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النشر الإلكتروني

And in Jesus Christ, &c.

SERMON XIII.

OF THE TRUTH AND DIVINITY OF THE

CHRISTIAN RELIGION.

EPHESIANS, CHAP. I.-- 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 Yedno kai ädoyov nioriv, 'a bare groundless faith ;' did impose vouovs ávarodeiktovs, 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; nove 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.

consider and weigh its pretences; yea, provoked them, for its sake and their own, (at the peril of their souls, and as they tendered their own best good and safety,) to an evyvúuwe, éEéraois, an equal and discreet examination thereof. Other religions have for their justification insisted on the examples of ancestors, the prescriptions and customs of times, their large extent and prevalence among multitudes of people, their establishment by civil laws, and countenance of secular powers, (arguments wholly extrinsecal and of small validity,) declining all other test or trial of reason : yea, it is remarkable how Celsus, and others who made the foresaid objection, did contradict and confute themselves, affirming men ought without scruple to conform in opinion and practice to the religion prescribed by the laws of their country, be they what they will, never so absurd or dishonest. Δεί φυλάσσειν τα εις κοινόν κεκυpwuéva, (things established by common authority must be observed :) and, τα παρ' εκάστους ορθώς αν πράττοιτο ταύτη δρώμενα, önn éxeivous pilov, (things are every where rightly done, being done according to the fashion of each place.) Such were the rules and maxims those men urged. And this was indeed exacting irrational belief; a stifling men's reason, and muzzling their judgments; this was a method enforcing men blindly to yield consent to errors and inconsistences innumerable. But the teachers and maintainers of Christianity proceeded otherwise ; confiding in the pure merit of their cause, they warned men to lay aside all prejudices; to use their best understandings; in a case of such moment, to apply themselves to an industrious and impartial search of the truth : let one for the rest speak their sense: Oportet in ea re maxime, in qua vita ratio versatur, sibi quemque confidere, suoque judicio ac propriis sensibus niti ad investigandam et perpendendam veritatem, quam credentem alienis erroribus decipi tanquam ipsum rationis expertem : dedit omnibus Deus pro virili portione sapientiam, ut et inaudita investigare possent, et audita perpendere: "We ought especially,' says he, 'every one of us in that matter, which chiefly concerns our manner of life, to confide in ourselves; and rather with our own judgment and our proper senses strive to find out and judge of the truth, than believing other men's errors to be deceived, like things void of reason :

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God hath given all men a competent share of wisdom that they might both search out things not told them, and weigh what they hear' So especially just and candid was Christianity in its first offering itself to the minds of men.

It propounds indeed and presses, as evident in itself, the worth and consequence of the matter ; but refers the decision on either part (so far as concerns every particular man) to the verdict of that reason and conscience, with which to such purposes God hath indued every man.

And that it can proceed no otherwise appears farther, from the nature of that faith it requires : it commends faith as a great virtue, and therefore supposes

it both voluntary and reasonable ; it promises ample rewards thereto, and so implies it a work not of necessity or chance, but of care and industry; it declares infidelity to be very blamable, and threatens severe punishment thereto; why? because it signifies irrational negligence or perverseness.

In fine, Christianity doth not inveigle any man by sleight, nor compel him by force, (being indeed commonly destitute of those advantages; nor being able to use them, if it would,) but fairly by reason persuades him to embrace it; it doth not therefore shun examination, nor disclaim the judgment of reason; but earnestly seeks and procures the one, cheerfully and confidently appeals to the other. •Examine all things; hold fast that which is good.' Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they be of God.' See that no man deceive you.' * Be always ready, with meekness and respect, to give to every one that demands it of you an account of the hope in you. These are the maxims which Christianity goes on in the propagation and maintenance of itself.

Indeed after it hath convinced men of its truth in general, having evidenced the truth of its fundamental principles, it then requires a full and cordial assent, without exception, to its particular doctrines, grounded on or deduced from them. When, I say, it hath, to the satisfaction of a man's mind, with solid reason made good its principles, it then enjoins men to surcease farther scruple or debate concerning what it teaches or draws from them; which is a proceeding most reasonable and eonformable to the method used in the strictest sciences : for the principles of any science being either demonstrated out of some

VOL. v.

BAR.

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higher science, or evidenced by fit experiments to common sense; and being thence granted and received, it is afterward unlawful and absurd to challenge the conclusions collected from them ; so if it have been proved and acknowleged that our principles are true, (for instance, that God is perfectly veracious, and that Christian religion hath his authority or attestation to it,) it will then be a part of absurd levity and inconsistency to question any particular proposition evidently contained therein ; and in this sense or in these cases it is true indeed that Christianity doth engage us to believe simply and purely, doth silence natural reason, and condemn curious inquiry, and prohibit dispute, especially to persons of meaner capacities or improvements. And thus, I take it, those Christians of old were to be understood, who so much commended immediate faith, excluded reason from being too busy in matters of religion, discountenanced that curiosity which searched into, and would needs sound, those inscrutable mysteries which our religion teaches. Our religion then will allow (yea it invites and exhorts) an infidel to consider and judge of its truth, although it will not allow a Christian to be so vain and inconstant as to doubt of any particular doctrine therein; seeing by so questioning a part, he in effect renounces the whole, and subverts the foundation of his faith ; at least ceases thereby to be a steady Christian. I might then well invert our adversaries' discourse, and offer it as a good argument of our religion its truth, that it alone among all religions, with a candor and confidence peculiar to truth, calls us to the light, is willing, yea desirous, to undergo trial; I add, yea challenges, as its due from all men, and demands it of them as a necessary duty to hear it, to consider it seriously, to pass sentence on it ; for as commonly error and groundless conceit, being conscious of their own weakness, are timorous and suspicious, and thence ready to decline all proof and conflict of reason; so truth, knowing its own strength, is daring and resolute; enters boldly into the lists, being well assured (or hopeful) of good success in the combat.

Which proceeding, proper to Christianity, is in itself very plausible, and may well beget a favorable prejudice on its side ; and that is not confident without reason will appear on

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