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THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION EASY TO BE UNDERSTOOD.
EPHESIANS iji. 4.
When ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the
mystery of Christ. BRETHREN,
Suppose the apostle Paul, when he first stood up in the synagogue at Ephesus to teach Christianity to the Jews, or in the school of Tyrannús to a mixed assembly, had begun his discourse by saying, " Men of Ephesus, I am going to teach a religion which none of you can understand;" I say, suppose this ; put yourselves in the place of the Ephesians, and you must allow, that he would have insulted his hearers, disgraced himself, and misrepresented the religion of Jesus Christ.
He would have insulted the assembly; and they would have thought, This man either doth understand the subject of which he is going to speak, or he doth not. If he doth not understand it himself, he hath gathered us together only to hear him confess his ignorance; and what have we to do with that? If he be ignorant, let him sit silent as we do, and give place to such as do know what they talk of. If he does understand it himself, why should he affirm we cannot ? Are we assembled to hear him boast? Does he take us for idiots, who have no reason, or for libertines, who make no use of what they have ?
He would have disgraced himself; for what can render a man more ridiculous than his pretending to instruct others in what he doth not understand himself? Paul
would have appeared in the pulpit just as one of you, taskers, would appear in the chair of a professor of Hebrew at a university. What character more disgraceful can a man assume, than that of the leader of a credulous, party, whose religion doth not lie in understanding and practising what is taught, but in believing that the teacher understands it! A provision indeed for the glorious consequence of a blind guide; but not for the freedom, and piety, and happiness of the people !
I said, he would have misrepresented the christian religion; and I am going to prove this, by showing you, that Christianity is not a secret but a revealed religion—that you are all of you able to understand it—and that there is every reason in the world why you should apply yourselves to the thorough knowledge of it.
By Christianity, I mean that religion which Jesus Christ taught his disciples, and which is all contained in the New Testament. Retain this observation, for it frees the subject from many difficulties. Some misguided Christians propose a great number of mysteries, that is, secrets to us; such as that the bread and wine in the Lord's supper cease to be bread and wine, and become the flesh, and bones, and blood of Christ ; such as that a wicked man is inspired by the Holy Ghost to lead us to heaven without our knowing the way; and that these wonders are performed by the uttering of certain words by a certain set of men; and these secrets, which nobody so much as pretends to understand, we are required to believe. However, we have one short answer for all mysteries of this kind ; that is, they are not taught in the New Testament, and therefore they are no parts of the Christian religion.
When I affirm the Christian religion is not a secret, obferve, I speak of Christianity now, and not formerly. Thus We free the subject from all the objections which are made against it from many passages in the New Testament. Christianity, say some, is often called a mystery, or a secret; even the text calls it so.
but the same text says, Paul knew this secret, and the Ephesians might understand what he knew of it, if they would read what he wrote to them. 66 When ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ."
Strictly speaking, the text intends only one part of Christianity, that is, the uniting of heathens and Jews in one religious community ; but what is affirmed of this one part is equally true of the whole. True religion had always been hid from the wisest of the heathens; and the Christian religion, which was then the only true religion, had not been made known in other ages to the Jews, as it was then to the Apostles; but Paul knew it, and he proposed to make all men see it. “I preach to make all men
We allow, the wisest man could never have known (for his life would have been too short, and his faculties too much confined) the true character of God; but we affirm, God revealed, that is, made it known unto the prophets and apostles by his Spirit; and these prophets and apostles have made it known to us by their writings.
When I affirm, the christian religion hath no mysteries now, I do not mean to say that the truths and the duties of Christianity are not connected with other truths and other exercises, which surpass all our comprehension ; but I affirm, that the knowledge of the incomprehensible parts, and the belief of what people please to conjecture about them, though they may be parts of our amusement, and perhaps improvement, are yet no parts of that religion which God requires of us under pain of his displeasure. Suppose I were to affirm, there is no secret in mowing grass, and in making, stacking, and using hay; all this would be very true ; and should any one deny this, and question me about the manner in which one little seed produces clover, another trefoil, a third rye-grass, and concerning the manner how all these convey strength and spirit to horses, and milk to cows, and fat to oxen in the winter; I would reply, All this is philosophy; nothing of this is necessary to mowing, and making, and using hay. I sanctify this thought by applying it to religion. Every good work produces present pleasure and future reward; to perform the work, and to hope for the reward from the known character of the great Master we serve, is religion, and all before and after is only connected with it.
What part of the christian religion is a mystery? Divide the whole into the three natural parts, of plan, progress, and execution ; the first was before this world bes