« PreviousContinue »
Reason of Man; and the necessity of it to all Persons without Distinction, the most learned as well as ignorant, is no less apparent.
For however these Philosophers might please themselves with the false Opinion of a perfect Knowledge, it is too notorious that their Pretences were vain and trifling. They professed indeed a Science of Divine Matters, but such as included only unuseful, and oftentimes absurd, Notions; which were as vari. ous as their several Sects, and those as numerous as the Whimsies of ambitious Men; and all derided by a powerful and learned Sect, which denied any truth to be in things. Or if
any of them entertained right Notions of a Deity and Religion, yet was it rather by way of Conjecture, than Certainty, which therefore had no influence upon their Lives, nor afforded any other hopes of a future State, than what were founded only on faint Wishes and uncertain Desires; such as would never induce them to forego their Lives, or any part of their temporal Happiness, rather than renounce it; or give them intire afsurance of any Reward or Punishment in ano. ther Life.
If to pretend that Revelation is unnecessary and unuseful to them, was frivolous and irrational in these Heathen Philosophers; much more absurd was it to arraign the Christian Religion of its fimplicity, which fitted it for the Reception of all the members of Mankind, not appropriating it to the Bene
fit of Philosophers only, by proposing abstrusé Contemplations and nice Subtilties, beyond the ordinary reach of unlearned Persons. This was the chief Reason why Christianity was by them accounted Folly, as being hereby become the Portion of reputed Fools, as well as the Science of those, who flattered themselves with the Title of Wisdom. And this is none of the least Reasons why we ought to esteem it the most excellent of all Religions, and condemn the intolerable Pride and Superciliousness of such Men, who either then did endeavour to engross the Knowledge of Divine Matters, or now do true Belief and Salvation, to themselves only.
Religion was intended by God to procure the Happiness of the whole Race of Mankind, not of any Sect or Denomination of Men, much less of a small inconsiderable Party, who, by appropriating to themselves the greatest Blessings of Heaven, make themselves unworthy of the least of them. No. thing therefore contributes so much to declare the Mercy of God, or is fo befitting the Holiness and Beneficence of his Nature, as the generous Spirit of the Christian Religion, which equally admitteth all Men, and acknowledgeth no other distinction in Persons, than what ariseth from their more or less perfect obedience to the Law of God. To this end it is admirably fitted by the Simplicity of it, imposing no necessary Duties of Life and Conversation, but what are com
manded even by the Law of Nature, and ab. serving no other Sacraments or Ceremonies, than what are easie and significant, few and instructive. And if this must be accounted a Prejudice against the Truth of Christianity, to what a deplorable Condition hath the Rea. son of Mankind degenerated, disliking Divine Truths because rational, plain and obvious?
It hath indeed been a common mistake to despise all Doctrines recommended with these excellent Qualities, and because lying level with the Capacity of the unlearned Multitude; and to pronounce them foolish, as the Greek Philosophers in the Text" accounted the Gospel to be Foolishness, because of its Simplicity. But this is such a Prejudice, as nothing less than the most invincible Ignorance of the Nature of Truth and Religion can excuse. A Mistake however, to which the corrupted Inclination of humane Nature is so pronę, that it hath not only af, fected the Greek Philosophers, but also great numbers of Christians in all Ages; who disdaining the Profession of a simple and casie Religion, either added abstruse and sometimes incredible Articles to it; or turned it into an artificial Science, involved in the most perplex and intricate Subtilties; or affected to propose and deliver it in an Enthusiastick Stile, in wild and undigested Conceptions.
It remains that I consider our Obligation, notwithstanding all these Objections, and the Scandals derived from them, to believe and
openly openly to profess the Faith of Christ. For however it be to the Jews a stumbling-block; and to the Greeks foolishness, we still preach Christ crucified; and as it appears from what hath been said, have Reason fo to do; being neither fcandalized at the Contradiction and Opposition of the Jews and Gentiles, nor deluded by the same Prejudices with them: Which two Heads I will briefly speak to.
First then, If the Christian Religion be to the Jews a Stumbling-block, and to the Greeks Foolishness; if a great part of the World continue not only in Ignorance of it, but in Opposition to it; if the Mysteries of it appear to fome incredible, and the manner proposing it ridiculous; this ought not to scandalize us, or induce us to believe the Truth of our Religi, on, to be either less plain or less certain, We all know Mankind to be subject to Errour, and experience the weakness of humane Understanding. We cannot be ignorant how prone
all Men are to follow the direction of their Lusts and Passions; and then if we confider that Christianity opposeth and restraineth these unruly Passions, we shall cease to wonder at its Rejection and Contradiction.
God hath indeed fet his revealed Truths in as cicar a light, as is sufficient for the Conviction of Men; but still leaveth our Will in its full Liberty to embrace or reject them; that so he may leave place either for Reward of Belief, or Puniihment of the contrary. Not that God requireth us to believe any thing incre
dible or extraordinary; not that we merit any thing at the hands of God by being more cre, dulous than the rest of Mankind, or believing those things which other Men reject as foolish or monstrous. Our Faith is no otherwise capable of a Reward, than as it is just and raţional, as it is the result of the right Exercise of our Faculties, and a Demonstration of readiness to obey the Will of God, and acknowledge his Attributes of Veracity and Dominion over us. It was therefore a strange Expression of an ancient Writer, That the Mysteries of the Christian Faith are for that very reason certain, credible, and meritorious to be believed; because they are foolish, incredible and impossible: That in this consists the merit of Christian confidence; and that God therefore
way, that he might, as it were, retaa liate to Men the impudence of Idolatry in which they had voluntarily engaged themselves, by the impudence of Faith, which he imposed on them, If things were so, justly might Christianity be a Scandal to the Jews, and Folly to the Greeks. But blessed be God, and blessed be that Holy Religion which we profess, noz thing is required of us to be believed, but what is entirely conformable to the Laws of Nature and Reason, and which would be our Duty to assent to, although no Reward attended the Affent.
In the next place, if we ought not to be scandalized at the Dissent and opposition of the Jews and Greeks: Much less ought we