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Philosophers of every age; who have always been the most devout men. Far from being puffed up with the pride of human Learning, or “ashamed of the Gospel of Christ,” they have made it their glory, and acknowledge it to contain the only infallible rules of their conduct in this life, and the only foundation of their hope in that which is to come. It is said of the great Sir Isaac Newton, that, though he entered further into the depths of Philosophy than ever mortal before him, yet he accounted the Scriptures of God to be the most sublime Philosophy; and never mentioned his Creator's name without an awful pause of adoration, wonder and self-abasement!
The further we push our inquiries into nature, the more we shall be convinced of the greatness of its author, and the insufficiency of unenlightened Reason. We shall find many things of the utmost importance for us to know, which yet will baffle all our efforts, and elude our most eager researches. The creation and various revolutions of the world, the fall and redemption of man, the last judgment and an įmmortality to come, are subjects in which no human wisdom could instruct us, unless the Lord had been pleased to reveal himself concerning them.
And yet what is all the Philosophy in the world compared to a knowledge in these points? Where is its sublinity, or what is its significancy to us, if it affords us no infallible rule of duty at present, and no ground of hope hereafter? If it leaves us in the dark concerning our own original, the means of salvation from sin and misery, and the immortal state of our souls in the untried periods of eternity?
What joy, then, must it yield to a sincere Inquirer, to be sufficiently informed upon these important subjects, by a revelation from God himself? Can he neglect or despise such an awful system? Or will he not rather take it to his bosom, search into its depths, and reverence it as “ containing the words of eternal life,” and being the richest legacy which heaven could give, or earth receive?
Such a Revelation and such a Legacy are the Scriptures of God. In all the simplicity of truth and beauties of majesty, they deliver those rules by which we are to live here, and be judged hereafter. Containing doctrines the most rational and exalted, precepts the most humane and important, a stile the most rich and persuasive, abounding in all the variety of tropes and figures, and “ sharper than a two-edged sword,” the Scriptures are calculated to seize and purify the affections; to enlighten and exalt the understanding; to alarm and rouse the conscience; to confirm our hopes and remove our fears; to banish superstition and cast down the idols of the nations; to mitigate lawless power and humanize the rage of barbarism; and to call men off from a vain dependence on external ceremonies, to a trust in the Living God; obedience to his moral laws, repentance for past offences, an acceptable and manly devotion of heart, a longing after Immortality, an union with the divine nature, and an exaltation to the life of Angels and felicity unspeakable!
Every thing which human reason would desire to be informed in, is fully brought to light in the Gospel. Here the Origin, Connections and Duties of man are amply described! Here his departure from his first Innocence and rectitude, the degradation of his nature, and all the marvellous workings of omnipotence to reclaim and save him, are distinctly recorded! Here we see the Prophets prophesying for his sake, the old world destroyed by a Deluge; another raised up in its place; and, last of all, the Lord of Glory descending from heaven, to accomplish the amazing Plan of Redemption, and restore him to the divine favour! Here also Life and Immortality are brought to light, and the future displayed! Here the solemnity of the last Judgment, and the astonishing scenes of the general Consummation, are laid before us! Here Death is disarmed of his Sting, and the Grave of Victory! Here the gates of Heaven are set open-and Oh! what an unutterable weight of Glory, through all the ages
Say, then, ye Wise Ones of the earth! ye Sages, ye Philosophers, or by whatever other names ye would be called! say now, what is the amount of your knowledge, if it resolves you not on such subjects as these? Can an acquaintance with human Science render you indifferent to such an exalted system of heavenly Wisdom as this? Surely not. The one will only inflame your thirst for the other, and make you pursue it as the finishing and most durable part of the whole.
“ For, whether there be Tongues, they shall cease; or whether there be Knowledge, it shall vanish away.” This vain world itself, all its gay scenes, every thing that we account wise or curious in it,
shall come to an end and please no more. But the sublime subjects of the Gospel will still be New. They will be the object of our endless inquiries, and constitute'a Philosophy, the Marvellous of which eternity cannot exhaust, nor the longest periods of Juration bring to decay.
And now, having shewn the subserviency of human Science to the advancement of Christianity, and that a liberal education is a means of spreading a thirst for heavenly wisdom; what need I add more to bespeak your continued favour and protection of this Seminary? Surely it cannot be indifferent to us, whether the knowledge of Christ and his blessed Gospel shall be spread over this continent, or not? Surely it cannot be indifferent to us, whether our own children should be bred up in ignorance; or whether they shall shine in every moral excellence, the glory of their country and a light to the world around them? We must know the relation in which we stand to them, and the account which we shall one day be required to give of their tender years.
For whatever business a man may be designed, a liberal education will not only prepare him for that, but also for a life of general virtue-If intended for the noble Profession of the Law, to be the protectors of the innocent and advocates of justice; the best foundation will be a love of humanity, and a thorough knowledge of the laws of nature, and general rights of mankind. If for the service of the state, the same will hold good. The man best acquainted with the nature of civil government, the just bounds of authority and submission, and the universal principles
of equity and virtue, will always be the ablest Politician and firmest Patriot. Again, if intended to follow the healing art of Physic, the knowledge of Mathematics and the various branches of Natural Philosophy, will be the best introduction. If proposed for the Ministry of the blessed Gospel, every human Science ought to lend its aid, and kindle a love of wisdom.
If other arguments were necessary to induce you to the cultivation of knowledge and the support of such useful seminaries as this; I might display to you the wonderful change which the Sciences have produced in the state of every country, where they have been received. Though they have not been able wholly to eradicate Tyranny, yet they have always checked and mitigated its influence; inspiring humanity, love of moral excellency, and every softer virtue.
But why should I bring instances from other countries, when one of the most illustrious is before our eyes? This polished and flourishing City!* what was it fourscore years ago? Even its foundations were not then laid; and in their place was one depth of gloomy wilderness! This very spot, the Seat of the Muses-where I have now the honour to stand, preaching the Gospel of Jesus, surrounded with men excelling in every valuable accomplishment, and youths rising after their great example—had I seen it then, what should I have found it? A spot rank
* In 1761, when this Sermon was first preached, fourscore of years was about the time which had elapsed since the foundation of the city of Philadelphia. Upward of forty years more are now to be added.