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THẾ NATURE AND TENDENCY OF CHRISTIANITY.
MR. P. has disingenuously and studiously, as far as a man can judge, confounded Christianity with all the abuses and perversions of it; and with all the crimes that masked atheists have taken occasion from it to perpetrate. Let him, however, have full licence to abuse domineering churchmen and persecuting priests; let him exhaust his rhetoric in declaiming against purgatory, penances, and dispensations; or that kind of Christianity which is inimical to solid learning and sober inquiry. But let not the pure religion of scripture be blamed for those things which are there both expressly predicted, and most severely condemned. I would not even go out of the way to dispute for establishments, or national religions, though, when connected with an equal toleration, they do not at all cramp free inquiry; and, when properly managed, they secure to the bulk of mankind a measure of religious instruction which would not otherwise be afforded them.
The religion of the scriptures must be distinguished, not only from all corruptions, but from all appendages,—and all modes of promoting it, however expedient, which are not expressly com manded. This religion makes known to us the one living and true God; not only in his eternal power and Deity, but also in the mysteries of his
nature, and the perfections of his character, as far as we are concerned to know them. Infinite wisdom, justice, purity, faithfulness, goodness, and mercy, harmoniously displayed, are here viewed in connexion with omnipotence, omniscience, unchangeableness, omnipresence, self-existence, and incomprehensible greatness and majesty. The Lord, being thus altogether glorious and lovely, the Creator of our bodies and souls, our continual and bounteous Benefactor, and our moral Governor and Judge, commands us to love him with all our hearts, and to love our neighbour as ourselves : and these comprehensive rules reach to all our thoughts, words, and actions, and to every possible duty to God and man.-The religious and moral precepts, grounded on them, and explained in both the Old and New Testament, form a perfect and complete rule of conduct, in every case imaginable, enforced by the most awful sanctions, or from the most powerful and endearing motives; insomuch, that having often read the best systems of ethics, ancient and modern, I never could find any thing that was not contained in the scriptures ; except what was evidently erroneous, or questionable, and ambiguous : but numerous omissions, especially in works not grounded on the scriptures, which could no where else be supplied; and mistakes, which could not elsewhere be rectified.
This law, universally kept, would produce universal order, peace, and felicity ; for it is in all respects “ holy, just, and good.” By this rule all · our conduct must be tried; and all the other precepts of scripture are elucidations of it, and applications of its general rules to our several cases and
circumstances.—The Bible reveals also an eternal state of righteous retributions : and, as all have broken the holy law of our God, we are no more able of ourselves to escape future condemnation, than we now are to elude the sentence of death : for, like other laws, it requires perfect obedience, and condemns every transgressor. Some information the scriptures afford us concerning the manner in which our race was thus involved in sin and misery; but far more concerning the method of our recovery. The description, there given of our nature and character, does not indeed accord to the soothing speculations of many philosophers : but universal history, observation, and experience prove that it answers exactly to facts; and the more any one studies his own heart, and compares his actions with the perfect law of God, the deeper will his conviction be that the statement of scripture is just, and his own self-flattering conclusions erroneous. The view given of the evil and demerit of sin is very offensive to our pride, and alarming to our consciences : yet deep reflection on the subject will convince us that we cannot estimate what degree or continuance of punishment : crimes committed against God do actually deserve.
These things premised, we observe that the scriptures especially reveal the plan of salvation for sinners, which infinite wisdom and love have formed and completed. This plan centres in the person of Christ, Emmanuel, God manifested in the flesh ; in his righteousness, atonement, mediation, and grace; in his offices of Prophet, High Priest, and King ; in his power to “ save to the “uttermost all that come to God by him ;” and
in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and our renewal unto the divine, image by his gracious influences. All things having been made ready, in the obedience, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and his “appearance in the presence of “God for us:” Christianity consists in humble repentance of sin; a believing reliance on the merits and atonement of the Son of God, and on the mercy of the Father through him; a cordial acceptance of Christ in all his characters and offices; and dependence, connected with experience, on the Holy Spirit, for divine illumination, progressive sanctification, and pure consolation, all springing from regeneration. Thus the sinner, being converted and reconciled to God, justified by faith, and sealed by the Spirit of adoption, expects the performance of the promises in the use of appointed means; and, animated by the motives and encouragements of the gospel, he is inwardly and effectually taught by the “grace of God to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live “soberly, righteously, and godly in this present “world.” Thenceforth “he walks in newness of “ life.” Love to God in Christ Jesus, and to men for his sake, becomes the temper of his heart, and the business and delight of his life. He is indeed still imperfect, and in a state of conflict: but, as far as he acts according to his rule and obligations, he does no harm to any man, but all good to every one, in every way which is in his power, and consistent with propriety. Humility, meekness, gentleness, forgiveness, benevolence, courteousness, compassion, self-denying active beneficence, sincerity, equity, fidelity, sobriety, temperance, and purity, as well as piety, are the genuine effects of his principles. Were all men true and consistent Christians, wars would be impossible; fraud, oppression, slander, licentiousness, contentions, and all the crimes that disturb society, would cease; the stormy ocean of the world would be hushed into a calm; men would sooner lay down their lives for their enemies than persecute; they would rather endure wrong than commit it, or even than contend for their right, unless required by other duties. This is assuredly the religion of the scriptures. These have been, and still are, its effects on thousands: and, could those believers who are now scattered abroad in the world be collected together into one society, and separated from all other men, such a scene of piety, purity, harmony, and felicity would be witnessed, as has never yet appeared on earth, except in the Christian church for a short time after the day of Pentecost. Yet even this company would be very imperfect, not only compared with their perfect rule and cxample, and the holiness of heaven, but even with the expected state of the church on earth, during the predicted Millennium. And let those, who have lived in or near the families of zealous Christians, or in neighbourhoods, where they are numerous, decide, whether all kind of upright, beneficent, and moral conduct is not more observable among them, than among our deists and scoffers at Christianity. Let those, who have witnessed the peace and joyful death of consistent Christians, determine whether they have not some support and consolation, far