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Thirdly, That the Coming of Christ has supplied these Defects, and has perfected and completed the Hopes of Nature.
It must be allowed, That the original Religion of Nature was agreeable to the original State of Nature: And consequently, if Natural Religion is founded in the Confideration of Man's Sin and Weakness, it follows, That Man was originally formed a Sinner and weak. But farther,
Supposing Men made originally to be what we see they are, upon what Grounds are we to hope for an Alteration for the better? For, if it was consistent with God's Goodness to put Men into this State originally, how is it inconsistent with his Goodness to continue that State, which was at first his own Appointment? He could no more act inconsistently with his Goodness at the Bes ginning of the World, than he can at the End of it. If Reason therefore admits the present State of the World to be of God's Appointment, it must never afterwards
pretend to entertain Hopes of being delivered from it; and without such Hopes all Religion is vain and useless. It
may be thought perhaps, That, supposing the present State of Things to be of God's Appointment, we cannot be answerable
for what we do; for why should he blame us for doing the Work he has appointed ? Allow this Reasoning; yet no Religion can be built on it; for it can go no farther than to say that we ought not to be punished for our Doings: It can never shew that we have any Title to be put into a better State : The utmost it can pretend to prove, is, that we are absolutely unaccountable ; and, if so, there is nothing we can do to less Purpose, than to trouble our Heads about Religion.
Farther, If the Laws of Nature are the Precepts of Natural Religion, as without all doubt they are, it follows, That Natural Religion can be nothing else but Obedience to the Laws of Nature; and, consequently, the genuine Hopes of Natural Religion must be founded in Obedience. This must necessarily be the Case; for all Laws are made to be obeyed. No Prince was ever so absurd as to make Laws with this View, that his Subjects might break them, and he shew his Goodness in pardoning their Transgressions : And yet
this must have been the Scheme of Providence, if Natural Religion was nothing else from the Beginning but an Expectation of Pardon for Sin.
Secondly, Let us take a View of our present State, without inquiring whether any
and what Change has happened to put us into this Condition ; and let us consider what may be expected from our present Circumstances. Two Things may, be affirmed with Certainty of the present Condition of Mankind : One is, That they have a Sense of their Obligation to obey the Laws of Reason and Nature; which is evident from the Force of natural Conscience: The other is, That very few do in any tolerable Degree, and none perfectly, pay this Obedience.
Let us examine then how Religion will stand upon
these Circumstances. It is impossible to found the Hopes of Religion on Innocence and Obedience; for Obedience is not paid. On the other hand, absolute Impunity cannot be claimed for all Sins; much less can any Degree of Happiness, either present or future, be claimed in behalf of Offenders. The utmost Probability to which human Reason can arrive in this case, is, That, the Goodness of God and the Weakness of Man considered, God may favourably accept our Endeavours, how imperfect soever our Attainments may be. But is this Reasoning built on infallible Principles ? Can any Certainty or Security arise out of this ? any that can give Rest or Peace to the Mind of Man, ever inquisitive after Futurity? Will
you promise Impunity to Offenders upon Repentance ? Impunity, mere Impunity, is not the Thing that Nature seeks after : She craves something more. But can the Argument from the divine Mercy be carried farther? Is it not great Mercy to pardon Sinners ? Can you with Decency desire a Reward for them? Our Saviour has told us, that, when we have done our best, we must still own that we are unprofitable Servants : And, if wę reflect that all our natural Powers are the Gift of God, and, consequently, our best Services are but a Debt paid to the Donor ; if we consider that in all we do there is no Profit to the Most High, that His Power and Majesty are not exalted by our Service, nor lessened by our Neglect; we shall find that our own Reason teaches us the same Leffon, and that, when we confefs ourselves unprofitable Servants, we give greater Evidence of our Understanding than of our Humility. And, if this be truly the Case, what are the Claims of Natural Religion? Are they not the Claims of unprofitable Servants ? the Claims of those to whom nothing is due ?
Thirdly, Let us now take a View of the Conditions and Promises of the Gospel, and see whether we have any Reason to be
offended at them. As to the Laws, which are made the Conditions of our Happiness, they are not new Impositions, but as old as Reason itself, and the very fame which Natural Religion stands bound to obey. Here then can be no Complaint, at least no just
So far then we are quite fafe, that we can be no Losers by the Gospel, since it lays no new Burden on us.
In all other Respects our Case is extremely altered for the better. We feel ourselves easily tempted to do wrong, and unable to pay the Obedience we owe to Righteousness. Hopes therefore from our Innocence we have none, but are forced to have recourse to the Mercy of God. Now this Mercy, which we hope for, the Gospel offers us in the Name of God. Have we any Reason to suspect the Offer? or to reject that very Mercy, when promised by God, which our own Reason teaches us to expect at his Hands?
If we sin, Nature has no Refuge but in Repentance; and how far that will go, we know not: Nature has not, cannot teach us this Knowledge. From the Gospel we learn, that true Repentance shall never be in vain ; shall not only protect us from Punishment, but shall also set open to us the Doors of Life and Immortality. There you may view