Joseph White.

A Comparison of Mahometism and Christianity in their history, their evidence, and their effects : sermons preached before the University of Oxford, in the year 1784 .. online

. (page 1 of 25)
Online LibraryJoseph WhiteA Comparison of Mahometism and Christianity in their history, their evidence, and their effects : sermons preached before the University of Oxford, in the year 1784 .. → online text (page 1 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook







Barapton lectures


A Comparison of Mahometism and Christianity
in their Histonj, their Evidence,
and their Effects,




In the Yeak 1784,









Printed for and sold by F. C. and J. Rivingtos^ and

J. Parker, and Robert Bliss, Oxford.



UR. white's Bampton Lectures having
been long out of print, it ha^ been suggested
that a new Edition of thtin would be very ac-
ceptable. They are therefore now reprinted
from the first Edition, together with the Notes
and Authorities, which were chiefly omitted in
the subsequent ones,

Nov. 27, 1811.




T H ^ feoM ^1*1

.T, i

-trte ..ji


I ■" ^




" I give and bequeath my Lands and Estates

'^ to the Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars of the Uni-
" versity of Oxford for ever, to have and to hold all and
" singular the said Lands or Estates upon trust, and to
" the intents and purposes hereinafter mentioned ; that
" is to say, I will and appoint, that the Vice-Chancellor
" of the University of Oxford for the time being shall
" take and receive all the rents, issues, and profits
" thereof, and (after all taxes, reparations, and necessary
'' deductions made) that he pay all the remainder to the
*' endowment of eight Divinity Lecture Sermons, to be
'* established for ever in the said University, and to be
" performed in the manner following :

*' I direct and appoint, that, upon the first Tuesday in
'* Easter Term, a Lecturer be yearly chosen by the Heads
" of Colleges only, and by no others, in the room ad-
** joining to the Printing-House, between the hours of
" ten in the morning and two in the afternoon, to preach
" eight Divinity Lecture Sermons, the year following,
" at St. Mary's in Oxford, between the commencement
*' of the last month in Lent Term, and the end of the
" third week in Act Term.

" Also I direct and appoint, that the eight Divinity
*' Lecture Sermons shall be preached upon either of the
" following subjects — to confirm and establish the Chris-
^' tian Faith, and to confute all heretics and schismatics—


" upon the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures-,
" upon the authority of the writings of the primitive
'< Fathers, as to the faith and practice of the primitive
" Church— upon the Divinity of our Lord and Saviour
<< Jesus Christ— upon the Divinity of the Holy Ghost—
*' upon the Articles of the Christian Faith, as compre-
" hended in the Apostles' andT^^icene Creeds.

*' Also I direct, that thirty copies of the eight Divi-
" nity Lecture Sermons shall be always printed, within
*' two months after they are preached, and one copy
*' shall be given to the Chancellor of the University, and
^' one copy to the Head of every College, and one copy
*^ to the Mayor of the City of Oxford, and one copy to
<^ be put into the Bodleian Library ; and the expence of
*' printing them shall be paid out of the revenue of the
*' Lands or Estates given for establishing the Divinity
*' Lecture Sermons ; and the Preacher shall not be paid,
" nor be entitled to the revenue, before they are printed.

" Also I direct and appoint, that no person shall be
" qualified to preach the Divinity Lecture Sermons,
" unless he hath taken the Degree of Master of Arts
" at least, in one of the two Universities of Oxford
" or Cambridge ; and that the same person shall never
" preach the Divinity Lecture Sermons twice."

gjVKA AAAA^.^ ^

Matt. xi. IQ.

tdom is justified of her children,

J HE chapter in which these words occur
opens with a concise relation of the Baptist's
message to our Saviour ; which he sent, pro-
bably, not so much to confirm his own con-
viction, as to gratify the pious curiosity, and
to remove the modest scruples, of his fol-
lowers. Then follow the attestation which
our Lord bore to the character of John, and
the reflections he made on the treatment
which each of them received from a race of
men, w^hose jealousy made them suspect,
and whose perverseness disposed them to
counteract, the best methods that divine
Wisdom had adopted for their reformation.
A temper of mind so destitute of candour,
so incapable of solid improvement, so pre-
determined to resist the most salutary coun-
sels of Heaven, was, by way of exposing it
more effectually to contempt, compared to
that wayward folly which is frequently ob-



servable in children, whose obstinacy no
corrections can control, and whose compla-
cency no condescensions can win. If you
pipe to them, they are too sullen to dance ;
and if you mourn to them, they are too
gay to lament. The comparison, though
mortifying, was deserved; and, that it might
not lose its aim, our Lord made a parti-
cular application of it to the Jews. He.
informed them, without a figure, that they
were the perverse children whom he had
more immediately in view ; and that it was
their infatuated perverseness which the com-
parison was designed to illustrate and ex-
pose : for such contrary appearances did it
assume, that neither the exemplary austerity
of John, nor the more gracious familiarity of
Clirist himself, could either conquer its dis-
like, or conciliate its esteem. Did John lead
an abstemious life, and sequester himself
from the cares and amusements of the world,
as^ a course which seemed most favourable
to the solemnity of his office, and which,
as it removed him at a distance from tempt-
ation, promised to secure his character from
the petulance of ridicule, and the malignit}^
of reproach? With what eyes did the Jews
behold his conduct, and what interpreta-
tion did they put on it? By supposing that


he had a devil, or was under demoniacal in-
fluence, they thought such unnecessary se-
verity could be easily accounted for. Tliey
gazed, perhaps, some with stupid admiration,
and some even with contempt, at the rigour
of the hermit, but turned a deaf ear to the
warnings of the preacher.

Did our blessed Lord adopt a mode of
behaviour in some respects different from the
very austere habits of the Baptist's life ? Did
he possess more of the social qualities of hu-
man nature ? Was he more accessible, and
did he mix with the world and converse
with mankind with less distance and re-
straint? What effect had his amiable and
condescending manners on the people, who
had been offended at the strict self-denial
which his messenger had voluntarily imposed
on himself? Was their good opinion conci-
liated ? No. Their perverse humour was al-
wa3^s predominant, when their reformation
was the object ; and, in order to evade the
end, they vilified the means. Thus they tra-
duced our blessed Lord as a glutton and a
wine-bibber^ the friend of publicans and sin-

After these reflections on the inconsist-
ence of their judgment, and the stubborn-
ness of their dispositions, particularly as dis-

B 2


covered against himself, and the religion,
which he came to estabhsh, he adds, But
wisdom is justijied of her children. As if he
had said, " Though the generation to which
I am sent to disclose the first messages of
grace is so eager to misinterpret my doc-
trines, and to censure my conduct ; yet there
are those who are ready to bear their testi-
mony in my favour, from evidence too clear
to be contradicted, or even to be doubted.
Wisdom has its sincere advocates ; and they
who are best acquainted with its principles,
and most susceptible of its spirit, are best
qualified to defend it. The nearness of their
relationship puts tb.em in a situation the
most auspicious to conviction: and if in pro-
portion to their knowledge of its evidence b«
their zeal in its support, and their concern
for its interests, in spite of the cavils of the
unbelieving, and the persecutions of the
cruel, they will afford a testimony in its be-
half that will justify it to future generations.
B}^ the term wisdom in the text our blessed
Lord meant, as some suppose, himself ;
who is in the highest sense deserving of the
appellation, as being the word and wisdom
of God, in whom are hidden all the ireastiveH
of knowledge; and who is the true light, which
Ughteth every man that cometh into th^ world.


Others are of opinion, that the expression
was meant to convey a subhme idea of the
cliaracter of his gospel : which is in truth the
iJIiistration of divine wisdom, and the system
of that knowledge, which can alone make ns
wise vnto salvation ''.

A gospel so divine in its original, so excel-
lent in its design, and so beneficial in its ef-
fects, as it was worthy of all acceptation, so
did it gain many to espouse its interests,
whose conduct brought no discredit on the
cause they stood forward to defend. The
children of wisdom have frequently justified
it by arguments too strong for its enemies to
confute: and thousands in the pains of death,
and amidst the tortures of crucifixion, instead
of falling from it, have adhered to it with
firmer hopes, and fonder attachment ; and
breathed out their souls in attestations to its
truth, aud in prayers fpr its prosperity.

Nor has wisdom been denied the testi-
ijiony of enemies : a testimony, of which in-

• Wetstein has concisely and emphatically explained the word
'^iKxi&i^vi — Justa pronunciata est atque ahsoluta sapientia d'unna a
cultoribus suis. So when John, with the clearest precision, and
in a tone of the weightiest authority, had described the charac-
teristic proofs of his own mis^on, the people and the publicans
i^iKxtaa-ay rov Qiov ; acknowledged the righteous interposition of
God, and the propriety of the evidence which shewed him to
^ave interfered j ^nd were baptized with the baptism of John,

B 3


deed, it did not stand in need ; but which,
beino" extorted by the irresistible force of
truth, may well be esteemed as a confirma-
tion of its general evidence : since they
whose wish and whose interest it was to de-
cry it, yet were compelled, if not to receive
it wholly, yet to acknowledge it in part ; and
thus, like Pilate, pronounced him righteous,
whom they condemned ; and^ like Judas,
confessed him innocent^ whom they betrayed.
Though God, according to his promise,
has always had a seed to serve him, and which
might be accounted as his peculiar geriera-
tion ; men who have considered the success
of religion as intimately connected with
their own wxll-being, and who have there-
fore promoted it with a zeal and ardour in
some degree proportioned to its importance;
yet to the primitive ages of Christianity must
we turn our eyes for examples of the most he-
roic fortitude, and the most disinterested at-
tachment. Other examples may illustrate, but
these convince. Modern piety and zeal may
edify and warm the heart ; may excite our
emulation, and rouse up the languishing spirit
of devotion. But the trials of ancient times
produced examples so illustrious, that while
the heart is affected, the conscience also is
enlightened. We are not carried away with


sympatnetic impulses, which have no foun-
dation but in the wild dreams of fanaticism,
or the tumultuous emotions of enthusiasm.
No. The understanding takes a share in the
impression: we approve while we wonder;
and our reason is as much convinced by the
evidence of truth, as our passions are capti-
vated by the power of what is singular and

When we review those times in which sucli
great examples occur, we are led to make
comparisons that are by no means flattering
to the present age. The characteristic fea-
ture of the times in which we live is indif-
ference to religion in general. The power of
godliness is neglected ; and shall we wonder
that the form of it should be slighted and
despised? Under the pretence of emanci-
pating the human mind from the bondage of
superstition, the common offices of devotion
have been decried. From the affectation of
candour we have sunk into listlessness ; and
have tamely suifered a daring spirit of infi-
delity to oppose, and a specious heresy to
undermine, the interests of Christianity ; be-
cause we have been apprehensive that our
firmness would be stigmatized with the odious
name of bigotry !

It has indeed been always the unhappy


fate of mankind to run into extremes ; and
in matters of religion this perverse bent of
human nature has principally discovered it-
self Lukewarmness and intemperate zeal
have, each in its turn, proved unspeakably
injurious to the Christian cause. The for-
mer silently and secretly saps its founda^.
tions ; and though its progress be slow and
insensible, yet its effects are too fatal not to
alarm the friends of religion. The latter has
exposed the cause it professed to patronize ;
and, by its wrong and preposterous methods
of defence, has, in instances too numerous
to be recounted, but too melancholy to be
forgotten, afforded the enemies that opposed
it an occasion of triumph, which the merits
of their own cause by no means entitled
them to claim.

The children of wisdom, while they feel
their better hopes secured by its promises,
cannot grow indifferent to its interests, nor
look on the insults which are from time to
time offered to its most sacred and awful
obligations, with the coldness of uncon-
cerned spectators. They cannot see its holy
institutions slighted, or its essential doctrines
blasphemed, without lamenting that degene-
racy of mind and manners, which is the fatal
origin of all. They cannot but tremble at the


probable, I will not say approaching, issue
of such ingratitude to Heaven for its unspeak-
able gift.

But the wisdom which they are taught to
value, they know how to defend. The spirit
which it inspires isjirst pure, and then peacC'
able, gentle, full of good fruits, easy to be en^
treated, without partiality, and without hypo-
crisy. Their candour does not make them
lukewarm, nor their zeal uncharitable.

The Epicureans of antiquity, and the infi-
dels of our own days, arrogantly boast of
their high achievements, in snapping asunder
the chains of superstition ; and in the execu-
tion of their desperate purpose they go for-
ward with unshaken fortitude, and unremit-
ted alacrity. Must we then grow supine
and inactive, when the danger is more im-
minent and threatening ? Must we affect
the petty popularity, which arises from flat-
tering the prejudices of men, instead of
aspiring to the glory of saving their souls .^
Far be such complication of meanness and
perfidy from the children of wisdom.

We are exhorted to contend earnestly for
the faith once delivered to the saints : and
our Saviour has given us this awful warning,
that " if we are ashamed of him and of his
words in this adulterous and sinful genera-

10 SERMON 1.

tion, of us also will he be ashamed when he
comes in the glory of his father, and with his
holy angels/' But if we confess him before
men, if we vindicate the honour of his gospel
by a well-conducted opposition to those who
would discredit its divinity, or corrupt its
doctrines; if we justify our zeal by our prac-
tice, and thus glorify that holy name by which
we are called^ he will most certainly acknow-
ledge us in that day, when his approbation
will be the highest reward that an immortal
spirit can enjoy.

The sincere and well-informed advocates
of the gospel, while engaged in the justifica-
tion of its principles, and the support of its
interests, are careful not to lavish their acti-
vity on subjects of remote effect, or barren
curiosity. Wisdom reserves its vigour for ex-
ertions vv'orthy of its own noble aims; and if
it be zealously affected^ it is in a good thing.
Actuated by such motives, and placed in
such circumstances, it not only defies, all the
arts of calumny, but challenges some tribute
of praise. The everlasting truths of the gos-
pel, with which the welfare of mankind is
most nearly connected, demand our serious
regards, and justify the warmest efforts of
zeal, directed by knowledge, and tempered
by philanthropy.


There are errors that would bereave us of
every hope which pohits to immortahty,
loosen the best cement of society, and over-
turn the very constitution of religion both
natural and revealed. Opposition to such
errors deserves not the odious epithets of bi-
gotry and superstition. Infidelity, we know,
has its zealots ; and heresies of the most ma-
lignant tendency have their advocates; ad-
vocates, who scorn accommodation with
what they are pleased to call the inventions
of priestcraft, and the prejudices of the vul-
gar; who make a triumphant boast of the
freedom with which they oppose the pecu-
liar and distinguishing doctrines of Christi-
anity; who are neither ashamed nor afraid
to declare openly to the world, that as they
have hitherto exerted themselves, so v/ill the}?-
continue to exert themselves, in demolishing
the fortresses of orthodoxy. They disdain
to pay any reverence to the rust of anti-
quity—they are no respecters of the autho-
rity attached to names — they scorn to sacri-
fice any precarious opinion about the purity
of truth to the established peace of the
world. The collective wisdom and exem-
plary piet}^ of preceding generations are to
the philosopher a stumblingblock, and to th©-
innovator foolishness.


In repressing the violence, and in expos-
ing the absurdities, of such writers, we act a
part which prejudiced men may perhaps
impute to unworthy motives. But why
are we blamed for doing to others, what
others, if they supposed us to He under any
dangerous delusion, would make a merit of
doing to us? Is that officious in the children
of wisdom, which in their adversaries is bene-
volent? is their firmness our obstinacy? Their
cause surely has no presumptive proof of su-
periority. Their abilities are not of a greater
size. Their activity is not directed to nobler

They laugh indeed at our blindness, and
they rail at our ardour : but to hear the rude
clamours of those who assault Christianity, or
of those who betray it, without emotion and
without resistance, would imply a tameness of
spirit, which our enemies would be the first to
insult and to ridicule. By silent forbearance,
or languid opposition, we should indeed give
too much colour to an insinuation lately
thrown out by one who has rushed foremost
in the ranks, and sounded with a louder blast
than his fellows the horn of battle, that we
are at ease in Zio7i, only because we are
grown indifferent to her better interests.

There are indeed too many persons, from

SERMON 1. 13

whom a more consistent conduct might have
been expected, who are active in the prosecu-
tion of those temporal privileges, which are
connected with their spiritual function, and
Avho eagerly pant for honours and distinctions;
yet are too little concerned to promote the
honour of the gospel, and quite indifferent
about the preservation of those glorious
truths, wliich render it at once the admira-
tion and delight of rational but guilty and
fallen creatures.

But it is unfair to argue from particulars
to universals, and ungenerous to censure thq
whole for the defects or errors of a few.
There are many whose conduct still tends
to rescue their profession from the disgrace
which malice is eager to throw on it. Wis-
dom can yet boast of children, whose min-
gled zeal and prudence do not disgrace the
cause they have the honour to support.

But while they justify her cause, it is in
such a manner as will not bring any dis-
credit on its true principles and genuine ten-^
dency. Their zeal for God never contradicts
their charity to men. AVhile it opposes prin-
ciples which are injurious to the interests of
truth, and destructive to the souls of men,
yet it diminishes not the sincerest regard for
the persons of those by whom such princi-


pies are adopted. It loves the man, it esteems
the scholar, it applauds the believer, even
while it faithfully chastens his guilt, or freely
admonishes him of his error. But false zeal
will load with opprobrium, and then consign
to damnation every man whom it is vmable
to convince or to persuade : thus in the
church of Rome, if it cannot convert, it will
curse or exterminate ; when argument fails,
menaces succeed ; and, should threatening
be despised, it is rendered effectual by pu-

But zee have not so learned Christ. His
gospel inspires a diflerent spirit, and the
establishment and propagation of its truths
require a very ditferent mode of conduct.

There is some difficulty indeed in fix-
ing by precept the boundaries of that zeal,
with which Christians in general, and the
ministers of the gospel in particular, ought to
be inspired : but example will at once un-
fold the principle of zeal as a quality, and
enforce the obligation of it as a dut3^ In
the conduct of St. Paul we see this virtue
well illustrated ; and we may most becom-
ingly, and most profitably, contemplate it as
a model of imitation.

The principal object this illustrious child
of wisdom had in view Avas the glory of


God ; and this he was convinced could onlj
be properly and effectually promoted by
steadiness and prudence in maintaining the
great truths of the gospel. To an object so
momentous he sacrificed all that the world
calls dear ; his ease, his interest, his repu-
tation, 3^ea even life itself. No fundamental
doctrines did he obscure by partial sup-
pression, or refine away by sophistical inter-
pretation ; he taught them as he received
them from above. He scorned to temporize,
when his commission was clear, and the ob-
ject of high and indubitable importance. In
matters of little consequence he acted with
discretion ; but it v/as a discretion which
the strictest integrity warranted, which the
frailties or the prepossessions of his hearers
required, nay, w^iich the higher interests of
the church itself loudly and unequivocally
demanded »

We have a very animated description of his
noble and honest zeal in the necessary oppo-
sition which he made to the false teachers, who
had insidiously endeavoured, by hypocritical
shews of a purer and more ancient doctrine,
to corrupt and pervert the Gralatian church.
False brethren^ says he, unawares brought in^
who came privily to spy out our liberty which
we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring


us into hondage : to whom we gave place by sub-
jection no not for an hour ; that the truth of
the gospel inight continue with you\ Thus the
apostle exemphfiecl his own position, that
he could do nothing against the truth, either
negatively or positively; either by oppos-
ing it himself, or by tamely acquiescing in
the opposition of its enemies.

All truths are not of equal moment, or
supported by evidence equally clear ; in
matters of a doubtful nature, concession
therefore is ultimately of more advantage
to the interests of truth than contention.
We should, however, be careful ^vhat points
we assi™ to the class of dubious and unim-
portant controversy. Indifference, under the
mask of moderation, has made so many
grants by way of accommodating the gospel
to what has been sanctified by the plausible
name of reason, that very little seems left to
distinguish it from a system of mere theism.
Hence some men have violently wrested the
divinity and atonement of our blessed Sa-
viour from the Christian scheme, under the
pretence of reducing it to a greater degree
of simplicity, and of rendering it more con-
sistent with the prejudices of Jews, Maho-
metans, and infidels of every class : not con-
Gal, ii. 4j 5.


sidering, that in those prejudices the great
cause of Christianity must be lost ; and be-
fore them not only its pecuHar doctrines, but
even the more essential parts of moral and
religious duty, must give way.

If we must yield to preconceived opinions
by way of accommodation, why not to prac-
tices which have been rendered familiar by
custom, and to institutions which have on
them the venerable stamp of long prescrip-
tion ? Some have told us, that Ave shall never
convert the unbeliever, till we indiscriminate-
ly and avowedly abandon those doctrines

Online LibraryJoseph WhiteA Comparison of Mahometism and Christianity in their history, their evidence, and their effects : sermons preached before the University of Oxford, in the year 1784 .. → online text (page 1 of 25)