« AnteriorContinuar »
moral duty, and a neceflary inftance of refpect and reverence due to God; it being as reafonable and fit, that I fhould attend to the voice and will of the Supreme Being in external revelation, as that I fhould fubmit to the voice and will of God by reafon or internal revelation.
Upon this foundation depends that command of Jefus Chrift: Ye believe in God, believe alfo in me. It is poffible in hypothefis that men may govern their paffions, and act well in fociety, who do not believe the being of a God. But yet to believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of those who feek him, is a principle of natural religion; and, as I imagine, neceffary to every man's happinefs in the divine acceptance. And by confequence, if it be the will of God that I should believe in Christ, and if there be evidence to convince me of the reasonableness of believing in him; it doth not feem more unreasonable that God fhould require me to believe in Chrift, than it doth that he should require me to believe in himself, in order to my receiving a reward of grace and favour from him; because if the fufficiency of evidence be a reafon for God's requiring belief in any cafe, it is a reason that will hold good in every one without exception."
Befides, if the observance of the religion and law of nature be allow'd to difpofe and prepare men for happiness in the favour of God, and tho' revelation cannot fet afide the obligations of the one or other, but is principally defigned to recover men to the knowledge of and a conformity to the original fitnefs of things, yet I apprehend that revelation may enforce the practice of them by fuch confiderations, and motives, and special precepts, as have no certain foundation in natural reafon and light; . . which men's reafon would never have led them to have thought of, without a divine direction and command.
If the religion of nature be of God's conftitution and appointment, and results from those relations which he himself hath been pleased to order and fix, I apprehend that fuch pofitive inftitutions which have a direct tendency to establish and promote men's regard to and observance of it, may be ordained of God, and thereby become obligatory upon men. Because if the law of nature itself neceffarily and univerfally obliges mankind, and their happiness depends on the obfervation of it; fuch inftitutions which render the obfervation of it more eafy and practicable, however voluntary and pofitive in themselves, are confiftent with all our notions of the divine perfections, and ought to be fo far from being objections against the truth of any religion that contains them, that they are rather arguments in favour of it, as they are evident proofs of the wife and tender concern of God for the perfection and happinefs of his creatures.
If then the peculiars of the chriftian religion have all of them this tendency, as I apprehend they have, it follows, that God's requiring us to obferve them is a reasonable and fit command, as it is a command refulting from his unerring wifdom, and his gracious regard to our welfare and intereft. And therefore in this refpect internal and external revelation, or the religion of nature and revelation may certainly differ, and the latter command what the former would never difcover or oblige to.
If it be objected against the chriftian' revelation, that it is not expli
cite and clear, but that those who fearch it fall into very different fentiments and opinions as to feveral articles of importance, and that 'tis scarce to be supposed that God fhould be the author of a revelation, which, when given, is incapable of being understood; I have this that gives my mind fatisfaction and eafe: that if there are any intimations of doctrines in fcripture, that fincere perfons who do the will of God, and lay afide all prejudice, and defire to receive the truths of God as far as they can understand them, cannot, after all their endeavour and care, come to the certain knowledge of, the knowledge of fuch doctrines cannot be neceffary to their acceptance and falvation; because Chrift Jefus exprefsly declares, that if any man doth the will of his father, he fhall know of the doctrine whether it be of God or no.
As to thofe doctrines, upon the acknowledgment of which the New Teftament writings do exprefsly make falvation to depend, I find to my very great comfort that they are very plain and intelligible in themselves, fuch as the existence of one God, the refurrection of Chrift from the dead, and there being one mediator between God and man, thro' whom God difpenfes all bleffings to his creatures. Thefe and other truths of like importance are fet in the cleareft light; and if any have obfcured and perplexed them by intricate diftinctions, and philofophical fpeculations, the gospel of Chrift gives no fanction to them, and the plain christian hath no concern and business with them.
If it be faid that the chriftian religion hath no better effect upon mankind than the light of nature had, and that therefore it can scarcely be imagined that God would be the author of fo ineffectual an inftitution; I answer, that I fuppofe it can never be made appear that mankind are now as univerfally in the fame circumftances of ignorance and vice, as they were before the revelation of the gospel.
The knowledge of one God, the univerfal creator and father, doth certainly more univerfally obtain than it did in the times of deep Paganifm and Idolatry; the precepts of religion and virtue are more generally understood; and the rewards and punishments of a future life more certain as to their evidence, and more extenfive as to the acknowledgment of them.
And tho' many who profefs to believe these things act contrary to their own principles, yet there have been many in every age, and now are, who, under the influence of this faith, live foberly, righteously and godly in the prefent world.
And as to those who do not, 'tis not owing to the infufficiency of the principles and motives of chriftianity, but to the want of confideration and a ferious regard to them, and to those powerful habits which they have contracted, and continue to ftrengthen by a wilful and allowed indulgence.
And therefore if the gofpel be objected against as infufficient to reform men, and engage them to the love and practice of religion and virtue, it must be because it doth not neceffitate and compel them, and lay an irresistible force on the mind to comply with it. Whereas if this were the cafe, it would be an unanfwerable objection against it, because this would destroy that freedom and choice of the mind, which is effen• VOL. III. Hh
tially neceffary to give virtue itfelf its proper value, and render it capa. ble of a reward from God. And of confequence if the chriftian religion contains every argument and motive that is proper to be laid before and influence reasonable and free creatures, its not always proving effectual is no argument of its infufficiency, nor the least shadow of proof that it is not worthy of and actually from God.
And lastly, if it be objected that it hath been the occafion of fuch confufions, diforders, mischiefs and calamities in the world, as that it can never be imagined that God would be the author of an inftitution that fhould be attended with fuch fatal confequences; I anfwer, That genuine chriftianity hath never been the caufe of any of the diftractions and miferies that have afflicted mankind, fince its entrance into the world; tho' that which hath been fubftituted in the room of christianity too often hath. Nothing is more visible and plain, than that the chriftian religion is defigned to calm the paffions, and cure the yices of mankind. And if its principles were but duly attended to, and its precepts heartily fubmitted to, chriftians would maintain the most excellent difpofitions, and lead the most iaoffenfive and blameless lives; and this world would be, what I please myself the next world fhall be, an habitation of righteousness, peace and joy. The perfection of the chriftian law as to all its moral precepts, and important motives, abundantly juftifies the wifdom and goodness of God in giving it; and be is no more anfwerable for men's corrupting and abufing it, and refufing to act agreeable to it, than he is for their abufing the bleffings of his common providence.
Upon a full view therefore of thefe and other objections, I think they are capable of a fatisfactory anfwer; and as the evidence for the truth and certainty of the Chriftian Religion ftands in full force, I think myfelf bound to receive it as a revelation from God, and to regulate my faith, and hope, and practice by it.
XII. AND that I might not be chargeable with partiality in my regards and attachment to Chriftianity, I have not only carefully examined the credentials it brings to prove its divine original, but I have also endeavoured honeftly to compare it with other religions that are in the world, as far as I am capable of understanding and judging concerning them; and this comparison confirms me in the belief of the chriftian religion, and increases my esteem and value for it.
Paganifm carries in it innumerable marks of its impiety and falfehood. The number of gods it hath introduced, the fuperftitions it countenances, the impure and barbarous rites it warrants and prefcribes, are demonftrative proofs it hath no foundation in the reafon and nature of things, and cannot be the appointment of or agreeable to the will of God, the fupreme unchangeable purity, wisdom and goodness.
As to Mahometanifm, tho' it pretends to the character of a revelation from God, yet it hath all the evident marks of a real impofture. The character of its author appears too fufpected ever to support the honour of his being a meflenger from God. His difclaiming miracles to atteft the truth of his miflion, is a plain acknowledgment of the
weakness and falsehood of his pretences. The few wonderful things related of him appear at first view to be fable and romance. His for bidding enquiries into the nature and principles of his religion, evi, dently fhews he was confcious to himself that it would not bear them. His propagating it by the fword, is proof fufficient that he knew it would not prevail with the weapons of reafon and argument. The falfehoods it contains as to matters of fact, demonstrate the ignorance or wickedness of its founder. The indulgences it gives to the appetites and fenfual defires of men, is a ftrong argument of the badness of his own inclinations, and fhews his refolution to facrifice chastity and virtue to the more prevalent views of ambition and power. Many of his precepts are abfurd and ridiculous, and unworthy the nature of true religion. And lastly, the motives and rewards fet before men, and promised by him to encourage them to embrace and continue in his religion, are fuited only to fuch whofe minds are oppreffed with fenfuality, and enslaved to vice; no way worthy of the known perfections of God, nor any way fuited to the rational fpiritual nature of man. And of confequence a religion thus defective in its evidence, and falfe in its very constitution and frame, can never be the inftitution of God, nor worthy of my reception and belief.
As to the Jewish religion, tho' this appears to have many genuine marks of its being the appointment of God, yet I find that it could not in its nature be intended for the religion of the world, because deveral of its precepts were fuch, as that by far the greatest part of the world could not poffibly comply with them. It was an inftitution peculiar to one particular nation and country, and of confequence as fuch never did or could oblige the rest of mankind. And as it was calcu lated for one peculiar people, fo it appears to have been constituted for a time only; the books themfelves, which contain the accounts of it, intimating that the Scepter fhould depart from Judah, that another prophet fhould be raifed up like to Mofes, and declaring that the days fhould come when God would make a new covenant with the house of Ifrael, and with the boufe of Judah, not according to the covenant that he made with their fathers, when he took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. Befides this, there appear to be various prophecies relating to a more excellent and durable state of things, to commence under the government and reign of a particular perfon, foretold in different ages, defcribed by various perfons, as to the time of his coming, the place of his birth, the nature of his works, his fufferings and death, his refurrection and kingdom, and other remarkable events that attended him. And as thefe predictions and circumftances do all center in Jefus Chrift, I plainly difcern that Judaifm is fo far from demanding my fubmiflion to it, that it directs me to Jefus Chrift, and is accomplished and perfected in him.
Upon all these accounts, I declare myself to be a Christian; and am confcious that I have not taken up the profeffion of Chriftianity by chance, or in compliance with the cuftom of my country, or merely thro' the force of education: But as my faith is the refult of a serious examination andim p rtial enquiry, and as I am perfuaded that its pre
tences to revelation and a divine original are fupported with all the ftrength of argument and proof that the nature of the thing will bear, or a reasonable mind can defire, I think it both my duty and interest to fubmit to it as an inftitution from God. And till I can see the evidence of it difproved, or the religion of Chrift itself demonftrated to be irrational and abfurd, I am determined by the grace of God to hold faft my profeffion to the end, seeking after the kingdom of everlasting glory by the practice of that righteousness which prepares for and leads to it; in a firm dependance upon the truth of that comfortable declaration of Jefus Chrift, That God fo loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten fon, that whofoever believeth in him, fhould not perish, but have ever lafting life.
END OF VOL. III,