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Proposition XI.

XI. Proposition XI. Secondly, The motives by which the Christian religion enforces the practice of the duties it enjoins are such as are most suitable to the excellent wisdom of God, and most answerable to the natural expectations of men.

1. Of the acceptableness of true repentance, a motive to obedience. The acceptableness of true repentance, in the sight of God, and the certain assurance of pardon upon such repentance, which the Christian religion affords us, is a most powerful and necessary motive to frail and sinful creatures, to encourage and support them effectually in the practice of their duty. It is indeed in general evidently most agreeable to right reason, and to men’s natural notions of God, to believe him placable, and merciful, and willing to forgive. But since at the same time it cannot be proved, by any arguments from reason, that God is absolutely obliged to forgive, and it is confessedly evident that it becomes the supreme governor of the universe to vindicate the honour and authority of his laws and government, to give some evidences of his hatred and indignation against sin, and sometimes, by instances of severity, to prevent sinners from abusing his mercy and patience, no less than that it is agreeable to his infinite wisdom and goodness to suffer his anger to be by some means appeased: No motive in this case can be imagined more expedient and powerful to encourage sinners to return to the practice of their duty, and to persuade them to continue therein immoveably for the future; nothing can be imagined more seasonable and satisfactory to the mind of man, and 300>more agreeable to the excellent wisdom of God, and worthy of the supreme and infinitely merciful governor of all things, than such a positive declaration of the acceptableness of sincere repentance, and such an authentic assurance of pardon and forgiveness thereupon, as under the Christian dispensation the divine goodness and mercy has found means to afford unto us, in such manner as is at the same time abundantly consistent with the honour and dignity of the laws of God, and with his irreconcileable hatred against all unrighteousness and sin.

2. Of the divine assistance, as another motive to obedience. That divine and supernatural assistance, which, under the Christian dispensation, they who sincerely endeavour to obey the will of God, have encouragement to hope for, upon all necessary occasions, is another powerful motive to support men effectually in the practice of their duty. The wisest of the philosophers were so far sensible of the great corruption and depravity of human nature in its present state; they were sensible that such was the carelessness, stupidity, and want of attention, of the greater part of mankind; so many the early prejudices and false notions taken in by evil education; so strong and violent the unreasonable lusts, appetites, and desires of sense; and so great the blindness, introduced by superstitious opinions, vicious customs, and debauched practices through the world; that (as has been before shown,) they themselves openly confessed they had very little hope of ever being able to reform mankind with any considerably great and universal success, by the bare force of philosophy and right reason; but that, to produce so great a change, and enable men effectually to conquer all their corrupt affections, there was need of some supernatural and divine assistance, or the immediate interposition of God himself. Now this divine assistance is vouchsafed to men under the Christian dispensation, in such a manner, as (from what has been already said concerning the judgment of the wisest of the ancient philosophers in this matter,) appears to be undeniably agreeable to 301the natural expectations of right reason, and suitable to the best and worthiest notions that men have ever by the light of nature been able to frame to themselves, concerning the attributes and perfections of God. Luke xi. 13. If ye, says our Saviour, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly father give the holy spirit to them that ask him? The effect of this divine assistance evidenced itself in a very visible and remarkable manner in the primitive times,332332   Da mihi virum, qui sit iracundus, maledicus, effrænatus, paucissimis Dei verbis tam placidum quam ovem reddam. Da libidinosum, &c.—Lactant. lib. 3.
   Παρα μεν τοῖς Ελλησίν εἶς τις, &c,—Origen, advers. Cels. lib. 1. See this passage cited above.
by the sudden, wonderful, and total reformation of far greater numbers of wicked men than ever were brought to repentance by the teaching and exhortations of all the philosophers in the world. And even at this day, notwithstanding all the corruption introduced among Christians, I think it can hardly be denied by any unbelievers of revelation, but that there are among us many more persons of all conditions, who worship God in sincerity and simplicity of heart, and live in the constant practice of all righteousness, holiness, and true virtue, than ever were found in any of the most civilized nations, and most improved by philosophy in the heathen world.

3. Of the clear discovery of future rewards and punishments, as another motive to obedience. The rewards and punishments which the Christian religion proposes, to obedience or disobedience, are a motive perfectly agreeable to men’s natural hopes and fears, and worthy of God to make known by positive and express revelation. For since it is confessedly suitable to the divine wisdom, to make variety of creatures, indued with very different powers and faculties, and capable of very different kinds and degrees of improvement, and since all rational creatures, by reason of that natural liberty of will which is essentially necessary to their being such, cannot but be capable of exalting and improving their nature 302by the practice of virtue and the imitation of God, and on the contrary of depraving and debasing their nature by the practice of vice and alienation of themselves from God; it follows undeniably, (as has been before shown by a more particular deduction,) that it is highly agreeable to the light of nature and to right reason to suppose that God, the supreme governor and disposer of all things, will finally make a just and suitable distinction between his creatures, by the distribution of proportionable rewards and punishments. Nevertheless, both the truth itself of these final rewards and punishments was so far called in question, and rendered doubtful and uncertain, by the disputations even of the wisest philosophers that ever lived; and those who did in general believe the truth and certainty of them, had yet so very blind and obscure notions of what nature and kind they were to be, having their imaginations strangely prejudiced with poetical fictions and fabulous stories, that the setting this matter clear and right, and the supplying this single defect in the light of nature, was a thing highly worthy of divine revelation: It being plainly a very different thing, and of very different force as to the influencing men’s actions, for men to be able to argue themselves into a reasonable expectation of future rewards and punishments; and to be certainly assured of the reality of them by express testimony of divine revelation. And accordingly, by divine revelation in the gospel, this defect of the light of nature is now actually supplied in such a manner; life and immortality are so brought to light, and the wrath of God is so revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, that this very thing, the clear and distinct and consistent account which the gospel gives us of these final rewards and punishments, (which, though indeed in themselves so absolutely necessary, that without them no tolerable vindication could be made of the attributes of God, yet neither by the light of nature, nor by any positive 303institution of religion, excepting only the Christian, were they ever so clearly and plainly represented to mankind, as to have their full and proper effect upon the hearts and lives of men;) this very thing (I say) the clear, distinct, and consistent account which the gospel gives us of these final rewards and punishments, is itself no contemptible argument of the truth and divine authority of the Christian revelation. By the certain knowledge of these rewards and punishments it is that the practice of virtue is now established upon a sure foundation. Men have now abundantly sufficient encouragement to support them in their choice of virtue, and in their constant adherence to it, in all cases and under all circumstances that can be supposed. There is now sufficient weight on the side of virtue to enable men to conquer all the temptations of the devil, the flesh, and the world; and to despise the severest threatenings, even death itself. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. The only difficulty in this matter, arising from the duration of the final punishment of the wicked, shall be considered when I come to discourse of the articles of our belief.


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