« PreviousContinue »
spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak, Matt. xxvi. 41. The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, Gal. v. 17. The Lord knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are but dust'! Psalm. ciii. 14. Shall we attempt to frustrate all the kind intentions of the holy Spirit, who makes us feel our frailty only for the sake of engaging us to watch and fortify ourselves against it? Believe me, the sentence pronounced by St. John will never be revoked by such frivolous excuses: but it will be always true that the fearful shall hare their part in the lake which burreth with fire and brimstone.
III. Let us attend to the third prejudice. Speculative errors cannot be attended with any fatal conséquences, provided we live uprightly, as it is called, and discharge our social duties. Nothing can be more specious than this pretence. Of all tyrannies, that, which is exercised over the mind is the most opposite to natural right. Fires and gibbets, racks and tortures may indeed force a man to disguise his ideas : but they can never change them. The violence of torments may indeed make hypocrites, but it never yet made good proselytes.
We not only affirm, that no human power can oblige us to consider a proposition as true, which we know to be false; but, we add, we ourselves have no such power over our own minds. It doth not depend on us to see, or not to see, a connection between two ideas; to assent to a truth, or not to assent to it. Evidence forces, demonstration carries us away:
Moreover, although God justly requires us to employ all the portion of genius, which he hath given us, in searching after truth, yet his equity will not allow, that we should not regard as evident
what the genius, which he hath given us, makes appear evident; and that we should not regard as false what the genius, which he hath given us, makes
If it should happen then, that a man, having exercised all the attention, and all the rectitude of which he is capable, in examining the most important questions of religion, cannot obtain evidence enough to determine his judgment; if what appears evident to others seem doubtful to him; if what seems demonstrative to them appear only probable to him; he cannot be justly condemned for unbelief. Consequently, what we have called a prejudice looks like the very essence of reason and truth; and this proposition, Speculative errors cannot be attended with any fatal consequences, ought to be admitted as a first principle.
My brethren, were it necessary to give our opinion of this article, we should boldly affirm, that the case just now proposed is impossible. We are fully persuaded, that it is not possible for a man, who hath a common share of sense, and who employs it all in examining, whether there be a God in heaven, or whether the scripture be a divine revelation, to continue in suspense on these important subjects. But our conviction affords us no proof to others. There are some truths which cannot be demonstrated ; and equity requires us to allege in a dispute only what is capable of demonstration. We confine ourselves to that class of unbelievers, whose infidelity of mind proceeds from depravity of heart, and we affirm, that they are included in the sentence denounced by our apostle, and deserve to suffer it in all its rigor. Now we have reason to form this judgment of an unbeliever, unless he observe all the following conditions, which we have never seen associated in any one person of this character.
1. He ought to have studied the great questions of religion with all the application, that the capacity of his mind, and the number of his talents could admit. These questions belong to subjects the most interesting. To examine them carelessly, to offer them only, if I may venture to speak so, to the surface of his mind, is a full proof of the depravity of his heart.
2. We require an unbeliever to enter upon the discussion of these truths with a determination to sacrifice to them not only his stronger prejudices, but also his most violent passions, and his dearest interests. If there be a God in heaven, if the christian religion be divine, all the plans of our love and hatred, sorrow and joy, ought to be regulated by these great truths. Every man who is not conscious of having examined them in such a disposition, and who hath obtained by his examination only doubts and uncertainties, hath reason to fear, that the emotions of his senses, and the suggestions of his passions have shackled, yea imprisoned the faculties of his mind.
3. We require an unbeliever, who, notwithstanding all these conditions, pretends to be convinced that the ideas of believers are imaginary, to shew at least some mortification on account of this 'affected discovery. Mankind have the highest reason to wish that the hopes excited by religion may be well grounded ; that we may be formed for eternity; that we may enjoy an endless felicity after death. If these be chimeras, behold man stripped of his most glorious privileges ! A person educated with other christians in the noble hope of immortality, and obtaining afterward proof that this hope is founded only in the fancies of enthusiasts ; a man rejoicing at this discovery; a man congratulating himself on having lost a treasure so rich; a person unaffected with the vanishing of such inestimable advantages; such a man, I say,
discovers an enormous depravity of heart.
4. We require an unbeliever to acknowledge, that religion hath at least some probability. Aman, who can maintain that the system of infide. lity is demonstrative; that this proposition, There is no God, is evident; that this other is incontestible, Religion hath not one character of divinity; a man who can maintain that a good philosopher ought not to retain in his mind the least doubt or uncertainty on these articles; that for his own part he hath arrived at mathematical demonstration; such a man, if he be not the most extravagant of mankind, is however, one of the most corrupt.
5. In fine, we require an unbeliever, on supposition that his system were probable; that the plan of religion were only probable; that had his a hundred degrees of probability, and our's only one degree; I say, we require this unbeliver to act as if our system was evidently true, and as if his was demonstratively false. If our system of faith be true, all-is hazarded when the life is directed by a system of infidelity : whereas nothing is hazarded if the life be regulated by religion, even supposing the system of religion groundless. An unbeliever, who is not ready to sacrifice his dearest passions even to a mere probability of the truth of the doctrine of a future life, gives full proof of the depravity of his heart.
Whether there be any one in the world, who in spite of these dispositions, can persuade himself, that religion hath no character of truth, we leave to the judgment of God: but as for those who sin against any of the rules just now mentioned (and how many reasons have we to conclude, that there are numbers of this character !) they are included
in the sentence of our apostle, and they deserve to feel its utmost rigor. The unbelieving shall have their part in the lake, which burneth with fire and brimstone.
IV. Let us advert to the fourth prejudice. Religions are indifferent. We will not go through the various sects of christianity, and decide these litigious questions, Which of these religions are compatible with salvation? Which of these religions are destructive of it? We will affirm only with our apostle, that Idolaters shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. We intend particularly to wipe off that imputation which the church of Rome constantly casts on our doctrine. Under pretence that we have never been willing to denounce a sentence of eternal damnation against members of the most impure sects, they affirm that, in our own opinion, people may be saved in their community, and this, they say, is one of the articles of our faith.
This is a sophism, which you have often heard attributed to a prince, who had united, as far as two such different things could be united, the qualities of a great king with those of a bad christian. Having a long time hesitated between the peaceable possession
of an earthly crown, and the steadfast hope of a heavenly crown, his historians tell us, he assembled some doctors of the Roman communion, and some of ours. He asked the first, Whether it were possible to be saved in the Protestant communion? They answered, no. He then asked the second, Whether it were possible to be saved in the Roman communion ? they replied, they durst not decide the question. On this, the prince reasoned in this manner. « The Roman catholic doctors assure me, there is no salvation in