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Religion, which will most certainly lead us to eternal Life and future Happiness: And it will be to no Purpose to compare Religions together in any other Respects, which have no Relation to this End.
Let us then by this Rule examine the Pretensions of Revelation, and, as we go along, compare it with the present State of Natural Religion, that we may be able to judge, To whom we ought to go.
Eternal Life and Happiness are out of our Power to give ourselves, or to obtain by any Strength and Force, or any Policy or Wisdom. Could our own Arm rescue us from the Jaws of Death and the Powers of the Kingdom of Darkness; could we set open the Gates of Heaven for ourselves, and enter in to take Possession of Life and Glory; we should want no Instructions or Affiftances from Religion; since what St. Peter said of Christ every Man might apply to himself, and say, I have the Words, or Means, of eternal Life.
But, since we have not this Power of Life and Death; and since there is One who has, who governeth all Things in Heaven and in Earth, who is over all God blessed for evermore; it necessarily follows, that either we must have no Share or Lot in the Glories of Futurity, or else that we must obtain
them from God, and receive them as his Gift and Favour: And consequently, if eternal Life be the End of Religion, and likewise the Gift of God, Religion can be nothing else but the Means proper to be made use of by us to obtain of God this most excellent and perfect Gift of eternal Life: For, if eternal Life be the End of Religion, Religion must be the Means of obtaining eternal Life; and, if eternal Life can only be had from the Gift of God, Religion must be the Means of obtaining this Gift from God.
And thus far all Religions, that ever have appeared in the World, have agreed: The Question has never yet been made by any, whether God is to be applied to for eternal Happiness, or no; but every Sect has placed its Excellency in this, that it teaches the properest and most effectual Way of making this Application. Even Natural Religion pretends to no more than this; it claims not eternal Life as the Right of Nature, but as the Right of Obedience, and of Obedience to God, the Lord of Nature : And the Dispute between Natural and Revealed Religion is not, whether God is to be applied to for eternal Happiness; but only, whether Nature or Revelation can best teach us how to make this Application.
Prayers, and Praises, and Repentance for Sins past, are Acts of Devotion, which Nature pretends to instruct and direct us in: But why does the teach us to pray, to praise, or to repent, but that she esteems one to be the proper
Method of expreffing our Wants, the other of expressing our Gratitude, and the third of making Atonement for Iniquity and Offences against God? In all these Acts Reference is had to the overruling Power of the Almighty; and they amount to this Confession, That the Upshot of all Religion is to please God in order to make ourselves happy.
This will Thew us what must necessarily be understood by any Person’s, or by any Religion's, having the Words of eternal Life : For, since eternal Life can only be had by pleasing God, no Person, no Religion, can be said to have the Words of eternal Life upon any other Account, than because it teaches and enables us so far at least to please God, as to obtain eternal Life from him.
If we consider God as the Ruler of this World as well as of the next, Religion indeed will be as necessary a Means of obtaining the Blessings of this Life, as of that which is to come.
But this will make no Alteration in the Nature of Religion : For,
if the Blessings of this Life are the Gift of God, they must be obtained by pleasing God; and the fame Services muft intitle us to the Blessings of this Life and of the next, unless
you can suppose that there are different Ways of pleasing God; one way to please him, in order to obtain the Blefiings of this World; and another, in order to obtain the Blessings of Heaven.
From this Account of the Nature of Religion, That it is the Knowledge of pleafing God, and serving him acceptably, (I speak of Religion now considered only as a Rule) there are some Consequences which naturally follow, that may be of great Service to us in directing us in our Choice of Religion.
First then ; Since it is the Perfection of Religion to instruct us how to please God; and since to please God, and to act according to the Will of God, are but one and the fame Thing; it necessarily follows, that must be the most perfect Religion, which does most perfectly instruct us in the Knowledge of the Will of God. Allow then Nature to have all the Advantages that ever the greatest Patrons of Natural Religion laid claim to on her behalf; allow Reason to be as clear, as uncorrupted, as unprejudiced, as even our fondest Withes would make it; yet still it
can never be supposed, that Nature and Reason, in all their Glory, can be able to know the Will of God so well as he himself knows it : And therefore, should God ever make a Declaration of his Will, that Declaration must, according to the Nature and Necessity of the Thing, be a more perfect Rule for Religion, than Reason and Nature' can possibly furnish us with. Had we the Wisdom and Reason of Cherubims and Seraphims to direct us in the Worship and Service of our Maker, neverthelefs, it would be our highest Wisdom, as it is theirs, to submit to his Laws, that is, to the Declarations of his Will.
Secondly; From hence it appears, how extremely wrong it is to compare Natural Religion and Revelation together, in order to inquire which is preferable; for 'tis neither more nor less than inquiring, whether we know God's Will better than he himself knows it. False Revelations are no Revelations; and therefore to prefer Natural Religion before such pretended Revelations, is only to reject a Forgery: But to suppose that there is, or may be, a true Revelation, and yet to say that Natural Religion is a better Guide, is to say that we are wiser than God, and know better how to please him