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and their Hearts were so darkned, that they not only dishonoured God by the groffest Idolatries, but debased themselves by the vilest Affections, and most unnatural Lufts.
THE wisest and best of all the Gentile Philosophers confessed the Degeneracy of the human Nature; they saw plainly the Disease, but none of them could prescribe the Remedy: this was to come from no other Hand but that of the Divine Majesty ; for as infinite Justice was offended, nothing less than infinite Mercy could find out a full Satisfaction.
IT pleased the Almighty therefore to make several Revelations of himself; to speak at fundry Times and in divers Manners unto the Fathers by the Prophets; but veiling the full Purpose of his Will under Types and Shadows, and a Ceremonial Law; reserving the fuller Manifestation of himself and his Mercy, to those Last Days when he spoke unto us by his Son. For though the Word of Promise was given as soon as Man had fallen ; and this Word fhone as a Light through all the Old Testament, in the Darkness of Types, Figures, Prophecies and Mysteries : yet that Light was to break out in a far greater Lustre than they afforded. And that Darkness was to be dispelled when the Sun of Righteousness should arise, to bring Life and Immortality to light by the Gospel.
THE Christian Religion excels all other Inftitutions in the World. It is every way worthy of the Divine Majesty; and most agreeable to the Reason. of Mankind. The Fears and Doubts how to appease the Displeasure and
Justice of the offended Deity are removed, and the Wisdom as well as Goodness of God has so disposed the Method of our Salvation, that by the Sacrifice and Death of Christ Jesus, the Justice of God was fully satisfied, and the guilty Fears of Man relieved.
THAT the Notion of a SUPREME BEING and of a FUTURE STATE, was universally believed and feared, is, evident. For to what Purpose else was so vast a Number of Brute Creatures in all Ages sacrificed, but to pacify the Deity: So strong were the Impressions of Guilt, and the Fear of Punishment, that they often facrificed their Children, to make Satiifaction for the Sins of their Souls.
IF there be no FUTURE STATE; if all the HAPPINESS of the human Nature be confin'd to this Life ; if the reasoning and thinking Part of Man, which is called the Soul, is to expire and be extinguished with the Body; the Condition of Brute Creatures is far more happy than that of Mankind; as will appear from a few Instances.
IF the sensitive Part of both be compared, those with which many of the Beast are endued, will be found much superior. Their Sight is quick, piercing and strong; their Hearing more acute; their Smell and Taste more delicate : most of them are freed from the many Disorders and Diseases to which the human Nature is liable ; (which are too often occasion'd by unruly Passions and Appetites.) They eat and drink no more than what is sufficient to their Nature, nor can be forced to do otherwise. If they are void of the Faculty of
Thinking, they are freed from the Anxieties that arise from it. They live without any
Concern for their future Subsistance, or any Apprehension of what may befal them : tho' they must die, they live without the Fear of it.
BUT this is far from being the Condition of Mankind; the reasoning and thinking Powers of the Mind will always be acting, and are generally employed upon Things future : how few are satisfied with what they actually poffefs; but their Desires in various ways are carried to the Pursuit of something they have
WHAT is called CONSCIENCE, is so active a Principle, that Men cannot avoid passing some Reflection on their own Actions : Every Man knows that he must die, and cannot be without some Apprehensions of a Future State, and of tentimes perplexed what that State shall be.
IT is true, the Generality of Mankind endeavour to suppress thefe Thoughts, and in various ways to divert themselves from what they call melancholy Reflections: some by abandoning themselves to the most enormous Vices; others engaging their minds in the Acquisition of Riches or Honours, which are commonly attended with great Disappointments and Vexations.
so that if there be no FUTURE STATE, the Conclusion which the Royal Prophet makes is most just: That though Man has the Honour of being a reasonable Creature, yet if his Happiness be only in this Life, he is not only like, but far more miserable than the Beasts that perish.
BUT if there be a Future State, either of ENDLESS HAPPINESS or inexpressible MISERY, of what infinite Concern is it to know how we may obtain the one, and escape the other. This the Christian Religion only can certainly inform us of. There is nothing more certain than that it is appointed for all Men once to DIE ; and if it be as certain that after Death comes the JUDGMENT, when the Almighty will render to every Man according to their Works; to them who by a patient Conti, nuance in well-doing, seek for Glory, Honour, and Immortality, ETERNAL LIFE. And if the Wrath of God Mall be revealed against all UnGODLINESS and Unrighteousness of Men; then of what infinite Consequence is it to know how Pardon and Mercy is to be obtained from the Almighty
OF this we can be assured only by that Divine Revelation which is contained in the Holy Scriptures.
THE Gospel recorded by the four Evangelists, may be viewed and considered under the following Heads.
I. AS containing a Relation of Facts.
First, THE Gospel contains the Relation of Facts, which are attested in
Instances by the four Evangelists. It begins with a Relation of the Appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Zecharias in the Temple, and to the Blessed Virgin ; with the History of the Nativity of John the Baptist.
IT describes the very Time and Place of our Saviour's Birth; which not only is proclaimed by an Heavenly Hoft, but Wise Men from the East are led by a Star to adore Him.
UPON the Arrival of these Eastern Magi at Jerusalem, Herod summons the Jewish Council, and inquires of them where the MesSIAH was to be born. Upon their searching the Prophets, they agreed it was to be at Bethlehem. This so awakens Herod's Jealousy, that to secure to his Family the Kingdom, he orders all the Infants of two Years old and under to be murdered ; which barbarous Massacre was taken notice of by the Historians of that Time, and was so notorious, that the most inveterate Enemies of the Christians never pretended to deny the Fact, as it is related by the Evangelists.
OUR Saviour's Nativity was at the precise Time foretold by the Patriarch Jacob, and by the Prophet Daniel : the Sceptre being then departed from Judah, and the Jewish Commonwealth subjected to the Roman Empire, and under the Government of Herod, an Ēdomite.
AND as our Saviour's Nativity was at the very Time foretold by the Prophecies in the Old Testament, it is evident from many Pas