Page images

ver they are in themselves, being no more than implicit faith and party prejudice in thole who embrace them.

The fame visible state of the world, which gives occa. fion of triumph to the enemies of religion, gives often, no 1:21 uneasiness and anxiety to its friends, particularly to the best and most dispassionate of every party. Serious and conscientious perfonis, when they reflect upon the divifions that prevail, when they are witneiles to the conten: tion and mutual accusation of different parties, are ready to be overwhelmed with melancholy upon the prospect, as well as involved in doubt and perplexity, 'as to what course they themselves should hold. It is not uncommon to find persons of every rank in this situation, not only those of better education, who are able to take an extensive view of the state of things, in this and in preceding ages; but also those of less knowledge and comprehension, when any violent debates happen to fall within the sphere of their own oblervation.

Thcfe reasons have induced me to make choice of the paliage now read as the subject of discourse at this time. It contains the rule to which our Saviour appeals in his controversy with the Pharisees, and by which he, once' and again, Jefires that their pretensions may be judged. I ap firchend from the context, that it is equaily applicable to their characters and their principles, their integrity before God in their offices of teachers of others, and the foundness of their doctrine as to its effects upon those who should re. ceive it. These two things are, indeed, in a great measure connected together, or rather they are mutually inyolved in one another, though it is poflible, and, in some few cales, profitable, to make a diftinction between them.

What is further proposed, through the allistance of divine grace, in the prosecution of this subject, is,

1. To show, that the rule here given by our Saviour is the best that could have been given, and that it is sufficient to distinguish truth from error.

II. That this is in fact the rule by which all good men, and, indeed, mankind in general, fo far as they are fincere, do judge, of religious principles and pretenfions.

III. To conclude with some reflections on the subject for the benefit both of ministers and people.

In the first place then it is proposed to show, That the rule here given by our Saviour is the best that could have been given, and that it is sufficient to distinguish truth from error.

To lay a foundation for this, it will be necefsary to begin by settling, in a as precise a manner as possible, the meaning of the rule, and to what cases it can be justly applied. “ Ye fhall know them by their fruits,” faith our Saviour.—That is to say, when any person affumes the character of a divine teacher, and proposes any thing to your belief, as from God, fee whether its fruits be real. ly suitable to iis pretensions : particularly you are to lay down this as a principle, třiat, as he is lioly in his nature, every thing that proceeds from him must be holy in its tendency, and produce holiness as its fruit. In proportion as you see this effect in him who teaches it, and those who, embrace it, so receive it as true, or reject it as false.

By laying down the rule in these terms, I do not mean to deny, that, when a revelation is first proposed as from God, or when the credit of such revelation in general is examined, miracles are a distinct and conclusive proof of a divine commillion. I am persuc.ded that nothing is more vague and indeterminate, and at the same time, a more manifest inverting the natural order of things, than to say with fome, We must judge of the truth of a miracle by the nature of the doctrine in support of which it is wrought; and, if this last is worthy of God, we may then admit the honorary testimony of the mighty work in its behalf. They do not attend to the great ignorance of man in all spiritual and divine things without revelation, and to the boldness of human pride, who speak in this manner. I would rather include this as one of the proper fruits of a divine commission to teach any new doctrine, that figns be given of a superior power accompanying the prophet. Thus we see the Jews made this demand of our Saviour, " What sign shewest thou then, that we may fce and be" lieve thee? What dost thou work ?"*

It is true, in John vi. 3?


some instances, when, after many miracles, they perfifted in asking new figns of their own devising, he condemns their obstinacy and refuses to gratify it. Notwithstanding this, we find him often appealing to his works as an attestation of the truth of his mission: thus he says, “ Be. " lieve me that I am in the Father and the Father in me, “ or else believe me for the very work's fake."* And elsewhere, “If I had not done among them the works that “ none other man did, they had not had fin : but now “ they have both seen, and hated both me and my Fa. “ther."'t Agreeably to this, we find Nicodemus draw. ing the conclusion, “ Rabbi, we know thou art a teacher

come from God, for no man can do the miracles that “thou dost, except God be with him.”

There is no doubt, however, that this must be inseparably joined with a purity of character, and sanctity of pur. pose. When these are wanting, it gives the justest ground of fufpicion, leads to the strictest examination of miraculous pretensions, and will certainly end in the discovery of such as are false. For this is the very excellence of the rule laid down by our Saviour, that, though reason may be very unfit to pass an independent judgment upon truth and error, conscience may, with little danger of mistake, reject what is evil, and yield its approbation to what is good.

But what I have chiefly in view is, that suppofing the truth of the gospel in general, particular opinions and practices must be tried in this manner. As the gospel is allowed on all hands to be a doctrine according to godliness, when differences arise, and each opposite side pretends to have the letter of the law in its favor, the great rule of decision is, which doth most immediately and most certainly, promote piety and holiness in all manner of conversation. In this way every doctrinal opinion, every form of government, and every rite and practice in worship, may be brought to the teit, and tried by its fruits,

As opinions, fo characters, must be tried in the fame manner. The truth if this, though deserving particular


* John xiv, 11.

† John xv. 24.

John ii. 2.

mention, is included in, or is but a part and branch of the other. To pass a judgment on particular characters is of very small moment, or rather, a peremptory decision of this kind is both unnecessary and improper, unless when it is of weight in a cause. It is only prophets and teachers that fall to be singly, or personally tried, because they are supposed to exhibit, in their own practice, an cxample of the force and influence of their principles. If on them they have no effect that is good, there is not the least pretence for insisting that others should embrace them.

· Nothing farther seems necessary by way of explication of this rule, fave to observe from the context, that fair and plausible pretences, either of opinions or characters, muft be examined with particular care, as being moli reaiy to deceive ; and the trial must be more by faċls than by reasoning, as is implied in the very language used in the tesi, “ By their fruits ye shall know them.”

The excellency of this rule may be comprehended under the two following particulars, ist, Its certainty. adly, Its perfpicuity.

The first of these will'admit of little dispute. As God is infinitely holy in his own nature, every discovery that he has made to any of his creatures, mult carry this im. pression upon it, and have a tendency to promote holiness in them. And, as this is manifestly the design of the facred oracles, and that system of divine truth wliich they contain, every thing by way of opinion, or practice, that pretends to derive its authority from them, may lawfully be tried by this rule, Will it make us more holy than before?

It is of moment here to observe, that this rule hath a deep and solid foundation. It proceeds upon the suppofition, that all natural are inferior to moral qualities; that even the noblest intellectual abilities are only so far valuable, as they are subservient to moral perfection ; or in other words, that truth is in order to goodness. It is not (as has been often faid) in his Almighty power, his inanite wisdom, or the immensity of his being, that the glory of God chiefly consists, but in his immaculate holiness and spotless purity. Each part of the divine character, in

deed, derives a lustre from the other. It is the union of greatness and goodness, that makes him truly God. His moral excellence becomes infinite in value and efficacy by residing in an infinite objest. But if it were possible to separate his natural perfection from his moral excellence, or could we suppose them joined to malignity of disposition, he would be the proper object flet us speak it with reverence) not of supreme love, but of infinite deteftation.

Thisis more than sufficient to fupport the order in which things are represented above, and how, that its moral influence is the proper touchstone and trial of religious truth, These doctrines only come from God, which tend to form us after the divine image. Thus far, perhaps, all will als low it to be true; at least the assertion is common. Bet be pleased to observe, that this neceffarily supposes the sure and infallible efficacy of real truth in promoting holiness, and the insufficiency of error and falfhood for this purpose. If these were not both alike certain, the rule would be equivocal and absurd. If men by believing lies could atiain to unfeigned goodness and true holinefs, then their moral effect could not in the least serve to distinguish between truth and error. It is no less plain that if so absurd a supposition is admitted but for a moment, the value of truth is wholly destroyed, and no wise man will employ his time and pains in endeavoring to discover, to communicate, or to defend it.

Theother particular comprehended under the excellence of this rule, is its perspicuity; That, it is not only furę and infallible in itself, but capable of an easy application by those who have occafion to use it. Here, if any where, there is room for doubt and disputation. Here, it may be alledged, all the confufion and uncertainty returns, which was before complained of, and for which a rentedy was required. Men will still differ in their opinions as to what is true goodness. Besides, they will still debate the fincerity of many pretensions, and the reality of many appearances; and, as art and hypocrisy will always be used on the one hand, delusion must be the unavoidable conse quence on the other.

« PreviousContinue »