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They constitute, in fact, a moral probation, a discipline to try the spirits of men, whether they have such a docility and love of truth, as to receive a religion on satisfactory, though not, in a strict sense, irresistible evidence; and then, having obeyed the gospel, they will be in a situation to receive those higher and purer sources of conviction which spring from the abundant spiritual blessings conveyed to the heart.
It is thus the Psalmist records the divine statute: “ The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way."* It is thus the wise man divides the characters and success of students:“ The scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not; but knowledge is easy to him that understandeth.”+ It was on this footing our Saviour proposed the proof of his divine mission: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.”! And in like manner the apostles, after proving, by ali reasonable evidences, their sacred authority, thus address the obdurate : “Beware lest that come upon you which is spoken of in the Prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish, for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.”'S
I am aware that it may be said, that by this course of reasoning I am undermining the very foundations of the unbeliever's fabric. I avow it; and I appeal to the reason and conscience of men, whether that edifice can be secure which sinks before such an assault. I appeal to the common sense of mankind, whether that system with respect to religion is likely to be true, which cannot bear the trial of calm, unbiased inquiry. I appeal to the honest judgment of every hearer, whether what I have been requiring is in fact any concession whatever, except upon the supposition of Deism being opposed to the meekness, seriousness of mind, spirit of prayer, and purity of morals, which it professes to cultivate.—Did I say, professes to cultivate? I retract that expression; for scepticism, after all its boasts of its admissions as to natural religion, knows little of meekness and lowliness of heart, proceeds on the assumption of the sufficiency of human reason, seldom even pretends to piety—and betrays by these very defects its origin and the wrong temper by which it is actuated.
* Psalm xxv. 9.
John vii. 17.
1 Proy. xiv. 6. & Acts xiii. 40, 41.
In fact, Unbelief condemns herself, if she can be onee calmly considered. She may make some way, if her spirit and temper be overlooked, and her objections and cavils and loud claims to a higher exercise of intellect, be first listened to. But view her in the temper which she breathes, and you see at once, before you enter upon her particular arguments, the brand of error upon her forehead; you see in the resistance to all evidence, and in the scorn and levity which mingle with her reasonings, in the impiety and even atheism which disgrace her doctrines, and in the vice which is excused, defended, inculcated in her code of morals, the undeniable proofs and evidences of a bad cause.
And most unfavorable for the Christian argument has been the neglect of this capital point. A consideration of the spirit and temper in which unbelievers conduct their inquiry, should never have been separated from a consideration of their particular objections. We should have exhibited to the young the obvious want of a right temper of mind in those who doubt of revelation, as the key to their scepticism. We have received the statements of unbelievers with too much indulgence; we have paid too many compliments, and made too great concessions to the adversaries of the Christian faith. We have relied too much on the irrefragable historical evidences of our religion, and have forgotten to insist on the temper of mind in which they should be studied, and without which, the strongest external evidences fail to persuade, whilst the internal are incapable of being appreciated. We have failed to urge, in the first place, and upon all persons, the docility and seriousness and practical desire to know the will of God, which alone can make any religious inquiry successful. Nor have we sufficiently held up as a just warning to mankind, the fearful obduracy and want of moral principle, which too eommonly animate the opponents of revelation.
If there were, indeed, generally amongst the ranks of unbelievers a manifest spirit of piety and subjection to God, something like what natural religion professes to enjoin-if there were a prevailing earnestness to know the will of Godif there were a pain and grief of heart under the unwilling pressure of molesting fears—if we saw these men, as Pascal remarks, "groaning sincerely under their doubts, regarding them as their greatest misfortune, sparing no pains in order to be freed from them, and making it their principal and most
serious occupation to search for truth,”* then, indeed, we should feel a sincere respect and concern for them.
But their negligence and indifference, their pride and levity, their disregard of the dictates of natural conscience and of the spirit of prayer, in the very outset of their inquiries, save us the trouble of further examination, and explain to us at once the chief phenomena of their state. There seems, in the divine providence, a beacon erected on the confines of scepticism, to warn the traveller of the dangers before him. But I must conclude,
I. Are there, then, any now in this sacred temple, in danger of being shaken in their faith? Are there any who are almost bewildered at times with the sophistry of the wicked? Are there those who are cast by circumstances into the society, and exposed to the arts, of the unbelieving? Are there any whose peculiar character of mind leads them to doubt and hesitate upon every great subject, and therefore on the subject of the Christian argument, and who in the moments of temptation are harassed by suspicions and fears ? Let me entreat them to follow the main principle of this discourse, and calmly ask themselves, What is the temper of mind in which unbelievers treat the most momentous subject that can be brought before a dying and accountable creature? Let them not plunge into particular disputations; let them just ask the previous question, Are unbelievers entering the kingdom of heaven as little children? Do they even pretend to do it? Do they not object to the demand? And if this be so, is it possible for them to have attained to truth?
I may go further, and urge those before me who are in danger of being seduced by the scoffer, to consider what is their own temper of mind when they are most disposed to listen to such suggestions. Is it not, young man, when you are living without prayer, without teachableness of heart, without purity of conduct, without practical concern for religion, that these objections have the greatest weight with you? Whereas when you were modest and unassuming and devout and virtuous, (that is, when you were in a right temper mind,) you disregarded the flimsy sophistry of the ungodly. Stop, then, in your career.
You have been listening to other teachers than reason and true wisdom ; you are in
* Pensées 2de Partie, Art. 2.
danger of being drawn still further aside from the paths of salvation. Stop ere you have hardened your neck, and there be no remedy. Stop ere God give you up to your own devices. Let me remind you that at the last day you must give an account of the temper of heart in which you have inquired into Christianity, as well as of every other part of your conduct. There are sins of the mind, as well as of the appetites and passions. Flatter not yourselves by saying that conviction is not in your own power, that if arguments fail to persuade, you are free from any further obligation, that you are not accountable for your belief. For the question then will be, not only whether you were convinced of the truth of Christianity, but whether you might have been tonvinced, had you cultivated from the first a right state of mind. The question then will be, not only whether you entertained doubts about the Christian religion, but whether you took the only practical way of removing them, by purifying your life, and approaching the subject of revelation in a meek and lowly mind. The question at that last dread tribunal will be, whether you acted up to the light you possessed, or might have possessed; or whether, on the contrary, trifling with religion, violating conscience, and provoking the judicial anger of Almighty God, you brought on yourself that obduracy which no arguments could reach, nor persuasions move.
Come, then, and hear, with a sincere love of truth, the instructions which are designed to save you from these fearful consequences of unbelief. Follow the course of argument which will be developed in the succeeding lectures, with a desire to yield yourselves to the voice of mercy, and with the courage to follow it and bear its yoke. Go from this sacred assembly disposed to suspect, not merely your own reasonings and those of the scoffer, but the temper of mind from which they proceed, and which gives audience to them.
It is, perhaps, to the affectionate warning which I am now giving you, that Providence, which hides its mysterious ways under the veil of human means, has attached your salvation. Perhaps the divine grace has waited for this or that heedless youth till to-day, to give him one more call to repentance. Perhaps truth and conscience are now casting a light into some minds which levity and vice have been long blinding. And why, then, should not the heavenly doctrine gain a victory over you ? If it shine before you, turn not from it. If it seek you, flee it not. It is for your good that it wishes to
triumph. If once admitted in a humble heart, it will make its own way and plead victoriously its own cause.
II. And as to you, the far larger class of my young hearers, who, through the singular mercy of God, are uninfected with the poison of unbelief, approach ye to the considerations we shall offer on the grounds of your faith, in the spirit enjoined in the text. Enter the kingdom of heaven as little children. Examine the foundations of that religion in which you have been instructed, with the docility, the seriousness, the spirit of prayer, and the practical desire to do the will of God, which I have been enforcing. So shall every step in your progress confirm your faith and deepen your impression of the infinite importance of the Christian doctrine, as well as unfold to you its characteristic blessings. Your gratitude shall thus be increased to Almighty God for the abundant means he has given you of ascertaining what is the revelation of his will. You shall go forth into life well-grounded in your religious belief, and furnished with an actual experience of its benefits, which will set you above the reach of scepticism, and make the research of historical testimonies less necessary. And thus shall you transmit to your children the inheritance of Christianity, together with the temper in which you learned to examine and defend it.
III. Finally, let us all imbibe more of this meek and docile spirit.
The same temper which prepares us at first for weighing the Christian evidences, prepares us afterwards for receiving aright all the truths of which Christianity consists. We need, every day we live, to become as little children, to renounce pride and self-conceit, to submit to prayer, to purify our hearts from polluted affections, and to receive without gainsaying, and in singleness of mind, all the words of the Holy Scriptures, in order that we may enter more into the truth of our fallen state, into the doctrine of the redemption of man by the Son of God, and into the nature of that spiritual life which is implanted and nourished by the Holy Ghost. Docility makes way for knowledge, promotes love, opens the road to all the beneficent pursuits of piety and obedience. It is by a child-like temper we best adorn the divine religion