Page images

influenced by the peculiar doctrines of it, in proportion to the integrity of their minds, and to the clearness, purity, and evidence, with which it is offered them. Of these our Lord speaks in the parable of the sower, "as understanding the word, and bearing fruit, and bringing forth, some an hundred fold, some sixty, some thirty.”* One might add, that these persons, in proportion to their influence, do at present better the state of things: better it even in the civil sense, by giving some check to that avowed profligateness, which is a contradiction to all order and government, and, if not checked, must be the subversion of it.

These important purposes, which are certainly to be expected from the good work before us, may serve to show how little weight there is in that objection against it, from the want of those miraculous assistances with which the first preachers of Christianity proved its truth. The plain state of the case is, that the gospel, though it be not in the same degree a witness to all who have it made known to them; yet in some degree is so to all. Miracles, to the spectators of them, are intuitive proofs of its truth: but the bare preaching of it is a serious admonition to all who hear it, to attend to the notices which God has given of himself by the light of nature; and, if Christianity be preached with its proper evidence, to submit to its peculiar discipline and laws; if not, to inquire honestly after its evidence, in proportion to their capacities. And there are persons of small capacities for inquiry and examination, who yet are wrought upon by it, to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world,"† in expectation of a future judgment by Jesus Christ. Nor can any Christian, who understands his religion, object, that these persons are Christians without evidence ; for he cannot be ignorant who has declared, that "if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine,


* Matt. xiii. 23.

† Tit. ii. 12, 13.

whether it be of God."* And, since the whole end of Christianity is to influence the heart and actions, were an unbeliever to object in that manner, he should be asked, whether he would think it to the purpose to object against persons of like capacities, that they are prudent without evidence, when, as is often the case, they are observed to manage their worldly affairs with discretion?

The design before us being therefore in general unexceptionably good, it were much to be wished, that serious men of all denominations would join in it. And let me add, that the foregoing view of things affords distinct reasons why they should. For, first, by so doing, they assist in a work of the most useful importance, that of spreading over the world the Scripture itself, as a divine revelation; and it cannot be spread under this character, for a continuance, in any country, unless Christian churches be supported there, but will always, more *r less, so long as such churches subsist: and therefore aeir subsistence ought to be provided for. In the next place, they should remember, that if Christianity is to be propagated at all, which they acknowledge it should, it must be in some particular form of profession. And though they think ours liable to objections, yet it is possible they themselves may be mistaken; and whether they are or no, the very nature of society requires some compliance with othe s. And whilst, together with our particular form of Christianity, the confessed standard of Christian religion, the Scripture, is spread; and especially whilst every one is freely allowed to study it, and worship God according to his conscience; the evident tendency is that genuine Christianity will be understood and prevail. Upon the whole, therefore, these persons would do well to consider, how far they can with reason satisfy themselves in neglecting what is certainly right, on account of what is doubtful whether it be wrong; and when the right is of so much greater consequence one way, than the supposed wrong can be the other.

* John vii. 17.

To conclude: Atheistical immorality and profaneness, surely, is not better in itself, nor less contrary to the design of revelation, than superstition. Nor is superstition the distinguishing vice of the present age, either at home or abroad. But if our colonies abroad are left without a public religion, and the means of instruction, what can be expected, but that from living in a continual forgetfulness of God, they will at length cease to believe in him, and so sink into stupid atheism? And there is too apparent danger of the like horrible depravity at home, without the like excuse for it. Indeed, amongst creatures naturally formed for religion, yet so much under the powers of imagination, so apt to deceive themselves, and so liable to be deceived by others, as men are, superstition is an evil which can never be out of sight. But even against this, true religion is a great security; and the only one. True religion takes up that place in the mind, which superstition would usurp, and so leaves little room for it; and likewise lays us under the strongest obligations to oppose it. On the contrary, the danger of superstition cannot but be increased by the prevalence of irreligion, and by its general prevalence, the evil will be unavoidable. For the common people wanting a religion, will of course take up with almost any superstition which is thrown in their way; and, in process of time, amidst the infinite vicissitudes of the political world, the leaders of parties will certainly be able to serve themselves of that superstition, whatever it be, which is getting ground; and will not fail to carry it on to the utmost length their occasions require. The general nature of the thing shows this, and history and fact confirm it. But what brings the observation home to ourselves is, that the great superstition of which this nation, in particular, has reason to be afraid, is imminent; and the ways in which we may, very supposably, be overwhelmed by it, obvious. It is, therefore, wonderful, those people, who seem to think there is but one evil in life, that of superstition, should not see, that atheism and profaneness must be the

introduction of it. So that, in every view of things, and upon all accounts, irreligion is at present our chief danger. Now the several religious associations among us, in which many good men have of late united, appear to be providentially adapted to this present state of the world. And as all good men are equally concerned in promoting the end of them, to do it more effectually, they ought to unite in promoting it; which yet is scarce practicable upon any new models, and quite impossible upon such as every one would think unexceptionable. They ought therefore to come into those already formed to their hands, and even take advantage of any occasion of union, to add mutual force to each other's endeavors in further-> ing their common end, however they may differ as to the best means, or any thing else, subordinate to it. Indeed there are well disposed persons, who much want to be admonished, how dangerous a thing it is to discountenance what is good, because it is not better, and hinder what they approve, by raising prejudices against some under part of it. Nor can they assist in rectifying what they think capable of amendment, in the manner of carrying on these designs, unless they will join in the designs themselves, which they must acknowledge to be good and necessary ones. For what can be called good and necessary by Christians, if it be not so to support Christianity where it must otherwise sink, and propagate it, where it must otherwise be unknown; to restrain abandoned, barefaced vice, by making useful examples, at least of shame, perhaps of repentance; and to take care of the education of such children, as otherwise must be even educated in wickedness, and trained up to destruction? Yet good men, separately, can do nothing proportionable to what is wanting in any of these ways; but their common, united endeavors, may do a great deal in all of them.

And besides the particular purposes which these several religious associations serve, the more general ones, which they all serve, ought not to be passed over.

Every thing of this kind is, in some degree a safegard to religion; an obstacle, more or less, in the way of those who want to have it extirpated out of the world. Such societies also contribute more especially towards keeping up the face of Christianity among ourselves; and by their obtaining here, the gospel is rendered more and more a witness to us.

And if it were duly attended to, and had its genuine influence upon our minds, there would be no need of persuasions to impart the blessing; nor would the means of doing it be wanting. Indeed the present income of this Society, which depends upon voluntary contributions, with the most frugal management of it, can in no wise sufficiently answer the bare purposes of our character; but the nation, or even this opulent city itself, has it in its power to do so very much more, that I fear the mention of it may be thought too severe a reproof, since so little is done. But if the gospel had its proper influence upon the Christian world in general, as it is the centre of trade and seat of learning, a very few ages, in all probability, would settle Christianity in every country, without miraculous assistances. For scarce any thing else, I am persuaded, would be wanting to effect this, but laying it before men in its divine simplicity, together with an exemplification of it in the lives of Christian nations. "The unlearned and unbelievers, falling down on their faces, would worship God, and report that God is in us of a truth."*


* 1 Cor. xiv. 24, 25.

« PreviousContinue »