« PreviousContinue »
require also. One thing in the Scripture account of a future state is new, the designation of the man Christ Jesus as Judge of the quick and dead: this is however liable to no objections on the part of natural religion, which requires not that God should do every thing immediately by himself; nor is it any impeachment of his authority: the Son acts by the Father's commission, who hath given all judgment to him: it makes no change in the nature of the judgment: we shall answer for nothing to Christ but what reason tells us we are accountable for. There is this difference between the Deist and the Christian believer : the latter has not only the same hopes of futurity, and in the same degree, which reason and reflexion can furnish ; but he has also the express promise and testimony of God, confirmed by his Son's resurrection. Suppose him mistaken, he stands on the same ground the other does : suppose his faith well established, he can give a better account of his hope. Thus the gospel has supplied the defect of natural religion on this momentous point: to the wisdom of this provision experience can bear witness : this point enlarged on. The resurrection indeed was a stupendous work; but the hand that performed it was greater. He who believes that God created men, cannot doubt his power to raise them from the grave. But allowing God to be omnipotent, still you say the resurrection, as a fact, requires proof; and proved it is by the concurrent testimony of eye-witnesses, who have given not only their words, but their lives in its confirmation : surely they were in earnest, when they embraced and taught the doctrine on such hard terms ; nor can any serious person disbelieve them. Did this article alter our notions of God or religion, and lay any new burden on us, then men might be careful how they admitted it : but as this is not the case, as it pretends only to establish and confirm the hopes of nature, why such scruples ? Admit it; our hopes are much improved; our duty nothing increased : reject it, our duty is the same, and our hopes much less. How kind a provision then has the gospel made for our weakness! and how powerfully has it supported the interest of true religion, by furnishing us with so plain and yet so strong a proof of a future state, and of a judgment to be executed in righteousness !
I THESSALONIANS, CHAP. 1.-VERSES 9. 10.
For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had
unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
In the verse before the text the Apostle tells the Thessalonians, that not only the word of the Lord had sounded out from them in Macedonia and Achaia, but their faith also towards God was spread abroad in every place; so that there is no occasion, adds the Apostle, for me to say any thing of the doctrines delivered by me, and received by you: the thing is well known, and notorious to all the world : • They themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you.'
It is evident from hence what notion the world entertained of the Christian religion, and the principal doctrines of it, in the earliest days. All who had heard of our Apostle's teaching, knew his business to be to turn men from idols to serve the living God, to give evidence of the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and to establish a certain expectation of his coming again with power and glory to judge the world. This common report St. Paul allows to be so just and adequate an account of his doctrine, as to leave no room to enlarge or correct it: 'In every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad ; so that we need not to speak any thing.'
If we consider this early account of the Christian religion, so universally received, and so well approved by the Apostle, we shall find it to consist of two principal parts: the first relating to the service owing to the living God; the second to
our faith in Christ, and our hope and expectation grounded on that faith.
Religion, considered under the notion of a service we owe to God, can be no other than natural religion, or true uncorrupted Deism. This was the old original religion of mankind, but had been so corrupted and abused, that there was hardly any sign of it left when our Saviour appeared in the world. However rightly some few might think, yet they found themselves obliged to follow the world, and practise with the vulgar. Not many attempted, and none succeeded in a reformation of the public religion. No antiquity affords an instance of any people, great or small, who served God on the principles of natural religion. The only general and effectual reformation of the world was brought about by the preaching of the gospel ; which revived and introduced the true ancient religion of nature, and prepared men for the reception of it; and has, by the additional supports of revelation, maintained it for many ages, and probably will maintain it to the end and consummation of all things.
These additional supports make the second great branch of Christian doctrine: they are revived on the authority of revelation, and stand on the evidence of external proofs. That we ought to turn from idols and serve the living God; that we ought to serve him in holiness and purity, in conforming ourselves to the example of his justice, equity, and goodness, are truths which every man may feel to be such, who has any reason or natural feeling about him: but that we have been delivered from the wrath to come by Jesus the Son of God; that God raised him from the dead, and hath appointed him to be judge both of the dead and of the living, are articles which no man's reason can suggest; which, when suggested, reason cannot receive on any internal evidence, but must take them on an authority sufficiently confirmed and established on external evidence.
This distinction, constantly attended to, will go a great way in showing us the true temper and genius of the Christian religion, and the end proposed by its divine author. Consider the gospel in its precepts and morality; and is there any doctrine advanced, any duty required, but what reason must admit and
approve, or which it can reject without doing violence to itself? Is there in this respect any objection against the Christian religion, but what is and must be equally an objection against all natural religion ? Consider the gospel with respect to its new doctrines, its articles of belief: you will find them all assigned to support and encourage true religion, and to preserve the world from falling again into that confusion of idolatry and superstition, which for many ages held it in darkness. This might be shown in the several particulars of the gospel dispensation : but I shall confine myself to those specified in the text.
St. Paul teaches us to wait for the Son of God from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.'
To wait for the Son of God from heaven,' signifies to continue with patience and well-doing, in expectation of the coming of our Saviour and Judge; which sense is completely expressed, Philip. iii. Brethren, be followers together of me,
, and mark them which walk so, as ye have us for an ensample —for our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.' The expectation of Christ coming to judge the world is
peculiar to Christians; and it is supported by the belief of the resurrection of Christ, that great and main point of faith which the Apostles were commissioned to teach and establish in the church of God: for which reason, when an Apostle was to be chosen in the room of Judas, the qualification required in the person to succeed was, that he should be one capable of bearing testimony of the resurrection of Christ. Take the account in St. Peter's own words: • Of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out amongst us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection : Acts i. 21. 22. And in the next chapter St. Peter, vindicating to the Jews the miraculous gift of tongues bestowed on the day of Pentecost,