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SUMMARY OF SERMON XIII.
EPHESIANS, CHAP 1.-VERSE 13.
That our religion is true and agreeable to reason, is a ground on which the truth of its single doctrines and articles of faith leans: it is therefore requisite that we be well assured thereof. In the words of the text St. Paul styles the Christian doctrine, as elsewhere, the word of truth, and the gospel of our salvation, that is, a most true doctrine, brought from heaven to secure our eternal happiness.
It was anciently objected by Celsus and others, that Christianity exacted a bare groundless faith, or imposed laws uncapable of proof; debarring all inquiries, &c.
This mistake arose from their not distinguishing that belief, whereby we embrace Christianity itself in the gross, from that whereby, consequently on the former, we assent to the particular doctrines thereof. For as to the first kind, so far from obstructing inquiry, it obliges men to it; it refuses ordinarily a precipitate assent, and provokes a fair trial : it inveigles no man; but proclaims to all men, examine all things ; hold fast that which is good.
Indeed, after it hath convinced men of its truth in general, it then requires a full and cordial assent to its particular doctrines : the propriety of this fully shown.
This proceeding, proper to Christianity, is in itself very plausible, &c. The first principle of Christianity (common to it and to all religions) is, that there is one God, Maker and Governor of all things. The next (which no religion denies) is, that God is perfectly veracious, so that whatever appears to be asserted by him, is certainly true. A third is, that God is the Author of the Christian doctrine and law; that he hath revealed this doctrine to mankind, and confirmed it by his testi mony; that he hath imposed this law on us, and established it by his authority. This principle (the foundation of our faith) involves matter of fact, and consequently requires a rational probation. This then is to be shown by several steps or degrees.
I. It is reasonable to suppose that God should at some time or season fully and clearly reveal unto men the truth concerning himself and them, as they stand related to each other, &c.
It is apparent to common experience, that mankind being left to itself, in such matters, is very insufficient to direct itself, &c. The two only remedies of this ignorance and of its consequent evils, natural light and primitive tradition, did little avail to cure them : this fully shown. The miserable state of mankind under such endurance described.
Hence the necessity of another light to guide men out of this darkness. And is it not reasonable to suppose that God, who is alone able, will also be willing in due time to afford it? Reasons why he would be so disposed, assigned.
1. His goodness. Can a woman forget her sucking child? Yea; though it be unnatural, it is yet possible she may; because nature in her is not unalterably constant and the same: but the immutable God cannot so cease to be mindful of, and compassionate toward, his children: this subject enlarged on.
2. Moreover his wisdom enforces the same. God made the world to express his goodness, and to display his glory: and who can be sensible of and promote these, but man ? but he who is endued with reason and intelligence, &c.? which purposes would be frustrated, should God for ever suffer men to continue in ignorance, doubt, or mistake concerning himself: this topic dilated on.
3. God's justice also seems not a little to favor it: every good governor thinks it just to take care that his subjects should understand his pleasure, and be acquainted with his laws, &c. : and is it likely that the sovereign Governor and Judge of all the world should be less equitable in his administration ? &c.
4. It might be added, that generally it seems unbecoming the Divine Majesty, that he should endure the world, his kingdom, to continue under a perpetual usurpation and tyranny, &c.
We cannot indeed judge concerning the special circumstances or limits of God's dealing towards man in this particular ; or concerning the time when, the manner how, the measure according to which he will dispense any particular revelation of himself. That he should for a while connive at men's ignorance, for various purposes, some plain, and others inscrutable to us, is not strange or unlikely : but that for ever he should leave mankind in so forlorn a condition, in such ignorance, under such a captivity to sin, and subjection to misery, seems not probable; much less can it seem improbable that he hath done it. This may tend to remove all obstruction to belief, and dispose us more readily to admit the reasons for it which follow. So much for the first step of our discourse.
And in Jesus Christ, &c.
OF THE TRUTH AND DIVINITY OF THE
EPHESIANS, CHAP. 1.- VERSE 13.
In whom ye also (trusted), having heard the word of truth, the
gospel of your salvation.
That our religion in gross is true and agreeable to reason, is a ground on which the truth of its single doctrines and articles of faith doth lean: it is therefore requisite that it first be well supported, or that we be thoroughly assured thereof. Being therefore engaged at other times to discourse on the particular points of Christian doctrine, which suppose this general one; I shall take occasion collaterally in these exercises to insist on this subject; supposing in those, what in these we shall endeavor to prove; so both avoiding there such grand digressions, or the treating on matters not directly incident; and supplying here what seems necessary or useful there to the confirmation of our faith.
Now in the words I did now read, St. Paul styles the Christian dootrine (and in many other places of Scripture it is also so called) the word of truth,' (that is, a most true doctrine,) and the gospel of our salvation,' (that is, a message brought from heaven by our Saviour and his Apostles; in which the ways and means of attaining salvation, (that is, of
that best happiness which we are capable of,) the overtures thereof from God, and the conditions in order thereto required from us, are declared.) And that we have reason to entertain it as such, I shall immediately address myself to show.
It was anciently objected by Celsus* and other adversaries of our religion, that Christianity did exact from men iany kai «Xoyov nioriv, ' a bare groundless faith ;' did impose vópovs áramodelkrous, laws uncapable of proof,' (that is, as to the goodness and reasonableness of them;) did inculcate this rule, μη εξέταξε, αλλά μόνον πίστευε, “Do not examine or discuss, but only believe;' that it debarred inquiries and debates about truth, slighted the use and improvement of reason, rejected human learning and wisdom, enjoining men to swallow its dictates, without chewing, or any previous examination concerning the reason and truth of them.
The ground of this accusation was surely a great mistake, arising from their not distinguishing that belief, whereby we embrace Christianity itself in gross, from that belief, whereby in consequence to the former we assent to the particular doctrines thereof: especially to such as concern matters supernatural, or exceeding the reach of our natural understanding to penetrate or comprehend. For as to the first kind, that belief whereby we embrace Christianity itself, as true in the gross ;
I say, it is nowise required on such terms; our religion doth not obtrude itself on men in the dark, it doth not bid men to put out their eyes, or to shut them close ; no, nor even to wink, and then to receive it: it rather obliges them to open their eyes wide, to go into the clearest light; with their best senses to view it thoroughly, before they embrace it. It requires not, yea it refuses, ordinarily, a sudden and precipitate assent; admitting no man (capable of judging and choosing for himself) to the participation thereof, or acknowleging him to be a believer indeed; till (after a competent time and means of instruction) he declares himself to understand it well, and heartily to approve it. Never any religion was so little liable to that censure; none ever so freely exposed itself to a fair trial at the bar of reason ; none ever so earnestly invited men to
Orig. i, pag. 8. 9. Orig. vi. pag. 282.