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A whether Nature can or no, is, in truth,
rather a Question of Fačt, than mere Speculation; for the Way to know what Nature can do, is to take Nature by itself, and try
its Strength alone. There was a Time when
Men had little else but Nature to go to; and that is the proper Time to look into, to see what mere and unassisted Nature can do in Religion. Nay, there are still Nations under the Sun, who are, as to Religion, in a mere State of Nature: The glad Tidings of the Gospel have not reached them, nor have they been blessed, or (to speak in the modern Phrase) prejudiced with divine Revelations, which we, less worthy of them than they, so much complain of: In other Matters they are polite and civilized; they are cunning Traders, fine Artificers, and in many Arts and Sciences not unskilful. Here then we may hope to see Natural Religion in its full Perfeótion; for there is no Want of natural Reason, nor any Room to complain of Prejudices or Prepossession: But yet, alas! these Nations are held in the Chains of Darkness, and given up to the blindest Superstition and Idolatry. Men wanted not Reason before the Coming of Christ, nor Opportunity nor Inclination to improve it: Arts and Sciences had long before obtained their just Perfeótion;
the Number of the Stars had been counted, and their Motions observed and adjusted; the Philosophy, Oratory, and Poetry of those Ages are still the Delight and Entertainment of this. Religion was not the least Part of their Inquiry; they searched all the Recesses of Reason and Nature; and, had it been in the Power of Reason and Nature to furnish Men with just Notions and Principles of Religion, here we should have found them: But, instead of them, we find nothing but the grossest Superstition and Idolatry; the
Creatures of the Earth advanced into Deities,
and Men degenerating and making themselves lower than the Beasts of the Field. Time would fail me to tell of the Corruptions and Extravagances of the politest Nations. Their Religion was their Reproach, and the Service they paid their Gods was a Dishonour to them and to themselves: The most sacred Part of their Devotion was the most impure; and the only Thing that was commendable in it, is, that it was kept as a great Mystery and Secret, and hid under the Darkness of the Night; and, was Reason now to judge, it would approve of nothing in this Religion, but the Modesty of withdrawing itself from the Eyes of the World.
This being the Cass e wherever Men have been left to mere Reason and Nature to direct them; what Security have the great Patrons of Natural Religion now, that, were they left only-to Reason and Nature, they should not run into the same Errors and Absurdities? Have they more Reason than those who have gone before them? In all other Instances Nature is the same now that ever it was, . and we are but acting over again the same,. Part that our Ancestors acted before us: Wisdom and Prudence and Cunning are now what they formerly were; nor can this Age shew human Nature in any one Character .. exalted beyond the Examples which Anti- .:. quity has left us. Can we shew greater In-..-..; stances of Civil and Political Wisdom, thanfeV are to be found in the Governments of Greece^?and Rome? Are not the Civil Laws of Rome.. still had in Admiration? and have they not. . a Place allowed them still in almost all King-. doms? Since then in nothing else we are grown wiser than the Heathen World, what Probability is there, that we should have grown wiser in Religion, if we had been left, as they were, to mere Reason and Nature? To this Day there is no Alteration for the better, except only in the Countries where the Gospel has been preached. What
shall we say of the Chinese, a Nation that wants not either Reason or Learning, and in some Parts of it pretends to excel the World? They have been daily improving in the Arts of Life, and in every Kind of Knowledge and Science; but yet in Religion they are ignorant and superstitious, and have but very little of what we call Natural Religion among them: And what Ground is there to imagine that Reason would have done more, made greater Discoveries of Truth, or more entirely subdued the Passions of Men, in England'or France, or any other Country oi Europe, than it has in the Eastern or Southern Parts of the World? Are not Men as reasonable Greatures in the East* as they are in the West? and have not they the same Means of exercising and improving their Reason too? Why then should you think that Reason would do that now in this Place, which it has never yet been able to do in any Time or Place whatever? > •
This Fact is so very plain and undeniable, that I cannot but think, that, would Men consider it fairly, they would soon be convinced how much they are indebted to the Revelation of the Gospel, even for that Natural Religion which they so fondly boast of: For how comes it to pass, that there is so
much much Reason, such clear Natural Religion, in every Country where the Gospel is professed, and so little of both every-where else?
But is there then, you will say, no such Thing as Natural Religion ? Does not St. Paul lay the Heathen World under Condemnation for not attending to the Dictates of it? Because, says he, that which may be known of God is manifeji in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible 'Things of him from the Creation of the World are clearly seen, being underjlood by the Things that are made, even his eternal Power and Godhead; so that they are without Excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their Imaginations, and their foolish Heart was .darkened. Professing themselves to be wife, they became Fools; and changed the Glory of the uncorruptible God into an Image made like to xorruptible Man, and to Birds, and four-footed Beajis, and creeping TMngs.—A sad Account this of the State of Religion in the Heathen World, and a manifest Proof how much Nature stands in need of Assistance! What we learn from St. Paul is plainly this; That, notwithstanding the Care which God had taken to display the Evidences of his own Being and Godhead in every Work of the