Page images

that the more the miracles of Chrift and his Apoftles are confider'd, they will appear more and more wonderful in themselves, and more worthy the interpofition and affiftance of God.

If it be objected that there is no fufficient evidence or proof that these miracles were ever wrought, I apprehend this objection to be of little weight; because as there is the fame ground of certainty for these, as there is for any other antient facts, which obtain univerfal belief, they deserve to be equally credited; and I think nothing can be more unreasonable and unfair, than to allow the fame evidence to be fufficient as to fome facts, and to deny the fufficiency of it as to others, which are equally poffible in themselves, confiftent with all the perfections of God, and defigned to answer the most valuable ends and purposes. amongst men.

If it be faid that miracles are in their nature itnpoffible, I think this can never be allowed but upon the fuppofition that all things are governed by, or rather fubjected to an abfolute and unalterable fatality. Because if the fupreme and eternal cause of all things be poffefs'd of liberty and power, the miracles recorded in the facred writings are as poffible to him as any other actions whatsoever, and according to my conception, much more eafily perform'd than the work of creation, which is a much higher exertion of power, and is by all fober deists afcribed to the will and agency of God; and of confequence I can neverallow the impoffibility of miracles, because fuch a notion appears to me deftructive of the being and perfections of God.

As to the doctrines of Chrift, if it be urged that fome of them are unintelligible and myfterious, I have this to fatisfy myfelf, that 'tis not much wonder if they fhould be fo, because many of them relate to God, whom none by fearching can find out to perfection, and that this is no more than may be objected againft many of the moft certain truths of natural religion. For whoever will enter into the confideration of the immenfity and eternity of God, attributes which certainly belong to him, will find himfelf loft in the infinite and boundlefs fubject. As far as they are myfterious and incapable of being understood, I am fure that my acceptance with God doth not depend on my understanding them; and as far as they are intelligible, they encreafe my adoration, reverence and love of God, awaken and excite me to the care and practice of godliness and virtue, and thus help me on in my preparation for heaven and happiness.

If it be objected, that any of the doctrines of Christianity are irrational and abfurd, I apprehend this hath never been proved by any of the enemies of the Chriftian Revelation. Many principles which they have endeavoured to expofe to ridicule, have not been the doctrines of the Gofpel, but either their own miftakes, or the corrupt additions of weak and defigning men to the fimplicity of the truth of Chrift. Other doctrines that have been excepted againft, have not been revealed in their full extent and compafs, and therefore can never be proved abfurd by any particular inferences drawn from them; because thofe very inferences may themselves appear falfe and abfurd, when the doctrines are placed in their full light, and men are rendered capable of clearly difcerning and fully understanding them. As to



others which have been excepted againft, they have: ftood their ground both against ridicule and malice, and the objections that have been urged have had no other effect, than to expofe their own weakness, and to render the principles of the Gofpel of Chrift more evident and convincing.

If it should be objected, that the very poffibility of revelation itself may be questioned, I answer that this must be upon one or other of these fuppofitions; either that God himfelf, who hath established the order and courfe of nature, cannot vary from it, or else that 'tis not to be conceived how he should difcover himself to any perfon, so as that he shall be sure it is God and no other.

If the former be afferted, that God himfelf cannot alter and vary from the course of nature, which he himself hath fixed, it will follow, that he was obliged by fome external neceffity to form all things as they are, or elfe by a fitness of things abfolutely independent upon his own pleafure and will.

If the first be afferted, that God was obliged by fome external neceffity, or the agency of fome Being prior and fuperior to himself; this is to affert eternity to be prior to itself, and infinite wisdom and power capable of being controuled by wisdom and power more than infinite; which is abfurd.

If the latter be afferted, that God was obliged by a fitness of things independent upon his own pleafure and will, this will appear equally abfurd; because if he was under no external neceffity to conftitute the prefent frame, and confequently the prefent fitnefs of things, the actual conftitution of the one and the other, can be owing to no other cause or reason, but what is in God himself, and which therefore cannot be independent upon God; which caufe or reafon can be no other than the will of God, directed by the dictates of his own wisdom and Goodnefs. And of confequence the prefent frame of things, and the fitnefs that results from it, is owing to the good pleafure and free choice of God, directed by the perfections of his own mind; which perfections do not deftroy any natural power of acting or not acting, but only direct to the wifeft and beft ufe of it. The very effence of liberty doth indeed confift in wifdom to direct, and power to execute.

Hence it follows, that if the prefent frame of things be the refult of the moft perfect freedom and choice in God, the fame free choice will and must take place, in every other circumftance to which perfect wifdom and goodness do direct. And therefore, if it be agreeable to the dictates of fuch perfections in God, to vouchsafe an external revelation to mankind, in the cafe of an univerfal ignorance and degeneracy, fuch a revelation is as poffible as the original conftitution of things, and may be accounted for upon the very fame foundation of reafon.

But if it be faid, that it can't be conceived how God can fo discover himself to any perfon, as that he fhall be fure it is God and no other I anfwer, that fuppofing we are not able to defcribe the method by which God makes himfelf known to men, it will by no means follow, that 'tis impoffible for God to do fo, unless our conceptions are the measure of all poffibilities. If God be the univerfal Creator, he is furely the Creator of the Souls of men, and hath implanted in them


all their perceptive and reasonable powers and faculties; and of confequence being the Former of fpirits, he must be capable of acting on them, which fufficiently proves the poffibility of revelation.

Befides, if, as the whole vifible creation around us fhews the poffibility and great probability of, there are reasonable fpirits of natures, orders, and powers fuperior to us; I fuppofe they will not be thought to be incapable of converfe, and of communicating their ideas to each other for this would be to fuppofe fpirits lefs happy than men: and if created fpirits can thus convey their minds to each other, fo as that they fhall be abfolutely fure who it is they converse with, can it be imagined that God the infinite fpirit fhould not be able to convey his will to fpirits, and reasonable beings, fo as that they fhall be fure that it is God who converses with them?!

Nothing is more certain than that God, who is an abfolute fpirit, acts on the material world; and yet we cannot tell the manner how God acts upon it and it is very wonderful to confider how one nature absolutely diftinct, and of quite different attributes and properties from another, fhould thus continually act upon and influence it. But that fpiritual beings, between whofe natures, as fpiritual, there is a neceffary li kenefs and conformity, fhould act upon each other, and be capable of converfing with and communicating their ideas to each other, is a much more eafy and rational supposition; and as probable, as that body should act upon body, of which the whole frame of the material world is an abfolute, conftant proof.

The account which revelation itself gives of the manner in which God convey'd his mind to men, is, either by an audible voice, attended with an appearance of vifible glory, or elfe by making certain very clear and ftrong impreffions on their minds. As to the former way, it is as reasonable to think that the voice and prefence of God may be of fo very peculiar a nature, as to be as well known, and as certainly diftinguish'd as the voice and countenance of a friend: And as to the latter, it appears to me extremely probable, that impreffions made on the mind may be attended with fuch peculiar circumftances, which may as truly and certainly discover God, as a friend may be known by his refemblance and image, or as tho' we were meer fpirits, and God was converfing with us as fuch.

If it be allow'd that revelation is poffible, it may be denied that it is neceffary, because the natural reafon of men's minds is abundantly futfcient to demonftrate to them whatever God requires of them. I very readily grant, that the reafonable powers and faculties of men's minds are very capable of leading them into the knowledge of fome of the moft important truths that we are concerned to know, and duties we are obliged to perform; and that men are criminal in the fight of God, if they run into ignorance and vice, thro' a neglect to improve thofe excellent faculties of reafon which God hath given them.

But then it ought to be confidered, that the powers of all men are not alike capable, and that tho' truths of importance when offered to them may be difcerned and approved by them, yet that the generality would fcarce ever have been able, by a long courfe of argument and inference, to have reafoned themselves into a clear knowledge of all thofe


principles, which are neceflary to be known, effectually to fupport the intereft of true religion, and the practice of virtue; efpecially if we confider them as wholly taken up with the affairs of the prefent life, educated with ftrong pejudices in favour of fuperftition and error, and trained up from infancy in idolatrous practices, and criminal courses. In fuch circumftances, what reafon may be capable of doing, I know not. But that it hath not in fact led men to the knowledge of all the neceffary principles and truths of religion, is evident from the history of almost all nations, who have been deftitute of revelation: And therefore to argue against the neceffity of revelation, because poffibly men's own reason might have been fufficient without it, when in reality they did need it, is to fet up meer fuppofition againft pofitive fact, and to reafon from poffibilities against experience and certainty.

Reafon, i. e. men's reasonable powers are unquestionably capable of great improvements, and of making very confiderable difcoveries, with proper affiftance and cultivation. But without suitable helps and means of information, I apprehend that no man can affirm they would lead him into the knowledge of all the neceffary principles of religion. Cicero, the greatest genius of the age in which he lived, did not owe his fuperior knowledge and wifdom to himself only. He had the writings of Rome and Greece to inftruct and inform him. From thefe he understood the principles of the feveral fects of philofophers that were before him, the arguments with which they confirm'd their refpective fentiments, and the objections that were urged by fome against the schemes and principles of others. Upon this foundation it was easy to reason, and in whatever refpects his fentiments were nobler than others, they were not properly the meer difcoveries of his own mind, but inferences from, or the improvements of the difcoveries and principles of others. And I cannot help thinking, that if any men are now capable of forming to themselves a compleat fcheme of rational religion and morals, they owe it to the discoveries of the Gofpel Revelation, tho' they affume the glory of it entirely to their reason.

Befides, tho' Reafon might poffibly difcover the duties of religion and virtue without any revelation, it cannot in the nature of things certainly discover what the rewards of being religious and virtuous fhall be. Reafon will indeed inform us, that a being perfectly virtuous, and who conftantly acts agreeably to the reafon and nature of things, without any deviation from it, cannot be finally miserable, but must be in fome measure happy in the divine approbation and acceptance. But of what degree and duration that happiness thall be, depends wholly on the good pleasure of God. Being itself is the voluntary gift of the fupreme caufe, and of confequence the continuance of being must depend on his will who first gave it. And tho' perfect virtue will always be entitled to a proportionable reward from God, yet that fuch a being, and the happiness confequent upon his virtue, fhall and must be of an everlasting continuance, can never be proved from the reason and nature of things, and of confequence the knowledge of it can be derived from nothing but the voluntary discoveries of God himself.

This I think is plain upon the fuppofition of a being perfectly vir


tuous. But if any reafonable beings deviate from the law of their creation, and act contrary to that fitnefs of things which reafon affures them ought to be the rules of their actions; in fuch a cafe reason will be fo far from giving any pofitive affurances of a reward, that it will rather lead men to the expectations and fears of punishment, there being as natural a connection between vice and punishment, as there is between virtue and a reward. Whether God will pardon, and upon what conditions, whether repentance and a fincere amendment for the future, fhall entitle to happiness, and efpecially the fame happiness as would have been the reward of perfect virtue, here reafon can never determine. And of consequence, if the certain knowledge of these important articles be in any fenfe neceffary to encourage the repentance and reformation of men, it is in the fame fenfe abfolutely neceffary they fhould have a revelation from God concerning them.


If it be faid, that supposing a revelation actually given, fuch revelation can be nothing but a revival of the principles and duties of natural religion, because men's acceptance with God can depend on nothing but their acting agreeable to the law of their reafon and nature: I answer, that if by the principles and duties of natural religion, be meant fuch principles and duties, which when difcovered appear reafonable to the minds of men, it may be allow'd that revelation doth and cannot place the happiness and acceptance of men with God, upon any thing that is not reasonable and fit for them to know and do, and of which they cannot in fome measure difcern the reasonableness and fitness; for then one certain mark of the truth of revelation would be plainly wanting, which is its placing the happiness of men upon fuch a foundation as appears reasonable in itself, and therefore worthy of God; because I cannot believe that to be worthy of God, which by reason I cannot in fome measure plainly difcern to be fo.

But if by the principles and duties of natural religion, be meant fuch principles and duties which natural reafon, without any divine revelation, will lead men to the certain knowledge of, then the affertion is evidently falfe, that revelation can contain nothing but the principles and duties of natural religion. Because, as hath been obferved, one great end of revelation is to give men certainty of fuch important principles as natural reason is never able to do.

If we confider men in circumftances of degeneracy, and as having acted contrary to the law of reafon, a revelation meerly to revive the law of nature, would evidently be infufficient for their peace and happinefs. For tho' this would be a direction of their future conduct, it would be no fecurity to them against the punishment due to them for their paft tranfgreffions, which would prove the higheft difcouragement to their obedience for the time to come. And of confequence a revelation from God, vouchfafed to mankind in fuch circumstances, must contain more than the meer law of nature, viz. the method and conditions of God's extending his forgiveness to his finful creatures; without which it would want one effential mark of its being from God, viz. its fuitableness to the wants and neceffities of mankind.

Befides, if God hath given men a revelation of his will, attended with fufficient evidence and proof, the belief of fuch a revelation is a moral

« PreviousContinue »