Page images


when he thinks that the air, which assists, if we allow that the afflictions of good men respiration, conveys epidemical diseases, and are profitable to them, and that, in many imperceptible poisons; that aliments which cases, prosperity would be fatal to them: if nourish us are often our bane; that the ani- we grant, that the present is a transitory mals that serve us often turn savage against state, and that this momentary life will be us; when he observes the perfidiousness of succeeded by an immortal state; if we recolsociety, the mutual industry of mankind in lect the many similar truths which the gospel tormenting each other; the arts which they abundantly declares; can we find, in human invent deprive one another of life; when miseries, and in the necessity of dying, objec he attempts to reckon up the innumerable tions against the goodness of the Creator? maladies that consume us; when he considers Do the prosperities of bad men, and the death, which bows the loftiest heads, dissolves adversities of the good, confuse our ideas the firmest cements, and subverts the best of God? With the principles of the gospel founded fortunes: when he makes these re- I can remove all the difficulties which these flections, he will be apt to doubt, whether different conditions produce in the mind of be goodness, or the contrary attribute, that the disciple of natural religion. If the prininclines the Author of our being to give us ciples of the gospel be admitted, if we be existence. When the disciple of natural reli- persuaded that the tyrant, whose prosperity gion reads those reverses of fortune of which astonishes us, fulfils the counsel of God; if history furnishes a great many examples; ecclesiastical history assures us that Herods when he sees tyrants fall from a pinnacle of and Pilates themselves contributed to the esgrandeur; wicked men often punished by tablishment of that very Christianity which their own wickedness; the avaricious pun- they meant to destroy; especially, if we adished by the objects of their avarice; the am- mit a state of future rewards and punishbitious by those of their ambition; the volup-ments; can the obscurity in which Provituous by those of their voluptuousness; when dence has been pleased to wrap up some of he perceives that the laws of virtue are so its designs, raise doubts about the justice of essential to public happiness, that without the Creator? them society would become a banditti, at least, that society is more or less happy or miserable, according to its looser or closer attachment to virtue; when he considers all these cases, he will probably conclude, that the Author of this universe is a just and holy Being. But, when he sees tyranny establish- II. Let us consider these two disciples exed, vice enthroned, humility in confusion, amining the nature of man and endeavourpride wearing a crown, and love to holiness ing to know themselves. The disciple of nasometimes exposing people to many and in-tural religion cannot know mankind: he cantolerable calamities; he will not be able to not perfectly understand the nature, the oblijustify God, amidst the darkness in which his gations, the duration of man. equity is involved in the government of the world.

In regard then to the first object of contemplation, the perfection of the nature of God, revealed religion is infinitely superior to natural religion; the disciple of the first religion is infinitely wiser than the pupil of the last.

But, of all these mysteries, can one be proposed which the gospel does not unfold; or, at least, is there one on which it does not give us some principles which are sufficient to conciliate it with the perfections of the Creator, how opposite soever it may seem?

1. The disciple of natural religion can ouly imperfectly know the nature of man, the difference of the two substances of which he is composed. His reason, indeed, may speculate the matter, and he may perceive that there is no relation between motion and thought, between the dissolution of a few fibres and violent sensations, of pain, between an agitation of humours and profound reflections; he may infer from two different ef fects, that there ought to be two different causes, a cause of motion, and a cause of sensation, a cause of agitating humours, and cause of reflecting, that there is a body, and that there is a spirit.

Do the disorders of the world puzzle the disciple of natural religion, and produce difficulties in his mind? With the principles of the gospel I can solve them all. When it is remembered, that this world has been defiled by the sin of man, and that he is there-a fore an object of divine displeasure; when the principle is admitted, that the world is But, in my opinion, those philosophers, not now what it was when it came out of who are best acquainted with the nature of the hands of God; and that, in comparison man, cannot account for two difficulties, with its pristine state, it is only a heap of that are proposed to them, when, on the ruins,the truly magnificent, but actually ruin- mere principles of reason, they aflirm, that ous heap of an edifice of incomparable beau- man is composed of the two substances of ty, the rubbish of which is far more proper matter and mind. I ask, first, Do you so to excite our grief for the loss of its pri- well understand matter, are your ideas of it mitive grandeur, than to suit our present so complete, that you can affirm, for certain, wants. When these reflections are made, it is capable of nothing more than this, or can we find any objections, in the disorders of that? Are you sure it implies a contradic the world, against the wisdom of our Creator?tion to affirm, it has one property which has

Are the miseries of man, and is the fatal escaped your observation? and, consequently, necessity of death, in contemplation? With can you actually demonstrate, that the esthe principles of the gospel I solve the diffi-sence of matter is incompatible with thought? culties which these sad objects produce in the Since, when you cannot discover the union mind of the disciple of natural religion. If of an attribute with a subject, you instantly the principles of Christianity be admitted, conclude, that two attributes, which seem to

[ocr errors]

you to have no relation, suppose two different, subjects: and, since you conclude, that extention and thought compose two different subjects, body and soul, because you can discover no natural relation between extent and thought if I discover a third artribute, which appears to me entirely unconnected with both extent and thought, I shall have a right, in my turn, to admit three subjects in man; matter, which is the subject of extent: mind, which is the subject of thought; and a third subject, which belongs to the attribute that seems to me to have no relation to either matter or mind. Now I do know such an attribute; but I do not know to which of your two subjects I ought to refer it: I mean sensation. I find it in my nature, and I experience it every hour; but I am altogether at a loss whether I ought to attribute it to body or to spirit. I perceive no more natural and necessary relation between sensation and motion, than between sensation and thought. There are, then, on your principle, three substances in man: one the substratum, which is the subject of extension; another, which is the subject of thought; and a third, which is the subject of sensation: or rather, I suspect there is only one substance in man, which is known to me very imperfectly, to which all these attributes belong, and which are united together, although I am not able to discover their relation.


Revealed religion removes these difficulties, and decides the question. It tells us that there are two beings in man, and, if I my express myself so, two different men, theaterial man, and the immaterial man. The Scriptures speak on these principles thus The dust shall return to the earth as this is the material man: The spirshall return to God who gave it,' Eccl. ii. 7; this is the immaterial man. Fear not them which kill the body,' that is to say, the material man: 'fear him which is able destroy the soul, Matt. x. 28, that is the immaterial man. We are willing to be absent from the body,' that is, from the material man; and to be present with the Lord,' 2 Cor. v. 8, that is to say, to have the immaterial man disembodied. They stoned Stephen,' that is, the material man: calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,' Acts vii. 59, that is to say, receive the immaterial man.

2. The disciple of natural religion can obtain only an imperfect knowledge of the obligations, or duties of man. Natural religion may indeed conduct him to a certain point, and tell him that he ought to love his benefactor, and various similar maxims. But is natural religion, think you, sufficient to account for that contrariety, of which every man is conscious, that opposition between inclination and obligation? A very solid argument, I grant, in favour of moral rectitude, arises from observing, that to whatever degree a man may carry his sin, whatever efforts he may make to eradicate those seeds of virtue from his heart which nature has sown there, he cannot forbear venerating virtue, and recoiling at vice. This is certainly a proof that

the Author of our being meant to forbid vice, and to enjoin virtue. But is there no room for complaint? Is there nothing specious in the following objections? As, in spite of all my endeavours to destroy virtuous dispositions, I cannot help respecting virtue; you infer, that the Author of my being intended I should be virtuous: so, as in spite of all my endeavoura to eradicate vice, I cannot help loving vice, have I not reason for inferring, in my turn, that the Author of my being designed I should be vicious; or, at least, that he cannot justly impute guilt to me for performing those actions which proceed from some principles that were born with me? Is there no show of reason in this famous sophism? Reconcile the God of nature with the God of religion. Explain how the God of religion can forbid what the God of nature inspires; and how he who follows those dictates, which the God of nature inspires, can be punished for so doing by the God of religion.

The gospel unfolds this mystery. It attributes this seed of corruption to the depravity of nature. It attributes the respect we feel for virtue to the remains of the image of God in which we were formed, and which can never be entirely effaced. Because we were born in sin, the gospel concludes that we ought to apply all our attentive endeavours to eradicate the seeds of corruption. And, because the image of the Creator is partly erased from our hearts, the gospel concludes that we ought to give ourselves wholly to the retracing of it, and so to answer the excellence of our extraction.

3. A disciple of natural religion can obtain only an imperfect knowledge of the duration of man, whether his soul be immortal, or whether it be involved in the ruin of matter. Reason, I allow, advances some solid arguments in proof of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. For what necessity is there for supposing that the soul, which is a spiritual, indivisible, and immaterial being, that constitutes a whole, and is a distinct being, although united to a portion of matter, should cease to exist when its union with the body is dissolved? A positive act of the Creator is necessary to the annihilation of a substance. The annihilating of a being that subsists, requires an act of power similar to that which gave it existence at first. Now, far from having any ground to believe that God will cause his power to intervene to annihilate our souls, every thing that we know persuades us, that he himself has engraven characters of immortality on them, and that he will preserve them for ever. Enter into thy heart, frail creature! see, feel, consider those grand ideas, those immortal designs, that thirst for existing, which a thousand ages cannot quench, and in these lines and points behold the finger of the Creator writing a promise of immortality to thee. But, how solid soever these arguments may be, however evident in themselves, and striking to a philosopher, they are objectionable, because they are not popular, but above vulgar minds, to whom the bare terms, spirituality and existence, are entirely barbarous, and convey no meaning at all.



deniable proof of the truth of my assertion is
his eagerness in publishing and propagating
infidelity. Now this can proceed from no-
thing but from a principle of vainglory. For
why should his opinion be spread? For our
parts, when we publish our systems, whether
we publish truth or error, we have weighty
reasons for publication. Our duty, we think,
engages us to propagate what we believe. In
our opinion, they who are ignorant of our
doctrine are doomed to endless misery. Is
not this sufficient to make us lift up our
voices? But you, who believe neither God,
nor judgment, nor heaven, nor hell; what
madness inspires you to publish your senti-
ments? It is, say you, a desire of freeing so-
ciety from the slavery that religion imposes
on them. Miserable freedom! a freedom
from imaginary errors, that plunges us into
an ocean of real miseries, that saps all the
bases of society, that sows divisions in fami
lies, and excites rebellions in states; that de-
prives virtue of all its motives, all its induce-
ments, all its supports. And what, pray, but
religion, can comfort us under the sad catas-
trophes to which all are subject, and from
which the highest human grandeur is not
exempt? What, but religion, can conciliate
our minds to the numberless afflictions which
necessarily attend human frailty? Can any
thing but religion calm our consciences under
their agitations and troubles? Above all,
what can relieve us in dying illnesses, when
lying on a sick-bed between present and real
evils, and the frightful gloom of a dark futu-
rity? Ah! if religion, which produces such
real effects, be a deception, leave me in pos-
session of my deception; I desire to be de-
ceived, and I take him for my most cruel
enemy who offers to open my eyes.

This is a natural image of a passionate infidel. Passion blinds him to the most evident truths. It is impossible to convince a man, who is determined not to be convinced. One disposition, essential to the knowing of truth, is a sincere love to it: The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him,' Ps. xxv. 14. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself,' John vii. 17. This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil,' chap. iii. 19. 5. We come, finally, to the philosophical infidel; to him, who, if we believe him, is neither blinded by prejudices, nor prevented by negligence, nor infatuated by his imagination, nor beguiled by irregular passions. Hear him. He assures you the only wish, that animates him, is that of knowing the truth, and that he is resolved to obey it, find it where he will: but after he has agitated a thousand questions, after he has undertaken a thousand investigations, and consulted a thousand volumes, he has found nothing satisfactory in proof of Christianity; in short, he says he is an unbeliever only because he cannot meet with any motives of belief. Can it be said to such a man, neither wilt thou be persuaded though one rose from thedead?'


But let us give a more direct answer. You are a philosopher. You have examined religion. You find nothing that convinces you. Difficulties and doubts arise from every part; the prophecies are obscure; the doctrines are contradictory; the precepts are ambigu ous; the miracles are uncertain. You require some new prodigy, and, in order to your full persuasion of the truth of immortality, you

We will reply presently. But allow us
first to ask a previous question. Are there
any infidels of this kind? Is the man, whom
we have described, a real, or an imaginary
being? What a question! say you. What!
can a man, who devotes his whole life to
meditation and study, a man, who has search-
ed all the writings of antiquity, who has dis-
entangled and elucidated the most dark and
difficult passages, who has racked his inven-
tion to find solutions and proofs, who is nour-
ished and kept alive, if the expression may be
used, with the discovery of truth; a man, be-
sides, who seems to have renounced the
company of the living, and has not the least
relish for even the innocent pleasures of so-lieve the very evidence which you require.
ciety, so far is he from running into the gross. Let us confine ourselves to some one article
est diversions; can such a man be supposed to convince you; suppose the resurrection of
to be an unbeliever for any other reason than Jesus Christ. The apostles bore witness
because he thinks it his duty to be so? Can that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. This is
any, but rational motives, induce him to dis our argument. To you it appears jejune and
futile, and your undetermined mind floats be-
tween two opinions; either the apostles, you
think, were deceived; or they deceived others.
These are your objections. Now, if either of
these objections be well grounded, I affirm
you ought not to believe though one rose
from the dead' to persuade you.

wish some one would come from the dead
and attest it. I answer, if you reason conse
quentially, the motive would be useless, and,
having resisted ordinary proofs, you ought, if
you reason consequentially, to refuse to be.

The apostles were deceived you say. But
this objection, if well-grounded, lies against
not only one, but twelve apostles; not only
against twelve apostles, but against more
than five hundred brethren not only
against more than five hundred brethren, 1

living among you, speaks in favour of Jesus Christ; Lazarus must be made away with; he must be a second time laid in the tomb; all the traces of the glory of Jesus Christ must be taken away; and that light which is already too clear, and which will hereafter be still clearer, must be extinguished lest it should discover, expose, and perplex us.

Undoubtedly; and it would discover but little knowledge of the human heart, were we to imagine, either that such an infidel was under the dominion of gross sensual passions, or that he was free from the government of other, and more refined passions. A desire of being distinguished, a love of fame, the glory of passing for a superior genius, for one who has freed himself from vulgar errors; these are, in general, powerful and vigorous passions, and these are usually the grand springs of a pretended philosophical infidelity. One un

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Cor. xv. 6, but against all who attested the miracles wrought in favour of the resurrection of Christ: all these persons, who in other cases were rational, must have been insane, had they thought they had seen what they had not seen, heard what they had not heard, conversed with a man with whom they had not conversed, wrought miracles which they had not wrought. They must be supposed to have persisted in these extravagances, not only for an hour, or a day, but for forty days, yea, for the whole course of their lives. Now, I demand, since an illusion produced a persuasion so clear and full, how could you assure yourself that you was not deceived in examining that new evidence which you require? If so many different persons may be justly taxed with absence of mind, or insanity, what assurance would you have that you was not thrown into a disordered state of mind at the sight of an apparation?

Let us reason in a similar manner on your second supposition. If the apostles were impostors, there must have been in the world men so contrary to all the rest of their species, as to suffer imprisonment, punishment, and death, for the support of à falsehood. This absurdity must have intoxicated not only one person, but all the thousands who sealed the gospel with their blood. The apostles must have been destitute of every degree of common sense, if intending to deceive the world, they had acted in a manner the least likely of any to abuse it; marking places, times, witnesses, and all other circumstances, the most proper to discover their imposture. Moreover, their enemies must have conspired with them in the illusion. Jews, Gentiles, and Christians, divided on every other article, must have all agreed in this, because no one ever confuted: What am I saying? No one ever accused our sacred authors of imposture, although nothing could have been easier, if they had been impostors. In one word,a thousand strange suppositions must be made. But I demand again, if those suppositions have any likelihood, if God have given to falsehood so many characters of truth, if Satan be allowed to act his part so dexterously to seduce us, how can you assure yourself that God will not permit the father of falsehood to seduce you also by an apparition? How could you assure yourself afterward that he had not done it? Let us conclude, then, in regard to unbelievers of every kind, that if the ordinary means of grace be inadequate to the production of faith, extraordinary prodigies would be so too.

Let us proceed now, in brief, to prove, that motives to virtue are sufficient to induce men to be virtuous, as we have proved that motives of credibility are sufficient to confound the objections of infidels.

We believe, say you, the truths of religion: but a thousand snares are set for our innocence, and we are betrayed into immorality and guilt. Our minds seduce us. Examples hurry us away. The propensities of our own hearts pervert us. A new miracle would awake us from our indolence, and would reanimate our zeal. We have two things to


1. We deny the effect which you expect from this apparition. This miracle will be

wrought either seldom, or frequently. If it were wrought every day, it would, on that very account, lose all its efficacy; and as the Israelites, through a long habit of seeing miracles, were familiarized to them till they received no impressions from them, so it would be with you. One while they saw waters turned into blood,' another they beheld the first-born of Egypt smitten;' now the sea divided to open a passage for them, and then the heavens rained bread, and rivers flowed from a rock; yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies,' Ps. lxxviii. 44. 51. 56. You yourselves every day see the heavens and the earth, the works of nature, and the properties of its elementary parts, a rich variety of divine workmanship, which, by proving the existence of the Creator, demand the homage that you ought to render to him; and as you see them without emotions of virtue, so would you harden your hearts against the remonstrances of the dead, were they frequently to rise, and exhort you to repentance.


Were the miracle wrought now and then, what you experience on other occasions would infallibly come to pass on this. You would be affected for a moment, but the impressions would wear off, and you would fall back into your former sins. The proofs of this conjecture are seen every day. People who have been often touched and penetrated at the sight of certain objects, have as often returned to their old habits when the power of the charm has abated. Have you never read the heart of an old miser at the funeral of one of his own age? Methinks I hear the old man's soliloquy: 'I am full fourscore years of age, I have outlived the time which God usually allots to mankind, and I am now a pall-bearer at a funeral. The melancholy torches are lighted; the attendants are all in mourning, the grave yawns for its prey. For whom is all this funeral pomp? What part am I acting in this tragedy? Shall ever attend another funeral, or is my own already preparing? Alas! if a few remains of life and motion tell me I live, the burying of my old friend assures me I must soon die. The wrinkles which disfigure my face; the weight of years that makes me stoop; the infirmities which impair my strength; the tottering of my enfeebled carcase; all second the voice of my deceased friend, and warn me of my approaching dissolution. Yet, what am I about? I am building houses, I am amassing money, I am pleasing myself with the hopes of adding to my capital this year, and of in. creasing my income the next. O fatal blindness! folly of a heart, which avarice has rendered insatiable! Henceforth I will think only about dying. I will go and order my funeral, put on my shroud, lie in my coffin, and render myself insensible to every care except that of dying the death of the righteous,' Numb. xxiii. 10. Thus talks the old man to himself, as he goes to the grave, and you think, perhaps, his life will resemble his reflections, and that he is going to become charitable, liberal, and disinterested. No, no, all his reflections will vanish with the objects that produced them, and as soon as he returns from the funeral, he will forget he is morta'.


In like manner, the return of one from theating than the most violent agonies here, dead would perbaps affect you on the spot; worse than the gout and the stone, less toleyou would make many fine reflections, and rable than the sufferings of a galley-slave, form a thousand new resolutions: but, when the breaking of a criminal on the wheel, or the phantom had disappeared, your depravi- the tearing asunder of a martyr with red-hot ty would take its old course, and all your re- pincers of iron. I believe these things; and flections would evaporate. This is our first I am, I know, in the case of them, against whom these punishments are denounced: freedom from all these is set before me, and I may, if I will, avoid the bottomless abyss,' Rev. ix. 1, but, no matter, I will precipitate myself headlong into the horrible gulf. A small pittance of reputation, a very little glory, an inconsiderable sum of money, a few empty and deceitful pleasures, will serve to conceal those perils, the bare ideas of which would terrify my imagination, and subvert my designs. Devouring worm! chains of darkness! everlasting burnings! infernal spirits! fire! sulphur! smoke! remorse! rage! madness! despair! idea, frightful, idea of a thousand years, of ten thousand years, of ten millions of years, of endless revolutions of absorbing eternity! You shall make no impressions on my mind. It shall be my fortitude to dare you, my glory to affront you.'

Thus reasons the sinner who believes, but who lives in impenitence. This is the heart that wants a new miracle to affect it. But, I demand, can you conceive any prodigy that can soften a soul so hard? I ask, If so many motives be useless, can you conceive any others more effectual? Would you have God attempt to gain an ascendancy over you by means more influential? Would you have him give you more than immortality, more than his Son, more than heaven? Would you have him present objects to you more frightful than hell and eternity?

We know what you will reply. You will say, We talk fancifully, and light with shadows of our own creation. If the sinner, say you, would but think of these things, they would certainly convert him; but he forgets them, and therefore he is more to be pitied for his distraction, than to be blamed for his insensibility. Were a person to rise from the dead, to recall, and to fix his attention, he would awake from his stupor. Idle sophism! As if distraction, amidst numberless objects that demand his attention, were not the highest degree of insensibility itself. But why do I speak of distraction? I have now be fore me clear, full, and decisive evidence, that even while sinners have all those objects in full view, they derive no sanctifying influence from them. Yes, I have made the experiment, and consequently my evidence is undeniable. I see that all the motives of love, fear, and horror, united, are too weak to con vert one obstinate sinner. My evidences, my brethren, will you believe it? are your selves. Contradict me, refute me. Am I not now presenting all these motives to you? Do not speak of distraction, for I look at you, and you hear me. I present all these motives to you: this God, the witness, and judge of your hearts; these treasures of mercy, which he opens in your favour; this Jesus, who. amid the most excruciating agonies, expired for you. To you we open the kingdom of heaven, and draw back all the veils that hide futurity from you. To you, to you we present


2. We add, secondly. A man persuaded of the divinity of religion, a man who, notwithstanding that persuasion, persists in impenitence, a man of this character has carried obduracy to so high a pitch, that it is not conceivable any new motives would alter him. He is already so guilty, that far from having any right to demand extraordinary means, he ought rather to expect to be deprived of the ordinary means, which he has both received and resisted. Let us dive into the conscience of this sinner; let us for a moment fathom the depth of the human heart; let us hear his detestable purposes. I believe the truth of religion; I believe there is a God: God, I believe, sees all my actions, and from his penetration none of my thoughts are hid; I believe he holds the thunder in his hand, and one act of his will is sufficient to strike me dead; I believe these truths, and they are so solemn, that I ought to be influenced to my duty by them. However, it does not signify, I will sin, although I am in his immediate presence; I will provoke the Lord to jealousy,' as if I were stronger than he,' 1 Cor. x. 22, and the sword that hangs over my head, and hangs only by a single thread, shall convey no terror into my mind. I be lieve the truth of religion; God has for me, I think, 6 love which passeth knowledge; I believe he gave me my existence, and to him I owe my hands, my eyes, my motion, my life, my light; moreover, I believe he gave me his Son, his blood, his tenderest mercy and love. All these affecting objects ought indeed to change my heart, to make me blush for my ingratitude, and to induce me to render him love for love, life for life. But no; I will resist all these innumerable motives, I will affront my benefactor, I will wound that heart that is filled with pity for me, I will crucify the Lord of glory afresh,' Heb. vi. 6. If his love trouble me, I will forget it. If my conscience reproach me, I will stifle it, and sin with boldness. I believe the truth of religion; there is, I believe, a heaven, of God in which there is a fulness a presence of joy and pleasure for evermore,' Ps. xvi. 2. The idea of felicity consummate in glory ought, I must own, to make me superior to worldly pleasures, and I ought to prefer the fountain of living waters before my own 'broken cisterns that can hold no water,' Jer. ii. 13, but it does not signify, I will sacrifice the things that are not seen to the things that are seen,' 2 Cor. iv. 18, the glorious delights of virtue to the pleasures of sin,' and the exceeding and eternal weight of glory,' Heb. xi. 25; 2 Cor. iv. 17, to momentary temporal pursuits. I believe the truth of religion; there is, I believe, a hell for the impenitent, there are chains of darkness, a worm that dieth not, a fire that is never quenched,' 2 Pet. ii. 4; Mark ix. 44. In hell, believe, there are pains far more excruci



« PreviousContinue »