narrow heart hath unbelief! How great a coward is the infidel! who dare not believe in these things because they are so great! who dare not believe in the miracles of Christ, notwithstanding reason tells him aloud, that these, though wrought for a greater purpose, are by no means so stupendous as those he sees, eats, drinks, breathes, every hour! who trembles at the thoughts of bringing a disingenuous, a lewd, a dastardly heart to the test of Christian morality! He hath not virtue enough so much as once to look his vices in the face. He shudders at the thoughts of reformation, and looks pale at the name even of mercy, if that of repentance is pronounced before it. What now must his infinite vanity do, thus miserably circumstanced? Why, he hath no shift left to keep that in countenance, but setting up for an immense stock of penetration, and consequently of contempt for faith, at the instant that he is a bankrupt to common sense and common honesty. He must be more than others, to conceal his being less. He must parry with a sneer, or bully in an harangue, that close encounter with reason on the merits of Christian faith, which he knows he cannot stand. How just is the sentence pronounced on him by the son of Syrach, Woe unto him that is faint-hearted, for he believeth not.' The character he would assume is that of sagacity and intrepidity. Infinite impudence! Whereas ignorance and timidity are the peculiar distinctions of his mind, and beget between them all his infidel suspicions. He knows not, such is his ignorance, how to distinguish error from truth; and observing how many impostures prevail in the world, he fears, such is his timidity, that every thing is imposture. His views are dark, short and narrow; and therefore suspicion is all he hath for precaution, just as other ignorants have cunning only for wisdom. He can neither be, nor have a friend, for he who cannot trust, cannot safely be trusted. Credulity, it is true, is a weakness, but hath the simplicity of a child to excuse it. Suspicion is a weakness

too; but then it is a vice also; and hath this to expose it, that the suspicious is always suspected of only imputing to others, what he is conscious of in himself. I dwell thus on suspicion, because the fearful and jealous temper gives essence to the evil heart of unbelief,' in the same manner and degree, as bravery or fortitude of mind constitute the good heart of faith. As this religious fortitude of faith is truly a virtue, the parent and patron of all other virtues; so this irreligious cowardice of infidelity is really a vice, the parent, the nurse, the patron of all other vices; at once idolizing through vanity, and sceptically extinguishing through fear, the reasoning faculty with which it is joined; at once haughtily dictating what never can be proved, and believing (for here it can only believe) that nothing is to be believed; at once peremptorily dogmatizing on precarious negatives, and miserably doubting, or impudently denying, positives, of the highest proof.

After all, we wrong the libertine in calling him an infidel, for in truth he does little else, as a thinker, but believe; and believes with a wider and prompter swallow, than the most credulous religionist.

As faith consists both in an assent of the understanding, and in the hopes, expectations, and wishes of the heart; so the negative faith of the libertine, as it regards his understanding, consists in believing, that God never made any revelation to mankind; that there were no such persons, as Christ, the prophets, and apostles; or if there were, that they wrought no miracles; and that they did not offer up their lives in testimony of a mission from God. So far as his faith is the faith of his heart, it consists in believing, that the soul will not, or, at worst, hoping that it may not, exist hereafter; and that there is no tempter, no place of torment; or if there are, that he will not always be a devil, nor that always a hell.

Howsoever hard it may be to prove a single one of these negatives (and certain it is, there can be no proof for any of them), yet he believes them all; and to get rid of the gospel history, believes in the falsity, or at least utter uncertainty, of all history. This faith begins in the heart, and is at first only a violent passion or desire of somewhat, which Christian faith would mortify. This desire soon improves

into a vehement wish for impunity on a full gratification. This wish looks out with extreme anxiety for arguments against the truth of Christianity; finds many, for all things are disputable in such a pinch; and finds them all demonstrative, for what is not, that indulges desire, and gratifies the wishes of a heart, so disposed. Thus the understanding, weak enough in itself, and ill informed as to the evidences of revelation, gives way, and resigns its assent to the pressing necessities o the whole man; and so faith is made perfect.

This faith now, as soon as it is firmly established in the mind, becomes the substance or support of fine things hoped for, such as, of life without sickness or end; of riches without bounds; of pleasures without control or satiety; of power unlimited; of honours above competition, beyond comparison, and even equal to ambition. This faith also becomes the evidence of these things, though as yet unseen; sufficient evidence to wishes so very fond, that all things thus hoped for, may, by an unwearied application of the virtues and good works, consequent to such a sort of faith, such as cunning, fraud, force, oppression, gaming, bribing, flattering, drinking, wenching, be fully obtained and enjoyed. It is true, nature itself, and all experience join to refute this evidence, but in vain. The believer I am speaking of, unshaken in his dependence on it, amidst the rub of accidents, crosses, disappointments, sickness, deaths, pursues that still unseen, untasted, unfelt contentment, hoped for on the evidence of his faith, to which he lives a confessor, and dies a martyr, fighting for a woman, or grasping his bag, or scheming the future grandeur of his family, or ordering a magnificent monument for his body. O the power of this faith! Great parent of all the heroism celebrated in profane history, and of ten thousand times more, as perfect, and as far pursued, in every rank and corner of the world, but modestly concealed from the registers of glory. How might Christian faith, in the present low ebb of her influence, envy thee the number and greatness of thy exploits, did she see with thy eyes! But, if we may believe her, the optics she employs, penetrate the present general masquerade of persons and things, and plainly discover, under all this show, a set of shocking realities, which draw

her tears, which drew the blood of her author, and which death, seen only by her, is stealing to lay bare under the uplifted arm of vengeance.

Men must cease to be men, before they cease to be believers. However, that believing depends, in a great measure, on ourselves, is, I think, plain enough to experience, as to the points, affirmatively or negatively to be believed. That believing in Christ is also, with its promised assistance, in our power, we Christians must infer from his command, 'ye believe in God, believe also in me;' for why a command when there is no power to perform? Or why shall he think it odd, that Christ should make faith in himself, and in the miraculous attestation of his mission, the matter of a command? he, I say, who will huff excessively, if not believed on his bare word. It is surely as reasonable to command belief, on high evidence, as to be angry at the want of it,

on none.

It is plain to a man of true understanding, that his believing a well-attested truth depends on his admitting, that is, on his candidly weighing the evidence; and his not believing, on a neglect or refusal of that evidence. It is plain likewise, that he is at liberty to do either. It is plain therefore to him that a command to weigh the evidences of revealed religion, if they are found sufficient, is the same as a command to believe, and highly reasonable in itself. Sensible of this, and well aware of the mischiefs attending both the extremes of credulity and incredulity, in matters of religious faith, he keeps the medium, and casting the clear and steady eye of a well-poised judgment on both sides, with pity for the miserable weakness of those who believe every thing, and contempt for the pride of those who will believe nothing, he moves right on to his purpose with equal deliberation and expedition. He is resolute, because he knows he is right; and his wisdom serves him for fortitude. He does not take all men for cheats and liars, merely because he hath met with a majority of deceitful people; nor all religions for imposture, merely because he hath observed a clear proof of it in many. No, he is sure, there must be a true religion; he knows there must be sufficient signs and evidence of its truth; he knows what these

are; and, when he sees them, instead of doubting, trifling, hesitating belief, he closes boldly, understanding and heart, with that truth, and rests in it, as in the native element of his mind. Knowing his own corruptions, with their unhappy effect, and sensible, that Christian faith alone is qualified to reform them, in the spirit of an intellectual hero, he arms himself with that to subdue and govern the rebel animal within him. The animal first submits, then willingly receives the easy yoke, and afterward rejoices in it, as the glorious badge of moral liberty.

As faith is weak in some, dead in others, and even exposed to the danger of a total extinction in every man; it is the business of this man, as well as of other less determined believers, to pray earnestly that his faith fail not;' to meditate and watch, that he may stand fast in the faith;' to give his faith continual exercise in good works, lest he should be found at last to have believed in vain.'

[ocr errors]

It is an easy matter to profess Christianity, to follow its author, and crowd about him, as numbers do, some for a name; some for a cloak; some for the loaves; some for the bag, and what is put therein; most because they were bred up in this way, and would go any where in a crowd. But this is not to put on Christ' himself. It is only to clothe ourselves in his coat, as his enemies did, and still may do. It is not to join ourselves effectually to him, or to partake of his spirit, or to imbibe his power. Nothing, but a lively, operative, fruitful faith, can bring us into true contact and union with this source of spiritual health and life. To il lustrate and urge a doctrine, so necessary to be feelingly understood and received, take a fact, which may serve on this occasion as a parable.

As Jesus is going with a ruler of the synagogue to heal his daughter, behold what multitudes of people follow him! how they throng him! how they press on him from all sides, and, with a mixture of admiration and rudeness would rather incommode and jostle him, than be thrown at a distance! Of all this crowd that hang so close upon him, one poor distempered woman only was healed of her disease. He felt the touch of faith; and perceiving that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about and said, who touched my clothes?'

« ForrigeFortsæt »