Robert Morehead.

A series of discourses on the principles of religious belief as connected with human happiness and improvement (Volume 2) online

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the moment that it was preached to
them, the natural and original equality
among men was felt and acknowledg-
ed, and those opinions and prejudices
which would consign any part of the hu-
man race to slavery and oppression were
for ever put to the blush. While the
precepts of the Gospel have constantly
discouraged and repressed all irregula-


rity and turbulence, yet, in every Christ-
ian country, the inferior classes have
gradually been rising in consequence
and weight, and the rich and the power-
ful have been made to hear the voice
which says, that in all essential respects
men are equals and brethren. This
voice has awed the insolence of the op-
pressor, and has awakened the feelings
of the humane, and the public-spirited,
it has been heard by kings upon their
thrones, and legislators in their senates ;
and now, at length, (at least in one fa-
voured land,) the poor man in his cottage
may sit secure under the shelter of equal
laws ; and, while encircled by his chil-
dren, he prays to the God of their Fa-
thers, he feels, with exulting gratitude,
that the daily bread which blesses their
industry cannot be wrung from them,
but that they too have a place allotted
to them in the unviolated sanctuary of
their country !


While the influence of the Gospel has,
in this manner, produced the independ-
ence and freedom of the lower orders of
men, it has, at the same time, rendered
these advantages more secure, by opening
their minds to the desire, and by supply-
ing them with the means, of knowledge
and improvement. The education of the
poor (the great subject to which I am
led, by the charity of this day) has
originated entirely, let it be remember-
ed, from their instruction in the Scrip-
tures ; and whatever advantages the
world may derive from the general prer
valence of education, must ultimately be
referred to that source from which they
have sprung. How much, therefore,
of the progress of knowledge and ci-
vilization among mankind has received
its impulse from the Gospel having been
preached to the poor ! And to what other
cause can we so well ascribe the first


movement of that advancing stream of
intellectual cultivation which is now en-
circling the dwellings of men, and which
all the efforts of prejudice and presump-
tion will never be able effectually to im-

There is no period since the intro-
duction of the Gospel, when so much
has been done as in the present age, to
give effect to- the gracious designs of its
Author, in undertaking the protection
and instruction of the poor : yet, even
with respect to this truly Christian enter-
prise, which we should imagine would, of
all others, be the most free from miscon-
ception, prejudices have arisen, and con-
troversies have been set on foot, which
may at least have the good effect of prov-
ing, that it is not to the Gospel, as its ene-
mies are apt to insinuate, that the spirit of
contention and disputation is in any in-
stance to be imputed, but to those princi-'


pies of pride and opposition in human na-
ture, which are ever ready to find or to
make occasions of dissension. In former
ages, when the minds of men were en-
tangled in the foolish disputes of the
schools, they seized hold of every real
or imagined obscurity in the doctrines
of Christianity, and upon these found
means to fasten all the quibbles and the
sophisms of mistaken ingenuity, and ran-
cour, and presumption, and thus to give
a pretext to the infidel for maintaining,
with some plausible shew of reason, that
such are the natural consequences of the
mysteries of Christian faith. But it has
been left for this age to demonstrate, that
even the most enlightened principles of
Charity are liable to similar misapprehen-
sions and controversies that not only in
the nice distinctions of theological opi-
nions, but in the open ground of Christian
exertion, there are sects and parties, and


alarms of heresy, and that here, too,men
will tie themselves to favourite names,
and split hairs with all the refinement of
scholastic subtlety, where their only ob-
ject ought to be to promote " the glory
" of God in the highest, and on earth
" peace, good-will towards men !"

I will not insult your reason, my bre-
thren, by entering into any such contro-
versial discussions ; nor do I conceive it
necessary, especially after the persuasive
and unanswerable eloquence which you
have heard on a former part of this day,
to prove to you, that when you educate
the poor of your people, you are per-
forming a work most consonant to the
spirit of the Gospel. What greater or
nobler charity, even in a temporal point
of view, than to instruct them in those
simple branches of knowledge, by which
their industry may extend the sphere
of its operations, by which they may


be rendered more able to gain an honest
subsistence; or, perhaps, to ascend in
the scale of society ! How important,
in every moral view, to give them some
taste for intellectual exertion ; to open
to them some of those enjoyments of the
understanding, which may raise them
above mere sensual existence, and may
make them feel the rank which they hold
in the system of being ! How contempt-
ible those apprehensions which look upon
the improvement of the faculties and
minds of the lower orders, as any infringe-
ment upon the privileges of the higher,
or suppose that men will be less regular
and orderly, when they have been reared
to habits of thought and of industry,
than when they are left to the dominion
of brute passions, or will be less sensi-
ble of the advantages of political union
and distinctions, when they can them-
selves reflect upon the necessary arrange-


ments of society, than when their minds
are left open to every impression which
they may receive from the &ctious dema-
gogue !

I am ready to admit, my brethren, that,
without attention to religious instruc-
tion, all other knowledge is at times pro-
ductive of evil, but when we are giving
way to the weakness of such alarms, let
us call to mind, that u the Gospel is
" preached to the poor 5" that every plan
of education for them is necessarily found-
ed upon Religion ; that the volume of the
Scriptures is that which must, before all
others, be put into their hands ; and that
the first rising of the pride of reason
in their hearts will be checked by the
sentiment of Christian humility ! There
is no ground of alarm with respect to the
instruction of the poor, give them edu-
cation, you must, at the same time, give
them the Gospel ! Alas ! it is a very dil-


ferent order of men who, although pos-
sessed of the glad tidings of salvation,
yet do not always seem, so readily, to feel
their import. It is to the pride of rank, of
riches, and of talents in the higher classes
of society, that the greatest gift which
was ever given to men is so often given
in vain ! The poor naturally cling to the
precious boon ; if they ever come to de-
spise it, it is not from what they have
learned, but from what they have seen : it
is not from knowing too much, but from
imitating too closely, from giving their
superiors credit for more information and
wisdom than they in fact possess ! This
is in truth the chief advantage of the edu-
cation of the poor : put it in their power
to find Religion, and they will find it, find
it, almost, for themselves, as it meets them,
in the beautiful and tender simplicity of
Scripture, where they are so often called by
name, where promises are given them so


vast in extent, and so pure in principle ;
where they will trace the footsteps of Him
who lived and died for them, and whose
Sacred Voice, while it rebukes every tur-
bulent or repining thought which may
spring from the hardships of their condi-
tion, is ever with them to cheer them in
their toils, and to applaud their humble

But it is unnecessary, in this part of our
land, to expatiate upon truths which are
so well known. The steady, and wise, and
religious character of the Scottish pea-
santry has long been proverbial ; and it
can be ascribed to nothing so much as to
that system of useful and pious discipline
which has descended to them from their
Fathers. This system, however, could not
be carried into effect in those situations in
which it was most wanted, in Cities, where
there are so many temptations to every
species of vice and idleness ; and it may

VOL. n. H

be accounted one of the most providen-
tial discoveries of the present age, that
means have been fallen upon, to simplify
the business of Education, and to bring it,
at a comparatively small expence, with-
in the reach of every individual in the
community. To whom the merit of this
discovery is principally due, or from what
quarter it has chiefly arisen, I know not,
my brethren, nor have I much anxiety
to inquire ; but this I know, that it is
worse than folly to obstruct its mighty
efficacy in the great work of instruction,
by which the lower ranks of men are to
be trained to the habits of virtuous in-
dustry, of intelligence, of Morals, and
of Religion, from any weak scruples,
and surmises, and imaginations of evil
without a name !

You have it, this day, in your power to
shew your superiority to such delusions :
to assist those wise and benevolent men,


who have so nobly exerted themselves in
this great work ; who are too well aware
of the value of religious knowledge, ever
to give their sanction to any plan of edu-*
cation which is not built on the eternal
rock of the Gospel ; who are careful that
the first book which is presented to
the poor, should be the volume of
Christian salvation ; and who, while they
are anxious that they may be taught the
means of providing for their temporal
good, are, above ah 1 things, anxious that
they may " have the Gospel preached to

;7 Oil! it'


Ism .



HT ** 1'r>

MARK, n. 13.

;j 'liJii* *iOi '' ^ii:

" And he went forth again fy the sea~sid&>
" and all the multitude i*esorted unto htm f
6k and he taught them."

IN following out the history of our Lord,.
we have already seen him going from
place to place within the district of Gali-
lee, where his parents resided, and which
he does not seem to have quitted for some
time after he began his ministry. Occa-
sionally we find him in the synagogues


expounding the Scriptures, and preaching
the " Gospel of the kingdom of God ;"
at other times he goes forth, as in the
text, into the scenes of Nature ; and from
a mountain or by the sea-side, he calls
the attention of the multitude who resort-
ed unto him, to those sublime discoveries
which connect earth with Heaven. In a
former discourse, * I took occasion to
make some observations on those acts of
miraculous beneficence which accompa-
nied his progress. I am now led to ex-
amine his methods of instruction, and
some of the lessons which he delivered.

In the present state of the world, in-
struction is commonly conveyed in a
regular and didactic form ; and there
may, therefore, seem to us to be, at times,
no small want of connection in the dis-
courses of our Saviour, and in the writ-

* See Discourse V,

ings of the Apostles. To enter into the
full spirit of these, we ought to re-
move ourselves, in fancy, to the age
in which they lived, and to the descrip-
tion of people to whom their words were
most commonly addressed. In an age in
which men were not much accustomed
to general or abstract reasonings, it
was more useful, surely, to state the re-
sults of any system of Moral or Religious
truth, in a striking and simple manner,
than to point out all the processes of
thought by which they might be establish-
ed. We accordingly find that, even in
our Saviour's most regular discourses, a
great many truths are brought successive-
ly into view, connected rather in their
general spirit, than by any distinct chain
of reasoning, and they are stated brief-
ly and decisively, as maxims which may
stand upon their own evidence, with-
out requiring much illustration in their


support. This method was particularly
suited to that order of people to whom
the truths of the Gospel were originally
preached, the poorer and more ignorant
classes of society ; and it is this form of
doctrine, so frequent in the Sacred Writ-
ings, which, notwithstanding the occasion-
al obscurity arising from a reference to
peculiar customs, and from obsolete modes
of expression, still adapts them so remark-
ably to the taste and the understanding
of the multitude.

It was not often, however, that our
Saviour delivered his precepts in any
thing like a prepared and set form. The
most noted instance of the kind is that
beautiful and comprehensive view of
Christian duty, given us by St Matthew,
which is commonly called the Sermon
on the Mount. His more usual method
was, to take occasion from some incident
iu the common intercourse of life, to ex-


plain to his followers some one or other
of those enlarged views of Duty which
were so much above the common gro-
velling notions of his countrymen ; and
it is in this unostentatious guise that we
still gather, in the course of his history,
most of those pure and perfect prin-
ciples to which nothing, in any respect
equal, can be found in the most re-
fined Schools of Human Philosophy. At
other times, he veiled instruction under
the garb of some simple allegory or
story ; and in this shape, so well adapted
likewise to a rude period of Society, and
so interesting still, from the contrast be-
tween the loftiness of the truths thus de-
li vered and the homeliness of the dress
in which they are disguised, many, as
you well know, of the most important
precepts of the Gospel are conveyed.

In the present Lecture* an opportunity
is afforded me of illustrating a few of


those great truths unfolded by our Lord,
as they arose naturally from the incidents
which befel him ; in the following one,
I shall have occasion to examine some
of his more remarkable Parables.

In the verse immediately following the
text, we find him adding to his disciples
a man of the name of Levi, taken from
that class of people who were particular-
ly odious to the Jews, the tax-gatherers
appointed by the Roman government.
We may, indeed, suppose, that these men
were frequently guilty of acts of cruel-
ty and injustice ; yet our Saviour seems
always to have looked with much more
indulgence upon those vices into which
men were betrayed by the peculiarities
of their situation, than upon those which
argued a hardened and' vitiated heart.
The Publicans, therefore, who, in the
Jewish stile, are constantly classed with
sinners, he seems always to have had


much satisfaction in representing as infi-
nitely more amiable than the proud Doc-
tors of the Law, who were so entirely sa-
tisfied with themselves, and all their own
performances. In the present instance,
mankind have been greatly benefited
by the choice made of the publican Levi,
as we are informed that he was, the same
individual who, under the name of Mat-
thew, has left the most important, per-
haps, of all the narratives of his Master's

When he went into the house of this
new convert, and sat down at meat with
him and his friends, the ill-natured and
illiberal spirit of the Jewish teachers, the
Scribes and Pharisees, was immediately
excited. " How is it," they said to his
disciples, " that he eateth and drinketh
" with publicans and sinners ?" This gave
occasion to the observation which follows,
and which contains, in a few words, so


much of the genuine spirit of Christian-
ity. " When Jesus heard it, he saith un-
" to them, They that be whole have no
" need of the physician, but they that
" are sick. I came not to call the right-
" eous, but sinners, to repentance." It
may, indeed, be affirmed, that, in these
words, the most distinguishing feature of
the Gospel is brought before us. The
great object of our Saviour's coming in-
to the world was, that he might call
" sinners to repentance." Other ob-
jects, no doubt, he had in view. He
came to elevate the hopes of the right-
eous, " to bring life and immortality to
" light," and to raise, in consequence of
these discoveries, the moral character of
mankind. He came likewise to com-
fort man under the afflictions of his pre-
sent condition, and to shew him, that
the servant of God can only be " made
*< perfect by suffering."


These were great and beneficent designs.
At the same time, these triumphant hopes
and consolations of Religion have ever
been, in some degree, the portion of the
righteous : virtue itself suggests them to
the mind ; and, although they have never
been felt so fully as by those whom the
Gospel has instructed, yet it is not here
that the astonishing mercy of that dis-
pensation is peculiarly to be found.
Amidst all the gloom and misery of
mortality, the good man can lift the eye
of hope ; k is the sinner who can find
no beam of consolation ; it is he who
feels himself hated by man, despised by
himself, without hope of pardon from
God, and who wears out his life in me-
lancholy dejection, or seeks a vain relief
in the repetition of his sins. Even in
heathen times, Virtue under misfortune
could find consolation by laying claim to
the protection of Providence ; and the


object which, of all others, was supposed
most interesting to the Deity, was that
of a good man struggling nobly with the
storms of the world. It was left for an
higher philosophy to discover that there
was yet an object more interesting to
Heaven, that of a bad man turning
from the evil of his ways, that the tears
of the penitent are precious in the sight
&( Angels, and that the Father of Spirits
is ever ready to be entreated by those
who long to be restored to his favour.

Such was the great design of Almighty
benevolence in the promulgation of the
Gospel. The passage before us shews
further m what manner this design was
executed. Our Saviour came to offer
pardon to an offending world. Did he
therefore come with a supercilious air of
authority, and assume an unfeeling supe-
riority to the beings whom he came to
reform ? No ; he lowered himself to their


condition in every thing but sin ; he went
easily, we perceive, into every kind of so-
ciety, and took no precedence except
what was naturally yielded to his Wisdom
and his Virtue. It was by the gentlest and
most insinuating means that he carried on
the work of reformation. Wherever pe-
nitence appeared, that instant he em-
braced and received it, and would never
permit the haughtiness of human virtue
to repress the returning sinner. No man,
indeed, according to the Religion which
he taught, has a right to claim any inhe-
rent superiority over his fellow-creatures ;
those who think themselves righteous
above all others, he considered as the
farthest removed from the true principles
of Christian perfection ; and while they
supposed themselves at a distance from
the class of sinners, in his view they
were the most nearly connected with
them. Nothing, therefore, could be finer


than the covert reproof which he here
gave to the Pharisees, and to all such


false pretenders to righteousness. He
seemed to say, that they were too right-
eous to require any assistance from him ;
but their consciences must have inform-
ed them, when he made this observation,
that in fact they required, more than any
others, the healing of the Divine Physi-
cian ; and that it was in that character
only, not as good and perfect men, that
they could have any title to approach to

While the principle of Christian mercy
is so beautifully brought out in these few
expressions, " I came not to call the
" righteous, but sinners, to repentance,"
the liberality and freedom of the duties
which the Gospel inculcates are shewn
in the course of some other little inci-
dents which immediately follow. The
same morose and intolerant Characters


who seemed to think it so unbecoming


a Divine Teacher to go into the company
of sinful men, likewise found fault with
our Saviour, because he did not strictly
inculcate the necessity for those external
observances which constituted, in their
apprehensions, the chief sum of Religion.
He did not insist that his disciples should
fast ; and on the Sabbath-day his piety
did not principally shew itself in the mi-
nuteness of rules and forms.

On the subject of fasting, his thoughts
are veiled in a language somewhat meta-
phorical ; but it is not difficult to discover
his meaning. He means to say, that all
practices of this kind are, in fact, merely
helps to Devotion ; and while he was with
his disciples, and instructed them in the
true principles of Religion, and fired their
hearts with the love of God and of man,
that they stood in no need of any artifi-
cial self-denial ; and that he would leave

-t iri'ii. x*tl T JiJ 11 irtACfJ'J

it to themselves to discover the proper
occasions for again resorting to such as-
sistances, when, upon his quitting them,
they should be once more exposed to the
dangers and temptations of the world.
" Can the children of the bride-chamber
" fast, while the bridegroom is with them ?
" So long as they have the bridegroom
" with them, they cannot fast. But the
" days will come when the bridegroom
" shall be taken away from them, and then
" shall they fast in those days." He adds
another reason for the little weight which
he laid on the external offices of reli-
gion, his great object was to point out
its real and essential duties, and if he
had wasted time in expounding the for-
mer, he would have weakened the force
of his other instructions, so infinitely
more important. These observances,
which had constituted the whole religion
of the Pharisees, were therefore the old



garment, which it was quite vain to at-
tempt to mend, and which it was much
better at once to throw aside, and to pro-
vide a new one in its stead,

Our Saviour's observations on the Sab-
bath are no less enlightened and valuable.
The Pharisees reproached his disciples
for plucking the ears of corn on that day,
as they passed through some corn-fields ;
and on another occasion, which we find
at the beginning of the third chapter,
they have even the effrontery to throw
out insinuations against himself, for per-
forming upon the Sabbath the miracle of
restoring the withered hand. Nothing,
certainly, could be more absurd than ap-
cusations of this nature ; but in an age
in which so much stress was put upon
outward forms, they probably carried
some aspect of plausibility. Mankind
are therefore much beholden to the de-
cisive and triumphant refutation which


the words of our Lord have for ever given
to such bigotted notions. He represents
the institution of the Sabbath as in-
tended for the improvement and the
happiness of the human race therefore
any action which was either indifferent,
and had no tendency to carry away the
mind from religious impressions, or which
was conducive to the necessary support
of life, could never be justly construed
as contrary to the spirit of that holy or-
dinance. " The Sabbath was made for
" man, and not man for the Sabbath."
Much less could any blame be justly
thrown on the exercise of acts of benefi-
cence upon that sacred day. Such acts
were, on the other hand, the most cor-
respondent of any with its character. In
an enlarged view of Christian duty, not
" to do good," if it is in our power, is " to
" do evil r " not " to save life," if we are
able to save it, is " to kill ;" and surely


the dispositions which led to such a de-
scription of conduct were not suited to
the heavenly benevolence of the Sabbath.
There are still one or two instances
that follow in succession, which I shall
quote as additional examples of the inci-

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Online LibraryRobert MoreheadA series of discourses on the principles of religious belief as connected with human happiness and improvement (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 18)