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thofe great Favours conferred upon him by the Divine Grace. But thofe Favours have been reprefented as uncertain; as the Refult of our Obedience or Holinefs; and as the Subject of Self Examination. This is to make our Juftification, as it invefts us in thofe Bleffings, to be of Works, and not by Faith alone. Thus the very Ground of the Chriftian Life, the Grace of God, is taken away, and no Object left for the Faith of a Sinner to act upon.
390. (3.) The Chriftian Church, chiefly through Ambition and worldly Views, has, for many Ages, been broke into various Sects and Factions, diftinguifhed by fome peculiar Opinions, or Modes of Wor fhip; which have been made the Tefts and Terms of Admiffion into particular Churches. And the Zeal and Thoughts of Chriftians have been so much imployed about thefe party Tefts and Terms of Communion, that they have loft Sight of the only Condition of a Right to a Place in the Church, which Chrift and his Apostles established ; namely, that profeffed Faith in Chrift, upon which the firft Converts were baptifed, and of the Advantages and Privileges thence refulting. Instead of attending to what the Apoftles have taught, concerning our common Juftification, and Admiffions to the Bleffings of the Kingdom and Covenant of God, they have been bufy in fupporting with great Zeal their various Pretences and Peculiarities. Hence have arifen the bittereft Animofities and Quarrels. And thus the Minds of Men have been fo far led aftray from the pure, fimple Doctrine of the Gofpel, that it would, probably, have been wholly loft to the World, had not the good Providence of God preferved the Writings of the New Testament, as a Mean and Standard of Reformation. Which Writings the more we fudy with Care and Impartiality, the more we fhall difcern the Truth and Glory of the Chriftian Scheme; and, if we are wife to fubmit our Hearts to its Influences, it will be an infallible Guide to eternal Life.
FOR BEING A
SI was born of parents, who bear the Chriftian Name, and was inftructed by them from my earliest infancy in the principles and duties. of Chriftianity, though this in itself is no reafon why I fhould believe and fubmit to it; yet I think in gratitude to them for their care in my education, and from the deference I owe to their natural authority over me, I am bound to examine the Religion in which they have brought me up, that I may know whether it be confiftent with the truth and reafon of things, and confequently worthy my acceptation and belief.
I am, indeed, abundantly perfuaded, that religion ought to be my own free and rational choice, and that conviction, and not human cuthority, must be the rule of my judgment concerning it; and as I was directed by my parents to examine and judge for my felf, and find the Chriftian Religion in particular appealing to the reafon and confciences of mankind, I have endeavoured to make the most impartial enquiry I am capable of, and upon the strictest examination.
I. The reafon of my mind tells me, that there is a God, i. e. an eternal, ali-perfect Being, the original cause and preferver of all things, the great author of all the relations and dependences of things upon each other, the creator, proprietor, and therefore natural lord and governour of all the reasonable creation.
From hence it follows, that all creatures who are capable of underftanding their derivation from him, their dependance on him, and
their relation to him, are indifpenfably and neceffarily obliged to pay him thofe acknowledgments and fervices, which refult from, and are fuitable and proper to their refpective circumftances and conditions.
And by confequence religion, i. e. the worship and fervice of God, is the neceffary duty of every reafonable creature, and ought to be maintained and kept up in the world; and every man in particular is bound to make choice of that religion, which appears to him most confonant to reason, and to carry in it the most evident marks of its being from God, and moft agreeable to his nature and will.
II. As I find that religion is the neceffary duty of every reasonable creature, I am farther convinced of my obligation to make use of all the helps I can, to understand wherein the nature of it doth confift, And upon enquiry, I can think of but two ways by which I can come to the knowledge of it; and these are either the dictates of my own mind, and reafon, or fome informations, difcoveries and revelations from God, the great object of my religious worship.
The reafon of my mind is that which renders me capable of dif cerning what is fit and unfit in difpofition and behaviour; and from hence I derive the notion, and infer the reality of moral obligation: and when I farther confider the first independent mind as the author of these relations, and fitneffes which arife from them, I am convinced that it is his will that I should act fuitable to them, and that I offend when I do not; and from hence I infer the certainty of religious obligation. And fince this moral and religious obligation owes its rife only to my reflections upon the nature of man, and the relation I stand in to God and other beings, this is properly natural religion, or the religion of Nature,
Now tho' the religion of Nature be prior to and diftinct from revealed religion, and gives the characters by which we are to judge of the truth of revelation; yet the infufficiency of it, and therefore the expediency of a divine revelation, to lead men into a due knowledge of the principles, duties, and advantages of religion, appears ;
From that gros ignorance of God, and duty, which sprung from the general corruption and degeneracy of mankind; which rendered it highly improbable that any one in fuch circumftances fhould arife, who fhould be able to make the neceffary difcoveries of God and his perfections, and with clearnefs and folidity to reprelent men's obligations in their proper extent and compafs; at least not without thole mixtures of weakness and fuperftition, which might occafion the vicious and prejudiced to difregard his inftructions, and thus abate the general fuccels of them.
But if we could fuppofe his doctrines to be pure and unmixed, it is not probable, they would have a general or indeed any confiderable influence over the strong byafs that vice univerfally practifed had given to men, without the marks of a proper authority to awaken them to confideration; especially as thofe doctrines could not but want the mo tives and encouragements proportionate to fuch an effect.
'Tis indeed probable, that in fuch a fituation men might be led to fee, that by acting contrary to the reafon and fitnefs of things they had offended the firft and moft perfect mind; the natural confe
quence of this would be fear of punishment. This fear muft be in finite and boundless, as the power of God is conceived to be unlimited, and the nature and duration of the punishment would be abfolutely unknown. A confideration highly disfavourable to all endeavours to break off their finful habits, and attain to the contrary habits of
However, if we could fuppofe men by fuch a fear of punishment perfuaded to repentance, i. e. to ceafe from acting contrary to the fit nefs of things, and to conform themfelves for the future to it; their former violation of this unalterable law of reafon would remain, and can't in ftrift fpeaking be undone by any better behaviour afterwards; and of confequence their fears of punishment must remain.
If we fuppofe that men's natural notions of the divine goodness, and the forbearance that God exercifes in the courfe of his providence, would lead them to think it probable that repentance would fecure them from the dreaded punishment; fuch probability would in the nature of things be mixed with the greateft uncertainty, efpecially bccaufe upon confideration, men, in the circumftances we now place them, would find, after all, their deviations from the law of reafon many, and their virtue imperfect; and therefore there would ftill be uneafy fufpicions whether it be confiftent with the wifdom of the fupreme governour, entirely to remit the punishment due to fuch repeated offences.
If we fuppofe that men might reafon themfelves into this firm perfuafion and hope, that a return to a fincere, tho' imperfect virtue, would fecure them from the deferved evil; yet this will not lay a folid foundation to expect that happiness, and thofe marks of the divine fayour, which might have been hoped for, if there had been no devi ations from the rule of right and fit. Here the light of nature is at an entire lofs, and can never give men the neceffary affurances in this important article.
If it should appear inconfiftent with the perfections of deity not to make a distinction between those who return to virtue, and thofe who obftinately continue to act contrary to the fitness of things; yet the degree and manner of doing it, will ftill remain doubtful and uncertain, this being wholly dependant on the unknown pleasure and wildom of God. And of confequence the light of nature cannot determine, whether an imperfect virtue may not have fuitable degrees of punishment in another State; or if the probability should preponderate on the other fide, that God would reward a fincere, tho' imperfect vittue, reafon could never affure us, of what nature that reward should be, nor how long its continuance.
As every man finds himself liable to death, a refurrection could fcarcely be made appear by the light of nature probable, much lefs a refurrection accompanied with fuch favourable alterations as the chrif tian religion difcovers. In a word, if the light of nature could affure me of a future ftate, it could never make me certain that it should be a ftate of rewards, fince the virtue of this life is fo very imperfect, that the other life might prove a new state of farther trial.
But if it could go fo far as to render it probable, that it fhould be a
state of recompence; yet wherein the rewards of it confift, and how long their continuance and duration fhall be, it is fo little capable of giving any diftinct account of, that the greatest and wifeft of men, who had no other guide but this, appear to have lived and died in the greatest uncertainties about them; a fuli proof that the light of nature is not fufficient to inftruct us in thefe important articles, with any clearnefs and certainty: the confequence of which is, that men would want the proper arguments and motives to become virtuous with steadiness and conftancy, against all the difficulties and temptations of a general and univerfal degeneracy.
III. Since therefore the natural reafon of my mind appears thus greatly defective, and infufficient, I have confidered the other method of difcovering the will of God, and the principles and duties of religion, viz. immediate revelation from God himself; and as this involves no contradiction in the nature of the thing, it must be poffible to him, to whom belongs fupreme and unlimited power. Shall not be that made the eye fee? He that gave us all our converfable powers, fhall he not be able to converfe with us himself? Shall not the father of fpirits, who is intimately prefent to every being, have an accefs to his own offspring, fo as to affure the mind, that it is he himself, by fuch evidence, as fhall make it unreasonable to deny, or impoffible to doubt it? If men make themselves known, and difcover their fecret thoughts to each other, furely God can make himself known to men; elfe we must suppose his power more bounded than theirs, and that he wants a real perfection which they are poffeffed of.
And as this is poffible, my reafon farther tells me, 'tis highly defireable, the better to inftruct me what God is, and what I am my felf; what I must do, and what I fhall be; to fave men the labour of a flow and tedious compafs of obfervation, experience, and argument, which every one is not fit for, and which those who are, would be glad to be affifted in; to free me from the uncertainties and fears of my mind, that arife from the confcioufnefs of guilt, the fenfe of my being accountable, and the apprehenfions I have of a future ftate; to regulate my conduct, and guide me with fafety in the midst of prevailing ignorance and darkness, the mistakes and corruptions of mankind, the fnares of bad examples, and the numerous temptations to folly and vice; to establish my hopes, by fixing the rule of worship, fettling the conditions of pardon, affuring me of neceffary affiftance, and promifing. such rewards as are proper to fupport me under all the difficulties of my prefent duty. Thefe things the world by wifdem knew not; they were vain and mistaken in their imagination, and their foolish heart was darkened,
And as fuch a revelation is both poffible and defireable, the probability that there hath been one, may be fairly argued from the univerfal ignorance and corruption that hath overfpread the world, the characters of God as Father and Governour of mankind, the acknowledged goodness and equity of his nature, the fudden and aftonishing reformation that hath once been in the world, the numerous pretences that have been made to revelation in all ages and nations, which feem to argue the general content of mankind, as to the expediency and reality