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upon a moral and religious subject is impossible.
The characteristics of this temper are docility, seriousness, prayer, obedience — points which natural religion professes to enjoin, and which are therefore held in common by all with whom I am now concerned, and especially by the young Christian.
By docility I mean an aptitude to receive instruction, a readiness to enquire after the truth of Christianity, a mind not averse from the subject, a willingness to weigh arguments with impartiality, and follow truth with boldness and singleness of heart. Such a noble temper as this appeared in the Beræans, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, (and I quote this and other passages now, merely to explain my meaning,) that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.'
But to docility must be added SERIOUSNESS; the attention and earnestness of a mind aroused to some sense of the importance of the enquiry, recollecting the consequences which depend on the question of the truth of Christianity, filled with reverence for the holiness of the great God whose name and glory are involved, and 1 Acts xviii. 11.
deeply anxious to arrive at satisfaction of mind concerning it. Christianity must not be examined as an abstract, dry, uninteresting question, a matter of mere historical dispute, a point in chronology, on the determination of which little or nothing depends; but as an enquiry which involves the honour of God, and the present and eternal happiness of man. This earnestness we find described in the scripture in such terms as these, If thou criest after knowledge and liftest up thy voice for understanding, if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as hid treasure; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.?
PRAYER to Almighty God must be an attendant on this docile and serious temper. We must not enter upon the enquiry for the display of intellectual acuteness, but with the devotional frame of mind which becomes those who acknowledge the existence and perfections of God, and who profess to believe that it is the duty of a dependent creature like man, to implore his aid and blessing on every undertaking, and more especially upon an enquiry which relates to the solemn rerelation of his will. Fervour, humility, the submission of prayer for divine guidance and illumination, in the reverent use of our best faculties, are essential parts of a right disposition of heart.
* Prov. in. 3, 4, 5.
A PRACTICAL OBEDIENCE to the will of God, so far as it is known, is the last branch of the temper on which we would insist—that course of general conduct which may prove us to be sincere in seeking to know the will of God, that we may do it; a life and conduct free from those vices which natural conscience condemns; a behaviour not inconsistent with the docility, the earnestness, the prayer for divine instruction which we profess in our enquiries—a life which shall not obviously make it our interest that Christianity should be untrue-a freedom, in short, from those various hindrances to an impartial examination of religion, which, as films and mists, distort every moral object, and bar out the entrance to truth and persuasion.
II. Now, if this be manifestly the state of mind in which the subject of the truth of Christianity should be studied, it may be useful to show THE ENTIRE WANT OF it in too many of those who reject revelation. Young persons will thus be guarded, in the first instance, against the assaults of impiety, and may judge of the cause in which unbelievers are engaged, by the spirit which actuates them. For I assert boldly, that to a sincere enquirer the very disposition and temper of unbelievers, gives an assurance that they were never likely to attain to truth. I assert boldly, that instead of docility, theirenquiries are conducted with scorn; instead of seriousness, with levity; instead of a spirit of prayer, with irreligion and impiety; instead of obedience to the will of God, with habits of immorality and vice.
Let us look at the three classes into which, in the present day, they may be divided—the Literary; the Uninformed; the grossly Profane -and we shall see the proof of what I state.
Let us look at the LITERARY and SCIENTIFIC unbelievers. I speak not of individuals--I speak of the body as known by their writings publicly submitted to the view of mankind. What is the temper of mind in which they have ob. viously entered upon the enquiry? Are docility, earnestness, a devotional and humble reliance upon God in prayer, and obedience to his will, at all apparent in any part of their books? Is this the complexion of their reasoning? Do they not, so far from acting in such a temper, generally disavow, ridicule, or condemn it? Mark their whole spirit and conduct. Instead of docility, observe the unfairness, the inconsistency, the dishonesty with which they conceal or pervert the plainest facts. Instead of seriousness, notice their proud, supercilious, flippant levity in treating the most solemn of all subjects. Instead of the spirit of prayer to Almighty God, observe how their arguments are directed, not against the particular proofs of Christianity, but against the production of any proofs in favour of any revelation. See them virtually denying the very being of that God, whom in theory they profess to acknowledge. Hear their blasphemies, their impieties, their profaneness, which, whether Christianity be true or not, are condemned by natural religion itself. Lastly, instead of obedience to the will of God so far as it is known, notice the frightful abandonment of morality in their systems, and the overturning of all the foundations of virtue, which they scarcely take any pains to conceal, and which their own conduct too frequently confirms.
With such a temper apparent, I have a key to the secrets of their unbelief.
I see one writer speaking of the life and discourses of our Saviour with the ignorance and buffoonery of a jester, and asserting that ridicule is the test of truth ;--I want no one to inform me that he is an unbeliever.3
I see another virtually denying all human testimony with one breath, and with another defending suicide and apologizing for lewdness
3 Lord Shaftesbury.