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take the ten commandments, and I will ask you, as a candid individual, to tell me wherein you could improve them, as a foundation on which to build a moral superstructure? Is there a single precept laid down in them which could be taken from them without lessening their value ? Surely there is not. [I am not speaking of them as a rule of Christianity, but merely of civil policy.] On the other hand, can you add any thing to them without injury? Is there a single thing in the compass of your mind, which is there passed by, or which is not very plainly implied ? I believe you must acknowledge that there is not. But leaving the Mosaic dispensation, we will come to the more immediate object of your dislike, Jesus Christ. And now I ask you, with confidence, if you can say aught against himn or his doctrine? Let but his one command go into effect, “As ye would that others should do unto you, do ye also the same unto them," and this earth would be a paradise. You may talk of all your ancient philosophers, and sages, and heroes, and moralists, and their mightiest deeds, and wisest sayings are as much poorer than bis, as their corrupt natures were beneath divinity4. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," and thy neighbour as thyself. Could knavish priests and wicked men inculcate such a principle as this : Never ; no, never! Just think, this book was more than one thousand years in writing, and written by many different hands, all of which you say are bad, and yet if you want the description of such a man, a knavish or hypocritical priest, or layman, you will find it in the Bible, more true than in any other book in the world. It is certainly very singular that a succession of wicked priests should combine together for a thousand years, to hold themselves up to the world (each with his name upon his forehead,) to merited infamy and deserved contempt, and to record their own characters, and annex the punishment due to their crimes, and invoke the God of heaven to put the curse in execution. Now really, can you look me in the face and say you believe this. If you do, I can say that your credulity is more than sufficient to believe the largest story in the whole book. I now wish your answer.
Inf. Why, I have not examined the book with all the attention that I might; but I found some accounts of deeds of blood and murder, which are repugnant to every moral principle; and the Scriptures are not necessary to tell us of God, for we can read him in the book of Nature ; and we have conscience in us to direct us in all matters, which witl: reason forms an invariable rule for us under all circumstances.
Peter. With shame I acknowledge that the record of men is a record of crine, and the history of the best of men, generally exhibits the fact, that the best of men may err. In the Scriptures we have accounts of a great variety of characters; some are good and some the reverse. In the description of them there is neither fear, favour, nor affection shown; but the plain fact is related in a plain manner. When we read romances there is always some hero, whose character must be maintained at every risk, and we can understand that the object of the writer is to enlist the feelings and affections of the reader in favour of this hero. The Bible has but one Hero, which is the Lord Jesus Christ, and so far from exhibiting him to the world in the light, or character in which the romances of antiquity always represented their heroes; he is presented to us as a root out of dry ground, having no form or comeliness in him, whereby we should desire him; and his doctrine is so contrary to every feeling of nature, that it need only to be preached to be hated; and accordingly we find every principle and affection of the carnal mind, arrayed in opposition against the « Son of Man” and his heavenly precepts. Now, can a rational man, like yourself, suppose for a moment, that a combination of hypocritical knaves, would send a book out to deceive the world, filling it with precepts, commands, and doctrine of such a nature as to insure, for itself and its writers, the perfect hatred of every person into whose hands it should fall ? For instance, if you had some evil design to execute, and wanted the help of a dozen men, would you go to them and tell them, “ Gentlemen, you are a vile and abominably set of wicked men, every imagination and thought of your hearts are only evil, and that continually : You are a company of liars, dogs and sorcerers, a generation of vipers, and shall not escape the damnation of hell ?" Do you think you would make many proselytes with such words? Yet the Bible comes with such language, and not in general terms only, but it comes to a man's conscience, writes down his crimes with a pen of brass, or the point of a diamond, holds them before his face, and says, “thou art the man.” Did ever hypocrisy in any other instance take such a form, yet this is the Bible-way to make proselytes, and you say it has been successful. Now I wish you to tax your phi losophy a little, and tell me on what principles such a mode of procedure could be attended with success, and why it has never been adopted by other rogues, to accomplish other base purposes.
Inf. I am really in such a hurry that I cannot stay to answer your queries, nor do I feel prepared to answer them at present, if I had time; but I will think seriously of the subject, for I must acknowledge I have looked at it superficially.
Peler. I wish to say a word on your book of Nature. If you had time I should like to hear you read a few pages of it. For my part, I inust say, that when I open the book of Nature, and shut the book of Revelation, the former is unintelligible. I want the latter for a kind of lexicon; and when they are both open I can use both with advantage. But as you seem to be in great haste, I will drop the subject till a future opportunity; but I will add a word respecting conscience and reason. You say they are sufficient to keep us in the right way. If they are, for what purpose, pray, are all the bars, bolts, locks and other apparatus, to prevent one from taking another's property. Yes, and for what are soldiers enlisted, ships built, and all the fearful machinery of war put in motion, but to curb the wicked passions of men, because reason and conscience are insufficient? No, friend, you may rest assured, that there is but one principle which will supersede all these evils, and that is the new principle implanted in the soul; the new heart, created in Christ Jesus by the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit of God; a bearty belief of the doctrine of the Gospel as revealed by the Lord of life, and recorded in the Scriptures, and a strict obedience to his commands there laid down. And now, as I must part with you, I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, hoping that you will give the subject that faithful attention which is required of one who is seeking for his life, and never let professors be a stumbling-block, never speak evil of the Master, because some who profess to be his servants are false; but remember that the time is coming, yes, now is, that the Lord will sit among his people, as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify his people and purge away the dross from among them. And also reflect, that if “ judgment begin at the house of God, what shall the end be of them who obey not the gospel.” “ And if the rigbteous scarcely are saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear." As I took his hand to say farewell, he trembled, and I could see a tear in his eye. Says he, I have always had my doubts of the truth of this doctrine, but if it is false, where am I? Lost, forever lost! Pray for me, that, if possible such a wretch may come to the knowledge of the truth. He wrung my hand in the bitterness of his soul, as he parted from me, and I secretly prayed that God, who is rich in mercy, might make him a chosen vessel unto himself. Hoping this may, through your instrumentality, reach the heart of some poor creature in like condition, and that he may be made to believe to the salvation of his soul, I subscribe myself your unworthy fellow traveller to a better world than this, through the riches of free and sovereign grace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
AS THE HYPOCRITES DO.*
THERE is no feature in the morality of the Gospel that so much distinguishes it from the systems of men, and so clearly demonstrates its origin divine, as the modesty and humility of those who obey its precepts and adhere to its principles of conduct. Jesus Christ, its author, whose life was the fullest expression of the practical truths which he inculcated, performed all his labours of love without ostentation or parade. When He came from the throne of heaven, to accomplish for mankind an enterprize of benevolence more sublime than ever was undertaken by an earthly hero, he appeared in the form of a servant; and left with his followers the excellent maxim, “ whosoever will be great among you let him be your minister,” or servant. Though the conduct of the christian who conforms strictly to the rules of religion is much of it offensive to men of the world, yet certain parts of it are always reputable. Though disinterestedness, as a principle of morality, is an unwelcome idea to many, and is blotted out from the tables of their theology, still those actions which bear its most lively impressions, are the same that elicit their highest esteem and admiration. Such are the deeds of alms and of charity, the era of which is, emphatically, the present age.
* See Frontispiece.
There is truly a good spirit abroad in the christian world, which presages to humanity a glorious ascendency among the motives that actuate mankind. It came from Him who went about doing good while he sojourned with men, and is enkindling in the heart of benevolence, a flame of fellow feeling, which, it may be hoped, will never dwindle till its warmth shall be transmitted to every bosom. But, while the prospect that there will be a reign of heavenly charity on earth, awakens in every christian the liveliest gratitude and joy, he still fears that the great adversary of men may make it an occasion for leading many into sin, it may be, to their destruction. Some who really desire the approbation of God, may, amidst their charitable exertions and deeds of munificence, relax something from that scrupulous obedience which they should observe in things of a more private and personal nature; they may lose much of that spirit of devotion, which is so indispensable to the christian's purity and happiness, and when lamenting the coldness of their pious affections, they may perhaps console themselves by a view of the active services in which they are engaged, and by the remembrance of the alms-deeds which they have done. As every situation in this world, by the depravity that remains within us, is furnished with trials and temptations, so the danger of a christian's losing his first love, is in some measure connected with that zeal which only embraces active exertions.
But there is another class of men who are affected still more unfavourably by the popularity which the virtues of benevolence and charity have obtained. It is composed of those, who, while they have no genuine love to the Saviour, and no sincere desire to promote his glory, desire at least the reputation of being his disciples. They see how easy it is to purchase this character, which may cost them a trilling portion of their earthly possessions and perhaps some of their time, which cannot be better employed, but not the relinquishment of a single secret sin, or worldly pleasure, or ambitious pursuit. These are things, into which few will be disposed to inquire. A man meets no spirit of persecution now for his religious zeal, especially if it extends no farther than common philanthropy would approve, to the support of the missionary exertions and humane institutions of his country. And, when contributing to these objects, he may sound a trumpet before him, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets. The good works of the sincere, the humble and retiring christian, are published, that others may be excited to the same exertions, or animated and strengthened therein by knowing that they act in concert with their brethren. And thus an opportunity is afforded to such as would show themselves charitable and humane, to make known their evidences of piety. Never were the times more favourable for deceiving and being deceived. But let hypocrites remember, that we shall be tried at the bar of Christ, not by human testimony, but by that record of our conduct which the searcher of all hearts may have made. And let us all examine our motives, and see that we are not acting upon some selfish principle,--that it is not the popular part of religion alone that we esteem,—that we shall not be flung out of employment when we come to heaven, where there are no heathen to enlighten and save, and no asylums nor hospitals to support.
ON THE IMPROPRIETY OF UNBELIEVERS CONDUCTING THE
EXERCISE OF SINGING IN PUBLIC WORSHIP.
[CONCLUDED FROM PAGE 108.]
The writer will now sit at the feet of his brethren, and patiently hear their objections.
Obj. 1st. Is it not the duty of all men to praise God ? Does not the word of God call upon all to praise him ?
Ans. Certainly ; but what is it to praise God ? Is it praising God, to draw nigh to him with our mouth, and honor him with our lips, while our hearts are far from him ? Do I praise the God of truth, while I sing with his people, “I love thy holy law," "and bind the gospel to my heart,” while I hate the former, and reject the latter ? Do I praise him by singing afterwards, “My soul abhors a lying tongue ?" Let the objector answer.
Obj. 2d. Is not singing with the church one of the means of grace which sinners are to use ? Have not many been converted who have practised this ?
It is true that praise, prayer, the Lord's Supper, reading the scriptures, &c. are all means of grace. But are they so if performed contrary to the divine requirement, or only so, when performed according to that requirement ? Certainly the latter. We only pervert and abuse the means of grace, if we attend to them in an unholy manner. The sinner is directed to pray, but he is to “ ask in faith.” He is to “ repent and pray.” “If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me." So it is the duty of the sinner to praise God; but if he does it not as the Psalmist did, “with uprightness of heart,” he uses none of the means of grace. Surely there can be no more connection between false professions of praise, and the grace of God, than there is between light and darkness, or sin and holiness. There is indeed a precious connection between holy prayer and praise, and the grace of God; these bring us near to the Father of our spirits, and to all the heavenly host of worshippers.These acts of devotion of the heaven born soul, are the appointed means to be used for the continuance of that divine life which shall be perfected in eternal glory. Destitute of this heart holiness, our most eloquent and solemn prayers, our most melodious psalms and hymns, although highly esteemed among men, are an abomination in the sight of the Lord. It is worthy of remark also, that the objection involves the absurdity, that the sinner is voluntarily using means to obtain an end for which he has no desire. To be converted, and to love God, are synonymous terms. Now the want of a desire to love God, is the very reason why he needs to be converted.