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sERM on IV.
The man answered and said, Why, herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.
Such was the judicious answer of one, who, having been born blind, had, from the power of Jesus, recently received the blessing of sight.
Much attention among the people being excited by this miracle of Christ, but two ways of proceeding lay open to his enemies. One was to disprove the fact; the other, to deny the inference, which was likely to be drawn from it. With a view to the former, they summoned, as witnesses, the parents of him, who had received the cure, and severely interrogated them, as to the blindness of their son. Vexed and mortified, perceiving, that every new inquiry issued in giving not only additional certainty, but increased conspicuity to the miracle; their next object was to prevent the people from hence forming any conclusion, favorable to our Saviour's claims and character. “This man, say they, is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day.—We know, that God spake by Moses; as for this fellow, we know not whence he is.” Then follows the reasoning of him, for whose benefit the miracle had been wrought. “Herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. Now, we know, that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do his will, him he heareth. Since the world began, was it not heard, that any man opened the eyes of one, that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.” The force of this reasoning could be resisted by nothing but inveterate prejudice. And such, at present, seems to be the universal concession. No persons, I believe, in our own times, deny the christian religion, who, at the same time, allow the miracles, attributed to its author. It is doubtful, in the mind of no one, that, if the miracles were wrought, the religion is true. My object in this discourse, is not to illustrate the argument, contained in the text; but, by a similar mode of reasoning, to prove the truth of christianity, from its legitimate moral effects. Preliminary to this, a few remarks will be made, as to the change, which the gospel has effected in religious sentiment, or theory. Few of my auditors, perhaps, need to be informed, concerning the great outlines of pagan mythology. It is not easy, and perhaps not possible to form exaggerated conceptions of the absurdity, grossness, and immoral tendency of heathen sentiments and heathen worship. Thousands of gods demanded homage from men; gods, whose origin, exposures, adventures, sufferings, and escapes:—whose forms, in some instances frightful and monstrous, whose passions, usually impetuous and uncontrolled, whose quarrels, displaying all the weakness, misery and revenge of mortals, whose characters, in almost all instances, hostile to reason and virtue, were transmitted in mythological tales, sung by enraptured poets, or distinctly brought to view in the very act of worship. In devotional services, rendered to such gods, it would be absurd to suppose, that pure and spiritual dispositions,—feelings of veneration, confidence, and love, would constitute any part. Such feelings, on such an occasion, would have been incongruous in the worshippers, and most severely reproachful to the objects of worship. Such feelings were not required. If the gods were angry, their wrath was to be appeased, not by a moral reformation, an amendment of the heart and character, but by some idle ceremonies, with which character had no connexion;–some stagnant water was to be put in motion,some lake was to be drained off—a nail was to be driven into a consecrated temple, or some games or ceremonies, fallen into disuse, were to be renewed. In perfect consistency with the character attributed to their gods, gross and abominable crimes were not only allowed, but deemed a necessary part of that religion, which the laws had established. When the apostle uses this language, “It is a shame even to speak of those things, which are done by them in secret,” he alludes to certain practices, which, in the worship of the gods, were sanctioned by public opinion. Consider now, for a single moment, what religious sentiments were inculcated by the gospel. There is one God, without beginning, dependence, imperfection, or change, possessing unlimited power, unsearchable wisdom, and perfect goodness. This one living and true God maintains a government, embracing all beings and all events, whether great or small. The law, which he has enacted for his intelligent creation, is the law of virtue. His estimation of men and angels, is exactly proportionate to their observance or neglect of this law. God is a spirit; and they who worship Him, must do it in spirit and in truth. No sacrifices, however costly,–no prayers, in whatever words conceived, with whatever looks or gestures accompanied, no punctilious adherence to forms and ceremonies, even though such forms and ceremonies are of divine institution, will meet acceptance and obtain reward, so long as there is wanting at heart, a sincere, shall I say, an honest regard to the law of God;—a principle
of piety, which prompts to the performance of all duty. They, only, who imbibe and retain this principle, will experience the mercy of God, in that day, when he will judge the world in righteousness. And this mercy is to be exercised through the atonement of him, “who, by one offering, has perfected forever them, that are sanctified.” From these general remarks it will be apparent, that darkness and light are scarcely more opposite, than that religion, which Jesus Christ found, and that, which he left, among men. Were there present a single infidel, I would appeal to his reason, and even to his candor, whether the christian theory of religion, is not, beyond comparison and beyond utterance, superior to that, which the heathen world, whether Greek or barbarian, had received; and whether any one, who preached successfully this religion among the heathen, might not be said “to open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light:” and whether it is credible, that a Jewish mechanic, born in circumstances, which precluded intellectual research, should, all at once, have brought to light, a system of grace and truth, for which the whole world had been engaged for thousands of years, in painful, but unavailing search. As there is an important connexion between the intellectual and moral nature of man;–as disorderly practice naturally results from false and inconsistent theories, and the perception of a direct path does, of itself, imply a strong inducement to pursue it, it was to have been expected, that, wherever the pure, intelligible, and consistent doctrines of christianity should take place of the gross darkness, which had previously covered the earth, a corresponding change would be effected in the state of moral character and moral feeling. We shall now endeavor to show, that, agreeably to such an expectation, the effect of christianity has been displayed in changing national customs, in meliorating public morals, and in converting great numbers, in christian countries, from a life, either of open vice. or religious insensibility.
In proof of our first proposition, but few instances will be cited from the multitude, which might be adduced. In exhibiting these, I shall use the words of a late writer, justly held in high estimation. Christianity “ has mitigated the conduct of war, and the treatment of captives. It has softened the administration of despotic, or nominally despotic governments. It has abolished polygamy. It has restrained the licentiousness of divorce. It has put an end to the exposure of children, and immolation of slaves. It has suppressed the combats of gladiators, and the impurities of religious rites. It has greatly meliorated the condition of the laborious part, that is to say, of the mass of every community, by procuring for them a day of weekly rest. In all countries, in which it is professed, it has produced many establishments for the relief of sickness and poverty: and, in some, a regular and general provision by law. It has triumphed over the slavery, established in the Roman empire: it is contending, and, I trust, will, one day prevail against the worse slavery of the West Indies.” (Paley's Evidences, 370.) The spirit of investigation and commercial enterprise has done much to prevent man from continuing a stranger to his species. Remote seas have been visited, continents have been traversed, and islands have been discovered. Of the many millions of pagans, thus introduced to our knowledge, it would be difficult to find a single tribe or community, among whom the relations and duties of man are either regarded, or understood. If we do not look for morality among the inhabitants of Japan, or China, or Hindostan, as little was it found among the aborigines of America, or on the islands of the Pacific Ocean. Now, wherever christianity is introduced, it is invariably accompanied with a moral reformation, commensurate with the attention it receives, and the degree, in which it is sufsered to influence the character. It occurs to your minds, perhaps, that little praise can be bestowed on the morals of many a nation, where christianity