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The reason why the wise men of the world are not universally on the Lord's side is, not, that the gospel has nothing for them to learn; but, that their pride makes them think themselves above the gospel. The different effects produced by human learning, and by religion, are strikingly painted by the apostle Paul, as his words stand in the original: Knowledge puffeth up; but love buildeth up. Here is a firm, compact edifice; and there is a soap bubble.
In defence of the gospel it is farther to be observed, that those who attack it, for want of other weapons, are obliged to resort to mockery, and low buffoonery; and, that more decent dissenters, choose to withdraw from the field of controversy, under the cover of some flimsy excuse. When in the midst of Mars' hill Paul argued strongly the christian cause before the enlightened people of Athens, how was he treated? Was he confronted with argument? Was the cause treated fairly; agitated fully; and finally rejected, on account of the feebleness of its support? Paul was heard until an opportunity was seized by some of the company to raise a laugh, and then he was dismissed. When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. Some thought the resurrection impossible, and therefore mocked. But we have no record of any reason which they offered for their opinion. The presumption is strong, that they had none.
Those who did not mock, told Paul they would hear him again. Why did he depart from among them, and not stay to give them farther opportunity! He knew there was no truth in what they said, and, that they told this story only out of regard to civility.
When our Lord Jesus performed astonishing miracles on persons possessed of the devil, what proof was offered against the reality of the miracles; or what similar miracles performed by men, were brought into view, to show, that those of Christ deserved no extraordinary attention? Thus runs the reasoning of the wise men of that day, with respect to this matter. He casteth out devils through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. A man fights his own shadow; he pitches battle with himself. At the day of Pentecost, what strange scenes were exhibited? How were they
explained. These men are full of new wine. A fit of intoxication makes a person immediately fluent in many languages unknown before the fit comes on. A living unbeliever who monopolizes reason and who challenges even the Age of Reason for his legitimate child, thinks, that instead of cloven tongues, we should read, that a cloven foot appeared at the day of Pentecost.
Such weakness in objectors shows the strength of that against which the objections are brought. Infants of days, and little children are very much alike. The bullying boy knocks his fists together, and challenges the full grown man to combat; but is careful to keep at a well chosen distance that if pursued he may secure a retreat.
Since the reasoning of infidels is not to be found, we must examine that against which their mockery is brought, and see whether argument could find a place.
Our present narrow limits confine us to two great articles, those which concern the first and the second Adam; or the sinful condition of man and the gracious redemption by Christ. These are pillars upon which the whole building rests; and without which it must inevitably fall.
If man were not a fallen creature, there would not be such a similarity among men. Every age; every country, has much the same catalogue of crimes to present before
Men are as nearly alike by nature inwardly as outwardly. If we find a creature which has not the general shapes, and proper ties of the human body, we may deny, that it belongs to the human species; and so, if there is any person who has not the common propensities of sinners, he will be a living witness against the fall. But such a person is no where to be found.
Bad education undoubtedly tends to bad morals but bad education will not account for the whole mass of evil with which society is contaminated. If pious parents never had profligate children, and if wicked parents never had pious children the scriptural doctrine concerning the origin of sin would not be overthrown. It would still be impossible to determine who began the bad education of children. If the effects were visible, the cause would be latent.
But who can believe says the scoffing infidel, that Adam by eating an apple, damned all his posterity? The fruit might be harmless, and the eating might be innocent; but the same cannot be said of the violation of a positive command. The sin therefore which was committed by eating the forbidden fruit, might wholly change, and ruin Adam's nature, though the fruit were such as we have and the eating a common operation.
Adam's personal damage may be more easily apprehended perhaps, than the consequences to his posterity. The difficulties however, in understanding the affair, should not be made stumbling blocks; for difficulties are to be met with in every thing. The child unborn is frequently marked by the apprehensions, or designs, of the mother, and bears the mark through life. I have myself seen, in a person not destitute of understanding neither, a plain resemblance to a swine; in the walk; the eyes; the sounds; and ordinary actions. We might all learn to stammer, so as to have no command of our tongues by imitating a stammerer. Who can account for either of these things? Were all the inexplicable matters witnessed by us all to be brought into notice, the rehearsal would be very long. If we will reject every thing which we cannot understand, the things which we shall retain will be few indeed.
Concerning Christ it may be said that he who denies him acts an unwise and inconsistent, part; concluding not only without, but against evidence. Four competent, and credible historians have given us a particular, though succinct account of his life. Is any thing concerning Alexander, better attested? If there was no such person as Jesus Christ, we have no reason to think there was ever such a person as Alexander. Our belief rests on testimony, and not on personal knowledge, in both these cases. How ridiculously should we appear in asserting, that one unit added to another, the sum is two here; and, that four units added together, the sum may be represented by a cypher there?
But leaving the historians we will pass to some facts which we know without them.
How came the first day of the week to be a sabbath? is not the Jewish sabbath; nor is it derived from the econe my of the heathen worship. Both Jews and Gentiles mus. be set aside, as having bad no agency in the establishment of this day. The day is kept in remembrance of the resurrection of Christ. The first celebration therefore must have been attended from a thorough conviction, that Christ actually rose on that day. Think whether it would not be impossible to effect such a change now, and among us. With a loose unprincipled people, the sabbath may be voted out of the calendar, and its place supplied with a decade. But this is quite a different matter, originating not from a preference of days; but from an abhorrence of all days of divine rest.
the ordinance of baptism? The Jews ever have been strenuous for circumcision, and to the Gentiles, neither baptism, nor circumcision, had any meaning, or any use. Hence it appears, that baptism would have had insurmountable difficulties to encounter, had not those persons who were first baptized, been well assured that Christ in whose name, and on whose account, they received the ordinance, died, and rose, as the promised Messiah and put a new stamp on the seal of the righteousness of faith.
The prevalence of the christian religion is proof in favor of its Author. Do the Jews now make proselytes? Is not Judaism declining or certainly at least at a stand? How like the mustard-sced, to which it is fitly compared, has the religion of Christ grown large from the smallest beginnings; and expanded itself over many countries? Christ rides forth like a mighty conquerer, but he rides in a chariot paved with love. Mahomet spread his delusions far and wide; but the sword of his army was his irresistible argument. The success of Mahomet is nothing in his favor; for it can be accounted for on common principles. But every circumstance in human calculation, naturally tended to impede the progress of Christ.
Now, if histories; if facts, prove any thing; and in ordinary cases we receive the testimony, the proof is abundant for the religion of Christ, and there is none against it. The
mystery of his nature we must leave with other mysteries. Why inquirest thou after my name, seeing it is secret? God would be incomprehensible to us in any possible way of manifesting himself. Infinite unity puzzles and confounds as much as infinite trinity.
The benign effects produced by the gospel, we are likewise warranted to insist upon in its defence. Human learning and human laws effected the civilization of ancient Greece, and Rome; and what people were ever more civilized? What need then can there be of the gospel? Thus Infidelity delights to treat this subject. But much of the learning, and laws, of Greece, and Rome, was derived from inspiration, as the rivulet winds its course from the parent spring; and finds the distant cottager. Every one who has read Virgil's fourth Eclogue, has found Isaiah in it; and those who are conversant with the writings of Plato declare him to have had, in some way or other, assistance from the scriptures.
But setting these considerations aside, how inferior were Greece, and Rome, to countries where christianity is the nominal and existing religion? What advantage has christianity over polished heathenism as the knowledge of God is respected? What was known of God at Ephesus before christianity was there, may be learned from circumstances which attended an uproar occasioned by Paul's preaching. The charge alleged by Demetrius against Paul before the people was, that he had persuaded and turned away much people, saying, that they be no gods which are made with hands. · Is there more wisdom in the speech of the town clerk; or more evidence in it of the wisdom of the city? Hear and judge: Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how, that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter? Gods made with hands, and the image which fell down from Jupiter, were as deserving of the worship of rational creatures as Jupiter, the supreme god himself. Homer who gives us the mythology of Greece would be disposed to clothe his chief divinity in as venerable a character as the ideas of his age and country