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XIII. Proposition XIII. Fourthly; all the [credenda, or] doctrines, which the true, simple, and uncorrupted Christian religion teaches, (that is, not only those plain doctrines which it requires to be believed as fundamental and of necessity to eternal salvation, but even all the doctrines which it teaches as matters of truth,) are, though indeed many of them not discoverable by bare reason unassisted with revelation; yet, when discovered by revelation, apparently most agreeable to sound unprejudiced reason, have every one of them a natural tendency, and a direct and powerful influence to reform men’s minds, and correct their manners, and do together make up an infinitely more consistent and rational scheme of belief than any that the wisest of the ancient philosophers ever did, or the cunningest of modern unbelievers can invent or contrive.
1. Of the one supreme God. That there is one only living and true God, existing of himself, by the necessity of his own nature, absolutely independent, eternal, omnipresent, unchangeable, incorruptible, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, knowledge, and wisdom; of perfect liberty, and freedom of will; of infinite goodness, justice, and truth, and all other possible perfections; so as to be absolutely self-sufficient to his own infinite and unalterable happiness: This is not only the first and principal article of the Christian 307faith, but also the first and most evident truth that the light of nature itself teaches us, being clearly demonstrable, upon certain and undeniable principles of right reason.
2. Of the only begotten son of God. That this supreme self-existent cause and father of all things did, before all ages, in an incomprehensible manner, by his almighty power and will, beget or produce a divine person, styled the Logos, the word, or wisdom, or son, of God; God, of God;333333 Θεὸς ἐκ Θεοῦ, in contradistinction to Ἀυτόθεος. in whom dwells the fulness of Divine perfections, (excepting absolute supremacy, independency, or self-origination;) being the image of the invisible God, the Col. i. 15. Heb. i. 3. Ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης ἀυτοῦ. John i. 2. xvii. 5. Heb. i. 3. Rom. ix. 5. and John i. 1. brightness of his father’s glory, and the express image of his person, having been in the beginning with God, partaker with him of his glory before the world was; the upholder of all things by the word of his power, and himself over all, (by communication of his father’s glory and dominion) God blessed for ever: This doctrine (I say) though not indeed discoverable by bare reason, yet, when made known by revelation, appears plainly very consistent with right reason, and (it is manifest) contains nothing that implies any manner of absurdity or contradiction in it.
Indeed, if any men, pretending to be wise above and beyond what is written, have
at any time given such explications of the manner how the son of God derived his
being from the father, or have offered such accounts of his nature and attributes,
as can by any just and necessary consequence be reduced to imply or involve any
contradiction, (which perhaps many of the schoolmen have but too justly been accused
of doing,)334334 It is not to be denied but that the schoolmen, who abounded in
wit and leisure, though very few among them had either exact skill in the Holy
Scriptures, or in ecclesiastical antiquity, and the writings of the ancient
fathers of the Christian Church; I say, it cannot be denied but that these
speculative and very acute men, who wrought a great part of their divinity out
of their own brains, as spiders do cobwebs out of their own bowels, have started
a thousand subtilties about this mystery, such as no Christian is bound to
trouble his head withal, much less is it necessary for him to understand those
niceties which we may reasonably presume that they who talk of them did
themselves never thoroughly understand; and, least of all, is it necessary to
believe them.—Archbishop Tillotson. Sermon concerning the Unity
of the Divine Nature.
It were to be wished, that some religionists did not here symbolize too much with the atheists, in affecting to represent the mystery of the Christian trinity as a thing directly contradictory to all human reason and understanding.—Cudworth’s System, page 560. such explications are, without all 308controversy, false, and very injurious to religion. But as this doctrine is delivered in Scripture I think there is nothing in it in any degree contrary to right reason, as I have elsewhere endeavoured to show in a particular discourse, to which I refer the reader.
Of the Holy Spirit. Now the same that is said of the son, may in like manner, with little variation, be, very agreeably to right reason, understood concerning the original procession or manner of derivation of the Holy Spirit likewise from the father.
3. Of the creation of the universe. That the universe, the heavens, and the earth, and all things that are therein, were created and made by God, and this through the operation of his son, that divine word, or wisdom of the father, by whom Heb. i. 2. Eph. iii. 9. Col. i. 16. the Scripture says that God made the worlds, that by him God created all things, that by him were all things created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers; all things were created by him and for him, and he is before all John i. 3. things, and by him all things consist; that all things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made: All this likewise is very agreeable to sound and unprejudiced reason. For that neither the whole, nor any part of the world; neither the form, nor motion, nor matter of the world, could exist of itself by any necessity in its own nature, is abundantly demonstrable from undeniable principles of reason, as has been shown in my former discourse: Consequently, both the whole world, and all the variety of things that now exist therein, must 309of necessity have received both their being itself, and also their form and manner of being, from God, the alone supreme and self-existent cause, and must needs depend upon his good pleasure every moment, for the continuance and preservation of that being. Accordingly, if we set aside the Epicureans, (whose absurd hypothesis has long since been given up even by all atheists themselves,) and some very few others, who with no less absurdity (as I have also at large shown) contended that the world was in its present form self-existent and necessary, all the philosophers of all ages, (even not excepting those who held the eternity of the world,) have unanimously agreed in this great truth, that the world evidently owes both its being and preservation to God, the supreme cause and author of all things. And then, that God made the world by the operation of his son, though this could not indeed be known certainly without express revelation; yet is it by no means incredible, or contrary to right reason. For, to the judgment of reason, it is one and the same thing, whether God made the world immediately by himself, or mediately by the ministration of a second principle. And what Plato and his followers have said concerning a second Νοῦς or mind, whom they frequently stile Δημιουργός the minister or workman by whom God framed all things, proves undeniably thus much at least, that the doctrines delivered in Scripture concerning this matter cannot be rejected as inconsistent and irreconcilable with right reason.
4. Of the formation of the earth. Gen. i. 2. That, about the space of 6000 years since, the earth was without form and void, that is, a confused chaos, out of which God framed this beautiful and useful fabric we now inhabit, and stocked it with the seeds of all kinds of plants, and formed upon it man, and all the other species of animals it is now furnished with, is also very agreeable to right reason. For though the precise time, indeed, when all this was done, could not now have been known exactly without revelation, yet even at this day there are remaining 310many considerable and very strong rational proofs, which make it exceedingly probable, (separate from the authority of revelation,) that this present frame and constitution of the earth cannot have been of a very much longer date. The universal tradition delivered down from all the most ancient nations of the world, both learned and barbarous; the constant and agreeing doctrine of all ancient philosophers and poets, concerning the earth’s being formed within such a period of time, out of water or a chaos; the manifold absurdities and contradictions of those few accounts which pretend to a much greater antiquity; the number of men with which the earth is at present inhabited; the late original of learning and all useful arts and sciences; the impossibility that universal deluges, or other accidents, should at certain long periods have oft-times destroyed far the greatest part of mankind, with the memory of all former actions and inventions, and yet never have happened to destroy them all; the changes that must necessarily fall out naturally in the earth in vast length of time, by the sinking and washing down of mountains, the consumption of water by plants, and innumerable other such like accidents; these (I say) and many more arguments, drawn from nature, reason, and observation, make that account of the time of the earth’s formation exceedingly probable in itself, which from the revelation delivered in Scripture-history we believe to be certain.
5. Of the continual government of Providence. That the same God who created all things by the word of his power, and upholds and preserves them by his continual concourse, does also by his all-wise providence perpetually govern and direct the issues and events of things; takes care of this lower world, and of all, even the smallest things that are therein; disposes things in a regular order and succession in every age, from the beginning of the world to its final period; and inspects, with a more particular and special regard, the moral actions of men: This, as it is far more expressly, clearly, and constantly taught in 311Scripture than in any of the writings of the philosophers; so it is also highly agreeable to right and true reason: For, that an omnipresent and infinitely wise being cannot but know every thing that is done in every part of the universe, and with equal ease take notice of the minutest things as of the greatest; that an infinitely powerful being must needs govern and direct every thing in such manner, and to such ends, as he knows to be best and fittest in the whole; so far as is consistent with that liberty of will which he has made essential to all rational creatures; and that an infinitely just and good governor cannot but take more particular and exact notice of the moral actions of all his rational creatures, and how far they are conformable or not conformable to the rules he has set them; all this (I say) is most evidently agreeable to right reason, and as has been before shown, deducible from it.
6. Of paradise, and the loss of it by sin. That God, after the formation of the earth, created man at first upright and innocent, and placed him in a happy and paradisiacal state, where he enjoyed plenty and abundance of all things without labour or sorrow; and that sin was the original cause, that now on the contrary the very ground is cursed andGen. iii. 17, 18, 19.barren for our sake, and in sorrow we eat of it all the days of our life, that thorns also and thistles are brought forth to us, and in the sweat of our face we eat bread, till we return unto the ground: This likewise is very reasonable and credible in itself, as appears, not only from the abstract consideration of the nature of the thing, but also from the general opinion that the ancient learnedest heathens entertained, upon very obscure and uncertain tradition, that the original state of man was innocent and simple, and the earth, whereon they dwelt, fruitful of itself, and abundant with all plenty;335335 Τὸ παλαιὸν πάντ᾽ ἦν ἀλφίτων καὶ ἀλεύρων πλήρη, καθάπερ καὶ ν8ῦν κόνεως· καὶ κρῆναι δ᾽ ἔῤῥεον, αἱ μὲν ὕδατος γάλακτος δ᾽ ἄλλαι· καὶ ὀμοίως αἱ μὲν μέλιτος, αἱ δ᾽ ὄιου, τινὲς δ᾽ ἐλαίου· ὐπὸ πλησμονῆς, δ᾽ ὁι ἄνθρωποι καὶ τρυφῆς, εἰς ὕβριν ἐξέπ9εσον. Ζεὺς δε μισήσας τὴν κατάστασιν, ἡφάνισε πάντα, καὶ δὶα πόνου τὸν βίονἀπέδειξε.—Calanus Indus apud Strabon. lib. 15. but that God, for the sin 312of man, changed this happy constitution of things, and made labour necessary for the support of our lives.
7. Of the flood. That in process of time, after the first entrance of sin into the world, men by degrees corrupted themselves more and more, till at length God, for the punishment of their sin and incorrigibleness,336336 Ἐπεὶ δε ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ μεν μοῖρα ἐξήτηλος ἐγίγνε‘ ο ἐν αὐτοῖς, πολλῷ τῷ θνητῷ καὶ πολλάκις ἀνακεραννυμένη, τὸ δὲ ἀνθρώπινον ἧθος ἐπεκράτει, τότε Θεὸς ὁ Θεῶν Ζεὺς, ἄτε δυνάμενος καθορᾷν τὰ τοιαῦτα, ἐνννόησας γένος ἐπιεικὲς ἀθλίως διατιθέμενον, δικην αὐτοῖς ἐπιθεῖναι βουληθὲις, &c.—Plato in Critia sive Atlantico. brought upon them a general flood, which destroyed them all except a few persons, preserved for the restoration of the human race, is a truth delivered down to us, not only by authority of Scripture, but also by the concurrent testimony of almost all heathen philosophers and poets: And the histories of all nations backwards terminate in it; and, (which is the most remarkable thing of all, because it is a demonstrative and ocular proof of the universality of some such kind of dissolution,) the present visible frame and constitution of the earth throughout, the disposition and situation of the several strata of different kind of matter, whereof it is composed; the numberless shells of fishes, bones of other animals, and parts of all kinds of plants, which in every country and in almost every place are, at great variety of depths, found inclosed in earth, in clay, in stones, and in all sorts of matter; are such apparent demonstrations of the earth’s having been in some former times, and perhaps more than once, (the whole surface of it at least) in a state of fluidity; that whosoever has seen the collections of this kind made by the very ingenious Dr Woodward and others, must in a manner abandon all use both of his senses and reason, if he can in the least doubt of this truth.313
8. Of God’s revealing himself to the patriarchs, and giving the law to the Jews. That God, after the flood, made particular revelation of himself and of his will to the patriarchs, is a thing very credible in itself, for the same reasons that I have before shown, in general, that the expectation of some revelation from God was a reasonable and probable expectation. And that, after this, God should vouchsafe, by express revelation, to give a law to the whole nation of the Jews, consisting very much in sacrifices, and in external rites and ceremonious observances, cannot with any just reason be rejected as an incredible fact; if we consider that such a kind of institution was necessary, in those times and circumstances, to preserve that nation from the idolatry and worship of false gods, wherewith the countries around them were overspread; that those rites and ceremonies were typical of, and preparative to, a higher and more excellent dispensation; that the Jews were continually told by their prophets, that their observance of those rites and ceremonies was by no means so highly acceptable to God, nor so absolutely and indispensably insisted upon by him, as obedience to the moral law; and that the whole matter of fact, relating to that revelation, is delivered down to us in a history, on which the policy of a whole nation was founded, at a time when nobody could be ignorant of the truth of the principal facts, and concerning which we can now have no more reason to doubt than of any history of any ancient matter of fact in the world. The most considerable and real difficulty, viz. Why this favour was granted to that single nation only, and not to all the rest of the world likewise, is to be accounted for by the same reasons which prove (as has been before shown) that God was not obliged to make known the revelation of the gospel to all men alike.
9. Of the other particulars of Scripture-history in the Old Testament. That all the other particulars of Scripture history contained in the Old Testament, are true relations of matter of fact, (not to insist now on the many arguments which prove in general the antiquity, genuineness, and authority of the books themselves,) will 314to a rational inquirer appear very credible from hence, that very many of the particular histories, and some even of the minuter circumstances also of those histories, are confirmed by concurrent testimonies of profane and unquestionably unprejudiced authors: Of which Grotius, in his excellent book of the truth of the Christian religion,337337 Lib. 1. c. 16, and lib. 3. c. 16, where see the citations at large. has given us a large collection: As particularly, that the manner of the formation of the earth out of a chaos is mentioned by the ancientest Phœnician, Egyptian, Indian and Greek historians; the very names of Adam and Eve, by Sanchuniathon and others; the longevity of the antediluvians, by Berosus and Manethos, and others; the ark of Noah, by Berosus; many particulars of the flood, by Ovid and others; the family of Noah, and two of every kind of animals entering into the ark with him, mentioned by Lucian himself, as a tradition of the ancient Grecians; the dove which Noah sent out of the ark, by Abydenus and Plutarch;338338 Δευκαλίωνι φασι περιστερὰν ἐκ τῆς λάρνακος ἀφιεμένην δήλωμα γενέσθαι, χειμῶνος μὲν ἔισω πάλιν ἐνδυομένην, ἐυδίας δὐ ἀποπτᾶσαν.—Plutarch: utrum Terrestria an Aquatica animantia plus habeant Solertiæ. the building of Babel, by Abydenus, the burning of Sodom, by Diodorus Siculus and Strabo, and Tacitus, and others; several particulars of the history of Abraham and the rest of the patriarchs, by Berosus and others; many particulars of Moses’s life, by several ancient writers; the eminent piety of the most ancient Jews, by Strabo and Justin;339339 Οἰ δὲ [Μωσῆν] διαδεξάμενοι, χρόνους μὲν τινας ἐν τοῖς ἀυτοῖς διέμενον δικαιοπραγοῦντ9ες, καὶ θεοσεβεῖς ὡς ἀληθῶς ὄντες· Ἕπειτ᾽, &c.—Lib. 16. divers actions of David and Solomon, in the Phnician annals; some of the actions of Elijah, by Menander, and confessed by Julian himself; the history of Jonah, under the name of Hercules, by Lycophron and Æ neas Gazæus; and the histories of the following times, by many more authors. Besides that (as learned men have upon exceeding probable 315grounds supposed,340340 See Stillingfleet’s Origin. Sacræ, lib. 3. cap. 5. and Bocharti Phaleg. et Vossius de Idololatria.) many of the most ancient scripture-histories are acknowledged and asserted in the writings of the poets, both Greeks and Latins; the true histories being couched under fictitious names and fabulous representations.
10. Of God’s sending his son into the world for the redemption of mankind. That God, in the fulness of time, that is, at that time which his infinite wisdom had fore-appointed, which all the ancient prophecies had determined, and which many concurrent circumstances in the state of the Jewish religion, and in the disposition of the Roman empire, had made a fit season for the reception and propagation of a new institution of religion; that God (I say) at that time, should send his only-begotten son, that word or wisdom of the father, that divine person by whom (as has been before shown) he created the world, and by whom he made all former particular manifestations of himself unto men, that he should send him, to take upon him our human nature, and therein to make a full and particular revelation of the will of God to mankind (who by sin had corrupted themselves and forfeited the favour of God, so that by the bare light of nature they could not discover any certain means by which they could be satisfactorily and absolutely secure of regaining that favour;) to preach unto men repentance and remission of sin; and by giving himself a sacrifice and expiation for sin, to declare the acceptableness of repentance, and the certainty of pardon thereupon, in a method evidently consistent with all necessary vindication of the honour and authority of the divine laws, and with God’s irreconcileable hatred against sin; to be a mediator and intercessor between God and man, to procure the particular assistance of God’s holy spirit which might be in men a new and effectual principle of a heavenly and divine life; in a word, to be the Saviour and judge of mankind, and finally to bring them to eternal 316life; all this, when clearly and expressly revealed, and by good testimony proved to be so revealed, is apparently agreeable and very credible to right and true reason. As (because it is the main and fundamental article of the Christian faith,) I shall endeavour to make out more largely and distinctly, by showing, in particular, that none of the several objections, upon which speculative unbelievers reject this doctrine, do at all prove any inconsistency in the belief of it, with sound and unprejudiced reason.
That it is not unreasonable to suppose God making a revelation of his will to men. For, first, it cannot be thought unreasonable to be believed in the general, that God should make a revelation of his will to mankind, since, on the contrary, (as has been before proved at large,) it is very agreeable to the moral attributes of God, and to the notions and expectations of the wisest and most rational men that lived in the heathen world.
That it is not unreasonable to believe, that God would appoint a sacrifice or expiation for sin. Secondly, it cannot be thought unreasonable to be believed, that in such a revelation, wherein God freely proclaims remission of sin, and the acceptableness of repentance, he should nevertheless have appointed such a sacrifice or expiation for sin, as might at the same time be a sufficient testimony of his irreconcilable hatred against it. For though, by the light of nature, it was indeed exceeding probable and to be hoped for that God would forgive sin upon true repentance, yet it could not be proved that he was absolutely obliged to do so, or that he would certainly do so. On the contrary, there was reason to suppose, that, in vindication of the honour and dignity of his laws, he would require some further satisfaction and expiation. And accordingly we find the custom of sacrificing to have prevailed universally over the heathen world in all ages; which, how unreasonable soever an expectation it was, to think that the blood of beasts could truly expiate sin, yet thus much it plainly and undeniably shows, that it has been the common apprehension of mankind, in all ages, that God would not be appeased, nor pardon sin, without some punishment and satisfaction; and 317yet at the same time they had good hopes, that, upon the repentance of sinners, God would accept some other satisfaction instead of the destruction of the offenders. It is therefore plainly agreeable to right reason, to believe that God, in vindication of the honour of his laws, and for a testimony of his hatred against sin, should appoint some sacrifice or expiation for sin, at the same time that he forgives the sinner upon his true repentance.
Thirdly, That it is not unreasonable to believe, that a mediator should be appointed between God and man. It cannot be thought unreasonable to be believed, that a mediator or intercessor should be appointed between God and man, through and by whom the prayers of sinners may be offered up, so as to be acceptable in the sight of God. It is well known, the generality of the wisest heathens thought it agreeable to reason to make use of subordinate intelligences, demons or heroes, by whom they put up their prayers to the superior gods, hoping, that, by the mediation of those intercessors, the unworthiness of their own persons, and the defects of these prayers might be supplied, and they might obtain such merciful and gracious answers to their prayers as they could not presume to hope for upon their own account. Wherein though those pagans laboured indeed under very great uncertainty, in doing a thing for which they had no sufficient warrant, and in using mediators whom they neither knew distinctly to have any being, nor could they however have any good security that such mediation would be acceptable to the supreme God; yet, at the same time, this undeniably proves, that it is by no means inconsistent with right reason, to believe that a mediator may by divine authority be appointed between God and sinful men, to be their intercessor and advocate with a justly offended God.
Fourthly, Of the objection drawn from the dignity of the person whom we believe to be our mediator and redeemer. The greatest real difficulty in this matter, to the judgment of right reason, seems to arise from the consideration of the dignity of the person whom we believe to have given himself a sacrifice and propitiation for the sins of mankind, viz. how it 318is possible, that the only-begotten son of God should be incarnate and become man; how it is conceivable that God should condescend so far as to send, and the son of God condescend willingly to be sent, and do such great things for his creatures; and, above all, how it is consistent with reason, to suppose God condescending to do so much for such frail and weak creatures as men, who, in all appearance seem to be but a very small, low, and inconsiderable part of the creation. And here indeed it must readily be acknowledged, that human reason could never have discovered such a method as this, for the reconciliation of sinners to an offended God without express revelation. But then neither, on the other side, when once this method is made known, is there any such difficulty or inconceivableness in it as can reasonably make a wise and considerate man call in question the truth of a well attested revelation, merely upon that account; which, indeed, any plain absurdity, or contradiction in the matter of a doctrine pretended to be revealed, would, it must be confessed, unavoidably do. For as to the possibility of the incarnation of the son of God, whatever mysteriousness there confessedly was in the manner of it, yet, as to the thing itself, there is evidently no more unreasonableness in believing the possibility of it, than in believing the union of our soul and body, or any other certain truth which we plainly see implies no contradiction in the thing itself, at the same time that we are sensible we cannot discover the manner how it is affected. Again, as to the incredibility of the doctrine, that God should make so great a condescension to his creatures, and that a person of such dignity as the only begotten son of God should vouchsafe to give himself a sacrifice for the sins of men: He that duly considers, how it is no diminution to the glory and greatness of the father of all things, to inspect, govern, and direct every thing by his all-wise providence through the whole creation; to take care even of the meanest of his creatures, so that not a sparrow 319falls to the ground, or a hair of our head perishes, without his knowledge; and to observe exactly every particle, even of inanimate matter in the universe; he (I say) who duly considers this, cannot with reason think it any real disparagement to the son of God, (though it was indeed a most wonderful and amazing instance of humility and condescension,) that he should concern himself so far for sinful men as to appear in their nature to reveal the will of God more clearly to them, to give himself a sacrifice and expiation for their sins, and to bring them to repentance and eternal life. The greatest enemies and deriders of Christianity have asserted things, far more incredible, to have been done upon far less occasions; witness what Julian the apostate341341 Ὁ γὰρ Ζεὺς ἐξ ἐαυτοῦ τὸν Ἀσκλήπιον· ἐγέννησεν εἰς δε τὴν γῆν διὰ τῆς ἡλίου γονίμου ζωῆς ἐνέφῃνεν· οὖτος ἐπὶ γῆς ἐξ οὐρανοῦ ποιησάμενος πρόοδον, ἐνοειδῶς μὲν περὶ τὴν Ἐπίδαυρον ἐφάνη.—Julian. thought fit to believe concerning Æ sculapius’s coming down from heaven, and conversing upon earth in a visible form, only to teach men the art of healing diseases. And modern unbelievers, who seem willing, in the contrary extreme, to deny God’s having any regard, or taking any care in any respect, for the welfare and happiness of his creatures, are forced, if they will go about to give any account or explication of things, to invent much more incredible hypotheses, dishonourable to God, and utterly inconsistent with his divine attributes. Indeed, if we will consider things impartially, so far is it from being truly any diminution of the greatness and glory of God, to send his son into the world for the redemption and salvation of mankind, that, on the contrary, it is a means of bringing the very greatest honour to the laws and government of God that can be imagined. For what can be imagined more honourable, and worthy of the supreme lord and governor of all things, than to show forth his mercy and goodness, in forgiving the sins of frail and fallible creatures, and suffering himself to be reconciled to them upon 320their true repentance; and yet at the same time to cause such an expiation to be made for sin, by the sufferings and death of his own son, in their nature, as might be abundant evidences of his irreconcilable hatred against sin, a just vindication of the authority and dignity of his laws, and a sufficient and effectual warning to deter men from sin, to create in them the greatest dread and detestation of it, and for ever to terrify them from venturing upon wilful transgression and disobedience? It is true, no man can take upon him certainly to say, but God, by his absolute sovereignty and authority, might, if he had so pleased, have pardoned sin upon repentance, without any sacrifice or expiation at all. But this method of doing it by the death of Christ is more wise and fit, and evidently more proper and effectual to discountenance and prevent presumption, to discourage men from repeating their transgressions, to give them a deep sense of the heinous nature of sin, and to convince them of the excellency and importance of the laws of God, and the indispensable necessity of paying obedience to them; forasmuch as it shows us, that at the same time that God was willing to save the sinner, yet, lest encouragement should be given to sin by letting it go unpunished, he did not think fit to forgive the transgressions of men without great sufferings in our nature, and to put away the guilt of our sins but upon such difficult terms as the death of his own son. So that in this dispensation, justice, and mercy, and truth, are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. And by how much the greater the dignity of the person was, who gave himself thus a sacrifice for the sins of men, of so much the greater weight and force is this argument to deter men for the future from sin, and to convince them of the necessity of obedience. Wherefore, so far is it from being true, that the consideration of the dignity of the person suffering is a real objection against the credibility of the doctrine, that, on the contrary, that very consideration contains 321the highest vindication imaginable of the greatness, and honour, and authority of the laws of God, and at the same time the greatest possible instance or expression of his mercy and compassion towards men, agreeable to our natural notions of his divine attributes. And then, as to the last part of this difficulty, viz. how it can be consistent with reason, to suppose God condescending to do so very great things for such mean and weak creatures, as men are, who in all appearance seem to be but a very small, low, and inconsiderable part of the creation; forasmuch as the whole earth itself is but a little spot, that bears no proportion at all to the universe; and in all probability of reason, the large and numberless orbs of heaven cannot but be supposed to be filled with beings more capable than we to show forth the praise and glory of their Almighty Creator, and more worthy to be the objects of his care and love. To this part of the difficulty, I say, the answer is very easy: That the mercy and love of the infinitely good God is extended equally over all his works; that, let the universe be supposed as large, and the rational creatures, with which it is furnished, as many and excellent as any one can imagine; yet mankind is plainly the chief, indeed the only inhabitant for whose sake it is evident this our globe of earth was formed into a habitable world; and this our earth is, as far as we have any means of judging, as considerable and worthy of the divine care as most other parts of the system; and this our system as considerable as any other single system in the universe; and finally, that, in like manner as the same divine providence, which presides over the whole creation, does particularly govern and direct every thing in this our lower world, as well as in every other particular part of the universe; so there is no real difficulty to right reason, in conceiving that the same divine logos, the word or messenger of the father, who, in various dispensations, according to the particular needs and exigencies of mankind, has 322made various manifestations of God, and discoveries of the divine will, to us here upon earth; may also, for ought we know, have to other beings, in other parts of the universe, according to their several capacities or wants, made different manifestations of God, and discoveries of his will, in ways of which we can know nothing, and in which we have no concern; there being nothing in this at all contrary to the nature of God, or the condition of things.
Fifthly, Of the objection drawn from the Christian revelation not being in fact universal. and lastly, if any one thinks it unreasonable to be believed, that God should send his Son into the world for the redemption of mankind, and yet that this appearance of the Son of God upon earth should not be till the later ages of the world; and after he has appeared, yet his appearance not be made known equally to all nations; such a one must likewise, for the same reason, affirm, that it is unreasonable to believe the necessity and obligations even of natural religion itself, because it is plain all men are not furnished equally with the same capacities and opportunities of understanding those obligations, and consequently no deist can, consistently with his own principles, make this objection against the truth of Christianity. He must likewise, for the same reason, affirm, that God is obliged in all other respects also to make all his creatures equal; to make men angels; to indue all men with the same faculties and capacities as any, at least to make all men capable of the very same kind and the same degree of happiness, and to afford to all of them all the very same means or opportunities of obtaining it: In a word, he must assert that infinite wisdom cannot reasonably be supposed to have a right of making variety of creatures in very various circumstances; which is an assertion palpably most absurd, in experience false, and a very unjust diminution of God’s sovereignty in the world. But besides, though the redemption purchased by the Son of God is not indeed actually made known unto all men, yet as no man ever denied but that the benefit of the death of Christ extended 323backwards to those who lived before his appearance in the world, so no man can prove but that the same benefit may likewise extend itself forwards to those who never heard of his appearance, though they lived after it.
11. Of the other particulars of scripture-history contained in the New Testament. That the history of the life of Christ, contained in the New Testament, is a true relation of matters of fact, (not to insist here on the testimony of his disciples and followers, which shall be considered hereafter in its proper place,) will to a rational inquirer appear very credible from hence, that very many particulars of that history are confirmed by concurrent testimonies of profane and unquestionably unprejudiced authors. That, before the coming of our Saviour, there was a general expectation spread over all the eastern nations, that out of Judea should arise a person, who should he governor of the world, is expressly affirmed by the Roman historians, Suetonius342342 Percrebuerat Oriente toto vetus et constans opinio esse in fatis, ut Judæa profectirerum potirentur.—Sueton. and Tacitus.343343 Pluribus persuasio inerat, antiquis sacerdotum libris contineri, eo ipso tempore fore, ut valesceret Oriens, profectique Judæa rerum potirentur.—Tacit. lib. 21. That there lived in Judea, at the time which the Gospel relates, such a person as Jesus of Nazareth, is acknowledged by all authors, both Jewish and pagan, who have written since that time. The star that appeared at his birth, and the journey of the Chaldæan wise men, is mentioned by Chalcidius the Platonist.344344 See the place cited by Grotius, de Veritate Christian Religionis.—Lib.3. c. 14. Herod’s causing all the children in Bethlehem, under two years old to be slain, and a reflection made upon him on that occasion by the emperor Augustus, is related by Macrobius.345345 Cum audisset [Augustus,] inter pueros quos in Syria Herodes rex Judæorum intra bimatum jussit interfici, filium quoque ejus occisum; ait, melius est Herodis porcum esse quam filium.—Macrob. lib. 2. cap. 4. [A testimony so very remarkable and pertinent, that it is strange how Grotius could omit to mention it in the place now cited.] Many of the miracles that Jesus worked in 324his life-time are, as to matters of fact, (particularly, his healing the lame and the blind, and casting out devils,) expressly owned by the most implacable enemies of Christianity, by Celsus and Julian,346346 See the places cited by Grotius, de Veritate Christ. Rel. lib. 2. cap. 5. and the authors of the Jewish Talmud. And how the power of the heathen gods ceased after the coming of Christ is acknowledged by Porphyry, who attributes it to their being angry at the setting up of the Christian religion, which he styles impious and profane. Many particulars of the collateral history, concerning John Baptist, and Herod, and Pilate, (not to mention the famous testimony concerning Jesus himself, because it is by some suspected not to be genuine, notwithstanding it is found in all the ancient copies,) are largely recorded by Josephus. The crucifixion of Christ under Pontius Pilate, is related by Tacitus;347347 Tiberio imperitante, per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum, supplicio affectus erat.—Lib. 15. and divers of the most remarkable circumstances attending it, such as the earthquake and miraculous darkness, were recorded in the public Roman registers,348348 Eum mundi casum relatum in arcanis vestris habetis.—Tertullian. Apol. commonly appealed to by the first Christian writers, as what could not be denied by the adversaries themselves. Then, as to the resurrection and ascension of Christ; these depend on the general proofs of the credibility of his disciples’ testimony, and other following evidences, which will be considered hereafter in their proper place.
12. Of the day of judgment, and Christ the judge. That God has appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world in righteousness, by that person whom he has ordained, in order to reward every man according to his works; is a doctrine perfectly agreeable to right reason, and to our natural notions of the attributes of God; as may appear more particularly from what has been before said concerning 325the necessity and certainty of another life after this; and is evident from the opinion of all the wiser heathens concerning this matter. Nor may it perhaps be altogether impertinent to observe here, that the poets, both Greek and Latin, have unanimously agreed in this one particular circumstance, that men after death should not have judgment passed upon them immediately by God himself, but by just men appointed for that purpose.
13. Of the resurrection of the body. That, in order to this final judgment, not only the soul shall survive the dissolution of the body, but the body itself also shall be raised again; this doctrine, though not indeed discoverable with any kind of certainty by the bare light of nature, because the belief of the soul’s immortality (for ought that appears to reason alone) is sufficient to answer all the purposes of a future state, as far as is discoverable merely by the light of nature; yet this doctrine (I say) of the resurrection of the body, when made known by revelation, evidently contains nothing in it in the least contrary to right reason: For, what reasonable man can deny but that it is plainly altogether as easy for God to raise the body again after death as to create and form it at first? Some of the Stoical philosophers seem to have thought it not only possible, but even probable:349349 Δῆλον ὡς οὐδὲν ἀδύνατον καὶ ἡμᾶς μετὰ τὸ τελευτῆσαι, πάλιν περιόδων τινῶν εἰλυμένων χρόνου, εἰς ὃ νῦν ἐσμεν ἀποκαταστήσεσθαι σχῆμα.—Chrysippus, citat. a Lactant. lib. 7. And many of the Jews, who had no express revelation concerning it, did yet believe it upon an ancient tradition, as appears from all their writings, and particularly from the translation in the last verse of the book of Job, which according to the Seventy runs thus: So Job died, being old and full of days, but it is written that he shall rise again with those whom the Lord raises up.350350 Γέγραπται δε αὐτὸν πάλιν ἀναστήσεσθαι, μεθ᾽ ὦν ὀ Κύριος ἀνίστησι.—Job42. ult. The only real difficulty in this doctrine seems to arise upon putting the supposition of one body’s being 326turned into the nourishment, and becoming part of the substance of another, so as that the same parts may equally belong to two bodies, to both of which it shall nevertheless be absolutely impossible that the same parts should be restored. But this objection, as great and principal a difficulty as it is, is really but a great trifle. For there does not at all appear any absolute necessity, that, to constitute the same body, there must be an exact restitution of all and only the same parts. And if there was any such necessity; yet even still without making that hard supposition (which Grotius and others have done,351351 De Veritate Rel. Chr.—Lib. 2. c. 10.) that God by a miraculous providence always interposes to prevent the parts of one human body from incorporating with and becoming the nourishment of another, (for I cannot see any sufficient ground to deny, but that it may be possible in nature for barbarous cannibals, if any such there be, to subsist for some time and live wholly one upon another, if deprived of all other sustenance;) without any such hard suppositions as these (I say,) it is easy to imagine many ways by which the resurrection of the same body, properly speaking, shall nevertheless be very possible; and the whole foundation of this, and all other difficulties of this kind, concerning the parts, and forms, and magnitudes, and proportions of our future bodies, be entirely taken away.
Of the resurrection of the same body. As first, No man can say it is improbable, (and they who have been most and best versed in microscopical observations think it more than probable,) that the original stamina, which contain all and every one of the solid parts and vessels of the body, not excepting even the minutest nerves and fibres, are themselves the entire body, and that all the extraneous matter, which, coming in by way of nourishment, fills up and distends the minute and insensible vessels, of which all the visible and sensible vessels are composed, is not strictly and properly part of the body. Consequently, while all this extraneous matter, which 327serves only to swell the body to its just magnitude, is in continual flux, the original stamina may continue unchanged, and so no confusion of bodies will be possible in nature. There may be made many very considerable observations, concerning the determinate figure into which every respective body unfolds itself by growth; concerning the impossibility of the body’s extending itself, by any nourishment whatsoever, beyond that certain magnitude to which the original vessels are capable of being unfolded; and concerning the impossibility of restoring by any nourishment any the smallest vessel or solid part of the body that has at any time happened to be mutilated by any accident; all which observations, often and carefully made, will seem very much to favour some such speculation as this.
Secondly, It may also be supposed otherwise, not without good probability, that in like manner as in every grain of corn there is contained a minute insensible seminal principle,352352 Ἡμεῖς μὲν οὖν οὕ φαμένοτὸ διαφθαρὲν σῶμα ἐπανέρχεσθαι εἰς τὴν ἐξ ἀρχῆς φύσιν, ὡς οὐδὲ τὸν διαφθαρέντα κόκκον τοῦ σίτου· λέγομεν γὰρ, ὥστερ ἐπὶ τοῦ κόκκου τοῦ σίτου ἐγείρεται στάχυς οὓτω λόγος τις ἔγκειται τῷ σώματι. ἀφ᾽ οὖ μὴ φθειρομένου ἐγέιρεται τὸ σῶμα ἐν ἀφθαρσία.—Origen. advers. Cels. lib. 5. which is itself the entire future blade and ear, and in due season, when all the rest of the grain is corrupted, evolves and unfolds itself visibly into that form; so our present mortal and corruptible body may be but the exuviæ, as it were of some hidden and at present insensible principle, (possibly the present seat of the soul,) which at the resurrection shall discover itself in its proper form. This way also, there can be no confusion of bodies possible in nature. And it is not without some weight that the ancientest writers of the church have always made use of this very similitude; that the apostle St Paul himself alleges the same comparison; and that the Jewish writers seem to have had some obscure glimpse of this notion, when they talked of a certain 328incorruptible part of the body; though these latter indeed explained themselves very weakly and unphilosophically.
Many other ways perhaps may be imagined, by which the same thing may be explained intelligibly. But these speculations are nice and subtile, and neither needful nor proper to be enlarged upon in this place. Only the bare mention of them shows the manifold possibility of the doctrine of the resurrection, against the objections of those who would have it seem contradictory.
14. Of the eternal happiness of the blessed, and the eternal punishment
of the damned. Lastly, That after the resurrection and the general judgment,
wherein every man shall be judged according to his works, they that have done well
shall go into everlasting happiness, and they that have done evil, into everlasting
punishment, is a doctrine in itself very credible, and reasonable to be believed.
Concerning the everlasting happiness of the righteous there is no dispute, it being
evident that God in his infinite bounty may reward the sincere obedience of his
creatures, as much beyond the merit of their own weak and imperfect works, as he
himself pleases. But the everlasting punishment threatened to the wicked has seemed
to many a great difficulty; since it is certain, from our natural notions of the
attributes of God, that no man shall be punished beyond the just demerit of his
sins. Here, therefore, it is to be observed, first that no man can say, it is unreasonable
that they who by wilful and stubborn disobedience to their almighty creator and
most merciful benefactor, and by the habitual practice of unrepented wickedness,
have, during the state of trial, made themselves unfit for the enjoyment of that
happiness which God has prepared for them that love and obey him, should be eternally
rejected, and excluded from it. Thus much, the wickedest of men are willing enough
to believe: And if bare deprivation of happiness was all the punishment they had
reason to fear, they would be well content to sit still in their wickedness. But
is it at all agreeable to reason
329to believe, that the punishment to be inflicted by the final wrath
of a provoked God upon his most obstinate and incorrigible enemies, should be merely
such a thing as is in its own nature less dreadful and terrible than even those
afflictions which by certain experience we see in this present life fall sometimes
upon such persons with whom God is not angry at all? Is it agreeable to reason to
believe, that God, who (as is evident by experience) suffers the very best of his
own servants, for the punishment of their sins, or even only for the trial of their
virtue, to fall sometimes under all the calamities and miseries which it is possible
for the cruellest and most powerful tyrants to invent and execute, should punish
his most obstinately rebellious and finally impenitent creatures, with nothing more
than the negation of happiness? There must, therefore, in the next place be some
sensible and positive punishment, besides the mere negative loss of happiness. And
whoever seriously considers the dreadful effects of God’s anger in this present
world, in the instance of the general deluge, the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah,
the amazing calamities which befel the whole Jewish nation at the destruction of
Jerusalem, and other such like examples; in some of which cases, the judgments have
fallen upon mixed multitudes of good men and bad together; (not to mention the calamities
which sometimes befal even good men by themselves;) whosoever, I say, seriously
considers all this, cannot but frame to himself very terrible apprehensions of the
greatness of that punishment which the despised patience of God shall finally inflict
on the impenitently wicked and incorrigible, when they shall be separated and be
by themselves. And then, as to the duration of this punishment, no man can presume,
in our present state of ignorance and darkness, to be able truly to judge, barely
by the strength of his own natural reason, what in this respect is or is not consistent
with the wisdom, and justice, and goodness of the supreme governor of the world,
since we neither
330know the place, nor kind, nor manner, nor circumstances, nor degrees,
nor all the ends and uses of the final punishment of the wicked. Only this one thing
we are certain of, that the justice of God will abundantly vindicate itself, and
all mouths shall be stopped before him, and be forced to acknowledge the exact righteousness
of all his judgments, and to condemn their own folly and wickedness; forasmuch as
the degrees or intenseness of the punishment which shall be inflicted on the impenitent
shall be exactly proportionate to their sins, as a recompense of their demerit,
so that no man shall suffer more than he has deserved.353353 Rev. xiv. 10.
shall be tormented with fire and brimstone, in the presence of the Holy Angels,
and in the presence of the Lamb. This being once clearly established, the difficulty
about the duration of the punishment will not appear so insuperable to right reason:
For nothing can be more evident than that God may justly banish the wicked eternally
from his kingdom of glory, and from that happiness which is his free and undeserved
gift to the righteous; and the positive punishment which shall be inflicted upon
them in that state of eternal rejection shall undoubtedly be such, and so proportioned
to men’s deserts, as the righteous judge will then make appear before men and angels,
to be just, and wise, and necessary, and such only as becomes the infinitely wise
and good lord and governor of the universe to inflict. The wisest of the heathen
philosophers, without the help of revelation, have taught, and did believe it agreeable
to right reason, that the punishment of the incorrigible should be [ἀιωνιος] without
any determinate or known end;354354 Οἱ δε ἂν δόξωσιν ἀνιάτως ἔχειν διὰ τὰ μεγέθη τῶν ἁμαρτημάτων, τοὺτους
ἡ προσήκουσα μοῖρα ῥίπτει εἰς τὸν Τάρταρον, ὅθεν οὔποτε ἐκβαίνουσι.—Plato in Phd.
Ὅσπερ σὺ κολάσεις αἰωνίους νομίζεις, οὕτῶ καὶ οἱ τῷν ἱεξών ἐκείνων ἐξηγηταί τεληταί τε καὶ μυσταγωγοί.—Cels. apud Origen. lib. 8.
Οἱ δὲ ἄδικοι πάμπαν αἰωνίος κακοῖς συνέζονται.—Id. ibid. and we cannot tell how many wise designs God may serve thereby. We know not but 331that as God has now discovered to us in some measure the fall and punishment of evil angels, to be a warning to us, so he may hereafter use the example of the punishment of wicked and incorrigible men, to be a means of preserving other beings in their obedience. And many other considerations there may possibly be, very necessary to enable us to judge rightly concerning this matter, which, in this present state, we have no sufficient means of coming to the knowledge of.
Thus, all the credenda, or doctrines, which the Christian religion teaches; (that is, not only those plain doctrines which it requires to be believed as fundamental and of necessity to eternal salvation, but even all the doctrines which it teaches as matters of truth;) are, in the first place, though indeed many of them not discoverable by bare reason unassisted with revelation, yet, when discovered by revelation, apparently most agreeable to sound and unprejudiced reason.355355 Τὰ τῆς πίστεως ἡμῶν, ταῖς κοιναῖς ἐννοίαις ἀρχῆθεν συναγορεύοντα.—Origen. advers. Cels. lib. 3.
Every one of them has a direct tendency and powerful influence to reform men’s manners. In the next place, every one of these doctrines hasa natural tendency, and a direct and powerful influence to reform men’s lives, and correct their manners. This is the great end and ultimate design of all true religion; and it is a very great and fatal mistake to think that any doctrine or any belief whatsoever can be any otherwise of any benefit to men, than as it is fitted to promote this main end. There was none of the doctrines of our Saviour, (as an excellent prelate of our church admirably expresses this matter356356 Archbishop Sharp’s Sermon before the Queen on Christmas day, 1704.) calculated for the gratification of men’s idle curiosities, the busying and amusing them with airy and useless speculations; much less were they intended for an exercise of our credulity, or a trial how far we could bring our reason to submit to our faith: But, as, on the one hand, they were plain and simple, 332and such as by their agreeableness to the rational faculties of mankind, did highly recommend themselves to our belief; so, on the other hand, they had an immediate relation to practice, and were the genuine principles and foundation upon which all human and divine virtues were naturally to be superstructed. Particularly, what can be a more necessary and excellent foundation of true religion than that doctrine which the Christian religion clearly and distinctly teaches us, concerning the nature and attributes of the one only true God, without any of that ambiguity and doubtfulness, those various and inconsistent opinions and conjectures, those uncertain and oft-times false reasonings concerning the nature of God, which, notwithstanding the natural possibility of discovering very many of the attributes of God by the light of true reason, did yet in fact overspread the greatest part of the heathen world with polytheism or atheism? What can be so certain a preservative against idolatry, and the worship of false gods, as the doctrine, that the universe, the heavens, and the earth, and all things contained therein, are the creatures and workmanship of the one true God, and have a continual dependence upon him for the preservation of their being? What can be so sure a ground of true piety and reliance upon God, as the clear Christian doctrine concerning providence, concerning God’s perpetually governing and directing the issues and events of all things, and inspecting with a more especial regard the moral actions of men? Which doctrine was perplexed by the philosophers with endless disputes. What can be so just a vindication of the goodness of God, and consequently so necessary in order to our maintaining in our minds worthy and honourable notions concerning him, as the doctrine that God created man at first upright, and that the original of all evil and misery is sin? The want of a clear knowledge of which truth extremely perplexed the heathen world, and made many recur to that most absurd fiction of a self-existent evil principle. 333What can be a more proper motive to piety than the doctrine that the deluge and other remarkable calamities which have befallen mankind, were sent upon them by God’s immediate direction, as punishments for their wickedness? What can be a greater encouragement to the practice of holiness, than the doctrine that God has at several times vouchsafed to make several particular revelations of his will to men, to instruct and support them more effectually in that practice? But above all, what doctrine could ever have been imagined so admirably fitted in all respects to promote all the ends of true religion, as that of the incarnation of the Son of God? Which way could men have been filled with so deep a sense of the mercy and love of God towards them, and have been instructed in all divine truths in a method so well accommodated to their present infirmities, as by God’s sending his only-begotten Son, to take upon him our nature, and therein to make a general revelation of the will of God to mankind? How could the honour, and dignity, and authority of the laws of God have been so effectually vindicated, and at the same time so satisfactory an assurance of pardon upon true repentance have been given unto men, as by this method of the son of God giving himself a sacrifice and expiation for sin? What could have been a more glorious manifestation of the mercy and compassion of God, and at the same time a more powerful means to discountenance men’s presumption, to discourage them from repeating their transgressions, to give them a deep sense of the heinous nature of sin, and of God’s extreme hatred and utter irreconcilableness to it, and to convince them of the excellency and importance of the laws of God, and the indispensable necessity of paying obedience to them, than this expedient of saving sinners by the sufferings and death of the son of God, and by establishing with them a new and gracious covenant upon the merits of that satisfaction? How could men be better encouraged 334to begin a religious life, than by having such a mediator, advocate, and intercessor for them with God, to obtain pardon of all their frailties, and by being assured of the assistance of the Spirit of God, to enable them to conquer all their corrupt affections, and to be in them an effectual principle of a heavenly and divine life? In fine, what stronger and more powerful motives could possibly have been contrived to persuade men to live virtuously, and to deter them from vice, than the clear discovery made to us in the gospel of God’s having appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world in righteousness, every man according to his works, and that they who have done well shall be adjudged to everlasting happiness, and they that have done evil to endless punishment; of which the light of nature afforded men but obscure glimpses? And may we not here, upon the whole, appeal now even to our adversaries themselves, whether, in all and every one of these doctrines, there be not a more powerful, a more effectual method laid down, for the reforming human nature, and obliging the whole world to forsake their sins, and to lead holy and virtuous lives, than was ever taught before; nay, or than was possible to have been contrived by all the wit of mankind? This is the great and highest recommendation of the Christian doctrine; this is what to a well disposed mind would well nigh satisfactorily prove, even without the addition of any external testimony, that the revelation of Christianity could not possibly but come from God, seeing that not only all its practical precepts, but even all its articles of belief also, tend plainly to this one and the same end, to make men universally amend and reform their lives, to recover and restore them to their original excellent state, from the corruption and misery which had been introduced by sin, and to establish upon earth the practice of everlasting righteousness, and entire and hearty obedience to the will of God; which would have been the religion of men (had they continued innocent) in paradise, and 335now is the religion of angels, and for ever will be the religion of saints in heaven. Vain men may value themselves upon their speculative knowledge, right opinions, and true and orthodox belief, separate from the practice of virtue and righteousness; but as sure as the gospel is true, no belief whatsoever shall finally be of any advantage to men, any otherwise than only so far as it corrects their practice, hinders them from being workers of iniquity, and makes them likeLuke, xiii. 7. unto God.
Lastly, And all of them together make up the most consistent and rational scheme of belief in the world. all the doctrines of the Christian faith do together make up an infinitely more consistent and rational scheme of belief than any that the wisest of the ancient philosophers ever did, or the cunningest of modern unbelievers can invent or contrive. This is evident from a summary view of the fore-mentioned scheme of the Christian doctrines, wherein every article has a just dependence on the foregoing ones, and a close connexion with those that follow; and the whole account of the order and disposition of things, from the original to the consummation of all things, is one entire, regular, complete, consistent, and every way a most rational scheme: Whereas the wisest of the ancient philosophers, that is, those of them who hit upon the greatest number of single truths, and taught the fewest absurdities, were yet never able to make out any universal, entire, and coherent system of doctrines,357357 Diversi ac diverse omnia protulerunt non annectentes nec causas rerum, nec consequentias, nec rationes; ut summam illam, quæ continet universa, et compingerent et complerent.—Lactant. lib. 7. and scheme of the whole state of things, with any manner of probability: And the cunningest of modern deists, (besides that they must needs, in their own way, believe some particular things stranger, and in themselves more incredible, than any of the fore-mentioned Christian doctrines,) cannot, in the whole, as has been before shown, frame to themselves any fixed and settled principles upon which to argue consistently; but must unavoidably either be perplexed with inextricable absurdities, or confessedly 336recur to downright atheism. There have indeed, even among Christians themselves, been many differences and disputes about particular doctrines: (But, excepting such as have intolerably corrupted the very fundamental doctrines, and even the main design itself of the whole Christian dispensation; of which there are too many instances in writers of the Romish church especially;) these disputes among Christians have not been, like those among the philosophers, de rerum summa, concerning the whole scheme and system of things, but only concerning particular explications of particular doctrines; which kind of disputes do not at all affect the certainty of the whole religion itself,358358 Sed perturbat nos opinionum varietas, hominumque dissensio. Et qua non idem contingit in sensibus, hos natura certos, putamus; illa, quæ aliis sic, aliis secus, nec iisdem semper uno modo videntur, ficta esse dicimus. Quod est longe aliter.—Cic. de Legib. lib. 1. nor ought in reason to be any manner of hindrance to the effect which the plain and weighter, and confessedly more important fundamental doctrines ought to have upon the hearts and lives of men.
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