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PREBENDARY OF PETERSBOROUGH, LATE CHRISTIAN ADVOCATE AT CAMBRIDGE.
PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY A. J. VALPY, M. A.
AND SOLD BY ALL BOOKSELLERS.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon
Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe, and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
THREE reasons for the constancy and adherence of the disciples to Christ: I. The miserable condition of those who should forsake him, having no other in whom they could trust; II. The excellency of his religion, and the means afforded by it for obtaining eternal happiness; III. His authority and divine commission, as a ground of confidence and faith. These three reasons referred to three general principles or maxims: 1. That religion, which is the only means of true happiness and perfection in the present circumstances of the world, does not depend on human reasoning or invention; we cannot learn it from ourselves or others: 2. The great end of religion is future happiness; consequently the best religion is that which most surely directs us to it: 3. The authority and word of God is the only
sure foundation of religion and reasonable ground of our hopes. First head considered : the necessity of religion in general is taken for granted; the only question is, from what source we must derive it: improvements which the gospel has introduced into the world stated : sceptics of the present age are apt to refer these to natural religion : this pretence examined and shown to be false : men are chiefly indebted to the gospel even for that natural religion which they boast of: the question then put-is there no such thing as natural religion? Answered by an exposition of the state of mankind under it, -which is not to be estimated by a few bright examples, while millions
PART 1 .
are left in ignorance and vice; also by a comparison of it with the gospel revelation,—which latter was given to restore human nature and deliver reason from bondage by grace. Conclusion the bad return made for so great a blessing by those who set up reason and nature in opposition to it. The success of such an attempt however will not be greater than its wisdom and piety.
Second head considered : religion shown to be founded in the principles of reason and nature; hence it must be formed with a view of securing our future happiness : that therefore is the best religion which will most surely conduct us to the end proposed : the nature of religion enlarged on: eternal happiness out of our own power; it is the gift of God alone: if eternal life therefore be the
end of religion, and likewise the gift of God, religion is nothing but ✓ the means of obtaining from God this most excellent gift: thus far all
, religions that have appeared in the world are shown to agree : from this account of the nature of religion, that it is to know the living God and to serve him acceptably, some consequences followFirst, Since to please God, and to act according to the will of God, are but one and the same thing, that must be the most perfect religion which instructs us best in the knowlege of his will : defect of reason and nature in this point of view,Secondly, It is wrong to compare natural religion and revelation together, for the purpose of inquiring which is preferable; for this is to inquire whether we know God's will better than he himself knows it. Since revelation must needs be the surest guide in religion, every man is bound to consider its pretensions when offered to him : this inquiry excluded by those who argue against all revelation, à priori, as inconsistent with God's wisdom. Sum of the argument against revelation à priori stated—viz. that God, having given to us reason, has bound us to obey its dictates, and will judge us by its rule ; otherwise he would have given an imperfect rule, which is inconsistent with his wisdom: but, the rule being sufficient, revelation must be useless and impertinent, and therefore not derived from God: moreover, as reason and natural religion never yet prevailed universally, it must be supposed that whatever happens in the world is designed by God, and those who have least reason are in that state for which he designed them; it is therefore absurd to suppose a revelation would be given to take them out of that state. -On this argument four observations are briefly made; involving-1. The principle that the creature is always bound to obey the Creator :—2. That human reason cannot be said to be absolutely, but only relatively perfect, as a rule; and it is begging the question to suppose there is no other rule but reason given ; which must be proved, not supposed :-3. To add to a law once considered perfect as a rule, when an alteration of circumstances requires it, is oftentimes the effect of wisdom and necessity : -4. To say that revelation is unnecessary because reason is a perfect
rule, and yet to affirm that those who have an imperfect use of reason have need of a revelation, is a contradiction: again to say, that those who are in such a state that they do not and cannot obey the laws of reason, are yet in such a state as God designed for them, is not only making God the author of evil, but ascribing to him two inconsister intentions: we do not argue now in behalf of any particular revelation : this alone is urged, that revelation is the surest foundation of religion : hence it is incumbent on every man of sense and reason to inquire whether there be a revelation or no : for the precepts of natural religion cannot be taken into consideration until it be certain that there is no revelation to guide us ; there can be no comparison made to determine our choice ; for the revelation must be rejected, before natural religion can pretend to take the lead : the beaten but false path, which unbelievers tread, explained : the conclusion of their reasonings shown to be—that because there may be a false revelation, there cannot be a true one: application of what has been said to the Christian revelation : its pretensions are worthy of the deepest consideration : reasons given why such pretensions are not to be turned off with general and loose observations: neglect of this consideration shown to be inexcusable : want of sincerity in religious professions, and desire of salvation, give a wrong turn to controversies about religion : different conduct is pursued with respect to those worldly objects which we highly value: concluding exhortation.
PART III. There cannot be a fairer trial of any religion than a consideration of its efficacy in leading us to eternal life, which is the end of all religion : the difficulty is, how to apply this rule so as to direct our choice, since all religions pretend to have the words of eternal life: our object therefore must be to enable ourselves to determine, which are, and which are not, words of eternal life. Some principles in all religions are allowed, which may help our determination such are these—that life eternal can be had only from God; and that from him the only way to obtain it is to live agreeably to his holy will ; whence follows, that since to do God's will is the only way to obtain eternal life, the words which instruct us in the knowlege of his will must be the words of eternal life: when therefore we inquire from what principle we ought to derive our religion, we do in truth inquire from what we may best derive our knowlege of God's will, since this is the true measure of our religious obedience. Two ways only by which we can arrive at this knowlege: one, by following the dictates of reason and nature; the other, by learning it either from God's own declaration, or from persons sufficiently authorised by him, which is what we call revelation. Between these two general principles, it is no hard matter to judge which is the safest : as nature is a better guide than any pretended revelation, so every true revelation, as far as it goes, is better than nature : absurd to compare natural religion and revelation together, as considered in