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The excellency of the spirit of Christianity.
By WILLIAM LEECHMAN, D. D.
Preached before the Society in Scotland for propagating Christian Knowledge, at Edinburgh, June 5. 1767.
2 TIM. i. 7.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a found mind.
T is very probable, that the apostle wrote this fecond epistle to Timothy in the time of the perfecution of the Chriftians in the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, and when he was himself a prifoner at Rome, and had a near profpect of fuffering as a martyr for his religion *. In this mournful and distressing fituation, he addreffes this epiftle to Timothy. He had converted Timothy to the Christian faith; he had appointed him to the
*See Dr Benfon's hiftory of the ftate of things when this epiftle was written, prefixed to his paraphrafe and notes on the epifle.
facred office of an evangelift, and had imparted to him the gifts of the Holy Ghost. The apoftle, therefore, may be confidered in this epiftle as giving his dying charge to his favourite difciple, and devolving upon him the work of the gofpel before he left the world.
In the verfe before the text, he exhorts him to ftir up the gift of God that is in him. The word in the original, which is translated fir up, fignifies properly, To blow up a fire to a more intenfe degree of heat: fo that the meaning and import of the exhortation is, Cultivate and improve, to the beft advantage, the fpiritual gifts with which you are endowed; and exert all your faculties and talents to the utmost, in the faithful discharge of the duties of that great office in which you are engaged. And, in the words of the text, he enforces the exhortation from a confideration taken from the nature and genius of Christianity itfelf: verfe 7. "For God hath "not given us the fpirit of fear; but of "power, and of love, and of a found mind." That is, God hath not given us Chriftians the fpirit of timidity and cowardice, of felfifhnefs and malignity, of levity and folly; but he hath given us the fpirit of firmnefs and courage, of benignity and love, of wifdom and fobriety of mind.
It appears from the verfe after the text, and from many other paffages in this epiftle, that the apostle had full in his eye those labours, hardships,
hardships, and fufferings, which he forefaw, Timothy would be called to endure in the course of his ministry. And, in this view, he exhorts him to prepare and fortify himself for thofe exertions of courage and zeal, and for the exercise of that prudence and discretion, for which he would have frequent occa fion in those circumftances of perplexity, danger, and diftrefs, in which he would find. himself involved; and, at the fame time, he affures him, that the spirit of the gospel would enable him to fuffer afflictions, and behave under them, with that patience, modesty, and meekness of wisdom, which becomes one who is perfecuted for righteousness fake.
It is hoped, it will not be unfuitable to the design of this affembly, to offer fome obfervations tending to illuftrate and confirm the affertions in the text, with a view to display the excellency of the gofpel, as the fpirit of power, of love, and of a found mind. We fhall confider each of these in their order.
FIRST, Christianity is the fpirit of power, or of courage and firmnefs, in oppofition to: timidity and irrefolution of mind.
Among the many other groundless charges. which have been brought againft Chriftianity, it has been accufed of inculcating fervitude and dependence. A very celebrated author, who, in other parts of his works, appears to be a lover of the morality of the gospel, and an admirer of the character of its great foundVOL. III. B b
er, has expressly afferted, "That the fpirit "of the gofpel is favourable to tyrants; and "that true Chriftians are formed for flaves *." And feveral other writers, though they admit, that the Chriftian religion foftens and fweetens the temper and manners of mankind; yet alledge, that, at the fame time, it enervates their courage, and difpofes them for mean and flavish obedience.
In answer to these, and other accufations of the like nature, let it be obferved, in the first place, That, if we may form a judgement of the fpirit of Chriftianity from the spirit of its author, we must acknowledge it to be a spirit of courage and boldnefs, and not of fearfulnefs and timidity. For it appears, in the most incontestable manner, from the whole history of our Saviour's life, that, while he fupported the best of all caufes, he fet himfelf, though fingle, in a most intrepid manner, in oppofition to a whole nation; and he perfevered in doing this, though he had a clear forefight, that his doing fo would bring him to certain death, and to a death too of the most formidable kind. It is hard to fay what complete heroism is, if this is not an inftance of it.
His firft difciples, in like manner, difcovered a spirit of the most active and determined courage. We read, in the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apoftles, that when the
Roffeau, Social contract, book. 4. chap. 8.
Jewish Sanhedrim, the fupreme council of the nation, called the Apostles Peter and John before them, and commanded them, verf. 18. "Not to teach in the name of Jesus;" vers. 19. "they answered, and said unto them, Whe"ther is it right in the fight of God, to heark66 en unto you more than unto God, judge 66 ye; for we cannot but speak the things we
have seen and heard." And they accordingly went out from the council, and preached the gofpel with all boldness. And we read in the fame chapter, that even their enemies were ftruck with admiration when they beheld the firmness of their refolution : verf. 13. "When the members of the council faw the "boldnefs of Peter and John, and perceived "that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with "Jefus ;" that is, they perceived they had learned boldness and intrepidity in his school.
If your time would allow us to trace the fpirit of Christianity as it appeared in the primitive Chriftians, we fhould find, that perfons of all ranks, fexes, and ages, fhewed fuch an unfhaken firmness and fortitude, under the fevereft trials, even death itself, as filled their very enemies and perfecutors with a ftonishment.
It is worthy of obfervation, in the fecond place, That, if we may judge of the fpirit of the gospel from the ftrain of its precepts, we must alfo conclude it to be a spirit of refe Bb 2