Page images

matters of religion, to be the badge of Protestantism; and have deemed the exercise of charity towards those who differed from them to be the ornainent and glory of the Christian profeflion.

I have, fir, confined myself to deceased writers, that I might avoid swelling the work to a fize which ordinary readers would not have leisure to perufe, or ability to purchase. Otherwise I might have enriched it with many valuable testimonies, in behalf of candour and unanimity, from living writers of the three principal classes of professed Christians, into which the testimonies are here diftributed. Thus it is manifeft, that the mild and conciliating spirit of Chriftianity is so far from being extinct, that it still continues to produce the same benevolent effects, for which, in former ages of the church, it has been juftly celebrated.

Let not the infidel then imagine, that the benignant influence of the gospel is circumscribed within any one period, or limited to any particular century. It is as immutable as the Deity who first gave it. It is as permanent as that eternity for which it

[ocr errors]

is eminently calculated to prepare us.

All flem is grass, and all the glory of man like the

flower of the field. The grajs withereth and the flower thereof falleth away ; but the word of the Lord, with respect both to its purity and its benevolence, endureth for ever.

A modern infidel, sir, of political notoriety is, however, so profoundly ignorant of the nature and tendency of revealed religion, that, in a recent publication, he pronounces the scriptures to be fources of delusion, and records of wick edness. He has also indulged, himself in scurrilous inveêrives against those who believe in their inspiration, and against those whose province it is statedly to explain and enforce their contents. But we must not be surprized-ignorance, calumny, and falfhood, are the means by which the empire of infidelity hath been raised and perpetuated. Christians of the plainest understandings know that their religion inculcates a rational piety, and prescribes the purest morality, which can be presented to the children of men. If this piety be not interwoven in their characters, and this morality exemplified in their conduct-to the want


of religion, and not to religion itself, should these deficiences be imputed. Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, who understood more of the nature and experienced more of the influence of Christianity, than any individual now living, emphatically denominates it the doctrine according to godliness. There is, therefore, a degree of injustice and of cruelty, in charging it with the vices and the infirmities of its professors. But permit me to ask the unbeliever who exults in these objections, do all the advocates of natural religion maintain rational faith, and exhibit an unblemished reputation? In general, is it not notoriously otherwise? Does not their rejection of revelation excite a fufpicion, that they strive to evade the force of its precepts; and to rescue themselves from that wholefome restraint, which the awfulness of its penalties imposes upon human conduct? With respect to infirmity, the infidel and the Christian stand on one common ground; nor can either of them pretend to finless perfection. But were we fairly to estimate the practical influence of their respective creeds, I should feel no apprehension for the Christian, provided he 'cherished that temper, and adopted that train of conduct recommended by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Were men to take the same pains to believe, which they take to disbelieve THE GOSPEL, the triumphs of infidelity would cease-its attendant vices disappear, and Christianity, in its purest and most benignant form, would (agreeable to the intimations of ancient prophecy) reach to the uttermost parts of the earth. To ascribe uncharitableness and persecution to the religion of Christ, is to ascribe darkness to the sun, or diforder to the established laws of the universe!

This little publication, fir, may also prove serviceable to young men who are educating for the Christian ministry. It may bring them acquainted with theological writers of enlarged sentiments and genuine liberality, and thus prevent them from entertaining those contracted notions of the most amiable religion in the world, into which young minifters, from their want of better information, are

known to have been precipitated. Too frequently, alas ! initiated into the dogmas of a party, and driven by a zeal not according to knowledge, they have impeded their own usefulness, and injured the interests of the Christian church. Uncharitableness is the germ of perfecution. It is, therefore, of the highest importance, that those, who in the public services of the sanctuary, are destined to lead the devotion, and in a -measure to form the religious temper of multitudes, should themselves drink deep into the liberal fpirit of the New Testament, and assiduously cherish that benign temper which advances and adorns the truth as it is in Jesus.

Nor can I, sir, conclude, without expressing a hope that my own congregation, and, indeed, that all serious and candid professors of Christianity, will derive some benefit from the perusal of the following pages. In these times of instability and of lukewarmness, this selection may ferve to confirm their faithto enliven their hopes—and to invigorate their religious affections. Here they will

« PreviousContinue »