ings. The powerful motives, by which Christ enforces the practice of his laws, are correspondent to the expectations of accountable beings. And the system which these laws compose, is the only one ever delivered, which is calculated to instruct · the great mass of mankind, high and low, rich and poor, with all authority as to its origin, and, with the most falutary effect as to their conduct. The fyltem bears the marks of its own internal evidence as coming from God, because it is in every respect consistent with his wisdom and goodneis'.

To view the moral part of the Christian dispensation in a proper light, it ought to be compared with the principles of ancient Philosophy. The lages of Greece and Rome undoubtedly present us with the most convincing proofs how far unenlightened reason could advance in the examination of moral obligation, and the discovery of the duties of man. But imperfection, if not error, was attached to all their systems.

If moral wisdom defcended from heaven to dwell with Socrates, the most enlightened sage of the heathen world, the quickly caught the contagion of earthly depravity, and forgot her dignity so far as

s « In morality there are books enough writ both by ancient and modern philosophers; but the morality of the Gospel doth so exceed them all, that to give a man a full knowicdge of true morality, I shall send him to no other book, but' the New Telta. ment." Locke on Reading and Study, vol. ii. p. 407.

to bend at the shrine of fuperftition. Her dictates were not built upon any certain foundations, or digested into a consistent plan. They were dif- . graced with falfe notions, intermixed with frivolous refinements, and scattered among difcordant sects. Each feet of philofophers had a different idea of happiness, and a different mode of investigating truth. The Epicureans maintained that happiness confifted in pleasure, the Stoics held that virtue was the only good, and the Peripatetics that : it was the greatest good. Every school was diftinguished by its particular opinions; and the fol. lowers of Plato, Aristotle, and Zeno, exerted the powers of their minds rather to display their ingenuity, than to satisfy the inquiries of mankind, as to the nature, the principles, and the end of · moral obligation. The powerful influence of ex

ample, and the ftrong and awakening voice of some great and divine Teacher, were requisite to give to their instructions the energy of law. But the most material obstacle to a ready compliance with the dictates of heathen morality, was the want of such fanctions or confirınations by divine au- . thority, as are calculated to hold the mind of man in constant obedience, by an immediate appeal to his hopes and fears-to his desire of future hap- . piness, and his dread of future milery in a world to come.

And do we not find, that our holy Religion not only contains the best precepts of ancient philofophy in one regular fyftem, but adds to them others

which are peculiarly and eminently her own? Certainly. And this 'fhewş its high degree of perfection. To the Gospel of Christ we are indebted for those rules of conduct, which enjoin the sacrifice of self-interest, selfish pleasures, and vainglory. By it alone we are taught in the most explicit language, and in the most authoritative manner, to check all violent passions, and to cultivate the mild and pure affections of the heart, to forgive injuries, to love our enemies, to resist the first impulse of evil defires, to practise humility and universal benevolence, and to prefer the joys of heaven to the pleasures and occupations of the world. Advancing to a degree of improvement far beyond the lesions of heathen morality, far beyond what was ever taught under the porches of Athens, or in the groves of the Academy; we are instructed to entertain the most awful veneration for the Deity; and to express the most lively gratitude for his mercies;-we are supported by the firmest reliance on his grace, and we are invited upon all oc- . casions to resort in earnest and fervent prayers to his power, mercy, and goodness, for the supply of our numerous wants, for the pardon of our fins, for fecurity in the midst of danger, and for support at the hour of death.

Having a perfect model of virtue in the conduct of our blessed Lord set before us, and a perfect rule of life proposed in his divine inftructions, we are taught to expect that our sincere endeavours to conquer the difficulties we have to surmount in


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

our journey through life will be aided by the divine grace; and we are encouraged to hope that by our strenuous and unabating exertions we may make a much nearer approach to that perfection of character, which reaches “the fulness of the measure of the stature of Christ,” than it is possible for those to do, who act not upon Christian principles'.


E" The end of learning is to repair the ruins of our first pa. rents, by regaining to know God aright, and out of that know. ledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest, by possessing our souls of true virtue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith, makes up the highest per. fection." Milton.

“And is it then possible that mortal man should in any sense attain unto perfection? Is it possible, that we who are born in fin, and conceived in iniquity, who are brought forth in ignorance, and grow up in a multiplicity of errors; whose understandings are dark, our wills biaffed, our passions strong, our affections cor. rupted, our appetites inordinate, our inclinations irregular— Is it possible, that we who are surrounded with things themselves oba fcure, with examples evil, with temptations numberless, as the variety of objects that encompass us—Is it possible, that we fhould make any progress towards arriving at perfection With men indeed this must needs be impossible; but with God all things are poslīble. For when we consider on the other side, that we have a perfect rule, and an unerring instructor; an example complete as the divine life, and yet with all the condescensions of human infirmity; motives strong and powerful as the rewards of heaven, and pressing as the necessity of avoiding endless destruction; assistances mighty as the grace of God, and effectual as the conti, nual guidance of the Spirit of truth ; when we consider this, I say, we may then perhaps be as apt to wonder on the other hand, that all men are not perfect. And yet with all these advantages, the

perfection, - Consider the precepts of Christianity not by comparison only with other fystems, but as furnishing a rule of life. Were the actions of mankind to be. regulated by them, nothing would be wanting to render us happy. Peace and harmony would flou, rish in every part of the globe. There would be no injustice, no impiety, no fraud, no rapine, no reign of disorderly passions. Every one, satisfied with his lot, refigned to the divine will, and enjoying a full prospect of endless happiness, would pass his days in content and tranquillity to which neither pain nor sorrow, nor even the fear of death, could ever give any long interruption. Man would renew his · primeval condition, and in his words and actions

exbibit the purity of Paradise. That such a state, as far as the imperfection of human nature would allow, can exist, we trust that the lives of many Chriftians, not only of the primitive but of fubfequent times, can atteft. Surely such a system must be transcendent in excellence, and bears within itself the marks of a divine origin.”

The revealed will of God is the proper source of moral obligation. It gives life and vigour to the performance of every duty, and without it all fylteins of morals are dry, uninteresting, and founded upon no fixed principle of action. How jejune and

perfection, that the best men ever arrive to, is but in a figurative and very imperfect sense, with great allowances, and much dimi. nution, with frequent defects, and many, very many limitations.” Clarke, Sermon cxliv, vol.ii. p. 183, fol. edit. VOL. I.


« ElőzőTovább »