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I heartily wish, all the divines and casuists, who have heretofore handled these, and the like topics, had been blessed with my narrowness of capacity, and the mean opinion I have of it. Had this béen the case, every one would have been content to take a doctrine on God's word: no mysteries of man's inventions had been added to those of God's revealing; no heresies, no schisms, no animosities had ever disturbed the church of God, or exposed it to the ridicule of infidels; no religious subtleties, in short, had staggered the faith of one, and turned the head of another. It was a vicious love of women that brought Solomon, the wisest of men, on his knees to a plurality of gods. And what but an equally vicious conceit of his own understanding could have brought Sir Isaac Newton, that exalted genius in mathematical and natural knowledge, to a belief in, and adoration of, a like plurality? How poor, how vain, how despicable is the understanding of man, particularly in religious matters, when not submitted to the wisdom of God! How admirably does the Spirit of God defend us in this instance, against the poison of error, gilded by the lustre of a great name! I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe. The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. You see that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the things that are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence.' It hath been promised, that we shall be all taught of God.' This promise hath been most amply fulfilled. What need we then, or how dare we heap to ourselves other teachers, who although they are called great men by their disciples, what are they to the great God? Or what must he be, who prefers them?
SUMMARY OF RELIGION,
Religious controversies ought to be short.
A POINT not worth deciding, ought not to be debated. No religious point is worth deciding, if all mankind are not concerned to know it, as a point of some importance to their happiness. Such points ought to be examined by few arguments, and those arguments couched in few, intelligible, and precise terms. Many words dissipate the force of an argument, in regard to the understanding, bewildered as in a wood; and besides, give unnumbered handles to sophistical replies, and those to as many, and equally sophistical rejoinders, which changes the controversy, from an inquiry about the point in view, to a combat between the controvertists, not for truth, but victory. Led away by the common practice, I have written a great deal on religious controversies; but now that time and experience have let me see, how vain and fruitless this method generally proves, and how much more decisive, one good argument, reduced to half a dozen words, is found to be, I will here endeavour to banish all disputes about religion by urging one argument or two, in the briefest manner I can, on each debated article, of importance enough to all mankind, to merit a discussion.
The world could not have made itself, yet was made, for it discovers infinite power and wisdom in its origin and architecture. It was therefore made by a being of such power and wisdom, who was from eternity, and unmade, for such a being could not have been made by himself, nor by another, for was he made by another, that other must be author of all things, and the God whose being I would prove.
Proposition II. There is but one God,
The world could not have been made, but by a Being of infinite and unlimited power and wisdom. To create a world
out of nothing requires infinite unlimited power; and to make it in the manner it is made, requires infinite unlimited wisdom. Now to suppose the possibility of two, or more, such beings, is contradictory to itself. Two beings cannot, each of them, have all power and wisdom; but he who hath not all power, is not infinitely powerful, nor is he infinitely wise, who hath not all wisdom. God saith, I am the first, and I am the last, and beside me there is no God, I know not any.' To make this last a good proof, I maintain that, Proposition III. God hath made a revelation of himself, and of the true religion, wherein this assertion of God himself is
Religion was from the beginning necessary to mankind, who cannot subsist out of society, nor in society without religion, nor well in society without true religion; therefore the good and beneficent God gave to mankind a true religion, but not by the light of nature alone, for this hath every where failed to teach it, even among those who had the benefit of some instruction. If a true religion was given to mankind, it must have been given by divine revelation. to human reason as a recipient, not an original fountain of religious light. This revelation was fully proved to come from God by such predictions as nothing but infinite wisdom could utter, and such wonders, as nothing but infinite power could perform. The religion thus revealed, together with the proofs of its divine origin and authority, may be seen in the holy Bible; a book written by God himself. If herein the true religion may not be found, necessary as the true religion is, there is no true religion to be found among mankind. That the wonders and miracles therein said to be wrought, were actually and really wrought, we have the attestation of many who saw them wrought, and died to prove the veracity of that attestation. The antiquity of the predictions is indisputable, and their truth, as the effect of divine foreknowledge, is made also incontestible by the completion of many such predictions, exhibited at this very time in our sight, or to our knowledge.
Proposition IV. Paganism cannot be the true religion.
For it sets forth many gods, all of them, more or less weak, foolish, or wicked.
Proposition V. Manicheeism cannot be the true religion.
For it sets up two eternal, independent Beings, contrary to proposition the second, and ascribes darkness, wickedness, and consequently weakness or defect, to one of them; and yet ascribes the creation of matter, which is an effect of almighty power, to that very Being.
Proposition VI. Mahometism cannot be the true religion.
For it indulges lust, rapine, and slaughter, to its disciples, and proposes to gratify the desire of these as its grand reward or sanction. A deceitful and bloody impostor, not the good God, was its author.
Proposition VII. Judaism is not the true religion.
For the pentateuch and prophecies, on which it rests, set it forth as only a temporary, a preparatory, a typical, and national dispensation; fix the limits of its duration, and refer its professors to the Messiah, as the end of the law, and as one who should appear under the second temple, and give to all nations the true and perfect religion. The Jews, blinded by, and bigoted to, the shadow, rejected the substance, to which the shadow had been superadded only under the law, for Christianity was from the beginning.
Proposition VIII. Jesus is the Messiah or Christ, and his religion the true and universal religion.
Ere that temple was destroyed, and at the very time and place foretold by the prophets, a person appeared, who filled all the prophetic characters of the Messiah, wrought innumerable miracles himself, and by his disciples, and gave to the world a religion, worthy of God, and productive of human reformation and happiness. And that this religion might not in after ages be lost, or corrupted by the fancies or interests of bad men, he caused it to be faithfully recorded, together with a succinct history of his transactions here on earth, in the writings of the New Testament. Him the Jews crucified, and to this day do every thing in their power to oppose and suppress his religion; whereby, throughout all the nations of the earth, wherein they are dispersed, they, as enemies, attest the truth and genuineness of those pro
phecies, which foretel both the Messiah and his religion, and likewise their blind apostacy from the obvious meaning of those prophecies, their dispersion over all nations, and the use made by Providence of their infidelity to prove and spread the universal religion.
The religion of the Bible, or holy Scriptures, appears, from this short chain of reasoning to be the true, or universal religion, which we its professors call, Christianity, from the name, or rather title of its blessed author, which is the same in Greek with the Hebrew word, Messiah, and signifies, anointed. The divinely inspired Scriptures, particularly those of the New Testament, are the word of God himself, who therein teaches his readers, what they are to believe and do, in order to a thorough reformation of their lives, and their everlasting happiness. Humility and attention are necessary to a profitable perusal of these books; nor is it less necessary, that we should understand them in the most plain, common, and obvious meaning of the words, their author having written them for all mankind. For want of this humility, attention, and simplicity of understanding, it hath happened, that the vain, the cursory, the subtle, the wicked readers of Scripture, have laboured to graft their own erroneous and wicked opinions on the word of God, and, by forced interpretations of that sacred book, often given those opinions an appearance of Christian truth, though very remote from it, or repugnant to it. Hence infinite arguments and disputes, which expose true religion to the mockery of infidels, and often sap the faith of its professors. And hence such animosity and hatred among Christians, and such a spirit of persecution in some towards others, as is the very reverse of that love or charity, which is placed by Christ at the head of all Christian virtues. That well meaning men, at least, may no longer draw error from the source of truth; nor hatred from the fountain of love; nor confusion from the dictates of infinite wisdom and order; I will take the liberty to reduce the reigning controversies among Christians, each of them, to the short issue of a single point, decided by a text or two, of God's word. They who will not be convinced or concluded by God's own word, they themselves acknowledging it to be his word, are not likely to be concluded by long and dissipated reasonings of men.