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To open and vindicate the proof of Christianity in all its extent, would be the employment of many discourses; nor would it on the whole, be proper to attempt it here.
All that I now intend is, to give you a summary view of the most considerable arguments, in that which seems to me their most proper and natural connection, that so you may be able to judge of them better, than you could possibly do by a few scattered remarks, or by the most copious enlargement on any single branch of them alone. I shall endeavour to dispose these hints so, as that they may be some guide to those, whose leisure and abilities
may lead them to a more ample and curious inquiry; that they may not be entangled in so complex an argument, but may proceed in an orderly And if
you, my friends, desire a more particular information on any of those heads, which 1 now but briefly suggest, you may depend upon it, that faithful ministers of every denomination will think it an important part of their duty, to give you all the private assistance they can. hearty prayer that God would enable me to plead his cause with success; that he would open your understandings to receive these things, and strengthen your memories to retain them; “ that you may not be like children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and the cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but may be strong in faith, giving glory to God;" that your faith being more and more established, it may appear that the tree is watered at the roots; and all your other graces may grow and flourish in an equal proportion.
It is my
But before I proceed, I must desire you to observe, that there is no proof in the world so satisfactory to the true Christian, as to have felt the transforming power of the gospel on his own soul. As that illiterate man whose eyes were miraculously opened by Christ, when he was questioned by the Jewish Sanhedrim, who endeavoured with all their sophistry to prove Christ an impostor, answered, with great steadiness and constancy, and with a great deal of reason too, “ This one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.” So the most unlearned of the disciples of Jesus, having found his soul enlightened and sanctified, and felt his heart so effectually wrought upon, as to bring him home to his duty, his God, and his happiness, by the constraining power of the gospel, will despise a thousand subtle objections which may be urged against it: And though the cross of Christ may be to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness, yet with this experience of its saving energy, he will honour it in the midst of all their contempt and ridicule, as “the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” In this sense, though the miraculous communication of the Spirit be ceased, he that believes hath still the witness in himself; and while the Spirit beareth witness with his spirit that he is a child of God, he cannot doubt but that the word by which he was as it were begotten unto him, is indeed a divine and incorruptible seed. And perhaps there are certain seasons of pressing temptation, in which the most learned as well as the most illiterate Chris. tian will find this the surest anchor of his hope.
Nevertheless it must be acknowledged, that this
glorious kind of evidence is like the white stone, mentioned in the Revelation, in which there was a new name written, which no man knew, but he who received it. God has therefore made other provision for the honour and support of his gospel, by furnishing it with a variety of proof, which may with undiminished, and indeed with growing conviction, be communicated from one to another. should be greatly wanting in gratitude to him, in zeal for a Redeemer's kingdom, and in charitable concern for the conversion of those who reject the gospel, as well as for the edification of those who embrace it, should we wholly overlook these arguments, or neglect to acquaint ourselves with them. This is the evidence which I am now to propose; and I desire you will hear it with a becoming attention, I speak to you as to rational creatures: Judge
. ye of the reasonableness of what I shall
say. In prosecution of this great design, I shall endeavour more particularly to show you, that if we take the matter on a general survey, it will appear highly probable that such a scheme of doctrines and precepts as we find Christianity to be, should indeed have been a divine revelation; and then, that if we examine into the external evidence of it, we shall find it certain in fact that it was so, and that it had its original from above.
First, Let me show, that taking the matter merely in theory, it will appear highly probable that such a system of the gospel should be indeed a divine reyelation. To evince this, I would more particularly prove that the state of mankind was such as greatly to need a revelation that there seems, from the
light of nature, encouragement to hope that God should grant one; that it is reasonable to believe, if any were made, it should be so introduced and transmitted as we are told Christianity was ;-and that its general nature and substance should be such as we find that of the gospel is. If these particulars are made out, here will be a strong presumptive evidence that the gospel is from God; and we shall have opened a fair way toward that more direct proof which I principally intend.
1. The case of mankind is naturally such as greatly to need a divine revelation.--I speak not here of man in his original state; though even then, as many have largely shown, some instruction from above seemed necessary to inform bim of many particulars, which it was highly expedient that he should immediately know; but I speak of him in the degenerate condition in which he now so evidently lies, by whatever means he was brought into it. easy thing to make florid encomiums on the perfection of natural light, and to deceive unwary readers with an ambiguous term, (which shall sometimes signify all that appears even to the divine understanding, and sometimes no more than the meanest of the human race may, or than they actually do attain ;) but let fact speak, and the controversy will soon be determined. I appeal to all that are acquainted with the records of antiquity, or that have any knowledge of the most credible accounts of the present state of those countries where Christianity is unknown, whether it is not too obvious a truth, that the whole heathen world has lain, and still lies in wickedness. Have not incomparably the greater
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part of them been perpetually bewildered in their religious notions and practices, vastly differing from each other, and almost equally differing on all sides from the probable appearances of truth and reason? Is any thing so wild as not to have been believed, any thing so infamous as not to have been practised by them, while they have not only pretended to justify it by reason, but have consecrated it as a part of their religion ? To this very day, what are the discoveries of new nations in the American or African world, but generally speaking, the opening of new scenes of enormity ?-rapine, lust, cruelty, human sacrifices, and the most stupid idolatries, are, and for aught I can find, always have been, the morality
I and religion of almost all the Pagan nations under heaven: and to say, that there have still been some smothered sparks of reason within, which, if cherished, might have led them to truth and happiness, is only saying, that they have been so much the more criminal, and therefore so much the more miserable.
But you live at home, and hear these things only by uncertain report. Look then around you, within the sphere of your own observation, and see the temper and character of the generality of those who have been educated in a Christian, and even in a Protestant country.
Observe their ignorance and forgetfulness of the divine Being, their impieties, their debaucheries, their fraud, their oppression, their pride, their avarice, their ambition, their unnatural insensibility of the wants and sorrows and interests of each other; and when you see how bad they generally are in the midst of so many advantages, judge by that of the probable state of those that