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Of Atheistical Discourse.
I Begin with those which relate to God, this poor despicable member the tongue being of such a gigantic insolence, though not size, as even to make war with heaven. Tis true every disordered speech doth remotely so, as it is a violation of God’s law; but I now speak only of those which as it were attack his person, and immediately fly in the face of Omnipotency. In the highest rank of these we may well place all Atheistical Discourse, which is that bold fort of rebellion, which strikes not only at his Authority, but Himself. Other blasphemies level some at one Attribute, some another; but this by a more compendious impiety, shoots at his very being; and as if it scorned those piece-meal guilts, sets up a single monster big enough to devour them all: for all inferior profaneness is an much outdated by Atheism, as is religion itself.
2. Time was when the inveighing against this, would have been thought a very impertinent subject in a Christian nation, and men would have replied upon me as the Spartan Lady did, when she was asked what was the punishment for adulteresses, There are no such things here. Nay, even amongst the most barbarous people, it could have concerned but some few single persons, no numbers, much less societies of men, having ever excluded the belief of a Deity. And perhaps it may at this day concern them as little as ever; for amidst the various Deities and worships of those remoter nations, we have yet no account of any that renounced all. Tis only our light hath so blinded us: so that God may upbraid us as he did Israel, Hath a nation changed their gods which yet are no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Jer. 2. 11. This madness is now the enclosure, the peculiarity of those, who by their names and institution should be Christians: as if that natural Aphorism, That when things are at their height they must fall again, had place here also, and our being of the most excellent, most elevated religion, were but the preparation to our being of none.
3. Tis indeed deplorable to see, how the professors of no God begin to vie numbers with all the differing persuasions in religion, so that Atheism seems to be the gulf that finally swallows up all our Sects. It has struck on a sudden into such a reputation, that it scorns any longer to skulk, but owns itself more publicly than most men dare do the contrary. Tis set down in the seat of the scorner, and since it cannot argue, resolves to laugh all Piety out of countenance, and having seized the mint, nothing shall pass for wit that hath not its stamp, and with it there is no metal of so base an alloy, but shall go current. Even the dullest creature that can but stoutly disclaim his Maker, has by it sufficiently secured its title to ingenuity; and such measures being once established, no wonder at its shoals of proselytes, when it gives at the one hand license to all sensual inordinancies, permits them to be as much beasts as they will, or can, and yet tells them on the other, that they are the more men for it. Sure tis not strange that a hook thus doubly baited should catch many. Either of those allurements single, we see has force enough. The charms of sensuality are so fascinating, that even those who believe another world, and the severe revenges that will there attend their luxuries, yet choose to take them in present with all their dismal reversions. And then sure it cannot but be very good news to such a one to be told, that that after-reckoning is but a false alarm: and his great willingness to have it true, will easily incline him to believe it is so. And doubtless were Atheism traced up to its first cause, this would be found the most operative. Tis so convenient for a man that will have no God to control or restrain him, to have none to punish him neither, that that utility passes into Argument, and he will rather put a cheat upon his understanding by concluding there is no future account, than leave such a sting in his pleasures, as the remembrance of it must needs prove. This seems to be the original and first rise of this impiety, it being impossible for any man that sees the whole, nay, but the smallest part of the Universe, to doubt of a first and supreme Being, until from the consciousness of his provocations, it become his interest there should be none.
4. This is indeed, considering the depravity of the world, a pretty fast tenure for Atheism to hold by; yet it has of late twisted its cord, and got that other string to its bow we before mentioned. Its bold monopolizing of wit and reason compels, as other invited men. This we many indeed call the devil’s press, by which he hath filled up his troops. Men are afraid of being reproached for silly and irrational, in giving themselves up to a blind belief of what they do not see: and this bugbear frights them from their religion, resolving they will be no fools for Christ’s sake. 1 Cor. 4. 10. I dare appeal to the breasts of many in this Age, whether this have not been one of the most prevalent temptations with them to espouse the tenet: and though perhaps they at first took it up, only in their own defense, for fear of being thought fools, yet that fear soon converts into ambition of being thought wits. They do not satisfy themselves with deserting their religion, unless they revile it also; remembering how themselves were laughed out of it, they essay to do the like by others. Yea, so zealous propugners are they of their negative Creed, that they are importunately diligent to instruct men in it, and in all the little sophistries and colors for defending it: so that he that would measure the opinions by their industry and the remissness of believers, would certainly think that the great interests of Eternity lay wholly on their side. Yet I take not this for any argument of the confidence of this persuasion, but the contrary: for we know they are not the secure, but the desperate undertakings, wherein men are most desirous of partners, and there is somewhat of horror in an uncouth way, which makes men unwilling to travail it alone.
5. The truth is, though these men speak big, and prescribe as positively to their pupils, as if they had some counter revelation to confute those of Moses and Christ, yet were their secret thoughts laid open, there would scarce be found the like assurance there. I will not say to what reprobate sense some particular persons may have provoked God to deliver them, but in the generality, I believe one may affirm, that there is seldom an infidelity so sanguine as to exclude all fears. Their most bold Thesis, That there is no God, no judgement, no hell, is often met with an inward tremulous Hypothesis, What if there be? I dare in this remit me to themselves, and challenge (not their consciences, who profess to have none, but) their natural ingenuity to say, whether they have not sometimes such damps and shivering within them. If they shall say, that these are but the relics of prepossession and education, which their reason soon dissipates, Let me then ask them farther, whether they would not really give a considerable sum to be infallibly ascertained there were no such thing: no sensible man would give a farthing to be secured from a thing which his reason tells him is impossible: therefore, if they would give anything (as I dare say they cannot deny to themselves that they would) tis a tacit demonstration that they are not so sure as they pretend to be.
6. I Might here join issue upon the whole, and press them with the unreasonableness, the disingenuousness of embracing a profession to which their own hearts have an inward reluctance, nay, the imprudence of governing their lives by that position, which for ought they know may be (nay, they actually fear is) false, and if it be, must inevitable immerse them in endless ruin. But I must remember my design limits me only to the faults of the Tongue, and therefore I must not follow this chase beyond those bounds. I shall only extend it to my proper subject, that of Atheistical talk, wherein they make as mad an adventure as in any other of their enormous practices, nay, perhaps in some respects a worse.
7. In the first place, tis to be considered, that if there be a God, He, as well as men, may be provoked by our words as well as our deeds. Secondly, tis possible he may be more. Our ill deeds may be done upon a vehement impulse of temptation; some profit or pleasures may transport and hurry us, and they may at least have this alleviation, that we did them to please or advantage ourselves, not to spite God: but Atheistical words cannot be so palliated: they are arrows directly shot against heaven, and can come out of no quiver but malice; for tis certain there never was man that said, There was no God, but he wished it first. We know what an enhancement our injuries to each other receive from their being malicious: and sure they will do so much more to God, whose principal demand from us is, that we give him our heart. But thirdly, this implies a malice of the highest sort. Human spite is usually confined within some bounds, aims sometimes at the goods, sometimes at the fame, at most but at the life of our neighbor: but here is an accumulation of all those, backed with the most prodigious insolence. Tis God only that has power of annihilation, and we (vile worms) seek here to steal that incommunicable right, and retort it upon himself, and by an anti-creative power would unmake him who has made us. Nay lastly, by this we have not only the utmost guilt of single rebels, but we become ringleaders also, draw in others to that accursed association: for tis only this liberty of Discourse that has propagated Atheism. The Devil might perhaps by inward suggestions have drawn here and there a single Proselyte, but he could never have had such numbers, had he not used some as decoys to ensnare others.
8. And now let the alert Atheist a little consider, what all these aggravations will amount to. ‘Twas good counsel was give to the Athenians to be very sure Philip was dead, before they expressed their joy at his death, lest they might find him alive to revenge that hasty triumph. And the like I may give to these men, Let them be very sure there is no God, before they presume thus to defy Him, lest they find Him at last assert His being in their destruction. Certainly nothing less than a Demonstration can justify the reasonableness of such a daring. And when they can produce that, they have so far outgone all the comprehensions of mankind, they may well challenge the liberty of their Tongue, and say, We are our own, who is Lord over us? Psa. 12. 4.
9. But till this be done, twere well they would soberly balance the hazards of this liberty with the gains of it. The hazards are of the most dreadful kind, the gains of the slightest: the most is but a vain applause of wit for an impious jest, or of reason for a deep considerer: and yet even for that they must encroach on the Devil’s right too, who is commonly the prompter, and therefore, if there be any credit in it may justly challenge it. Indeed tis to be feared he will at last prove the master wit, when as for those little loans he made to them, he gets their souls in mortgage. Would God they would consider betimes, what a woeful raillery that will be, which for ought they know may end in gnashing of teeth.
10. The next impiety of the Tongue is Swearing, that foolish sin which plays the Platonic to damnation, and courts it purely for itself, without any of the appendant allurements which other sins have: a vice which for its guilt may justify the sharpest, and for its customariness the frequentest invectives which can be made against it: but it has been assaulted so often by better pens, and has showed itself so much proof against all Homily, that it is as needless as discouraging a task for me to attempt it. Tis indeed a thing taken up so perfectly without all sense, that tis the less wonder to find it maintain itself upon the same principle tis founded, and continue in the same defiance to reason wherein it began.
11. All therefore that I shall say concerning it, is to express my wonder how it has made a shift to twist itself with the former sin of Atheism, by which according to all rules of reasoning it seems to be superseded: and yet we see none own God more in their oaths, than those that disavow him in their other discourse: nay, such men swear not only to swell their language, and make it sound more full and blustering, but even when they most desire to be believed. What an absurdity of wickedness is this? Is there a God to swear by, and is there none to believe in, none to pray to? We call it frenzy to see a man fight with a shadow: but sure tis more so, to invoke it. Whey then do these men of reason make such solemn appeals (for such every oath is) to a mere Chimera and Phantasm? It would make one think they had some inward belief of a Deity, which they upon surprise thus blurt out: if it argue not this, it does something worse, and becomes an evidence how much the appearance of a sin recommends it to them, that they thus catch at it, without examining how it will consist with another they like better. These are indeed wholesale chapmen to Satan, that do not truck and barter one crime for another, but take the whole herd: and though by reason of their disagreeing kinds they are apt to gore and worry each other, yet he still keeps up his old policy, and will not let one Devil cast out another. A league shall be made between the most discordant sins, and there shall be a God, or there shall be none, according as opportunity serves to provoke him: so assuming to himself a power which even Omnipotence disclaims, the reconciling of contradictions. And the Devil succeeds in it as far as his concern reaches: for though he cannot solve the repugnancies in reason, yet as long as he can unite the sins in men’s practice, he has his design, nay, has at once the gain and the sport of fooling these great pretenders to ratiocination.
12. A Third sort of impious discourse there is, which yet is bottomed on the most sacred, I mean those profane paraphrases that are usually make upon the holy Text, many making it the subject of their cavils, and others of their mirth. Some do it out of the former Atheistical principle, and I cannot but confess they act consonantly to themselves in it: for this but a needful artifice for men to disparage those testimonies, which they fear may be brought against them. But there are others who not only profess a God, but also own the sacred Scripture for His word, and use it as coarsely as the others. And these, I confess, are riddles of profaneness that hang, as some have pictured Solomon, between heaven and hell, borrow the Christian’s faith, and the Atheist’s drollery upon it: and tis hard to say in which they are more the earnest. It is indeed scandalous to see, to what despicable uses those holy Oracles are put: such as should a Heathen observe, he would little suspect them to be owned by us as the rule of our religion, and could never think they were ever meant for anything beyond a whetstone for wit. One tries his Logic upon them, and objects to the sense; another his Rhetoric, and quarrels at the phrase; a third his contrivance, and thinks he could have woven the parts with a better contexture: never considering, that unless they could confute the Divinity of their original, all these accusations are nothing else but direct blasphemy, the making God such a one as themselves, Psa. 50. 21. and charging Him with those defects which are indeed their own. They want learning or industry to sound the depths of those sacred treasures, and therefore they decry the Scripture as mean and poor; and to justify their wisdom, dispute God’s. This is as if the mole should complain that the sun is dark, because he dwells under ground, and sees not its splendor. Men are indeed in all instances apt to speak ill of all things they understand not, but in none more than this. Their ignorance of local customs, Idioms of language, and several other circumstances, renders them incompetent judges, (as has been excellently evinced by a late Author). Twill therefore befit them, either to qualify themselves better, or to spare their Criticisms. But upon the whole, I think I may challenge any ingenious man, to produce any writing of that antiquity, whose phrase and genius is so accommodated to all successions of ages. Styles and ways of address we know grow obsolete, and are almost antiquated as garments: and yet after so long a tract of time, the Scripture must (by considering men) be confessed to speak not only properly, but often politely and elegantly to the present age: a great argument that it is the dictate of Him that is, The same yesterday, today, and forever. Heb. 13. 7.
13. But besides these more solemn traducers, there are a lighter ludicrous sort of profaners, who use the Scripture as they do odd ends of plays, to furnish out their jests; clothe all their little impertinent conceits in its language, and debase it by the mixture of such miserable trifles, as themselves would be ashamed of, were they not heightened and inspired by that profaneness. A Bible phrase serves them in discourse as the haut-goust does in diet, to give a relish to the most insipid stuff. And were it not for this magazine, a great many men’s raillery would want supplies: for there are divers who make a great noise of wit, that would be very mute if this one Topic were barred them. And indeed, it seems a tacit confession that they have little of their own, when they are fain thus to commit sacrilege to drive on the trade. But sure tis a pitiful pretence to ingenuity that can be thus kept up, there being little need of any other faculty but memory to be able to cap Texts. I am sure such repetitions out of other books would be thought pedantic and silly. How ridiculous would a man be, that should always enterlard his discourse with fragments of Horace, or Virgil, or the Aphorisms of Pythagoras, or Seneca? Now tis too evident, that it is not from any superlative esteem of sacred Writ, that it is so often quoted: and why should it then be thought a specimen of wit to do it there, when tis folly in other instances? The truth is, tis so much the reserve of those who can give no better Testimony of their parts, that me thinks upon that very score it should be given over by those that can. And sure were it possible for anything that is so bad to grow unfashionable, the world has had enough of this to be cloyed with it: but how fond soever men are of this divertissement, twill finally prove that mirth Solomon speaks of, which ends in heaviness. Prov. 14. 13. For certainly, whether we estimate it according to human or divine measure, it must be a high provocation of God.
14. Let any of us but put the case in our persons: suppose we had written to a friend, to advertise him of things of the greatest importance to himself, had given him ample and exact instructions, backed them with earnest exhortations and conjurings not to neglect his own concern, and lastly enforced all with the most moving expressions of kindness and tenderness to him: suppose, I say, that after all this, the next news of we should hear of that letter, were to have it put in doggerel rime, to be made sport for the rabble, or at best have the most eminent phrases of it picked out and made a common by-word: I would fain know how any of us would resent such a mixture of ingratitude and contumely. I think I need make no minute application. The whole design of the Bible does sufficiently answer, nay, outgo the first part of the parallel, and God knows our vile usage of it does too much (I fear too literally) adapt the latter. And if we think the affront too base for one of us, can we believe God will take it in good part? That were to make Him not only more stupid than any man, but as much so as the heathen idols, that have eyes and see not, Psa. 115. 5. And tis sure the highest madness in the world, for any man that believes that there is a God, to imagine he will finally sit down by such usage.
15. But if we weigh it in the scale of religion; the crime will yet appear more heinous. Mere natural Piety has taught men to receive the Responses of their gods with all possible veneration. What applications had the Delphic Oracle from all parts, and from all ranks of men? What confidence had they in its prediction, and what obedience did they pay to its advice? If we look next into the Mosaical Oeconomy, we shall see with what dreadful Solemnities that Law was promulgated, what an awful reverence was paid to the mount whence it issued, how it was fenced from any rude intrusions either of men or beasts: and after it was written on tables, all the whole equipage of the Tabernacle, was designed only for its more decent repository, the Ark itself receiving its value only for what it had in custody. Yea, such a hallowing influence had it, as transfused a relative sanctity even to the meanest utensils, none of which were after to be put to common uses: the very perfume was so peculiar and sacred, that it was a capital crime to imitate the composition. Afterwards, when more of the divine revelations was committed to writing, the Jews were such scrupulous reverers of it, that twas the business of the Masorites, to number not only the sections and lines, but even the words and letters of the Old Testament, that by that exact calculation they might the better secure it from any surreptitious practices.
16. And sure the New Testament is not of less concern than the Old: nay, the Apostle asserts it to be of far greater, and which we shall be more accountable for, For if the word spoken by Angels were steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great Salvation, which at the first began to be spoken to us by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard it? Heb. 2. 23. And it is in another place the inference of the same Apostle, from the excellency of the Gospel above the Law, that we should serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. Heb. 12. 28. And certainly tis but an ill essay of that reverence and godly fear, to use that very Gospel so irreverently and ungodily as men now do. If we pass from the Apostolic to the next succeeding ages of the Church, we find the Primitive Christians looked on their Bibles as their most important treasure. Such was the outward respects they paid to them, (of which the standing up at the reading of Gospel, still in use among us, is a faint memorial) that the heathen persecutors made it one part of their examination of the Christians brought to their tribunals, What those books were which they adored while they read them? Such was their intimate esteem, that they exposed all things else to the rapine of their enemies, so they might secure those volumes. Nor was this only an heroic piece of zeal in some, but indispensably required of all: insomuch that when in the heat of persecution, they were commanded to deliver up their Bibles to be burned, the Church gave no indulgence for that necessity of the times, but exhorted men rather to deliver up their lives: and those whose courage failed them in the encounter, were not only branded by the infamous name of Traitors, but separated from the communion of the faithful, and not readmitted till after many years of the severest penance.
17. I Have given this brief narration, with a desire that the reader will compare the practice of former times with those of the present, and see what he can find either among Heathens, Jews, or Christians, that can at all patronize our profaneness. There was no respect thought too much for the false Oracles of a falser god: and yet we think no comtempts too great for those of the true. The moral law was so sacred to the Jews, that no parts of its remotest retinue, those ceremonial attendants, were to be looked upon as common: and we who are equally obliged by that Law, laugh at that by which we must one day be judged. The Ritual, the Preceptive, the Prophetic, and all other parts of sacred Writ, were most sedulously, most religiously guarded by them: and we look upon them as a winter night’s tale, from which to fetch matter of sport and merriment. Lastly, the first Christians paid a veneration to, nay, sacrificed their lives to rescue their Bibles from the unworthy usage of the Heathens, and we ourselves expose them to the worse: they would but have burned them, we scorn and vilify them, and outvy even the persecutor’s malice with our contempt. These are miserable Antitheses; yet this God knows is the case with too many. I wonder what new state of Felicity hereafter these men have fancied to themselves: for sure they cannot think these retrograde steps, can ever bring them so much as to the Heathen Elysium, much less the Christian Heaven.
18. It will therefore concern those who do not quite renounce their claim to that Heaven, to consider soberly, how inconsistent their practice is with those hopes. A man may have a great estate conveyed to him; but if will madly burn, or childishly make paper kites of his Deeds, he forfeits his title with his evidence: and those certainly that deal so with the conveyances of their eternal inheritance, will not speed better. If they will thus dally and play with them, God will be as little in earnest in the performance, as they are in the reception of the promises; nay, He will take His turn of mocking too, and when their scene of mirth is over, His will begin. Prov. 1. 24. which deserves to be set down at large, Because I have called, and ye refused, I have stretched out may hand and no man regarded: But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof, I will also laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh. When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind: when distress and anguish cometh upon you, then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer, they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me. Would God I could as well transcribe this Text into men’s hearts, and there would need no more to secure the whole Canon of Scripture from their profanation. Could men but look a little before them, and apprehend how in the days of their distress and agony, they will gasp for those comforts which they now turn into ridicule; they would not thus madly defeat themselves, cut off their best and only reserve, and with a pitiful contempt cast away those Cordials, which will then be the only support of their fainting spirits. As for those who deride Scripture upon Atheistical grounds, all I shall say is to refer to what I have said in the beginning of the Section; they had need be very well assured that foundation be not sandy: for if it be, this reproaching God’s word will be a considerable addition to the guilt of all their other hostility, and how jolly soever they seem at present, it may be when that question they are so willing to take for granted, is by death drawing near a decision, some of their confidence will retire, and leave them in an amazed expectation of somewhat, which they are sure cannot be good for them, who have so ill provided for it. Then perhaps their merry vein will fail them; and not their infidelity, but their despair may keep them from invocating that Power that they have so long derided. Tis certain it has so happened with some: for as practical, so Speculative wickedness, has usually another aspect, when it stands in the shadow of death, than in the dazzling beams of health and vigor. It would therefore be wisdom beforehand to draw it out of this deceitful light, and by sober, serious thoughts place it as near as may be in those circumstances in which twill then appear: and then sure to hearts that are not wholly petrified, twill seem safer to own a God early and upon choice, than later upon a compulsion.
19. However, if they will not yield themselves Homagers, yet the mere possibility of their being in the wrong, should methinks, persuade them at least to be civil to adversaries. A generous man will not pursue even a falling enemy with revilings and reproach, must less will a wise man do it to one who is in any the least probability of revenging it: it being a received Maxim, That there is no greater folly than for a man to let his tongue betray him to mischief. Let it therefore, in this case at least, stand neuter, that if by their words they be not justified, yet by their words they may not be condemned. They can be no losers by it: for at the utmost, tis but keeping in a little unsavory breath, which (supposing no God to be offended with it) is yet nauseous to all those men who believe there is one. To those indeed who have a zeal for their faith, there can be no Discourse so intolerable, so disobliging: it turns conversation into skirmishing, and perpetual disputes. The Egyptians were so zealous for their brutish Deities, that Moses presumed the Israelites sacrificing of those beasts they adored, must need set them in an uproar, Exod. 8. 26. And sure those who do acknowledge a Divine power, cannot contentedly sit by to hear Him blasphemed. Tis true there are some so cool, that they are of the same mind for God, that Gideon’s father was for Baal, Judg. 6. 31. Let him plead for himself, they will not appear in His defense: yet even these have a secret consciousness, that they ought to do so, and therefore have some uneasiness in being put to the Test: so that it cannot be a pleasant entertainment even for them. And therefore those who have no fear of God to restrain them, should methinks, unless they be perfectly of the temper of the unjust Judge, Luke 17. 1. in respect to men abstain from all sorts of impious discourse; and at least be civil, though they will not be pious.
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