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If any man will do his wilt, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
WHEN God was pleased to new-model the world by the introduction of a new religion, and that in the room of one set up by himself, it was requisite that he should recommend it to the reasons of men with the same authority and evidence that enforced the former; and that a religion established by God himself should not be displaced by any thing under a demonstration of that divine power that first introduced it. And the whole Jewish economy, we know, was brought in with miracles; the law was writ and confirmed by the same almighty hand: the whole universe was subservient to its promulgation: the signs of Egypt and the Red sea; fire and a voice from heaven; the heights of the one, and the depths of the other; so that (as it were) from the top to the bottom of nature, there issued forth one universal united testimony of the divinity of the Mosaic law and religion. And this stood in the world for the space of two thousand years; till at length, in the fulness of time, the reason of men ripening to such a pitch, as to be above the pedagogy of Moses’s rod, and the discipline of types, God thought fit to display the substance without the shadow, 147and to read the world a lecture of an higher and more sublime religion in Christianity. But the Jewish was yet in possession, and therefore that this might so enter, as not to intrude, it was to bring its warrant from the same hand of omnipotence. And for this cause, Christ, that he might not make either a suspected or precarious address to men’s understandings, outdoes Moses, before he displaces him; shews an ascendant spirit above him, raises the dead, and cures more plagues than he brought upon Egypt, casts out devils, and heals the deaf, speaking such words, as even gave ears to hear them; cures the blind and the lame, and makes the very dumb to speak for the truth of his doctrine. But what was the result of all this? Why, some look upon him as an impostor and a conjurer, as an agent for Beelzebub, and therefore reject his gospel, hold fast their law, and will not let Moses give place to the magician.
Now the cause that Christ’s doctrine was rejected, must of necessity be one of these two. 1. An insufficiency in the arguments brought by Christ to enforce it. Or, 2. An indisposition in the persons, to whom this doctrine was addressed, to receive it.
And for this, Christ, who had not only an infinite power to work miracles, but also an equal wisdom both to know the just force and measure of every argument or motive to persuade or cause assent; and withal, to look through and through all the dark corners of the soul of man, all the windings and turnings, and various workings of his faculties; and to discern how and by what means they are to be wrought upon; and what prevails upon them, and what does not: he, I say, states the whole matter 148upon this issue; that the arguments by which his doctrine addressed itself to the minds of men, were proper, adequate, and sufficient to compass their respective ends in persuading or convincing the persons to whom they were proposed: and more over, that there was no such defect in the natural light of man’s understanding, or knowing faculty; but that, considered in itself, it would be apt enough to close with, and yield its assent to, the evidence of those arguments duly offered to, and laid before it. And yet, that after all this, the event proved other wise; and that, notwithstanding both the weight and fitness of the arguments to persuade, and the light of man’s intellect to meet this persuasive evidence with a suitable assent, no assent followed, nor were men thereby actually persuaded; he charges it wholly upon the corruption, the perverseness, and vitiosity of man’s will, as the only cause that rendered all the arguments, his doctrine came clothed with, unsuccessful. And consequently, he affirms here in the text, that men must love the truth before they throughly believe it; and that the gospel has then only a free admission into the assent of the understanding, when it brings a passport from a rightly disposed will, as being the great faculty of dominion, that commands all, that shuts out and lets in what objects it pleases, and, in a word, keeps the keys of the whole soul.
This is the design and purport of the words, which I shall draw forth and handle in the prosecution of these four following heads.
I. I shall shew, what the doctrine of Christ was, that the world so much stuck at, and was so averse from believing.149
II. I shall shew, that men’s unbelief of it was from no defect or insufficiency in the arguments brought by Christ to enforce it.
III. I shall shew, what was the true and proper cause, into which this unbelief was resolved.
IV. And lastly, I shall shew, that a pious and well disposed mind, attended with a readiness to obey the known will of God, is the surest and best means to enlighten the understanding to a belief of Christianity.
Of these in their order: and,
First for the doctrine of Christ. We must take it in the known and common division of it, into matters of belief, and matters of practice.
The matters of belief related chiefly to his person and offices. As, That he was the Messias that should come into the world: the eternal son of God, begotten of him before all worlds: that in time he was made man, and born of a pure virgin: that he should die and satisfy for the sins of the world; and that he should rise again from the dead, and ascend into heaven; and there sitting at the right hand of God, hold the government of the whole world, till the great and last day; in which he should judge both the quick and the dead, raised to life again with the very same bodies; and then deliver up all rule and government into the hands of his Father. These were the great articles and credenda of Christianity, that so much startled the world, and seemed to be such, as not only brought in a new religion amongst men, but also required new reason to embrace it.
The other part of his doctrine lay in matters of practice; which we find contained in his several sermons, 150but principally in that glorious, full, and admirable discourse upon the mount, recorded in the 5th, 6th, and 7th chapters of St. Matthew. All which particulars, if we would reduce to one general comprehensive head, they are all wrapt up in the doctrine of self-denial,1919 See Sermon on Matth. x. 33. p. 56. prescribing to the world the most inward purity of heart, and a constant conflict with all our sensual appetites and worldly interests, even to the quitting of all that is dear to us, and the sacrificing of life itself, rather than knowingly to omit the least duty, or commit the least sin. And this was that which grated harder upon, and raised greater tumults and boilings in the hearts of men, than the strangeness and seeming unreasonableness of all the former articles, that took up chiefly in speculation and belief.
And that this was so, will appear from a consideration of the state and condition the world was in, as to religion, when Christ promulged his doctrine. Nothing further than the outward action was then looked after, and when that failed, there was an expiation ready in the opus operatum of a sacrifice. So that all their virtue and religion lay in their folds and their stalls, and what was wanting in the innocence, the blood of lambs was to supply. The Scribes and Pharisees, who were the great doctors of the Jewish church, expounded the law no further. They accounted no man a murderer, but he that struck a knife into his brother’s heart: no man an adulterer, but he that actually defiled his neighbour’s bed. They thought it no injustice nor irreligion to prosecute the severest retaliation or revenge; so 151that at the same time their outward man might be a saint, and their inward man a devil. No care at all was had to curb the unruliness of anger, or the exorbitance of desire. Amongst all their sacrifices, they never sacrificed so much as one lust. Bulls and goats bled apace, but neither the violence of the one, nor the wantonness of the other, ever died a victim at any of their altars. So that no wonder, that a doctrine that arraigned the irregularities of the most inward motions and affections of the soul, and told men, that anger and harsh words were murder, and looks and desires, adultery; that a man might stab with his tongue, and assassinate with his mind, pollute himself with a glance, and forfeit eternity by a cast of his eye: no wonder, I say, that such a doctrine made a strange bustle and disturbance in the world, which then sat warm and easy in a free enjoyment of their lusts; ordering matters so, that they put a trick upon the great rule of virtue, the law, and made a shift to think themselves guiltless, in spite of all their sins; to break the precept, and at the same time to baffle the curse. Contriving to themselves such a sort of holiness, as should please God and themselves too; justify and save them harmless, but never sanctify nor make them better.
But the severe notions of Christianity turned all this upside down, filling all with surprise and amazement: they came upon the world, like light darting full upon the face of a man asleep, who had a mind to sleep on, and not to be disturbed: they were terrible astonishing alarms to persons grown fat and wealthy by a long and successful imposture; by suppressing the true sense of the law, by putting another veil upon Moses; and, in a word, persuading 152the world, that men might be honest and religious, happy and blessed, though they never denied nor mortified one of their corrupt appetites.
And thus much for the first thing proposed; which was to give you a brief draught of the doc trine of Christ, that met with so little assent from the world in general, and from the Jews in particular. I come now to the
Second thing proposed: which was to shew, That men’s unbelief of Christ’s doctrine was from no defect or insufficiency in the arguments brought by Christ to enforce it. This I shall make appear two ways.
1. By shewing, that the arguments spoken of were in themselves convincing and sufficient.
2. By shewing, that upon supposition they were not so, yet their insufficiency was not the cause of their rejection.
And first for the first of these: That the arguments brought by Christ for the confirmation of his doctrine were in themselves convincing and sufficient. I shall insist only upon the convincing power of the two principal. One from the prophecies recorded concerning him; the other from the miracles done by him. Of both very briefly. And for the former. There was a full entire harmony and consent of all the divine predictions receiving their completion in Christ. The strength of which argument lies in this, that it evinces the divine mission of Christ’s person, and thereby proves him to be the Messias; which by consequence proves and asserts the truth of his doctrine. For he that was so sent by God, could declare nothing but the will of God. And so evidently do all the prophecies agree to 153Christ, that I dare with great confidence affirm, that if the prophecies recorded of the Messiah are not fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, it is impossible to know or distinguish when a prophecy is fulfilled, and when not, in any thing or person whatsoever; which would utterly evacuate the use of them. But in Christ they all meet with such an invincible lustre and evidence, as if they were not predictions, but after-relations; and the penmen of them not prophets, but evangelists. And now, can any kind of ratiocination allow Christ all the marks of the Messiah, and yet deny him to be the Messiah? Could he have all the signs, and yet not be the thing signified? Could the shadows that followed him, and were cast from him, belong to any other body? All these things are absurd and unnatural; and therefore the force of this argument was undeniable.
Nor was that other from the miracles done by him at all inferior. The strength and force of which, to prove the things they are alleged for, consists in this, that a miracle being a work exceeding the power of any created agent, and consequently being an effect of the divine omnipotence, when it is done to give credit and authority to any word or doctrine declared to proceed from God, either that doctrine must really proceed from God, as it is declared; or God by that work of his almighty power must bear witness to a falsehood; and so bring the creature under the greatest obligation, that can possibly engage the assent of a rational nature, to believe and assent to a lie. For surely a greater reason than this cannot be produced for the belief of any thing, than for a man to stand up and say, This and this I 154tell you as the mind and word of God; and to prove that it is so, I will do that before your eyes, that you yourselves shall confess can be done by nothing, but the almighty power of that God that can neither deceive nor be deceived. Now if this be an irrefragable way to convince, as the reason of all man kind must confess it to be, then Christ’s doctrine came attended and enforced with the greatest means of conviction imaginable. Thus much for the argument in thesi; and then for the assumption that Christ did such miraculous and supernatural works to confirm what he said, we need only repeat the message sent by him to John the Baptist; that the dumb spake, the blind saw, the lame walked, and the dead were raised. Which particulars none of his bitterest enemies ever pretended to deny, they being conveyed to them by an evidence past all exception, even the evidence of sense; nay of the quickest, the surest, and most authentic of all the senses, the sight: which if it be not certain in the reports and representations it makes of things to the mind, there neither is, nor can be naturally, any such thing as certainty or knowledge in the world. And thus much for the first part of the second general thing proposed; namely, That the arguments brought by Christ for the proof of his doctrine, were in themselves convincing and sufficient.
I come now to the other part of it, which is to shew, That admitting or supposing that they were not sufficient, yet their insufficiency was not the cause of their actual rejection. Which will appear from these following reasons.
(1.) Because those who rejected Christ’s doctrine, and the arguments by which he confirmed it, fully 155believed and assented to other things conveyed to them with less evidence. Such as were even the miracles of Moses himself, upon the credit and authority of which stood the whole economy of the Jewish constitution. For though I grant that they believed his miracles upon the credit of constant unerring tradition, both written and unwritten, and grant also that such tradition was of as great certainty as the reports of sense; yet still I affirm, that it was not of the same evidence, which yet is the greatest and most immediate ground of all assent.
The evidence of sense (as I have noted) is the clearest that naturally the mind of man can receive, and is indeed the foundation both of all the evidence and certainty too, that tradition is capable of; which pretends to no other credibility from the testimony and word of some men, but because their word is at length traced up to, and originally terminates in, the sense and experience of some others, which could not be known beyond that compass of time in which it was exercised, but by being told and reported to such, as, not living at that time, saw it not, and by them to others, and so down from one age to another. For we therefore believe the report of some men concerning a thing, because it implies that there were some others who actually saw that thing. It is clear therefore, that want of evidence could not be the cause that the Jews rejected and disbelieved the gospel, since they embraced and believed the law, upon the credit of those miracles that were less evident. For those of Christ they knew by sight and sense, those of Moses only by tradition; which, though equally certain, yet were by no means equally evident with the other.156
(2.) They believed and assented to things that were neither evident nor certain, but only probable; for they conversed, they traded, they merchandized, and, by so doing, frequently ventured their whole estates and fortunes upon a probable belief or persuasion of the honesty and truth of those whom they dealt and corresponded with. And interest, especially in worldly matters, and yet more especially with a Jew, never proceeds but upon supposal, at least, of a firm and sufficient bottom: from whence it is manifest, that since they could believe and practically rely upon, and that even in their dearest concerns, bare probabilities; they could not with any colour of reason pretend want of evidence for their disbelief of Christ’s doctrine, which came enforced with arguments far surpassing all such probabilities.
(3.) They believed and assented to things neither evident nor certain, nor yet so much as probable, but actually false and fallacious. Such as were the absurd doctrines and stories of their rabbins: which, though since Christ’s time they have grown much more numerous and fabulous than before, yet even then did so much pester the church, and so grossly abuse and delude the minds of that people, that contradictions themselves asserted by rabbies were equally received and revered by them as the sacred and infallible word of God. And whereas they rejected Christ and his doctrine, though every tittle of it came enforced with miracle, and the best arguments that heaven and earth could back it with; yet Christ then foretold, and after-times confirmed that prediction of his in John v. 43. that they should receive many cheats and deceivers coming to them 157in their own name: fellows that set up for Messias’s, only upon their own heads, without pretending to any thing singular or miraculous, but impudence and imposture.
From all which it follows, that the Jews could not allege so much as a pretence of the want of evidence in the argument brought by Christ to prove the divinity and authority of his doctrine, as a reason of their rejection and disbelief of it; since they embraced and believed many things, for some of which they had no evidence, and for others of which they had no certainty, and for most of which they had not so much as probability. Which being so, from whence then could such an obstinate infidelity, in matters of so great clearness and credibility, take its rise? Why, this will be made out to us in the
Third thing proposed, which was to shew, What was the true and proper cause into which this unbelief of the Pharisees was resolved. And that was, in a word, the captivity of their wills and affections to lusts directly opposite to the design and spirit of Christianity. They were extremely ambitious and insatiably covetous, and therefore no impression from argument or miracle could reach them; but they stood proof against all conviction. Now, to shew how the pravity of the will could influence the understanding to a disbelief of Christianity, I shall premise these two considerations.
1. That the understanding in its assent to any religion, is very differently wrought upon in persons bred up in it, and in persons at length converted to it. For in the first, it finds the mind naked and unprepossessed with any former notions, and so easily and insensibly gains upon the assent, grows up with 158it, and incorporates into it. But in persons adult, and already possessed with other notions of religion, the understanding cannot be brought to quit these, and to change them for new, but by great consideration and examination of the truth and firmness of the one, and comparing them with the flaws and weakness of the other. Which cannot be done without some labour and intention of the mind, and the thoughts dwelling a considerable time upon the survey and discussion of each particular.
2. The other thing to be considered is, that in this great work, the understanding is chiefly at the disposal of the will. For though it is not in the power of the will, directly either to cause or hinder the assent of the understanding to a thing proposed and duly set before it; yet it is antecedently in the power of the will, to apply the understanding faculty to, or to take it off from the consideration of those objects, to which, without such a previous consideration, it cannot yield its assent. For all assent presupposes a simple apprehension or knowledge of the terms of the proposition to be assented to. But unless the understanding employ and exercise its cognitive or apprehensive power about these terms, there can be no actual apprehension of them. And the understanding, as to the exercise of this power, is subject to the command of the will, though as to the specific nature of its acts, it is determined by the object. As for instance; my understanding cannot assent to this proposition, That Jesus Christ is the Son of God; but it must first consider, and so apprehend, what the terms and parts of it are, and what they signify. And this cannot be done, if my will be so slothful, worldly, or voluptuously disposed, 159as never to suffer me at all to think of them; but perpetually to carry away and apply my mind to other things. Thus far is the understanding at the disposal of the will.
Now these two considerations being premised, namely, that persons grown up in the belief of any religion cannot change that for another, without applying their understanding duly to consider and compare both; and then, that it is in the power of the will, whether it will suffer the understanding thus to dwell upon such objects or no: from these two, I say, we have the true philosophy and reason of the Pharisees unbelief; for they could not relinquish their Judaism, and embrace Christianity, without considering, weighing, and collating both religions. And this their understanding could not apply to, if it were diverted and took off by their will; and their will would be sure to divert and take it off, being wholly possessed and governed by their covetousness and ambition, which perfectly abhorred the precepts of such a doctrine. And this is the very account that our Saviour himself gives of this matter in John v. 44. How can ye believe, says he, who receive honour one of another? He looked upon it as a thing morally impossible, for persons infinitely proud and ambitious, to frame their minds to an impartial unbiassed consideration of a religion that taught nothing but self-denial and the cross; that humility was honour, and that the higher men climbed, the further they were from heaven. They could not with patience so much as think of it; and therefore, you may be sure, would never assent to it. And again, when Christ discoursed to them of alms, and a pious distribution of the goods and riches of 160this world, in Luke xvi. it is said in the 14th verse, that the Pharisees, who were covetous, heard all those things, and derided him. Charity and liberality is a paradox to the covetous. The doctrine that teaches alms, and the persons that need them, are by such equally sent packing. Tell a miser of bounty to a friend, or mercy to the poor, and point him out his duty with an evidence as bright and piercing as the light, yet he will not understand it, but shuts his eyes as close as he does his hands, and resolves not to be convinced. In both these cases, there is an incurable blindness caused by a resolution not to see; and to all intents and purposes, he who will not open his eyes, is for the present as blind as he that cannot. And thus I have done with the third thing proposed, and shewn what was the true cause of the Pharisees disbelief of Christ’s doctrine: it was the predominance of those two great vices over their will, their covetousness and ambition. Pass we now to the
Fourth and last, which is to shew, That a pious and well disposed mind, attended with a readiness to obey the known will of God, is the surest and best means to enlighten the understanding to a belief of Christianity. That it is so, will appear upon a double account.
First, upon the account of God’s goodness, and the method of his dealing with the souls of men; which is, to reward every degree of sincere obedience to his will, with a further discovery of it. I understand more than the ancients, says David, Psalm cxix. 100. But how did he attain to such an excellency of understanding? Was it by longer study, or a greater quickness and felicity of parts, than was in 161those before him? No, he gives the reason in the next words, it was because I keep thy statutes. He got the start of them in point of obedience, and thereby outstript them at length in point of knowledge. And who in old time were the men of extraordinary revelations, but those who were also men of extraordinary piety? Who were made privy to the secrets of Heaven, and the hidden will of the Almighty, but such as performed his revealed will at an higher rate of strictness than the rest of the world? They were the Enochs, the Abrahams, the Elijahs, and the Daniels; such as the scripture remarkably testifies of, that they walked with God. And surely, he that walks with another, is in a likelier way to know and understand his mind, than he that follows him at a distance. Upon which account, the learned Jews still made this one of the ingredients that went to constitute a prophet, that he should be perfectus in moralibus, a person of exact morals, and unblameable in his life: the gift of prophecy being a ray of such a light, as never darts itself upon a dunghill. And what I here observe occasionally of extraordinary revelation and prophecy, will by analogy and due proportion extend even to those communications of God’s will, that are requisite to men’s salvation. An honest hearty simplicity and proneness to do all that a man knows of God’s will, is the ready, certain, and in fallible way to know more of it. For I am sure it may be said of the practical knowledge of religion, that to him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly.
I dare not, I confess, join in that bold assertion of some, that facienti quod in se est, Deus nec debet, 162 nec potest denegare gratiam, which indeed is no less than a direct contradiction in the very terms; for if Deus debet, then id quod debetur non est gratia; there being a perfect inconsistency between that which is of debt, and that which is of free gift. And therefore leaving the non debet and the non potest to those that can bind and loose the Almighty at their pleasure: so much, I think, we may pronounce safely in this matter, that the goodness and mercy of God is such, that he never deserts a sincere person, nor suffers any one that shall live (even according to these measures of sincerity) up to what he knows, to perish for want of any knowledge necessary, and what is more, sufficient to save him.
If any one should here say, Were there then none living up to these measures of sincerity amongst the heathen? and if there were, did the goodness of God afford such persons knowledge enough to save them? My answer is according to that of St. Paul, I judge not those that are without the church: they stand or fall to their own master: I have no thing to say of them. Secret things belong to God: it becomes us to be thankful to God, and charitable to men.
2. A pious and well-disposed will is the readiest means to enlighten the understanding to a knowledge of the truth of Christianity, upon the account of a natural efficiency; forasmuch as a will so disposed will be sure to engage the mind in a severe search into the great and concerning truths of religion: nor will it only engage the mind in such a search; but it will also accompany that search with two dispositions, directly tending to, and principally 163productive of, the discoveries of truth; namely, diligence and impartiality. And,
(1.) For the diligence of the search. Diligence is the great harbinger of truth; which rarely takes up in any mind till that has gone before, and made room for it. It is a steady, constant, and pertinacious study, that naturally leads the soul into the knowledge of that, which at first seemed locked up from it. For this keeps the understanding long in converse with an object: and long converse brings acquaintance. Frequent consideration of a thing wears off the strangeness of it; and shews it in its several lights, and various ways of appearance, to the view of the mind.
Truth is a great strong hold, barred and fortified by God and nature; and diligence is properly the understanding’s laying siege to it: so that, as in a kind of warfare, it must be perpetually upon the watch; observing all the avenues and passes to it, and accordingly makes its approaches. Sometimes it thinks it gains a point; and presently again, it finds itself baffled and beaten off: yet still it renews the onset; attacks the difficulty afresh; plants is reasoning, and that argument, this consequence, and that distinction, like so many intellectual batteries, till at length it forces a way and passage into the obstinate enclosed truth, that so long withstood and defied all its assaults.
The Jesuits have a saying common amongst them, touching the institution of youth, (in which their chief strength and talent lies,) that vexatio dat intellectum. As when the mind casts and turns itself restlessly from one thing to another, strains this power of the soul to apprehend, that to judge, another 164to divide, a fourth to remember; thus tracing out the nice and scarce observable difference of some things, and the real agreement of others, till at length it brings all the ends of a long and various hypothesis together; sees how one part coheres with and depends upon another; and so clears off all the appearing contrarieties and contradictions that seemed to lie cross and uncouth, and to make the whole unintelligible. This is the laborious and vexatious inquest, that the soul must make after science. For truth, like a stately dame, will not be seen, nor shew herself at the first visit, nor match with the understanding upon an ordinary courtship or address. Long and tedious attendances must be given, and the hardest fatigues endured and digested; nor did ever the most pregnant wit in the world bring forth any thing great, lasting, and considerable, without some pain and travail, some pangs and throes before the delivery.
Now all this, that I have said, is to shew the force of diligence in the investigation of truth, and particularly of the noblest of all truths, which is that of religion. But then, as diligence is the great discoverer of truth, so is the will the great spring of diligence. For no man can heartily search after that which he is not very desirous to find. Diligence is to the understanding, as the whetstone to the razor; but the will is the hand that must apply one to the other.
What makes many men so strangely immerse themselves, some in chymical, and some in mathematical inquiries, but because they strangely love the things they labour in? Their intent study gives them skill and proficiency, and their particular affection 165to these kinds of knowledge puts them upon such study. Accordingly let there be but the same propensity and bent of will to religion, and there will be the same sedulity and indefatigable industry in men’s inquiry into it. And then, in the natural course of things, the consequent of a sedulous seeking is finding, and the fruit of inquiry is information.
(2.) A pious and well-disposed will gives not only diligence, but also impartiality to the understanding, in its search into religion, which is as absolutely necessary to give success to our inquiries into truth, as the former; it being scarce possible for that man to hit the mark, whose eye is still glancing upon something beside it. Partiality is properly the understanding’s judging according to the inclination of the will and affections, and not according to the exact truth of things, or the merits of the cause before it. Affection is still a briber of the judgment; and it is hard for a man to admit a reason against the thing he loves, or to confess the force of an argument against an interest.
In this case, he prevaricates with his own understanding, and cannot seriously and sincerely set his mind to consider the strength, to poise the weight, and to discern the evidence of the clearest and best argumentations, where they would conclude against the darling of his desires. For still that beloved thing possesses, and even engrosses him, and like a coloured glass before his eyes casts its own colour and tincture upon all the images and ideas of things that pass from the fancy to the understanding; and so absolutely does it sway that, that if a strange irresistible evidence of some unacceptable truth 166should chance to surprise and force reason to assent to the premises, affection would yet step in at last, and make it quit the conclusion.
Upon which account, Socinus and his followers state the reason of a man’s believing or embracing Christianity upon the natural goodness or virtuous disposition of his mind, which they sometimes call naturalis probitas, and sometimes animus in virtutem pronus. For, say they, the whole doctrine of Christianity teaches nothing but what is perfectly suitable to, and coincident with, the ruling principles, that a virtuous and well inclined man is acted by; and with the main interest that he proposes to himself. So that as soon as ever it is declared to such an one, he presently closes in, accepts, and complies with it: as a prepared soil eagerly takes in and firmly retains such seed or plants as particularly agree with it.
With ordinary minds, such as much the greatest part of the world are, it is the suitableness, not the evidence of a truth, that makes it to be assented to. And it is seldom that any thing practically convinces a man, that does not please him first. If you would be sure of him, you must inform and gratify him too. But now, impartiality strips the mind of prejudice and passion, keeps it right and even from the bias of interest and desire, and so presents it like a rasa tabula, equally disposed to the reception of all truth. So that the soul lies prepared, and open to entertain it, and prepossessed with nothing that can oppose or thrust it out. For where diligence opens the door of the understanding, and impartiality keeps it, truth is sure to find both an entrance and a welcome too.167
And thus I have done with the fourth and last general thing proposed, and proved by argument, that a pious and well disposed mind, attended with a readiness to obey the known will of God, is the surest and best means to enlighten the understanding to a belief of Christianity.
Now, from the foregoing particulars, by way of use, we may collect these two things.
1. The true cause of that atheism, that scepticism and cavilling at religion, that we see and have cause to lament in too many in these days. It is not from any thing weak or wanting in our religion, to support, and enable it to look the strongest arguments, and the severest and most controlling reason in the face: but men are atheistical, because they are first vicious; and question the truth of Christianity, because they hate the practice. And therefore, that they may seem to have some pretence and colour to sin on freely, and to surrender up themselves wholly to their sensuality, without any imputation upon their judgment, and to quit their morals, without any discredit to their intellectuals; they fly to several stale, trite, pitiful objections and cavils, some against religion in general, and some against Christianity in particular, and some against the very first principles of morality, to give them some poor credit and countenance in the pursuit of their brutish courses.
Few practical errors in the world are embraced upon the stock of conviction, but inclination: for though indeed the judgment may err upon the account of weakness, yet where there is one error that enters in at this door, ten are let into it through the will: that, for the most part, being set upon those 168things, which truth is a direct obstacle to the enjoyment of; and where both cannot be had, a man will be sure to buy his enjoyment, though he pays down truth for the purchase. For in this case, the further from truth, the further from trouble: since truth shews such an one what he is unwilling to see, and tells him what he hates to hear. They are the same beams that shine and enlighten, and are apt to scorch too: and it is impossible for a man engaged in any wicked way, to have a clear understanding of it, and a quiet mind in it together.
But these sons of Epicurus, both for voluptuousness and irreligion also, (as it is hard to support the former without the latter,) these, I say, rest not here; but (if you will take them at their word) they must also pass for the only wits of the age: though greater arguments, I am sure, may be produced against this, than any they can allege against the most improbable article of Christianity. But heretofore the rate and standard of wit was very different from what it is nowadays. No man was then accounted a wit for speaking such things as deserved to have the tongue cut out that spake them: nor did any man pass for a philosopher, or a man of depth, for talking atheistically: or a man of parts, for employing them against that God that gave them. For then the world was generally better inclined; virtue was in so much reputation, as to be pretended to at least. And virtue, whether in a Christian or in an infidel, can have no interest to be served either by atheism or infidelity.
For which cause, could we but prevail with the greatest debauchees amongst us to change their lives, we should find it no very hard matter to 169change their judgments. For notwithstanding all their talk of reason and philosophy, which (God knows) they are deplorably strangers to; and those unanswerable doubts and difficulties, which, over their cups or their coffee, they pretend to have against Christianity; persuade but the covetous man not to deify his money; the proud man not to adore himself; the lascivious man to throw off his lewd amours; the intemperate man to abandon his revels; and so for any other vice, that is apt to abuse and pervert the mind of man; and I dare undertake, that all their giant-like objections against Christian religion shall presently vanish and quit the field. For he that is a good man, is three quarters of his way towards the being a good Christian, wheresoever he lives, or whatsoever he is called.
2. In the next place, we learn from hence the most effectual way and means of proficiency and growth in the knowledge of the great and profound truths of religion, and how to make us all not only good Christians, but also expert divines. It is a knowledge, that men are not so much to study, as to live themselves into: a knowledge that passes into the head through the heart. I have heard of some, that in their latter years, through the feebleness of their limbs, have been forced to study upon their knees: and I think it might well become the young est and the strongest to do so too. Let them daily and incessantly pray to God for his grace; and if God gives grace, they may be sure that knowledge will not stay long behind: since it is the same spirit and principle that purifies the heart, and clarifies the understanding. Let all their inquiries into the deep and mysterious points of theology be begun and carried 170on with fervent petitions to God; that he would dispose their minds to direct all their skill and knowledge to the promotion of a good life, both in themselves and others; that he would use all their noblest speculations, and most refined notions, only as instruments, to move and set a work the great principles of actions, the will and the affections; that he would convince them of the infinite vanity and uselessness of all that learning, that makes not the possessor of it a better man; that he would keep them from those sins that may grieve and provoke his holy Spirit (the fountain of all true light and knowledge,) to withdraw from them; and so seal them up under darkness, blindness, and stupidity of mind. For where the heart is bent upon, and held under the power of, any vicious course, though Christ himself should take the contrary virtue for his doc trine, and do a miracle before such an one’s eyes, for its application; yet he would not practically gain his assent, but the result of all would end in a non persuadebis etiamsi persuaseris. Few consider what a degree of sottishness and confirmed ignorance men may sin themselves into.
This was the case of the Pharisees. And no doubt but this very consideration also gives us the true reason and full explication of that notable and strange passage of scripture, in Luke xvi. and the last verse: That if men will not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. That is, where a strong inveterate love of sin has made any doctrine or proposition wholly unsuitable to the heart, no argument or demonstration, no nor miracle whatsoever, shall be able to bring the heart cordially to close 171with, and receive it. Whereas, on the contrary, if the heart be piously disposed, the natural goodness of any doctrine is enough to vouch for the truth of it: for the suitableness of it will endear it to the will, and by endearing it to the will, will naturally slide it into the assent also. For in morals, as well as in metaphysics, there is nothing really good, but has a truth commensurate to its goodness.
The truths of Christ crucified are the Christian’s philosophy, and a good life is the Christian’s logic; that great instrumental introductive art that must guide the mind into the former. And where a long course of piety, and close communion with God, has purged the heart, and rectified the will, and made all things ready for the reception of God’s Spirit; knowledge will break in upon such a soul, like the sun shining in his full might, with such a victorious light, that nothing shall be able to resist it.
If now at length some should object here, that from what has been delivered, it will follow, that the most pious men are still the most knowing, which yet seems contrary to common experience and observation; I answer, that as to all things directly conducing, and necessary to salvation, there is no doubt but they are so; as the meanest common soldier, that has fought often in an army, has a truer and better knowledge of war, than he that has read and writ whole volumes of it, but never was in any battle.
Practical sciences are not to be learnt but in the way of action. It is experience that must give knowledge in the Christian profession, as well as in all others. And the knowledge drawn from experience is quite of another kind from that which flows 172from speculation or discourse. It is not the opinion, but the path of the just, that the wisest of men tells us, shines more and more unto a perfect day. The obedient, and the men of practice, are those sons of light, that shall outgrow all their doubts and ignorances, that shall ride upon these clouds, and triumph over their present imperfections, till persuasion pass into knowledge, and knowledge advance into assurance, and all come at length to be completed in the beatific vision, and a full fruition of those joys, which God has in reserve for them, whom by his grace he shall prepare for glory.
To which God, infinitely wise, holy, and just, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.173
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