« AnteriorContinuar »
SECTION VII. The spirit and laws of Christianity superior to those of every
other religion The morality of the gospel gives it an infinite superiority over all systems of do&trine that ever were devised by man. Were our lives and opinions to be regulated as it prescribes, nothing would be wanting to make us happy ; there would be no injustice, no impiety, no disorderly pallions. Harmony and love would universally prevail. Every man, content with his lot, resigned to the Divine will, and fully perfuaded that a happy eternity is before him, would pass his days in tranquillity and joy, to which neither anxiety, nor pain, nor even the fear of death, could ever give any interruption. The best fyftems of Pagan ethics are very imperfect, and not free from absurdity ; and in them are recommended modes of thinking unsuitable to human nature, and modes of conduct which, though they might have been useful in a political view, did not tend to virtue and happiness universal. But of all our Lord's institutions the object is, to promote the happiness by promoting the virtue of all mankind.
In the next place; his peculiar do&trines are not like any thing of human contrivance. “ Never-mar spake like this man.'
One of the first names given to that dispensation of things which he came to introduce, was the kingdom, or the reign, of heaven.
It was justly fo called ; being thus diftinguished, not only from the religion of Mofes, the fanctions whereof related to the present life, but also from every human scheme of moral, political or ecclefiaftical legislation.
The views of the heathen moralist extended not beyond this world ; those of the christian are fixed on that which is
The former was concerned for his own country, or:ly or chiefly ; the latter takes concern in the happiness of all men, of all nations, conditions, and capacities. A few, and but a few, of the ancient philosophers, Ipoke of a future ftate of retribution as a thing desirable, and not improba. ble : revelation fpeaks of it as certain ; and of the present life as a Itate of trial wherein virtue or holiness is necessary, not only to entitle us to that falvation which, through the mercy of God and the merits of his Son, christians are taught to look for, but also to prepare us, by habits of piety and benevolence, for a reward, which none but the pare in heart can receive or could relish,
The duties of piety, as far as the heart is concerned, were not much attended to by the heathen lawgivers. Cicero coldly ranks them with the social virtues, and says very little about them. The facrifices were mere ceremony. And what the Stoics taught of relignation to the will of Heaven, or to the decrees of fute, was so repugnant to fome of their other tenets, that little good could be expecte ed from it. But of every christian virtue, piety is an essential part. The love and the fear of God must every moment prevail in the heart of a follower of Jesus ; and whether he eat or drink, or whatever he do, it must all be to the glory of the Creator. How different this from the philosophy of Greece and Rome !
In a word, the heathen morality, even in its best form, that is, as two or three of their belt philosophers taught it, amounts to little more than this : “ Be useful to yourselves, your friends, and your country ; so shall you be respectable while you live, and honoured when you die ; and it is to be hoped you may receive a reward in another life.” The language of the christian lawgiver is different. world is not worthy of the ambition of an immortal being. Its honours and pleasures have a tendency to debale the mind, and disqualify it for future happiness. Set there. fore your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth. Let it be your supreme desire to obtain the favour of God; and, by a course of discipline, prepare yourselves for a re-admission into that rank which was forfeited by the fall, and for being again but a little lower than the angels, and crowned with glory and honour everlafting,"
What an elevation must it give to our pious affections, to contemplate the Supreme Being, and his providence, as revealed to us in Scripture! We are there taught, that man was created in the image of God, innocent and happy : and that he had no fooner fallen into fini, than his Creator, instead of abandoning him, and his offspring, to the natural consequences of his disobedience, and of their hereditary depravity, was pleased to begin a wonderful dispensation of
grace, in order to reicue from perdition, and raise again to happiness, as many as should acquiesce in the terms of the offered falvation, and regulate their lives accordingly.
By the facred books that contain the history of this dispeufation, we are further taught that God is a spirit, un. changeable and eternal, universally present, and absolutely
perfect ; that it is our duty to fear him, as a being of consummate purity and inflexible justice, and to love him as the Father of mercies, and the God of all confolation : to trust in him as the friend, the comforter, and the al. mighty guardian of all who believe and obey him ; to rejoice in him as the best of Beings, and adore him as the greatest – We are taught, that he will make allowance for the frailties of our nature, and pardon the sins of those who repent :-and, that we may fee, in the strongest light his peculiar benignity to the human race, we are taught, that he gave his only Son as our ransom and deliverer ; and we are not only permitted, but commanded, to pray to him, and address him as our Father :-we are taught, moreover, that the evils incident to this state of trial are permitted by him, in order to exercise our virtue, and prepare us for a future state of never ending felicity ; and that these momentary afflictions are pledges of his paternal love, and shall, if we receive him as such, and venerate him accordingly, work out for us " an exceeding great and eternal weight of glory.” If these hopes and these sentiments contribute more to our happiness, and to the purification of our nature, than any thing else in the world can do, surely that religion to which alone we owe these sentiments and hopes, mult be the greatest blessing that ever was conferred on the posterity of Adam.
Christianity proposes to our imitation the highest exam. ples of benevolence, purity, and piety. It shows, that all our actions, purposes, and thoughts, are to us of infinite importance ; their consequences being nothing less than happiness or misery in the life to come : and thus it ope. rates most powerfully on our self love. By teaching, that all mankind are brethren ; by commanding us to love our neighbour as ourselves ; and by declaring every man our peighbour, to whom we have it in our power to do good, it improves benevolence to the highest pitch. By prohibiting revenge, malice, pride, vanity, envy, sensuality, and covetoufnels; and by requiring us to forgive, to pray for, and to bless our enemies, and to do to others as we would that they should do to us, it lays a restraint on every malevolent and turbulent passion ; and reduces the whole of social virtue to two or three precepts ; fo brief, that they cannot be forgotten, fo plain that they cannot be misunderstood; so rea. sonable,that noman offense controverts them; and so well suited to human nature and human affairs, that every candid mind may easily, and on all occafions, apply them to practice.
Christianity recommends the strictest felf-attention, by this awful confideration, that God is continually prefent with us, knows what we think, as well as what we do, and will judge the world in righteousness, and render unto every man according to his works. It makes' us consider conscience, as his voice and law within us ; purity of heart, as that which alone can qualify us for the enjoyment of future reward ; and mutual love, or charity, as that with out which all other virtues and accomplishments are of no value : and, by a view of things peculiarly Itriking, it causes vice to appear a molt pernicious and abominable thing, which cannot escape pupilhment. In a word,
Christianity," as Bishop "Taylor well observes, “is a doctrine in which nothing is superfluous or burdensome ; and in which there is nothing wanting, which can procure happiness to mankind, or by which God can be glorified."
SECTION VIII. The vision of Carazan : Or, social love and beneficence rbe
commended. CARAZAN, the merchant of Bagdat, was en inent throughout all the ealt for his avarice and his wealth : his origin is obscure, as that of the spark which by the collision of steel and adamant is struck out of darkness; and the patient la. bour of persevering diligence alone had made him rich. It was remembered, that when he was indigent he was thought to be generous : and he was still acknowledged to be inflexibly jult. But whether in his dealings with men, he discovered a perfidy which tempted him to put his trust in gold, or whether in proportion as he accumulated wealth, he discovered his own importance to increase, Carazan priz. ed it more as he used it lefs : he gradually lost the inclination to do good, as he acquired the power; and as the hand of time scattered snow upon his head, the freezing influence extended to his bosom.
But though the door of Carazan was never opened by hospitality, nor his hand by compassion, yet fear led him conftantly to the mosque at the stated hours of prayer : he performed all the rites of devotion with the most ferupulous pun&uality, and had thrice paid his vows at the temple of the prophet. That devotion which arises from the love of God, and necessarily includes the love of man, as it con. nects gratitude with beneficence, and exalts that which is
moral to divine, confers new dignity upon goodness, and is the object not only of affection, but reverence. On the contrary, the devotion of the selfish, whether it be thought to avert the punishment which every one wishes to be inflicted, or to enture it by the complication of hypocrisy with guilt, never fails to excite indignation and abhorrence. Carazan, therefore, when he had locked his door, and turning round with a look of circumspective fufpicion, proceeded to the mosque, was followed by every eye with filent malignity; the poor suspended their fupplication when he paffed by; though he was known by every man, yet no man faluted
Such had long been the life of Carazan, and such was the haracter which he had acquired, when notice was given by proclamation, that he was removed to a magnificent building in the centre of the city. that his table fhould be spread for the public, and that the stranger should be wel. come to his bed. The multitude soon rushed like a tor. rent to his door, where they beheld him distributing bread to the hungry, and apparel to the naked, his
naked, his eye foftened with compassion, and his cheek glowing with delight. Ev. ery one gazed with astonishment at the prodigy, and the murmur of innumerable voices increasing like the found of approaching thunder, Carazan beckoned with his hand : attention suspended the tumult in a moment; and he thus gratified the curiosity which procured him audience.
“ To him who touches the mountains and they smoke, the Almighty and the most merciful, be everlasting honour ! he has ordained sleep to be the minister of instruction, and his visions have reproved me in the night. As I was litting alone in my harum, with my lamp burning before me, computing the product of my merchandise, and exulting in the increase of my wealth, I fell into a deep Deep, and the hand of him who dwells in the third heaven was upon me. I beheld the angel of death coming forward like a whirlwind, and he fmote me before I could deprecate the blow. At the same moment I felt myself lifted from the ground, and transported with astonishing rapidity through the regions of the air. The earth was contracted to an at. om beneath; and the stars glowed round me with a lustrethat obscured the fun. The gate of Paradise was now in fight ; and I was intercepted by a sudden brightness which no-human eye could behold. The irrevocable sentence was now to be pronounced; my day of probation was palt;