Page images
PDF
EPUB

sense, or to the exhibitions of imagination, but is chiefly intended to be directed and governed by reason; so these rites and ceremonies must not be of that character which would engross the whole attention, and divert the mind from the weightier matters of the sacred law. Their absurd multiplication is the constant effect of gross supersti. tion in all its modes. They should be few and simple. They should be symbolical representations of some important facts in religious history ; typify some event to which it is necessary to direct the mind of the performer; or, by sensible signs, impress on it some characteristic truth or doctrine. Rites and ceremonies of this description afford powerful aids to divine instruction, and affect man by the intervention of his senses, while his understanding is enlightened by the information conveyed by speech. The whole external service of religion necessarily requires appointed places and times for performing it.

10thly, Public worship implies the institution of a body of men duly qualified to conduct it; and the other branches of religion detailed above, dictate, further, the necessity of a certain class of persons capable of instructing mankind in these, of explaining and inculcating the precepts of morality, and of engaging the people to their practice by the attraction of example. Besides, a spiritual community is necessarily constituted by religious profession, and every community re

quires order and government. The sacred office follows of course. It is unavoidable that, according to sound reason, and the nature of the thing itself, this should belong to a separate profession; for, in order to instruct others in religious matters, a person must have been instructed himself; and, from what has been already said on this subject, it is evident that religious knowledge requires both a sound understanding and a candid and upright heart. Ignorance, which has often been termed the mother of devotion, by which term superstition must, in this sense, be understood, is incompatible with the light in which pure religion moves, and which she opens to others. It may be affirmed of sound theology with still greater truth, what has been said of the philosophy of Socrates, that by his means she had descended from heaven to earth, and moved and acted in the intercourse of daily life.

Theology, both theoretical and practical, is entirely active, at least practice and manners are its ultimate object. If this is not the case, she is “a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” The office of a teacher of religion requires a variety of preliminary branches of study; and as religious truth is of a practical nature, and much of its effect in regard to mankind must depend on the example of its ministers; a mind well disciplined, and a heart deeply impressed with moral obligation, are consequently indispensable in their character.

* 1 Cor. xii. 1.

It is true that the first promulgators of Christianity were, with the exception of the apostle Paul, destitute of human learning. But inspiration superseded its necessity, as it would again do if its possession could be established on the same evidence which they produced. While this exists not, the very nature of true religion requires that its ministers be men of abilities and learning, as well as of piety and probity. As the defect of the latter must render them odious, so that of the foriner must render them contemptible. Nor are these combined qualities less necessary to qualify them to direct the concerns of the spiritual community, than to teach and exemplify the principles of their faith. Judgment, information, and honesty are as requisite to govern with success in ecclesiastical as in civil affairs. Nay, in some respects they are more so ; for, in the former species of government the mind is to be enlightened, moved, and moulded. Compulsion is not only not admissible, but subverts the very end for which it may be employed. It surely requires more intelligence and skill to induce mankind to obey voluntarily, and from the persuasion of obligation, than to compel them by threats or by actual inAiction. This last may be done even by brutal

[ocr errors]

LI

power; the other can be accomplished only by superior wisdom.

The two articles last mentioned, though absolutely necessary, namely, external worship in all its branches, and an appointed order of persons for religious service and instruction, I should rather consider as means for preserving and extending religion in the world, than as essential ingredients of religion itself. Wherever her heavenly form in reality exists, she will always carry these in her train. If she appears without them, she will not long reside among men, or retain her influence over their hearts.

Thus, the belief of Deity as an all-perfect spirit, of his overruling providence and moral government, and of the immortality of the human soul, and of a future state of moral retribution, exhibit the basis of all true religion to a moral and free agent, such as man is by his very nature. But in consequence of his present state of moral degradation and subsequent misery, other articles must be superadded to these, no longer of themselves sufficient for his comfort and restoration. Hence, the necessity of an economy of pardon and grace; a pure and comprehensive system of morality ; the assurance of divine aid in the discharge of duty amidst all the vicissitudes of life; the certainty of future rewards and punishments conformable to the nature and present probationary condition of man; a scheme of religious instruction suited to every capacity and calculated to move the best affections of our nature; religious worship, worthy of its object, founded on his perfections, and conducive to human improvement; and an appointed order of men duly qualified to discharge the peculiar functions and to direct the immediate concerns of religion ;-these appear to be the additional requisites in a religious system adapted to man's corrupt state, and conducive to his present and eternal happiness. Where these ten requisites are exclusively to be found, will afterwards appear. Thus I have endeavoured to exhibit what I would denominate a general sketch or outline of true religion.

CHAP. II.

OF SUPERSTITION-FANATICISM-BIGOTRY

IMPOSTURE.

That the best things are most liable to corruption, and when corrupted are productive of the worst effects, is a maxim generally admitted. Indeed, that this should be the case, will be evident on the smallest reflection, and the fact is

« PreviousContinue »