« PreviousContinue »
provided for, are but meanly instructed in the Mysteries of the Christian Faith. But to us, who want neither Means of Instruction, nor Capacity of receiving them, no Excuse is left, if we do not improve them to a full Comprehension of the Mysteries of our Faith ; whereby we may both obtain a rational Conviction of the truth of it in our selves; and be enabled to vindicate the Honour of our Lord and Saviour, from the Contradiction of foolish and unreasonable Men.
Christianity indeed is not in our Age oppofed with that open and barefac’t Confidence, wherewith it was in the Apostles time, when it was forced to wrestle with Principalities and Powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places, the united force of a victorious and learned Empire: Yet we want not secret impugners of our most holy Faith: Who if by the natural Light of Reason and Remorse of Confcience; they be restrained from professing their secret Atheism, and denying the Exiftence of a God; yet stick not to oppose all revealed Religions, and especially Christianity, because most contrary to their beloved Lusts; in defence of which only they maintain their impious Opinions. It is the Interest of these Men, that Christianity should be false, that fo the licencious Practice of their Luits and Pallions may not be abridged to them; and the Expectation of eternal Punishments imbitter all their Pleasures. For to the Honour of Christianity be it faid, that in these latter Ages it hath had no Enemies, but Men of
profligate and debauched Lives, who either denied the Being of a God, or lived as withont God in the world. However, the Conviction of these Men is far more difficult, than antiently of the Heathen Philosophers: Of whom many sincerely searched after the Truthi, which commonly ended in the discovery of it, and embracing the Christian Religion: Whereas these dispute only for the love of their Lusts and sensual Pleasures; are thence transported with violent Prejudices, wilfully shut their Eyes against the Truth, cast the Words of Conviction behind them, and hate to be reformed. To vindicate the Honour of God, of Christ and our Religion against the Blasphemies of such Men, is the Duty of every Chri. stian in his place and Station, and as Opportunities are ministred to him. Nor are there wanting those among us, who openly and with great excess of apparent Zeal, seek to withdraw us from our most Holy Religion, endeavouring to impose upon us the belief of pernicious Errors and Superstitions. They oppose not directly indeed the Faith of Christ, but corrupt it with Errors and false Opinions; rend in sunder the Unity of the Church, by promoting and perswading a Schifmatical de departure from it; and openly impugn the most Holy Reform’d Religion of our Church, which is indeed no other, than the pure and genuine Christianity, by decrying it as Heretical and Damnable.
To obviate the Designs of these Men nothing can be more effectual, than to apply ouç VOL. I.
selves diligently to the study of Christianity, to enquire in the Holy Scriptures what Christ liath revealed to us, and to search the Design and Mysteries of his Religion. This is become the Duty of every private Christian at this Time; that so his Ignorance may not lay him open to the Attempts of designing Men, who lay in wait to deceive; and betray him to be a prey to Error and Superstition. To this pursuance and encrease of Knowledge, our Church encourageth, and earnestly intreats us. She taketh no Refuge in the Ignorance of her Communicants, nor discourageth them from examining her Doctrines and Opinions; as well knowing, that this Examination will end in a full Conviction of the Truth of them; and that the Improvement of our Knowledge in divine Matters, and an impartial Study of them, will infallibly secure us from the Delusions of her Enemies. And this is the firit Reason why every private Christian ought to be fully instructed concerning the Reasons of his Faith; that so he may answer the Objections, and escape the Assaults of those whoendeavour to withdraw us from the Truth, or seduce us to the Belief of any Error.
II. It is a strict Enquiry into the Reasons and Arguments of our Religion, and full Comprehension of them, which properly makethi Faith to be praise-worthy in it felf, acceptable to God, and capable of Reward. An Allent to Cliristianity without respect to the Arguments of its Truth, may be a Happiness to ignorant Persons, in as much as they enjoy thole
Opportunities, Opportunities, which lead to such an Assent ; such as are Education in a Christian Country,or under Christian Parents or Masters; whereby through Custom, or Respect to the Authority of those Persons, they embrace Christianity, and are led thereby to the Knowledge of God, the Practice of their Duty, and Dependence upon the Merits of a Crucified Saviour. But surely we cannot imagine this to be an Act deserving the Favour of God, or even comparable to the meanest of moral Vertues: Before all which a true Divine Faith is so frequently, and so eminently preferred in Scrip. ture. For since such a Disposition of Mind, I mean an Inclination to follow the Example and Authority of our Country, Parents or MaIters, in assenting to the Religion received by them, may and doth equally
dispose Men to the embracing of Error, as of Truth; it is to be accounted a Thing wholly indifferent; and if it proceeds from a wilful Negligence of examining the Grounds of any Religion, when Means and Ability are not wanting to us, is extremely vicious; but no otherwise laudable, than in the happy Consequences of it, and Opportunities it may possibly minister of coming to the Truth.
Indeed Christianity is so admirably fitted to the Perfection and Salvation of Mankind, that it cannot be assented to upon any Grounds whatsoever, even by the most ignorant Pere sons, without a precedent Habit of Mind, which is truly vertuous and excellent; and in an extraordinary Manner testifying a pro
found Obedience to the Commands of God in the Person assenting, may not unfitly be thought to qualifie him for the divine Favour. For Christianity propofing such Rules, as restrain the corrupt Lusts and Passions of Men; teaching a strict Sobriety and Abstinence from unlawful Pleasures, forbidding the Satisfaction of the most darling Lusts, and commanding Men to deny to themselves, what they are apt to imagine an extreme Happiness, the unliinited Fruition of all sensual Pleasures; and even upon Occasion to forsake the Conveniencies of Life it felf, Choosing rather to suffer affliction, than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season: None can assent to a Religion of this Nature, without first overcoming his Lusts and Passions, and being thoroughly convinced, that all these ought to give place to the Command and Will of God, which he believes to be proposed to him in the Christian Religion.
Such a Disposition is truly excellent; and in them who want Means of attaining a more perfect Knowledge is rewarded by God, as a true and perfect Act of Faith; whio condescends to the Imperfection of Mankind, and requiring of none more than he hath given to him, supplieth by his Mercy what is wanting to the Perfe&tion of our Faith. But then such a Disposition of Mind is so far from being a true and proper Faith, that it may consist without it, and be joyned with Error. Neither can we imagine that Faith, which liathi all those glorious and particular Promises of Reward annexed to it in the holy Scripture, consists only