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THE NATURE AND DANGER OF INFIDEL PHILOSOPHY.
PREACHED TO THE CANDIDATES FOR THE BACCALAUREATE
COLOSSIANS i. 8.
Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit,
after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
When the Gospel was published by the Apostles, it was, according to the prophetic declaration of its Author, vigorously opposed by the world. This opposition originated from various sources; but, whencesoever derived, wore one uniform character of industry, art, and bitterness. The bigotry of the Jews, and the sword of the Gentiles, the learning of the wise, the persuasion of the eloquent, and the force of the powerful, were alike exerted to crush the rising enemy.
Among the kinds of opposition, which they were called to en. counter, not the least laborious, malignant, or dangerous, was the Philosophy of the age. A large number of their first converts lived in countries, where the language of the Greeks was spoken, and their Philosophy received. The things, which this Philosophy professed to teach, were substantially the same with those which were taught by the Apostles; viz. the Character and Will of God, and the Duty and Supreme Interest of Men.. Hence it naturally became an object of veneration, assumed the station of
a rival to the Gospel, and exhibited an imposing aspect, especial. ly to young and unsettled converts.
The doctrines, and the spirit, of the Philosophers were, how. ever, generally direct counterparts to those of the Apostles. Some truths, and truths of high importance, they undoubtedly taught; but they blended them with gross and numberless errors. Some moral and commendable practices they, at times, inculcated; but so interwoven with immoralities, that the parts of the web could never be separated by the common hand. Covetous, self-sufficient, and sensual, they looked down with supreme contempt on the poor, self-denying, and humble followers of Christ, and on their artless, direct, undisguised, and practical preaching. Notwithstanding this contempt, it, however, prevailed against all their specious logic, pompous eloquence, and arrogant pretensions. Their Philosophy, enveloped in fable and figures, perplexed with sophistry, and wandering with perpetual excursion round about moral subjects, satisfied. in no permanent degree, the understanding, and affected in no useful degree the heart: while the Gospel simple, plain, and powerful, gained the full assent of common sense, and reduced all the aflections under its control. Of course, the contempt of Philosophers was changed into hatred, rivalry, and persecution ; and their ridicule of Christianity was succeeded by the serious efforts of violence and malignity.
St. Paul, who appears thoroughly to have comprehended the nature, and often to have experienced the effects, of the existing Philosophy, has with great force exposed its dangerous tendency. In the beginning of his first Epistle to the Corinthians, he has given an ample account of its inefficiency and emptiness, and a full refutation of its insolent pretensions to be a rule of life and salvation. The arguments of its weakness and mischievous tendency, furnished, in various passages of Scripture by him and his companions, remain still unrefuted; and, as they were at first, so they are at this day, effectual means of preserving no small part of mankind from the destruction, of which it is the natural and certain parent.
In the text, this Philosophy is characterized in a most proper and forcible manner. It is termed Philosophy and vain deceit; a Hebraism, of the same import with vain and deceitful Philoso
phy; deceitful in its nature, doctrines, and arguments, and vain in its efficacy to accomplish the ends, which it proposes. It is asserted to be after the tradition of men, and after the rudiments of the world; but not after Christ; in whom, the Apostle subjoins, dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily: i. e. it is such a scheme of morals and religion, as is suited to the character of the Inventors; Men, weak and wicked, deceived and deceitful; unable to devise, to comprehend, or to teach, the character of God, or the duty of mankind. It is such a scheme of morals and religion, as accords with the principles and practices of the disciples, to whom it is taught ; formed not with a design to amend the heart, and reform the life ; but with a view to gain acceptance by flattering lust, and by justifying, soothing, and quieting guilt. The tradition of men, and the rudiments of the world, are phrases, which may be variously interpreted, but they admit, I apprehend of no interpretation, which, will not support the paraphrase here given.
To this Philosophy, and the teachers of it, the Apostle directs his followers to beware lest they should become a prey. The Greek word here used, denotes gathering and carrying finally off the spoils of a vanquished enemy; and therefore strongly expresses the complete ruin, to which St. Paul considered his converts as exposed.
The Philosophy, which has opposed Christianity in every succeeding age, has uniformly worn the same character with that, described in the text. It has rested on the same foundations, proceeded from the same disposition, aimed at the same ends, and pursued them by the same means. Equally remote has it been from truth, equally unsupported by evidence, and equally fraught with danger and ruin.
Satisfied of the justice of these assertions, I feel it, Young Gentlemen, to be my duty, on this occasion, to exhort you
To beware, lest you become a prey to the Philosophy, which opposes the Gospel.
To impress on your minds the propriety, and the importance, of this exhortation, I shall endeavour, in the
First place, To prove to you, that this Philosophy is vain and deceitful :
Secondly, To show you, that you are in danger of becoming a
prey to it; and
Thirdly, To dissuade you by several arguments from thus yielding yourselves a prey.
First, I shall endeavour to prove to you, that this Philosophy is vain and deceitful.
You will observe, that it is a particular kind of Philosophy, against which all my arguments are directed. Philosophy at large, or the Use and the attainments of our Reason, in the candid and careful examination of every question, within the limits of our understanding, so far as it springs from a real desire of investigating truth, and proceeds on satisfactory evidence, is not only undeserving of censure, but deserving of the highest praise. It is the interest, and the duty, of all men, so far as their condition will allow; and, as you well know, has by me, in the office of an Instructor, been earnestly and unconditionally urged on you, as peculiarly your interest and duty. That Philosophy only, which is opposed to Christianity, is the subject of the following observations. There is indeed much other Philosophy, which busies itself with
government, medicine, and various other subjects, which is equally vain and deceitful; but with this I have, at present, no concern.
The great object, professedly aimed at by the Philosophy in question, and on the attainment of which all its value depends, is to determine what is the Duty, and the supreme Interest, of man. This it is plain, must depend entirely on the Will of God. To do whatever God chooses must be man's supreme interest, and duty alike. It is his duty, both because God wills it, and because it is right. As his whole well-being depends on God only, his supreme interest must consist entirely in pleasing God. He can receive no good, when God will not give it, and God will not give, unless he be pleased. In order, therefore, to the discovery of man's supreme interest and duty, it is absolutely necessary to discover, first, what is the preceptive will of God, or what God requires man to do.
This, Philosophy can never accomplish; and hence I assert it to be vain and deceitful in its Nature ; vain with respect to the end, at which it aims, and deceitful with respect to the meansy
which it employs, and the conclusions, which it labours to establish.
There are three methods, in which, it has been supposed, mankind may obtain the knowledge of the Preceptive Will of God, and, of course, of their own interest and duty.
I. By Immediate Revelation ;
III. By arguing from a supposed Character of God, either derived from his works, or determined a priori.
The first of these methods lies out of the present question. The two remaining ones I propose now to examine ; and assert,
1. That Analogical Argumentation from the Providence of God can never teach us his Preceptive Will, except in a manner greatJy imperfect and unsatisfactory.
In Philosophy, thus directed, we always argue from what God has done to what he will do: i. e. from the past and present state of his Providence we undertake to determine what bis designs are, and how they will terminate; and hence derive our conclusions concerning the Will of God, or that Law, by which our conduct ought to be regulated. This method of Philosophizing is attended with insuperable difficulties.
In the first place, we know but a very small number of the beings and events, which have existed; but, to form just views of the real scope of Providence, we ought to know every being and every event. To understand the true character of a complicated machine, we must understand the nature, and the operations, of every part. He who knows but one in a thousand of such parts, and has seen the operations of that one part only, would be thought wholly destitute of common sense, were he to boast of a thorough knowledge of the whole. The great machine of Providence is infinitely more complex, the proportion of the parts unknown to those which are known is infinitely greater, and the approximation to the knowledge of the whole infinitely less, than in the machine supposed. What then must be the character of him, who boasts of a thorough knowledge of Providence ?
2. Weknow not thoroughly the nature of those beings and events, with which we are best acquainted. The nature of every being, and of every event, so far as the present question is concerned,