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SERM, into the evidence upon which it is founded. · XV. So the mind of man is fram’d, that some ideas m and perceptions do necessarily arife in it from
external objects, or by an attention to its own powers and operations. There are also selfevident truths, which we cannot help afsenting to as soon as they are intelligibly proposed. But the principles of Religion are not of this fort ; the existence of God himself, the first of them all, we have not such an intimate knowledge of as we have of our own existence, but must by searching find it out, that is, collect it by reasoning, or infer it from the existence of other beings, and from other truths first discerned and acknowledged; upon this foundation the understanding proceedeth to discover the divine attributes and works, and by considering the relations we and other creatures stand in to God and to each other, attending at the fame time to the fenfe of good and evil indelibly written in our hearts, we are convinced of moral obligations, and are enabled to form a system of duty which is the proper guide of life. In like manner christianity is so proposed to us that we may have a rational perfuafion of its truth; the divine Author of it and his apostles addressed their doctrines to the understandings of men, supporting them
With proper arguments to induce an intelli- SE Mi gent belief; such as the signs; wonders, and XV. divers miracles, which were worked for confirming them; the evident accomplishment of ancient prophecies in the principal facts recorded in the gospel, which are the main articles of our faith, besides the intrinsic goodness of its precepts, and their perfect agreeableness to the best sentiments of the human mind : Thus God as a law-giver dealeth with us according to that constitution of our nature, of which himself is the Author: Our minds are capable of no other obligation with respect to points of belief; than to examine impartially, and without prejudice, that we may affent upon rational grounds ; and this is all he requireth. Some indeed have advanced and endeavoured to impose upon others'a quite different notion of faith, as if it were a confident persuafion founded upon mere authority, not only without, but directly contrary to, reason; this hath had very unhappy effects. The tendency of it is to turn religion into nonsense and absurdity, and to prejudice men against it as an affront to their understandings, only calculated for fools; and in the believers themfelves it hath produced nothing but fuperftition and enthusiasm instead of a reafonable service. CC 2
SER M. But as the mind of man was not made for XV. such a faith, indeed duly exercising its in
tellectual powers, is not capable of it, however fome, by strong prejudices and stupid thoughtlessness, may get into a confused notion which they call believing ; fo let us never imagine that it is countenanced by the fcriptures, which are written for wise men, and able to judge what is said. Particularly, the faith which the apostle speaketh of in the text, and by which he and other christians walked, is opposed to fight or sense, not to reason, of which it is the noblest use and improvement; and the obedience of faith is resignation, not of our understandings, but of prejudices and corrupt affections.
2dly, It is absolutely necessary that the great effential principles of religion, both natural and revealed, be duly attended to, and maturely considered, that they may have their proper effect. It is not enough that we have been once fully fatisfied concerning the truth of them, and given our assent even upon the most just and rational foundation ; they must be frequently reviewed, and made the subject of our defigned and deliberate meditation, in order to their having a suitable influence on our
temper and practice ; for they do not ope- SERM. rate like the ideas of sensible objects, which XV. immediately and necessarily excite desire, and prompt to action, but by calm and attentive reflection they enter into the heart, and captivate the affections. Experience sheweth, that the most important truths, even known and believed, often lie dormant in the mind like points of useless speculation, without producing any such dispositions, or such a conversation as they tend to; which is the case of the most abandoned and profligate finners, whose crimes are highly aggravated by their being committed against conviction. One cause of this surprizing appearance, so disagreeable one would think to the constitution of the human nature, is stupid inattention, which in many cases, and particularly in religion, hath the same effect that ignorance hath. As there can be no affec, tion to that which is altogether unknown, and consequently it cannot ingage us in any prosecution; the object which is not attended to, is in this respect as if it were unknown; no desires are excited, the mind feeth no importance in it, feeleth no attractive force, This seemeth to be the case of the unfruite ful hearers of the gospel, described by our Saviour in his parable of the fower : They Cc 3
Serm, bear, but they do not understand; which XV. doth not proceed from an incapacity, for
then it could not be imputed as a fault, but from careless inattention; the cause whereof generally is, that vicious inclinations, by habitual indulgence, have got the ascendant in the heart, rendering it insensible of the beauty and the great advantages of religion; but whatever the cause be, neglecting to apply its thinking powers to the consideration of important subjects intelligibly proposed, is properly the guilt and the reproach of a reasonable creature, and the prophet Isaiah had reason to call upon transgressors to sew themselves men, by bringing to mind or seriously attending to the proper motives of action; for that is an obligation from which rational and moral agents can never discharge themselves. And this I take to be an essential ingredient in the crime of unbelief, which is represented in the gospel as so heinous, and whereby so many sinners come short of salvation.
3dly, That faith may be the governing principle of our lives, it must be rooted in the affections as well as the understanding. and the objects of it have the full approbation and consent of the mind. The least reflection will enable us to distinguish be