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Proposition X.

X. Proposition X. First, the practical duties which the Christian 293religion enjoins, are all such as are most agreeable to our natural notions of God, and most perfective of the nature, and conducive to the happiness and well-being of men. That is, Christianity even in this single respect, as containing alone, and in one consistent system, all the wise and good precepts (and those improved, augmented, and exalted to the highest degree of perfection,) that ever were taught singly and scatteredly, and many times but very corruptly by the several schools of the philosophers; and this without any mixture of the fond, absurd, and superstitious practices of any of these philosophers; ought to be embraced and practised by all rational and considering deists, who will act consistently, and steadily pursue the consequences of their own principles; as at least the best scheme and sect of philosophy that ever was set up in the world; and highly probable, even though it had no external evidence to be of divine original.

The proposition proved in the several instances of duty. This proposition is so very evident, that the greatest adversaries of the Christian institution have never been able to deny it any otherwise than by confounding the inventions of men, the superstitious practices of particular persons, or the corrupt additions of certain particular churches or societies of Christians, with the pure and simple precepts of the gospel of Christ. In all those instances of duty which pure and uncorrupt Christianity enjoins, the proposition is manifest, and altogether undeniable; the duties of love, fear, and adoration, which the Christian religion obliges us to render unto God, are so plainly incumbent upon us from the consideration of the excellent attributes of the divine nature, and our relation to him as our creator and preserver, that no man who considers can think himself free from the obligations which our religion lays upon him to practise these duties, without denying the very being of God, and acting contrary to the reason and all the natural notions of his own mind. It is placing the true and acceptable worship of God, not so much in any positive and ritual observances, as in approaching him with pure 294hearts and undefiled bodies, with unfeigned repentance for all past miscarriages, and sincere resolutions of constant obedience for the future, in praying to him for whatever we want, and returning him our most hearty thanks for whatever good things we receive, with such dependence and humility, such submission, trust, and reliance, as are the proper affections of dutiful children: All this is plainly most agreeable to our natural notions and apprehensions of God; and that the prayers of sinful and depraved creatures, sincerely repenting, should be offered up to God, and become prevalent with him, through and by the intercession of a mediator, is very consonant to right and unprejudiced reason, as I shall have occasion to show more particularly hereafter, when I come to consider the articles of our belief. Again: The duties of justice, equity, charity, and truth, which the Christian religion obliges us to exercise towards men, are so apparently reasonable in themselves, and so directly conducive to the happiness of mankind, that their unalterable obligations are not only in great measure deducible from the bare light of nature and right reason, but even those men also, who have broken through all the bonds of natural religion itself, and the original obligations of virtue, have yet thought it necessary, for the preservation of society and the well-being of mankind, that the observation of these duties, to some degree, should be enforced by the penalties of human laws; and the additional improvements Mat. v. 16, &c. which our Saviour has made to these duties, by commanding his disciples to be, as it were, lights in the world, and examples of good works to all men; to be so far from injuring others, that, on the contrary, they should not indulge themselves in any degree of anger or passion; to seek reconciliation immediately upon any difference or offence that may arise; to bear injuries patiently, rather than return evil for evil; to be always willing to forgive one another their trespasses, as they all expect forgiveness at the hands of God; to be kind and charitable to all men; 295to assist readily, and be willing to do all good offices, not only to their friends, but even to their bitterest enemies also; in a word, to raise their virtue and goodness far above the common practice of men, extending their charity universally in imitation of the goodness of God himself, who maketh the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust; these precepts, I say, are such as no unprejudiced philosopher would have been unwilling to confess were the utmost improvements of morality, and to the highest degree perfective of human nature. In like manner, the duties of sobriety, temperance, patience, and contentment, which our religion enjoins us to practise in ourselves, are so undeniably agreeable to the inward constitution of human nature, and so perfective of it, that the principal design of all true philosophy has ever been to recommend and set off these duties to the best advantage, though, as the philosophers themselves have always confessed, no philosophy was ever able to govern men’s practice effectually in these respects: But the additional precepts, and the new weight and authority, which our Saviour has added to his instructions of this kind, teaching his disciples to governMatt. v. 28.
Matt. vi. 19, 24, &c.
their very thoughts, desires, and inclinations, to contemn and get above all the desires of this present world, and to set their affections principally upon that which is to come; these are the things which, when the Christian religion was in its primitive and purest state, worked men up actually to such a pitch of cheerful and generous obedience to the laws of God, and taught them to obtain such a complete victory over the world, and over all the desires and appetites of sense, as the best philosophers have acknowledged their instructions were never able to do. Lastly, even those positive and external observances, (the two sacraments,) which are instituted in the Christian religion, as means and assistances to keep men stedfast in the practice of those great and moral duties which are the weightier matters of the 296law; even those positive institutions (I say) are so free from all appearance of superstition and vanity, and so wisely fitted to the end for which they were designed, that no adversaries of Christianity have ever been able to object any thing at all against the things themselves, but only against certain corruptions and superstitions, which some who call themselves Christians, have, directly in opposition to the true design of Christianity, introduced and annexed to them. For what reasonable man can pretend to say, that it is any way unreasonable or superstitious for every member of the society to be solemnly admitted into his profession, by a plain and significant rite, entitling him to all the privileges, and charging him with all the obligations, which belong to the members of that society as such? which is the design of one of the sacraments: Or that it is unreasonable and superstitious for men frequently to commemorate, with all thankfulness, the love of their greatest benefactor, and humbly and solemnly to renew their obligations and promises of obedience to him? which is the design of the other.

This a great evidence of a religion coming from God. Let now any impartial person judge whether this be not a wise and excellent institution of practical religion, highly conducive to the happiness of mankind, and worthy to be established by a revelation from God; when men had confessedly corrupted themselves to such a degree, that not only the light of nature, and right reason, was altogether insufficient to restore true piety; but even that light itself (as Cicero expressly acknowledges) nowhere appeared.328328   ——Ut naturæ lumen nusquam appareat.Cic. Tusc. Qu. lib. 3. See this passage cited before at large. Let any impartial person judge, whether a religion that tends thus manifestly to the recovery of the rational part of God’s creation, to restore men to the imitation and likeness of God, and to the dignity and highest improvement of their nature, has not within itself an intrinsic and very powerful evidence of its being truly divine. Let any one read the fifth, 297sixth, and seventh chapters of St Matthew’s Gospel, and judge if they do not, as it were, set before his eyes such a lovely image and representation of true virtue, as Plato said, could not but charm men with the highest degree of love and admiration imaginable.329329   Formam ipsam, et tanquam faciem honesti, quæ si oculis cerneretur, mirabiles amores, ut ait Plato, excitaret sui.Cic. de Offic. lib. 1. In a word, let any man of an honest and sincere mind consider, whether that practical doctrine has not even in itself the greatest marks of a divine original; wherein whatsoever things are true, whatsoeverPhil. iv. 8. things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, if there be any thing praiseworthy; all these, and these only are the things that are earnestly recommended to men’s practice. What wise precept was ever delivered by any philosopher of any sect which is not more plainly laid down by our Saviour and his apostles? And not only so, but enforced moreover with greater efficacy and strength? founded upon nobler and more consistent principles? urged with greater weight and authority? and pressed with more powerful and affecting arguments? Nay, neither is this all the difference, even in respect barely of the excellency of the doctrine itself. For the philosophers taught indeed many excellent moral truths, but some upon one occasion and upon one set of principles; some upon another; and every one of them were mistaken in some instances of duty, and mingled particular superstitions and false notions with their good instructions, and built their doctrine upon no sure foundation of consistent principles; and all of them (as has been before shown) were very imperfect and deficient, and far from being able to make up an entire and complete scheme of the whole duty of man in all cases. But now,330330   Οὐκ ὅτι ἀλλότριά ἐστι τὰ Πλάτωνος διδάγματα τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι οὐκ ἔστι πάντῃ ὅμοια· ὥστερ οὐδὲ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων.——ἕκαστος γάρ τις, ἀπό μέτους τοῦ σπερματικοῦ θείου λόγοῦ τὸ συγγενὲς ὀρῶν, καλῶς ἐφθέγξατο·——ὅσα οὖν παρὰ πᾶσι καλῶς, ἴρηται, ἡμῶν τῶν Χριστιανῶν ἐστί.Justin Apolog.1.
   Quod si extitisset aliquis, qui veritatem sparsam per singulos per sectasque diffusam, colligeret in unum ac redigeret in corpus, is profecto non dissentiret a nobis. Sed hoc nemo facere, nisi veri peritus ac sciens, potest. Verum autem non nisi ejus scire est, qui sit doctus a Deo.Lactant. lib. 7.
to put together all 298the wise and good precepts that ever were delivered by any wise men of any sect and in any age, to improve and exalt every one of them to the highest possible degree of excellency and perfection, to separate and lay aside all the superstitious opinions and practices that had been mixed by all or any of the different sects of philosophers, or teachers of religion in any nation, with their respective moral instructions, and to supply all those doctrines wherein both moral philosophy and the additional institutions of all religions in the world had in the whole been hitherto altogether deficient; and all this, in one plain, entire, and regular system upon the foundation of certain and consistent principles: This is the peculiar character of the Christian institution; and all this cannot, with any colour of reason, be imagined to have ever been done by any man but one sent immediately from God: Upon this consideration alone, by all sincere deists (if any such there be) who really are what they pretend to be, who believe the being and attributes of God, and are firmly convinced of the obligations of virtue and natural religion, and the certainty of a future state of rewards and punishments, must needs, by their own principles, be strongly inclined to embrace the Christian religion, to believe, at least to hope confidently, that a doctrine so plainly fitted to recover men out of their universally corrupt estate, and restore them to the knowledge and favour of God, is truly divine; and to entertain it with all cheerfulness, as what in itself has those manifold marks of goodness and perfection which are themselves sufficient, though not indeed to prove it demonstrably, yet to satisfy a good man, 299that it cannot be any thing else than a revelation from God, even though it had wanted all those outward proofs,331331   Sed si vel causa id efficeret, certissime philosopharentur, et quamvis non posset divinis testimoniis illa defendere, tamen seipsam veritas illustraret suo lumine.Lactant. lib. 7. and divine and miraculous testimonies, which shall hereafter be mentioned in their proper place.

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