Page images

acter, which plainly prepares for a higher life than the present; these are peculiarities of Christianity, which will strike us more and more in proportion as we understand distinctly the circumstances of age and country in which this religion appeared, and for which no adequate human cause has been, or can be, assigned.

Passing over these topics, each of which might be enlarged into a discourse, I will make but one remark on this religion, which strikes my own mind very forcibly. Since its introduction, human nature has made great progress, and society experienced great changes; and in this advanced condition of the world, Christianity, instead of losing its application and importance, is found to be more and more congenial and adapted to man's nature and wants. Men have outgrown the other institutions of that period when Christianity appeared; its philosophy, its modes of warfare, its policy, its public and private economy; but Christianity has never shrunk as Christianity has opened, but has always kept in advance of men's faculties, and unfolded nobler views in proportion as they have ascended. The highest powers and affections which our nature has developed, find more than adequate objects in this religion. Christianity is indeed peculiarly fitted to the more improved stages of society, to the more delicate sensibilities of refined minds, and especially to that dissatisfaction with

the present state, which always grows with the growth of our moral powers and affections. As men advance in civilization they become susceptible of mental sufferings, to which ruder ages are strangers; and these Christianity is fitted to assuage. Imagination and intellect become more restless; and Christianity brings them tranquillity by the eternal and magnificent truths, the solemn and unbounded prospects, which it unfolds. This fitness of our religion to more advanced stages of society than that in which it was introduced, to wants of human nature not then developed, seems to me very striking. The religion bears the marks of having come from a being who perfectly understood the human mind, and had power to provide for its progress. This feature of Christianity is of the nature of prophecy. It was an anticipation of future and distant ages; and when we consider among whom our religion sprung, where, but in God, can we find an explanation of this peculiarity?



By those who have been accustomed from their childhood to the reading of the New Testament, so that every part of it is familiar to their minds,

it is scarcely possible to form an idea of the difficulty of ascertaining the various relative duties among mankind, with such precision as to delineate exactly what is due to each. The writings of the evangelists and apostles have shed so clear a light on the subject, that some are apt to consider the knowledge of relative duties, which all the inhabitants of Christendom have, through various channels, derived from them, as originating in the reflections of their own minds, and as the spontaneous growth of the human heart, without labor, and without cultivation. But read the institutes of Menu, or peruse the books of the ancient sages of pagan antiquity in the West, and the fallacy will soon be detected. That some things there are good, and well said, must be obvious to all. But how defective are they in many points, and how unjust in others; how superstitious in more! Some duties are misstated; some are mutilated; some are entirely omitted; and many things are strenuously enjoined as duties, which are not. Their code of morals, even what is due from man to man, wants many leaves. As to the most important part of the system, namely, man's obligation to God, and the duties resulting thence, there is a still more dreadful deficiency. Instead of moral duties, we find little else but a hideous mass of superstitious rites, and unmeaning ceremonies.

In the New Testament there is a perfect system of moral precepts. What is due from man to himself, is delineated without defect and without redundancy. What he owes to his fellow creatures in all their different relations, is clearly defined, and authoritatively enjoined. None can say, 'It is unjust to require me to act thus to my father, to my master, to my servant, to my child.' Man's duty to God, a subject still more difficult, and where heathens failed the most, is laid down with equal clearness, and equal fulness. Nothing can be conceived to be a duty, which is not here enjoined; nor any thing enjoined as a duty, which we can say is unreasonable and ought not to be performed. The world may be challenged to mention one duty to God, or man, which the New Testament does not enjoin; or to prove any one thing it enjoins as a duty, to be destitute of rea son, and void of obligation. The simplicity, the conciseness, the perspicuity, and the authority, with which they are delivered, give force to truth, and scope to reason, in the application of general duties to particular circumstances.

The morality of the writers of the New Testament is their own. They borrowed it from none. It begins at the source, and gives laws to the thoughts. Its precepts reach to the first workings of the heart. It enjoins purity of soul, and brings into captivity every thought to the obedi

ence of Christ.' Not a vain imagination can be indulged, not an unhallowed desire rise up, without polluting the soul, and contracting guilt.

How different is this system from what was written and taught by the sages of Greece and Rome! Regard for a person's own fame and reputation, how exalted a place does it occupy among Pagan moralists! and an equal anxiety is discovered for the good opinion of others, and the approbation of the public. Their desire was to 'be seen of men, and they loved the praise of man more than the praise of God.' These the gospel utterly excludes. It authoritatively inculcates selfdenial on all its votaries. It enjoins a supreme regard to what God approves; but to men, no farther than their approbation accords with God's, and is founded upon it. The disciples of Jesus are commanded to make their light shine before men; but the aim must be, not that they may be admired and praised, but that those who see their good works, 'may glorify their Father who is in heaven.'

The morality of the gospel is uncontaminated with the impure mixtures which have defiled every human system, published before or since. It admits no licentiousness; it enjoins no austerities; it contains no superstitions; it will be satisfied with no partial regard. In the religion of the Heathens and Mahometans, how many licentious

« PreviousContinue »