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THE PREJUDICES AGAINST JESUS AND HIS RELIGION CONSIDERED.
And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.—Matt. xi. 6.
FROM these words I proposed to consider these two things:
I. The prejudices and objections which the world at first had, and many still have, against our blessed Saviour and his religion.
II. That it is a great happiness to escape the common prejudices which men are apt to entertain against religion.
I have considered those objections which the Jews and heathen philosophers made against our Saviour and his religion: and,
II. Those which, at this day, are insisted upon by the secret and open enemies of our religion. And I mentioned seven, the two last of which I shall now speak to.
Sixthly, It is objected, that there are many divisions and factions among Christians. This I confess is a great reproach and scandal to our religion; but no sufficient argument against it. And,
1. To lessen and abate the force of this objection, it is to be considered, that a very great part of the divisions, that are among those that are called Christians, are about things that do not concern the essentials of Christianity; and therefore they are no argument 28that Christianity is not true, because they bring no suspicion of doubt and uncertainty upon the fundamentals of Christianity, which all agree in, though they differ in other things. It is true, indeed, they are very indecent, and contrary to the nature and precepts of the Christian religion; which, above any religion in the world, does strictly require love and unity. They take off much from the strength and beauty of our religion: but do by no means destroy the truth of it.
2. How many and great soever they may be, yet they can with no colour of reason be imputed to the Christian religion, as giving any cause or encouragement to them, however by accident it may be the occasion of them. For no man doubts but that the best thing in the world may be perverted by bad men, and made an occasion of a great deal of mischief in the world, and yet be very innocent of all that mischief. No man can deny but that Christianity does strictly enjoin love, and peace, and unity, among all the members of that profession; and so far as Christians are factious and unpeaceable, so far they are no Christians. So that a man may as well except against philosophy, because of the differences that were among the philosophers, and say there was no truth among them, because they were not all agreed in all things, as call the truth of Christianity in question, for the differences that are among Christians. Nay, a man might every whit as well except against laws and government; because, not withstanding them, there are frequent seditions, and rebellions, infinite suits, and controversies, occasioned even by the very laws: but no man was ever so unreasonable as to think this a good reason against laws and government.29
3. The divisions of Christians are so far from being an argument against Christianity, that, on the contrary, they are an argument that men should embrace Christianity more heartily, and make more conscience of obeying the precepts of it. And if they did this, the greatest part of those contentions and uncharitable animosities which are among them would presently cease. If the Christian religion were truly entertained, and men did seriously mind the precepts of it, and give up themselves to the obedience of its laws, differences would not be easily commenced, nor so vehemently prosecuted, nor so pertinaciously continued in, as they are. Men would not, upon every slight reason, and little doubt and scruple, rend and tear the body of Christ in pieces, and separate themselves from the communion of the church they live in, and in which they were baptized, and received their Christianity.
If men seriously considered, and truly understood what they do, when they divide the church of Christ upon little scruples and pretences, they would hardly be able to think themselves Christians, whilst they continued in these unchristian and uncharitable practices.
If men would but be. or do what Christianity requires, there would be no occasion for this objection; and if men will not, the Christian religion is not to be blamed for it, bur those that act so contrary to the plain precepts and directions of it. I proceed to the
Seventh, and last objection; The vicious and wicked lives of a great part of the professors of Christianity. This is a heavy objection, indeed, and such an one, that though we may justly be ashamed to own the truth of it, yet can we not have the face to deny it. 30It is so sad a truth, that it is enough to confound us, and to till all our faces with shame and blushing; but yet it is an objection not so strong against Christianity, as it is shameful to Christians. And not withstanding the utmost force of it, we have no cause to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ; but the gospel of Christ may justly be ashamed of us. For whatever we be, “the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation.” The natural tendency of it is to reform and save men; and “the wrath of God is therein revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, however they may detain the truths of God in unrighteousness,” and not suffer them to have their due and proper influence upon their hearts and lives.
But that I may give a more clear and particular answer to it, I desire you to attend to these following considerations:
1. It cannot be denied, but that Christianity hath had once very great and marvellous effects upon the hearts and lives of men. And for this I appeal to the lives and manners of the primitive Christians; for which we have not only the testimony of our own books and writers, but even of the adversaries of our religion. What reformation Christianity at first wrought in the manners of men, we have clear and full testimony, from what the apostles wrote concerning the several churches which they planted in several parts of the world. What hearty unity and affection there was among Christians; even to that degree, as to make men bring in their private estates and possessions for the common support of their brethren, we may read in the history of the Acts of the Apostles. The city of Corinth, by the account which Strabo gives of it, was a very vicious 31and luxurious place, as most in the world; and yet we see, by St. Paul, what a strange reformation the Christian religion made in the lives and manners of many of them; (1 Cor. vi. 9, 10, 11.) “Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor idolaters, nor effeminate, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” And surely it is no small matter to reclaim men from such a profligate course of life. The apostle instanceth in crimes and vices of the first rate, from which yet he tells us many were cleansed and purified “by the name of the Lord Jesus, and the Spirit of God:” that is, by the power and efficacy of the Christian doctrine, together with the co-operation of God’s Holy Spirit.
After the apostles, the ancient fathers, in their apologies for Christianity, give us a large account of the great power and efficacy of the Christian doctrine upon the lives and manners of men. Tertullian tells the Roman governors, that their prisons were full of malefactors, committed for several crimes; but they were all heathens. De vestris semper aestuat carcer, “their prisons were thronged with criminals of their own religion;” but there were no Christians to be found committed there for such crimes; Nemo illic Christianus, nisi hoc tantum, &c. “There were no Christians in their prisons, but only upon account of their religion:” or if there were any malefactors that had been Christians, they left their religion when they fell into those enormities. And afterwards he adds, that if Christians were irregular in their lives, they were no longer accounted Christians, but were 32banished from their communion as unworthy of it. And they appealed to the heathens, what a sudden and strange change Christianity had made in several of the most lewd, and vicious, and debauched persons, and what a visible reformation there presently appeared in the lives of the worst of men, after they had once entertained the Christian doctrine.
And these testimonies are so much the stronger, because they are public appeals to our adversaries, which it is not likely, they who were so persecuted and hated as the Christians were, would have had the confidence to have made, if they had not been notoriously true, even their enemies themselves being judges.
And that they were so, we have the confession of the heathens themselves. I shall produce two remarkable testimonies to this purpose, and one of them from the pen of one of the bitterest enemies that the Christian religion ever had.
Pliny, in his Epistle to Trajan the emperor, gives him an account, “That having examined the Christians, setting aside the superstition of their way, be could find no fault; and that this was the sum of their error, that they were wont to meet before day, and sing a hymn to Christ, and to bind themselves, by a solemn oath or sacrament, not to any wicked purpose, but not to steal, nor rob, nor commit adultery, nor break their faith, nor detain the pledge.” So that it seems the sum of their error was, to oblige themselves in the strictest manner against the great est vices and crimes. Which methinks is a great testimony from an enemy and a judge, one who would have been ready to discover their faults, and had opportunity of inquiring into them.
My other witness is Julian, the emperor and 33apostate, who, in one of his epistles tells us, “The Christians did severely punish sedition and impiety.” And afterwards, exhorting the heathen priests to all offices of humanity, and especially alms towards the poor; he tells them, they ought to be more careful in this particular, and to mend this fault; “because (says he) the Galileans, taking advantage of our neglect in this kind, have very much strengthened their impiety (for so he calls their religion) by being very intent upon these offices, and exemplary in their charity to the poor, whereby they gained many over to them.”
And in his 49th Epistle to Arsacius, the high priest of Galatia, he recommends to him, among other means for the advancement of paganism, the building of hospitals, and great liberality to the poor, not only for their own religion, but others. “For (says he) it is a shame that the impious Galileans should not only maintain their own poor, but ours also; wherefore, let us not suffer them to outdo us in this virtue.” Nothing but the force of truth could have extorted so full an acknowledgment of the great humanity and charity of the Christians, from so bitter an enemy of our religion as Julian was. If he owned it, we may be sure it was very great and exemplary.
So that you see that the Christian religion had a, very great power and efficacy upon the lives and manners of men when it first appeared in the world. And the true spirit and genius of any religion, the force of any institution, is best seen in the primitive effects of it; before it be weakened and dispirited by those corruptions, which in time are apt to in sinuate themselves into the best things. For all laws and institutions are commonly more vigorous, 34and have greater effects at first, than afterwards; and the best things are apt in time to degenerate, and to contract soil and rust. And it cannot in reason be expected otherwise. So that though it be a thing to be bewailed, and by the greatest care and diligence to be resisted, yet it is not so extremely to be wondered at, if Christianity, in the space of sixteen hundred years, hath abated much of its first strength and vigour.
Especially considering, that there were several circumstances, that gave Christianity mighty advantages at first, especially the miraculous powers which did accompany the first publication of the gospel; which must needs be full of conviction to those who saw the wonderful effects of it: the extraordinary operation of the Spirit of God upon the minds of men to dispose them to the receiving of it; the persecuted and suffering state that Christians were generally in, which made those who embraced the profession to be generally serious and in good earnest in it, and kept up a continual heat and zeal in the minds of men for that religion which cost them so dear, and for which they suffered so much: and the fury of their enemies against it, did naturally inflame their love and kindness to one an other; nothing being a greater endearment among men, than common sufferings in a common cause. So long as Christians were not corrupted by secular interest, and by denying all for Christ were free from covetousness and ambition, the great roots of all evil, the church of Christ, “though she was black, yet she was comely, and terrible as an army with banners;” she was all this while in an excel lent posture to resist the temptations, and fight against the vices and corruptions of the world; but 35after the world broke in upon the church, and Christianity was countenanced by the powers of the world, and watered with secular preferments and encouragements, no wonder if the tares began to grow up with the wheat: then “iniquity began to abound, and the love of many to grow cold.” When the sun of prosperity began to shine upon the Christian profession, then no wonder if the ver min bred and swarmed every where. When it grew creditable and advantageous for men to be Christians; this must, in all reason, make a world of hypocrites and counterfeit professors.
These things, I reckon, must, in reason, make a mighty difference between the first ages of Christianity, and those which have followed since; and no wonder if the real fruits and effects of religion in these several states of Christianity be very unequal. For prosperity and adversity made a wide difference in this matter. The persecution of any religion naturally makes the professors of it real; and the prosperity of it does as naturally allure and draw in hypocrites: besides that, even the best of men are more corrupted by prosperity than affliction.
But though Christians were best under persecution, yet God did not think fit always to continue them in that state, because he would not tempt them and tire them out with perpetual sufferings; and after he had given the world a sufficient experiment of the power and efficacy of the Christian religion, in maintaining and propagating itself in despite of all the violence and opposition of the world, sufficient for ever to give reputation to it; he then thought good to leave it to be kept up by more human ways, and such as offer less violence to the nature of a man. Being once established and settled 36 in the world, and upon equal terms of advantage with other religions, God left it to be supported by more ordinary means; by pious education, and diligent instruction, and good laws and government, without miracles, and without persecution, and without those extraordinary and overpowering communications of his grace and Spirit which he afforded to the first ages of Christianity.
I have insisted the longer upon this, that men may see what effects Christianity hath had upon the lives of men, by which we may see the proper nature and efficacy of it; and withal may not wonder so much that it hath not the same effects now. Though it be matter of great shame to us, that they are so vastly disproportionate to what they were at first.
2. Though the disproportion be very great between the effects of Christianity at first, and what it hath now upon the lives of men; yet we ought not to deny, but it hath still some good effects upon mankind; and it is our great shame and fault that it hath no better. If we will speak justly of things, as to the general civility of life and manners, freedom from tyranny, and barbarousness, and cruelty, and some other enormous vices; yea, and as to the exemplary piety and virtue of a great number of particular persons of several nations, there is no comparison between the general state of Christendom, and the pagan and Mahometan parts of the world. Next to Christianity, and the law of Moses (which was confined to one nation), philosophy was the most likely instrument to reform mankind that hath been in the world; and it had very consider able effects upon some particular persons, both as to the rectifying of their opinions, and the reforming 37of their lives: but upon the generality of mankind did very little in either of these respects, especially as to the be supported by more ordinary opinions of the people concerning God, and their superstitious worship of the Deity. Whereas the Christian religion did universally, wherever it came, set men free from those gross impieties and superstitions, and taught men to worship the only true God in a right manner.
Though we must confess, to the eternal reproach of the Christian religion, that the Western church hath degenerated so far, that it seems to be in a great measure relapsed into the ignorance and superstition of paganism; out of which degeneracy, that God hath rescued us, as we have infinite cause to adore his goodness, so we have all the reason in the world to dread and detest a return into this spiritual Egypt, this house of darkness and bondage, and the bringing of our necks again under that yoke, which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear.
So that you see that there are still very consider able effects of the Christian religion in the world, yea, and I doubt not but in those places where it is most corrupted and degenerated; because they still retain the essential doctrines of Christianity, which have not quite lost their force, notwithstanding the many errors and corruptions that are mixed with them. And as God knows, and every man sees it, that the generality of Christians are very bad, not withstanding all the influence of that excellent religion which they profess; yet I think it is very evident, men would be much worse without it. For though very many, who have entertained the principles of Christianity, are very wicked in their lives, yet many are otherwise; and those that are bad 38have this advantage by their religion, that it is in its nature apt to reduce and recover men from a wicked course, and sometime does: whereas the case of those persons would have been desperate, were it not for those principles of religion which were implanted in them by Christian education; and though they were long suppressed, yet did at last awaken them to a consideration of their condition, and proved the happy means of their recovery.
3. I will not deny but there are some persons as bad, nay, perhaps worse, that have been bred up in the Christian religion, than are commonly to be found in the darkness of paganism; for the corruption of the best things is the worst, and those who have resisted so great a light as that of the gospel is, are like to prove the most desperately wicked of all others. There is nothing that men make worse use of than of light and liberty, two of the best and most pleasant things in the world. Knowledge is many times abused to the worst purpose, and liberty into licentiousness and sedition; and yet no man for all that thinks ignorance desirable, or would wish a perpetual night and darkness to the world; and conclude from the inconveniences of abused liberty, that the best state of things would be, that the generality of mankind should be all slaves to a few, and be perpetually chained to the oar, or condemned to the mines.
There are many times as bad consequences of good things as of bad: but yet there is a great difference between good and bad for all that. As knowledge and liberty, so likewise the Christian religion is a great happiness to the world in general, though some are so unhappy as to be the worse for it; not because religion is bad, but because they are so.39
4. If religion be a matter of men’s free choice, it is not to be expected that it should necessarily and constantly have its effect upon men; for it works upon us not by a way of force or natural necessity, but of moral persuasion. If religion, and the grace of God which goes along with it, did force men to be good and virtuous, and no man could be so unless he were thus violently forced, then it would be no virtue in any man to be good, nor any crime and fault to be otherwise. For then the reason why some men were good, would be because they could not help it; and others bad, because the grace of God did not make them so whether they would or not.
But religion does not thus work upon men. It directs men to their duty by the shortest and plainest precepts of a good life; it persuades men to the obedience of these precepts, by the promises of eternal happiness, and the threatenings of eternal misery in case of obstinate disobedience: it offers us the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, to help our weakness, and enable us to that for which we are not sufficient of ourselves: but there is nothing of violence or necessity in all this. After all, men may disobey these precepts, and not be persuaded by these arguments, may not make use of this grace which God offers, may “quench and resist the Holy Ghost, and reject the counsel of God against themselves.” And the case being thus, it is no wonder if the temptations of this present world prevail upon the vicious inclinations of men against their duty, and their true interest; and consequently, if the motives and arguments of the Christian religion have not a constant and certain effect upon a great part of mankind. Not but that Christianity is apt to bring men to goodness; but some are so 40obstinately bad, as not to be wrought upon by the most powerful considerations it can offer to them.
5. It cannot be denied, but that Christianity is as; well framed to make men good, as any religion can be imagined to be; and therefore, wherever the fault be, it cannot be in the Christian religion that we are not good: so that the bad lives of Christians are no sufficient objection either against the truth or goodness of the Christian doctrine. Besides the; confirmation that was given to it by miracles, the excellency of the doctrine, and its proper tendency to make men holy and virtuous, are a plain evidence of its Divine and heavenly original. And surely the goodness of any religion consists in the sufficiency of its precepts to direct men to their duty; in the force of its arguments to persuade men to it; and the suitableness of its aids and helps to enable us to the discharge and performance of it. And all those advantages the Christian religion hath above any religion or institution that ever was in the world. The reasonable and plain rules of a good life are no where so perfectly collected, as in the discourses of our blessed Saviour and his apostles. No religion ever gave men so full assurance of the mighty rewards and punishments of another world; nor such gracious promises of Divine assistance, and such evidence of it, especially in the piety, and virtue, and patience, and self-denial of the primitive Christians, as the doctrine of God our Saviour hath done, “which teacheth men to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world, in contemplation of the blessed hope, and the glorious appearance of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem 41us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.”
6. And lastly, After all that hath or can be said, it must be acknowledged, and ought sadly to be lamented by us, that the wicked lives of Christians are a marvellous scandal and reproach to our holy religion, and a great obstacle to the spreading of it in the world, and a real objection against it to prejudiced persons, with whom it doth justly bring into doubt the goodness and efficacy of the institution itself, to see how little effect it hath upon the hearts and lives of men. It is hard for a man to maintain the reputation of an excellent master in any kind, when all the world sees that most of his scholars prove dunces. Whatever commendation may be given to any art or science, men will question the truth and reality of it, when they see the greatest part of those who profess it, not able to do any thing answerable to it. The Christian religion pretends to be an art of serving God more decently and devoutly, and of living better than other men; but if it be so, why do not the professors of this excellent religion shew the force and virtue of it in their lives? And though I have sufficiently shewn, that this is not enough to overthrow the truth, and disparage the excellency of the Christian doctrine; yet it will certainly go a great way with prejudiced persons, and it cannot be expected otherwise,
So that we have infinite reason to be ashamed, that there is so plain a contrariety between the laws of Christianity, and the lives of the greatest part of Christians; so notorious and palpable a difference between the religion that is in the Bible, and that which is to be seen and read in the conversations of men.42
Who, that looks upon the manners of the present age, could believe (if he did not know it), that the holy and pure doctrine of the Christian religion had ever been so much as heard, much less pretended to be entertained and believed among us? Nay, among those who seem to make a more serious profession of religion, when we consider how strangely they allow themselves in malice and envy, in passion, and anger, and uncharitable censures, and evil speaking, in fierce contentions and animosities; who would believe that the great instrument of these men’s religion, I mean the Holy Bible, by which they profess to regulate and govern their lives, were full of plain and strict precepts of love and kindness, of charity and peace; and did a hundred times, with all imaginable severity, and under pain of forfeiting the kingdom of God, forbid malice, and envy, and revenge, and evil speaking, and rash and uncharitable censures, and tell us so plainly that the Christian religion obligeth men to put off all these; and that “if any man seem to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, that man’s religion is vain?” Do men read and hear these things every day, and profess to believe them to be the truths of God, and yet live as if they were verily persuaded they were false? What can we conclude from hence, but either that this is not Christianity, or the greatest part of us are no Christians?
So that if one of the apostles or primitive Christians should rise from the dead, and converse among us, how would he wonder to see the face and complexion of Christianity altered from what it was in their days? and were it not for the name and title which we bear, would sooner guess us to be any thing than Christians.43
So that, upon the whole matter, there is no way to quit ourselves of this objection, and to wash away the reproach of it, but to mend and reform our lives. Till this be done, it is unavoidable, but the vicious manners of men will affect our religion with obloquy and reproach, and derive an ill conceit and opinion of it into the minds of men. And I cannot see how Christianity can ever gain much ground in the world, till it be better adorned and recommended by the professors of it. Nay, we have just cause to fear, that if God do not raise up some great and eminent instruments to awaken the world out of this stupid lethargy, that Christianity will every day decline, and the world will in a short space be overrun with atheism and infidelity. For vice, and superstition, and enthusiasm, which are the reigning diseases of Christendom, when they have run their course, and finished their circle, do all naturally end and meet in atheism. And then it will be time for the great Judge of the world to appear, and effectually to convince men of that, which they would not be persuaded to believe by any other means. And of this our Saviour hath given us a terrible and fearful intimation, in that question of his; “When the Son of man comes, shall he find faith upon earth?” Our Saviour hath not positively affirmed it, and God grant that we may not make it, and find it true!
And thus I have, by God’s assistance, given the best satisfaction I could to the most material exceptions I have met with against our blessed Saviour and his religion. The
Second thing remains briefly to be spoken to; viz. How happy a thing it is to escape the common prejudices which men are apt to entertain against religion: 44“Blessed is he whosoever shall not be of fended in me.” And this will appear if we consider these three or four things:
First, That prejudice does many times sway and bias men against the plainest and clearest truths. We see, in daily experience, what a false bias prejudice puts upon men’s understandings. Men that are educated in the grossest errors and superstitions, how hard it is to convince them that they are in the wrong way! And with what difficulty are they persuaded of their mistake! Nay, they have hardly the patience to be told they are in an error, much less to consider what may be offered against it. How do the passions and lusts of men blind them and lead them aside from the truth, and incline them to that side of the question which is most favourable to their lusts and interests! How partially do men lean to that part which makes most for their advantage, though all the reason in the world lie on the other side!
Now ignorance and mistake are a great slavery of the understanding, if there were no worse consequences of our errors: and therefore our Saviour says excellently, that the truth makes men free: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Secondly, Prejudice does not only bias men against the plainest truths, but in matters of greatest concernment, in things that concern the honour of God, and the good of others, and our own welfare and happiness. Prejudices against religion occasion mistakes of the highest nature, and may lead men to superstition and idolatry, and to all manner of impiety, nay, many times to atheism and infidelity. The prejudices against the doctrine of our 45Saviour are of another concernment than the prejudices which men have against the writers of natural philosophy or eloquence, or any other human art or science. If a man’s prejudice make him err in these matters the thing is of no great moment; but the business of religion is a matter of the greatest and weightiest concernment to mankind.
Thirdly, The consequences of men’s prejudices in these things prove many times fatal and destructive to them. Men may, upon unreasonable prejudices, “reject the counsel of God against themselves,” as it is said of the chief priests and pharisees among the Jews. Men may oppose the truth so obstinately and perversely, as to be fighters against God, and to bring certain ruin and swift destruction upon themselves, both in this world and the other, as the Jews did; who, by opposing the doctrine of the gospel, and persecuting our Saviour and his disciples, “filled up the measure of their sins, till wrath came upon them to the utter most.” It is easy to entertain prejudices against religion, and, by considering only the wrong side of things, to fortify our prejudices to such a degree, and entrench ourselves so strongly in our errors, that the plainest and most convincing truths shall not be able to have any access to us, or make any impression upon us; but all this while we do in truth undermine our own happiness, and are secretly working our own ruin; and while we think we are opposing an enemy, we are destroying ourselves; “for who hath hardened himself against God,” and his truth, “and prospered?” The principles of religion are a firm and immoveable rock, against which the more violently we dash ourselves, the more miserably we shall be split and shattered. Our 46blessed Saviour and his religion have been to many, and are to this day, “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence;” but he himself hath told us what shall be the fate of those who are offended at him: “Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken; but upon whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.” And, therefore, well might he say here in the text, “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
Fourthly, There are but few, in comparison, who have the happiness to escape and overcome the common prejudices which men are apt to entertain against religion. Thus, to be sure, it was when Christianity first appeared in the world: and though among us the great prejudice of education be removed, yet there are still many, who, upon one account or other, are prejudiced against religion, at least so far as not to yield to the power of it in their lives. Few men are so impartial in considering things, as not to be swayed by the interest of their lusts and passions, as to keep the balance of their judgments even, and to suffer nothing but truth and reason to weigh with them. We generally pretend to be “pilgrims and strangers in the world,” and to be all travelling towards heaven: but few of us have the indifferency of travellers, who are not concerned to find out the fairest and the easiest way, but to know which is the right way and to go in it. Thus it should be with us, our end should always be in our eye, and we should choose our way only with respect to that; not considering our inclination so much as our design, nor choosing those principles for the government of our lives which are most agreeable to our present desires, but those which will most certainly bring us to happiness at 47the last; and that I am sure the principles of the Christian religion, firmly believed and practised by us, will do.
Let us then be persuaded, by all that hath been said upon this argument, to a firm belief of the Christian doctrine. I hope you are, in some mea sure, satisfied, that the objections against it are not such as ought much to move a wise and considerate man. If we believe that God hath taken so much care of mankind, as to make any certain revelation of his will to them, and of the way to eternal happiness; let us next consider, whether any religion in the world can come in competition with the Christian, and with half that reason pretend to be from God, that Christianity is able to produce for itself, whether we consider the things to be believed, or the duties to be practised, or the motives and arguments to the practice of those duties, or the Divine confirmation that is given to the whole. And if we be thus persuaded concerning it, let us resolve to live up to the laws and rules of this holy religion. Our belief of it signifies nothing, without the fruits and effects of a good life. And if this were once resolved upon, the difficulty of believing would cease; for the true reason why men are unwilling to believe the truths of the gospel, is because they are loath to put them in practice. “Every one that doeth evil hateth the light.” The true ground of most men’s prejudice against the Christian doctrine is, because they have no mind to obey it; and when all is done, the great objection that lies at the bottom of men’s minds against it, is, that it is an enemy to their lusts, and they cannot profess to believe it without condemning themselves, for not complying with it in their lives and practice.48
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