Слике страница
PDF
ePub

those of the Sybils in pagan Rome, are sounds convertible to senatorial sense; and the whole Christian mission, from the first prophet down to the last minister, is one long muster-roll of statesmen's tools, a disgrace to their species, a contradiction to their profession, a dishonour to their God!

Christian liberty in Italy is liberty to be a Roman Catholic, that is, liberty to believe what the bishop of Rome affirins to be true, and liberty to perform what he commands to be done. Christian liberty in some reformed churches is liberty to renounce what the reformers renounced, to believe what they affirmed, and to practise what they required. But we who have not learned Christ, define Christian liberty otherwise; and if we be asked, What is Christian liberty we answer, It is liberty to be a Christian. One part of Christianity consists of propositions to be believed. Liberty to be a Christian believer is liberty to examine these propositions, to form a judgment of them, and to come to a self-determination, according to our own best abilities. Another part of Christianity consists of duties to be performed. Liberty to be a practical Christian is liberty to perform these duties, either as they regard God, our neighbour, or ourselves. Liberty to be a Christian implies liberty not to be a Christian, as liberty to examine a proposition implies liberty to reject the arguments brought to support it, if they appear inconclusive, as well as liberty to admit them, if the appear demonstrative. To pretend to examine christianity, before we have established our right to do

[blocks in formation]

so, is to pretend to cultivate an estate, before we have made out our title to it.

The object of christian liberty, that, with which a man, who would examine christianity, has to do, is a system of christian doctrine but, having established the doctrine of right, before we proceed to exercise this right by examining the religion proposed to mankind by Jesus Christ, it is absolutely necessary to inquire what we ought, on sound principles of just and fair reasoning, to expect to find in it. I know some truths without revelation. I have a full demonstration in nature, that there is one God -that it is impossible there should be more than one that he is an intelligent Spirit-and that he is a wise and bountiful Being. Should any religion, which pretends to be divine, affirm, there is a plurality of gods-God is not an intelligent Spirit— God is an unwise and an unkind being-I should have a right to reject this pretended revelation. Indeed, should a revealed religion allow my demonstrations, and afterwards explain them in a manner quite subversive of my former explications of them: should it affirm, God is, as you say, a wise and bountiful being: but he displays his wisdom and goodness not in governing his intelligent creatures as you have imagined; such a moral government, I will prove to you, would shew a defect of wisdom and goodness: but he displays the supreme perfection of both by providing for such and such interests, and by bestowing such and such benefits, as have either escaped your notice, or were beyond your comprehension. In this case I ought not to reject

revelation, for, although I can demonstrate without inspiration the wisdom and goodness of God, yet I cannot pretend by the light of nature to know all the directions, and to ascertain all the limits of these perfections.

Lay christianity before me who will, I expect to find three things in it, which I call analogy, proportion, and perfection. Each of these articles opens a wide field of not incurious speculation, and each fully explained and applied would serve to guide any man in his choice of a religion, yea in his choice of a party among the various divisions of christians: but alas! we are not employed now-a-days in examining and choosing religious principles for ourselves, but in subscribing, and defending those of our ancestors! A few hints then shall serve.

By analogy I mean resemblance, and, when I say revealed religion must bring along with it an analogical evidence, I mean, it must resemble the just dictates of nature. The reason is plain. The same Supreme Being is the author of both. The God of nature has formed man for observing objects, comparing them together, laying down principles, inferring consequences, reasoning and self-determining; he has not only empowered all mankind to exercise these abilities, but has even constrained them by a necessity of nature to do so; he has not only rendered it impossible for men to excel without this exercise, but he has even rendered it impossible for them to exist safely in society without it. In a word, the God of nature has made man in his own image, a self-determining being, and, to say nothing of the na

ture of virtue, he has rendered free consent essential to every man's felicity and peace. With his own consent subjection makes him happy; without it dominion over the universe would make him miserable.

The religion of nature, (I mean by this expression, here, the objects, which display the nature of the Deity, and thereby discover the obligations of mankind) is in perfect harmony with the natural constitution of man. All natural objects offer evidence to all but force it on none. A man may examine it, and he may not examine it: he may admit it, and he may reject it: and, if his rejection of the evidence of natural religion be not expressed in such overt acts as are injurious to the peace of civil society, no man is empowered to force him, or to punish him; the supreme moral Governor of the world himself does not distinguish him here by any exterior punishments; at most he expresses his displeasure by marks attached to the person of the culprit, and concealed from all the rest of his fellow-creatures; and the glory of civil society is not to encroach on the moral government of God.

Christianity comes, pretends to come from the God of nature; I look for analogy, and I find it: but I find it in the holy scriptures, the first teachers, and the primitive churches. In all these, I am considered as a rational creature, objects are proposed, evidence is offered; If I admit it, I am not entitled thereby to any temporal emoluments; if I refuse it, I am not subjected to any temporal punishments: the whole is an affair of conscience, and lies between each individual and his God. I choose to be a Chris

tian on this very account. This freedom which I call a perfection of my nature; this self-determination, the dignity of my species, the essence of my natural virtue; this I do not forfeit by becoming a Christian, this I retain, explained, confirmed, directed, assisted by the regal grant of the Son of God. Thus the prerogatives of Christ, the laws of his religion, and the natural rights of mankind being analogous, evidence arises of the divinity of the religion

of Jesus.

I believe, it would be very easy to prove, that the Christianity of the church of Rome, and that of every other establishment, because they are establishments, are totally destitute of this analogy. The religion of nature is not capable of establishment, the religion of Jesus Christ is not capable of establishment: if the religion of any church be capable of establishment, it is not analogous to that of Scripture, or that of nature. A very simple example may explain our meaning. Natural religion requires a man to pay a mental homage to the Deity, to venerate his perfections, by adoring and confiding in them. By what possible means can these pious operations of the mind be established? could they be forced, their nature would be destroyed, and they would cease to be piety, which is an exercise of judgment and will. Revealed religion requires man to pay a mental homage to the Deity through Jesus Christ, to venerate his perfections by adoring and confiding in them as Christianity directs; by repentance, by faith, by hope, and so on. How is it possible to establish those spiritual acts? A human establishment requires

« ПретходнаНастави »