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all its professors. But in proportion as their peculiar tenets are marked and sanctified by that charity, which is its highest attribute, which is the very bond of peace, and of all virtues, will their joy be pure and fervent. The more extensive are the blessings of which they believe it to be the parent, the more gratefully will they receive it; the more partially they conceive its benefits to be bestowed, the fainter must be the satisfaction which they inspire. Wherever the doctrine of exclusive Salvation prevails, upon whatever ground, the Gospel no longer proclaims glory to God in the highest, nor on earth peace and good-will towards men.
Amongst all the classes of Christians, therefore, there is not one whom the return of this day should more warmly exhilarate than ourselves. As Protestants of the Church of England, we believe the benefits of Christianity to be universal. Trusting that our own view of its doctrines is correct, we nevertheless disclaim all pretension to infallibility ; nor do we presume to arrogate to ourselves the right of condemning those who differ from us in opinion. If it should be thought that the damnatory clauses of the creed, which has been recited to-day,
do go to this extent, I can only say, that in the judgment of very able and good men, they are not to be so interpreted. They are to be considered merely as repeating the declaration of our Saviour, as recorded in the sixteenth chapter of St. Mark. They must be understood as assuming the truth of Christianity in general, and of the particular doctrines laid down in the creed. And
And upon that assumption, they pronounce that those who reject them will suffer for so doing, though neither the nature, nor the degree of suffering, are to be considered as defined by the terms employed. Nothing is wanted, in the judgment of a very judicious writer, to remove all difficulty and uneasiness respecting this creed, than to qualify and restrain it by the plainest and most self-evident of all moral propositions: “No man is punishable for rejecting falshood.” Whilst, therefore, we, who believe the Christian Revelation to be true, and our ideas of it to be the most correct, cannot suppose that it can be rejected with impunity; I hope there are few of us who would not not agree with the sentiment of a very emi
"Hey's Lectures, vol. iii.
nent writer of the seventeenth century, John Hales, of Eton, who, as Lord Clarendon informs us, “would often say, that he would renounce the Church of England, if it obliged him to believe that any other Christians would be damned 1." Nor can this be imputed to excess of liberality, or culpable indifference to right or wrong, in matters of religion. His history completely refutes such an imputation. Intolerance is a very questionable test of sincerity. I do not know that it is at all true, that the latter quality abounds most in that Church, in which the former chiefly prevails. But I will not pursue this reflection, because it would divert me from that topic upon which it is my object today to fix our undivided attention, the joy which our holy religion is calculated to excite in our hearts.
Surely it is not without reason, that we indulge at this season in more than ordinary feelings of content and satisfaction. Is it doubtful that the many customs which pre-vail of a benevolent character, at this period of the year, are to be ascribed to the influence
· Clarendon's Life, vol. i. p.
has been well observed by Dr. Paley', that “ with us, the question is between that religion and none : for no one, with whom we have to do, will support the pretensions of any other.” Except then we are prepared to admit, that with reference to this world alone, we could live more happily without religion than with it, we must needs confess that we have great reason to rejoice in the possession of one which can be replaced by no other ; which, were its Divine original less certain than it is, is unquestionably calculated to answer all the purposes for which a revelation from heaven could be desired or accorded. It does seem, therefore, one of the most extraordinary things in the history of human folly or wickedness, that men should appear from time to time, up to the present hour, who have laboured to subvert our faith, professing at the same time a love for virtue, and a regard for the interests of mankind. Is it conceivable that they can delude themselves so far as to think, that could they succeed in their object, the world would go on better
than it does, or even that it could go on at all ? If so much of vice and misery prevails in it, even under the present systems of belief, however various they may be, what bounds would be opposed to its licence and depravity, were those wholesome restraints entirely withdrawn? Can any man in his senses believe, that the bulk of mankind can regulate themselves by principles of reason and philosophy, which is the substance and the very language of every deistical scheme that has hitherto appeared, which professes any regard for the welfare of the human race? And it is but justice to their authors to admit, that, so far as I am acquainted with them, they all abound in such profession. But can they afford a surer test of the fallacy of their systems, and of their own incompetence to the task of reforming the morals, and improving the condition of mankind, than by ascribing as they do, and must do for their purpose, to the generality of men, the possession of mental powers and moral excellence, which they manifestly never have possessed, nor can reasonably be expected to attain ? Did they maintain virtue to be as useless to society as religion, there might be, perhaps, some consistency in their argu