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IMMORTALITY is the glory of man: take it away, and he sinks into insignificance. They debase human nature, who consider death as the close of their existence. But you shudder at the degrading thought; and, agreeably to the dictates of reason and truth, deem yourselves formed for eternity. Cherish the vast idea; and aspire after a happiness which will never end.
Will you permit a friend, though unknown, to solicit your attention to a book which was written with the godlike design of raising you to the perfection of your nature and to happiness, by conducting you to God? The book demands examination, and represents it as criminal in men, if they refuse to weigh its evidence and its contents in the balance of impartial reason, and give it that reception to which it is entitled.
Do not turn away with disdain, and say, " I will not read it.” That is not the language of wisdom. The book claims its origin from God; and its object is to teach you how to serve him, and how to attain the highest felicity. “But I am sure it is not true.” Millions have read and acknowledged its truth;-among these have been the most conscientious of men, and the first luminaries of science, than whom none were ever better qualified to examine its nature and excellence; and they had no worldly interest to serve by professing to believe the gospel. When a Bacon, a Pascal, a Boyle, a Newton, a Locke, and a Leibnitz, have examined and received Christianity as true, can you call yourselves impartial inquirers after truth and happiness, if you refuse to examine?
It is not required that you should believe because they believed; but that you would examine what they believed to be truth, and the most important truth. I entreat you to read the New Testament. Till then, you cannot possibly know whether it is to be rejected or received. A cursory reading is not sufficient: it requires a repeated perusal and diligent study, that you may clearly perceive its scope, its design, its general principles, and particular truths. Without this, to call yourself either Christian or Deist, would be alike unbecoming and unreasonable; for you are not qualified to judge of its merits, and cannot with justice either approve or condemn. Without reading and understanding the New Testament, either of the names will cover him who wears it, not with honour, but with disgrace. A man of reason will examine before he decides.
Let the examination be conducted with impartiality. Christianity desires no bias in her favour till examination take place: all she requires is, (and is it not reasonable?) that no prejudice should be entertained to her disadvantage. She calls you to banish levity when you begin to read; to proceed with seriousness of mind; and to summon up all the energies of the soul to the work. The inquiry, she says, is of infinite importance; and your happiness in a future state depends upon the issue. Will it, then, be unsuitable, before you proceed, to offer up a supplication to the Father of lights, from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift; that he would illuminate your understanding to perceive the truth; and incline your heart to embrace it, wherever it may be found? If some of the most eminent sages of Greece thought that they stood in need of divine wisdom, in matters of importance, you will not wonder that you are urged to seek it from the same source.
True Religion is the thing sought for; and it will be allowed that it ought to teach us not only what God is, but how he is to be worshipped and served—in what manner we may be admitted to enjoy his friendship—and how we may do the things which please him. A religion which does not give us information on these subjects, is entirely insufficient. That a revelation from God is necessary for this purpose, has been a common sentiment among mankind: let him who would deny the necessity of it, take a view of the condition of the world, and of the history of man. What nation in a state of nature, in ancient or modern times, civilized or barbarous, has preserved itself from sinking into gross idolatry? Not an exception can be found, unless it be among those rude tribes, which are so stupid that no traces of religion are to be discovered among them.- Wherever idolatry reigns, it is an evident proof, that men have stumbled and fallen at the very threshold of the temple; and have not advanced so far as to have a sight of the proper object of worship. Ignorance of the nature of God has been uniformly attended with ignorance of man's
duty and condition, and of a future state of being; and, as may naturally be expected, with the most dreadful depravity of manners, and the prevalence of every vice. Let the description of the ancient heathen world in the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, the 1st chapter, from the 20th verse to the end, be compared with the most authentic documents of the state of morals among the pagan nations of antiquity, or those of modern times, and it will be found that the portrait drawn by the apostle is not overcharged in its colours, but is a perfect likeness of the original.
Were this an abstract question, an answer might be more difficult, and less satisfactory: but it is a question of fact, and the multitude of idolaters in every heathen land proclaims the necessity of a divine revelation. To allege that Socrates and Plato, by the strength of reason, discovered many noble principles of religious truth, does not solve the objection. The question is, not what a few persons of superior genius have been able to do, but to find a rule of life for the mass of mankind. That they have not been able to discover it for themselves; or, if any have discovered it, that they have not been able to render it so far of use as to banish idolatry from a single city (and they had hundreds and thousands of years to do it in), ancient Greece and Rome, and modern China and Hindostan, afford sufficient proof. If, then, men are to be made wise, and good, and happy by the knowledge, and worship, and service of God, a divine revelation is absolutely necessary.
That the possibility of a revelation was ever called in question, may justly excite surprise. If men can convey their ideas to each other, cannot God convey his to them? If we can send a message by one man to another, or to many, cannot God employ men as messengers in revealing his will to men ?
Arguing from the nature of God, there is likewise a probability of a divine revelation: his goodness and man's felicity unite in its support. If religion be lost on earth, who can assert it to be improbable that God will restore it? The frequent pretensions which have been made to a revelation from God, and the reception they have met with, shows that it is a sentiment congenial to the human mind.
Even Socrates and Plato were idolaters; they conformed, and advised others to conform, to the religion of their country—to gross idolatry and absurd superstition. One of the last acts of the former, who is accounted the wisest and the best man of pagan antiquity, was to offer a cock to Esculapius. If the wisest and the most learned were so blind, what must the foolish and the ignorant be?
The business, then, is to endeavour to find out, whether God has actually given a revelation of his will to man; and (you will perhaps add) among various pretensions, to distinguish truth from imposture. Here is a book which professes to contain what we seek for; but you say,
Let us attend to the claims of the numerous candidates.” This, however, is no such Herculean labour as you imagine. The thing sought after is a UNIVERSAL RELIGION, or a system which professes to be designed for the use and benefit of the whole human race; and no other will answer the purpose, whatever its merit may be. To this honour not one of the Pagan systems, either ancient or modern, prefers a claim. They allow that they are only local institutions; and some of them even refuse to admit proselytes: consequently these are all out of the question, and they cannot be heard. The Jewish religion was intended for the use of one people only, and that for a season. The religion of Jesus was the first that ever asserted the claim of universality; nor has its claim been ever formally contradicted since. “About six centuries after Christ Mohammed arose. He did not deny the divine mission of Jesus of Nazareth. He spoke of him in high terms of respect; but he said his followers had corrupted the gospel; and that he was come to restore relign to its prurity by a new revelation from God. Mohammed, then, is the only competitor with Jesus Christ, and with how poor a title to competition will be seen in the sequel.
It is proposed to consider maturely what the gospel offers in favour of its being a revelation from God; and attention is required. After Moses and the prophets had paved the way, in the appointed time Jesus Christ appeared, and declared that he was sent from God to be the Saviour of sinners, and the Prophet of the human race. He called twelve. men to be his disciples, to learn his doctrine from his lips, and to be witnesses of his life and death, of his resurrection and ascension. When he was about to leave the earth, he gave them a commission to go forth unto all the world, to preach the gospel unto every creature, and to convert all nations: and he promised to send his Spirit to assist them in the arduous work. They obeyed their Master's voice; and every where they proclaimed his gospel. Their zeal was great, and their success still greater.
Had the doctrine only floated in the living voice, and rested in the memories of men, it would, most probably, have been soon corrupted or forgotten. In order to prevent this, and to preserve it in all its purity to the latest ages, it became neces