Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

that we

arise, the difficulties of behaving so as to secure our temporal interest, and the hazard of behaving so as to miscarry in it. There is, therefore, nothing incredible in supposing, there may be the like difficulty and hazard with regard to that chief and final good which religion lays before us. Indeed, the whole account, how it came to

pass

re placed in such a condition as this, must be beyond our comprehension. But it is in part accounted for by what religion teaches us, that the character of virtue and piety must be a necessary qualification for a future state of security and happiness, under the moral government of God ; in like manner, as some certain qualifications or other are necessary for every particular condition of life, under his natural government; and that the present state was intended to be a school of discipline, for improving in ourselves that character. Now, this intention of nature is rendered highly credible by observing, that we are plainly made for improvement of all kinds ; that it is a general appointment of Providence, that we cultivate practical principles, and form within ourselves habits of action, in order to become fit for what we were wholly unfit for before ; that, in particular, childhood and youth is naturally appointed to be a state of discipline for mature age; and that the present world is peculiarly fitted for a state of moral discipline. And, whereas objections are urged against the whole notion of moral government and a probation state, from the opinion of necessity, it has been shown, that God has given us the evidence, as it were, of experience, that all objections against religion on this head are vain and delusive. He has also, in his natural government, suggested an answer to all our short-sighted objections against the equity and goodness of his moral government; and, in general, he has exemplified to us the latter by the former.

These things, which, it is to be remembered, are matters of fact, ought, in all common sense, to awaken mankind, to induce them to consider in earnest their condition, and what they have to do. It is absurd, absurd to the degree of being ridiculous, if the subject were not of so serious a kind, for men to think themselves secure in a vicious life, or even in that immoral thoughtlessness which far the greatest part of them are fallen into. And the credibility of religion, arising from experience and facts here considered, is fully sufficient, in reason, to engage them to live in the general practice of all virtue and piety; under the serious apprehension, though it should be mixed with some doubt, (Part ii. ch. vi.) of a righteous administration established in nature, and a future judg

a

ment in consequence of it, especially when we consider, how

very questionable it is whether any thing at all can be gained by vice ; (page 266) how unquestionably little, as well as precarious, the pleasures and profits of it are at the best, and how soon they must be parted with at the longest. For, in the deliberations of reason, concerning what we are to pursue and what to avoid, as temptations to any thing from mere passion are supposed out of the case ; so inducements to vice, from cool expectations of pleasure and interest, so small, and uncertain, and short, are really so insignificant, as in the view of reason, to be almost nothing in themselves, and, in comparison with the importance of religion, they quite disappear and are lost. Mere passion, indeed, may be allegeil, though not as a reason, yet as an excuse for a vicious course of life. And how sorry an excuse it is will be manifest by observing, that we are placed in a condition in which we are unavoidably inured to govern our passions, by being necessitated to govern them; and to lay ourselves under the same kind of restraints, and as great ones too, from temporal regards, as virtue and piety, in the ordinary course of things, require. The plea of ungovernable passion, then, on the side of vice, is the poorest of all things, for it is no reason, and but a poor excuse. But the proper motives to religion, are the proper proofs of it, from our moral nature, from the presages of conscience, and. our natural apprehension of God, under the character of a righteous Governor and Judge; a nature, and conscience, and apprehension given us by him; and from the confirmation of the dictates of reason, by life and immortality brought to light by the gospel ; and the wrath of God revealed from heave!, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

END OF PART FIRST.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Some persons, upon pretence of the sufficiency of the light of nature, avowedly reject all revelation, as, in its very notion, incredible, and what must be fictitious. And, indeed, it is certain no revelation would have been given, had the light of nature been sufficient in such a sense as to render one not wanting and useless. But no man in seriousness and simplicity of mind can possibly think it so, who considers the state of religion in the heathen world before revelation, and its present state in those places which have borrowed no light from it; particularly, the doubtfulness of some of the greatest men concerning things of the utmost importance, as well as the natural inattention and ignorance of mankind in general. It is impossible to say who would have been able to have reasoned out that whole system which we call natural religion, in its genuine simplicity, clear of superstition ; but there is certainly no ground to affirm that the generality could : if they could, there is no sort of probability that they would. Admitting there were, they would highly want a standing admonition, to remind them of it, and inculcate it upon them. And farther still, were they as much disposed to attend to religion as the better sort of men are, yet, even upon this supposition, there would be various occasions for supernatural instruction and assistance, and the greatest advantages might be afforded by them.

So that to say, revelation is a thing superfluous, what there was no need of, and what can be of no service, is, I think, to talk quite wildly and at random. Nor would it be more extrava, gant to affirm, that mankind is so entirely at ease in the present state, and life so completely happy, that it is a contradiction to suppose our condition capable of being in any respect better.

There are other persons, not to be ranked with these, who seem to be getting into a way of neglecting, and, as it were, overlooking revelation, as of small importance, provided natural religion be kept to. With little regard, either to the evidence of the former, or to the objections against it, and even upon supposition of its truth, “ The only design of it,” say they, “ must be to establish a belief of the moral system of nature, and to enforce the practice of natural piety and virtue. The belief and practice of these things were perhaps, much pro, moted by the first publication of Christianity ; but whether they are believed and practised, upon the evidence and motives of nature or of revelation, is no great matter."*

This way of considering revelation, though it is not the same with the former, yet borders nearly upon it, and very much, at length, runs up into it, and requires to be particularly considered, with regard to the persons who seem to be getting into this way. The consideration of it will, likewise, farther show the extravagance of the former opinion, and the truth of the ob servations in answer to it, just mentioned. And an inquiry into the importance of Christianity, cannot be an improper introduction to a treatise concerning the credibility of it.

Now, if God has given a revelation to mankind, and commanded those things which are commanded in Christianity, it is evident, at first sight, that it cannot in anywise be an in, different matter, whether we obey or disobey those commands: unless we are certainly assured, that we know all the reasons for them, and that all those reasons are now ceased, with regard to mankind in general, or to ourselves in particular. And it is absolutely impossible we can be assured of this ; for our ignorance of these reasons proves nothing in the case, since

• Invenis multos-propterea nolle fieri Christianos, quia quasi sufficiunt sibi de bona vita sua. Bene vivere opus est, ait. Quod mihi præcepturus est Christus ? Ut bene vivam? Jam bene vivo. Quid mihi necessarius est Christus ? Nullum homicidium, nullum furtum, nullam rapinam facio, res alienas non concupisco, nullo adulterio contaminor. Nam inveniatur in vita mea aliquid quod reprehendatur, et qui reprehenderit faciat Christianum. Aug. in Psal. xxxi.

the whole analogy of nature shows, what is indeed in itself evident, that there may be infinite reasons for things, with which we are not acquainted.

But the importance of Christianity will more distinctly appear, by considering it more distinctly: First, As a republieation, and external institution, of natural or essential religion, adapted to the present circumstances of mankind, and intended to promote natural piety and virtue; and, secondly, As containing an account of a dispensation of things, not discoverable by reason,

in
consequence

of which several distinct precepts are enjoined us. For, though natural religion is the foundation and principal part of Christianity, it is not in any sense the whole of it.

1. Christianity is a republication of natural religion. It instructs mankind in the moral system of the world : That it is the work of an infinitely perfect Being, and under his goverment; that virtue is his law; and that he will finally judge mankind in righteousness, and render to all according to their works, in a future state. And, which is very material, it teaches natural religion in its genuine simplicity, free from those superstitions with which it was totally corrupted, and under which it was in a manner lost.

Revelation is, farther, an authoritative publication of natural religion, and so affords the evidence of testimony for the truth of it. Indeed the miracles and prophecies recorded in Scripture, were intended to prove a particular dispensation of Providence—the redemption of the world by the Messiah ; but this does not hinder but that they may also prove God's ral providence over the world, as our Moral Governor and Judge. And they evidently do prove it; because this character of the Author of nature is necessarily connected with, and implied in that particular revealed dispensation of things: it is likewise continually taught expressly, and insisted upon, by those persons who wrought the miracles and delivered the prophecies. So that, indeed, natural religion seems as much proved by the Scripture revelation, as it would have been, had the design of revelation been nothing else than to prove it.

But it may possibly be disputed, how far miracles can prove natural religion ; and notable objections may be urged against this proof of it, considered as a matter of speculation ; but, considered as a practical thing, there can be none. a person to teach natural religion to a nation, who had lived in total ignorance or forgetfulness of it, and to declare he was commissioned by God so to do: suppose him, in proof of his

[ocr errors]

God's gene

For, suppose

« AnteriorContinuar »