Page images

to do. His providence, instead of implying a divine energy diffused everywhere, and operating in every thing, is, at best, a sort of indefinite superintendence of his works, which may leave even man himself to become the sport of accident.

And the reason of this is, that the infidel in this respect forms his idea of God from looking into his own bosom: he finds there a spirit of abominable arrogance, which disdains every thing in which he cannot fancy something of greatness or majesty; and he attributes the same character to the object of his professed homage.

The Christian's God, on the other hand, not only fills all space, but fills it with an active and controlling energy. Like the God of the infidel, he has established general laws for the regulation of his empire ; but this does not supersede his unremitting vigilance, and care, and activity. He is present in all worlds to control the events of each ; and while the whole system of things moves on exactly in accordance with the dictates of his will and of his wisdom, his regards are as intensely fixed upon the destiny of the obscurest individual, or even upon the unfolding of a flower or the motion of an atom, as if it were the only object to engross his infinite mind. True it is his energy that wheels around the planets; that thunders in the storm ; that empties the volcano ; that blazes in the lightning; that breathes in the wind; but it is alike his energy that sustains the beating pulse of the humblest child of want, that keeps you in existence from hour to hour and moment to moment; that operates in every thing that presents itself to you either as an object of sense or of thought. As nothing is too grand, so nothing is too insignificant for his eye and his providence to reach. The worm that creeps upon his footstool, and the angel that burns before his throne, are alike within the range of his vision, within the control of his arm, within the circle of his regard. He is arrayed not only in the majesty of infinite wisdom and infinite power, but also in the majesty of infinite condescension.

3. The God of the infidel we can contemplate only in his abstract perfections : the attributes of the Christian's God are imbodied in the person of Jesus Christ.

There are two ways in which the infidel may form his conclusions in respect to the character of God. He may carefully inspect the elements of his own intellectual and moral nature, and may find in them some faint resemblance to some of the divine perfections. For instance, his idea of power or of knowledge is originally obtained by reflecting upon the operations of his own mind; and by indefinitely magnifying these qualities as they exist in himself, he attains to a conception of the omniscience and the omnipotence of God. Or else he looks abroad upon the divine works, and surveys their harmony, their grandeur, their adaptation to their various ends, and hence forms his opinion of the character of him who built and who preserves this stupendous fabric. Now I admit that all this is fair and legitimate argumentation ; and I do not deny that in either of these ways it is possible to arrive at just conclusions in respect to some of the divine perfections. But I maintain that the attributes of God, viewed merely in this light, are elothed with a sort of abstraction, which is fitted rather to make the mind pause and reflect upon its own littleness, than to bring its powers into exercise in acts of intense and grateful homage.

But Christianity entirely relieves this difficulty. The Christian's God comes out as it were from behind the veil of his abstract perfections, and brings himself directly in contact with our thoughts and feelings, I had almost said with our very senses, in the person of Jesus Christ. Here God is manifest in the flesh: the divine glory, as it shines in the face of his Son, is so softened, that we can gaze upon it without being overpowered by the vision. The actions of a God we can here view ; the attributes of a God we can here contemplate ; the authoritative declarations of a God we can here listen to, through the medium of a nature like our own. Oh, what condescension is here! Without diminishing aught from the majesty of the eternal and uncreated Spirit, Christianity brings that majesty, if I may be allowed the expression, within the immediate range of human vision ; for “ in Him,” that is, in Jesus Christ, says the apostle, “ dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.”

4. The God of the infidel is at best only the God of nature and providence : the God of the Christian is also the God of redemption.

To the former let as much of perfection be attributed as reason can possibly conceive : be it that the infidel's God has made the heavens and the earth; that all that is beautiful, and grand, and useful in creation is the work of his hand. Be it that He rules the worlds which he has made by a providence, no matter how particular; that by his immediate agency he circulates the vital fluid in your veins, and arranges the most minute circumstances of your condition, and takes cognizance of every thing that passes within his dominions—though this is attributing more to the infidel's God than the infidel would himself attribute to him—but surely this is all. It is not even claimed for Him that He is a redeeming God. If the fact that man is a sinner is contemplated at all in the plan of his government, it is contemplated only as a sort of accidental matter which requires no distinct provision.

The Christian's God possesses every perfection and performs every work which the infidel attributes to his God. He is the creator of the ends of the earth, and he fainteth not, neither is weary, in upholding all things by the word of his power; and there is not a sparrow that falls to the ground, nor a leaf that trembles in the breeze, but his providence extends to it. But in addition to all this, and beyond all this, he is the God of redemption. In this character he exhibits himself in the mysterious threefold relation of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In this character there is a new and more magnificent display of his attributes ; a softening of those which appeared stern, a blending of those which seemed opposite, justice and holiness and faithfulness and mercy, all beaming forth in man's salvation. Here, after all, is the grand distinction between the God of the infidel and the God of the Christian. The one is, and the other is not, encircled with the glory of a Redeemer. 'The one is, and the other is not, reconciling the world to himself by Jesus Christ.

II. Keeping this contrast of character in 'view, let us proceed to inquire whether the infidel's or the Christian's God is best adapted to exalt the character of man; and to meet his necessities.

1. Which is best adapted 10'exalt the human character ?

That we may come to a satisfactory conclusion on this point, let us see whether a belief in the one or the other is fitted to exert the greatest amount of influence.

That a belief in the Christian's God is the more influential is evident from the fact that He is a Being with whom man is brought into more immediate contact. Of two objects, other things being equal, that exerts the most powerful influence, which bears most directly upon our condition, which mingles itself most with our thoughts, and operates upon us most constantly, and meets us in the greatest variety of circumstances. But we have seen that the infidel's God is a being who takes comparatively little interest in human concerns ; that he is too lofty to condescend to the meaner affairs of this world, and is clothed with a degree of abstraction which seems to remove him almost beyond the range of human conceptions. We have seen, on the other hand, that the Christian's God meets him everywhere ; that He is the strict observer of all his actions; that he marks even the most secret feelings of his heart with reference to a retribution ; that in infinite condescension he manifests himself through the medium of man's own nature ; and that the whole scheme of his government in respect to redemption is fitted to keep the eye of man intensely fastened upon the character of God. Who then can doubt that a belief in the God of the Christian is the most operative ?

Then again, a belief in the Christian's God exerts the greatest amount of influence, because there is far more in his character to make an appeal to the actide principles of our nature. Take, for instance, the principle of gratitude, one of the most powersul principles of the human breast-how much more is there to waken this into exercise in the character of the Christian's God than of the God of the infidel! How much more has the former done than the latter, how much more is he doing every hour, especially as the God of redemption, for the benefit of man! Confidence too-another powerful principle of action—there is much more in the Christian's God to awaken this ; for not only does he confer greater present benefits than the other, but he has condescended to make the most glorious promises, and write them down, and even seal them with blood, and moreover fulfils them in the Christian's every-day experience. And even the principle of fear, the Christian's God appeals to with more success than the God of the infidel; for the awful attributes of his character come forth with more distinctness, and his threatenings are a matter of fearful and certain record, and even while he sits upon the throne of his mercy, He proclaims to every sinner that he is in danger of everlasting burnings. And the same is true of all the other active principles of man's nature: a belief in the God of the Bible is incalculably more sove. reign in its influence over them than a belief in the God of the infidel..

We arrive then, on two separate grounds, at the conclusion, that a belief in the Christian's God exerts the greatest amount of influence. But we all know that a cause may operate powerfully, and yet not benignly, upon the human character. It is necessary therefore, in order to establish the point we have in view, to show that the same belief exerts not only the greatest amount, but the noblest kind, of influence.

And that we may come at the truth on this point in a single word, let me ask you to bear in mind that from the very constitution of our nature, our characters become assimilated to the object of our supreme homage. The only question then is, if indeed it be a question, whether the infidel's God or the Christian's God is the more excellent and glorious ? If you doubt, then say whether you regard that Being the more glorious who has no certain character, or the Being whose character is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever? Whether is it more glorious to take a sort of general supervision of the works of his hands, leaving much to the caprice of accident, or to behold every thing with an eye of watchful regard, and to direct every thing by the dictates of infinite wisdom? Or is it more glorious to exist merely in the abstract perfections of his nature, or to exhibit his attributes in higher though softer majesty in the person of his Son? Or finally, is it more glorious to exist only as the Creator and the Ruler of the world, or also as its Redeemer; to put forth no effort for the salvation of man, or to make a new and loftier development of his character, and to exhibit a union of apparently opposite attributes in the combined grandeur and loveliness of a righteous and forgiving God? The Christian's God then does possess a more exalted character than the God of the infidel : it follows therefore, from the law of our nature to which we just adverted, that a belief in the former exerts the nobler influence.

Our first inquiry then is answered. If a belief in the God of the Christian exerts at once the greatest amount of influence, and the noblest kind of influence, we come fairly to the conclusion that it is best fitted to exalt the human character.

But I cannot dismiss this point without making an appeal to facts. Consult then the records of infidelity and the records of Christianity, or bring your own observation to testify on this subject, and tell me where you find the most of true moral dignity and excellence. I do not say that you cannot point me to a character which has been formed under the influence of a belief in the infidel's God, that is not entirely shorn of the naturally amiable qualities that belong to human nature; but I challenge you to point me to one, which, in the sober estimate of even the infidel's conscience, exhibits a high degree of moral virtue. You may now and then find a man of this description, who is inoffensive in his intercourse with his fellow-men, and whose character is not stained with open vice ; but never will you find one of lofty virtuous aspirations; never one whose actions are conformed to a high standard of moral excellence; and in the great majority of instances (I dare say it with all the records of infidelity spread out before me) you will find the infidel a selfish, grovelling, not to say a malignant being. He, on the other hand, who sincerely trusts and devoutly worships the Christian's God, exhibits a character which bears the genuine impress of moral worth. Not only the external actions, but the thoughts, the purposes, the feelings, the whole man rises up continually towards the perfection of virtue. Where will you find characters formed by faith in the infidel's God like those of Howard, and Wilberforce, and Thornton, and Edwards, and a multitude of others, whose names illumine the record of Christianity? Bring by the side of these the names of Paine, and Bolingbroke, and Rousseau, and the whole catalogue of their associates, and the infidel himself, if he has not bid adieu to shame as well as to virtue, must blush at the comparison.

2. Our second inquiry is, whether the God of the infidel or of the Christian is best adapted to meet man's necessities ?

Man needs a guide. His lot is cast in a world in which a variety of paths sometimes open before him, and he is at loss which of them either his duty or his safety requires that he should take. Some of these paths are thickly beset with snares, and he cannot enter them but at an incalculable hazard. There are opposite influences to which he is liable to yield, some of which may subserve his advantage, others conduce to his injury, and he is in danger of mistaking the one for the other. Hence he needs a faithful and infallible guide, whom he may consult with confidence in every variety of condition. Such a guide he cannot find in his fellow-man; for he is as weak and ignorant, and liable to mistake as himself. It can be no other than the Infinite God; and let me say, it is the Christian's God, and not the God of the infidel. For what encouragement is there to apply for direction to the latter? Where has he made a promise that he will hear the prayers which are directed to him for guidance and aid; and is there any thing in the character which is attributed to him, especially as concerning himself little with human affairs, to warrant the belief that he will listen to the supplications of mortals ? And let me ask whether the infidel himself does not feel this? Else how is it to be accounted for that infidels so rarely, if ever, pray; nay, that so many of them actually ridicule prayer as unnecessary and even absurd ?

But the Christian's God is as far removed from the God of the infidel, in this respect, as the east is from the west. Not only is there every thing in his character to encourage the hope that he will hear the prayers which are offered him in sincerity and faith, but there is a direct promise ;-a promise that he will grant his Spirit to guide his people into all truth, to preserve them from all error, to conduct them through difficulties, to resolve their doubts, and to give them confidence in the discharge of duty. This promise the Christian's God constantly fulfils, as every one who obeys and confides in him can testify. As you would not then abandon yourself to walk in perpetual darkness; as you would have a guide whom you may always consult without the possibility of being deceived, I would say, let this God be your God for ever and ever.

But man needs a protector as well as a guide ; for he is not only in a world of darkness but of danger. Innumerable evils encompass him about, and there is not an hour or a moment but that he is walking amid perils, and for aught he can tell, may be walking on the borders of destruction. In these eircumstances, he surely needs the guardianship of some superior Power. Will the infidel's God afford him the protection which he needs ? But he is little more than an indifferent spectator of human affairs ; and who has told you that he will concern himself with your condition at all? Does the infidel himself trust him? In seasons of calamity, when the world shows its dark side, and the heart is overhurdened with sorrow; above all, in the final wreck of his nature, when the spirit pants for protection such as the world cannot give, does he ever call upon his God for relief; and does his God ever appear for him, granting the relief and consolation which he needs? I can point you to many an instance in which the infidel, at such an hour, has turned away from the being to whom he has professedly given his homage, and made an agonizing effort to approach the Christian's God, but I ask you to point me to one in which he has even seemed to trust the infidel's God; much more to one in which he has trusted and found a refuge. The truth is, that at such a season, reason and conscience get the ascendency even in the infidel; and he is compelled to feel that to supplicate the being whom he is accustomed to call God for aid in these circumstances, were a mockery of his own wo. It were alike vain and absurd to fall upon his knees, and ask the special protection and favour of a Being, to whom he does not allow the exercise of a particular providence.

In the Christian's God, there is every thing to encourage confidence in him as a Protector. For his watchful care is universal and uninterrupted. His eye is everywhere, and his arm is irresistible. And while his providence is

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »