« VorigeDoorgaan »
conceive themselves bound to examine very closely into the nature of its evidence; and if, after all their inquiries, they were unable to assent to the truth of it, they would at least regard it with the respect due to its own intrinsic excellence, to the illustrious men by whom it has been firmly believed, and to the beneficial effects which it has produced in the world. What an example is it, then, of unsoundness of mind, or rather of infatuation, when not merely men of learning, but persons whose habits of life have precluded them from much study or knowledge-men of debauched characters, the frivolous and the idle, the low and the uneducated-nay, even the young who have scarcely acquired the first elements of learning, presume to reject the authority and deride the sanctions of the Gospel! Such persons, but from the want of a sound mind, would ask themselves what they really know of the evidences of Christianity. They would consider that this is not a matter of mere speculation, nor a subject on which error can be matter of indifference; but that, if they err here, it is at the peril of their eternal salvation.
I do not now speak to bold and avowed infidels merely, for such persons are seldom present in these assemblies: but even here there probably are persons who, in a lower sense, correspond to the description I have given; who regard the question respecting the truth or falsehood of Christianity, with as little concern as any point of ancient history, or the opinions of the philosophers of Greece, who feel very indifferent whether the Bible is true or false, and therefore pay no practical attention to it.
I would earnestly and seriously entreat such persons to beware. They probably value themselves on their understanding and their superiority to the common weakness of mankind; but let them be reminded, that to disbelieve, not less than to believe too hastily, is among the plainest marks of a weak and foolish mind, and that such foolishness is never less pardonable than
when it relates to a subject enforced by such high authority, guarded by such awful sanctions, and big with such solemn consequences.
I stated, lastly, that soundness of mind appears in the text to be opposed to indifference about religion; but this part of the subject must be postponed to a future discourse.
In conclusion, I have to offer but one brief remark on what has been said. It is a rare thing to possess a sound understanding-an understanding which contemplates every object in its just magnitude, and in its real relation to others. Let us then be conscious of the natural weakness of our minds. Our great difficulty consists in discovering the defectiveness of our own sight. By superior spirits truth is probably perceived instantly, and without difficulty; to them it may appear like the sun, bright and glorious; but to us, who want the proper organs to discern this light, it too often appears dim and clouded, or is not discerned at all. We do not see distinctly, though surrounded by the light itself. This intellectual blindness is owing to the fall of man; and the Spirit of God alone can, in any measure, remove or rectify it. Let it then be your earnest prayer, that you may receive from him this blessing. To that end cherish a humble mind, a dependence on the influence of the Holy Ghost, and diligence in the use of all the appointed means of growing in true wisdom. Humility will render you sensible of your blindness, and dispose you to believe that you may be in error. It is the presumption that we are right, which keeps us wrong. Dependence on the Holy Spirit will remove the darkness which we may discover in our souls. If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of Him who giveth liberally and refuseth not. In the diligent use of those means of increasing in wisdom which God has placed in our own power, we may humbly expect to be made partakers of this gracious influence. Let us study the word of God diligently, examine our hearts,
solicit and receive with meekness the counsel of our Christian brethren, attend with simplicity of heart on the preaching of the word, and partake of the holy communion of the body and blood of Christ; and in these appointed means of grace we shall, through the Divine blessing, have the darkness of our minds enlightened.
ON SOUNDNESS OF MIND IN RELIGION.
2. Timothy i. 7.
For God hath given us the spirit.... of a sound mind.
IN a former discourse upon these words, I considered soundness of mind as opposed to credulity, superstition, enthusiasm, and scepticism. I propose, at present, to consider it as opposed to insensibility, or indifference to the great objects of religion.
If you saw a man bartering his estate for a childish toy, or labouring to accomplish some object in its nature evidently unattainable, or using the greatest exertions and the most powerful means to effect some frivolous or contemptible purpose; or, on the other hand, struggling to accomplish some end really important, by means wholly inadequate; you would say, without hesitation, that such a man had not a sound mind. If you observed a man continually mistaking the objects around him, esteeming those valuable which were really of no worth, and rejecting as worthless those of
the greatest value; flying from his friends and relations as enemies, and caressing strangers and enemies as friends: rejoicing when his situation was most melancholy, and weeping when he had no cause for sorrow; you would say at once that such a person was deranged. The cases I have supposed are, no doubt, of an extravagant kind; yet they are only strong examples of that unsoundness of mind, of that inability to perceive in a true and just light the objects presented to us, which in a greater or less degree appears to be the general disease of mankind. There are, indeed, few who apprehend all things within the sphere of their observation, according to truth and reason; a remark which a general survey of human life would strongly confirm. But I have at present only to do with religion; and I think no other instance can be produced of such extreme imbecility, of such a departure from every principle of reason, as we daily see in the conduct of men respecting this subject.
The great doctrines which religion teaches must be either false, or doubtful, or true. That they are false can never be positively proved. Such an opinion does not admit of proof. Nor do I know that any infidel has ventured to say more than that he conceives such an opinion to be very probably true. I shall not, therefore, dwell on that supposition. Let it be conceded, then, for the sake of argument, that these doctrines are doubtful. We have, then, a doubt of the most tremendous consequence: a doubt not about our existence or happiness for a year or two in this short life-that would be comparatively nothing-but a doubt respecting our eternal happiness or eternal misery.
"It is very clear," (I use the words of Pascal), "that there is here no true and solid happiness; that our pleasures are but vanity, our troubles infinite; and that, at length, death, which threatens us every moment, must, in a few years, and perhaps in a few days, place us in the eternal condition of happiness, or mise