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XV. Proposition XV. Lastly; They who will not, by the arguments and proofs before mentioned, be convinced of the truth and certainty of the Christian religion, and be persuaded to make it the rule and guide of all their actions, would not be convinced, (so far as to influence their practice and reform their lives,) by any other evidence whatsoever; no, not though one should rise on purpose from the dead to endeavour to convince them.
That the evidence which God has afforded us of the truth of our religion is abundantly sufficient. From what has been said, upon the foregoing heads, it is abundantly evident that men are not called upon to believe the Christian religion without very reasonable and sufficient proof; much less are they397397 Ἄλλοις δὲ, ὅση δύναμις, ἀποδεικτικῶς δἰ ἐρῶτήσεων καὶ ἀποκρίσεων προσερχόμεθα· Ὀυδὲ λέγομὲν, (τὸ μετὰ χλεύης ὑπὸ τοῦ Κέλσο ἐιρημὲνον) ὅτι Πίστευσον, ὃν ἐισηγοῦμαι σοι, τοῦτον εἶναι ὑιὸν Θεοῦ, κἄν ἦ δεδεμένος ἀτιμότατα, ἢ κακολασμένος ἄισχιστα——Ὀυδὲ φαμὲν, ταύτη καὶ μάλλον πίστευσον.—Orig. advers. Cels. lib. 1. required to set up faith in opposition to reason; or to believe any thing for that very reason, because it is incredible. On the contrary, God has given us all the proofs of the truth of our religion, that the nature of the thing would bear, or that were reasonable either for God to give, or men to expect. And unless God should work upon men by such methods, as are wholly inconsistent with the design of religion and the nature of virtue and vice, which we are sure he will never do, nothing could have been done 406more than has already been done, to convince men of the truth of religion, and to persuade them to embrace their own happiness. And indeed no reasonable man can fail of being persuaded by the evidence we now have. For if, in other cases, we assent to those things as certain and demonstrated, which, if our faculties of judging and reasoning do not necessarily deceive us, do upon the most impartial view appear clearly and plainly to be true; there is the same reason why in moral and religious matters we should look upon those things likewise to be certain and demonstrated, which, upon the exactest and most deliberate judgment we are capable of making, do appear to us to be as clearly and certainly true, as it is certain that our faculties do not necessarily and unavoidably deceive us, in all our judgments concerning the nature of God, concerning the proper happiness of man, and concerning the difference of good and evil. And if, in other cases, we always act without the least hesitation, upon the credit of good and sufficient testimony, and look upon that man as foolish and ridiculous, who sustains great losses, or lets slip great opportunities and advantages in business, only by distrusting the most credible and well-attested things in the world; it is plain there is the same reason why we should do so also in matters of religion. So that unless our actions be determined by some other thing than by reason and right judgment, the evidence which we have of the great truths of religion ought to have the same effect upon our lives and actions as if they were proved to us by any other sort of evidence that could be desired.
That the cause of men’s unbelief is not want of better evidence to prove the great truths of religion. It is true, the resurrection of Christ, and his other mighty works, must, after all, be confessed not to be such ocular demonstrations of the truth of his divine commission to after generations, as they were to those men who then lived, and saw him, and conversed with him. But since the matters of fact are as clearly proved to us, as it is possible for any matter of fact, at that distance of time, to be; since the evidence 407of this is as great, and greater, than of most of those things on which men venture the whole of their secular affairs, and on which they are willing to spend all their time and pains: Since (I say) the case is thus: He that will rather venture all that he can possibly enjoy, or suffer; he that will run the hazard of losing eternal happiness, and falling into eternal misery, rather than believe the most credible and rational thing in the world, merely because he does not see it with his eyes, it is plain that that man does not disbelieve the thing because he thinks the evidence of it not sufficiently strong, but because it is contrary to some particular vice of his, which makes it his interest that it should not be true; and for that reason he might also have disbelieved it though he had seen it himself. Men may invent what vain pretences they please, to excuse their infidelity and their wickedness; but certainly that man who can despise the authority both of reason and scripture in conjunction; who can elude the plainest evidence of matter of fact; who can be deaf to all the promises and kind admonitions of the Gospel, and to all the threatenings and terrible denunciations of the wrath of God, made known in good measure by the light of nature, and confirmed by the addition of express revelation; certainly (I say) that man must have some other reason for his unbelief than the pretended want of sufficient evidence. Did men follow the unprejudiced judgment of their own minds, and the impartial dictates of natural reason, the least possibility of obtaining eternal happiness, or the least suspicion of falling into endless misery, would immediately determine them to make it the great study and business of their lives to obtain the one and to avoid the other. If then we see men act directly contrary to this natural principle, and almost wholly neglect these things, not only when there is a fair appearance and probability of their being true, which the light of nature itself affords; but also when there is all reasonable evidence given of their being certainly true, by express revelation in the Gospel, is it not 408very plain that such men are governed, not by reason and the force of evidence, but by some other very different cause of their actions?
But that wickedness and ungoverned lusts are the only causes of
obstinate infidelity. What that cause is, is very apparent from the lives and actions
of most of those persons who pretend want of evidence to be the ground of their
infidelity. Their lusts, their appetites, their affections are interested: They
are lovers of vice and debauchery, and slaves to evil habits and customs; and therefore
they are not willing to discern the evidence which would compel them to believe
that which yet they cannot believe with any comfort so long as they resolve not
to part with their beloved vices. Their hearts and affections are habitually fixed
upon things here below; and therefore they will not attend to the force of any argument
that would raise their affections to things above. They are enslaved to the sensual
pleasures and sinful enjoyments of earth; and therefore they will not hearken to
any reasonable conviction which would persuade them to relinquish these present
gratifications for the future and more spiritual joys of heaven. The love of this
present world has blinded their eyes;398398 1 Cor. ii. 14.
Ἔνιοι ὐποκεχυμενους ἔχουσι τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς, καὶ μὴ βλέποντας τὸ φῶς τοῦ ἡλίου. Ὅυτω καὶ σὺ, ὦ ἄνθρωπε, ἔχεις ὐποκεχυμένους τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς ψυχῆς σου ὐπὸ τῶν ἀμαρτημάτων καὶ τῶν ἀράξεών σου τῶν πονηρῶν.—Theophil. Antioch. l. 1. and therefore they receive not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto them: Neither can they know them, because they are spiritually discerned. In a word, the true and only reason why men love darkness rather than light, is, because their deeds are evil.
And so long as men are under the dominion of their lusts, they would not be convinced, though the evidence of religion was even much stronger than it is. And this reason affords a sufficient account indeed why men should be very unwilling to believe the doctrines of Christianity. If they are resolved not to reform their lives, it is no wonder they care not to discern the evidence of those truths which must needs make them very uneasy in the midst of the enjoyment of all their sinful pleasures. In this case, were the proofs of the truth of our religion much 409stronger than they are, or than they can be imagined or desired to be, yet still these men would be in the very same case, and perpetually want stronger and stronger evidence. It is true, many men, who now are conscious and willing to acknowledge that they act contrary to all the reasonable evidence and convictions of religion, are nevertheless very apt to imagine within themselves, that if the great truths of religion were proved to them by some stronger evidence, they should by that means be worked upon to act otherwise than they do: But if the true reason why these men act thus foolishly, is not because the doctrines of religion are not sufficiently evidenced, but because they themselves are, without allowing themselves time for consideration, hurried away by some unruly passions to act directly contrary to all reason and evidence; it is plain (unless God should irresistibly compel them) they might well continue to act as they do, though the evidence of these things were really greater than it is. They are willing fondly to imagine, that if they had lived in our Saviour’s time; if they had heard his preaching, and seen his miracles; if they had had the advantage of beholding those mighty works which he performed for the proof of his divine commission, as the Jews then had;—they should not, like them, have rejected the counsel of God against themselves, but with all cheerfulness have believed his doctrine, and embraced his religion. They fancy they should immediately have become disciples of Christ; and that the truths which he taught would have had a most powerful influence upon the whole course of their lives. And if their hearts and affections were not set upon this world, more than upon the next; if they valued not the present sinful enjoyments of sense above the expectation of the glory that shall be revealed, most certainly they would do the same now. But if their hearts be set upon earthly things, and their passions be stronger than all the arguments of reason; if they do indeed so love the pleasures of sin now, as that they cannot persuade themselves, by all the motives of religion, 410to live like Christians, we need not doubt to affirm, that they might very well have been in the same case though they had lived in our Saviour’s time. The Jews are a notorious and standing instance, how far prejudice, envy, pride, and affection, are able to prevail over the strongest convictions. When our Saviour began to preach that he was sent from God to instruct them in their duty, they required a sign of him, and they would believe him; but when he had worked so many miracles, that even the world itself could not contain the books if they should all be written, they persisted still in their infidelity. When they saw him hanging upon the cross, and thought themselves secure of him, they said, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him: (Matt. xxvii. 42.) But when he arose out of the grave, wherein he had lain three days, which was a much greater and more convincing miracle, they grew more hardened and obstinate in their unbelief.
Nay, not even tho’ one should rise on purpose from the dead to convince them. Others there are, who imagine that if they could but be convinced of the truth of another world, by the appearance of one sent directly from that unknown state, they would immediately become new creatures. But if God should satisfy their unreasonable demands, by sending one on purpose from the dead to convince them, there is little room to doubt, but as they harkened not to Moses and the prophets, to Christ and his apostles, so neither would they be persuaded by one rising on purpose from the dead. They might indeed be at first surprised and terrified at the appearance of so unusual and unexpected a messenger: But as wicked men upon a bed of sickness, at the amazing approach of death and eternity, resolve, in the utmost anguish of horror and despair, to amend their lives and forsake their sins; but as soon as the terror is over, and the danger of death past, return to their old habits of sin and folly;—so it is more than probable it would be in the present case. Should God send a messenger from the dead, to assure men of the certainty of a future state, and the danger of their present wickedness, 411as soon as the fright was over, and their present terrible apprehensions ceased, it is by no means impossible or improbable that their old vicious habits and beloved sins should again by degrees prevail over them. Some there are, in our present age, who pretend to be convinced of the being of spirits, by the powerful demonstration of their own senses; and yet we do not observe that their lives are more remarkably eminent for exemplary piety, than other good men’s, who, being convinced by the rational evidence of the gospel, go on in a sober, constant, and regular exercise of virtue and righteousness.
It is not therefore for want of sufficient evidence That therefore to make men judge rightly of the evidence of religion, it is absolutely necessary, in the first place, that, laying aside prejudice, lust, and passion, they become impartially willing to embrace all truth, and to obey all reasonable obligations which shall at any time be made known to them. that men disbelieve the great truths of religion; but plainly for want of integrity, and of dealing ingenuously and impartially with themselves, that they suffer not the arguments of religion to have that weight and influence upon them, which in the judgment of right reason they ought manifestly to have. So long as men permit their passions and appetites to over-rule their reason, it is impossible they should have due apprehensions in matters of religion, or make any right and true judgment concerning these things. Men that are strongly biassed and prejudiced even in worldly affairs, it is well known how hard and difficult it is for them to judge according to reason, and to suffer the arguments and evidences of truth to have their due weight with them. How much more in matters of religion, which concern things future and remote from sense, must it needs be, that men’s present interests, lusts, and passions, will pervert their judgment, and blind their understandings! Wherefore, men that pretend to be followers of right reason, if they will judge truly of the reasonableness and credibility of the Christian revelation, it is absolutely necessary that, in the first place, in order to that end, they become impartially willing to embrace whatever shall, upon the whole, appear to be agreeable to reason and truth, and grounded upon good evidence, without interesting their lusts and appetites in the judgment; and that, before all 412things, they resolve to be guided in all their actions by whatever rule shall at any time be well proved to them to be the will of God. And when they have put themselves into this temper and frame of mind, then let them try if they can any longer reject the evidence of the gospel. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God. (Johnvii. 17.) For, them that are meek, God will guide in judgment; (Ps. xxv. 8.) and such as are gentle, them he will teach his way.
That men of such a disposition would think it their greatest wisdom to be truly religious, even tho’ the evidences of religion were much less than they are. Indeed, men that are of this good disposition, willing to be governed by reason, and not prejudiced by lusts and vicious appetites, could not but give their assent to the doctrines of Christianity, upon account of the very intrinsic excellency and reasonableness of the things themselves, even though the external evidence of their certainty had been much less than it at present is. Nay, were there hardly any other evidence at all, than barely the excellency and reasonableness, and natural probability of the great truths of religion, together with the consideration of the vast importance of them; yet even in that case it would be infinitely wisest and most agreeable to reason, for men to live according to the rules of the gospel. And though their faith extended no further than only to a belief of the possibility of the truth of the Christian revelation, yet even this alone ought in all reason to have weight enough to determine reasonable creatures to live soberly, righteously, and godly. For is it not plainly most reasonable, as an ancient writer expresses it,399399 Non purior ratio est, ex duobus incertis et in ambigua expectatione pendentibus, id potius credere, quod aliquas spes ferat, quam quod nullas? In illo enim periculi nihil est, si, quod dicitur imminere, cassum fiat et vacuum; in hoc, damnum est maximum (id est, salutis amissio,) si, cum tempus advenerit, aperiatur hoc fuisse mendacium.—Arnob. adv. Gentes, lib. 2. if each of the opposite opinions were equally doubtful and uncertain, yet by all means to embrace and entertain that which brings some hope along with it, rather than that which brings none? For on one side of the question there is no danger at all of incurring any 413calamity, if that which we believe and expect should at last prove false; but, on the other side, there is the greatest hazard in the world, the loss of eternal life, if the opinion which unbelievers rely upon should at last prove an error. And again:400400 Quid dicitis, O nescii, etiam fletu et miseratione dignissimi? ita non tam extimescitis, ne sorte hæc vera sint, quæ sunt despectui vobis et præbent materiam risus? nec saltem vobiscum sub obscuris cogitationibus volvitis, ne, quod hoc die credere obstinata renuitis perversitate, redarguat serum tempus, et irrevocabilis pnitentia castiget?—Id. ibid. What say ye, O ye ignorant men, ye men of miserable and most deplorable folly? Can ye forbear fearing within yourselves that at least those things may possibly prove true which ye now despise and mock at? Have ye not at least some misgivings of mind, lest possibly that which ye now perversely and obstinately refuse to believe, ye should at last be convinced of by sad experience, when it will be too late to repent. Nor is this the judgment of Christian writers only, but also of the wisest and most considerate heathens. We ought to spare no pains, saith Plato,401401 Χρὴ πάντα ποιῖν, ὥστε αρετῆς καὶ φρονήσεως ἐν τῷ βίῳ μετασχεῖν· καλὸν γὰρ τὸ ἇθλον, καὶ ἡ ἐλπὶς μεγάλη.—Plato in Phæd. to obtain the habits of virtue and wisdom in this present life; for the prize is noble, and the hope is very great. And Cicero:402402 Præclarum nescio quid adepti sunt, qui didicerunt se, cum tempus mortis venisset, totos esse perituros.——Quid habet ista res aut lætabile aut gloriosum?—Cic. Tusc. Qu. lib. 1. They have gained a great prize indeed who have persuaded themselves to believe, that, when death comes, they shall perish utterly: What comfort is there; what is there to be boasted of in that opinion? And again: If after death, saith he, as some little and contemptible philosophers think,403403 Sin mortuus, ut quidam minuti philosophi censent, nihil sentiam, non vereor ne hunc errorem meum mortui philosophi irrideant.—Cic. De Senect. I shall be nothing, yet there is no danger that when we are all dead those philosophers should laugh at me for my error.
But this is not our case. God has afforded us, as has been largely and particularly shown in the foregoing 414discourse, many and certain proofs of the truth of our religion; even as certain as any matter of fact is capable of having. And we now exhort men to believe, not what is barely possible, and excellent and probable, and of the utmost importance in itself, but what moreover they have all the positive evidence and all the reason in the world to oblige them to believe.
That God may require us to take notice of certain things, and to inquire into them and consider them, at our peril. To conclude: No man of reason can pretend to say but God may require us to take notice of some things at our peril, to inquire into them, and to consider them thoroughly. Any pretence of want of greater evidence will not excuse carelessness or unreasonable prejudices, when God has vouchsafed us all that evidence which was either fit for him to grant, or reasonable for men to desire; or indeed which the nature of the thing itself to be proved was capable of.415
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