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It is an old and true distinction, that things may be above our reason, without being contrary to it. Of this kind are the power, the nature, and the universal presence of God, with innumerable other points. How little do those who quarrel with mysteries, know of the commonest actions of nature ! The growth of an animal, of a plant, or of the smallest seed, is a mystery to the wisest among men. If an ignorant person were told, that a loadstone would draw iron at a distance, he might say it was a thing contrary to his reason ; and could not believe, before he saw it with his eyes.
The manner whereby the soul and body are united, and how they are distinguished, is wholly unaccountable to us. We see but one part, and yet we know we consist of two; and this is a mystery we cannot comprehend any more than that of the Trinity.
From what hath been said, it is manifest, that God did never command us to believe, nor his ministers to preach, any doctrine which is contrary to the reason he hath pleased to endow us with ; but, for his own wise ends, has thought fit to conceal from us the nature of the thing he commands ; thereby to try our faith and obedience, and increase our dependence
It is highly probable, that, if God should please to reveal unto us this great mystery of the Trinity, or some other mysteries in our holy religion, we should not be able to understand them; unless he would, at the same time, think fit to bestow on us some new powers or faculties of the mind; which we want at present, and are reserved till the day of resurrection to life eternal. · For now,' as the Apostle says, ' we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.'
Thus, we see, the matter is brought to this issue; we must either believe what God directly commands us in holy scripture, or we must wholly reject the scripture and the Christian religion which we pretend to profess: but this, I hope, is too desperate a step for any of us to take.
I have already observed, that those who preach the belief of the Trinity, or of any other mystery, cannot propose any temporal advantage to themselves by so doing. But this is not the case with those who oppose these doctrines. · Do they lead better moral lives than a good Christian ? Are they more just in their dealings ? More chaste, or temperate, or charitable ? Nothing at all of this ; but, on the contrary, their intent is to overthrow all religion, that they may gratify their vices without any reproach from the world, or their own conscience; and are zealous to bring over as many others as they can, to their own opinions ; because it is some kind of imaginary comfort to have a multitude on their side.
There is no miracle mentioned in holy writ, which, if it were strictly examined, is not as much contrary to common reason, and as much a mystery, as this doctrine of the Trinity; and, therefore, we may with equal justice deny the truth of them all. For instance, it is against the laws of nature, that a human body should be able to walk upon the water, as St. Peter is recorded to have done ; or that a dead carcass should be raised from the grave after three days, when it began to corrupt; which those who understand anatomy, will pronounce to be impossible by the common rules of nature and reason. Yet these miracles, and many others, are positively affirmed in the gospel ; and these we must believe, or give up our holy religion to atheists and infidels.
I shall now make a few inferences and observations from what hath been said.
First, it would be well if people would not lay so much weight on their own reason in matters of religion, as to think every thing impossible and absurd, which they cannot conceive. How often do we contradict the right rules of reason in the whole course of our lives! Reason itself is true and just ; but the reason of every particular man is weak and wavering, perpetually swayed and turned by his interests, his passions, and his vices. Let any man but consider, when he hath a controversy with another, though his cause be ever so unjust, though the whole world be against him,-how blinded he is by the love of himself, to believe that right is wrong, and wrong is right, when it makes for bis own advantage. Where is then the right use of his reason, of which he so much boasts ? and which he would blasphemously set up to controul the commands of the Almighty.
Secondly, when men are tempted to deny the mysteries of religion, let them examine and search into their own hearts, whether they have not some favourite sin which is of their party in this dispute, and which is equally contrary to other commands of God in the gospel. For why do men love dark
ness rather than light? The scripture tells us, because their deeds are evil;' and there can be no other reason assigned. Therefore, when men are curious and inquisitive to discover some weak sides in Christianity, and inclined to favour every thing that is offered to its disadvantage, it is plain they wish it were not true; and those wishes can proceed from nothing but an evil conscience; because, if there be truth in our religion, their condition must be miserable.
And therefore, thirdly, men should consider, that raising difficulties concerning the mysteries in religion, cannot make them more wise, learned, or virtuous; better neighbours, or friends, or more serviceable to their country; but, whatever they pretend, will destroy their inward peace of mind, by perpetual doubts and fears arising in their breasts. And God forbid we should ever see the times so bad, when dangerous opinions in religion will be a means to get favour and prefer. ment; although even in such a case it would be an ill traffic, to gain the world, and lose our own souls. So that, upon the whole, it will be impossible to find any real use toward a virtuous or happy life, by denying the mysteries of the gospel.
Fourthly, Those strong unbelievers, who expect that all mysteries should be squared and fitted to their own reason, might have somewhat to say for themselves, if they could satisfy the general reason of mankind in their other opinions ; but herein they are miserably defective, absurd, and ridiculous --they strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. They can be lieve that the world was made by chance; that God doth not concern himself with things below; will neither punish vice, nor reward virtue ; that religion was invented by cunning men to keep the world in awe; with many other opinions equally false and detestable, against the common light of nature, as well as reason; against the universal sentiments of all civilized nations, and offensive to the ears even of a sober heathen.
Lastly, Since the world abounds with pestilent books, particularly written against the doctrine of the Trinity ; it is fit to inform you, that the authors of them proceed wholly upon a mistake: they would show how impossible it is that three can be one, and one can be three; whereas the scripture saith no such thing, at least in that manner they would make it; but only that there is some kind of unity and distinction in the divine nature, which mankind cannot possibly comprehend,
Thus the whole doctrine is short and plain, and in itself incapable of any controversy ; since God himself hath pronounced the fact, but wholly concealed the manner. And, therefore, many divines who thought fit to answer those wicked books, have been mistaken too, by answering fools in their folly; and endeavouring to explain a mystery, which God intended to keep secret from us. And as I would exhort all men to avoid reading those wicked books, written against this doctrine, as dangerous and pernicious; so I think they may omit the answers, as unnecessary.
And thus I have done with my subject, which, probably, I should not have chosen, if I had not been invited to it by the occasion of this season, appointed on purpose to celebrate the mysteries of the Trinity, and the descent of the Holy Ghost, wherein we pray to be kept steadfast in this faith; and what this faith is, I have shown you in the plainest manner I could. For, upon the whole, it is no more than this: God commands us, by our dependence upon his truth and his holy word, to believe a fact that we do not understand. And this is no more than what we do every day in the works of nature, upon the credit of men of learning Without faith, we can do no works acceptable to God; for if they proceed from any other principle, they will not advance our salvation ; and this faith, as I have explained it, we may acquire without giving up our senses, or contradicting our reason. May God of his infinite mercy inspire us with true faith in every article and mystery of our holy religion, so as to dispose us to do what is pleasing in his sight: and this we pray through Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, the mysterious, incomprehensible one God, be all honour and glory, now and for evermore.
London : Printed by W. CI.Owes, Stamford Street.