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POWER AND GRACE OF CHRIST.
The Evidences of Christianity briefly stated, and the New
Testament proved to be Genuine,
2 Pet. i. 16. We have not followed cunninghy devised Fables.Iti
is undoubtedly a glory to our age and country, that the nature of moral virtue has been so clearly stated, and the practice of it so strongly enforced, by the views of its native beauty, and beneficial consequences, both to private persons, and societies. Perhaps in this respect, hardly any nation or time has equalled, certainly few, if any, have exceeded our own. Yet I fear I might add, there have been few ages or countries, where vice has more generally triumphed, in its most audacious, and, in other respects, most odious forms.
This may well appear a surprising case ; and it will surely be worth our while to enquire into the causes of so strange a circumstance. I cannot now enter into a particular detail of them. But I am persuaded, none is more considerable than that unhappy disregard, either to the gospel in general, or to its most peculiar and essential truths, which is so visible amongst us, and which appears to be continually growing. It is plain, that like some of old, who thought and professed themselves the wisest of mankind, or in other words the freest thinkers of their age, multitudes amongst us have not liked to retain God and his truths in their knowledge: And it is therefore the less to be wondered at, if God has given them over to a reprobate mind*; to the most infamous lusts, and enormities; and to a depth of degeneracy, which, while it is in part the natural consequence, is in part also the just, but dreadful punishment of their apostacy from the faith. And I am persuaded, that those who do indeed wish well to the cause of public virtue, as every true christian most certainly does, cannot serve it more effectually, than by endeavouring to establish men in the belief of the gospel in general, and to affect their hearts with its most distinguishing truths.
* Rom. i. 28.
The latter of these is our frequent employment, and is what I have particularly been attempting in the preceding discourses on the Power and Grace of the Redeemer : The former I shall now, by the divine assistance, apply myself to, in those that follow. And I have chosen the words now before us, as a proper introduction to such a design.
They do indeed peculiarly refer to the coming of our Lord, which the apostle represents as attested by that glory, of which he was an eye-witness on the Mount of Transfiguration, and by that voice from heaven which he heard there : But the truth of these facts is evidently connected with that of the gospel, in general. I am persuaded therefore, you will think they are properly prefixed to a discourse on the general Evidences of Christianity. And I hope, by the divine assistance, to propose them at this time in such a manner, as shall convince you,
that the apostles had reason to say, and that we also have reason to repeat it, We have not followed cunningly devised fables*,
I have often touched on this subject occasionally, but I think it my duty at present to insist something more largely up
You easily apprehend, that it is a matter of the highest importance, being indeed no other than the great foundation of all our eternal hopes. While so many are daily attempting to destroy this foundation, it is possible, that those of you, especially, who are but entering on the world, may be called out To give a reason of the hope that is in yout. I would therefore, with the apostle, be concerned, that you may be ready to do it. It may fortify you against the artifices, by which the unwary are often deceived and ensnared, and may possibly enable you to Put to silence their foolishnessi. At least it will be for the satisfaction of your own minds, to have considered the matter seriously, and to be conscious to yourselves, that you are not christians merely by education, or example, as, had you been born elsewhere, you might have been Pagans or Mahometans; but that you are so upon rational evidence, and because, as the sacred historian expresses it, you Know the certainty of those things in which you have been instructeds.
To open and vindicate the proof of christianity in all its extent, would be the employment of many discourses; nor would it, on the whole, be proper to attempt it here. All that
• 2 Pet. 1, 16, 17, 18.
+ 1 Pet. ü. 15.
I 1 Pet, ii, 15. Lukei. 4.
I now intend here is, to give you a summary view of the most considerable arguments, in that which seems to me their most proper and natural connection ; that so you may be able to judge of them better, than you could possibly do by a few scattered remarks, or by the most copious enlargement on any single branch of them alone. I shall endeavour to dispose these hints so, as that they may be some guide to those, whose leisure and abilities may lead them to a more ample and curious enquiry; that they may not be intangled in so complex an argument, but may proceed in an orderly manner.
And if any of you, my friends, desire a more particular information on any of those heads, which I now but briefly suggest, you may depend upon it, that faithful ministers of every denomination will think it an important part of their duty, to give you all the private assistance they can. It is my hearty prayer, that God would enable me to plead his cause with success; that he would open your understandings to receive these things, and strengthen your memories to retain them ; that you may not be Like children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and the cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceire*; but may be Strong in faith, giving glory to Goult ; that, your faith being more and more established, it may appear, that the tree is watered at the roots; and all
your other graces may grow and fourish, in an equal proportion.
But before I proceed, I must desire you to observe, that there is no proof in the world so satisfactory to the true christian, as to have felt the transforming power of the gospel on his own soul. As that illiterate man whose eyes were miraculously opened by Christ, when he was questioned by the Jewish Sanhedrim, who endeavoured with all their sophistry to prove Christ an impostor, answered with great steadiness and constancy, and with a great deal of reason too, this One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see I: So the most unlearned of the disciples of Jesus, having found his soul enlightened and sanctified, and felt his heart so effectually wrought upon, as to bring him home to his duty, his God, and his happiness, by the constraining power of the gospel, will despise a thousand subtle objections which may be urged against it: And though The cross of Christ be to the Jezus a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness, yet with this experience of its saving energy, he will honour it in the midst of all their contempt and ridicule, as the power of God, and the wisdom of God. In this sense,
Eph. iv. 14.
+ Rom, iv, 20.
John ix. 25.
$ 1 Cor. i. 23, 24,
though the miraculous communication of the Spirit, be ceased, He that believes, hath still the witness in himself*; and while The Spirit beareth witness with his Spirit, that he is a child of Godt, he cannot doubt, but that The word by which he was, as it were, begotten unto him, is indeed adivine and incorruptible seed I.
And perhaps, there are certain seasons of pressing temptation, in which the most learned, as well as the most illi terate christian, will find this the surest anchor af his hope.
Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged, that this glorious kind of evidence, is like the white stone, mentioned in the Revelation, in which there was A new name written, which no man knew, but he who received it. God has therefore made other provision for the honour and support of his gospel, by furnishing it with a variety of proof, which may with undiminished, and indeed with growing conviction, be communicated from one to another. And we should be greatly wanting in gratitude to him, in zeal for a Redeemer's kingdom, and in charitable concern for the conversion of those who reject the gospel, as well as for the edification of those who embrace it, should we wholly overlook these arguments, or neglect to acquaint ourselves with them. This is the evidence, which I am now to propose; and I desire you would hear it with a becoming attention. I speak to you, as to rational creatures : Judge ye of the reasonableness of what I shall say.
In prosecution of this great design, I shall endeavour more particularly to shew you, that if we take the matter on a general survey, it will appear highly probable, that such a scheme of doctrines and precepts, as we find christianity to be, should indeed have been a divine revelation and then, that if we examine into the external evidence of it, we shall find it certain in fact, that it was so, and that it had its original from above. First, Let me shew, “ that taking the matter merely in theory,
it will appear highly probable, that such a system as the
,--that the state of mankind was such, as greatly to need a revelation ;that there seems from the light of nature, encouragement to hope that God should grant one ; that it is reasonable to believe, if any were made, it should be so introduced and transmitted, as we are told christianity was; and that its general nature and substance should be such, as we find that of the gospel is. If these particulars are made out, here will be a strong presumptive evidence, that the gospel is from God; and we shall have opened a fair way toward that more direct proof, which I principally intend. 1. The case of mankind is naturally such, as greatly to need a
* 1 John V, 10. † Rom. viii. 16. James i. 18. 1 Pet. i. 23. & Rev. ii. 17.
I speak not here of man in his original state; though even then, as many have largely shewn, some instruction from above seemed necessary to inform him of many particulars, which it was highly expedient that he should immediately know : But I speak of him in the degenerate condition in which he now so evidently lies, by whatever means he was brought into it. It is an easy thing to make florid encomiums on the perfection of natural light, and to deceive unwary readers with an ambiguous term*, which shall sometimes signify all that appears even to the divine understanding, and sometimes no more than the meanest of the human race may, or than they actually do attain ; but let fact speak, and the controversy will soon be determined. I appeal to all, that are acquainted with the records of antiquity, or that have any knowledge of the most credible accounts of the present state of those countries where christianity is unknown, whether it is not too obvious a truth, that The whole heathen world has lain, and still lies in wickednesst. Have not incomparably the greater part of them been perpetually bewildered in their religious notions and practices, vastly differing from each other, and almost equally differing on all sides from the probable appearances of truth and reason? Is any thing so wild as not to have been believed, any thing so infamous as not to have been practised by them, while they have not only pretended to justify it by reason, but have consecrated it as a part of their religion ? To this very day, what are the discoveries of new nations in the American or African world, but generally speaking, the opening of new scenes of enormity ? Rapine, lust, cruelty, human sacrifices, and the most stupid idolatries, are, and for ought I can find, always have been, the morality and religion of almost all the Pagan nations under heaven : And to say, that there have still been some smothered sparks of reason within, which, if cherished, might have led them to truth and happiness, is only saying, that they have been so much the more criminal, and therefore so much the more miserable.
* This Dr. Tyndal has done in so gross and palpable a manner, that it is surprising that fallacy alone should not have exposed his christianity as old as the creation, to the immediate contempt of every intelligent reader.
+ 1 John v. 19.