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of the proneness of men, of every time and country, to mistake the nature of the maxim, or to misapply it; and the consequences hence resulting have been oftentimes so injurious, that we can hardly exercise too great caution, lest it be made an encouragement to hazardous or doubtful speculations. I shall therefore postpone to the next opportunity some additional elucidations of the subject, together with a summary application of the whole to the existing circumstances in which we ourselves are placed.
One observation, however, may here be subjoined, affecting the main principle of the whole inquiry. The maxim,“ If this work be “ of men, it will come to nought; but if it be “ of God, ye cannot overthrow it,” may seem, when applied to the case of revealed religion, to appeal to an issue which cannot be absolutely decided till time shall be no more. For if the period could ever arrive when Christianity should be universally rejected, and some other system of religion universally established in its place, the obvious inference would be, according to the implied tenor of this rule, that it was “not of God.” This, however, only serves to shew still more clearly, (what it has been the object of this present discourse to establish,) that some other rule
must be brought to cooperate with this for the determination of the main question. It is, indeed, as clear and certain a maxim of sound reason, that God cannot contradict himself, as it is that He cannot support falsehood, or forsake truth. If, therefore, a religion professing to come from God has all those marks and tokens about it which may reasonably satisfy us that it is His work ; and if it has, moreover, hitherto maintained its ground under the most adverse circumstances, and against the most formidable
opposition of human power; then (as was before suggested) its perpetuity and final success may be safely anticipated ; since this expectation rests, not only upon the same assurance as its first general reception and propagation, but also on the credit of the Divine promise vouchsafed to that effect, and guaranteed by what has already been accomplished of its declared purpose. And here it is, that so broad a line of distinction may be observed between Christianity and every system opposed to it, in the one case ; and between pure Christianity and every corrupt system of it, in the other. We do not assume the truth of Christianity, solely because it has maintained its ground for more than 1800 years; nor do we assume the purity of any Protestant profession of it, solely because it has supplanted Popery and established itself in its stead. But we conclude both Christianity and Protestantism to have been largely favoured with the Divine blessing and protection, because they have both thriven under the greatest possible difficulties and dangers ; and because they can both produce testimonies of their truth and Divine authority, which would sufficiently demonstrate their origin, even if they had never emerged from their pristine state of adversity and depression.
Thus far, then, we have proceeded in endeavouring to rest upon its proper foundation one very important support of religious truth. The more effectually this is established upon solid grounds, the more confidently may we build our hopes of the good ultimately to result from it: and the more patiently may we await that final triumph of faith and holiness, when “every plant which “ our heavenly Father hath not planted, shall “ be rooted up",” and “ every tree which bring“eth not forth good fruit, shall be hewn down 6 and cast into the fire.” Now, &c.
f Matt. xv. 13.
g Matt. vii. 19.
ACTS v. 38, 39. If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come
to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it.
CONFIDENCE in the Divine support gives to truth one of its best encouragements. It supplies strength under adverse circumstances, and it contributes to the purest enjoyment of prosperity. When heightened also by the perceptible progress and advancement of the work that is undertaken, it operates as the most powerful of all incitements to exertion and perseverance; fortifying the mind with a full persuasion, that the cause is acceptable both to God and man.
But how is this confidence to be attained ? How shall a just and rational assurance of the Divine blessing be distinguished from vain pretensions to it, the offspring of delusion or deceit? How shall we effectually check the sanguine expectations and the arrogant boastings of weak, or sometimes of wicked men, who