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PROP. by 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 posi
tive institution of religion, excepting only the Chris- PROP. tian, 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.
XII. Thirdly, the peculiar manner and circumstances with which the Christian religion enjoins the duties, and urges the motives before mentioned, are exactly consonant to the dictates of sound reason, or the unprejudced light of nature, and most wisely perfective of it.
For what can be more agreeable to the light of na- The proture, and more evidently perfective of it, than to have position proved by those duties, which nature hints at only in general, particular explained fully and largely, and urged in particular, instances. and inculcated upon the meanest capacities with great. weight and authority, and exemplified in the lives of holy persons, proposed as patterns for our imitation? What can be more perfective of the light of nature than to have those great motives of religion, the rewards and punishments of a future state, which
PROP. nature only obscurely points at, described to us most XII. plainly, affectionately, and lively? What can be more perfective of the light of nature, than to have the means of atoning for sin, which nature discovers only the want of, plainly declared and exhibited to us? What can be more perfective of the light of nature, than such a discovery of the heinousness of sin and the necessity of holiness, as the death of Christ and the purity of the gospel does make unto us? In fine, what can more effectually perfect the religion of nature, than the gathering together the worshippers of the true God into one body; the causing them to enter into solemn obligations to live suitably to their holy profession? The giving them gracious assurances that true repentance shall be accepted for what is past, and sincere renewed obedience for the future? The uniting them by a few positive rites in one religion as well as civil communion, for mutual assistance and improvement? And the establishing a certain order or perpetual succession of men, whose constant business it may be to explain the great duties of religion to persons of meaner capacities; to urge and enforce the practice of them; to set before men the reasons of their duty, and the necessity of it; to show them clearly and impartially the danger of neglecting it, and the great advantage of performing it sincerely; in a word, to instruct the ignorant, and to admonish the wicked; to reclaim those that err, to comfort the doubting, to reprove the obstinate; and to be instruments of conveying to men all proper assistances, to enable them to perform their whole duty effectually?
If these things be the ordinances of one who came to contradict the dictates of right reason, and not to perfect the law of nature, but to destroy it; then let all wise men for ever forsake the assemblies of Christians, and profess themselves again disciples of the philosophers. But if these things be perfectly agreeable to nature and right reason, and tend exceedingly to the supplying the deficiences thereof; then let none,
under pretence of maintaining natural religion, revile PROP. and blaspheme the Christian, lest they be found liars unto God.
The many contentions, indeed, about opinions of An answer great uncertainty and little importance, which, to the to the objection very great scandal of Christianity, have in several ages drawn of the church been, with unreasonable zeal, kept up, from the instead of promoting the universal interest of true among practical religion and virtue, have, it must be con- Christians. fessed, given some occasion to the enemies of our most holy religion to blaspheme and revile both it and the teachers of it. But though such things as these have indeed afforded them too plausible an occasion, yet they have not given them any just reason so to do: For the acknowledged corruption of a doctrine or institution, in any particular part or respect, is by no means a weighty or real objection against the truth of the whole: And there has always been extant a sufficient rule to enable sincere persons, in the midst of the greatest disputes and contentions, to distinguish the doctrine which is of God from the opinions of men ; the doctrine of Christ having been plainly and fully delivered in our Saviour's own discourses, and in the writings of his immediate followers the Apostles, who cannot, with any reason, be imagined either to have misrepresented it, or to have represented it imperfectly. But besides, I think it can hardly be denied, even by our adversaries themselves, but that in all times and places, wherein Christianity has been professed in any tolerable degree of purity; whatever contentions and disputes may have arisen about particular, and perhaps unnecessary doctrines; yet the great, the most necessary, and fundamental doctrines of religion, concerning God and providence; concerning the gracious method of God's reconciliation with penitent sinners; concerning the necessity of true piety, righteousness, and sobriety; concerning a judgment to come, and the final reward of the righteous, and the punishment of wicked men, in such a manner as will effectually vindicate both
PROP. the justice and goodness, the wisdom and honour of XIII. God; these things (I say) have, notwithstanding all
differences concerning smaller matters, been nevertheless at the same time universally and constantly taught, pressed and inculcated upon persons of all capacities, by the earnest and continual preaching of all the ministers of the gospel; with an effect infinitely more considerable and visible, both in extent and duration, than by the teaching of any heathen philosophers that ever lived: Which shows undeniably the excellency at least, if not the divine authority of the Christian institution, in this particular respect.
XIII. Fourthly; all the [credenda, or] doctrines, which the true, simple, and uncorrupted Christian religion teaches, (that is, not only those plain doctrines which it requires to be believed as fundamental and of necessity to eternal salvation, but even all the doctrines which it teaches as matters of truth,) are, though indeed many of them not discoverable by bare reason unassisted with revelation; yet, when discovered by revelation, apparently most agreeable to sound unprejudiced reason, have every one of them a natural tendency, and a direct and powerful influence to reform men's minds, and correct their manners, and do together make up an infinitely more consistent and rational scheme of belief than any that the wisest of the ancient philosophers ever did, or the cunningest of modern unbelievers can invent or contrive.
Of the one 1. That there is one only living and true God, exsupreme isting of himself, by the necessity of his own nature, absolutely independent, eternal, omnipresent, unchangeable, incorruptible, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, knowledge, and wisdom; of perfect liberty, and freedom of will; of infinite goodness, justice, and truth, and all other possible perfections; so as to be absolutely self-sufficient to his own infinite and unalterable happiness: This is not only the first and principal article of the Chris