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S I was born of parents, who bear the Christian Name, and
was instructed by them from my earliest infancy in the principles and duties of Christianity, though this in itself is no reason why I should believe and submit to it; yet I think in gratitude to them for their care in my education, and from the deference I owe to their natural authority over me, I am bound to examine the Religion in which they have brought me up, that I may know whether it be CODsistent with the truth and reason of things, and consequently worthy my acceptation and belief.
I am, indeed, abundantly persuaded, that religion ought to be my own free and rational choice, and that conviction, and not human cothority, must be the rule of my judgment concerning it; and as I was directed by my parents to examine and judge for my felf, and find the Christian Religion in particular appealing to the reason and consciences of mankind, I have endeavoured to make the most impartial enquiry I am capable of, and upon the strictest examination.
1. The reason of my mind tells me, that there is a God, i. e. 21 eternal, ali-perfect Being, the original cause and preserver of all things, the great author of all the relations and dependences of things upon each other, the creator, proprietor, and therefore natural lord and governour of all the reasonable creation.
From hence it follows, that all creatures who are capable of under: standing their derivation from him, their dependance on bim, and
their relation to him, are indispensably and decessarily obliged to pay him those acknowledgments and services, which result from, and are suitable and proper to their respective circumstances and conditions.
And by consequence religion, i.e. the worship and service of God, is the necessary duty of every reasonable creature, and ought to be maintained and kept up in the world ; and every man in particular is bound to make choice of that religion, which appears to him most consonant to reason, and to carry in it the most evident marks of its being from God, and most agreeable to his nature and will,
II. As I find that religion is the necessary duty of every reasonable creature, I am farther convinced of my obligation to make use of all the helps I can, to understand wherein the nature of it doth consilt, And upon enquiry, I can think of but two ways by which I can come to the knowledge of it; and these are either the dictates of my own mind, and reason, or some informations, discoveries and revelations from God, the great object of my religious worship.
The reason of my mind is that which renders me capable of difcerning what is fit and unfit in disposition and behaviour ; and from hence I derive the notion, and infer the reality of moral obligation: and when I farther consider the first independent mind as the author of these relations, and fitnesses which arise from them, I am convinced that it is his will that I should act suitable to them, and that I offend when I do not; and from hence I infer the certainty of religious obligation. And since this moral and religious obligation owes its rise only to my reflections upon the nature of man, and the relation I stand in to God and other beings, this is properly natural religion, or the religion of Nature.
Now tho' the religion of Nature be prior to and distinct from revealed religion, and gives the characters by which we are to judge of the truth of revelation ; yet the insufficiency of it, aod therefore the expediency of a divine revelation, to lead men into a due knowledge of the principles, duties, and advantages of religion, appears;
From ihat gross ignorance of God, and duty, which sprung from the general corruption and degeneracy of mankind; which rendered it highly improbable that any one in such circumstances should arise, who should be able to make the necessary discoveries of God and his perfections, and with clearness and folidity to reprelent men's obligations in their proper extent and compass; at least 'not without thole mixtures of weakness and superstition, which might occafion the vicious and prejudiced to disregard his instructions, and thus abate the general luccels of them.
But if we could suppose his doctrines to be pure and unmixed, it is not probable, they would have a general or indeed any considerable influence over the strong byass that vice universally practised had given to men, without the marks of a proper authority to awaken them to consideration ; especially as those dodrines could not but vint the motives and encouragemenis proportionate to such an effect.
'Tis indeed probable, that in such a situation men might be led to sce, that by acting contrary to the reason and fitness of things they kad offended the first and most perfect mind; the natural conse
quence of this would be fear of punishment. This fear must be in finite and boundless, as the power of God is conceived to be unlimited, and the nature and duration of the punifhment would be abloletely woknown. A consideration highly disfavodrable to all- endeavours to break off their finful habits, and attain to the contrary habits of virtue.
However, if we could suppose men by such a fear of punishment perfuaded to repentance, i. e. to cease from acting contrary to the fit. ness of things, and to conform themselves for the future to it; cheir former violation of this unalterable law of reason would remain, and can't in frict fpeaking be undone by any better behaviour afterwards ; and of consequence their fears of punishment must remain.
If we suppose that men's natoral notions of the divine goodness, and the forbearance that God exercifes in the course of his providence, would lead them to think it probable that repentance would fecure them from the dreaded punishment; luch probability would in the dature of things be mixed with the greatest uncertainty, especially bccause upon consideration, men, in the circumstances we now place them, would find, after all, their deviations from the law of reason many, and their virtue imperfect ; and therefore there would ftill be Oneafy fufpicions whether it be consistent with the wisdom of the fopreme governour, entirely to remit the punishment due to such re. peated offences.
If we suppose that men might reason themfelves into this firm per. fuafion and hope, that a return to a sincere, tho' imperfect virtue, would secure them from the deserved evil; yet this will not lay a folid foundation to expect that happiness, and those marks of the divine favoor, which might have been hoped for, if there had been no devi. ations from the rule of right and fit. Here the light of nature is at an entire lofs, and can never give men the necessary alsurances so this important article.
If it should appear inconfiftent with the perfections of deity not to make a distinction between those who return to virtue, and those who obftinately continue to act contrary to the fitness of thiogs ; yet the degree and manner of doing it, will ftill remain doubtful and uncer. tain, this being wholly dependant on the unknown pleasure and wildom of God. And of consequence the light of nature cannot determine, whether an imperfect virtue may not have suitable degrees of punishment in another State ; or if the probability should preponderate on the other side, that God would reward a fincere, tho' imperfect virtue, reason could never assure us, of what nature that reward should be, for how long its continuance.
As every man finds himself liable to death, a resurrection could fcarcely be made appear by the light of nature probable, much less a resurrection accompanied with such favourable alterations as the chriltian religion discovers. In a word, if the light of nature could allure me of a future state, it could never make me certain that it should be a ftate of rewards, since the virtue of this life is so very imperted, that the other life might prove a new state of farther trial. But if it could go fo far as to render it probable, that it should be a
state of recompence ; yet wherein the rewards of it confift, and how long their continuance and duration shall be, it is so little capable of giving any diftinct account of, that the greatest and wifeft of men, who had no other guide but this, appear to have lived and died in the greatest uncertainties about them; a full proof that the light of nature is not sufficient to instruct us in these important articles, with any clearness and certainty: the consequence of which is, that men would want the proper arguments and motives to become virtuous with teadinele and conftadcy, against all the difficulties and temptations of a general and universal degeneracy.
III. Since therefore the natural reason of my mind appears thas greatly defective, and insufficient, I have considered the other method of discovering the will of God, and the principles and duties of religion, viz. immediate revelation from God himself; and as 'this involves no contradiction in the nature of the thing, it must be possible to him, to whom belongs supreme and unlimited power. Shall not be that made the eye see ? He that gave us all our conversable powers, shall he not be able to converse with us himself ? Shall not the father of fpirits, who is intimately present to every being, have an access to his own offspring, so as to assure the mind, that it is he himself, by such evidence, as shall make it uoreasonable to deny, or impossible to doubt it? If men can make themselves known, and discover their secret thoughts to each other; surely God can make himself known to men; else we must suppole his power more bounded than theirs, and that he wants a real perfection which they are possessed of.
And as this is possible, my reason farther tells me, 'tis highly desireable, the better to instruct me what God is, and what I am my self; what I must do, and what I fhall be; to save men the labour of a low and tedious compass of observation, experience, and argument, wbich every one is not fit for, and which those who are, would be glad to be affifted in; to free me from the uncertainties and fears of my mind, that arise from the consciousness of guilt, the fense of my being accountable, and the apprehensions I have of a future state; to regulate my conduct, and guide me with safety in the midst of prevailing igporance and darkness, the mistakes and corruptions of mankind, the Snares of bad examples, and the numerous temptations to folly and vice; to establish my hopes, by fixing the rule of worship, settling the conditions of pardon, alluring me of necessary assistance, and promising Such rewards as are proper to support me under all the difficulties of my present duty. These things the world by wildum knew not; they were vain and mistaken in their imagination, and their foolish heart was darkened.
And as such a revelation is both possible and desireable, the probability that there hath been one, may be fairly argued from the universal ignorance and corruption that hath overspread the world, the characters of God as Father and Governour of mankind, the acknowledged goodness and equity of his nature, the sudden and astonishing reformation that hath once been in the world, the numerous pretences that have been made to revelation in all ages and nations, which seem to argue the general content of mankind, as to the expediency and reality
of it, and its necessity to give Religion its proper certainty, authority, and force.
If then there be any religion in the world that fairly makes out its title to be a revelation from God, by such internal characters belonging to it, and such external proofs attending it, which are fit and proper in themselves to convince a reasonable and impartial enquirer, and may be juftly expected in a matter of such importance ; I am bound to acknowledge and submit to such a Religion, and to receive it under the honourable character of a divine revelation. And as the Christian Religion makes its pretensions to such a character and authority, I have endeavoured fairly to examine the proofs and evidence that attend it, as they are contain'd in those books which are known by the name of the New Testament, to which christians appeal, as to the infallible rule of their faith and practice, and the sole judge of all controversies in their religion. And upon the most unprejudiced enquiry, I find,
iy. That there is the highest reason to believe, that these books are authentick and genuine, there being the same, or rather greater proofs, of their being written by the persons whose names they bear, and to whom they are ascribed, than any other ancient books have, tho' of the clearest credit, and most unquestionable authority. This is supported by the testimony of many writers, who either were the contemporaries of the authors of the books of the New Testament, or lived immediately after them; who frequently quote and refer to them, both amongst christians themselves, who transcribe many parts of them in their works, and amongst the Jews and Heathens, who exprely mention them as the authors of the books ascribed to them, tho' they had the greatest aversion to the christian religion, their interest obliged them to difprore it, and they had all the opportunity and power in their hands to do it. So that here there is an universal agreement, without any contrary claim, or pretension to other authors.
That the accounts they have given us in these writings are genuine and true, I argue from the characters and circumstances of the writers themselves. They were perfons of undoubted integrity, as appears by the innocence of their lives, their folemn appeals to God, the strict obligations they were under to truth by the principles of their own religion, their inculcating truth and sincerity upon others by the nobleft motives, their having no worldly interest to byafs them, and their chearfully fealing the testimony they gave by their blood.
They had the most certain knowledge of the things of which they wrote, which were either doctrines that they received immediately from Christ himself, or the inspiration of his Spirit; or facts, done in their own times, and of which they were either eye witnesses, or principal agents, and which have been preserved by public memorials and folemn riies, that have obtained in all ages of the Christian Church.
Their education, capacities, and circumstances of life, render'd it impoflible for them to invent fo rational, confiftent and grand a scheme as the christian religion contains ; they wrote ar divers times and places, upon different occations, sudden emergencies, and important con. troversies, which prevented any reasonable suspicions of combination or uniicd fraud.